Mixed martial arts has a few historical links to professional wrestling. The connection is stronger in Japan than in the USA, but it exists here. They’ve chased some of the same audiences, and a couple of people have existed in both worlds. Ken Shamrock went back and forth between the two. Brock Lesnar left pro wrestling behind to climb quickly to UFC heavyweight champion. We even have an overlap in journalism — Dave Meltzer, who dove aggressively behind the scenes with Wrestling Observer, is a very good MMA writer.
No one would want to drum Lesnar or Meltzer out of the sport, but MMA fans have every right to play up the differences between their sport and the scripted version. Luke Thomas minced few words on Twitter today (not that Twitter gives anyone much leeway to mince words) in talking about it: “I’m going to start swinging a machete if we keep pretending MMA is professional wrestling.”
Thomas, who hosts “MMA Nation” on WJFK and is the editor of great MMA blog Bloody Elbow, expounded in two more Tweets. Combining them: “The other issue that folks need to consider is the longer you pretend there is a cozy relationship btw MMA & pro wrestling, the longer you put off integration into the larger sporting audience. They will not accept it on those terms. And who can blame them?”
Thomas is a passionate defender of MMA as a sport and not just a spectacle, something Bloody Elbow’s critics in the fight world should remember. And he’s right.
In Japan, fans and the media may be more accepting of close links between the “fake” and “real” worlds. In the USA, that’ll go over as well as the “European carry-all” on the great old Seinfeld episode.
All of this is in the wake of UFC 117, which played out like a pro wrestling storyline, vividly spelled out at Watch Kalib Run. Chael Sonnen hyped the fight with ludicrous overstatement, dominated for most of the fight and then lost when Silva pulled a submission win out of nothing. That’s Sonnen playing the heel to Anderson Silva’s babyface.
It’s not a perfect analogy. Sonnen had a lot of fan support against Silva, whose popularity has suffered through some erratic performances.
But the differences between MMA and pro wrestling were more apparent in the rest of the card, which no one would script:
– Jon Fitch took a typically methodical win over Thiago Alves in the type of bout.
– Matt Hughes, a few years past his championship run, beat Ricardo Almeida with an improbable choke. (Maybe you’d script that one.)
– Clay Guida beat Rafael dos Anjos on an injury — a Guida punch injured dos Anjos’ jaw, and dos Anjos tapped out when he was caught in a hold that made the injury worse.
– Junior dos Santos beat up Roy Nelson in a matchup of contrasting builds.
UFC fight build-up is sometimes nasty. Lesnar and Frank Mir had some pointed exchanges, and Lesnar went way over the top in celebrating his win. But it’s generally a different vibe. Even Sonnen and Silva embraced after the fight, with Silva going out of his way to praise a fighter who had spent several months ridiculing him.
As a journalist who has come to love this sport, I’m with Luke. I can deal with pre-fight confidence-building boasts, but not with pro wrestling-style histrionics. I’d bet I’m not the only one.
Update: At Bloody Elbow, Kid Nate sums up one of the problems — the more MMA resembles pro wrestling, the more likely observers may think it’s predetermined.
To be perfectly honest, we’re in a lull. No Tour, no huge world championships (no disrespect to the folks with rifles and pistols), etc. Plenty of league games, though. Through the weekend, eight Mexican league games are on various networks. On Saturday, seven MLS games are on Direct Kick / MLSSoccer.com. See Soccer America listings below.
Perhaps this is a coincidence, but the World Series of Poker has put its two big events on either side of the World Cup.
The main event, the $10,000 no-limit hold-em tournament that will run ad infinitum on ESPN in months to come, starts July 5 but takes a day off July 11, coinciding with the World Cup final. The field is whittled down from several thousand to nine the rest of the week.
Before the World Cup, we get the Poker Players’ Championship, which is designed to be a more complete test of poker skills. The $50,000 buy-in and the rotation of eight diverse poker variants is supposed to intimidate the amateurs who flock to the main event, leaving only the poker pros with reason to feel confident — and perhaps enough of a rep to attract sponsors who make the $50,000 check a little less painful to write.
In the past couple of years, they’ve used a H.O.R.S.E. tournament (not a basketball shooting competition but a rotation of five games) as the big test for the pros, but they found that ESPN wasn’t interested in televising several obscure, difficult-to-explain games. The compromise: Rotate through eight games but then stick to no-limit hold-em for the final table.
The other events will feature a mix of poker pros, Internet gamers, random amateurs and occasional celebrities. (One early sighting: UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture.)
Options for following the 57 official games plus the “Ante Up for Africa” championship:
– Official site: Commentary focuses on big-name pros and celebrities until each event gets to a manageable two or three tables, and then it’s more tightly focused on each hand.
– ESPN: The broadcaster that has paved the way for other broadcasters to show nonstop poker has a blog and other updates.
– Twitter: My list includes the official WSOP feed and Poker News, plus notable players Doyle Brunson (venerable veteran), Daniel Negreanu (@RealKidPoker, thoughtful ambassador for the game), Vanessa Rousso (Duke alum with lots of sponsors) and Annie Duke (Celebrity Apprentice winner — I don’t accept the decision to give the title to Joan Rivers).
Headlines from the other Myriad sports this weekend:
– Cycling: Ivan Basso, back from his doping suspension, cruised to victory at the Giro d’Italia. World champion Cadel Evans made a break for it in a final mountain stage but couldn’t reach the podium. David Arroyo, one of the underdogs who broke away on The Day The Peloton Said “Oops!”, finished second.
– MMA: Rashad Evans took down Rampage Jackson at UFC 114, bringing at least a temporary conclusion to a nasty trash-talking battle. Michael Bisping showed some class and poise in a win over Dan Miller in the co-main event. The other three main-card fights were surprising. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira labored past fill-in fighter Jason Brilz for a controversial split decision win, English prospect John Hathaway outperformed veteran Diego Sanchez, and Chicago cop Mike Russow overcame his love handles and 2 1/2 rounds of being tagged in the face to knock out previously unbeaten Todd Duffee with one punch.
– Track and field: American record in the high jump for Chaunte Howard Lowe, who cleared6-8 1/4 in miserable conditions at an obscure meet in Germany. Bryan Clay won the decathlon at the Hypo Combined Events Meeting in Austria.
– Beach volleyball: Todd Rogers and Phil Dalhausser keep rolling on the FIVB circuit, winning in Poland. Brazilians Juliana Felisberta Silva and Larissa Franca won the women’s event in South Korea over Americans Angie Akers and Tyra Turner, with Jen Kessy and April Ross unusually dropped to bronze.
– Tennis: Justine Henin’s comeback hit a bump today at the French Open with a loss to Samantha Stosur. Americans have had a rough time — Venus Williams, Andy Roddick and the Bryan brothers are all out. Robby Ginepri upset his way to the fourth round before falling to third seed Novak Djokovic.
– English soccer: Millwall, known for harboring American players and ill-tempered fans, won promotion back to the Championship.
– Judo: Remember the name Kayla Harrison. The 19-year-old won her first World Cup gold and third World Cup medal of the year.
– Weightlifting: We rise for American records — Kendrick Harris lifted 203kg in the clean-and-jerk.
– More Oly sports: Shooting gold and bronze for Olympic multimedalist Matt Emmons, plus three U.S. rowing medals. Check the USOC’s Olympic Sports Scene.
Already at the eighth episode? And we still don’t know why Tito isn’t fighting Chuck. We still don’t know if any two fighters will be healthy enough to fight in the finale. We still don’t know if anyone eventually tapes Crabman’s mouth shut.
We do know the wild-card matchup. One wrinkle: Kyacey Uscola gets special dispensation to take a phone call from his wife, who has just delivered their baby boy. It’s a touching scene. Kris McCray, his opponent, sincerely congratulates him. No trash-talking going into this one. McCray, humbled by his earlier loss, says he’s probably the underdog. No, Kris, you’re not.
Steve Mazzagatti is our ref, and we’re underway before the first ad break! That has to be a record.
Uscola seems looser and more confident early, letting his hands go a bit. McCray answers with kicks. Then an Uscola leg kick catches McCray badly, and his corner urges him to pounce on his grimacing opponent. But McCray recovers quickly and lands some shots against the cage.
It’s one of the quietest fights in the show’s history. Tito, as promised, is keeping his mouth shut, not willing to pick sides between teammates. Other fighters are also staying out of it. You hear one or two guys from each corner.
McCray catches Uscola in the groin with a knee, and Mazzagatti breaks them up, giving Uscola time to recover and, more importantly, escape from being pinned against the cage. But McCray presses the action again and easily takes the first round.
Dec. 31, 2004. Fedor Emelianenko defeats Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira for the second time. He is Pride’s heavyweight champion and the winner of the heavyweight Grand Prix. At the same time, UFC is in heavyweight limbo due to Frank Mir’s motorcycle accident. Few can doubt that Fedor is the best heavyweight fighter in MMA.
Fedor has won 10 more fights since then. Some have had good resumes. But at most, one has gone on to do anything significant since facing Fedor.
Call it the Curse of Fedor. Or perhaps bad matchmaking and bad timing. Emelianenko is still ranked No. 1 in the world, a claim helped by the relative inexperience of UFC champion Brock Lesnar and interim UFC champion Shane Carwin. But that ranking isn’t as certain as the No. 1s in the next three classes — Mauricio Rua, Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre.
Here’s a breakdown of what Fedor’s opponents have gone on to do:
Tsuyoshi Kohsaka, Pride Bushido 6, April 3, 2005 (doctor stoppage after first round): A rematch of Fedor’s only “loss,” a 2000 Rings tournament bout that was stopped early when Fedor was cut by an illegal strike. In most circuits, that would be declared no contest. But someone had to advance in the tournament, so Kohsaka was credited with the win. He went on to lose to Randy Couture in the same tournament and then lost to a succession of top fighters before facing Fedor again.
After Fedor: 2 wins (neither notable), 2 losses. Retired.
Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Pride Final Conflict, Aug. 28. 2005 (unanimous decision): Perhaps the last great Fedor fight. Certainly the last time to date that he’s gone the distance. Cro Cop had marched through some of the best in the game — Sakuraba, Vovchanchyn, Barnett and Coleman.
After Fedor: 11 wins, 4 losses, no contest. The best record by far of any of Fedor’s opponents of the last five years, with wins over Josh Barnett (again) and Wanderlei Silva. Yet the man with the short shorts has struggled in UFC fights, compiling a 3-3 record with no big wins and losses to Gabriel Gonzaga, Cheick Kongo and Junior dos Santos.
Zuluzinho, Pride Shockwave 2005, Dec. 31, 2005 (first-round submission to strikes): The glorious world of Japanese matchmaking brought us this Brazilian fighter, who was 15-0 when he made his Pride debut against Fedor. Twenty-six seconds later, he was 15-1. Here’s how:
After Fedor: 4 wins, 5 losses. He went on to lose to Nogueira and Eric “Butterbean” Esch in a not-so-stellar Pride career. Best win was against Ikuhisa “Minowaman” Minowa, whose 45-30-8 record tells the tale of an up-and-down career.
Mark Coleman, Pride 32, Oct. 21, 2006 (second-round armbar submission): Coleman was a fine choice as Fedor’s opponent when Pride made its first trip to the USA. He would later be named to the UFC Hall of Fame, and he was Pride’s 2000 open-weight Grand Prix champion. He had lost to Nogueira, Cro Cop and Fedor himself in the years since then, and his most notable win — over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua — was the result of a catastrophic mistake in which Rua broke his arm.
After Fedor: 1 win, 2 losses. Coleman was inactive for more than two years until the UFC brought him back for a light heavyweight rematch with Rua, in which he fought gamely but showed his age. He then took an impressive unanimous decision over Stephan Bonnar, taking down the younger fighter and beating him up old-school. But he showed little in a loss to Randy Couture and was cut from the UFC despite his Hall of Fame status and the desire of many to see him beat up Tito Ortiz, who heckled him during his postfight interview.
Mark Hunt, Pride Shockwave 2006, Dec. 31, 2006 (first-round kimura submission): The New Zealand kickboxer, whose best results were split decisions over Wanderlei Silva and Cro Cop, wasn’t the top choice to face Fedor in what turned out to be the last Pride heavyweight title fight. He still made a decent go of things before Fedor’s class won out.
After Fedor: 0 wins, 3 losses. All solid opponents — Alistair Overeem, Melvin Manhoef, Gegard Mousasi. All quick losses.
Matt Lindland, BodogFight, April 14, 2007 (first-round armbar submission): The gambling company’s brief dalliance in fight promotion included a trip to Russia, offering Fedor a chance to fight in his home country for the first time in six years. The choice of opponent was curious — middleweight Matt Lindland, who packed on a few pounds to try to even the scales. The 2000 Olympic wrestling medalist had a respectable 20-4 record, mostly against UFC and IFL opposition, but jumping two weight classes was a tall order.
After Fedor: 1 win, 2 losses. He moved to Affliction and took a unanimous decision over Fabio Nascimento, but Vitor Belfort knocked out in spectacular fashion, and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza spoiled his Strikeforce debut. He fights again Saturday against Kevin Casey.
Hong-Man Choi, Yarennoka!, Dec. 31, 2007 (first-round armbar submission): The ultimate in Japanese matchmaking eccentricity is this 7-2 Korean kickboxer. That’s his height, not his record. He had a decent kickboxing record but was 1-0 in MMA coming into this fight, having beaten TV personality Bobby Ologun. Fedor took some damage in the fight, mostly from trying to take down the much larger Choi and having him topple on top.
After Fedor: 1 win, 2 losses, but at least he beat Jose Canseco.
Tim Sylvia, Affliction: Banned, July 19, 2008 (first-round rear naked choke): Surely this would be a more legitimate traditional matchup. Sylvia had held the UFC belt 18 months earlier and was coming off a loss to Nogueira, hardly a shameful result. But the UFC had parted ways with him for some reason. And his next two fights lasted a total of 45 seconds. He survived 36 seconds against Fedor and NINE against Ray Mercer, the former boxer most notable in MMA for losing an exhibition to Kimbo Slice before Slice started training seriously.
After Fedor: 1 win, 1 loss.
Andrei Arlovski, Affliction: Day of Reckoning, Jan. 24, 2009 (first-round KO): Again, a relatively recent UFC champion would face Fedor. And Arlovski was fresh from a second-round win over Roy Nelson, albeit a mildly controversial one. Arlovski took the fight to Fedor early on. Then he rushed toward an apparently stunned Fedor with a flying attack, and Fedor swatted him out of the air and out of the fight with one well-timed punch.
After Fedor: 0 wins, 2 losses. Brett Rogers (see below) took him out in 22 seconds. Then he lost a decision to Antonio Silva.
Brett Rogers, Strikeforce, Nov. 7, 2009 (second-round TKO): Rogers was unbeaten entering the bout, having just beaten Arlovski. He was competitive in the first round, but Fedor caught him in the second and pounded him out.
After Fedor: 0 wins, 1 loss. Overeem finally returned to Strikeforce to defend his title, and he did so convincingly, taking a first-round TKO.
TOTAL RECORD: 21-24
RECORD SINCE CRO COP: 8-18
RECORD SINCE ZULUZINHO: 4-13
Fedor’s next opponent, Fabricio Werdum, beat Overeem in May 2006. He’s 5-3 since then, losing to Nogueira, Arlovski and Junior dos Santos.
To review from last week (check the recap for a full rundown of the episode and the teams):
– Chris Camozzi’s jaw injury forced him to leave the house and show. Seth Baczynski, who lost a close decision to Court McGee in the prelims, took his place.
– Charles Blanchard gives massages, which some insecure people in the house find funny.
– Brad Tavares beat James Hammortree on every scorecard except that of Tito Ortiz, who apparently blacked out for the last 3:30 of the fight. Luckily, his card doesn’t count.
– Crabman (Jamie Yager) is getting closer to being this season’s Junie Browning.
On to this week …
We start with a recap of last week’s fight, and we learn that Yager was cheering for Tavares. Tavares is not on Yager’s team. Yager’s teammate, Nick Ring, isn’t happy about that. Ring already had feuded with Crabman, but they patch things up. We think. Yager has formed his own “team” that he calls “Minority Report.” It’s Yager (African American), Tavares (Hispanic), McCray and Kyle Noke (Australian). The others call it “Team Yager.” And worse.
Quick roundup this morning in between a traffic-slowed morning run to school and a trek out of the Plex. As in Maryland SoccerPlex.
– Soccer: Can anyone remember a more memorable week of Champions League games? Messi’s magic and Bayern’s rally, punctuated by Arjen Robben’s wonder goal, were spectacular. Most of the semifinalists have no time to rest. Lyon is in the middle of a tight five-team race in France. Bayern Munich, which just reclaimed the lead in Germany, plays at third-place Bayer Leverkusen. Messi and Barcelona? Oh, they just have a game at Real Madrid, which is always one of the top rivalry games in the world but even moreso now that they’re tied for first in Spain.
– Soccer: Pachuca has advanced to face Cruz Azul in a Mexican exhibition, I mean, the CONCACAF Champions League. (AP)
– Short-track speedskating: Apolo Anton Ohno has eight Olympic medals but might go even more Greek now as he auditions for films and considers TV options. (AP)
– Figure skating: Evan Lysacek is even busier as he balances Stars on Ice with Dancing with the Stars. (Washington Post)
– Nordic combined: Still more Olympic athletes keeping busy — the four U.S. medalists are heading to the Middle East to visit troops on what they’re calling the Heavy Medal Tour. (USOC)
– Triathlon: World Cup season starts Sunday in Sydney. (AP)
– MMA: Can we stop the “Rich Franklin replaces Tito Ortiz vs. Chuck Liddell” rumors now? Dana White has said rather emphatically that the June 12 Vancouver main event is Tito-Chuck. (FanHouse)
– Curling: Make it six straight wins for Pete Fenson and company, and they’re on the verge of the World Championship final four. (USOC)
– MMA: The second season of Bellator, a tournament-based promotion that has expanded its talent pool, begins live on some Fox Sports Net affiliates. Trying to pin down which ones. Major signings Roger Huerta and Joe Warren are in action tonight. See the Sherdog weigh-in report.
– New FIFA rankings! Spain, Brazil, Netherlands unchanged in top three. Portugal leaps past Italy and Germany for fourth. Egypt surges to 14th.
But the big news is in CONCACAF: USA 16th, Mexico 17th.
Mixed bag for the USA’s World Cup opponents: England swapped places with France to take seventh. Slovenia slipped to 29th. Algeria is up five places to 27th. (FIFA)
– Big upset in Key Biscayne’s Sony Ericsson Open, one of tennis’ near-majors: Tomas Berdych ousted Roger Federer. Tennis writer Bonnie D. Ford says via Twitter that the match was long but far too sloppy to be an “epic.” (AP)
– Would North Korea really host a couple of World Cup games if South Korea lands the 2022 Cup? As rigid as North Korea has been, who knows what the geopolitical landscape will look like by then? (Reuters)
– LPGA players are just warming up this season, and yet they’re being thrown into a major already. (USA TODAY)
– Welcome to Philadelphia, David Myrie! We’re happy to have picked you up in the MLS expansion draft, and we’re planning to build a core of good young players moving forward. Take your spot in the starting lineup for the opener. … OK, never mind, you’re cut. (Philadelphia Union)
– A few years ago, Mike Penner became Christine Daniels. Now, friends of the LA Times sportswriter are mourning two people with only one physical death. (LA Times)
– Football, religion, Sabbath … OK, I didn’t get through all of this one. (Christianity Today)
– Random preview of the day: U.S. Chess Championship in May features new format. As long as Jen Shahade is doing commentary, it should be worth checking out. (USCF)
TODAY’S TV (times ET)
– 1 p.m./9 p.m.: Tennis, Sony Ericsson quarterfinals, check Fox Sports Net affiliates
– 2:30 p.m.: Soccer, Champions League, Arsenal-Barcelona, FSC (Inter Milan-CSKA Moscow follows on delay)
– 8 p.m.: MMA, UFC Fight Night, Spike. The main event is one of the most anticipated ever on a free-TV UFC card, with longtime UFC contender Kenny Florian taking on Takanori Gomi, a Japanese fighter who has dealt with a few personal demons since the dissolution of Japan’s once-dominant Pride promotion and has finally found his way to the USA. Also a good heavyweight matchup of big (Roy Nelson) and tall (Stefan Struve) fighters trying to climb the ladder. (Bloody Elbow)
– 9 p.m.: Soccer, USA-Mexico women, ESPN2
– 10 p.m.: MMA, The Ultimate Fighter season premiere, Spike. Recap will follow tonight right here at SportsMyriad, where I’ll hopefully have a logo and some design tweaks in place this evening.
The NLL (National Lacrosse League) is a lot like hockey with carpet instead of ice and a different type of stick. And like NHL players, NLL players occasionally drop the gloves and throw their fists in fights governed by codes both unofficial and official — in the NLL’s case, written in exquisite detail (see the rules in PDF). Sometimes, those fights get so out of hand that they migrate from the lacrosse blogosphere to Deadspin.
Everyone involved was punished, though the “game misconduct” penalties might not mean much with all of this happening so late in the game. The Boston Blazers-Philadelphia Wings box score duly notes it all.
Also noted in the box score – this approach seems to be working. Attendance for this game in Philly was 11,241. That’s not an outlier — last year’s league average was a shade over 10K, squarely between indoor and outdoor soccer, not too far off arena football. The league survived a labor impasse a couple of years ago, maybe not too surprising since some of the players spend more time on airplanes than they do playing and practicing. (See my 2007 interview with goaltender/Ontario teacher Anthony Cosmo.)
In an era of media hand-wringing over anything and everything, it’s surprising no one has made a fuss over lacrosse fights. Hockey fighting rarely leads to injury — fighters can’t get much leverage on their punches while they’re standing on ice. Lacrosse fights are basically bare-knuckle brawls on an unforgiving surface. Listen to the commentary in this clip, and you’ll hear someone giving a shoutout to backyard brawler-turned-UFC fighter Kimbo Slice:
A “Kimbo Slice uppercut” would be something like what you’ll see at the 1:24 mark here:
Given all this, should we be surprised that UFC legend Randy Couture has taken an interest in lacrosse and had a few fighters, er, lacrosse players training at his gym?