This is the time of year when lots of folks are wrapping and unwrapping presents, so here are some suggested recipients in the mixed martial arts world whose gifts would keep on giving, all through 2011:
Randy Couture:one last fight that mattersThat doesn't mean the fight has to matter in the larger scheme of things in the UFC's light heavyweight division. Randy isn't at the front of the line of challengers for a title shot, and despite all he's done for the UFC and his sport, he shouldn't cut in front of a more worthy title hopeful. But championship aspirations notwithstanding, there must be one last fight the 47-year-old wants. Couture hasn't called anyone out publicly -- he's not that type of guy -- but maybe he's dropped a hint in the privacy of the UFC offices. If so, make the fight happen. As thrilling as it was to watch him demolish James Toney last summer, that shouldn't be the enduring final image of Randy Couture the fighter. Unless he's OK with that and is ready to take on Brad Pitt and Johnny Depp in a new arena.
Fedor Emelianenko: a calendarSpeaking of one last fight that matters, Fedor must be made to understand that, at age 34, he doesn't have too many trips inside the cage left in him. Emelianenko built a mystique of greatness during his Pride days, but most of those fights were in Japan, unseen by the eyes of the American MMA-following public. For these fans, the most vividly enduring image of the big Russian is of him tapping to a Fabricio Werdem triangle/armbar this summer. Before that, there was talk of Fedor joining the UFC to fight Brock Lesnar, a summit of indomitable heavyweights. Now that Lesnar is no longer the baddest man on the planet, Emelianenko has an opportunity to solidify his legacy. But to do this he must fight. So look at that calendar, Fedor, count the years you have left, and make the most of them. Alistair Overeem for the Strikeforce title? Moving to the UFC to challenge Cain Velasquez? Whatever. Just fight. While you still can.
Jose Aldo:a fightHe might not find it at 145 pounds. Josh Grispi, who was supposed to challenge for Aldo's new UFC bantamweight belt next weekend before the 24-year-old champion was hurt in training, has looked great so far in his young career. But better than Urijah Faber? Better than Mike Thomas Brown? Both of those former champs were handled easily by Aldo. The Brazilian dynamo might have to stop picking on people his own size. And if he moves up to 155 and dominates that division, too, watch out, heavyweights.
Cain Velasquez:a tieWhat do you get for the man who already has every gift imaginable? He already has a standup game. He's already great on the mat. All he needs is something nice to wear to all those ceremonies where people hand him awards.
Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva:each otherThis is the fight the fans want, more than any other, and unlike with boxing, MMA and particularly the UFC is all about giving fans the fights they ask for. And what a draw it would be if the indomitable welterweight and middleweight champs were to step in the cage. Imagine, though, if these guys had each lost his last bout, and the two conquerors were the ones slated to meet. The trash talking between Chael Sonnen and Josh Koscheck would be legendary.
Dana White:an eighth day of the weekHere's a man who loves his job, who relishes the challenges thrown at him with every new day, who has been "on" for a decade and shows no signs of burning out. OK, Dana, I know you work 24-7. So here's an extra day, with the stipulation being that your office key won't work and your iPhone needs a day-long charge. Go watch a movie with your kids, man.
Frankie Edgar: a stint as The BossWhat is it about some Jersey guys that earns them almost universal adoration? Bruce Springsteen has it. So do Bill Parcells and Tony Soprano. Frankie has all the makings of that mystique, having beaten the legendary B.J. Penn twice, but the praise and recognition still are slow in coming. Maybe if he hands Gray Maynard his first loss on New Year's night, Edgar will finally reach the promised land.
Brock Lesnar:a plane ticket to Los AngelesUpon arrival in sunny California, Brock, there's no time for you to go watch the former Minneapolis Lakers. Just head over to the Wild Card Boxing Club in Hollywood and ask for Freddie Roach. The trainer for Manny Pacquiao has worked with several MMA fighters, most recently Georges St-Pierre as the UFC welterweight champ trained for his successful defense earlier this month against Josh Koscheck. Lesnar has a long way to go with his standup, but no one's expecting him to be the second coming of Mike Tyson. After watching him cower and run at the first signs of fisticuffs in his last two bouts, it's obvious he needs to learn how to make his gargantuan frame a little more elusive, to hit without being hit. A couple of weeks in the gym with Roach couldn't hurt.
Bruce Buffer:a little enthusiasmPoor guy just can't get excited on fight night. Imagine if they hired him to do the announcing on the first tee at Augusta?
Bob Reilly:a visit not from St. Nick but from St-PierreThe New York State Assemblyman, the most vocal impediment to his state sanctioning MMA, should answer his door one day and see the UFC welterweight champion standing there. Georges would arrive not as a Dana White leg breaker (even if that's what the company president might like to see happen) but as living proof that mixed martial artists are neither fighting dogs nor prostitutes -- two foolish comparisons Reilly has made not out of malice but out of ignorance. The influential assemblyman needs to be enlightened, not because fans in New York need MMA -- they can just skip over to Jersey or up to Canada to watch the fights -- but because MMA itself needs to be rid of the stigma of being banned in the Empire State, which inexplicably allows the Mets and Bills to operate, speaking of stigma. GSP is a soft-spoken gentleman and a true martial artist, and if meeting with him doesn't soften Reilly's stance, then you send in the pit bulls and hookers.
Chuck Liddell:a trophyMake it a big, important-looking trophy, one befitting a man largely responsible for propelling MMA into the sporting and cultural mainstream. The former UFC light heavyweight champion, who got the best of Randy Couture in a memorable trilogy, was the first mixed martial artist on the cover of ESPN The Magazine, and he's appeared on HBO's Entourage, in several movies, and on Dancing with the Stars. All along the way, he created more and more visibility for MMA (even if some ABC viewers might assume that all fighters have two left feet). Yes, I realize Chuck already has been inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, but he was an active fighter at that point. He deserves a lifetime achievement-type award, something to close the book on his career with pomp and circumstance. Because after five losses in his last six fights, four of them by brutal KO, that book ought not be opened again. "The Iceman" would love to get Tito Ortiz into the cage one last time, but let's just hand Chuck a big trophy, give him a standing O, and allow him to go out in a blaze of glory.
Chael Sonnen:a mute buttonHe's unsurpassed in hyping a fight, but the problem is Sonnen keeps talking even after all the tickets have been sold, after the fight is over, after everyone has left the building. And like many of his fellow Republican politicians, he's been known to filibuster for all the wrong reasons. Chael needs someone to tell him that he doesn't need to sell himself to us anymore. In the leadup to the Anderson Silva fight, no one gave him any more than a Forrest Griffin chance, so his trash talking served the purpose of stirring up interest in what many thought would be total domination. As it turned out, that scenario was on the mark, except it was Sonnen doing the dominating for 4 3/5 rounds. So now we know what Chael is capable of. He doesn't have to tell us. And tell us. And tell us.
Nick Diaz:a guest appearance on MTVNo, we're not suggesting he become Paris Hilton's new BFF or, as appealing as it may sound, choke out The Situation. Diaz belongs on a special episode of Bully Beatdown, vying for $10,000 in crisp new bills against the loquacious host, Jason "Mayhem" Miller. Strikeforce has inexplicably failed to make this grudge match happen, perhaps not wanting to reawaken images of the brawl on live network TV between Miller and the Cesar Gracie camp (led by Diaz) following Jake Shields' win over Dan Henderson in April. But bad behavior and bad blood aside, this fight has merit. As Miller says, "You bring us your bullies, and we'll beat 'em up." Let's see if he can back that up.
Steve Mazzagatti:a little understandingI know, I know, you're probably thinking the gift this beleaguered referee most needs is "a clue." But it's the holiday season, so let's be nice. (Dana White, this means you.) I'm not here to defend all of Mazzagatti's decisions inside the cage (although I do think he's sometimes criticized when he's in the right), and I'm not saying he's on par with Herb Dean or Big John McCarthy, the two best in the sport. But Mazzagatti is not MMA's answer to Joe West, one of the increasing number of Major League Baseball umpires who crave attention and think the game is about them. Mazzagatti knows the fans come to see the fighters, not him. Whatever mistakes he makes are in the interest of enforcing the rules and protecting the competitors, and I can live with that.
Nelson Hamilton and Cecil Peoples:a half-pointThese are two of the more ubiquitous fight judges, which naturally makes them among the more unpopular as well. You'd think they were collecting payoffs from the dandruff shampoo industry -- they continually make fans and fighters alike scratch their heads after decisions are announced. But are the judges the problem, or is it the rules under which they operate? The 10-point-must system works OK for boxing, because in a 12-round bout there's time for a fighter to make up for ground lost early on. In an MMA fight of three or five rounds, however, there's no such wiggle room. Every point is paramount. So let's break up those points, some in the sport are suggesting. That way, a judge could differentiate a narrowly won round (10-9.5) from a clear advantage (10-9), something just short of dominance (10-8.5) from an all-out butt kicking (10-8). Maybe there's a better system for judging three- and five-round fights, but this would be a good first step. And one we've taken this step, we can get down to the business of determining just how competent Hamilton, Peoples and their brethren really are.