Mixed Martial Arts
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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Pandemic Preparation

Though the UFC will no doubt take more credit than it deserves—and it does deserve credit—much of its success compared to other major sports has been a result of similar structural advantages: not having large groups of athletes frequently sharing spaces, having a rolodex of replacements to run down in case of a positive test, being able to negotiate with individual athletes instead of a union of them. Thus, it stands to reason that fighters and their camps deserve at least as much credit as the UFC for making these events as successful as they’ve been.

This wasn’t a given. With gyms closing and budgets tightening, you’d expect more bizarreries to occur; MMA is weird enough already. It’s a credit to the fighters that they’ve been this professional about their preparation during otherwise challenging circumstances. There have, of course, been a few exceptions…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Mythmaking in Real Time

The Ultimate Fighting Championship is among other things a brilliant marketer of itself. This is embodied by longtime UFC President Dana White, by design the promotion’s biggest star. White has so successfully mythologized his role in the rise of the UFC that it may be now be functionally fact.

That’s the genius behind the craft, though. Not only does White repeat the Myth with enough frequency and conviction to drown out reality, but he weaves it into the promotion’s present-day narrative, perpetually in motion nearly every weekend of the year. The Zuffa Myth is one chapter in an ongoing story where White plays the protagonist, bearing the weight of the sport on his shoulders so that it might live another day. Another chapter of that story is being written, and it was taking root in real time at UFC on ESPN 11 on Saturday…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Small Cages and Squash Matches

If you didn’t watch the first three fights at UFC on ESPN 10 on Saturday in Las Vegas, you didn’t miss much but you also missed a lot.

The combined fight time of those three fights was 1:53. In those 113 seconds, however, Christian Aguilera short-circuited Anthony Ivy with a monstrous overhand right, Tyson Nam starched Zarrukh Adashev with a straight right counter and Julia Avila overwhelmed Gina Mazany with a ferocious flurry against the fence. In MMA, a lot can happen in not a lot of time…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

Fighting Together

Jon Jones wasn’t the first to speak up, but depending how things go, he may be the most important. For the last week and a half, the greatest light heavyweight of all-time’s Twitter feed has been a long overdue polemic against the contractual precarity of Ultimate Fighting Championship competitors.

“Just go ahead and release me from my UFC contract altogether,” he tweeted on May 29. He doubled down on that request the next day, bid the light heavyweight title farewell a day after that and otherwise railed against getting ripped off “tens of millions” of dollars throughout his career. The alternative—forking out a little extra money for a banger against Francis Ngannou—is looking considerably better than it already did, which is saying something.

If it were just Jones kicking up dust and if times were normal, the UFC would likely do what it always does in these situations: keep the gears in motion and wait for the unhappy party to come back around. In the meantime, focus on promoting the next batch of stars, so if the unhappy party doesn’t come back around, some other G.O.A.T.-of-the-week can slide right into the spot and keep the general order of things intact. Most of the time, however, fighters come back around. What other option is there?

Still, these are not normal times, and Jones is not alone…

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By In Mixed Martial Arts

When You Run Out Of Lessons To Learn

Gilbert Burns in the UFC on ESPN 9 main event did what no one had previously been able to do: He did not get knocked out by former Ultimate Fighting Championship welterweight titleholder Tyron Woodley.

Context is important here. After Woodley’s first career loss against Nate Marquardt in a failed bid to capture the Strikeforce welterweight crown in 2012, he bounced back with a 36-second knockout of Jay Hieron in his next fight. After dropping a controversial split decision against Jake Shields in 2013, he returned five months later with a hellacious first-round knockout of Josh Koshcheck. After getting outpointed by Rory MacDonald in 2014, he rebounded with a 61-second technical knockout of Dong Hyun Kim two months later. In the next fight after each of his first three losses, Woodley not only won but did so with highlight-reel knockouts in the first round.

Then Kamaru Usman thoroughly dominated “The Chosen One” in March 2019, taking the welterweight strap and derailing Woodley’s five-year, seven-fight unbeaten streak…

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