MMA has watershed weekend

It’s not often you get to live during the early development of a major sport/league so as I continue to witness the exponential growth of MMA and the UFC in particular, I love to sit back and enjoy days like this past Saturday, July 19th when MMA fans were treated to two events with some of the best fighters the sport has to offer.

Affliction provided legit competition to the UFC on this night with a card that featured a main event with what many consider the best heavyweight — if not the best fighter — in the world in Fedor Emilianenko pitted against Tim Sylvia, the 6’8″, pudgy, awkward fighting style heavyweight. Not to mention Josh Barnett and Pedro Rizzo, Andrei Arlovski and Ben Rothwell, Vitor Belfort and Terry Martin and Matt Lindland. Some really big names as you can see and for the most part it didn’t disappoint.

Aside from the fact that the outcomes were about as predictable as any card there has been, the debut of Affliction is promising for MMA fans. Because ultimately, competition is great for the sport. The UFC can’t have every fighter, there has to be a “minor league” if you will where the less talented and young, inexperienced fighters can grow and develop. They also can’t put on 24 cards a year, the number it would take to give all of the best fighters the 4-5 fights a year that they deserve to have. In my opinion, if Andrei Arlovski (one of my top 5 favorite fighters) can get consistent fights in Affliction then I want it to continue. See, instead of a night where there would have been zero MMA shows (UFC wouldn’t have had the Silva-Irvin card if there was no “Banned”) we had two and subsequently about 30 fighters in action. Those 30 fighters would’ve otherwise been sitting on the shelf or training in a gym waiting for fights at a latter date. As a fan, I want to see as many fights as possible and the competition — i.e. Affliction and EliteXC — give us this.

In order for Affliction to be successful and make it past the three “trial” PPV shows, it needs to improve upon a few things. First of all the production needs to improve drastically. Watching the show on FSN prior to it going to PPV (I didn’t buy the PPV because I can’t afford to), I noticed that the visual quality was pretty poor. The ring (which I will discuss in a second) seemed very far away, subsequently so did the fighters. Also, it was quite fuzzy and not the greatest of clarity to be certain. This has to improve. My suggestion for them is to upgrade their cameras and to broadcast in HD if at all possible and it damn sure better be. Secondly, the ring has to go. MMA should only be fought in a cage, like the Octagon or one that EliteXC utilizes. The corners of a ring and the ropes make it awkward for fights that tend to go to the ground quite often. This sport is much different than boxing and in my opinion it needs to confined in a cage where the action can’t escape. There’s also a perception created by the cage that what goes on inside is hardcore, intense, brutal, savage etc. All of those adjectives describe what I love about the sport. Put the fights in a cage!! And lastly I would say that the broadcast crew needs to be reformed. Frank Trigg and Jay Glazer are brutal to listen to. Big John McCarthy is a referree, not a color commentator and his in-ring interviewing skills are very lacking.

With that, there were many more positives about the night and here are some story lines to take away:

Best pound-for-pound fighter label gets some competition

With the very impressive beatings delivered by Fedor (submission win over Sylvia in 36 seconds) and Anderson Silva (TKO stoppage of James Irvin at 205 in 1:01 of 1st rd) there is now some heated debate about who is indeed the best p4p fighter on the planet. Before I weigh-in with my opinion, it is important for me, I think, to admit that I was very critical of Fedor prior to this fight.

Fedor to me, was this mythical fighter who many of the much more tenured MMA fans than myself would constantly praise and tout as the best fighter there is, bar none, without any debate. That annoyed me. I looked at his opponents and read about his style and history. I saw that he hasn’t fought anyone legitimate in HW division (in my eyes) besides Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira — the current UFC HW champ — two times. Guys like Cro Cop [I feel is completely 1-dimensional and right now you can see how “awesome” he is… (I am alluding of course to his fighting in Dream over in Japan which even that, he isn’t doing much of)], Matt Lindland (a MW), Mark Hunt (merely mediocre), Hong Man Choi (’nuff said) are all chumps. I criticized this and would not hear anything to the contrary. In my mind, he had to fight some legitimate fighters and be impressive before I considered him as a top p4p fighter.

Well now, after Saturday night, I am happy to admit that I was mistaken. Watching Fedor fight for the first time in my life I was able to witness the lightning-quick hand speed that Fedor is blessed with. He also has the all-important aggressive nature that is critical to being a dominant fighter. It doesn’t matter that Sylvia is not a top-5 HW right now. Sylvia has an accomplished MMA resume and is one of the best that the division — no matter how lackluster as a whole — has to offer. Clearly, his win impressed me.

Having said that, Fedor still doesn’t claim the top spot on my p4p rankings. That would fall to Silva as 1a (Fedor rests as 1b). I whole-heartedly believe that these two fighters are head and shoulders above the rest of the best in the World and that is pretty damn impressive. When you consider the talent of fighters like GSP and B.J. Penn as well as Rampage, Machida, Shogun and Noguiera it’s pretty telling to say that those two are “head and shoulders above”.

Who would win in what would be the greatest fight in the young history of the sport? Well, my money is on the Spider and I’ll tell you why. Anderson Silva is as calculated, fluid, disciplined and tactical a striker as there is. In my opinion, his stand-up is flawless. It is incredibly dynamic and his accuracy is pinpoint. But to me, the key with his standup isn’t so much his striking as it is his defense. He seems to know what his opponent is doing before he does it and is able to capitalize on every mistake that they make. That is amazing. His ground game is just as incredible. You just hardly ever get to see it because a fight starts standing and rarely does he need to utilize it.

In a match with Fedor, I see Silva using his length and dynamic/accurate striking to put Fedor to sleep by the 3rd round. Despite Fedor’s lightning quick hands and what would be a considerable strength advantage (assuming they fight at a 205 – 230 catchweight), I don’t see him being able to catch Silva often. Silva is just too calculated and graceful as a fighter. He moves so well that he’s extremely tough to connect on. Silva remains the best in the World. Period.

What’s next for both fighters?

Anderson Silva will be going back down to middleweight where he will defend his 185 lb title against Patrick Cote after previous first in line Yushin Okami suffered a broken hand in training. The fight will take place at either UFC 88 in September or UFC 89 in October. After that he could be headed back up to 205 to face a top 5 LHW before the year is out (probably New Year’s Eve card).

Fedor will be fighting at the next Affliction card barring injury against perhaps Randy Couture or Andrei Arlovski. Couture is the option that is being attempted the hardest and with a decision coming this week in regards to Couture’s legal dispute with the UFC, the hurdles for that fight to happen could be coming down.

Pit Bull is back and better than ever

In the fight of the night, Andrei Arlovski defeated IFC veteran and former champion Ben Rothwell by KO in the third round and showed that the old Pit Bull is definitely back. Arlovski showed the aggressive style that garnered him much popularity on his way to becoming the UFC heavyweight champion just a few years ago. Still young at 28, Arlovski seems to be better than ever as his stand up continues to get better and better (if that is possible). In September, Arlovski stands to make his professional boxing debut which tells you just how good his hands are.

Right now, Arlovski looks like the best candidate to give Fedor his first REAL loss in his career.

Vera underwhelming in LHW debut

Although he secured a UD win over Reese Andy (who made his UFC debut it should be noted), Brandon Vera did so in very lackluster fashion as he implemented a counter-striking gameplan against a pretty timid opponent which led to a very uneventful and boring fight. Vera was clearly the more well-rounded and accomplished striker but didn’t take advantage of that. As Joe Rogan pointed out (and Vera later admitted to in the post-fight interview) his first cut to 205 looked to have affected Vera in an adverse way. Hopefully in his next fights at 205 — because it certainly is his most suitable division — he handles the weight cut much better.

Frankie Edgar and Cain Velasquez impressive in wins

Edgar dominated a very tough Hermes Franca while securing a UD win against a fighter who previously fought for the LW title against Sean Sherk one year prior. Edgar rises among the top in the division and should be just a couple wins away from a title shot.

Velasquez won in dominating fashion against Jake O’Brien using a crucible-like position to pound out his opponent. Velasquez looks to be a very promising talent in a very weak UFC heavyweight division. Hopefully we see some more of him very soon.

Officiating still an issue

Anthony Johnson was robbed of a win against Kevin Burns on UFC’s fight night when he screamed and collapsed to the ground after he was quite clearly and brutally poked in the eye for about the fifth time of the fight. But this was the worst of the pokes and Johnson reacted as such. However, referee Steve Mazzagati thought Burns connected on an uppercut and that Johnson screamed because he was in pain after a punch (I may be wrong, but I don’t think one screams when they’ve been knocked unconscious). So instead of Johnson winning by Unanimous Decision or disqualification, he loses by TKO after being poked in the eye. Wow. Hopefully that result gets overturned very soon by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

Knockout of the night

Without question the knockout of the night goes to Rory Markham with his head kick to Brodie Farber who takes over, sadly for him, the post held by Sean Salmon as worst head-kick-knockout victim ever. Farber fell to the canvas rigid as a board with his head bouncing off the mat. Beautiful stuff.

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