Posts Tagged ‘MMA news’

Will the UFC’s first FOX venture change MMA?

Monday, November 7th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

With the UFC’s first major network-TV event arriving this Saturday night, it’s worth revisiting the ramifications of such a venture. Does Saturday mark the dawn of a new era in mixed martial arts or is the significance overhyped? Will Velasquez vs. Dos Santos enthral millions of viewers or fall on its face?

To get sense of what Saturday means, let’s look at two factors: media exposure and fight quality.

At this point, it would be a shock if Saturday’s heavyweight title bout didn’t end up as the highest-rated free-TV MMA event ever. It may not feel like FOX has gone overboard with promotion, opting for plugs during NFL telecasts, ads sprinkled throughout primetime and the odd studio interview  But we can’t underestimate how many more eyeballs watch FOX than watch Spike TV – or pay-per-view, for that matter. Even the UFC Primetime preview show, which first aired on a lazy Sunday afternoon, drew record ratings for the UFC.

So it’s safe to say that, at least in terms of exposure, Saturday’s card is extremely significant for MMA. However, that doesn’t mean the first UFC on Fox telecast is guaranteed to explode the sport into widespread popularity.

To me, fight quality is just as important as the viewership itself. If you’re an MMA purist, you may hate it when a newbie fan gets bored by Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, wrestling, and other forms of grappling. However, even if it’s unfair, it’s a simple truth that the ground game takes longer for a new fan to learn. A wild striking affair is more likely to first-timers over. So, for example, if Velasquez takes Dos Santos down and lays on top of him for five rounds, the result could be disastrous for the UFC. The same people who didn’t give the sport a chance before will turn off their TV believing their skepticism was validated.

The good news is that we’re fairly likely to see a great fight on Saturday. Velasquez a is world-class wrester who remains very active on the ground and Dos Santos is a world-class boxer with great hand speed and power. Both guys finish opponents more often than not. So it’s fair to expect fireworks.

However, a thrilling fight isn’t guaranteed – and neither is a widespread explosion in MMA popularity. If the stars align and we’re treated to an epic heavyweight war, the Earth might move, but the UFC is probably better off expecting incremental gains for now.

Should a No. 1 contender “wait” if the champion is injured?

Friday, October 21st, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

UFC 137 just won’t be the same. The headliner, welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, sprained his knee while training this week and is out of commission for at least a month and probably longer. The main event has been postponed.

But note that I didn’t used the term “cancelled.” Top 170-pound contender, Carlos Condit, will await GSP’s recovery and still challenge him for the belt. Wrestling master Josh Koscheck offered to step in and battle Condit on short notice but Condit declined, stating that he “had nothing to gain” from fighting someone below him on the ladder.

At first glance, the logic seems sound. After all, if Condit only has one guy ahead of him in the divisional rankings, fighting – and losing – to anyone below him can only hurt his career. But I wonder if good things always come to those who wait. Waiting for a shot guarantees that you still get to battle for the belt but it also means you sit on the shelf for a long period of time and can become rusty and/or lose your hunger. Worse yet, a long layoff could hinder your body’s ability to respond under extreme stress. Just ask Rashad Evans.

“Suga” earned a No. 1 contender match against Muay Thai specialist Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in 2010 but decided to wait a full year for his title shot after Shogun blew out his knee. After not fighting for a year, Evans’ rusty body failed him leading up to the winter 2011 fight. He injured himself and lost the title shot; Jon Jones got it instead.

Evans finally returned to the cage after more than a year off to beat Tito Ortiz this summer but he injured himself again, losing another title shot (this time against Jon Jones). I have to wonder: if Evans hadn’t waited for Shogun and instead had maintained his normal fighting schedule, would he have gotten hurt as easily? He waited a year for a title shot and that wait has grown to two years and counting.

If GSP’s layoff turns out to be long and Condit waits many months for the fight, he could suffer from ring rust or increase his risk of injury, as Evans may have done.

Someone in Condit’s position might point to lightweight Melvin Guillard. “The Young Assassin” reportedly had a chance to wait for the winner of Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, decided to keep fighting and stay fresh, and lost to Joe Lauzon. Bye-bye title shot.

To me, however, that loss just showed that Guillard wasn’t a true No. 1 challenger. If you really think you’re the second-best in your weight class, shouldn’t you have no problem beating anyone below you? If Condit were to, say, risk his title shot to battle someone like Jon Fitch while GSP recovered, the risk would be huge, but the gain would be a lot bigger than he might believe. Beating Fitch would greatly increase Condit’s confidence, put a scare in the champ and keep Condit’s skills sharper heading into a GSP fight.

It’s hard to really blame any contender who wants to wait out a champ – after all, who knows when he or she might get another shot? – but the decision is more complicated than it may seem.

Why losing to Carlos Condit might help Georges St-Pierre’s legacy

Friday, October 14th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

Make no mistake: swapping Carlos Condit in for Nick Diaz as Georges St-Pierre’s next challenger for the UFC welterweight title was not a lucky break for the champ.

In fact, I’d argue that Condit may give GSP his toughest test in years – at least since the Thiago Alves fight (on paper, as he ended up dominating Alves).

Condit embodies what mixed martial arts is all about. He’s the total package, displaying knockout power, solid BJJ and submission skills, excellent fitness and, most of all, a true killer instinct. It’s the latter trait that should have the champ sweating. Appropriately nicknamed the Natural Born Killer, Condit (27-5) is as good a finisher as anyone in the sport. Of his 27 victories, 26 have come via stoppage, 13 by knockout and 13 by submission. He has a granite jaw and has battled back to win some real wars.

Though overcoming St-Pierre’s wrestling will still be a challenge for the wiry Condit, he clearly poses a major threat to St-Pierre because he’s truly willing to go for broke and he attacks from any position in the cage, including on his back. That nasty edge is the one skill GSP lacks nowadays and it makes me wonder if losing this fight would be better for St-Pierre’s career.

With a 22-2 record and having avenged his only two losses, GSP has surpassed Matt Hughes as the greatest 170-punder ever to compete in MMA. He’s at worst the No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. But if he continues to fight the way he has his last few times in the cage, he’ll tarnish his legacy.

St-Pierre has begun fighting not to lose. It was particularly evident in his most recent title defenses against Josh Koscheck and Jake Shields, when he was clearly the superior striker but seemed afraid to fully engage. This conservative style has sent many a fan leaping off the GSP bandwagon.

GSP fights cautiously because he has little to gain and everything to lose when defending his title. If we ever want to see the GSP we fell in love with again, he may be better off losing the belt.

Falling to Condit would mean that GSP would have to change his game the next time out and win more decisively to gain top contender status and challenge for the belt again. He would have to battle in a way that didn’t leave the fight to the judges. He’d have to bust out all the athletic, dynamic strikes and takedowns that he used to, when he was the welterweight version of Jon Jones. Losing the belt would also open up a chance for GSP to challenge Anderson Silva at 185 pounds.

If St-Pierre keeps winning, he’ll forever be viewed as a dominant champion, but also as a boring one who didn’t take chances. He said he wants to be known as the best fighter of all-time. To do that, he may need to be humbled first. If Condit breaks GSP down, the legend may build himself back up better than ever.

The Top Five Rematches in UFC History

Thursday, October 6th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

With Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard set to meet for the third time at UFC 136 this Saturday, I have rematches on the mind. Excluding their epic draw, what are the greatest rematches in UFC history?

1. Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg II (2005)

Considering some call this bout the best in MMA history, it has to top the list of best rematches. I’ve discussed it on this blog before: Hughes took a low blow from Trigg, the ref didn’t see, it, he got caught in a choke…but he battled back, slammed Trigg and reversed the choke. Absolutely epic.

All time series: 2-0 Hughes

2. Georges St-Pierre vs. Matt Hughes II (2006)

In the second of their three bouts, St-Pierre exploded into superstardom with a spectacular head-kick knockout. Hughes lost the welterweight title and was never the same.

All-time series: 2-1 St-Pierre

3. Tim Sylvia vs. Andrei Arlovski II (2006)

Like No. 1 on this list, Sylvia/Arlovski deserves recognition for being a spectacular fight, let alone a rematch. Arlovski rushed in after he appeared to have Sylvia knocked out but the big fella rebounded with a devastating KO punch of his own.

All-time series: 2-1 Sylvia

4. Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir II ((2009)

In the most watched pay-per-view UFC bout ever, Brock Lesnar made plenty of fans and enemies by pounding Mir into dust. The rematch was special not only because these two hated each other but because of Lesnar’s brash speech after winning the fight, in which he called out Bud Light as an inferior sponsor and talked about going home to get freaky with his wife.

All time series: Tied 1-1

5. Anderson Silva vs. Rich Franklin II (2007)

I struggled to pick this one but I chose Silva’s spectacular Muay Thai display because of its significance. Before his first loss to Silva, Franklin was considered an unstoppable middleweight champion. The second straight devastating defeat against the Spider showed us that Silva’s first win was no fluke – and that he was the world’s best fighter.

All-time series: 2-0 Silva

Honorable mentions: Rampage Jackson vs. Wanderlei Silva III, Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell II, BJ Penn vs Jens Pulver II

What to Expect from the Ultimate Fighter 14

Thursday, September 15th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

The UFC’s Ultimate Fighter reality show returns for its 14th season and final go-round with Spike TV next week. The program has fallen on hard times recently. Ratings were down and the coaches were duds last season; winning the show also seems to “mean” less in MMA these days, as recent victors haven’t accomplished much in the UFC.

However, I expect TUF 14 to be one of the show’s better seasons. Here are a few things to watch for that I believe will make this season plenty of fun.

Charismatic coaches

I expect middleweight contenders Michael Bisping and Jason Miller to be among the most entertaining coaching tandems in the show’s history. We all know how outspoken Bisping is; the Englishman always has something to say and loves the camera.

The BJJ expert Miller is a lesser-known commodity. However, he’s just as brash as Bisping and just as much of an attention hog. He hosted the MTV show Bully Beatdown. It’s too bad Chael Sonnen was barred from coaching this season but Miller should be a more than adequate replacement. The coaches should be more front and center than they have been since Tito Ortiz’s last coaching go-round.

More fights

This season features two weight classes, bantamweight and featherweight, and should treat us to more action than in previous seasons. TUF 14 opens with 32 fighters in total instead of the 16 who started last season; the show has brought back the “fight your way into the house” format. So we’re guaranteed more action this season right from the start.

Wild fights

Despite being perceived as a lacklustre season, TUF 13 deserved more credit for having some excellent bouts. That trend should continue with the bantamweight and featherweight divisions. These guys have insane speed and gas tanks. We don’t have to worry about the huffing and puffing we saw in the heavyweight season.

Better fighters

Secondly, it won’t be amateur hour with these weight classes. Since bantamweights and featherweights are only just starting to break into the UFC, it’s possible Dana White will uncover some highly talented, undiscovered fighters in TUF 14.

The UFC on FOX: What it means

Monday, September 5th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

Well, this should be exciting. As you’ve probably heard in the MMA community over the last week, the UFC and FOX will debut their massive TV partnership on November 12, with Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos battling it out for heavyweight title live. It will mark the first-ever UFC event, let alone title fight, on network television.

Many casual fans out there are wondering: what does the partnership really mean? How will it change the sport and how it’s perceived? Let’s break down a few changes we should notice.

1. More mainstream promotion.

As the top network in America, FOX obviously has a lot of influence, and it’s charged with the task of being the first major network to acknowledge mixed martial arts as a sport and not something barbaric. FOX has already begun its work. It promoted the Velasquez/Dos Santos fight during a baseball game over the weekend.

2. A shift to a cleaner image.

During the initial press conference when the UFC and FOX announced their agreement, I noticed that the accompanying highlight clips were “clean.” Lots of submissions and, when there was striking, we saw no blood. The UFC is also changing its opening title credits, saying goodbye to the gladiator imagery and (probably) the hardcore heavy metal. The transition to mainstream TV is all about trying to show the layman viewer that MMA is not the “dangerous,” violent sport people think it is.

3. More pressure on fighters to sell bouts.

With the UFC’s advent of mandatory Twitter posting for all athletes, it already took a step in this direction before the FOX deal. But fighter personalities will be much more important as millions of new viewers get to know who they are. This could be a challenge for a guy like Cain Velasquez whereas the Forrest Griffins and Rich Franklins of the world will flourish.

4. “Babying” the audience.

When asked about how he intends to fill the hour-long time slot for the heavyweight title fight, Dana White explained that a lot of introductory programming is in order. Many new viewers will have to learn the rules and be taught the basics of the game, such as what BJJ, Muay Thai, the clinch, full mount, and other terms mean. It may be temporarily frustrating for the diehards.

5. A major leg up on boxing.

Sorry, boxing, but unless you put Manny Pacquiao on NBC, ABC or CBS, you’re officially behind in the race to be the world’s top combat sport.
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The Great G.O.A.T. Debate

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

Any time a superstar in a sport gives a signature performance, it’s common for fans to start up a “Greatest of All Time” or “G.O.A.T.” discussion. MMA is no different from any other sport; after Anderson Silva’s decimation of Yushin Okami last Saturday, people are wondering if it’s safe to call him the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.

It especially helps The Spider’s cause that (a) Fedor Emelianenko has destroyed his legacy over the last year to the point where he’s not even in the running and (b) Despite his continued dominance, Georges St-Pierre has lulled us into forgetting how good he is because of his conservative, uninspired efforts of late.

To me, the interesting part of the G.O.A.T. debate in MMA isn’t whether or not it’s Anderson Silva. To me, there’s no question right now. He holds the record for consecutive UFC wins and title defenses and he has never lost in the Octagon.

The more fascinating hot topic I’ve stumbled upon lately is whether or not MMA is old enough to have a G.O.A.T. Some people believe that, because MMA is so young, it can’t have a greatest of all time yet. People of this mindset believe that we haven’t even scratched the surface of how good mixed martial artists can be, and that the next superstars, physical freaks in the Jon Jones/Rory MacDonald mode, will be far superior to guys like Silva when their careers end.

Personally, I think it’s ludicrous to say that a G.O.A.T. can’t exist. It’s implied that the greatest of all time is always the greatest of all time so far. Even if MMA was one year old, it would still have the right of having a “greatest.” Royce Gracie held that honor in the 1990s, and deservedly so. He was an innovator whose Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu changed the sport forever.

Anderson Silva deserves his G.O.A.T status just as much. He, too is a trailblazer because of his amazing grace, evasiveness, accuracy, showmanship and finishing ability. He’s a Muay Thai version of Muhammad Ali.

The best way I can close the debate on whether or not a young sport can have a G.O.A.T: saying that Anderson Silva doesn’t deserve the title yet would be like saying in 80 years ago that Babe Ruth didn’t deserve it in his sport because “baseball was still too young.”

Is Rory MacDonald ready to contend?

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

With respect to a former champ like Carlos Newton and current UFC contenders like Mark Hominick and Sam Stout, Georges St-Pierre remains Canada’s one and only mixed martial arts superstar to date.

He’s the only guy to reach that “untouchable” status, land the “cool” endorsement deals, and become an icon outside his own country.

But is that about to change? Rory MacDonald’s performance at UFC 133 last Saturday was impressive enough to beg the question.

He rolled through Mike Pyle so easily that he almost looked insulted to have been given such an inferior opponent. MacDonald literally brushed off his shoulders after finishing Pyle – an opponent with 21 MMA victories and 17 submissions to his credit.

After walking through Pyle like he was nothing, MacDonald is now 12-1…at age 22. His only loss came to mega welterweight contender Carlos Condit – and Macdonald may have won that fight had Condit not TKO’d him with seven seconds remaining.

MacDonald has all the makings of a superstar. He has a solid wrestling base, he can submit opponents, his technical striking is strong and he has a swagger in the Octagon. Joe Rogan even went as far to say during Saturday’s telecast that MacDonald may have a higher ceiling than GSP.

And that’s what scares me. Is there a risk of pushing MacDonald up the ranks too quickly? He’s already voiced his interest in fighting Jon Fitch, who has lost once in his last 23 fights. I worry that he’s aiming too high, too soon.

The UFC really has something with MacDonald. He’s a new-age fighter who looks like he could be the 170-pound division’s answer to Jon Jones. But I hope the promotion is careful. Instead of Fitch, why not give MacDonald a contender from the next tier down, like Thiago Alves, Rick Story or Anthony Johnson?  To me, a Fitch fight is no-win. If MacDonald loses, his growing legacy gets tarnished. If he wins, he’d likely vault into No. 1 contender status and be forced to fight GSP, who is his training partner. That would be messy.

MacDonald’s emergence as a new potential Canadian MMA superstar is fantastic news. But I hope he isn’t rushed up the ladder too quickly.

The five most disappointing fighters in MMA

Monday, July 18th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

Maybe it’s because it’s Monday – but I feel like seeing the glass half empty today. Who are the most disappointing fighters in mixed martial arts today? The guys who we constantly wish would break through into superstardom but let us down? Here are my five picks, in random order.

Keep in mind that aging fighters like Fedor or Mirko Cro Cop don’t make this list. They disappoint us these days – but only because they’re old. They delivered time and time again during their primes.

Ryan Bader

With a powerful collegiate wrestling background and an Ultimate Fighter season victory, “Darth” Bader was poised for major success. But it seems we overestimated his toughness. He entered his No. 1 contender match with Jon Jones 12-0; he tapped quickly to lose that fight and tapped quickly in his next bout, which was supposed to be a “tuneup” against Tito Ortiz. Bader seems to lack that extra bit of killer instinct needed to gut it out when the going gets tough.

Kenny Florian

Kenny Florian is among the smartest, most well-rounded fighters in MMA. Love his Muay Thai, boxing, BJJ and those devastating elbows! But, for whatever reason, Florian chokes whenever he gets a shot at true glory. He lost a lightweight title match to Sean Sherk; fizzled again when he got a chance for BJ Penn’s belt; and dropped a No. 1 contender match against Gray Maynard. Will he fail to answer the call again versus Kenny Florian?

Anthony Johnson

Some say he walks around at 230 pounds. Yet he fights at 170. With his massive size advantage and ability to bust out highlight-reel knockouts, you’d think he’d be a top title contender by now. But injuries continue to sideline this freak of nature.

Thiago Alves

Alves doesn’t disappoint simply because his size should pose such an advantage at 170, like Johnson does. Alves also disappoints because he’s so supremely talented. His striking can match anyone in his weight class and many others. But he can’t seem to get his grappling up to snuff; he also tends to quit partway through fights if his strategy isn’t working. “Pitbull” is tumbling down the welterweight rankings.

BJ Penn

Penn has had plenty of success in his career, holding UFC titles in multiple weight classes. But he’s still young enough that he could be dominating his competition, never losing a match. Few opponents can match his amazing Jiu-Jitsu, flexibility, and boxing skills, especially when he fights at 155 pounds. But Penn only shows up for fights when he feels like it. Those lapses (particularly in the fitness department) have stripped him of his legendary status. He’s been downgraded simply a “star.”

Is it a fighter’s duty to fill in for an injury?

Friday, July 15th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

The hoopla surrounding the Rashad Evans fight this week raised an interesting debate topic: whether or not fighters have a duty to replace injured guys for the good of their MMA promotions.

First it was Rashad Evans versus Jon Jones. After Jones pulled out with a hand injury, the fight became Evans versus Phil Davis. When Davis injured his knee, the proposed bout became Evans versus Tito Ortiz. Tito declined for personal reasons. Then it was Evans versus Lyoto Machida. Machida decided the bout was “too soon” and also wanted more money to uproot his camp.

In the end, Tito changed his mind and stepped up to take the August 6 fight against Evans, falling on the grenade for the UFC.

“Honestly, the biggest difference for me and why I took the fight was my commitment to the UFC – showing them I’m there for them when they need me,” Ortiz said.

Weighting Tito’s decision against Machida’s creates quite an interesting debate. Is it a fighter’s duty to step up and help for the sake of saving a fight card? I believe, in most cases, that it is.

For one, by doing so, the fighter is helping the company that pays him or her. If no one stepped up to take Phil Davis’ spot at UFC 133, the card would be heavily watered down and pay-per-view buys could tank. By stepping up, Tito is helping the UFC make more profit, which is never a bad thing for fighters looking to earn bigger paydays.

Some people might disagree on the grounds that the situation varies from fighter to fighter. They might argue that Tito was in the perfect position to step in. He’s on the downside of his career with very little to lose and everything to gain. He also makes a smart PR move be earning “nice guy” points. People might argue that Machida, on the other hand, is fresh off a victory, possibly one win away from a light heavyweight title shot, and would be dumb to jeopardize his shot at glory by stepping in on short notice.

But I think that viewpoint is short-sighted. Promoters like Dana White have always trumpeted that they sincerely appreciate it every time a fighter steps up on short notice. Doing so means so much to the bigwigs, gains a fighter so much favour, that a loss may not even knock him or he down the ladder. You scratch the UFC’s back and they’ll scratch yours down the road.

The only exception I can think of would be an undefeated fighter. Someone with a perfect record has plenty to lose. From the business side, the promotion also wouldn’t want to jeopardize his or her record, as there’s a special mystique and brand equity that accompanies an undefeated fighter’s name. Undefeated fighters like Cain Velasquez are far less common in MMA than in boxing and have to be cherished for their marketing potential.

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