"The more things change, the more they stay the same." -French Proverb
In my latest column for Heavy, I look at the ways in which UFC 106 channeled the world of pro wrestling, and why that's not the end of the world as we know it.
It began with Josh Koscheck. His fight with Anthony Johnson played out similar to any number of pro wrestling matches. Each fighter traded eye pokes, the climax of which didn't even happen. Johnson threw a knee to a downed Koscheck, an illegal technique. Koscheck fell to the canvas as if he'd been waylaid, grasping his left eye, causing the audience to wonder if the fight would continue. However, the replay would show not only that Koscheck blocked the knee strike with his forearm, but that it was his right eye that had been grazed in the exchange.
Of course, the fight was followed by one of the great promos in recent history, courtesy of Koscheck.
"...I know there's somebody here who thinks he's the number one contender," Koscheck proclaimed. "He thinks he's the number one contender, and I think he's hasn't fought anybody, and he's sitting right over there. The name's Dan Hardy. He ain't fought nobody like me. I guarantee, I'm the number one freaking contender in this weight division, right here. I'm fighting Georges St. Pierre in March, Dana White. You know it. February, I know they're looking for a card. Dan Hardy [versus] Josh Koscheck sells. Let 'em fight right here in the states first."
It was a brilliant performance by Josh Koscheck, and don't believe for a second that he wasn't putting on a show. Granted, it was a performance with its roots firmly planted in the truth, at least as Koscheck sees it. There's no doubt that Koscheck believes he is the top contender to Georges St. Pierre's Welterweight Championship. He almost certainly believes that Hardy hasn't fought anyone on his level, even if he's throwing teammate and recent loser to Hardy, Mike Swick, under the bus by extension.
I also discuss Tito Ortiz and his gamesmanship, convincing the world that he was "100%" for the first time in six years, only to immediately cite injures upon losing the fight. It's funny, many of you have rightly commented that, had Tito actually suffered a cracked skull, he would not have been cleared to fight Forrest Griffin last Saturday. Not only is that true, but looking at the medical suspensions from UFC 106, one name in particular is conspicuously absent.
Oh, Tito. Never change.
Ultimately, while I know that pro wrestling has developed a repuation that in most cases is rightly reviled, the promotional aspects that often cross over into MMA, as in the cases of Koscheck and Ortiz, do more benefit to the sport than harm. Sure, the source of that type of promotion may be somewhat regretable, but it's a tried and true method for drawing fans and earning money.
Realistically, the fact that Ortiz has been able to convince people that a third match with Griffin is worth their while speaks to the power of pro wrestling-style promoting. Ultimately, promotion is what this all boils down to rather that professional wrestling and all that it entails in 2009. This method of promotion certainly harkens back to pro wrestling, but it's not exclusive to the psuedo sport. It worked in boxing for Muhammad Ali, who drew his inspiration from Fred Blassie and Gorgeous George, as it does today for Floyd Mayweather Jr. It's worked for Ortiz and Koscheck, it worked for Ken Shamrock and Frank Shamrock, it worked to create and sustain the MMA industry in Japan, and it's worked for countless other performers in both MMA and boxing. While it may offend the delicate sensibilities of some MMA fans, this sort of promotion has proven its worth and it is a major reason why MMA exists today.
I'll leave you with a final thought: Coincidentally, these allusions to pro wrestling took place on the UFC event immediately following the meeting between the UFC brass and one Shane McMahon.
To think that once upon a time, this event was to be headlined by former WWE Champion Brock Lesnar...
(art via Heavy.com)