Stories that will shape the rest of 2010
I've had enough of this silly looking back business. We all know that making baseless claims about the importance of future events is where the interest is at.
With that in mind, the time has come to take a look at the storylines that will shape the second half of 2010.
The Next Emperor
Brock Lesnar's epic comeback win over Shane Carwin certainly galvanized his claim to heavyweight supremacy, but that distinction is not as universally accepted as it was for Fedor Emelianenko -- and with good reason. Carwin's long-term future looks like a parallel of boxer Earnie Shavers' career: A horrifying puncher who came tantalizingly close to the heavyweight title, only to lose in heartbreaking fashion every time.
After years of putting on garbage heavyweight bouts, the UFC is finally setting the table in the division it turned into a headlining attraction.
Tapping out a super-puncher is a nice feather in one's cap, but it won't have many buying into the notion that Lesnar has emerged as the next heavyweight doom-bringer. Lesnar's upcoming match with undefeated Cain Velasquez at UFC 121 will serve as his chance to prove that years' worth of self-serious bravado and overwhelming hype was truly prescient.
Hype has accompanied Velasquez ever since he first stepped into the American Kickboxing Academy gym and was proclaimed a heavyweight champion in the making. A darling of the hardcore fans despite his leaden personality, Velasquez seems just as strong a candidate as Lesnar to become the next dominant heavyweight. So far, the opinion-makers seem to be lining up on his side.
Regardless of the insane amounts of prognosticating, we'll soon be a step closer to realizing a whole new heavyweight scene. At UFC 117, Junior dos Santos will fight Roy Nelson for a title shot, which sets the table for another unbelievably significant heavyweight fight.
After years of putting on garbage heavyweight bouts, the UFC is finally setting the table in the division it turned into a headlining attraction. How that story develops will almost certainly give us the next heavyweight kingpin, if not the next emperor.
Boxing vs. MMA: The never-ending story
The latest reincarnation of this pointless debate lies in wait, as former UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight champion Randy Couture will take on the perpetually acerbic James Toney at UFC 118. All due accolades to Toney -- a multidivision boxing champion and pound-for-pound luminary -- but it has been a long time since anyone took the soon-to-be 42-year-old seriously as a boxer.
In all fairness, no one swears by the 47-year-old Couture as a legitimate contender, either. Of course, he has the benefit of the fight taking place on his home turf, and unlike Toney, he is not a blown-up middleweight boxer with a long history of shuttling back and forth between training camps and buffet lines. In other words, this fight serves as a pointless exercise that will prove nothing beyond what even the layfan already knows -- that one needs to train at MMA to be any good at MMA.
UFC president Dana White maintains he brought Toney on board as a way to punish "Lights Out" for his derogatory comments about the sport. The amount of media and fan attention being generated by this fight suggests otherwise. Regardless of the outcome, it will be big news. If it generates enough money to match the hype, one has to wonder if this sort of stunt matchmaking will continue under the UFC banner.
There will always be Kimbo Slices and James Toneys around to spew hyperbole. The question is whether the UFC can balance the athletic legitimacy and promotional spectacle of its product while chasing the occasional cheap buck.
The pro wrestling rabbit hole
Until February, Bobby Lashley was moonlighting as a mixed martial artist and collecting a check for his work as a professional wrestler. Dave Batista was on the World Wrestling Entertainment payroll as recently as May, and his desire to become a mixed martial artist has produced more one-off sound bites than grueling training sessions.
Yet these are the two men Strikeforce could feature in its still-theoretical pay-per-view debut. If your stomach didn't turn after reading that sentence, then you are part of the target audience for this sort of tripe.
Putting on pay-per-view events remains a high-stakes game -- one with which Strikeforce is unfamiliar -- so it makes sense that it would want to draw as many buyers as possible. It's a strategy Zuffa used to great effect after acquiring the UFC, using name attractions like Ken Shamrock and Gracie to launch the careers of its next-generation superstars.
The second half of the equation was key for the UFC, as it made bankable commodities out of fighters like Tito Ortiz and Matt Hughes. Any potential benefits of pitting Lashley against Batista exist solely in the short term, as neither man will ever be a threat to the heavyweight elite. After all, we are talking about a 41-year-old Batista, who has no real combat-sport experience, and a 34-year-old Lashley, who used to wrestle at 177 pounds before ballooning up to a chiseled 273 in the WWE.
Whether Strikeforce follows through on this inane idea will be one of those stories that future analysts will look back on when they try to map the key points in the organization's history.
Strikeforce vs. Showtime and M-1 Global
Just about every complaint levied against Strikeforce comes down to the ongoing handicap match between the promotion and Showtime and M-1 Global. The second half of 2010 seems as likely a time as any for the conflict to boil over into the public sphere.
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Although the issues between the three groups are common knowledge, they have remained largely behind closed doors thanks to Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker's rare brand of diplomacy. However, with Emelianenko just one fight away from free agency and his handlers at M-1 being their usual enigmatic selves, we are guaranteed at least one storyline that will make the Brett Favre saga feel like a welcome change of pace.
Then there is Showtime, a premium cable channel that some believe is attempting to enter the MMA market by micromanaging Strikeforce. Unfortunately for Strikeforce, there is little the promotion can do because it desperately needs the exposure Showtime can give it. Suddenly, the UFC's decision to walk away from negotiations with HBO seems downright inspired.
Somewhere, underneath all the rancor and nonsense, exists a fine promotion just dying to get out. Perhaps the most frustrating part of it all is that Strikeforce does not deserve anywhere near the amount of blame it gets for this fiasco. None of that changes the fact that Strikeforce made multiple deals with the devil, and the price will only get steeper as the year trudges along.
To put it simply, would anyone bank on Emelianenko fighting again this year? Let's not forget that we're talking about the same promotion that required nearly three years to coax its heavyweight champion into defending his belt.
Tomas Rios is a contributor to Sherdog.com.