Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fedor losses to Werdum: Aftermath

Last night something happened many Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fans believed was nearly impossible: Fedor Emelianenko lost a MMA match for the first time in ten years. He had fought 29 times since his first career loss in December 2000 and the only fight he did not win was ruled a "No Contest" because of an accidental Head Butt. Saturday night Fedor was caught in a Triangle Choke-Armbar by his opponent Fabricio Werdum. Werdum, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt, was a heavy underdog coming into this fight.

This fight showed that even one of the best fighters ever can loose if he gets caught in a bad situation. For many years people had assumed that the only way to be Fedor was in a stand up war because of his background in Sambo and Judo. Sambo was considered the Martial Art that had the best defensive positioning to foil the submission moves of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. For a decade Fedor took on men of numerous fighting style backgrounds such as Kickboxing, Muay Tai, Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and even Boxing; yet for 29 straight fights Fedor found a way to not loose.

This loss doesn't diminish Fedor's legacy as one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time, just like the bad last season of Babe Ruth's career or the last couple lackluster season's of Michael Jordan's career doesn’t diminish their legends. Whether one is a fan or not of Fedor, he is definitely a legend in Mixed Martial Arts.

So the man who was considered the best Heavyweight MMA fighter in the world has finally lost, now what?

*Well for starters this is a great day for Dana White and the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). The UFC is widely recognized as the premier MMA organization in the world. The UFC has positioned itself as the place where the best of the best fight in the same way the NFL has with football and the NBA has with basketball. Werdum is a fighter who use to fight in the UFC and had a 2-2 record before leaving the UFC. Dana White (who is the President and promotional front man of the UFC where he appears to be a combination between NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and Boxing Promoter Bob Arum) has said that Fedor was avoiding fighting the Best of the Best since he would not come to the UFC. Fedor has fought for every other recognizable MMA entity except the UFC. So now that Fedor's first loss in ten years was to a guy who won two out of four fights in the UFC gives credibility to White's claims of UFC superiority with MMA talent.
Also, the UFC can now promote their upcoming Heavyweight matchup as the fight to crown the next top Heavyweight fighter in MMA. UFC 116's main event matches current Heavyweight Champ Brock Lesnar and Interim Heavyweight Belt holder Shane Carwin. With Fedor losing to a former UFC fighter, White can say that whoever wins the fight between Lesnar and Carwin will take Fedor's place as top heavyweight in the world.

*One the other hand this is a major low point for M-1 Global, the official promoter for Fedor Emelianenko. The organization has held MMA competitions while acting as the agent for Fedor (who is a part owner of M-1). Fedor's invincibility was M-1's meal ticket. They positioned themselves in a way that they could drive a hard bargain for the top Heavyweight fighter in the world. But now that he has lost, that image that was portrayed of Fedor has been damaged and their ability to play hardball is gone. While Fedor said after the fight he has one more fight in America because of the contract he signed, M-1 cannot make any demands on who he will fight next.

*Interestingly enough, Strikeforce comes out of this with a positive. Strikeforce has been viewed as that "other" MMA organization where guys who do not like the UFC or may be UFC cast offs go. A simple analogy would be to say Strikeforce is to UFC what the USFL in the 1980's was to the NFL or what the ABA was to the NBA in the 1970's. Strikeforce made a hard push to get a deal signed with Fedor. The fact that Fedor lost to one of Strikeforce's own guys, Werdum, shows that Strikeforce has some high level MMA fighters in their organization. But the issue will continue to be that Strikeforce does not come close to the UFC in terms of talent depth or visibility. Strikeforce's best bet from here on out is to position themselves as either the alternate in MMA to the UFC or eventually be absorbed in the UFC just like the ABA was by the NBA.

*Fedor has a few options for the final fight of his contract. Strikeforce needs to take full financial advantage of its last opportunity to market Fedor since he might retire after this next fight. They cannot rationalize having Fedor fight their current Heavyweight Champ Alistair Overeem after a loss, so they could have Fedor fight Antonio Silva. Silva has one loss in his last eight fights and it was to the man who just beat Fedor, Fabricio Werdum.
Strikeforce could also try to set up a "super fight" with one of their other star fighters. Dan Henderson (who recently lost to current Strikeforce Middleweight Champ Jake Shields) is an option. Henderson (a former UFC fighter) use to fight as a light heavyweight and has had issues in the past cutting weight to fight at 185 lbs. Fedor is considered an average sized heavyweight fighter so Henderson would only have to give up a couple inches height wise in a fight with Fedor. Also the option of not having to cut weight for Henderson would be a definite appeal. Strikeforce could market the fight as "USA versus Russia" since Henderson represented the US in the 1992 and 1996 Olympics as a wrestler.
On the other hand Strikeforce could set up a "Super Fight" between Fedor and their current Light Heavyweight Champion Mohammed "King Mo" Lawal. Lawal dominated Gegard Mousasi for five round in his last fight in which he won the Light Heavyweight Strikeforce belt. Lawal does not have a clear cut opponent to defend his belt against in Strikeforce's light heavyweight division. A matchup with Fedor could be viewed as an informal passing of the MMA torch between legend and up-and-comer. In this fight both guys win no matter the result. If Fedor wins it would be pointed out he is one of the greatest MMA fighters ever and he went out on top while Lawal is young yet. If Lawal wins it would be rationalized that Lawal can now be labeled a real MMA Star in beating a legend while people can say that having over thirty fights in his career has worn down Fedor.

As a side note, I was never a big fan of Fedor Emelianenko. I was tired of him always winning and wanted to see someone beat him. In 2005 Fedor was set to fight Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic. In my mind I thought if anyone was talented enough of a fighter to beat Fedor it was Crop Cop. But Fedor beat him by Unanimous Decision. Crop Cop was the last fighter who was able to go an entire fight without being finished by Fedor. After that Fedor rattled off 8 straight fights in which he finished his opponents. So it seems only fitting that a fighter who stopped 21 out of 29 opponents by either submission, Technical Knockout (TKO) or Knockout (KO) over the course of a decade would be beaten by a fighter who submitted him.

Ultimately it is the way that Fedor handled the loss is what gave me a new level of respect for him. He handled the loss graciously and professionally. He didn’t make excuses, he didn't complain, he wasn’t even mad. It was as if a burden was taken from him. He is allowed to be human again. I cannot imagine the pressure Fedor was under for so long because people viewed him as invincible.

No matter what happens from here on out, it should be recognized that Fedor was more than just a legend, he is a fighter who changed MMA. He didn't just beat six different champions of different MMA organizations, but it is how he defeated fighters is what made him unique. The old mantra is "styles make fights". Fedor never tried to exclusively use his skills as a Sambo and Judo fighter to his advantage over his opponents. Instead he won by beating his opponents at what they do best. If you were famous for knocking people out, Fedor was not afraid to exchange strikes with you and then he would knock you out. If you were known as a great wrestler or grappler, he would submit you. If you were known to be able to outlast your opponents and beat them by outscoring them, Fedor would beat you that same way. His style of fighting forced people to see that MMA was not suppose to be about brute force or being super skilled at a specific martial art discipline, but to win you must be all around skilled fighter who knows how to use your talents and martial art acumen to beat your opponent. And above all, how he handled himself and how he respected other fighters raised the bar for sportsmanship. Fedor changed MMA forever; he put the "Martial Arts" back in MMA.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Big 12 stays intact: Reaction

So after the drama of the last couple weeks, officially the Big 12 Athletic Conference will stay in existence. There were rumors that the top football schools who are members of the Big 12 (University of Texas, University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and Texas Tech) would leave to join the Pacific Athletic Conference (PAC-10).

So instead of rehash everything that has happened to the college sports landscape, I’ll do a quick overview and then my thoughts:

*University of Nebraska leaves the Big 12 and joins the Big Ten Conference

-Nebraska left the Big 12 because they wanted a better share of the TV revenue from the conference and they wanted more media exposure. I know some experts say this is a good move for them but I am still scratching my head about it. They leave because of money, yet they will not be a major player in their new conference. They were one of the top three football programs in the Big 12, while in the Big Ten they are maybe the 5th best football program. Since college football is the biggest money maker for college athletics I do not see how Nebraska benefits except that the Big Ten has their own TV Network so their school’s other athletic programs will have more exposure.

*University of Colorado leaves the Big 12 and joins the PAC-10

-The PAC-10 is well known for having high academic standards. The Universities of Washington, University of California, and UCLA are all well known research schools while Stanford University has some of the toughest academic standards among major universities in the nation. So the PAC-10 invited a university that has been cited four times by NCAA for multiple violations of collegiate athletics rules in the last thirty years. Some of these violations have involved academics. So how does Colorado fit in with the PAC-10? Colorado has a decent football program, weak men’s and women’s basketball programs, and their best sports historically are Cross Country and Skiing. The real reason Colorado is a part of the PAC-10 is for the exposure in the Denver media market.

*The Big 12 is staying intact, with ten teams.

-The Big 12 now has ten teams, the Big Ten has twelve teams, and the PAC-10 has eleven teams. My first reaction is why don’t these “smart” people who run these conferences come up with better names? Universities are places where students go to be educated and enlightened, obviously such education and enlightenment does not extend to those who come up with the names for such organizations. Furthermore, the Big 12 has been weakened in their athletics with the departure of Nebraska and Colorado. What the Big 12 should do is invite Texas Christian University (TCU) and the University of Houston so they can revitalize the conference. Both schools have good athletic programs. Then the Big 12 can have a north division consisting of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Missouri, Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State and a south division with Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Baylor, Houston and TCU. THAT would be interesting, but I’m just speaking as a sports fan.

*University of Utah is rumored to be going to the PAC-10

-So since the PAC-10 couldn’t get Texas, Oklahoma and half of the Big 12, many experts suspect that Utah will be invited into the PAC-10. I am unsure how they will divide up the conference with the inclusion of Colorado and Utah, but having Utah is a better prospect than Colorado for the PAC-10. Utah has good football, men’s basketball, and women’s gymnastics programs along with a good academic tradition. Utah is a good fit for the PAC-10.

*Notre Dame University Football is staying Independent

-I have had enough of Norte Dame demanding to be independent. The school has not won a major bowl game since 1994 (Cotton Bowl). Schools such as Alabama, Oklahoma, USC, Miami, Nebraska and Ohio State have been football powerhouses for decades and they are not independent from an athletic conference. I cannot wait for the day that Notre Dame Football stops putting their nose into the air towards the college football world and they join an athletic conference.

Yes, they have won eight national championships in the National Poll era (since 1936), but their last championship was in 1988. Alabama has also won eight national championships and they have won two since Notre Dame’s last championship. University of Southern California (USC) and Oklahoma have won seven national championships while Ohio State and University of Miami have won five national championships. Also, since Notre Dame was national champion in 1988 Miami, Nebraska and Florida have won three championships while Alabama, Louisiana State University (LSU), Florida State and USC have won two championships. So Notre Dame needs to get with the times; the other great football schools have.