Knees to the Grounded: Casual, hardcore fans both part of MMA's mainstream move – OnMilwaukee.com


I grew up with a guy that hated “Legend” by Bob Marley. I mean, it infuriated him. The mere mention of it would cause fists and teeth to clench in unison. Seething. I can still see his face filled with disgust.

He didn’t hate Marley; in fact, he loved him and had each studio album catalogued. The artist wasn’t the problem. It was the delivery of said art and the people that chose to make “Legend” their go-to for Marley tracks that created the drama.

You see, according to my buddy, “Legend” was lazy. It was a cheap and relatively low barrier of entry to reggae. And he knew that most folks that consumed “Legend” would probably never pick up “Kaya” or “Uprising,” let alone “Talkin’ Blues.” And if they aren’t picking up those albums I can almost guarantee that they would never check out Peter Tosh (so underrated, it’s criminal) or Toots.

What we end up with is someone who professes their love of reggae, but, in fact, is only really a fan of “Legend.”

That buddy of mine is still around. And although I wish him well, we haven’t spoken for decades. Doesn’t matter because I still find myself around the exact same type of person.

The hardcore mixed martial arts fan.

As this sport continues to infiltrate the mainstream, I see an inordinate amount of push-back on casual or new fans, based on their lack of knowledge outside of anything Rousey or McGregor, essentially the “Legend” album of the sport’s landscape – the sport’s greatest hits and easily the most accessible.

As I roam from social situation to business meeting, I’m often tapped as the MMA guy, which invariably leads to questions that I would label with a touch of “Could You be Loved” or “Redemption Song.” The uninformed will hit me up with “Three Little Birds” or “Exodus.”

Even though I’d love to be talking some “Kinky Reggae” or “Bad Card,” we end up discussing “Buffalo Soldier.” I’ve learned to love these conversations and the opportunity to share my passion.

For the hardcore fan, I hear you.

However, your disdain for the casual fan slides out of the same mouth in which you gripe about the UFC’s lack of pay, fighter’s rights and ESPN’s snail-pace affirmation. You were there from the beginning; I get that. Hold that close. Our sport was created by the underground. By folks that took chances. Essentially giving the middle finger to the mainstream. Fight cards on a shoestring budget, risking life and limb for the glory of combat.

That said, “Legend” is Marley’s greatest-selling album. Reggae’s best-selling album. According to “Rolling Stone” in 2014, more than 11 million copies in the U.S., alone. It’s made the Marley family quite comfortable for generations to come.

And truth be told: It was my first reggae album. Now let’s spin some Tosh and Legalize it already, cause I’m Stepping Razor. Thanks Mom!

News and notes

Admittedly, the first quarter, as it would stand inside the cage, left much to be desired. The push and pull of fighters gaining control of their own careers – reverberations from that $4 billion sale – has put has put the UFC in cost- and roster-cutting mode, while the sport’s biggest stars remain on the sideline.

Ronda Rousey seems to be calling it a day, and both Jon Jones and Brock Lesnar (who may or may not ever fight again) remain suspended until July due to drug policy violations.

Weight-cutting continues to be a problem in the sport, as well. Major fights have been thrown in the trash, sometimes days or even hours before a contest was scheduled to take place, via horrible heft management. In fact, the year’s most anticipated fight so far, the Lightweight interim title affair between Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson was scrapped the day before the event, which resulted in hospitalization for the undefeated Russian.

And speaking of the Lightweight division, everyone’s favorite fighting Irishman and current Lightweight champ, Conor McGregor, seems to be finally having his way with Dana White and company with the now-inevitable boxing match (and I’ll hold on to that term “match” loosely, like 38. Special) between himself and all-time great Floyd Mayweather.

What would have been virtually impossible in the pre-McGregor/Zuffa owned era, the UFC now seems willing to co-promote with Mayweather’s Money Team Promotion. Thus, probably creating what will be the largest selling pay-per-view of all time.

Supposedly finalizing a date in September, the buildup to this thing will be brilliant. It’s been decades since the boxing world has experienced the type of mouth that Conor can put into play, and you better, you better, you bet, the Irishman is going to hit way below the belt. The domestic abuse, the prison time, the hand picking of opponents, all of that will be in play, while Floyd and his money team will most assuredly sit back and let the MMA guy do most of the heavy lifting. To the uninitiated, this will be a whirlwind of shit-talking – the likes that most have yet to see.

But the sad thing is, this event, if in fact it does go down, is nothing more than an exhibition. It’s Michael Jordon playing for the White Sox. It’s Inoki vs. Ali. Thunderlips vs. Rocky.

The most obvious reason. Conor has not one – not one! – professional boxing match on record. Can he throw hands? Of course! Does he have the proverbial “touch of death?” You betcha! No matter. Floyd is the greatest defensive, and possibly the greatest overall boxer of all time. Period. It’s ridiculous. Most of the power that Conor possesses will be negated by the larger gloves and the lack of a takedown threat.

In addition, it appears as if they are targeting the fight at 147 pounds. Conor won the UFC belt at 145 pounds, but that was December of 2015. Since then, he’s fought twice at 170 pounds and once at 155 pounds. Can Conor make the weight? Sure. The guy is a freak athlete and seems to have always kept his body in proper order. But it’s been almost two years since he’s had to make that cut, and when he did he looked like grim death on the scale.

If we truly wanted to see a test of boxer vs. martial artist, we would need to modify the rules and increase the weight limit to make things a bit more neutral going in.

How are you going to catch this guy’s interest?

Make it a fight at 155 pounds and let’s throw a couple wild cards at the boxer:

One, no breaks in the clinch. Allow both fighters to utilize the clinch and work inside. Conor could negate much of Floyd’s footwork and movement by keeping things inside and relying on a healthy dose of dirty boxing. Two, allow kicks above the waist. Give the martial artist a chance to utilize his skillset with the added potential danger of a KO by a swift shin to the head. That would be an interesting way to gauge what Floyd’s incredible defense can truly manage in a mixed rules fight.

Give me those two and I’m all in. Oh, what the hell, they won’t and I’ll be in any way. I’m such a degenerate.

But what about the fights that actually mean something? It is fight week, and this Saturday’s main event is essentially the battle for who will win the Jon Jones lottery.

Light Heavyweight Champ Daniel Cormier (18-1) will take his second turn at defeating No. 1-ranked Anthony Johnson (22-5) in what truly are the top fighters at 205 pounds not named Jon Jones.

Johnson may have the most successfully schizophrenic fight career the sport has even seen. Fluctuating between 170 pounds and Heavyweight, his past has been riddled with missed weight cuts, UFC dismissals, poor cardio and ridiculous knockout capabilities.

That said, the guy seems to have found a home at 205 pounds with top-10 wins over the likes of Phil Davis, Alexander Gustafsson, Jimi Manuwa, Ryan Bader and Glover Texeria. Four of those, in fact, won by either KO or TKO early in said affairs. He’s 7-1 since moving to the Light Heavyweight division with his only loss coming from Daniel Cormier.

Last touching hands in May of 2015, the former Olympian Cormier withstood Johnson’s bombs early and, after a few scary moments, contained himself and did what good wrestlers do: slow the fight down, engage the opponent closely and push the bigger and stronger Johnson into deeper waters.

Relying on nifty takedowns and a heavy top game, the current champ was able wear the deadly hitter down, and by the middle of the third round was able to take Johnson’s back and finalize a fight-ending choke.

That was two years ago, and although I don’t see much difference coming this weekend, heavy hitters will always be heavy hitters. Johnson is so ferocious on his feet, Cormier needs to close the distance early and keep it that way. Nobody’s chin gets better with age, and if he’s able to stay away from Anthony’s cinderblock busters, there’s no reason why we won’t have a chance to see Cormier vs. Jones 2 sometime in August.

It’s been quite a year, so far, so let’s all take a deep breath and take some time to figure out what we have in common, as opposed to what separates us.

I had a local mom in the neighborhood approach me a few weeks ago about possibly sending her kid into train at our area academy, 360 BJJ. After explaining what a great sport it is – especially for girls – I might have made the mistake of giving her too much info on the culture there.

I told her that when I take my daughter to practice, or train myself, I’m surrounded by all makes and models. From a Trump voter to a mom in a full-on burka, we see it all at our school. And I’m always invigorated by the differences, but even more so our similarities in culture.

The mom, however, is Muslim. And I fear by being so open about our diversity (on the Trump voter, I should have kept it shut – needless to say that happens often with me), I may have scared her away.

But, I thought, what a great opportunity to cross-pollinate who we are? So, whatever you do this month, whatever your beliefs, take some time to hear other sides, and struggle – really struggle – to agree. We’ll all be a better people for it.

And, as always, enjoy the fights!



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