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Good Riddance: A hater’s post-mortem on 2019

A look back at what sucked, and a reminder that it won’t get better

With another year gone, everyone usually sets up their tallies for polls regarding fighter of the year, fight of the year, etc. It’s always good as it is to take time to celebrate the people and events that make combat sports memorable.

But see, that’s just not what we’re going to do here.

Sometimes, we just gotta push the good stuff aside to take a look at things that weren’t awesome. And a good time for that is now.

Greg Hardy

It’s no secret that the UFC loves them some Greg Hardy. They’ve refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing and made him look like a victim of circumstance at every turn. Outside of Juan Adams, he was mostly fed fighters with no real upside, and even went so far as to re-sign Dmitry Smolyakov - a fighter that had previously been cut after going 0-2 in the UFC. After Dmitry did his part in looking lost en route to the Jaragua Casino, he beat Juan Adams, who came in with the wrong game plan. Then he was slingshotted to fight top ten Alexander Volkov (then ranked at #7) after a sloppy stinker against Contender Series alum Ben Sosoli that was overturned to a no-contest due to using a “USADA approved” asthma inhaler between rounds.

We’ve been down this road enough times to know the drill. Greg Hardy was acquitted solely due to the fact that the victim refused to testify late in the process, but he’s continuing to be encouraged and rewarded. And while the media that do have access to the UFC personnel, fighters and management aren’t being directly threatened, you can bet your ass that the first outlet to really press on this matter is losing their credentials and will suffer endless scorn from the UFC, being given the cold shoulder until the ice caps finish melting. Had he won that Volkov fight, it’s totally possible he’d be in conversation for a title fight.

UFC Fight Night: Volkov v Hardy Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Ali Abdelaziz still cooking out here

Dominance MMA continues its collaboration with most of the top fighters in all major organizations. They made sure to let everyone know about it with what they dubbed a “media day.” Did you forget about it? Perhaps you might’ve missed it. Don’t worry. Here’s the whole thing.

Lemme ask you all a question: what exactly is this?

What purpose does this serve? Dominance isn’t a promotion, they’re not selling anything, and they require no advertising. What is the reasoning behind setting up a media day event? Who is this for?

All of this clearly is to elevate the status of the most outright volatile manager in combat sports. Ali Abdelaziz has been a problem child for some time, but 2019 just might have been his banner year. He got into a scuffle with Colby Covington at a buffet, of all places, struck Abraham Kawa at a PFL event that got him barred from the promotions events after being in another fracas where he threw hands. He even managed to defend Chechnyan strongman and consistent meal ticket Ramzan Kadyrov, denying the rounding up and purging of homosexuals in the region while attempting to undermine the media covering these events. As an adorable aside, he took a directly adversarial position to the UFC’s drug-testing partner, although he managed to retract that shortly thereafter.

Drew Rosenhaus wouldn’t do this shit. Think what you will of Scott Boras, but he doesn’t get into shoving matches with people at the Palms and puff his chest out on camera. But we’re stuck with him. His fighters manage to get favorable treatment and placement in UFC and PFL events. PFL concluded it’s second year, and five out of the six champions that netted a million dollar prize each were all repped by Dominance MMA.

This is a man that joked with Ariel Helwani stating “I run the UFC, I run PFL, and I’m working on Bellator too.” It’s really only half-joking. He truly believes he’s running the show. He boldly claimed that he wasn’t a manager, but a promoter. There’s either no interest in any organization taking punitive action against him, or there’s no will. The fact that he hasn’t faced any major consequences for his misdeeds is proof once again that this sport draws some of the least desirable people in sports like a moth to a flame, and that there is no true justice on this earth.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. v Conor McGregor World Press Tour - Toronto Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Zuffa Boxing lurches forward

Hey folks, remember the XFL? It’s coming back! Sure, it’s decidedly a different product from the original league (and it looks like players are gonna get shafted on this one), but they’re gonna give it another go.

But the least-discussed reason it was so heinous the first time around was the fact that it was built off the backs of underpaid, overworked, and broken-bodied pro-wrestlers. All in the interest of propping up a league that was going to have guarantees for talent and ostensibly higher pay. And it’s not going away. White’s not giving up on his pet project in a sport where a top ten guy can make more than an entire UFC fight card can net in one night.

MMA has been a sport that has almost always underpaid fighters. That the UFC would take the influx of revenue from new sponsors, partners and ESPN to set up a boxing org that could potentially pay athletes more than what the fighters at Zuffa’s bread and butter are making? That’s a slap in the face to anyone that steps into that cage. You’ve got fighters making $10/10K with actual jobs and side gigs just so you can take that extra cash so the UFC president can pursue his passions and buy more Ferraris? Great little system they got going on there. And at this pace, it’s starting to look and sound like combat sports vaporware.

RIZIN’s handling of Horiguchi

It wasn’t enough for Horiguchi to be their biggest star and putting on masterful performances. It appears RIZIN had relied on him to continue fighting twice in 2019 after suffering a brutal knee injury and was denied extra time to heal. This led to him getting knocked out by Kai Asakura and having to spend so much time on the shelf that he had to relinquish both the RIZIN and Bellator titles he held. All because they failed to adequately promote or nurture other talents that could shine and be profitable. It’s a tough thing to do, but it’s better for your bottom line than just banking on one guy.

New York, NY - Nov 1: An employee of the website Deadspin show Photo by John Taggart for The Washington Post via Getty Images

Deadspin gets deaded

Lots of pixels have been dedicated to the fall of Deadspin, a site that was a thorn in the side of the powerful and corrupt, and a source of joy for those looking for clarity in sports and for bad actors to be exposed. While people that are in the same tax bracket as former Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson decry the evils of government and preach self-sustenance and hard work, his team was raking in massive profits. All this while he was being a sex pest during work hours.

Remember how we just talked about Greg Hardy? Guess who pushed hardest on that issue. Need a reminder of what a monster Floyd Mayweather has been throughout his life, to the point where his own son feared him? Deadspin had you covered. Ever notice he’s got a very specific form of denial of domestic violence? Deadspin was on that. Editor Megan Greenwell thought she could diffuse the well-documented tension between staff and management by resigning, which she did in a scathing but necessary manner.

As we know by now, things did not improve.

Management had issued a “stick to sports“ mandate and were furious when one day the homepage was nothing but non-sports related stories that did better traffic than content posted after the staff exodus. Parent company G/O media fired editor Barry Petchesky, and the rest of the staff quit in protest and solidarity. It was a deliberate thumb in the eye of vulture capitalists, and the head of the group that was in charge of it all eventually had to leave the company while looking like a smacked horse’s ass. The good guys sacrificed their jobs and they won. Deadspin’s value as a reputable sports site went up in smoke almost literally overnight, all because the greed of a scant few that thought they could bully that crew.

It’s not like they had cush gigs waiting for them elsewhere. While some have landed spots on other sites and others are still looking for work, they will always have an undeniable place in internet media when it comes to speaking truth to power. They had the balls to stand up for themselves and the truth.

But what made things even more infuriating was the jeering from the cheap seats. Those working for less-than-reputable outlets mocked the staff for leaving, because they couldn’t fathom banding together and not being bootlickers. We don’t have to name them, you know who they are. People that work at outlets that are already safe because they defer to moneyed interests at every turn, even if they foster communities so toxic that they have to close their comments because their fans and readers are so virulently racist, homophobic and misogynistic. They can join in on the dogpile and dance around it all they want, they know they don’t have the integrity or the goddamn heart to do what these people did. They weren’t primarily an MMA outlet, and I often had problems with the way the sport was covered, but they weren’t afraid of anyone. In the face of adversity, Deadspin’s crew punched the bully in the mouth and left the suits to run the ship themselves.

And now the suits are lost at sea.

Bare Knuckle grasps at straws

Bare Knuckle boxing has been something of a guilty pleasure for some, and a revelation for others. While I personally enjoy it, it’s impossible to not feel a great deal of concern for all of the competitors. Are they being compensated well? We don’t really know. Are they using all of the proper medical precautions and followups to ensure as much safety as possible? It seems like they’ve got that part covered, for the most part.

But this year, Bare Knuckle FC David Feldman really made some heinous moves. First he threatened to cut a fighter’s purse for not being exciting enough and give it to his opponent.

Is that even legal? Would any commission allow this?

Feldman went on to back down from this, but his 2019 just got spicier. They signed former UFC fighter Antonio “Bigfoot“ Silva, a man that has accumulated enough brain damage that fans have pleaded for years that he retired. But the real kicker was extending an offer to convicted rapist Alexander Emelianenko, who also had a moment in 2019 crashing into two vehicles while fleeing police. This isn’t a man that had a misunderstanding, his case was quite horrid, but that doesn’t seem to matter to them at all. Not all attention is good attention, and BKFC doesn’t realize that this doesn’t make them look like rebels signing veteran bad boys, but an outfit that welcomes criminals of all stripes. If they’re willing to sign Emelianenko, where do they draw the line? Is there even a line at all?

TOPSHOT-HONG-KONG-CHINA-POLITICS-RIGHTS
Protesters attend a rally in Hong Kong on December 22, 2019 to show support for the Uighur minority in China.
Photo by DALE DE LA REY/AFP via Getty Images

MMA orgs pitch tents in places with humanitarian crises

As the UFC had been attempting to make inroads in the Chinese market for years, it was only a matter of time before they would be able to make massive moves in an underserved market with a major population waiting to be tapped into.

With a Chinese fighter dominating an opponent for a championship in one of the most talent-rich divisions, they’ve struck gold with Weili Zhang and a slew of other talented Chinese prospects.

They opened a Performance Institute in Shanghai three times the size of their original locale in Vegas to foster talent as the government has been rounding up and torturing Muslims. ONE Championship has had a hell of a run as of late and along with World Lethwei Championship have been operating in Myanmar despite the genocide of Muslims taking place there. Matchroom Boxing moved Joshua vs Ruiz 2 over to Saudi Arabia after having bags of money thrown at them. The UFC broke precedent and held a major PPV in Abu Dhabi, time difference be damned.

Again, it’s all about the bottom line and the human misery and circumstances that lead to it are just background noise to these companies. Par for the course.

So yeah. Happy 2020. Enjoy the fisticuffs. Just remember that this is part of the process.

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