The fast-moving mixed martial arts world offers fighters, fans and media no shortage of talking points every month. Like every other major sport, there’s plenty for the optimists and cynics to take away. Here’s a look at the good, the bad and the ugly for April 2011.
Little Guy Gold
April 30 will be remembered for UFC 129, a landmark UFC from the Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada. The record-breaking attendance (55,724) and live-gate ($12.075 million) coupled with all fights being broadcast for the first time ever is an important milestones considering the sport’s origins as a blacked-out product that was hemorrhaging money.
Setting a precedent for successful stadium shows will surely propel the UFC and MMA forward just like the UFC Primetime hype series quietly finding its way on to ESPN 2. But the real victory of UFC 129 was the inaugural 145-pound title clash between champion Jose Aldo and Mark Hominick.
The first sub-155-pound title bout in UFC history delivered a Fight of the Night performance that outshined the headlining welterweight title tilt between Georges St-Pierre and Jake Shields. Aldo and Hominick were a difficult act to follow with their highly competitive bout, proving 2011 has seen (and announced) significantly stronger cards thanks to the arrival of featherweight and bantamweight divisions from the UFC’s sister promotion, the WEC.
Twenty-five tireless minutes pushed the champion to the limits as Hominick lived up to “The Machine” moniker, battling through an unsightly hematoma and the judges score cards for a valiant fifth-round comeback that put Aldo in danger.
With the UFC’s first sub-155-pound main event slated for UFC 132 on July 2 between UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber, Aldo and Hominick’s co-main event scrap on the biggest UFC card set a high standard for any division. As the Octagon permeates mainstream sporting culture, the full-throttle fighting of lighter weight competitors—and the international markets like Mexico, Japan and China that can bring—will only accelerate the UFC’s upward trajectory.
Cross Promotion Possibilities
On April 9, Strikeforce Lightweight Gilbert Melendez and Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz successfully defended their belts with emphatic first-round finishes. The performances took on a life of their own because talk surrounding Strikeforce-UFC title versus title bouts was at an all-time high since UFC President Dana White was cageside, scouting the new talent available to him through Zuffa’s acquisition of the San Jose-based promotion.
Diaz’s name polluted post-UFC 129 talk as the next opponent for Georges St-Pierre in a champion versus champion welterweight super-fight. Melendez will be compared to the winner of UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard’s third contest as the UFC’s top 155-pounder later this month.
Alistair Overeem versus Cain Velasquez at heavyweight and now, mutual interest expressed in the media between UFC 205-pound kingpin Jon Jones and his Strikeforce counterpart Dan Henderson are dream fights driving the conversation in the MMA world.
The UFC featured champion versus champion bouts when Dan Henderson, a two-division PRIDE titleholder, returned to the UFC in late 2007–early 2008, but PRIDE had two other high-demand champions—Fedor Emelianenko and Takanori Gomi—that never challenged the UFC’s divisional kingpins.
Champion versus champion bouts in MMA have failed to materialize more often than not despite constant clamoring for them over the last decade due to lack of cross promotion. Expect the performances of champions in either promotion to continue drumming up the war cry from fans to seize this rare opportunity as the UFC’s monopolization of the elite talent in MMA phases out the need for such demand.
This category can find its way onto this list every month, but April was a particularly unkind calendar on the scorecards.
Bellator Featherweight Champion Joe Warren’s Greco-Roman takedowns found him reversed before his non-title clash with Andre Galvao hit the mat on April 16. On the ground, Galvao’s jiu-jitsu dragged Warren through disadvantageous positions that were disregarded by judge Chuck Wolf when he gave Warren the round. The intricacies of jiu-jitsu were not the only point missed by Wolf as Galvao damaged Warren with knees in the second frame while thwarting all but one takedown attempt—again, the round went to Warren.
Real judging criteria would account for more than forward motion and takedowns, but unfortunately, fighters and fans are burdened with 30-27 scores that miss more than one point of what criteria should determine the outcome of an MMA fight.
Gegard Mousasi’s undeserved draw with Keith Jardine kept the former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion from another win the week prior to Warren’s disputed (albeit not undeserved) decision. Mousasi should have emerged victorious on April 9, yet he walked away wondering, like so many other fighters have, why judges exist if they can’t make sound judgments.
It may be just another fight for judges randomly assigned by state athletic commissions, but it’s more than that to the fighters—it’s their career, and livelihood, and should be treated with that respect by those shaping its decisions.
Full Tilt Poker Shut Down
Bottom line: Anytime a major sponsor is cut out of MMA, fighters lose a much-needed revenue source.
The best way to dismiss concerns related to accepting a short notice bout is to make it short. On 17 days notice, UFC welterweight Jake Ellenberger agreed to meet Sean Pierson at UFC 129. A short, thudding left hook-straight right combo left Pierson defeated on the canvas—the only Canadian on the card to be knocked out in front of his home countrymen.
Danny Acosta is the lead writer at FIGHT! Magazine. Follow him on twitter.com/acostaislegend