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Caged Turducken: Looking Back At MMA’s November Feast

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My weapon of choice is breaded cauliflower and my family recipe ground beef, almonds, and dates stuffing. That’s what I gorge myself with on Thanksgiving, the last couple bites being enough to put me in a solid two hour food coma before the final football game of the night.

Meanwhile, MMA fans are stuffed solid with a packed month of action that raised as many questions as it answered. Before I hop on a train bound for turkey (and well before I pass out on the couch in a small drool puddle) it’s worth looking back at November and digesting what happened a little. Loosen your eatin’ belts!



Some people look at Shane Carwin’s 5XL hands and think “those would hurt to get punched with.” I think “damn, those would make awesome hand turkeys.”

Is Fedor The Ratings Answer For Strikeforce?

5.4 million is the final number for the Fedor-Rogers telecast, and that has to be considered a success for both CBS and Strikeforce, especially if they held eyeballs through the Jake Shields-Jason Miller grapplefest.

It’s also great news for Fedor and M-1 Global, who have leverage now. While they’re notorious players of hardball for their services, it had yet to be proved that they could get American crowds excited about the Russian. Judging from media coverage the next day and the ratings numbers, they succeeded.

The “Fedor bump” is a double-edged sword, however. I’m not certain Strikeforce has anybody else that’s going to get eyeballs in front of the television on a Friday night. Gina Carano needs another fight or two before a rematch against Cris Cyborg is credible, so who else can the company main event with? Gegard Mousasi is good but way too vanilla, Brett Rogers needs a bounceback fight, and the only potential sponsor Shields excites is Ambien. A star can make a telecast, but a roster makes a promotion. Right now I’m worried that Strikeforce isn’t doing enough to market the rest of their fighters to the general public.

Did Jose Aldo Pick A Great Time To Become the WEC’s Best Fighter?

If it’s November, it’s must be time for UFC-WEC merger rumors, and Tatame.com reported rumors of a merger this month before it was denied by WEC’s PR department in a statement to Heavy.com.

In spite of UFC’s desperate need for some healthy blood (more on that later), I think the companies staying separate is a great thing for fans of ZuffaCorp, because it means more free TV showings for the explosive Jose Aldo Jr. who once again rewrote the top of the featherweight division in WEC.

Just a little over a year ago, Mike Brown walked into his match against Urijah Faber a huge underdog, but took him out there and in the rematch in May. Riding a ten fight winning streak, this time Brown was the favorite against Aldo, who had blown lesser competition out of the water but was still untested on the ground.

Once more, the underdog showed he was the class of the division, but this time it was Brown losing the WEC Featherweight belt. We knew that Aldo’s standup was fantastic – his last two stoppages were earned in under a combined two minutes – but he showed some impressive other techniques in winning the title. Brown’s obvious gameplan was to work him on the ground, but Aldo’s takedown defense was absolutely flawless. When the fight did go to the ground at the end, Aldo transitioned beautifully to mount and then back control before a ground and pound stoppage.

More of the public should know about Jose Aldo – he’s going to move into everybody’s pound-for-pound top ten after this fight and maybe a couple top fives. But he’s one of the most compelling things about the WEC right now, and if they’re going to give me more of his fights on Wednesday nights for free, well, I’ll take that bargain.

Is “30-27 Griffin” More Telling Than The Couture/Vera Mess?

In an both attempt to beat the line and in what is certainly too much information, I was in the bar’s bathroom when the decision of Saturday’s Tito Ortiz-Forrest Griffin fight was announced. I thought the only possible judging controversy was that judges might have seen the last round 10-8 Griffin (and even though Griffin widely outstruck him in R3 a LOT of those shots were weak and/or blocked. Ortiz had little-to-no offense but I don’t think Griffin did enough to earn the second point). But over the flush of the urinals, I was stunned to hear that one of the scorecards read 30-27 Griffin. I had to ask everybody in line to make sure I hadn’t misheard. Ortiz had taken round one, right? Griffin round three? Round two a relative tossup? I thought at the very least Ortiz had taken ONE of the first two rounds, but apparently somebody at the scorer’s table didn’t think so. I believe the end result was right, but the process to get there was troubling – made more so by the complete lack of judging consensus.

Much ado was made about the Randy Couture-Brandon Vera judging and previously the Lyoto Machida-Shogun Rua decision, and fellow BC writer Mark Kalriess addressed those in his last piece calling for a change to MMA scoring. I’m not sure the scoring system needs a complete overhaul, but the judges themselves do need to be looked at. There is not nearly enough transparency within the state athletic commissions and no guarantees that the scorers, who might have years of experience watching boxing, know anything about the sport of mixed martial arts. Rules changes are possible down the line, but for now, let’s work on educating and training judges, some of whom are truly bad at their weekend jobs. Open the scorecards. Bring the judges to the press conferences. Demand legitimate justifications. Anything to make sure that there’s as much talent at the table as there is in the cage.

Does The Ultimate Fighter Have Legs Anymore?

I’m not just talking about the jelly legs of all the no-stamina heavyweights dotting the show. Rather, this season of TUF banked on two quantities: a grudge match between “Rampage” Jackson and Rashad Evans, who seem to legitimate want to eat each other’s throats, and of course, the return to relevance of Kimbo Slice. Neither panned out. Jackson’s moviestar fantasies left Rashad hanging and, as happened to EliteXC, Kimbo’s MMA prowess couldn’t support his marketing push. With both those storylines down the tubs – whoops! Was thinking about Roy Nelson! Meant “tubes” – we were left with a conga line of snoozer matches that made the coaches’ beach volleyball match the most compelling athletic competition to air this season.

It’s not only the embarrassing cardio that makes me think TUF needs an overhaul. It’s the format, which after ten seasons has grown brutally stale. We’ve seen every possible house antic, every training storyline, and the best classes of fighters from the show are still the first two (Griffin and top contender Diego Sanchez from the first season; Evans and Joe Stevenson from the second).

I’d borrow from two successful recent boxing initiatives: the Super Six tournament and HBO’s 24/7 series. Put TUF on the shelf for a year, then give us a small (4, 6, or 8 fighter) tournament of contenders. Have it at 170 or 185, where the competition beneath GSP and Silva could really use some hype (plus a possible juicy AKA vs. AKA storyline), and then follow them with cameras and take us inside their camps. Give us an eye on the personal lives of the fighters and what being a UFC fighter is really about, which is something that hasn’t really been explored much on air. The matches would be quality, there’s plenty of potential for drama, and it would hold my attention far more than two fatties rumbling at each other for five minutes and spending the next five gassed.

Whither The Heavyweights In UFC?

Swine flu. Knee surgeries. Severe staph. Crazy Canadian bacterial infections. The UFC’s heavyweight division is a mistaken lupus diagnosis and a painkiller addiction (which apparently is a welterweight problem) away from being an episode of House right now.

While Fedor had a great month, almost every other major heavyweight – the entire top of UFC’s roster at 265 – went down with injuries or sickness. The most severe case is obviously that of Brock Lesnar, the resumption of whose career may still be touch-and-go. I’d link to the news, but nobody seems to know anything for certain yet.

Prior to late last year the conventional wisdom was that UFC’s heavyweight division was the weakest of their weight classes. Then a funny thing happened: things got really good. Couture, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir all established themselves solidly and greener fighters like Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos all made names for themselves. And after the coronation of Lesnar and a fight of the year contender with Couture-Nog, the apocalypse hit and now only three of those seven fighters are walking around healthy. It’s a rollercoaster: UFC’s heavyweight division has gone from a joke to a party to a mess.

Mir fights at UFC 107 and dos Santos (probably) at 108, but beyond those there’s not a meaningful heavyweight fight even scheduled right now in UFC’s future. TUF could help if there was a credible contender in that house – but there’s not. And of course, the world’s best heavyweight continues to ply his trade elsewhere. While Nog-Velasquez is rumored to happen at 110, I think Plan B should be the previous Plan A before Carwin was scheduled against Mir: Carwin, if healthy, should go against Velasquez for an interim title and give Nog a subsequent title shot either at that winner or Lesnar before the belts are unified. The division is no stranger to an interim title and as much as it sucks for him, Lesnar will still have the real belt when he returns.

And of course, there’s the chance I bulk up to heavyweight at the dining table this weekend and can step in on the next card. Call me, Dana!

* * * * *

Happy Thanksgiving to you all; I’m thankful for all you loyal readers putting up with me week-to-week. And let’s give somebody else something to be thankful for! If you’ve got a little canned food left over, it’s tough times out there: I urge you to give back. See you back here when the tryptophan wears off.

Image from urdirt.com.

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About Matt DeTura