Saturday, 23 July 2011

MMA Prophecies part 3, Cruiser Class


A look into the many possible futures of MMA.
Prophecies translated by Andrew McGuigan.

“A fresh home shall be built for those many new warriors of the world, too big to be small, too small to be big. Look to the one whose name matches his libido for example.”

The introduction of a UFC Cruiser weight class

Where are we now?

Dana has now completed integrating Bantam and Featherweight divisions from the WEC and has even stated the UFC would like to introduce a Flyweight (125 lb) division in the future. Following this, it will become more apparent that the heavy end of the division needs some attention and balancing.

Just for perspective, from Bantamweight to light heavyweight (135-205lbs) there is an 80 lb spread over seven weight classes. There is a 60 lb spread in the heavyweight class alone.

There can be a big difference between a heavyweight who weighs in at 220lbs and someone who has to cut to get under 265lbs. Who can forget the size differences in battles between Antonio Bigfoot Silva vs Fedor or Brock vs Randy.
That is not to suggest that the likes of Bigfoot and Lesner are typical heavyweights, and it is certainly not the case that by definition smaller heavyweights are underdogs, as made clear by current champion Cain Velasquez who weighs in at 240 lbs.

Having packed on the muscle to fight Shane Carwin and then been defeated, Frank Mir hinted that he may consider dropping to 205lbs to remain competitive.
“I’m kind of curious where I’d fall at, because some of the guys I train with that are light heavyweights and bone structure’s are the same. Sometimes I stand next to Forrest Griffin and think I’m in the wrong weight class.”

Whether a joke or not, it certainly illustrates the fact that heavyweights would have to make a massive cut to get to a lighter division. Perhaps Forrest is not the best example for Frank’s comparison; he is another who is known to cut 20lbs to make light-heavyweight.

How will this change?

Introducing a Cruiser class would bring a balance to the vast weight range of heavyweights, often dominated by those fighting at the very upper weight limit.
One additional belt at the top end would provide a home for a whole host of fighters who find the cut to 205 too much, but can look undersized compared to the majority of heavyweights.

Randy Couture is the very definition of a ‘natural’ cruiserweight, having drifted between heavy and light heavy and back again twice during his career.
A reasonable weight range for cruiser class would be 206-230 lbs giving a 24 lb range, leaving heavyweight at 231-265 lbs with a 34 lb range.

The UFC heavyweight class is currently deep with talent, maybe the best it has ever been. Now is not the time to split it down the middle into cruiser / heavyweight.

The usual objection is that it would ruin an exciting division, and that certainly would be true, if we imagined that the division would be formed solely by pulling smaller fighters from the existing heavyweight ranks. Randy, Cro-Cop, Kongo, Nogeira and Pat Barry are all fighters who would suit cruiserweight, but they would weaken the current heavyweight ranks by leaving. We should be looking to the future fighters, not the present.

It seems ridiculous to assume that although fresh fighters are constantly starting new professional careers in all other weight classes, for some reason there would be a shortage willing to fight at Cruiser weight.

What about the many large light-heavyweights past and present who would like to stop cutting weight and move up a class, but currently would be faced by the likes of Carwin and Lesner? How many young and unknown fighters currently unable to find a suitable weight class in which to excel and make their name? Remember that non wrestlers typically have a much harder time cutting large amounts of weight. What about all of the future upcoming fighters from around the world that will be looking to fit in wherever they can when the UFC comes to country?

Likelihood and timescale?

The Ohio Athletic Commission has introduced a cruiserweight division at amateur level, specifically to cater for those ‘out of class’ fighters just starting out. They have had a lot of positive response to the trial, which allows people to fight as beginners at natural weight, without having to cut or gain weight just to be competitive.

In years to come there will be many more fighters emerging from newly conquered UFC territories of Brazil, Mexico, Sweden etc.
A few simultaneous international seasons of cruiser weight TUF could bring in a bulk of talent to quickly bring the division up to speed, possibly culminating in an exciting tournament to determine the first champion. There will be no need to raid the existing heavy or light-heavy roster and if it was a concern, Dana and company could easily put a block on Heavyweights dropping down for the first year, just to play safe. In fact far from being drained, the future heavyweights will in the end be joined by many natural cruiserweights looking to move up in weight, something that rarely happens with today’s light heavyweights.

We could easily see a UFC 206-230lb division being formed within three years.

MMA Prophecies part 2, Dedicated Divisions in MMA


A look into the many possible futures of MMA.
Prophecies translated by Andrew McGuigan.

“Up from the bickering masses shall rise a new kingdom, content to feed the monster the tasty new meat, and in return dine well on its tough and well seasoned leftovers. Both the monster and the new kingdom shall grow fat feasting on fame whilst the masses continue to fight over scraps.”

Dedicated divisions in MMA

Where are we now?

Too many fighters get cut from the UFC only to find themselves out of the TV spotlight and looking for fights regional shows.
Too many fighters lose valuable career months being caught up in contracts that stop them from competing for rival organisations.

Conflict between promotions gets us nowhere as a sport. Affliction vs UFC, Strikeforce vs UFC… all just creates bickering, and the belittlement of great fighters by promoters- just because they don’t fight for their organisation.

This helps no-one, it’s not good for the sport and only fuels fan vs fan forum trolling.
Put aside all pointless promotional loyalty, and think about it from the perspective of fighters, fans, and the future stability of MMA. Nobody wants to see a potential promotion battle that ends with only one survivor.
This is not good business.

How will this change?

The time is right for a dedicated two tier league system of MMA.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that one day an independent promotion might rise above the minnow shows. They would recognise the potential profit available in becoming a none challenging, dedicated 2nd division, working with rather than against the UFC.

Nobody could forsee that the Zuffa might look to set this up themselves via the purchasing of Strikeforce.

If it can be acknowledged that the UFC have the largest world foothold in MMA (the most shows, most countries, widest world TV coverage) then they are the League One of MMA. Strikeforce would obviously be League Two, and will become the definitive second place promotion under the UFC, whilst still being owned by parent company Zuffa.

When all the big Strikeforce stars have ended their current contracts and those willing have been signed to the UFC, Strikeforce could act as the recruiter and tester of upcoming fighters from regional shows. If you prove yourself after a couple of fights, then you’re off up into the UFC.
Dana also now has a retirement home for all out of contract UFC fighters who for one reason or another are still exciting to watch but have no place in the UFC top ranks.

If the idea of Strikeforce being League Two fills you with anti Zuffa-shill rage, please feel free to place an imaginary organisation as the League Two promotion. It doesn’t matter, all bias aside, they are the logical second place promotion.

This is not just a case of ‘Why can’t we all just get along.’ This is not Co-promotion, or an attempt to look down on League Two fighters either.
Championship football teams in England are supported with no less passion than Premier League teams. It is simply a necessity in a sport that is expanding quickly, that there is a more logical structure to the two biggest shows.

There has to be a more dedicated step below the UFC and above regional shows, and there are numerous benefits in having a definite league one, league two approach.

Great for the fighters: revolving doors at the bottom of the UFC and the top of Strikeforce. Two separate organisations commentary teams could actually mention and compliment the other’s fighters without it being perceived a threat to personal business. An agreement between promotions regarding smooth contact transitions means fighters would keep food on the table. Short two or three fight contracts would enable regular re-evaluation and allow a constant revolving door between leagues.

Great for both organisations: The UFC has a constant supply of winning fighters who have proved themselves in League Two, who are known to fans. Strikeforce have a constant supply of fighters who there just isn’t room for on UFC rosters. Fighters that have not peaked yet, or have already peaked but still have a lot of exciting fights in them. League Two will also showcase the exciting new stars who are on their way up.

Great for the fans: Instead of struggling together, two separate organisations could streamline a fighter’s career path and put more energy into MMA expansion.

Likelihood and timescale?

Prior to Zuffa’s purchase of Strikeforce, a co-operative two promotion league system was unlikely to ever happen. Competitive companies rarely cut through the red tape for the benefit of the public, and it was very unlikely that Strikeforce would voluntarily accept the role of the League Two underdog.

The truth will be revealed over the next two years when the Strikeforce contracts with Showtime and individual fighters expire. Will Strikeforce be completely absorbed and shut down? Will they keep the show running as Strikeforce or change it to ‘UFC1’ and ‘UFC2?’

Now that Zuffa own both promotions they can place a wall underneath themselves as protection from future competitors. With Zuffa fed contracts, no upcoming promotion will be able to touch Strikeforce's talent pool, and therefore will never get within reach of threatening the UFC.
It is the ultimate barrier against future competition.

Andrew McGuigan

MMA Prophecies part 1, UFC two team attack


A look into the many possible futures of MMA.
Prophecies translated by Andrew McGuigan.

“The bald headed monster continues to fight across the globe, but cannot be in all places at once, and the world shall weep, impatient for war. A second identical head is grown, and conflict is increased two fold.”

UFC two team attack

Where are we now?

Every year Dana White and Co. reach further abroad to find new countries and venues for UFC shows. Although the frequency of events has increased over the years, the UFC is still a one team show. Joe and Goldie, Buffer and the ring girls- familiar voices, faces and bodies to all fans.

Unfortunately constant global expansion can leave previously romanced countries impatiently waiting for more love and feeling jealousy toward each new conquest.
‘When are they coming back to us?’
‘I thought they said we were getting two shows and a Fight Night this year?’
With Brazil, Sweden, Philippines, China and Japan expected to be colonised by the UFC within the next few years, the problem of events being spread too infrequently across too many territories is only going to get worse.

Take for example the UK UFC event history. There were three UK events in 2007, three in 2008, with two in 2009 and another in Ireland. There was only one UK UFC in 2010, and only one is rumoured so far for 2011. Ireland has done without since 2009, with a rumoured UFC 112 return cancelled when the Abu Dhabi debut went ahead. Could one show per year in each overseas country become the new standard? This pattern is already starting to emerge in Germany, UK and Australia.

A cynical person could think that the UFC’s plan is to roll into every country, get the fans hooked with a few shows before moving on to conquer another country. Perhaps the long term profit comes from instigating TV deals, and encouraging PPV customers, with the live shows serving as bait.

There is no doubt it is a tough balancing act for the UFC, they have to be very careful not to overreach, even as they remain number one.
Producing and advertising for a foreign show is extremely expensive, especially when missing out on American PPV dollars. Overseas cards are often free to view, a consequence of unsocial opposing time-zones, and line-ups that are sometimes percieved by casual fans to have a lack of ‘Star Power.’

Massive growth in the sport of MMA is not just an issue for event hungry fans either.
Dedicated MMA gyms and teams are rising up around the world with increasing numbers of young fighters looking to compete beyond regional shows. When comparing the amount of smaller MMA shows ready for new fighters and the spaces available on the limited UFC ‘big shows,’ we see a wide-based pyramid that is counter-productive to making use of the next generations best fighters.

Is the UFC truly aiming to be a mainstream sport brand installed around the world, or is it limiting itself by being a one show pony?

What will change?

We don’t know exactly how Zuffa’s buyout of Strikeforce will affect MMA in the long term. The UFC of the future will certainly require more than one production team, could the Strikeforce staff be it? A second team could concentrate on putting on regular Fight Night shows, or be dedicated to touring Europe, allowing the current classic team to stay in America or journey abroad for the important fan impressing ‘honey-trap’ shows in new territories.

It is a complicated plan to execute, and certainly not just a case of throwing a new Octagon in a truck with new commentators and camera men and hitting the road. The UFC brand and production values need to be identical so that ticket buying fans do not feel cheated.
Purist fans will initially cry out for Buffer, for Rogan and Goldie, but there are many great existing MMA pundits available for work, as well as fighters who always bring a unique point of view when commentating. How great would it be to hear Bas Rutten, Stephen Quadros or Mauro Ranallo on a UFC show, partnered with Jens Pulver, Kenny Florian etc?

In reality, for the home fans actually attending an event, the main difference would be the presence of Bruce Buffer. The live fan does not get to hear the televised commentary, and ring girls lose a lot of important aesthetic detail when viewed from the cheap seats. Bruce Buffer is of course, an irreplaceable UFC institution, but there are other seasoned masters of ceremony available for additional pro, including Strikeforce’s own Jimmy Lennon Jr, and of course UK MMA legend Ian Freeman.

One secondary benefit will be the need for the recruitment of substantially more ring girls. This will no doubt prompt sparkling debate from men around the world concerning their relative strengths as personable human beings.

Likelihood and timescale

At the present rate of expansion the UFC surely has to consider using multiple touring Octagons and production teams within two years. All of the hard work Dana and the Fertittas have done to bring MMA to new countries and audiences will start to unravel without at least semi-regular events in main cities.

It may not end at two teams either! Countries like Brazil or Japan will obviously benefit from home grown presenters and commentators to avoid language and culture complications. With this team already assembled, and venues waiting nearby, all that are missing are the cage, cameras and production team. Look 20 years into the future and think how much more consolidated the UFC brand will be. It is easy to image every country having its own UFC production team, the ideal staging ground between independent regional MMA, and the big time all-star championship show.

Andrew McGuigan