In the week that was, mixed martial arts showed it has something in common, in a roundabout way, with the Dallas Cowboys.
Even though the Cowboys usually play just one game a week, they more than satisfy fans’ appetites by generating news, no matter how contrived, in the days leading up to their Sunday events.
Terrell Owens is whining. Pacman Jones is beating up bodyguards. Tony Romo is lunching at a posh eatery with Jessica Simpson. Jerry Jones is doing damage control.
This happens to a lesser extent in every other NFL city, too. Each team’s daily minutiae and the steadfast reporting of said minutiae is part of what makes the league so popular. (Oh, no! Will Romo’s injured pinkie heal in time for him to rescue the Cowboys’ season?)
It’s an excellent model to follow, and one quite suited to MMA since the lengthy breaks between big-time fight cards are similar to the way the NFL schedule works.
So, maybe UFC president Dana White wasn’t out of his mind when he said in the August edition of Playboy that, in eight years, the UFC would be more popular than the NFL.
While that’s an overly ambitious pronouncement, MMA appears to be off to a good start – and that’s really all it is. MMA, at this point, could be likened to the NFL of the 1950s, when it existed on the fringe of attention before Johnny Unitas and Raymond Berry showed off their telekinetic connection in a national TV performance that sent the league on its journey into the stratosphere.
Right now in the world of MMA, big story lines are developing, reputations are growing, stars are revealing themselves, fans are flocking.
Minutiae, meanwhile, is being reported and consumed with gusto, just like with the NFL.
As an illustration, take the soap-operatic feel of many MMA headlines from the past week. A recap follows. (Cue the silly music and super-dramatic voiceover.)
The Backlash: Everyone saw this coming. For goodness sake, a former pro wrestling heel has kicked in the MMA door and snatched the UFC heavyweight belt from a living legend – and he did it rather easily. Whether you think Brock Lesnar got an undeserving crack at Randy Couture’s title, or you believe he’s the brand of superstar who can propel MMA to unseen heights (a much scarier, much less-artistic version of Unitas-to-Berry), this freakish man elicits passionate reactions from all fanatics. Get used to Lesnar. He will only get better and he will only assist the sport. Even if he loses the belt in his next bout, he’ll continue racking up monstrous PPV numbers for the next decade or so. That probably won’t keep angry folks from bashing him on message boards, though.
The Petty Squabble: Last week, White was ready to cut ties with rising welterweight star Jon Fitch and his American Kickboxing Academy cohorts because they refused to sign an exclusive, lifetime licensing agreement with the UFC for an upcoming video game. Fitch had the nerve to attempt a negotiation with the powerful White, proposing a five- or 10-year pact instead. Fitch fought the law, and the law was going to win. White got pissed, dropped a few F-bombs and dissed AKA. Then, he told Fitch to get lost and to take his buddies Josh Koscheck and Cain Velasquez with him. It was a rash move, especially since those three guys, in addition to other AKA-affiliated fighters, have broad appeal and great upside. I guess White figured the video game (to be called “Undisputed”) had more money-making promise than those dudes. But, someone should’ve explained to White that most mortals are unwilling to sign their life away for anything – except maybe a date with Rachelle Leah. (Apparently, that wasn’t in the contract.) Fitch got wise, though, and went over White. He worked it out with UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta, who compromised on the deal. That’s good. It keeps White from having to the make the video game with a well-rounded, bearded, Caucasian welterweight named “Ron Ditch.”
The Teasers: Drool began forming in the mouths of fans after two bits of news broke last week. First, White changed his stance on the Gina Carano issue, saying he would like to bring her into the Zuffa fold by featuring her in the WEC. Upon EliteXC’s implosion, White initially stated there wasn’t a place for the heavy-handed hottie in the sport’s premier company. However, with Affliction a leading candidate for Carano’s services (and with the likelihood of a lucrative matchup against Cris “Cyborg” Santos) White backtracked. Nothing has been cemented. Still, the mere mention of Carano’s name and the idea of her appearing somewhere soon is enough to get fanatics frothing.
Second, spokesmen for Fedor Emelianenko released a statement saying the pound-for-pound king would handily dispatch Lesnar in the first round, should the two ever fight. Well, that’s not really news, but it’s awfully tantalizing. Too bad it could only happen in our dreams – much like a date with Rachelle Leah.
The Buildup: Speaking of dream matchups, Penn-St. Pierre II was finally announced and set for Jan. 31. Commence anticipation for this UFC clash of champions. B.J. Penn will get his wish with an opportunity to exorcise the demons from his 2006 split-decision loss to Georges St. Pierre. And GSP – whom I have taken to calling the nicest butt-kicker in the world – gets to battle the top contender for his welterweight title. I think GSP learned his lesson from past slip-ups and it’s hard to see anyone beating him in the near future. That being said, Penn has the rare kind of multi-pronged arsenal – to go with his newfound cardio devotion – required to become a two-division champ. This one goes the distance, with GSP inflicting more damage and coming out with a unanimous decision. But I’ll probably change my mind two or three more times as I chew on it over the next two months.
The Bombshell: Is Couture-Liddell IV really in the works? It’s hard to imagine getting tired of watching those two contrasting styles. Seriously, that’s a fight that should happen every year until one or the other can’t physically do it anymore. But, who knows? It might not even go down a fourth time. It’s all speculation right now.
If we didn’t’ have speculation, though, we wouldn’t have so many stories in MMA. Just look at the last week’s worth of headlines, for example. We couldn’t get enough, yet nothing really happened.