On paper, the lineup for UFC 96 didn’t exactly jump off the page for me. There were some nice matchups scheduled for the card, but nothing that left me wanting the week go by faster just so I could get to Saturday.
However, when it was all said and done, I came away thoroughly entertained by last night’s pay-per-view telecast.
The telecast first scored points with me thanks in part to a new graphics package that really helped begin to tear down the dated look of the UFC’s PPV broadcasts. We’ll really be cooking with gas once they scrap the late-90’s rap-metal sound beds by Stemm and get rid of the old WCW “Halloween Havoc” theme used for the tale of the tape graphics.
Aside from Yves Lavigne’s poor performance during the welterweight fight between Matt Brown and Pete Sell, there was very little negative that can be associated with UFC 96. Brown’s quick decimation of the affable Sell was a jaw dropping moment.
One thing I would like to ask is why do so many people insist that Sell is so great on the ground? Yes, he’s a black belt under Matt Serra but the two are very close. I’ve never seen Sell roll in person or watch him in a grappling competition, so if people tell me his submissions are legit, I will take their word for it.
However, Sell’s grappling prowess has never translated to the UFC. He’s primarily been a brawler while competing in the Octagon. While he recorded two submission wins back in the day while competing for Lou Neglia’s Ring of Combat, Sell has just one submission in seven career UFC fights. In a fight promotion filled with world class jiu-jitsu players such as Demian Maia and Vinny Magalhaes, does it really make sense to drool over Sell’s submission ability?
But back to Lavinge: what was he thinking!? I mean, after Sell was knocked down the first time and he stepped in and put his hands on Brown, the fight should have been stopped for better or for worse. Sorry if you had second thoughts Yves but an umpire can’t signal for a walk after he’s just called a third strike no matter how outside the pitch was.
Even more entertaining that Brown’s romp over Sell was Shane Carwin’s quick comeback vs. Gabriel Gonzaga. I know it was less than a minute, but Gonzaga looked very composed while Carwin appeared pretty shaky to me. He wasn’t protecting his chin and Gonzaga took total advantage. I thought that was it. But like Carwin said after the fight, he’s got a thick head. He recovered and put Gonzaga down.
I’ve been touting Carwin before he even entered the UFC but I have to admit, we still don’t know a lot about him. Yes, he deserves a ton of credit for knocking out a top ten heavyweight but you can only learn so much about a fighter during 11 first round stoppages in 11 fights.
Matt Hamill’s devastating high kick on Mark Munoz was another site to behold. However, it was another shining example of how the UFC needs to do a better job of treating injuries the same way CBS, NBC, FOX, and ESPN does during an NFL telecast. Hire a backstage reporter or have a stringer pass a note and issue an update on a fallen fighter’s condition during a telecast.
The UFC tries to downplay serious injuries as a way not to call too much attention to the inherently violent nature of the sport but I think it’s much worse to try and act like a fighter isn’t human by trying to ignore such an obvious situation.
Munoz’s loss also made me realize that the UFC desperately needs a minor league system or some sort of developmental contract. The UFC said from the start that the WEC is not a minor league and they’ve made good on that promise. But in keeping that promise, a major void still exists.
A fighter such as Munoz is a tremendous talent but after only five MMA fights, he’s not ready for the UFC. With the depth in all of the UFC’s divisions only increasing, it’s becoming more and more diffcult to spoon feed a fighter until he’s ready to take a major step up. For the most part, the UFC can afford to let fighters work their way up the regional ladder until they are UFC ready, but in the cases of Munoz, Jake Rosholt, and Satoshi Ishii, you don’t want to let talents such as those swing in the wind so that your competition can sign them.
The UFC needs a mechanism where it can look blue chip prospects up contractually and maintain their rights while they compete outside the organization until they are 100 percent ready. If the UFC doesn’t want to spend the money to develop a true minor league promotion, then they should at least sign guys to split contracts in which the UFC pays them to compete for smaller organizations while still holding their rights.
Another major issue I have with the UFC is how they are sending out mixed signals. During the telecast, interim heavyweight champion Frank Mir told play-by-play announcer Mike Goldberg that he informed the UFC last week about his knee surgery.
So why in the world did they officially announce Lesnar vs. Mir II this past Monday? And why oh why did Dana White tell Yahoo! Sports’ Kevin Iole on Friday that he was unaware of an injury to Mir and that if there was an injury, it would be something he’d know about. Could someone please explain this?
And despite Mir claiming that the Lesnar fight would be re-scheduled for UFC 100, the UFC’s decision to put Rashad Evans in the broadcast booth during the main event, and then the move to allow Evans into the cage after Jackson won, White did all he could during the post-fight presser to make it clear that neither matchup was officially scheduled. Sounds a lot like having your cake and trying to eat it too.
If a contingent deal for Evans and Jackson to fight then why put him on mic during the fight? I understand why they did it but to be honest, I felt Evans was put in a no-win position and added very little to the fight. And in some ways, he hurt the commentary from Goldberg and Rogan who I felt were clearly put in a compromising position of having to call a fighter with a good friend of one of the fighters sitting next to them. How about we have Jardine parents sit next to Goldberg and Rogan the next time he fights?
Evans’ commentary was overly-biased towards Jardine, which I completely understand. I didn’t expect anything different but if the UFC is going to sacrifice the quality of the commentary then we should be assured that it’s because Evans vs. Jackson is a done deal. Even Vince McMahon doesn’t put a wrestler on commentary during another wrestler’s fight if it’s not 100 percent that the two are going to fight each other.
The UFC’s marketing department also needs to put their foot down with some of their sponsors. The play on words for Crank II’s catch phrase was unbelievably juvenile. I get that “Chet Chelios wants to keep his heart on” but that’s not the way it sounds and that’s intentional. Yes, I get it that the UFC wants to make some money but they undermine the credibility of Mike Goldberg and Bruce Buffer when they force them to spew such a stupid tag line. Do you think HBO would ever ask Jim Lampley or Michael Buffer to say something like that?
Another point I’d like to riff on: Dana White’s pre-UFC 96 hard line stance about friends fighting friends. I agree with a lot of things that Dana says but when I disagree with something, I usually tend to feel pretty passionate about the opposite position he’s taken.
Dana says he’s an MMA guy and that he understands fighters and if that’s truly the case, he will back off his game that MMA is not a team sport. Once upon a time, I felt the same way he did. I didn’t really understand why we’d never see a Rich Franklin vs. Matt Hughes catchweight fight at 180 pounds at the conclusion of the second season of The Ultimate Fighter. Sure, both had trained at Miletich Fighting Systems but Franklin wasn’t based out of the camp full-time.
My opinion about inter-camp matchups began to change as I became more exposed to the jiu-jitsu culture. While being dragged to myriad jiu-jitsu tournaments that my wife competed in the past few years I always thought it was silly about fighters in the pro division from the same school would accept a draw in the finals and semifinals and split the winnings. I mean, the two guys probably roll with each other every day and tap each other out at practice so why wouldn’t they just do the same thing for money?
Things would get really crazy sometimes when fighters who weren’t even at the same school would bow out because of some loose affiliation such as one guy’s trainer having trained with the other guy’s trainer back in the day.
But I stopped questioning it because I realized I was new to the jiu-jitsu culture and that things have been done that way long before I was even born. Jiu-jitsu is a big part of MMA and there’s an unwritten code of honor that runs deep in traditional camps: loyalty should never be compromised for money. I don’t believe Dana ever spent an extended period of time training in a traditional martial art so he doesn’t understand the honor code that exists within certain disciplines.
Dana should understand all of the above. MMA is not boxing. In boxing, everyone is a freelancer. There’s no American Top Team or American Kickboxing Academy in boxing. A fighter signs up at a gym and pays his fees and from then it’s every man for himself. If a bigger name boxer wants to conduct a proper training camp, his sparring partners become paid employees. In MMA, paying for sparring partners is the exception and not the rule.
If Dana had trained MMA for an extended period of time he’d understand that MMA is a team sport. In MMA, a fight doesn’t begin when the bell rings — it begins the moment a fight has been agreed upon and a fighter begins to prepare. The 6-12 weeks that precede a fight is truly a competition to see who can get themselves more prepared and a fighter can’t prepare himself properly on his own.
If Jardine and Evans don’t want to punch each other in the face in public, they shouldn’t have to. Sure, they beat on each other for free but that’s in private and it isn’t for money. For someone who is loyal as Dana, he should appreciate the bond that exists between Jardine and Evans instead of getting all hot and bothered every time a reporter broaches the subject of the two refusing to fight each other.
We get it Dana: you run the UFC and you’re the man. But this isn’t like that old episode of Star Trek where aliens from another world force Capt. Kirk and Spock to fight each other to the death in order to avoid both being killed. If Evans and Jardine don’t want to fight there is nothing legally that says they have to. Sure, the UFC can take a punitive approach towards Jardine but they might want to be careful about that considering there is truly a viable alternative for fighters in light of Strikeforce’s new relationship with Showtime and CBS.