UG Columnist Ralph Welch weighs in a busy week in MMA.
Hall hype should pose warning to McGregor
In the days before The Ultimate Fighter 17 Finale, it was easy to forget that there were two fighters in the cage on Saturday night.
The Uriah Hall hype train was charging full speed towards the Mandalay Bay Events Center, propelled by the prophecies of greatness from the MMA universe.
Hall had mowed down all in his path in a violent run to the season’s climax. UFC President Dana White, whose job description necessitates a degree of embellishment, had even compared the Jamaican to the legendary Anderson Silva. Yet other, more impartial, observers were also mapping out Hall’s route to title glory.
With that kind of endorsement, perhaps it was no surprise that Hall delivered such a complacent performance in his defeat to unfancied Kelvin Gastelum. Hall showed flashes of brilliance, but cushioned by the knowledge that his immediate UFC future was secure, was unable to match the relentless hunger of his younger foe.
Within moments the most dangerous man in TUF history was being derided by Dana White as “mentally broken”. Whilst many felt this criticism was unwarranted, it did nonetheless demonstrate the fleeting nature of fame in prizefighting.
Mixed martial arts is a sport of absolutes. Black and white. Good and bad. The transition from hero to zero is momentary.
Hall’s fall from grace should pose a warning to another rising star, Irish warrior Conor McGregor.
The Dubliner’s spectacular knockout of Marcus Brimage in Sweden at UFC on Fuel TV 9 has seen his profile rise exponentially. Like Hall, his impact was such that many observers immediately bestowed him with predictions of glory.
The ever-quotable McGregor, whose considerable fighting talents are matched by his wonderfully effusive personality, has since done the rounds of talk shows and podcasts. These interviews have been punctuated by questions about world title potential.
Whilst it is tempting to stargaze into the future, history advises against it in this most fragile of occupations.
It has taken Conor McGregor years of hard graft to become an overnight sensation. The reality of this sport is that his success could be wiped out in seconds.
Rather than ponder the possibilities of the future, perhaps we should be content with the reality of here and now.
Right now Uriah Hall is focussing on how he can implement a strategy for every minute of every round. Meanwhile Conor McGregor returns to the hours of punishing training in his homeland.
For these young men, the focus is not on world titles, it is on their next fight.
For that will be their hardest.
“TUF” prepares for a woman’s touch
Saturday night also confirmed the identity of the two female coaches for what promises to be a historic series of the sport’s most famous reality show.
Against expectations Cat Zingano defeated Miesha Tate in a slugfest that had the Las Vegas crowd balanced precariously on the edge of their seats.
Privately, the UFC brass will be disappointed that the infamous rivalry between Tate and Ronda Rousey will not be revisited. In truth, tension between the two coaches is unlikely to be the deciding factor in determining the success of the season.
The Ultimate Fighter’s gradual decline can’t be attributed solely to the personalities involved. Many stellar names have tried - and failed - to re-invigorate the show. Other factors such as saturation (seventeen series in eight years is a recipe for contempt) and the available talent pool are more likely explanations.
Looking back at the cast of characters that inhabited the inaugural “TUF” compound, it was a treasure trove of hungry and supremely talented fighters. Young men like Forrest Griffin, Stephan Bonnar, Diego Sanchez, Mike Swick, Kenny Florian and Chris Leben, all struggling to find their way in a niche sport where places on the payroll were at a premium.
Such has been the rapid global expansion of the UFC brand - and indeed the sport as a whole – that these undiscovered treasures are increasingly scarce.
By all accounts, the female talent on display at this week’s open try-outs was of the highest calibre. Respected fighters such as Shayna Baszler and Tara LaRosa were in the mix and Dana White himself compared the scene to the auditions for the inaugural series.
Some fans fear that the next season will degenerate into hormonal hi-jinks as men and women share the house for the first time - and it would be foolish to believe a proportion of viewers won’t be tuning in for exactly those reasons.
Then again The Ultimate Fighter is not aimed at the MMA cognoscenti. It’s an attempt to market the product to a wider audience: the pay-per-view consumers of the future.
There will undoubtedly be moments when the show crosses into traditional reality territory. But with some of the elite of the elite in the women’s ranks fighting for their futures, Season 18 should be memorable for all the right reasons.
“The Janitor” aims to clean up Bellator
Since signing the impressive deal with media giant Viacom, Bellator supremo Bjorn Rebney has been at pains to point out that the promotion intends to build its own stars and not recruit cast-offs from other organisations.
It’s a policy he’s thus far adhered to, despite big names such as Jon Fitch, Quinton Jackson and Josh Barnett appearing as free agents.
So it was something of a surprise when reports surfaced this week that the teak-tough Belarussian Vladimir Matyushenko had signed for Bellator.
Like all decisions in this sport, economics likely played a part. Matyushenko, dubbed “The Janitor”, comes with a much lower price tag than some of the more recognisable names. However, it will be intriguing to see whether his signing pre-empts further crossover between the sport’s main players.
This week’s guest on the excellent new “Stone Cold” Steve Austin podcast was none other than the UFC’s finest trash talker, Chael Sonnen.
The Oregonian orator has been criticised heavily for earning an unlikely title shot versus the incomparable Jon Jones with his talk rather than his fists. Yet his interview with “The Texas Rattlesnake” contained precious little in the way of fighting talk.
The common consensus is that Sonnen has little chance of dethroning the light-heavyweight kingpin. Some have surmised – perhaps rightly – that Sonnen’s relative silence on the matter is a sign that he recognises the enormity of the task ahead.
Or maybe Chael has simply chosen to let his fists do the talking.
We’ll find out next week.