Saturday, 7 July 2018

UFC 226 Picks + Bonus World Cup ramble

I've been watching the World Cup 2018 Russia with someone who knows literally nothing about football. I do mean literally, as in she was unsure how long matches. She has of course though heard peripherally of a couple of players - you know the two I mean. The rest of the world knows them as stars.

While watching Portugal vs Iran a tall, well-built gentleman stepped up to take a penalty and while waiting for the whistle to be blown, began fussing with his hair. "Why's he doing that," she asked while mimicking the hand motions. "His hair is already so short!" "Well that's Cristiano Ronaldo," i replied. After the match, checking social she remarked on how all of the chatter was about Ronaldo, or C-Ro as he is apparently known in some quarters even though he had done relatively little in the game. That's just how it is, I said.

The next night Argentina played Nigeria and rescued their tournament, at least temporarily, with a late stunner to win the match from Manchester United backup Marcos Rojo. After the match checking social again, I was asked, "Why is everyone talking about Messi? I thought the other guy scored the goal?" Well precisely. He's "the other guy". Messi is the star and that's just how it is.

With both players eliminated last Saturday - If everyone goes out, who will get in, as one netizen remarked - the attention online turned to Neymar - for more legitimate reasons with his influence and antics during Brazil's victory over Mexico. Already the #3 player in the world, he is the future of the sport. Why does it seem so obvious when there are other formidable goalscorers and creators out there though?

As talented as he, Messi and Ronaldo are, to climb above and stand out for their performance on the field of play there is a tremendous amount of propping up by the media that comes with it to elevate to that next level of stardom. I'm not for it. The constant fellating of LeBron James has driven me away from my usual sports talk radio havens over the summer. Conor McGregor receives the same level of myth making as did the newest UFC Hall of Fame inductee Ronda Rousey for a little while.

Where does the UFC find it's next star? The league is dying on its feet. It's not enough to have a big mouth and try and talk trash. The gimmick being run by the interim welterweight champion has failed. I really think for the aura to form around you can't be so obviously fake. Guys like Kamaru Usman and Max Holloway also strike me as being try-hard, too put on. Yet at the same time you need a little self delusion, to really believe that even with the transient nature of the sport that you are so far removed from the rest of your competition. The final element is that media help. The media has to ride your jock and bully people into thinking you're just that great. I think with that in mind the next man up is Darren Till, but that could all change very quickly.

Picks after the jump.

Friday, 8 June 2018

UFC 225 Picks

I was cautiously optimistic about the ESPN+ deal signed by the UFC last time out but a month later the hope has evaporated. ESPN has doubled down on their determination to drive true sports fans away from their platform, bringing back demagogue Keith Olbermann yet again and launching a new flagship afternoon show hosted by Pablo Torre and faux intellectual Bomani Jones.

With many cards scheduled to be across the ESPN network exclusively expect the 'talent' such as it is to be spread thin especially as the UFC is expected to retain a PPV model and save all their best fights for those. But the base will be driven away by the core principles that appear to be in play at ESPN. Meanwhile the type of people the likes of Olbermann, Jones and Michelle Beadle are designed to appeal to are cutting the cord and being judicious over what services to subscribe to. So who will be left to watch? It is a terrible brand fit and a mistake the UFC may never truly recover from.

Dana White obviously thinks it is the greatest thing that has ever happened for the UFC. What else can he say? But then again he also said Yair Rodriguez had been released - a lie as predicted here. From what I hear the plan was to spread rights between multiple networks and FOX Sports were ready to pay nine figures for half of the rights. But when Endeavor chose ESPN as one its partners, a direct and main rival to FOX Sports, they withdrew their offer forcing the UFC to go hat in hand to ESPN. I am sure Fox are not upset they don't have to deal with Dana anymore.

White also came out this week and said the UFC would do away with early weigh-ins which have been blamed for the rash of fighters missing weight. I think there's certainly truth in that - but it's not because early weigh-ins are necessarily a bad thing. It's because most fighters are semi-professional and don't take the proper approach to their cuts. I was rewatching some of UFC 216 recently. Prior to that Dana White issued a message of condolence after the Las Vegas mass shooting and I thought about how there was really no one else who could represent the UFC and speak on it's behalf. He is really the only face of the company and at least sometimes that becomes a real disservice.

Picks after the jump.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

UFC 224 Picks & assorted sports musings

There are some stories out there this week I'm curious to take a look at - but mostly just a look for now because they involve an element of wait and see. We'll wait and see if the rumors of Manchester United's Anthony Martial being traded to Dortmund in exchange for the |American forward Christian Pulisic are true. Pulisic is a gifted talent with a high ceiling. If he reaches his potential his nationality will grant him an easy path towards becoming a global superstar. He is already under a lot of pressure with the hopes of an embattled soccer federation on his shoulders and seems to handle it well. He was a United fan as a young boy and would be an ideal fit for the club in all facets. As good and beloved as Martial is, it's clear he is not in Jose Mourinho's plans or heart so I would do this deal. We'll see.

Meanwhile Petra Kvitova is one match away from back to back titles for the second time this year. Her opponent in the Madrid final is Kiki Bertens, very much a confidence player. She is very comfortable on clay and has been slowly building on her form year after year but when Petra, a momentum player, is on a roll she is incredibly difficult to stop and has an excellent record in finals. I would make her a slight favorite against Bertens who has been known to choke against mentally stronger players.

Yair Rodriguez has apparently been cut by the UFC due to inactivity after refusing a fight with Zabit Magomedsharipov. According to Dana White he had also previously turned down a fight with Ricardo Lamas. It's quite a dramatic fall from grace for Rodriguez. At the start of last year he was fed BJ Penn to put him over and then jumped the line to face Frankie Edgar which would have cemented him as a star in a key demographic.

We thought he would lose that fight but the way in which he got battered was eye opening. It's possible the beating he took broke his spirit a little. If he truly was dodging his obligations as a healthy, ranked fighter to perform then I can understand the move but the problem is not everyone who holds out waiting for the ideal opponent is held to the same standard. It's not just the Conor McGregors and Nate Diazs of the world picking their spots, we frequently hear stories and he said/she said of this fighter refused that fight and so on. Jimmie Rivera springs to mind in that regard. So whether this is a new UFC policy moving forward or just Dana being capricious once again we will have to wait and see. So far it is also not completely official so I'm also not certain that Dana's anger won't subside and he will reconsider dumping a very exciting guy to watch over a logistical squabble.

A $150m deal was announced for fifteen live UFC events to be streamed on
ESPN+, ESPN's new over the top service. I said before that ESPN and the UFC were not a brand fit and it would be a bad move but since then the President of the company got fired/resigned and there be an understanding developing at the executive level that they need to rein in some of their more obnoxious personalities.

What they definitely are is desperate for content to make yet another paid subscription service in the world viable. From the UFC perspective, it is unclear whether the Endeavor people know anything about sports whatsoever so they probably just looked at the documents and said "ESPN? They do sports, right?" and signed off. Dana for his part seems to perpetually think it's ten years in the past and it has always been his wet dream to be officially associated with ESPN so I am not surprised.

There is still no word on where the rest of the live shows will be broadcast meanwhile. The rumor previously was that rights would be split between ESPN and their existing home at FOX who I think the UFC has good synergy with. It may take some time for that situation to be figured out though as FOX is in flux with the Murdochs breaking up and selling off parts of that empire and FOX Sports also working on acquiring WWE rights.

I saw something grumbling about how hiding content behind an ESPN paywall would not help the sport grow. I actually think this kind of initiative, spreading out rights across multiple platforms is not a bad strategy in such a fragmented media environment. What this is though is a middle finger to existing die hard fans who will be expected to pay for every service and also have their fight pass subscription rendered effectively pointless. We'll have to wait and see where the rest of the rights migrate to assess and pass judgement on the UFC's broadcast future.

Picks after the jump.

Saturday, 7 April 2018

UFC 223 Picks

The relatively light scheduling, only one event in the last five weeks, has come in handy allowing the UFC to stack their April Pay Per View so even though the loss of Tony Ferguson is devastating, it's not disastrous. More scarce scheduling also leaves fighters free to step in on late notice although there are some who notably did not jump sat the chance. It also proved however that it is not vital. No one missed it while it was gone and any equity they built in the summer years of Ronda and Conor has well and truly been squandered. Regular service is set to be resumed with packed weekends ahead so here are some thoughts on some upcoming fights before we look at the card coming on Saturday...

Dustin Poirier vs Justin Gaethje: It should go without saying this is going to be fun and a well fitting main event for big FOX. Things do not get easier for Gaethje. It perhaps would have been better for 'building' him to match him with someone else coming off a loss. I think Poirier is peaking and ready to challenge the top of the division.

Alexa Grasso vs Tatiana Suarez: Whoever thought this booking was a good idea would be fired in my UFC. Easy win for Suarez.

Stephen Thompson vs Darren Till: This is not quite as big a mismatch but the principle is similar. I don't think Till as a striker is anywhere close to the level of an undefeated karate champion. Till is talked about as a knockout artist but has only finished two of five fights in the UFC. It's much easier to knock guys out at regional level. Thompson seemed to tire towards the end of his fight with Jorge Masvidal but if Till as he enjoys claiming is a Light Heavyweight fighting at Welterweight he too will wear down and the adjoining dehydration will be an impediment to his hopes of staying conscious. Too much too soon?

Jimmie Rivera vs Marlon Moraes: In an ideal world, Moraes would take out the most boring fighter on the UFC roster but 5 rounds I have a suspicion "Magic" will come out emotional and suffer a severe adrenaline dump allowing Rivera to poke and leg kick his way to a decision win. If the UFC does a show in Mexico, Houston or New Jersey late in the year, look for him to get a title shot on that card.

Picks after the jump.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

UFC 222 Picks

Apart from glancing at it on the televisions at the gym, I watched not a minute of the recently passed Winter Olympics of my own volition. I did however visit some relatives over Chinese New Year who had recorded some of it for us to watch in the afternoon with a particular emphasis on figure skating.

For them figure skating is not just an Olympic diversion, it's a sport they follow all year round, all around the world. They eagerly anticipated the performance of the apparent superstar Yuzuru Hanyu and his stablemate, the Spaniard Javier Fernández. Rounding out the podium was Shoma Uno or was he was dubbed, Fei Jai - Fat Kid (allegedly). Ageing Canadian Patrick Chan was described as a beautiful skater but incapable of jumping.

Then there was the supposed dark cloud of the event. China is hosting the Winter Olympics in 2022 and are thus pumping untold millions into developing competitors who will ne capable of winning medals. Like many things that emerge from regimes historically culturally crushed by communism, the results are somewhat mechanical. Exhibit A: Jin Boyang. As my uncle explained to me, "This boy, he can really jump. But his art is shit. We don't want people like that in our sport."

I of course couldn't really tell one way or another apart from noticing he seemed to rush through a lot of his performance. It got me thinking about how this sentiment could relate to a sport I know much better - MMA. Who are the kind of fighters we don't need in our sport? Flyin' Brian of MMA Mania asked this week what is more important to you when watching MMA, high level technique or entertaining storyline/personality? I would lean towards the former but for me really it'd be option three: Willingness to trade.

What are the fights and who are the fighters who live longest in the memory? Robbie Lawler's war with Rory McDonald. Shogun-Henderson. Anything involving Justin Gaethje. Those are the types of fights as a fan you take along to your uninitiated friend and say, "Here, watch this!" knowing it will get them as hyped up as you. They don't need a storyline, the action sells itself. In fights like these technique goes out the window because the combatants are punch-drunk, exhausted and desperate. That's a beautiful thing. That's not to say true fight IQ and patience are not also beautiful things but it's not quite the same rush of blood to the head.

Kamaru Usman has been chatting up a storm on social media trying to call out Cosby Corbynton, a fight that makes sense from a matchmaking perspective. They're both outstanding wrestlers capable of winning any fight they're booked in. Neither is a guy I care to watch. I want to watch fighters WIN a FIGHT. Not hold someone on the ground for fifteen minutes. Nor do we want staring contests or point fighters who have no way of finishing opponents. What's particularly maddening about someone like Usman is he is clearly capable of great things but too often plays it safe.

Sometimes you will get screeching shills like Ariel Helwani chastising fans for booing Tyron Woodley in his last two fights. But if a fight is boring, it's boring. Enabling such inactive gameplans, "fighting smart" as they call it, contributes to the slow death of cage fighting. I don't want that for my sport.

Picks after the jump.

Saturday, 24 February 2018

On Petra Kvitova's Greatness

The trademark scream of Petra Kvitova rings out across center court in Doha as she wins a critical point in the final of the tournament against former world number one and reigning Wimbledon champion Garbiñe Muguruza. Roughly translating from Czech as "Come On!" it's a sure sign that both her head and heart are now firmly engaged in the contest. After starting the match 0-5 she has fought all the way back to tie it at a set a piece and is poised to take control. Her greatest comeback though was made last year.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

UFC 221 Picks

With Max Holloway out of his title fight against Frankie Edgar at UFC 222 due to an injury, the Las Vegas based promotion has reshuffled its deck and come up with a new main event that's the surest sign yet that it's high time the UFC drastically scale back their PPV business if not spike it entirely. We'll wait for it to roll around and see if the scheduled fights actually happen before commenting too much on that front.

With FOX spending big for Thursday night NFL rights, the bargaining position for UFC broadcast rights continues to weaken. There's no chance whatsoever they'll be able to extract the $400m per year they were reportedly hoping for but a step in the right direction would be guaranteeing more title fights for the broadcast network. Frankly I'm not even sure Cyborg vs Kunitskaya would be a legitimate FS1 main event. But at least people would know who they were and maybe start caring a little if they could watch them without having to pay for them.

Meanwhile I'm ready to announce the first main event for the Oceanic Fighting Championship (formerly Openweight Fighting Championship but retaining the same initials). Before Stipe Miocic broke the consecutive Heavyweight title defence record last month, Daniel Cormier had talked about going up in weight to defend Cain  Velasquez's honor in that regard. Now he and Miocic are fighting for real in the summer. So in the meantime how about Cain goes and defends DC's honor? Battling at Openweight I present to you Jon Jones vs Cain Velasquez. Since we're in international waters, both can do whatever steroids they need to in order to make it to the fight. Who says no to that?

Picks after the jump.

Saturday, 20 January 2018

UFC 220 Picks

With Uriah Hall's illness and subsequent withdrawal from Fight Night St Louis, there are sure to be the usual rash of stories decrying the evils of weight cutting and calling for hundreds of new weight classes to be added to official competition. We won't get into why that's dumb (and it is very dumb), instead I have a better idea.

With Robert Whittaker's injury and inability to defend his title at UFC 221, Yoel Romero jumps in to replace him and OF COURSE fight for an interim belt coming off a loss. Rockhold-Romero is still a fun fight and could go five rounds with no hardware but why not. The UFC is telling us they don't give a shit about belts, they're just a meaningless prop so who cares? Forget about belts, forget rankings because they're also irrelevant in UFC matchmaking.

And now, with all the weight cut issues, why do we need weight classes? Back in the good old (?) days there was no such thing anyway. Do two guys look roughly comparable in size? Good enough. Apparently a Saudi fund wants to invest in WME. Get one of the sheikhs to loan you a yacht, sail into international waters and unveil the Openweight Fighting Championships, baby. No tax either so you can pay your constantly complaining fighters a little more and keep them happy. Now we can finally make fights the fans want to see. I've solved your problems, UFC.

Picks after the jump.

Friday, 29 December 2017

UFC 219 picks

The ratings are in for UFC on FOX 26, a card which looked better for dedicated fans (like me) than it did for casual sports fans, and they are pretty awful. In contrast to the FOX card at the same time next year, the UFC lost more than 30% of their audience, almost a million viewers. There are some lame excuses out there as to why, such as it being a Saturday for shopping before Christmas but it's not a one off - all FOX events, in fact all events period this year have been trending down.

The numbers for their next FOX show will not improve. Brunson vs Jacare is a good fight but to headline a big show? No. There's no momentum behind it - a guy whose last two fights were gimmes against decrepit old men versus another guy coming off a loss. If Brunson wins, does he go on to a title shot? Probably not if Whittaker wins at UFC 221. Souza definitely won't. Good luck selling that.

Rafael Dos Anjos, the winner of the recent main event should get the next title shot - his fighting style is pressure-based and action packed, an antidote to recent Welterweight title fight woes. A dominant win over the former champion and his own status as a former champion in another weight class give him the credentials. Instead most of the talk is about some twerp who got slapped around by a boomerang. The champion himself is in limbo, how quickly will Tyron Woodley be able to recover from his recent surgery? The lack of interest makes some sense.

It's not all bad news - the recent Fight Night card did a respectable number on FS1 and was headlined by Sub Swanson vs Brian Ortega - a fight I called for after Ortega submitted Renato Moicano at UFC 214. It's time to push some of the young handsome fighters and most importantly, dynamic finishers, ie not boring ass wrestlers who get out struck by jiu-jitsu fighters. For the women, where the finishers can be harder to find, it may upset the hardcore fans but make sure the ones you're pushing at the top of the card are, shall we say, presentable. There's a reason Octagon girls are so popular! Most key of all, make sure the main and co-main events mean something real - for the winner, a clear goal must be in sight. If I remember, I'll outline some more specific matchups I hope to see going forward. Here's to a much improved 2018!

Picks after the jump

Saturday, 2 December 2017

UFC 218 Picks

Someone, very puzzled, asked why it looked like UFC 218 was having trouble selling tickets when on paper it was a pretty good card. To me, it's not so complicated. The UFC has barely promoted the event at all. Instead we've gotten to hear all about Dana White is so excited to get into promoting boxing, right on the heels of him lashing out at Colin Cowherd for suggesting his fire for MMA was waning. I can't come up with a single MMA fan much interested in having boxing associated with the UFC but he has always deep down been a frustrated wannabe boxing promoter, in the same way that Conor McGregor turned to MMA after failing at amateur boxing.

Some people will say that the ridiculous antics of a guy like Colby Covington are therefore justified because you need to make a name for yourself. Heck no. The job of the promotion is literally to promote you. There are ways in which you can help yourself, for sure. I'll probably talk more about that before UFC 219. But the primary job of the fighter is to show up and fight. With the Ali Act Expansion hearings ongoing the UFC could find itself in a spot where their only job really will be to promote their cards if they actually want to make any money. Wasn't the point of WME coming in as the new owners that they would have the muscle in the industry to really market their product? It's almost as though they have no idea what the fuck they are doing.

Picks after the jump.