Debating MMA author Kelly Crigger
Issue No. 1: Now that UFC 100 has come and gone, what’s the next big milestone for MMA?
Kelly: It would be easy to use the Zuffa’s numbering system and say UFC 200 is the next big milestone in MMA, but there are other events that will take the sport to the next level. Although New York sanctioning MMA, breaking into the Mexican market, and signing Fedor are all big goals for the UFC, I think establishing a sustained presence in Japan is the Holy Grail for White and company. But they have significant obstacles to overcome before that ever happens. First off, in Japan MMA is family entertainment, which is why they don’t approve the use of elbows and disdain cuts. The Jim Miller–Mac Danzig blood bath at UFC 100 that resembled a scene from The Shining would not go over well. For that matter, the Octagon has a stigma attached to it from the early UFC days as being brutal, so the Japanese networks would almost certainly want Zuffa to abandon their trademark arena. Lastly, Japanese audiences love the freak-show fights that we’ve all come to regard as pure humor here in the States. Would Dana White and Joe Silva be willing to stage such superficial events like Hong Man Choi vs. Jose Canseco, install a ring, and ban elbows? Sure. And Gary Busey has a shot at nailing UFC ring girl Arianny Celeste. Until that happens, the plausibility of the UFC having a prolonged presence in Japan is as likely as Kojak doing a Head and Shoulders commercial.
Mark: Don’t knock Busey’s pick-up skills. He may read this and take that as a challenge. As for the whole Japan thing, that’s depressing. The big milestone is gaining a foothold in Japan but it will never happen? Thanks for the buzzkill. Why not just say the next big milestone for the UFC will be to hold the first MMA event on the moon? I think it’s clear, and has been for some time, that the next milestone for the UFC, and even bigger than UFC 100, is making the jump to network TV. That’s the biggest obstacle between the UFC and legitimacy right now. The mainstream media is acknowledging MMA more but not as much as they should. Having some prime-time specials on one of the major networks is the only thing that can bring the UFC to the next level. The fans will increase, the coverage will increase, and everyone will be happy. No casual sports fan is going to want to shell out 50 bucks to watch the Super Bowl or to watch the BCS title game. And soon enough, the casual fan should be able to watch at least a few big UFC events every year. The thing that distresses me about a TV deal: Dana White says it’s not a huge priority. It looks like the UFC is more focused on global expansion. If that’s the case, then Japan will be big for the UFC but I think they are taking the smart route and building up the rest of the globe first. There’s too much competition and the UFC would have to make too many concessions, like you said, to make Japan a priority right now.
Issue No. 2: Will Shane Carwin become the people’s champion by knocking off the new MMA villain, Brock Lesnar?
Kelly: Yes. As we all know, Lesnar snapped back into WWE mode after defeating Frank Mir and got all uppity with the crowd with a double-fisted middle finger salute accompanied by tortuous words about Bud Light. Bad move. Bud Light is as American as Chevrolet and apple pie, Mr. Lesnar. Not only have you made enemies of the MMA community, but the NASCAR community, the beer drinking community, and the dude who spent hours making sure the Bud Light mat in the octagon was straight. Now heavyweight contender Shane Carwin is pissed. Carwin immediately posted a diatribe on his Web site about Brock and if he gets past Cain Velasquez (I think he will), he’s been guaranteed a title shot. Carwin has the power of a super-heavyweight, but moves as quick as a lightweight. The hype around him is legit and with Greg Jackson in his corner developing a fight strategy. Mrs. Lesnar might not get any lovin’ when the two meet.
Mark: I like the Carwin talk, I really do. I think he’s a tough guy and will be a great heavyweight for the UFC. Does he have a shot at knocking off Lesnar? Sure, all it takes is one lucky punch (see Serra, Matt). But if both bring their A-games? It’s impossible to go against Lesnar. Carwin’s resume leaves a lot to be desired. He may have more experience, but wins against Randy Couture and Frank Mir are far better than anything Carwin’s amassed. Couture is the master at developing a game plan but that didn’t help him with Lesnar. I simply don’t see how Carwin gets it done. Even with his wrestling background, I don’t think he outwrestles Lesnar. Lesnar is bigger and stronger, although Carwin is one of the bigger heavyweights he’ll face. Lesnar is also freakishly athletic and incredibly quick. He can also throw a pretty lethal punch. Lesnar’s game still has a lot of holes but his overwhelming size, his championship wrestling background (in college, not in terms of steel chairs and top ropes) and his athleticism do a damn fine job of masking those flaws.
Issue No. 3: When will we get Anderson Silva vs. Georges St. Pierre?
Mark: OK, enough is enough. We had to put up with Anderson Silva vs. Patrick Cote and Thales Leites, but do we really have to suffer through GSP taking on Mike Swick or Martin Kampmann? Really? That’s supposed to be the next move for one of the biggest stars in the sport? The guy has dismantled the top two welterweights in the UFC with wins over Jon Fitch and Thiago Alves. Mike Swick is a capable fighter but he’s not ready for GSP. Let Fitch and Alves fight it out to see who gets a rematch and in the meantime, let’s make the fight Dana White has been talking about for months: GSP vs. Anderson Silva. It’s time. White said he’d look into it if GSP got by Alves and he dominated Alves. This is the biggest fight the UFC can put together. Even bigger than Lesnar-Fedor, if you judge by skill rather than hype. If Anderson Silva gets by Forrest Griffin at UFC 101, then this shouldn’t even be a question.
Kelly: I have no argument with you that it’s time for this clash. With Silva fighting next month and GSP slightly injured, both can get sufficient rest to begin a training camp in mid-September and be ready to fight in ... wait for it ... late December. What’s that? Do I hear the big New Year’s Eve show calling on my phone? Let me answer it. Hello? What’s that you say? The UFC is just teasing us so we start talking up this fight before they reveal their devious plan to have GSP and Silva fight in the big end-of-year event in Vegas? That’s genius! In fact, it’s nefarious! If Dana White suddenly started sporting a scar down the side of his face, I’d swear he was Dr. Evil. All kidding aside, I think both of these talented fighters have their timelines in place to clash at the end-of-the-year UFC blowout and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t. Make it happen, DW!
Issue No. 4: What’s the point of Dan Henderson vs. Rich Franklin II?
Mark: The main event at UFC 103 is one I simply can’t figure out. Both fighters are coming off good wins but this wasn’t exactly a great fight the first time they met. I still think Franklin should’ve won the controversial split decision. All Henderson did was take him down occasionally. He didn’t do jack on the ground and his most impressive moves in the stand-up game where his head butt and eye poke, both illegal moves. And this fight was confusing at the time because Franklin is moving up to 205 and Henderson is not. Hendo wants another shot at Anderson Silva and Franklin wants to make a go at light heavyweight. How does this fight make sense at all? It could be entertaining but it still doesn’t make sense for either guy.
Kelly: Instead of looking at one fight, I try to put these little clues together to deconstruct the UFC’s grand strategy. Taking into consideration my theory that Joe Silva is trying to set up a big cash cow fight between GSP and Anderson Silva at the year-end blowout event, this fight makes sense and exposes the UFC’s little conspiracy. On the surface it’s hard to see a need for Henderson-Franklin II. But reading between the lines, I’d say the UFC wants to keep Hendo away from Silva so they can set up the Silva-GSP fight. As you pointed out, Franklin really won their first meeting, but got robbed on the scorecards. By setting up a rematch, Franklin gets a chance to prove he’s better and the UFC keeps Dangerous Dan away from The Spider long enough to set up the GSP-Silva mega event in December. Win or lose, Dan won’t have time to prepare for a year-end showdown with Silva. If Franklin wins, he avenges the controversial loss and continues on his road to a 205-pound title shot. From a dolla dolla bills perspective, it eliminates the one uncontrollable variable that could spoil Dana’s dream of actually rolling naked in money.