The Reality of Wrestling: MMA’s Big Week

The Reality of Wrestling: MMA’s Big Week
By Phil Clark

This is real news

With under a week before the biggest wrestling event of the year—Wrestlemania—it does seem a bit weird for me to do a column on Mixed Martial Arts. However, despite the mainstream coverage that Vince has been able to get his event mainly due to a match involving himself (big shock), it seems to me that MMA has dominated the headlines and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. A number of major stories have created a state of tension in the MMA world and frankly, nothing in the wrestling world at this moment can touch it in terms of raising one’s curiosity. The recent events include the announcement of Liddell/Rampage II for May, Tito Ortiz backing out of his fight with UFC president Dana White, the Fertitta Brothers (owners of UFC) officially purchasing PRIDE, and K-1 bringing their brand of MMA to the U.S. at the L.A. Coliseum this July! Hell of a week if you ask me, and that’s just scratching the surface.

P.C. Says: The next few months in MMA will be the most compelling in the history of the sport

Never has there been a time like this in wrestling or MMA. Pro wrestling has rarely been able to produce a period of time when the backstage activities were more compelling than the in-ring activities (both a good and sad representation), but MMA has done just that this past week. With Wrestlemania less than a week away, the spotlight hasn’t been taken away by the various events of the various MMA promotions, but any post-Mania spotlight that The E might be hoping to run with will be non-existent come April 2.

Liddell/Rampage II and Ortiz backing out are two things that yours truly did see coming a mile away. Liddell’s title reign has already been full of quality wins (Ortiz, Courture twice, Babalu, Jeremy Horn) and since his last lost was to Rampage back in ’03, it seems fitting that the two meet. It is a gift from the gods so to speak that Rampage even came to UFC as Liddell had ran out of really credible challengers for his belt both in the ring and in the area of drawing power. Rampage provides one more than the other (drawing), but the last loss angle should and most likely will be played out to its fullest. With Ortiz, it wasn’t about “letting him off the hook,” but avoiding possible embarrassment. It is known that White had had his way with Ortiz in sparring sessions and after the devastating loss to Liddell at the end of last year, losing to a suit probably would knock him down a peg. However, seeing it from Ortiz’s point of view if my theory is correct, why add salt to an open wound?

The PRIDE purchase was months in the making as the Yakuza scandal and Fuji TV’s cancellation of PRIDE basically sunk the company. Despite selling out the Saitama Super Arena three times after the cancellation, the loss of T.V. revenue would have eventually killed the company possible before the end of this year even. I do give credit to the Fertitta Brothers on this one; they could’ve bought the company, scooped up the big names or anyone that would take a pay cut and leave it at that (sound familiar?) Instead, they are starting another company (goodbye DSE) to keep PRIDE going in Japan. So what does UFC get out of the deal? Likely, they will get access to the PRIDE roster to add incredible freshness to their card something that is already evident with Shogun’s latest contract having his next four fights be an even split with PRIDE appearances and UFC appearances. Not only that, but a joint super show once a year between the two companies. In private, I have talked this point almost to death with the friends that would listen and to see the seeds being laid does make me smile. While DSE may be the only casualty out of this whole thing, the future of MMA in the U.S. couldn’t look brighter with this deal and PRIDE for the moment, is safe.

The K-1 HERO’S show in July could be another example of Inoki trying to make something larger than life that shouldn’t be. However with Brock Lesnar, Royce Gracie, Kazushi Sakuraba, and Kid Yamamoto on the card, the names are piling up. How those names will draw in the states is still up for debate (minus Royce). This would be viewed by everyone as a fantastic idea if it were taking place at a moderately large arena like the Staples Center or the ARCO Arena or even the Arrowhead Pond, but instead it’s the L.A. Memorial Coliseum? When Inoki was talking about an MMA show a while back in a 100,000-seat stadium, you think he was planning this all along? Now I know that Inoki isn’t controlling K-1, but he does have stroke and when it’s Inoki, he’s going to use it for all its worth; there’s only one guy within K-1 that would have the stones to even think of running a 100,000 seat venue for their U.S. debut.

The Reality is MMA is in a state of tension everywhere. However, that is good tension as every insider in the MMA has their eyes glued to their TV’s and computers waiting for the next development in this ongoing drama. Case in point: PRIDE 34 will be the last PRIDE show held under the DSE banner. So, will they go all out? Will Silva be on the show despite being under medical suspension by the Nevada State Athletic Commission? After that show, the real questions begin: Who will stay? Who will take a cut? What will the Fertitta Brothers be willing to pay? When and where will the super show be? When it comes to the K-1 show, the jury is still out. Is running the Coliseum crazy? So far, yes. However, the word from K-1 is that they want the MMA attendance record; they very well could get it, but that would only fit the Coliseum 1/5 of the way. However, if they could find some way to bring the other two big fed’s into the fold, who knows. Liddell/Rampage should provide the perfect beginning to what could be an incredibly eventful summer in the MMA world. UFC and PRIDE together (sort of), K-1 coming to America, and what about Fedor signing full-time with Bodog putting the Pride Heavyweight Title possibly in jeopardy and the Phil Baroni/Frank Shamrock fight? If one person should be worried, it’s Vince.