Saturday, December 31, 2016

Rousey Part of the Fake Rise

When Ronda Rousey squared off with Holly Holm during the pre-fight weigh-in over a year ago, I said to myself, "She's not beating that woman."

It didn't take much for me to know. I had never seen Holm fight and I'm not a huge fan of women's MMA, but I saw in Holm a fighter who had leverage, size, power, and I knew she was a striker. Rousey didn't face taller strikers. Didn't hurt Holm was training with Greg Jackson and his team in New Mexico. He always has a plan. They don't always work, but they always give his fighter their best chance.

Then I started reading some twitter remarks later in the day, and a number of people I trust (all fighters) were saying similar things.

We know what happened next.

Fast forward 13+ months to now, when Rousey faced an even better opponent in Amanda Nunes, who basically treated Rousey like she was an amateur. Again, Nunes is the bigger fighter as well as more experienced.

I saw Nunes fight once prior, and again, there was no doubt she was going to win the fight. She would beat Rousey 100 out of 100 times.

And did she ever.

Yet this is a story we have seen many times before, and for the UFC to survive, it will have to happen again and again and again.

What story is that might you ask? Well, it's the one where the company builds up personalities and stars, literally, and then in an instant sees them get torn down, while the company continues to rise. The first time they truly pulled it off with great success was with Chuck Liddell, beginning in 2004.

A brief history...

Liddell was managed by current UFC President Dana White (as was Tito Ortiz) before White was given ownership in the UFC by his childhood friend, Lorenzo Fertitta. Certainly a talented fighter, Liddell was treated like royalty from the outset. The fighter who was opposite of Liddell? Randy Couture. Every hero needs a villain to oppose, and even though Couture may have been the public hero, he was not White's. Couture did not have similar relationships with the company, and in the end was a thorn in ownership's side.

More than just being a good fighter, Liddell had the "look" of the new UFC fighter. Tattoos, the hair, the attitude, the whole thing. Couture was the polar opposite, with the wrestling and "Captain America" look. That's not what the company was marketing. Couture was country. Liddell was Hollywood/Vegas.

Knockout puncher versus grapper? We'll take the puncher.

After Liddell lost to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in Pride in November of 2003, and following a loss to Couture 6 months before that, he was given a number of UFC match-ups the company knew he would likely win, specifically Ortiz. Liddell and Ortiz trained together, and everyone knew Ortiz not only couldn't beat him, but was actually scared of him. But Ortiz was still a very big name at the time, and it would be a tremendous boost to Liddell's brand if he could beat him. He walked right through Ortiz.

Before the fight Liddell said in my presence, "He's scared of me. He has always been scared of me. Even at practice."

From there the UFC continued the Liddell build, matching him against the smaller Vernon White, who was a seasoned striker, but had just lost a lot more fights than he won. Liddell knocked him out. Then they setup a rematch with Couture, who was in his own right, a big name, and the last UFC fighter to beat Liddell.

Now for the UFC this was THE big moment. Liddell actually had to beat Couture for it all to work, but what was the difference? If he did, amazing. If he didn't, they will build up someone else, but never Couture. Too old, wrong look, and a pain in their ass.

Fortunately for the UFC, Liddell not only beat Couture, he knocked him out cold. In truth, even though Couture had beaten Liddell previously, it was a bad match-up for Randy. Chuck had a great sprawl, was a wrestler himself, and had the length and power to knock out the aging fighter, who was already on the wrong side of 40.

The UFC's plan for Liddell was to have him "avenge" all of his losses. It was not 'Lets make the best fights.' No, no. Not that at all. It was build up Liddell; market Liddell.

Naturally, his next fight was against Jeremy Horn, who was a well-traveled and worn fighter, who had beaten Liddell years earlier, when Liddell hardly knew what Jui Jitsu was. I remember hearing the news and laughing, "You mean Jeremy Horn who isn't even in the UFC?"

Yep. That guy.

Don't get me wrong. I liked Jeremy Horn as both a person and a fighter, but this was a joke.

The fight was stopped after Horn couldn't see through the blood.

Then the UFC doubled down on another Couture fight, following the inaugural Ultimate Fighter TV show. Horn gave them some time to hype up Part THREE!

Liddell won again in similar fashion.

Who should he fight next? A killer like Wanderlei Silva? Maybe Jackson, the guy who last beat him? Maybe a newcomer? Who was even available?

The truth is there just weren't many great fighters in the UFC, specifically the 205 Weight Class. The company didn't have a huge stable because of the costs, and competition with Pride. Yet they could go out and get someone outside the company, right? It was still a hardcore fans sport, and everyone knew who the good fighters were. And not having someone within the company had not stopped them before, right? He just fought Horn...

Well...instead of a real fight they decided to keep the train on the tracks by rolling out Renato "Babalu" Sobral, a man Liddell had easily beaten a couple years earlier by kicking him in his face. Liddell dispatched of him, and Sobral was let go by the company 2 fights later for holding a choke too long, but not before having lost his next fight after he lost to Liddell, to basically a nobody (no offense - I was friends with that fighter).

After that fight, who could be next for Liddell? "Lets see if Tito Ortiz is available!"

He was!

The fight was no closer than the previous one. Next.

By this time Liddell had been built up as this "incredible fighter" who had taken on all comers and discarded of them. Never mind the fact the list was Ortiz, White, Couture, Horn, Couture, Sobral and Ortiz. In between the Ortiz and Couture matches were veritable nobodies, but ESPN was starting to pay attention and Liddell had become the most well known UFC fighter in the world. Almost mainstream.

Mission accomplished. The UFC has just established a playbook.

Next they put Liddell against a man who hit harder than him, was his size, and had beaten him before all this began: Rampage Jackson. The Liddell lemon had been squeezed almost completely dry, and there was almost no way to give him another soft fight. Plus, Jackson was a new piece of fruit for the company. They wanted him so much they purchased the company he was fighting for (I think).

Now since Liddell and I had a good relationship, my boss had me cover him 3 days out from the fight, while he covered Jackson. Liddell was a more difficult personality to cover if you didn't know him, and I always ended up with the more difficult guys. Difficult begets difficult...

While riding in a UFC van to the roof top of the MGM Grand parking deck for a photo-shoot, the Thursday before his fight with Jackson, Liddell started talking to me about Rampage. It was just the two of us, and the driver. He casually mentioned how much he liked Jackson, how "funny" he is, and on and on and on. I remember watching him stare out the window somewhat aimlessly, and I was thinking, "You're gonna lose."

But if that wasn't confirmation enough, the night of the fight when I went to his room for the walk-down (we video recorded them from hotel room to locker room for the DvD Bonus Features), there were about 30-40 people hanging out in the suite, having a gay ole time. A number of pro football players, and even some other well-known media personalities. This was literally 4 hours before he had to fight. Rampage was not doing the same thing.

When Chuck came to the door he was less than polite; certainly not accommodating. In fact, he was more wound up than I had ever seen him before, and I have seen him pretty wound up. Normally polite, respectful and professional, he was anything but. And of course, he got destroyed that night. Knocked out cold. He would go on to lose 5 of his next 6 before retiring. He knew in that van the magic carpet ride was almost over.

The UFC got what they needed, and Liddell became a very wealthy guy in the process. He was their first. That's how they do it. That was Ronda Rousey. That was last night. It was Brock Lesnar too, until he got punched in the face.

That's. How. They. Do. It.

Oddly, the fighters are the last to know. Liddell knew a little because he had lost before, but Rousey and Lesnar? They had no idea. They believed the hype created for them, and why wouldn't they? They had been given "cans", and never lost. Then they did. Then they couldn't handle the other side of it. Then they fell to pieces.


Here's the thing with the UFC...if you want them to make you the golden goose, you have do two things really well: 1) Speak English and 2) Play their game.

After Liddell faded the UFC set it's sights on Forrest Griffin, who didn't last, and so on, and so forth. They've tried to manufacture the star over and over and over. Sometimes it works, other times, not as well. They've managed with a few fighters, and some of them really are quite quality. A lot of them are average.

Now don't get me wrong, there are stars, but they're not perfect stars for the company. Jon Jones marches to the beat of his own drum, and does drugs. Georges St-Pierre wasn't personable enough. Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo didn't speak the language, and weren't white guys with tattoos. A UFC super-star has to be molded in their image, like a Conor McGregor, who sells PPVs WORLD-WIDE. Of course, he would get crushed by Khabib Nurmagomedov, but they will take their time showing you that one. Have to squeeze the lemon. In fact, McGregor holds TWO BELTS and has never defended one. Think on it.

The truly great fighters don't need the UFC to "make them." And that's why there is often conflict between them and the company.

With the UFC, it's not enough that the fighter be outstanding. For even when Jones was clearly the best, the UFC hitched themselves to his wagon. Jones got a Bud Light commercial, but of course, Dana White was in that commercial too. The stars will fade, but the company will rise.

The fighter will NEVER be as big as the company, or close to it. To McGregor's credit, he's trying to change that, but he won't. Not good enough.

So now we have Nunes, the new UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion, who as defending champion made 3% what her opponent did. Nunes who carried herself like a professional, unlike her opponent. Nunes who fought like a professional, unlike her opponent. But you're never going to hear much about Nunes. The company will not promote her. She won't be on "Ellen." They won't facilitate a book deal. They won't call movie producers on her behalf. None of that. She's not an English speaker. She's from Brazil.

What will happen is the women's division will go back to being very secondary, until they can find their next manufactured star (Karate Hottie?). But believe me, when they find her, it will be the "BIGGEST GREATEST MOST UNBELIEVABLE MATCH UP IN THE HISTORY OF THE U-F-C!"



The UFC is fake real.

Real fighters.

Fake hype.

If viewed solely as entertainment, and not sport, it's a great product. But for people who think merit and talent should be the basis for someone's athletic success and subsequent payment, don't count on the UFC. They're merely a marketing company; not an athletic organization.

If you're going to fall for the hype every 18 months, that's on you. If you don't care if it lives up to the hype, then keep forking over the cash. But we need to stop pretending fighters like Lesnar, Rousey, Liddell and even McGregor, are truly great fighters. They're not.

The UFC is a "league" with one owner. They control every aspect of a sport. It's not natural. There are not enough talented fighters who can remain champion over the long haul, so the hype must be manufactured. And because this is the case, expect more of what you saw last night.

Real Fighters.

Fake Hype.

No comments:

Post a Comment