The Fighting Life Is Moving

That’s right. I officially engaged the services of a web designer, and now this blog is becoming something resembling a real website. You can check out the brand new version at thefightinglife.com right now. Is it basically the same thing that I’ve been doing for some time now? Yeah, but I think it looks a little cooler.

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Why I’m Eagerly Anticipating BET’s “Iron Ring”

Tonight, my friends, marks the premiere of BET’s foray into the world of mixed martial arts with their new show “Iron Ring”.  I could not be more excited.  Why?  Just take a look at this description of the show from BET’s official website:

An all-star line-up of celebrities, including Ludacris, Juelz Santana, Lil Jon, Nelly and Floyd Mayweather, will manage teams of fighters in the best mixed martial arts match-ups on television.

From a steel ring above the arena, the celebrity “owners” will interact with their gladiators between rounds – and sometimes right in the middle of them. Each week, as top competitors enter the battle zone to face off, using the combined techniques of jiu-jitsu, judo, karate, boxing, kickboxing and wrestling, viewers will witness true-to-life, bone-crushing, face-smashing sports entertainment unlike anything ever seen before. Only the strong will survive!

I don’t know about you, but all I caught there was “gladiators”, “steel ring above the arena”, and “Ludacris”.  That’s all I needed to know.  Count me in, BET.

Now, I realize I’m not a member of BET’s target demographic.  I’m what sociologists refer to as “a white dude”.  I only own one pair of sneakers and zero sets of spinners.  I only get about half the jokes on “Comic View”, and though I’ve heard of “106 & Park” through rap songs, I’ve never seen a full episode.

That being said, I am making it a point to watch “Iron Ring” tonight.  I know some MMA fans are already against it, the same way they were against “Never Back Down”, based solely on the previews, but not me.  It’s not that I’m necessarily expecting “Iron Ring” to be any good.  I’m not.  But the mere fact that it’s happening is important and, dare I say, encouraging.

For one, it introduces a whole new demographic to our sport.  That’s not to say that black Americans don’t know or care about MMA right now, but I think it’s fair to say that they haven’t embraced it the way nerdy white dudes on the internet have.  That’s somewhat of an unfair comparison, I realize, because if there’s one thing nerdy white dudes are good at it’s embracing things on the internet.  But bringing MMA to BET means exposure before a different audience, maybe an audience that hasn’t been properly courted in the past.  Maybe you come for Ludacris and you stay for the fights.  Stranger things have happened.

Aside from that, though, we have to remember that TV is a business built on imitation.  A new MMA show means that TV producers are beginning to recognize the potential of the sport.  “Iron Ring” may not change the face of MMA forever, but if it gets fresh blood involved that means things are headed in the right direction.

On another level, I can’t wait to see what Ludacris and Lil Jon are like as “owners” of MMA teams.  I’m guessing that their technical advice between rounds might be something along the lines of “hit him in the face”, which is always helpful.  But I’m also guessing that they’ll have some hilarious commentary mixed in there somewhere.  Personalities like that have never hurt the fight game.

Of course, I could be wrong.  “Iron Ring” could be an abomination with only a vague resemblance to MMA.  Or it could be the greatest thing ever to come on basic cable.  My feeling is that it will be somewhere between those two extremes, but at the same time it might alert a few new people to this thing called MMA, wherein men punch and kick and slam and choke one another, and those people will wonder why they weren’t informed of this earlier as they rush off to investigate it more fully and discover a beautiful world they never knew existed.

Even if that only happens for one person who tunes in hoping to catch the last hour of “Soul Plane”, it will be worth it.  It’s like Ludacris once said: “Ho tell everybody, even the mayor.  Reach up in the sky for the ho-zone layer.”

No, wait.  I guess it’s not like that at all.  Still cool, though.

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Exclusive Kenny Florian Interview

I had a chance to talk with UFC lightweight contender Kenny Florian recently, and the full interview is now live on Cage Potato.  Florian is one of the smartest, most self-aware fighters that I’ve had the opportunity to interview, and his story is an interesting one.

Here’s an excerpt:

Reading past interviews with you, it seems like you’re really motivated by your losses. What’s it like after a big loss, when you get back to the dressing room and have to face that dark moment? How do you move past it?

It’s a terrible, terrible feeling. My loss to Sean Sherk haunts me to this day. At the same time it motivates me, and I can look at it as a positive experience. You can let things like that defeat you, or you put them behind you and learn from them and get better. That’s what I tried to do. There’s no such thing as a setback in life. There are only lessons. We’re made to evolve and get better and faster and stronger. You can do that within your own life.

It’s like pushing weights for the first time and your body’s sore and it sucks and it’s really hard, but after a while your muscles and your nervous system and everything gets stronger. Your muscle memory gets better. That’s the way it is with certain things in fighting. If you have a loss, you need to look at it and learn from it. What technical mistakes did I make? What strategic mistakes did I make? What mental mistakes did I make?

You cover all those bases and, if you need to, write it down and start working on patching those holes up. You can only look at it as a positive and live in the present day. If you live in the past, you’re dead.

Reading about your near-death experience in Brazil, it seems like that had a profound effect on the course of your life. If that incident didn’t happen, do you think you’d have become a pro fighter?

It’s funny, because I’m not sure. I think there are certain times in life where we need to be shaken up so we realize that life is short and you need to not just follow what feels good, but follow what you love. That was a fear of mine. What if I give up this full-time job to try to be a pro fighter or a jiu-jitsu teacher or whatever my plans were at the time, and what would happen? I might be a failure and my friends and family will look at me as a loser, and here I had this job and this life that I gave up.

But that experience just made me realize how much regret I would have had if I had died at the moment and never got a chance to chase my dream and do what I really loved doing. It would have been a shame. I think there are a lot of people in life who are doing that. I’m not saying it’s necessarily bad, because I think there’s something noble about trying to provide for your family and making ends meet, but at the same time if there’s something that you love and that you’re passionate about, why not try and do it?

I’m glad I made that decision. It was tough at times. I had to move out of my place. I had to live with family and friends for a while. It was tough, but I wouldn’t change anything. I went from making around forty thousand dollars a year to making just a few thousand dollars a year, but I was waking up and putting a gi on every day and I was happy as hell.

Read the full interview here.

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Roy Nelson Punches Me in the Face

It seemed like a good idea at the time.  During our pre-fight interviews before the IFL’s show in Las Vegas, we asked some fighters to demonstrate their favorite moves.  After a brief discussion, it was decided that I would the demonstration dummy for these.  It made for an interesting day, especially when Matt Horwich put me in something called a “ninjaplata”, which I suspect he made it up on the spot.

I wasn’t crazy about Roy Nelson’s idea to demonstrate an overhand right on me, but it worked out okay.  He stopped just short of hitting me, though just hearing him describe how he liked to target his punch on the back corner of a man’s jaw made me a little uneasy.  I mean, that just sounds unpleasant.

Anyway, here’s the video demonstration of “Big Country” doing the overhand right, plus a look at how he put it to work against Antoine Jaoude.

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Paulo Filho Goes to Rehab

First Paulo Filho pulled out of his rematch with Chael Sonnen, citing depression.  Then the WEC middleweight champion changed his mind and got back in.  Now he’s out again, and this time it may stick.  Filho has reportedly checked himself into rehab for a non-specific chemical dependency problem.  Hmmm.  Depression.  Huge muscles.  Trouble making weight.  Mercurial behavior.  I wonder what he’s on…

Honestly, it’s hard not to feel for Paulo Filho right now.  Ever since I saw the video clip of him getting seriously concerned for Ricardo Arona and his stab wounds, I’ve had a soft spot for the guy.  We saw glimpses of his almost uncomfortable sincerity when he initially pulled out of this rematch, basically saying that he was too sad to train.  Now that he’s entering rehab I feel equal parts disappointed and relieved.

Filho seems like he needs help, and we all hope he gets it.  His manager, Jorge Guimaraes, had this to say to Sherdog about the situation:

 “We tried our best with Filho, but it didn’t work and he’ll not fight in the WEC. He tried with all his effort to accomplish the title defense, but he realized he couldn’t do it due to chemical dependence and depression. He knew this kind of stuff does not have a link with the sport, and I’m happy he had a conscience and looked for help…The WEC staff was superb with us. They understood the situation, and Filho will return and defend his belt in June.”

Now, I’m no addiction specialist, but June seems like a quick comeback.  That gives him three months to get clean and get into fighting shape.  If I were Filho’s friend, I might advise him to deal with one issue at a time.  First kick this drug problem and get your mind right.  Then get back in the gym and think about fighting again.  The stress of preparing for a title fight doesn’t seem entirely conducive to focusing on sobriety.

Let’s hope Filho has friends who can give him this kind of advice, rather than managers who might have other priorities.  For now, let’s all enjoy this Zapruder film of Filho taking on recent IFL addition Alexandre “Cacareco” Ferreira in a no-gi grappling match in Brazil.  Watch for the totally sweet suplex from “Cacareco” just after the two-minute mark.  As this video makes clear, Brazilians love them some grappling.  Sounds like a soccer match in there.  Enjoy.

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The Transitive Property Fallacy

Yesterday, commenter Vrax brought up an interesting point in his response to my Fedor article.  He wrote that we have reason to believe that Randy Couture is better than Fedor Emelianenko based on Couture’s victory over Gonzaga, who defeated “Cro Cop”, who had gone to a fairly close decision against Fedor.

This, my friends, is what we’ll call the Transitive Property Fallacy of MMA.  We’ve all used it at one point or another to try and justify some unprovable statement, just like we’ve all built up straw men or confused correlation for causation (for example, my friend Dan Brooks wears glasses and and is a closeted homosexual, though this does not mean that wearing glasses has caused him to be a closeted homosexual. The real cause is most likely singing in his church choir all the way into his teens.  See how that works?).

I’m not trying to call out Vrax in particular here, because we’re all guilty of this at times.  He seems like a smart guy and so I’m guessing he won’t mind me using his comment to make a point that is long overdue. Though there are some good reasons for why we continue to employ this fallacy, we should stop it.  Failing that, we should at least realize that we’re doing it so we don’t take our own arguments too seriously.

Simply stated, the Transitive Property Fallacy of MMA is this: if Fighter A beats Fighter B, and Fighter B beats Fighter C, then Fighter A would beat Fighter C.  This works in math, or so people who went to school past the ninth grade tell me (personally, I never had a use that much schoolin’), but it doesn’t work in MMA for several different reasons.

For one, fighting ability is not quantifiable.  We can’t look at a guy and say how he will perform against any opponent on any given night.  Some fighters might look like world beaters one night, then completely choke on another.  Georges St. Pierre’s performance against Matt Serra comes to mind.

Plus, as we love to say in this business, styles make fights.  A powerhouse wrestler might dismantle a good striker, but get submitted by an average jiu-jitsu fighter.  You never can tell how the strange alchemy of MMA will turn out, which is really what makes it so damned interesting.  If we could determine everything by looking at someone’s record, we wouldn’t need to fight the fights.  It ignores the possibility that some guys have gotten better since the last time we saw them, or that others have gotten worse, or even that they’ve just changed, matured, given up booze, found Jesus, or finalized their divorce, all of which could affect their performance.

If the Transitive Property worked in MMA, we’d be living in a much different world.  For instance, Evan Tanner beat Phil Baroni (twice).  Baroni knocked out Ryo Chonan.  Chonan submitted Anderson Silva with a crazy flying heel hook.  By the Transitive Property, this means that Evan Tanner is superior to Anderson Silva, which is so untrue that I’m surprised my computer even allowed me to type it.

This could go on and on.  Josh Barnett once beat Randy Couture, and later lost to “Cro Cop”, who was defeated by Fedor.  In that equation, Fedor > Couture.  Couture also lost to Ricco Rodriguez, who lost to Ben Rothwell, who lost to Tim Sylvia.  By the Transitive Property, Sylvia should beat Couture.  And yet…he didn’t.  Need I go on?

There are many reasons why we can’t figure out who the better fighter is by comparing common opponents.  This won’t stop us from doing it, I suspect, because we’re all jerks who can’t stand the fact that we don’t know everything.  That’s why we fill in the gaps in our knowledge with twisted reasoning when necessary.   It’s stupid but, much like Dan Brooks’ sad charade of faux-heterosexuality, it goes on.

But the next time you’re having an MMA discussion with someone and they trot out this fallacy, you should make damn sure you call them on it.  Because that’s the only way we’re ever going to learn, and learn we must.  If the Transitive Property worked for MMA, it wouldn’t be very fun at all.  It would be math.  And I don’t care what those jerks at NASA say, MMA is > than math.  If Euclid were alive today, he’d be the first to admit it.

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Living With The Fedor Backlash

Few men have caused so much trouble by doing so little. In the past year Fedor Emelianenko has sparked controversy and debate, provided the impetus for the creation of one new company and strained relationships within another, and all while barely maintaining an active career as a pro fighter.

We of the MMA media are more than a little complicit in all this. We’ve hailed Fedor as the greatest, then lambasted him when he dared to chase a paycheck instead of carrying the mantle we had thrust upon him. Now that he’s seemingly come to his senses and is leaving M-1 for greener pastures, we have to find something else to get upset about.

Don’t worry. If it’s one thing MMA writers and fans alike are good at, it’s manufacturing discontent.

A recent article by Sherdog ace Jake Rossen got the ball rolling. In it, Rossen takes aim at, among other things, Fedor’s position atop the rankings. The support for this criticism comes primarily from Fedor’s inactivity, which is fair. In the last fifteen months Fedor has fought a circus freak, a middleweight, and a K-1 kickboxer with a limited ground game. Then again, he beat them all in the first round. If the sharpest complaint you can level at him is that it took him a few minutes longer than expected to finish opponents who he far outclassed, you have to wonder how much you really have to gripe about.

But let’s be honest, most of the Fedor-hate these days doesn’t have anything to do with his fighting ability. It’s about his business decisions. To be more specific, it’s about his decision not to fight in America, for American audiences. Spurning an offer from the UFC was the first step. Dana White claimed publicly that Fedor was overrated, which doesn’t explain why he offered him millions to fight for the UFC or why he’s now trying to hype two-time Fedor victim Mark Coleman, but still.

The point is that complaints about Fedor’s recent opponents are legitimate, but not as a criticism of his abilities as a fighter. All Fedor has ever done is beat whoever was put in front of him. Granted, he may not have made the best choices about who to trust as a manager or promoter or matchmaker — and he wouldn’t be the first fighter to be taken advantage of in that regard — but it doesn’t mean he isn’t the best heavyweight in the world.

What this is really about is sour grapes and hurt feelings. That goes for those on the production and promotion side, such as the UFC, as well as for fans and the media. Because Fedor is unbeaten, it’s easy for us to say he is untested. And if we say he’s untested, well, we demand to see him tested. Fedor’s admittedly poor business decisions of late have denied us that opportunity, and so we lash out at him. We try and take back the title that we gave him — world’s best fighter — as if it might somehow convince him to come to America just to placate us.

Odds are Fedor doesn’t care what we say about him. Maybe he doesn’t even know. There’s a good chance that all he cares about are the zeros on his paycheck, and if you don’t think that’s an honorable enough motivation you should bring it up with Randy Couture and see what he tells you. All the talk about who’s the best in the world doesn’t mean much at the end of the day, so it’s hard to criticize a guy for not placing as much importance on it as we do.

Whatever we may say about him when our feelings get hurt, the truth is that Fedor has been nothing short of dominant in his career as a fighter. He’s beaten everyone he’s faced, even if his list of opponents of late isn’t what we’d like it to be. He’s still Fedor. His abilities — once the match is finally set and the opening bell rings — are still unassailable. We know this. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t spend so much time arguing about him. And then what would we do? Nothing that’s this much fun, that’s for sure.

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