Saturday, July 7th, Las Vegas, Nevada – UFC 148 will most likely be a day remembered in the MMA world as the biggest spectacular they have produced until, well… the next one. That’ s just the way it is with Zuffa and front-man/puppet-master Dana White who are continuing to capitalize on the growing vacuum of combat sport dollars being left behind by the laughing stock which was once the sweet science of boxing. Yes, Sports Fans, the time has come for that argument and although Boxing vs. MMA may not carry the importance of the verbal bar sparring of Elvis vs. The Beatles, Montana vs. Unitas, Yankees vs. Red Sox or even Cialis vs. Viagra, there is little doubt that given the correct time and circumstance and proper infusion of adult beverages, this argument tends to bring out a little of the Fight Club in all of us.
Don’t misunderstand me here, I grew up on boxing. From the time I was 10 I watched it as regularly, if not more so, than most other sports. I watched my man, “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler have his title stolen from him by bad judging and “Showboat Sugar” Ray Leonard. I woke up at 5 a.m. in the UK to watch Mike Tyson destroy “The Great Canadian Hype” (and no, I don’t mean Willie DeWitt) Trevor Berbick in the length of time it took to brew coffee and to this day I continue to follow the career of the unique political singing and punching machine that is Manny Pacquiao and his ongoing battle against the Judges From Mars (see Timothy Bradley debacle) and the dirty ducker that is Floyd “Show Me The Money” Mayweather. I am versed in the sport. I will sit through a Spanish dubbed marathon of The View if it means I get to watch any of the 3 Gatti/Ward fights. I like the sport – comprende?
I have just grown tired of the endless BS that surrounds it – promoters like Don King and Bob Arum who have turned the sport into their own little sandbox playground like the Egyptian pyramids in the early 20th century, gradually stripping it of all its value and honour and leaving it an empty shell of its once proud self. Only the most die-hard of Fans can name the title-holders of WBC, WBA, IBF, WBO and The Ring belts at the prestigious weight classes and most of the so-called Champions have W/L records ridiculously inflated by fighting unemployed gas-station attendants on undercards in such boxing Meccas as Silver City, New Mexico and Parkville, Missouri… I’m just guessing on those two locales. At Middleweight for example, there is little chance that the recognizably named Champions Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (WBC), Sergio Martinez (The Ring) or Felix Sturm (WBA) will climb into the ring together… an issue of purse breakdown or drug testing will most likely prevent that from happening but perhaps Daniel Geale (IBF), Dmitry Pirog (WBO), or Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam (Interim WBO) might be willing – assuming their precious belt is not part of the negotiations. Don’t recognize those last 3? Neither does anybody else my friends but in a sport that has more belts than a Kardashian, these gentlemen are holders and while MMA may still have several promotions not under the Zuffa banner, it is universally understood by all that UFC is the major leagues and everything else is just a stepping stone. Sorry Bellator, but Alexander Schlemenko doesn’t have the right to carry Anderson Silva’s shorts to the Middleweight Octagon much less go toe to toe with him in it.
Does MMA suffer from some of the same recurring problems as boxing? No question. The “10-Point Must” scoring system being administered by ill-trained and crooked Athletic Commission judges is a travesty in both the ring and octagon and while it may not always be as glaring and cynical as the Pacquiao/Bradley farce, it does occasionally rear its ugly head. Even Saturday, during the pre-pay-per-view preliminary fights a dominant performance by Brazilian Gleison Tibau over Khabib Nurmagomedov resulted in unanimous decision loss 30-27, 30-27, 30-27 in a fight that was obviously being scored by the Three Blind Mice. And although Tito Ortiz may have thought the same to be true in his co-Main Event retirement/end of a trilogy fight with Forrest Griffin, close analysis of the overall striking statistics of the fight bears out the 29-28 scoreline… although I am not sure it bears the responsibility for Griffin’s incredibly strange post-fight antics which the puppet-master later deemed “career suicide.” Well, “stupid is as stupid does” sometimes with Forrest. Here’s hoping his retirement fight is another glorious throw-down with Stephan Bonnar a la TUF 1.
And then there’s the hype. While the smack-talk of “The American Gangster” Chael Sonnen is worthy of the great verbal diarrhea practitioners of sports – T.O. and Dennis Rodman jump immediately to mind – one is always left feeling a little dirty and in need of a shower after catching an appearance of his on OTR. While he may have dominated “The Spider” for almost a full half hour over the course of 2 fights, he has only a tap out, an Yves Lavigne mercy stoppage and a BBQ invite from Silva to show for his hard work. When he checks the tape, he will have to wonder what possessed him to throw the completely out of character spinning back-fist which led to his eventual demise and we will have to wait and see whether or not his WWE promise to leave UFC in the event of a defeat comes to pass.
Those who dismiss MMA as a fad or cite its bloodlust nature continue to use the culture of Mixed Martial Arts as the argument against it. They may have a point. The Jersey Shore wannabes with their sleeveless Tapout uniforms who lead the parking-lot parade of vodka/Red Bull fueled post-pay-per-view throwdowns have tainted the culture of a sport whose core values stem through Far Eastern history and philosophy and encompass many of the Olympic ideals which we covet. It was a wonderful treat to watch 2 excellent strikers in Cung Le and Patrick Cote slug it out on Saturday night while they laughed and joked in the ring, elevating their sport and putting sportsmanship on display for the world to see. Detractors might be right when they suggest that this is not the sport to subject one’s children to before they are able to grasp the intricacies and nuances of the disciplines involved but to suggest that the sport itself is any more brutal or savage than the more mainstream offerings is akin to intimating that Formula 1 aficionados tune in to only watch the crashes. If I remember correctly Kelowna, the movie theatre cheered pretty loudly in 1984 when Ralph Macchio overcame the evil “Sweep the leg” and crane-kicked his way in to movie and MMA history. Until next time…