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Randy Returns

I’ll write another update shortly, but for right now there’s a development in the UFC that’s piqued my curiosity (but not necessarily yours as MMA posts are easily the most ignored entries in my LJ).

The big announcement Randy Couture has scheduled for tomorrow night’s “Inside the UFC” on Spike is that he’s coming out of retirement. This was hinted a short time ago in the weeks leading up to Ortiz/Liddell, when he was quoted as saying that if Ortiz won he’d come out of retirement to fight him. That obviously didn’t happen, and Couture claimed as recently as last week that it was a flippant comment, but the statement was put out there and it was only a matter of time before Couture started seriously weighing a comeback. Now he has the itch, and speculation is that he’ll scratch it in the Heavyweight Division.

I think it’s fairly obvious that even if Couture wasn’t necessarily pressured into returning to the UFC, he was at least gently persuaded by Dana White and others at Zuffa. Brandon Vera, the man whom the UFC was grooming to be their next big heavyweight and best hope for taking the title from the uncharismatic and sloppy Tim Sylvia, is said to be close to (if not all but decided on) rejecting a contract extension outright and signing with Showtime’s new MMA endeavor with an organization called Pro Elite, Inc. The organization is being dubbed EXC, short for “Elite eXtreme Combat.” Besides being a really goofy name (a double wammy of an awkward acronym and the tired usage of the word “extreme” with emphasis on the letter “X”), it’s another in a long line of MMA organizations popping up all over North America run by financiers jumping on what they view as a money-making fad while not knowing anything about MMA. To boot, it’s probably a safe bet most of them adopt the mainstream media habit of thinking to the sport itself is called “UFC,” despite the fact that the UFC itself is just one of many organizations in the realm of MMA. The thing is, Showtime and Pro Elite, Inc. (another goofy name in and of itself) have a lot of money to throw around, so Vera’s all but gone.

That leaves the UFC with only one marketable Heavyweight, the recently signed Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, and he’s not not nearly as recognizable to the casual fan as they had hoped. By bringing back Couture, they bring back a name that can pop a buyrate for a Heavyweight Title bout, a championship which…well, I think my buddy Carl summed it up best in IM earlier this evening:

Carl: Coleman gives birth to it, promptly gets decisioned by a freaking kickboxer in Smith, who only beats Tank and then loses it to Couture, who gets stripped, leading Rutten to win it and then vacate it for lack of shit to do, Randleman gets it, defends it once in a year, and then loses it to Couture, who has its first real reign–three years after its birth–and then drops it to Josh Barnett, who gets stripped after pissing hot (Kev’s note – steroids). Ricco Rodriguez drops it in his first defense against Tim Sylvia, who ALSO gets stripped for steroids. Frank Mir beats him in his second defense, then crashes his motorcycle and has to quit; Arlovski gets it and is billed as the greatest heavyweight in UFC history, then gets knocked out by a shockingly wimpy Sylvia uppercut.
Carl: I mean, jesus christ.

Indeed.

Personally, I have mixed feelings. Anyone that’s paid attention to what I’ve written in the past two months – yes, both of you – knows that I strongly believe that trends in every other combat sport in North America combined with Heavyweight talent easily getting more money from Pride show means there isn’t consistent money to be made in a Heavyweight Division. That being said, it can’t hurt to have one more championship that can draw even if ideally there’s only three fights right now that could do so (Sylvia/Cro Cop, Sylvia/Couture, and Cro Cop/Couture), and it makes it that much easier to be optimistic that 2007’s Pay-Per-View revenues will stay strong and prove wrong those who say that the UFC’s popularity is going to be brief.

The worry I have is that they’ll hotshot Couture to #1 Contender right away, which would be a HUGE mistake. Sylvia’s absolute shit, but he’s got a reach and he’s very awkward to grapple with. Should they decide to go that route, and should Sylvia lose, then you’ve got Couture in line to be immediately destroyed by Cro Cop, which really doesn’t benefit anyone since Cro Cop would then have absolutely nothing to do except destroy the lesser talent in the UFC’s Heavyweight Division – which would be fun, but would also get old pretty quick.

The smartest way they could play this out in 5 easy steps:
1. Have Couture go up against a couple really shitty Heavyweights so they can say he’s not out of his weight class (since realistically his peak as a fighter was at 205) . Finding schlubs shouldn’t be hard. And hey, Frank Mir’s still under contract, right?
2. Simultaneously, sign a couple more Jeff Monson-like idiots to lose to Sylvia so he can keep believing that he’s the greatest heavyweight in the world. Again, shouldn’t be all that hard.
3. Feed Frank Mir and Andrei Arlovsky to Mirko Cro Cop. It’s established that Mir’s best years are far behind him and Arlovsky isn’t nearly the fighter everyone hoped he would be a few years back, but a name’s a name.
4. Since the fans despite Sylvia so much, build up Cro Cop as the savior of the Heavyweight Division and give him the shot at Sylvia. It’ll pop a buyrate just on the basis that people want Sylvia beaten so badly, and put the title on a guy who hardcore MMA fans like myself can actually buy as a champion rather than the best of the worst.
5. Declare Couture #1 Contender, and build it as the old cagey vet (Couture) shooting for one last shot at glory against the unstoppable Cro Cop.

If they play their cards right with this, they can pop a few buyrates while waiting for Pride to completely implode, which would put all those fantastic heavyweights – Fedor Emelianenko, Mark Hunt, etcetera – on the free market. By that time, you’ll have IFL going into bankruptcy, Calvin Ayre getting bored with his pet Bodog project, and Showtime realizing how hard it is to market an MMA pay-per-view in North America that isn’t under the UFC banner – translation, there won’t be as much money being thrown around.

Maybe then, you can have a Heavyweight Division in the UFC that’s worth talking about. For now it’s a little shaky, but they’ve at least got me interested in the Heavyweight Division…which is pretty impressive given its dull and lifeless past.

More later…

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