UFC 100 was truly Dana White’s finest hour.
You can make the debates about past events that carry more historical significance right now—Ortiz/Shamrock I, Griffin/Bonnar I, Liddell/Ortiz II being the first MMA show to break a million buys—and they all fail to compare to what UFC 100 produced. Dana White got the champion he wanted, the buyrate he wanted, and more importantly the opportunity to finally say, “we are legit” without argument. The nearly 1.8 million buys that UFC 100 looks to have pulled in puts them in the top five all-time for PPV buys for an MMA, boxing, or wrestling pay-per-view. Again, it was their finest hour.
However, whether that night proves to be the apex of the sport in America relies primarily on one thing: the handling of Brock Lesnar. Lesnar emerged from that July night in Las Vegas as the sport’s biggest star (good or bad), but also produced one of two directions that his career could go: he could be promoted as the supreme world champion of the sport, or he could be promoted as some raging heel who you’d only watch for the freakshow value. Before I get into what direction UFC should go (that should be obvious), let’s review why UFC even has two options and return to the now infamous post-fight interview that Lesnar gave. He had just avenged his only MMA loss to date in resounding fashion by pounding Frank Mir’s face into mush against the cage and had proven to the entire MMA world that he had truly arrived. But because the fans were booing him—most wanted Mir to win—something in Lesnar snapped and he went off on a tangent bashing the UFC’s main alcoholic sponsor, Coor’s Light, insinuated that he was going to have sex with his wife Rena Mero and egged the crowd on. Now to those, including Dana White, who said that this was unexpected and they didn’t see it coming, I have only one question: you are aware that Brock Lesnar had a previous career in pro wrestling right? Considering UFC used Lesnar’s previous career to help promote the first Mir fight Dana obviously knew of Lesnar’s previous career, but that previous career is littered with clues that made this little outburst par the course for Lesnar as un-professionalism is something he hasn’t always tried to stray from. Lesnar giving his notice to The E a week from Wrestlemania back in ’04 and the match at Wrestlemania XX against Goldberg that degenerated into the most surreal kind of freakshow due to Lesnar not being able to handle a crowd totally against him, plus Lesnar not only refusing to lose the IWGP title when told by the promotion to do so against one of their home wrestlers and then leaving with the promotion’s belt and never giving it back are all signals that made this little outburst not surprising to me and also fairly tame compared to the previously mentioned incidents.
Now, if UFC is even thinking about heading the advice of sportswriters and want to create a heel in Brock Lesnar I have only this advice for them: DON’T FUCKING LISTEN TO THEM!!! The way sportswriters viewed Lesnar’s outburst was as if it were pro wrestling continually using the word heel, a wrestling term, to describe Lesnar. Considering this is legitimate sport, this would be something that will kill the sport if UFC decides to go that route. It is still hard to convince much of the sports media that this isn’t pro wrestling (I don’t know why, but that is the case) or that it is less brutal than boxing (watching the Resto/Collins documentary this past weekend, I don’t know why this is a problem either). To go the route of creating a freakshow attraction out of your biggest star is as backward as the thought process many sportswriters had of that post-fight interview.
As for future opponents, look for Dana’s secret evil plan with Mirko Cro Cop to come to fruition next year if Mirko can get a win or two in UFC before the year is out. After Mirko apparently double-crossed Dana after UFC 99 on an extended contract, Dana was able to get him back to his promotion. Dana has always been one who hates not getting his way (more on that later), so for someone to “double-cross” him on a deal means that only revenge was on Dana’s mind when he was able to get Cro Cop back. Cro Cop bombed in his first tenure in UFC and Dana had a few fun comments at Mirko’s expense because of that. Combine that with the fact that Cro Cop/Couture today wouldn’t draw half of what it would’ve in ’07, especially if the heavyweight title was on the line at that time. So what other reason would Dana have for bringing him back other than to feed him to Lesnar next year since Cro Cop will always have a legend tag to him in the sport, but isn’t at that skill level anymore?
The other major superstar to win at UFC 100 was Georges “Rush” St. Pierre. The fact that he won was not that surprising or that it went the full five as his dominating, but exciting win over Jon Fitch last August went the distance with GSP never being in danger at any point. Like that Fitch fight, I had the same prediction going into the Alves fight and was proven correct: if Alves brought his A-game the fight would go the distance, but GSP would still win; this was how the fight went. Some may doubt that Alves brought his A-game, but to go twenty-five minutes without being stopped or submitted by GSP is no easy task. But with Thiago Alves being the best contender UFC’s welterweight division has at this time, the question of GSP’s future produces several possibilities.
The Anderson Silva fight is of course the best case scenario for UFC as the two are the most dominate champions the promotion has seen in years or possibly ever, but I’m still one of those who thinks this fight will never happen. I don’t think it’ll happen mainly because of the two finding a compromise on weight, as Silva’s moving up to 205 now and again has to do with his Gegard Mousasi-like inability to keep his weight down, and GSP has given no real indication that he would move up in weight for any fight. I am however one of those who believe that Dana and Joe Silva will do everything in their power to try and make this fight happen as that fight could literally smell like money to anyone within UFC.
A rematch with Fitch seems the most likely as far as GSP’s title is concerned. Fitch helped produce the best fight of GSP’s title reign and that fight last August was Fitch’s only loss in UFC, so he still has the credentials to be a worthy challenger. Past that: who knows. The only other option that GSP may want to consider is a move up to middleweight. Considering the Dan Henderson situation it appears that UFC doesn’t have faith in their current middleweights or they just want more star power in that division. A move up to middleweight by GSP would be the easiest route to a Silva/GSP showdown, but again that seems unlikely as GSP has given no indication in the past or recently that he’s going to move up in weight. It would appear that GSP is content with surpassing Matt Hughes as the most dominant welterweight in UFC’s history and more power to him if he decides to go that route.
The only downside to come out of UFC 100 is Dan Henderson’s amazing knockout of Michael Bisping seems to have gone to waste. Hendo is now slated to be the next challenger for Anderson Silva’s middleweight title, a title he failed to unify against Silva last March. I found this a bit disheartening considering the fact that Hendo has been fight at 205 as of late and is a perfectly good contender for the 205-lb. title after the Machida/Shogun fight in October. Hendo has won the three fights he’s had since losing to Silva and those three fights illustrate why he’d be better as a challenger at 205 (the weight he fought all three fights at) than 185: he knows not to underestimate even a “lesser” opponent (Rousimar Palhares), he can put on a show (the Franklin fight), and he possesses knockout power even if people forgot that (the Bisping fight). What the Franklin fight illustrated more important than the fact that Hendo can put on a show is that fact that he can draw in the main-event position. That fight—in England and first aired in the afternoon—ended up doing around 320,000 buys, much more than any previous overseas show had done when aired live in the afternoon here in the states. The fact that their rematch was nixed when Vitor Belfort’s contract was purchased by UFC in the Affliction fallout should’ve all but guaranteed a 205-lb. title shot for Hendo at the beginning of next year.
And by the way, wasn’t the upcoming Nate Marquardt/Damien Maia fight made as a de-facto #1 contender’s fight for Anderson Silva’s middleweight title? Marquardt has won three of four since his loss to Silva in 2007 with the loss being a close split decision loss to Thales Leites last June and Maia hasn’t lost yet in his MMA career standing at 10-0 with five being in UFC (all by submission). As far as middleweight challengers go, these two seem to be #1 and #2 considering Leites just lost in his title opportunity in a much poorer showing than Marquardt had two years ago and Maia seems primed for that kind of opportunity.
One thing UFC should absolutely not care about is losing the Fedor Emelianenko sweepstakes to Strikeforce. Dana did show his true colors as being someone who throws a temper tantrum whenever he doesn’t get his way, evidenced by his comments (“Fedor is a f—ing joke,” “He turns down a huge deal and the opportunity to face the best in the world to fight nobodies for no money!” “I feel sorry for the real fight fans. I wanted to make the deal, but it takes two and it is very obvious Fedor doesn’t want to fight the best, and doesn’t give a sh-t about the fans!”) following the failure of the deal. While these comments may seem explainable as extreme disappointment on Dana’s part, they came just days after he was touting Fedor as one of the world’s best and couldn’t wait to have him in UFC—a way he would’ve promoted and introduced Fedor to UFC if the deal had gone through. It’s the Jekyll & Hyde syndrome on full display as no other MMA promoter (including Gary Shaw) is this vocal about something as minor as losing a hot prospect. And I say minor because Fedor is minor as far as UFC’s future prospects (both financial and talent based) are concerned. Plus, the supposed 6-fight/$30 million deal is a load of bull in my opinion. If Dana would be willing to give that much money to a guy he’s often called overrated, who hasn’t drawn a PPV over 100,000 buys in his career or a crowd of over 13,000 paid outside of Japan, then he’s either got massive faith in a guy he’s often called overrated, he’s overestimating his promotion’s financial capabilities, or maybe he’s just as frivolous with his money as Tom Atencio was. Obviously there were potential dream fights that Dana wanted put together with Fedor (Fedor/Lesnar, Fedor/Couture, Fedor/Cro Cop II, and beyond), but overall this isn’t that big of a loss for two reasons: Strikeforce will not benefit a great deal from having Fedor and Fedor will more than likely fight in UFC before his career his done. Strikeforce doesn’t have the marketing or reach that UFC has, plus they seem to be content with going at a nice, slow pace and at having their respective T.V. deals (Showtime and CBS), add to that the fact that Fedor by himself can’t expand an entire promotion (look at the Affliction disaster) and Dana really should take a pill, kick back, and continue counting his millions and the millions he’ll continue to make with the most stacked roster in the world.
Finally, I’d like to end by going over the one thing that has eluded UFC all these years: Japan. The signings of Yoshihiro Akiyama and Satoshi Ishii late last year were all about UFC finding their way into Japan. Considering Ishii hasn’t even debuted yet as an MMA fighter and Akiyama could be easily overlooked by UFC, what other reason would there be for signing them? The MMA market in Japan is crumbling at the moment with the loss of major stars and the resurgence of pro wrestling, so this would be as good a time as ever for UFC to take another crack at Japan. Few people remember, but UFC ran several shows in Japan at the beginning of the century with limited results due to their own limited fan-base at the time and the rise of Pride. Now with Dream and WVR slowly building a new fan-base to MMA, UFC could seize the opportunity and create a whole new market for themselves, and with it the potential for world domination.
Whether UFC will make it through another 100 is uncertain as nobody really knows what changes will occur within the sport, who will leave, what will happen in the U.S. or worldwide, etc. But what we do know is that the sport of MMA has never been healthier in the U.S. and it is all thanks to one promotion that just celebrated their centennial (if you take away the Japan, Brazil and Ultimate Ultimate shows). And despite the fact that completing the next centennial is a long way away, the fact that every major MMA star as far as American audiences are considered reside in UFC and the fact that UFC has monopolized the market as far as being most people’s vision of the sport, the odds are in their favor.