Tuesday, November 1, 2011
ESPN.com MMA awards for October
By Brett Okamoto ESPN.com
Nick Diaz. As much as 2011 has been a terrific year for mixed martial arts, especially the UFC, there was this sort of repressed feeling, like the sport needed a shot in the arm. We needed something to talk about, whether it was some form of controversy, a new character in the sport, an unbelievable opponent matchup -- whatever. Nick Diaz offers all that and more. He is, quite honestly, the most entertaining fighter in the world. Anderson Silva might still be the best, but the way in which Diaz carries himself in the cage, placing himself in perilous positions, only to emerge victorious and then flip us all off, is refreshingly awesome. His fight against Georges St. Pierre will be one of 2012's biggest.
Carlos Condit. What a funny sport this is. Last month's biggest winner, Carlos Condit, is this month's biggest loser, and by no fault of his own. I just picture poor Carlos watching from his couch as Diaz paraded around the Octagon after beating B.J. Penn, thinking, "Don't do it, Dana. Don't switch me out. I could have beat Penn just as bad! Don't do it!" When Diaz's first words were, "I don't think Georges is hurt. I think he's scared," that's where I picture Carlos turning off the TV , letting out a single, loud expletive and then calling it a night. The writing was on the wall at that point. Now Carlos likely gets a monster in Jake Ellenberger just to get the title shot back.
Knockout: Frankie Edgar def. Gray Maynard, UFC 136. We all certainly knew Frankie Edgar was capable of beating Gray Maynard, but I doubt any of us really thought it was possible he'd knock him out. Edgar the knockout artist? I don't think so. He's undersized for the division and his boxing style is about scoring points and avoiding damage, not turning other guy's lights out. But that's what he did against Maynard, a guy who I would have said maybe had the best chin at 155 heading into that fight. Can we stop with the 145 talk with Edgar for the time being? The guy is a champion at 155. I want to see more of that.
Submission: Paul Sass def. Michael Johnson, UFC on Versus 6. This Versus card got enormously overlooked in the month of October, with two UFC pay-per-views and the weekly installment of Bellator cards to compete with. Quietly, the card delivered solid action (eight stoppages!), including a first-round heel hook win for Paul Sass over Michael Johnson. We knew Sass is a ground wizard -- 11 of 12 wins via submission -- and this was yet another feather in his cap over a game opponent. Sass might not be title material right now, but he's crafty and his ability to finish instantly makes him a less-than-desirable opponent at 155.
Fight: Nam Phan def. Leonard Garcia, UFC 136. If you were to come to me and argue that Leonard Garcia is actually regressing as a mixed martial artist, I don't know that I wouldn't agree with you. He's always had the tendency to brawl, but ever since his first fight against Chan Sung Jung, I don't think he's even been capable of doing anything else. Is that, however, a bad thing? Garcia is so wild, a guy like Nam Phan goes in there thinking, "This is cake. Straight punches, get out of the way of the wild stuff. Easy win for me." Then they get in there and realize how downright wild Garcia really is. He brings the fight out in opponents and he's always good for at least a few moments where he swings momentum on his side. No technique at all, but I'll watch Garcia fight every day.
Upset: Joe Lauzon def. Melvin Guillard, UFC 136. Leave it to Melvin Guillard to treat a UFC pay-per-view event as his own "Quick, everybody look how awesome I am" party. That's not to take anything away from Joe Lauzon, but come on. If you had told J-Lo the fight would consist of him knocking Guillard down, followed by a submission finish in 47 seconds, he probably wouldn't have believed you (the game plan was to take Guillard into the later rounds, from what I heard). The bottom line here is Guillard didn't have any respect for Lauzon, which just doesn't make much sense. Guess it's just Guillard being Guillard. Good for Lauzon for taking advantage of it.
Event: UFC 136. This card was touted as featuring some of the best matchups this year and it didn't disappoint. The Edgar-Maynard trilogy was extremely compelling. The Phan-Garcia rematch was everything we hoped it would be. Chael Sonnen returned. Kenny Florian gave it a go, but we saw an invigorated, healthy Jose Aldo suppress that challenge. Plus, the lightweight picture got a little clearer, or cloudier depending on how you look at it, with Anthony Pettis outpointing another potential title runner in Jeremy Stephens.
Quote: "Anderson Silva, you absolutely suck." -- Chael Sonnen. Come on. Who'd you think was going to have the quote of the month? Chael Sonnen is back from what he calls "his timeout in the corner," and personally, I'm glad to have him back. Sonnen has absolutely done and said some ridiculous things in the last three years and he deserved the punishment he received from the California commission for testing high testosterone levels. That said, I do agree the man has served his time and, most importantly, he backs it up in the cage. Don't take everything you hear from Sonnen at face value, but at least believe him now when he says he can beat Silva. He just might.
News: Viacom purchases Bellator Fighting Championships. While UFC-related news tends to overshadow anything going on with other mixed martial arts organizations, media conglomerate Viacom's purchase of Bellator made major headlines in October. Viacom, parent company to both Spike TV and MTV, the current home network of Bellator, gives the promotion a ton of stability moving forward. The move will include airing Bellator fights on Spike TV, starting in 2013. Another big piece of this puzzle is it gives Bellator the resources to potentially keep some of its stars, preventing an inevitable forfeit of its top talent to the UFC.
Answer: Is Gilbert Melendez coming to the UFC, or what? Not this year. Despite rumors mostly flamed by Dana White himself, Zuffa announced this month that Gilbert Melendez will indeed fight Jorge Masvidal as planned in December. Unfortunately, this means we won't be seeing Melendez compete for the UFC title this year; however, it does mean we get to see this originally scheduled fight against Masvidal, which I think is actually a very compelling fight. If you're looking to think positive here, look at it this way. Lightweight is so stacked, there won't be a shortage of top matchups. And if there comes a point there truly is no other fight out there besides Melendez versus Edgar, the Fertittas and White will figure out how to make it happen.
Question: What's happening with Strikeforce? The Melendez chatter leads us to an even more pressing question: What is the next step for Strikeforce? The organization appeared, on all fronts, dead months ago. Not that the shows are hard on the eyes, but it just seemed like no one was really paying attention anymore -- that's referring to both fans and the people who run it. Now, Dana White is saying he's taking a more hands-on role with the organization and it definitely appears this thing isn't going away as quickly as we thought. An update on this entire matter could come very soon. Most likely, it sounds like network Showtime is still interested in the MMA business. And that means Strikeforce still has a pulse.
Next Month: All eyes will be on the UFC's first run on network television. Expectations will be high and my guess is they'll be met. This is the first card of a seven-year deal with Fox. There's no real necessity for it to go out and pull 15 million viewers on Nov. 12. It sounds strange to many of us who have watched the sport for so long, but this is literally the first time many viewers out in the United States will be introduced to mixed martial arts. How will they respond to it and what effect will it have on the UFC's pay-per-view numbers and overall business module will be a fun thing to watch over time. Also, Bellator lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez finally returns to action against game contender Michael Chandler.