Mixed Martial Arts
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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Legacies and Losses

As is customary when a prominent fighter calls it quits, there was an immediate effort to contextualize Cormier’s legacy. Also customary in this process is the clash between recency bias—“He just had a big fight and UFC employees called him the greatest, so it must be true!”—and reactionary invalidation: “Cormier has never beaten anyone good, actually.” Neither of those sentiments are correct even as a strict assessment of his accomplishments, and both are even more inaccurate when measuring the totality of Cormier’s legacy.

By any competitive standard, Cormier’s career doesn’t quite match the fanfare he has received in the aftermath of his retirement. He was a two-division champion in the two thinnest divisions, with no title reigns nearing anything resembling historical notability; he’s certainly a better fighter than Chuck Liddell ever was, but it’s not so clear that he was a greater champion. Cormier was the clear loser in his biggest rivalries in both of his divisions, and outside his win against Miocic—which was a remarkable achievement, no doubt—his best win was either his five-round drubbing of Josh Barnett or his split decision win over Alexander Gustafsson. There is a lot of “good” and “very good” woven throughout Cormier’s career, but there is very little “great…”

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

The Things That Matter

Defining what matters and what doesn’t has always been at least subjective and debatable. People have different values and perspectives, informed by different upbringings and life circumstances. It’s only natural then that people can watch the same thing and walk away with entirely different feelings.

Yet the distinction between the things that matter and the things that don’t is blurrier and more elusive than ever, a heat shimmer as a border wall. It’s why so much seems to get earnestly conscripted into dumb culture wars these days. Wearing masks during a pandemic is not just a mild inconvenience; it’s an attack on our constitutional rights, an assault on the very core identity of America. Never mind the hundreds of thousands of COVID-infected body bags strewn across the globe. The real virus is the business owners who want to mitigate unnecessary risk for their employees by requiring customers to cover their face for a few minutes. The rightful recipients of our stress and frustration and anxiety are not our impotent leaders but cashiers and front desk workers doing what their bosses told them. Paying too much attention to one thing while ignoring another is unavoidably human, which isn’t an excuse so much as a warning. We are often best-served to question our gut reactions and intuitive targets…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Refereeing the referees

When Tanner Boser knocked out Raphael Pessoa in the second round at UFC on ESPN 14, it was weird.

Boser crumpled his opponent with a solid left hook to the orbital and proceeded to land 10 unimpeded follow-up shots while Pessoa was on the floor in the fetal position. Commentators Paul Felder and Dan Hardy became less excited and more concerned with each extraneous punch, shouting “Boser’s going to get the finish!” one moment and “It’s over, ref!” the next. A brief silence emanated from both men once referee Herb Dean finally intervened. In retrospect, it sounded a lot like two fighters biting their tongues.

They would extend no such courtesy when Francisco Trinaldo knocked out Jai Herbert four fights later. Less than two minutes into the third round, Trinaldo sent Herbert to the mat with a huge overhand. The fight appeared to be over right then and there, and Dean looked as if he was about to intervene. Trinaldo hesitated, but when he realized the fight was not getting stopped, he whipped a few extra shots directly to Herbert’s head before the fight was stopped. Hardy immediately erupted at the veteran official…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

A New Ceiling

In 2011, the Ultimate Fighting Championship brought together all of its champions for a “Super Seven” media event ahead of UFC 129. The Super Seven included all of the promotion’s champions from bantamweight up to heavyweight; flyweight would arrive the following year, with women’s divisions to follow. It was a fitting name for the group, consisting of Dominick Cruz, Jose Aldo, Frankie Edgar, Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez — luminaries of the sport who are guaranteed to end up in the UFC Hall of Fame, if they aren’t already there.

At the time, it was considered the greatest gathering of mixed martial arts talent in a single room, and it’s easy to understand why. With the exceptions of Edgar and Velasquez, everyone else has a legitimate claim as the greatest fighter in the history of their respective division. A defensible MMA Mt. Rushmore could easily be sculpted from the Super Seven. At that time – and including Aldo’s and St. Pierre’s wins at UFC 129 — they sported a combined record of 124-10-1 overall, or 67-5-1 if narrowed down to UFC and World Extreme Cagefighting fights. They shared 21 total title defenses between them, excluding Edgar’s title retention via draw. By any metric, it was an insane group of talent and accomplishment.

Yet nine years and three additional divisions later, a new group has emerged that may give the Super Seven a run for its money as the most talented group of champions at a single point in time…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

The Fights Worth Fighting

A small majority, including two of the three people whose opinions actually matter, saw Holloway taking the first two rounds cleanly, while Volkanovski edged the final three. The rules say that’s a win, but it intuitively feels wrong. How is a round won by a few extra leg kicks the same as a round won by inflicting real damage? A basketball team wins because of its cumulative score, not by outscoring the other team in more quarters. This is the inherent tension of trying to wrangle the chaos of a fight into the necessary bureaucracy of athletic contest.

This scoring system and the unending cycles of conversation it engenders sucks for everyone, no matter how you scored the Holloway-Volkanovski fight. It sucked for Holloway for obvious reasons, but it also marred Volkanovski’s first defense with an imaginary asterisk. All the robbery talk has undermined the incredible work he did to reverse a vintage Holloway onslaught in the middle of the fight. He stopped a boulder barreling down on him and pushed it all the way back up the mountain, an incredible feat of toughness and intelligence that got completely lost in persnickety hairsplitting…

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