Ivan's Blog

Featuring Ivan Trembow's Self-Important, Random Rants on Mixed Martial Arts, Video Games, Pro Wrestling, Television, Politics, Sports, and High-Quality Wool Socks

Friday, September 27, 2002
Mixed Martial Arts--- Tonight's UFC 39 event from the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut has no shortage of exciting-looking matches. Before I get into the rest of my event preview, I'm going to change one of my predictions from yesterday. I think I got caught up in the Phil Baroni hype yesterday, but the more I think about it, the more I have to pick Dave Menne to beat Baroni in the match that will crown the unofficial #1 contender for the Middleweight Championship. Think about it. Two things that Phil Baroni tends to do are swing wildly and get tired during fights, and there is almost zero chance of Dave Menne doing either of those things.

Also, when there's a fighter who tends to swing wildly and get tired, all you have to do is weather the storm of his early offensive flurries and then pick him apart. Ask any fighter or MMA beat writer and they will tell you that nobody is better at "weathering storms" than Dave Menne. Furthermore, who has Phil Baroni ever beaten? He has only been in four MMA fights. Beating Amar Suloev doesn't make you a title contender, and no matter how much heart Baroni showed in his decision loss to Matt Lindland, a loss is still a loss. Meanwhile, Dave Menne is a guy who has beaten Carlos Newton, Jose "Pele" Landi, Fabiano Iha, LaVerne Clark, Dennis Hallman, and Gil Castillo, among others.

In another middleweight fight that looks great on paper, Matt Lindland faces Ivan Salaverry in a match that has strangely been slotted to be an undercard match that will take place before the pay-per-view goes on the air. Salaverry looked dominant in his stunning victory of Andrei Semenov, while Lindland was just shut down and submitted by Middleweight champ Murilo Bustamante. Nonetheless, I'm picking Lindland to win. There's no shame in losing to Bustamante given the fact that he is the #1 middleweight fighter in the world and he is in the discussion of who's the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world. And let's not forget Lindland's exciting decision victory over Phil Baroni, or the fact that he beat and embarrassed an accomplished fighter like Pat Miletich in two minutes. With Randy Couture and the rest of Team Quest training with him, I have to believe that Matt Lindland is going to come into the fight in great shape and pull off the victory. And yes, that means I am picking against a fellow Ivan, even though we Ivans are supposed to stick together...

In a fight that really should on the undercard but isn't, Pedro Rizzo returns to the Octagan to face "The Giant" Gan McGee. McGee has done absolutely nothing in the UFC than get quickly submitted by Josh Barnett. I'm picking Rizzo to beat his overmatched opponent by knockout, and it will mean nothing just as it meant nothing when he knocked out Andrei Arlovski. Rizzo should not even considered for Heavyweight Title contention again until such time that he actually faces, and beats, top-level competitors who are not the champion. Rizzo lost to Kevin Randleman when Randleman was the champion, he lost a controversial decision to Randy Couture when Couture was the champion, and then in the rematch with Couture for the title, Rizzo got his ass handed to him for the entire fight. Rizzo is a one-dimensional fighter who is good at nothing but punching, which is the last thing one would expect from the so-called prize pupil of MMA legend Marco Ruas. Still, Gan McGee is overmatched here. He doesn't have a single win over an accomplished MMA fighter on his record (unless you count Tim Lajcik, and I don't).

In a fight that is going to be on the main card and air on pay-per-view as a kind of showcase match for whoever wins, heavy-swinging big men Tim Sylvia and Wes "Cabbage" Correira will face off in both fighters' UFC debuts. Sylvia went through a lot of talented independent fighters at a recent tournament in Hawaii with knockout after knockout, while Cabbage hasn't lost a fight since the year 2000. This fight is a toss-up, but I'm picking Sylvia to stay undefeated in mixed martial arts and perhaps insert himself into the Heavyweight Title picture if he wins in impressive enough fashion.

The fight that will most likely be the first fight of the evening, before the PPV goes on the air live, is a battle between two up-and-coming welterweights, Benji Radach and Sean Sherk. Sherk, who looks almost like WWE Champion Brock Lesnar, is being hyped up as a master of the ground-and-pound style and a potential threat to Matt Hughes' dominance one day, while Radach has looked fairly well-rounded in UFC victories over Steve Berger and Matt Serra's brother Nick. Radach hasn't beaten any top-level fighters en route to his 5-0 mixed martial arts record, and Sherk hasn't beaten any top-level fighters en route to his 15-0 record, but we're still talking about two young, talened, undefeated fighters squaring off here. I'm picking Sherk to win as he continues his slow road to a title shot, and I'm hoping that there's enough time after the main event ends for this fight to make it on the air for pay-per-view buyers, along with the other undercard fight (Lindland vs. Salaverry).

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Thursday, September 26, 2002
Television--- I have been pleasantly surprised by this year's TV season at this early stage of the game. The Mind of the Married Man on HBO has been drastically improved over last year's already good season, to the point that it will be one of the best comedies on TV if it keeps improving at this rate. King of Queens got off to a typically funny start on CBS for a show that never fails to come up with good new ideas, and the same can be said for My Wife & Kids over on ABC. The Drew Carey Show also seems to be getting back on the right track creatively in its new timeslot, but sadly with its ratings lower than ever, it's simply not going to be around for too many more months before ABC pulls the plug, unless ratings go up drastically.

Even the season premiere of In-Laws on NBC, which honestly looked like crap in most of the commercials, was surprisingly funny in my opinion. I was also pleasantly surprised by the humor of another one of NBC's new comedies, Hidden Hills. However, I'm still not getting my hopes up about either series because lots of shows start out funny in their first few episodes, where a lot of the best material normally goes in an effort to grab people's attention early on. The question is whether or not these two shows are going to stay this funny all season long, or whether they will noticeably drop off in quality sometime soon. Also, In-Laws' ratings were good for the premiere, but not great. Given that new shows typically see their ratings go down steadily as the norm rather than the exception, and given the fact that NBC has been far too quick to pull the plug on far too many comedies over the years, In-Laws could be on the cancellation block if the ratings go down

The most disgusting show of the week has to be Fox's "Celebrity Daredevils Live!" which aired on Tuesday night. In fact, only the final stunt was live, while the first two were pre-recorded (although that didn't stop the host from repeatedly saying that any of the stars could easily be killed during the stunts). The most tasteless moment of all was the "Dennis Rodman driving a car off a cliff" segment. If everyone in the world were an idiot like the producers of this special apparently believe, here is what they would see on their televisions. Dennis Rodman is driving a car towards the edge of a cliff. Dennis Rodman's car falls off the cliff and a parachute propels him upward. Dennis Rodman is hanging from the parachute celebrating when, oh no, Dennis Rodman bumps into the side of the cliff at a high speed. Now Dennis Rodman's body is just hanging there lifelessly, and he's probably dead. Is he dead? You'll just have to wait until after the commercial break to find out. Whew! He's okay and not dead after all!

In fact, this is what actually happened, complete with stuntmen and post-production editing. Dennis Rodman drove a car towards the edge of a cliff. Just as he gets near the edge, the Fox logo covers the entire screen for a split second that a lot of people will never think twice about. A stuntman is in the car as it falls off the cliff with no clear shot of his face, and a parachute propels the stuntman upward. They cut to a shot of the real Dennis Rodman hanging from a parachute celebrating. Again, the shot seamlessly switches to a stuntman, who is rammed up against the side of the cliff pretty softly, and with no clear shot of his face. They cut to a shot of a dummy hanging lifelessly from a wire so that it looks as if Dennis Rodman is dead. They cut to commercial to keep people tuned in. They return from commercial, and surprise! He's not dead after all! Man, that was a close one!

It's one thing to set up an entire show around the premise of, "You might see a celebrity die on TV tonight if you watch the whole hour!" That's wrong and it's bad enough as it is. But to actually edit and manipulate the Rodman segment the way they did, to artificially set up a so-called "accident during the stunt," to specifically do their best to make you think Dennis Rodman is dead, and to cut to commercial like it's not all pre-taped, all of that takes it to a new level. That's fraudulent, and it's sick. Everyone associated with the special should be ashamed of themselves, as should the executives who gave it the greenlight to air knowing full well what the producers planned to do during the Rodman segment.

I'm glad that the special only got a pathetic 3.6 in the overall ratings and only a 3.3 rating in the coveted 18-to-49-year-old demographic. Hopefully this will serve as a wake-up to call Fox that people don't want to see crap like this anymore, and it should also alert them to the fact that people aren't stupid. They know a fraud when they see one, and a fraud is exactly what "Celebrity Daredevils Live" was.


Football--- Is there a better team to root against in all of football than the St. Louis Rams? They acted overconfident all year last season like they were entitled to win the Super Bowl and it was a foregone conclusion that they would do so, only to be shut down by a Patriots team that still doesn't get half of the respect that it deserves. What's more fun? Seeing Kurt Warner pout on the sidelines every time the Rams make a mistake, or seeing Kurt Warner get the ball with the game on the line and throw the ball directly to the other team for an interception two weeks in a row?

Also, Brian Billick has some competition in the "Biggest Ego in Coaching Award" from Rams coach Mike Martz, who always seems to have a smug look on his face that indicates, "Well, we're losing, but I'm still the smartest guy here, you know!" The fact of the matter is that this so-called "offensive genius" may, in fact, be an idiot. Only Mike Martz could under-use and mis-use the most dominant player in football, Marshall Faulk, the way he has.

While we're on the subject of arrogant prima donnas, how about Keyshawn Johnson? Here is a guy who has never done anything in the NFL except underachieve on the field and, from all accounts, be an asshole to all of his teammates and coaches off the field. He's no different than fellow wide receiver prima donna Randy Moss, except Moss has more raw talent than Keyshawn could ever dream of. Johnson is no different than fellow wide receiver prima donna Terrell Owens, except for the fact that Owens hasn't been a chronic underachiever for his entire career.

The sight of Keyshawn Johnson getting in his coach Jon Gruden's face and screaming on Monday Night Football is enough to make you get out of your chair and say, "Get him off the field!" There's no place out there for a guy who couldn't give less of a damn if his team wins and is only interested in "getting the damn ball" himself whether it's what is best for the team or not. After the game was over and Bucs won, Johnson's attitude didn't change and he still had the look of a five-year-old child on his face because he didn't get the ball enough times I'm not the biggest Jon Gruden fan in the world, but he doesn't deserve to have to constantly deal with someone like Johnson who isn't particularly good on the field and makes everyone's life a living hell off the field.

No one in the Buccaneers organization has ever had the guts to stand up to Johnson except for one man-- Warren Sapp. See, Sapp actually goes out there and busts his ass every game and wants his team to win whether he gets sacks or not. Sapp is actually able to speak his mind during media interviews without being an asshole and without disrupting team chemistry. Warren Sapp is everything that Keyshawn Johnson is not, so it only makes sense that the two would clash behind the scenes as much as they have. Sadly, no one else in the Bucs organization is willing to stand up to Keyshawn. Tony Dungy wasn't willing, Jon Gruden apparently isn't willing, and no one else on the team is willing. This cycle is just going to be allowed to continue until Johnson is eventually traded to another team, which he will then spend the next few years dragging down with him.

Mixed Martial Arts--- The next Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view is coming up tomorrow (September 27), and I can't remember another recent MMA event that I have looked forward to more than this one.

The main event of UFC 39 has the 39-year-old legend who can still kick ass, Randy Couture, facing 25-year-old Ricco Rodriguez for the vacant Heavyweight Title. The title is vacant because previous champion Josh Barnett was found guilty of steroid use by the Nevada State Athletic Commission, stripped of his title, and banned from mixed martial arts for six months. Ricco has looked moderately unimpressive (and not-so-moderately arrogant) in his UFC fights thus far, and those were against non-top-tier opponents. Put him in there with someone on Couture's level, and I think the hype finally catches up to Ricco and ends in a victory for Couture.

Couture beat Vitor Belfort when Belfort looked unstoppable, he beat Maurice Smith when Smith was just coming off a huge win over Mark Coleman, he beat Kevin Randleman, and he beat Pedro Rizzo twice. His only loss in the US was against Josh Barnett, who had enough steroids in his system at the time to kill a moderately large horse (whether Barnett ever admits it or not). Ricco is a talented fighter and is favored to win the fight on the Internet, but I'm picking Randy Couture to become the first-ever three-time champion.

UFC 39 also features the first round of the four-man lightweight tournament, with the winners of the two fights to meet for the vacant Lightweight Title at a later event. BJ Penn faces Matt Serra in what could be the fight of the night. As much as I'm rooting for Serra and his "crazy monkey Jiu-Jitsu" (as Joe Rogan put it), I'm going to have to take Penn due to his superior stand-up skills. Serra won't have too much of an edge over Penn in the submission game, whereas Penn can and probably will knock Serra out or pummel him into a referee stoppage.

The other two fighters in the lightweight tournament are Caol Uno and Din Thomas. Uno beat Thomas in Japan years ago when Uno looked unstoppable and Thomas was inexperienced. Now that Thomas has some more fights under his belt, including a victory over Jens Pulver a while back, I'm picking him to win this fight and advance to the Lightweight Tournament finals. Uno has looked pretty bad recently, not only in the obvious ways (getting knocked out by BJ Penn in ten seconds) but also in less obvious ways (looking unimpressive during the entire fight in his decision victory over Yves Edwards). You can never count Caol Uno out, but I'm picking Din Thomas to win this fight.

Dave Menne faces Phil Baroni, with the winner unofficially becoming the #1 contender for Murilo Bustamante's Middleweight Championship. Menne is coming off a tough TKO loss to Bustamante, while Baroni is coming off a very close decision loss to Matt Lindland and a very impressive, gut-checking knock-out of Amar Suloev. This should be an evenly-contested bout, and Menne certainly has the edge in experience. Another potential problem could be Baroni letting his recent success go to his head and coming into the fight overconfident, which is not a possibility for Menne. Nonetheless, I'm picking Baroni to pull off the upset and earn the Middleweight Title shot.

I'll be back tomorrow with my preview of the rest of the event.

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Tuesday, September 24, 2002
Pro Wrestling--- Coming off a very good WWE Unforgiven pay-per-view, I can't help but still have a lot of negative thoughts and feelings about the direction of the company. As for the event itself, Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit are two incredibly good in-ring workers-- arguably the best in the company-- who had an incredibly good match that was only slightly sullied by the non-clean finish. Edge and Eddie Guererro are two potential main eventers who had another great match to add to their collection, and the Triple H vs. Rob Van Dam match was laid-out very well even though it did have a screwjob finish. After doing a clean submission job to Ric Flair at SummerSlam last month, the writers couldn't even be bothered to give Chris Jericho a clean win this month. There goes the believability factor if anyone in the WWE expects fans to believe that the in-his-prime Jericho can't beat the 55-year-old Ric Flair.

Putting all of that aside, the thing that stood out most at Unforgiven is the fact that The Undertaker is more out of control than ever, as management continues to cater to him at the expense of the next generation of talent and the current on-air product. Some of those young guys can actually (gasp!) work a decent match in the damn ring. The Undertaker was never a good in-ring worker even in his prime, and make no mistake about it, the 40+ year old Taker is years and years past his prime. I wouldn't care if he was 20 years old or 60 years old if he could get it done in the ring, but he can't. His in-ring performances have slipped even more in the past few years, and he has no business being on television at all as anything other than maybe a mid-card novelty act elevating younger talent.

But that's just the thing. The Undertaker never has elevated other talent, he's certainly not elevating any other talent now, and he's probably never going to. His repeated, one-sided "squash" victories over Edge and Christian a few years back did damage to their careers that they have still not completely recovered from. The Undertaker constantly no-sells his way through matches, and when his opponets do gain an advantage on him, it's almost always due to a low blow or some other dirty heel tactic. Seeing The Undertaker do to a clean job to a top-tier established star, much less an up-and-coming wrestler with potential, is unheard of in recent history.

Say what you will about Hulk Hogan and his years of backstage political machinations, but when the time came, Hogan did the right thing. He did a clean job to The Rock at WrestleMania. He tapped out to Kurt Angle in a clean submission loss in a high-profile PPV match in the middle of the ring. He not only did a clean job to Brock Lesnar but allowed himself to be destroyed by Lesnar after the match and left lying. He worked side-by-side with young stars like Edge in a way that gave them star power rub and actually elevated them rather than conditioning viewers to think of the younger stars as inferior.

Meanwhile, who in the hell has The Undertaker ever elevated? Take away years of undeserved main event matches and burying of younger, better wrestlers, and just think about it starting from April of this year. At April's Backlash pay-per-view, he had an absolute stinker of a 30-minute match with Steve Austin that is going to be on the Pro Wrestling Torch Worst Match of the Year list at the end of the year, and he got the win over Austin. In May, he inexplicably main evented the Judgment Day pay-per-view and had another stinker of a match, this time against Hulk Hogan (who had just come off good matches against The Rock and Triple H). Even more disturbingly, The Undertaker won the match and won the WWE Title. It's the equivalent of George Foreman winning the heavyweight title in boxing today.

At the King of the Ring PPV in June, The Undertaker had a horrible match in the main event against Triple H (who has had good matches with just about everybody). Undertaker got the win and retained his title. At the July Vengeance PPV, Undertaker was in the main event yet again, having a decent Triple Threat Match with Kurt Angle and The Rock that was largely carried by the two non-old-bastard wrestlers. The Undertaker always stands up and lectures people in the locker room about doing what's best for business even if it's not best for you personally, and yet he didn't even get pinned to lose his own title, as The Rock pinned Angle to win the title in the Triple Threat Match.

At the August SummerSlam PPV, Undertaker got a well-deserved demotion to a mid-card match with Test, and things were finally looking up for people who enjoy quality wrestling in their $35 pay-per-view main events. It wasn't a good match and Undertaker got the clean pin over Test, but at least he wasn't stinking up the main events anymore. Now here he is, back in the main event at the September Unforgiven PPV against new champion Brock Lesnar. Not surprisingly, it's a pretty bad match, and Undertaker dominates most of the offense, and Brock only gets the upper hand after hitting Undertaker in the face with the title belt.

The Undertaker gets to beat up Lesnar after the match and leave the situation with the upper hand, and he didn't even have to do a job of any kind in the process (much less a clean job) thanks to the BS disqualifcation finish that sent the Los Angeles crowd into a near-riotous state. Why, you ask? How could that possibly be best for business? Well, it's not. But that's not what is important, what's important is that The Undertaker gets out of doing a job under any circumstances, and even more sickening, he gets to weasel his way into another PPV main event when he gets his rematch against Lesnar next month at the No Mercy PPV.

If World Wrestling Entertainment wants to blame someone for the fact that TV ratings, arena attendance, and PPV buyrates have gone down drastically over the past six months, who could possibly deserve more blame than The Undertaker? He has main evented four of the past five PPVs, he has stunk up the ring with sub-par matches in all four of those matches, and he has avoided doing any jobs in any of those four matches. He wouldn't elevate an elevator at elevator convention, and he is sure as hell not going to elevate any of the WWE's multitude of young, talented stars in the making.

Shawn Michaels left wrestling in a meaningful way back in '98, pushing his injured back to the limit en route to doing a clean job to rising star Steve Austin. Mick Foley left in a meaningful way, busting his ass in classic PPV matches, doing jobs to and making a star out of Triple H. Hulk Hogan left in a meaningful way, laying down for Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar and having the occasional good match along the way. It's time for The Undertaker to be doing a retirement angle and making it a real retirement, not main eventing PPVs and wasting fans' time and money. Actually, it was time for that a few years ago, but better late than never. Get him out of PPV main events, get him off my TV, and get him off the active roster altogether.


Mixed Martial Arts--- Say what you will about the unbalanced match-making in the recent "Pride: Shockwave" mixed martial arts event, but one thing remains clear: People are going to be talking about and remembering Shockwave for many years to come. The atmosphere of the event with 91,000 screaming fans in an outdoor stadium in Japan has never been matched by any other MMA event, but it was the in-ring action that was most impressive. The classic Minotauro vs. Bob Sapp match wasn't the only thing that was memorable.

The most controversial fight on the card was Judo gold medalist Hidehiko Yoshida making his MMA debut by appearing to choke out MMA legend Royce Gracie, who was appearing in his first fight since losing to Kazushi Sakuraba over two years ago. As Yoshida got his hand raised and the crowd went nuts, there was just one little problem with this scenario. The instant replay clearly showed that Gracie hadn't been choked out at all.

He sprung up to protest the ref's stoppage of the fight immediately after Yoshida released the hold, which is pretty hard to do when you're unconscious. Furthermore, not only did the reverse-angle instant replay show that Gracie was moving and was most definitely conscious right before the ref stopped the fight, but Yoshida didn't even have his forearm on Gracie's throat. Choking a man out by applying pressure to his mouth and chin rather than his throat is a neat trick; I ought to try that sometime. The only fair solution to this mess is to sign an immediate rematch and this time make sure that no one stops the fight until one of the fighters is choked out or tapped out.

Shockwave's hardest fight to watch as a long-time fan of Don Frye was his fight under K-1 kickboxing rules against champion kickboxer Jerome LeBanner. First of all, just accepting a match with kickboxing rules against a champion kickboxer shows that Don Frye has balls the sizes of church bells (as Frye himself once said about an opponent). Unfortunately, the inevitable happened and Frye got brutally knocked out. The image of Frye slumped over, unconscious in the corner of the ring as the ref frantically stopped the fight, is something that's going to stay with American MMA fans for a very long time.

So what's next for Frye? Well, for starters, how about no more K-1 matches against K-1 champions? Frye has gone on record in the past few months saying that the only two MMA fights he really wants at this point are a shot at the champion Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira and a rematch against Mark Coleman, the only man to ever beat Frye in mixed martial arts competition. I would love to see the Coleman fight and the winner would really be a toss-up, but I think Minotauro would probably beat Frye by submission (as he would against most anyone else in the world).

As for Jerome LeBanner, he has now joined the Brazilian Chute Boxe Team full-time, which means that he is training for full-fledged MMA competition with some of the very best in the world, such as Vanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, Murilo "Ninja" Rua, and Jose "Pele" Landi. If the Chute Boxe guys can teach LeBanner how to fight on the ground and LeBanner can help the Chute Boxe guys increase their already incredible stand-up fighting skills, the rest of the MMA community better hang on to their wigs and keys, because the Chute Boxe guys are going to be even more of a force to be reckoned with than they already are.

I was very surprised that accomplished kickboxer Mirko Cro-Cop agreed to fight MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba under normal mixed martial arts rules, and I was even more surprised to see Cro-Cop dominate the entire fight until it had to be stopped in the second round due to Saku's broken orbital (eye socket) bone. It was Saku's first match back since losing to Vanderlei Silva and suffering an injured shoulder last year, and I figured he would be back with a vengeance. However, I didn't count on just how far Mirko Cro-Cop has progressed as an MMA fighter, and apparently Sakuraba didn't either. Unfortunately, due to his ongoing knee and shoulder problems as well as his newly-broken orbital bone, Sakuraba is going to be out of action for at least 8-10 months.

As for the rest of the Shockwave line-up, it was ridiculous for the judges to call the Ernesto Hoost vs. Semmy Shilt kickboxing match a draw given that Semmy controlled the entire fight. Vanderlei Silva made quick and brutal work of Tatsuya Iwasaki, but one has to wonder just what in the hell Iwasaki was doing in the ring with a machine like Silva in the first place given that Iwasaki has never done anything in MMA. As for Gary Goodridge's thorough domination of Lloyd Van Dam, that's normally what happens when you put a mixed martial artist in the ring against a boxer or kickboxer with no-holds-barred rules. The boxer gets taken to the ground and gets the crap beaten out of him. Anyone who thinks that, say, Lennox Lewis could touch Tito Ortiz in a no-holds-barred fight should watch the Goodridge vs. Van Dam fight, or countless other fights, for evidence to the contrary.

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Television--- Is there a better network on television than HBO? The answer, of course, is no, and a lot of it can be attributed to HBO's content-focused business model. Traditional cable channels or TV networks only make money on advertising and make no money off of the TV shows themselves. Therefore, it doesn't really matter what's on the screen between the commercials as long as a lot of people are watching it and thus a lot of companies are paying big bucks for commercial space (hence the continued existence of shows like Fear Factor).

HBO has no advertising; it only makes money on monthly membership fees (less than $10 per month, per household). Not only does HBO not have to worry about censoring itself, but it always places an emphasis on quality first, above all else. It doesn't have to worry about pleasing advertisers, and while it cares about ratings, ratings aren't the end-all and be-all in HBO's decision-making process. I have a huge amount of respect for any TV network, or any company for that matter, whose entire business model is based on providing people with so much quality product that they feel compelled to pay for it and tell all of their friends about it.

So, without further ado, here are HBO's best of the best, complete with season order information and premiere dates.

-Curb Your Enthusiasm- a new season of 10 episodes started airing on September 15
More Seinfeldian than Seinfeld itself, Curb Your Enthusiasm is my pick for the funniest show on TV along with Comedy Central's Primetime Glick. Seinfeld co-creator Larry David has focused on the best things about Seinfeld and done away with the worst. Many of the scenes in Curb's first two seasons were so delightfully socially awkward that I didn't know whether to break out in laughter or squeal like a pig out of nervousness (or both). The only thing that could stop this series from having many more successful seasons would be Larry David himself not wanting to do the show anymore after a certain point.

-The Mind of the Married Man- a new season of 10 episodes started airing on September 15
The first season of "The Mind of the Married Man" was enough of a success to be worth it for HBO to order a second season, but not enough of a success to be deemed a "hit" by any stretch of the imagination. I can certainly see why if I look at the ratings alone, but I think the show itself is under-rated. Granted, there's no way it can ever be as funny as its lead-in, Curb Your Enthusiasm, but it still had its moments in the first season, and the second season has been hilarious thus far. I believe that the biggest thing holding this comedy back is the lack of emphasis on actual comedy. Too many episodes place too much of an emphasis on drama and story rather than simply trying to make people laugh for 30 minutes.

-The Sopranos- a new season of 13 episodes started airing on September 15
It's not the best TV drama ever, and the third season was arguably not as good as the first two, but the fact remains that each hour-long episode of The Sopranos is still more entertaining and thought-provoking than many full-length Hollywood movies. This show's biggest competition from a quality standpoint comes from its own network's other critically-acclaimed dramas, Six Feet Under and Oz. Personally, I love all three shows while still maintaining that Fox's "24" is the best show on TV. There will definitely be a 5th season of The Sopranos after this 4th season finishes up, but no additional seasons beyond that have been signed. Will the 5th season be the last one ever? Honestly, the creators have been talking about "the last season of The Sopranos" for years, so I'll believe it when I see it.

-Oz- a new season of 8 episodes will start airing in January 2003
HBO's first ever original drama series doesn't get the respect that it deserves anymore. Watching a few minutes of an Oz episode could make one think that it's just a bunch of prison inmates killing each other, but there is so much more to Oz than that. It's actually one of the deepest shows on television, with more plot twists and political machinations between characters than you can shake a stick at. One thing that has been working against Oz is that the fact that the past few seasons have only been eight episodes long, and there's far less continuity with an eight-episode season than with a 13-episodes-or-more-season. Unfortunately, series creator Tom Fontana and HBO announced a few months back that this coming season of Oz will be the last one ever. So enjoy it while you can-- Oz is still the best show on HBO in my book.

-Six Feet Under- a new season of 13 episodes will start airing in March 2003
To be perfectly honest, my first reaction when I heard about Six Feet Under was, "Huh? It's a show that's about death? Death is depressing, so why would I want to watch that?" Fortunately for me, I decided to watch one episode and give the series a shot, and my television-viewing experience has never been the same ever since. Six Feet Under has more depth and symbolism than ten network and cable dramas put together. In much the same way that The Sopranos is sort of about the Mafia and killing people but is really more about one really screwed-up family, Six Feet Under is sort of about death and dying but is really more about one really, really screwed up family. The acting of the four main family members is out of this world, as are the performances by many of the supporting cast members. There's a reason that Six Feet Under got 23 Emmy nominations-- because it's a breath of fresh air in a TV world that often discourages and punishes anything "different." There's also a reason that Six Feet Under got robbed and lost most of those awards to the pretentious, fluffy West Wing-- because Six Feet Under still flies in the face of the television esablishment and isn't exactly a "warm and fuzzy" choice for Emmy voters.

-Project Greenlight- a new season of 12 episodes is tentatively scheduled to start airing in mid-2003
There wasn't a more surprising hit on HBO last year than Project Greenlight, a documentary about first-time film-maker Pete Jones writing and directing a movie called Stolen Summer. I don't even like watching movies that much, but I loved Project Greenlight. It was fascinating for me to see how the so-called "executive producers" Ben Affleck and Matt Damon were such absentee producers and so very assholian when they did appear. Producer Chris Moore of American Pie fame also came off as the meddling type of manager who ruins more creative processes than he jump-starts. Meanwhile, first-time director Pete Jones showed that he's an all-around good person while still not being perfect, and he displayed remarkable people skills for someone who has never directed before. The best part about the whole series as a viewer was watching Pat the Producer try to weasel his way into other people's jobs, kiss his bosses' asses at every opportunity, undermine the first-time director, and get his political enemies demoted or fired. If the second season of Project Greenlight with a new first-time director creating a new movie is anything like the first, I'm going to be on the edge of my seat the whole time.


Wednesday, September 18, 2002
Ivan's Blog has taken over the MasterGamer.com main page, so the URL is now simply http://www.mastergamer.com. All of the old Master Gamer content is still available at http://www.mastergamer.com/index2.html and will remain available at that URL indefinitely. Now, has anyone seen my shoes?


Television--- Logic should tell me, "In the likely case that they didn't think it was funny the first time you told the 'conjoined twin fetus' joke, odds are they're not going to find it funny the third time." Well, that's why we don't listen to "logic" here at Ivan's Blog. So, without further ado, here are a few cable shows that I highly recommend to every man, woman, child, and conjoined twin fetus. HBO's series will be included in a separate update at a later date just because there are so damn many of them.

-The Osbournes on MTV- a new season of 10-20 episodes will start airing in fall or winter
No show in the past decade has seen its ratings increase by so much, so quickly, and on a such a regular basis. You would be hard-pressed to find a more unintentionally hilarious show on television than the first season of The Osbournes. The second season could take on a much different tone due to its coverage of Sharon Osbourne's fight with cancer. I expect the second season to still have its funny moments while also being much more emotional than the first. MTV has ordered 20 more episodes of the series, but there are conflicting reports as to whether all 20 episodes are part of Season Two, or whether ten episodes are for Season Two and ten are for a separate season. Also, the official premiere date for the second season is still "fall," but TV trade papers report that it could easily slip to winter.

-Crank Yankers on Comedy Central- a new season of 20 episodes will start airing in early 2003
Comedy Central was quick to renew this series after the rousing success of the first season. As you might expect, some of the prank phone calls are funnier than others, but the truly hilarious ones are in no short supply and make it well worth sitting through the not-so-hilarious ones.

-Primetime Glick on Comedy Central- a new season of 10 episodes will start airing in early 2003
Now that Family Guy has been cancelled by Fox, Primetime Glick and HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm are the funniest shows on TV in my opinion. The line where Martin Short ends and Jiminy Glick begins is becoming more and more blurred with each passing episode and season, and that can only be a good thing. Unfortunately, this might be the last season of Glick for a while because Martin Short is going to be performing on Broadway for several months starting in the spring of 2003. On the bright side, there is a movie in production about Jiminy Glick, starring Martin Short as Jiminy Glick, called "Lalawood."

-South Park on Comedy Central- a new season of 3-6 episodes will start airing on November 6, 2002
It may not be considered "cool" to watch South Park like it used to be, but that's not why I started watching the show in the first place. The last few seasons have been so much deeper and funnier than the first few, with the creators' social commentary on a wide variety of issues shining through while also retaining the same sense of hilarity. Still, Trey Parker and Matt Stone should not underestimate how many viewers they have lost due to the frustrating season schedule, which for the past couple years has been "new episodes for a few weeks, repeats for several months, and so on." The current contract for South Park expires in August 2003, and the creators could very well decide to hang it up at that time.

-The Anna Nicole Show on E- the current season of 13 episodes is currently scheduled to end on October 27
This reality show is so unintentionally hilarious in so many ways that you can't afford to miss an episode. Ratings have gone down slightly since the record-breaking series premiere, but it's still a break-out hit for "E" any way you look at it. In a move that will pay off huge for E financially, they secured a total of up to seven seasons of The Anna Nicole Show before the first episode ever aired. This means that they can bring it back for more seasons without having to give the stars of the show a huge raise like MTV had to do with the Osbournes.


Saturday, September 14, 2002
Mixed Martial Arts--- The fight at the recent "Pride Shockwave" event in Japan between 200-pound Heavyweight Champion Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira and the 6-foot-8, 380-pounds-of-muscle Bob Sapp was in some ways the best mixed martial arts match I have ever seen, and certainly the most amazing to watch. Sapp looked virtually unbeatable in his previous fights against lesser opponents, and he received the test of a lifetime against the #1 submission artist in the world. Going into the fight, I honestly expected Minotauro to dispose of Sapp quickly via submission like he has done to so many other opponents. However, it quickly became clear that Sapp wasn't kidding when he said that he had been doing extensive submission-counter training with Josh Barnett and Maurice Smith, who are no slouches in their own right.

The sight of the Brazilian tirelessly going for takedown after takedown until he finally took the big man to the mat is something that I will never forget. Equally memorable was the sight of Bob Sapp showing off his submission-countering skills and simply overpowering Minotauro at every opportunity. After the first few minutes of the fight, as I watched Sapp pound on a bloody Minotauro and counter every submission attempt with raw strength, I thought that there was no way in hell Minotauro could possibly win the fight. Minotauro kept going for triangle choke after triangle choke, at which point Sapp would simply lift him up and slam him down violently-- and any one of those slams could have rendered Minotauro unconscious (see Hughes vs. Newton #1 for an example).

Going into the second round, I was amazed simply by the fact that Minotauro was still conscious and still fighting. I certainly didn't expect to see what I saw near the end of round two, nor could I believe my eyes as the events unfolded. Here's Minotauro, working for and finally getting the full-mount position on top of Sapp, raining down blows as Sapp doesn't know what to do and looks almost helpless for the first time in his career. I see one of Sapp's arms... extended, out of position a little bit to the left, and it causes me to immediately blurt out to the person I was watching the show with: "Oh my god... he's got an armbar."

Sure enough, in a matter of moments, Minotauro seizes the arm of Sapp in one swift motion that seems to happen in fractions of a second, and certainly happens quickly enough that Sapp doesn't have enough time to react. By the time Sapp moves to defend his arm, it's too late. Minotauro already has his body wrapped around the arm, and he's ready to sink in the armbar. An armbar pits the strength of one man's torso, arms, and legs against the strength of another man's one arm, and that's not a fight that any one arm is prepared to win. Try as he may to overpower Minotauro yet again, Sapp is only able to do so for about ten heart-wrenching seconds. The arm bends back, the elbow is hyper-extended, and Bob Sapp taps out honorably before any serious damage is done to his arm.

Minotauro gets up, battered and bloodied, with a back that was injured by one of Sapp's slams, but he's now even more of a hero than he already was to millions of his countrymen in Brazil, as well as MMA fans around the world. At this point, I discover all over again why I came to love mixed martial arts so much in the first place. It was the most dramatic finish to any MMA fight that I have ever seen, which is fitting given that the fight itself was about as emotional and gut-wrenching as it gets. I remain inspired and amazed that Antonio "Minotauro" Nogueira never went unconscious, never asked for a doctor's stoppage, and never gave up. He persevered and accomplished what seemed impossible just a few minutes earlier.

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Pro Wrestling--- This week's Smackdown was one of the better WWE shows in recent memory. I wasn't sure where they were going with the whole "Chuck and Billy's same-sex wedding" angle, but I certainly didn't expect the elderly Justice of the Peace to rip his face off and reveal Eric Bischoff underneath, nor did I expect the Island Boys to run out and attack Stephanie McMahon. It's that kind of writing that makes Smackdown a consistently better show than Raw.

Raw and Smackdown had the same basic feel to them until a few months ago when the writing teams were split in half, with Paul Heyman leading the Smackdown team and Brian Gewirtz leading the Raw team (and of course, Vince and Stephanie McMahon supervising both teams). Is it any surprise that Smackdown has since gotten significantly better while Raw has gotten significantly worse? Gewirtz has been intent on producing the Vince Russo style of "Crash TV" for months while only making slightly more sense than Russo did in his WCW days, and his weaknesses as a writer are being increasingly exposed for all to see now that he's in charge of writing Raw. Meanwhile, Heyman manages to forward story lines and have internal logic while also being unpredictable, and letting the wrestlers themselves carry the bulk of each show rather than "sports entertainment segments."

The show-ending angle with The Undertaker, Brock Lesnar, and Paul Heyman on Smackdown is a perfect example of Wrestling Booking 101. Heyman's scummy manager character threatens Taker's pregnant wife Sara, Taker storms backstage and appears to get his hands on one of the heels (Heyman), then the other heel (Brock Lesnar) whacks him in the head with a steel chair. Lesnar then gets himself over as a stronger heel by threatening Sara, and the angle never goes too far for its own good. If Brock had attacked a pregnant woman, even if it's just a story line, that would have been going too far. Thankfully, Heyman the writer (as opposed to Heyman the on-air character) knows where to draw the line.

It also doesn't hurt that Smackdown has exclusive access to the cruiserweight wrestlers, even if they are relegated to the B-show that is Velocity more times than not. Smackdown routinely has in-ring action that rivals some of the WWE's pay-per-view matches, such as Kurt Angle vs. Rey Mysterio, and The Guerreros vs. Edge & John Cena on this week's show. The only wrestlers on Raw who are really exciting to watch in the ring are Rob Van Dam, Chris Jericho, and maybe Triple H on a good night for him. Getting rid of the Hardcore division was a long-overdue first step, but serious changes need to be made both in the ring and in the writers' meetings if the McMahon family wants to stop the downward trend of Raw's ratings.


Video Games--- Where are Take-Two Interactive's lawyers when you need them? There hasn't been a more blatant case of one company recycling another company's game than Namco's recently-released Dead To Rights, which is so similar in so many ways to Take-Two's Max Payne that one can't help but wonder if Take-Two is getting a royalty check in the mail from Namco. The game concept, story, graphical style, gameplay, and Bullet Time feature (even if Namco doesn't call it Bullet Time) are all eerily similar to Max Payne.

Most laughable of all is the commercial for Dead To Rights, which may in fact just be full-motion-video of Max Payne's intro. Some of the dialogue in the commercial seems to be taken word-for-word, or just slightly reworded, from Max Payne's introductory sequence. Even the talk about the city being "alive" and being unforgiving is ripped straight out of Max Payne. The only thing that separates the two games is that Dead To Rights also offers hand-to-hand combat sequences... or should I say, simple, repetitive hand-to-hand combat sequences that suck the life out of the game.

Ah, to reminisce about the good old days, when Namco used to shamelessly re-hash its own games over and over again, before they moved on to shamelessly re-hashing other people's games. How I miss those magical days of being charged 50 bucks for such disappointing cut-and-paste-jobs as Tekken 3 and Tekken Tag Tournament, as opposed to being charged 50 bucks for a disappointing cut-and-paste-job like Dead To Rights. Unless Tekken 4 and/or Soul Calibur 2 knock the gaming public's socks off of its collective ass, I think that all of the non-Namco-fanboys among us can agree that Namco's status as an elite, A-list developer is a thing of the past.


Thursday, September 12, 2002
Pro Wrestling--- A lot of people have been expressing their outrage on numerous wrestling web sites about the lesbian angle on this past Monday's episode of WWE Raw. While on some levels the angle was nothing more than Vince McMahon's way of saying, "The PTC can't touch me anymore, so look what I can do," I wasn't offended by anything that happened in the ring, with one exception. First of all, just the fact that the two characters were homosexual was not portrayed in a negative light. If anything, Jerry Lawler portrayed it as a wonderful, magical thing that should be appreciated and maybe even worshipped. Also, Eric Bischoff wasn't forcing the lesbians to do anything in the context of the story line. Actually, the two lesbian characters wanted things to go further than Bischoff was willing to allow, as evidenced by Bischoff having to stop them from taking things too far several times.

As for the Island Boys coming out and attacking them, it's pretty hard to be offended by an Island Boys segment anymore. After seeing them attack two 80-year-old women, a female ring announcer, and a midget dressed up like Goldust, I wasn't shocked to see them attack the lesbians. The one and only thing in this segment that bothered me was one of the Island Boys delivering a stiff kick to the midsection of one of the lesbians. Executing a variation of a suplex or powerbomb on a woman can be plainly seen as "just a wrestling move" and is in no way a simulation of real-life violence. Even doing the big splash off the top rope is a wrestling move and not a simulation of real-life violence. Striking someone to the midsection is not a wrestling move and is more of a simulation of real-life violence, and it's the only thing in the segment that went a bit too far.

Other than that, the only offensive thing about Raw's lesbian segment to me was simply that it has no place on a pro wrestling show. It didn't do anything to further any wrestling matches, or wrestling story lines. All it might have done was get Eric Bischoff and the Island Boys over as heels more than they already were, and even that is arguable given everything that they've already done in recent weeks. The fact that Monday's Raw drew a 3.4 rating-- the lowest in four years-- will hopefully be a wake-up call to a writing staff with no real sense of direction at this point.


Television--- Earlier this week I ran down the network TV shows that have their season premieres in September. Now here are a half-dozen shows that premiere in October and November that I highly recommend to every man, woman, child, and conjoined twin fetus.

-Just Shoot Me on NBC- new timeslot (Tuesday at 8:30 PM, debuts on October 1)
This show is funny and highly-rated year in and year out, which makes it all the more mind-boggling that NBC pulled it from its long-held Thursday timeslot in favor of the ridiculously bad-looking new show "Good Morning, Miami." To add insult to injury, Just Shoot Me wasn't even deemed worthy of getting the 8:00 PM lead-off timeslot, or the 9:30 PM post-Frasier timeslot.

-According to Jim on ABC- new timeslot (Tuesday at 8:30 PM, debuts on October 1)
You would think that ABC would be a little more happy about According to Jim's ratings success given that it was only one of three ABC shows that debuted in 2001 and didn't flop (with the other two being Alias and My Wife & Kids). Also, how did it work out that Brad Grey Television produces a total of three TV shows (According to Jim, Just Shoot Me, and The Sopranos), and now two of those three shows have been put head-to-head in the Tuesday at 8:30 timeslot? I'm sure the people at Brad Grey Television were thrilled when they heard that news...

-The George Lopez Show on ABC- same timeslot (Wednesday at 8:30 PM, debuts on October 2)
This show only aired six episodes last season as a mid-season replacement, but it's a very well-written and funny show, and it did well enough in the ratings to warrant a another season order from ABC. My only problem with the show is that it portrays Latinos in a very stereotypical manner. Its lead-in, My Wife & Kids, is what the networks call a "minority show," and it's not insultingly stereotypical.

-24 on Fox- same timeslot (Tuesday at 9:00 PM, debuts on October 29)
Fox had no choice but to renew 24 and let it keep the same timeslot due to the fact that it's the most critically-acclaimed TV show of the past decade. The first season of 24 had decent ratings overall, and great ratings in the coveted 18-to-34-year-old demographic. In my opinion, 24 is the best show of any kind on any network. That includes anything on HBO, and it also includes the precious fanboy oddity Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

-The Simpsons on Fox- same timeslot (Sunday at 8:00 PM, debuts on November 3)
It's still the most-watched show on Fox, and for good reason. It's still funny after all these years, although I do think that the 1999-2000 season with Mike Scully as the executive producer was funnier than the 2000-2001 season with Al Jean as the executive producer.

-Malcolm in the Middle on Fox- new timeslot (Sunday at 9:00 PM, debuts on November 3)
The breakout hit of the last couple years for Fox, in terms of both ratings and critical acclaim. Many times it's even more funny than its former lead-in, The Simpsons. Still, one has to wonder how many years the magic can last after the teenager characters are no longer teenagers in real life and the kids are no longer kids. If it were in any way possible (and it's probably not), I would double-shoot seasons, so that you're filming two seasons' worth of episodes for every one year that passes on the calendar.


Monday, September 09, 2002
Video Games--- I don't think there has ever been a worse time to be a fan of wrestling games. Everything seemed nice and peachy when THQ, World Wrestling Entertainment, and Japanese developer Aki teamed up to produce such wrestling classes as WrestleMania 2000 and No Mercy. Then THQ and Aki split up, and THQ planted its nose firmly into the buttocks of another Japanese developer named Yuke's, a company that has done nothing but develop one disappointing, over-hyped Smackdown game after another.

Things only got worse earlier this year when THQ and former UFC game developer Anchor released the god-awful WWE Raw for the Xbox, which sucks in so many different ways that it's rather puzzling. It's almost like it's all a joke and a THQ representative is going to jump out from behind a corner any minute now and say, "We got you! Here's the real game!" Alas, this has yet to happen, but what did happen is that THQ and Yuke's released the equally disappointing WWE WrestleMania X8 for the GameCube. This game was hyped up by numerous video game publications as the ultimate wrestling game despite the dubious reputation of its developer. Well, it turns out that common sense and logic were right, and the hype was wrong, because WrestleMania X8 is a crap wrestling game if there ever was one.

Worse yet, there's nothing on the horizon to indicate that things will be looking up anytime soon. What is there to look forward to? Yet another Smackdown game disappointment from the masters of clusterf--k gameplay at Yuke's? I don't think so. Legends of Wrestling 2 from Acclaim? Yeah, Acclaim will release a good wrestling game right around the same time that Sony releases a good football game. The upcoming "Backyard Wrestling" game from Eidos Interactive? That's just what we need, Eidos stinking up yet another game genre and legitimizing/glorifying idiotic backyard wrestling in the process. Ironically, the best-playing wrestling game of the near future might be EA's Def Jam Wrestling since it's being developed by Aki, but how much fun can it be to wrestle with a bunch of rappers and comedians?

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Television--- Tonight is the first season premiere of any network TV show that I watch, as The Drew Carey Show debuts in its new timeslot on ABC. I have to question the wisdom in ABC's decision to put Drew Carey up against King of Queens head-to-head, given that King of Queens is a critically-acclaimed comedy and is every bit the ratings powerhouse that The Drew Carey Show used to be... but then again, that's ABC for you. Every possible bad decision that ABC could have made last year, it did.

I generally don't take the time to watch every single episode of any given TV series unless I feel that it's one of the best on TV, so here are five network TV shows that I can whole-heartedly recommend to any man, woman, child, or conjoined twin fetus, complete with season premiere dates and timeslot info.

-The Drew Carey Show on ABC- new timeslot (Monday at 8:00 PM, debuts on September 9)
Not as funny as it used to be, nowhere near as watched as it used to be, but still a funny show any way you slice it. Unfortunately, it probably won't be around after this season unless ratings go back up.

-King of Queens on CBS- same timeslot (Monday at 8:00 PM, debuts on September 23)
This has been a break-out hit in the ratings for CBS, and it's no surprise given the show's high quality. Funnier than new timeslot competitor Drew Carey.

-My Wife & Kids on ABC- same timeslot (Wednesday at 8:00 PM, debuts on September 25)
In a year full of mistakes and disasters for ABC, My Wife & Kids was the one shining critical and ratings success for ABC in 2001.

-Friends on NBC- same timeslot (Thursday at 8:00 PM, debuts on September 26)
Last season Friends became more of a drama than ever and less of a comedy than ever, but it still had its funny moments. I expect more of the same in this ninth and final season.

-Scrubs on NBC- new timeslot (Thursday at 8:30 PM, debuts on September 26)
The best new comedy on TV last season gets the coveted post-Friends timeslot, which has actually been nothing but a death knell for shows if they don't retain a certain percantage of Friends' lead-in audience. In other words, Scrubs' ratings will be good, but will they be good enough for NBC?

This summary has only included network TV shows that premiere in September. A separate update later this week will run down the shows that premiere in October and November.


To celebrate the launch of Ivan's Blog, I have uploaded the Official Ivan's Blog Theme Song, not to be confused with the Unofficial Ivan's Blog Theme Song. I hope you'll agree that this theme song captures the mood, spirit, and emotion of Ivan's Blog like no other song possibly can. To download this small MP3 file, right-click here in Internet Explorer and select "Save Target As." Any similarity to the hilariously bad theme song from the soap opera "Passions" is purely coincidental...

Ivan's Blog is now up and running. For anyone who doesn't know what a blog is, I'll use the official Salon.com definition of the word blog: "A blog, or weblog, is a personal web site updated frequently with links, commentary, and anything else you like. New items go on top and older items flow down the page. Blogs can be political journals and/or personal diaries; they can focus on one narrow subject or range across a universe of topics. The blog form is unique to the Web-- and highly addictive."

Ivan's Blog will let you read whatever it is that comes flowing out of my brain, thanks to a handy-dandy USB port that I recently had installed in the base of my skull. Topics will include video games, mixed martial arts, pro wrestling, television, sports, and whatever else the USB port is able to process. Your results may vary; use only as directed. Ideally, Ivan's Blog will knock your socks off your ass. You brought your ass, right?