Sunday, June 24, 2012

Weekend of MMA filled with contenders and legends

I vividly remember less than 10 years ago when I would have to wait three months at a time for the next live UFC card. How far has the sport of Mixed Martial Arts come in the last decade? This weekend we had three successive nights of MMA; beginning Thursday with the final fight of a legend and ending Saturday night with possibly the same.

Fedor 'The Last Emperor' Emelianenko (34-4, 10 KO's 16 subs), arguably the greatest fighter in the 19 year history of the sport, cemented his legacy when it took him all of 84 seconds to dispatch of another legend in former UFC contender Pedro 'The Rock' Rizzo (19-10, 11 KO's 4 subs). Fighting for M-1 Global in his native Russia, 'The Last Emperor' informed the MMA world, that it would be the last time he would compete in the cage as he officially announced his retirement; his reasoning, one that has always been important to him, his family.

I'll discuss more on the career and legacy of Emelianenko below, but for now I move to the UFC, which pulled a first in its growing history as it held live fight cards on back to back nights. First on Friday from Atlantic City, NJ, lightweight (155 lbs.) contenders Clay 'The Carpenter Guida' (29-12 4 KO's 15 subs) and Gray 'The Bully' Maynard (10-1-1, 2 KO's) headlined the UFC on FX 4 card. The result saw Maynard pull out a boring five round split decision.

To Maynard's credit, the boredom of the fight was no fault of his own as Guida did his best Kalib Starnes impersonation and ran for five rounds; how Guida won on one judge's card is shocking to say the least. The first three rounds were so boring, I was starting to compare it to Ivan Salaverry vs. Nate Marquardt, which was a TV main event from years ago that was equally horrible to watch.

In the fourth round though, Maynard dropped his hands and challenged Guida verbally. That finally lit a fire under 'The Carpenter', but the fuse was quickly put out when Maynard caught him in a tight guillotine choke attempt. Guida eventually got out for the only fireworks, albeit brief, of the night. Up next for Maynard, he said, "I want Edgar again; we should do it a fourth time."

As for Guida, honestly who cares? In my humble opinion, I've always thought his game was overrated. He's a bundle of energy who can wrestle, but that's it. He's always been a fan favorite, but on Friday night he even lost that as his fans booed him and cheered for Maynard.  A role as a gatekeeper for lightweights seems to be his future role.

Then on Saturday night at UFC 147 from Brazil, Rich 'Ace' Franklin (29-6 15 KO's 10 subs) and Wanderlei 'The Axe Murderer' Silva (34-12, 24 KO's 3 subs) met for a second time at a catch weight of 190 lbs. Franklin was subbing for Vitor Belfort who broke his hand during training. The result was the same as it was when they met three years ago as Franklin won a unanimous decision in a relatively routine five rounder.

I call it such because, other than a knockdown of Franklin from a Silva right hand in the last two minutes of the second round that had Franklin in some serious trouble, there was no other serious action throughout. Silva appeared to punch himself out though in a furious attempt to finish the fight and Franklin meticulously took over from there with a methodical, but non-spirited attack.

With both men towards the end of their careers, it remains to be seen where they go from here. Franklin was coming off a 16 month layoff due to injury and has hinted at one possible final run, but to where? Unless Anderson Silva loses next month to Chael Sonnen or retires, he's already proven twice he has Franklin's number.

As for Silva, while he was coming off a KO victory over Cung Le, before that he was only (2-6) in his previous eight fights, including some scary knockout losses. While he went the distance here and didn't look too bad, why should he keep fighting? He will no longer contend for a title and he has nothing left to prove. Also, he's a far cry from the "Axe Murderer" he was in his heyday as the Pride middleweight champion.

So while I don't think it will happen, I can only hope he follows the lead of his contemporaries Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell and soon Tito Ortiz into life after competition. Sure he's only 35 years old, but in Wanderlei's case, it's an old 35 and seeing some of the damage he's taken in the last few years, all I can do is hope that he gets out while he's still relatively healthy.

Coming full circle, the weekend started and ends with the legend that is Fedor. Casual and new fans may not truly appreciate how great Emelianenko was, but true hardcore fans know and do. That is because casual fans will only remember the three fight losing streak he endured in 2010-11, but they won't know about the 10 years prior without a loss; a record in MMA that may never be broken.

That said, as dominant as Fedor was, he never fought in the octagon of the UFC and that will always be a sounding board for those that question his true greatness; I'm not one of those. Fedor fought the best of his era in Pride at a time when that organization clearly had the best heavyweights in the world. Cro-Cop, Nogueira and Coleman were all legends who Fedor fought during their prime multiple times; they all suffered defeat at the hands of Emelianenko.

I mentioned above that he is arguably the greatest fighter in MMA history. I say arguably because Anderson Silva, UFC middleweight (185 lbs.) champion, has more than a legit argument in his favor; especially considering his run in the UFC, which Fedor never had. However, if Silva ends up being the best overall, Emelianenko is clearly and without argument the greatest heavyweight of all-time and that's not a bad title at all. Thanks for the memories Fedor.

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