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Fightweets: Pondering Renato 'Babalu' Sobral's legacy

Esther Lin

One of mixed martial arts' most colorful characters, Renato "Babalu" Sobral, announced his retirement from the sport Wednesday night after a long and enventful career.

The Rio de Janeiro native, who will turn 38 in September, made his decision after his TKO loss Jacob Noe in Bellator's season-opening event. It was the third KO/TKO loss for Babalu in his past four fights, as he finished with a career record of 37-11.

Babalu's career dates back to the one-night tournaments of lore. He had his fair share of highlights, winning his first 12 fights and 16 of his first 17. His victories include wins over the likes of early Japanese star Kiyoshi Tamura, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, and Chael Sonnen. He held the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship.

But is longevity and a handful of signature wins alone enough to consider Sobral worthy for the mythical MMA Hall of Fame? Part of what made Sobral such a unique character was that you never knew what your were going to get from him on any given night. You had to take the good with the bad and the ugly.

Sobral was given plenty of opportunity to reach the top, but never quite got there. When given the chance to reach the highest levels, there was the pair of losses to Dan Henderson, a Rings loss to Valentijn Overeem, losses to Fedor Emelianenko and Kevin Randleman in Japan.

And of course, there were his most famous defeats, his pair of losses to Chuck Liddell. Liddell was once quoted as saying "He's most famous for me kicking him in the head." That's a bit harsh, but the Liddell losses are what casual fans most remember when you bring up Sobral's name.

Then there was the David Heath incident. After a heated buildup to their UFC 74 fight, including a near-altercation at the weigh-ins, Sobral finished Heath with an anaconda choke. As referee Steve Mazzagatti (surprise, surprise) looked on, Sobral refused to release the choke after the tap until Heath was unconscious, with Mazzagatti's intervention coming too late.

Babalu was suspended and fined by Nevada and released from the UFC for the incident. He neither fought in the UFC nor Nevada from that date forward. It was clearly a cautionary tale for other fighters, as such displays of poor post-fight sportsmanship under the Zuffa umbrella have been few and far between since.

Still, Babalu had a long and eventful career. He adapted to the sport's rapid evolution and remained relevant from the earliest days through the modern era. He never backed down from a challenge. He was willing to fight anyone, anytime, under any rule set. He won far more than he lost. And once it became clear it was time to retire, he wisely chose to bow out.

At the end of the day, Renato "Babalu" Sobral was probably not a Hall of Famer (in an informal Twitter poll conducted Thursday, fans voted "no" by about a 10-to-1 ratio). But he was unquestionably an MMA original, and that's far from the worst legacy for a fighter to have.

UFC's 20th anniversary card

@auggie85 will the UFC 20th anniversary show be bigger than UFC 100? If you had the power, what would your main card look like?

I think it's going to be tough for the UFC to top UFC 100 in terms of both business and hype. UFC 100 was the perfect storm, with the right rematch featuring the right personalities in Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir. Add to that a Georges St-Pierre title defense AND Dan Henderson vs. Michael Bisping in one of the hottest coaches' fights in TUF history.

All that was on one card, at the precise moment the North American MMA boom was reaching its zenith. That's going to be tough to match.

But that doesn't mean UFC 167 on Nov. 16 in Las Vegas, which will function as the 20th anniversary show, won't be a big one. For one thing, the hype about the 20th anniversary is the sort of thing mainstream media loves to run with, so it will break into the mainstream consciousness. For another, this is going to be one of those events, like the aforementioned UFC 100 or UFC 129 at Toronto's Rogers Centre, where fighters are going ring Joe Silva's phone off the hook, looking to be a part of a historic event.

It's too early to speculate too deep on what might accompany GSP-Hendricks on the card. But Kenny Florian floated an interesting idea on UFC Tonight this week, when he suggested that if Anderson Silva defends his title successfully on July 6 and comes out without much damage, he could defend his belt on a double bill with GSP, A double bill featuring the two longest-reigning UFC champions wouldn't be quite as big as UFC 100, but a two title-fight package, plus the hype, would undoubtedly lead to the biggest event of 2013.

Fight Master

@RuckerYeah: You can only pick one Fight Master coach. Who is it?

Easy: Greg Jackson.

Obviously you wouldn't mind being coached by any of the four among Jackson, Randy Couture, Frank Shamrock, and Joe Warren. In Shamrock's case, I'd be as interested on hearing his insight on how to make things work in the business end of the MMA game as anything else. He and Josh Barnett did a better job than any American fighters outside the UFC in figuring out how to sell yourself and keep yourself viable and relevant over the past several years. But if you were looking to become a championship figher 2013, in a camp that has proven time and again its ability to adapt? Jackson's resume kind of speaks for itself, doesn't it?

Upcoming cards

@kalamity113: I don't know if its just me but the next fox show main card appears to be super weak. Your Thoughts?

@gibinthegrove: UFC 164 looks weak besides the main event. Too many fighters coming off loses, agreed?

Ah yes. With every break in the schedule comes the inevitable torrent of "this next batch of cards sucks!" tweets. But, let's take these one at a time. For UFC on FOX 8 in Seattle on July 27, you've got co-main events of Demetrious Johnson vs. John Moraga and Rory MacDonald vs. Jake Ellenberger. I'm not sure what the beef here is. Johnson put on a quality main event for any card against John Dodson last time out and Moraga likes to bring it. And what's not to like about the co-main? MacDonald is 14-1 and one of the sport's most compelling characters; Ellenberger has won eight of nine and had a chip on his shoulder. I suppose you could nitpick the card shuffling which has left less-than-mind-blowing opponents for Robbie Lawler and Liz Carmouche. But you're getting that main and co-main for free. Not even "free" like we usually use it in MMA, where it really means "on basic cable, which you have to pay for every month, and not pay-per-view." We're talking actual, over-the-air network television. That's a pretty good card for something which takes nothing out of your pocket.

As for UFC 164, yeah, it features guys coming off losses, but that could mean we end up seeing motivated fighters who feel they have something to prove. Clay Guida needs to show his old fire, and do it against someone as talented as Chad Mendes. The winner of Erik Koch vs. Dustin Poirier is right back in the 145 picture. Rothwell vs. Vera, if nothing else, should be a slugfest. Josh Barnett vs. Frank Mir, if you're not into that, are you really an MMA fan? Add in what's an interesting main event with Benson Henderson vs. T.J. Grant, and we've got what I consider a pretty solid card. But hey ... no one's making you pay $50 for the card if you don't like the lineup. That's the great equalizer with pay-per-view. The choice is entirely yours. Vote with your dollars.

Zombie gets a title shot

@JDhahan: Do u think the UFC made the right the choice putting Jung instead of Lamas to face Aldo?

This one was kind of a coin flip. There's a reason Chan Sung Jung and Ricardo Lamas were fighting for the next shot at Jose Aldo's featherweight title to begin with, you know? Sucks for Lamas that he got passed over, but it's not like Lamas' case was so much more clear-cut than the Korean Zombie's that this is some sort of outrage. Jung has more of a fan following and his value is pretty much at its peak. With their resumes otherwise being close to equal, this was the correct call.

Where's Alvarez?

@ynneKrepmatS: Do you have an update on Eddie Alvarez? I haven't heard any news about him in a while

We haven't, and it's in both sides interest to stay that way for awhiie. On Bellator's end, they know the public is inclined to side with the fighter in these sort of situations. That was borne out last month when Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney broke his silence on the situation and spoke up, then quickly found the online reaction to be vehemently against his company. In the case of Alvarez, a working-class dude who wears his heart on his sleeve, the more he blabs, the better the odds he says something that can be used against him in the case. Unless there's another round of top-secret negotiations going on we're not privy to, the case is winding its way to trial. And the clock keeps ticking on Alvarez, who's only fought once in the past 14 months during what should be the peak of his career.

Conflict of interest?

@BrettAppley: What do you think about Ray Sefo fighting in his own org? Conflict of interest?

I suppose I should put on my Serious Journalist Hat here, since there are, indeed, potential conflict of interest issues with World Series of Fighting president Ray Sefo taking on Dave Huckaba at their Aug. 10 show in lovely and scenic Ontario, Calif. But I just can't.

For one thing, if you've ever met Sefo, he seems like the type of person who could get into a bar fight with just for fun, then have beers with the guy whose face he just re-arranged. For another, all indications are that Sefo's a figurehead anyway. And besides, Vince McMahon and Stone Cold Steve Austin made millions teasing the idea of the employee beating up the boss, so why shouldn't WSOF try the same?

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