If you're a baseball fan, you try to make at least an annual pilgrimage to your favorite Major League team's mecca of a ballpark, maybe even get to more than one game if you've got a few hundred spare bucks in your wallet. But for a more intimate, affordable, and ultimately forward-looking ballgame experience, you head to your closest minor league park, where you get to witness the baby steps of tomorrow's all-stars and also-rans.
It's the same in every sport, really. Fans of college football, basketball and hockey get to watch Super Bowl, NBA Finals and Stanley Cup MVPs in the making, along with a lot of young players whose lifelong claim to fame will be that they once played with a future NFL, NBA or NHL star. It's cool to be a sightseer on the ground floor of the sports skyscraper called greatness, a little like being a music fan and catching an arena headliner-to-be while the band is still playing sweaty, dingy rock clubs.
The combat sports equivalent to all this was on display on Friday night. Really on display, before millions watching on TV. On ESPN2, there was the season premiere of the boxing show
How close to the big leagues are these Challengers? As with any minor league operation, you have to grade on a curve, with the understanding being that if these guys were complete fighters they'd already have broken into Strikeforce's starting lineup. Keeping that in mind, here is one man's perspective on what Friday night's performances said about where the various fighters belong in the MMA minor league system: