I don't know Jim Miller. I've never met the guy. Other than the fact that he's from New Jersey, where I grew up long before the former wrestler first felt a mat burn, we have little in common.
So why was I so disappointed that he lost to Ben Henderson at UFC Live 5 on Sunday night in Milwaukee?
Now, it's not so unusual in mixed martial arts for someone who writes about the sport to have a rooting interest. I've seen a lot of media folks cozy up to fighters, more so than in other sports I've been around. That happens, I suspect, because at least at this point in the evolving history of MMA, the fighters aren't such sports superstars that they're going to "big-time" anyone -- that is, they exist in the same universe as the fans and media. The competitors tend to be humbly accessible and genuinely appreciative for coverage, and many in the media horde are young and growing as journalists right along with the sport. You certainly wouldn't say the same for the megastars or media of baseball or football.
Still, I come from an old-school newspaper background, where "No cheering in the press box" is not just a motto but a code of honor. So the pang of disappointment for Miller on Sunday night was accompanied by ... a pang of disappointment in myself.
It was all about the ego. I didn't like being wrong.
Probably around a third of the emails I receive from readers are comments on SI.com's monthly fighter rankings. Most who write to me do so not to compliment my reasoning but to poke holes in it. This is what it's like when you're covering a sport that, beyond its weight division championships, is wholly subjective in its pecking order. No win-loss standings to settle the debate. You go by what you see. And often readers see things differently than I do.
Such was the case in this recent email from Brian in Marysville, Calif.: "You mentioned Jim Miller is just outside your Top 3. But do you really think he would beat Melvin Guillard or Anthony Pettis? It seems that your rankings sometimes reflect who is next in line for a title shot in each division, not who are actually the top three fighters."
To which I responded: "I do think Miller would beat Guillard or Pettis, but hey, that's just one man's opinion. I try to base my rankings not on resume or who's next in line but on which three guys I think are the best fighters in each weight division. Sometimes the UFC/Strikeforce matchmakers agree with me, and sometimes they don't. Likewise, to readers I'm sometimes a genius (OK, rarely) and sometimes a fool."
On Sunday night, while on vacation with the family at a lakeside camp with no televisions, I found myself staying up late, while my wife and kids slept, and logging on to the Internet connection to try to follow the UFC Live 5 action. When I read the blow-by-blow account and saw that Miller had lost to Henderson, I shook my head wistfully. Once again I'd been shown to be a fool, this time thanks to my fellow Jersey guy Jim Miller.
You are nuts. Alistair Overeem wasn't even the third best heavyweight in Strikeforce before he was cut. Nobody I have talked to thinks he would have won the Grand Prix, anyway, with Josh Barnett the heavy favorite if he can pass his drug test. "Bigfoot" Silva was likely to beat Overeem in the semis. He was the fourth-best fighter of the four remaining fighters in the tourney, since Sergei Kharitonov was the last person to beat him.--Rob, Washington, D.C.
Everyone is entitled to an opinion, Rob, and you're not alone in downgrading Overeem for his relative lack of top-level competition, at least compared to the UFC heavyweights. But to say he's not among the top four heavies in Strikeforce is ... OK, it's an opinion, too, so I'll leave it alone. One thing that's not an opinion, though, was your statement that Barnett was "the heavy favorite" to win the Strikeforce Grand Prix. Where did you find those odds?
I will say this: Now that Overeem is out of Zuffa entirely, it's going to be difficult for him to show what's he's got. Whom can he fight to prove he deserves his spot among the beat heavyweights in the world? Fedor Emelianenko? That wouldn't prove a thing to me. Don't be surprised, Rob, if you soon get what you want: heavyweight rankings without "The Reem."
Your resent [sic] article about Strikeforce and "The Reem" is pathetic. You should cover female volleyball, not combat sports. You are a disgrace to sports journalism. Keep your assanine [sic] views to yourself. I am a MMA fighter and a fan, your views about Strikeforce and MMA are completely dillusional [sic].--Vinny, Waltham, Mass.
How disrespectful of women's sports that you'd inflict the likes of me on the volleyball beat. Such misogyny makes me sic.
Why criticize the Strikeforce Grand Prix just because Overeem and Emelianenko are out? With MMA fans and writers, there seems to be this conflict between the actual results of fights and the grandiose expectations of fights. We tell ourselves we like MMA because anything can happen, then complain when Fedor loses. Are we disgusted with the results because we're afraid the tourney now is not intriguing enough for the casual fan? I know the name Sergei Kharitonov doesn't mean anything to a lot of people, but to us diehard fans it means something. Overeem or no Overeem, I'm still interested in watching this Grand Prix play out.--Brandon, Jackson, Miss.
You make a great point, Brandon. As MMA grows into a mainstream sport, there's a tendency to view it through that lens: How will this fight/event/promotion further the cause? We'd be better off judging fights on their own merit.
Still, the Grand Prix loses luster for many reasons. It has been poorly run, with the two quarterfinal brackets being four months apart, which does not allow for a level playing field, in terms of fighters' recovery and training. That's what led to Overeem's ouster. He felt he didn't have enough time to recover from an injury before a proposed September fight against Silva, who has been off since February. So now the tourney loses the promotion's champion, even though he did not lose in the cage. It's a mess.
Still, your comment about expectations is a fair one. Some of the best fights occur underneath the mainstream radar. In fact, most of the best ones do. The recent bout between Emelianenko and Dan Henderson was a rarity, in that it brought together two of the sport's legendary names and also had appeal simply as a fight.
I'm a huge Dan Henderson fan, and agree that he's top-three material. But I don't want to see Hendo vs. Jon Jones. Jones is scary good, and that reach is killer. Then again, after seeing what Hendo did to Fedor, I'm starting to think he has a cape and an "S" on his chest! Ya never know!--Herb, Sunapee, N.H.
You don't need me, Herb. You answered yourself. It's true that a meeting between the UFC and Strikeforce light heavyweight champs would seem to be a scary proposition for Henderson -- just as it would appear to be scary for anyone to step in with "Bones" Jones, judging by what he's done so far in his career. But as you said, "Ya never know." Jones is young and dynamic, but experience is a factor in any fight, and Hendo has loads of it. So does Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, who challenges Jones next month. I fully expect Rampage to get smashed, but ya never know.
Fedor deserves credit for not overly criticizing the quick stoppage in the Henderson fight. I, however, will not be so benevolent to referee Herb Dean. Fedor's lights may have dimmed, but then he scrambled to his back and was defending himself. Jeff, this is a combat sport, and while I was rooting for Dan all the way, I feel there will always be the question of what if? What if Fedor continued, and we got to see more of a great fight and a legend having to win the next two rounds to claim victory. We'll never know.--Joseph, Mosul, Iraq
There are a lot of "what if?" scenarios one could consider. Here's one: What if the ref had laid back and Hendo hit an unconscious and defenseless Fedor with a shot that resulted in permanent damage? We all want to see a fight go for as long as it takes to conclude decisively, but not at the expense of fighter safety. Unlike in boxing, where the eight count gives a referee time to assess a fighter's condition, in MMA the ref has to make his call on the fly. Dean saw Fedor go limp, and he jumped in. I'm going to defer to his judgment.
Great story on Matt Hamill's retirement. In the time since I began watching the UFC on video rented at Blockbuster, the sport has come a very long way. It's nice to see someone who has overcome a lot to better the sport. It's also nice to read someone giving a non-champ credit for being a great athlete and person. Too much emphasis is placed on high-profile people.--Jason, Pittsburgh
Happy to see that you agree with me, Jason, that some fighters are champions because they wear big brass-and-leather belts around their waists, while others are champions for different reasons. There are mixed martial artists and other athletes out there who've overcome challenging life circumstances less apparent than Hamill's deafness. It's good for us to be reminded occasionally what perseverance really looks like.
Wow. I never thought in a million years that I'd see a Gertrude Stein quote in an article on MMA.--Patrick, Rahway, N.J.
Gertrude was a feisty one in her day. Maybe she would have given "Cyborg" Santos a run for her money.
It seems to me that the UFC is going to be not only be the premier organization for MMA fighting but the only one. As fans of MMA, this is what we want, so all the fighters can be matched up. But I think Dana White is making a mistake by saying the UFC will not create women's divisions. Dana needs to realize that fans want the best matchups and more fights, and women have skills just like the men in the lighter weight classes that the UFC has just recently taken on.--Steve, Huntington Beach, Calif.
The UFC is not a nonprofit organization, so the best way to persuade Dana & Co. to promote women's fights, it seems to me, is to get behind the sport in a big way and show that there's money to be made. The argument White makes -- that there aren't enough good female fighters to fill out competitive weight divisions -- seems like an excuse to me: It's way more shortsighted than the visionary thinking that Zuffa has used to build the UFC to what it is today. If the folks behind the UFC see that there's a sizable fan base for women's MMA, it'll suddenly seem like a grand idea to keep putting women in the cage.
When did Chael Sonnen beat Anderson Silva for the middleweight title? It seems that every MMA writer has bought the stock of "Mr. Roid-head Criminal," even though he actually lost the Silva fight. George Foreman beat Muhammad Ali in every round until he got KO'd, yet we talk about Ali's performance that night. Is Anderson being punished for not being as loud as Ali? Is Sonnen getting the limelight simply because he knows how to market himself?--Walker, Okinawa, Japan
Sonnen's antics do attract attention, Walker, but that's not why he's getting so many plaudits. His public profile was enlarged when he absolutely dominated Silva right up to the point when The Spider pulled off the fifth-round submission. Foreman didn't dominate Ali like that and simply succumb to a flash knockout. Sonnen was the story that night ... and still is.
I've been pretty critical of Chael's non-stop trash talking, but I do understand why he promotes his fights the way he does. It's fairly obvious, really: He drums up fan interest, which sells tickets and pay-per-views. If you don't like what he's selling, then don't buy the PPV. Or do buy it in the hope that you'll see him take a beating. Which is exactly what Chael wants you to do.
I have to ask, Walker: Are you upset at Chael just because he says Japanese MMA is as fake as pro wrestling?