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By Jason Amadi, MMATorch columnist
If there is one thing that annoys me to no end, it's the comparison between pro wrestling and mixed martial arts. However, in light of recent events in both, and the historical similarities between the two, I feel for the clarification purposes, in order to discuss what has happened, what will happen, and what MMA fans seem to be crying out for, it is necessary.
After the death of Pride Fighting Championships in 2007, the UFC has dominated the MMA landscape, and since then has elevated the sport to new heights with each passing year. So, because of their success at the top, I'm perplexed as to why fans would want to essentially regress, and go back to where the UFC was contested for the top spot.
Time and time again fans have uttered the old "competition is great for everyone" argument, and we all know where that comes from. No one is stupid enough to suggest that a second major pro football league or pro basketball league would be great for anyone (or that they should even be attempted). No, the "competition is great for everyone" concept comes from the world of professional wrestling, and there is a very special reason for that.
In the late 1990s the pro wrestling industry saw a significant boom period when the now defunct Extreme Championship Wrestling, World Championship Wrestling, and the still reigning pro wrestling king World Wrestling Entertainment (then known as the World Wrestling Federation) were at odds.
The competition between the three made for exciting programming from all three companies, as all three combatants had to fight for their piece of the pie. The main competitors, WCW and the WWF, competed for Monday night supremacy every week for about six years until the WWF bought out WCW, while both picked from the smaller ECW as a sort of ammunition for their battle.
The competition was great for the fans on a weekly basis, as both companies were forced to provide the most compelling storylines, have the best in-ring product, and everything in between. After the WWF bought out WCW in 2001, the general consensus among pro wrestling fans is that the product since declined in a major way.
Nine years later, the pro wrestling industry has still yet to recapture that type of momentum, and now TNA Wrestling has taken it upon themselves to try to do so by assuming the role of WCW and challenging the WWE on Monday nights starting last night.
I believe that when fans suggest that competition would be good for the sport, they think of this, and not how it would actually play out in MMA. The actual war that took place between the UFC and PRIDE didn't really produce the same results.
The UFC was still gaining steam in the mainstream similar to today, but at a much slower rate. Because MMA is a real sport, the UFC and PRIDE almost split the world's top fighters, with PRIDE having what was widely considered to be the superior roster.
Because of the disparity in talent depth, we in the U.S were treated to a lackluster trilogy between Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski, and Dana White had to pretend that this was the most compelling thing since the moon landing in order to sell it. Both fighters since then were chastised by Dana White as PRIDE heavyweight king, Fedor Emelianko slaughtered them in the first round.
Rich Franklin was the middleweight king, with dangerous challengers such as... Nate Quarry? There was no lightweight division in the UFC, as PRIDE also had that locked up, and the 205 lb. division in the UFC was under the iron thumb of Chuck Liddell, though PRIDE was also superior in that division (see Chuck Liddell's first performance against Quinton Jackson in the MiddleWeight Grand Prix).
PRIDE had all the depth in the world in all divisions, and the UFC was left to just promote the heck out of the Welterweight Division, which was always well supported by the dominant reign of Matt Hughes.
Since then, Zuffa has acquired the vast majority of the world's greatest fighters and claim the number one fighter in every weight class as champion, outside of Fedor Emelianenko. Looking back at all of this, it's clear that due to the scripted nature of the sport's entertainment world, yeah, it's great for them to step things up and competition does wonder for that industry. But what is there to gain from competing MMA organizations?
We gained nothing from PRIDE vs. the UFC outside of being robbed of some great cross-promotional fights such as Wanderlei Silva and Chuck Liddell doing battle in their primes, and being exposed to lackluster divisions here in the U.S.
Simply put, in PRIDE's absence, MMA has grown substantially.
This time around, the competition is here in America, and the UFC has decided to take much more aggressive action against their latest stateside nemesis. The last few StrikeForce cards have been counter-programmed by old UFC PPV cards being shown on free TV, and now on April 17th, the UFC is set to counter-program StrikeForce's stacked card with a live, free Spike TV event.
Now, if you've got a DVR, this is pretty sweet, and those without might have to choose one. But realistically speaking, we really only benefit if this ends here. In the interest of the sport, a card with three title fights like the one StrikeForce is putting on CBS shouldn't be undermined and shouldn't have to battle for publicity with a UFC card. History shows that direct competition with the UFC ends in disaster.
If the competition is televised (preferably not on the same night), then we will all win for a while. However, we lose when the competition becomes real. If and when StrikeForce graduates to PPV to compete with the UFC, who would have $100 a month to buy two cards? If and when there is a legitimate organization competing with the UFC for the number one spot, what would happen when half the top fighters sign with that organization and half sign with the UFC?
Could double the MMA fights per month over saturate the market? Sure, hardcore MMA fans would love it (I would watch MMA every day if it were on that often), but the sport would risk overexposure. MMA isn't seasonal like other sports, so the important "casual fan" demographic could become numb to the arm breaks and ground and pound we hold in high regard today.
Frankly, there is no simple "they'll be forced to step things up" when it comes to real sports. The biggest benefit we've gotten out of the small scale war being launched between the UFC and StrikeForce is the increase in free MMA fights (hey, let's throw in the Bellator Fight Championship), and that is always a great thing).
Hopefully, if one great thing could come out of this, it could be MMA moving from a PPV-only model to a television model. But a full scale competition between two MMA organizations is not something fans want, whether we know it or not.
Jamie Penick, editor-in-chief
STAFF COLUMNISTS: Shawn Ennis - Jason Amadi
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