Dan Henderson’s epic five-round encounter with Mauricio Rua provided reason to be thankful.
In various parts of the world on Thursday, people will pause to give thanks. In conjunction with the Thanksgiving holiday, various members of the Sherdog.com staff sat down and opened up about what they were most thankful for in the world of mixed martial arts:
Five Round Non-Title Main Events
This relatively new phenomenon is directly responsible for one of the most memorable bouts of 2011. Had the light heavyweight matchup between Dan Henderson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua been a three-round affair, the end result would have been a clear-cut 30-27 unanimous decision victory for “Hendo.” Instead, those final 10 minutes made for delicious theater, as the Brazilian mounted a rousing comeback and had many questioning whether the fight should have been scored a draw.
Not every main event can be expected to go the distance, but it is nice to know that if Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem have not knocked one another senseless after 15 minutes in the Octagon on Dec. 30, they will have another two rounds to finish the job, even though a belt is not on the line.
Five-round headliners create separation between contenders and pretenders, add a feeling of electricity to a fight card and give pay-per-view customers more bang for their buck. If UFC 139 was any indication, fans are going to have plenty more opportunities to be thankful in 2012.
The UFC’s Growing Monopoly
Some might say that the UFC nearly cornering the market on mixed martial arts talent is a bad thing because competition forces the promotion to produce a better product. I disagree.
Early in 2011, the UFC decided to absorb the roster from its sister promotion, World Extreme Cagefighting. Don’t get me wrong; I loved the change in routine that a solid Wednesday or Sunday night WEC fight card could provide, but without the merger, we would not have been able to see the growth of lightweight talents like Ben Henderson and Donald Cerrone in the sport’s top organization. Long before he set foot in the Octagon, Cerrone would say that WEC fighters could compete with the best the UFC had to offer. In the midst of one of the best years of anyone in MMA, “Cowboy” is proving those words to be true.
Now the UFC is gradually doing the same thing with Strikeforce. Matchups like Nick Diaz-B.J. Penn, Wanderlei Silva-Cung Le, Henderson-Rua and Lesnar-Overeem are just the tip of the iceberg. Gilbert Melendez will eventually have his chance to swim in the ultra-deep waters of the 155-pound division, while Diaz will find out if he can back up his tough talk against Georges St. Pierre. For those who still crave variety, Bellator Fighting Championships puts out a consistently quality product. That said, wouldn’t it be nice to see what Hector Lombard could do against Anderson Silva? I’m thankful that the UFC is providing so many exciting fight options, even if it is under one banner. -- Tristen Critchfield, associate editor
Lightweight Logjam in 2012
If you’re not pumped for some lightweight action in 2012, then shame on you. A 155-pound tornado is brewing, and it is going to be wild.
In a sneak peak of what is to come next year, Melendez puts his Strikeforce belt on the line against Jorge Masvidal on Dec. 17. Though outgunned on paper, Masvidal has enough toughness and gumption to go right at the champ, which ought to provide fans with fireworks, one way or another. On Jan. 20, contenders Jim Miller and Melvin Guillard are expected to collide as the UFC debuts live on cable channel FX. You might want to make some popcorn ahead of time for that one, like, a lot of popcorn. The UFC’s return to Japan on Feb. 26 will bring with it more lightweight excitement. Not only will former WEC champion Anthony Pettis face Joe Lauzon, but Frankie Edgar will defend his UFC title against another former WEC king in Ben “Smooth” Henderson.
Waiting in the wings for the winners and losers of all those matchups are competitors like Gray Maynard, Clay Guida and Cerrone, not to mention that there is a distinct possibility that Melendez and Masvidal could both find themselves standing in the Octagon in 2012.
Bellator should also bring the heat with the lightweights next year. Following Michael Chandler’s tremendous victory over Eddie Alvarez on Nov. 19, a division once ruled by an unyielding tyrant now has a fresh face calling the shots. With Alvarez no doubt pining for revenge, Bellator should have little trouble assembling a noteworthy bracket filled with talents like Rene Nazare, Patricky Freire, Marcin Held and Dave Jansen. Take delight in watching it all shake out.
UFC on Fox
The UFC’s seven-year deal with Fox begins in January, and several changes for the better will result.
First, fans will have six live UFC Fight Night events to look forward to on FX, as well as four live shows on Fox’s flagship network. With this will come a new version of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which will feature live fights each week. After 14 seasons on Spike TV, many felt the format of the UFC’s long-running reality show had become stale. Live competition on a weekly basis could be just the thing to inject some new life into a series that has produced former light heavyweight champions Forrest Griffin and Rashad Evans.
The UFC’s move to Fox means that Bellator is now free to slide into the television void left by the world’s largest promotion. With Viacom buying a majority share in Bellator earlier this year, the promotion is expected to appear on Spike, a significant upgrade over its current partnership with MTV2. As the UFC takes a major step toward mainstream acceptance, so will Bellator and, by extension, the sport.
However, due to contractual obligations to the UFC, Spike cannot broadcast a rival promotion until 2013, which means those without a subscription to Epix will have a wait another year for Bellator in high definition. Hey, better late than never, right? -- Mike Whitman, news editor
An Invigorating, Informative Gig
I get paid to write about people punching one another in the face. Most of my days are spent watching leather being slung, limbs being mangled and consciousness being drained. Ten years ago, I could never have imagined myself in this position, but now? There’s nothing I’d rather be doing, and I could not be more thankful to be here.
Beyond the sheer volume of high-grade MMA that we as fight fans are treated to on an almost daily basis in 2011, working in the fight media has afforded me the opportunity to meet some truly phenomenal people. From fighters who surprise with wit and candor to gifted artists behind lenses and keyboards and even promoters who truly want to help grow MMA rather than simply padding their own wallets -- the depth of humanity in a sport so often dismissed as superficial or destructive has been nothing short of life-affirming.
Sure, there are sleepless nights spent fretting over largely inconsequential words, and, yes, the majority of promoters still refuse to record their results properly for the Fight Finder -- we’re just trying to help! But even at its most frustrating -- say, like, when you’re being stood up for a “phoner” by someone whose name rhymes with Rick Ziaz -- working in mixed martial is still an invigorating and informative gig.
So thanks, MMA, for everything I’ve taken and learned from you so far. I promise to give some back. -- Chris Nelson, associate editor