May 10, 2011

The steak is still there, but the sizzle is all gone.

Less than three weeks before Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard were due to step into the Octagon for their rematch of a rematch, with their New Year's night thriller fueling much anticipation, the main event of UFC 130 has fallen apart. Both fighters have been injured in training -- broken ribs and hurt back for Edgar, knee injury for Maynard -- and have had to pull out of the May 28 lightweight title bout, UFC president Dana White said Monday.

The Las Vegas event now will be headlined by Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Matt Hamill. That's not exactly a fight you're going to plan your Memorial Day weekend party plans around.

UFC 130 does have one thing going for it, though: the depth typical of a card shaped by Joe Silva matchmaking. Frank Mir vs. Roy Nelson and Stefan Struve vs. the unbeaten Travis Browne are appealing heavyweight bouts. Brian Stann vs. Jorge Santiago should entertain, as should Thiago Alves vs. Rick Story. The pay-per-view is stacked to the point that former WEC bantamweight champ Miguel Torres is way down in the Spike prelims.

But people fly to Vegas or shell out $50 for big PPV main events that will decide championships or at least promise to put someone "in the mix," as White likes to say. A pay card made up of a succession of potentially interesting bouts is a tough sell.

Here's the irony: White gave his Edgar-Maynard injury report during a conference call with MMA media to announce that the UFC has secured an insurance policy for its fighters that will cover accidental injuries suffered in training or elsewhere outside the Octagon. Previously, fighters were covered only for injuries sustained during a bout.

This is big news for mixed martial artists, particularly young or marginal competitors struggling to earn a living, guys who can't afford personal insurance policies and also can't afford to miss a payday because of injury. The UFC is doing right by its fighters here, as several acknowledged after the news broke.

"Yet another reason UFC is the best!!" posted Kenny Florian, who'll make his featherweight debut next month, on his Twitter feed shortly after the announcement.

"Thank you," tweeted former light heavyweight champ Tito Ortiz. "Making for a great future for fighters."

"It's really exciting to hear we will b getting some type of health insurance covered by @UFC 4 when we r training!" typed Miesha Tate, who was scheduled to fight Strikeforce women's welterweight champ Marloes Coenen in March but injured a knee in training. Her tweet elicited a smiley face response from White. (From me it elicits this response: u have no idea how much I h8 quoting Twitterspeak.)

Of course, Twitter giveth praise and Twitter taketh away. Within minutes of word getting out that Edgar-Maynard III was off (likely to be rescheduled, according to White, in late summer or early fall) and Jackson-Hamill was the replacement main event, the social media site lit up with 140-character fan outrage, some of it vented directly to the UFC president. And Dana responded as only Dana can, telling one particularly negative correspondent, "Refund ur tix u [expletive] goof." (He spelled out the F-word.)

White's testiness is understandable. His company has just placed a much-needed safety net beneath its 350 fighters under contract, a generous gesture that should be bringing it boundless goodwill, and this is what he has to deal with? On the other hand, fan dissatisfaction is reasonable as well. The people who pay to watch UFC events, month after month, have come to expect more from their main events.

The noise in the Complaint Department (i.e. Twitter and Internet forums) eventually will die down, as it always does. Plenty of fans will still find a reason to plunk down their money to watch on Memorial Day Weekend. Other fans will hold onto their cash, wait a week to watch The Ultimate Fighter 13 finale, featuring Anthony "Remember That Amazing Cage-Walking Kick?" Pettis vs. Clay Guida, on basic cable. A week after that is the next PPV, UFC 131, headlined by Brock Lesnar vs. Junior dos Santos. All will be forgotten and forgiven once those big guys step into the cage.

Unless, of course, the UFC hype machine tries to hard sell us this new UFC 130 main event by trumpeting Matt Hamill as the only man to defeat indomitable Jon "Bones" Jones. That'd feel like a 12-6 elbow to the head.

"I don't have the type of blood Randy Couture has. I give it up to him. I take my hat off to that guy, but I'm not that guy. I don't plan on fighting until I'm 40. And I'm not Chuck Liddell. I'm not coming to work inside the UFC office when I retire. That's not me. I'm an entertainer; I like making people laugh. I like doing movies, action moves and stuff like that. I might even try to be a comedian one day, who knows?"--"Rampage" Jackson, 32, speaking on the online radio program MMA Fight Corner, talking about how he'd gladly leave MMA for Hollywood if offered enough money ("It don't hurt to make movies")

Wait. Rampage doesn't consider himself to already be a comedian?

"This boxing is very boring, Dana. UFC have to start promoting boxing with UFC fighters. This is a good idea."--Vitor Belfort, who in addition to a 14-year MMA career also has one pro boxing fight on his resume, tweeting to Dana White while watching Saturday night's Manny Pacquiao-Shane Mosley PPV fight, which the Brazilian referred to as "the worse investment"

You'd think Vitor would look more favorably on boxing, if only because front kicks to the face are not allowed.

"In hockey, shifts are 30 or 40 seconds. But this is a five-minute shift, and then you rest for one minute."--Former NHL enforcer Donald Brashear, speaking at a news conference last week to tout his MMA debut June 4 at a Quebec City event called Ringside 11

Two pieces of advice for Brashear: 1) Petition the athletic commission for permission to wear hockey skates, because we know you can fight on those; and, 2) Just keep telling yourself, "This guy is no Wade Belak. And this guy is definitely no Marty McSorley."

Advice for Brashear's opponent, Martin Trempe, himself a former rink tough guy, albeit in the minors: Dress like a hockey goal, all but ensuring that none of Brashear's shots will land anywhere near you.

"I'd like to call over my girlfriend, my beautiful girlfriend, Megan Vargas. This is my world, everybody, this is my world. Everybody, I love this girl so much, and I have a question for her. She's everything to me. I want to give her the world. I want to give her all of this. This cage is hers as well as mine. Your cage tonight, baby girl. So I ask, and I hope and pray, will you marry me?"--Bryan "The Beast" Baker, proposing to his girlfriend, Megan Vargas, in the cage Saturday night moments after his second-round TKO of Joe Riggs at Bellator 43 in Newkirk, Okla.

That's a confident fighter, planning a proposal for the night of a fight, especially one against a guy with UFC and Strikeforce credentials. I mean, it wouldn't look so good if you got knocked out, then had to climb to one knee to offer a ring to your girl. Sure, this is one way of minimizing the butterflies surrounding two potentially unnerving tasks. But boy, after this big public splash, the pressure is on Baker to really step up with his wedding vows, not to mention anniversary presents from here to eternity.

Kidding aside, this was a sweet moment for a guy who's been through a lot. Baker was diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia last year and, while still undergoing treatment, fought his way to the final of the Bellator middleweight tournament. Saturday's explosive win earns him a spot in next fall's tourney -- something to plan a wedding around.

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