Monday, November 4, 2013

MMA journalism stinks - reflections after Bellator 106

As King Mo himself has noted, MMA journalism sucks.

After Bellator 106, which I found a quite entertaining card even without the incredible performances by Chandler and Alvarez,'s Ben Fowlkes gave us a post-fight breakdown of the card.

In it, he admits that he was surprised at Daniel Straus's performance.  He was about the only one.  Straus is a top ten ranked featherweight with a very dangerous style for a slow starter like Curran.  Curran's defensive, reactive style of fighting found a brick wall in Straus's minimalist, pressure-oriented approach.  I admit that I thought Curran would win . . . but I very much thought the tough, hard-nosed Straus was going to be a very stiff test for Curran.  Straus was and he picked up a clear decision.  So that's the first place that Fowlkes failed to understand what was going on.

The second was when he criticized King Mo as being a boxer who occasionally shoots for the takedown.  This . . . ignores the reality of King Mo's two fights prior to his second tilt with Emmanuel Newton where King Mo very much returned to the takedown and ground and pound style of his Strikeforce days.  It also ignores that in Mo-Newton 2, King Mo did take Newton down but was unsuccessful in holding Newton to the mat.  King Mo tried the takedown, G&P strategy but Newton showed great takedown defense and then great skill in getting the hell up.  Later on in the fight, when Mo was tired, yeah, he boxed with Newton - but I felt that was simply a realistic assessment of his cardio.  The first two rounds tired Mo more than Newton, so takedowns were going to be increasingly hard to get and of briefer duration . . . and since they were hard to get and didn't last long even when Mo was fresh, well, he decided to strike, or so it seemed to me.

It isn't that Mo has abandoned wrestling against Newton, but that Newton showed great takedown defense and superior cardio (the first surprised me a bit, the last did not - I knew that if it went long, it would favor Newton who has always kept up a very fast pace for a light-heavyweight).

But Fowlkes decided to ignore the evidence of his senses and Mo's last three fights to project a false and actually pretty weird narrative.

While doing this, he ignored what I think is the real point - King Mo needs to leave Las Vegas.  There was a time when a lot of top guys trained in Vegas - back in the heyday of Randy Couture and Forrest Griffin.  But in the past several years, Las Vegas has stopped looking a place that builds MMA champions.  King Mo entered with Roy Nelson, who has also underwhelmed in his last several performances.  I think that King Mo needs to bite down on his mouthpiece and see if AKA or the Blackzillians or Jackson-Winkeljohn or Alliance or Tristar or Roufusport will have him - a top-level camp where he can get comprehensive MMA training and training partners equal to his skills.  If he does this, I think that we could see a re-energized King Mo.  If he continues to squander his talents for lack of adequate training opportunities in Las Vegas, I think he's already on the backside of his MMA career.  To me, that's the real story, and consistent with fighters like Griffin, Nelson and even Frank Mir who were training or continue to train in Las Vegas far past the days when it is athletically justifiable.  It was easier to just say, "Oh, King Mo isn't doing what he's good at" when the problem is - and there are a lot of people who agree with me, I didn't invent this narrative I simply find it compelling - that Mo trains inappropriately for the sport as it exists today.

The third thing is a repetition of what Fowlkes has said about Bellator - that he considers the idea of a Bellator pay-per-view card to be somehow treacherous of Bellator.  Bellator, because they've given over a hundred cards that were on free TV, are somehow obligated to keep doing it.

Now, I think that there is a very good case to be made for keeping all Bellator events free.  The really big, money-making sports in America don't put their best events on PPV.  The World Series, the NBA Championships, the Super Bowl are all right there on network TV.  Ultimately, the money made by keeping things PPV doesn't match the potential revenue of corporate sponsorship and commercials for network TV spectacles, or one could reason.

That said, in the fight business, PPV cards are routine, not just for MMA but also for boxing.  The only reason kickboxing or muay Thai events don't go PPV is the same reason why Bellator has hesitated to do PPV events prior to now - they don't have a big enough audience to justify the expense.  It is possible that that, like boxing, MMA events are big enough to make bank for PPV but not so big as to get the kinds of corporate sponsorship money that one finds in basketball, baseball and football.  Indeed, it seems likely.  A lot of brands shy away from the brutality of boxing and MMA has a reputation for being more brutal, still.  Boxing has a good sized fan-base, yes, and they tend to be pretty dedicated - as opposed to the cultural affairs that the baseball, basketball and football championships are in the US.

Case in point - here in Miami, the NBA Championship over the last couple of years utterly dominated the city.  During the games, everywhere you go you find people talking about the games.  When the Heat won their most recent championship, my whole neighborhood erupted.  People were out in the streets hooping and hollering into the night.

Miami is also home to not one but two of the most important MMA camps in the world - the Blackzillians (I know, I know, I didn't name the team, though) and American Top Team.  When members of those teams fight on big cards in the UFC, such as Vitor Belfort's fight against Anderson Silva, the biggest Blackzillian name against one of the best MMA fighters of all time, there wasn't that kind of anticipation.  I've never seen Miami obsessed with MMA, even though there are a ton of South Florida fighters who are world class, the way they've been with basketball, it does not create the same buzz.

I think it is fair to say if it doesn't happen in Miami, it doesn't happen anywhere in America.  MMA isn't enough of a cultural event to justify the kind of corporate sponsorship one finds in the big three American sports (in the US) or, say, soccer (everywhere else).  MMA is a fairly niche sport - marginally mainstream, and I think with greater potential than boxing, but it's a far cry from being a cultural touchstone.

This drives boxing and MMA towards PPV events.  While fighting sports don't have the kind of cultural significance of other sports, their fans are well-known to be pretty dedicated.  To wit, if you tried showing the Super Bowl on PPV, you'd lose most of your viewers.  As you lost your viewers, it would become less of a cultural event, less a part of the American psyche, which would greatly diminish advertising revenues and even interest in the sport.  But the same number of people will watch a UFC card on PPV as will watch it on Fox TV.  It's just that in the PPV, the UFC gets a lot more money.  For those of us enthused about the fighting arts, it is likely that we'll be forced to obscure cable channels, the Internet and PPV events to get our fix.

But rather than write about that, Fowlkes goes for the lazy narrative that he would feel slighted by Bellator for engaging in a business model that is typical for combat sports.  Like his personal feelings should be taken into account!  Grow the fuck up.

The last bit of weirdness is his analysis of the Mike Bronzoulis-Joe Riggs fight.  Like with Straus and Newton, Fowlkes seems dismissive of the idea that Bronzoulis deserved to be in the fight at all and attributes Riggs' performance to simply wanting to collect his $100,000 payday and not to the fact that during Fight Master, Bronzoulis proved himself to be a really, really tough fighter with a really, really tough style.  Particularly against Eric Bradley, Bronzoulis was supposed to lose.  He didn't.  Bronzoulis showed that he was pure heart and he has an incredible gas tank, that even when you're beating him he's not going to make it easy - and there's a really good chance that you'll wear yourself out fighting him at which point he'll really turn on the heat.  That, in short, Riggs fought the fight he fought because Bronzoulis is a very good fighter with a style like quicksand - quicksand that Riggs didn't jump into for very good fight related reasons.  In particular, because if he did that, Riggs might lose.  The toughness and tenacity of Bronzoulis was very important to Riggs's approach, probably moreso than a big check at the end of the fight.

Today a couple of interesting things came out, too.  Particularly that Riggs has a broken hand and a broken orbital.  These might also have played a big role in why Riggs opted out of a striking contest where he wasn't doing so well for a jujitsu fight there he was pretty dominant.  But rather than doing any research, Fowlkes decided - for the third time in one card - to create a narrative where the abilities of the other fighter were simply irrelevant to the story he told.  It wasn't that Riggs was fighting a hard piece of iron shaped like a man and Riggs took that into account, it was that Riggs was merely collecting a paycheck - which is dismissive of both Riggs and Bronzoulis!

I want to say that this guy is terrible and should be fired, but the truth is that the guy that replaced him would probably be at least as bad.

Overall, it's a poor piece, but quite typical of the quality of journalism typical in MMA.  I suspect that fans of all second tier sports have equally bad journalism!

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