Sunday, January 26, 2014

Pros and Cons of being a number one title contender

If you're a professional mixed martial arts fighter competing in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the major league of the sport, and you've worked your way into being the number one title contender, everything should be just about perfect. "Not so fast my friend," as ESPN College Football Analyst Lee Corso is known to say. Sometimes being in the driver's seat doesn't necessarily mean you have all the right answers; you still have to choose whether to turn left or right at the next intersection. Just ask Josh 'The Punk' Thomson. (Pictured above)

Thomson was on top of the world in terms of his MMA career, a long and illustrious one, and in the matter of 25 minutes, it all came screeching to a halt. Thomson, a former Strikeforce lightweight (155 lbs.) champion, had recently made a surprising and successful return to the UFC with a stoppage win over perennial top contender Nate Diaz. That performance, coinciding with the transition of the title from former champion Benson 'Smooth' Henderson to Anthony Pettis and an unfortunate injury to number contender TJ Grant, catapulted Thomson to replace Grant as the title contender; perfect scenario right?

Unfortunately, the real world of MMA does not always allow for such dream endings. Just as Grant had suffered an injury, killing his current opportunity at the title, the current champion Pettis also endured one. That injury would force him to be on the shelf for an extended period, so now Thomson was faced with a dilemma that often confronts title contenders; do you sit and wait for your promised shot or do you keep fighting and potentially risk losing it?

I know it seems simple enough, but for fighters who have an unbelievable thirst for competition and challenge, the decision often is to keep fighting. This was the case for Thomson who more than willingly agreed to take on former titleholder Henderson. What was in it for him? Well, the exposure of being in the main event of a card on the FOX network in front of millions could only catapult his career even further. However, you have to win first and as I stated previously, MMA doesn't always allow for the fairy tale finish.

Enter 'Murphy's Law', "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." In Thomson's case, his fight against number one ranked Henderson couldn't have gotten off to a better start. He dropped the champion immediately in the first round and eventually maneuvered his way on the ground to Henderson's back and into a body lock position. Looking good so far, but inevitably Henderson worked his way out of the position, back to his feet and the fight continued. No problem as Thomson was looking as comfortable standing and striking as he was on the ground; that was until his right hand broke.

At some point in the second round 'The Punk' breaks his hand and now his whole game plan goes out the window, turn to plan B and C, kick and continue to take Henderson down. Surprisingly he was able to do that, with relative success at times too, but Henderson now had his moments as well. Nonetheless, while he never hurt Henderson the rest of the way, nor had him in any danger, I thought he did enough to win the fight. Problem is, what I think doesn't matter.

Two of three judges saw it for Henderson, so now Thomson loses his title shot, breaks his hand and suddenly is even pondering retirement. If only he had decided to sit and wait for Pettis to heal; that's what featherweight (145 lbs.) title contender Ricardo Lamas did. Winner of his last four fights he became the next title challenger for champion Jose Aldo. However, ironically enough, Aldo sustained an injury which put him out of commission for a while.

Lamas, whose last fight was exactly one year ago today, decided to turn right instead of left though; he decided to wait it out. Sure it cost him exposure, money and everything else, but it did not cost him his shot; which he will take next week, during Super Bowl weekend on a Pay-Per-View. Lucky for Lamas right; not really, these are just pros and cons of being a number one title contender.

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