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Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

Brock Lesnar – The Manufactured Champion?

In UFC on July 12, 2009 at 4:20 pm

Brock Lesnar defeated Frank Mir last night TKO to become the UFC’s Undisputed Heavyweight Champion. While some may view a former star of the WWE coming into one of the largest MMA federations in the world and winning a title as something of a success story, it is worth noting that true success cannot be manufactured. While the belt may be round the fighters considerable waist for now, it is doubtful whether the true fans of mixed martial arts will ever take to someone they see as a sham champion.

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Part of the backlash began during the title fight, with a partizan crowd heavily in favour of Frank Mir continually jeering Lesnar. While at first this seemed to be a reaction to a fight style that is largely uninteresting for the non-technician  – a very slow and ponderous ground and pound that relies on brute force and weight to tire out and stifle his opponent – it became apparent it was something more when veteran referee Herb Dean waved Frank Mir out of the contest. The fans simply did not want the monstrous Lesnar to win and one has to question why. Lesnar himself didn’t react well to the boos as they rang out around the arena, making obscene gestures to the crowd and hurling abuse to the fans within earshot.

The UFC’s history is filled with controversial fan favourites in the same mold as Lesnar. Fighters that treat their work in the Octagon as if it was little more than another bar brawl and condition their body not through intense training but hard living are always going to prove popular with the blue collar. It is a reflection of what they themselves want to be and in that sense the UFC has more in common with old fashioned wrestling than it might care to admit. Personality goes a long way.

And indeed it is not because of personality that the fans have turned on him. When Lesnar’s first fight was announced, “coincidentally” against the same opponent he beat to unify the heavyweight titles, it was met with a lot of anticipation. Even against someone with a significant fanbase a lot of people were routing for the new guy, even if a victory was perhaps too much to ask for. It didn’t take long for Lesnar’s lack of technical know-how to be exploited and Mir submitted him with a knee-bar in under two minutes.

The UFC clearly have a lot invested in their new poster boy. If you’re in any doubt as to how important he is to the future of the federation you would only have to look at who is plastered all over the advertising for their computer game, UFC: Undisputed. Brock Lesnar merchandise is proving popular amongst fans and his fights were slated for pay-per-view before he even had a win under his belt. It was felt that his combination of monstrous size, his ability to work a crowd and the fact that he clearly could always do more damage than the WWE would allow him to would be a winning combination in the eyes of fans and would attract some new ones.

So it should come as no surprise when his third fight was scheduled against an aging star in Randy Couture, who then held the heavyweight championship belt. Lesnar’s second fight had been a comprehensive but unspectacular victory against Heath Herring. Couture had long been ruminating about his future in the sport, being someone who had given so much, achieved everything he had wanted and is iconic as a fighter the UFC have produced. His place within the federation is guaranteed for as long as he wants to be there and he never needed to step into the ring again to assure that. First of all it is unthinkable that a rookie fighter, having lost their first fight against a respectable but not top rated opponent and one victory against an opponent of even lesser calibre, would be a given a title shot in their third fight. Secondly it is also inconceivable that Lesnar could have expected anything else than defeat at the hands of the “The Natural” – as Couture was to become known – if he was anywhere close to his prime. At that moment in time he couldn’t have been given a softer passage to the title and there must have been many other fighters wondering about the validity of the match up.

Having emerged victorious for that and the hype machine in overdrive, a rematch against Frank Mir was touted. A way to show the doubters that he was a worthy champion and had come a long way in a short time. Mir obliged in playing his part in building up the fight, calling him out after winning the Interim Heavyweight title against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. It was the type of display becoming all too common in a sport that really needs no theatrics to sell itself, but the fight was now cemented as a “grudge match” in the minds of the neutrals.

Prior to the fight Mir was beset with knee injuries, so much so the fight had to be delayed to a later date, and there were question marks about just how fit he was coming into the title match. The ponderous bulk of Lesnar, himself looking far from in his best shape, clearly tired out Mir but how much of that was down to a lack of decent preparation? It is undoubtedly true that he was far from his optimum coming into the fight regardless of how much it was a factor in his defeat.

So now we wait to see what soft opponent will be put in the Octagon with Lesnar next of all, but make no mistake the fighters that can beat him will be a long way from him. With so much invested in building a legacy for a fighter they hope will become one of their biggest exports, Dana White is playing the part of Vince McMahon and the fans know that Lesnar’s ascent is as manufactured as anything he ever took part in while in the WWE.

The Sound of Thunder Now Quiet

In Boxing on July 12, 2009 at 3:11 pm

The boxing world was united in mourning today when it was confirmed that Arturo Gatti had been found dead in his Brazilian condo. With police reports stating that they cannot rule out foul play given the nature of the injuries found on the body it seems that the fighter, who was plagued with personal problems outside of the ring, will continue to make headlines after he his untimely death at only 37.

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One of Canada’s most successful fighters, Gatti was someone that once you had seen him in action you could never forget. It was like someone peeled a Rocky Balboa right off the celluloid  and dropped him into reality, never telling him that all out aggression was the stuff of movies not the more unforgiving fight game. His unrelenting style was one of the things that kept him out of that special bracket reserved for the great and god-like, but it was the same quality that made him a fan’s favourite the world over. To watch him fight was to be entertained. His desire to not only win, but to achieve victory in the most spectacular means possible, made him the boxing equivalent of a Brazilian soccer player.

His credentials as an entertainer can be verified through watching some of his legendary bouts. There can be few who don’t remember his 1996 IBF World Super-Featherweight Title defence against Wilson Rodriguez. Gatti looked in big trouble, being dropped in the second round and with his right eye almost sealed shut due to bruising. It was the true grit of champions that saw Arturo through, enabling him to floor his opponent with a crippling body shot  in the fifth, then end the fight in the next round by TKO with a flurry of unanswered blows. The bout was nominated for “fight of the year” by Ring Magazine, starting a hat-trick of nominations for this award with two victories, but surprisingly this fight wasn’t one of them.

It was the kind of feat it seemed only Gatti could pull off regularly. Another title defence the following year, this time against Gabriel Ruelas, ended in similar fashion. The Canadian looking to have been beaten when he was reeling from a vicious uppercut and took over a dozen punches offering little in the way of reply. Literally saved by the bell, it seemed that from that point the fight could only go one way. But Gatti, unlike his cinematic counterpart, didn’t follow scripts and came out all guns blazing even though still clearly groggy. He knocked Ruelas out with a devastating left and sent the crowd into raptures.

Perhaps he is best known for his trilogy of fights against Irish man Micky Ward. Each installment was worthy of note, but the third again showed the gladiatorial courage readily associated with the fighter. A failed uppercut that connected with Ward’s hip saw Gatti break his hand and have to fight the rest of the contest effectively one-handed, only throwing his injured right sparingly, yet still won a unanimous points victory despite being floored. It was another unbelievable classic thanks to a fighter that continually produced the extraordinary in the ring.

Retiring with a record of 49 fights, 40 victories and 31 of those coming by way of knockout is something that speaks for itself, but as with all things statistics only tell a small fraction of the story. To watch Gatti fight was to see the simple purity of the sport in action, no gimmicks, no politics, just one man willing to go as far as it took to come out victorious and to make the crowd cheer his name. In a sport that has been polluted by external factors it is arguable that the true champions are those that remain incorruptible and humble, giving back priceless indelible memories in place of what they take.

And so it is a true tragedy that there will be no chance to reminisce of those great moments with the man himself, to see the genuine affection that many felt for this most earnest of fighters become fully realised in a time when the sport cries out for someone with his entertaining sensibilities. Instead we are left with little more ahead than morbid details, answers to questions no one wanted to ask. Boxing will no longer be the same now that the man they called “Thunder” is quiet.