It is the time for solemn reflection and acknowledgment, that special part of the year reserved for counting our blessings and ruminating on the plight of those less fortunate. Also, for gorging ourselves on turkey and then reevaluating our priorities as the after-dinner sweats set in; and perhaps later a nice nap.
In any case, it seemed like the perfect time to gather Bleacher Report’s lead MMA writers—Jeremy Botter, Chad Dundas (that’s me) and Jonathan Snowden—and allow each of us to share a couple of fight-related items we are thankful for during this holiday season.
So fill up a mug of grog and feast your eyes along with the rest of your body. We promise to keep this short enough that you can finish before the Tryptophan sets in.
Jeremy Botter: I'm thankful for Las Vegas, the fight capital of the world.
I first moved here in 2011. My old boss told me Vegas was the place to be if you're involved in mixed martial arts. Being the type who is constantly looking for ways to improve my craft, I made a leap of faith, driving to Nevada from the hometown I'd never left (except for a stint in the United States Army).
He was right. Vegas really is the place to be if you're involved in mixed martial arts.
For starters, there's the fact that you don't have to travel to cover all UFC events, because plenty of them are held right here. And when I'm done with a grueling fight night, I don't have to go back to my hotel room and fuss with an internet connection that rarely works the way it's supposed to; I can simply make the 15 minute drive back to my house from Mandalay Bay or the MGM Grand. And I can sleep in my own bed, which is a blessing.
And if I need to interview fighters? There's a pretty good chance they live here, or at least train here.
I moved back to Texas for a time, but I'm back in Vegas now. I don't know if I'll ever leave, at least as long as I'm involved in this sport.
Jonathan Snowden: I have a confession to make—for years I was skeptical about women's mixed martial arts. The idea of women as delicate flowers, to be protected from violence at all costs, is deeply ingrained in our society, if not our genetic code. Combined with a perceived scarcity of skill, my preconceived notions made it easy to dismiss women's MMA outright.
Until I saw Yuka Tsuji take on Ana Michelle Tavares in a 2003 bout for the Japanese DEEP promotion. In retrospect, the fight is nothing special. But at the time I was blown away by the skill level, a Nova Uniao trained jiu jitsu expert taking on an All Asia level wrestler in a compelling ground battle.
I've been a passionate advocate of women's MMA ever since. And I'm thankful, a decade after that fight, that the UFC has opened the doors to its hallowed Octagon to so many hard working and talented women fighters.
Chad Dundas: As of this writing, the average age of the UFC’s 10 reigning champions (counting both Dominick Cruz and Renan Barao) is just over 27 years old. Of the nine men and one woman who wear UFC gold, only two—Cain Velasquez (31) and Georges St-Pierre (32)—are over 30.
What’s that mean, you ask? I’d say it means that despite all the constant hemming and hawing over pay-per-view buy rates, ratings on FS1 and what the company will do if St-Pierre decides to hang up his gloves, the future is pretty dang bright.
This holiday season I’m thankful for Anthony Pettis’ “showtime” style, Velasquez’s gritty determination and Chris Weidman’s ability to shock the world.
I’m thankful for Ronda Rousey’s preternatural ground skills, Jon Jones’ unpredictability and St-Pierre’s ability to keep dominating, even though everyone knows exactly what he’s going to do.
I’m thankful to Jose Aldo, Barao, Cruz and Demetrious Johnson for all being the best in the world at an age when I couldn’t be trusted to properly heat soup.
The kids today are alright, and they’re only getting better. That’s going to be fun to watch.
Botter: I try to imagine a time when recording television programming meant finding a new VHS tape, or at least finding one that you didn't mind recording over. And programming a VCR was often an exercise in futility.
I don't know how we survived without DVRs, to be honest. That sounds incredibly lazy when spoken aloud, but it's true. With the UFC putting on more events than ever (and scheduling even more in 2014), the DVR is an essential tool for anyone who covers the sport.
When you throw Bellator, World Series of Fighting and other televised regional events into the mix, you have a daunting schedule that would drain even the most dedicated fan. With my DVR, I know I'll always have the option of recording as much MMA as I need to, with the ability to go back through it on my own terms.
I don't know what I'd do without my DVR. I'd probably go crazy. And if I had to program a VCR and keep track of which VHS tapes I still needed to watch and which ones could safely be recorded over, you'd find me in an insane asylum.
Thank goodness for technology.
Snowden: There's a piece of me that doesn't care much about performance enhancing drugs. Isn't it simpler to just, in a fit of libertarian recklessness, throw up your hands and ask "who cares?"
After all, in theory, shouldn't we want our professional athletes to do all they can to enhance performance? Isn't that the point of all of this? Ultimate athletes matching their physical potency and martial skill against an opponent—that's what it's all about right?
But the long term damage is too great to simply ignore the problem, head buried deeply in the sand. Performance enhancers can wreck the human body. We know this. We also know that they work.
The current PED testing system, a simple urine test, is laughable. It allows rampant drug use by all but the most incompetent user and forces fighters who don't want to cheat, don't want to risk their long term health, to use anyway. Just to keep up.
A chemical arms race is untenable and unconscionable. The UFC is happy with the current government testing regime. I'm thankful that Dr. Margaret Goodman and the people at VADA, as well as select MMA journalists like Fight Opinion's Zach Arnold aren't. Keep fighting the good fight—even when, especially when, it feels Quixotic. It's a problem that demands our vigilance. We owe the fighters at least that much.
Dundas: The idea that MMA fighters should worry about being exciting is a fairly new one. Nobody dogged Dan Severn, Matt Hughes or Randy Couture because their styles were “boring.” Today, however, you can’t swing an anonymous, ill-informed dead cat around an Internet message board without finding a bunch of posts about “lay and pray” and “getting ‘Fitched.”
But you know what? I like wrestlers. I like wrestling. I like fighters who aren’t afraid to go into deep water and aren’t afraid to win their fights the most dominating way possible—by lopsided unanimous decision.
I like it because it reminds us there’s more than one way to win an MMA fight. It reminds us why we put the word mixed in mixed martial arts in the first place. It reminds us that you have to be so good at so many aspects of the MMA fight game that there’s no room for “stand and bang” unless fighters also have adequate takedown defense.
Above all else, these grapple-first men and women remind us that MMA is a sport, not a spectacle. Despite all the changes it has seen over the years, the UFC is still a place where the best test their skills against the best. A place where the whole idea is to find out whose style reigns supreme.
We should continue to celebrate that, instead of trying force every athlete into the same brawling style.