02 August 2010

Let's all talk about UFC!

One of my big conflicts in blogging in a forum that specifically targets students, parents and colleagues is trying to find that balance between the personal side of things and the professional side. Part of my desire in transitioning into using Ask Mr. Talbot - The Blog! more is to encourage students to write more by setting the example of doing so myself while also becoming comfortable in my own skin as a person and a teacher in what I write. The less distinction I make in those two ideas, the better I've found myself to be as both.

With that being said, I am an ardent and unapologetic fan of the combat sport of mixed-martial-arts, the biggest name brand of which is UFC. Every other sport bores me to tears for the most part. I can watch a baseball game live, but I'm not sure how I ever did so without an iPhone handy. Basketball can be exciting, but it's not my cup of tea. The most interesting thing that happened in basketball that caught my attention was the LeBron James debacle, and it was clearly for all of the wrong reasons. Football only holds my attention when I watch Friday Night Lights, one of the top five television shows of the last decade. The only athletic endeavor that captured my imagination prior to getting hooked by MMA back in 2002 was pro wrestling.

WWE, which was called the WWF back when I first got into it during the build-up to Wrestlemania IV, represented something bigger than life. It felt like I was watching the superheroes from my comic books settle their disputes in the confines of the squared circle. Finding out it was "fake" didn't bug me either. In fact, that only made me more intrigued because this little thing called the Internet came along and, holy wow, there was a whole other world to these pre-determined sporting events. I still follow pro-wrestling today, but oftentimes the backstage component will intrigue me more than what happens on-screen. That, however, is a totally different subject that can fill up many of other bloggy-type deals, so let's instead focus on last night's UFC -- specifically the plight of Jon Jones and his need to be nice all of the time except when he's elbowing someone's face.

Jon Jones is an up and coming fighter in the 205 lbs. light heavyweight division. He's a New York state wrestling champion who initially learned striking by watching YouTube clips and incorporating punches, kicks and elbows he saw in video games. He moves around cage so fluidly and hits throws, suplexes and strikes with the grace of a dancer. It helps that he has long limbs that earned him the nickname Bones, too; at 84.5 inches, Jones has the longest reach in the UFC. Since he's a young guy who is also very young in the sport, the UFC has been slow to bringing Jones top-tier competition. They've instead had him fight a steady stream of dudes who have either been on their way down or well-suited to Jones' strengths. His record currently stands at 11-1, with the one loss coming via disqualification due to multiple illegal 12-6 elbow strikes against Matt Hamill. Hamill, himself an accomplished wrestler, received the beating of his life in that fight, and it was Jones' inexperience and misunderstanding of the rules that caused the defeat, as he was handling Hamill with ease.

The majority of people that faced Jones have not given him trouble. Were it not for the combination of having so few fights while also being so young, Jones would be in the mix for title contention. Instead, Dana White, president of the UFC, and Joe Silva, UFC's matchmaker, made the decision to bring Jones along slowly, some would even say protecting him...and I am one of those people.

What bristles me more, though, than Jon Jones getting treated like a faberge egg by Joe Silva is Jones' lack of self-awareness in getting himself over to the crowd by not calling someone out. Say what you will about Chael Sonnen's chances against Anderson Silva on August 7 at UFC 117, but Sonnen is a master at making people want to see him fight, regardless of whether those people want to see him win or lose. Chael Sonnen zeroes in on the guy he's fighting and he makes it a war. If Sonnen wins on Saturday (and, truthfully, everyone but Sonnen knows he's probably not going to), then he will have propelled himself into superstar status because he called out the champion and pound-for-pound best fighter in the world and backed it up.

Jones, however, gave the most cliche answer in the world when pressed for who he'd like to fight next, to the point that he even acknowledged it as cliche. There is a very fine line in this sport between talking trash to build up a fight and wanting to have honor and respect for the opponent -- too many fighters err on the side of the latter because it makes up for how the uneducated outside observer sees what they do as barbaric. GSP is the lone exception to this mostly because everyone else he fights does a majority of the trash talk, which GSP responds to with hard-nosed determination. When his opponents don't (his fight with Jon Fitch, for example), the buyrate of the PPV suffers. GSP was lucky that his fight with Alves was on UFC 100, where the bigger selling point was that it was UFC 100 and Brock Lesnar planned to eat Frank Mir's face.

And the saddest part is that Jones has that ability. He quoted Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy at the end of his fight, and his interviews outside of the ones that Joe Rogan conducts in the Octagon give the impression that he could turn on the trash talk if he wanted to do so. In fact, he went on a tear about James Toney on the The Daily Line after the fight, saying that he'd take him on if Couture doesn't get the job done while noting that he's also pretty sure that Couture has it handled. I think Thiago Silva or Forrest Griffin would make excellent opponents to bring Jones up to that next level. Both guys present different opportunities. Silva would be more dangerous and prove that Jones can hang at the top of the division whereas Griffin would expose Jones to the masses because the former is such a huge draw to people but would probably be the easier fight for him.

The lesson here is for fighters to figure out what works best for them in hyping a fight, but they need to actually do some hyping. It goes beyond doing radio interviews and photo shoots. It takes getting people invested in the struggle a fighter faces. If no one cares, no one buys, and while some can get by on their fighting alone, that only makes it easier to become another faceless, nameless individual who fights for a living. The people who become superstars are the people who make themselves stand out.

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