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.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

UFC 217 Picks & the Health of the Company

UFC 217 is finally here with very limited fanfare to follow it. It has been terribly promoted by everyone involved, even the fighters. It's almost as though WME has no fucking idea what they're doing with this company. There's something I've had in my mind for a while now, an idea that has started to pick up steam lately as the reality of the situation begins to dawn on people: the over-promotion of Conor McGregor has severely damaged the brand of the UFC and reputation of the sport of a whole.

Michael Bisping was on the Herd last week to promote UFC 217 and of course our friend Colin Cowherd wanted to talk about McGregor to which Bisping replied in an exasperated tone, "Conor, Conor, Conor!" It's my feeling too and I apologize in advance for what's about to transpire but this is important.

Before anyone ever knew who Conor and Ronda Rousey were, the PPV King of MMA was UFC 217's headliner Georges St-Pierre. He wasn't a dynamic personality, he wasn't a trash talker spewing myriad lines of bullshit. He wasn't even particularly exciting to watch all of the time. He was just a highly talented and intelligent fighter whose excellence created an aura and star quality organically.

As long as the product remains first and foremost about competition, you will always have a steady stream of that sort of attraction. It's treated as a real sport and the fact someone has developed into an elite fighter is the most important factor; everything else is just an added bonus.

It ain't that anymore. Some people want to tie Ronda Rousey's over-promotion to the decline of the UFC. I don't think that was it. More often than not, she was booked as a supporting act for Chris Weidman. The last two PPV's she headlined as the champion the notoriety she built as a female novelty allowed the UFC to enter new markets. The current problems in the Women's Bantamweight division stem from a lack of depth and a lack of fights being booked.

As an aside I think the UFC should definitely fold up the Women's Featherweight division and consider doing away with Bantamweight. Most, if not all of the more popular Bantamweights could make 125lbs anyway. The two big stars who made those divisions seem like relevant women's divisions in Gina Carano and Ronda Rousey are gone now. Honestly, I even think they were the only reason people were ever interested in Cyborg, whose record I find unappreciatedly padded.

The beginning of the end really started when Conor McGregor was granted an immediate rematch with Nate Diaz at UFC 200. People look back on that (UFC 202 as it eventually became) and think landmark event, they think Fight of the Year. I think of it as a circus freak show that severely damaged the integrity of the matchmaking.

The failure to book a title defense for McGregor despite a catalogue of eligible challengers left the Featherweight division in limbo. Scrambling to create Interim title bouts when the Champion was fit and healthy and ready to defend rendered all Interim belt meaningless. Gifting McGregor an undeserved Lightweight title shot on a one fight win streak so he could make fake history compromised the integrity of the competition and the significance of winning a championship.

Allowing McGregor to box Floyd Mayweather Jr marked the apex of the short term gain they experienced. It made one man definitively bigger than the sport. While Dana White's question "What makes one a star" is well taken, there is a way to handle them. Promoting him at the expense of everyone else involved with the company changed the expectations of the consumers.

Three of the last three PPV cards have turned in atrocious numbers. UFC 213, 215 and 216 between them failed to cracked 400,000 buys. The casual fan catered to by McGregor does not care if it's not a superfight. If the participants don't act like lunatics at the press conference, it's not worth talking about for them. Great fighters who don't talk trash are disregarded as unmarketable. What's the point of putting them in big fights?

I don't expect this card to do as well as the UFC is hoping. It didn't help that Dana White has spent years lambasting GSP's state of mind. As it stands, we are on the lookout for McGregor vs Ferguson to headline the year end show at UFC 219 which will help them end 2017 on a high. 2018 will be a very important year for the future of the UFC. The next TV deal they sign will be very telling. My feeling is that FOX aligns well with their brand, or at least what they ought to be aiming for. they should not under any circumstances sign with the dying yet still somehow reputable ESPN. We'll see where they go from here.

Picks after the jump.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Yamanose Sports Ledger 10/29/17 - Yuli Gurriel, Bob McNair & Some Guy I've Never Heard Of

I had some sports musings that I was going to include in my UFC 217 picks column but it got really long really fast just by itself so I decided to forego them. However, within a matter of days three very similar stories with varying degrees of severity popped up and I felt like throwing in my opinion for whatever it's worth. So I decided to create an entirely new feature, the Yamanose Sports Ledger, a general sports column. I'll probably never do a second edition of YSL but it's here if I need it!

When people are offended now, it can be difficult to judge whether or not the outrage is justified. Clay Travis often says that social media is a funhouse mirror that distorts reality. "Sides" such as they are become polarized and people becoming entirely incapable of debating issues rationally; Everything is either classified as a world ending indignation or the wailing of whimpering snowflakes with no in-between.

Of course, the truth is that everything should be judged on a case-by-case basis and all of reality exists on a scale - a concept those who are especially gender-conscious ought to already be intimately familiar with but often actually aren't. I feel like I'm a very reasonable, moderate person so I'm happy to serve as the arbiter and rank three offensive acts in order of least to most concerning.

Analysis after the jump

Friday, 6 October 2017

UFC 216 Picks & Ramble

The writer Dan McLaughlin has a good mantra for dealing with social media - every time before you log on, tell yourself "They can both be wrong". My enjoyment of the NFL was definitely dampened in week three by the mass protest or rather, as it was spun "display of unity". I can certainly understand where their anger came from.

As LeSean McCoy put so succinctly, the President is an asshole. But let's beclear,the protest and all connected protests are stupid. No one even knows what they're about and everyone involved is doing a piss poor job of explaining it. The condescending and judgmental attitudes of those who support the displays of petulance and #resistance is utterly repellent. I don't even want to talk about ti anymore.

As the culture war rages, those weary or at least myself seek to retreat and find a leisurely respite from entirely fabricated controversies and other weighty issues presented without context or balance. All too often popular media is used as a vehicle to push some kind of agenda. Worthy or not I won't be the judge here. Sports appears to be the next battleground. Seized upon by people who appear to not even much like sports perhaps in resentment of those who do, overwhelmingly traditional and conservative in outlook. If that's off the table, where can we find peace?

One of the things that has always struck me about MMA is how many of the fighters make sure to thank God after they've won. We saw last week in the NFL, although many players are also deeply religious, they can find grace in their teammates. A strong leader oe voice in the locker room can convince you of all sorts of powerful things. What of the solo athlete? What of the fighter?

Achieving greatness as an athlete requires an enormous amount of will and self-determination. To enter an arena and compete and shut out everyone else around bar yourself and your opponent requires courage in spirit and of your convictions. Sports where you have a chance of being severely injured or worse such as combat sports and race car driving. To succeed there you need faith - in yourself and perhaps also in a higher power, one that guides you, sets a path for you to climb and protects you from harm.

A lot of people like to make snarky comments about the statements they make thanking Jesus Christ and so on. But why? I've never been particularly religious but I'm starting to understand the meaning prayer holds for people. It's an act of giving in mind and spirit and in an environment where increasingly people are encouraged to take , to cast themselves as victims, it holds reassurance. If you can find peace in it, I'm happy for you.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

UFC 215 Picks & Quick NFL Predictions

UFC 215 lost a lot of its appeal with the loss of the main event due to an illness supposedly not related to weight cutting. Kevin Lee came out yesterday, and it's a sentiment shared by many others, that the UFC needs to add weight classes to eliminate weight cutting. I am here to tell you that is absolute nonsense. If you add weight classes there would be more weight cutting, not less. You'd have some 190lb half-wit who fights at 170lbs because who wasn't quite able to make it to 155lbs who would then attempt to make 165lbs. Furthermore no one forces you to cut weight. The challenger in the new main event tonight in fact cuts no weight and she's able to have success. So what's your excuse, Kevin?

The NFL regular season kicks off tonight. I haven't followed off-season news as closely as years past so I'm less blithely confident in these predictions as usual but why not try? My main takeaway is that even though the Patriots lost their home opener, a very rare occurrence for a defending champ, they're a team that tends to get stronger as the season goes along and by the end they will be peaking and the most likely champions once again.

I think the Cowboys are due some karmic regression. Funny how everyone has flip-flopped their opinion on alleged domestic violence given the opportunity to rag on Roger Goodell. Mike Lombardi has long been one of the biggest blowhards in NFL media, not an uncommon approach for a former 'football person' but most of them are mercifully not taken very seriously whereas Lombardi is given a platform on the Ringer for his biased, near-sighted drivel where he does a podcast with an awestruck intern. He is on some sort of crusade lately against Doug Pederson of the Eagles, saying he's not qualified to be a head coach, as opposed to say for example Josh McDaniels. He is frequently made to look very silly and I think the Eagles are due and will soar again.

The rest of the Playoffs I envision being composed of the usual suspects though. The Packers meet the Seahawks on Sunday opening week and I believe they'll rematch for the conference title as the two most dominant teams in the NFC. I also like the S̶a̶n̶ ̶D̶i̶e̶g̶o̶ Los Angeles Chargers but that's probably mostly because they have an Asian kicker now. We'll see how long that lasts.

Picks after the jump.