Mixed Martial Arts
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By In Hawaii, Mixed Martial Arts

Breaking Curses and Records

The first time a Hawaiian fighter fought in the Ultimate Fighting Championship in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, was at UFC 112 in 2010. Maui native and “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 3 winner Kendall Grove kicked off the main card with a second-round technical knockout loss to Mark Munoz. Three fights later, Frankie Edgar claimed the lightweight title in a controversial unanimous decision win over B.J. Penn, the defending champ from Hawaii. The Aloha State went 0-2 for the night.

Over a decade later, it felt as if history repeated itself in the worst way. At UFC 251 on Fight Island in July, Martin Day extended the Abu Dhabi losing streak to Oahu when he got knocked out by Davey Grant in the third round of the first fight on the card. In the same card’s co-main event, Max Holloway was on the wrong end of a split decision against Alexander Volkonovski. The eerie similarities between Hawaii’s two greatest fighters losing belts they should have won a decade apart did not have much time to gestate, as Calvin Kattar beat Dan Ige four days later. Prior to UFC on ABC 1, Hawaiian fighters were 0-5 all-time in Abu Dhabi. A rational fan would look at those five fights and point to the fact that Penn was the only Hawaiian fighter who was a favorite in his bout, but a true fan would understand that a curse was afoot. Everyone becomes a little superstitious when a pattern holds long enough.

By the time Punahele Soriano stepped into the Octagon at UFC on ABC 1, discussion of whether or not there was ever a curse was moot…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

If ‘The Eagle’ Ever Loses, It Will Be At UFC 254

It’s hard to appreciate just how difficult it is to be an undefeated Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder. Almost everyone suffers an early defeat that serves as a valuable learning experience, partly because there are just so many ways to lose in mixed martial arts. You can get knocked out by kicks or punches or slams, submitted in any number of ways or suffer stranger fates, like losing via injury stoppage or horrible decision. If you fight at the highest level for long enough, you lose. That’s true of virtually everyone in every weight class.

There is less overall talent at light heavyweight and heavyweight, which may seem like a favorable environment for undefeated dominance, but whatever is lacked in depth is more than made up for in average power; it’s simply easier to get knocked out in heavier weight classes. Still, being undefeated is especially difficult in the stacked divisions between featherweight and welterweight. Those tend to be the best divisions top to bottom because there are more people in the world who are in those height and weight ranges, and there aren’t as many competitive alternatives for the best 145- to 170-pound athletes in the world. The already small population of heavyweight-sized athletes is further diluted by other, often more lucrative competitive options.

That is why current lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov’s 28-fight winning spree—12 of those victories have come in the UFC—is one of the most impressive runs any fighter has had in this sport’s short history…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

A Safe Space for Racists

There were few surprises in the UFC Fight Night 178 main event between rivals Tyron Woodley and Colby Covington on Saturday in Las Vegas.

Woodley, a former welterweight champion who had looked like a husk of himself in back-to-back losses to Kamaru Usman and Gilbert Burns, looked exactly as bad as he did in those two drubbings. As it turned out, Woodley’s habit of backing into the fence and barely throwing any punches did not work out too well against Covington, a former interim champion who wins via relentless pressure and high-volume offense.

It was also not much of a surprise when Covington got on the microphone after the fight and trotted out his tried-and-true MAGA schtick, nor was it unexpected when that schtick careened into unvarnished racism. To Covington, a renowned economics expert educated by a variety of Facebook memes, Woodley is a communist and a Marxist, and Breonna Taylor—who was killed by police in Kentucky in a botched raid while she was sleeping in her apartment—is a “lifelong criminal.”

Surely it was pure coincidence when Covington later attempted to insult Usman, a Nigerian-American, by asking if the champion’s “little tribe” sent smoke signals to congratulate him. Yes, that backwater country of Nigeria which—let me check my notes here—has only suffered 1,100 COVID-19 deaths in a population of nearly 200 million people. Nothing like 200,000 patriotic body bags to Keep America Great…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

The Gray Area Between Cheating and Savvy

As much as we try to quantify and categorize combat, there will always be things that evade scoring but still influence the result of the fight. When a fight goes to the judges, it is not just effective striking, grappling and cage control being scored. No judge sees everything, so the perception of who is winning is just that—a perception, as innately limited as any other human endeavor.

It should be noted that this is not a criticism of judging or any particular judge, rather a plain assessment of an inherently complex task. Attentively watching a fight unfold from a fixed position and rendering a score in the whirlwind of the moment is incredibly easy to do poorly, and everyone notices when that happens. Fighters and their coaches also know this, and often actively employ tricks to capitalize on it…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

What It Means to be the Best

Consider this a hot take if you must, but know that it is still a sincere one. The more I think about it, the more I’m inclined to immodestly propose that Alistair Overeem as the greatest heavyweight ever in mixed martial arts.

Hear me out.

Accusations of recency bias are expected—and valid. MMA pundits are notorious for being overeager in anointing the latest greatest fighter, and Overeem didn’t even make the Top 10 cut when I analyzed the greatest heavyweights four years ago. Surely beating Augusto Sakai—a solid heavyweight with a bright future but by no means a career high—at UFC Fight Night 176 doesn’t suddenly vault him into the all-time elite, let alone definitively place him ahead of Fedor Emelianenko, Fabricio Werdum or Stipe Miocic.

Beating Sakai is far from Overeem’s best or most notable win. Unless Sakai goes on to become a champion, the win probably won’t even stand out all that much. What it did, however, was make me reassess what greatness means and what it looks like…

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