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Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Delayed gratification is gratification denied


Georges St. Pierre
By the time Georges St. Pierre faces Anderson Silva in the Octagon, fans may no longer care.

There's a big lesson buried in the UFC of 1994-95, and it's something Scott Coker and Strikeforce should have done some remedial reading on prior to last weekend.

After UFC 1, an event at which Royce Gracie squeezed Ken Shamrock into submission, the biggest fight possible for the promotion was a rematch. Shamrock injured himself before UFC 2, but both he and Gracie showed up for UFC 3.

And were kept as far apart from each other as possible.

Uh-huh.

For the promoters to make the match that people really wanted, both fighters would have had to navigate a semi- and quarterfinal round. Shamrock managed it; Gracie exhausted himself trying to contain Kimo and made it back to the cage only to throw in the towel. Ads for this show depicted Gracie and Shamrock locked in mortal (i.e., posed) combat. Card subject to change, promoters subject to stupidity.

The UFC's organizers learned their lesson very quickly: When you have a fight that fans want to see, don't kick dirt around in an attempt to sensationalize it further. When UFC 5 came around, Gracie and Shamrock were thrown together in a "Superfight" outside of the tournament draw. The match stunk, but at least it happened.

The lesson was short-lived. Today, promoters are obsessed with maximizing tension for high-interest fights. There's talk of "building" athletes and drawing out anticipation. This almost never works.

Strikeforce's money fight got flushed when Fedor Emelianenko was triangle-choked by Fabricio Werdum on Saturday. Interest in Emelianenko versus Alistair Overeem has waned, and it wouldn't even be permissible considering Overeem is champion. (Challengers usually need to win fights, not lose them, though this didn't bother them in the case of Brett Rogers.) By insisting that Emelianenko -- who already had a massive media presence thanks to Affliction and his boardroom UFC rivalry -- be "built up," they have forever lost the event status of the fight.

The UFC bears some of the same guilt. The biggest fight possible in the promotion is Georges St. Pierre versus Anderson Silva, a bout between two greats who both seem incapable of coming up short. Yet the UFC only seems interested if both "clean out" their divisions, which have now been diluted to names that carry very little intrigue. The longer the fight is put off, the better the chance that one or both will lose -- making their meeting pointless.

MMA has a serious deficit of fights that will wind up having real historical interest and can induce a nervous kind of nausea in fans. There are plenty of shows and plenty of exciting matches but very little that feels like something unique is taking place. Once you lose the chance to assemble a meaningful fight, you never get it back.