Clothing-maker Affliction formally debuted as a mixed martial arts promotion on Saturday night at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. The event featured some of the top heavyweight fighters in the world all competing on the same night and under the same roof.
The overall event itself left a lot of questions that still need to be answered. However, it answered one major question, which is that Fedor Emelianenko can still perform in dominant fashion against a top-ten heavyweight.
When we last saw Fedor, he needed 1:54 in the first round to submit kickboxing Goliath Hong Man Choi at Yarrenoka! this past December 31 in Japan. Against Tim Sylvia, a former two-time UFC heavyweight champion, he needed just 0:36 seconds to force him to the floor with his standup and submit him with a modified choke/neck crank.
Fedor’s dominance sent a clear message that he has been mis-managed. The fact that there are people who question his position as the world’s number one heavyweight is evidence of that fact. The reality is that Fedor has fought too infrequently and at times, against inferior competition. Since the end of 2005, Fedor has fought just five times and against the likes of Mark Coleman, Mark Hunt, Matt Lindland, Choi, and now Sylvia.
When he fought Lindland during 2007’s BodogFIGHT “Clash of the Nations,” Lindland was moving up two weight classes. Coleman, a former UFC heavyweight champion and at one point in the late-90’s considered the top fighter in the world, had seen his better days when the two met at PRIDE’s Shockwave in 2006. And the decision to match him against Choi this past December in a circus sideshow main event is one that is still disappointing to this day.
Fedor’s quick win over Sylvia raises the question as to why he’s been promoted the way he has the past two years? Clearly he is a fighter that does not need protection. He’s in his physical prime and should be fighting everyone. While his legacy is strong in Japan and Russia, he’s still a relative unknown outside of the sport’s hardcore fanbase in the U.S. With just several more performances on U.S. soil such as last night’s effort, he could dispel every myth that UFC President Dana White has tried to purvey about him to the general public.
The other big story coming out of the event is the fact that the show served as Affliction’s debut as a fight promotion. As far as debuts are concerned, this writer considered last night’s event to be solid. Event organizers deserve a lot of credit for trying to be something other than the UFC and for developing a unique and distinctive brand identity right out of the gate. However, the show was not without its problems, and there were many of them.
Can Affliction become legitimate competition to the UFC? Chalk that up as one of those unanswered questions referenced earlier in this review. But it sure has an enormous amount of potential. Before it can reach that potential though, there are still a lot of kinks that need to be worked out.
My biggest complaint with the show was the pacing. My initial plan was to watch “Banned” in its entirety and completely ignore the live telecast of UFC Fight Night 14 on Spike TV and watch it later on DVR. Those plans were foiled due to the marathon pacing of Affliction’s show. Count me among those who complain that the UFC does not show more fights on its pay-per-view. But after watching “Banned” last night, maybe I should keep my mouth shut?
Is there a point where you can be presented too much MMA? Is it possible to be extremely passionate about the sport yet still get burned out during an epic show? The timing of last night’s show certainly put me to the test. And I found that I couldn’t help but tune over to Spike TV during the slow times to check out what was taking place. I was having flashbacks of WWE Monday Night RAW vs. WCW Monday Nitro from the late ’90’s all over again. My receiver was getting quite the work out.
After watching the one-hour pre-show on Fox Sports Net, I thought we were going to see a catastrophe that rivaled last year’s “Dynamite USA!!” event in Los Angeles. Watching a non-high definition version of “Affliction: Live” on FSN, I saw a telecast with terrible lighting and camera shots that looked like Vaseline had been smeared on the lens. The arena looked empty and was devoid of energy and there were numerous minor production glitches such as screeching mics, sound that faded in and out, mis-timed transitions to and from commercial breaks, etc. At one point, the show tried to emphasize how the card was loaded with top-ten heavyweights. They cut to an on-screen graphic with generic rankings that were titled “onsensus Rankings.” And no, I’m not the one who left “C” out of “Consensus.”
And despite the aforementioned title “Affliction: Lve,” the one-hour telecast opened with a taped bout that was joined in progress between Paul Buentello and Gary Goodridge. It was a sloppy contest that likely did very little to entice someone on the fence to shell out $39.95 for the event. The show’s main event, a middleweight clash between Vitor Belfort and Terry Martin started ungodly slow. But after a talking to from his corner following round 1, Belfort stepped up and finished Martin in impressive fashion. The effort by Belfort evoked memories of the days when Belfort was a former UFC light heavyweight champion. He’s still far from getting back to that level, but Saturday’s showing helped Belfort’s stock immensely. If he can keep his head on straight, he will be a factor in the world rankings at 185 lbs.
After the pre-show festivities, we then went to the live pay-per-view, which looked like a completely different show than the FSN telecast. While dark lighting was utilized, a bigger crowd had arrived so the production was able to shine multi-colored lights on the crowd. This gave the event a much bigger feel. Affliction also deserves high marks for live event production. They used recognizable commercial music for the introductions; there was a huge video screen behind the fighters that looked more like a high resolution television screen instead of a projection screen that most promotions use; and Michael Buffer Was the ring announcer. Video packages between most of the fights were played featuring interviews with the fighters and a limited amount of b-roll footage.
One unique element in regard to the live event production was the utilization of platinum selling heavy metal band Megadeth. Having a live metal band play at the show was not as out of place as I had expected. First, major credit has to go out to the production team for the sound quality. Usually when bands play live in such a situation as last night, the sound is terrible. But there was good sound quality and volume while they played and the songs they performed sounded like the songs you hear on the radio. The utilization of a metal band fit in with the whole Affliction feel, and after all, Affliction does also work with a lot of metal bands. While a metal band on a UFC show would feel out of place, it works on an Affliction show because of the promotion’s roots.
In fact, when the show opened, the first thing we saw was Megadeth, playing their smash hit, “Symphony of Destruction.” I’m no Megadeth fan, but I really do like that song. It sounded great live and the first 60 seconds got me hyped. But after the first minute of just starring at a band on-stage at an MMA show, things didn’t feel right. There was no b-roll or graphics utilized during Megadeth’s performance to help establish that viewers were about to see an epic MMA show.
Towards the end of the song, all of the fighters from the main bouts walked out on-stage and took their place on the ramp opposite their opponent. But there were no graphics to identify the fighters and there wasn’t anyone introducing them to the audience. It looks like they were trying to emulate PRIDE with their opening, but having the screeching woman announce the names of the fighters and present the whole card really gives it a better feel.
It was a unique opening and I applaud Affliction for doing something different. But while the intro could have been really cool, they still fell short in execution. If they do such an opening again, they need to have B-roll of the fighters playing in the background and they either need an announcer or on-screen graphics identifying the fighters when they come out from the back. Give the crowd a cue to cheer.
Immediately after the performance we cut to a pre-taped intro and then immediately into the first fight between Mike Pyle and J.J. Ambrose. It was a quick, high-energy opening and I couldn’t believe how quick they went to the first fight. There was no transition to the talking heads at ringside hyping the fight with backstage shots of the main eventers. We received that traditional opening with the talking heads, but not until after the Pyle vs. Ambrose fight.
With the way the opening was sequenced, I’m positive it was done that way to counter-program the UFC. Most satellite and cable providers give you the opening minutes of a movie or live event for free on pay-per-view to try and hook you to by it. By going right away to a musical performance and then a fight, it was clear Affliction was trying to show more action than the UFN 14 telecast on Spike TV.
While some of the glitches from the pre-show were worked out, there were still a lot of minor production flaws like the crowd not being mic’d properly, low volume on the entrance music, mics fading out along with brief interruptions in transmission. Despite the myriad glitches, it was not to a point where it interfered with one’s enjoyment of the show.
While the glitches were merely slightly annoying, the pacing really did effect my enjoyment. The fighters were introduced to the crowd by Michael Buffer and vignettes were shown prior to each individual entrance. Showing video between each individual entrance really kills the momentum of the show and takes away the energy of the live crowd. The UFC shows you the package on both fighters and then introduces the fighters back-to-back. This is the only way to do it.
Once the fighters were on the rampway, most of them walked super slow to the ring. And then once both fighters were in the ring, Buffer introduced them again, while also thanking 50 companies involved with the promotion of the event. Normally such timing would be tolerable if there were just five bouts. However, we were treated to eight bouts on the show so the extended introductions just became too tedious. In the future, they are going to need to streamline the intros if they want to offer more than five fights and still keep the energy level high.
Megadeth also performed two other times following the intro. I can understand one musical interlude, but the second one right before the main event was almost two much. After the Rothwell vs. Arlovski match, the event slowed to a crawl. It seemed as though the goal was to not start the main event until after Spike’s broadcast had ended.
And while I would normally be interested in bouts between Mark Hominick vs. Savant Young and Matt Lindland vs. Fabio Negao, I had trouble sitting through them because it felt like I had to wait an eternity to see Josh Barnett vs. Pedro Rizzo, Ben Rothwell vs. Andrei Arlovski, and Fedor vs. Sylvia. One can only eat so many appetizers before the main course. Look, I like getting a lot of bang for my buck. Eight fights in three hours is awesome. But eight fights in four-plus hours? Not so much. If the fights between Lindland vs. Negao and Whitehead vs. Babalu had been a little more exciting, then maybe I wouldn’t feel the way I do right now. But both fights were slow, offered several lags in the action, and went to a decision.
However, by the time we got to the final three heavyweight bouts, all was well. Barnett/Rizzo, Rothwell/Arlovski, and Fedor/Sylvia all featured solid action with exciting finishes. If we had only seen those three matches with two fast-paced 155 lbs. or 145 lbs. fights sprinkled in, the card would have been dynamite. Instead, we saw an entertaining show that was good, but one that fell short of the hype in this reviewer’s opinion.
The questions I am left wanting to answer are whether I felt I got my money’s worth and whether I would order another Affliction event again. Yes on both accounts. Last night’s show was far from perfect, but it still had more than its fair share of moments. And I will definitely order again because of the problems I saw last night, I didn’t see any that can’t be worked out through experience.
But there are still questions that Affliction needs to answer. Such as, did they even come close to breaking even last night? What was the official attendance and what was the buyrate? It could be 4-8 weeks before we have any idea about the buyrate, but we should know the attendance figures soon. We’ll also know by Monday or Tuesday what the official salary figures were for the fighters. If the promotion loses $2-4 million, will they remain committed to hosting their own events? And if we do see more events from Affliction, will they continue to offer All-Star fight cards, or will they scale back?
While I enjoy the UFC a great deal, there is still a need for competition. The IFL is all but dead and joins several other major promotions that crash and burned. EliteXC has great fighters such as Jake Shields, Antonio Silva, Robbie Lawler, Rafael Feijao, Wilson Reis, Nick Thompson, etc., but it does not have the money to give us the depth we saw from Affliction last night. The sport needs another big boy to rival the UFC and right now, Affliction is the best candidate to fill that void. In fact, they are the only candidate right now.
With my event thoughts out of the way, here are my brief thoughts on each fight:
1. Mike Pyle submitted J.J. Ambrose at 2:51 of round 1 – Pyle looked like a top contender in this fight while Ambrose looked like a deer in headlights. I’ve been told Ambrose is a prospect, which may be the case, but it looks like he needs more time on the regional circuit before fighting nationally.
This fight was over before it got started. One problem here was how to put the results of these fights into context. We aren’t 100% sure Affliction will be doing a second show. And they are focusing on the heavyweights. So where does a welterweight such as Pyle go next after such a strong performance?
2. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira TKO’d Edwin Dewees at 4:06 of round 1 - Let me tell you something for those who didn’t see the show: ‘Lil Nog looked sensational! He dominated this fight from start to finish. For the life of me I still do not know why the UFC did not sign him. Is it because he’s the twin brother of their interim heavyweight champion and they don’t want to confuse the audience? Is it a money issue? Who knows. But Nogueira is a top ten light heavyweight and I want to see him against other top contenders, not against someone such as Dewees.
Dewees just did not look good here. Much like Ambrose, he showed nothing, with the exception of some leg kicks that color commentator Frank Trigg pointed out are used to keep his opponents away from him as opposed to using it to set up an attack. Dewees doesn’t belong at 205 lbs. He should never fight above middleweight and should really look into dropping to welterweight.
3. Matt Lindland defeated Fabio Negao via unanimous decision - I won’t lie, this was one of the fights where I switched over to UFN 14. But from what I saw, I was correct in stating before the fight that a lot of people were underestimating Negao. This decision was never in question but the fact that Lindland wasn’t able to finish him when so many had predicted it wouldn’t get out of the first round speaks volumes. To be honest though, I really felt Lindland started to show his age in this fight. It was a long time in between fights for him and he’s now 38. Lindland was never a speed merchant, but he did look a tad slow last night. I didn’t see anything to make me think he’s a threat to Anderson Silva.
4. Renato Sobral defeated Mike Whitehead via unanimous decision – These two showed respect for one another’s ground game and they tried to push the pace standing. Whitehead eventually had to revert to his wrestling instincts, but wasn’t really able to do much damage on the ground. While the two stood, it was Sobral who landed the cleaner kicks and punches. Overall, not a very exciting match, as both fighters looked very rusty.
5. Mark Hominick submitted Trenell “Savant” Young via armbar at 4:25 of round 2 - I think I would have enjoyed this fight a lot more if Affliction: Banned was only a five or six fight card and this was the opener. But as it was, it was another fight in which I switched over to see what was going on with UFN 14. I did see bits and pieces. What I saw wasn’t bad, but also nothing special. I consider this outcome as a minor upset as I felt that Young was going to be a mover and shaker at 145 lbs. That still might be the case, but losing to Hominick was a setback.
6. Josh Barnett knocked out Pedro Rizzo at 1:44 of round 2 - I felt this fight started out slow before it picked up. The ending was brutal. Barnett is known for his prowess on the ground, but he’s big and strong and when he hits someone, it hurts. Despite his reputation for being such a strong standup fighter, Rizzo was outclassed on his feet here. Barnett worked hard and then cut a pro wrestling style promo to build to another fight in Affliction. The problem was he didn’t fully commit.
Barnett was talking about wanting to kick asses but was still complementary to the other fighters on the show. If you want to do the pro wrestling-style promo, you’ve got to go all the way and call someone out. As things are now, there isn’t a next logical opponent for Barnett in Affliction. There really aren’t any obvious next opponents for any of the winners. The reality is, I don’t think they did a great job of laying the foundation for their second show. At times, the whole show really felt like a one-off event.
7. Andrei Arlovski knocked out Ben Rothwell at 1:13 of round 3 - We definitely saw the return of the old Arlovski in round three. At one point he landed some big power shots that dazed Rothwell and then Arlovski came in with a jumping knee. And when the end came, he knocked out Rothwell in brutal fashion. I’ll give credit to Rothwell for holding his own for much of the fight, but Arlovski looked focused and well-prepared. Athletically, he was just too much for Rothwell. Nogueira, Belfort, Barnett, and Fedor all looked great, but the fighter that impressed me the most was Arlovski.
8. Fedor Emelianenko submitted Tim Sylvia at 0:36 of round 1 to become the first-ever WAMMA heavyweight champion - Fedor didn’t want to have to fight Sylvia on the outside and wasted little time shooting the gap and closing the distance so that Sylvia couldn’t get extension on his punches. He used the same gameplan vs. Sylvia that Couture did and pressed his body against Sylvia’s right away. Fedor rocked Sylvia with some quick, compact punches and sent the big man to the canvas. From there, Fedor showed no mercy and immediately pounced on Sylvia with strikes to the head before taking his back. Fedor didn’t get a full rear naked choke in, but got fingers on both hands under Sylvia’s chin and just cranked it until Sylvia tapped.
Sylvia got in no offense. He looked like he was in shape for this fight but didn’t seem prepared for Fedor taking the fight to him so quickly. I had mixed emotions about the bout because I wanted to see a war and I wanted to see more than 36 seconds of Fedor. But seeing Fedor dominate an opponent such as Sylvia in the manner he did was a real eye-opening experience and a dramatic way to end an event. It was the biggest F.U. he could have given his critics.
After the fight, Fedor did an interview via translator. He was asked who he wanted to fight next, and he said Couture. The crowd went wild. Even though poorly mic’d, you could still hear them reacting in a big way. A very svelte Couture was in the ring after the fight to congratulate Fedor. Couture also got some mic time. A lot of focus was spent on building up the Fedor vs. Couture fight. In fact, Couture got a ton of face time throughout the entire event (several Xtreme Couture fighters were involved on the card). When Dana White sees the footage, he’s probably going to try and have his lawyers do something. What?I have no idea, but there will be a respond of some kind.
I don’t see the logic of spending so much time building to a Couture vs. Fedor fight right now when you know for sure you can make Fedor vs. Arlovski or possibly Fedor vs. Barnett for your second pay-per-view. It was really a huge risk. Couture’s contract status still is uncertain and with HDNet footing some of his legal bills, Affliction would have to work out a deal before the fight could happen. That’s assuming Couture can get out of his UFC contract.
Perhaps Affliction is privy to information that we aren’t and there’s a strong chance of the fight happening after all. But if they know as much as we do, then focusing on Fedor vs. Couture instead of Fedor vs. Arlovski is a huge mistake. Arlovski looked extremely impressive and received a strong reaction from the crowd. That’s the fight that should headline the second event. If they had had Arlovski come into the ring after Fedor fought, they’d have that footage when it came time to promote the event. Affliction waited too long to market their first event and the time to start marketing their second event was last night.