The ’09 Wish List

Come Back, Cung Le

By Jake Rossen Jan 5, 2009
Pre-“Ultimate Fighter,” pre-Affliction, pre-state sanctioning, fans will remember the UFC’s modest promotional resolution for 1999: run nine shows. (The campaign was dubbed “9 in ’99,” which is what happens when you can’t afford a marketing department.)

A sad testament to the state of the sport at the time: They could only manage six.

Ten years on, and the UFC is likely to meet or exceed the 20 programs it ran in ’08. Wishes have become largely extraneous, since most requested matches wind up happening sooner or later. The sport’s devotees have everything they could possibly ask for -- free shows, top talent, capable management.

This space, though, works tirelessly to find something to complain about. Some hoped-for events for the New Year:

9. Hold an Officiating Summit

Early stoppages, late stoppages; premature stand-ups; cuts that bleed “too much”; inconsistent judging.

For a sport still in its teenage phase, MMA has done a surprisingly effective job controlling its chaos. But there are still some gaping wounds in the way fights are overseen that need to be sutured.

Steve Mazzagatti is the current whipping boy of controversial calls, pounced on for his delayed reaction in the recent Kongo/al Turk bout. (Kongo savaged al Turk; by the time Mazzagatti stepped in, it looked as if he had peered too closely into the mouth of a lawnmower.) Cecil Peoples is perennially underscored for the way he tabulates victories. It’s gotten so bad that “Robbery of the Year” is an accepted insert into “Best of” categories.

The industry needs a gathering of supervisors and officials to clarify, organize and debate the merits of how fights are contested, officiated and ruled. Better, it needs a standing council that can address these issues promptly, providing clarification or adjustment as needed.

Years after sanctioning, we’re still asking what dictates a 10-8 round; whether submission attempts from guard surmount takedown points; whether a cut, no matter how viscerally disturbing, merits a stoppage. (Most doctors agree it doesn’t.)

Let’s get some answers.

8. More Blu-ray MMA

War’s over: HD DVD is choking on dirt. The battlefield cleared, there should be little preventing promotions from issuing fight events in the higher-resolution Blu-ray format. The UFC is planning a “Best of 2008” disc in March 2009, but completists and obsessive-compulsives would prefer complete events.

7. Rattle the Cage on “The Ultimate Fighter”

We know, we know: “TUF” sparked the current MMA revolution in popular culture, created superstars in Forrest Griffin and Michael Bisping, and more or less saved the sport’s politically blistered ass. But if Peter Cook can get tired of Christie Brinkley, we can certainly grow bored with the increasingly stale format of Spike’s flagship reality show.

The ’08 twist -- recruiting 32 fighters and forcing them to fight for entry into the house -- was novel but sensory overload. Too many athletes, too little time to get to know them. The UK vs. USA theme for the show’s ninth season? Labored.

A handy correctional checklist you can print out and recite to Dana White the next time you’re in Vegas:

• An all-female season that would help usher in a new division.

• An on-the-fly editing schedule for greater turnaround, allowing us to see live house fights every week.

Junie Allen Browning: White’s personal houseguest for a month.

6. Cung Le: Another Fight

Le’s sole 2008 appearance was -- in the minds of many -- the fight of the year. Against Frank Shamrock, he displayed elite stand-up, proper takedown defense and demoralizing sweeps.

Fortunately for Le -- but unfortunately for fans -- his highlight reel in the ring has led to a burgeoning acting career outside of it: He’s been tied up with movie projects most of the year.

While I don’t begrudge anyone making a living, especially in a sport with no pension plan, I do mourn the remaining days of Le’s athletic prime going the way of Dennis Quaid movies. His real combat skill is better than anything a fight choreographer could ever dream up. Fights with Robbie Lawler, Shamrock, even Anderson Silva -- any or all I’d pay a hell of a lot more than $7.50 to see.

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