The UFC is rolling out the red carpet in Las Vegas this week.
The occasion: celebrating 20 years since the birth of the company, way back in 1993. The sport has come a long way—and we'll get into that in the following pages—and who can blame Dana White and company for taking a reflective tone this week?
On this week's Buzz List, we'll talk about a couple of the major storylines surrounding Saturday night's UFC 167 fight card, which will serve as the official 20th anniversary event. We'll also talk about the headliner, Georges St-Pierre, and his place in UFC history.
We'll also take a glance outside of the confines of UFC 167 at some of the other intriguing storylines in mixed martial arts.
Join me, won't you?
I don't know if you've heard, but this is a big week for the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Yeah, UFC 167 takes place on Saturday night here in Las Vegas. It's a stacked card. Welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre is fighting outside of Canada for what feels like the first time since actual Roman gladiators walked into the Colosseum to fight other humans and lions. And he's facing a beard-sporting country boy who many believe actually has a chance to dethrone the longtime champ.
We've also got Chael Sonnen vs. Rashad Evans and Rory MacDonald vs. Robbie Lawler on the main card. The prelims feature Donald Cerrone vs. Evan Dunham, Brian Ebersole vs. Rick Story and the much-anticipated UFC debut of Sergio Pettis, the younger brother of lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.
So, yeah. This is a stacked card.
But this week isn't solely about the fight card. It's about celebrating history. November 12 marks 20 years since a new concept was rolled out in Denver. It was built around finding the best fighting style in the world, about determining who would win between a karate practitioner and a boxer. In the end, it was jiu-jitsu—a martial art few people outside of Brazil had ever heard of—that won the day when a scrawny, unimpressive man named Royce Gracie dominated the competition and turned the martial arts world on its head.
It's now 20 years later, and the UFC has morphed into something that barely resembles the product from that night in Denver. It's still a spectacle, but it's also firmly grounded in sport. No longer do we see fighters who are masters in just one aspect of martial arts. Gone are the days when the fighters who entered the Octagon resembled the toughest man at your local bar. The sport is now full of incredible athletes like Jon Jones and other fighters who continue to change our perception of what fighting can be while also moving the sport forward.
There were plenty of dark moments for the UFC, moments when it seemed on the verge of going out of business for good. Those days are gone. While the UFC may never reach the kind of mainstream sporting audience as the NFL and NBA, it is still firmly entrenched in the world sporting landscape. Given where it started and all of the difficulties it experienced in the early years, it is truly a remarkable thing that the UFC is celebrating 20 years.
Happy birthday, UFC. Here's to many more years of awesome fights and unparalleled entertainment.
Georges St-Pierre isn't just the greatest welterweight champion in UFC history; he's also one of the best fighters in history, regardless of weight class.
Despite St-Pierre's oft-maligned tendency for playing it safe since losing his title to Matt Serra in 2007, he's still a remarkable athlete doing remarkable things. He made mistakes against Serra that night in Houston, and it cost him. Since that time, he's made very few mistakes while running up 11 consecutive wins.
Yes, most of those wins came by decision. And yes, St-Pierre's style has likely cost him plenty of fans over the years. But despite being branded as a boring fighter, St-Pierre has continued to excel as the UFC's biggest and most marketable fighter. He is a genuine brand, with blue-chip sponsors and endorsements that have made him a very rich man. He has enough money to last a lifetime even if he never works another day in his life.
That's just one reason we may see St-Pierre in the Octagon for the final time on Saturday night.
St-Pierre doesn't have to fight anymore. If he beats Johny Hendricks, there will be few who give any of the remaining welterweight contenders a chance to dethrone him. Sure, he can go into rematches with Carlos Condit and others, but what's the point?
And what does he have to prove? Even if St-Pierre loses to Hendricks—and I don't think he will—he'll go down as the greatest welterweight in history. There is nothing left for St-Pierre to accomplish, short of moving up or down a weight class in an attempt to garner a second championship. The luster of a potential dream fight with Anderson Silva has faded. There are no challenges left and no obstacles to overcome.
St-Pierre's original trainer, Kristof Midoux, believes St-Pierre should walk away:
Me, I told him, 'After this one, it’s over! Shine on that night. Finish that dude in front of everyone. Shut your detractors up. If you finish that guy, if you knock him out, then you’ll be free, you’ll be happy to take the microphone and to say that you’re done. To say that you are giving your place to others.'
I don't know if St-Pierre will walk away from the fight game after Saturday night. But I do know that I won't blame him one bit if he does.
The Ultimate Fighter is an excellent vehicle for building new stars. The reality show has also been effective in building to a fight between the two opposing coaches. In most cases, the coaches are already established stars when they enter the show, but some of them have expanded fanbases when the season concludes.
Some coaches, however, suffer because of the way they are portrayed on the show. Who can forget Tito Ortiz slowly winning fans while nemesis Ken Shamrock alienated viewers during the third season? Or viewers getting a glimpse of the real, kindhearted and supportive Chael Sonnen after years of pro wrestling-inspired interviews?
When Season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter began, Ronda Rousey was far and away the most popular female fighter on the UFC roster. Miesha Tate had her share of fans, but for all intents and purposes, it was the Rousey show. The show was built around the mercurial bantamweight champion.
As it turns out, that probably wasn't a good thing.
Those who have tuned in to TUF have been treated to a different side of Rousey than they've ever seen. She's still supremely confident and talented, but we've also seen her throw temper tantrums, erupt into tears at the slightest provocation and generally make an ass of herself.
The fans have responded. In fan voting to determine who will join Jon Jones on the cover of EA Sports MMA, Rousey was soundly defeated by Tate, this despite Rousey being a central attraction of the UFC and having far more Twitter followers than Tate.
Tate offered her opinion on why fans have turned on Rousey to MMAjunkie:
“I think a lot of people have been turned off by Ronda’s poor sportsmanship and just the overall negative attitude on ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’” Tate told MMAjunkie on Monday. “I think she’s been kind of exposed.”
We must keep in mind that TUF, despite being billed as a reality show, is not entirely real. Producers and editors on the show have creative license to tell the stories they want to tell, which means they can spotlight all of Rousey's negative aspects while keeping the stuff that might create positive feelings on the cutting room floor. We see what they want us to see.
Tate's win doesn't mean she's a bigger draw than Rousey. It doesn't mean she is more famous. But it does mean that fans have been less than impressed with Rousey's attitude and general demeanor.
Thankfully for Rousey, being a gigantic heel is just as profitable as being a champion who is adored. She'll reap the rewards at the UFC 168 box office in December, and much of the damage done to her reputation can be repaired quickly. MMA fans, just like fans of any other sport, are notoriously fickle. Their allegiances change in an instant. Rousey can make everyone forget about her showing on TUF if she wants to.
But for now, Rousey's loss is Tate's gain.
It's fitting that Vitor Belfort is one of the hottest topics in MMA in a week when the UFC is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Belfort hasn't been with the company since the very beginning, but he's been around a long time. He made his debut at UFC 12 in 1997, blitzing through a heavyweight tournament and instantly becoming one of the promotion's biggest stars.
We're now in 2013, and Belfort might be the hottest and most controversial fighter on the entire UFC roster. He's scored three consecutive first-round knockouts to earn his shot at the winner of the Chris Weidman/Anderson Silva rematch; Belfort may eventually get his shot in a Brazilian soccer stadium. At 36 years old, Belfort looks better than ever.
But he's surrounded by controversy due to his regiment of testosterone replacement therapy. Some believe Belfort is simply a better fighter than he's ever been, while others believe he's on a steroid-fueled rampage.
We'll never know how much of Belfort's resurgence is due to advancing skills and how much is due to his controversial TRT treatment. As long as Belfort continues to take the stuff, he'll continue to be maligned by fans who believe he's cheating.
I've long opposed the usage of TRT in mixed martial arts. This is no secret. But I'm also aware that TRT is legal and that Belfort, thus far, has played by the rules. Or at least we think he has, because the truth is much harder to come by. He says he's continually tested while on TRT in training camp, and Dana White backs up his story. But without access to actual test results, we have no way of knowing if either of them are telling the truth.
It's a shame, too. Instead of appreciating the accomplishments we're seeing from Belfort, we're constantly asking questions about how he achieved them.
Doors, walls and furniture have taken plenty of abuse from UFC fighters over the years.
This is most prominent in the Ultimate Fighter house, of course, where angry fighters have been known to take out their frustrations by punching a hole in the nearest inanimate object they can find. This is mostly an amusing thing to the viewer at home.
But it's not so funny when someone is injured. At that point, it goes from comical to downright stupid.
Rony Jason, angered by his UFC Fight Night 32 loss to Jeremy Stephens last week, decided it would be a great idea to punch a hole in the wall backstage. As it turns out, this was not such a good idea after all. Jason lacerated his arm, which meant a trip to the hospital and a dozen or so stitches.
On top of that, Jason suffered this indignity: He's been suspended by the Brazilian commission for "anti-sportsmanlike conduct." It's only a 30-day suspension, which means it won't affect Jason's next fight.
But still, getting suspended for punching a wall has to be embarrassing. It's safe to say the wall won this one.