April’s Good, Bad and Ugly

May 4, 2009
Like virtually anything else in life, mixed martial arts has its yin and its yang. The sport’s ever-changing landscape offers fighters, fans and frenzied media monthly talking points. In April, there was plenty about which to be upset and enough to feed the optimists, too. Here’s a look at the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good

Strikeforce on Showtime: A grudge match between Nick Diaz and Frank Shamrock saw 15, 211 fans start a new chapter in Strikeforce’s short history at the HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif. The promotion made its Showtime debut, as Diaz dominated the former UFC middleweight champion. The show picked up many of the pieces EliteXC left behind in the MMA world.

Strikeforce’s first crack at taking its Northern California promotion national featured only one decision -- an unaired bout, the second of the night -- on a card with 10 fights. Benji Radach and Scott Smith offered up an early “Fight of the Year” contender, with Smith winning with a dramatic come-from-behind knockout.

Torres vs. Mizugaki: Miguel Torres battling Takeya Mizugaki for the bantamweight title in a five-round tilt at WEC 40 serves as perhaps the best evidence behind World Extreme Cagefighting’s rapid ascent in MMA.

Torres and Mizugaki made the world take note through old fashioned competitiveness and class. The Japanese fighter’s tears after the bout proved that both fighters left every ounce of will they had in the cage that night. The fight left fans hungry for more blue-cage action.

Maynard’s Debut: Kyle Maynard’s amateur mixed martial arts debut sparked debate seasoned professionals can only hope to inspire. A congenital amputee, Maynard touched off discussions centered on whether or not his disability should keep him out of the sport and how his participation in the cage might affect MMA’s still-sensitive image.

Inspirational sports stories constitute their own major money-making movie genre. Maynard’s arrival provides more ammunition to consider the sport mainstream simply because one young man dreamed to compete in it. Rather than cringe at his participation, MMA should celebrate the arrival of another eloquent and intelligent ambassador. His story may not conclude with a championship or a Hollywood ending, but no one expects it to.

Fall of Aoki, Rise of Sakurai: Japanese promotion Dream kicked off its welterweight tournament with an intended changing-of-the-guard match between Shooto legend Hayato "Mach" Sakurai and grappling ace Shinya Aoki. A blur of knees later, Aoki went out like a light at a cheap hotel.

It was a reminder -- especially relevant given Chuck Liddell’s supposed retirement after UFC 97 -- that the sport's old dogs still have plenty of bite. For the “Tobikan Judan,” the experience at Dream 8 provided a pressing warning about MMA. Excelling at one aspect of the game can be a winning formula, but having no other weapons in the arsenal will eventually result in your head being treated like a soccer ball.

The Bad

White’s Tirade: UFC President Dana White suffered some negative publicity after a profanity-laced video blog directed at Sherdog.com News Editor Loretta Hunt. Given that MMA still fights to shed its blood sport image -- and lesser-explored points of anti-gay and misogynistic sentiment in the sport -- White’s representation was an unwelcome event. Now that everyone has returned to business as usual, White can go back to trying to take over the world and we can watch his video blogs, which narrowly avoided the chopping block.

Dream’s Hulk Tournament: Any tournament labeled Super Hulk will surely provide enough fun to last forever. Check out these matchups: Ikuhisa Minowa vs. Bob Sapp, Jan Nortje vs. Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou and Gegard Mousasi vs. Mark Hunt. If you’re thinking that’s an odd number of matches for a tournament, Dream saved the best for last. Jose Canseco -- of professional baseball and celebrity boxing fame -- will take on Hong Man Choi. Canseco, a former all-star and author of the tell-all book “Juiced,” was tentatively scheduled to face the K-1 veteran.

We’ve witnessed some strange moments in Japanese MMA, from Koji Kitao to Akihito Tanaka, but nothing will surpass seeing the first man to ever steal 40 bases and hit 40 home runs in the same season make one last grab at relevance by fighting a 7-foot-2 monster nicknamed “The Techno Goliath.” Canseco’s mere consideration in the tournament is enough of a low blow to make this list. The mad scientist nature of matchmaking leads a small, twisted part of me to think this is actually a brilliant marriage of celebrity-driven ratings and competition. Expect Mousasi and Sokoudjou to finalize an epic adventure.

Silva’s UFC 97 Performance: Thales Leites’ inability to challenge UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva was a recipe for disaster from the outset. Twenty-five minutes of (in)action later, everyone had had enough. The fight’s outcome does not hold promise for Silva, given his dominance in the ring has not translated to dominance at the box office. He was blamed for everything he did do, like attacking Leites with creative strikes, and everything he did not, like turning his fellow Brazilian into burnt toast. The former is at least a partial inability to appreciate an advanced arsenal, as Greg Jackson told Sherdog.com this week, and the latter results from Silva’s sniper style spoiling fans.

The bout made the otherwise tasty card taste like black licorice. Thanks to strong reactions from White and the media, Silva’s dance routine will be viewed like an episode “Dancing with the Stars” -- without the stars.

Female MMA: Gina Carano’s smile lighting up an arena impressed fans at Strikeforce “Shamrock vs. Diaz.” Her would-be foil, Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos -- a Brazilian whose fear-inspiring looks rival those of her husband, Evangelista -- lit up the arena with her in-ring violence. A proposed super-fight would be North America’s first major female MMA bout. Sadly, Santos did a Carano impression, missed weight against Hitomi Akano and placed a black cloud over the event.

Promoter Scott Coker expressed interest in tagging Carano-Santos with headlining duties in the first-ever female title fight. However, with both women having a history failing to make weight, it’s a gamble, and Strikeforce has traditionally been a safe-bet organization. Coker holds a great turn card with Carano-Santos, but it’s of great importance that he turns it over at the right time. Putting fighters who miss weight in a title fight where there’s no one-pound weight allowance seems like too much of a risk.

The Ugly

MacDonald vs. Quarry: Getting beaten in front of his home crowd was bad enough. Factor in the Nate Quarry elbow buffet Canadian Jason MacDonald ate at UFC 97 in Montreal, and bad becomes ugly. I’m sure Clint Eastwood would agree.
<h2>Fight Finder</h2>