Ask Ant: Last Action Hero Edition

By Anthony Walker Nov 23, 2019
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Rob Edwards: Why are there no legitimate martial arts action stars today? Is Hollywood ready for a new wave of them? Can today’s audiences handle the sheer violence that comes with it?

There certainly has been a decline in the presence of bona fide martial arts action stars. Jean Claude Van Damme, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and others don’t have nearly the same popularity as they did back in the day. It’s not like we’ve turned our backs on action. Audiences can certainly handle the sheer violence. Just check out the popularity of the “John Wick” or “Deadpool” franchises if you have any doubts about the general public’s stomach for gratuitous bloodshed. Combat sports has also become the long-term strategy for multi-billion-dollar streaming services like ESPN+ and Dazn, so they’re more accessible than ever. Therein lies the problem, Rob.

Now that we see what an actual fight between skilled participants looks like, it’s harder to suspend disbelief and enjoy Van Damme 360 kicking his way through a hockey game or Steven Seagal using aikido to dismantle terrorists on a submarine. It just looks laughable at this point. That’s not to doubt the talent of all the elite action stars in question. We know many of them are legitimately skilled martial artists and a few have actual competition experience. They aren’t the problem. That distinction belongs to the choreography which highlights the more acrobatic and less practical techniques. Seeing the physics-bending sprint across the tree branch into 720-degree spinning axe kick combo just doesn’t look the same anymore. When you know a fringe Top 50 lightweight could easily double-leg and elbow that disgruntled cop with the 5 o’clock shadow to death with ease, it takes off a bit of the luster.

As a result, MMA has definitely inspired a bit more realism in Hollywood fights. I’ll put up the scenes in CW DC Comics shows like “Black Lightning” and “Arrow” against anything in “Showdown in Little Tokyo.” Not that those shows are pillars of combative purity, but you’re likely to see a lot more attention to the different ranges of a fight and more practical moves shown regularly in a cage fight.

It’s also quite common to see a known MMA fighter playing the goon who gets clobbered by the star on TV or the big screen. I’ve definitely spotted Yves Edwards in the “Lethal Weapon” series and Jay Hieron has gotten his ass kicked up and down the Marvel Netflix Universe. The presence of proven world-class fighters has to bleed over in the on-screen action more as show business becomes the landing spot for more and more fighters.

Audiences will never shy away from violence, but the taste for violence has become more refined. Not just any old display will do anymore.

Zebra Cheeks: Who would you like to see headline UFC 246 on Jan. 18, and who do you think is most likely to be confirmed for that card over the next few weeks?

News broke this week that Jon Jones-Dominick Reyes was official for the UFC 247 main event, so that’s one strong possibility we can rule out. We can also eliminate the three champions who will be fresh off appearances at the mega-stacked UFC 245 card in December. Of course, the well-publicized desires of Conor McGregor to face Donald Cerrone remains on the table. Weili Zhang is also reportedly defending her title against former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and that could serve as a solid headliner, too.

I’ll just address the elephant in the room first: I’d rather not see McGregor get booked right now. With two sexual assault allegations floating around, it just feels inappropriate to promote him. Also, with the news that the T-Mobile Arena won’t be available for the Jan. 18 date, it’s likely that the event takes place at the much smaller MGM Grand Garden Arena. I’d bet on the UFC wanting to maximize gate revenue and elect to set up shop in the bigger venue when the Irishman can easily fill the arena for top dollar. With that in mind, I’ll say Zhang puts her strawweight up for grabs and the promotion elects to stack the main card in case it has any doubts about the drawing power of a fantastic female fight. I’d also expect Tyron Woodley and Leon Edwards to show up since they’ve been rumored for this mystery pay-per-view from the start.

There are a few main event-worthy names we haven’t seen for a while who would be great to put in that spot. Henry Cejudo and Stipe Miocic come to mind. Dominick Cruz and Robbie Lawler would be great additions to the broadcast, as well. As usual, the answer to your question will rely heavily on who’s healthy, available and willing to take whatever the UFC offers.

ShankMcGank: What’s your vote for “Fight of the Year,” “Fighter of the Year” and, most importantly, biggest disappointment of the year?

Israel Adesanya is my pick for “Fighter of the Year.” Becoming the first African-born fighter to win a UFC title, headlining a home stadium show and winning the “Fight of the Year” against Kelvin Gastelum -- see how I answered two questions in one smooth move -- makes for a convincing case. Aside from his aforementioned FOTY win, there was also a surprisingly fun affair with Anderson Silva and his complete destruction of Robert Whittaker for the undisputed crown.

I’m not sure if I can fairly answer what my biggest disappointment of the year is so soon after the horrid Jan Blachowicz-Ronaldo Souza main event. Recency bias is very real, and I want some distance to account for what I’m sure is a laundry list of letdowns.

I’m looking forward to the spirited debates with my fellow Sherdoggers when we cast our Year-End Awards ballots in the coming weeks. I’m just curious to see who agrees with me and who’s wrong. Advertisement
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