Viewpoint: A Valuable Commodity

By Tristen Critchfield Apr 9, 2012

It took Todd Duffee nearly five times longer to finish Neil Grove than it did for him to knock out Tim Hague in his explosive UFC debut more than two-and-a-half years ago.

Still, a 34-second victory isn’t all that bad, especially when you consider that Duffee -- when he should have been gaining experience as the prime of his career approached -- had been out of action for 16 months. The absence becomes even longer if you discount his 19-second loss to Alistair Overeem on New Year’s Eve 2010.

Which is why the Evansville, Ind., native was beaming as he spoke to Phil Baroni shortly after his triumph over Grove at the T-Box Mobile Arena in Chandigarh, India on Saturday. Sure, the venue appeared to be half-empty for the main event and Grove is a 41-year-old who couldn’t successfully navigate Bellator’s heavyweight bracket, but Duffee deserves to enjoy the moment nonetheless.

Super Fight League might be a long way from the UFC, but Duffee had just offered a glimpse as to why people were once so mesmerized by his potential.

“I love it here guys,” Duffee said. “I have a huge request. I have not been busy for a year and a half. Please bring me back in the next six to eight weeks. I gotta get busy. I miss this; this is where I belong.”

Duffee shouldn’t have any problems there. As a 26-year-old heavyweight with a marketable look and knockout power, there figures to be plenty of potential suitors for Duffee’s services, although he is currently signed to a four-fight deal with the SFL. Like left-handed pitching in Major League Baseball, talented big men don’t grow on trees.

It has been an interesting week for the most maddening division in mixed martial arts. Overeem, the current No. 1 contender in the UFC, was revealed to have testosterone levels more than twice the allowable limit after a random drug screening. Retired former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar surfaced on WWE’s Monday Night Raw. And then there was Duffee, landing a big right hook in a fledgling promotion that streams its events on YouTube and thus far is best known for its mind-numbing theme song.

Prior to UFC 141, it would have been difficult to fathom that both Overeem and Lesnar would be out of the world’s largest MMA promotion by early spring. Though Overeem will have a say before the Nevada Athletic Commission, the forecast for future paydays in Las Vegas does not look rosy for the massive Dutchman. After all, there are only so many personal assistants you can blame for your transgressions.

As a result, the lucrative UFC 146 main event matchup between Overeem and champion Junior dos Santos is all but dead. And without “The Demolition Man,” the UFC’s heavyweight division suddenly has a gaping hole to fill.

“He lied straight to our faces. That has me so [expletive] angry, I can’t even tell you,” UFC President Dana White said in an interview with Yahoo Sports. “He said to us, ‘The last thing you have to worry about is me popping. I’m the most-tested athlete in the world.’ Yeah, [expletive] right.”

Mike Russow File Photo

Duffee faded late against Russow.
Duffee, too, has felt White’s wrath, though the reasons for his release from the organization following a loss to Mike Russow in 2010 remain unclear. White said Duffee had a bad attitude and didn’t appreciate being in the UFC. Duffee said he did his best to be a model employee.

“I gave up my entire life [to be a fighter]. The thing that was insulting to me was when he said that he didn’t know if I wanted to be in the UFC,” Duffee told not long after his release.

The Duffee that stood in the cage and addressed the audience at the T-Box Mobile Arena sounded nothing like a malcontent. Even though he was more than 7,000 miles away from the scene of his finest hour as a professional, Duffee appeared genuinely happy to be there. In fact, he sound downright un-Josh Koscheck-like as he thanked his new team, the American Kickboxing Academy.

“It’s the best gym. I’ve been to every gym in the country basically, and that’s a team. That’s the most important thing. Thank you so much guys,” he said. “It was a really, really, really rough camp. I had a lot of bad stuff going on, but they got me through it. Without them I wouldn’t be here.”

None of this is to suggest that Duffee deserves a first-class ticket back to the UFC. Not for a while, anyway. He looked overmatched against Overeem and faded late against Russow, while his signature win remains the knockout of Hague, who went 1-4 in the UFC. But put a few impressive performances together and who knows? It’s not like heavyweight is known for its depth.

In what was a dark week for the sport’s big-ticket weight class, Duffee’s re-emergence stands out as a positive. If everything works out as he hopes, Duffee will compete in New Delhi on May 6 at Super Fight League 3. It hardly sounds like a choice destination for someone who was once one of the sport’s hottest prospects, but it is a step in the right direction.

No matter where Duffee fights next, you should be rooting for his resurgence. The heavyweight division needs all the help it can get.

Ultimate Innovation?

In sports, as in life, there’s innovation, and then there’s trying too hard. The rugby-MMA hybrid Ultimate Ball is a clear example of the latter.

The brainchild of UCMMA promoter Dave O’Donnell, Ultimate Ball was officially introduced at a UCMMA 27 press conference on Friday. The premise involves two teams of four inside a cage, with each trying to get the game ball into the opponent’s net. Slams, tackles and body punches to the ball carrier are allowed -- head shots are not. All the action takes place over the course of two five-minute rounds.

During the press conference, O’Donnell likened the sport’s beginnings to the early days of the UFC.

“Just like MMA in 1993, they said it would never happen. Look at it now. ... It is gonna be a bit of a grin, but trust me it is gonna go all the way,” he said.

A bit of grin might be a gross understatement. O’Donnell is clever to reference the rise of the UFC, but Ultimate Ball seems much more likely to go the way of SlamBall, a full-contact version of basketball that took place on trampolines and faded into obscurity after two seasons on Spike in 2002-03 (For anyone curious, Ultimate Ball debuted at UCMMA 27, with Team Bloodline getting the best of Team Razor.)

Ultimate Ball will be fortunate if it finds a platform like Spike to broadcast its events. A promotional video on YouTube doesn’t do it any favors: The clips aren’t very revealing, and the action looks better suited to a side competition on American Gladiators or Pros vs. Joes.

In the background, O’Donnell can be heard saying, “This is a sport made for MMA fighters.” A more likely scenario: MMA remains the sport for MMA fighters for the foreseeable future.


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