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I want to talk to you about three things that suck. This will not be a laser-focused rant, concentrating and directing the heat of a thousand suns at a single target. Nor will it be a collection of wry observations that gradually wind their way towards some kind of coherent truth. There is no overarching theme or common thread connecting them, aside from them being things that suck, right now, in combat sports.
“Only three?” I can hear some of you thinking. “That’s no kind of challenge. This is mixed martial arts, the sport that knows no end of silliness and buffoonery. The sport that never met a barrel whose bottom it wouldn’t scrape for a buck. Three things? Just follow the headlines for a week and 25 things that suck will come tumbling out of your screen like clowns from a clown car.”
That’s a fair point, but the challenge isn’t really finding them, it’s narrowing down the field. I tell you what though, I’ll do it with the equivalent of one hand tied behind my back: the fight between the YouTube twits will not be one of them. They’re boxing’s problem, aren’t they? I have barely enough mental bandwidth to keep up with good boxing, much less whatever that was. I’ll be happy as soon as the blond guy’s smirking mug oozes off of this site’s front page and back to YouTube. Ugh, that face. I’d call it “punchable,” but apparently punching only makes him more powerful.
“MMA writers are always so negative,” others are thinking now. “If you hate this sport so badly, why do you cover it? Why do you even watch it?”
First, I don’t hate this sport. I love it dearly, in spite of the things that suck. Nonetheless, in the interest of fairness, next week’s column will be all about Things That Rule, and in the interest of balance there will be at least three of them.
With that out of the way, here are three things that suck right now.
“Cowboy” vs. Jackson-Wink MMA
If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need a recap. Donald Cerrone fired shots, Mike Winkeljohn returned fire, and as of the time of this writing, at least one other prominent fighter from one of the most respected camps in the sport had weighed in.
As soon as “Cowboy” launched his first salvo, the hardcore fan base -- and the media -- grinned and pulled up a chair. I’m as guilty as anyone; even as I write, I have a family-size bowl of popcorn sitting to the left of my laptop and three fingers of middle-shelf bourbon to the right, though to be perfectly honest only one of those has anything to do with the controversy brewing in Albuquerque.
Schadenfreude is hardly unique to MMA. The airing of public figures’ dirty laundry is so irresistible to us that tabloid-style gossip is the de facto front page in many areas of the entertainment industry. Nonetheless, this whole thing sucks. It’s the public explosion of things that would have been better taken care of behind closed doors years ago; it involves two of the most colorful, exciting fighters in the sport, who had the least need of something like this to draw attention to their fight; and it has to be embarrassing and confusing for the aspiring fighters and non-fighters who form the vast bulk of the clientele of the gym in question.
I’m sitting here feeling a little dirty for following it, even as I wonder how much gasoline it would throw onto the whole thing if Rashad Evans or Jon Jones decided to speak up.
”Kid” vs. Cancer
Details are scarce, but Norifumi Yamamoto told us this week that he has cancer. Without any specific diagnosis or prognosis, but on the reasonable assumption that he wouldn’t announce it on social media if it was trivial, this really sucks.
If you are of a particular vintage as a fan of this sport, Yamamoto is superhuman to you. The brazen personality, the unheard-of knockout power and the real-world bad guy streak all added up to something more than the sum of their parts. Whether you saw him as a superhero or a supervillain, he had a bulletproof quality, one that never completely faded even as he made a belated stateside debut to mixed results. Even if on some level we knew he was human -- and a mostly-retired MMA fighter at that -- rather than a 140-pound robot built in a lab to pulverize humans of roughly his same size, the news sucks.
As it turns out, he is quite human, a 41 year-old MMA legend who finds himself in his first fight in a few years -- and his biggest ever. While I may have leaned slightly towards Urijah Faber in a 2007 dream matchup, there is no question whom I’m pulling for as Yamamoto battles cancer in 2018. Give ‘em hell, “Kid.”
”The Kansas City Bandit” vs. This Whole Damned Summer
Life-and-death struggles obviously trump anything that happens inside the ropes or cage, but from a purely competitive standpoint, Jason High has had a brutal couple of months.
A casual fan might remember High chiefly for his exit from the Ultimate Fighting Championship, where he shoved the referee who called his TKO loss to Rafael dos Anjos. It resulted in UFC President Dana White proclaiming him banned for life, a promise that has been honored so far. (One imagines that if there had been a dolly for High to throw at the ref instead, he might still be in the UFC today after a brief time-out, but that’s a subject for a different “Things That Suck” column.)
High entered the inaugural season of Professional Fighters League as one of the more notable names in the lightweight division, a favorite to make the playoffs at the very least. Instead, he has been officially eliminated from playoff contention after a truly hideous streak of bad luck and legitimate competitive setbacks that makes his UFC run look like a lottery win in comparison.
At PFL 2 in June, Efrain Escudero stepped up as a late replacement, blew weight by five pounds and won the fight on a technical submission even though High didn’t appear to have tapped. To make things worse, High put a hand on the ref afterwards in a way that might have been overlooked in a fighter without his baggage, but instead became a storyline all its own. At PFL 5, he was choked out cold by Natan Schulte in a manner that pulled the ref completely out of the equation in every way other than “guy who waves for the doctor to come over.”
At 0-2 on the season and presumably eliminated from the playoffs, High suddenly got a stroke of unexpected good fortune: a short-notice call-up to appear at this week’s PFL 7 for a shot at the last playoff spot. Unfortunately, he missed weight badly, was scratched from the card and in so doing propelled Johnny Case, who had not even fought in the PFL regular season, to the playoffs.
I had the privilege of interviewing High last week, after he had found out about the late-notice bout. As it happens, he was in Albuquerque at the time, where he had been working out at Jackson-Wink MMA, but I swear I was not thinking of that when I said there were no common threads in these three things. Unfortunately, I failed in my journalistic duty. Apparently I should have asked, “Hey, it’s six days out from your fight, which you found out about three days ago. You’re a former 170-pounder. Are you even going to make weight?” I have no idea what his response would have been, but I clearly owed it to myself to ask.
I wish High the best in his future pursuits. I’ve been a fan since long before I was writing about this stuff. I feel now, as I did then, that “The Kansas City Bandit” is a fighter who is better than his luck. It sucks, but then again, so do a lot of things this week.