UFC 136 and my love/hate relationship with MMA

UFC 136 was one of those events that showed how mixed martial arts has evolved into a enthralling athletic competition and how it hasn’t.

Let’s start with the bad news, the antics that show how the sport’s fan base is still very much a pro wrestling fan base, willing to toss facts and reason to the wind for a cheap spectacle.

Chael Sonnen demolished Brian Stann in the third fight on the card — on this stacked card, this was almost a second “co-main event” as we saw at UFC 100. Sonnen had so nearly beaten long-dominant middleweight champion Anderson Silva his last time out. Stann is a bona fide war hero with a heart of gold who had been steadily climbing the middleweight ranks.

After Sonnen’s win, he called out Silva and echoed the pro wrestling “loser leaves town” wager. If Silva loses, Sonnen said, he should leave the weight class. If Sonnen loses, he’ll leave the UFC.

That promise, which no one believes, is the first of many dubious Sonnen statements. A few others:

– “In some parallel universe, you can hit a man 300 times and he wraps his legs around your head for eight seconds and they call him the winner. On the streets of West Linn, Oregon, those are not the rules.” (Yahoo)

First of all, I didn’t realize West Linn — described in Wikipedia as a “properous southern suburb of Portland” with Census poverty-line data to back it up — was such a rough place.

In any case, Sonnen is referring to his first fight with Silva, in which he had grounded and pounded Silva for four and a half rounds but had to tap out to a triangle choke. Sonnen thinks that makes him the winner.

So let’s pretend this was a “real” fight on the mean streets of West Linn or somewhere else. When Silva choked Sonnen, he wouldn’t have released him when Sonnen tapped. Sonnen would’ve been unconscious. Silva either would’ve walked away the winner or stuck around to punch him back into unconsciousness each time he started to wake up.

Let’s also consider boxing. Take the George Foreman-Michael Moorer title fight as an example. Moorer was dominating the much older Foreman, round after round. All of a sudden, Foreman connected with a combo straight up the middle. Moorer was stunned on his feet. Another 1-2 from Foreman, and Moorer was down. Out.

So in Sonnen’s eyes, did George Foreman lose that fight?

No. In no realm of fighting, from the street to the ring to the cage, did Sonnen beat Silva.

(Also noteworthy – Silva was fighting with injured ribs. He may also be aging, though his Matrix-style reflexes and striking speed were in full effect when he went on to beat Vitor Belfort and Yushin Okami.)

– “(Silva) ducked me for six years.” (MMA Fighting, in a definitive postfight interview with the always poised Ariel Helwani)

Silva and Sonnen fought in August 2010. In August 2004, Sonnen was a journeyman fighter. A month later, he suffered his fifth career loss and second to Jeremy Horn. He bounced around a bit more before getting his UFC shot in 2005-06, in which he beat Trevor Prangley and lost to Renato Sobral and to Horn (again). A good run in Bodog Fight brought him into WEC against Paulo Filho, who beat him with an armbar — he disputed whether he verbally submitted, but it was academic, given Filho’s hold. He won and got a rematch against Filho, who failed to make weight and seemed to be hearing voices in one of the weirdest fights ever broadcast. (Sonnen won.)

Finally, in February 2009, Sonnen got another UFC shot — and lost to Demian Maia. Sonnen rebounded to earn his title shot by running the gauntlet of Dan Miller, Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt.

So in all of that time, when was Silva supposed to quit fighting legit contenders and take on Sonnen?

Now it gets interesting …

– “Not only did I not have elevated testosterone (levels), I was never even accused of that. The state of California never even accused me of that.” (Interview with Mauro Ranallo, cited at Fight Opinion)

Half true. Sonnen tested positive for a high T/E level. Granted, it’s an important distinction for Sonnen, who claims he needs testosterone therapy just to function. His therapy would give him a high T/E level, but if his testosterone was really low in the first place, the therapy would just bring him up to normal levels. (The T/E level is about all that ever gets definitively reported in these cases, though. Even after years of Floyd Landis.)

Sonnen went through several appeals in California, half-winning one and losing another, then more or less winning in May.

In the process of fighting his case in California, though, Sonnen ran afoul of the commission in Nevada, still very much the capital of the UFC universe. See Nevada athletic commission executive director Keith Kizer’s interview with Pro MMA Radio in April.

What’s astounding is that in his fight over the weekend in Texas, the issue didn’t seem to come up at all. I’ve been scouring all over, and I’ve found very little by way of media questions or analysis. Dana White did address the question of whether he could get a Nevada license and raised the curious analogy of Floyd Mayweather, who is in a totally different situation.

Unless Sonnen is off testosterone therapy, which would raise a lot of questions, he’ll need to go through the proper process to get an exemption to use it in Nevada. And that will be an interesting process. And if I’m Anderson Silva, I’m demanding that the fight should be in Nevada or at least some other state with a similar no-nonsense commission.

So after reading all this, is this a fight you want to see? Most UFC fans are saying yes. Read MMA blogs, and the drool practically soaks your computer.

But the real shame is that we’re still talking about this instead of a fight that made me proud to have embraced this sport — the third fight between lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard.

Edgar has one loss and one draw on his record, both against Maynard. Their title fight Jan. 1 was a classic. How Edgar got through Maynard’s first-round onslaught is a mystery to most — Maynard simply beat him up over and over, and Edgar somehow kept popping up to demonstrate enough “intelligent defense” to keep the fight from being stopped. Then over the next four rounds, Edgar rebounded and had gained the upper hand by the end of the fight. The judges called it a draw — controversial but ultimately a correct decision. Maynard won the first round 10-8 (maybe 10-7, which would give him the win) and another 10-9 round; Edgar won three 10-9 rounds.

Saturday’s fight looked like a replay. Maynard nearly knocked out Edgar in the first round. He wasn’t quite as dominant as he was in the last fight, but it was clearly a 10-8 round again (two judges mysteriously said 10-9, but it didn’t matter in the end).

Edgar came back quickly and easily took the second round. Then the third. In the fourth, with Maynard starting to change up his tactics and impose his wrestling will, Edgar landed one punch that stunned Maynard. He followed up with another series of punches that knocked Maynard down, then followed him to the ground and punched him just enough to show that Maynard was no longer able to defend himself. Experienced referee Josh Rosenthal stopped the fight, a call no one is protesting.

Edgar is a wonderfully unexpected UFC champion. Even by lightweight standards, he’s a little guy. Meet him face to face, and you would never guess that he makes his living in the cage.

When he won the UFC lightweight belt from BJ Penn, who seemed as dominant in his class as Silva has been in his, no one believed it. Robbery, some thought. Fluke, others thought. It happened in Abu Dhabi, so maybe it didn’t really happen, others thought.

The UFC made an immediate rematch four months later in Boston, and everyone fully expected Penn to set things straight. He didn’t. Edgar outwrestled and outstruck Penn for a clear decision.

Next up was Maynard, giving Edgar a chance to avenge his only loss and giving Maynard his shot at last.

But Maynard is an interesting story as well. The former Michigan State All-American wrestler came into the UFC through The Ultimate Fighter, alienating some with his brash attitude. He then gutted out several decision wins, earning a reputation as a solid but somewhat dull fighter.

Officially, he hadn’t lost a fight, though he was beaten in the TUF semifinals (technically an exhibition) by Nate Diaz. He got a chance to avenge that loss on a UFC Fight Night card (close to my home in Northern Virginia) and did so in an unconvincing split decision.

So when Edgar and Maynard met for the title Jan. 1, it was a matchup that had minimal expectations despite the two fighters’ outstanding records. No one was expecting the fireworks that came about. By the end of the bout, no one could doubt either guy’s heart and conditioning. And though both came from a wrestling background, a style that sometimes leads to dull fights, they could stand and bang with the best of them.

Saturday’s rematch was the rare main event that lived up to the hype. Maynard, a very big guy who cuts a lot of weight to fight at 155 pounds, showed his power punching once again, particularly a devastating uppercut that kept staggering Edgar. Once Edgar recovered, he showed his lightning-quick defensive movement and ability to stick and move. And he has enough power to land the knockout.

Maynard, by this point, is no villain. As he leaned face-first in dejection against the cage after his loss Saturday, he was truly a sympathetic figure. He had a long road to reach this point. Now, beaten for the first time in an official fight, he has to go back in line in a crowded lightweight class.

Edgar and Maynard put on a worthy show. Two great competitors who’ll do the perfunctory trash talk but generally conduct themselves like reasonable adults.

As MMA goes more mainstream, can we root for more fights like Edgar-Maynard and fewer interviews like Sonnen’s? Or is that just a dream?

4 thoughts on “UFC 136 and my love/hate relationship with MMA

  1. “the antics that show how the sport’s fan base is still very much a pro wrestling fan base”

    I disagree with this. Not so much in that a large amount of fans have at one point or another embraced professional wrestling, but combat sport fans in general have always loved outlandish trash talk and promotion. So I cringe a little that MMA always immediately gets the direct link to pro wrestling like it’s a terrible thing.

    Fans, in general, love to hear the trash talk and statements because it sets up that instant divide between the two combatants. And when you have someone with charisma to bring that home it’s entertaining for most. The other point is that most knowledgeable MMA fans laugh and find it entertaining just because of how crazy Chael gets with his histrionics and don’t actually believe what he says.

    I will say we, the fans, need to keep reminding ourselves of the transgressions that Sonnen went through. I believe that’s the more pressing issue and not that he says wild things to garner attention. That’s nothing new in all of combat sports. It’s marketable and grabs the ears of all.

    I don’t think you should have to root for one more than the other. The sport needs all kinds of personalities and athletes. Especially when the cage door closes and none of that matters to fans of the sporting aspect anyway.

    Oh, and the UFC’s gave a Facebook poll after 136 asking what was the fan’s favorite moment… Frankie won over Sonnen by about 5,000 votes.

  2. I have to agree with ACCBiggz. What Sonnen is doing — promotion wise — isn’t all too dissimilar from what Muhammad Ali did in the ’70s.

    But you’re spot on when addressing the TRT issue. That’s been swept under the rug.

  3. Thanks for the teaspoon of sanity in the sea of dumb shit Beau Dure.

    Loads of MMA followers need to GROW THE F*CK UP! I thought MMA was meant to be professional sport? A once great and classic old world sport, that will soon be once again valued as a great modern era sport. It shouldn’t be reliant on the idiotic retarded theatre of things like WWE.

    Sonnen will continue to say stupid shit because as he knows MMA is filled with morons that will listen. Saying stupid shit to a lot of stupid people though, shouldn’t make the rubbish he talks valid if you use sense or reason at any point.

    Seriously, people who think Sonnen’s antics are just clever pieces of self promotion need to expand their expectations of what MMA stands for. Comparing Sonnen’s antics to that of classic boxing, or the great Ali?????? lets not even discuss that.

    If you want to see and hear the ridiculous, go back to watching the amateur theatre and simple gratification/spectacle of WWE.

    I really do love the rise of MMA, but dammmmmmmn do I hate the majority of it’s most vocal fan base right now.

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