Nine things MMA fans want to see in '09
What do you give the MMA fan that already gets every fight he or she dreams of? How about a shake-up to the "Ultimate Fighter" format? Or bringing Fedor Emelianenko to the Octagon? Sherdog lists nine hoped-for events in the new year.
Pre-"Ultimate Fighter," pre-Affliction, pre-state sanctioning, fans will remember the UFC's modest promotional resolution for 1999: run nine shows. (The campaign was dubbed "Nine in '99," which is what happens when you can't afford a marketing department.)
But as a sad testament to the state of the sport at the time, they could only manage six.
Ten years on and the UFC is likely to meet or exceed the 20 programs it ran in '08. Wishes have become largely extraneous, since most requested matches wind up happening sooner or later. The sport's devotees have everything they could possibly ask for -- free shows, top talent, capable management.
This space, though, works tirelessly to find something to complain about. So here are some hoped-for events for the New Year:
Early stoppages, late stoppages; premature stand-ups; cuts that bleed "too much"; inconsistent judging.
For a sport still in its teenage phase, MMA has done a surprisingly effective job controlling its chaos. But there are still some gaping wounds in the way fights are overseen that need to be sutured.
Steve Mazzagatti is the current whipping boy of controversial calls, pounced on for his delayed reaction in the recent Chieck Kongo/Mustapha al Turk bout. (Kongo savaged al Turk; by the time Mazzagatti stepped in, it looked as if he had peered too closely into the mouth of a lawnmower.) Cecil Peoples is perennially underscored for the way he tabulates victories. It's gotten so bad that "robbery of the year" is an accepted insert into "best of" categories.
The industry needs a gathering of supervisors and officials to clarify, organize and debate the merits of how fights are contested, officiated and ruled. Better, it needs a standing council that can address these issues promptly, providing clarification or adjustment as needed.
Years after sanctioning, we're still asking what dictates a 10-8 round; whether submission attempts from guard surmount takedown points; whether a cut, no matter how viscerally disturbing, merits a stoppage. (Most doctors agree it doesn't.)
Let's get some answers.
War's over: HD DVD is choking on dirt. The battlefield cleared, there should be little preventing promotions from issuing fight events in the higher-resolution Blu-ray format. The UFC is planning a "Best of 2008" disc in March 2009, but completists and obsessive-compulsives would prefer complete events.
We know, we know: TUF sparked the current MMA revolution in popular culture, created superstars in Forrest Griffin and Michael Bisping, and more or less saved the sport's politically blistered behind. But if Peter Cook can get tired of Christie Brinkley, we can certainly grow bored with the increasingly stale format of Spike's flagship reality show.
The '08 twist -- recruiting 32 fighters and forcing them to fight for entry into the house -- was novel but led to sensory overload. Too many athletes, too little time to get to know them. The UK vs. USA theme for the show's ninth season? Labored.
A handy correctional checklist you can print out and recite to Dana White the next time you're in Vegas:
• An all-female season that would help usher in a new division.
• An on-the-fly editing schedule for greater turnaround, allowing us to see live house fights every week.
• Junie Browning: White's personal houseguest for a month.
Le's sole 2008 appearance was -- in the minds of many -- the fight of the year. Against Frank Shamrock, he displayed elite stand-up, proper takedown defense and demoralizing sweeps.
Fortunately for Le -- but unfortunately for fans -- his highlight reel in the ring has led to a burgeoning acting career outside of it, and he's been tied up with movie projects most of the year.
While I don't begrudge anyone making a living, especially in a sport with no pension plan, I do mourn the remaining days of Le's athletic prime going the way of Dennis Quaid movies. His real combat skill is better than anything a fight choreographer could ever dream up. Fights with Robbie Lawler, Shamrock, even Anderson Silva -- any or all I'd pay a lot more than $7.50 to see.
I enjoy HDNet's "Inside MMA." Despite a stream-of-consciousness style that often lends itself to confusion, I enjoy Bas Rutten as a co-host. Despite an insistence on making guests squirm in their seats with bizarre digressions, Kenny Rice seems like a swell guy.
But in a sport where things change by the minute, taping "Inside MMA" early in the week for Friday broadcast doesn't quite get the job done. A year into the effort, the program should probably graduate into a live telecast.
And maybe allow Rutten one fewer cup of coffee before airtime.
Despite some truly disturbing KO losses -- to Mirko Filipovic, Dan Henderson and now Quinton Jackson -- Wanderlei Silva is still a precious commodity in MMA: He's a violent savage, and violent savages always have a place here.
Unfortunately, a decade-plus of competition has softened his chin a bit. While he's still awfully young at 32, he might be best served to try and renew his career at 185 pounds -- especially since Anderson Silva is quickly running out of worthy opposition. Reports say he's considering it.
Both Ken Shamrock and Royce Gracie deserve competitive send-offs: Shamrock with a contemporary like Don Frye or Mark Coleman, Gracie with an evenly-sized pioneer like Pat Miletich. (Assuming Gracie could make the 186-pound minimum for light heavyweight, there's also the option of repeating his UFC 1 fight with Shamrock.)
The Columbus' of the sport -- the first tournament's participants -- should be given preferred seating. (Gerard Gordeau once asked if I could get him tickets to a show. It depressed me.) They should be made to realize how valuable their contributions were to what the UFC has become today. It's the necessary thing to do.
It's a trite, clichéd request. But that doesn't mean there isn't some merit to it. Providing he gets by Andrei Arlovski, Emelianenko tackling the winner of the Mir/Lesnar sequel is as big a heavyweight bout as it gets.
Political nightmare? Sure, but the best fights usually are.
Of the hundreds of hours I devoted to mixed martial arts spectatorship this year, it felt like at least half the time was spent watching an athlete doubled over, trying to shake off the effects of an errant kick or knee. In many cases, like Mirko Filipovic-Alistair Overeem, they've decided the fight.
The unpopular solution: Ban leg kicks to the inside of the thigh. (Yes, they hurt, but have they ever closed the deal?)
The more practical solution: Pay some Poindexter engineer to craft an athletic cup with two layers, the outer a shock-absorbing shell and the interior a snug protector of delicate anatomy. MMA is a dynamic sport with unique elements, and a standard cup designed for other sports no longer fits.
For the sake of our future population, fix it.
Jake Rossen is a contributor to Sherdog.com.
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