The MMA News Report 10.31.07
Besides Din Thomas’ unfortunate arrest, there isn’t too much news out there. Luckily, I have reaction to the latest UFC press conference involving the Couture situation, as well as some thoughts on which fighters will be the next UFC superstars. Let’s get to it.
Just some quick reactions to the UFC press conference dealing with the Couture situation:
* While White and Fertita clearly wanted to avoid comparisons to a “he said/he said” situation, that is basically what the vent was about. But I think it was important for the UFC to put its position out there. With so much speculation occurring about Couture’s contract and the alleged grievances he held against the company, the UFC needed to tell their side of the story as clearly and openly as possible. Having gauged the immediate reaction to the conference, it seems that the plan worked. While the numbers might not have added up entirely to what certain media members originally reported, it seems that the actual contract was more similar to the UFC’s version than Couture’s. I’m pleasantly surprised that people are coming out on the UFC’s side on this one.
* Some people will never give White the credit he deserves for improving the standing of MMA and that’s partially due to White’s own demeanor. But he presented a restrained, controlled version of the bluster and straightforwardness that typifies his behavior. Having Lorenzo Fertita as a monitor and a voice of reason was a great call.
* Granted, I don’t think anyone buys White’s assertion that Fedor “is not a top 5″ heavyweight. Considering how hyped Mirko Filipovic was following his acquisition, and considering that Fedor has dominated the potential successor to Couture as UFC heavyweight champion (Nogueira), Fedor still deserves respect as a top heavyweight. White’s points about the competition that Fedor has faced were valid, but the whole spiel was company PR. Of course, you can’t expect White to lavishly praise another organization’s top fighter…
* I was impressed by White’s adamant description of Couture as the top fighter in the division. While it seems that the relationship might be too far-gone to salvage, the UFC did not assassinate Couture’s character or in-ring credibility.
* Does anyone want to take odds on whether Randy accepts the heavyweight title fight the UFC will offer to him? This may be the year of the upsets, but isn’t that the biggest foregone conclusion of them all? Still, great tactic by the UFC. Originally it sounded like their emphasis on “retirement” rather than “resignation” was a bit of denial, but White framed the discussion expertly.
* People want to believe the best of Couture. But high level athletes are prone to insecurities about “respect” and perception. In Boston, we dealt with Pedro Martinez’s bizarre fixation on respect. When the Sox signed Curt Schilling that effectively ended Pedro’s run in Boston. He couldn’t handle being considered second best. When Randy say’s “its not about the money” I don’t think he’s lying. It’s not about the exact dollar amount, but the prestige and respect that comes from carrying the biggest contract. At times, the UFC painted Couture as greedy and ignorant. If nothing else, he may simply be guilty of being prideful and self-conscious.
The Reader’s Question: Has your opinion of Randy Couture changed at all due to his resignation?
News Quick Hits
Gonzaga To Meet Werdum in UK Though many have joked that Fabricio Werdum was stuck in limbo following his snoozefest with Andrei Arlovski, the BJJ expert seems to have been given a reprieve. As first reported by Graciemag.com and now confirmed by Sherdog, Werdum will face recent heavyweight title challenger Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 80 scheduled to take place in Newcastle, England. It’s an interesting match-up for the two heavyweights. With the current state of flux affecting the heavyweight division, the winner of this bout could find themselves back among the title contenders.
Werdum actually holds a victory over Gonzaga back from their pre-UFC and Pride days. Werdum will have to prove that he’s a better fighter than the man who’s lost to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Arlovski, while Gonzaga will have to prove that the loss to Couture was an aberration. If Werdum should win, he could come out in a better position for a possible title shot than Arlovski is currently residing in. How strange…
The New Faces of the UFC?
While the MMA world is up in arms about the departure of Randy Couture from the UFC, several other legends are also nearing crossroads in their careers. Couture is the first of the big 4 – as well as Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, and Rich Franklin – to leave the organization that he helped develop. Each man represented his respective weight class as long-standing champion (or, in Couture’s case, multiple weight classes) right as the mainstream took notice of MMA. Each served as a coach on the two most successful seasons of The Ultimate Fighter, letting fans get to know the men on a personal (as well as professional) level. Each was the focal point of PPVs, the faces being marketed as the leading men. And each reaped the benefits that come with being the sport’s biggest stars.
But Couture is gone. Hughes’ has publicly announced he only has two or three fights left. Liddell has dropped two fights in a row and could easily lose a third to Wanderlei Silva this December. Franklin is the youngest of the group, yet retirement has been mentioned following a second devastating loss to current middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Both the UFC as an organization and fans will have to be ready for a time when all four have left for movies, TV shows, or possibly other organizations.
So who will fill the void? Some of the names on the list below will seem obvious, some will come out of left field. All are subjective to my own biases as a fan. There is no one recipe in crafting a leading star in MMA. Couture has proved that fans gravitate towards fighters in spite of won/loss records (much like Bret Favre). Liddell showed that finishing fights in an explosive manner would make up for the lack of a personality. Hughes and Franklin had contrasting looks (farm-boy v. matinee idol) and personalities (cocky v. humble), but both participated in some of the organization’s most exciting fights. Let’s take a look at the next batch of stars.
Obvious: Brock Lesnar
Darkhorse: Frank Mir
Lesnar has all the attributes of a star. Menacing look, cartoon-superhero physique, dynamic athleticism, and the list goes on. The sole thing he’s lacking is any proven ability within the octagon. No one can say how Lesnar’s transition to the UFC will turn out. The sky is the limit for his potential, but as we’ve seen in every other sport on the planet, sure things don’t always pan out. Should Lesnar lose early in his UFC career, the division will be lacking a true standout. Tim Sylvia will never win fans back to his side. Gabriel Gonzaga, Antonio Nogueira, and Chiek Kongo are hampered by a lack of language skills. Andrei Arlovski has to rectify his contractual hang-ups, rediscover his fighting spirit, and prove he can still hang with a much-improved top 10.
Of all the current heavyweights, Frank Mir possesses the best mix of proven ability and crossover appeal. Whether he can regain his pre-accident form is the one question he must answer. Mir has shown a ton of personality in his WEC commentating duties. Success would also carry with it one of those feel-good stories of triumphing over adversity. If Mir can put together a string of impressive submission victories, he could once again lead the UFC’s heavyweight division, regardless of Lesnar’s prospects.
Obvious: Quinton Jackson
Darkhorse: Forrest Griffin
Chuck Liddell picked the worst possible time to lose a step (or two…or three). The 205lb division boasts the best mixture of talent and entertainment, with fan favorites like QRJ, Griffin, Wanderlei Silva, and Houston Alexander all cracking the top 10. Jackson is the odds on favorite to break out as the next big star, but it will be interesting to see how the actually occurs. By all accounts, Jackson is more focused in his training than ever before and looks incredibly dangerous in the arena. He’s already become a favorite interview on ESPN News, and could easily transition to promotional appearances. The only person that seems capable of stopping Rampage is Jackson himself. Should he slip up, Forrest Griffin or Silva can step right in and take up the slack.
Obvious: Anderson Silva
Darkhorse: Michael Bisping
In my opinion, Anderson Silva is the most entertaining fighter in the world. Not necessarily the best, but the most fun to watch ply his trade. Silva’s one drawback is his struggle with the English language, but I was really impressed that he took the time to address the Ohio crowd following his victory over Franklin. Silva hasn’t been fully embraced by fans still clinging to Franklin’s star. Now that Silva has firmly transplanted Ace, I expect much fuzzier receptions in the future. If Silva keeps decisively beating top challengers, he combines the smoothest personality with the most dangerous in-ring finishing ability.
Everyone points to Dan Henderson as the fighter most likely to take Silva’s crown. That may be true. But I’m not sold on that being a good thing for fans of the division. Henderson is most commonly referenced along with Matt Lindland, a fighter bounced from the UFC due to his deliberate pace. I hate to criticism winning fighters for a lack of panache, but to go from Silva’s artistry to Henderson’s grappling-based dominance would be a shame. Sure, Henderson can throw heavy hands, but not with the style and grace Silva brings to the table. Should Silva stumble, another former light heavyweight might become a fan favorite. Michael Bisping seems destined for a division swap and, post-Hamill antics aside, the Brit is one of the most popular fighters in the UFC. A move to middleweight could allow Bisping to dominate foes as opposed to barely scraping by.
Obvious: Georges St-Pierre
Darkhorse: Jon Fitch
GSP seems like the closest thing on this list to a superstar. He already headlines PPVs, he already has a legion of Canadian fans, and he is one of the two or three most athletic fighters in the sport. But, for some reason, fans seem quick to criticize Rush. I can’t pinpoint the cause. Sometimes, St-Pierre seems to have difficulty with public relations. He speaks his heart, not realizing it could get him in trouble, only to recant his statements at a late date. He has angered opponents and fans with alleged disrespectful comments, and perhaps that has dropped him down a bit in fans’ eyes. Even in his victory over Josh Koscheck, some complained about his lack of style. GSP might only be super-popular so long as he’s winning in dramatic fashion.
Jon Fitch could be set for the biggest leap on this list. He’s gone from being underrated and unknown to a potential breakout star. He appeals to hardcore fans with his well-rounded skill set and in-ring intelligence. His random faces and mid-fight gestures seem to have caught on with more mainstream fans. Plus he’s American, which still counts for a lot. Should Fitch face off against St-Pierre to decide the division’s true number 1 somewhere down the road, I wouldn’t be surprised if fans swung to Fitch’s side. Unless it’s in Canada, in which case St-Pierre is the brightest star ever.
Obvious: Roger Huerta
Darkhorse: Tyson Griffin
Obviously, there is an embarrassment of riches at the 155 weight class. You could make cases for Joe Stevenson, Kenny Florian, Clay Guida, Spencer Fisher, and Frank Edgar and I wouldn’t argue. Huerta is a given, the beneficiary of the UFC’s star making machine and one great Sports Illustrated covershot. But Tyson Griffin seems like a carbon copy of Matt Hughes. He has the size to dominate the division, the ability to hang with the best in the world, and that super self-confidence that borders on cockiness. He draws fans into fights, whether they are cheering for him or against him. Clay Guida would not have become a fan favorite had Griffin not acted as his foil. And while some might boo Griffin, it’s not in a Josh Koscheck “you’re boring and annoying” way.
Huerta is being given an opportunity to cash in on the attention he’s already received. Should he defeat Guida soundly in the coming months, he will establish himself as the future face of the division. Until that fight, he’s still an unknown commodity. The only man lacking a marquee victory on this list is Roger Huerta. The UFC has done their part and fans seem ready to accept Huerta as a star. Now he just has to prove he belongs.
So there you have it. A few of the names might seem obvious, but there’s no guarantee any will pan out. Losses, injuries, and outside distractions have a way of ruining promising careers. Fighters like Vitor Belfort, David Terrell and even Mirko Filipovic have all seen golden opportunities squandered. I think the sport of MMA is greater than the individual fighters. Great fighters make superstars, not great fighters. But someone will have to step and take the place of the elder statesmen. While Couture’s resignation/retirement may hurt the UFC in the short term, a changing of the guard was a must. It’s someone else’s chance at stardom.
Thanks once again for reading. I have no idea what we’ll be back with next week, but I’m sure MMA won’t let me down. Some news story will break, some signing will occur, etc. We’re still a couple weeks away from the next UFC event, but thankfully M-1, IFL, and EliteXC are picking up the slack. Take care everyone.