The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Postscript

Crap, knew I forgot something.

Here’s why Coleman/Couture may still work as a draw, and has an interest which Shamrock/Miletic won’t have- both guys won their last fights. Sounds simple, but I think there’s actually a lot at work in the psychology of it. The appeal they represent is basically that of the semi-retired old master/sensei/gunslinger coming back to show the youngin’s who’s boss, a simple enough story which has powered everything from Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-winning Unforgiven to George Foreman’s comeback to a thousand kung-fu movies and young/old star crossover albums featuring duets between Frank Sinatra and Bono, and the like. The trick is, in the fighting context, that you have to keep hope alive and maintain the appearance that the older fighter is still viable on the world-class level. The danger is always that the older fighter can begin to look sad, which is just death from a marketing perspective. The older fighter has to be kept strong and protected, as much by the setting in which he’s placed as by the matchmaking of his fights.

Wins are obviously necessary, but they don’t have to be uninterrupted. A loss is not invariably fatal, but it has to be the right kind of loss- Couture losing to Lesnar or Nogueira or Coleman losing to Rua were good losses, because they were to top-notch performers with world-class reputations in exciting, main event or semi-main fights on big shows. Couture losing to Brandon Vera, by contrast, would have been a bad loss- a main event yes but on a minor show, to a fighter regarded as an intensely disappointing journeyman, in a fight which many people thought was awful. Too many of those make the older fighter seem like a bit of a fraud, makes their quest to stay relevant and compete seem sad, or deluded, or dangerous to themselves- this might be called, with apologies to Bill Simmons, the Holyfield Zone. Frank Shamrock is now an inhabitant of this zone until he proves otherwise, partially because he’s rarely taken on top level competition of late, mostly because he was abolished so completely in his last fight. Miletich is a denizen as well, given his age (41) plus a long period of inactivity plus not having faced much of anyone since coming out of retirement. Fighters in this zone can still be draws to an extent, but unless there’s a strong personal issue to market involved with their fights (as Frank vs. Ken Shamrock would have been) their appeal is strictly to nostalgia. Nostalgia’s great, but it’s also limited in its appeal to older fans and has a very short shelf life. It’s also a completely different sort of draw, psychologically and promotionally, from the old-man-whipping-ass story which Couture and Coleman are selling.

Incidentally, if you wonder why UFC is always trying to get Randy into position for a title shot (and the rumors of Lesnar-Couture II continue to swirl), this is part of why. Randy is a marketable challenger of course, but to an under recognized degree Randy’s marketability relies on his being a challenger. If he’s not one, than he’s just an old man having boring fights against the likes of Brandon Vera; worthy of respect, but not a great motivator of interest. His career, like Coleman’s, needs some kind of momentum to it, some object to justify his continuing to fight. One of the reasons I like Coleman/Couture as a main event is that both men are insulated: the winner is guaranteed to have gotten a second straight win at 205, which in either case will lead to obvious next fights against the winners of Machida-Rua and Rampage-Evans, or even of Griffin-Nogueira especially if Forrest takes that one; the loser, meanwhile, will have lost in a PPV main event against a legend, in likely close fashion, which is not so bad a loss. In both cases there’s a preservation of momentum behind each man which will keep them as going concerns for at least one more fight each. With Shamrock and Miletich, virtually no matter what happens in the fight both guys will be heading back to training and broadcasting. That’s the difference between one-shot nostalgia and the angry-old-man gimmick as a going concern, and the sort of thing which leaves me with a great deal of respect for Joe Silva and the rest of the UFC braintrust.

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February 5, 2010 - Posted by | MMA

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