This weekend will mark the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s 6th event in 3 weeks, and the 4th title defense in the same time span. That’s 4 titles defended… in 3 weeks. That’s a busy goddamn month for the world’s largest MMA promotion. In that same time span, we’ve seen Reebok enter as the UFC’s only sponsor/purveyor of official fighter gear, and the introduction of official in- and out-of-competition drug testing. Holy shit, could this be the sprint towards legitimacy that long-time MMA fans have been waiting for?
The answer, disappointingly enough, is “sorta, but not really.” There’s still the matter of New York State’s stubborn refusal to legalize the sport, keeping the promotion from accessing all the revenue of a marquee event in NYC’s Madison Square Garden arena, home to some of the most legendary boxing showdowns (never mind some pretty sweet WWF/E events). The deal the UFC struck with Reebok, which many thought would bring the UFC on par with some other league sports, thereby distinguishing it from individual boxing promoters, instead has demonstrated a lack of vision from the promotion’s top brass. Rather than embracing the unique characters within its sport, it’s decided to instead focus on the company brand. Sure, there’s room for a few superstars to shine, but only if they shine within the parameters set forth by their corporate overlords.
So why do I still watch? After all these years of feasting on combat sports, why don’t I simply go elsewhere to satisfy my need for well-regulated displays of the old ultraviolence? The answer to that question is half of Saturday’s main event: “Rowdy”
Ronda fuckin’ Rousey (BTW, the “fuckin’” is meant with the utmost respect, like when we refer to “Sir” Ian fuckin’ Blurton). A few weeks ago, I talked about freak show fights, and how I felt like strawweight champ Joanna Jędrzejczyk was being fed sub-par competition (or, in fight terms, “tomato cans”) and running through them with violent aplomb. One may be tempted to draw a parallel with Rousey, but it’s not one that makes sense. See, JJ isn’t really leaps and bounds beyond the female talent out there in her division; she’s only that far ahead of what’s in the UFC. Rousey, however, is the baddest woman on the planet. Shit, at this point, she’s the baddest fucking person on the planet; and she’s done it entirely on the back of a judo career, something no other MMA competitor in the world has managed to accomplish, not even Japanese gold-medal winning judokas (looking at you, Yoshida).
Every week, we’ve heard announcers and commentators in the sport tout this fighter or that as the “next step in MMA, the most complete fighter.” We’re being told that the best fighters on earth are the generalists, not the specialists. Then how is it that, every time one of these generalists gets a shot at the top, they fail? Let’s just look at a smattering of champions, and see what they all have in common: Daniel Cormier, Fabricio Werdum, Chris Weidman, and Ronda Rousey are all grappling specialists, who re-dedicated their focus to learning striking arts and varying their grappling game to apply it to MMA. All wear gold around their waists. In fact, the only real generalist at the championship level right now is men’s flyweight champion Dimitrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. He’s also a decision machine that can’t draw to save his life and has the personality of a cheese pizza.
The awesome thing about these crossover martial artists is that they’re throwbacks to an era where “style versus style” was the only way to promote a MMA (then-NHB) -rules fight, and they have the gigantic personalities that accompany that type of fight promotion. Rousey, in particular, perfectly skirts the line between a genuine, flawed human being, and a living, breathing weapon. On Saturday night, she’ll be facing one of the new breed in Bethe Correia, who has only ever trained MMA. It’s a squash match, and the betting odds reflect it, but this fight, for me, carries some weight. The speed, technique and power of judo translated to striking vs. an all-around approach. Talk about your “next generation” all you want, the spirit of the sport will always be to see which disciplines yield the most effective fighters. On Saturday, when Rousey crushes Correia, maybe we can stop talking about the evolution of the sport, be satisfied with what we’ve got, and be entertained. – JP