Last weekend had two major MMA cards, a champion fell, and various top talent contested fights with the always-necessary divisional importance. So what does it all mean? When the dust has cleared, Rashad Evans is wheeled out of the arena, and Jose Canseco picks up his bat and limps out of the arena, how is the world different than what came before?
The Machida Era?
Much has been made of what is expected to be a long and dominant title reign from the new champion of MMA’s prestige division. Machida certainly has the goods to win any fight, and 205 is a delightful mess right now, the sort of mess that can only be sorted out by making numerous fights between top talent and seeing what happens. However, good as any fighter may be, there is too much talent at 205 for me to expect anyone, regardless of karate skills, handspeed, heart, or punching power, to string together more than a few wins before being dethroned.
However, the fact that Machida is an awesome fighter was well-known before he reduced Rashad to a smoldering heap of scrap. What was unknown is that Machida can sell shows.
The crowd chanted his name, the arena exploded when he won. Machida is a legitimate star and draw. Fans apparently love the story of a “traditional” karate master, they eat up the official story of a humble practitioner dedicated to his craft, and a general change-of-pace from the smack-talking California/skater/alternative/tattoo genericism of so many MMA fighters. Combine that with the fact that everyone loves a winner, especially a winner that completely demolished his last four opponents, and you have a real breakout star on your hands.
The conventional wisdom is that not being American, not speaking English, and not being a character and cutting sick pro-wrestling promos on the mic means you can’t be a huge star in MMA, but, like so much “conventional wisdom” this received knowledge is flat out false. Witness Chuck Liddell, a man that would be hard-pressed to make the JV debate team at mime school, said the same thing before and after every fight, and had the personality of a fist attached to a life support apparatus, yet became a transcendent superstar for the UFC. A fighter’s charisma goes far beyond speaking ability or the ability to create some kind of off-the-wall character. If the fans buy your story and are excited by your in-ring actions, that’s all it takes. After all, who remembers anything Michael Jordan has ever said? Now who remembers what he was? Legends are transcendent.
No Can, Crusher
Tatsuya “Crusher” Kawajiri’s dominant performance over the highly-touted JZ Cavalcante should raise his stock higher than it’s been at any point since his loss to Gomi in the heydey of the Fireball Kid’s reign as the most dominant lightweight on the planet.
Crusher deserves this recognition because he’s a consummate mixed martial artist. He has a sick base, very aggressive guard-passing game, good combinations and surprisingly good kicks considering he’s built like Magilla Gorilla. He used every bit of those talents in beating JZ (who, to his credit, was coming off an injury and a long layoff) and I can’t think of many fighters that I would consider a favorite to beat him.
Kawajiri will likely next be in full-contact action in a K-1 rules bout with K-1 Max legend Masato. This will be an excellent litmus test for Kawajiri’s improved striking, which we saw used to devastating effect against Kozo Takeda, and in flashes in the limited time he spent on the feet with JZ. Kawajiri certainly throws extremely fluid combinations of vicious strikes now, but there are times when he mixes in blows that can only be described as “gorilla hammers” in addition to crisper and straighter punches, so it will be very revealing to see how he fares against even a faded Masato.
Warren’t You Surprised?
Well, with his defeat of Norifumi Yamamoto, Joe Warren surprised everyone on the planet, aside from himself and his wife. Warren is obviously very talented, but he’s also extremely mean and tough, as well a relentless competitor. He needs a lot of polishing and detail work, but he has a fabulous base and will be well served by his apparent desire to kill his opponent by any means necessary, knees to the guts, brutal dirty boxing, illegal elbows, or even a headbutt or two. The guy is a serious force, even if sometime he’s a bit misguided. He really seemed to believe that he could tap Kid with a crossface and expended quite a bit of energy trying to brutalize him with it, to little obvious effect, which is indicative of the story within the story.
If Warren keeps fighting like this, he’s going to get submitted or beaten to hell. As a very tough guy, he walked through even Yamamoto’s strikes, and was able to power out of the lone submission attempt Kid made, but relying on one’s chin and power instead of legitimate defense is a recipe for MMA disaster. In retrospect, with the skills we now know Warren brings to the table (or doesn’t) it’s clear that Kid Yamamoto is far and away the best fighter he can beat at this moment. Warren can undoubtedly dictate the location of the fight against any opponent, but a reasonably skilled grappler will submit him without much fuss, and a reasonably skilled striker will accumulate massive amounts of damage. He’ll dominate anyone in MMA in the clinch, and he is very good at quickly closing distance on the feet and tying guys up, which will serve him well in MMA, but he simply doesn’t have the well-rounded skills to compete with most of the fighters that a win over Yamamoto suggests he should face.
Warren is doubtless a sublimely talented individual and a natural fighter, and it would be a shame to see him get the Soukoudjou treatment, rushed into fights where he’s massively outgunned and never given a chance to develop into a complete fighter.