Friday, January 27, 2012

Major League MMA + Minor League MMA = The UFC

About halfway through the UFC's first live go-round on FX last Friday, a compelling thought hit me. Actually, two compelling thoughts hit me. The first was that Christian Morecraft reminds me of Paul Varelans. His striking is truly ghastly to watch, he's okay but clunky on the floor, and he's too big for his own good. All he's missing is a skintight black tee shirt and an infantile Cal Worsham throwing baby punches at him as Jim Brown quips "I didn't see any technique there". Okay, fine ... I didn't come up with this thought on my own. But it sure did make me chuckle heartily.

The second thought was much more, for lack of a better word, "macro". When I threw myself into the world of mixed martial arts, PRIDE was the organization to beat, and the UFC was little more than a casino attraction. To hammer this point home, here are the first 5 main events I remember: the Griffin-Bonnar slopfest; Liddell exacting his revenge on Randy Couture; Andrei Arlovski defending his title against JUSTIN EILERS (who had LOST HIS PREVIOUS FIGHT ... imagine if this happened now); Nate Marquardt's dry humping of Ivan Salaverry; Chuck Liddell beating the eyesight out of Jeremy Horn. Not exactly a list riddled with A-List guys.

Then, Zuffa bought PRIDE, and eventually seized their assets. Now, we figured that we'd get all of the "UFC vs. PRIDE" super-fights that we had all long yearned for. For a spell, we got exactly that: Rampage vs. Henderson unifying the light-heavyweight title at UFC 75; Gabe Gonzaga's leg going ham on Cro Cop's head at UFC 70; Forrest Griffin upsetting Shogun Rua at UFC 76. This was a nice little era. It was jarring to finally see some of these guys fight each other, and it was a period that was allowed to marinate on our brains for awhile.

The past year has seen our brains turn into goo. The UFC welcomed the WEC guys, as well as the featherweight and bantamweight divisions, into the fold. Before the dust even had a chance to settle, Zuffa started throwing money around like a drunken billionaire at a yacht auction, purchasing Strikeforce in what might be MMA's all time "Fuck it ... why not?" move.

The WEC merger was understandable, and it's not like it was unexpected. Everyone knew this was going to happen. It was just a matter of when. The Strikeforce purchase, though, was mind boggling. Why not wait for the 135 and 145ers to establish themselves a little before doing another fat guy cannonball into the MMA pool? I couldn't figure it out.

More splashes were to come in 2011. Zuffa inked a 7 year deal with FOX, with stipulations to run shows on FOX, FX, and FUEL TV. They caught on with Brazilian TV powerhouse Rede Globo, which gave them incentive to keep doing cards in Brazil. They signed up to do a vanity show in Japan. And if all of that wasn't enough, they just announced that the UFC flyweight division will kick off in March.

What does all this mean? More cards, more fighters, and more fights where Joe Rogan has to pretend that he knows who these guys are. According to Wikipedia, the UFC currently has 326 men under contract. They have most of the great fighters, most of the good fighters, and a surprising amount of guys that clearly aren't going anywhere. Why? Because. Gotta fill up those cards.

And this brings us back to the aforementioned FX card. Mike Easton fought Jared Papazian. On a MAIN CARD. The Zuffa storyline was "Here are two relatively unknown, talented prospects that have future title aspirations!"

This isn't even remotely true. Mike Easton has been fighting for nine years. He's a solid fighter who tucks his head, has a good chin, and can dirty box. But he starts slow, and he was given what might be the all-time gift decision against Chase Beebe in 2009. We have never seen a fighter get beaten for such a prolonged period of time and still see him win a decision.

Jared Papazian? He's a 14-7 fighter that is still absurdly young. He's been submitted by guys that, so help me God, are career laughingstocks. Anyone who is triangled in just over a minute by Shad Smith can't be a legitimate prospect. Especially at skilled divisions like 135.

TOO MANY FIGHTERS. Easton-Papazian was a relatively entertaining fight, but one that wasn't relevant (and probably never will be). Miller-Guillard was a relevant fight that helped determine the future of the lightweight title picture. They were both fought within 25 minutes of each other.

If you want to see a major league baseball game, you go to Comerica Park to watch the Tigers. If you want to see a minor league baseball game, you go to Toledo to watch the Mud Hens. Now, the MMA equivalent of both sectors is to go see a UFC on FX card, where you'll get both.

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