Greetings from what’s left of beautiful Washington D.C. where, you may have heard, we’ve gotten a few snowflakes here and there. Since the start of the month, I’ve been shoveling like Tito Ortiz in his prime. Needing to escape before Mayor Fenty declared a state of Thunderdome — DC really doesn’t handle snow well — I took a short vacation home to my family in New Jersey. This may make me one of the first in the Northern Hemisphere to head north for a milder winter. I’m nothing if not an outside-the-box thinker.
The time off gave me plenty of opportunities to remember what grass looked like (well, not really – NJ was still under about 16 inches of the white stuff) and store up a number of topics I wanted to discuss after a packed February in mixed martial arts. So, with spring right around the corner (who do you trust, me or a groundhog?) let’s plow away some of the pressing issues in MMA.
If you understand why it’s funny that I used this picture, you win SBT’s no-prize of the month. Also, you need to get out more.
Welcome To Heavytown: I hate to say anything, because you never know when the entire division will get hurt, but when everybody’s out of the hospital, UFC’s heavyweight division is looking like one of the most exciting brackets in the sport.
Most of the attention right now is focused on Shane Carwin (who may be a proud papa by the time this posts) and Frank Mir battling next month for a shot at Brock Lesnar’s title. Between now and then, rising star Junior Dos Santos will attempt to notch his 11th MMA win when he goes against Gabriel Gonzaga.
The elephant in the room, though, is Cain Velasquez, who did exactly what he needed to do at UFC 110: stop an elite fighter in convincing fashion. Velasquez put his striking on display against Minotauro Nogueira and was rewarded with a first-round KO of the Brazilian legend. While Velasquez will likely have to wait (barring a Carwin/Mir injury) until the end of 2010 for a title shot, he’s proven that he’s more than headline-worthy. From a fighting perspective, he’s got granite fists and top-notch wrestling, ensuring that he can end a fighter’s night once Velasquez has taken him down and grappled him into a poor position. And for UFC, he’s a promoter’s dream: a collegiate wrestling pedigree, a bilingual American proud of his heritage in a market that the company would love to make inroads in, and by most reports, a hell of a nice guy. Add those up and you’ve got a main event fighter in the marquee division that could take America by storm. Especially if he stays undefeated this year.
Speaking of crossover appeal…
Hey, Honey, That Man Looks Like One Of Them Cage Fighters: As you’ve probably seen at some point since the Super Bowl, Rampage Jackson had the climatic shot in Nike’s seriously awesome “Human Chain” commercial. (The music, which has been stuck in my head all month, is the similarly sweet “Ali In The Jungle” by The Hours. Worth the download.) Meanwhile, Chael Sonnen followed up a dominant win over Nate Marquardt with an excellent appearance on FOX News in support of his burgeoning political career. These two appearances are a great sign for MMA, and I’d expect that Georges St-Pierre’s Gatorade spots will become more visible heading into his match against Dan Hardy next month, which tops a major card in a major East Coast market.
Still, I can’t help but wonder if Dana White ought to be doing more to get his fighters promoted on an individual basis. The 24/7-esque specials on Spike are a good start, but UFC really needs to get their fighters, and most importantly, their stories plastered across the American consciousness. I didn’t know a damn thing about Lindsey Vonn last week other than that she looked good in a bikini, and through watching enough NBC I know everything from her favorite Thai dish to her Social Security number.
2009 was the year that White really made the UFC explode into the nation’s consciousness. But for the promotion to really take hold with casual viewers, a shift needs to be made towards promoting individual fighters. Not only would that give people names to cheer for and get behind (and UFC to merchandise) but it puts a human face on a sport that the ignorant are too quick to write off as barbaric.
There’s a Reason The Flag Doesn’t Have Five Olympic Octagons: Finally, Dana White has long been an advocate for MMA as an Olympic sport, and with the eyes of the world focused on Vancouver (mostly staring at Norway’s curling pants) he took the opportunity on Dan Patrick’s show to reiterate his belief that mixed martial arts has a place alongside boxing, wrestling, and the other Olympic fighting disciplines.
Aside: so we all expected the normal amount of drug-induced trippiness at the opening ceremonies, and Wayne Gretzky’s “your failing machinery does not amuse me” face was worth the price of admission. As was the river of snark on Twitter. But holy crap, nobody has fallen further from my good graces faster than Nelly Furtado, who showed up for a truly horrible song with the truly horrible Bryan Adams. If she had continued on the career path that “Whoa, Nelly” marked, I’d be outside her window with a boombox right now begging her to make sweet Portucanadspanitalian babies with me. Then Timbaland happened. Now I’m desperately hoping she shows up at the studio one day to find that everyone who loves her is dragging her to a musical taste intervention. Has this stopped me from putting “Maneater” on my iPod? No. But I die a little inside every time it plays.
Anyway, this “Olympic MMA” story pops up every two years and I wish we’d bury it (like Tito Ortiz’s career – BOOM FULL CIRCLE). With the IOC’s desire for telegenic events and distaste for blood, any version of MMA that the Olympics got would be so neutered as to be rendered unrecognizable. Most likely, the striking would have to be points-based. Ask Roy Jones Jr. how well boxing’s dealt with that in the Olympics. (And get ready for a line of Tapout electronic headgear!) Even if MMA could be reduced from a sport of clear winners and losers to a sport of scores like diving or figure skating, I’m not sure why anybody would then have any desire to watch it. And that’s before we deal with the inevitable dangerous mismatches a large open tournament would produce. Who’s going to tell the qualifier from a tiny country like Luxembourg that he’s drawn Anderson Silva’s Brazilian squad in the first round? They’ll be scraping the poor bastard off the bottom of the ring.
There are plenty of gold belts to go around in mixed martial arts. Let’s not compromise the sport by introducing silver and bronze to the mix.
Image from Kodiak MMA