Brock Lesnar defeated Frank Mir by TKO last week to unify the Ultimate Fighting Championship heavyweight title in one of the biggest UFC clashes to date. After the fight, Lesnar, a former professional wrestling champ, taunted Mir and flipped off booing fans. Do these events portend a UFC descent into a pro wrestling-like circus atmosphere?
Many speak as if a descent into a pro wrestling-like circus atmosphere is a bad thing. It’s not. Heck, the sport of boxing peaked in popularity with Don King, a bona fide circus clown, promoting it all with the lack of shame, and hairdo, of a world-class buffoon. What’s not to love about Lesnar’s actions last Saturday night? Only one thing—his apology.
Did Lesnar go a little overboard with his antics after the fight? Sure, but it was all in good fun, and a swell ploy to pique interest in his next fight. And isn’t that what a well-performed professional wrestling match is supposed to do—raise interest for a future bout.
Refusing to tap gloves with Mir before the fight? That’s a common psychological ploy seen in practically every sport. No big deal.
Taunting Mir after the fight? Classless, yes, but did anyone make such a ruckus when Muhammad Ali taunted Sonny Liston after knocking out Liston in their 1965 fight? No. In fact, it was glorified, and became one a boxing’s classic images.
Why should Lesnar’s actions be treated any differently? There’s no rule against taunting in the UFC, and fighters talk trash and grandstand before fights all the time. So what’s wrong with doing it after the fight?
Saluting fans with middle fingers? Well, they were booing Lesnar, albeit because he was mocking Mir. But really, did these fans come to see wholesome, harmless entertainment?
In a post-fight interview, Lesnar also alluded to having intercourse with his wife. Behavior unbecoming of a champion? No. On the contrary, it was refreshing honesty at its best.
Finally, something from a victorious athlete besides the canned “thanking God” routine. Show me the passage in the Bible, or any holy book, for that matter, in which God admits to giving a lamb’s ass about the outcome of sporting events. It’s not there.
Besides, how can people object to the ultimate expression of love, especially between married partners? Lesnar wasn’t being disrespectful, he was, in fact, being faithful, to his wife.
But really, are the WWE and UFC that different? They’re both fronted by egotistical, tyrannical leaders, Vince McMahon and Dana White, respectively, who are not afraid to speak their minds. And while there’s a lot more submissions in the UFC, the holds are generally the same, although we’ve yet to see a pile driver executed in the UFC.
Plus, they both feature cauliflower ears and gratuitous teasings of T and A. So, why is it such an issue for the UFC to distance itself from the WWE?
Can White logically argue that Lesnar’s actions drew negative comparisons to the WWE? Not without of large helping of hypocrisy. When Lesnar signed with the UFC in 2007, was not his former affiliation with WWE and champion status a major selling point?
If not for Lesnar’s WWE fame, it’s likely he wouldn’t even be in the UFC, much less its heavyweight champion.
So, according to White’s thinking, it’s okay for professional wrestling to impact the UFC, as long as the circus atmosphere doesn’t get too circus-y.
In the WWE, the writers basically determine the “good” guys and the “bad” guys? In the UFC, the fans generally decide who they like or dislike. Until now. Lesnar, because of his actions, “turned,” giving fans no choice but to dislike him. Obviously, Lesnar doesn’t care about that, despite the insincere, White-inspired apology.
More than likely, just as many fans were turned off by the hulking Lesnar’s sheepish acquiescence to the demands of White. Here, Lesnar should have again allowed his WWE instincts to prevail, and taunt White, or maybe choke slam him.
Is being the “bad guy” in the UFC such a bad thing? Not at all. Any pro wrestler with the slightest sense of awareness would have noticed that the “bad guy” often enjoys more fan reaction than a supposed “good” guy.
Lesnar’s inexplicable behavior was uncalled for, but, in his defense, it did seem spontaneous, at least. But, is it possible it was all scripted, á la a WWE storyline, to generate interest in Lesnar’s potential next fight?
Curiously, just a few days after Lesnar’s outburst, 11-0 UFC heavyweight up-and-comer Shane Carwin assailed Lesnar in his blog, peppered with language one would expect from a “babyface.”
Carwin chided Lesnar, noting Lesnar’s disrespect, and boasting that everything he (Carwin) does is for the fans. Oddly enough, Carwin didn’t encourage any kids to take their vitamins, nor did he close his blog with the words “and you can take that to the bank.”
It sounds to me like Lesnar’s next match is set. Apparently, in the UFC, there’s no need for matchmakers when a champion’s shameful actions and a challenger’s rebuke coincidentally align at just the right time. That’s brilliant marketing, which is the foundation that the WWE was built on.
Gosh, could it get any better for the UFC? Only if Carwin attacked Lesnar with a steel chair at the matches official contract signing.
Of course, we can’t leave Russian fighter Fedor Emelianenko out of the equation. Emelianenko will compete in his last contracted fight with Affliction in early August, and White has made it clear he wants him in the UFC, thus making a Lesnar-Emelianenko superfight a distinct possibility.
Again, another chip falling into place for the UFC, almost like clockwork, or as if scripted.
Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if this battle took place in Moscow, with Lesnar readying for the match using primitive training methods in a remote part of Siberia with thoughts of Apollo Creed motivating him.
What a “storybook” ending to the whole saga that would be.
The WWE’s business model is to do whatever necessary to draw attention to the product. Sometimes, it takes no direct actions by the WWE to obtain publicity. In Lesnar’s case, a huge UFC event amounted to lots of attention for the WWE. Rest assured that Vince McMahon is cackling somewhere, pleased with himself and taking full credit for Lesnar’s ascension.
There is absolutely no shame in applying that same model to the UFC, and I think White knows that, although he would go to his grave without admitting it.
UFC purists may scoff at the notion, but the UFC would be well-served to embrace some WWE principles. And some of the UFC’s biggest names would stand to directly benefit from the concepts.
Anderson Silva: While no one dare question Silva’s talent, it’s almost unanimous that he’s not the best interview in the UFC. Has the UFC done anything to remedy this?
Granted, Silva speaks little English, but there’s no reason he can’t be assigned a mouthpiece, preferably a well-dressed, fast-talking manager with a trendy accessory, like a megaphone, or a festooned tennis racket.
Georges St. Pierre: Like Silva, St. Pierre is one of the most accomplished mixed martial arts athletes in the world. Few could argue, though, that St. Pierre’s arsenal lacks one key component—a mean streak.
Always gracious in victory or defeat, St. Pierre’s attitude would benefit from a month or two of intense training in Stu Hart’s dungeon in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. What self-respecting Canadian grappler hasn’t suffered through one or more weeks of dungeon training sessions?
And who would object to a UFC fighter entering the octagon with a cleverly-named valet, like “Octo-pussy,” or “Nikki Cage,” “Vera Naked,” or “Submission Mary?”
In addition, how could White deny the popularity of instituting an “MMMA” division? That being “Midget Mixed Martial Arts.” It’s a veritable goldmine.
Despite its bad rap as a “legitimate” sport, the WWE has mastered the art of polarizing a fan base. Lesnar simply did the same thing, and it’s ludicrous to think the UFC is worse off because of it. It’s not. Love or hate Lesnar, or any fighter, for that matter, fans will still pay to tune in to see him win or lose.
In the realms of professional wrestling and mixed martial arts, there is no bad publicity. White should know that more than anyone. He himself has brought UFC its share of bad publicity.
Remember his foul-mouthed rant about a woman reporter back in April? It’s not the type of thing you happily report to shareholders, but it did put the UFC in the news, albeit for all the wrong reasons.
So, again, it’s downright hypocritical for White to reprimand Lesnar, when Lesnar, in fact, is doing what’s right for the sport by promoting it.
And that’s the bottom line to professional wrestling and its kindred, mixed martial arts—promoting the sport at all costs.