Photo: Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
I had the pleasure of joining Sherdog's Jordan Breen once again on his Press Row segment (listen and download here) and we spent about forty minutes talking about a variety of topics. We started off discussing Jose Aldo's performance against Kenny Florian at UFC 136 and why I was left more impressed than others with what I saw.
That conversation turned into expectations versus realities as far as fighting styles:
Breen: It seems like once guys get to a certain level, that there is a certain style of fighting that is demanded to go out and retain a title over and over again. I don't think it's any mistake that Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Jose Aldo and Frank Edgar who, no matter how you arrange them are the four that are going to comprise the top four fighters in the sport right now, along with Jon Jones as well...Jones is maybe the only exception who has gotten to this level who continues to finish guys time in time out for it to be expected. We've gotten Anderson Silva knockouts which have been brutal lately, but maybe the spectres of Demian Maia and Thales Leites aren't that Far behind us.
Do you think that maybe That says something for what it means for elite level mixed martial artists now for all of these guys who we see as great athletes who time and time again beat great fighters to fight in a strategic such a way that, even when they're showing dominance over twenty-five minutes, we're maybe not getting bone breaking knockouts and things that make us go crazy. Is there something to be said for just what it means to face top five, top ten guys every three to four months inside the UFC Octagon?
Brookhouse: Yeah, to a degree it's that you're constantly preparing for a top level opponent in a sport where there are so many different ways to lose. It's not fan friendly to go in and fight in a way that's risk averse or whatever, but it's maybe intelligent in terms of...you know, you make one mistake and you're knocked out. You make one mistake and you slip to the ground because you're throwing an ill advised headkick and all of a sudden someone is on your back. There's just so many way to lose and when you're facing the best your division has to offer every single time you go out it build maybe a bit of an aversion to risk into a fighter.
I mean, you had Anthony Pettis in the wake of his fight with Jeremy Stephens that "this is how you win in the UFC, by holding guys down. And maybe that was a shot at, you know, losing his last fight and the method that Clay Guida used to beat him. But I think there is kind of a feeling among fighters and camps that this is a way that seems to work to get you to the top. And it's just as valuable to get a win this way if you do it consistently. It's hard to say if it's just the top level fights being a consistent part of your schedule or if it's just a mentality that is being built in by being in camps by training with other high level guys.
After more discussion about upcoming fights we'd like to see, we settled into a discussion about if the UFC is doing a poor job of selling the champions in an era which features truly dominant fighters:
Breen: One thing that came through very interestingly to me after UFC 136, I had the good fortune of watching Aldo/Florian with the sound off, but many people seemed outraged and had a significant amount of rancor for Joe Rogan who attempted to make the fight seem more competitive than it was as, outside of a good first round, Florian didn't really do a whole hell of a lot over the last 20 minutes of the fight and was basically dominated despite being competitive for certain stretches of the fight. With Rogan and, in general a very, very well traversed path of pathologically making fights sound close, in conjuction with Dana White who has now come out and said "Oh, Georges St. Pierre is slipping down my pound-for-pound list" as though he hasn't achieved immesurably fantastic things in mixed martial arts...I was thinking about an e-mail that I got recently where the person brought up the idea that...doesn't it seem weird to you that we talk now about how the UFC is in this "dominant champion era" and yet they don't really seem to be able to respond to it? Because in other sports when champions are GREAT and outstanding, they're championed for being such. And yet, in mixed martial arts and as far as the UFC's promotional focus, we never hear about, or it's not emphasized to the extent that "oh, Anderson Silva's unbeatable! Oh, Georges St. Pierre is unbeatable! These are great athletes!" It's always "this is the guy, this is the guy who can do the thing to beat this guy!" It always seems that the emphasis is on detracting from the champion to try to pump up the challengers.
And, when you get into a fight like Aldo/Florian, it kind of paints an ugly and distorted picture of the champion because Jose Aldo did his job to a high degree. He took out a perenial top ten lightweight and did it with a high level of proficiency and in turn it seems a lot of people felt like "Oh, Kenny Florian...he actually did somet stuff" and they're down on Aldo as a result.
Do you think there's any merit to that thought that the UFC and Zuffa process of trying so desperately to pump up and manufacture challenges ends up kind of marring their champions when they do win, if they don't win in the most superlative fashion possible?
Brookhouse: Yeah, it's kind of...there's a lot of different layers to it. The first is that I think the UFC is always been very cautious to try to prevent any single star from being built up as you know "above the UFC brand." And that's not necessarily a bad thing, but it does lead to kind of the situation you were talking about where...
Breen: Is that even a feasable worry anymore though? Like, what are the odds of, even if they poured all their resources into a champion to turn him into a star that that person would become such an overwhelming star that it could be contaminous to the UFC down the line?
I know they're maybe trying to guard against the unknown unknowns but...what are they? What is going to threaten the UFC if they turn these guys into stars? That's what kind of bothers me. When I think a lot about that e-mail and maybe what the e-mailer was getting to. It seems to me that maybe it's an outdated kind of point of view in that, at a certain point in time I could kind of understand why maybe that was the case. But I think it's a different landscape now. And I was talking about this on radio last week, when you reach a point..because I think MMA or at least the UFC...what's ended up happening now is that you have a more boxing-like set-up where you have two or three stars, six to ten guys that people are aware of and might buy on PPV and then kind of everything else. People will buy for superstars and to a lesser extent for commodities, but in general there's just so many things happening that people have to pick and choose and they pick the highest of peaks normally to throw out their PPV dollars on. And that seems to be more in line with boxing than anything else. And with that in mind it would seem you would want to emphasize and make those things that people are banking on even stronger.
We want on the boxing side, we want guys like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao and we also want guys who are commodities but aren't stars like a Sergio Martinez maybe. We want to be able to provide them with some sort of profile so that people are able to watch great fights and they care about these things.
It seems like the UFC and Zuffa maybe haven't adapted their promotional strategies to the reality of how people are rocking and getting into the UFC and mixed martial arts now.
Brookhouse: Well yeah, you can even look at the boxing method. Selling Mike Tyson was never about selling his opponent's ability to beat him. Of course you want to sell enough that you're not paying your money to see "come see the dominant force knock out a bum." You want to see this guy..then when a guy like Buster Douglas comes along and knocks him out, you get a transfer of star power naturally because nobody expected it and he did it in a surprising and vicious fashion. SO there's a natural transfer that isn't just setting the champion up to fail.
And when you establish that...you know, when you focus entirely on the risks present to the champion, you take away what's unique and what value there is to seeing him. If they had sold that Aldo is an explosive knockout artist with good ground skills, but he is also a technically proficient striker...then you have the framework for your commentary during the fight to explain exactly what is good about what he is doing instead of just focusing so much on what is good that Florian is doing while he's losing round after round.
I think it's also a case where the UFC doesn't do a very good job, in my opinion, of differentiating between its champions. As far as really digging into what makes each guy particularly unique. I think right now Aldo is being sold as "this guy is really good, he's a Brazilian Striker" and it just doesn't feel all that much different than how...say, Shogun was sold when he had the title.
That only scratches the surface of all the ground we covered as there's about twenty-two minutes more after that (plus another 6 in between the stuff I transcribed. I fully advise checking out the entire thing.
I'm going to have a little bit more in an article tomorrow, expanding on some of these ideas...so look forward to that. Or don't. Whatever.