The Ramifications of One Wayward Fist

Paul Daley made name for himself knocking out numerous challengers in explosive fashion (hence the nickname “Semtex”).  Yet it is one punch you won’t find in any CompuStrike stats that permanently changed the course of his career.

*****

May 8, 2010

What are you kidding me? – referee Dan Miragliotta

Wow!  That…that was terrible. – Joe Rogan

*****

Rewind.

Readymade stars like Daley don’t come along too often: Brash and cocky.  Young, but experienced.  A striker and a finisher.  Massive.  British.  The Anthony Johnson of the eastern hemisphere.  Even the UFC didn’t know what they had on their hands, originally planning to have him debut on the preliminary card of UFC 103 against Brian Foster.  It was a match thrown together to have something to broadcast on the UK version of ESPN.

The truly meaningful welterweight clash was on the main card: a meeting between Mike Swick and Martin Kampmann with a no. 1 contender spot up for grabs.

Then Swick got hurt.  Enter Semtex.

The short notice didn’t matter.  The fact that Kampmann was undefeated since dropping to welterweight didn’t matter.  The fact that the no. 1 contender prize was now off the table didn’t matter.  There was no way someone with Daley’s attitude was going to pass up on this opportunity.

The well rounded Kampmann should have eaten up the relatively one-dimensional Daley, but he looked unprepared.  Perhaps he was caught off-guard by the sheer musculature of the swollen Daley.  The reverse of the “camera adds ten pounds” adage.  Two minutes into the fight, Kampmann was caught against the cage and Daley unloaded on him.  The fight was soon waved off.  Kampmann never left his feet; his senses had long left him.

I was a viewer who was seeing Daley for the first time.  It only took three minutes of action to know what you were watching a fighter who was going to make headlines for years to come.

Four months later, it was Daley who would be dealing with a replacement.  The Kampmann win put him on the fast track to a title shot.  If he could get past Carlos Condit, the UFC might have an excuse to fly Georges St-Pierre over to England for a massive crossover fight.  Condit got hurt and was replaced by Dustin Hazelett, he of the decidedly non-Daley-esque build.

It was common knowledge that Daley’s ground game was lacking.  Hazelett was responsible for some of the UFC’s most picturesque submissions.  The door was open for Hazelett to put himself on the map just as Daley had against Kampmann.  I’m still convinced that if he’d managed to lock Daley up with this rolling attack in the opening moments of the match…

…he would have won the match right there.

(Watch that gif a few times.  Daley swats at Hazelett like he’s a swarm of angry cartoon bees formed into the shape of a bearded MMA fighter.  Hazelett’s bashful “well, it was worth a shot” gesture afterwards is also delightful)

The opening gambit had failed meaning that Hazelett was going to have to stand with the dangerous Daley.  It went about as well as you’d expect.  Another quick win for Daley.  So far his opponents had lasted about as long as a Danny Brown track.

For Daley’s next fight, the gauntlet was thrown down.  Beat Josh Koscheck and you’ve got your title shot.  Do yourself and everyone a favour by shutting that loudmouth up.  Lead the British invasion into unforeseen territory.

Daley had dealt with grapplers before, but the truth was that he’d always struggled against the elite.  He’d been submitted by the likes of Pat Healy, Satoru Kitaoka and Jake Shields and Koscheck’s wrestling was on par if not superior to those three men.  Grappler vs. striker was underselling this clash of styles.  This was going to be like watching JJ Watt tackling a Molina brother.

Takedown after takedown after takedown ensued.  Daley knew exactly what Koscheck wanted to do and there was still no way he could defend himself.  Worst of all, from his perch atop Daley, Koscheck was free to lean in and talk as much trash as he wanted.  After 15 minutes, two things were clear: Koscheck had won all three rounds and Daley was incensed.  Dan Miragliotta let Daley cross the cage for what he assumed would be a handshake and/or a hug (though he wisely stayed right next to Daley the whole time).  The sucker punch that followed actually got Koscheck right on the chin, though we can all be thankful that he seemed cognizant enough to move his head or that Daley knew to pull his punch.  Either way, the results could have been far, far worse.

You can’t blame Daley for being frustrated.  In less than a year, he had gone from fighting in the minor leagues to the precipice of a big money main event.  Not only was that taken away from him, he was made to look foolish.  At the very least, he believed he was robbed of a “real” fight.  If he could have landed one punch, one good punch, everything would have been different.  So he went for it.

Look, after Koscheck’s usual shenanigans (not only the borderline lay-and-pray tactics, but Koscheck’s acting that had convinced the ref of a fake foul, quickly becoming a Kos specialty), we all wanted to punch that goofy hair off of his head.  But you can’t do that.  If there’s one thing you can’t do in that cage, it’s to attack your opponent before or after the match.  You’re getting paid good money to work within the time given; why risk going to jail for nothing?

One argument I keep seeing in favour of Daley is that others have been forgiven for graver infractions.  Rampage Jackson got bailed out of jail by Dana White himself after going all CJ from San AndreasChris Leben and Stephan Bonnar failed multiple drug tests (Bonnar wisely retired after his most recent one).  Josh Barnett, considered by most to be radioactive, was just resigned.  Let’s go one by one.

In the case of Rampage, the man was still a draw.  Above all things, it was a business decision.  Sure, White and Rampage have a close (albeit tumultuous) relationship, but if Rampage couldn’t draw a dime anymore you better believe that White would have wished him the best in his future endeavours after springing him.  Rampage made money, so Rampage stayed.

In the case of Leben and Bonnar, they benefited even more White’s affection.  For the longest time, former cast members of the original Ultimate Fighter were near untouchable.  They’d done so much for the business and they always put on exciting fights and blah blah blah…Leben and Bonnar are Dana’s boys, so they stayed.

In the case of Barnett, he is a heavyweight and a skilled one at that.  He is a rare commodity who is a viable option to challenge for the title at some point in the future.  He was also cutting wrestling promos way before Chael Sonnen.  Barnett is too good to have floating around out there, so Barnett is here to stay.

One more important factor is that all of these missteps were outside of the octagon.  Out of sight, out of mind as it were.  That is not to say that one can break whatever rules they want as long as it’s not being broadcast by the UFC, but that their errors were not so serious as to permanently tarnish the reputation of the company they work for.  If anything, there was the hope that being contrite and having the discipline needed to prepare for a professional fight would help these men exorcise their demons.  Daley made the mistake of bringing his demons into the cage with him and revealing them in the ugliest possible way.

I say again, can you imagine what would have happened if Daley had actually nailed Koscheck with that punch?  Knocked him out?  I’ve seen my fair share of sucker punches in boxing and the results are always horrific.  I doubt Daley could have hurt Koscheck that badly, but if that incident had been any worse it would have been a black mark on the business as opposed to just a footnote.  Regardless, at least one person is never going to forget that night: Daley himself.

Since being released, Daley has seen mixed results.  His size has proven to be both an asset and a detriment as he’s missed weight four times (including the Hazelett fight) in fifteen fights (in fairness, he has not missed weight since 2011).  In those fifteen contests, he is 12-3.  Gaudy as the raw numbers are, the three losses tell the story: Nick Diaz (five of the most exciting minutes in Strikeforce history), Tyron Woodley and Kazuo Misaki.  Diaz and Woodley are currently in the UFC (it would be more accurate to say that Diaz is likely floating around in space somewhere, but you know what I mean) and Misaki had been facing UFC-level competition for years before retiring last March.  If Daley can’t beat these guys, what is the incentive for White to take a risk on him?

The company line according to White is that they’ve had no contact with Daley (he was just released by Bellator and recently made it public on Twitter that he’d like to come back).  He’s become a journeyman with lingering legal issues that may or may not be responsible for his recent Visa woes.  Recent interviews would suggest that Daley has matured, but the risk is still too high and the reward too low to take a chance on the British banger.  Even if White keeps certain fighters in the UFC for the wrong reasons, he’s keeping Daley out for the right ones.

UFC on Fox 8: “Johnson vs. Moraga″ preliminary and main card breakdown

The UFC flyweight title (aka the UFC Television Championship) is on the line tonight. The preliminaries and main card are all free, free, FREE on the brand new Sportsnet 360! Do yourself a favour and support the little guys!

Here are my breakdowns for MMACanada:

Preliminaries

Main Card

And my picks (in bold):

UFC on Fox 8: Johnson v. Moraga

Albert v. Meza
Riley v. Salas
Kedzie v. de Randamie
Herman v. Smith
Edwards v. Cruickshank
Danzig v. Guillard
Castillo v. Means
Chiesa v. Masvidal
Carmouche v. Andrade
Lawler v. Voelker
MacDonald v. Ellenberger
Johnson v. Moraga

The UFC Lightweight Rankings (10-1): You’re The Best

It’s nearly unfathomable to think that as recently as 2006, the UFC didn’t even have a lightweight division.  Now it is the backbone of the UFC, a weight class that accommodates a variety of backgrounds and body types.  155 is right in that sweet spot that the average adult male can either bulk up or cut down to (along with 145 and 170), which is why it seems like there’s a never ending pipeline of talent entering (and exiting) the division.  Heavyweights will always be a more marketable attraction, but that’s an easier mountain to climb based on the fact that for every skilled, coordinated, athletic big man there are 1,000 cans waiting to be crushed.  The champion of the lightweight division is truly the best of the best of the best.

*****

Anthony Pettis.

When I started doing these rankings, the former WEC lightweight champion had decided to drop down to featherweight to hunt down José Aldo.  Because of that, I had planned to exclude him from these rankings.  A minor injury nixed that contest prompting Pettis to lobby for another shot at Ben Henderson.  A reasonable request since he was the last man to beat Henderson.  There was only one problem.

TJ Grant.

An emphatic victory over once-beaten Gray Maynard established Grant as the clear-cut number one contender by any reasonable measure.  Just as importantly, his reputation as a finisher made him a welcome departure from more methodical challengers like Frankie Edgar and Gilbert Melendez.  Even without the flash of “Showtime”, Dana White was happy to, er, grant Grant a title shot.  Unfortunately, Grant suffered a concussion in training and now he’s being replaced by Pettis.  In round about fashion, Pettis is getting the rematch he’s been chasing for the last two years and in his hometown of Milwaukee no less.  Funny how things work out.

I mention all this because I won’t be writing anything else about Pettis for now.  I had my rankings neatly laid out and he wasn’t in the picture at the time.  Just know that if I were including him, he’d be ranked 5th (ahead of Josh Thomson and behind Maynard).

Now let’s wrap this up so I can start working on my next rankings that I’m sure I’ll finish sometime in 2016.

My guidelines (which I promise to follow unless I don’t):

  • I place a heavy emphasis on success in UFC contests; I consider two straight in the UFC to be on par with ten straight and only one win in the UFC
  • I place a heavy emphasis on success in your division; if you’re a top 10 featherweight and you move up to lightweight you are not automatically a top 10 lightweight.  However, based on past performances it is possible to make educated guesses on who a fighter could beat in their new division
  • To achieve top 10 status, you need to beat a top 10 opponent or dominate several top 20 opponents.  A top 10 ranking is a huge achievement for any fighter and it must be earned properly.  That said, you beat someone and you take their spot, even if it’s a fluke: a win is a win
  • Subjectivity is a necessary evil.  When you get closer to the top of the rankings, it becomes much harder to separate individuals and this is where opinion and analysis can cause rankings to differ greatly
  • Fighter’s records are listed as UFC record first (as well as post-Zuffa WEC record if applicable), overall record second (NC = No Contest), current overall winning/losing streak 3rd (W = winning streak, L = losing streak, D = draw)
  • For fighters with less than three UFC appearances, I might refer to their last three non-UFC fights for reference; in these situations the combined record is meant to reflect their records at the time they fought the fighter in question

_________________________________________________________________________

The Lightweight Rankings

10. Joe Lauzon (9-5 UFC, 22-8, L1) (Lauzon MMA)

He’s been around for so long and fought in so many memorable contests, that you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking that Lauzon had already gotten at least one crack at the lightweight title.  The truth is that he’s never been able to string together enough wins against the right opponents.  Title shots are as much about timing and opportunity as they are about performance.

“Quirky” would be an appropriate way to describe Lauzon, who had a career as a network administrator before getting the call from the UFC to face former lightweight champion Jens Pulver at UFC 63.  That fight was meant to be a momentum builder for Pulver going into a coaching gig on TUF 5 and a subsequent rematch with BJ Penn.  Lauzon was a 7-1 underdog who stepped in on short notice.  Of course, he ended up knocking out Pulver in 48 seconds.

In a strange twist, Lauzon was thrown into the same season of TUF that Pulver and Penn were coaching (likely due to the fact that he would be showcased better alongside the other fighters in what was to be a new division).  We were spared the awkwardness of Pulver mentoring a fighter who had just cleaned his clock when Penn picked Lauzon to train with him.  We complain about title shots today, but this is proof that they’ve never been completely credible.  Twitter would explode if a big name got knocked out by an unknown and then had to go through TUF to get a contract while the loser still got their shot.

With the Pulver win, Lauzon was an obvious favourite to win it all and Penn pegged him as a contender from day one.  In addition to his acumen on the mat, Lauzon’s attitude and intelligence helped to further chip away at the stereotype that fighters are uneducated brutes.  In the tournament, Lauzon was outwrestled by Manny Gamburyan, robbing us of a dream finale of Lauzon and Nate Diaz.  Frankly, that’s a fight I’m still waiting for.

Since then, he’s done more than prove he belongs, earning a total of twelve Fight Night bonuses (1 Knockout of the Night award, 6 Submission of the Night awards, 5 Fight of the Night awards).  He’s beaten the best (Pulver, Jeremy Stephens, Melvin Guillard, Jamie Varner) and suffered losses (Kenny Florian, Sam Stout, George Sotiropoulos, Pettis, Jim Miller) that have kept him just short of the top of the rankings.  Win or lose, Lauzon has never shied away from his desire to finish every fight and that has lead to some extraordinary displays of violence.  His fights with Stout, Varner and Miller rank among the best in any organization in the past five years.

I could see how this might seem too high a placement for a fighter who hasn’t won more than two straight fights since 2007, but when it comes to the eye test Lauzon has always passed with flying colours.  There are a lot of guys gunning for a top ten spot.  Lauzon has one for now.

9. Donald Cerrone (7-2 UFC, 6-3 [1 NC] WEC, 20-5 [1 NC], W1) (Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts)

Yee-haw!  Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen, it’s COWBOY TIME!

It doesn’t work as well when I do it.

Like many fans who made the transition from professional wrestling to MMA, I’m a sucker for a good gimmick.  Few fighters live theirs like Cerrone.  When he’s not trying out Stetsons and chewing on a straw of hay, Cerrone spends his free time trying to give the UFC officials a heart attack with his talk of bull riding and rock climbing.  He grips it AND he rips it.

Along with fighters like Jon Jones, Cub Swanson and John Dodson, Cerrone is responsible for dispelling the absurd notion that Greg Jackson only trains “boring” fighters.  The only thing worse than being on the receiving end of Cerrone’s trash talk is when he backs it up in the cage and makes you look even more foolish.

Charles Oliveira was supposed to be the next big thing at 155.  Cerrone knocked him out.

Dennis Siver claimed to be the best kickboxer in the division.  Cerrone out-struck him before winning by rear naked choke.

Melvin Guillard is a good friend of his.  Cerrone nearly killed him with one punch.

It says a lot that short of Jones, Cerrone would have had the best year of any fighter in 2011 if he had been able to get past an intensely focused Nate Diaz.  That loss (and another one to Pettis three fights later) likely killed his chances of a trilogy bout with Ben Henderson.  Still, if that opportunity were to come up in the future, I’m sure it’s something that Cerrone would jump on even if he had less than 24 hours notice.  I reckon, anyhow.

8. Jim Miller (11-3 UFC [1 NC], 22-4, W1) (AMA Fight Club)

We continue our run of crowd pleasers with Jim Miller.  From 2005-2011, Miller was nearly unbeatable.  He is one of the most accomplished BJJ practitioners at 155, having earned his black belt from Jamie Cruz, a Renzo Gracie disciple.  Until his most recent set back, Miller had only lost 4 fights in his career, all to men who have held or challenged for UFC gold (Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard, Ben Henderson, Nate Diaz).  After being submitted by white-hot Strikeforce import Pat Healy (later overturned to a no-contest), Miller finds himself at a career crossroads.

Putting on exciting fights and winning bonuses is all well and good, but Miller has gone from a sure fire contender to a .500 fighter.  That kind of trend can quickly spiral into gatekeeper status or worse, unemployment.  Like Lauzon (his dance partner in one of 2012’s best fights), Miller isn’t endangering himself on purpose, he just has a versatile, aggressive style that usually results in someone getting seriously hurt.  If Miller can put together two or three big wins, the fans aren’t the only ones who will be ecstatic with the results.

7. Pat Healy (0-0 UFC [1 NC], 29-16, W6) (Team Quest)

After going on a six fight winning streak for Strikeforce, Healy was hovering around the bottom of the top 20, likely lamenting a cancelled fight with Gilbert Melendez.  That all changed when he beat Jim Miller in his UFC debut.  Then it all changed back.

Post-fight, Healy tested positive for marijuana.  Not only was the win scratched from the record books, the UFC also rescinded two Fight Night bonuses totalling $130,000.  Ouch.

Look, I hate seeing something like this happen.  I don’t believe that marijuana is a performance enhancer in any way nor do I think it’s detrimental to the health of these athletes.  But it is illegal and Healy knows this.  I can just see him stressing out over finally making it to the UFC and being given a top 10 opponent right off of the bat.  That sort of pressure demands immediate relief and if relaxing with a fat blunt is how Healy chooses to unwind, can you blame him?  Worst case scenario, he wouldn’t have made it through the rigors of training camp without a little something something to kick back with.  He did what he had to do.  So did the commission.

The incident makes Healy’s ranking tricky as he technically has a 0-0 record in the UFC.  I think we’re all smart enough to realize that this minor transgression doesn’t erase the impressive run Healy has been on since dropping to lightweight (9-1 [1 NC]).  The Michigan Wolverines made it to two Final Fours.  Barry Bonds hit a lot of home runs.  Healy beat Miller.  Healy is a top ten lightweight.

6. Nate Diaz (11-7 UFC, 16-9, L2) (Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu)

Can someone please explain to me why Nate and Nick Diaz don’t have their own reality show yet?  MTV, you have failed me.  One of the most fun aspects of the show would be figuring out which brother is the true bad boy of the family.  Let’s look at some of Nate’s highlights:

  • picked a fight with Karo Parisyan when Parisyan visited the cast of TUF 5\
  • threw the double bird at Kurt Pellegrino after trapping him in a triangle choke

  • alongside Nick, jumped Jason Miller in the cage at the infamous Strikeforce: Nashville event
  • spends the majority of his fights spewing more profanity than a Tarantino movie
  • was recently suspended for tweeting a homophobic slur

None of this is to say that Diaz is a terrible person, just unfiltered and impulsive.  Imagine what he’d be like if he didn’t smoke marijuana.  Count this as another point for drug advocacy.

Amidst all the drama (and a predictably difficult stint at welterweight), Diaz was finally able to get a title shot after 16 UFC appearances.  As mentioned above, Diaz doesn’t have an overwhelmingly superior resume to Joe Lauzon (or Donald Cerrone or Jim Miller for that matter), but he won the right fights at the right time and he’s always had an organic connection with the fans that can’t be manufactured.  As lopsided as the loss to Henderson was, the fact that Diaz made it that far is a testament to his brilliance as a mixed martial artist.  It has to be discouraging to be in the prime of your career and to be beaten so definitively, but Diaz is a young man who has already experienced the peaks and valleys of a professional fighter.  Only the highest peak was out of his reach.

5. Josh Thomson (3-1 UFC, 20-5 [1 NC], W1) (American Kickboxing Academy)

I didn’t really get into MMA until around the mid-2000s and even then all I knew was the UFC.  It wasn’t until years later that I watched Gilbert Melendez reclaim the Strikeforce title from Thomson in an awesome contest that I realized there were many great fighters out there who weren’t under the Zuffa umbrella.  If it weren’t for these two, I might still only be a UFC fan boy.

Fighting in relative obscurity for most of his career, Thomson managed to get himself widely recognized as one of the 10 best lightweights in the world for years.  Alongside Melendez, he was the classic big fish in a small pond.

In his first run with the UFC, Thomson went 2-1 with wins over “Razor” Rob McCullough and Hermes França.   A 5-1 record with Strikeforce earned him his first shot at Melendez and the lightweight title.  He handed Melendez the second loss of his career and snagged the championship in the process.  That victory sent him soaring to the top of the rankings.

Cue record scratch.

A broken ankle sidelined him for a year after which he would drop the belt back to Melendez in his first defense.  He continued to find success in Strikeforce with wins over Pat Healy, Gesias Cavalcante and KJ Noons.  A trilogy closing meeting with Melendez proved to be their closest battle yet (I had it 48-47 Thomson) and the champ narrowly escaped with a split decision win.  The sterling effort reaffirmed Thomson’s status as a top lightweight.  In the words of the great Randy Bachman: “You ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Nobody was counting him out against Nate Diaz, but even the biggest Thomson fan couldn’t have predicted how that fight would unfold.  The Diaz brothers had developed a ferocious reputation for going toe-to-toe with the most dangerous strikers (Donald Cerrone, Paul Daley, Takanori Gomi, BJ Penn, KJ Noons, to name a few) and coming out on top.  Thomson fought a smart fight.  He repeatedly beat Diaz to the punch before finishing him with a head kick in the second.  It was the first time Diaz had ever been stopped by strikes.  Melendez or no Melendez, Thomson once again finds himself close to becoming the number one contender.

4. Gray Maynard (9-2-1 [1 NC], 11-2-1 [1 NC], L1) (American Kickboxing Academy)

For a guy called “The Bully”, Maynard doesn’t seem like a bad dude.  He’s always been humble, honest and surprisingly funny.  Then again, it’s probably easy to be all of those things when you know you can beat up anyone who rubs you the wrong way.

Maynard is the man who would be king.  He’ll always be able to tell people that he beat Frankie Edgar…too bad it was years before Edgar had the lightweight title.  Maynard/Edgar II was a perfect opportunity for Maynard to reassert his dominance over the smaller fighter.  He came as close as you can come to finishing without actually finishing.  The fight was a classic that ended in a draw, though anyone could see Maynard had a legitimate claim to the crown.  However, I do want to dispel the myth that if the opening round had been scored more heavily in his favour he would have won the fight.  Here are the scorecards of each judge (mine would match Jarman):

If either Trowbridge or Rosales had scored the first round a 10-7, the outcome would have been the same.  Only Jarman awarding a 10-7 to Maynard would have changed the outcome (Maynard would have won a split decision).  The discrepancy between the scores is negligible (note that Trowbridge was also the only one to give Maynard the 3rd), which to me is the definition of a draw.  Whether you believe Maynard should have won at UFC 125, all questions were answered in the final meeting between the two that Edgar won by knockout.

Maynard wasn’t always the most appealing competitor.  It’s obvious that his ascension to main event player coincided with his shifting to a heavier hitting, boxing based attack.  The growing popularity is in inverse relation to his results.  He’s only won one once in the last two years.  A constant influx of hungry challengers at 155 keeps pushing veterans like Maynard to the back of the line.  In the cruel world of professional sports, that championship window can shut all too quickly.

3. TJ Grant (8-3 UFC, 21-5, W5) (Fit Lab)

Along with Jim Miller and Pat Healy, Grant completes the triumvirate of top ten lightweights who also have top ten beards.  Pound for pound, these are some of the finest beards in all of MMA.

I can’t grow a beard.

Beard envy aside, what’s not to love about Grant?  He’s undefeated as a lightweight, he’s from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia and he beat both Matt Wiman and Gray Maynard faster than anyone else ever.  The man fights with the reckless abandon of a hockey player or a lumberjack, Canada’s two most popular professions.  He would have fit right in during the outlaw era of the UFC.  I can just see him getting a submission win by gnawing Kimo’s face off.

*sigh*

I’m super bummed he’s not getting to face Ben Henderson.  Get well soon, TJ.

2. Gilbert Melendez (0-1 UFC, 21-3, L1) (Cesar Gracie Jiu-Jitsu)

They tried to tell me.  I wouldn’t listen.

I’d seen “El Niño” (for those of you who don’t know, that’s Spanish for…The Niño) fight many times, I just wasn’t buying into the hype that he would “smash” (a common keyboard warrior claim) any of the guys in the UFC.  In his final Strikeforce title defence against Josh Thomson, he looked like a disinterested fighter already looking ahead to bigger things…which was exactly what he was.

That said, with Strikeforce being the de facto number 2 organization in the world, it was more than fair for the matchmakers to reward Melendez with an instant title shot.  He had a 21-2 record and he is in the prime of his career.  What would be the point in waiting?  Much like his home organization, Melendez was viewed as the second best (if not the best) lightweight in the world by hardcore fans.  It was a dream match-up.

Though it lacked the ebb and flow of the Thomson fight, this was an incredibly close contest.  I had scored it 48-47 for Melendez, especially since it looked like Henderson was so confident that he was ahead that he gave up the last round.  Amazingly, one of the judges gave Henderson the final frame and that was enough to ensure the belt returned to the champion.  The only rounds the judges did agree on were 1 and 3.  As with Edgar/Maynard II, the winner was almost impossible to call.

When you come that close to beating the champ, you deserve to keep whatever hype you had going in.  I know I’m convinced.  Melendez gets a chance to redeem himself against the hyperactive Diego Sanchez.  If he wins there, he’ll stay within range of Henderson.  He might find himself with another trilogy on his hands.

1. Ben Henderson (7-0 UFC, 5-1 WEC, 18-2, W7) (MMA Lab)

(art by Scott Cohn)

It never ceases to amaze me how quickly the fans can turn on someone when they finally make it to the top.  It’s lonely up there, as they say.

For the longest time, Henderson represented the little guy (ironic since he’s a huge 155er).  The WEC was the UFC’s kid brother and there was one division the two entities had in common: the lightweights.  Even though their fights were as or even more exciting than their big show brethren, the WEC lot were still thought of as second class citizens.  After all, if they were really that good why weren’t they already in the UFC?

Leading the way were Jamie Varner, Donald Cerrone, Anthony Pettis and Henderson.  Fans weren’t exactly flooding the Zuffa offices with letters and e-mails calling for a potential match-up with guys like BJ Penn and Frankie Edgar, but Henderson had quietly eked out a spot for himself amongst the elite.  His epic battle with Pettis cemented the WEC’s legacy even as the organization was being absorbed into the UFC.

This is where the story starts to turn ugly.  As the competition has ramped up, Henderson has fought more carefully.  He takes less risks.  He favours positional advantage over searching for a finish.  This strategy has allowed him to win the lightweight title and defend it 3 times.  However, in the court of public opinion, Henderson has stumbled badly.

One thing Henderson isn’t is a drawing champion.  You could argue that Penn was really the only fighter to ever draw at 155, though fighters like Kenny Florian, Nate Diaz and Diego Sanchez have certainly had their fair share of followers.  He’s kind of odd and nothing like the typical jock or alpha male that North Americans find so attractive.  He hasn’t finished a fight in over 4 years.  This drought has come against some of the toughest fighters in the world and more often than not the fights are exciting, but many observers need that exclamation point to be satisfied.  His goal since winning the title has always been to be as indomitable as Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva and he’s well on his way.  I just doubt that he will ever reach their level of acclaim.

But why dwell on things he can’t control?  Henderson is a magnificent martial artist.  His relentless positivity belies the cool, calculating warrior that steps into the octagon to battle for 25 minutes.  He never seems to sweat (that’s why they call him Smooth) and his extraordinary flexibility creates points of leverage other fighters wouldn’t even consider:

He scores points.  He scores and he scores and he scores and when he’s not scoring, he’s doing something to shift the perceptions of the judges in his favour.  He stays ahead one round at a time and as confused as the fans sometimes are by his tactics, imagine how his opponent feels when they see his hand getting raised instead of theirs.  It’s a sight that we should all be used to by now.

The Bigger They Are

If anything in this life is certain, if history has taught us anything…it’s that you can kill anybody.

It was billed as one of the most intriguing title contests in recent memory and to say that Chris Weidman/Anderson Silva lived up to the hype would be an understatement.  That is not to say it was a great fight, it was a rather bizarre affair and an inarguably disappointing performance from Silva.  I give all the credit in the world to Weidman who I see as someone who will have several successful title defenses, but to say that Silva’s behaviour had nothing to do with the title changing hands would make me look more foolish than the man himself.  I’d even go as far to say that a Silva in his prime might have actually been able to get away with that kind of chicanery.

As I stressed in my main card preview, there were just too many factors working against Silva and in Weidman’s favour to view this as another routine defense for Silva.  So much of what I was reading and hearing revolved around Weidman’s virtues, with the arguments for Silva mostly comprised of He’s Anderson Silva!  Two or three years ago, that argument might have held weight.  In the here and now, we’re reminded of the harsh reality of professional sports.

If Silva, arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, can lose…then who might be next?

*****

The UFC has taken a lot of deserved criticism for their recent handling of title matches.  Jon Jones has had to defend his belt against two middleweights.  Georges St-Pierre talked the matchmakers into granting him his (highly profitable) grudge match with Nick Diaz, who was coming off a loss and a year-long drug suspension.  José Aldo faced Frankie Edgar, who was 1-3-1 in his last 5 fights.  There were perfectly valid reasons (injuries, intrigue, incompetence) for making those match-ups, but none of them involved the challenger legitimately earning their spot.

With all that nonsense out of the way, there is now at least some semblance of a meritocracy.  Antonio Silva was granted a second shot at Cain Velasquez based on the fact that he knocked out Alistair Overeem, the presumed number one contender.  It didn’t go well for Big Foot, but the logic was sound.  The UFC wanted to set up a rematch between Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey, but Cat Zingano ruined their plans with a 3rd round comeback finish (due to a Zingano injury, Tate would later get the title shot anyway along with a juicy TUF coaching spot opposite Rousey).  Those are a couple of minor examples where the UFC did right by its winners.  Four more upcoming match-ups not only feature the worthiest of challengers but the possibility that a group of nigh invincible champions will fall.

In order of least likely to most likely to see a title change:

Light Heavyweight Title Bout: Alexander Gustafsson (7-1 UFC, 15-1) v. Jon Jones (Jon Jones (12-1 UFC, 18-1)

September 21, 2013 – UFC 165

How Gustafsson got here:

…by growing up.  Gustafsson’s only career loss came against Phil Davis in a fight that he was winning until he decided to take it to the ground.  Davis, a stronger grappler, was able to reverse the situation and sink in a match ending anaconda choke.  Since then, Gustafsson has fought a lot smarter, dominating when he’s supposed to and playing to his strengths to overcome the likes of Thiago Silva and Shogun Rua.  The victory over Shogun was a signature win and enough to cement Gustafsson as the number one contender, something many fans and critics had been clamoring for.

The match-up will also do wonders for dispelling the notion that Jones is only getting by on his physical gifts and that he is only capable of beating fighters who are past their prime.  Neither criticism is particularly valid, but a win over Gustafsson should be hater-proof.

Why Gustafsson could win:

I’m honestly not sure he can.  The only reason I added this match is because my uncle was working hard to convince me that the Swede is a live underdog.  I’m not seeing it.

If I had to make an argument for Gustafsson, it would go beyond just the fact that he can match the champ’s reach.  With every fight, Gustafsson gets better and better at using his range to score points and keep his opponents off balance.  When you can sweep the scorecards against Shogun, the most aggressive light heavyweight around, you have to be doing something right.

Another department that Gustafsson has improved in is his takedown defence and controlling scrambles.  They will have to stress this in his training as Jones has a good shot and an array of throws with which to set up his merciless ground and pound.  His best chance remains on the feet.

Let’s not forget that Jones had trouble with Lyoto Machida in the first round of their match.  If Gustafsson can do a reasonable job of emulating Machida’s tactics, an upset could be in order.

Why Gustafsson could lose:

As much as people talk about Jones never facing someone built like him, the same could be said for Gustafsson.  Does anyone think Gustafsson would have been able to pick apart Thiago Silva and Shogun so efficiently without those freakish limbs?  If all things are equal body-wise, I’m not sure there’s any area skill-wise that Gustafsson can claim an advantage.  Jones is faster, more explosive, more creative with his strikes and a monster on the ground.  Gustafsson should be able to go the distance, but expect Jones to take all five rounds.

Featherweight Title Bout: Chan Sung Jung (3-0 UFC, 0-2 WEC, 13-3) v. José Aldo (4-0 UFC, 8-0 WEC, 22-1)

August 3, 2013 – UFC 163

How Zombie got here:

…as much as anything, we’re the ones who have put Jung in this spot.  The Korean Zombie became an instant sensation in his WEC debut against Leonard Garcia.  I remember showing that fight to everyone I knew, not caring if this was a legit new star or an oddity.  Thankfully, he’s turned out to be the former and his distinct, exciting style carried over to the UFC where he found the wins to match the adulation.  A submission win in a rematch with Garcia removed any doubt that he was the better fighter.  He followed that up with an astonishing 7 second knockout of Mark Hominick (who had previously fought Aldo) and by coming out on top in another fight of the year candidate against Dustin Poirier.

When Anthony Pettis suffered an injury, there were two possible replacements for UFC 163: Ricardo Lamas and Zombie.  Despite his last three wins all coming against top ranked featherweights, Lamas remains relatively unknown.  The UFC sees dollar signs with the Jung-Aldo match so the Zombie gets to feast.

Why Zombie could win:

If he lives up to his moniker, there’s a chance he could outpace Aldo.  People often point to a difficult weight cut as to why Aldo faded in the Hominick fight.  What they forget is how Hominick stayed aggressive and even though he lost the majority of the rounds, it wasn’t as one-sided as the scores suggested.  Zombie doesn’t have Hominick’s consistency; rather, I expect his scrappy and unpredictable nature to work to his advantage.

There’s also the issue of Jung’s resiliency.  He’s only been finished once in his career (a picture perfect head shot courtesy of George Roop).  That stat is made even more incredible by the fact that he regularly engages in all-out wars that are undoubtedly shortening his lifespan.  Aldo is no stranger to decisions, having gone the full five rounds with Hominick, Kenny Florian and Frankie Edgar.  Neither Florian nor Edgar known for their risk-taking, so it should be interesting to see how Aldo reacts to an opponent who has no regard for his own well-being.

Why Zombie could lose:

As mentioned above, the UFC couldn’t wait for an excuse to put Zombie in the cage with Aldo.  He’s an international property and he’s got a cool gimmick that has caught on like wildfire in North America.  You could easily make an argument that his popularity exceeds his credentials.

It’s always fun to look at results and say that one guy is finishing his opponents while the other guy is winning by decision, but that doesn’t tell the story of Aldo’s dominance at 145.  Facing a murderer’s row of opponents (Urijah Faber, Hominick, Florian, Chad Mendes, Edgar), Aldo has rarely been in danger.  A lack of finishes speaks to how high the level of competition is when you reach Aldo’s level.  He’s soundly beaten elite strikers, elite jiu-jitsu practitioners and elite wrestlers.  That’s not a good sign for Zombie, who is more of a jack of all trades.

Welterweight Title Bout: Johny Hendricks (10-1 UFC, 15-1) v. Georges St-Pierre (18-2 UFC, 24-2)

November 16, 2013 – UFC 167

How Hendricks got here:

…by smashing just about everyone who got in his way.  Nobody on this list has been waiting longer or had a stronger claim to a title shot than Hendricks, who was egregiously passed over as a challenger in favour of Nick Diaz.  While the Stockton bad boy was losing to Carlos Condit and getting lifted, Hendricks was tearing through the division.  From March 2011 to March 2013, Hendricks had one of the most impressive runs in welterweight history.  A riveting win over Condit capped off a six-fight streak that displayed Hendricks’ guts (close split decision wins against Mike Pierce and Josh Koscheck) and sheer supremacy (finishing Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann in less than one total minute).  Bigg Rigg might not have the name recognition or a squeaky clean look, but the UFC couldn’t ignore his results any longer.

Why Hendricks could win:

Anyone who has seen a St-Pierre title fight is familiar with the image of the champ scoring a takedown, establishing top position and neutralizing his victim for 25 minutes.  That’s how you defend your title in the toughest division in the UFC.

It’s hard to imagine Hendricks suffering the same treatment.  He’s lived up to the hype of being a 2-time national champion wrestling for Oklahoma State University.  That background has forged him into a mini-Iceman, able to control where the fight goes and set his opponents up for his infamous left hand.  A dream scenario sees GSP relying on a takedown heavy gameplan that Hendricks is able to stifle until the champ makes a rare mistake that leads to him getting laid out.

It’s somewhat unfair to bring it up, but St-Pierre’s ability to take a punch has been in question since his last loss to Matt Serra.  Since then, you can count on one hand the number of times he’s actually been rocked but people still insist that he’s always one solid punch away from losing the strap.  If there’s any credence to that theory, Hendricks is surely the one to prove it.

Why Hendricks could lose:

Hendricks’ only career loss was to Rick Story and surprisingly it was a match in which he was out-grappled.  While that loss clearly made him a better fighter, it’s worth noting that he is not unfamiliar with being put in bad positions.

On paper, Hendricks presents a lot of the same problems as Josh Koscheck, who boasted that he had the advantage as long as he could keep the fight standing against St-Pierre in their rematch.  St-Pierre was able to pick Koscheck apart with stiff jabs and was never in any real danger for the duration of their bout.  There is no evidence that Hendricks is uniquely equipped to deal with the latter.  Against a similarly gifted striker in Condit, Hendricks relied on his chin to absorb damage so he could get in close and attack.  He didn’t shut Condit down, he was able to land more consistently and land harder.  Getting St-Pierre to engage in a firefight like that is a near-impossibility.  Even with 25 minutes to work with, Hendricks will have to avoid getting desperate and focus on winning rounds if he cannot finish St-Pierre.

Lightweight Title Bout: TJ Grant (8-3 UFC, 21-5) v. Ben Henderson (7-0 UFC, 5-1 WEC, 18-2)

August 31, 2013 – UFC 164

How Grant got here:

…he went on a diet.  Fighting at 170, Grant had a respectable 3-3 record in the UFC, but there was no indication that he’d be challenging GSP anytime soon.  Changing weight classes is a popular move for fighters who appear to be stuck in a rut and it’s hard to name anyone who has made it work out better than Grant.  This wasn’t a big name moving down in the hopes of getting an immediate title shot.  No, Grant made the decision to jump into the increasingly deep lightweight waters.  The results speak for themselves: Five straight wins including a first round TKO of Gray Maynard, the only person to ever dispatch him that early.  He’s an exciting fighter and a proven finisher, leaving fans starving to see him test Henderson who has been criticized for being too safe.

Why Grant could win:

To understand why Henderson always seems to go to decisions, you have to look at his last few fights.  As great as Clay Guida, Edgar and Gilbert Melendez are, none of them are known for their finishing prowess (there was also Nate Diaz, but Henderson had an overwhelming physical advantage that he won’t have with the sizeable Grant).  If you know that your opponent doesn’t have the tools with which to put you away, it affords you certain luxuries.  Luxuries that Henderson won’t have against Grant.

This is not to say that Grant is necessarily better than the aforementioned names, only more likely to look for a finish.  The Maynard fight stands as proof.  Canadian MMA aficionado “Showdown” Joe Ferraro expressed his dismay at seeing his friend Grant willingly trade punches with Maynard.  One mistake and the fight easily could have gone the other way, but it is Grant’s temerity that has got him this far.  Don’t expect him to change his approach now that he’s this close to being the best in the world.

Why Grant could lose:

It’s a hard thing to quantify, but Henderson definitely seems to have the same gift as St-Pierre for attacking an opponent’s weaknesses.  This is likely why both men are maligned as “point fighters”.  I’ve never been a fan of using that term in a derogatory fashion because the last time I checked scoring points was how you won games.  Henderson wins games.

To draw another St-Pierre comparison, Henderson is unparalleled as an athlete in the lightweight division.  He’s incredibly strong and agile and he has an unlimited gas tank.  Grant has assured everyone that he normally trains for five round fights, but it’s an entirely different beast once you actually reach those championship periods.  Fighting Henderson can be a frustrating experience and Grant’s mental strength is going to be as important as his physical ones.  The last thing Grant wants is to go to the scorecards with Henderson, who has shown a knack for pulling out close decisions.

*****

As fun as it is to say, upsets are not contagious and the fall of Silva has no metaphysical impact on the rest of the title holders.  However, for the first time in a while you get the feeling that it wouldn’t be a surprise if the titles did change hands.  It remains to be seen if MMA will be like every other sport, with competitors being inextricably attached to each other in their respective eras: Spouting off names like Liddell-Ortiz-Couture or Minotauro-Cro Cop-Fedor or Silva-St-Pierre-Jones can conjure up unmistakeable images and provide timestamps for the most important events in this young sport.  Perhaps one of Gustafsson, Zombie, Hendricks or Grant will be the first to take their place in the world that’s coming.

PoS: A Guide to Critiquing Man of Steel or Why Man of Steel is Objectively Awful

How many times has this happened to you?  You’re having a perfectly civil conversation with friends, family, co-workers, whomever and then this happens:

“Have you guys all seen that new Superman movie?  It’s great!”

Everyone nods their head and starts to talk about the movie in an overly excited tone.  Favourite scenes and lines are bandied back and forth.  Someone brags about how they’ve seen it three times.  The whole gang is into it, but one person refuses to join in on the revelry:

You.

Suddenly you find yourself barraged with ill informed opinions.  You want to point out the flaws in the film, but you don’t want to be the turd in the punch bowl.  On the other hand, if you hear one more word of praise heaped upon this cinematic atrocity you’re certain that your brain is going to shrivel up and die.  You could always just walk away, but what happens next time?  And the time after that?  And heaven help you when the sequel rolls around.

No.  For your sake and the sake of your friends’ souls, it falls on you to be the voice of reason.  You must lead the innocent unremarkables out of the desert of mediocrity into the land of good taste and critical thinking.  Here is a guide to facing some of the film’s most common defences:

 

*SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS*

 

It’s just a dumb superhero movie.  Don’t think about it too much and you’ll enjoy it.

I went into this movie knowing that it would be a violent response to the aggravatingly contemplative Superman Returns.  If big, dumb fun was the solution then I was all for it.  So why is MoS trying so hard to philosophize?

Action needs context, there’s no arguing that.  Even a simpleton needs more than just two hours of explosions to be satisfied.  There needs to be emotional investment in the characters so that when the stakes are raised we care about the outcome.  The filmmakers certainly make an effort, but the clumsy script betrays whatever finer points they were trying to make.  To put it succinctly, the characters in this movie are assholes.

Pa Kent just cannot catch a break these days.  In Returns, Superman returns to Earth to find out that Jonathan has died of a heart attack (off-screen no less!).  It’s a bummer, but not a deal breaker because it’s handled with a good deal of subtlety and it adds some depth to the Superman character because he’s punished for being selfish (he’s returning from a self-imposed exile spent searching for the remains of Krypton) and it’s the sort of real world problem that he probably couldn’t have done anything about anyway.  Death is a part of life and all that.

In MoS, the word of the day is “fear mongering” and it’s established early on that humanity is cowardly and stupid and not to be trusted.  An early heroic act sees young Clark Kent save a bus full of his peers (including a bullying Pete Ross) from plummeting into a lake.  This is a nice scene that shows Clark’s willingness to put the preservation of life above his privacy, something that is of value to him.  Instead of being validated, he is made to feel ashamed.  He asks his father if he should have let them drown and Pa’s response is this:

“Maybe.”

Taken in context, Pa is telling Clark that his secret could not only be dangerous to himself but to the world in general because they’re not equipped to cope with the tangible existence of a higher being.  That’s a consistent theme throughout the movie and there’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s the execution that’s the problem.  I’m not going to play fan fiction writer and suggest how this message could have been delivered better, but there’s no way you can argue that Superman’s dad telling him to let a bunch of kids die is in any way acceptable.

Half-assed morality is only part of the problem.  I like my popcorn movies to be brisk affairs and MoS clocks in at a wholly unnecessary 143 minutes.  The length wouldn’t be an issue if it wasn’t for scads of exposition that is made worse by the fact that there is a whole chunk dedicated to the events on Krypton that we already saw in the first 15 minutes of the movie.  It’s inexcusable. If you don’t want me to think, then shut your characters up and get to the punching.  You can’t have it both ways.

 

Of course, it’s always possible they could take the opposite stance…

 

This isn’t just another dumb superhero movie.  This is a more realistic take on Superman for a modern audience.

I’m tired of the argument that heroes who are arrogant, petulant and petty are more realistic or more human than heroes that are traditionally virtuous.  Aren’t kindness, understanding and compassion human characteristics as well?  I’m not saying he can’t be flawed; only that being flawed doesn’t necessarily make Superman more interesting.

One scene has Clark working in a bar and having to deal with an unruly customer.  The goon pours a drink over Clark’s head, this despite the fact that Clark looks to be about twice his size.  Alcohol makes brave men of us all.  Predictably, Clark takes the high road and walks away.  This tells us that he’s an upstanding guy who is above using his gifts to deal with minor insults.

Moments later, the goon leaves the bar and sees his truck skewered by multiple trees.  This tells that us Superman is a massive dick.

Clark would have been better off just flicking the goon with his finger and knocking him out for an evening.  Heck, maybe a good knock on the noggin would have made him reconsider some life decisions.  Instead, he destroys the guy’s truck, likely ruining his livelihood and driving him to more drinking and an early grave.  High road, bitches!

It’s the sort of scene that’s played for a cheap laugh (and believe me, the majority of the audience I saw it with seemed to like it) that ends up damaging the movie’s credibility.  Clark looks bad and he blatantly abuses his powers in a public fashion.  In case you forgot, not wanting to reveal his powers is the whole reason he hasn’t become Superman yet.  Even though nobody saw him do it, he doesn’t even bother to make it look like an accident (the truck looks like a damn pincushion) meaning at the very least he’s fostering the idea that the town is housing some sort of alien/supernatural threat.  What a way to honour his father’s sacrifice, eh?

Did I mention that this is a movie where Superman watches his father die?   Superman watches Pa Kent die.  I paid money to see this happen.  What is meant to be one of the movie’s most powerful sequences is at first shocking, then hilarious.  An incoming disaster is preceded by a blunt conflict between Jonathan and Clark (paraphrase: “you’re not even my dad, dad!”) that surely will not go unresolved…oh no a twister.

A hasty roadside evacuation leads to Jonathan having to go back to the vehicle to retrieve the family dog, telling Clark to…wait a minute…why didn’t he just send Clark to go get the dog instead?  Even without his powers, he’s clearly younger, faster and stronger and he could have done the task without any issue.  Then again, if the writers had done that then they couldn’t have given us a hackneyed scene of Pa peacefully gesturing to his son not to do anything as he’s about to be pulverized by a tornado.

The writers intend to show that Clark has no choice but to accept his father’s wishes because it is what he has been preaching to his son all along.  By letting him die (and preserving his secret), it proves that he trusts him.  This is just the first instance of the writers presenting contrived “no-win, hard decision” scenarios that only exist because they say so.  Much like the “Maybe” line above, there are solutions to these problems but the filmmakers chose to indulge in their morality play in the most ham-fisted fashion possible.

This is one of the laziest scripts I’ve seen in some time.  The expository nature of the writing carries over to the dialogue, with characters that don’t talk like any human beings I’ve ever met.  Henry Cavill is a good Superman and overall the whole cast puts in a good effort (kudos to supporting players Richard Schiff, Christopher Meloni and Henry Lennix) but they’re being asked to turn chicken shit into chicken salad.  The humans in this movie are presented as useless without Superman around to save them.

Superman himself is just as badly developed.  What does he value?  Privacy?  Human life?  Pootie?  It seems to change from scene to scene.  The most insulting thing about him is that he doesn’t become Superman until he’s all but forced into it.  This was a problem shared by the long-running Smallville series, though at least they had the excuse that the show would have been finished if he’d donned the cape too early.  In MoS, Clark only reveals himself to the world when the problem specifically involves him.

Think about this for a second.  If the DC Universe is at least somewhat like our own, that means there have been countless tragedies and crises around the world that he could have helped with but it wasn’t until he is called out by Zod (“Superman…come out to plaaaaay-aaaaay!”) that he steps up to the plate.  Again, I know that this is supposed to express the magnitude of the situation, but to me it creates a Superman of obligation, not altruism.

Wasn’t it cool to see all that stuff on Krypton?

No.   No, it wasn’t.

(Disclaimer: this is definitely more of a fan boy gripe.)

I don’t care about Jor-El.  His involvement with Superman should begin and end with his putting Kal-El in the rocket ship.  There’s a reason that the best possible depiction of Superman’s origin is one page long:

My friends told me they thought the opening was akin to what you might see in the Star Wars prequels.  There was a lot of CG, a lot of noise and a lot of nonsense just for the sake of filling up a screen.  In theory, this introduction serves the purpose of creating early tension, establishing that Clark’s existence will be rooted in conflict and letting Russell Crowe redeem his bad ass rep after his “singing” in last year’s Les Miserables.  I was bored.  It goes on for too long and lessens the tragedy of Krypton exploding.  The majority of Kryptonians that we see are either brutes or dull aristocrats.  The destruction means nothing to us.

Having Jor-El show up as a powerful entity from an ancient ship to talk to Clark is even worse.  Gone is the tragedy of never knowing his real parents and feeling isolated.  Apparently there’s an app for that.  (The fact that Jor-El had a strong presence in the original Superman films does validate the idea.  It was stupid and boring then too.)

What is the point of seeing a character sacrifice himself if he’s able to magically reappear later in the film when it’s convenient?  He saves Lois Lane from her prison (that just happens to be in the same room as an important device that she has the key to and I can’t believe I just typed that) and then guides her through a tutorial stage telling her where to shoot while also knocking off enemies for her.

Jor-El: the literal deus ex machina.

Didn’t you notice Superman is kind of like Jesus Christ?  Layers!

Jor-El: “You can save them…you can save them all.”

*falls backwards into space with his limbs straightened, arms out and legs together*

Um…I guess I do now.

The ending, where Superman is forced to kill Zod to save innocent civilians, is necessary and powerful.

First, let me point out this excellent piece by Mark Waid, who eloquently describes why some of us squirmed through the climactic battle of the film.

As a former Superman writer, Waid is obviously approaching the film from the perspective of a person with vast knowledge and fondness for the character.  Whether he realizes it or not, he also managed to deconstruct the fundamental problems with the story in general, Superman or no.  If you have any knowledge of Superman, you should be able to understand how seeing him snap someone’s neck under any circumstances is horrible.  They created a Superman movie that I can’t take a child too.  Congratulations, you fucked up.

But what if you know nothing about Superman?  Even if we pretend that this is your first exposure to this character, it’s still a pathetic scene and I’ll explain why.

Just to refresh everyone’s memory, Superman and Zod have been pounding the crap out of each other for about 10 minutes when they land in a building littered with civilians.  A group gets cornered and Zod aims his heat vision at them, only stopped by Superman grabbing him from behind.  He continues to try and blast them, his beam moving towards them slowly like a Bond villain death ray (if he can see them, shouldn’t he be able to shoot them with his heat vision?  Does Zach Snyder understand how eyeballs work?).  Left with NO OTHER CHOICE (*dun dun dun!*), Superman snaps his neck then releases a primal scream from the guilt of having taken life.

The problem is that up until this point, we have no understanding that this interpretation of Superman doesn’t kill.  That’s kind of a big deal.  If you don’t establish that someone doesn’t kill, then why should he (or we) care when he does?  In every action scene with Zod, there is no evidence that he’s holding back whatsoever.  As he punches Zod through the air like he’s performing an Air Combo, he deliberately smashes him through building after building.  How can this be interpreted as anything other than lethal force?

Unless you want me to believe that the last area they end up in is the only part of the city that’s still populated, Superman is involved in a fight that directly causes the deaths of thousands of people.  I don’t care how “unrealistic” it is to have him saving people while he’s in the middle of a fight.  You’re a professional screenwriter!  Present a Superman worth rooting for, not one that adheres to the flimsy logic of your movie.  His make-out session with Lois in the middle of a ruined city that is in need of IMMEDIATE SUPERMAN-Y ASSISTANCE is the final nail in this cynical coffin for me.  Snyder and writer David Goyer are telling the audience that unless it’s convenient for him (as in the boat and bus saving incidents), this Superman does not care about human life.

I have a huge problem with Superman killing anyone, but I actually would have had less of a problem with it and he just shrugged it off.  At least that would have been consistent with what he’d been doing the rest of the movie.

Are there any positives?  Of course and it’s good to know what they are just to show that you are not a “hater”, which is a likely accusation.  To avoid having to strike someone about the face and neck, please refer to these quick notes:

  • I’m not sure it’s possible to depict a wide-scale battle between two high level metahumans any better.  As gratuitous and grotesque as I found the action, that’s exactly what would happen if Kryptonians existed in real life and they fought in the middle of a major metropolitan city.  The visual effects and a lot of the practical costumes and sets were phenomenal.  MoS is a shoo-in to garner some technical honours at the next Academy Awards.
  • Strong performances from the female cast members.  Amy Adams and Diane Lane were a pleasure to watch as always and Antje Traue brought a cool sense of menace to the role of Faora.  I’m not one to root for the villain, but seeing Faora kick some butt did put a grin on my face.
  • The scene where Superman flies up to destroy a world engine over the Indian Ocean is strong.  It’s a great visual and an example of how his appeal is not only based on his extraordinary powers, but his determination.  It’s a simple message that would have served the movie better than the majority of the dialogue.
  • It’s probably a bad thing, but Zod was one of the more sympathetic characters in the film.  The movie informs us that the Kryptonian system is based around genetic predetermination.  When we find out that Zod is engineered to care about nothing more than the preservation of the Kryptonian race, it’s hard not to feel for the guy.  It helps that humanity doesn’t seem worth saving in this movie.
  • It’s nearly impossible to tell from this script, but I feel that Henry Cavill fit the role of Superman.  I look forward to seeing what he can do with the character given better material to work with.

That’s all the nice things I can think to say and it took me a lot longer to come up with those than anything else I wrote.  I could point out how Superman could not be more distant and alien.  Or how having Clark get a job at The Daily Planet is completely inexplicable (guess that fishing boat experience paid off).  Or that insipid closing flashback of Pa watching a young Clark playing in the field with a cape on.  What hero could possibly inspire that imagery when there is no such thing as Superman yet?!?

*deep breath*

This is a sad, cynical movie that thinks today’s moviegoers are sad, cynical people.  Judging by the general reception and box office receipts, they might be right.  I refuse to believe that.  There is a lot of misplaced optimism surrounding this movie, maybe because in our hearts we want to see Superman succeed on the big screen.  We can do better than this.  We have to do better than this.

I want a Superman to whom heroism is an honour, not a burden.  I want a Superman that’s bright and colourful and full of wonder, not one that’s been sapped of all life and drenched in dull blues.  I want a Superman that’s Superman, not Batman.

This isn’t about arguing with your friends or telling them how to have a good time.  I just feel it’s important for us to have a higher standard when it comes to our entertainment, even when it comes to Hollywood blockbuster fare.  I’ve always believed that people are a lot smarter than they give themselves credit for; unfortunately, that belief isn’t shared by the creators of Man of Steel or their Superman.