Heading into a busy next few weeks with Strikeforce's CBS debut this Saturday, and back-to-back UFC Saturdays beginning the following weekend, SI.com's Ben Fowlkes and I discuss the hot topics coming from those events.
We break down CBS' promotion of the Fedor Emelianenko vs. Brett Rogers card, the probable best fight of the month, UFC 106 and whether Fedor will ever be a major star in America.
Check it out below.
What do you think of the way Strikeforce and CBS have promoted Saturday night's event?
Ariel Helwani: The big question I had leading into Saturday night's Strikeforce on CBS show was not whether Brett Rogers could hang with Fedor Emelianenko, but what kind of job CBS and Showtime would do in promoting the fights on the card to the masses.The powers that be need to realize that while boxing promoters only focus on selling one fight on the card to the masses, most MMA fans are as interested in watching the fourth fight on the card as they are in seeing the main event.
-- FanHouse's Ariel Helwani
A few days before the event, I can honestly say that they have done a solid job in getting the word out about Emelianenko and Rogers. Fight Camp 360, the YouTube clips, the CBS ads, it's all been great. But what about the rest of the card? The powers that be need to realize that while boxing promoters only focus on selling one fight on the card to the masses, most MMA fans are as interested in watching the fourth fight on the card as they are in seeing the main event.
This will mark Jake Shields' third fight on CBS; Gegard Mousasi is considered one of the best young light heavyweights in the world; oh, and I heard Jason "Mayhem" Miller has some kind of popular show on MTV. I understand that there is only so much time the network can devote to promoting an event, and we all know both Emelianenko and Rogers needed all the buzz they can get, but I would have liked to see a little more done to let the world know that there are other top-level fighters competing on this card.
Ben Fowlkes: You're right, there is only so much time the network can spend hyping this event, so it only makes sense that they'd choose to spend that time on the main event. Part of that is because, probably due to the influence of boxing, as you mentioned, this is how they're programmed. But part of it is because they're smart enough to realize that they have a better chance of selling this to the general public if they focus on reminding them that this is a chance to see some of this MMA stuff the kids these days are so crazy about, and oh, by the way, this Fedor guy will be there too. They just don't have time after all that to talk about "Mayhem" Miller and Gegard Mousasi.
Fortunately for them, Miller has done much of the work himself, but Mousasi's still a problem. He's not terribly accessible to the media, and there's no reason to think this fight will be any more competitive than his assault on "Babalu" Sobral was. Yes, he's exciting and has a ton of potential. But if he's not fighting anyone who can really push him, it's not surprising that no one is talking about it.
What will be the best fight of the month?
Fowlkes: From a purely competitive standpoint, I think Randy Couture vs. Brandon Vera at UFC 105 will give us the most bang for our buck, and that's only partially because it will be free on Spike TV. For one thing, when's the last time Couture was in a boring fight? The guy is closing in on fifty and still he can push the pace and keep coming forward for three rounds. Vera has the appropriate amount of respect for the former champ, but if anybody could use a big win to prove that he's more than just unfulfilled potential, it's Vera. I could see this going either way, but I can't see it being anything other than a very fun fight to watch.
That said, I put the UFC 106 bout between Josh Koscheck and Anthony Johnson as a close second. I've been waiting to see "Rumble" jump up to that next level of competition for a while now, and Koscheck is the kind of guy who can let you know in a very rude fashion if you don't belong in the upper echelon of the division. Depending on how good Johnson's takedown defense is, it could be a slow-paced ground battle, or it could be quick and furious. Either way, I'm eager to see what happens.
Helwani: Clearly, November is one of the most stacked months in recent history, which means there are plenty of great fights to choose from. But I have to give the nod to the Mike Brown vs. Jose Aldo fight for the WEC featherweight title on Nov. 18, as the one which will be the most exciting.
Aldo has yet to produce a boring fight since joining WEC in 2008, and his post-fight celebrations are some of the best in the sport (remember when he ran into the stands in January?). His 8-second victory over Cub Swanson in June was one of the most impressive finishes I have ever seen, but things won't be as easy when he faces Brown, who I consider to be the 2009 MMA fighter of the year. Nov. 18 can't come soon enough.
Will Fedor Emelianenko ever be a major star in the U.S.?
Helwani: Let's put aside the fact that MMA hasn't even hit mainstream yet. As a sports fan that grew up in Canada, I have always felt that Americans related to homegrown athletes a little more. That's why I believe soccer and hockey have never enjoyed the same kind of popularity as football, baseball or basketball.
But UFC president Dana White often brings up the point that MMA fans aren't like the rest of the sports world, as they will cheer for a French Canadian or a Brazilian fighter competing in Las Vegas just as much as any American fighter on the card.
So if Emelianenko racks up a few more impressive wins on American soil, and if Strikeforce, CBS and Showtime do a good enough job of getting the word out before and after his fights, I don't see why he can't also earn the title of the most popular fighter in MMA.
Fowlkes: Naturally fans want to see fighters who they identify with, but the thing that's standing between Fedor and star status isn't nationality or even language. The real barrier is Fedor himself. He really doesn't want to be a star. It doesn't mean anything to him. That's why he does the bare minimum in terms of press and appearances. That's why he hasn't made it a priority to become a fluent speaker of English. He's fine with his celebrity status just the way it is, which is actually very refreshing, if not downright unheard of.
It's interesting to watch the various attempts at marketing Fedor to an American audience. There's this tendency to try and make his reclusiveness into an asset rather than a hindrance. They play up the mystery around him, asking 'Do you know who I am?' or sometimes just promising 'Fedor will return.' But if you're an American who is at all inclined toward MMA or combat sports in general, you've probably at least heard of Fedor by now. The only people who have no idea who the guy is either don't care about watching two grown men fight each other or don't have much access to media in general.
If Fedor wanted to be a huge star in the U.S., he would be. He would have signed with the UFC and he'd be on T-shirts in every mall in America by now. But if he doesn't care about that – and he very clearly doesn't – I don't see why we should.
With the Lesnar/Carwin bout pulled from UFC 106 due to illness, that event is now being headline by Forrest Griffin/Tito Ortiz II. Is this a case of the UFC making the best of a bad situation, or could this be a main event-worthy fight?
Fowlkes: But make no mistake, when the UFC promises Lesnar and Carwin and ends up delivering Ortiz and Griffin, they've already resigned themselves to seeing a lot of disappointed faces on fight night.
-- SI.com's Ben FowlkesIt's not the best of a bad situation; it's the best of a horrible situation. UFC 106 went from being a guaranteed blockbuster to being the kind of event that makes people pay closer attention to that "card subject to change" disclaimer before buying tickets. Lesnar is probably the UFC's biggest and most consistent draw right now. There's no way the UFC can lose him a month out from the fight and have any hope of finding a replacement that will placate fans. So they punted. They promoted Ortiz/Griffin II to main event status, and added Johnson/Koscheck as a consolation prize.
The Griffin/Ortiz rematch could turn out to be a pretty fun little scrap. They definitely both have something to prove, and if nothing else I'm curious to see Tito's t-shirt slogan for his first fight back. But make no mistake, when the UFC promises Lesnar and Carwin and ends up delivering Ortiz and Griffin, they've already resigned themselves to seeing a lot of disappointed faces on fight night.
Helwani: Sure, Ortiz vs. Griffin II isn't an ideal main event at this stage of their respective careers, but I think it is definitely worthy of headlining a card. From a promotional standpoint, the UFC can build up the return of the controversial Ortiz after an 18-month layoff, while also playing up the fact that Griffin is at a crossroads in his career after losing the title to Rashad Evans in December and his forgettable performance against Anderson Silva in August. In other words, there are enough compelling storylines heading into this bout that features two of the most popular fighters in UFC history. I've seen worse scenarios.
Plus, let's not forget that had Mark Coleman not recently pulled out of his fight against Ortiz, he would have been main eventing this card against "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy." Nothing against Coleman, but I like Ortiz vs. Griffin II in this spot a lot more.
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