I was going to write some sort of giant 2-part Knicks and Nets in free agency post, but between being distracted by real life and other sports I realized I really only had a few things to say about this, and they’re pretty general:
More importantly than anything else, both the Knicks and the Nets have to be sure of any contracts they sign and any players they acquire. If you can get one of the big two and a half (LBJ, Wade, Bosh), you do it at any asked-for price; if you can’t, then you need to be sure of every aspect of the deal. The worst thing any of the big players in free agency can do is panic if their wooing of the big names goes wrong and throw stupid money after second and third tier players. A guy like Joe Johnson or Carlos Boozer can be very effective and valuable in the right spot on the right team, chiefly as the third best player on a real title contender where their skills compliment the big dogs on the team. But if you’re paying max money to either guy to be the centerpiece of the team you’re building for the next 5 or 6 years, as they age into their 30’s and a new CBA changes the financial landscape in unpredictable ways, you’re essentially spending huge amounts of money to gamble on a bet whose payoff- if everything goes right- is to lose in the second or third round of the playoffs. It’s a fool’s bargain.
The intelligent way to build a team is what’s been done in Portland and Oklahoma City, using the draft and building a core; the Nets can still do that, the Knicks probably can’t in the short term, but even if that chance is gone it’s not an excuse to lock yourself into mediocrity with contracts which will keep you in 35-47 hell until well past when you could have started rebuilding through the draft if you weren’t a mediocre late-lottery team. For the Knicks, that mark is 2013 as I understand it- they owe 2012 and a swap on 2011 to Houston, but after that they’ll finally, finally have their own picks back. So this is the question for them to ask: is what you could get right now on the market, taking into account cost, contract length, new CBA salary cap effects and other considerations going to A) have you closer to a title in, say, 2016 than the draft would, and B) will you make more or less money over that span by paying a ton for second-order free agents and losing in the first or second round, or by running a bare-bones team and then paying draft picks? If what you get now is LeBrosh this is a no-brainer; if what you get now is Joe Johnson, Amare Stoudemire and spare parts I think it’s also a no-brainer, the other way. I strongly doubt Knicks management sees it this way; time will tell. What scares me is that I don’t think the Knicks really care about going for a title, to be honest; I think they’re comfortable running the con of an “exciting, up tempo” loser so long as it keeps the Garden full.
For the Nets, it’s a bit more complicated. The LeBrosh home run option is still an easy yes, but I’m not sure it makes all that much sense for them to dip into the free agent market for a forward given the presence of Derrick Favors, who as of now is the only Net with what you might call breakout centerpiece potential. I like David Lee as a player for instance, but I don’t see the angle on paying him to play while Favors sits on the bench- especially considering that, let’s be honest, the next two years which will be taken up by Favors learning the NBA are already essentially wasted years for the franchise while they’re stuck in Newark, waiting on construction. They’ve already got a more or less competent deputy in Kris Humphries to help eat minutes at the 4. You can argue that adding a Lee or a Stoudemire potentially gives the Nets either a devastating 3-big rotation or makes Favors a useful trade chip, but I’m far from convinced on that one- the Nets need a breakout player, and as good as Lee is he’s never going to be that guy. Maybe Favors won’t either, but it makes sense to invest the time to find out.
If they can’t hit the lottery (again), the Nets’ best play is probably a limited grab for a wing player- someone who can hit kick out threes and do some ball-handling. Not that I expect this to happen, but I can see Joe Johnson as a potential fit here, actually- he does these jobs in Atlanta, and since I suspect the Nets are going to have to dump Devin Harris upcoming (ball-dominant dribble-drive point guard on a team organized around two bigs? No buys) he can act as partial insurance on that trade, whenever it happens. Prokhorov seems to want to get the team into the playoffs next year; Johnson + a healthier Harris + Lopez + some maturation and contribution from the younger players on the team + one or two tertiary or quaternary free agents to fill out the roster probably does it. It’s not the way I’d go (I’d rather see the team spend one more years sucking for draft purposes), but I understand where he’s coming from. As an addendum, I’d be hesitant about Rudy Gay here- yes he’s younger, but he’s a restricted free agent with a head case rep and questionable performance. He’s plateaued in the land of just-above-average offensively in recent years (PER: 17.34, 15.38, 16.30 in that order) and his defense is blah.
Bottom line for both teams- and the whole league really- is to recognize that team improvement is not a linear process in a salary capped sport, especially one like the NBA where players are clearly slotted into certain positions and figures. 90% of the work consists in finding one of the very, very few players in each generation who are what you might call legitimate max players- guys who can be the best player on a title winning team. There’s always quibbling about who exactly falls into this category, but I think everyone can agree that there’s two players in it in this free agency class: LeBron and Wade. Wade is 99% certain to stay in Miami; LeBron is the dream. If a team can’t get him however their focus- if they want to win a title- has to be on acquiring one way or another the sort of player who can fill this role. Joe Johnson will not do it, Carlos Boozer will not do it, Amare Stoudemire will not do it, Chris Bosh is an argument but in most people’s eyes will not do it, Dirk Nowitzki and Paul Pierce through a combination of age and other factors will not do it. If a team is signing players like that, they should either have a player who fills the main slot already (like Miami, maybe Chicago, and on a long shot the Nets) or they should have a realistic plan in place to acquire a player like that. Otherwise all a team does is lock itself intot he hopeless middle of the NBA where teams perpetually finish too high to get a decent draft pick and too low to be real contenders. That’s the worst fate for the NBA team and it’s a sure bet that at least one team and maybe several is going to condemn themselves to it this offseason. Here’s hoping it’s not one of the locals.
As I’m sure has been made clear here many times, I firmly believe that the vast majority of the boxing press, 90% or more, is basically incompetent and occasionally loathsome. And I’m not going to come off of that figure, really; but every so often, once a year or two, I run across something which is just about perfect from someone I did not expect to see it from. This is one of those times: Steve Kim on boxing business trends. I disagree with none of what he has there, and add only these points:
1. Tragedy of the commons, an old concept in economics and sociology of which I have never in my life seen a clearer example than the history of boxing over the last 30 years. It literally should be a text book case if it isn’t already. Everything Kim talks about is, with the exception of the mutually destructive and stupid Golden Boy/Top Rank feud, a manifestation of this same phenomenon. Everyone in boxing more or less acts in ways which are for their own individual best interest, and the result has been that boxing has collectively craterized in popularity, mainstream attention, average fighter quality, and money available to fighters below the superstar level in that time frame. One of the reasons I don’t worry much at all about Zuffa controlling the whole of MMA is because the alternative has been tried in boxing and it’s all but ruined the sport. The situation is fucked, and frankly I don’t know how to un-fuck it at this point.
2. Ethnic promotion is not the way forward. It irritates me personally, but I don’t advocate against it for the most part because I understand its history in the sport. But it’s not going to be the way forward on a grand scale- it’s not the 1930’s (hell, it’s not even the 60’s) and all available evidence suggests that ethnic heroes aren’t the business they once were. Look at the pro wrestling industry which is related as a business: the WWE is easily the most successful company in Mexico these days and towers above both of the domestic Mexican companies (AAA, CMLL) in terms of market share, ratings, profits etc. despite having maybe two Mexicans with any kind of name currency on its roster. If you’d reached the point where nationalist/ethnic appeal is starting to wear thin in Mexico of all places that should tell you something. Yes, you can get a few hits here and there with it, but it’s harder than ever before to make an ethnic draw of any stature and even that ethnic draw will eventually require something else to be a real star: Cotto has legitimate world-class ability, Chavez Jr. has his “Jr.”, John Duddy has… nothing really, which is why he was never more than a minor local deal.
3. The cannibal problem. How do you make a star fighter? Put him in with an established star fighter, hope he looks good, and eventually hope he can start winning against guys at that level. Charisma helps, but the formula is the same basic pattern either way. The trouble is, the massive reluctance of top fighters today (with the notable and respectable exception of Oscar De La Hoya) to take on difficult fights- really unprecedented in the sport’s history on an industry-wide basis- makes it harder than ever to make a star fighter. Kim’s example is a fine one: Andre Berto may be a solid boxer and a recognizable name to boxing fans, but he is in no way a star: his name doesn’t sell tickets, it doesn’t sell PPVs, and he’s never been associated with particularly great ratings. He’s on HBO now because he deals with the right people and because HBO hopes he can be a PPV seller and ratings mover in time. But who does he fight to take him to that level? The Mosley fight was on for half a second until it was either bought out or canceled due to the Haitian earthquake depending on who you ask, which paved the way for Mosley/Mayweather- a fight between two established stars. Will Mayweather fight Berto? Doubtful. Will Mosley? Maybe, but it will mean much less now after Mayweather kicked his ass for 12 rounds. Will Paul Williams? He’s arguably in the same boat as Berto, and Berto probably doesn’t take that fight. Cotto? Different weight class, not really being talked about. Pacquiao’s fights are kept in-house by Top Rank. So who? It’s become a sport with a ton of Winky Wrights and Vernon Forrests, and almost no Shane Mosleys.
This same pattern is being replicated over and over with any number of young fighters, and it’s gotten so bad that even other young champs who aren’t draws yet are refusing to fight each other to build their names out of fear of a loss and because they can keep getting HBo money to fight lesser opposition. So (for example) Devon Alexander and Amir Khan and Tim Bradley and Marcos Maidana are all busily engaged in fighting anyone but each other, and no one is getting ahead unless you really think that taking turns beating up on Andriy Kotelnik is going to make these guys superstars. They could have done a tournament… but Golden Boy killed that because they were scared of taking a risk even after seeing what a success the Super Six has been, and HBO was gutless enough to let them (see below). And that’s just one weight class today, and one of the more talented ones at that where in theory it should be easiest to make meaningful fights. If you want to know how this story ends, look up a few weight classes to heavyweight: Lennox Lewis crushed all available contenders from old legends like Holyfield to young guns like Grant and Tua to veteran prime-of-their-career contenders like Vitali Klitschko, then retired without losing to anyone. The result is a heavyweight division in which for years even Vitali and Wladimir, easily the top two guys, had no credibility with many people and below their level 90% of the division is a no-name joke. The Klitschkos don’t have too many years left, and it seems inconceivable that anyone will beat them, and then what? Get ready for Kevin Johnson vs. Cristobal Arreola for (one of 5 or 6) world heavyweight titles. It’s been said as goes the heavyweight division, so goes boxing; we’re starting to see that play out, and it’s a scary future.
The refusal of stars to take hard fights ensures that with each generation of fighters, there are fewer and fewer stars to help build the next generation. It goes back to tragedy of the commons: is it in boxing’s interest that, before he retires, Floyd Mayweather takes on the hardest possible fights against bad match ups and loses? Yes. Is it in Mayweather’s? Not unless HBO makes it worth his while, and given what boxer pay at the superstar level has become they simply can’t afford that. The same holds true for Alexander or Bradley or the rest: it’s in boxing’s interest that they fight each other and try to become stars, but if they can hang around soaking up HBO money and fighting no one, that’s what they’re going to do. I don’t blame Mayweather or the junior welters individually, or HBO individually; I blame the structure of boxing, and the fact that none of the various individuals is willing to try to get everyone onside to do the things required for the sport collectively instead of each themselves individually.
4. Incestuous stupidity. Let it be noted that all the phenomena noted here and in Kim’s article are made worse by the boxing industry equivalent of regulatory capture. HBO has over the years been noted for getting way too close to certain people and organizations, and because of those relationships with Al Haymon, Golden Boy, Lou DiBella, etc. they frequently as an organization are persuaded not to push their self-advantage in times and places when it would actually do some good. Most obviously, why the hell are certain fighters- no doubt you’ll have your own nominees- allowed to occupy valuable space on HBO’s air and budget when they never fight anyone of consequence and aren’t major stars in and of themselves? More on this at the end.
5. As Kim puts it, “The era of the HBO license fee has created a generation of lazy and inept promoters.” I don’t disagree with it really, but… let’s talk about promoters. Who exactly are the next generation? Bob Arum’s deal with the devil is going to run out fairly soon, Don King died 5 years ago and sooner or later is going to have to acknowledge it, Shelly Finkel (a manager, yes, but also a power broker) just retired… who’s left? The Golden Boy collective, Lou DiBella, Gary Shaw, and a collection of unimportant local goofuses. Who am I forgetting? The reality is that HBO (and to a far lesser extent, Showtime) effectively is the meaningful promoter in the game, and the game right now is rigged to support their fighters and a long list of middle-manager types whose major skills appears to be their ability to deal with the cable companies. That is not a sustainable business model for a sport.
As much as I loathe Bob Arum and nearly all his works, the fact of the matter is that he is in some ways the last of the real old-school promoters who’s shown the ability to take a kid in a gym and make him a name known around the world. When Arum dies, that skill dies with him. Where is the next generation of potential-star prospects coming from? The Olympics is dead (Andre Ward makes that medal mean something; the medal does not make Ward) as a proving ground and the HBO management complex doesn’t have the skill or the interest to do what Arum does. Most of the promoters around today outside of Top Rank can’t even figure out how to run a decent local draw, which results in Paul Williams fighting Kermit Cintron somewhere in California in front of the square root of no one and Chad Dawson, one of the best young fighters in the sport, having to travel to Montreal for a title defense against a French Canadian because he can’t sell a damn ticket within 100 miles of his own home and survives off of HBO TV money alone. The reality is that all of these “promoters” are interested in making as much money as they can off of this generation of fighters before they retire, and they transparently don’t give a fuck about what happens to the sport after that. Tragedy of the commons. Bob Arum is an asshole, but he’s an asshole who cares about boxing; Ricard Schaefer is just a guy with the right friend and an opportunity. Once Arum and the current generation of fighters are gone it’s going to be up to Schaefer and HBO to make the next generation of stars, and if the best they can manage is Andre Berto (as an attraction, not a fighter) then we’re in real trouble.
6. The media. They are not responsible for this, but they also do little to arrest this process and more than a little to speed it up. The boxing media suffers from an alternate, almost inverted form of what plagues the MAM media: where the latter is unreasonably critical of the power-brokers in their sport for all the reasons listed below in the Fedor post, the boxing media- trapped in a shrinking sport regularly assailed by inept outsider perspectives- has effectively closed ranks around the sport, denying that almost any problems exist or identifying those problems as transitory and unimportant things. Even the best of the boxing media like a Dan Rafael tends to confine their criticism to either soft targets like the sanctioning bodies or else to individual cases, with little recognition of the overall trends at work. And Rafael is head, shoulders and torso above a Doug Fisher or a Kevin Iole or the people at boxingtalk.com, who tend to make excuses for everything from promotional malfeasance to incompetent judging to the sort of godawful refereeing which gets fighters killed. That’s what makes Kim’s piece so extraordinary: it’s one of the very few honest, perceptive, big-picture pieces on the business of boxing written by someone within the boxing media. It’s a glint of self-awareness in the dark.
If there’s anything to take away from the situation, I think it’s this: as boxing has been falling for 30 years, slowly enough for excuses to be made, so it still has farther to fall. A reckoning is certain eventually once these trends become too pronounced to be ignored, but that day is still a ways off. In 5-10 years, once all that’s left is HBO and Showtime with half or less of the stars they have now, limited experience in developing new ones and no heavyweight division to speak of, perhaps things will finally begin to change. Perhaps there can be a real movement for people to take seriously and care about the health of the sport. Or perhaps not; perhaps in 20 years boxing will have ceased to exist in North America as anything other than a low-level regional club sport when HBO realizes bringing the sport back is a massive investment and decides to wash its hands instead. It’s hard to say. I do know this: until the people in positions of power in this sport from the networks to the promoters to the advisers and the managers and the media get serious about understanding what’s happening to their sport, nothing is going to change. Right now everyone is part of the problem.
If there’s hope, it’s that once “the sport of boxing in America” basically consists of low-level local promotions an an HBO TV show, perhaps HBO will finally be able to shake things up and bring their enormous and ever-increasing influence to bear on changing the foundations of the boxing industry. In theory, at the broadest extreme with a different economic framework in place, the sport of boxing and HBO share basic interests: to make stars and get people interested in the fight game. Right now that alignment is frustrated by a thousand different factors, but it stands as the best principle around which the sport can be reorganized in time. It’s going to require a crushing of fighter pay and a reduction of fighter and manager power which will allow the network to force more frequent and more competitive fights (and that is the fate the current generation of fighters is storing up for their successors) which will be an almighty war to bring about, but it’s a chance. To save boxing, HBO may have to become boxing’s Zuffa: an over-arching body with control over the sport and a powerful interest in its long-term health.
It is said that that someone in the Knicks organization with the capacity to shape policy thinks Joe Johnson is better than LeBron James
Let me put it this way: first off, I don’t believe this to be the case at all. But if, just if, this is actually true, then the Garden should be burnt down and the site salted and exorcised to prevent the escape of this lunacy into the wider world. I’m actually almost offended that this is even being circulated; it’s basketball flat-eartherism.
EDIT: And yes, I should point out on myself, the saddest thing here is that after the last decade I absolutely believe at least some portion of the Knicks hierarchy is this dumb. Maybe not all of it, maybe not an important part of it, but some part of it? Oh yeah.
I love that the Wizards have become a dumping ground for everyone’s middling-contract, middling-talent mistakes. Look: YI Jianlian was massively, massively miscast as a foundation piece for both the Bucks and the Nets. He has NBA talent, but his best role is as a situational stretch 4, a roleplayer on a good team. In extended minutes his complete lack of basketball IQ was exposed far, far too often, mostly on the defensive end where he was one of the worst players I’ve ever seen at his level of athleticism. He tried, but after two years it was brutally obvious that he was not getting it and probably never would. He gives an honest effort though, and I’ll be happy to see him succeed in a better role for a team which isn’t as pressured to get something out of him to justify the expense of acquiring him.
If there’s any other import to this, it’s that the Nets seem to think there’s still value to creating cap space right now.
Look, if the mooted LeBron/Wade/Bosh team-up in Miami actually happens, I have to say: I’m not even going to be mad (with one exception). That team will have the most talent of any team put together at least since the Phase 2 Bulls (Jordan/Pippen/Rodman) and maybe ever, and will be a real threat every year for 3-5 years to be the best team in history. That is a once in a lifetime all-the-stars-are-aligned proposition which would produce some of the most amazing basketball possible; next year’s finals would be the LA Lakers vs. Team Voltron and would break every ratings mark in league history for a series of between five and seven 148 to 139 games. If both the Nets and Knicks are going to bomb out in free agency at least let it be for this and not some half-assed LeBron in Cleveland, Wade in Miami, Bosh in Chicago scenario. Let’s at least have the locals sacrificed on the altar of greatness.
That said, if this happens… everyone involved with the Knicks should be fired or forced to sell the team by David Stern’s gangsters. The team bet the last couple of seasons as well as the next two years’ worth of #1 draft picks (meaning rebuilding can’t really start until 2013) on the proposition that they could get at least one of these three players in free agency. They had to be sure, had to have essentially a back-channels commitment to make this worthwhile. If they didn’t, if they fail to secure one of these three, then they’ve wasted 5 years of the franchise’s time for nothing and invested the whole of their credibility as franchise leaders into a short term strategy which will have spectacularly and publicly faceplanted. Leaving lawsuits aside, how is that any different from what Isiah did? The only way they can make the situation worse in that instance is to go out and sign Carlos Boozer and Joe Johnson, locking the team further into mediocrity in a conference where nothing short of an act of God is going to give Miami competition. Which is of course what I expect them to do. Compare to the Nets, who in this scenario at least still have the 4 and the 5 sorted out for 10+ years with a little luck, and can continue slow-building so that their team peaks around when Team Voltron starts to decline with age.
Again, it’s all an if at this point. But there’s a lot of smoke out there right now.
I’ve been checking in on Eng-ur-lish media to see what the reaction to being de-pantsed by Germany is, and listening to the Grauniad’s podcast I have just heard one of their pundits declare that if only Emile Hesky hadn’t lifted so many weights, he’d be Ronaldo (original flavor).
I have nothing to add to that. It speaks for itself.
Here’s the thing about Fedor Emelianenko: he is at the least one of the greatest fighters in MMA history, probably the greatest; and if that were all he was, tonight would be a sad occasion- the first sign of fall off of a true legend, like when Ali’s reflexes finally began to go or Jordan couldn’t get to the rack anymore. I would not be laughing and celebrating this result tonight; I’d be melancholy the way I was when Lewis beat Holyfield. But that’s not all that Fedor was. Over the second half of his career, half by accident and half by the design of his management he and his winning streak became a symbol of many things, and so part of what we’ve seen tonight is the breaking of that symbol. Ultimately, and with due respect to Fabricio Werdum, that is going to matter far more than a single fight result.
The MMA internet is a strange place. Because the sport is still so new and so close to its wilderness years a greater percentage of fans are hardcores than of almost any other sport, and a greater percentage of those hardcores participate online. When your sport has been legally banned in many places and has been at best an underground thing for years, it’s hard to find anyplace else to share your appreciation for it with like-minded people. But that has also bred a certain insularity, a tendency towards groupthink; and has been pointed out many times over by many people the relation of these fans towards Zuffa- the company which pulled MMA in North America out of the doldrums and re-popularized it- has been something like the reaction of hardcore fans to a band which suddenly makes it big. There’s the hostility to new fans, the attachment to the idea that it was all somehow better in the past when fewer people were interested, the fear of change and some vaguely-defined “selling out.” Fedor has been a symbol to these fans: the last of the PRIDE superstars, the guy who was the best of the best when the best weren’t with Zuffa, the one guy out of that list who never fought in the UFC.
People hate Zuffa. In many cases there’s good reason for this as they have been accused with justice of treating some fighters shabbily, there’s a legitimate argument that their pay standards are too low, they have a public face of the company who’s regarded as amazingly overbearing and obnoxious by a significant portion of the fanbase, and they represent a particular atmospheric and promotional take on the sport- disciplined but somewhat meat-headed testosterone- which bothers many people, particularly those who were weaned on BJJ culture and the Japanese-style atmosphere of traditional martial arts and PRIDE. Some of this is ludicrous of course- the silliness surrounding the Matt Lindland situation is an obvious example- but there’s more than enough truth in it to provide air to the fires of sentiment. Fedor, and more specifically the management which has controlled his career and conducted a PR guerrilla war with Zuffa in recent years, has become a symbol for these people- the apparently incorruptible man who wants to do things his way, a different way, a way outside of Zuffa and Dana White’s dominance. Quiet where Dana is brash, foreign where Dana is quintessentially American, a fighter where the face of UFC is a promoter, Fedor has been the perfectly opposed symbol for those hoping that first PRIDE, then Affliction, then Strikeforce would be the ones to tear down Zuffa’s dominance for good.
MMA is a new sport, ever-changing, ever-developing. It’s not like boxing where the consensus best fighter in history fought half a century ago and no one has fundamentally improved on what he was able to do in the intervening span of time. With each flood of new athletes into the sport the threshold of innate athleticism required to be world-class has gone up and a new style has come to define the sport. First it was BJJ vs. anyone who showed up, then wrestling was added to the mix, then more-skilled striking counteracted the wrestling, and so on in turn up until the current era where the big topic is whether high-level wrestling is going to destroy the sport with boring top-control fights. Some people love to see great wrestling in MMA and for them, Brock Lesnar is the purest expression of that style. He’s their symbol. He’s also become the symbol of the unavoidable march of athletic improvement in a sport which used to have the absolute dregs of the athlete pool participating. Brock is bigger than those who came before, quicker at that weight than those who came before, he was among the best in the nation at what he did for a base before breaking into MMA and the men to beat him will have to be that much bigger and stronger and quicker and more skilled to compete with him. Fedor in turn had become the opposing symbol: a short, dumpy, undersized man with no wrestling background who was seemingly able to compete with and beat the best in the world using only those skills which dominated the sport before the influx of American-style wrestling excellence. He was the hope that great wrestling could eventually be turned back before it achieved total dominance of the sport, and that MMA fighters- so long closer in both appearance, ability and lifestyle to their fans than, say, NFL players or NBA players- were not destined to end up as hyper-specialized world-class athletes on a different plain from their audience. A fan of a certain mindset could look at Fedor and think: man, that guy’s just like me, but he’s kicking ass! No fan does that with Brock Lesnar. Ever.
There’s so much more that’s been heaped on Fedor in the last few years. Media members with a grudge against Dana White have used Fedor as a stick to beat him with on pound-for-pound discussions; MMA fans who don’t want to admit that anything can be learned from boxing’s problems have used his apparent success as an argument for the boxing model of the fight business (fighter and manager/promoter negotiating directly with a network) over the Zuffa model; fans who want to believe that nothing can be learned from other sports- particularly boxing- have used his apparent ongoing success as a club to beat away common-sense observations that 33 year olds often have begun losing their athletic edge, everyone loses eventually, and that how a fighter performs can often tell you as much as whether he wins or loses; new fans who want to prove to older fans that they’re not just fly-by-nighters, that they deserve to be in the club, have adulation for Fedor as their ticket in; there’s a hundred more examples. Fedor has become a perfect blank Other, a fighter who through his own blandness and silence and his management’s machinations has developed into a screen onto which a whole collection of people project their own desires. So long as he kept winning, everyone who had a stake in him representing something could point to him as an argument or a demonstration or an exemplar. Almost everyone in the sport bought into this, ironically including Dana White: his constant quest to sign Fedor in recent years hasn’t been about drawing power (UFC has plenty of stars) or killing Strikeforce (Fedor leaving wouldn’t do that, nor will his loss tonight); neither of those reasons explain his being willing to pay far, far over the odds for a man who would have walked into UFC on day 1 as the highest paid fighter under contract. It’s been because White has known what a symbol Fedor had become to so many people, and in doing so he’d become a symbol to White as well: the one guy he still had to get, the last uncontrolled bit of a sport which he regards as his by right of conquest. To UFC, just as much to everyone else, Fedor’s value was in the myth he represented.
All of that is what died tonight with Fedor’s winning streak. If he’s not unconquerable and instead just really good, if he’s a man who can beat the best but also lose fairly easily by submission to a guy who was cut from UFC not so long ago and who went life-and-death with Giant Silva more recently, then his value as a symbol is broken. Now, at last, he is to everyone else what he seemingly always was to himself: a somewhat undersized heavyweight with plain tastes and a quiet personality whose first love is sambo, nothing special to his look, a great fighter but not an unbeatable one- a guy who’s fun to watch but not a man able to fill out the mass of expectations and needs woven around him. Just a fighter. There is no shame in this, none at all, and I have no doubt that for the man himself this is enough; but little of what has gone on around Fedor Emelianenko in recent years has been about him.
There are going to be people who do not accept this, who for one reason or another need to keep the legend alive. There will be in the coming weeks and months an effort to say that for all time and all places Fedor has to be the greatest fighter of all time regardless of what happens after, no matter how many wins Anderson Silva and GSP run off and no matter how many great fighters they beat. The cliche runs: when the legend becomes fact, print the legend. That’s what they’re going to try to do to keep the symbol alive, to draw attention away from the man and back to the stories they’ve created around him. For a small and shrinking number of people that effort will probably never end, but don’t fool yourself: the game is up as of tonight. Time will march on; better fighters than Fedor will come along as the sport evolves and Zuffa as the industry leader is not going to lift one finger to aid the mythmaking of the people they regard as- and are regarded as by- enemies. Fedor’s negotiating leverage is over and he’s rapidly arcing towards the end of his career. If he ends up in UFC now it’ll be as just another guy, an interesting new matchup and nothing more. Just a fighter, at last.
The era of myths and legends in MMA is just about over now; the era of sports and athletes has finally dawned for good and for ill. Tonight in the eyes of many the universally recognized heavyweight championship of the world was contested between a Brazilian BJJ player and a Russian sambo fighter outside of Zuffa auspices; a week from tonight the universally recognized heavyweight championship of the world will be contested between two big, athletic, American wrestlers at UFC 116. A changing of the guard doesn’t get much plainer. The last word is, fittingly, Fedor’s:
“It happens so that I was made an idol. Everybody loses. That happens. I’m an ordinary human being as all of us are.”
VAI CAVALO GODDAMMIT.
And if I never ever hear about fucking Fedor and his creepy entourage again it’ll be too fucking soon. I wish him the best of luck in whatever he does from here on out, I wish him love in his marriage and peace with his God, but I never, ever, ever want to hear about him again. And I don’t think I will.
And yes, I would pay good money to see Werdum vs. Lesnar or Carwin. Someone make that happen, eh?
If MMA blogs don’t calm themselves down soon they’re in real danger of making Fedor a niche-market gay icon. One of them has legitimately been running daily updates on what kind of shorts he may (or may not!!!!) be wearing for the fight. Let it go, guys- he’s not gonna call you.
Big up Team USA same way. It’s not the way we wanted to leave the cup and in time it’ll be the right moment for deconstruction, but for now I’d just like to thank and applaud the team for the effort they showed and what they achieved. They represented our nation with honor.
Here’s to taking the next step in 4 years in Brazil!