Tuesday Blog: Is it time for a change?

Apr 20, 2009

Maynard in MMA
By Greg Savage ([email protected])
Wednesday, 4:55 p.m. ET: So Kyle Maynard, the high school wrestler and congenital amputee, is going to fight MMA this weekend. Whoop-dee-doo.

Maybe I am in the minority. I just don’t see any problem with a guy who has trained in wrestling all his life wanting to continue to compete. Like many other wrestlers, he has chosen MMA as the next avenue.

Many people are worried about his safety, but I’m more worried about some of the “talent” I have seen at some of the smaller shows over the past decade than I am about Maynard.

And seriously, what is the worst thing that could happen to him? He might get punched in the face until a referee has to rescue him? Sounds exactly like a typical MMA fight to me.

I am sure most people feel they are looking out for a kid with a disability, but I would guess that most people with disabilities don’t think they need you to watch out for them.

Then there are the fools who see it as a black eye for a sport they follow rabidly. Answer me this: How can giving a disabled athlete a chance to compete on the amateur level be a bad thing?

If he proves himself at the lowest level, he will continue to advance like anyone else. Eventually he will hit a wall, whether that is before or after turning pro. We will all just have to wait and see.

Moving on down … to the home for the lighter fighters
By Greg Savage ([email protected])
Wednesday, 1:39 p.m. ET: If you weighed less than 170 pounds, you used to have to cross the Pacific Ocean to compete against guys your own size in MMA. It was either fight in Japan or toil away in smaller regional organizations that were using the lower weight classes.

For those that traveled the local circuits, it was apparent the lighter fighters presented an underrepresented and largely untapped market at the upper levels of North American MMA. Anyone who had seen the lightweight division’s demise in the UFC -- mostly due to a lack of roster positions but partly due to some extremely shoddy judging for UFC 41’s B.J. Penn-Caol Uno championship match that ended in a draw -- knew it would only be a matter of time before the 155-pounders returned.

What wasn’t evident was when the even lighter fighters would be given a shot at center stage. There were a handful of organizations promoting the feather and bantamweight divisions, and one just happened to be World Extreme Cagefighting. As most fans know, Zuffa, the parent company of UFC, purchased WEC and began promoting it under their banner in 2007.

WEC has been a smashing success within the hardcore fan base. If you believe the promotional chatter coming out of Las Vegas, it is continuing to make headway into the mainstream as well. For sure it has made stars out of guys who had been relegated to the sidelines of big-time MMA due to a lack of size.

Urijah Faber and the man who took his title last year, Mike Thomas Brown, both guys who had fought up in weight, are now superstars at 145 pounds. Miguel Torres, a highly skilled technician who was muddling away in smaller Midwest promotions for years, was finally given his due after he thrashed his way to the WEC 135-pound title.

And the beat goes on. The featherweight division, WEC’s marquee class, is in the middle of another influx of talent. “Ultimate Fighter” alumnus Manvel Gamburyan will make his WEC debut in June, and rumors swirl around UFC lightweight Frankie Edgar’s future plans.

Fighters such as Faber and flashy newcomers Jose Aldo and Rafael Assuncao have also discussed continuing the trend of moving down in weight, expressing interest in fighting at bantamweight.

No word on whether any of them can make the drop to WEC’s newly planned flyweight (125-pound) division, though.

So long, see you tomorrow
By Greg Savage ([email protected])
Photo by: Ciao Hollywood/Splash News

Dana says Chuck is done.
Tuesday, 8:45 p.m. ET: How can I not talk about Chuck Liddell after his apparent retirement by his good buddy Dana White?

I have to say it has been pretty painful to watch a guy I have known for so long have his decisions made for him even if it’s in his own best interests.

Not a lot of people know that Chuck was one of the first guys Jeff Sherwood and I met in this industry. He has always been good to us, and in one of our trips to SLO to interview “The Iceman,” he rambled on and on about how he was certain he would have to be told it was over. He even referred to himself as a possible “Tank” Abbott clone, the guy who doesn’t realize he shouldn’t be fighting but still has the proverbial puncher’s chance.

He loves fighting so much, I just can’t bring myself to believe this will be it for him. If I were to bet on Liddell pulling a “Sugar” Ray Leonard and coming back, I would come down on the side of an “Iceman” return engagement.

And here is where things get tricky. Dana, and rightly so, has been adamant about his deal with Chuck and that he will not grace the Octagon ever again.

So what would the UFC’s stance be if Liddell got the itch to get back in the cage? Should a commission license him? Are they going to deny him the chance to pursue his career as he sees fit? Could they?

I, for one, hope they stick to their guns and take the high road should this situation come up. White, while a little forceful for my taste, has been right on target in his statements about fighters hanging around too long in boxing.

It will be interesting because I think Liddell will be the one holding all the cards. If they refuse to book him a fight, he could rightfully move to another promotion where he would surely be handsomely rewarded while the UFC is left watching one of its biggest stars help a rival gain market share. I don’t know about you, but I just don’t see that happening.

Perhaps Chuck will continue to be the consummate company man. I just wouldn’t bet on it.

Sport or spectacle
By Greg Savage ([email protected])
Photo by Sherdog.com

Sport or spectacle?
Tuesday, 7:45 p.m. ET: I have this internal debate just about every day: Is MMA a sport or is it purely entertainment?

Now I don’t want to hear the copout about it being a combination of the two; all sports are a form of entertainment. What I am getting at is the way they are run.

In traditional sports, premier athletes command the top billing as well as the top dollar. The best teams and individuals, no matter how they get the job done, are heralded as the best. While they may not be as popular as the “more exciting” players in their sports, their ability is recognized.

Enter mixed martial arts, a sport where you can win again and again and still not get a crack at the title because of how you win. This ridiculous fact seems to be lost on the fans as much as the promoters.

My favorite fighters growing up were Tommy Hearns and Pernell Whitaker. If that is not a paradox, I don’t know what is. Hearns was the go-for-broke puncher who delivered his share of knockouts and memorable fights. Whitaker, on the other hand, was like a ghost in the ring, nearly unhittable.

In my opinion, there is room for both kinds of fighters in today’s MMA. Unfortunately, I don’t think many fans, or fighters for that matter, share that opinion.

Being raised playing and watching traditional sports, I just can’t fathom a world where pitching and defense, goaltending, the running game and shot blocking are looked down upon.

I would be lying if I said I didn’t have some serious misgivings about the direction of MMA, not so much because of where it is being steered but instead over whom it appeals to. The ugly reality is that this is a product for consumption, and the people lining up to consume would much rather watch home run derby than a perfect game.

More headliners, please
By Greg Savage ([email protected])
Photo by Sherdog.com

The UFC needs more headliners.
Tuesday, 6:45 p.m. ET: Don’t look now but there is a real dearth of main event talent at the top of the UFC roster. The days of five- or six-fight cards a year masked the fact that there were only a handful of guys who could legitimately headline a pay-per-view card. The post-TUF era, with its monthly (if not more) attempts to pry mixed martial arts fans’ wallets open, has clearly illuminated the fact that there just are not enough Georges St. Pierres, Brock Lesnars and Forrest Griffins to go around.

UFC 97 did little to alleviate the problem and actually made things worse on two fronts. The apparent departure of Chuck Liddell may be the lesser of the two evils to come from the Montreal debacle. Anderson Silva’s performance (while not good, it was not as bad as it has been made out to be) has cast doubt on whether he is a legitimate main eventer.

Let’s face the facts -- well, the facts as I believe them to be. From my sources within the industry, the middleweight champion and pound-for-pound contender, despite his absolute annihilation of his first seven opponents, was unable to deliver the kind of numbers guys like Liddell, St. Pierre, Lesnar, Griffin, Rich Franklin, Tito Ortiz or even Ken Shamrock have.

With more and more shows being booked, more so because of contract obligations to the UFC’s swollen roster than anything else, the headline fights are getting tougher and tougher to come by. Add in injuries and unappealing matchups, and it doesn’t take a genius to figure out there are going to be a lot more cards like UFC 97 than UFC 100.

The silver lining here is the fact that even the lesser guys are still pulling pretty solid numbers. In a testament to the remarkable strength of the UFC brand, numbers have stayed relatively consistent even during these tough economic times. How long that will last is anyone’s guess, though.

T.J. Grant on impressive octagon debut
By Loretta Hunt ([email protected])

T.J. Grant exclusive interview
Tuesday, 2:20 p.m. ET: How did T.J. Grant manage to stave off the jitters monster in his Octagon debut at UFC 97 last Saturday?

I’m not sure if Grant (14-2), who got his start in Nova Scotia’s Extreme Cage Combat promotion just three years ago, even knows himself. But here is the understated 24-year-old trying to explain how it all came together in his well-rounded victory over seasoned Pride and Deep veteran Ryo Chonan (15-10).

With a debut like that, I’m expecting big things from this young buck in the coming years.

Is it time for a change?
By Mike Fridley ([email protected])
Marcelo Alonso/Sherdog.com

Where do you rank Silva?
Tuesday, 1:20 a.m. ET: Following Anderson Silva’s second-consecutive stinker, Sherdog.com has been internally debating this week’s upcoming pound-for-pound rankings and the placement of its current top dog.

Let’s take a look at the current top four:
1. Anderson Silva
2. Georges St. Pierre
3. Fedor Emelianenko
4. Miguel Torres

I, for one, believe Fedor’s résumé and quality of recent violence against former UFC champions Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia overshadows the accomplishments of both Silva (back-to-back snoozers) and St. Pierre (loss to Matt Serra).

Quite simply, Fedor is GSP without the mistakes and Silva sans the recent boredom.

However, support still remains strong for “The Spider” with other rankings brass, as Jordan Breen swears by continuity and the string of victories Silva has pieced together in the Octagon.

“In the last three years, Silva is 10-0, with just Thales Leites making it to the final bell,” said Breen. “Five of those opponents are top-10 fighters within his division (Rich Franklin twice, Nate Marquardt, Dan Henderson and Leites).”

Breen continued, “Two of them were arguable pound-for-pound entrants (or at the very, very least, Top 15 guys in the pound-for-pound realm) when Silva housed them (Franklin the first time around and Henderson).”

The stubborn radio host prefers both Silva and St. Pierre over “The Last Emperor.”

“Emelianenko, for as brilliant as he is (see: very), has beat two top-10 fighters in three years in one of MMA's thinner weight classes,” declared the Halifax native. “Although it is not as simple as pure addition, pound-for-pound ranking reflect the sport's contemporarily most accomplished and meritorious fighters, and while Emelianenko may have it within him to destroy the whole of the heavyweight division, he has actually completed only a small fragment of it, albeit in brilliant fashion.”

Updated Sherdog.com pound-for-pound rankings will be released this week.

Feedback »: Where do you rank them?

Soszynski pleased with submission at UFC 97
By Loretta Hunt ([email protected])
Tuesday, 1:10 a.m. ET: Krzysztof Soszynski has my vote for “most improved” fighter. Who wasn’t shocked to see the Manitoba native, known for his brawling style and not much more, execute a textbook takedown against Brian Stann Saturday at UFC 97 in Montreal?

Krzysztof Soszynski exclusive interview.
The crew down at Team Quest in Temecula, Calif., has done a bang-up job with Soszynski since the 31-year-old and his wife Genevieve moved south of the border over a year ago to re-focus on his career. The results were a pleasure to watch, and reinforced my view that true hard work and dedication will never go unrewarded.

Even Soszynski’s striking has gone through an upgrade. Absent was the one-dimensional, come-forward enforcer with little technique behind his iron fists. In his place, we saw a thoughtful tactician bobbing and weaving his way around Stann’s punches with constant footwork.

From side control, Soszynski cinched up things with a fluid Kimura finish, his third victory in a row using what is fast becoming his signature move. The commanding performance earned him an extra $70,000 for “submission of the night” honors.

However, the cherry on top had to be Soszynski’s upbeat entrance (who didn’t have a smile on their face watching him karaoke to System of the Down?) and his captivating post-fight speech, where he compared the moment to getting married and the birth of his daughter. The fans were right there with you, Krzysztof.

In this exclusive video, Soszynski re-caps his strategy and performance and throws in a polite call-out to a certain “Ultimate Fighter 8” cast member for good measure.

Check the blog all day for more entries.

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