The Bitterness of Bret Hart

I’ll never forgive Shawn, or Hunter, for killing the business that so many of us gave our lives for. – Bret Hart, “Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling”

Bret Hart’s derogatory remarks about Triple H have come and gone, with most fans writing them off as “out of touch” at best and “delusional” at worst.  As someone who was a massive Bret mark growing up and also a Triple H detractor, I have to say…those fans are not wrong.  I’ll always respect Bret’s honesty, but whether he thinks he’s telling the truth or not, his comments aren’t coming from a place of rational objectivity.  That’s especially true when dealing with one Hunter Hearst Helmsley, a Hart nemesis long before his involvement in Montreal.  However, this isn’t just about his relationship with Triple H.  It’s also about his relationship with Vince McMahon.

The onset of the Attitude Era was unkind to Bret.  In-ring expertise and compelling angles were beginning to take a backseat to vulgarity and shocks that were completely unrelated to his traditional view of professional wrestling.  Bret’s anti-America gimmick might have been controversial, but it was still rooted in the basic tenants of good versus evil.  Even better for him, the angle allowed him to keep getting cheers in Canada and abroad, something he cherished.  It was a refreshing change of character for Bret, while still being good for his ego.

Leading the charge into a wild, unconventional, often juvenile frontier were Shawn Michaels and Hunter Hearst Helmsley, the infamous D-Generation X.  In Michaels, Hart had a natural rival and while the two men clearly despised each other they always respected each other in the ring.  Helmsley, on the other hand, was perceived by Bret as a lackey, a tag along, a sidekick that was riding Shawn’s coattails.  Hunter used his relationship with Shawn and his own increasing backstage power to influence booking, which more often than not conflicted with the Hitman’s own ideas.  The Bret/Shawn feud might have been grabbing all the headlines, but Hunter, who’d avoided the erratic behaviour and drug abuse that coloured Shawn’s early career, was waiting in the wings all along waiting for his opportunity.

While Bret’s career was floundering in WCW (for reasons beyond his control), Triple H was rising through the ranks and improving in every aspect of his game.  By 2000, Triple H would be in his first Wrestlemania main event, becoming the first heel to ever escape the big show with the world title.  At the end of that year, Bret would be released from his WCW contract.  In March of 2002, another Wrestlemania ended with Triple H as the champion; three months later, Bret would suffer a stroke.

Triple H eventually became the heir to Vince McMahon both personally and professionally, a role that Bret once envisioned for himself:

Vince said he had a better deal for me than WCW.  He wanted me to sign for twenty years, for a total of $10.5 million…to be on standby as that Babe Ruth of the company Vince was always looking for.  It was a satisfying feeling hearing him say, “I’ll never give you a reason to ever want to leave.”

WCW was offering almost as much for only three years, but when it got down to it I couldn’t leave Vince, or our history together.

These days, it is Triple H who now finds himself occupying that “Babe Ruth” role.  Add in the fact that Vince was like a secondary father figure to Bret and that has to be a bitter pill to swallow.

When Bret had his stroke, he was in his early 40s, around the same age that Triple H was when he was putting on classics with Undertaker at consecutive Wrestlemanias.  Can you imagine what that must feel like?  To see someone you dislike remaining relevant, wrestling great matches and having what could have been yours?  Even the most humble and respectful person would struggle with that scenario.  Everything that Triple H does is coloured by Bret’s emotions.  That kind of hate will blind you.

I am in no way defending Bret’s comments.  I consider the man an inspiration not only because of his wrestling career, but because of the challenges he’s overcome and the principals that he lives by.  Unfortunately, those principals occasionally manifest themselves in negative fashion, as evidenced by his criticism of Triple H.  Right or wrong, what positive outcome could there be to tearing down someone who plays a major role in a company you’re affiliated with?  I would love to see Bret contributing ideas behind closed doors, not airing out public grievances.  Bret has always been a man of great pride and he seems to think that working with Triple H is impossible; then again, we once said the same thing about Shawn Michaels.

All I ask from anyone judging his comments is to look at things from his perspective; skewed as it is.  The life that Triple H has (PPV headliner, respected executive, McMahon family member) was supposed to be his and it was taken away prematurely.  Worse, it ended up in the hands of an enemy.  I hope for Bret’s sake that as new fans become educated about him and his legacy, he continues to move on from past regrets and missed opportunities.  The old wounds may linger, but they only get worse when can’t leave them alone.

Angel Stories

For years, I worried that something might happen to her and wouldn’t hear about it.  I wasn’t particularly close with too many of her friends and I’d met members of her family once or twice.  She lived in Brampton growing up, but she bounced all over the place when she got older.  If it wasn’t for Yaya I wouldn’t have found out at all.  She told me that they found Angel down at the Harbourfront.

*****

It came as a surprise to me that not everyone referred to Angel as Angel.  She was born Angela Sinclair and she had two brothers named Anthony and Angelo.  She took on the alias to avoid confusion.  I learned this in a roundabout way when I went to Steve’s Music and I was told she wasn’t there, but the staff thought I was referring to another girl whose name actually was Angel.  Luckily, Angel(a) saw me.  She told me that I could call her Angela from now on, since being mixed up with her brother was less frequent these days.  I shook my head.  She was my Angel and that was how it should be.

*****

I hate that I can’t remember the words to You Got Me by The Roots.  Angel and I rehearsed for that like crazy.  She was psyched about performing a hip-hop number and we’d agreed that You Got Me would be perfect for us.  There was a lineup to get into the club and we just went over the song over and over and over again while we waited.  We must have looked like the biggest dorks, but it paid off.  We got on stage and we didn’t forget any lines and frankly, we killed it.  To this day, I still think we outperformed Maestro who was the special guest that night.  Of course, our turn came way later in the evening and the crowd had thinned by that point.  Worse, the subway system had long stopped running and some friends of mine had to drive her home.  It was the last and best night of hip-hop karaoke I attended.

*****

She once wrote an entire exam in rhyme.  She got an A.  It was apparently so good that her professor added it the course website (the link is long expired, unfortunately).  I don’t know if this says more about her or about the quality of evaluation at the University of Toronto.

*****

Angel would do this thing where you’d say something and she’d react by opening her eyes as wide as humanly possible.  She would vary her expression depending on whether she approved or (as was often the case with me) disapproved.  Regardless, in that brief moment between initial recognition and processing, what you just said seemed like the most important/intelligent/insulting/bewildering thing that was ever said.

*****

I’ve been known to go off on a rant from time to time, usually ranging from harmlessly ignorant to wildly uninformed; occasionally entertaining.  One of my best was about the Justin Bieber smash hit Baby or as I like to call it, “The Greatest Pop Song Ever Written”.  I’ve never put this theory down in writing, so now is as good a time as any.

The song starts off with a simple piano bit that adds a touch of class to the proceedings followed by some unimaginative vocalization.  The beat comes in and it’s impactful, but inoffensive.  At this point, I’ve essentially described every dance pop song you’ve heard in the last 50 years, though you could substitute other instruments for the piano (electric guitar, violin, saxophone, etc.).  Bear with me.

The lyrics are nothing to write home about, but they are affecting (especially for the target demographic) and thus, effective.  The words could not be more thoughtless, a broad mix of age old epithets (You are my love, you are my heart) and modern phrases (Are we an item?  Girl, quit playing).  It is fluff, but what digestible fluff it is.  Then we get to the chorus:

Baby, baby baby oooooh
Baby, baby baby noooo
Baby, baby baby oooooh
I thought you’d always be mine, mine…

That right there…sums up every love song you’ve ever heard in your entire life.

Baby, baby baby ooooh = I met someone and I’m in love
Baby, baby baby noooo = We’re having some problems
Baby, baby baby ooooh = Regardless of what happens, I’ll never forget him/her.
I thought you’d always be mine, mine = Generic longing

Compare to a section from Something by The Beatles:

You’re asking me will my love grow
I don’t know, I don’t know
You stick around now, it may show
I don’t know, I don’t know

Or Unchained Melody by The Righteous Brothers:

Lonely rivers flow to the sea, to the sea
To the open arms of the sea
Lonely rivers sigh, wait for me, wait for me
I’ll be coming home, wait for me

Is there really any difference?  I could list a hundred songs with more powerful, clever, well thought out lyrics that follow the same structure and sentiment.  Baby distills centuries of lyricism and poetry into a handful of nonsense utterances.  It is brilliant.

A guest “rap” by Ludacris, in which he dishes out possibly the weakest 16 bars ever heard on a mainstream song (when you rhyme “star-struck” with “Starbucks” you are no longer qualified to be a hip-hop artist) somehow makes the song more irresistible.  A better verse might actually have distracted from this tightly manufactured concoction.  Even after going on this spiel multiple times (verbatim, mind you), I’m still not sure whether I’m kidding or not.

When I finally got around to sharing this with Angel, she wasn’t sure whether or not to take me seriously.  We were hanging out at Sonic Boom and she was half-listening to me, half-scrolling through rows of discarded discs…then it happened.  Someone had overheard our conversation.  He gave me a nod and said, “You know what?  This guy is right!”  Then he walked away.  I’ll never forget the look on Angel’s face.  She’d always humoured me, but never had she seen a third party actually step in and confirm that my deranged thoughts actually had any merit.  I could see the chill running down her spine.  She was absolutely mortified.  It is a precious moment that I brought up constantly and will hold on to forever.

*****

One time, Angel and I had this exchange:

Me: I think they should make more “hip-hoperas”.
Angel: I didn’t even watch that first one.  What was it called?
M: Carmen.
A: Who was in it?
M: Beyoncé.  Uh…that black guy.
A: Oh, that black guy.  In a hip-hopera, that really narrows it down.
M: It’s that guy, uh, he was in…shit.  He was in Dawn Of The Dead.
A: Didn’t see it.
M: Shit.  Okay, it’s that guy.  Not Taye Diggs.  Not Omar Epps.
A: Mekhi Phifer?
M: Yeah!!!

She was the best.

*****

If you’ve ever hung around my friend William and me for more than five minutes, you’ve undoubtedly heard us espouse the virtues of the cinema classic Van Helsing.  If you’ve never seen it, it’s about how a monster hunter played by Hugh Jackman travels to Transylvania to fight Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein.  That premise alone doesn’t sound too horrible, but the movie takes itself too seriously and it is absolutely immaculate in its incompetence.  Anyway, we’ve watched it many times and we never shut up about it.  What you don’t know is that we viewed the film separately before commiserating on its awfulness.  It was Angel who saw it with me first.

I wouldn’t say I tricked Angel into watching it, because I assumed that she had the same expectations I did.  However, it was only halfway through the movie (probably around the time Van Helsing is doing a SICK “fall away from some flames while spinning and firing two guns at the same time” move) that she nudged me and said something to the effect of “What the fuck did you drag me into?”  After the movie was finished and she got over her outrage, we spent hours going over the mind-numbing details.

“He dedicated the movie to his father.”  I said.

“Did he hate his father or something?”  She replied, not missing a beat.

That started off a long tradition of us going out of our way to watch bad movies.  When my friend Gary went to Guatemala for six weeks, it was Angel who picked up the slack and accompanied me to see Transformers.  We were disappointed by the dullness of Stealth and pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to make fun of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1.  The only movie that came close to Van Helsing was Doomsday.  I went back through my writings and saw a review I did of the film (hardly worth mentioning), which ended with these thoughts:

“…she suggested that we wander the city for a while.  I don’t think we went anywhere too out of the way, but almost every place is new to me and I can’t think of anyone else I’d rather have accompany on one of these aimless jaunts.”

*****

As in charge of her life as she was, there was a lot of turmoil there too.  She was someone who would shout at the world and not flinch when it shouted back.  But I could see it taking a toll on her.  It took a while, but I figured out the most important thing I could offer her: peace.  She could always come to me when she needed to settle down or step away from her daily trials.  We had big plans for this one outing but we were both recovering from recent illnesses so we decided to take a break at Innis College.  The afternoon was perfectly wasted as we went upstairs and ended up taking a nap together.  A similar thing happened when she stayed at my house in the dreaded suburbs.  She’d been having problems with a boyfriend and family and I thought a little tender loving care was all she needed.  I was ready to listen to her all night, but we ended up falling asleep around relatively early.  She didn’t need to talk about all that stuff.  She just needed to rest.

*****

Is there such thing as a “professional orange squeezer”?  Like, if you were really rich, could you hire someone with freakishly strong hands and arms to make delicious, pulpy juice for you at a whim?  When I first brought this up to Angel, she indulged me for at least half an hour, even furthering the question with intelligent and disturbing inquiries (and yes, man or woman they’d obviously be shirtless).  It became a dumb gag that would often spring up when I was forced to improvise, adding something different to the story every time as is customary with any good joke.  One time she asked me about “Tavish McSqueezie” and I had no idea what she was talking about.  She insists that’s the name I came up with for my hypothetical employee, but I swear that that was her invention.  It should come as no surprise that neither of us was in any hurry to claim it.

*****

The day after my birthday I had lunch with Angel who had forgotten the date and honestly, we’d made plans to meet a week before and I didn’t even think about it myself.  She even let me pay for lunch, which she definitely would not have if she knew it was my birthday (but would be justified anyway as I will explain later).  Angel remembered that my birthday was sometime this month and when she asked me for the exact day, I just deflected the question.  Later, by rummaging through some e-mails, she apparently discovered the date and called me that night.

“Fuck you!  Happy birthday, you asshole!”

I only wish you could hear the emotion with which that was said, but alas, it shall remain mine and mine alone.  Now, in both our defenses, the only reason she forgot is because I didn’t tell her and the only reason I decided to pay for our meal that day is because we also went out the week of her birthday a couple of months ago and she paid for dinner that night.  In brief, we both treated each other to birthday meals, just on our own birthdays.  We’ve always been unorthodox in our methods and I don’t see why we would handle such a trivial ritual any differently.

Am I forgiven, Angel?

*****

Joni Mitchell comes to mind.  When she was living with Graham Nash, he wrote the song Our House.  It’s a good one, written with warmth and humour.  Nash was amused by the sight of Mitchell playing the pretty housewife, cleaning up and planting flowers in the yard.  She was an unlikely candidate for domesticity.

For Angel, it was Mushaboom.  The Feist-penned song conveys the charming struggles that come with city living and the desire to escape to some quaint hovel at the end of a dirt road.  I couldn’t tell you if Angel ever wanted that sort of life for herself.  She loved the city; parts of it anyway.  We both thought that it was a brilliant song that happened to encapsulate that nameless desire that is always just out of reach.

*****

We auditioned for Canadian Idol together.  I wonder how many people she told about that.  It was…nothing like you see on television.  We’d gone on the last possible day so there was almost no line-up; presumably, the best of the best Toronto singers had already come and gone and only the truly exceptional talents would be making it now.  I decided to give it a shot anyway and Angel kept me company.

We weren’t part of the same audition group unfortunately, but I could kind of hear her and I know for sure that she was in there with the producers a lot longer than I was.  “She’s showing them what’s what now,” I thought.  Afterwards, she told me that they had her sing a couple of times and that they passed because she didn’t look comfortable singing without her guitar (why would they let people bring instruments then?).  A silly, self-obsessed part of me chooses to believe that they wanted her but she declined because she didn’t want to make me feel bad (not to mention she hated the whole concept).  That’s the sort of thing she would do.

*****

There was this one perfect day her and I spent at the Harbourfront, sometime after her cousin Johann died.  He’d committed suicide, which was something I struggled to understand.  I had a cousin who had done the same and to this day I get frustrated thinking about it.  Angel, as always, was understanding to the point that I thought she was being naive.  We had a discussion (we never argued) about it and she explained to me how it was possible to feel so helpless, so powerless to affect the things in your life that are infringing upon your happiness that self-termination seems like a perfectly reasonable option.  I refused to accept it, but for the first time since my cousin’s death, I at least came close to sympathizing with him.

Anyway, that’s not why I bring that episode up.  At some point during our walk, Angel decided to sit down on the edge of the dock and let her feet dangle.  I didn’t join her for a variety of reasons: I was scared someone might push me.  I was scared I might slip and fall in.  I was scared my shoes might drop off and into the water below.  She wasn’t scared of anything.  Eventually I did sit down next to her and I even swung my legs a little.  That was one of Angel’s gifts.  She helped me overcome a fear of something silly and small, but she could instill courage in anyone at anytime about anything.  One of the most common fears people have is expressing themselves, especially in public, but I don’t know how many friends she convinced to get up on a stage somewhere to read a poem or sing their hearts out.  Angel was fearless and she had the power to make you fearless too.

*****

It has taken me longer to finish writing this than I thought it would.  As cliché as it sounds, I guess I worry that when I’ve processed or exorcised all of these disparate fragments that that will be the end of it; there will be nothing left to say and I’ll have to move on.  What if I can’t recall every story or what if I’m remembering them wrong?  I know that doesn’t really matter.

The wonderful thing is that as close as our relationship was, I’m certain that you could ask any of her friends or family about her and they’d have just as many personal and intimate and funny stories about her.  What she and I had was unique and yet it’s also something I have in common with everyone else she welcomed into her life.  Paradoxical.  I wrote all of this to make myself feel better and to capture a fraction of what made Angel such an incredible creature and, perhaps most importantly, to communicate her power to bring people together.  I’m a recluse by nature and she was all about inclusion.  That attitude was apparent in her charity work, which I was always reluctant to participate in.  I would show up when the cause piqued my curiosity.  That was one of the rare times she became upset with me, when I refused to sign some petition that she brought around.  Eventually she grew to respect my reasons, but it was hard work.

In turn, I respected her diligence, never telling her to slow down or take it easy even though everyone knew that would be good for her.  We might never be able to convince each other (she rarely admitted she was wrong about anything), but we would listen to each other.  I respected her.  I loved her.  With all my heart, I truly, truly loved her and it feels so good to say it.  I never took our friendship for granted.  One time (more than once, likely), as we were parting I hugged her and said, “I love you, you know that?”  With most people, the words would have been caught in my throat but they were spoken with ease.  She said she loved me too.  I’ll be telling Angel stories for the rest of my life.

The Ultimate Fighter 17: Team Jones v. Team Sonnen – Week 3 Recap

Here’s what I wrote about Uriah Hall after episode 1:

“Hall comes into the competition with a reputation as an exciting, dynamic striker and with luck this opportunity could lead to him becoming a breakout star in the UFC.”

If this week’s episode is any indication, the UFC doesn’t have to worry about him not doing his part.

Team Colours:

Team Jones
Team Sonnen (actually black on the show, but blue for the purposes of this article)

Still no fighter introductions in the opening, so I guess that’s how it’s going to be this season.

All of the talk surrounds the match-up of Hall and Adam Cella, which everyone expects to be a barnburner.  Both men are known for their stand-up, which excites Cella.  He tries to hype up the fight, looking for confirmation from Hall that they’ll remain standing but Hall plays it cool.  It’s a friendly exchange, but you can tell the Cella is nervous and Hall is all business.

“Bubba” McDaniel and Josh Samman have emerged as the collective mouthpiece of Team Jones.  Speaking of which, it’s Samman’s smart mouth that creates some tension when he inadvertently offends Hall.  Hall describes Tor Troeng as a “professional cooker”, to which Samman replies “you mean ‘chef’”?  The seemingly innocent comment brings back memories of youthful inadequacy for Hall, who had trouble fitting in when he moved here from Jamaica.  He threateningly squeezes an orange, vowing to eventually call out Samman.  If that whole segment seemed silly, it was, but the best athletes can use even the tiniest perceived slight for motivation.

“King” Kevin Casey is still fuming over Bubba challenging him last time.  King says Bubba wanting to exploit a fresh cut over his eye makes him look weak.  The story continues later in the episode and Jimmy Quinlan is tired of it.  He indirectly calls King a coward, echoing the sentiment that I wrote about before: If you’re here to win, you fight anyone!  I knew there was a reason I liked Quinlan.

Back to Cella and Hall, it’s fascinating how differently the two men view the possibility of losing.  Cella says that he has nothing to worry about.  He has a job waiting for him back home, a life outside of fighting.  Hall says that he has nothing outside of fighting and thus, everything to gain from winning this tournament.  Both view their situations as a positive.

The show does an excellent job of spotlighting the two coaches, with Jon Jones offering sound advice on – what else? – doing damage with elbows and later visiting his team at the house.  Chael Sonnen has an emotional talk with Hall about confidence.  Say what you want about the man, but whatever role he’s asked to take on he embraces it.  In this case, he provides advice and support in such a way that you believe he genuinely cares about the success of his fighters.  Hall seems to sense that and he’s moved by Sonnen’s words.

In a testimonial, Sonnen offers a compelling theory on dealing with failure:

When doubt seeps in, you’ve got two roads.  You can take either road.  You can go to the left or you can go to the right and believe me, they’ll tell you that failure is not an option.  That is ridiculous!  Failure is always an option.  Failure is the most readily available option at all times, but it’s a choice.  You can choose to fail or you can choose to succeed…failure is always there and it’s okay to recognize that.

Another thing I noticed: Frank Mir is one laid back dude.  From the footage we see, it looks like he’s always able to find a comfortable spot to sit on his ass and coach with minimal effort.  He’s coached on the show before, so only having to be an assistant must be pretty sweet for him.

Chillaxin’ with his hand on his dick, like he do.

Meanwhile, Sonnen continues to manage the delicate ego of Hall.  He tells him to envision adversity as well as triumph.  For someone as gifted as Hall, it looks like Sonnen is pushing all the right buttons.

The fight itself is a good one, with Cella coming forward and attacking with no fear.  It’s a smart strategy and he gets his shots in, but there’s one problem: Hall looks completely calm.  Everything he does is faster, crisper, and harder hitting.  Cella gets knocked down twice by push kicks to the body and Hall is well ahead on the scorecards going in to the final minute.  It looks like this is going to a second round, but at the sound of the ten second clapper Cella pauses.  In that brief window, Hall executes a gorgeous spinning wheel kick that demolishes the right side of Cella’s face.  It’s a no-doubter and Hall proceeds to celebrate: as my cousin Derek pointed out, Hall did indeed throw a fireball and yell “Hadouken!”

Hall apologizes when he sees the damage done, but everyone accepts that this is the fight business and there’s no hard feelings from Cella (who can’t recall what happened anyway).  “You just stole my money!”  Luke Barnatt says to Hall, “No one’s beating that.”  Dana White has to go and congratulate the winner, pointing out that it’s the kind of finish you want to celebrate, but not too much because of how bad it looked for the loser.  Despite the brutal outcome, fight fans everywhere should celebrate the technique demonstrated by Hall.  Frankly, I haven’t seen a reality TV show contestant give ‘em something to talk about like this since Sanjaya Malakar. Yeah, I went there!

Sonnen picks Collin “The Dick” Hart to fight King Casey next week, sticking it to Bubba.  With match-ups that are both favourable to themselves and frustrating for the other team, the Sonnen-ites (?) are in complete control.

I leave you with this question: Are ring girls really necessary when there’s no actual audience?

Next week: Who cares?  How about that f**kin’ kick?!?

Light As A Feather – UFC 156 Post Mortem

In life, merely wanting something, no matter how badly, is rarely enough to make that thing attainable.

*****

The José Aldo/Frankie Edgar featherweight title fight on Saturday engaged me in all the right ways.  Aldo, a true juggernaut at 145, took the first two rounds handily, chopping away at Edgar with merciless leg kicks.  As Edgar visibly buckled, I yelled up at the television monitor in the bar, “Get in there Mazzagatti!  Save this man’s career!”  My friends laughed as I peeked out from between my fingers.  Edgar’s biggest fan can’t stand to see him getting slaughtered, even though that happens in every fight he’s in (even the ones he wins!).

Somehow, someway, the leg kicks stopped coming and the challenger was able to start landing consistently.  Aldo’s jab, which had been on point for ten minutes, was missing by inches and Edgar was clearly pressing the action.  He started to dictate the pace and the location of the exchanges.

“I’m dyin’!”  I texted to my Uncle Pang.  “Frankie got round 3 though!”  My rooting interests influenced my score, but at least it seemed like the tide was turning.

Aldo dropped the 4th for sure, with Edgar out-striking him and landing a trademark slam that brought me out of my seat (as if the impact travelled all the way from the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino up to a Boston Pizza in Markham).  In truth, the slam didn’t do much and Aldo was back on his feet in seconds, but one day when I’m telling my grandkids about it I’ll talk about how the champion nearly broke every bone in his body as he was dropped from what must have been 12 feet in the air.  A slight embellishment.

Edgar grew stronger with every round, but Aldo reminded everyone why he’s the best featherweight in the world.  It’s all well and good when you’re stringing together highlight reel knockout after highlight reel knockout, but what do you have left when you’re dragged into the proverbial deep waters?  Edgar hurried to the finish line, but Aldo met him stride for stride utilizing his flawless technique.  That counter jab tightened up, slowing Edgar down every time he began to pour on the pressure.  His breathtaking footwork nullified any takedown attempts.  He soundly won the 5th, giving him no less than three (likely four) of the five rounds needed to take the fight.

How about that Aldo?  Before the fight, my friends kept telling me that he was faster than Edgar and I refused to admit it.  “Maybe as fast,” I would say, but I wouldn’t concede the point.  Then it unfolded before my very eyes.  Every time Edgar fired a leg kick or ducked in for an overhand right, he’d be met by two or three strikes in return.  Some he dodged, most he didn’t.  Amazingly, the numbers will show that Edgar landed more strikes over the course of the last three rounds, but I wasn’t convinced that he did enough to make up for the deficit in rounds 1 and 2.  The match was arguably the best performance of Aldo’s career and an early fight of the year candidate for me personally.

*****

Unlike the last time Edgar lost a close fight, I wasn’t nearly as heartbroken.  That had a lot to do with Antonio Silva’s thrilling upset of Alistair Overrated…*ahem*, Overeem.

There exists a contingent of fans who have touted Overeem as the uncrowned heavyweight king for years, constantly berating others with their theories that he would *snicker* “destroy” the likes of Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez.  Obviously, this is message board fodder that I shouldn’t give too much credence but there’s no arguing that “The Reem” (ugh) carried a mystique that was easy to latch onto.  He hadn’t lost a fight in over five years and he finished the majority of his opponents in the first round, but I won’t waste my time dispelling the myth of his invincibility even though I could do it in one paragraph.  Besides, nothing I write would be more convincing than the argument presented by the majestic “Big Foot” Silva.

Up until Silva won, it had been one of the most utterly unsatisfying fights I’d ever witnessed.  I cannot stand Overeem.  Even discounting the steroid allegations (a topic for another day), he’s done an outstanding job of buying into his own hype over the last few years despite never beating a single top ten opponent until he took a lacklustre decision against Fabricio Werdum.  I’ll admit that he had me fooled when he conquered Brock Lesnar, but in retrospect Lesnar had one foot out the door and all Overeem had to do was show up.  That said, it was expected that Overeem would walk through Silva and for ten miserable minutes I saw just that.  Then…it happened.

To Alistair’s credit, he handily won the first two rounds.  I wouldn’t even say that he made a mistake by not putting Silva away earlier because Silva is a tough out and I don’t think that Overeem was playing around…at least until the final frame.  With a two point lead on the cards, “The Reem” (UGH!) must have figured that he could afford to have some fun with the lumbering Pezão.  His hands dropped and there was the opening that Silva needed.  He rocked him with a punch behind the ear, then a head kick and finally a series of punches that deadened Overeem against the cage.  You could tell Herb Dean wanted to step in, but it was one of those awful situations where the fighter’s body hasn’t given up the ghost yet.  By the time he did, it was too late; not only was Overeem completely out of it but Big Foot had a taste for blood.  Much like a mogwai, you never feed Big Foot after midnight (or around 11 PM EST in this case).

I’d pick him to kick Overeem’s ass too.

In a moment that must have been ten times as terrifying in person, Dean had to do everything in his power to hold back Silva who looked like he was going in for seconds.  We were this close to seeing the octagon’s first fatality.

I was so elated to see Overeem lose that I didn’t even notice the rest of the bar cheering with me.  Seeing the arrogant Dutchman humbled struck a chord with the people and it restored my faith; not only in my fellow man, but in the mixed martial arts universe’s ability to mete out its own unique form of justice.

*****

Other thoughts:

  • There was some chatter afterwards about Edgar dropping another 10 pounds to compete in the bantamweight division.  I’m all for this idea, but please, no more rushed title opportunities.
  • Antônio Rogério Nogueira’s uninspiring win over Rashad Evans leaves the light heavyweight division muddled even further.  Maybe there’s something to this Chael Sonnen thing after all…
  • Three Strikeforce imports made their debuts (Isaac Vallie-Flagg, Bobby Green and Tyron Woodley) and all found success.  Woodley had a magnificent KO of Bellator tournament champion Jay Hieron, Green submitted highly ranked Jacob Volkmann (6-1 at lightweight) and Vallie-Flagg earned a close decision win over veteran Yves Edwards.  Vallie-Flagg is one to watch as he is now unbeaten in 12 fights (including 1 draw) and he hasn’t lost in over five years.  All three are fine additions to the UFC roster.
  • Demian Maia put in work on Saturday.  The last time I saw Jon Fitch manhandled like that was in the first two rounds of the BJ Penn fight.  Maia made his bones on flashy submissions, but he’s also shown an ability to grind out wins while at the same time making his opponents look foolish (see: Dan Miller, Mario Miranda, Kendall Grove and Jorge Santiago).  That’s a tactic that Fitch himself usually employs, so to see the shoe on the other foot was fascinating.  Arguably the greatest Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter that MMA has ever seen, Maia has cemented himself as a top 5 welterweight.  With Maia and Johny Hendricks waiting in the wings, you have to think that Georges St-Pierre is starting to feel the heat.

Light As A Feather: Why Frankie Edgar NEEDS To Beat José Aldo

Frankie Edgar needs to win on Saturday.  I want him to win because he’s one of my favourite fighters of all time, but it’s also imperative that he find a way to take the Featherweight Championship from José Aldo for the sake of his career.  If Edgar loses, that will be his third straight loss in a title fight and in this “what have you done for us lately?” world, that will trump the four encounters where he walked away with a title in hand.  Is that fair?  Maybe not, but the reality is that no matter how long you’ve been on top of the mountain, it is a long, long fall when you get knocked off.

There’s a reason that some fighters fade away after losing or falling short of a championship.  It takes a unique mixture of focus, dedication and luck to become the best of the best and when those elements are working in your favour, you are nothing less than invincible.  When you finally lose (and everybody loses), the effect on the psyche must be devastating.  You can change up your training and intensify your workouts and continue to have great success, but at the forefront of your mind is that there is one guy out there who you know and (everyone else knows) is better than you.  If Edgar is denied for a third time, will it be even possible for him to ascend up the rankings again?  More importantly, will anyone care to find out?  It’s no secret that Edgar isn’t a big draw and it doesn’t help that each of his championship feuds had their share of controversy:

BJ Penn (UFC 112, UFC 118)

When Edgar was awarded a title shot, I was vindicated but also pessimistic.  I figured that he should be happy to be there and I was already preparing rhetoric about how there’s no shame in being beat by a legend.  After all, Penn was coming off of two flawless performances where he made top contenders Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez look silly.  Edgar had no chance.

My friends and I joked that Penn might have spent too much time in Abu Dhabi chilling at the beach with his family because he definitely was not in immaculate shape.  Still, he seemed to be countering well and avoiding takedowns and while it wasn’t exactly vintage Penn, none of us saw enough from Edgar to think that he had pulled off the upset.  However, it was Edgar who won via unanimous decision.  It was a heavily debated result compounded by judge Douglas Crosby’s ludicrous 50-45 score in favour of Edgar.  You could certainly make a case for the challenger, but that was a polarizing score and it turned a lot of people against Edgar.  Dana White booked an immediate rematch and Edgar was dominant the second time, but the damage may already have been done.

Gray Maynard (UFC 125, UFC 136)

Hoo boy.  In their first meeting back at UFC Fight Night 13, the bigger Maynard’s wrestling was too much for Edgar who hadn’t mastered his stick-and-move style just yet.  Edgar was the underdog in the rematch and he was obliterated in the first round.  We use the phrase “survival mode” a lot in combat sports and that was a prime example as Edgar looked more like a gymnast than a martial artist, tumbling around the ring to get away from the relentless challenger.  However, over the next four rounds he took the fight to Maynard, including an explosive slam in the second that instantly became one of my favourite sports memories.  That one move epitomized what it means to defy expectations and battle back from adversity.

Many fans thought that the fight could have been stopped in that first round (and championship bias may have played a part in Edgar being allowed to continue).  At the very least, you could have made a strong argument for a 10-7 round that would have lead to Maynard winning a majority decision (the result was a split draw).  This warranted another rematch and like the second Penn fight, Edgar left no doubt who the better man was finishing Maynard in the 4th round; but again, there were skeptics who still believed he didn’t deserve the title.

Benson Henderson (UFC 144, UFC 150)

Henderson presented a unique threat to Edgar, who was favoured for the first time since becoming the Lightweight Champion.  The white hot WEC import matched the size of Maynard with the never ending cardio (one of Maynard’s perceived shortcomings) necessary to keep up with Edgar.  The two engaged in a thrilling back-and-forth battle that hinged on a careless mistake by Edgar that resulted in him taking a full force up-kick from one of Hendersons’ titanium thick legs.  He wasn’t the same after that strike and Henderson capitalized, beating Edgar to the punch on multiple occasions and getting up quickly after takedowns.  It was a close fight, but Henderson’s win was widely accepted.

The uproar came over Edgar “whining” his way into another rematch; fans grumbled, completely ignoring the fact that Edgar made a humble request:

I’m not trying to shoot anybody out of anything they deserve, but I had to do two immediate rematches, so what’s fair? – Edgar in regards to Anthony Pettis originally being favoured for a title match

Not only was Edgar gracious in accepting those prior rematches, but the Edgar/Henderson fight was awesome and it’s unclear why people didn’t want to see it again.  White ended up changing his mind, rewarding Edgar for his hard work and paving the way for another entertaining bout.  Edgar/Henderson II was even closer than the first fight and ironically, Edgar seemed to win the crowd in a rematch that he narrowly lost.  A long suggested drop down to 145 was the next logical step.  He’d now be dealing with faster opposition, but he’d also no longer be dancing with giants.

The move makes perfect sense, but placing him opposite the champion Aldo when he hasn’t had a single fight at featherweight in his career…not so much.  In fairness, there were a series of injuries that prevented long time contender Erik Koch from getting his originally scheduled shot on two separate occasions and the division has been in turmoil as several top ranked fighters have taken each other out (Koch himself just suffered a brutal setback at the hands of Ricardo Lamas).  I can’t tell you who should have got the shot instead, but there had to be a better solution than pulling the trigger on Aldo/Edgar.

An Edgar loss would likely mean that this will be the last time he gets a shot at UFC gold.  One way of looking at it is that if he’s not ready now then he’ll never be ready, but we’ve all seen how fighters can adjust and evolve especially when changing weight classes.  The match doesn’t even make sense from a business standpoint as an Edgar coming off of even one big win (perhaps over someone like Dennis Siver or Chan Sung Jung) would make an Aldo/Edgar collision far more compelling than an Edgar coming off of two straight losses.  The decision seems short sighted and it reeks of instant gratification.

I’ve got a horse in this race and I’ve written before about how personal bias can get in the way of making reasonable fight picks.  This situation is no different.  I’m invested in the image of Edgar using his technique and guile to avoid any big Aldo shots and outpoint him or string together a combination that staggers the champion leading to an exciting TKO finish; I’m wilfully expelling thoughts of Aldo matching Edgar step for step and inevitably connecting with one of his trademark kill shots.

It’s now or never.  Penn, Randy Couture and Kenny Florian are a few of the names that spring to mind when discussing fighters who had years between title shots and while Edgar’s credentials are on par with these names, he’s never enjoyed the same recognition.  If Edgar loses, there won’t be too many fans in his corner lobbying for him to get another shot; realistically, he’ll be moved all the way to the back of the line with another loss.  An Aldo/Edgar meeting is one that I’d anticipated in the past and hoped for in the future, but am dreading in the present.  Victory is the only option for Edgar this Saturday, because the alternative is a dreary, slow climb back up to the top that few fighters manage to complete.