UFC: Bloodsport Metamorphosis

Bloodsport Metamorphosis


Las Vegas, April 9, 2005 - 


The Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale - Griffin v Bonnar


The dawn of the global UFC phenomenon…

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Griffin and Bonnar laid the foundations of UFC in one epic battle.

The black sheep of fighting sports for more than a decade, MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) once existed in an underground domain, a shady snakepit contested in a caged octagon below the view of mainstream media and sports fans alike. The sport had been through a series of re-imaginings and failed attempts to drag it into the public eye, but had repeatedly failed to garner credibility on a broader scale.

That all changed one night in Las Vegas in April 2005, which saw two gladiators bring a level of brutality to televised sport not previously witnessed. That night, Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar unleashed a level of sustained ferocity and unharnessed raw aggression that gave the sporting public and media no choice but to stand up in disbelief and pay attention. Griffin, nose badly broken and face smeared with blood, didn’t take a backward step as Bonnar ruthlessly unloaded flurry after flurry, but instead harnessed his pain and returned fire on a disbelieving opponent with unbridled ferocity. Griffin’s tenacity that night won him the admiration of the crowd, the inaugural Ultimate Fighter title and a lucrative UFC contract. But, to use a time-worn cliché, the real winner that night was MMA itself, which in the space of three 5-minute rounds was dragged unceremoniously by the ankles from the musty backroom realms of  underground curiosity to the centrestage spotlight of mainstream fighting sport.

 

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UFC President Dana White means business when he talks global domination.

From its illegal dark roots circa 1993, MMA has evolved into a highly professional global athletic competition involving a hybrid of the various disciplines of martial arts, most notably Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, in addition to boxing and wrestling. The foundations of the MMA concept sprang from the compelling and time-worn debate as to which fighting discipline is truly supreme, the greatest example being the classic water-cooler debate of  “What if Bruce Lee went toe-to-toe with Ali?” That concept developed over a decade without broad success in the absence of a unifying force. However, in 2001, facing near-extinction due to poor regulation, discohesion and a lack of forward thinking, three entrepreneurs – Casino owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, and aerobics instructor Dana White – negotiated to purchase the Ultimate Fighting Championship for just $2 million, under the ownership of parent company Zuffa. Four years into the venture and approaching bankruptcy and with little backing from mainstream media, they threw a Hail Mary and persuaded an American cable network, Spike TV, to bite on the concept of an MMA-based reality TV series, The Ultimate Fighter. Griffin and Bonnar’s epic battle in the series finale helped light the fuse for something much bigger, and since then, through a combination of shrewd global marketing, aggressive international expansion and a fan-friendly approach combined with a brutal but visually captivating spectacle, UFC has grown relentlessly and has an estimated value of $1 billion today. Paying homage to the gladiators of the inaugural TUF series finale, which has been described as the greatest UFC fight of all time, UFC President Dana White says- "Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar are the ones who are responsible for everybody being where they are right now." 
As the UFC has matured, the rest of the sport has evolved with it. White, the public face of the sport, feels his competition can become the biggest fighting sport in the world within 10 years, potentially overtaking its traditional cousins boxing and wrestling, and considering the sorry state of MMA before the UFC took off, and its current global TV exposure in over 130 countries, it’s hard to bet against him.
Laws of the Jungle
Most UFC fights consist of 3 five-minute rounds, or 5 rounds if a championship is on the line, inside a chain-linked Octagon. Fighters wear light 4 to 6 ounce gloves which are open-fingered, allowing the combatants to wrestle and grapple. In the early years of MMA, rules were scant if not non-existent, however over time a system of unified rules has evolved. Outlawed moves include eye-gouging, head-butting, orifice-probing, biting, hair-pulling, fish-hooks and stomping or kicking a grounded opponent. Fights are won by knock-out, points decision or submission.

10 Need-to-know MMA Facts

 1) 2011 will be the sport’s biggest year.


Between the two Zuffa-owned companies (UFC and WEC, World Extreme Cagefighting) and California-based Strikeforce, the 2010 schedule boasts a record number of major events. There is concern about whether having an event nearly every single weekend might saturate the market and backfire, but as long as fans keep filling the seats and shelling out for pay-per-view, don’t expect a slowdown any time soon.


2) Understanding the Fedor situation.


When all-world heavyweight champion Fedor Emelianenko inked a deal with rival MMA competition Strikeforce in the latter part of 2009, the hopes of fans seeing a dream clash between Fedor and UFC’s Randy Couture or Brock Lesnar were dashed. The 104kg Russian nightmare immediately made an impact in his first introduction to the mainstream American TV audience, brutally knocking out undefeated champion Brett Rogers in the 2nd round.
But UFC’s White – always the promoter - recently said that he still expects Fedor to come to his organization in the near future, making big-interest (aka big money) fights with Lesnar and others possible. The factor weighing against Fedor staying with Strikeforce is that he hasn’t faced great competition, and as such the question of whether he will finally take the biggest step of his career will continue to be a major question on the lips of MMA fans. Suffering his first defeat in a decade against Fabricio Werdum in June, Fedor quipped- “People made me an idol. But everybody loses-I'm just a human being. And if it's God's will next fight, I'll win”.


3) Start on the ground and work your way up...


What one constant do most UFC champions have in common? A background in amateur wrestling and/or Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. For this reason it’s almost laughable when professional boxers assume they can jump in the octagonal ring and compete at the highest level of MMA without extensive training. To be a successful mixed martial artist, one must be fluent in striking, wrestling, submissions and possess the mental aspects needed to pull it all together in one dominant package. Speaking of dominance?


4) BJ Penn is nearly unstoppable…

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BJ Penn... "To be the best, you gotta be one crazy son of a bitch…"

If you haven’t seen the UFC Lightweight Champion in action, you’re missing out. As if the 70kg Hawaiian Jiu Jitsu-groomed powerhouse wasn’t dominant enough with an MMA record of 15 wins from 22 starts, he re-dedicated himself to training recently following criticism from White that he has a propensity to cruise purely on his natural talent, and has since looked better than ever. In his title defence against Diego Sanchez from UFC 107, in terms of competition, the two fighters may have been from different universes. However, entering his title defence against Frank Edgar in April 2010 as an unbackable favourite, Penn went down in a tight contest, his camp claiming after the bout that he was suffering from a sinus infection. Until that point, the ease in which Penn had swept through the ranks of UFC had many speculating he may be best served going up a weight class. To do so he would be in the company of a man he has failed to beat on two occasions, the Lex Luthor to his Superman…. Says Penn on the psychology of MMA supremacy- “To be the best, you gotta be one crazy son of a bitch…and that’s the truth.”

5) …but so is Georges St. Pierre…


That man is the UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre. The 77kg dynamo, and Canadian Athlete of the Year, handed Penn the bitter taste of a rare defeat at their UFC 94 superfight and claimed a seven-fight winning streak beating vaunted striker Dan Hardy in his title defense in March. With a background in Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai and boxing, GSP has the broad skill base needed to succeed in all facets of MMA including sparring and groundwork.
GSP has competed for or defended the welterweight gold in his last six fights and like Penn, there is concern about whether he truly has the competition to justify staying in his weight class. He has some interesting challengers, but any expert would give an overwhelming advantage to GSP.
There has also been talk of St. Pierre leaving the sport temporarily to try out for the Canadian Olympic wrestling team. It would be a huge blow to the UFC to lose the Canadian PPV draw that is St. Pierre, but it also could be another way for the organization to gain mainstream fame.
If GSP does stay and jumps up to the Middleweight division, there’s a mega-fight waiting for him there. That is, if his potential opponent doesn’t decide to skip weight classes himself (notice a trend?).


6)  …and then, there is Anderson Silva.


At times, the Brazilian Middleweight Champion is too good for his own fists.
Since joining the UFC in June 2006, Silva hasn’t been beaten in the Octagon, and holds a record 12-fight winning streak. The 84kg southpaw has roots across the full spectrum of fighting disciplines including Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Muay Thai and Tae Kwon Do. He’s tried his hand at light heavyweight twice and cleaned up on both occasions in a grand total of less than five minutes – both by KO.
Quite simply, Silva is the best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport…when he’s fully motivated. But at this stage, Silva wants the best competition, and as with Penn and St. Pierre, the disparity between him and his fellow Middleweights is massive, and for this reason a jump to light heavyweight to face off against some of the biggest names in the business makes a lot of, well, business sense. Silva has also expressed interest in challenges outside UFC, and specifically a dream show-down with boxer Roy Jones Jr.  “This is my huge personal wish- a pro boxing fight against Roy Jones Jr, who I consider the top boxer. I’d like this fight to happen and I’ll do everything possible to make it happen. This would be good for both sports- MMA and boxing.” However, UFC’s White has other ideas and has hosed the concept down claiming he doesn’t need his fighters sustaining injuries outside his own competition. Nonetheless, such a bout is a mouthwatering concept and would no doubt fill the seats in record time.


7) The classics: Liddell and Ortiz.


Seasoned gladiators Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz share a record number of UFC bouts totalling 22 apiece. Liddell’s record of 20 wins from 22 starts is ominous, making Ortiz’s stats of 15 wins from 22 appear somewhat inadequate by comparison. Their much-hyped 3rd battle in June at the conclusion of TUF 11 was controversially changed at the 11th hour to Liddell vs Rich Franklin. Liddell went down in the first round to the dismay of his legions of fans, and shortly after White declared his UFC career was officially over.

 

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"I'm just gonna keep plugging away and having fun..." - UFC Legend Randy Couture.

8) The Dinosaur Rages On…


47 year old UFC Hall of Fame dinosaur, Randy “The Natural” Couture is the veteran strategist of MMA, earning his reputation through inate cunning under pressure and an uncanny ability to read his opponent. A former marine with grounding in boxing and Greco-Roman wrestling, Couture is as lethal on the ground as on his feet, and next to BJ Penn is one of two fighters to hold titles in 2 divisions, both heavyweight and light heavyweight. Couture’s MMA career has spanned 13 years to date encompassing a record 15 title fights. Outside UFC Couture has made a number of bigscreen appearances, most recently alongside Stallone, Schwarzenegger and Willis in The Expendables. Currently under a 6 fight contract with another year remaining, and still going strong, the timing of Couture’s retirement is anyone’s guess. Always the realist, Couture says, “I don't know what you're supposed to feel like at age 46. I have no idea. I'm having fun. I'm still smiling. I still enjoy going to the gym and competing. I'm a realistic guy. I know that sooner or later I'm gonna have to find something else to do, but so far I'm physically holding up. So I'm just gonna keep plugging away and having fun."

9) The Beast is Boss.

It would be a gross understatement to say 120kg giant, 3 time WWE Wrestling Champion and one-time Minnesota Vikings NFL player Brock Lesnar lets his actions speak louder than words. Entering the UFC in 2007, Lesnar suffered a defeat on his debut, but since that time has remained undefeated, relieving Randy Couture of his Heavyweight Championship belt in 2008. Quipped Lesnar, “Nobody can break me. As long as I have that, I don't give a damn what anybody else thinks.” Enough said.

 

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Ground and Pound. Brock Lesnar gets medieval.

10) The rise of UFC in Australia.


Aussie blokes love nothing more than watching two sweaty gladiators going at it hammer-and-tongs, and if the rules are scant and it happens to take place inside a chain-linked cage, it’s a no-brainer. Over 17,000 fans turned up to see UFC110, the sport’s first foray into Australia in 2010, the $2.5 million gate making it the highest-grossing sporting event held at Sydney’s Acer Arena. There's little doubt MMA will continue to proliferate down under.

 

Words - Josh Nason

Images - UFC

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