Nice Guys Finish First

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Last month, Brock Lesnar lost his UFC Heavyweight championship in spectacular fashion. It was awesome. The noticeably smaller, but more skilled and better prepared Cain Velasquez defended the early takedown attempts and let the big man tire himself out before landing crisp boxing combos that would end the fight at just over the three minute mark. A quick and brutal ending to a fight that Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg qualified of: “the most important Heavyweight fight in the history of the UFC” at least sixty-eight times during the evening.

During his tenure as a champion, Lesnar has been an amazing promotional tool. Not only is he the size of a video game character, but the guy came to the UFC with a legion of pro-wrestling fans behind him. Oh yeah, he can also fight. Until recently, that was just a detail. Brock had been hired for his motivated salesmanship and his capacity to drive both opponents and fans mad with anger. As long as he could hold on to the belt, he could sit on his challengers and punch them into submission, but that was not the important part. Then came Cain Velasquez. A polite, well-spoken guy with an undying drive and a superb work ethic. He did not play into Lesnar’s talking game and the hype about this fight turned around Velasquez’s prior performances. Brock talked and talked, but Velasquez kept his focus and only answered that the fight meant the world to him and that it was his chance to shine.

Cain embraced the opportunity.

That makes the UFC championship picture more interesting than ever. Cain Velasquez, Shogun Rua, Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, Frankie Edgar and to a certain extent Jose Aldo and Dominick Cruz have all something in common. They do not talk smack. Well, maybe a little, but they do not use that to sell their fights. They are athletes first and foremost and let their performances talk for themselves. With the fall of Brock Lesnar, that makes the seven kings of the UFC, respectful sportsmen. I don’t know about you, but I am seeing a pattern here. Is smack talk still the road to success?

Because it had been in the past. The UFC of ZUFFA LLC has been built on The Ultimate Fighter fame and therefore loves storylines. Good Vs Evil, Martial Artist Vs Brawler, Respect Vs Arrogance, name an archetypal battle, it’s probably been done by the UFC before. There’s nothing wrong with it, it helped the sport develop. Guys like Phil Baroni have turned it into a career. But now that the UFC has grown and the talent pool is deeper, is it worth it to try and talk your way to the top? Take the example of Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz. Two legendary champions, both extremely confident, but having two very different personalities. At the twilight of their respective careers, their fate could not be any different.

Both have lost their last few fights, but Tito is now struggling for relevancy as Chuck is walking into the sunset with a satisfying situation. Ortiz is fed to the tigers as Chuck is gravitating in UFC’s, frequently representing them in PR operations. The good guy became a business partner while the bad guy is going down in flames. Is this bound to become a pattern? I think so. In a company where the image has become everything, it’s important to pay attention to detail. Relevant PR operations have to be done by fighters who people can bond with and relate to. Putting a major antagonistic figure on a public tribune is asking for disaster. They will portrait UFC athletes as being foul-mouthed bullies or they will be too nice that they will give the impression that the UFC’s fights are as credible as those in the WWE.

There is only one way to go for the disrespectful and arrogant in the UFC and in mixed martial arts in general. Down. In a organization that loves to build up their promotion around narratives, it is unthinkable to leave the bad guy unpunished. Since Tito last beat Ken Shamrock in 2006, he has lost to Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, Lyoto Machida and Matt Hamill. On top of that he drew with Rashad Evans. A hard road, far away from the title picture. Tito can sell a fight, that’s for sure, but isn’t there something sweet in seeing the cocky, former dominant champion getting beaten over and over again by the likes of Liddell and the goofy Forrest Griffin?

Now that the curiosity factor of having Brock Lesnar for champion is passed, Brock is going to get fed to the wolves. I expect to see him to get the likes of Junior Dos Santos, Brandon Schaub, Sean McCorkle, Mark Hunt, Shane Carwin (rematch)…anybody with size that can potentially hurt him. Now that he’s been a champion and we all hated him, Brock’s marketability is in defeat. When he’ll get stopped with punches (and he will) a few times in a row, maybe Brock will think he should have kept his mouth shut and paid his dues before entering the big show.

I’m sure some of you are wincing. It is a long shot to predict Brock’s demise, but I am pretty confident in what I say. Is there a smack talker on top right now? No. All the dominant champions are self-assured, respectful martial artists. Aldo, St-Pierre and Anderson Silva have been sitting on their title for a while and have a long reign ahead of them. It’s too soon to form an opinion on Velasquez, Edgar and Cruz, but I’m not sure it’s a coincidence. MMA is a harsh mistress, any fighter will tell you. Is smack talk getting out of style? I’m not sure yet. Chael Sonnen sure would be the greatest example for that if he did not fail his drug test after his fight with Anderson Silva. I’m just waiting for somebody who can go through the same things than GSP, Anderson Silva, Cain Velasquez and Jose Aldo and still find the energy and the bravado to talk smack. A few weeks ago, I was at Hybrid Combat Promotions and one of the fighters told me something that sums up my feelings pretty well:

“You have to be humble in MMA or MMA will humble you”

Other Posts by Benoit Lelievre
The Strange Concerns of Dan Hardy

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11 Responses to “ Nice Guys Finish First ”

  1. Jamie Locke says:

    This is a great article. There are so many fans out there that love fighters for their ability to sell fights. There are lots of fans that care nothing about skill and ability, but are simply entertained by the smack talk, showmanship and ability to popularize their fights. I too was a fan of WWF back in the day when Jake the Snake, Macho Man Randy Savage, Hulk Hogen(still at it) were great sellers of their sport. But now, I like to see skill. I like to see the forms of martial arts that I’ve “studied” or watched since watching the karate kid in 1990 or whenever it came out.

    There was a place for these guys in the UFC, and I suppose there still is. There will always be a need to sell the PPV’s and attract fans from outside the disciplined martial arts world, and this is where the Brock Lesnars, Josh Koschecks, Chael Sonnen’s will come into play.

    If you look at where the sport of mixed martial arts comes from, or pancrase, or catch wrestling. It all was generated by the individual disciplines of the martial arts. A Martial artist is not the guy who talks smack, not the guy who picks fights, not the bully, it is the humble practitioner of a discipline, and in this case, many disciplines.

    After consideration, these “bad guys” are needed. I don’t like the smack talk, the drama, or things like that… But I sure do love to see those guys get KTFO by the humble martial artists such as the champs mentioned above.

    Great read. Thanks again Benoit

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  2. I agree with you to a certain point Jamie. I left deliberately the best smack talker of all time out of this article because he was beside the point I was trying to make.

    Muhammad Ali, in his prime, would have probably made Chael Sonnen shut up and blush in awe. Josh Koscheck would have had an aneurysm just to be in the same room.

    But Ali had that greatness. He talked so much because he knew he would perform on the given day. He sold his performance. What I have against (which my article helped me to figure out) is that bull**** stage smack talked. A bit like Bisping during his TUF run against Henderson. He never been like that before and suddenly he was the big antagonist. I don’t like when they stage rivalries like that.

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  3. Pat Gribs says:

    Here’s the thing about Lesnar. Hate him all you want Benoit, but he was only disrespectful to people like Mir who said disrespectful things. He showed great class in his fights against Carwin and Velasquez, and was respectful to Couture as well because they were cool with him. It seems a lot of people are taking his behavior at UFC 100 out of context.

    Anderson Silva hasn’t always been respectful either, might I remind you.

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  4. I agree Lesnar went into a bitching match with Mir only, but he’s never been respectful before being humbled. Hell, what did he say again when he beat Couture? That he was going to go home, crack a Bud Light and ride his wife? Sorry, but I found that pretty disrespectful for a champion that made a point to stay classy in the Octagon and give credibility to the sport for so many years. He wasn’t very nice to Heath Herring either.

    I agree about Anderson Silva not being respectful all the time. I would say though that Maia and Leites’s butt scooting strategies were not the most respectful things for fans either.

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  5. Robin Black says:

    The reason we liked Sonnen was because it was more comedic than rude and disrespectful. It was SO out there that it couldn’t be taken seriously. And if you didn’t take it seriously it was hilarious.

    We took Brock Lesnar seriously. Which was more scary than anything. How can that guy NOT make you uncomfortable?

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  6. Robin Black says:

    Oh yeah also another great piece o writing my friend.

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  7. Doug Jimmo says:

    Great article! I agree with the theme here, things are changing. The shift is surely and swiftly moving from spectacle to sport. As much as we all love a good fist fight the fan base is becoming more educated with every event that passes. The current champions provide respect to themselves, their opponents and the sport. No longer does the UFC have to provide good vs evil. Fighters are beginning to build a fan base like any big league team or athlete. There will, however, always be a big mouth out there and most of us will continue to enjoy seeing them get a beatdown. I won’t mention any names but his initials are Josh Koscheck

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  8. “I won’t mention any names but his initials are Josh Koscheck”

    OK, you made me crack up! :)

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  9. JayKay says:

    I have to disagree with the comments about Brock. As Pat points out his only real ‘bad mouthing’ was after Mir targeted him and even then it was pretty light in comparison to what normally gets said. The “Coors Light and Wife” comment appeared out of line until you look back at what happened before the fight and the media hounding him about his prowrestling background and Bud Light blocking his sponsor with Coors.

    While he has a tendency to be a bit hot headed he is also burdened with the massive media attention focused on him. When he is interviewed in the prefight segments (where the UFC has admitted encouraging people to trash talk in) he’s been respectful and polite.

    So say good night to the bad guy! Come on. The last time you gonna see a bad guy like this again, let me tell you. Come on. Make way for the bad guy. There’s a bad guy comin’ through! Better get outta his way!

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  10. Pat Gribs says:

    “I agree Lesnar went into a bitching match with Mir only, but he’s never been respectful before being humbled. Hell, what did he say again when he beat Couture? That he was going to go home, crack a Bud Light and ride his wife? Sorry, but I found that pretty disrespectful for a champion that made a point to stay classy in the Octagon and give credibility to the sport for so many years. He wasn’t very nice to Heath Herring either.”

    He said that Coors remark when he beat MIR!!! Not Couture!!
    FAIL

    Was Herring respectful to Brock? No..
    That’s why Brock treated him that way!

    Notice how he was respectful to both Carwin and Cain, even before those fights. That’s because they were respectful to him as well. Common Sense 101.

    Once again, not only do people take alot of Lesnar’s remarks out of context, many people aren’t even aware of the context at all. I thought his remarks at 100 were pretty stupid, then I looked at the back story and saw it differently. The heat Lesnar takes for those remarks is completely unwarranted, and I even admit I saw him that way too at first.

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