I’ve often made the statement that what made an elite fighter before 2007 isn’t the same thing that makes an elite fighter during the present day.
Maybe two points were cast in my favor Saturday night. Two former champions of the sport, who actually ran parallel from 2005-2006, may be done in the sport of MMA. Once UFC Heavyweight Champion and former PRIDE, WAMMA and Pride GP Champion Fedor Emelianenko were both defeated in the opening round of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Tourney. While not making light of the situation, I would like to say that a certain journalist from 1wrestling.com (Sean Ross Sapp) predicted the once untouchable Fedor would retire following the event.
I’m not saying that Fedor and Arlovski are examples of my rule, but let me explain. MMA, and particularly the UFC hit a huge boom in 2007. The acquisition of PRIDE FC by UFC’s parent company Zuffa can be greatly attributed to this. However, another sticking point is the Ultimate Fighter reality show. I know many of you are thinking “Gee golly Sean, that show was out years before”, and yes it was. However, by 2007, things had changed. People saw that show and now thought of MMA as a viable source of income, a way to make a living. Fighters’ motivation was renewed in the gym and the cage. Not to mention the college wrestlers, amateur and pro boxers who saw this show, and decided to throw their hats in the ring. After given a couple of years to develop, the bar was raised.
We’ve witnessed the severe decline of Chuck Liddell, Andrei Arlovski, Mirko Crocop, Bob Sapp, Tim Sylvia, Tito Ortiz, Rich Franklin, Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver and others. Some can be attributed to age (Liddell, Hughes), others to laziness (Sylvia), and maybe some others had trouble adapting to new weight classes or countries. But to be quite honest, there aren’t that many guys at an elite level that were at that level four years ago. What’s to blame? Natural progression, and it will never stop.
This is one of the reasons I sit behind a computer and type to you, instead of being in the cage myself. I’m 25 years old, and a major turning point mentally is realizing something you may be incapable of. Andrei Arlovski is only 31 years old. A few years ago he was on top of the world, as UFC champion. He’s been fighting since 1999 when he was only 20. How can guys enter a competitive fight game without the blessing of genetics at 25, when the sport is light years ahead of where it was in 1999 and expect to be successful? Its a scary thing when you consider the shelf life is already possibly halfway over at that point. Do you think Arlovski at that age (and then the UFC Champion) thought that he’d be done at 31? It’s a young man’s sport, but at least we can call it a sport now.
To make it in MMA, you can’t rely on natural talent. People get away with that in other sports. I may be un-qualifed to make that assessment as I’m not a professional fighter, and nor do I desire to be one. The rigors of the training sessions even I go through have proved too much for my own body to withstand before becoming fragile, imagine what a man like Arlovski goes through on a daily basis, especially since joining Greg Jacksons very elite camp. It boggles my mind to even consider what he goes through leading up to a fight, let alone after.
I know there was a major MMA card on this weekend, and I’ve yet to cover it, but I assume many of you are Pro Wrestling crossover fans anyway, so I feel the need to explain. Strikeforce was very clearly hoping for a Fedor vs. Overeem/Werdum fight, as either of those were big money bouts. However, you can’t always get what you want, and plans will be, plans will go awry. The former EliteXC Champion Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva instead emerged victorious, and will advance to the tournament semi-finals.
Fedor started very strong, as the two exchanged heavy blows. Traditionally, Fedor has found great success against much larger opponents, so this was of no surprise to people whom have watched him fight for years. Fedor worked him on the feet, and even showed his willingness to attack Bigfoot on the ground, working into half guard and pounding away on Silva. The Strikeforce commentators acted like this was the biggest mistake in the world, considering it was how Fedor was defeated in his last fight. Quite frankly, if they didn’t think he had put work into that situation, they probably shouldn’t have been behind the desk working the card.
The second round was all Antonio Silva, as he won the round 10-8. He immediately took Fedor down, and gained the mount position, and brutalized Fedor with some wild hammer fists. These shots were a little more effective that your typical hammer fist strikes, due to the length of Silva’s arms, being able to gain some velocity from the unusual angles in which they were coming from. Antonio Silva was also able to work a very nice arm triangle choke, that looked like almost sealed up the fight for him, before Fedor managed to escape.
Before the third round began, the fight was waved off. Say what you will, fans, but it was the right call. Fedor could NOT see out of his right eye whatsoever, it was completely shut. Anyone who thinks that fight should have gone on, isn’t a fan of the SPORT of MMA. It’s not a specatacle anymore folks, its legit, and considering the card was held in New Jersey, right next to New York, in which has yet to legalize MMA, it was the correct and responsible call.
After the fight, Fedor (via translator, which Gerald Harris appropriately pointed out as looking like Roseanne), announced he may indeed retire from the sport in which he dominated for a decade. Personally, I think he should give the 205 pound light heavyweight division a go, instead of hanging up the gloves after his only two losses.
On the other side of the bracket, my personal favorite to win the tourney, Sergei Kharitonov, defeated Arlovski by vicious KO in the first round. It was a very back and forth round until Kharitonov finally sealed the deal, and perhaps may have eliminated Arlovski from MMA.
What does all this mean for Strikeforce? The same thing it means for MMA in general, new stars, and the game as a whole, will never stop evolving. This isn’t shooting a basketball, or hitting a puck. New ways to pound your opponent out will be discovered, new ways to twist someone into submission will be created, and hopefully, if we’re lucky, another Fedor Emelianenko or Andrei Arlovski will come our way. Or maybe this is all premature. I guess we’ll find out folks…
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