Competitors are cut from a different mold. Their lives are built around the idea of one upping each other and beating the odds. No one gets to the highest level of their profession by not believing they’re the best at whatever it is they’re doing. Getting to the top requires a level of focus, determination and near obsession that most of us do not posses. When its time to choose between losing a game or losing a limb, most of us would forfeit the game and go back to our cubicles. There comes a point when something in our brains clicks and we realize the person we’re competing against is simply on another level and there is nothing we can do to win. When faced with the possibility of suffering a career altering arm injury or losing his belt, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon “Bones” Jones decided life without a fully functioning arm might not be so bad. For people like him, losing is not an option. The rest of us, however, have been forced to master the art of losing gracefully.
But what happens when you posses everything you need to get to the top except that special “something”? Some people have the focus, determination and will to be the best, but don’t have the raw talent to get there.Those people are stuck constantly working towards something they may never actually achieve. It isn’t hard to imagine how discouraging it must be to be better than everyone but the champion. Some competitors are stuck in the perennial hell of 2nd place. They’re almost good enough, almost the champion, almost the best in the world. They are repeatedly confronted with something they have no control over; The limits of their talent. Some of us have been cursed with possessing treasures that are simply not gold enough.
Last Saturday UFC Light Heavyweight champ Jon Jones successfully defended his title against a very game Vitor Belfort. The talk of the MMA community has been Vitors near world crushing arm bar of the champ. This isnt the first time Jones grappling skills have come into question. When he fought Brandon Vera he lazily left his arm open while in Brandon Veras guard. Vera threatened to take it, but never followed through. He paid for his oversight with a shattered orbital bone courtesy of “Bones” battering ram-like elbow. After that fight I went on for days about how a more aggressive and savvy fighter would rip his arm off and beat him with it. What I (and many fight fans) overlooked is that Jones still won, and he did so in rather brutal and convincing fashion. Even today, after submitting Vitor Belfort people are still talking about how Jones needs to work on his Jiu Jitsu. That’s true, as fighters should constantly work to improve and add weapons to their arsenals. But what some people aren’t examining is Vitors gameplan (which was solid through the 1st round) and how Jon Jones has ended the majority of his fights, which is by submission. First of all, Vitor has never been an offensive grappler. He has almost always used his grappling defensively to avoid submissions and get back to a place where he can use his greatest weapon, which are his fists. No one was expecting Belfort to be that aggressive off of his back. He and the Blackzillians deserve credit for not only coming up with a gameplan that surprised Jones, but one that exploited an obvious weakness in his game. Jones, on the other hand did what he has done time and time again. He listened to his coaches and made the necessary adjustments to his game and ended up with his hand raised and the belt around his waist.
We expect fighters to be perfect, fans often buy into the rhetoric of certain fighters not having holes in their games. Jon Jones is part of a “new breed” of fighters. He is incredibly well rounded, but he is not now and never will be better than everyone he ever fights in every area of fighting. What makes him and a select few others great is their ability to not let their opponents exploit their weaknesses. Anderson Silva isnt a good wrestler. Chael took him down at will, but he’s been taken down by lesser fighters in the past. There is likely no amount of training that Silva can do to get better than someone that has been wrestling since the age of 5. But what he did was make sure he acquired a skill that nullified the advantage wrestlers have against him. He is absolutely deadly off of his back. There are questions about Junior Dos Santos Jiu Jitsu skills, but good luck trying to get him on his back. His footwork and quickness are too good. He’s beaten Frank Mir, Roy Nelson and Fabricio Werdum. Those are 3 of the best heavyweight grapplers in all of MMA. No one can make the argument that he’s a better grappler than them.
The perfect fighter does not exist. Preventing someone from imposing their game is a highly underrated part of the fight game. Someone will always be better than you at something. But MMA is a game of chess. Strength and skill isnt enough to make you elite.
There was a time in my life when I idolized Randy Savage, Arn Anderson and The Undertaker. Watching WCW and WWF with my little brother and my father is one of the greatest memories I have from my youth. I enjoyed the spectacle and the athleticism. These men represented the kind of man every shrimpy awkward preteen boy like myself wanted to be. Bigger than life, hyper masculine machines that struck fear into every man and broke the hearts of pretty women everywhere. I would spend the hours after watching The Macho Man in the mirror flexing and repeating “OOOOOOOOH YEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAH”. I liked to tell myself that if someone bothered me at school, I’d take what I saw watching pro wrestling and destroy them. In my imagination, bullies got an elbow drop from the top of the lunch room table and all the pretty girls watching where in awe of my strength, skill and abilities.
But as I got older things changed, I stopped believing the stories. The same spectacle that once amazed me and held my attention started to annoy me. I wanted something more honest and Mixed Martial Arts fit perfectly. No made up stories and no over blown artificial personalities. Or so I thought. As you can see, I understand how someone might find their way from professional wrestling to MMA. Mixed Martial Arts probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for crossover fans. But what I don’t understand are SOME crossover fans insistence on making MMA more like prowrestling. The continuous talk of fighters “becoming heels” or “cutting promos” was always confusing to me. I know MMA has roots in prowrestling, but they’ve since gone separate ways. These days, they are 2 distinct and very different sports…and thats ok.
One of the things that makes MMA so great is its honesty, I feel like the sport is great enough to sell itself. Whats more exciting that watching 2 skilled, well conditioned athletes leaving everything they have in a cage? MMA is filled with amazing athletes with amazing stories. They shouldn’t need to invent personalities and stories to sell their craft. It’s up to fans to stop expecting fighters to do things other than fight.
Yesterday TMZ reported that former Strikeforce and UFC fighter Jason “Mayhem” Miller was arrested for breaking into a church, stripping naked and spraying a fire extinguisher all over the place. Anyone that follows MMA closely knows that Miller has very candidly discussed his struggles with mental illness. While I can’t be sure what his mental state was at the time of the incident, I am positive that mental illness is something that never goes away. Those that are suffering are always struggling. Depression, Anxiety and other illnesses cannot be cured.
I know this from personal experience. As some of you know, I was recently diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. Im autistic. But what I havent shared through this blog is that I was also diagnosed with ADD, Anxiety Disorder, Social Phobia and Dysthymic Disorder (I’m all fucked up). So while Twitter and the blogosphere competed for the “wittiest” Mayhem joke, I sat here thinking about how I could capitalize on this opportunity. How can we turn this negative into a positive? The answer is by removing the stigma attached to mental illness. We have to stop pretending Mayhem is just some quirky guy looking for attention. He’s ill, and despite his talent in the octagon and his experience fighting, this is an opponent he wont beat without help. Mental illness doesn’t go away, you just learn to cope with it. What Mayhem needs from the MMA community is understanding. Fighters are people, they don’t exist solely to entertain us. Its time we started treating them like people instead of toys.
I want Mayhem to know that I’m rooting for him, most people that struggle with depression don’t accomplish even half of what he has in his life.
If any of you are interested in keeping up with my struggles, I started a blog that I try to update somewhat regularly. Please stop by!
Will we ever see this again? Maybe.
In a couple days Light Heavy Weight champion and super athletic MMA prodigy Jon “Bones” Jones will put his title on the line against former friend and teammate “Suga” Rashad Evans. While their current rivalry makes for an interesting story line, taking a further look into these fighters yields slightly more interesting results. The truth is, Rashad doesnt have many options in this fight. His path to victory is rather narrow. Jon Jones is younger, more athletic and better in almost every area. The only place Evans has an advantage is in boxing and luckily for him, this is also Jon Jones biggest liability. Lyoto Machida had some success using movement and aggression to confuse Jones during the first round of their fight, it was the only time I can remember Jon Jones looking vulnerable. Lyotos mistake was getting confortable and believing he could play the counter striking game against the lankier and at the time better conditioned Jon Jones. I believe Lyoto could have had much more success with more movement and more aggressive striking.
That’s Rashads only path to victory.
I know this is easier said than done. Bones is so unpredictable that it forces you into waiting to see what hes going to do instead of trying to beat him . He’s amazing at forcing you to play his game. Most fighters don’t posses the wrestling needed to stay off their backs against Jones AND the striking needed to exploit his weaknesses. I truly believe Rashad Evans is the only Light Heavy Weight in the UFC that comes close to possessing these skills. For this fight Rashad will need to be on his A game, both mentally and physically. He’s a notoriously slow starter, he cant afford that this time though. He’ll need to utilize constant unrelenting pressure from the opening bell. He cant afford to give Jones an inch of air. He’ll also need to have to do something he’s never done in his career; Take a chance. He’ll have to stay in Jones face and believe in his power. Can he do this? I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but I haven’t I haven’t been this excited about a main event in months. Jon Jones isn’t omnipotent, he can be beat and Rashad Evans has the best chance to make that happen.
This weekend MMA fans across the world were treated to one of the most magical nights in MMA history. The UFC made their long awaited return to Japan where Lightweight champion and comeback king Frankie Edgar was to defend his title against the unsubmitable Benson Henderson. The fight was spectacular, it was filled with back and forth action, shifts in momentum, slick striking, technical grappling and brute force. It was one of the most remarkable displays of martial arts I have ever seen, which makes what I want to discuss even more disappointing. During the fight, Twitter was erupting with adoration for Frankie Edgars toughness and grit, tweet after tweet (from respected MMA writers) read, “what a manly performance”, “what a man!”. Not only do statements like this reduce martial arts to faux masculinity and frat boy-ism, it brings light to a bigger problem: Equating toughness, grit, heart, persistance, and skill to manliness. If his performance was “manly”, is a fighter who doesn’t fight with the same tenacity “womanly”? Was Meisha Tates title winning performance against Marloes Coenen also “manly”?
MMA isn’t just for boys anymore, when we start to call certain skill sets or traits “manly” we leave out the talented and successful women in the sport we love. During a time in this sports short history in which we’re trying to convince the general public that there’s more to MMA than blood and broken limbs, I think we can do ourselves a great service by dismissing these terms and referring to amazing fighters as exactly what they are: Amazing athletes. What Frankie Edgar (or Tim Boestch for that matter) accomplished is nothing short of amazing. The heart he has shown over and over throughout his career has little to do with his “masculinity” and everything to do with an iron will and determination. Reducing something so awe inspiring to a term thats rather exclusive is not only lazy, but its disrespectful. I may sound like a broken record, but its time that we give MMA the respect it deserves. Gender specific terms have absolutely no place in a sport for everyone.
The Peoples Champ
Saturday night at UFC 141 in Rio, Featherweight champion Jose Aldo successfully defended his title against Team Alpha Male wrestler Chad Mendes in what many (including myself) consider the finest performance of his very young career. It was clear from the opening bell that Mendes had no answer for Aldo. Once we realized that the challenger was unable to take the champ down into his world, you got the feeling you were watching a vicious predator stalk its prey. Mendes biggest strength and only means of escape from certain death, was his speed and athleticism but that was completely nullified by Aldos brilliant onslaught of technical violence. Every takedown was denied and every leg kick was returned with much more ferocity. Mendes was doomed, and late in the first round he finally met his fate. After commiting himself to taking Aldo down against the cage the champ unleashed a devastating knee. Mendes was left unconscious.
What took place next is one of the most electrifying moments in MMA history…
Flying high on the adrenaline of the moment Aldo ran out of the cage and into the crowd to be embraced. As the crowd went into a frenzy Aldo was hoisted onto the shoulders of his fellow Brazillians. We weren’t just watching a fighter celebrate a win, we were watching a star being born. We witnessed a country put a man who is from the worst parts of that nation be embraced like a national hero. The moment that crowd erupted they poured their hopes and dreams into him. Most of us will never achieve that level of success, when you’re from where Aldo is your chances of succeeding are even more slim and when you consider that, what this young man achieved is even more impressive. He represents thousands of urban youth that will probably never make it out of ghettos all over the world. Nothing was ever given to him, he worked his way up using his athletic gifts and work ethic.
What the UFC (and sports in general) needs is more Jose Aldos and fewer athletes attempting to be the “heel” to market themselves. Aldo has become one of the biggest stars in Brazil by being genuine, humble and winning convincingly. Jose Aldo is the true peoples champ.