Technical Fowl

By Jake Rossen Nov 24, 2008
Thanksgiving: the holiday best celebrated by abusing your arteries and securing central obesity’s graduation from “health concern” to “full-blown epidemic.”

In between trips to the apple pie trough, you might feel compelled to mumble some gratitude toward family, friends or -- may God forgive these words -- the fight promoters.

Mindful that excessive carbohydrate consumption might render your brain as useful as a bowl of congealed Quaker oatmeal, here’s a handy holiday reminder of things any MMA fan should be grateful for.

UFC: The Main Course

Twenty-six live events, two weekly best-of shows, two seasons of television’s guiltiest reality-show pleasure and 95 percent of the top fighting talent in the world, all regularly cracking each other’s bones for our entertainment pleasure.

It may be de rigueur to harass management for their business practices, but there’s little merit in claiming that any other company provides the sheer quality, quantity and in-cage integrity of Zuffa’s Ultimate Fighting Championship. In a year where we’ve seen some truly heinous behavior from the me-too promoters -- who always seem a step away from either prison stripes or bankruptcy court -- the UFC’s efforts have looked positively pristine in comparison.

Unlike boxing, which has a roof audibly creaking from the weight of past transgressions, the UFC has essentially homogenized combat sports -- an accomplishment on par with Harold “Red” Grange moving from college to pro football and turning the latter from a national joke into a national phenomenon.

Champions fight rightful contenders, weight classes are kept to a minimum and big fights are the rule rather than the exception. That kind of uniformity is the major reason mainstream media outlets are running fight results alongside NBA scores.

No money? No problem. Of the 26 UFC and WEC events that will be held this year, 14 of them aired on free television; they’ve made millionaires out of guys who had previously fought for a few thousand bucks and a free Trimark VHS tape; they compensate even lower-tier talent with performance incentives, circulate back-door checks like night club flyers and make a genuine effort to determine who the Best Fighter in the World really is.

The banner isn’t perfect -- the fine print, as we’ve seen in the Jon Fitch likeness fiasco, is stubbornly one-sided -- but in the often-dirty world of pugilism, it’s the sport’s equivalent to comfort food: You know exactly what you’re going to get. And that’s a good thing.

Fighters: The Skin and Bone

Sympathetic fans know that fighters that play conservative games are only looking out for their best interests: health, career longevity and that all-important “W.”

But then there are those athletes that fight like they’re running through a burning building. Think of guys like Clay Guida, Thiago Alves, Karo Parisyan, Urijah Faber and another few dozen you’ll wind up naming yourself. Note that the announcers never have to mention how they’re catching their breath, or “conserving energy” or “looking out for their record.” These guys come to fight.

It’s awesome -- in the literal definition of that overused word -- to see someone display the results of intensive training and personal desire.

There will forever be a chicken-and-egg debate about which is more important, promoters or athletes, but keep in mind the fan following the aforementioned Mr. Slice built up with a camcorder and a patch of dry grass, with nary a strobe light in sight.

This sport -- and the motivation we derive from it to pursue our own goals -- is nothing without the personal and professional sacrifices made by its competitors. You don’t have to cheer for them, shake their hand or even necessarily like them, but you should always appreciate the blood they shed on the canvas. It really is a work of art.

HDNet: The Mixed Casserole (aka The I’m-Running-Out-of-Metaphors-for-This-Thing)

Credit Spike television for their UFC content, but it’s hardly charity work at this point: The UFC has become synonymous with their brand, and I’m sure their stockings are well stuffed.

I’m more impressed with the efforts of Mark Cuban’s obscure HDNet channel to highlight the remainder of the MMA sporting world: shows beamed in from Japan; regional events like Adrenaline, Strikeforce and Sportfight; a respectable roundtable/news program in “Inside MMA.” All of it polished and all of it presented in the cornea pornography that is 1080i.

Since HDNet falls somewhere north of C-SPAN in terms of public awareness, and since it’s assumed that live Japanese feeds probably aren’t cheap, credit should go to the network for soaking up the rest of the non-UFC MMA world and making it available to people who don’t know a “bit torrent” from a termite bite.

Affliction: The Wildly Irresponsible Dessert

Depression is said to increase around the holidays. While that may be due to a number of factors, chief among them has to be the annual sideshow that Fedor Emelianenko gets sucked into overseas. What could be worse than watching a genuinely great fighter waste valuable ring time locked in amoral combat with undeserving opposition?

Any Emelianenko fan should be over the moon that Affliction is willing to meet the Russian’s price despite his underwhelming box office appeal stateside. Instead of a New Year’s contest between him and an inflatable octopus, we get to see a real test of his skills against a hungry Andrei Arlovski in January.

I’ve no idea how much longer Affliction can run at a deficit, but the fact that they’ve squeezed at least two competitive fights out of Emelianenko is an obscenely generous treat.

Thanks also go out to:

Seth Petruzelli for using a well-placed right cross to reality-check Kimbo Slice’s grossly over-manipulated career ascension … Frank Shamrock for at least offering to save EliteXC from total annihilation by telling brass he’d fight Slice after adoptive brother Ken Shamrock slipped on some errant Metamucil backstage … Shamrock, Cung Le, Scott Smith and Robbie Lawler for slugging it out with an intensity that makes me feel like I need testosterone replacement therapy … Brock Lesnar for skipping the Japanese freak circuit and getting thrown in the deep end of the UFC’s waters … Randy Couture and the UFC for realizing the futility of their legal sniping contest, even if it resulted in Lesnar beating his head like Desi Arnaz working a conga drum … B.J. Penn for finally taking the sport seriously and giving his skills the proper engine to run on … Mike Goldberg for retiring the phrase “meteoric rise” from his list of verbal go-tos. That’s one down and only 23 more to go.

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