Yes, ‘orrible ‘orrible Rashad sure did beat Rampage by (among other things) crazy-gluing his back to the cage walls and mat for the better part of 15 minutes, reigniting the insanely stupid debate on MMA blogs about whether high level wrestling is going to kill MMA. Here’s why it’s a stupid debate: the entire thing can be resolved with no new rules, no major changes to the sport, no impassioned debates about the future of Our Sport and whether wrestling is a Real Martial Art*. Here’s how you do it: the Nevada and California commissions circulate an advisory letter to their judges reminding them that it is entirely possible for a fighter to win a round off of their back if they engage in superior grappling and/or striking from what is justly regarded as a neutral or near-neutral position. That’s it, that’s all you have to do- readjust the scoring balance to favor damage and near-finishes over positional control. Assuming your judges aren’t raging incompetents (an admitted leap of faith here) you should start seeing rounds like round 1 of Eric Marriott vs. Joe Warren correctly scored for the guy with two or three near finishes off his back instead of the guy laying on him like a dead fish, and you also won’t have any trouble distinguishing those rounds from the rounds of fights like, say, Rashad vs. Rampage in which the guy on top was largely doing effective damaging work.
Or we could go on whining and in-fighting about this for the next year and pissing on Mark Coleman’s grave for bringing the curse of wrestling into this otherwise pristine sport. Y’know, whatever seems more productive to you guys.
*You really do see this argument, even though wrestling is probably, along with boxing, the single oldest martial art invented by humanity.
Sigh. When since did necromancy become a required skill for matchmakers?
It’s a one-match show; but what a match that is. I am stoked, pumped, jacked, psyched, amped, jazzed and ready to go for this one.
* Light Heavyweight bout: Quinton Jackson vs. Rashad Evans
I’m a big Rashad fan compared to most followers of the sport (who seem to openly loathe the guy), but even I’ll admit that there’s two basic underlying realities here which define this contest: the best possible Rampage is better than the best possible Rashad based on what we’ve seen from each man so far, and Rampage is not a very good stylistic matchup for Rashad at all. Rashad has two basic approaches to winning fights: either he takes you down and holds you there (the Tito Ortiz fight at times, Thiago Silva, Michael Bisping, last bit of the Griffin fight, etc.) or he backs off standing, gives up ground and accepts being outworked in order to time an opponent and blast them with one huge shot (early part of the Griffin fight, Liddell, probably what he was trying to do with Machida, etc.). The problems for Rashad in implementing either of these are numerous. Trying to take Rampage down is a difficult proposition at best; it’s not impossible, but it’s hard to manage, demands a lot of energy investment, and it probably can’t be done consistently enough to base an entire strategy around it especially as Evans has a career tendency for his takedowns to become dramatically less effective as a fight progresses. A straight shot on Jackson is remarkably difficult, and trying to pull his base out against the cage, while doable, isn’t really Evans’ style and isn’t really even all that much more effective. It also adds the danger of getting into a close range clinch-striking battle with Jackson, which is not a particularly smart play. It’s possible in a 3 round fight that Evans could take one round if he got a takedown early and worked top game for 3 minutes or more, but that alone won’t win him the fight. He also runs the risk of exposing himself to being caught and battered on the way in.
For all these reasons and Jackson’s own preferences as a fighter I suspect we’re going to get a largely stand-up affair at distance. This is going to be an interesting duel, probably decided by the matchup of Rashad’s right hand against Rampage’s enormous giant head. Evans will move his head, feint, retreat and move around the cage, trying to draw Jackson out; Jackson will move forward and look to put his hands on Evans, touching him up and winning rounds but probably becoming somewhat frustrated by the unwillingness of Rashad to stand and trade. Expect a lot of talking in the cage. Eventually, Rashad will catch Jackson: Rampage is not the most defensively disciplined fighter, especially moving forward, especially against an opponent he doesn’t entirely respect. The fight will turn on what happens when that punch connects. If Jackson can take it and keep coming, he’s either going to eventually catch Rashad in turn late and KO him, or else win a fairly easy decision; if he can’t, then he… can’t. History says that Jackson’s chin will stand up to just about anything, but history doesn’t always tell you everything in the fight game. Which brings us to the X factor for this fight.
One year ago Quinton Jackson would have been the fairly easy pick in this one, and yet a few days out as of this writing most website polls have fans’ picks split nearly dead even, and the current Vegas line is a pick ’em. The reasons are not secret: Jackson has now spent 15 months away from MMA; he’s been filming a theater-based advertising campaign; and reports and photos of him circulating in the last few months have suggested that for a lot of that time conditioning has not been foremost in Rampage’s mind. The track record of fighters who go through something like this in their lives is not the greatest and it has a tendency to lead to things like, say, Lennox Lewis being knocked out by Hasim Rahman of all people. It’s likely impossible to predict exactly how the layoff will effect Jackson, but I’m willing to bet that it will have some effect- he’s 31 now, he’s been through some wars, he’s spent a lot of time talking retirement; it’s hard to say exactly where his head is at, and he’s asked a lot of his body already over the years, before asking it to shrug off the rust for a big time grudge match. He’s been gambling for a long time, and if you keep gambling eventually you lose.
I am going to pick him regardless, by second round KO. I doubt that Jackson is ever going to be a dominant champion again and I’m not sure he’s going to look all that great here, but he still has major stylistic advantages over Evans. Rampage will gas; but so does Rashad as we saw against Silva. Evans hits hard, but Jackson does as well and seems to have a stronger chin overall. Evans won’t likely be able to use his wrestling anywhere near as much as he’d like, and in a boxing match Rampage is just more fluid, more experienced, more effective. It’s a close and competitive fight and either man could win, but if Rashad does there’s a pretty decent chance that it will say more about Jackson than about him.
On a side note, I’m really glad this has been preemptively declared a #1 contender’s match. Not all of UFC’s recent title challengers have felt like they had much in the way of momentum or justification behind them, but the winner of this is just about a perfect challenger for Shogun. It’s either an intriguing fresh matchup with Rashad, or an interesting five-years-in-the-making rematch with Jackson. Good stuff.
* Middleweight bout: Michael Bisping vs. Dan Miller
Not that I’m going to be arsed to look it up, but this has to be a contender for worst ever semi-main on a UFC PPV, no? Granted it’s the child of Forrest Griffin’s injury, but still. It’s a matchup of a guy coming off of a loss to a big striker vs. a guy coming off of losses to two big-time grapplers, but that’s somewhat deceptive given that Miller was actually out-struck by Demian Maia last time. Yes, a great grappler has a striking advantage through the threat of a takedown, but come on- he got out-struck by Demian Maia. The Miller Brothers at this point strike me as collectively the absolute best of the not-quite-world-class brigade, and while I’m hardly Bisping’s biggest fan, I do think at this point he’s moved himself into the world class category. The lowest echelon of it to be sure, but nevertheless still a cut above where Miller is at this point in his career. I’ll take Bisping by decision.
* Heavyweight bout: Todd “Duffman” Duffee vs. Mike Russow
You have to appreciate Smash Deadlift here: he’s young, has a ridiculously funny and memorable look, a surprising amount of genial meathead charisma, seems smarter than he initially lets on, and at 24 he’s already a technical holder of the UFC’s fastest ever KO record. If Bash Rockthrust is able to develop skills-wise, he has a really good chance to be a major star in a few years. Still, UFC’s heavyweight division at this point is a bit like an amusement park ride, except the sign out front instead of asking about height reads “you must be able to wrestle this well to do anything” intead. Then it has a picture of… pretty good… wrestling. Hm, metaphor kinda died there.
Anyway, this is a test to see if Crush Forklift is also Todd Goodsprawl, whether Duffee can be expected at this point in his career to be able to handle a decent wrestler. He’s got no background in the sport, but he’s still young, at a good camp for wrestling (Xtreme Couture) and seems to have the kind of God-given athletic tools which are a prerequisite to making a latecomer at least passable at the art. I’m going to say that Flex Steelpecs between the athleticism and an apparently solid mental approach has probably progressed fairly well in this area, and that UFC- knowing his star potential- will not intentionally book him above his level this early. Duffee by KO2.
(Butch Flexmuch, Meat Beefslap, Dunk Gunfist, Roll Fizzlebeef– make your own, it’s fun!)
* Light Heavyweight bout: Antônio Rogério Nogueira vs. Jason Brilz
Poor old MiniNog. Through no fault of his own he finds himself dropped from the semi-main position against a very beatable opponent which might have catapulted him to title contention, down to just another main card fight against a near-unknown. He’s listed at -800 for this one, which tells you what Vegas thinks about the matchup. And I don’t really disagree. Nog by armbar in the first.
* Welterweight bout: Diego Sanchez vs. John Hathaway
Ah, John Hathaway- the rare English fighter who relies on takedowns, and probably the only UFC competitor in history whose fighting background is in rugby. I don’t have a huge sense of him beyond his being solid in most areas with a few good wins on his record (Rick “let me tell you my life” Story, Paul Taylor) and a surprising amount of wrestling for a Brit. Diego Sanchez- even coming off a loss, even back at 170 which is the wrong weight for him- is light years past anyone Hathaway has faced before, and given his own wrestling skills is probably a really bad matchup for him as well. Diego by decision; could be a good fight, could be a baaaaaad fight.
Preliminary card (Spike TV)
* Welterweight bout: Amir Sadollah vs. Dong Hyun Kim
Interesting little fight. Sadollah has looked better of late- legitimately good against Brad Blackburn- and there are people out there who think the world of the Donger. I’ll take Sadollah, I guess; he’s done marginally better against their common opponent, and while I think he lacks the athleticism to ever be a top-level fighter I admire his mental strength and character in the cage. He’s the proverbial tough out. Decision.
* Lightweight bout: Efrain Escudero vs. Dan Lauzon
Lauzon got run out of his camp by his own brother for not training hard enough and he’s coming off of a loss. Escudero should use wrestling to keep it standing and just box Lauzon down; call it a decision. Odd choice for a Spike fight in some ways, despite Escudero’s TUF status; Cane vs. Diabate will likely be a fun stand up battle and Cane has something of a name. Oh well.
* Lightweight bout: Melvin Guillard vs. Waylon Lowe
And on the 9th day, God created the eternal conflict: Melvin Guillard vs. grapplers. Lowe is a multi-time DII wrestling national champ; Guillard is a dynamic striker with 8 career losses- 7 by submission. There’s no real rhyme or reason to Guillard’s results against grapplers: he beats Gleison Tibau and Ronnys Torres and loses to Nate Diaz, Rich Clementi and Joe Stevenson, all in the space of his most recent seven fights. He’s got the tools physically and technically to be something important if he ever finds consistency, but as things stand he’s basically Paul Daley plus hair bleach. There are both worse and better things to be. He’s looked more focused of late, so let’s take him here by 2nd round KO. Wouldn’t bet on it though.
* Light Heavyweight bout: Luiz Cane vs. Cyrille Diabaté
Geezus. Catch a falling star time here, as Luiz Cane plunges from a featured spot on the UFC 106 card to a not-even-on-Spike slot on this show. Getting humiliatingly outclassed as a striker on your feet by a guy known for his BJJ will do that, I suppose. I’m guessing this is basically booked to be a check on Cane: either he can use his on-paper BJJ black belt to adjust to fellow strikers and expand his game, or else he can improve his striking enough to beat other very good strikers, or else he can’t and will likely either be booted farther down the card with an ordinary loss here or cut outright with a bad one. Cane really did look atrocious last time out, and in particular showed total inability to adjust to MiniNog’s southpaw stance; that does not bode particularly well for him adjusting to Diabate’s inordinate length (6’6) and adds to the picture developed in some of his other fights of a guy with one speed and one plan. The book odds for this one strongly favor Cane; if you’re a betting man, I might put some sly money on Diabate. Fuck it; I’ll pick him outright. I just really don’t like what we saw mentally from Cane last time out. Decision.
* Lightweight bout: Aaron Riley vs. Joe Brammer
Ah, Joe Brammer, the most confused man in the sport. Last time out he was sponsored by neo-Nazi fashionistas; this time, he’s apparently sponsored by a person or company called Fight Pastor, which offers training and ministry to fighters. No word on whether they’re going to try and work a feud with those Jesus Didn’t Tap guys. I don’t care at all about this fight and neither do you, so let’s just say Riley by greater experience and move on. Decision.
* Middleweight bout: Ryan Jensen vs. Jesse Forbes
Ehhhh, Forbes by whatever.
We now know the identities of the 23 men the United States of America (FUCK YEAH!) will be sending to this year’s World Cup in South Africa. Sure, this is just one more opinion in an Internet full of them, but this is one topic that will always get me to shake off my blogging torpor (What can I say about the Canadiens’ run that everyone else hasn’t said already? Oh yeah, DIE IN A FUCKING FIRE, ROMAN HAMRLIK…IF YOU ARE AN NHL DEFENSEMAN, I’M THE BLEEDING QUEEN OF ENGLAND. That should cover it). Given that I don’t watch a lot of MLS, I won’t be able to talk intelligently about some of the fringe players in the squad – other than that late-term abortion of a 4-2 loss to the Czech Republic, that is. Without further ado:
GOALKEEPERS: Tim Howard (Everton) and Two Other Guys, Only Because FIFA Rules Mandate Carrying Three Keepers For Some Reason.
OK, OK, that’s a bit harsh.
GOALKEEPERS: Tim Howard (Everton), Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) and Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
So, three lads plying their trade in the English Premier League, then…or, I should say two lads plying their trade and also Brad Guzan, who arse-warms the bench for Villa. Of course, there’s little shame in backing up Brad Friedel, who we all remember for his heroics in the 2002 World Cup (as well as the absolutely mystifying decision to not play him in 1998 by Steve Sampson…Kasey Keller was a fine keeper who never, on his motherfucking best day, could carry Friedel’s jockstrap). Look, there’s no mystery here whatsoever. TIMMAY is going to play every minute of every game barring any unforseen amputation of limbs…and even then we might overlook a missing arm or two. Without question, Howard is one of the 20 best keepers on the planet at this moment in time, and there is a strong argument for him being in the top 15. Any claim beyond that gets a bit dodgy, but still, when was the last time an American soccer player was top-15 in the world in his position? Don’t rack your brains too hard – the answer is that there never has been until now. He is incredibly athletic, an ungodly shot-stopper and reasonably good at dealing with crosses and set pieces (which opening-match opponents England will of course bring in force). If our boys are going to accomplish anything in this tournament, a substantial burden will be on Howard’s shoulders to come up with match-winning saves. Anyone who saw the 0-0 friendly draw with Argentina last summer will testify that such a thing is not only reasonable, it’s likely. Still, there’s some things that even a world-class keeper can do little about, and patchwork defenses are one of them (ZOMG FORESHADOWING!). The Everton defense was also a bit ropey at times this season, and you could almost play a drinking game based on how often – and how vociferously – Howard raged at his defenders after conceding a goal. The good news there is that he’s used to it – the bad news is that our defense is shit, and will in all likelihood get ripped apart by the first real team we play (please note: “real team” does not include England).
DEFENDERS: The Crocked Version of Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan Reserves), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Steve Cherundolo – Yes, STILL! (Hannover 96), and Four Fucking Clowns (Barnum & Bailey’s Circus).
Ahh…there I go again. My bad.
DEFENDERS: Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Carlos Bocanegra (Stade Rennais), Jonathan Spector (West Ham United), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA)
I’m not even going to mince words – this lot is a fucking shitshow at the moment, and if the worst-case scenario happens, it will squarely be at the feet of these men. Let’s start with the positives – DeMerit is a solid center back who is just about serviceable at this level. Cherundolo is highly experienced and a decent option at right back, and Goodson wasn’t the worst player on the field against the Czechs. Yep, that’s it. That’s the list.
Onyewu is big, strong and talented…but he’s also recovering from knee surgery and was well-beaten in the air for one of the Czech goals. Even worse, it wasn’t exactly Jan Koller who beat him to the header – it looked like the dude was my height. Carlos Bocanegra is the type of guy (as far as World Cup level goes) where your assistant in Football Manager 2010 would say something like “Bocanegra should only be signed as a last resort, and isn’t getting any younger”. Oh, and he’s recovering from hernia surgery! Still, a mediocre defender out of position is still our best option on the left. Yep. A country of 300 million, and NOT ONE FUCKING PERSON CAN PLAY LEFT BACK. His deputy will be Bornstein, who makes the plane for South Africa because Heath Pearce is still smoking from being torched roughly 938,271,281,191 times in his 45-minute stint against the Czechs. Goodson is just a guy – it speaks volumes that he spends his time in the Norwegian league. Spector is frustrating because he has shown flashes of competence, but any connoisseur of the Premier League can recall how often the top players made him look like a buffoon. He also plays in Cherundolo’s position, which leads me to wonder if it’d be worth it to stick one of them on the left and hope for the best. It doesn’t matter, though…whatever way you arrange the puzzle pieces, there’s still a few missing. You know, like the Neven Subotic-shaped one (Thanks, Thomas Rongen…you fucking incompetent nitwit).
MIDFIELDERS: Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Michael Bradley (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Stuart Holden (Bolton Wanderers), DaMarcus Beasley (Glasgow Rangers), Maurice Edu (Glasgow Rangers), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt), Jose Francisco Torres (Pachuca), Benny Feilhaber (AGF Aarhus)
If ever the United States of America (FUCK YEAH!) had a strength, it is here in the middle of the park and out on the wings. This is where Bob Bradley has the most options, and this is the power source of the athletic, counter-attacking style that we play at our best. At first glance, Bradley will probably go with his kid in the central holding role (not to say it’s a nepotistic choice – Bradley is the best we’ve got there by miles) with Dempsey and Holden on the wings and Donovan in the hole behind the strikers. Then again, Donovan and/or Dempsey may end up playing up top at points (perhaps flanking Jozy Altidore in a 4-3-3 if we’re losing), and we are sure to see Torres and Edu at some point…especially as impact subs. If Donovan is up top, then that will likely be the chance for Beasley to get into the lineup – if he isn’t drafted into emergency left back duty like he was in the qualifiers, that is. As you can see, there’s a ton of options and few of them are bad. There’s also genuine depth here, as Torres and Edu can both do a job in the center of the park, and while I don’t think Feilhaber will get any minutes, he has shown before that he can score in big games (Mexico, anyone?).
Don’t get me wrong – this isn’t a collection of players that will have Germany or Spain or Brazil quaking in their Adidas. But, it’s a solid group that should be able to execute the American gameplan and prevent most matches from becoming laughers. Given the shocking state of our defense though, it may come to pass that Bradley has to play an anchor man in front of the back four to help them out. In that case, you may see more of Clark, or it could be Bradley back there as well. The worry though is that both have seen red in international matches before, and given our fine nation’s history of getting red cards at World Cups, a smart man will put in a cheeky fiver (or tenner) on at least one American getting an early shower sometime in this tournament.
FORWARDS: Jozy Altidore (Villareal), HERCULEZ~! Gomez (Pachuca), Edson Buddle (Los Angeles Galaxy), Robbie Findley (Real Salt Lake)
A lot here will depend on the formation that Bradley goes with. If he does the 4-5-1 that flows into a 4-3-3, it’ll be the aforementioned scenario of Altidore leading the line with Donovan and Dempsey supporting high up from the wings (assuming they don’t have to spend the whole game in our end covering for our shite fullbacks, that is). Otherwise, one of the other three guys is actually going to get to play. Gomez looked good – even bagged a goal – against the Czechs, while all I can tell you about Buddle is that:
1. He has a fantastic name. Not as fantastic as HERCULEZ~!, but it’s a close second.
2. He has 9 goals for the Galaxy so far this season. All that tells me right now is that he’s Conor Casey with hair.
3. In previous versions of Football Manager, he would have a finishing rating of at least 16 and he WOULD STILL NEVER FUCKING SCORE.
As for Robbie Findley, I could not pick the man out of a police lineup.
Still, the upshot of all of this is that Brian Ching will not make the trip to South Africa. I say this with the greatest possible respect for him as a human being, and with all sympathies to the horrible disappointment of being in all likelihood the final cut from the roster:
With that out of the way, you will recall that our group-stage opponents are England, Slovenia and Algeria. The latter is absolute fucking shite – they qualified by the slimmest of margins against a distracted and shockingly-poor Egyptian side (who later decimated them 4-0 in the semifinal of the African Cup of Nations), and they have essentially no quality players worth mentioning. They were last seen getting mauled at home 3-0 by Serbia. So, there really should be no worries here. On the other hand, as badly as England have played lately and as many question marks as they possess, they are a horrific matchup for the United States of America (FUCK YEAH!). We make our living victimizing quick, skill-based teams off the counter. We let them have 60-70% of the possession, try and muck up the midfield as much as possible, and then let Donovan and Dempsey interplay with Altidore on long balls up the field in the spaces left behind by the opposing fullbacks and central midfielders. England kind of do the same thing, except they have better players and will have more of the ball besides. Sure, Peter Crouch is kind of a mediocre player, but a half-fit Onyewu is our only hope of stopping him. And seriously, who in the blue hell is getting a shadow on Wayne Rooney? The only hope there is that Howard has one of the all-time great games and steals it, but the more that time goes on, the less I can see even that being enough to get a point against Eng-ger-land.
With that, it leaves the game against Slovenia as an absolute must-win. I fear that a draw won’ t be enough as I have a suspicion that the English are going to give us the sort of rogering that we gave them in Yorktown (OH SNAP!), and we won’t beat Algeria by as much as Slovenia will. I keep telling everyone I talk to that Slovenia are a useful outfit and will not roll over for anyone. While Howard is still the best goalkeeper in the group, Samir Handinovic is not that far away (and he’s better than anyone England will put between the sticks). They defend well and they’ll punish mistakes, as Russia discovered in the qualifying playoff. Still, I do think that there is enough quality up top and in the midfield for Slovenia to be overcome…but, that will be it as far as our progression goes. Should we finish second in the group, we play the winner of Group D, which is Germany-Serbia-Ghana-Australia. While it isn’t a mortal lock, you still have to think Germany tops the group and goes on to beat us in a World Cup eliminator…again.
That said, if it’s someone like Australia or even Ghana, perhaps we may sneak that before inevitably falling in the quarterfinals (where Argentina should be lurking if the form book holds).
OFFICIAL PREDICTION: Humiliating 5-0 loss to Germany in the Round of 16.
Or: Kill ‘Em All And Let God Show Them How It’s Done.
As per the comments on the post below, I think the judging in the Abner Mares vs. Yonnhy Perez fight this past Saturday raises some issues about modern judging. Or, more precisely, it’s as good a point as any to begin talking about some truly endemic problems which seem to crop up on the majority of cards these days. It should be said off the top, I do not consider the majority draw card in that fight a robbery as such; I would define a robbery as an incident of judging malfeasance so suspect that the most obvious explanation is corruption, and not mere garden-variety incompetence. That’s why a robbery is a robbery.
I do not, however, believe that the real issues with modern judging are the robberies. Robberies are godawful; they are also rare, and by the very fact of their obvious awfulness they tend not to do much harm- people recognize that the loser didn’t really lose, the winner didn’t really win, and thus for the most part rough justice is done in the court of public opinion- and thus marketability and future fighter pay. No, the bigger issue isn’t the occasional disaster, it’s the constant drip-drip-drip of utter uselessness which the boxing and MMA industries, and their fanbases, have accustomed themselves to over the years. Our collective expectations are so rock-bottom that all we ask from our judges is to not be robbers, as though that were the reasonable standard to hold professionals to. That is the first charge I lay at the feet of modern judging: they’ve accustomed themselves and their sports to the sort of performances which would get a UFC fighter cut, a boxer removed from HBO and Showtime, a referee banished to small shows, and a promoter put out of business. They’re the only figures in the game allowed to get away with not knowing their business individually and collectively.
It bears repeating, since it is often forgotten: these people are judges, and they are professionals. They are expected to judge at a professional level. I reiterate this because this, currently, is not the level of expectation they are expected to meet. Any fool off of the street can tell you who won a 119-109 fight, or who won an MMA battle like, say, Quarry/Starnes; but we have judges who are paid and screened for competence, in theory, because we want people with the knowledge and experience to consistently judge the difference between a 116-112, a 115-113, a 114-114, and a 113-115. I believe a professional judge should be able to get these calls correct 80% of the time, and be able, willing and eager to explain their reasoning via television interview or press release in all close fights with championship implications. That is not an unreasonable standard for people who want to make a living as pivotal figures in a business which lives and dies by its public image, but if it were instituted tomorrow it would constitute a revolution in the ways judges and their role in the sport is handled.
Right now we have judges for major shows and major fights who get perhaps 40% of these calls correct and are wholly immune to any form of review process in public; in theory some commissions review them privately, but everyone knows that’s a joke. Cecil Peoples still gets work despite inventing his own rules about which strikes count. Doug Crosby still gets work despite trolling internet forums to pick fights with fans. Doug Fisher of The Ring has had stories for years of the aged boxing judges of Las Vegas, one of whom had eyesight so bad he needed help to figure out what he was putting in his coffee at breakfast in the media room, yet was still allowed to judge PPV-level fights. The gulf between what should be the minimum acceptable standard and the reality of judging right now has never been wider, and I as a fan am tired of making excuses for this. I dispute entirely the idea that only robberies are deserving of protest; more than anything it’s the slow steady drip of officially sanctioned stupidity which embitters fans and damages the sport. With the occasional robbery people boo and complain and pay for the rematch as they did with Holyfield and Lewis; but when they learn over time to anticipate and assume that judges are going to fuck up the majority of close calls, they lose respect for the integrity of the sport and willingness to believe in it as legitimate competition. Much as with the NBA, the conviction has begun to sink in among fight fans that the whole system is rigged, and once that assumption becomes widespread it’s almost impossible to get rid of. Boxing has reached an odd place where the big fights have never been bigger, but below the giangatic event level the sport has rarely been so rickety and ill-supported. Bad judging is one of the many driving forces behind that, and one of the easiest to address if the will is there.
There are more and worse effects of this slow slide. In modern boxing where fighters fight less often and there’s fewer big names competing, more than ever even fairly big name fighters have careers which often go fewer than 10 major fights even if you stretch the definition of major. Let’s pick a name to illustrate- everyone’s favorite new Middleweight Champion, Sergio Martinez. Using the broadest definition of major fight- one that could be shown on BAD, let’s say- Martinez at age 35 has had 5 fights which could qualify: Antonio Margarito (at the time a nothing fight of non-draws), Alex Bunema, Paul Williams, Kermit Cintron, and Kelly Pavlik. The rest of his career has mostly been spent squashing overmatched journeymen; he had one stretch in 2005-2006 in which he actually faced 5 consecutive opponents with losing records. In his major fights, 3 of 5 have gone to the cards. In those decisions, he was screwed once for an unjust draw, lost one close and debatable fight, and won one close and semi-debatable fight. Put another way, he’s been screwed badly on 20% of his major fights so far, and has arguably lost another 20% due to bad judging. Martinez got lucky; he was an undersized guy in a division with a questionable and somewhat foolishly managed champion, his exciting style was acceptable to HBO, and so he got selected for a gift title shot because Pavlik’s handlers thought he would be an easy touch. Most guys don’t get that lucky. Someone like Abner Mares, lacking Martinez’s track record and name, has essentially just had his career stunted: some people were already calling him a disappointment despite being undefeated and only 24 before he’d even had a single high-profile fight; now he has a reputation as a choker in his first major go-round. It’s likely going to take him years to get his career back to where it would be now if Saturday’s judges were any good, and we’ve somehow arrived at a point where a hundred times more is expected from a 24 year old kid in this sport than is expected from those with decades of experience who judge him.
Getting into the nitty-gritty of Saturday’s fights, there’s two particular forms of judging incompetence which are brought to the fore. The first is the complete misunderstanding of footwork. Mares utilized two kinds in Saturday’s fight: movement for the aim of controlling the fight and to set up punches, and complete running. Running sets up no offense, leads to no scoring opportunities, and almost always results in the loss of a round- rightfully so. Mares clearly gave away rounds by running against Perez; the trouble was, the judges showed little to no ability to distinguish the moments of running from the moments of drawing an opponent in to set up shots and force him to re-set and follow at angles which blunt his attack. Mistaking the one for the other is the only way to end up with a 114-114 score, and it speaks to the egregious rising trend in judging to dismiss skill and favor witless forward-march windmill punching. It’s the Toughmanization of the sport, which Las Vegas has been an unfortunate leader in. Secondly, it was abundantly clear the the judges simply did not score or respect Mares’ body punching attack which emptied Perez’s gas tank, doubled him over at times, backed him off in the later rounds and represented the most effective and consistent weapon employed by either man over the length of the fight. This is also a rising trend in the sport and speaks directly to the incompetence which is allowed to fester in the judging ranks. Body punches are harder to judge that head shots- they’re harder to see, harder to judge the impact of, and when they’re a major part of the fight it requires discipline of mind for judges not to underrate a consistent body attack in favor of a few flashy but ultimately minimally damaging head shots. If judges can’t do that, what good are they? What separates them from any random fan in the audience other than their connections? The failure to respect or score body punches is the road that Olympic amateur boxing has gone down, and it’s a large chunk of the changes which have made a joke of what used to be a truly great event and sport. In 15 years the pro ranks may not look as different as we’d like if this trend is allowed to continue.
So what’s the answer? A few measures which might be taken, of varying degrees of plausibility:
– Fire the incompetents. Put in requirements to prove competence through standardized tests and oral examinations at 3 to 5 year intervals.
– Abolition of the current seniority system. It encourages slacking, protects incompetence, puts the judges with the most accumulated bias on the most important fights, and generally inhibits the influx of any new and competent judges into the ranks.
– Actively recruit new judges, and train them together from ground zero to the same specifications. Make talent acquisition in this area a priority, and try to minimize the impressionistic make-up-your-own-rules bullshit which plagues the sport these days.
– Make it a requirement of the job that following any title fight, television fight or PPV fight, judges make themselves available for 30 minutes following the fight to answer all reasonable questions from the press. Additional press time for other fights not falling into one of the previous categories can be ordered at the discretion of the commission in case of controversy. Any judge refusing to comply to be fired on the spot. Sunlight is the best disinfectant.
– Mandatory retraining of all officials to educate them about footwork, body punching, and other forgotten arts. A re-emphasis on actually watching which punches land and their effects instead of trying to exclusively infer efficacy from which direction a fighter’s feet are moving.
– Installation of monitors at ringside for all judges for all televised fights.
– Mandatory between-rounds instant replays on those monitors for the judges and the referee of all questionable calls: slip vs. knockdown, headbutt vs. punch for cuts, etc.
– A new decision category called the non-consensus draw. If a fight reaches the cards and all three officials cannot agree that one fighter won by at least two rounds for boxing, the fight is declared a draw. If we’re going to accept that professional quality judges aren’t going to be able to effectively make close distinctions, let’s at least write that into the rules of judging so that we’re not damaging careers for the sake of playing pretend. If we don’t accept that then let’s stop making excuses for people who don’t know their jobs, can’t do them and don’t care to try, and get some people who do.
– And finally, and least likely to be implemented: abolish the 10 point must system. After 12 rounds, have a judge write either a name or the word “draw” on a piece of paper, and hand it in. This system has a huge number of flaws in and of itself, but it has the great virtue of focusing minds on the most basic question at hand: out of these two guys (or gals), who won the fucking fight?
It used to be that that was what judges were judging.
1. That was never a draw in the opener.
2. Anyone who instigates, approves, promotes, endorses, or accepts Marquez vs. Vasquez 5 is a disgrace to the sport.
3. This is, unsurprisingly, the end for Izzy I think; you couldn’t call it unexpected given how bad he looked before the fight and how many people predicted exactly what we ended up seeing, but it’s still sad. Vasquez doesn’t get anywhere near the respect he deserves for it, but he’s been one of the most consistently entertaining fighters of this generation and has nothing at all to be ashamed of when it comes to success either. From the trilogy early with Oscar Larios to his awesome comeback win against Jhonny Gonzalez to the great trilogy with Marquez to even lesser fights which he made wars of- not always to his own benefit- you always knew you’d get your money and time’s worth when he stepped into the ring, knew you’d see a world class fighter giving it his all. Probably the most depressing thing about tonight’s fight wasn’t the way Vasquez went out, but how happy and disrespectful people have been about it; Dan Rafael’s late-night chat is full of people making ghoulish jokes about his cuts, including Rafael himself. I think people have been a bit angry with Vasquez in recent years, viewing him as an unwanted interloper of no real skill who unjustly beat Rafael Marquez twice when he wasn’t supposed to, and it’s going to take a long time before people get over that and begin to respect Vasquez for the great competitor he was and not the glorified club fighter too many people wanted and expected him to be. In 10 years he’ll get his due.
Overall a fine if sad night of fights. More on this when I’m not too sick to do anything more complex than cook soup.
I’m not going to write a preview or prediction post for this weekend’s fight for several reasons. Given that this matchup was fight of the year on two previous occasions and was decided by the thinnest of margins, those who want to see this thing A) know exactly what they’re getting and B) know that trying to pick a winner is both incredibly hard and almost beside the point. If you want to bet, Vasquez is probably the more faded of the two; frankly, I think he’s going to be knocked out in rather sad and quick fashion, probably even badly enough that no one wants to see a fifth go at this.
More importantly, I really don’t want to see this fight. A fight like this one, a fight of this caliber, a fight between two men with heart and skill and drive to greatness at the highest level is almost always welcome; but between these two men, at this point in their respective careers- this is the almost. Both guys, Vasquez especially, are done. I understand that for business reasons the fight makes sense and it’s the most money either man can make at this stage, and I don’t begrudge prize fighters for fighting for the largest prizes most of the time. But there are real worries about how much damage these men have already inflicted on each other and how much more they’re going to inflict tomorrow. Vasquez is 32, and spent his time away from the sport having a damaged eye repaired through several surgeries, while Marquez is an ancient-for-this-weight 35. Marquez got the worst of the last two fights between these two, while Vasquez looked utterly shot last time out against a guy who had lost his previous 6 fights (five by KO) all at lower weight classes. Both men have started to look like guys who can’t get out of the way of punches (not that they ever had much luck avoiding each other’s) but still retain their power as most fading fighters do up to the very end. That’s scary recipe. They’re each going to get hit very hard tomorrow, very often, adding to the long list of wars each man has already been in, the high count of shots their brains have absorbed. They say it’s not the years, it’s the mileage; with these men it’s both.
I don’t think this is such a dangerous fight that it’s a moral offense to promote or watch it, but personally I’m still left with a queasy feeling. I wish it weren’t happening, I wish there were a way to get these guys their money without their taking this kind of abuse, I wish boxing had a decent pension plan, I wish human nature were different and the drive to success wasn’t so often linked closely to the inability to walk away when it’s time. Wishing won’t make any of that so however, so I simply hope both men come through this as healthy as possible.
I’m talking myself into ordering the MOOSIN show. I need help.
Yes, it’s depressing not to end up with #1, but bear this in mind, Nets fans: we’re going to be adding a top-3 talent in any case, and we’ve finally got an owner who has A) a plan, B) money to execute that plan, and C) the cachet to make the Nets an interesting and attractive team to players. We may not have the always questionable one-year-to-glory dream of drafting John Wall and convincing LeBron to throw his lot in with the Newark Nets anymore, but the future is still brighter than it has been in a very long time. A sudden shot in the arm would have been nice, but for my part I’m a lot more interested in seeing the Nets as an organization be rebuilt correctly over the next five years- that’s the longer lasting and more important change.