UFC on Fox, Warrior and the Changing Face of MMA
Published in Blog Archive, Culture Bully. Tags: Sports.
While Culture Bully has been a predominantly music-focused blog, a few months back I had a crazy idea that I wanted to pursue which included expanding content to other “cultural” points of interest: This included sports and, more importantly, coverage of mixed martial arts and the UFC. Things have subsequently changed quite a bit, leading to a general bottoming out of coverage in all areas, but what remains is a passionate eye for the sport and its development.
A little about how I got here: I grew up in Calgary, Alberta and all across Canada one of the main big-box retailers is called the Real Canadian Superstore, or simply Superstore for short. In traditional big-box fashion, Superstore had an electronics section with bargain bin videos (VHS), that ranged from shitty old martial arts movies to a slight trickle of less than successful recent releases. Somewhere in 1999 the bargain bin became littered with titles from the UFC’s still-young history; a longtime fan of pro-wrestling (and, yes, I’ll be honest: Van Damme’s Bloodsport) I was also a fan of the hand-to-hand combat style of mixed martial arts and I had been a curious onlooker of the UFC for a year or two, as the show wasn’t really on television anywhere. Being both a fan and a young opportunist I scooped up as many of the tapes as I could, watched them all, then took to eBay to make the most of the situation. (The Canadian dollar was weak, the videos were rare in the States, and I did well.) From that point I was hooked, picking up whatever little information I could about events and the evolution of the sport as I could along the way. It wasn’t until 2009 that I was able to put together my first stint as an MMA blogger, working for the content farming Examiner. That spot only lasted a couple months, but I’d like to think that it helped me nurture a deeper appreciation for the sport (this feature on Roger Huerta might have been the most rewarding thing I wrote during that stretch, for what it’s worth). The point is: I love the sport of MMA and the UFC’s development has almost come as a personal victory in some regard. It’s the band whose demo tape you bought at one of their first gigs or the classmate who made it big as a politician: There’s a personal feeling of satisfaction that accompanies such growth regardless of the legitimacy of the relationship.
As the sport and my passion continued to boom I felt the urge to dip back in, taking on Pay-Per-View coverage, the occasional editorial and playing with news updates. None of it really stuck. But this past month (especially) the sport has seen an fantastic series of events that has given me, as both an interested onlooker to the business aspect of things and a fanatic of the sport itself, nothing less than an MMA-high. Here are just a few of the developments in the sport and the Ultimate Fighting Championship that have taken place recently which might help shape the face of MMA for months, if not years, to come. Blog or no, I’m as excited as I’ve ever been to see how these particular events will help change the course of history. And if you have yet to give the UFC and MMA a try, I’d recommend checking out one of the many spectacular events that are set to take place as 2011 winds down.
• UFC on Fox — Historically, the UFC moving to Fox could be the most important thing to ever happen to both the promotion and the sport’s mainstream perception. I’d argue that mixed martial arts is every bit the sport that a combat sport relative such as boxing is (and it ultimately poses much less physical risk to the fighters than boxing) yet its aptitude for perceived violence and injury (let’s face it, a hematoma isn’t pretty no matter which way you spin it) leave it nothing more than human cage fighting in the eyes of many casual sports fans (let alone non-sports fans). The move to Fox, and the kick off with such a remarkable display of talent on the network’s first broadcast (Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos), should help put the wheels of legitimacy in motion for mixed martial arts. Not to mention the slew of expected programming on Fox, Fox Sports Net and FX including…
• The Ultimate Fighter moves to FX — TUF14: Bisping vs. Mayhem will be last season of the beloved reality show to be shown on Spike before moving to FX in the spring of 2012. It’s hard to argue the show’s power in driving new eyes to the UFC and its role in solidifying emerging talent as true competitors. (Also, the TUF season 1 finale’s bout between Stephan Bonnar and Forrest Griffin will remain one of the best and most influential fights in the history of the sport for as long as it’s around. I’ll happily argue that with any takers.) In addition to a pre-recorded recap of the week’s events the series will now feature a weekly live fight which will air once a week for 12 weeks. The Ultimate Fighter, live on cable, once a week. How quickly might the next star be born?
• The continued rise of Bellator — In part to make up for the pending departure of the UFC on Spike, the network’s parent company (Viacom) is beginning to prep for the hole by shifting content between its stations. Bellator Fighting Championships, which is currently featured on MTV2, will now air its preliminary cards on Spike’s website, surely putting it in line to make a leap to the channel’s programming schedule following its final MTV contracted season. This leaves Bellator in an even better position and one which could have it rank as the #2 promotion in the U.S., which is good because…
• Strikeforce is practically dead — When the UFC’s parent company Zuffa purchased Strikeforce it was all but believed that the company would be folded into the promotion just as Pride and the WEC had been before it. Despite UFC President Dana White announcing that everything would be “business as usual,” things have been anything but usual: Strikeforce presently has no Heavyweight Champion, no Middleweight Champion and its Lightweight Champion is on his way out the door. Former Light Heavyweight Champion Muhammed Lawal was recently quoted in an interview when asked about the company as saying, “It’s like a cancer patient, like a dying cancer patient. That’s how I feel like the organization is. We’re just waiting for it to die, to pass.” Not only is Strikeforce crumbling, but its also toying with fans, ideas and fighters along the way. After the drop of Marloes Coenen seemed to signal one of the final shifts toward eliminating women’s divisions from the promotion, they resigned Cris “Cyborg” Santos (after previously letting her free of her contract), who’s largely regarded as the best pound-for-pound female fighter in the world. So, if nothing else can be said of Strikeforce at the moment, at least the company’s prolonging the inevitable death of mainstream WMMA.
• UFC in Rio — The UFC’s most recent PPV in Brazil wasn’t simply a success, but a mammoth success. Fanfare was incredible and the show was as exciting as any other this year. Promising a return to the country in the none-too-distant future, the UFC will now venture to Japan in February of 2012 (the company’s first Japan show since 2000), but it’s the storyline involving a pair of victorious Brazilians that might be the most intriguing fallout from UFC 134. Resurrecting his career with a victory over top 10 Heavyweight Brendan Schaub, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira will now face Frank Mir at UFC 140 in Toronto; a bout that could easily be the last in the UFC for the loser, regardless of whether it’s the aging “Big Nog” or the unsteady Mir. Additionally, as previously mentioned, current Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Dan Henderson will likely be making his return to the UFC as he is presently without a contract, and one of the bouts he could step into would be one against reigning Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva. I’d argue that Henderson’s better off staying at the heavier weight, where he is excelling as of late (also, remember his forgettable outing at middleweight against Jake Shields?), but this particular option would grant fight fans a rematch from Silva’s 2008 submission defeat of Henderson, and potentially something that the champion is much in need of: competition.
• UFC on Versus 5 Fallout — The August 14 card on Versus was an interesting one, if not because of the solid fights, then certainly in terms of its implications. Veteran Chris Lytle rode off into the sunset, which includes a rumored Indiana State Senate run next year, capping off his MMA career with a huge victory over Dan Hardy. While Lytle’s story is certainly one of great significance, it might not be the most important here in terms of the UFC’s future and its policies. Fans of the company have long-since put stock in an unofficial three-strikes-and-you’re-out policy; one that has left beloved veterans and relative unknowns alike without a job. Yet, unlike beloved veteran Keith Jardine, who was dismissed following four consecutive losses in the UFC, Dan Hardy still has a job after dropping his fourth-straight to Lytle. Could retaining the young scrapper be due to his rambunctious outgoing attitude or simply the UFC’s need for British fighters to help break further into to the struggling UK market? Regardless, it shows that if you are able to prove your worth, even a losing fighter can keep his job in the company. The second area to consider following the Versus show is the shake-up of the lightweight division. While he’s a former WEC Lightweight Champion, Ben Henderson was all but expected to lose to Jim Miller, allowing the latter to claim the next spot in line to fight for the Lightweight title against the winner of Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. Yet despite the odds being against him, Henderson took the much deserved decision victory in a turn of events not entirely dissimilar to when Clay Guida defeated Anthony Pettis (who was in line for the title shot) this past June. Fitting then, that the explosive Guida is now tentatively scheduled to face Henderson on the historic UFC on Fox card in November, with the winner likely getting the next crack at the title. That fight should be amazing!
• Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz — This week alone has swung the direction of next few months for the UFC in an entirely new direction. With former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz (who vacated his title to compete against GSP) no-showing a pair of press events, and making his whereabouts unknown to the UFC and his camp, Dana White announced that the surging Carlos Condit would step in to fight for the unpredictable Diaz. After taking his meal-ticket from him, of course Diaz reappeared, questioning his removal from the fight and suggesting he might turn to boxing (after all) due to the perceived disrespect. White, now looking for someone to step into face BJ Penn, as Condit was set to do at UFC 137, then made the decision to pin Diaz against the future hall of famer. Though circumstances have led to slightly less intriguing match-ups, it appears as though all is again right in the UFC’s welterweight division.
• Heavyweight shake-up — After it was first announced that Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem had been “cut” from Strikeforce, heavyweights across promotions have seen a strange twist in their entangled storylines. The now-purposeless Strikeforce Heavyweight Granx Prix continues this weekend as Sergei Kharitonov faces Josh Barnett and Antonio Silva faces Daniel Cormier, who is stepping in for the injured/released Overeem. Elsewhere in the world it was announced that Cormier’s last opponent, the tank-like Jeff Monson, will face off against the struggling-legend Fedor Emelianenko in November, as both fighters make their first appearances after Strikeforce failure. And as for Overeem, as expected his leash wasn’t let off Zuffa’s hook as he was recently signed to a multi-fight deal with the UFC. His first opponent will be a returning Brock Lesnar as the two will square off at the end of the year in a fight which might very well be the most anticipated heavyweight fight in MMA history.
• Warrior — To bookend the step toward the mainstream that is the UFC’s move to Fox is the debuting theatrical release, Warrior. Campy as the trailer might be, the movie’s received strong pre-release feedback, currently scoring a favorable 82% at Rotten Tomatoes. Regardless of the film’s success, simply projecting a story utilizing the theme of legitimate mixed martial arts into the mainstream is a victory for MMA supporters. Warrior opens today in theaters everywhere.