It’s funny, but now a week has passed and the retirement of Brock Lesnar hasn’t quite sunk in yet. It doesn’t yet feel “real,” the same way Tom Cruise not acting in a fat suit and Canada losing to Russia (RUSSIA!!!!!! *shakes fist*) at the IIHF Hockey Championships doesn’t feel “real.”
You can’t blame us MMA fans. “Retirements” in Mixed Martial Arts usually last as long as it takes the fighter to come back. Yes, I’m looking at you, BJ.
But sadly, it looks like Brock Lesnar has finally rode off into the Minnesota sunset for the last time...and by ride off, I mean walk off with 150 pounds of Bison meat on your back while toting the special “light game hunting” .50 cal machine gun.
The big guy’s departure has spawned two pretty strange reactions from MMA fans. The first is a bunch of eulogizing, memorializing, and waxing poetic about what a “warrior” Brock was, and how sad we’ll all be to see him go.
This is such a 180 from where fans were when Brock first debuted in the UFC that I wondered if I hadn’t accidentally slipped into an alternate dimension or something. I guess surviving diverticulitis, being a jerk to Frank Mir and eating some nauseating beatings in your last three fights can warm even the coldest of hearts.
And the second question: where do we go from here? As a man, Brock was huge; as a PPV draw, he’s a veritable giant. No one in the UFC can touch his drawing power on PPV, save for this Canadian guy with a funny accent who may or may not be sitting the whole year out.
Well, as luck may have it (or not), I’ve got some thoughts on who, after Brock, could be the “next big thing” PPV-wise.
See what I did there? That’s wit. Or alcohol-induced brain damage. Same difference, really.
So without any further ado, let’s get to the list, starting with…
Yeah, it’s tough to get any more obvious than this for numero uno. Still, if you believe any of the spin coming off UFC 141, that Ubereem took all of Lesnar’s power when he beat him, Highlander-style.
After all, THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE draw at heavyweight…okay, there can be lots, but that somehow felt appropriate. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to listen to some Queen while combing my mullet.
Still, what sounds right now like bet hedging spin from the UFC (“Stay tuned, Brock Fans, cause this Dutch guy with the funny name is the new human dump truck you’ll all be cheering for!”) is soon to become gospel truth I believe.
After all, Overeem is a guy people have been saying for years would be a huge draw in the States…provided he actually started competing there.
Oh, and providing that horsemeat didn’t register on any piss tests.
As of now, we’re two for two people!
MMA, and certainly Dana White, is still looking for our version of Mike Tyson. Someone who can draw big money on the strength of his name alone...oh, and his soul-destroying power, ability to hype a fight, and a healthy dollup of crazy.
Chuck Liddell fit the bill for a while, but a white guy with a beer gut is never going to fill the same shoes as a 265′er who looks like he has muscles everywhere. Overeem, on the other hand, seems tailor made to step into that role...assuming he beats Junior dos Santos, that is.
My next choice might come as a bit of a surprise, but to me it comes on the heels of another retirement: Tito Ortiz.
Ok, so Tito isn’t technically “retired” as much as he “isn’t.” Supposedly, he’s getting (or at least asking for) one more “retirement match” Independence Day weekend. Someone get Chuck Liddell or Rich Franklin on the phone, pronto.
Tito’s departure leaves another hole in the UFC’s PPV strategy, even if Ortiz hadn’t drawn huge numbers in awhile. But he still drew. I mean Chuck vs. Tito 3 was a viable main event in 2010, one that sold out a 19,000-seat arena.
And in his prime, Tito was an absolute monster on PPV. Just look at how many of the all-time MMA PPV’s were Ortiz beating on Ken Shamrock’s corpse, or helping Chuck Liddell work on his punch combos.
And through it all, he achieved this success through a simple formula: be the guy fans love to hate, right up until they’re cheering for you.
Nick Diaz could easily be that guy.
All that’s waiting is for audiences (and I’m talking big audiences here, not you, me, and your pal Daryl with the cool TapouT bandanna) to finally be exposed to him. He’s the kind of personality (not to mention fighter) that demands attention. With the right promotion (and continued success) Nick Diaz’s name could become something casual fans can’t ignore. He could sell whole cards with his personality (just like Ortiz) and help get other guys “over” just by being in the ring with them (also like Ortiz).
Also, Nick Diaz on top of the MMA world just seems like a roller coaster of controversy waiting to happen. I can’t wait.
Of all the guys I’ve mentioned so far, no one has been anointed as “the man” by UFC brass more than the trash talkin’ gangster from Oregon.
It’s pretty obvious by now that the UFC is going to push Sonnen as someone you need to care about come hell, high water, failed drug tests, lying to government officials, non-functioning gonads, real estate fraud, and public comments so crass and offensive that even Miguel Torres’ Twitter account was embarrassed.
Sonnen’s even getting his own segment on the UFC’s weekly television show, called
“Piper’s Pit” “Chael’s Corner”.
So face it folks, Chael Sonnen isn’t going anywhere. And if you tire of his routine now, just wait until he’s back in contention for a title, or introducing himself to America on network TV.
You can’t deny Sonnen is a lightning rod of fan interest, and that he makes for good entertainment both in and out of the cage. Despite carrying the label of “lay and prayer”, Sonnen hasn’t been in a boring fight in the last few years. Even Filho vs. Sonnen 2 was a kind of MMA black comedy.
But what’s more, Sonnen’s “persona” (you know, that thing he does every time he opens his mouth) taps into a greater truth about the fight game: people want to cheer, and they want to boo. It’s pro-wrestling wisdom to some; to others, it’s just common sense in the fight business.
Muhammad Ali understood this, and it’s a big reason we remember him today as “The Greatest.” And anyone who praises Ali’s trash talk while deriding Sonnen’s is a hypocrite of the first order.
Mark my words: Chael Sonnen will, in whatever capacity, headline one of the biggest MMA PPV’s of 2012. Count on it.
By all rights, Jon Jones shouldn’t even be in this conversation. In a world that makes sense, we’d be talking right now about how Jones is the king of the world, the biggest star in our sport, and a guy who makes the Earth stop on it’s axis every time he fights.
Instead, fans are talking about what Jones needs to do to become truly popular with fans. We’re wondering why he can’t quite cross the line from “good” to “great” performances on PPV despite name opponents and impressive outings.
We’re talking about why a significant portion of the MMA fan world absolutely hates his guts. We’re talking about how fake he is, how he might be a cheater, and why we don’t like his Christianity. We’re talking about how a guy who absolutely trucked Shogun, Rampage and Machida is “ducking” Rashad Evans.
It’s absolute insanity.
I was at UFC 140 in Toronto, and it’s no exaggeration at all to say Jones was one of the most hated men fighting on the card that night. He was soundly booed at the weigh-ins, during his entrance, and when he was introduced. Only after he dropped Lyoto like a carp did fans feel it necessary to give him a round of applause.
It’s mystifying, but I still think Jones can (will, should) be an absolute monster on PPV. The fight that could make him such is the long (loooooooooooooong) awaited fight with Rashad Evans. I think a great many fans have been put off by that fight not happening, and buy the line of reasoning that every fight Jones takes is a “duck” fight to avoid Evans.
That fight should happen in 2012, and Jones should (finally) explode as a result of it. Still, knowing fate, Jones will come down with an injury, Rashad will fight someone else, then pull his hamstring right as Jones is cleared to compete. And so it goes.
Okay, I’m mostly kidding here, but part of me thinks Minowa’s gimmick would really go over well in the UFC. One missile dropkick is all it would take to get Minowaman over with American fans. I think. Also have him competing against 350-pound Bond villains. Now we’re talking.