As I stand and scope the great nation that is UFC in the world of MMA, I see some things that worry me about it and what they mean for the future of the sport. The rise of Brock Lesnar as champion is only the surface of a disturbing pattern that seems to be emerging here that could compromise a whole weight division in the UFC. Cracks are beginning to emerge in Dana White’s suit of invincibility and all knowing when it comes to running the promotion. Here are but a few suggestions from a humble servant in where things are going wrong.
Please don’t let Lesnar turn the sport into a real life Pro Wrestling. Growing up, I was a huge fan of wrestling, huge. My walls were covered in posters and pictures of my heroes like Ric Flair, Sting, “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, the Von Erich Family and a plethora of other pro wrestlers. I would make my father drive hours from our remote (at the time) Texas border town to see the handful of shows that came within a day’s driving distance or drive across the border to Mexico to some dingy arena to see the high flying action. As I got older and began to realize that wrestling was scripted (I don’t like the term fake, because after talking to a few wrestlers I realize the tremendous amount of damage these men inflict on their bodies) the love affair began to wane. It just wasn’t the same. Granted, I never lost all my affection for it, still to this day I carry fond memories and a love of my childhood heroes, like when I wailed like a baby hearing Kevin Von Erich’s heart wrenching story of the demise of 4 of his brothers in a documentary I was watching.
Having gotten that out of the way, I hate the direction wrestling has taken in the last few years. Gone is the emphasis on skill and athleticism, having being replaced by cheap thrills and controversy. Sadly this had made wrestling the financial behemoth it is today, and Dana White wants in on some of that action. This baffles me to no end, because White is the guy who so skillfully rescued the sport from going under. He took over a promotion that had basically dragged itself into the realm of cock fighting, bull baiting and hobo boxing and other sports that immediately sparked outrage and indignation in most of society. I mean White is the guy who gave the UFC the credibility it has as a sport today, the guy who got John McCain, who tried to have the sport banned, into admitting it was a legitimate athletic competition now. So why take all that hard work and cheapen it? Let the sport grow on its own, create your own new fans, promote it by creating a safer form of it so it can it can be included at the high school and college level, but do not just give in and package it so it appeals to the lowest common denominator. Brock Lesnar is the epitome of all this movement. He is hugely popular because of his pro wrestling tie and if you saw his last fight, is trying to bring the pro wresting attitude into the UFC, something that is starting to seep into the fan base.
I commented to fellow fan and writer for this site how I love the UFC, but I how I hate to watch it anywhere but at home. If you ever go to a bar to watch a fight you are met by a veritable ocean of sideways caps, affliction shirts, and stare downs of twitchy ‘roid rage. As you try to enjoy your wings and beer, you have to put up with loud, obnoxious banter, and ridiculously loud claims of how they belong on the octagon because 3 weeks down at “Invincible D’s Albanian Jujitsu & Mongolian toe Wrestling Pit and Icelandic Boxing Academy” has somehow prepared them better than the 10 plus years Rich Franklin or BJ Penn have put into training. As alcohol flows and they get more rowdy, you have to be careful not to bump them, stare for too long and if you were dumb enough to bring your wife or girlfriend, hope they don’t try to hit on her or grope her because then more than likely a confrontation will ensue. And for guys who claim they train and are expert shoot fighters, they don’t seem to have a problem when their six other friends jump in on a fight. As a fan that appreciates the sport side of MMA, the fact that White not only caters to this bunch of yahoos, but also courts them actively, is discouraging. His pushing of Lesnar to the top of the pile after only 3 fights (one being a rather embarrassing loss) baffled me to no end. Also, throwing a disenchanted and unmotivated Randy Couture as a lamb to the slaughter so he could get mongo smashed by Lesnar seemed as an insulting way to let a man who had done so much for the UFC close his career and relinquish the title as he was being shoved out the door. Lesnar’s defeat of Couture just further exposed how weak the Heavyweight division had become. And here in lies the problem that the UFC has created for itself.
The heavyweight division is pretty much a joke now. From top to bottom the division looks very weak and the few bright spots, like Cain Velasquez are still too green. The big problem here is that the man most MMA fans consider the best heavyweight, and maybe the best pound for pound fighter, in the world refuses to sign with UFC. I am talking of course about one Mr. Fedor Vladimirovich Emelianenko. Emelianenko’s refusal to sign with the UFC has led to the surfacing of some of White’s more unsavory business practices when it comes to structuring a fighters contract. As Emelianenko is not strapped for cash or options, he seems rather happy at the moment to fight for smaller promotions who are willing to give him more flexible contracts for beating on former UFC heavyweight champions who had been discarded like day old bread like Tim Sylvia or Andrei Arlovski (By the way, has anybody ever noticed that Arlovski looks like if a werewolf and 1986 Wham Era George Michael had a baby? If you don’t believe me look for a picture of when Arlovski was rocking frosted tips). As long as Fedor refuses to fight and continues to beat men who held the belt, Lesnar more and more looks like a paper champion fighting underrated and over the hill fighters. Like I told people before, did White not see “Rocky V”? This is the exact same plot, heck; even “Rocky III” is similar, what’s next? Is Lesnar going to fight Hulk Hogan, who’s making a cameo as a 55-year-old Thunderlips on UFC 102?
All of this is a result of White’s quest to somehow reach out to the wrestling audience and give them a similar product to what they like. Sure it is good for money, but it’s leaving out a big chunk of us who had been following MMA seriously for years. We were there during the lean years; we have paid our dues, so please Mr. White don’t shortchange us. Reform your contractual practices so that men like Emelianenko are willing to sign a contract without having to sign a big part of their financial life away to you. This will not only create a more motivated fighter, but it will also attract others unwilling to sign on the dotted line and create goodwill with both the athletes and fans. This will help make the heavyweight division the premier weight class in the UFC again and the benefits you receive will be exponentially greater than whatever business you do now.