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
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.
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."
How disrespectful of women's sports that you'd inflict the likes of me on the volleyball beat. Such misogyny makes me sic.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Gertrude was a feisty one in her day. Maybe she would have given "Cyborg" Santos a run for her money.
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.
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?