Tuesday, January 3, 2012
The Heavyweight Division Is Not Good
The heavyweight division is not good. It's in a constant state of flux. This is evidenced by many things. Strikeforce waved the white flag for their HW division because they naively thought they could put together a HW tournament over the course of 2011 without a single participant getting hurt. Now, the tournament is scheduled to wrap up sometime between the spring of 2012 and my death (tentatively scheduled for 2056).
This is more of a testament to the fact that tournaments don't work the way they're supposed to on paper, but I think the fact that they just threw their hands up and said "screw it" speaks volumes. Never mind Strikeforce, though. The UFC put on two heavyweight fights this year that truly captured the imaginations of both hardcore and casual MMA fans alike; Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem vs. Brock Lesnar.
A total of 3 minutes and 30 seconds later, both of these fights were over. Now, in the case of Lesnar-Overeem, this was understandable. Here you had two fighters that excelled offensively and were prone to turtling up when someone hit them. To proclaim that this was going to be a back-and-forth classic that lasted for five rounds would have been pretty ridiculous.
However, in the case of Velasquez-dos Santos, this was exactly what many people, myself included, saw going down. These were two guys at the peak of their powers. Then, dos Santos threw a looping right hand, and it was all over.
Both of these outcomes were different, and they produced wholly different reactions from people, but they are both a play on the same theme; heavyweight MMA is heavyweight MMA. When these guys hit each other, it's only a matter of time before one of them is being asked by a bespectacled man to recite the day's date.
This is what makes fan reaction to high profile heavyweight bouts different than heavily promoted fights in other weight classes. In the case of Lesnar-Overeem, I immediately heard this sort of rhetoric: "Brock didn't come to fight" ... "Brock is a sissy"... "Brock was always overrated" ... "Brock just hates getting hit" ... "Bet Brock wishes he had the rest of his colon right about now" ... "Brock had no gameplan". In reality, it doesn't matter whether you love or hate Brock Lesnar; what matters is that he had his guts kneed and kicked to kingdom come by a guy who can knee and kick really hard. Nobody seems willing to give heavyweights props for winning.
Just look at the aforementioned Velasquez vs. dos Santos bout. The fan reaction was "Cain was out of shape" ... "Cain is an idiot for not trying to clinch" ... "That was a lucky punch". Even Dana White couldn't resist getting on the horn and talking about how Junior dos Santos "gets tired late in fights" so "why didn't Cain wrestle early?" There seems to be this notion that quality heavyweights should always fight each other the way we imagine them fighting on paper. But, that's why they fight the fights. Don't feel mad or betrayed that Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez didn't live up to your expectations. If you're a fan of either, or if you lost some scratch gambling on either man, sure, you can feel disappointed. Just give credit where credit is due. JDS vs. Alistair Overeem might turn into a classic stand up war, but you know what? It also might end before either man breaks a sweat. And if it does, try to look at the positive. Fights can't always live up to your own personal expectations. There isn't a script to mixed martial arts. If you want scripts, check out a Stanley Kubrick movie.
Strikeforce's heavyweights will be coming into the UFC within the next calendar year, and this will create a bit more depth, to be sure. But it wont create the kind of depth that is in the other divisions, because certain guys will excel, and certain guys will wash out in far more spectacular fashion than they would have if they were lightweights. Seriously, try to make a list of the 25 best heavyweights. Around #20, it'll get pretty ugly. You'll be thinking things like "Lets see, would Shamil Abdurahimov beat Thiago Santos?"
The point? Yeah, Brock Lesnar got blown away on Saturday night. He was blown straight into retirement. But don't act like he didn't deserve to be in there, and don't feel robbed of an exciting fight because Alistair Overeem is good at striking to the body. Just let heavyweights be heavyweights. No UFC heavyweight won more fights in 2011 than Mark Hunt. And if that doesn't tell you all you need to know about the heavyweight division ... then I don't know what to tell you.