Zuffa’s 10 Best Accomplishments of ‘07

10 Best

By Jake Rossen Dec 17, 2007
Discounting for a moment my wayward syntax and habit of using 10 words when two will do, this space is most frequently criticized for a perceived anti-UFC agenda.

Nothing (beyond a claim of Beyonce nestling in my bathtub and begging to be exfoliated) could be further from the truth. I have watched the UFC in all its various incarnations since 1995, have an event library in my living room that automatically weakens my chances with the opposite sex and even made the ignoble trek to Lake Charles, La., to watch Dan Severn (Pictures) take one leg kick from Pedro Rizzo (Pictures) and then collapse in a heap of facial hair and unflattering spandex trunks.

The reason for the undercurrent of critical thinking is simple: If you want a whitewashed, sterile version of events, the UFC's own Web site and broadcast media does a masterful job. Were you to follow those outlets exclusively, you might never know that Randy Couture (Pictures) is in exile, Sean Sherk (Pictures) is no longer the lightweight champion and "Big" John McCarthy is retired.

I'd like to believe sites like Sherdog provide a crucial counterbalance for that kind of Stepford mentality, that being the Grumpy to the UFC's Dopey is some kind of karmic responsibility. But since it's the season to be swell to others, I thought I'd try and make note of the promotion's accomplishments in the past year.

Call it insurance against future complaints. In ascending order of worthiness:

10. Zuffa Acquires the WEC
Nitpickers beware: Zuffa actually completed the purchase of the World Extreme Cagefighting label in late 2006. But it wasn't until '07 that the promotion kicked into high gear on the Versus Network (formerly the "I Can't Believe I'm Watching a 65-Year-Old Man Fish" channel), offering repackaged highlight shows and several live events.

What I expected to be a mediocre farm show turned out to have production values better than all but the UFC itself, including sharp, unobtrusive commentary from Frank Mir (Pictures) and Todd Harris; competitive match-ups; and athletes that populate the rankings, including undefeated Paulo Filho (Pictures) and Urijah Faber (Pictures).

Bereft of any fire-breathing dragons, giant fingers or mentally deficient DJs, it's one of the few MMA shows that you don't have to be embarrassed about watching.

9. Signing Brock Lesnar (Pictures)
While there's no shortage of talent in the UFC, athletes that can incite casual curiosity are few and far between. Traditionally, the promotion has shied away from patronizing the "freak factor," embracing actors and public personalities to draw ratings. But compliments to them for recognizing that Brock Lesnar (Pictures), formerly an employee of Vince McMahon, has the collegiate credentials to back up his brash attitude and action-figure physique. Aside from an aging Kurt Angle, Lesnar represents the only performer from the sub-literate world of pro wrestling that has a chance in the Octagon. It's something people have clearly wanted to see for years now, and the UFC is pandering to those tastes in the most respectable way possible.

Hell, who knows? Maybe Lesnar's wrestling pedigree and strength will reduce the UFC heavyweight division to rubble. In a division lacking in appeal since the departure of Couture and the breakdown of Mirko "Cro Cop," that possibility provides a much-needed surge of curiosity.

8. Rallying for Liddell
When Chuck Liddell (Pictures) dropped both his guard and his light heavyweight title against Quinton Jackson (Pictures) in May, most expected the charismatic new champion to seize the lion's share of attention.

But the UFC, recognizing that Liddell is not only one of its most popular stars but one of the most loyal, didn't shy from circulating the Iceman in the mainstream media, including a precious post-loss spot on "The Late Show with David Letterman."

In a sport where you're only as good as your last performance, the UFC remembered what Liddell has meant to its bottom line over the past five years and reacted accordingly. (Being undefeated, after all, just means you haven't fought enough tough guys.)

7. Signing Wanderlei Silva (Pictures)
Despite the UFC's controversial acquisition of PRIDE earlier in the year, there were few guarantees that some of that promotion's marquee talent would make their way stateside. (Witness the nomadic behavior of Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures), Takanori Gomi (Pictures) and a dozen others.)

Through machinations I can only attribute to Dana White's bull-in-a-boardroom mentality, the UFC was able to convince Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) to make Las Vegas his new home. Aside from Emelianenko, Silva represents the best PRIDE had to offer, and he's still a relatively prime -- and primal -- 32 years of age.

With the fighting style and presence of a Silverback gorilla, there are endless matchup possibilities for him, including a third match with rival Quinton Jackson (Pictures). A solid investment, and one that spared us the inevitable Silva-Sakuraba IV death match in K-1.

6. Featherweights, Bantamweights Take Center Canvas
"Bigger is better" is a classic American philosophy, one on perpetual display in the combat sports. But thanks to the WEC, fans have had an opportunity to see the talent on display in divisions that were formerly regulated to feeder shows and wrestling meets.

At 145 pounds, Urijah Faber (Pictures) might just be a pound-for-pound great; at 135 pounds, Charlie Valencia (Pictures) is a stick of dynamite. While heavyweights will inevitably attract the most attention, the UFC's sprawling real estate is allowing enough room for everyone.
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