For the old school MMA fans, there's something about the one-night tournament that we can't resist. It's the siren's song of nostalgia, I suppose. We hear it and immediately go sailing off into the rocky cliffs, even though we really should know better by now.
I'm just as bad as anyone else in this regard. I hear about a night that begins with several fighters and ends with one champion, and suddenly I feel like it's 1996 and I should be going over to a friend's house to watch it on VHS while we figure out how to sneak a beer or two out of the fridge without his parents noticing.
That's not to say I necessarily think that either the one-night tournament or the surreptitious underage drinking (smart parents count those beers, as it turns out) are a good idea. But as I expect Friday night's women's 135-pound Strikeforce tournament will prove, every once in a while we need to be reminded why some things in the past didn't make it into the present.
The big problem with the one-night tournament is unpredictability. Even with only four participants, there are so many ways to go wrong and only one way to go right.
Say, for instance, that the winner of one of the first round bouts in Friday's tournament gets hurt. Say Carina Damm
breaks her hand on her opponent's face, or suffers a cut that requires stitches. Say Miesha Tate
fights a war and is too exhausted to go again in the finals. Then the tournament loses its legitimacy, a reserve fighter jumps in, and fans end up feeling disappointed even if they saw some great fights along the way.
Even if things go as planned, there are so many built-in excuses. If one fighter has a tougher, longer fight in the first round and then ends up losing in the finals, well, that fighter is almost legally obligated to claim exhaustion.
On the flip side, what does the tournament give us that the normal progression of fights doesn't?
For one, it instantly creates the illusion of accomplishment. Winning one bout on one night? Hey, half the people on any given fight card do that. But when the evening begins with a group of bright-eyed, optimistic young pugilists and ends with only one left standing? That feels significant. It feels like we've all just witnessed the survival of the fittest in action.
The problem is, Strikeforce's tournament on Friday night isn't designed to crown a champion in the women's 135-pound class. It's not even designed to crown a number one contender to Sarah Kaufman
's title, since Marloes Coenen supposedly has that spot all sewn up
Instead, this tournament, in which the participants don't know who they're fighting until the day before, is meant to decide who's second in line for a title shot. How much more anti-climactic can you get? It's like being set up on a blind date, and if the person likes you they'll introduce you to their much more attractive friend, whenever that friend happens to be single again.
Even with all those caveats, the one-night tournament is still a great idea...in theory.
It's fun, it's gimmicky, and it's something different. If not for all the physical problems it presents in MMA – and the fact that many athletic commissions refuse to sanction it on the grounds that it's unsafe for the participants – the one-night tournament might be a wildly popular attraction. It is, for instance, probably the best and most exciting way to crown a regional chess champion.
But for combat sports? It's probably better on paper than in practice. Maybe it works to spur ticket sales or inject some temporary energy into a sluggish field. It also flips the nostalgia switch and makes some of us eager to tune in just so we can relive the good old days.
That's not necessarily bad, and who knows, Strikeforce could always get lucky with an injury and controversy-free night. All I'm saying is, let's try not to get too disappointed if this walk down memory lane only serves to remind us why we don't take this stroll very often.