Its only April and it's already safe to dub 2007 as the "Year of the Upsets" in the sport of mixed martial arts. Here's a rundown of just some of the stunners over the last couple of months:
- 185 lb Dan Henderson KOed the once fearsome 205 lb Wanderlei Silva and unified the Pride middleweight and light heavyweight championship titles
- Nick Diaz embarrassed one of the highly touted Pride lightweight champion Takanori Gomi via a gogoplata submission
- An unknown Team Quest fighter, Sokoudjou KOed veteran Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and then proved it wasn't a fluke by doing the exact same thing to his stablemate Ricardo Arona
- A 44 year old Randy Couture comes out of retirement and dominates then UFC heavyweight champion Tim Silvia for five rounds
- The greatest underdog in MMA history and TUF season 4 winner, Matt Serra KOs the "future of MMA" Georges St-Pierre and does so in 3 minutes and 25 seconds
- And just this past weekend, Gabriel Gonzaga accomplishes the unthinkable by KOing Mirko Crocop with his own trademark high kick
Fans of the sport like to brag that what makes MMA so exciting is that "anything can happen," but even in the wildest dreams of hardcore MMA fans could not imagined have these radical outcomes. I consider myself to be a big Crocop fan and to see him crumpled over like a rag doll after a devastating kick to the head was tough to digest. I hadn't felt this deflated over a fight since Wanderlei Silva destroyed Kazushi Sakuraba in their first legendary match-up.
We all like little surprises to keep us guessing, but no one likes whooper-sized ones that rock the foundations of what we think we know. That leads to confusion and confusion drives us we reexamine our beliefs in these fighters and question their credibility and integrity. Was it a fluke? Did we believe the hype? Did the fighter have a bad/good night?
These questions would imply that there is no connection between each upset and that they were merely coincidences, but is it possible that there a greater force at work?
When Pride went into financial trouble last year over the lost of its TV broadcasting deal with Fuji TV that set the chain of events into motion which culminated in March of 2007 with one of the most historical moments in MMA's short history: UFC owners purchasing Pride to merge the two biggest MMA promotions.
It was naïve of us to believe that all the behind-the-scenes upheaval before and after this would have no effect on the fighters themselves and that the fights would play out more or less as we imagined them as if there wasn't an 800 lb gorilla in the room. Imagine if you showed up to work one day and you found out that you had new bosses and you either had to report to work in a new environment halfway around the world or you weren't even sure you had a job. Do you think that would affect your performance? Fear and uncertainty will make us do funny things either consciously or unconsciously. Crazy times begat crazy things happening.
For each upset listed above, we can knit pick the differences between the Pride rules and the unified rules used by the UFC; we can debate the pros and cons of the ring versus the Octagon, and come up with some reasonable explanations for each result, but I think that would still be missing the most obvious explanation of them all. When the UFC owners bought Pride, the entire landscape of MMA didn't just shift slightly. This was an earthquake of cataclysmic proportions that has ripped apart continents and formed new ones. It will take time for fighters to find their footing (mentally and physically) and reestablish themselves in this new landscape and this applies to UFC fighters as well who have first had to accept the success of the TUF show and now the influx of Pride fighters. I'm sure some where along the way, favorites will fall and new champions will emerge.
So what's a MMA fan to do during these tumultuous times? Don't be overzealous in condemning or heralding a fighter after a win or a loss. Forget what you think you know about a fighter. Rankings need to be rebooted and we'll need to be patient for all chaos to be sorted out. Change isn't something that only the promoters and fighters have to deal with. It's also something that fans have to accept and manage as well. The sooner we do that, the sooner the confusion ends.
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