It’s Do or Die for Canadian MMA at UFC 145
I have to admit, even with the announcement of a whopping three Canadian UFC events this year, even with the explosion of the sport in newly sanctioned provinces like Ontario and B.C (where MMA was always popular anyways), even with the growth of so many Canadian MMA promotions like Ringside, MFC, and The Score Fighting Series – well, it’s a bit of a depressing time to be a Canadian MMA fan.
Why is that you ask? Because despite the insane popularity of the sport in the Great White North, despite being the “Mecca” of MMA in Dana White’s eyes, despite the litany of regional promotions and exciting prospects our country has to offer, Canadians are just not dominating MMA the way we should be.
In fact, a look at MMA’s elite ranks reveals a scarcity of Canucks. There’s one obvious, glaring exception of course in Georges St. Pierre, but even that’s a bit of a double-edged sword. Sure, he’s the champion of MMA’s deepest division, and easily the most popular guy in the game, but fans are starting to sour on GSP’s conservative style in a big way. Even in Canada, where being a GSP fan is practically a part of our constitution, fan opinion is less than positive. “I like GSP and I cheer for him, I just wish he wasn’t so boring,” is a sentiment I hear more and more often these days.
All the other Canadian greats from the “Spike TV” era (and before) have all but faded into irrelevance. David Loiseau imploded like a submarine at crush depth; Denis Kang was a frustrating case study in wasted potential; Patrick Cote got bounced from the UFC and is still trying to fight his way back; Jason MacDonald and Joe Doerksen are two of the toughest SOB’s in the game but never advanced past gatekeeper status. Jonathan Goulet, the first man to ever compete in a UFC bout on Canadian soil, has retired to become a firefighter.
If I sound crass and dismissive with these comments, understand: I took no pleasure whatsoever in writing them. These men are some of my all-time favorite fighters and I rooted for all of them every single time they went out there. I still do.
But the fact is that when it comes to the all-time elite ranks of MMA, the hottest MMA country on the planet has contributed GSP, Carlos Newton, and not a whole lot else.
Which is why UFC 145 is so damn important.
Yes, the main event is Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans, the biggest fight in all of MMA right now. UFC 145 would still be a huge deal if the entire undercard consisted only of Mike Goldberg reading poetry (“Less travelled is the path before me in the woods, Joe,”).
But on the undercard, several of Canada’s top fighters who don’t have a Gatorade sponsorship or 12-month calendar are in action in absolutely crucial matchups. In fact, the outcomes of these fights could, in large part, determine the future for Canada’s “next generation” of MMA stars.
Chris Clements vs. Keith Wisniewski
Despite a somewhat misleading record of 10-4, Chris “The Menace” Clements is one of the hottest prospects on Canada’s regional scene. The Shawn Thompkins product has really come into his own in the last two years, strapping on Welterweight gold in several of Canada’s top regional promotions. He retired Johnathan Goulet, got a highlight-reel spinning kick finish over Travis Briere, and most recently TKO’ed UFC veteran Rich Clementi.
For years, he’s hungered for a shot in the UFC, so it’s great to see him finally get his opportunity. Clements is already in his mid-30’s however, meaning he won’t have much time (and hence room for error) in his UFC campaign. He’s also shown a vulnerability on the ground in previous fights, though that aspect of his game has massively improved as of late.
In Keith Wisniewski, Clements faces a man with much more experience than him, so he’s likely in for an uphill climb. If he can win here, the UFC will gain an exciting prospect with a propensity for devastating kicks – meaning you should all be rooting for Clements to win on Saturday.
John Makdessi vs. Anthony Njokuani
If I may channel my inner Jim Ross for a moment: MA GAWD WHAT A SLOBBERKNOCKER!!!!
Seriously, this fight looks like hell on wheels (on paper) and is about as perfect a matchup for making fireworks are you’re likely to make. You have two kickboxers with flashy (but effective) styles and no inclination to take the fight to the canvas. I’d bet serious money (if I had any) or my reputation (if I had one) that this fight ends with someone looking up at the house lights, asking the referee if he won.
Makdessi is one of Canada’s most accomplished kickboxers, with a perfect 22-0 record and a gold medal in USKBA kickboxing. Since coming to the UFC, he has awed fans with his off-putting appearance (nothing says “You gonna get it, boy” like a slightly lazy eye) and propensity for making the highlight reel. He’s coming off a loss in his last fight to an oversize (i.e didn’t make weight) Dennis Hallman, which highlighted possible weaknesses in his ground game.
Good thing he won’t have that ground game tested against Njokuani, who once called an opponent a “fag” on Twitter for using a grappling-based strategy to beat him. You stay classy, Anthony.
Mark Hominick vs. Eddie Yagin
I’ve never seen a rise so spectacular – and a fall so sudden – as the one(s) Thamesford, Ontario’s Mark Hominick experienced in 2011.
He shot to stardom when he challenged Featherweight champ Jose Aldo in front of 55,000 fans at UFC 129. Despite losing the fight (and having his head swell to ridiculous proportions in the process), Hominick won the crowd with his gutsy, entertaining performance. Coming off that fight, it was safe to say he was the biggest MMA fighter in Canada behind King Georges I. The sky was the limit for “The Machine”.
Cut to December 2011, with Hominick facing off against Chan Sung Jung, once again in front of his hometown fans in Toronto. In about the time it takes you to flip a pancake, Hominick came out, stuck his chin out, and got cold-cocked by “The Korean Zombie”. Take it from a guy who was there live: that’s the angriest/most disappointed I’ve ever seen a Canadian MMA crowd get. Every inch of ground Hominick gained with fans over 25 brutal minutes with Aldo, he lost in mere seconds that night.
This fight is do-or-die for Hominick if he wants to remain anywhere close to title contention. Luckily, the UFC seems to know that: they’ve booked him against Eddie Yagin, a Tachi Palace Fights veteran who’s coming off a loss in his UFC debut. This is a very winnable fight for Hominick – meaning if he loses, his credibility could be damaged beyond repair.
Rory MacDonald vs. Che Mills
Rory MacDonald could be the future – not just of Canadian MMA, but MMA in general. He’s young, extremely dynamic, well-rounded, has some big wins already on his resume, and is training with all the right people at Tristar gym in Montreal. He’s the hottest prospect in Canadian MMA and in the Welterweight division period.
Which is great and all – but if he loses to Che Mills on Saturday, that could all go down the drain, or at the very least get derailed for a little while. Now I’m not going to sit here and insult your intelligence by saying you should care if a 22-year old fighter who’s already made it to the “big show” loses. It wouldn’t be the end of the world, and it’s something MacDonald could easily overcome.
But with GSP coming back from a knee injury in “who knows what?” shape, the clock could be running out on Canada’s beloved MMA hero – and the biggest draw in MMA. In that instance, the UFC will need someone to step in to fill the void.
Rory MacDonald could be that guy. But if he loses to Che Mills on Saturday, he probably won’t be that guy anytime soon.