The Perils of a Unified Talent Pool, Part 2
(An ongoing series to be continued as events dictate.)
Well, that didn’t take long. A mere eight days after creating this trope in a somewhat half-assed effort to ensure future material during the inevitable doldrums of the MMA news cycle, Zuffa – and its historically unmatched roster of MMA talent – has once again provided sufficient bounty to justify another piece. One could make a career out of this, frankly: that, and baiting hardcores into reading it, which should (hopefully) work again.
Sorry, guys. This piece isn’t ACTUALLY about how wonderful MMA was when the best were separated from each other by artificial barriers set up by inferior/corrupt promotions. But hey! If you really, truly love mixed martial arts, then you’ll be thrilled by what’s ahead. Unless you’re weird. In that case, thanks for reading, and direct all appropriate hatred @MMAOwl on Twitter.
All of the forthcoming matchmaking news, of course, comes on the heels of a spectacular example of having a unified home for the world’s top talent in any sport. In the beginning of this series, I began by focusing on Scott Jorgensen v. Zach Mackovsky at UFC on Fox 9 (which occurred last weekend). The match up by itself was a dual demonstration; it was quality fighter vs. quality fighter (Jorgensen has a longtime spot in the top ten of whatever weight class he inhabits, and Fun Size was very impressive before being cut by Bellator in anything but a meritorious decision) and it was the product of not one, but two injury replacements for Ian McCall (Dodson and then Mackovsky). The result was a fun, back and forth scrap, featuring tremendous scrambles and a clear evolution of Fun Size’s striking that gave us a new interesting contender at 125… that never happens if Mackovsky is still toiling away in Bellator.
One more thing: both of these fights are slated for UFC 171, as is Jake Shields v. Hector Lombard, a matchup between former Strikeforce and Bellator titleholders (albeit at a different weight class). I could’ve titled this “UFC 171″ edition. This is a card where the top three fights are impossible under the discredited rubric of multiple promotions employing top-level talent.
WEC Champion v. EliteXC Champion for the UFC belt: Hendricks-Lawler, UFC 171
It’s difficult to find an MMA fan that remembers the WEC with anything other than a sigh and a wistful glance towards the past, echos of Joe Martinez dancing in their ears. Their entire fight catalog enjoys a cherished (and forever reserved) piece of my hard drive. Gems still abound – a random perusal of WEC 11, for instance, turned up the first career win of Emanuel Newton (better known as the bane of King Mo’s existence) at the tender age of 20. Nobody doesn’t miss the WEC… except, of course, the world-class fighters that battled in relative obscurity for relative pennies despite being more than competitive with their UFC counterparts, including former WEC champion Johny Hendricks. While a useful crucible for lighter weight classes (and two future UFC lightweight champions), the WEC’s absorption into the UFC was incontrovertibly great, both financially and competitively, for its best fighters. They were criminally underpaid there relative to their talent.
EliteXC… well, they had a slightly different path as a promotion. In fact, Robbie Lawler’s shot at Georges St Pierre’s recently vacated welterweight title doesn’t even represent the second time an EXC champion will battle for a UFC belt; Antonio Silva, former EXC heavyweight champion, earned that distinction in his rematch with Cain Velaquez, following former EXC welterweight (and Strikeforce middleweight) champion Jake Shields’ bout with GSP at UFC 129. EliteXC was originally loathed (and primarily remembered) for being the cauldron that foisted Kimbo Slice upon the UFC; now, however, their bounty extends far beyond Matt Mitrione’s biggest win.
WEC Champion v. Strikeforce Title Contender: Condit-Woodley, UFC 171
You know, for all the shit the MMA media loves to give the UFC rankings (even going as far as to resign when they were dubbed “Fan Rankings,” because what self respecting MMA writer wants to be known as a fan of the sport?), they sure to love to point at them and yell when they disagree with a certain match-up. “But Tyron Woodley isn’t even ranked!”, they holler when word comes down that he’s been selected to fight poor Carlos Condit. “He was robbed against Jake Shields in a fight that completely failed to reward his ability to stuff Jake’s takedowns over and over! That means he’s not worthy, even though I was picking Koscheck to mat-hump Condit before Woodley knocked his head off!” It never ceases to amaze me.
Oh, about that – I can’t think about Carlos Condit without prefixing his name with “poor.” Poor Carlos Condit arguably gave Hendricks a tougher fight than Georges St Pierre did, beat Nick Diaz, but by virtue of losing to the best welterweight of all time and the best welterweight currently fighting in back-to-back bouts, poor Carlos Condit finds himself on the outside looking in despite an impressive (if needed) win over Martin Kampmann (side note: poor Martin Kampmann). And, to be fair, those complaining about Condit/Brown can find a consistent thread: they just want to see Carlos Condit against fighters of his caliber. Despite this urge, with which I find plenty of sympathy, maintaining the same level of vitriol overlooks the fact that this is a better fight for Condit than Brown was.
Strikeforce had quality fighters from top to bottom (the now two-time drug test failing Antonio Silva, Fabricio Werdum, Gegard Mousasi, Robbie Lawler, Woodley, Josh Thomson, Gilbert Melendez, Lorenz Larkin and others), but only a few per weight class. Now, that talent has been successfully integrated into the UFC scheme, adding new FOTY and title challenges while ensuring said talent receives more remuneration for its efforts than at any other time in its history.
Boy, I miss PRIDE.
- Antonio Silva
- Carlos Condit
- Dana White
- Elite XC
- Fabricio Werdum
- Gegard Mousasi
- Georges St. Pierre
- Gilbert Melendez
- Hector Lombard
- Ian McCall
- Jake Shields
- Joe Silva
- Johny Hendricks
- Josh Thomson
- King Mo
- Lorenz Larkin
- Martin Kampmann
- Matt Brown
- Mixed Martial Arts
- Nick Diaz
- Robbie Lawler
- Tyrone Woodley
- UFC on Fox 9