Words Are Cheap, Shut Up And Dance

I’ve made my opinion clear, regarding the differences between WWE/Pro-Wrestling and MMA and where each one should live. We talked a lot about the role of trash-talk in the hyping up of fights, and PPV sales generation. But we didn’t look hard enough at, how effective trash talk was through the years, and more importantly in the present. So, I decided to see what is the correlation between: The volume of trash talk a fighter puts out, the quality of said trash talk (There are levels to this game), their general level as a fighter and popularity. Before we dive in, here are some comments about this experiment:
Volume: How often a fighter trash-talks or does self-promo work.
Quality: How much sense the things a fighter says make, wit, bite, validity.
Overall quality: How good is the fighter, based on his record, performances and achievements.
Popularity: How much is the person celebrated, how much s/he contributes to sales and popularity of the sport.
General comments: This is not a scientific work, and what statistics and information I got is largely available to all of you. This is a pretty subjective exercise, but I tried to stay as unbiased as possible. Still, if you suspect I have a strong opinion on the matter, you are correct. Also, I will only consider legit top 10 fighters in their respective weight.

(Thank you Yaron, Ofir and Atsmon for reminiscing with me, bringing up some legendary trash talk, in preparation for this post!)

 

Tale Of The Tape:

Conor is, in my humble opinion, the most talented and successful trash talker – slash – persona in MMA history. Not a very bold statement, which in itself is the proof in the pudding. Conor spoke often, spoke well, for the most part kept it classy (within the realm of insults) and backed up his bragging very convincingly, until he didn’t. When Conor lost to Nate, and to Khabib, he wasn’t “exposed” as a “bad fighter”, we only saw that there are holes to his game, and that perhaps his heart was not in it enough at times. Conor is also the best seller in UFC/MMA history, with no real threat on the horizon.

Tale Of The Tape:

Lesnar didn’t speak very often, but spoke loudly, and did not suck at this. His experience as a pro-wrestler came in handy, in the way he handled the mic, and himself in the cage. Especially following his wins. Lesnar is likely the number 2 best seller, and we can definitely attribute this to his crossover fanbase. Brock brought many viewers to the sport, and if anything, he deserves the respect for that. As a fighter he was seriously compromised by Cain, and did not really get back from that.

Tale Of The Tape:

Georges did most of his talk in the cage. He spoke very little in terms of hype, and when he did try his hand at it, came off a bit goofy. The famous “I’m not impressed with your performance” was so Canadian of him, and he even apologized for that. It’s not his game. On the other hand, GSP was an actual draw – mostly, but not only in Canada – and for his time, was considered a sort of a golden eggs laying goose. You either watched him, hoping to see him lose, or watched to see him destroy another hyped-up opponent. But you watched. Georges is one of the GOATs.

Tale Of The Tape:

Ronda was not a very slick trash talker, and most of what she threw at the mic were Diaz level brags. However, Ronda provided the goods, with a very impressive run, and had the luxury of having the full support of UFC marketing machine. Her achievements in the cage, and constant exposure brought her mainstream attention, and drew people to the sport. It’s hard to quantify, and I don’t think she was as big of a draw as Conor or Brock (The other 2 who can lay claim to drawing people in), but she made an impact.

 

Tale Of The Tape:

Jones’ trash talk was almost exclusively saved for Daniel Cormier. It was sharp, it was aimed for the jugular, and – even a big DC fan as myself must admit – for the most part, was backed by facts, as irritating as that was at times. Jon is one of the best fighters ever, and it’s very likely that his life choices had hurt his popularity and drawing power. His PPVs are still some of the most anticipated ones, but I don’t recall numbers quite as high as some of the above (please correct me if I’m wrong).

 

Tale Of The Tape:

While DC is a smooth talker, with a quick reply at the ready, he did lose the trash talk battle with Jones, simply on the basis of losing the respective fights. He can hold the moral grounds, but Jones – for inexplicable reasons – remains the fan favorite in this battle. DC is very popular, but could be so much more (as is the case in general) without losses to Jones.

Tale Of The Tape:

The count is not smooth. He is witty, quick, creative and in your face. Bisping won, way more often than he lost, never looked terrible (expect that one time…) and has never succumbed to any verbal assault. He’ll always have the last word in an argument, even if it’s two words. You know. FU. Michael sold out events in England, and even if you don’t want to admit it, when the stakes were high – trash talk wise – you showed up just to see him eat crow (Where were you when Hendo landed that bomb?) There is no denying his skills, his heart and his endurance. Mike is legend.

Tale Of The Tape:

The diazes (Nick mostly) were always bitter. They have their style, they never apologized for it – quite the contrary – and in many cases also said things with some validity. Their command of the English language made them appealing for a far smaller crowd than they might’ve been able to engage otherwise, and the negative, whiny tone of said talk did not serve them well. Constantly criticizing the system, the organization, their opponents, and never owning their mistakes. Someone took them down? it wasn’t because they couldn’t defend it, it’s because of the pro wrestling rules. A fight didn’t go their way? The opponent didn’t fight to their advantage, everybody’s on steroids. It doesn’t sell much. Both brothers are very skilled, but seem to have gotten stuck in their comfort zone, which I believe, prevented them from achieving real greatness.

Tale Of The Tape:

Colby Covington is actually not a bad guy… I just saw a video that puts a stamp on what was suspected – it’s all an act. Colby decided to adopt the role of the heel, and takes it to the absolute limit, and then a couple of steps further. A very impressive run, culminating in a win over Robbie Lawler, in such a fashion that makes a title shot pretty much a done deal. Colby talks a lot. Colby talks a lot of nonsense, maintain a really trashy image, and treats fighters with very little respect. Can anyone tell me that this made him a huge seller? I do not see any supporting data. Yes, MMA fans and Trump family members talk about him, but beyond that…

Tale Of The Tape:

Perhaps the one guy in the list who made the most out of pure imagery. Kudos to Chael for talking his way into some big fights. He has a way with words, though sometimes there’s no real sense in what he says. He is loud and confident, knows how to play to his strengths, and j-u-s-t good enough to be taken seriously sometimes, or at least semi-legit in others. The thing with Chael is that he didn’t really back his talk up. There is just a gap between what he claims to be able to do, and what he actually did.

Conclusions:

As I mentioned, this is not a scientific experiment. But I think my thesis holds water. Trash talk does not sell. Especially, if it is not strongly linked to performance in the cage. We can see a guy like GSP selling out arenas with close to no talk, Rousey bringing eyeballs to the screen with little talk. We can see big trash talkers achieving less than stellar popularity, and at the very top, we have a person who came with a built-in following on the one hand, and group of people who wanted to see him fall on the other, as well as the one person who did it just-right.
My recommendation remains – as writers say “Show, don’t tell”. If you are not Conor McGregor (hint: you are not) just show up, fight, give us the performance that will make us care, and we will come. We will pay money to see good fights.
Or as Aerosmith, so eloquently put it – Shut up and dance!


Failure, Defeat, Loss, Humiliation (Or In Other Words – The Makings Of Success)

There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.

Malcolm X

Have you ever seen Cristiano Ronaldo get the ball just the way he likes it, in a position to score comfortably, do everything right, then send the ball off target? Did you catch that facial expression? And what do you think goes through his head? Is he saying “the goal was supposed to be a few inches to the right?”
Do you remember that time Georges Saint-Pierre, yes the very same man who is (rightfully) named the greatest MMA fighter of all time, lost to Matt Serra, a relative unknown at the time? In his very first title defense no less? After speaking about personal life interfering with his fight, George took that back and stated very clearly that Matt Serra was simply the better fighter that night.
When Joanna jedrzejczyk broke in tears during the post fight press conference, it was hard not to feel for her. She just lost her title, and with it, her dream of retiring from the sport undefeated. Yes, she spoke a lot of trash in the weeks leading to the fight, and I did not like it one little bit, but she is a human being caught on camera at a time most of us aren’t.
Yet, for the most part, she was ok. She said mostly positive things about her turning the page and working to get back to the top. She grudgingly credited Rose for her performance and game plan, and even if there was a hint of denial in her general message, I attributed it to the instant-gratification needs of today’s media – i.e. forcing her to face the press minutes after defeat and expecting a well thought out statement.
Twenty four hours have passed, and we read reports coming from her camp that she “wasn’t feeling well on the week of the fight.”
Let me say this first – It might very well be true. I am not here to doubt her, or her people.  I am however, of the opinion, that this was not wise.
She cut me off, she caught me

 

Yes she did. and did she do it with no intention? Did she do it “out of the blue”? Of course not, as my fellow combatdocket.com writter Benjamin Abrigo beautifully wrote, it was all part of a well thought out plan to beat the defending champion.
In that post, Benjamin describes how TJ Dillashaw and his coach came up with the plan to defeat another defending champion, Cody Garbrandt.
What was the message in Cody’s post fight press conference? In so many words – regardless of the result, I was the better fighter. And if in Joanna’s case, we could attribute it to shock and humiliation, in Cody’s case – let’s face it – we’re talking about pure ego. Complete disregard to reality.
Then, out comes Michael Bisping and says “I felt great, I trained hard, and Georges was the better fighter. He won.”
With your permission, I will spend another paragraph or two on the role of the media in all this before we move on.
Many of the fighters these days are very young. Some of our champions are very young. Youth is excitement, and showmanship. It is also, immaturity.
The media knows that. The promoter knows that. Yet, they send these young folks to the proverbial line of fire, riding an adrenaline roller-coaster, to be documented for eternity answering questions, which most of these young men and women are not prepared for in the best case, or just provocative and unnecessary questions in the worst.
Perhaps the post fight press conference should be reserved for the promotion head, who can answer question at his discretion, and at a later time, the fighters – having a chance to catch their breath and think things over – could face the press.
Let’s get back to the fighters.
While I put some of the blame on the nature of the beast, we cannot remove it all from the fighters themselves.
GSP says that the loss to Matt Serra made him what he became in the years that followed. Cristiano Ronaldo became a monstrous striker because he hates to lose. athletes like these, did not become what they are because of success.
Defeat, Failure, Loss, Humiliation. All of these words are perceived as negative because of the way they make us feel but they could – perhaps more so in the context of competitive sports – be referred to as a source of motivation and opportunity.

Drivers of change.

GSP never looked past another opponent again in his life. In fact, he frustrated reporters and fans alike every time he deflected questions about other opponents, stating that it would be disrespectful to his current one. Actually, by maintaining this attitude, Georges respected himself and his profession more and channeled his focus on the target in front of him, and worked hard at improving the aspect of the game he needed to, in order to win his next fight.
TJ Dillashaw experienced all of these in the very first round of this very championship fight. He went to his corner and came out of it a changed man.
Ronaldo walks away from that miss with one thought in his head “Next time I will do it better.” and if he misses again? “Next time I will do it better.” He will shoot hundreds of balls at practice and perform whatever task again and again until he gets it right. Because it’s not the opposing defender’s responsibility to allow him access. It’s his own.
So some advice to young fighters:
  • Learn to be more humble in victory – It will buy you a lot of credit in defeat.
  • Do not be ashamed in failure – It is not the end of the world. We all experience it.
  • Embrace defeat and own it – It is a great opportunity to improve (in every aspect of our lives).
  • Give credit – Not only is it a nice thing to do – the appropriate thing to do – it also prevents embarrassment. If you discredit someone who beat you, then in essence your loss is bigger. If you beat someone you discredited, then what did you really achieve by winning?


UFC 217 AfterMMAth (King Georges The Second)

Last time around, we called this “The history channel” and well, it was.
But when it comes to pure MMA, Drama, Significance to titles, and overall performance, I think UFC217 made a very strong case for being THE one. Dana was right, we can’t forget past events, and some were indeed epic, so we will let the dust settle and leave that call for another day. This morning, I’m still buzzing (as I expect many of you are) over a card that justifies every superlative.
As always, let’s discuss my picks quickly. Then, we’ll chat about this, that and the other.

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Ultimate Fighting Championship (What’s In A Name?)

In 2002 the World Wrestling Federation (A.K.A WWF) lost the court case, and the ensuing appeals to the cute pandas and had to re-invent itself. True, It was a change of one letter, which doesn’t sound like much, but I’d like to point out a couple of things that followed very closely:
The F (for “Federation”) became an E (for “Entertainment”)
The “wrestlers/Fighters” became “Superstars
The female “wrestlers/Fighters” became “Divas
Notice the significance? Not only did Vince McMahon change the name of this organization, but the terminology and jargon. That was done, in accordance with the fact that this promotion is in fact an Entertainment business, with superstars and divas as… well… stars.
The pro-wrestling terms “Mark” (coming from the carnival days – the mark of a deception/trick etc. a person “buying” the act) and “Smark” (“smart mark”, a guy who knew the whole thing is staged) quickly disappeared, and everyone began to openly discuss the “entertainment” aspect of the business as the factor directing it.
When Brock Lesnar joined the UFC in 2008, the majority of the MMA fanbase – pardon my French – lost their shit.
Get back to fake wrestling!” was the sentiment. “We don’t need your WWE $h!t!
See, MMA fans became ones because they wanted to see real competition between skilled fighters who actually used the different martial arts to prove superiority.

Fast forward to present day (Mid 2017 more or less):

The “Biggest fight in combat sport history” is between a Mixed Martial Artist and a retired Boxing legend.
The next biggest fight according to general fans vocal opinion – a 3rd encounter between two fighters who never seemed to have anything to prove to each other. Well, other than who can back his trash-talk better.
Already scheduled is a fight between current MW champion, Michael Bisping (who to this day defended his belt against a 45 year old almost retired legend and another 40 year old legend who came back from a horrible injury) and the legendary WW champion and all-time best – Georges St. Pierre (who is coming back from a 4 year break).
When some of us MMA fans pointed out that the direction UFC is heading in is far from where we think they should, we were met with a cold shower of responses “educating” us about the business.
Conor makes a gazillion in a month”, “No one wants to watch Demetrious Johnson win another fight”, “Bisping doesn’t sell PPVs” and so on and so forth.
During the last couple of years, UFC (for the most part) went through a very significant transformation.
From the leading MMA promotion, attracting the best talent in order to provide consistently improving level of competition, thus becoming more popular, what we see now is an organization obsessed with making money in any way possible.
Fights are booked – so it seems – more frequently based on crowd demands and less on achievements or reason.
Fighters (seeing where the wind blows) understandably increase their “PR” or “Promo” work to get ahead.
I don’t know about you, but it really is starting to look like more of an “entertainment” business than a fighter’s promotion.

Which brings me back to 2008.

What happens is that the very same people who were ready to go after Brock Lesnar with tourches and pitchforks, chasing him back to his “WWE $h!t”, are now criticizing others for showing their dismay with this direction of entertainment first and sports/competition/MMA later.
As I wrote in various forums, for me, “This fight won’t make as much money as the other” is not a satisfactory reason. Call me crazy, but I still like MMA because I love watching two skilled individuals test themselves against each other. I know…

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Shut up already! You’re going to watch anyway!” Sure I will (Read my confession), what else is there to do? But I do think we deserve a more level headed approach. One where the important business decisions take more than just the bottom line into account.
Let WWE lead with “fake feuds” and “promos” and let’s focus on what we’re here to do. Sure, color your fights with whatever “background” and there’s always some trash-talking to do. But this is martial arts we’re here to watch and I, for one, still remember that it’s about respect. Respect for one’s self, for the arts and for the fans. What can I say?
When it comes to MMA I’m a “mark”.


UFC 213 AfterMMAth (Let There Be Not!)

In the beginning there was Cody Vs. TJ and all fans were a’crazed (yes, it’s a thing). Then the MMA Lord said “Let there be not!” and there was not.
On the second day there was Cowboy Vs. Lawler and manginas were wet. Then the MMA Lord said “Let there be not!” and there was not.
On the 11th hour there was Nunes Vs. Shevchenko and everyone in Peru and outside (including significant chunks of Brazil) were excited. Then the MMA Lord… or Nunes… or the doctor… or… god damn it, this card was cursed!
Or was it?
Let’s discuss my picks quickly and then, if I don’t pull out, we’ll do something new and exciting.

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Fixing MMA – Part Four

The name of this post should tell you that there are three more parts. Links to all can be found at the end of this post.

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UFC 204 AfterMMAth (#ThankYouHendo)

Hello there,
Welcome back for another AfterMMAth post and what an AfterMMAth it is. Strictly MMA speaking, UFC204 is way up there with the best event of the year contenders. Top to bottom, mostly finishes, mostly submissions, mostly chokes. Some really high quality showcased. And to top things off, the hometown hero reigns supreme while the legend can now retire on a really good performance.
Before we cover some important issues, let’s review the predictions I made:

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