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Chuck Liddell shouldn’t fight Tito Ortiz again

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When I read the rumors about a potential Chuck Liddell comeback a few months ago on social media, I penned an article to explain my concern for the possible pitfalls of “The Iceman” back in the cage. More specifically, the aspect of sports that nobody wants to see a legend as a shell of themselves because it’s just a sad situation. At the time, there was speculation that the former UFC Light Heavyweight champion might ink a deal with Bellator to set up a trilogy fight with longtime rival, Tito Ortiz. I asked if the big payday from the Viacom-owned organization was worth the risk of tarnishing his legacy as one of the greatest to step into the octagon?

Last week, Oscar De La Hoya announced that his Golden Boy Promotions company will venture into the MMA business with plans to promote an event later this year. De La Hoya, a former boxing champion in six different weight classes, started his promotional group in 2002 and currently represents several well-known fighters, including Mexican superstar Canelo Alvarez. Undoubtedly, Oscar remains a prominent figure in boxing almost a decade after he hung up his gloves, but mixed martial arts, while still within the genre of combat sports, is a different scenario.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=52HoZ2iV_bQ]

Despite the down slide in star power the past few years, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, an organization that was purchased by the WME group a few years ago for over $4 billion, remains the top MMA company in the world. In fact, the UFC just signed an extensive deal with ESPN that will bring content to the cable network and its ESPN+ streaming service next year. Bellator, which is broadcasted on the Paramount network, is considered another option for fighters that look to continue their career on a main stream stage outside of the UFC, but that is clearly the secondary option. Speaking of Bellator, the argument could be made that the promotion already brings nostalgic type fights to the table on traditional television, so how exactly will Golden Boy market a similar bout on pay-per-view?

The main problem that Oscar has ahead of this event is that there’s no way to promote this Tito/Liddell trilogy on anything other than the accomplishments of the past. Sure, Tito was one of the few athletes that was able to make a new for himself during the dark ages of the sport, but the prime of his career was more than ten years ago. The latter half of his UFC run saw him win one fight and suffer six losses. After he signed with Bellator, he won three of four fights before he retired early last year. However, the surge of success was more so because of the level of competition than an indication of a comeback in the sport.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1WKRarzDxo]

For “The Iceman,” as I wrote previously, he had a legendary career and was the top star in the organization when the sport boomed in popularity in the early 2000s. The conclusion of his career caused concern from fans and peers, as the aging grappler suffered three consecutive KO losses before he hung up his gloves in 2010. Now, the 48-year-old Liddell will make a return to the cage without a victory since 2007.

I don’t want to sound too harsh because Chuck Liddell is legitimately one of the most important fighters in the history of the sport, but does anyone want to see him fight again? More importantly, does anyone want to see him risk another KO loss? This isn’t Rocky and in reality, the type of comeback he’s hoping for rarely happens. Considering the brutal KOs he endured prior to retirement, there are very serious risks if he suffered another knockout at this point in his career. I would rather not watch Liddell compete again because I don’t want to see him risk his health.

That said, the contracts were signed last week, making the bout official for a venue yet to be announced. While Golden Boy does very well on pay-per-view with boxing, the distribution of this event could be another hurdle entirely. The easiest answer if for De La Hoya to go the traditional pay-per-view path that he used to distribution his major boxing cards, but again, MMA is a different world. In fact, this actually isn’t the first time that Oscar will be involved with mixed martial arts.

As companies like Elite XC set ratings records on broadcast TV, and Strikeforce tried to establish itself on Show Time, an alphabet soup of organizations tried to get a piece of the pie when MMA was still in the boom period. Affliction, the clothing company that sponsored many UFC athletes at the time, launched a subdivision of the organization, Affliction Entertainment to promote fight cards. Golden Boy partnered with Affliction to distribute MMA cards that featured many former Pride and UFC competitors. In mid-2008, Affliction produced a PPV event that saw Fedor Emelianenko knockout Tim Sylvia in just 36 seconds and the event garnered 100,000 buys. Six months later, Fedor KO’ed Andre Arlovski in the first round of a contest that headlined a show that drew a buyrate of 175,000 on pay-per-view. The third event was scheduled to showcase Fedor vs. Josh Barnett in the main event, but Barnett tested positive for steroids less than two weeks before the show, prompting the decision to cancel it, which led to the shut down of Affliction Entertainment.

More recently, Bellator attempted to promote events on PPV, including a Rampage vs. King Mo main event that generated roughly 100,000 buys in 2014. It’s second venture for pay-per-view drew slightly better with 130,000 purchases for Wanderlei Silva vs. Chael Sonnen last year. For a comparison, the previous numbers mention would rank among the lowest numbers the UFC did in the modern era. The bottom line is, no company other than the UFC has drawn major numbers for an MMA event on pay-per-view in the United States.

Regardless of any criticism, the only question that matters here is, will fans pay to see another Tito/Liddell fight?

If there’s a market for it then Oscar can promote a successful MMA pay-per-view completely under his own banner. But, I don’t see ANY logical reason why Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz in 2018 would draw an audience to pay to watch it. In fact, even if these two were still in the prime of their careers, there would be no reason to book a trilogy fight because Liddell beat Tito via TKO in both of their previous bouts. If this fight takes place, I’d guess that it’s a one-time deal for Golden Boy Promotions with an MMA card because again, quite frankly, there’s no major reason to expect Liddel vs. Tito to be a draw to the modern audience.

What do you think? Comment below with your thoughts, opinions, feedback and anything else that was raised.

Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

E mail drwrestlingallpro@yahoo.com | You can follow me on Twitter @jimlamotta

MMA

UFC 249 has a long and adventurous story

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UFC 249 was originally planned to take place on April 18th in New York but, due to the ongoing pandemic, governor Cuomo restricted mass gatherings and sports events, confining everyone to their homes, leaving them with little more to watch than reruns of old fights and perhaps Game Changers. UFC president Dana White then announced that the event was still on but the location will change. Later, it was announced that it will take place at the Tachi Palace Hotel & Casino in Lemoore, California. ESPN and its parent company Disney didn’t like this, though, pressuring White to suspend the event for the time being – which he did. Finally, the event was rescheduled for May 9

Meanwhile, interesting news started circulating about a potential location for future UFC fight nights that, if it becomes a reality, might put an interesting spin on the world of mixed martial arts.

UFC Fight Island

Even before the issues with the event, White planned to arrange a brand new location where fight nights could be organized: a private island where athletes could train and fight.

“All the infrastructure is being built right now and getting put in place,” he told the press back in April. “As we get closer to that, then I’ll start figuring out booking fights, getting guys ready. Plus, I can ship guys over there earlier, and they can start training over there, on the island. So, once that’s all in place – we’re looking at like a month – I’ll have that all put together, and guys can start training and can go there.”

The UFC is serious about it: it has already registered several trademarks around the “UFC Fight Island” brand, covering several types of goods, services, even jewelry. 

When, and Where?

The “where” is still a mystery. Although he spoke repeatedly about the arrangements being made for athletes to be able to train and stay on the island, White has not revealed its location yet. Some theorize that it may be somewhere in international waters so it could serve as a place where international athletes could stay without restrictions, perhaps off the coast of California. But this is just a theory – all will probably be revealed in due time.

The “when” is a bit less vague: White told the press that UFC Fight Island will be operational by June. It will have amenities like an Octagon on the beach, and hotels for the fighters to be lodged at. And most importantly, it will allow international fighters to participate in fights, even with the pandemic-related travel restrictions still in place.

The idea of an island dedicated to fighting may sound familiar – it was the topic of the 2006 martial arts movie “DOA – Dead or Alive” and 2007’s “The Condemned”, among others. Let’s hope this one will have a happier ending.

As for UFC 249 ‘Ferguson vs. Gaethje’, that event will now take place at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. 

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What Justin Gaethje’s past fights tell us about his chances at UFC 249

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It’s fair to say that Justin Gaethje has firmly taken up the role of underdog ahead of his clash with Tony Ferguson at UFC 249 on May 9th. The latest Tony Ferguson v Justin Gaethje betting offers present Ferguson as the clear favourite, after his opponent was drafted in at the last minute to replace Khabib Nurmagomedov, who is on lockdown in his home country of Russia. 

Gaethje is relatively inexperienced in the world of UFC, having fought just six times in the competition in the past. But his calibre from prior ventures in MMA, notably the World Series of Fighting, means that he is a fighter not to be trifled with, and while he won’t represent as formidable a challenge for Ferguson as Khabib would have, there is much to admire about the 31-year-old.

To understand fully Gaethje’s chances ahead of UFC 249, it’s important to analyse his performances in recent fights. Indeed, his past three bouts have resulted in impressive victories, with Gaethje winning Performance of the Night awards in two of those fights — against James Vick and Donald Cerrone respectively. 

But his UFC started off in disappointing fashion, with just one win from his first three fights. That victory came against Michael Johnson in the reality show The Ultimate Fighter: Redemption Finale, but from there he failed to gain a strong foothold in the championship. He suffered back-to-back defeats against Eddie Alvarez and Dustin Poirier, including a knockout at the hands of the former, as he struggled to adapt to the competitive nature of the UFC.

Those defeats obviously shook Gaethje into life, because he has come roaring back in his last three fights, mustering up a trio of impressive performances to bring him to the level he finds himself at today, where UFC chief Dana White is drafting him to replace someone of the calibre of Khabib. 

The first of this trio of victories was a win over James Vick in August 2018, where Gaethje produced a fine display which silenced some of the doubters who had perhaps questioned his ability at the highest level. He won Performance of the Night for that one, and was then involved in the Fight of the Night the following March as he defeated Edson Barboza by knockout in Philadelphia. His most recent victory was a TKO triumph over UFC veteran Donald Cerrone in October last year, where Gaethje once again walked away with the Performance of the Night accolade. 

All three of his most recent wins have come via first round knockout or technical knockout, proof that Gaethje has the ability to overpower opponents in the opening stages of a fight. Of course, to do this against Ferguson will be a whole different ball game, as he is the most high-profile fighter Gaethje has faced so far, but perhaps the key lies in ensuring he comes out all guns blazing early on.

Gaethje’s Performance of the Night wins indicate that he is capable of producing a show-stopping performance on any given night. He is undoubtedly the underdog going into the fight against Ferguson, but with a few good wins now under his belt, who’s to say he can’t spring a surprise on May 9th and truly announce himself in the UFC. 

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UFC to provide a welcome sports fix for hungry fans

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UFC 249 had promised to be a rare occasion of a sports event going ahead, but the April 18th showpiece ultimately fell victim to the coronavirus outbreak, and was cancelled. However, UFC chief Dana White is not one to be put out, and so came the recent announcement that there would be a series of UFC fight nights in May.

It’s a great chance for fans to see some sporting action, for fighters to keep in shape and perhaps make a name for themselves in these strange circumstances, and for people stuck in lockdown to have some alternative entertainment, something a bit different from Joe Wicks workouts or Zoom quizzes! Here, we look at why these UFC fight nights will be welcomed by so many people.

Live action

The sporting world has basically been at a standstill since the coronavirus pandemic has swept across the globe. It feels like an eternity ago that we were watching horse racing’s Cheltenham Festival and Liverpool’s exit from the Champions League, but the measures put in place by the government to protect the public meant that most events had to be cancelled. 

And so, the news that there will be some live sporting entertainment in the form of several UFC fight nights will give sports fans that much needed fix of live action. Sports nuts all over the world have been forced to make do with virtual championships and races, or with trawling the archives to reminisce on past sporting occasions, but now White and co. have brought some welcome live sporting action back to our screens.

Mouth-watering match-ups

Of course, these are not just any old fighters going head to head. Some of the best in the business will be battling it out, not least Tony Ferguson who takes on Justin Gaethje on May 9th. The Tony Ferguson odds have him as hot favourite for the bout, but Gaethje will be a man on a mission on fight night to prove he has what it takes to cause a stir at the highest level of the sport. 

May 9th sees two other interesting clashes, as Henry Cejudo takes on Dominick Cruz for the Bantamweight Championship, and Francis Ngannou meets Jairzinho Rozenstruik. The Cejudo vs Cruz fight features two men with similar records, and will therefore be an intriguing clash as both try and prove themselves on the big stage. Meanwhile, Rozenstruik will be trying to defend his 10-fight unbeaten record as he takes on Ngannou, and so there will be plenty on the line in that one.

A welcome distraction

Perhaps one of the key benefits of these fight nights is that they will provide a welcome distraction from the sad news and gloomy headlines we’ve all been reading in recent weeks. Sport has the power to unite people and spark a feel-good factor among the public.

Although the UFC may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s a chance for a lot of people to get to know a sport they perhaps wouldn’t have considered watching before, and few sports have to power to grip and entertain like mixed martial arts. Many people are craving a dose of live sporting action, and thanks to the UFC, that sporting fix is not too far away.

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