|ESPN.com: MMA||[Print without images]|
|In 2009, MMA fans (horrifically) bore witness as "The Iceman" became "The Jazzman."|
There's shame in labeling a Thanksgiving-themed blog post with any variation of biggest turkeys, roasted birds, stuffed this-or-that, etc. It's obvious and lazy and possibly an insult to you, the reader, who expects better.
But if it weren't for meeting low expectations, I wouldn't be meeting any at all. And so I give you the bird. Forgive me. In honor of the holiday meat of choice, here are the 10 biggest blunders, disasters and face-plants in the sport for 2009. (And if you think this is bad, remember we still have another five weeks to go.)
10. Chuck Liddell: Ballroom dancer
Unless it's based around paternity results, a prime-time network slot on a reality show is good for fighters and the sport. But that counter goes out the window when you consider that "Dancing with the Stars" participant Chuck Liddell is semi-retired, has the charisma of Styrofoam and possesses all the grace of someone who has been punched in the head for the past 20 years. And this doesn't even take into account the bowler, the feather boas and the dance routines that looked like he had stuck his finger in a light socket before taking the stage. Forget his repeated concussions: This is the kind of hurt that stays with you.
Dissatisfied with spinning off apparel that would have looked dated in a 1985 Misfits video, clothing company Affliction invested millions into a gawky, garish pay-per-view production featuring non-sequitur musical acts and papered crowds. The entire thing was insufferable, but at least we were promised a competitive fight between Fedor Emelianenko and Josh Barnett. Then Barnett urinated motor oil. Then the promotional arm of the company folded. Then we learned spending millions to make thousands was unsound business.
But at least it's over, right? No. Oh, no. Freed from his contract, Emelianenko fought a tire-changer from Sam's Club. Affliction is the tragedy that keeps on giving.
I can't override the psychological block to smother details of B.J. Penn's complaint against Georges St. Pierre earlier in the year. It had something to do with accusations that St. Pierre's team lubricated his back in order to make it difficult for Penn to defend himself from guard. There were commission hearings, media notices, possibly some kind of Congressional petition -- all over a blob of Vaseline errantly smeared on St. Pierre's spine, all paid for by the taxpayers of Nevada. Ask for an itemized bill, gang.
7. Silva-Leites: Blame Canada
The greater the exclamations, the greater the expectations. No one was the recipient of more prefight hype in 2009 than Anderson Silva, who entered into an April fight with Thales Leites as nothing less than a state-subsidized serial killer. Viewers expected Mortal Kombat; what they got was E.T., the Video Game, with Silva reluctant to strike, reluctant to grapple and reluctant to refund any money. Not only was it the year's worst main event, it was one of the worst in history: Silva's personal "Rocky V."
6. Holiday hams
Despite having the screen presence of movie-set catering trucks, fighters are being recruited by casting agents and producers with alarming and increasing regularity. (If you don't believe me, you could suffer through "Blood & Bone," the "Ocean's 11" of MMA-fetish movies.) Stunt casting has robbed us of at least two proper Cung Le bouts in 2009, and appears set to shelve Gina Carano through the middle of next year. And there's not much else to be said for Quinton Jackson in the "The A-Team," which might do for Jackson what "Stone Cold" did for Brian Bosworth. Or worse. Fighters are not actors, actors are not rappers, and fans are not so easily swayed.
5. Official denials
For the purposes of this point, I'll admit to watching professional wrestling as a youth. (A small, socially awkward youth, with suspected psychological afflictions. Nothing has changed.) If you were Hulk Hogan or Bret Hart, the last guy you wanted to see officiating your match was Earl Hebner, a dirty, double-crossing snake of a referee who blew calls, ignored fouls, and -- in at least one instance -- had his evil twin enlisted by Ted DiBiase to rig a match in his favor. (Rigging a pro wrestling bout was a little too rich in irony for 1980s audiences.)
2009 has been a record year for Hebner's spiritual offspring, who have watched fighters foul, poke eyes, grab fences and launch air-to-groin strikes with military precision. Properly and duly bloodied, a fighter can then look forward to a judge declaring the comatose man in the opposite corner the winner.
There are many fine officials currently working for fight commissions. There are also several in dire need of remedial training.
Authority is supposed to at least give the appearance of infallibility, a concept the California State Athletic Commission has never spent much time exploring. After controversial executive director Armando Garcia resigned in late 2008, reform was supposed to sweep through its offices. Instead, the organization was met with accusations that regulators accepted free tickets to boxing and MMA events; that commission members charged with overseeing hand wraps nearly missed Antonio Margarito's hands being wrapped in brain-rattling plaster; and that an MMA fighter who had tested positive for Hepatitis C had been allowed to fight (with the board later declaring that test a "false positive"). And this is just what happened to be leaked to the public.
3. Junie Browning
A Kentucky misanthrope with the all the charm of a mutating virus, Junie Allen Browning turned a 2008 season of "The Ultimate Fighter" into his own personal reality series; some viewers were absolutely certain that it was a put-on, and that no individual could be so genuinely putrid. Browning's ultimate gotcha: He was worse than imagined. Months after being worked over by Cole Miller in April, Browning was arrested for threatening hospital workers who were trying to assist him when he was brought in for a Klonopin overdose. The UFC quickly bounced him, but he will want for nothing in a world in which Dr. Drew needs to replenish his "Celebrity Rehab" cast on a bi-annual basis. Browning fights Saturday. Try to care.
2. Inaction Jackson
Not since Ken Shamrock huffed and puffed his way through a contemptible coaching job has an athlete's image been battered the way Quinton Jackson's has been during the current season of "The Ultimate Fighter." The show had barely begun airing before Jackson announced he was pulling out of a Dec. 12 bout with rival coach Rashad Evans; Jackson has ribbed contestants on screen -- and not genially, but with a sharp streak of menace and disrespect, riffing on everything from names (he forgets them) to man-boobs (he gropes them). When his fighters were tied in knots -- which happened in virtually all of their fights -- he was too preoccupied with his own image to bother tending to them. Reality TV may be a manipulative game, but it's also a bit like alcohol in one respect: It just makes you more of what you already are. And we don't need any more of Jackson.
1. Jose Canseco
The only man in history to headline a celebrity boxing show in an Aston, Penn., ice rink against Danny Bonaduce, the only former major league baseball player to face Hong Man Choi in the Yokohama Arena, and the only name athlete to film a reality show about his attempt to kick testosterone injections -- and all in one tremendous year. The thing that Jose Canseco would not do for money has not been invented yet: If you catch sight of a bald eagle, a rock, Jose Canseco and a $100 bill, you will have a memorable afternoon. Until then, have an E-Cigarette on him.