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Grappling with Issues: Jon Anik

Will Kimbo Slice win more than one fight on a live broadcast? What can the UFC do to achieve true mainstream recognition? Was Quinton Jackson in the wrong for postponing his showdown with Rashad Evans? Are there any future title-fights in Rich Franklin’s future?

Welcome to “Grappling with Issues”, a new weekly feature highlighting insight and opinion from various personalities in the Mixed Martial Arts community on a plethora of topics (as well as my own take on each of the six scintillating subjects). Issues will range from those of a light-and-fluffy nature to things as tough as a two-dollar steak.

You may know today’s guest from his work doing play-by-play for the Bellator Fighting Championships or gig every Thursday as the host of ESPN’s MMA Live. He is not only a respected journalist in the field of Mixed Martial Arts but also a huge fan of the sport on a personal level. Prepare to sit back and escape the doldrums of your cubicle for a few minutes while enjoying the verbal stylings of none other than Jon Anik!

True or False – Regardless of how he performs at UFC 103, Rich Franklin will never again fight for a UFC Championship.

Jon Anik: False. Ace’s margin of error is certainly thin, and you have to figure any future title shot will come at 205. But a dominant performance over Vitor Belfort would certainly be a step in the right direction. And Franklin is still capable of moving the needle, which oftentimes is a huge factor when match-ups are determined. That said, it’ll be a tough path at 205.

Brendhan Conlan: True. While I’d love to have Jon’s optimism on Franklin’s future prospects, I think Rich is at a point in his career where he should be focused on cementing his legacy as one of MMA’s finest fighters by taking on top-level opponents regardless of where they fit into the title picture. “Ace” will be 35 in less than a month, and has plenty of other opportunities outside of the cage, so I think it’s safe to say his future appearances in the Octagon are of a limited nature. Beating Belfort in dominating fashion would definitely be a positive step for Franklin but it doesn’t do anything for him in comparison to “Rampage” Jackson, Rashad Evans, Mauricio Rua, Thiago Silva, Forrest Griffin, or any of the other 205-pounders near the top of the light heavyweight heap. “Ace” would need to beat at least 2-3 elite LHWs before being a believable opponent for Lyoto Machida (assuming he retains against Rua) and I
simply don’t see that happening. However, there’s no reason Franklin can’t stand across the ring from any assortment of his peers and solidify his place in MMA history without ever sniffing gold again. I’d like to see him fight Tito Ortiz or Randy Couture, though any of the other afore-mentioned names would work just fine for me too.

Will Roger Huerta be making a significant mistake if he follows through with his plans to walk away from Mixed Martial Arts in order to pursue acting?

Anik: Absolutely. I guess I’m mildly curious to see how he performs in his acting debut later this year (in the movie ‘Tekken’), but I don’t think Hollywood directors are exactly banging down his door with opportunities. Huerta is in his prime as a mixed martial artist and would be well-served to stay on that career path. If he is cut by the UFC after the fight with Gray Maynard, you can be sure Bellator and Strikeforce will come knocking.

Conlan: Agreed. I will gladly print this response out, dab it in ketchup, and consume it fully if I’m wrong, but I don’t think Huerta will even achieve Cung Le status in Hollywood and that’s not saying much. If he sticks with MMA he has an opportunity to be a posterboy for the sport within the Hispanic community. I think there’s a good chance the UFC will re-sign him as long as he reels in his acting aspirations, as I feel the overly negative tone of his earlier statements regarding the organization were financially based and his tune would change with a nice, new deal in place. If he does leave then Strikeforce would be a good landing spot, though I like Bellator a bit more in the sense the promotion already caters to the Hispanic demographic and there’s excellent money to be had as well as flexibility in performing. Alvarez vs. Huerta, anyone?

Over/Under/Push – Kimbo Slice will win one fight on a live UFC broadcast before eventually getting cut from the promotion.

Anik: Over. We had Kimbo at ESPN on MMA Live last week and one thing that struck me was how relaxed and carefree he was. Gone is the burden of carrying an entire promotion on his shoulders, and I think that will greatly aid his performance in the cage. When he was with EliteXC, losing simply wasn’t an option. He felt as though the careers of others (promoters, fighters) were inexorably linked to his performances. Now, Slice can just be a UFC heavyweight (or light heavyweight- he said he could cut to 205). And, if he loses, you have to think his drawing power alone will get him another opportunity.

Conlan: Push. I can see Slice winning a fight on a live broadcast but I don’t see him winning multiple bouts in the UFC. While the reduced pressure is a good thing, it doesn’t take away from how late he got into the game or how he went down like a sack of bricks against Seth Petruzelli. He’ll get a few opportunities in the UFC to capitalize on his name value but at some point fans won’t be interested if he continues to lose in highlight fashion fight after fight. Personally, I think he’d be a perfect opponent for Chuck Liddell to make his comeback against. The PPV numbers would be sick and it would be an extremely winnable fight for “The Iceman”.

Is Nate Marquardt vs. Dan Henderson necessary when it comes to helping determine a #1 contender to Anderson Silva’s title?

Conlan: No, and not from the standpoint that either middleweight is clearly deserving of the distinction either. The notion of the UFC needing to determine a top contender to any championship is dead. Challengers aren’t ultimately decided inside the Octagon. They’re decided in a board room. Sure, a fighter’s performance in the cage is weighed when considering who will headline a PPV opposite a UFC Champion, but the final decision comes down to an individual’s marketability and how well the fight will sell on PPV. What did Brock Lesnar do to earn a shot at Randy Couture’s big shiny beltbuckle? Go 2-1 in his career. What did BJ Penn do to merit an opportunity at winning GSP’s welterweight strap? Lose his two previous bouts at the weight.

So again, Marquardt vs. Henderson isn’t necessary in determining Anderson Silva’s next opponent at 185 pounds. It’s a formality in the big picture, albeit one I’d personally like to see from a competitive perspective and due to the likely level of entertainment involved.

Anik: Well put. I agree on all fronts. Because Anderson Silva holds wins over both guys, it just makes sense to have Marquardt and Henderson fight. And I think the fight would deliver, as you’ve suggested. I’m a huge fan of Marquardt’s, but he remains an unknown to a lot of casual MMA fans. A win over Hendo would give him the requisite marketing boost he needs. Right now, a Silva-Marquardt main event just can’t carry a UFC PPV.

Better for all involved parties – Quinton Jackson showcases his combative skills against Rashad Evans in the Octagon or showcases his comedy skills in a big budget film (like “A-Team”) on the silver screen?

Conlan: As much as I’m looking forward to eventually seeing “Rampage” and Rashad clash in a cage, there is no doubt in my mind Quinton’s involvement in a film like “A-Team” is a vastly superior prospect when considering which of the two options has more potential for contributing to the greater good. Evans vs. Jackson as it stands will cater to a specific audience – folks who are already fans and a smattering of people who don’t necessarily follow MMA but were exposed to the rivalry while watching Kimbo Slice on the upcoming season of TUF. On the other hand, Jackson’s forthcoming foray into big-budget Hollywood could open the floodgates where new fans (and streams of income) are concerned.

If “A-Team” is successful at the box office – a realistic possibility given the talent already attached to the film as well as the source material’s place in pop culture – it will expose “Rampage” to a large population of people who currently couldn’t tell you the names of three Mixed Martial Artists; who think “Octagon” is a term reserved for geometry, let alone have any interest in purchasing a PPV featuring one. However, the opportunity to see “B.A. Baracus” compete inside a cage might make for a different story. Truly, how can an action star who kicks ass on screen and off be unappealing to the masses?

Raising Jackson’s profile in the mainstream conscious should ultimately result in an increased interest in the UFC based on his relationship with the organization. Essentially, people who tune in to watch “Rampage” compete will by default also check out other fighters in action on the card and (hopefully) find themselves enjoying MMA as a whole. The “A-Team” situation is an excellent, free marketing opportunity and one the UFC needs to take advantage of. Due to the doors it could open for “Rampage” and MMA in general there’s no doubt in my mind Jackson’s presence in a potential blockbuster has far more benefits to it than simply stepping into the cage against “Sugar” ‘Shad at UFC 107.

Anik: Would love to disagree, but I can’t. I think the only losers in this equation are the MMA fans in Memphis, TN, who were expecting to see one of their own on December 12th. Rampage’s presence in a movie of this magnitude has the potential to be a mammoth marketing opportunity for the UFC and the sport. I’ve also heard that Rashad Evans has accepted a smaller movie role as well, as he kills time before getting his shot at Jackson. I do expect the UFC, going forward, to make sure they get signatures on fight contracts from fighters who are coaches on ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’ You have to think there will be several UFC 107/December 12th references on Season 10 of TUF that must be edited out now. But in terms of getting more mainstream exposure for MMA, allowing Rampage to take the part is a no-brainer.

What is one thing the UFC needs to do to help their company achieve legitimate mainstream status?

Conlan: Market their product more heavily towards women. Anyone who has been to a live UFC event can tell you there are a lot of ladies in attendance that don’t happen to be wearing Spandex booty-shorts. I’d also wager most guys who are reading this column know a few females that enjoy being part of the crowd at regular PPV gatherings. From what I’ve seen, the appeal of MMA to women is one part physicality, one part sexual attraction. The fairer sex enjoys both the drama of a fight and fact most Mixed Martial Artists are tattooed, muscular, and shirtless.

The UFC needs to capitalize on their label-laden pocketbooks and can do so in a number of ways. For example, have Georges St. Pierre be “The Bachelor” one season or Thiago Alves the target of a VH-1 “…of Love” show. Find a fighter who likes to cook and have him show up on “Rachel Ray” for a guest segment. Put a Mixed Martial Artist on “Dancing with the Stars”…er, well one that isn’t Chuck Liddell. By catering to what is currently such a largely ignored demographic, the UFC can do nothing but help itself considering the company’s end-goal of becoming a household name.

Anik: Spare no expense in marketing Georges St. Pierre. I see GSP as the most qualified candidate to take the torch from the Randy Coutures and Chuck Liddells of the world. MMA will need a face when those guys retire, and I nominate St. Pierre. The Gatorade deal is a nice start, but that was not the UFC’s doing. St. Pierre is among the more popular fighters with the hardcore fans, but still needs a push to cross over to casual fans. He has all the tools inside the Octagon and, more importantly for this conversation, outside of it—good looks, personality, charisma, an infectious smile. And, he can also talk MMA strategy/technique with the best of them. We are hoping to have him in Bristol soon as an MMA Live analyst, and I guarantee he’ll kill it. As you suggest, get him on network television, whether it is as ‘The Bachelor’ or as a contestant on ‘Dancing with the Stars’ (he would win the whole damn thing). The UFC has done well in capitalizing on GSP’s appeal, but more can be done.

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