“The more things change, the more they stay the same”
Last week, UFC officials met with departing Executive President of WWE Global Media, Shane McMahon. It’s fitting that following a meeting with the son of WWE Chairman and CEO Vince McMahon, the UFC put on a show with several allusions to professional wrestling.
It began with Josh Koscheck. His fight with Anthony Johnson played out similar to any number of pro wrestling matches. Each fighter traded eye pokes, the climax of which didn’t even happen. Johnson threw a knee to a downed Koscheck, an illegal technique. Koscheck fell to the canvas as if he’d been waylaid, grasping his left eye, causing the audience to wonder if the fight would continue. However, the replay would show not only that Koscheck blocked the knee strike with his forearm, but that it was his right eye that had been grazed in the exchange.
The exact scenario plays out weekly on WWE television, but there it was, on display in a legitimate athletic competition. Fortunately, the fight continued, and to Koscheck’s credit, he was able to earn a victory via submission. When interviews by UFC color commentator Joe Rogan, Koscheck channeled the WWE once more.
“…I know there’s somebody here who thinks he’s the number one contender,” Koscheck proclaimed. “He thinks he’s the number one contender, and I think he’s hasn’t fought anybody, and he’s sitting right over there. The name’s Dan Hardy. He ain’t fought nobody like me. I guarantee, I’m the number one freaking contender in this weight division, right here. I’m fighting Georges St. Pierre in March, Dana White. You know it. February, I know they’re looking for a card. Dan Hardy [versus] Josh Koscheck sells. Let ’em fight right here in the states first.”
It was a brilliant performance by Josh Koscheck, and don’t believe for a second that he wasn’t putting on a show. Granted, it was a performance with its roots firmly planted in the truth, at least as Koscheck sees it. There’s no doubt that Koscheck believes he is the top contender to Georges St. Pierre’s Welterweight Championship. He almost certainly believes that Hardy hasn’t fought anyone on his level, even if he’s throwing teammate and recent loser to Hardy, Mike Swick, under the bus by extension.
By calling out Dan Hardy in that manner while simultaneously proclaiming his own greatness, Koscheck not only drew the ire of the fans, but also made a potential matchup between himself and Hardy, which hadn’t been previously considered, viable. Koscheck played the role of the heel tremendously, while Hardy looked on, pantomiming the crying that Koscheck was essentially doing in the Octagon. The give and take between the two provides the UFC with another much needed money match. It’s a shame that there’s no guarantee that Koscheck will ever face Hardy, who is still scheduled to face Georges St. Pierre for the Welterweight Champion, presumably in March 2010.
Koscheck’s post-fight antics weren’t the only to remind of pro wrestling. After a valiant effort against Forrest Griffin through two rounds of their rematch, round three saw Tito Ortiz put on his best impression of a punching bag. It seemed clear that something was wrong with Ortiz, but after all we had heard about how he was “100%,” Tito couldn’t possibly think to claim that he was injured prior to the fight, could he?
Indeed he did.
“I had a bulging disc. S…C11, C6 or C6, C7,” Ortiz announced. He went on to say, “I want to see someone fight [with] a cracked skull. I came and I stepped in with a cracked skull, that’s why I’ve had a black eye this whole time.”
Another decidedly heel manuever, this time by Ortiz, who is no stranger to this behavior on any level. Citing injury has been Ortiz’s go-to maneuver ever since his loss to Randy Couture in 2003, the match that Tito cites as the source of his back problems. This time it was different, though. We all knew that Ortiz underwent surgery. We were told that for the first time in six years that Tito’s back was a non-issue. Yet immediately following a close but definitive loss (despite what Glenn Trowbridge would have you believe), Ortiz went right back to that familiar excuse. Valid though it his professed injuries appeared to be given his third round performance, Tito essentially announced to the audience that he was playing them all along. Betrayal of trust is a superb means by which to inspire the kind of hatred that will get people to pay their hard earned money to see someone get their comeuppance. Drawing that kind of heat, even more than complaining about injuries, is Ortiz’s go-to move.
The talk during the post-fight press conference dealt with the possibility of having Ortiz and Griffin coach season 11 of The Ultimate Fighter. While that would be the best avenue through which to promote a rubber match between the two, the reality is that Ortiz, at this point in time, appears to be on a level below Griffin. Still, the UFC managed to sell the world on watching Ortiz pummel Ken Shamrock for both a second and third time, so at least Ortiz v. Griffin 3 would be a far more reasonable and compelling athletic contest.
Realistically, the fact that Ortiz has been able to convince people that a third match with Griffin is worth their while speaks to the power of pro wrestling-style promoting. Ultimately, promotion is what this all boils down to rather that professional wrestling and all that it entails in 2009. This method of promotion certainly harkens back to pro wrestling, but it’s not exclusive to the psuedo sport. It worked in boxing for Muhammad Ali, who drew his inspiration from Fred Blassie and Gorgeous George, as it does today for Floyd Mayweather Jr. It’s worked for Ortiz and Koscheck, it’s worked for Ken Shamrock and Frank Shamrock, it’s worked to create and sustain the MMA industry in Japan, and it’s worked for countless other performers in both MMA and boxing. While it may offend the delicate sensibilities of some MMA fans, this sort of promotion has proven its worth and it is a major reason why MMA exists today.
For those who still aren’t amenable to that sort of promotion, take comfort: this event was to be headlined by former WWE Champion Brock Lesnar.