The Good, the Bad and the Ugly of Golden Boy MMA

By Anthony Walker Nov 25, 2018
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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Golden Boy MMA on Saturday staged its inaugural event at The Forum in Inglewood, California. With it came some good, some bad and some ugly:

THE GOOD: WHEN WINN WINS


In an evening filled with oddities and grossly inexperienced talent, Deron Winn stands out as the bright spot of Golden Boy MMA. The highly respected prospect from the American Kickboxing Academy came with some serious co-signs from his world-class teammates. Daniel Cormier, in particular, has been high on Winn’s potential in mixed martial arts. The two-time junior college wrestling champion lived up to the hype with a relatively easy win over longtime veteran Tom Lawlor.

In his fifth win in as many outings, Winn dominated the action. He landed punches early and often, cutting Lawlor’s face in the opening round. A brief mental slip in the final round could have cost him his undefeated record, as “Filthy Tom” swarmed him to attempt a guillotine choke when Winn assumed his dropped mouthpiece would automatically halt the action. Despite this error in judgment and his opponent rightfully using his veteran savvy to capitalize, the 29-year-old quickly regained his composure and sealed the win.

There is a lot to like about Winn. The obvious wrestling skills, hand speed, athleticism and overall patience are reminiscent of his all-time great mentor; and like Cormier, Winn makes use of his short stature to gain a strategic advantage. While Lawlor -- who isn’t the biggest of light heavyweights -- towered over him, it is hard to imagine a man becoming a dominant force at 205 pounds while standing at 5-foot-7. Against competition beyond the middle tier of the division, what looked like a usual advantage could easily turn into a glaring handicap.

For that reason alone, it might be wise for Winn to explore the waters at middleweight. He still would be undersized enough to enjoy a lower center of gravity, and he’d be less likely to face some of the giants that await at the higher levels of light heavyweight.

THE BAD: COPPER BOY PROMOTIONS


Oscar De La Hoya has had tremendous success as a promoter. After offering himself as a sacrificial lamb to Manny Pacquiao almost 10 years ago, his Golden Boy Promotions has become one of the staples in boxing. His brand has overseen the career of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez along with many other notable boxers. The idea behind Golden Boy MMA was to take what has worked for boxing in the past and apply it to its sister sport. Unfortunately, that success did not translate to MMA in execution. While the pay-per-view buys were not immediately available, the overall event itself was a comedy of errors.

The buildup surrounding the show was simply a mess. The television promos were awfully formulaic, dated and seemed out of place in modern MMA. The pre-fight press conferences were plagued by the monologue-driven style of boxing pressers. Commission officials and random executives took to the podium to thank sponsors and deliver insight that no fans actually cared to hear. The fighters did little engaging with one another, as they addressed the media with prepared remarks that largely lacked any real substance. In fact, the one bright spot was the brief back and forth between Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz when they went off script.

De La Hoya himself was poorly prepared and did the promotion no favors, as he couldn’t even remember the names of undercard fighters sitting right behind him while singing their praises in the same uninspired breath. By fight time, it was clear that little thought was given to anything other than the main and co-main events. For the most part, we did not witness high-level MMA. While this is more understandable for the unaired portion of the card, pay-per-view offerings should be of higher quality. Sitting cageside, it was impossible to have thoughts on the production of the broadcast.

However, judging from the active timelines on Twitter, there was much to be desired on that end, as well. After the event wrapped, the post-fight presser suffered from the same stale presentation and lack of preparation. De La Hoya didn’t even bother showing up, opting instead to post a brief video on social media congratulating Ortiz and celebrating the birth of Golden Boy’s MMA endeavors. If his declaration proves to be correct, there is a long way to go to improve the product.

THE UGLY: ‘THE ICEMAN’ DONETH


There’s simply no other way to describe the headliner at Golden Boy MMA’s inaugural event. It was just ugly to witness. A clearly well-past-his-prime Liddell stepped into the cage and continued exactly where UFC 115 left off. Ortiz finally got a win over his longtime rival, but what is that win really worth?

Ortiz did his signature gravedigger celebration and triumphantly flexed on top of the cage in front of the fans. The crowd was loud and provided high energy as the two legends to met for the third time. Each time their faces were displayed on the big screen, there were audible reactions. The video packages that preceded the walkouts set an electric mood in the building. However, when the bell rang it was clear that this was different. Liddell, once the sports’ biggest star and most dangerous man in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, was a shell of himself. His once lightning-fast hand speed slowed to a crawl. His sharp reflexes that opened the doors for devastating counters were incredibly dulled. The chin that survived onslaughts from heavy-handed opponents like Wanderlei Silva and Vitor Belfort diminished to nothing.

Did we really need this fight to be able to figure that out? After all, Liddell’s previous streak of knockout losses to close out his tenure in the UFC was among the ugliest we’ve ever witnessed. It was bad enough for UFC President Dana White to refuse to promote another “Iceman” bout and instead offer him a cushy job as a figurehead executive for the company. When that was taken away with the cutbacks imposed after the WME-IMG sale, we held our breath hoping that this day wouldn’t come.

If an eight-year layoff after such a sharp decline was not enough evidence, look no further than the handful of videos of Liddell’s recent training sessions. While public workouts and short clips on Instagram rarely give any real insight into how a fight might turn out, there was little to nothing to be encouraged by.

Of course, in the excitement of seeing the famed blue icicle trunks standing across from the equally iconic hot rod flame shorts, it was easy to forget that for a moment. In that moment, it felt like a big fight. Nostalgia can play tricks on the mind. The over 7,000 in attendance seemed caught in that spell, as the two hall of famers were introduced near their Southern California stomping grounds.

That great feeling wore off nearly the second the opening bell rang and Liddell threw the first punch. Labored, slow and ineffective, it was undeniable that “The Iceman” was no more. In their primes, “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” was at a huge style disadvantage against his former training partner. Ortiz’s limited striking ability was exposed against the dynamic kickboxing of Liddell, with his underrated anti-wrestling skills keeping the action from hitting the floor. This time, Ortiz managed to take advantage of a diminished adversary on the feet and win by crushing knockout.

The levels of ugliness run deep. It served as a reminder that Father Time is the only undefeated participant in combat sports. Leading up to the event, Liddell seemed to be in the perfect mental space. Relaxed and unfazed by the trash talk, he seemed to be focused on the task at hand while enjoying his return to competition. However, mind could not conquer matter this time. The former champion was reluctant to close the door on future fights. Ortiz, looking to partner with Golden Boy in the future, stated that he should still fight and even suggested card placement after jokingly offering a rematch at the post-fight presser. Hopefully, these words fall on deaf ears and Liddell decides to leave competition for good.

Watching legends fade is a sad part of combat sports that never gets any easier over time. There’s a reason why White refused to have any part in their trilogy fight. Any level of ethics and decency says every other promoter should follow suit. Liddell is a warrior who loves to fight and needs to be saved from himself. His Golden Boy MMA appearance could have been much worse. A shopworn 48-year-old with no sense of retreat is recipe for a huge disaster. Let’s not test fate ever again.
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