There will be many words written in this, the biggest week in 2012 for the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.
The collision between the man perceived as the greatest fighter of all time, Anderson Silva, and arguably the greatest talker of all time, Chael Sonnen, has been the standout date on the calendar ever since Dana White announced the warring factions were heading to Las Vegas.
The main question on everybody’s lips after last week’s explosive conference call is whether Silva’s uncharacteristically emotional outburst has played into Sonnen’s hands.
Memorably, the last time we saw an animated Anderson Silva he unleashed a furious first round assault on Demian Maia before needlessly showboating for the remaining twenty minutes, belittling his hapless opponent. It was an embarrassing episode. So much so that Dana White famously left his seat cageside and gave the belt to Ed Soares, Silva’s manager, rather than present it to the champion personally.
You can bet that White won’t budge an inch this Saturday. It’s been a torrid few months for the UFC: an ongoing injury jinx and high-profile drug bans have robbed them of several potential lucrative pay-per-view matchups, while TV figures for their new FOX programming have reportedly been underwhelming.
The eyes of the world will be on Las Vegas this weekend. This match simply must deliver.
Also on the card this weekend is the nostalgic contest between light-heavyweight rivals Tito Ortiz and Forrest Griffin; a rubber match between two men of steel.
Ortiz has already declared this will be his final appearance in the Octagon and this week Griffin himself spoke candidly about his own future.
The Ohio native, disarmingly honest at times, admitted that his stock had fallen slightly below the new wave of talent in his division and he was a “top 25” fighter these days rather than a genuine title contender.
Some have called it (wrongly) defeatism, others have called it realism. Regardless, there comes a time in any fighter’s career when a healthy dose of perspective can prevent unnecessary pain.
Forrest Griffin has earned the right to evaluate and steer his career any way he chooses. His match with Stephan Bonnar at the inaugural TUF finale took the sport away from the periphery and began the journey towards mainstream acceptance. Griffin’s own journey took him to the UFC title.
Perhaps the fairytale ending for Griffin would be to take it to the well with Bonnar one last time. To end a career as it started.
Yet romantic endings are rare in the realm of fighting.
Fairytale or no fairytale, his is a story worth reading.
Penn/MacDonald clean up
The specter of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) continues to loom large over combat sports.
But this week BJ Penn and Rory Macdonald attempted to build confidence that the sport is clean by signing up to be drug tested by the Voluntary Anti Doping-Agency (VADA) ahead of their clash at UFC 152.
For those who might be unaware, VADA, not to be confused with the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA), is considered the gold standard in this field. Where VADA differs from its peers is in their use of Carbon Isotope Ratio (CIR) testing which determines whether an athlete’s testosterone is natural or synthetic. VADA use it as standard for all samples, whereas USADA use it at their own discretion.
It is their diligence that caught boxing champion Lamont Peterson on the eve of his eagerly-anticipated rematch with Amir Khan. And more recently Andre Berto fell foul of their investigations, jinxing any hope of a return bout with Victor Ortiz.
It was disappointing, but not entirely unexpected, to see Golden Boy Promotions chief Richard Schaefer announce that for the foreseeable future their fighters would only be subjected to the less exhaustive USADA testing.
In the murky sport of boxing, whose corridors are often ensconced in darkness, VADA offers a flickering light of hope that the cheats can be identified. But honesty comes at a price - and it’s not one that boxing is prepared to pay.
Speaking of which, it was interesting to read comments this week from shamed welterweight Nate Marquardt, who was unceremoniously dumped from the UFC roster last year over his own drug violations.
Marquardt, who has since secured a Strikeforce contract after his stint in isolation, bemoaned the constant questioning from the media about his previous indiscretions.
Sadly for Nate, he is learning the hard way that in the court of public opinion sentences can last a lifetime. The best thing he can do is keep winning.
That’s no problem for Penn and MacDonald. Before they even touch gloves in the Octagon, their honesty is a victory for both themselves and the sport.
Aerts seeking Glory
He was meant to be riding into the sunset, but after losing his supposed farewell match, kickboxing icon Peter Aerts turned the horse around and headed back into town, armed with a shiny new six-fight contract.
Aerts, 41, looked in impressive shape as he entered the ring in Belgium to face Tyrone Spong, but succumbed to the significantly younger limbs of his 26 year-old opponent and lost via TKO in the third.
It would have been a disappointing end for a man who has been involved in some of the sport’s most seminal moments. His 1998 victory at the K-1 Grand Prix, winning three matches in under seven minutes, will live long in the memory.
Yet there may still be more to come. On Saturday night kickboxing organisation GLORY announced the purchase of their rival promotion It’s Showtime and their first order of business was to secure the services of Aerts on a long-term contract.
It’s a deal likely to take him into an extraordinary third decade in the sport.
There was surely no more heart-warming moment in MMA this week than when UFC commentator Joe Rogan received a black belt from legendary trainer Eddie Bravo.
It was the pinnacle of some 16 years of graft and endeavour, fitting in time to study the art of jiu-jitsu around his increasingly hectic UFC, comedy and TV schedule. Indeed, Rogan had been a brown belt for a prolonged period of seven years, such has been the increasing pressure on his time as the UFC continues its global assault.
Rogan has been absolutely critical to the success of his employers. Allied to his encyclopaedic knowledge of the intricacies of the sport, he’s a gifted orator whose infectious enthusiasm has helped attract a new breed of fans.
Having received his belt, a visibly emotional Rogan delivered a heartfelt speech to his classmates. He spoke of his pure and personal bond with jiu-jitsu and the profound effect it has had on his life, helping him to improve as a husband, a father and a human being.
More utterly compelling words - from a man who has already given us so many.
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