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Thursday, June 30, 2005
Tom Cruise's Latest Meltdown Leads to a Serious Look at Scientology
Unless you've been living under a rock for the past week, you have likely heard about Tom Cruise's latest televised meltdown, in which he strongly and almost menacingly disagreed with Today Show host Matt Lauer about the benefits and risks of psychiatric drugs and the mental health field in general, which Cruise is strongly against as a member of the Church of Scientology.
Cruise's position on the matter first drew public attention when he said that it was "dangerous and irresponsible" for Brooke Shields to take a prescription anti-depressant and see a psychiatrist after she was diagnosed with a severe case of postpartum depression following the recent birth of her child. Postpartum depression is a very real and very serious medical condition that has led to the death of many new mothers, which is what made it so galling to much of the American public for Cruise to be offering his unsolicited advice on what Brooke Shields or anyone else should or shouldn't be doing to manage their own personal health.
A Basic Summary of What Cruise Said in the Interview
It was when this subject was brought up by Matt Lauer on The Today Show that Cruise's demeanor changed and the conversation became heated. Here's a brief summary of the interview in the form of excerpts from the Washington Post:
"Anybody who watched the actor's performance on NBC's Today Show witnessed an unsettling transformation. The movie star, who has long embraced Scientology, launched a full-bore assault on the psychiatric profession, sticking to a script that his church has been promoting for decades. Cruise looked like a man possessed, leaning insistently forward in his chair, hammering Lauer when the host suggested that some people were actually, you know, helped when doctors prescribed psychiatric drugs. Lauer sparred with Cruise specifically over whether it made sense for Brooke Shields to have sought therapy and taken antidepressants for postpartum depression -- a decision that Cruise had previously criticized.
Forget medical research: "There is no such thing as a chemical imbalance in a body," said Cruise, who prescribed vitamins and exercise for depression. "The thing that I'm saying about Brooke is that there's misinformation, okay? And she doesn't understand the history of psychiatry. She -- she doesn't understand, in the same way that you don't understand it, Matt."
"Psychiatry is a pseudoscience," he told host Matt Lauer, later saying: "You don't know the history of psychiatry. I do."
And the meltdown continued: "Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt, you don't even -- you're glib. You don't even know what Ritalin is," Cruise said. "If you start talking about chemical imbalance, there's no such thing as a chemical imbalance. You have to evaluate and read the research papers on how they came up with these theories, Matt, okay? That's what I've done."
Lauer called Cruise's command of the subject "impressive," but noted, "I'm not prescribing Ritalin, Tom. . . . I'm simply saying I know some people who have been helped by it."
At one point, Lauer seemed fed up: "You're telling me that your experiences with the people I know, which are zero, are more important than my experiences. . . . And I'm telling you, I've lived with these people and they're better."
Cruise then accused Lauer of advocating Ritalin."
What Cruise Said That is True, and What He's Overlooking
Is Tom Cruise correct in his statement that psychiatric drugs are prescribed far too often? Absolutely. Prescription drugs in general are prescribed too often, and it's a serious problem. If that were all Cruise was saying, I would have no problem with that statement, and neither would most people. What most people have a problem with is the fact that Cruise takes it a step further by echoing the teachings of the Church of Scientology and saying that people should not seek or obtain any therapy or medication for any mental health reason, period.
While it's an accurate statement that psychiatric drugs are prescribed far too often (especially to children), it would be intellectually dishonest for Cruise or anyone else to make that statement without also acknowledging the equally huge problem of people who don't seek any form of help for mental health-related problems. The majority of people with depression, bi-polar disorder, or other mental health problems never seek help, and many of them end up dead as a result.
In fact, if everyone in the world who suffers from a mental disorder were to take Tom Cruise's advice and not seek any form of therapy or take any medication for it, people would die as a result. One of the most in-depth articles that I have seen on this particular aspect of the story was written by columnist Ken Braiterman and published this week in the New Hampshire Union-Record. Here are some brief excerpts from the article (accessed via Google News):
"Tom Cruise's irresponsible, ideology-based denunciation of psychiatric medicine could actually kill somebody. Is he suggesting that people with mental illness should think themselves well or die trying? ... Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and major depression are life-threatening illnesses. Ten percent of people with schizophrenia, 15 percent with bipolar disorder, and 20 percent with major depression commit suicide. These percentages do not include people who were never diagnosed because they never sought help, people who kill themselves one day at a time through substance abuse, or people who die in preventable accidents because the illness has impaired their judgment ...
Should we as a nation waste those lives because of an ideology Tom Cruise learned from Scientology? Where this discussion becomes a matter of life and death for some people is when a group like the Church of Scientology claims it has a mental discipline that will enable people to stop taking their medicine, or not seek treatment. The implied message is that if you are taking medicine you are not as good and strong as you can be. This is pure stigma. Encouraging people to stop or avoid treatment can ruin their lives and families — or kill them."
Cruise Actually Serves as an Advertisement for Psychiatric Drugs
The most ironic thing about Tom Cruise's appearance on The Today Show is that he's a self-proclaimed expert on mental health, and yet he showed himself once again to be the exact opposite of a well-adjusted, mentally stable person. From jumping up and down on couches on The Oprah Winfrey Show in an attempt to prove that his relationship with Katie Holmes is not a publicity stunt; to laughing maniacally at anything Jay Leno or David Letterman said, as if they had just told the best joke of all time on his appearances on The Tonight Show and The Late Show; to losing his temper at the drop of a hat on The Today Show, Cruise has demonstrated that whatever he's currently doing for his own mental health is not working.
Author Pamela Wilson, a self-described advocate for children and families, took it a step further by writing on BellaOnline (accessed via Google News), "It could be that his outspoken behavior has a positive effect for families. He might have done more to advertise the prescription medications available for treatment... by his discussion with Matt Lauer than all the drug companies combined, especially if mothers recognize the symptoms that their children share with him, and discover one of those medications does benefit their son and daughter. Mothers take on enough responsibility, guilt, and stress without having to worry about what a movie star thinks about the choices they make in giving themselves and their children the best possible life."
The Church of Scientology's Long Battle with Psychiatry
It's easy to dismiss all of this as the rantings and ravings of an overzealous celebrity, but to actually take an in-depth and serious look at Scientology only raises more questions about the religion.
Scientology has been at odds with psychiatrists and psychologists since it was founded by former science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard in the 1950's, as detailed in a lengthy article by Salon.com's Katharine Mieszkowski. Mieszkowski writes, "Scientologists have maintained that the very notion of mental illness is a fraud" because of the views of Hubbard, "who proclaimed that psychiatry was an evil enterprise, a form of terrorism, and the cause of crime."
In an article called "Today's Terrorism" published by Hubbard in 1969 and quoted in the Salon article, Hubbard wrote, "The psychiatrist and his front groups operate straight out of the terrorist textbooks. The Mafia looks like a convention of Sunday school teachers compared to these terrorist groups... The psychiatrist kidnaps, tortures and murders without any slightest police interference or action by western security forces."
In addition, the Washington Post reports that Hubbard wrote in an internal policy statement: "Our war has been forced to become to take over the field of mental healing on this planet in all forms." This kind of mentality was supported more recently in 1995 by the church's current leader, David Miscavige, who told the International Association of Scientologists in Copenhagen that the church's two main goals in the coming years were to "place Scientology at the absolute center of society and to eliminate psychiatry in all its forms."
Mark Plummer, who was a Scientologist for 14 years, further supports the notion that the organizers of Scientology want to eliminate the mental health field as we know it. Plummer told Salon's Mieszkowski, "Their goal is to take over entirely the field of mental health... Their beliefs stem from Hubbard's dogma that psychiatry is evil. Scientology teaches that psychiatry views people as 'meat bodies' without a spiritual aspect, and that Scientologists alone should be allowed to treat mental illnesses."
In addition, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, which was founded by Hubbard in the late 1960's, states on its web site, "No mental diseases have ever been proven to medically exist." The CCHR's stated purpose is to "investigate and expose psychiatric violations of human rights." According to the Salon article, the CCHR's Los Angeles headquarters features an exhibit called Psychiatry Kills that "links psychiatry to Nazism, apartheid, and school violence... the shooting spree at Columbine High School is blamed in part on anger management classes that the shooters allegedly attended."
Mieszkowski's article also details what people are supposed to do if they are becoming a Scientologist and have ever taken a recreational or prescription drug in the past. According to the Scientology handbook, Answers to Drugs, purification treatments offered by the Church of Scientology include "sweating out drug residuals and other toxins by taking saunas and jogging," in addition to "taking the vitamin niacin, oils, and other minerals, a detoxification service which is available under expert supervision in Scientology organizations around the world."
So, Tom Cruise's radically anti-drug positions are not just the feelings of one celebrity. Cruise is merely echoing the teachings of Scientology. More than anything else, Cruise's positions on drugs are a symptom of what happens, and what myths are believed, when one takes the church's teachings on drugs at face value. For example, it should come as no surprise that Cruise recently said in an Entertainment Weekly interview that "the drug methadone was originally called Adolophine" because "it was named after Adolf Hitler," a statement that was refuted in the same article by Entertainment Weekly.
The Founding Text of Scientology
The founding text of Scientology is L. Ron Hubbard's book, "Dianetics." Many different versions of the book have been published over the years, but the core principles that Hubbard wrote about when the book was first published in 1950 are still many of the core principles of Scientology in 2005.
In another article in Salon's excellent and very in-depth multi-part series on Scientology, Laura Miller reviewed the original 700+ page book in an attempt to understand Hubbard's core beliefs. One of the basic underlying beliefs is that the human brain itself is "utterly incapable of error," but through thousands of times of being reincarnated in different bodies, flaws in the brain called "engrams" are soldered into the circuitry of the mind. Engrams, which are described as parasites, are supposedly created in the mind when one is unconscious and at the same time suffering from any kind of pain or fear.
One can only become a "clear" (which is an optimum individual devoid of any engrams) by cleansing one's self of all engrams through a process called "auditing," which is done with a help of a higher-level Scientologist using a device called an "E-Meter." The most significant engrams are supposedly created prenatally, starting with the moment of conception and continuing through the body's development in the womb as a fetus.
It is this specific theme that crops up throughout the book, and is what caused Miller to write that Hubbard himself appears to have been a "very disturbed man" who was "anything but clear of past traumas."
Miller writes of a "sad and scary narrative that must have had particular power for Hubbard," and which is a recurring theme throughout the book. The story that is revealed throughout the book in small pieces is that of a pregnant woman who tries to abort her pregnancy on her own, and of her husband who also tries to abort the baby by constantly punching his wife's pregnant stomach. The baby is still born, only to be physically and verbally abused by his mother as a child, and his grandmother takes care of him when the child becomes sick.
Miller writes that the book is "haunted" by the recurring theme of this "horrific tale," and that "you can glean a picture of Hubbard as a man wrestling with mental illness, who saw his mind as a potentially super-human machine beset by invaders and parasites."
Tom Cruise's Status in the Church of Scientology
Finally, in yet another extremely in-depth article, Salon's James Verini writes about the widespread belief among religious scholars that based on his recent statements and behavior, Tom Cruise has likely reached the level of "OT-VII," which is the second-highest rank in the Church of Scientology, behind only "OT-VIII." The "OT" is short for "Operating Thetan," the Scientology word for soul, followed by roman numerals indicating what level of "OT" someone in the church has achieved (with eight being the highest rank).
Cruise has been a Scientologist for approximately 20 years, but only recently has he started to make statements like this (from a German newspaper interview in April): "I myself have helped hundreds of people get off drugs. In Scientology, we have the only successful drug rehabilitation program in the world. If someone wants to get off drugs, I can help them. If someone wants to learn how to read, I can help them. If someone doesn't want to be a criminal anymore, I can give them tools that can better their life."
J. Gordon Melton, the author of "The Church of Scientology" and director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion in California told Salon, "In the OT levels,, you're finding out that you're a thetan, that you've come into bodies before. Part of what you're trying to learn is exteriorization, how to get out of your body. You also learn that you carry a lot of encumbrances from past lives." Melton also said that the number of people with OT-VII or OT-VIII ranks is only in the hundreds worldwide.
The Salon article also quotes Stephen Kent, a sociology professor at the University of Alberta in Canada who has written articles about Scientology and Hollywood. Kent says that Cruise's statements and behavior would seem to strongly indicate that he has reached OT-VII, and that the groundwork was laid for something like this to happen when L. Ron Hubbard issued specific instructions in the 1960's to recruit celebrities to the Scientology movement. Kent is quoted as saying in the Salon article, "There was a whole series of policies that talked about celebrities as opinion-makers. He (Hubbard) suggested to get celebrities on their way up or their way down. To get them on the way up meant that if they became famous, they might attribute their success to Scientology. On the way down meant that if their careers got saved they could do the same."
The article says that reaching the highest OT levels in the Church of Scientology would take one to three decades and would cost anywhere from $30,000 to several hundred thousand dollars, which would be a huge expenditure for the average person but is a relatively small amount of money for a movie star. A Scientologist cannot even reach the level of OT-I until he or she has been thoroughly "audited" and declared to be a "clear," as previously explained in the "Founding Text of Scientology" section of this article.
According to the Salon article, referencing a book that was released by the Church of Scientology, "Part or all of OT-VII and OT-VIII teachings must be performed in the church's headquarters in Clearwater, Florida, or aboard the Freewinds, a ship that houses parts of the church's upper management." It is also stated that even lower-level OT members are strongly encouraged to sign covenants of faith that are supposed to last for many lifetimes, with the typical duration of these contracts being one billion years (and you thought Brock Lesnar's six-year no-compete clause was extreme).
The Role of Aliens in High-Level Scientology Teachings
Where this gets much more bizarre and unbelievable is that according to the same Salon article by James Verini and a separate article by ABC News, in addition to countless other articles, members at the OT levels of Scientology are taught about the role of alien beings in the past, present, and future of the Earth.
Though they have leaked out en masse over the years (starting in the 1980's), these revelations are only taught by the church to members who are at a level of OT-III or higher. However, the church's official web site still talks about the concept of a "space opera" with the statement, "The space opera has space travel, spaceships, spacemen, intergalactic travel, wars, conflicts, other beings, civilizations and societies, and other planets and galaxies. It is not fiction and concerns actual incidents."
The ABC News article says the following about the teachings that start at the OT-III level: Members at this level and higher are taught "the story of Xenu, a galactic warlord from 75 million years ago, who buried billions of people from other planets in Earth's volcanoes. The souls of these space creatures constantly interfere with humans, and one of the missions of Scientology is to help shed these spirits."
Critics of Scientology point out that even if you believe every other aspect of the story, many of the specific volcanoes that Hubbard lists in the OT-III documents were only formed in the past 75 million years, and would not have even been in existence 75 million years ago.
If you want to get a better sense of just how bizarre the teachings are at the OT-III-and-higher levels of Scientology, there are numerous web sites devoted to the subject, from pro-Scientology, anti-Scientology, and neutral points of view. An actual manuscript of the specific teachings that start at the OT-III level can be found on this page in the section called, "Space Opera as Theology: Scientology's OT III."
A far more detailed listing of the OT-III documents can be found on this page. This link is to a web site created by Karin Spaink, who was sued by the Church of Scientology for being among the first to publish the OT-III documents. Spaink has emerged victorious in court multiple times, upholding her right to publish the documents. According to the Scientology teachings outlined on that page, someone at a higher OT level (which may include Tom Cruise) would supposedly be able to "act independently of his physical body, and could cause physical events to occur through sheer force of will... and would be capable of dismissing illness and psychological disorder in others at will."
Also, much more in-depth analysis of the world-view that emerges when people believe the teachings that begin at the OT-III level can be found on this page. While the Salon article quotes a scholar as saying that some Scientologists take the story of Xenu literally and others don't take it literally at all, the page at the above link says that taking it literally is not optional at the higher levels of Scientology: "In order for scn (Scientology) to 'work' at the upper levels, the person must accept the OT-III incident as a literal and factual matter. If the person does not experience the fragmented condition as a 'conscious and literal fact," or if he cannot accept Hubbard's interpretation of the psychological phenomena expected at this level, the person is labeled a 'bypassed case' and is sent back to re-do his lower levels."
A Single Statistic Can Cause a Lot of Credibility Damage
I had planned to publish the official Scientology response from Scientology.com to some of the issues discussed in this article, such as the church's views on psychiatry, but it's hard to take anything on the official Scientology web site too seriously once you have visited their "Statistics" section (which you can see here). It's one thing if an organization is going to say, "Our religious beliefs are different than yours," and I can certainly respect that, but it's another thing altogether to insult someone on a common-sense, statistical level that has nothing to do with religion.
To demonstrate the benefits of Scientology in getting people off of recreational drugs, or "street drugs," the Statistics page says that 38.5% of members did not use street drugs prior to joining the Church of Scientology. After joining the Church of the Scientology, 100% of members do not use street drugs currently. That's right... 100 percent.
Okay, that's a bit ridiculous, but maybe they just mean that the vast majority of members no longer use street drugs, which is a claim they could certainly make. Nope. Right after making the 100% claim, the web site actually goes out of its way to emphasize the point by saying, "In a drug-ridden culture, it is a fact that all Scientologists are drug-free."
I'm sorry, but that would be like if the Catholic church said, "No Catholic priest has ever molested a child, ever... not one... zero percent have done it, while one-hundred percent have not done it." In both cases, of course it's a very small percentage and of course you would hope that all members would adhere to the ideal of the church, but to actually come out and say, "It is a fact that all Scientologists are drug-free" shows a strong disconnect from reality that only serves to damage the credibility of anything else the church says.
In any case, what started as a simple article about Tom Cruise's latest public meltdown turned into much more for me, as I learned a lot more about Scientology than I ever thought I would. While I disagree with the vast majority of Scientology's teachings and find most of it to be unbelievable, I also want to stress that I respect everyone's right to believe whatever they want to believe, and I'm not trying to bash anyone's religion here. Unlike Tom Cruise, I'm not going to say that someone doesn't know what they're talking about just because they disagree with me.
Tuesday, June 28, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- The Raw-brand event WWE Vengeance was broadcast this past Sunday on pay-per-view, and it may very well have been the best single-brand PPV in the history of WWE. Here is my full review of the event.
WWE Vengeance Review
Score (out of 10): 9.0
Best Match: Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels
Worst Match: Christy Hemme vs. Victoria
WWE Vengeance was the second-best pro wrestling PPV of the year so far, slightly ahead of the excellent WrestleMania 21 (which I wrote about here), but still significantly behind the phenomenal ECW: One Night Stand (which I wrote about here). WrestleMania is usually the best WWE-branded pay-per-view of the year by a wide margin, so it's quite an accomplishment for Vengeance to have one-upped WrestleMania.
The Kurt Angle vs. Shawn Michaels match was an incredibly good match that was better than any other pro wrestling match so far in 2005, other than the first Angle-Michaels match at WrestleMania, which I felt was a slightly better match than this match. Still, when you're talking about the Match of the Year for 2005 so far, I think the two matches between Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels have to be in one category all their own, with every other match just competing for third place.
What Angle and Michaels have accomplished is particularly amazing when you consider the current condition of Angle's neck. In their second match, I especially liked the old-fashioned "brutal clothesline" move when Michaels attempted the superkick for the first time. That was totally unexpected, and looked vicious. The Triple H vs. Batista Hell in a Cell match was far better than I thought it would be and was also a four-star match, as both men put in a great effort to pull out the stops.
Even more surprising for me was the Triple Threat Match between John Cena, Chris Jericho, and Christian, which I felt was even better than Triple H vs. Batista, and I would go so far as to say that it was the best put-together and executed Triple Threat Match that has been seen in WWE since WrestleMania 20. I strongly disagree with Cena vs. Jericho vs. Christian only being given three-and-a-half-stars by the Pro Wrestling Torch's Wade Keller (which means he thought it was a very good match, but not a great match).
Jericho and Christian are both generally under-rated as in-ring workers, but in particular I am just plain sick and tired of hearing about how John Cena is not that good as an in-ring worker. Anyone who still believes that should watch this match, and should also consider the fact that Cena had another four-star-plus match just last month against John Bradshaw Layfield of all people (a guy who has a top-quality match once or twice per year if he's lucky). It's time for Cena to get the respect that he deserves as an in-ring worker.
As for the rest of the card, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't wildly entertained by the latest Viscera-Lilian Garcia segment (which is always a guilty pleasure), and it's nice to see The Godfather make his cameo appearances as long as they only happen once every year or so. Shelton Benjamin and Carlito continued their rise to the main event picture with a very good match, while Kane had the same "blah" match that he has been having for years, and Christy Hemme demonstrated once again why she doesn't belong in a wrestling match.
Other than the two disappointing matches, the only thing detracting from this event was the addition of Jonathan Coachman to the announcing team. He wasn't as bad as he usually is, but the interaction between Coachman and Jerry Lawler was annoying and only served to distract from the event. Despite the best efforts of Kevin Dunn & Co. to undermine him, Jim Ross did an even better than usual job in the last three matches, particularly in selling the brutality of the Hell in a Cell match.
Overall, a great event. After the rave reviews for the ECW PPV two weeks ago, it seemed like everyone on this card came out busting their ass to put on the best show they possibly could. I think the moral of the story is that competition is good for the pro wrestling industry, and that's just as true today as it has ever been.
Sunday, June 26, 2005
Boxing--- The crowd in Atlantic City, New Jersey hated Floyd Mayweather, Jr. with a passion before his fight with hometown favorite Arturo Gatti on Saturday night, but somewhere around the middle of the fight, that hatred turned into respectful silence and an unspoken sense of awe. If Gatti was the boxing hero of the Atlantic City crowd, Mayweather seemed downright superhuman by comparison with his extremely lopsided TKO victory over Gatti.
Though it's tempting for many people to bury a fighter right after a big loss, especially a one-sided loss, the fact remains that Arturo Gatti is a great fighter. He's not a bum, as many people with knee-jerk reactions are now suggesting. He's a great fighter who was just completely out-classed by a far greater fighter. In dominating Gatti the way he did, Mayweather didn't just "beat a bum who isn't that good anyway."
Despite all of Mayweather's pre-fight trash-talking about Gatti, you could tell that Mayweather really did respect Gatti as a fighter and understood the gravity of what he had just accomplished when he fell to his knees and had an emotional celebration right after the fight was stopped.
As MaxBoxing's Thomas Gerbasi wrote after the fight, "Arturo Gatti has unquestionably been the most popular fighter of this era," but after Saturday night's fight, "Floyd Mayweather, Jr. left no doubt that he is the best fighter of this era." There is a difference between those two places in the boxing hierarchy, and Mayweather's performance reminded everyone of what that difference is.
Substance Beats Style as Mayweather Joins Hopkins and Wright with Victories over Boxing Superstars
As I've said before, I tend to prefer substance over style in sports, particularly in boxing. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy the "popular, exciting fighter with the huge fanbase" as much as the next guy, but there's just something more appealing to me about the "under-appreciated, superior fighter who is one of the best in the world and doesn't get his fair share of recognition."
In the past twelve months, it has been rewarding to watch three of the best boxers in the history of the sport finally get their due on a national mega-fight, pay-per-view stage, and to see each of them get that recognition by defeating three boxers who were at the very least over-appreciated, and at the most over-rated. First we saw Bernard Hopkins finally get the respect that he deserves from the legions of Oscar De La Hoya fans when Hopkins dominated De La Hoya last summer. Then just last month, the flashy and extremely popular Felix Trinidad got completely shut out by the far superior Winky Wright (which I wrote about here). And now we've seen Arturo Gatti's loyal fans stunned into silence by the superior boxing skill of Floyd Mayweather, Jr.
How Mayweather Sets Himself Apart From the Dominance of Hopkins and Wright
All three of those fights were dominant performances by superior boxers, but there's something that sets the Mayweather-Gatti fight apart from the other two fights. Bernard Hopkins did indeed dominate Oscar De La Hoya, but no one is going to argue that it was among the most one-sided fights in boxing history. Winky Wright's victory over Felix Trinidad was one of the more dominant performances you'll ever see, but one could still say that it was accomplished primarily on a tactical level and that it didn't have as much of the visceral edge that many boxing fans need to see in order to understand what a dominant performance they just witnessed.
On the other hand, in the whole style vs. substance discussion, Floyd Mayweather, Jr. has both the style and the substance. Mayweather not only dominated Gatti from a tactical standpoint on Saturday night, but to be blunt he also just plain beat the crap out of Gatti. As dominant as Hopkins and Wright were in their fights against Da La Hoya and Trinidad, you can't really say that they beat the stuffing out of De La Hoya and Trinidad in the way that Mayweather beat the stuffing out of Gatti. In addition to being a showcase of technical brilliance, Mayweather vs. Gatti was also a vicious beating in a "Raging Bull," Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Jake LaMotta kind of way.
What was so beautiful about Mayweather's performance is that he not only landed tons of clean body and head shots to elicit the ooh's and aah's from the crowd; he not only thoroughly out-slugged one of the best sluggers in the game; but he also dominated the fight from a tactical standpoint at the same time. Yes, Mayweather beat the stuffing out of Gatti, but he set it up with the constant use of one of the best jabs in the sport.
The Most Important Factor: Freakish Speed on Both Offense and Defense
Even more than the jab, the main factor that prevented Gatti from landing a single significant punch in the entire fight was Mayweather's almost freakish speed. Mayweather has superhuman reflexes with his defensive upper body and head movements, in addition to superhuman hand speed with his punches, and that's a nasty combination for anyone to go up against.
So, not only could Mayweather get completely out of the path of any Gatti punch before the punch was even there, but in the time it would take Gatti to brace himself for the counter-punch, Mayweather would have already landed a three-punch combo in retaliation. Five- and six-punch combos from Mayweather were not rare in this fight, and they were delivered at the speed of most other boxers' two- or three-punch combos. During one particular exchange, I counted what I believe to be a nine-punch combo that landed for Mayweather in a span of two to three seconds. As Gatti said after the fight, "It was the speed... he was too f---ing fast."
Gatti's Corner Does the Right Thing and Stops the Fight
It was apparent almost from the first few exchanges that Gatti was not in Mayweather's league and was going to have an extremely hard time beating him. The only question was whether Mayweather would get tired from throwing (and landing) so many punches, but as the HBO commentators pointed out, this is a guy who spars 10-15 minute rounds in training, so it wasn't likely that he was going to get tired anytime soon.
In the sixth round, it became all the more clear that the fight was a lost cause for Gatti, as he was no longer able to intelligently defend himself, and his eyes were starting to swell shut from the sheer amount of punishment he had taken. Gatti's head trainer Buddy McGirt knew that the fight needed to be stopped after the sixth round and wasn't about to send Gatti out to take more punishment, which can result in serious injury or death in boxing. Even as Gatti continued to show the heart of a champion that has made fans love him, asking McGirt to give him one more round, McGirt did the right thing and stopped the fight as he told Gatti, "I'm stopping it... I'm stopping it... no more, your eyes are swelling shut... we've got to stop it."
It's nice to see a corner in boxing that's not full of slimeballs, which is just the opposite of the despicable display from several of Mike Tyson's cornermen in Tyson's last fight when it was clear that the fight needed to be stopped (which I wrote about here).
A Great Addition to the HBO Announcing Team
Max Kellerman made his debut with HBO as a top-level analyst working alongside Bob Costas, while the fights themselves were still called by Jim Lampley, Larry Merchant, and Roy Jones, Jr. Kellerman was as insightful as always and was a breath of fresh air to the broadcast. The person who normally works alongside Costas on HBO pay-per-views, Emanuel Steward, wasn't on the broadcast team on this particular night because he is the head trainer of Vivian Harris, who was fighting on the card (Steward is also the trainer of the Klitschko brothers). Steward is very good as a broadcaster as well, and I hope that HBO can have Costas, Kellerman, and Steward all on the air together for future boxing broadcasts.
Vivian Harris' Shocking Loss in the Semi-Main Event
Unfortunately for Steward, his fighter Vivian Harris came into his second-from-the-top fight with an overconfident and arrogant attitude. Harris is a boxer who is constantly lauded by boxing pundits as someone who is underrated and can't get any of the top fighters to fight him, but he didn't do himself any favors with his performance on Saturday night.
It was clear that Harris completely overlooked his opponent, Carlos Maussa. Harris clearly thought he would have no problem plowing right through Maussa with a reckless, balls-to-the-wall, all-offense style, and he did have Maussa hurt in the first two minutes of the fight, before Maussa turned it around and almost finished Harris in the last minute of the first round. I might understand pride getting the best of someone at the beginning of a fight, especially when they're heavily favored to win as Harris was in this case. However, it's harder to explain the fact that even after Maussa almost finished Harris at the end of the first round, Harris still went with a reckless, haymaker-happy strategy for several more rounds instead of reverting to the more traditional boxing style that has given him so much success in his career.
In addition to being arrogant and underestimating his opponent, Harris also appeared unwilling to listen to his corner's pleadings to slow down and stop fighting so recklessly. He almost seemed defiant, wanting to disagree with anything Emanuel Steward had to say, just for the sake of disagreeing. After the sixth round came to a close and Steward asked Harris to sit down on the stool in the corner, as every corner-man asks after every round, Harris defiantly said, "No, I don't want to sit down!" and gave Steward a smart-ass look. Steward looked frustrated and said, "You gotta start listening to me at some point, because you're losing the fight."
Harris remained defiant and still seemed to be blowing off anything that was said by any of his corner-men before the seventh round. Then in the seventh round, having wasted so much of his energy in previous rounds with his reckless offense, Harris let his guard down and got caught with a perfect hook to the chin that gave Maussa the knockout victory.
When it comes to upsets in boxing, this could be a case study: Anatomy of an Upset. Favored boxer comes in cocky and overconfident; favored boxer tries to plow right through underdog opponent; underdog opponent withstands early storm and takes control of the fight from increasingly frustrated favored boxer; underdog opponent eventually catches favored boxer with his guard down and knocks him out. That's practically the template for a big upset in boxing, and it describes Harris vs. Maussa to a tee.
At the same time, Carlos Maussa' victory over Vivian Harris wasn't just about Harris' arrogance and mental breakdown over the course of the fight. It was also the result of Maussa having a lot of heart and a great chin, as he had to absorb an insane amount of clean punches to the head in order to survive the early storm. In fact, it was Maussa's willingness to take punishment, and the fact that he was able to take it without going down, that helped lull Harris into a slugfest that was outside of his normal fighting style.
While everything I wrote about the "Anatomy of an Upset" in boxing applies to Harris vs. Maussa, in this particular case Harris would have still won the fight if everything had been exactly the same, except Maussa didn't have an amazing chin. Unfortunately for Harris, Maussa did have an amazing chin, and Harris was forced to pay the price for his arrogance.
Friday, June 24, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- We've got tons of WWE book-related news today, including the first word on WWE's book about ECW.
-There is a book called "The Rise and Fall of ECW" that is listed as being published by WWE and due for release on May 1, 2006. The author is listed as Thom Loverro, who has a lot of biographical sports books to his credit, but none related to pro wrestling that I'm aware of. This book is undoubtedly being written in an attempt to capitalize on the success of WWE's "Rise and Fall of ECW" DVD set, which is the best-selling WWE DVD of all time.
-William Regal's autobiography, which is called "Walking a Golden Mile" and is already out in the UK, still doesn't have a listed release date for the US. Regal did say in the UK promotion of the book that it would be released in the US at some point, but there doesn't appear to be any timetable set right now.
-Eddie Guerrero's autobiography is called "Cheating Death, Stealing Life: The Eddie Guerrero Story" and has a release date of September 20, 2005. The co-author is Michael Krugman, who previously co-wrote Lita's autobiography. The excellent documentary about Eddie Guerrero that is also called "Cheating Death, Stealing Life" is already out on DVD.
-Shawn Michaels' autobiography is called "Heartbreak & Triumph: The Shawn Michaels Story" and has a release date of November 15, 2005. The co-author is Aaron Feigenbaum, who previously co-wrote a pro wrestling trivia book. It will be extremely interesting to see how honest Michaels is willing to be about his past drug addictions and other sensitive issues.
-A book about Superstar Billy Graham is listed with the title "WWE Legends- Superstar Billy Graham: Tangled Ropes" and has a release date of January 3, 2006. The author of this book is listed as Keith Eliot Greenburg, who has written or co-written many books for WWE in the past, including the autobiographies of Ric Flair and Freddie Blassie. This book is listed as a paperback, whereas all the others are listed as hardcover books. Also, the branding of "WWE Legends" in the title would seem to imply that there will be more books in the future about various "WWE Legends," which would fit with WWE's expressed desire to release new merchandise for retired wrestlers.
-Though it's not published by WWE, one other interesting book is Vince Russo's autobiography, which is called "Forgiven: One Man's Journey from Self-Glorification to Sanctification" and has a release date of September 28, 2005. The sole author listed for the book is Vince Russo, and the "About the Author" section hilariously includes the following line: "After stepping out from behind the scenes, he became an on-air personality and WCW heavyweight champion." What it should say is, "Russo was the head writer who booked himself to become the WCW heavyweight champion, which was among the biggest disgraces the pro wrestling industry had seen since Russo booked actor David Arquette to win the WCW title."
-On the ECW DVD front, WWE is breaking records with "ECW: One Night Stand," which will be released in DVD form this coming Tuesday, June 28. That's just 16 days after the event took place on June 12 in New York City. There was lots of behind-the-scenes footage being shot during the event itself so that the DVD could have some special features, in addition to the event itself, which was one of the most amazing pro wrestling events you'll ever see.
-Meanwhile, the "Hardcore Homecoming" ECW reunion show that was put on by Shane Douglas on June 10 in Philadelphia is due out in DVD form on September 6.
-On the Pro Wrestling Torch DVD front, Ultimate Insiders Volume 1 on DVD (with Vince Russo and Ed Ferrera shoot interviews conducted by Wade Keller) is listed as having a mainstream, nationwide retail DVD release that is scheduled for September 6 of this year. The MSRP of the item is listed at $14.95, which is slightly less than the $19.95 price that has been charged on the Torch web site up to this point.
-There is not yet a mainstream, nationwide retail DVD release date for Ultimate Insiders Volume 2 on DVD, which will feature shoot interviews with Matt & Jeff Hardy conducted by Wade Keller and which is scheduled to be made available for purchase on the Torch web site sometime in the next month or so.
Monday, June 20, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- As you may remember, the Boston Herald recently wrote many negative and untrue things about the sport of mixed martial arts, including attributing deaths to MMA that actually took place on boxing events, Toughman Contests, and even a pro wrestling event in the New England area. The Boston Herald's systematic spreading of misinformation about MMA was chronicled in a previous article on Ivan's Blog.
Now the Boston Herald is continuing to defame MMA with another article that has major factual errors. On page two of that article, it says, "Nationally, laws permitting and regulating the sport exist in 17 states, including Florida, which put in rules after a 33-year-old woman died in an unsanctioned bout."
This is in reference to Stacy Young, who died after a Toughman Contest event in 2003. A couple of problems:
A) The event in question was a Toughman Contest event, not resembling MMA in any way
B) Florida regulated MMA long before 2003, so they can't even try to claim that a Toughman death in 2003 indirectly led to MMA regulation
C) To show how much research they did, they even got the woman's age wrong. She was 30 years old, not 33, which could have been corrected by a 30-second Google search if anyone actually cared about fact-checking at the Boston Herald
At this point, one can only speculate why the Boston Herald has a continuing agenda to defame and slander the sport of MMA as much as possible. We do know that the author of the newspaper's MMA stories, Dave Wedge, was previously found guilty of libel for writing that a Superior Court Judge had said that a rape victim should "get over it," when in fact the judge never said that. The Herald had to pay over $2 million in damages for Wedge's libelous statements.
Even still, the fact that these articles are from an unreliable author doesn't fully explain the sheer level of incompetence. I just don't think you can make that many factual errors without some of it being intentional. Looking at this one specific case, Stacy Young's death in a Toughman Contest event was previously written about in the Boston Herald as an "MMA death," and they received tons of letters from MMA fans alerting them to the fact that it was a Toughman Contest event, and they even published several of those letters on their web site. Despite all of this, the same exact mistake was made again, that doesn't seem like an accident to me.
As for why they would intentionally print lies about MMA, it's just speculation, but here a few possibilities that come to mind:
A) We do know that UFC president Dana White was originally from the Boston area, so perhaps someone at the Boston Herald has a beef with Dana White from years ago and is "getting back at him" by defaming the sport that he now promotes. This is the least likely of these scenarios, but it still has to be considered within the realm of possibility.
B) We know that the big newspaper in Boston, the Boston Globe, has treated MMA with respect in the past, including a lengthy and excellent article about Kenny Florian right before the finale of The Ultimate Fighter, so it could be sour grapes between two competing local newspapers, with the Herald trying to defame something that the Globe has said is a legitimate sport.
C) We do know that the boxing establishment feels very threatened by the emergence of mixed martial arts in the United States, and has gone to great lengths in the past to disrupt the approval of MMA in new areas of the country. If someone at the Boston Herald has business ties to the boxing industry or is simply fond of the boxing industry and doesn't understand what all the fuss is about with MMA, that could serve as motivation to defame MMA.
As I said before, these possibilities are pure speculation on my part, but I just can't believe that a newspaper could make that many factual errors (on the same topic... repeatedly) without it being at least partly intentional.
Mixed martial arts has been getting more and more mainstream acceptance as a legitimate sport in recent months, as the exposure of The Ultimate Fighter on Spike TV has done much to eradicate a lot of people's lack of any basic knowledge about the sport. Garbage like this from the Boston Herald is now the exception, rather than the norm, in MMA coverage. As Dave Meltzer recently wrote, what the Boston Herald has done "is like doing an article on the dangers of football and mentioning that an auto racer died in a race last weekend."
Fans of MMA should show that we are not going to tolerate newspapers printing lies about the sport of MMA, so feel free to make your voice heard on this subject by sending an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Friday, June 17, 2005
Various Topics--- Today we're talking about spoiled draft picks, fictional "non-fiction" movies, jurors who have difficulty putting together complete sentences, and the mainstream media's continuing ignorance about video games.
Pro Wrestling: Draft Picks Have Been Spoiled by WWE
Thus far in the annual WWE draft lottery, WWE has been making it way too obvious when certain wrestlers are going to get drafted to the other brand. I mean, really, the minute they said on Raw, artificially and out of nowhere, that Triple H vs. Batista at Vengeance is "the final showdown" and the end of their feud, it didn't take a genius to figure out that Batista is going to get drafted to Smackdown in the week after Vengeance.
When Kurt Angle and Booker T's feud on Smackdown was suddenly having a match billed on Smackdown as "their final showdown" with statements like, "Whoever wins this match wins the feud!" it completely spoiled the fact that Kurt Angle was going to get drafted to Raw the following Monday, which is exactly what happened.
Now we've had a blow-off resolution to the feud between The Big Show and Matt Morgan, so would anyone be surprised if one of those two wrestlers is drafted to Raw this coming Monday? Also, in the commercial at the very end of Smackdown for next week's Guerrero vs. Mysterio match, the commercial conspicuously said while recapping the feud, "How will it all end? Find out next Thursday!"
That pretty much gives away the fact that either Guerrero or Mysterio is going to get drafted on Raw the following Monday. Why doesn't WWE just have giant, flashing, neon signs that give away each draft pick before it happens?
Movies: Cinderella Man Takes "Creative License" to a New Level
Cinderella Man may very well be a good movie. Its star, Russell Crowe, seems to be a very primitive man who is physically incapable of going more than a few months at a time without physically assaulting someone in public (as he was most recently arrested for throwing a telephone at the face of a hotel worker), but that shouldn't affect the story being told in the movie, right? Well, how about the fact that the story being told in the movie is fundamentally twisted and false?
In an effort to make the hero of the movie, James Braddock, all the more heroic, the creators of the movie took the creative license that any moviemaker does legitimately have when making a movie "based on a true story," and they violated that creative license by outright fabricating what kind of man Braddock was going against when he won the title in 1935. His opponent, Max Baer Sr, was not a reprehensible monster of a man who took great joy in the fact that two of his opponents died in boxing matches. In fact, boxing historians say Baer was haunted by their deaths.
Baer wasn't an angel, either, but he was no monster. The creators of Cinderella Man saw fit to completely change the facts to suit their movie, even if it meant they were no longer actually making a movie based on a true story. Bob Costas said much the same thing on a recent episode of HBO's "Costas Now," and so have many other people who know a little bit about boxing's history. Hopefully that fact, along with the fact that Russell Crowe may very well be arrested for assault a few more times between now and the next Academy Awards at the rate he's going, will prevent Cinderella Man from winning any major awards in the movie industry.
Michael Jackson Jury May Have Average IQ of Less Than 80
The jury in the Michael Jackson case had the right to come to any decision they saw fit, and you could certainly argue either way based on the evidence in the case whether it was absolutely proven beyond any reasonable doubt that Michael Jackson sexually molested this particular accuser. With that said, is there anyone who has watched the interviews with the Jackson jurors on legal shows like "The Abrams Report" on MSNBC who hasn't come to the conclusion that these are some of the most vapid, confused, dim-witted people to ever serve on a jury?
One of the jurors said that the first vote among the 12 jurors on one of the counts was "7 to 3 to 4" before realizing a few seconds later that those three numbers add up to 14, not 12. Another juror was unable to answer basic, simple questions about certain testimony in the case. Being nervous to be on TV could make you seem somewhat clueless, I'm sure, but it can't make you seem "Jessica Simpson clueless."
Video Games: Mainstream Media Ignorance about Video Games Continues
Does Tucker Carlson really know so little about video games that he thinks none of them involve any creativity, thinking, strategy, or thought development? Does he really think it uses more creativity for a child to be given a ball and told to "go outside and play with the ball," as he said recently on his new MSNBC show, "The Situation with Tucker Carlson"?
I'm wondering if Tucker Carlson ever heard of or played video games like Civilization. How about Populous? Black & White? Final Fantasy? Deus Ex? Theme Park? Theme Hospital? The Sims? Knights of the Old Republic? Sim City? Splinter Cell? Metal Gear Solid? ICO? Fable? Age of Empires? Rise of Nations? Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee? Any of the other Oddworld games? Any of the general manager or "Franchise Modes" in most sports games?
Somehow, I doubt it. Max Kellerman was absolutely right in his response when he said that it's a generational thing. If Tucker had grown up when sophisticated video games were prominent in society, he would understand them and would not make such broad, generalized, blatantly false statements about them. I respect Tucker Carlson and have enjoyed his new show a lot, but on this topic, he's way off the mark.
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- Just when it looked like the ECW: One Night Stand pay-per-view on Sunday night was perfect (or as Pro Wrestling Torch columnist Bruce Mitchell put it, "dead solid perfect, flat out the best pay-per-view in the history of this business"), the news comes that the evening was partially stained by yet another immature and unprofessional act by WWE veteran and all-around ass in real life, John Bradshaw Layfield.
Layfield plays the heel "JBL" character on television, but he has a behind-the-scenes reputation within the wrestling business for being a miserable human being, a reputation that existed long before the "JBL" character was created in 2004.
Layfield has a history of picking on and hazing younger wrestlers, and just last year at a non-televised WWE house show in Germany (on the anniversary of D-Day, no less), he paraded around the ring saluting Adolf Hitler as a way to get cheap heel heat from the crowd. To this day, Layfield denies that he did anything wrong or that it was insensitive to goose-step around the ring saluting Hitler on a show in Germany.
So, I was disappointed and a bit sickened, but not at all surprised, to read that during the scripted brawl between the ECW wrestlers and the WWE wrestlers at the end of Sunday night's show, Layfield decided to take liberties with one of the ECW wrestlers, who went by the name of "The Blue Meanie" in ECW.
Apparently, Layfield was angry with Meanie for saying in a newspaper interview that Layfield was a bully behind the scenes. What happened between Layfield and Blue Meanie was not visible on camera, but has been reported on by the two major insider pro wrestling newsletters, the Observer and the Torch.
Here's what the Observer's Dave Meltzer reported on the situation, as well as Meltzer's follow-up on the situation:
"Unprofessional and unscripted act late in ECW show.... Several people live, as well as WWE sources, have confirmed that during the brawl at the end of the ECW pay-per-view, that John Bradshaw Layfield went after Blue Meanie and threw several real punches at his face, bloodying him up. A lot of the wrestlers who were in the ring and saw this were very upset. Reports were that Al Snow, who trained Meanie, visually looked the most upset. Layfield and Meanie have heat dating back to Meanie's days in WWE, and a few weeks back JBL cut a promo on Meanie at the Smackdown tapings, which was edited off the show before it aired.
Follow-Up: Does anyone expect any punishment for JBL for what happened last night? I didn't think so, either. After what happened in the ring, there was another incident backstage where JBL again tried to go after Blue Meanie, but he was kept back. Meanie ended up with a new forehead cut, as well as a previous cut that was re-opened, and a black eye before Maven pulled him free."
In addition, the Torch's Wade Keller reported:
"During the pre-show talent meeting held by Vince McMahon and John Laurenaitis in the afternoon before the show, wrestlers were told to put any grudges aside for the night. Everyone was asked to be professional and settle any disputes they may have at another time and another place. That made JBL's actions later all the more upsetting to other wrestlers, who felt that he defied the request by management to set aside issues from the past... The locker room sentiment was decidedly anti-JBL. 'JBL's a d--k and has a huge ego,' says one wrestler. Says another wrestler: "What the f--k do you prove by beating up Blue Meanie?"
(You can see a picture of what Blue Meanie's face looked like after it was cleaned up at http://www.ivansblog.com/bluemeanie.jpg)
So basically, all of the wrestlers were specifically told by management to be professional and not act on any past grudges, and how does Layfield respond? He decides to pick on the wrestler who is probably considered to be the physically weakest, Blue Meanie. Not only that, but Layfield doesn't try to fight him backstage or otherwise handle his business like a man... he decides to blindside someone during a pro wrestling segment when he's not expecting to have legitimate punches thrown at him.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: There are few things more cowardly than throwing real punches at someone who has put their guard down because they're in a worked pro wrestling situation and not expecting to get hit with real punches. Also, the reason Layfield was angry at Blue Meanie is because he had said that Layfield is a bully in real life. Didn't Layfield just prove him right with his cowardly and unprofessional actions?
Monday, June 13, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- It has always been said that today's pro wrestling fans would never really be able to understand what Extreme Championship Wrestling was and what it stood for, unless they were there at the time. With last night's ECW: One Night Stand reunion show on pay-per-view, newer fans can now finally understand what all the fuss is about, and old ECW fans like myself had a chance to reminisce about old times and make new memories. For one more night, ECW was alive and well, and it was a shot in the arm of a pro wrestling industry that has sorely missed the ECW-like atmosphere of last night's broadcast.
Whether or not you were an ECW fan when the company was in its heyday in the mid-to-late 90's, One Night Stand was the best pro wrestling pay-per-view of the year, even beating out WrestleMania. The fact that it was still ultimately produced by WWE, which bought the rights to all things ECW when it went out of business in 2001, did detract from the show in some ways, but nowhere near as much as I expected.
Recreating the Authentic ECW Atmosphere
Going into this event, I was honestly expecting just another WWE pay-per-view, and I didn't really expect it to have an authentic "ECW atmosphere" after how badly the WWE creative team blew the WCW Invasion storyline a few years back. On the contrary, the event did have an authentic ECW atmosphere and did feel a lot like an actual ECW show, thanks to the fact that the show was in New York City's Hammerstein Ballroom (which was ECW's #2 home-base arena, behind only ECW Arena in Philadelphia), and thanks to the production values, which maintained the look and feel of ECW's old pay-per-views. The only thing that wouldn't have been on the old ECW pay-per-views, from a production standpoint, is a commercial for the next WWE pay-per-view, which was very out of place and inappropriate for the situation.
Recreating ECW's atmosphere was helped greatly by the fact that they got the voice of ECW, Joey Styles, to come in and do play-by-play for this one night, even though he has never worked for WWE in the past and has been on bad terms with WWE management for years. The choice of Mick Foley as the color commentator to join Styles in the booth was the perfect choice to help the show retain an authentic ECW feel, without having Joey Styles as the one and only person on commentary (as he often was on ECW's TV shows).
It was also essential to include former ECW owner and booker Paul Heyman on this show and the build-up to this show, even though he has been on bad terms with WWE management and had essentially been doing nothing in any professional capacity since being removed from the WWE writing team last year. (Heyman is still under contract with WWE until late 2005, but it's considered a strong possibility that he will be leaving WWE after that.)
More than anything, the incredibly enthusiastic crowd gave the show a unique, edgy feel with an energy level that has not been felt in WWE since the peak of the Monday Night Wars in the late 90's, and has not been felt anywhere in the pro wrestling industry since ECW went out of business. The crowd was in a frantic state all night long, and there were chants about anything and everything that was on the crowd's mind, many of which can't be repeated on network television (or any form of television other than pay-per-view). The high energy level of the crowd forced the wrestlers to maintain a similarly high energy level, and that's a big part of what made ECW so much fun in the first place.
WWE Influence Evident in Short Match Times
If ECW was about two things, it was about the rabid enthusiasm of the audience, and high-quality wrestling. When I say "high-quality wrestling," I mean routinely having more than one Match of the Year candidate match on the same card, which is a rarity in WWE. Someone who has never seen an ECW event before and just saw this event would have gotten the full effect of the atmosphere created by the crowd, but they wouldn't have gotten the full effect of the "high-quality wrestling" side of things. The in-ring wrestling that was here was very good, but the matches were simply too short. The biggest reminder that this was still ultimately a WWE-produced pay-per-view was the fact that the first five matches were all less than ten minutes long.
One of the best things about ECW from an in-ring standpoint was the creative freedom that it offered its wrestlers. Instead of being given an exact number of minutes that they are allotted (which is how it works in WWE), in many cases the wrestlers in ECW would simply be told by Paul Heyman to "go out there and put on a hell of a match." The finishes of the matches and any storyline elements were dictated to the wrestlers as you'd expect, but the length and content of the matches were left up to the wrestlers, and many classic matches ensued.
I'm not suggesting that they should have sent wrestlers to the ring with no time range to work with, but for the love of God, they could have given them more than ten minutes! Tajiri vs. Little Guido vs. Super Crazy in a three-way match, Chris Jericho vs. Lance Storm, Sabu vs. Rhyno, Psicosis vs. Rey Mysterio, and Chris Benoit vs. Eddie Guerrero all had the potential to be great matches. In particular, the three-way match and the Benoit-Guerrero match could have been Match of the Year candidates if given enough time to build.
Instead, all five of these matches were booked to last a paltry six to nine minutes each. They were all still good matches, especially Sabu vs. Rhyno and Benoit vs. Guerrero, but the fact that they were all booked to be less than ten minutes prevented any of them from being great matches. That's just lazy WWE booking at its finest, especially given the fact that they had PPV time until 11:00 PM and they ended up going off the air at 10:30 PM. So, this event didn't fully expose newer fans to how truly great the in-ring wrestling was in ECW on a regular basis, but the first five matches were all either good or very good, and that's all that was needed on this night with the overwhelming enthusiasm of the crowd.
Awesome and Tanaka Deliver a Classic Match
The final two matches were given slightly more than ten minutes each, and delivered a strong tag team brawl with The Dudleys vs. Tommy Dreamer & The Sandman, as well as an absolutely amazing match between Mike Awesome and Masato Tanaka.
I fondly remember the classic series of insane, risky matches that Awesome and Tanaka had in the last few years of ECW, but I didn't think there was any chance in hell they would be able to duplicate that kind of dangerous, high-impact match style a half-decade later. Fortunately, I was wrong. This match tore the roof off an arena that was already going nuts for every match, with more "Holy S--t!" chants than any match that I can remember. This match also had enough hard chairshots and risky bumps that just make you glad as a viewer that both men were able to escape from the match without being seriously injured.
As Joey Styles and Mick Foley pointed out on commentary during the match , this is one of the things that ECW was all about: Wrestlers sacrificing their bodies in order to put on a show for the fans that was the best damn show they could possibly put on. Mick Foley spent his entire career doing that, including many memorable moments in ECW, and it was amazing to see that Awesome and Tanaka could still do it half a decade later.
Bradshaw and Bischoff's Legitimate Anti-ECW Feelings
The only thing that detracted from the incredible Awesome vs. Tanaka match was the constant cut-aways to the Raw and Smackdown wrestlers who were in the crowd to "protest ECW" as part of the storyline. The overbearing and constant nature of the cut-aways during the Awesome-Tanaka only served to remind you that you were still watching a WWE-produced pay-per-view and were not actually back in the glory days of ECW.
Not only that, but it was ridiculous and insulting to see John Bradshaw Layfield mocking the Awesome-Tanaka match as it was taking place. All of the wrestlers who were involved in the storyline of, "WWE wrestlers are going to show up at the ECW reunion to protest" had to state their distaste for ECW in interviews leading up to the show, but the difference is that JBL actually means it.
It was Bradshaw who decided to do a shoot promo about ECW and Paul Heyman at a recent Smackdown TV taping, where he was only supposed to run down ECW in general, but he took it a step further and took lots of personal shots at Paul Heyman (most of which were edited off the show that actually aired on UPN). It's Bradshaw who has made it no secret among his co-workers that he considers "hardcore pro wrestling fans" in general and "ECW fans" in particular to be losers who are beneath him.
So, when you see a classic match like Mike Awesome vs. Masato Tanaka taking place, and the camera is constantly cutting to the Raw and Smackdown wrestlers in the crowd instead of focusing on the actual match, and you can see Bradshaw mocking the match, you don't have to be a hardcore ECW fan to be offended. It detracted from a great match, and Bradshaw's positions on ECW are very transparent. He can make his little gestures and facial expressions during the match, but the fact of the matter is that Bradshaw has never, ever been involved in a match that is anywhere near that level of quality, nor has he ever been involved in a match that elicits the kind of frantic, emotional response from the crowd that the Awesome-Tanaka match did.
The same can be said for Eric Bischoff, who was the president of WCW for years and now works as the storyline "General Manager" of WWE Raw. Bischoff has held the position for years, dating back to when he ran WCW and going all the way to the present day, that ECW was garbage and its fans were low-class "Kool-Aid drinkers" (meaning cult members) who don't deserve the time of day. Bischoff can say whatever he wants about ECW, and he did when he was briefly on color commentary near the end of the event and said that ECW's wrestlers are "out of shape losers who can't get a job anywhere else." But the fact remains that Eric Bischoff witnessed something on Sunday night that he never witnessed in all his years of running WCW. He witnessed a product that connected emotionally with the fans in a way that WCW never did.
WWE Invasion Storyline Should Not Have Been on This Show
In all honesty, John Bradshaw Layfield, Eric Bischoff, and any other current WWE employee who was never in ECW should not have been on this event. The only reason that WWE's creative team, led by Stephanie McMahon and Triple H, decided to create the storyline of a bunch of current Raw and Smackdown "invading the ECW reunion show" was because A) They still don't think that ECW is strong enough to stand up on its own two feet without an outside boost from WWE's wrestlers, and B) If the ECW pay-per-view did surprise everyone and draw a huge pay-per-view buy-rate, they sure as hell couldn't be in the position where Paul Heyman and a bunch of former ECW wrestlers would get all the credit for drawing a huge buy-rate.
The management team at WWE can spin it any way they want, but the fact of the matter is that if they had only the best interests of this show in mind and wanted to make it a truly authentic "ECW reunion show," there shouldn't have been any WWE wrestlers on this event who were never part of ECW. It was also not "true to ECW" to have Steve Austin be the head spokesman for all of the ECW wrestlers at the end of the show right before the big ECW-WWE brawl, when in reality it should have been Tommy Dreamer, or The Sandman, or Taz.
It was also hypocritical for WWE to book Eric Bischoff as the #1 heel whose beatdown at the hands of all the ECW wrestlers was the climax of the entire show. Sure, Eric Bischoff did a lot of "raping and pillaging of ECW" (to quote Vince McMahon) when Bischoff was running WCW, but Vince McMahon was just as guilty of that during the same time period. Funny how that part of the story gets swept under the rug of ECW's history...
Rob Van Dam's Amazing Shoot Promo Straddles the Line
One of the things that Paul Heyman pushed hard for in dealing with WWE management in the past couple of weeks leading up to this event was for Rob Van Dam to be given a solid five to ten minutes of in-ring promo time with a live microphone. It was Van Dam who suggested to Vince McMahon in late 2004 that a one-time ECW reunion show might be a good idea, and McMahon was eventually talked into it. Van Dam was a huge star in ECW, but has never been given a serious push in WWE, and he has always been given an extremely small amount of microphone time by WWE even though he can cut a good promo when he needs to.
Giving someone a live microphone with just a rough outline of what to say (and with no actual scripted dialogue) is not how WWE works these days, as promos are usually written out word-for-word. Everyone who knows anything about the wrestling business, from Mick Foley to Steve Austin to just about everyone else, has said that this approach to interviews effectively kills the creative opportunities of the wrestlers, who used to be able to make stars out of themselves if they had break-out performances on the mic. So, giving Van Dam that much mic time to just speak his mind was a lot to ask of WWE, but WWE management eventually caved into the pressure from Heyman and Van Dam.
Rob Van Dam didn't disappoint, delivering the best promo of his career and proving to WWE that he can show fire and emotion when called upon to do so. RVD did a semi-shoot promo, in the sense that he meant every word he was saying, but he was careful to not cross a certain line into offending certain members of WWE management. What that means is basically that he never mentioned Stephanie McMahon or Triple H by name, even though that's essentially who anyone is referring to when they complain about "the WWE writing team." He can hardly be blamed for that since, after all, his future livelihood as a pro wrestler is dependent on WWE as the one big pro wrestling promotion in the United States.
Still, in what he did say, Van Dam got in a lot of good, biting points. He looked up at the Raw and Smackdown wrestlers, who were in the crowd at that point, and told them that they didn't belong there and have nothing to do with ECW (which is something that Van Dam really believes and tried to fight for behind the scenes in the last couple weeks). Van Dam said, "This has nothing to do with you. This is going to be one of the biggest pay-per-view buy-rates of the year... and you deserve zero credit for tonight's success."
Van Dam then spoke for several riveting minutes about how woefully mis-used he has been in WWE. That's something that any pro wrestling fan could tell you for years, but seeing it actually said on a WWE-produced pay-per-view event was amazing. Van Dam said, "I don't have any creative geniuses writing scripted lines for me tonight, so I'm going to be shooting from the heart." He asked people to remember a time when he was in ECW and his vocabulary wasn't limited to the words "whatever" and "cool," which seem to every other word in his WWE-scripted promos. He talked about how he had a voice, and he put on the best damn show he could put on to make sure that the fans got their money's worth and went home happy. "That's how you showcase my skills," he said.
Paul Heyman's Amazing Shoot Promo Straddles the Line, Then Jumps Over It
While Van Dam still had to protect his career prospects and didn't want to cross a certain line in any shoot comments that he made, Paul Heyman has nothing to lose at this point and had no problem crossing that line. Heyman's WWE contract expires in late 2005, and he has many other opportunities that he could pursue in the pro wrestling business. So, during an in-ring promo near the end of the show during which he was only scheduled to make his obligatory on-camera appearance and then leave, Heyman pulled no punches and delivered some of the most memorable moments of the night.
When Heyman first came out, making his first and only on-camera appearance during the show, the crowd erupted into "ECW" chants and Heyman already had tears in his eyes as he walked down the aisle. When he got into the ring and the crowd broke out into a "Thank you Paul, Thank you Paul" chant, he started to cry. After a long period of sustained, ear-splitting cheering from the crowd (I had to turn down the TV volume), Heyman composed himself and thanked several of his ECW business partners, and thanked all the wrestlers for their hard work and sacrifice, and thanked the fans as he said, "You people are the craziest bastards in the world, and I love each and every one of you."
The mutual love-fest between Heyman and the crowd was wrapping up, and Heyman's segment appeared to be over. In fact, it was only just beginning, as Heyman proceeded to cut a vicious shoot promo that may very well get him fired from WWE. Heyman said, "I was going to take the high road and just say thank you and leave, but I have something to say to you" Heyman looked up at the Raw and Smackdown wrestlers in the crowd and said, "I've been waiting a long time to say this to you, Eric Bischoff. In case you didn't notice, it's not Paul Heyman with his tail between his legs forced to go to a WCW reunion show. It's Eric Bischoff with his tail between his legs forced to go to an ECW reunion show."
Those comments alone wouldn't have gotten Heyman in trouble with WWE management, but his next comments almost certainly will. Heyman said, "Wait a minute, it's Edge! Hide your wives! Edge, I know nobody with a promo written line-for-line has the balls to say this to you, but I have two words for you: Matt Hardy."
Heyman was referring to the real-life, behind-the-scenes situation in which Edge started having a relationship with Matt Hardy's longtime girlfriend, Amy Dumas. When he found out about it from Edge's wife, Hardy made a few posts about the situation on the Internet. Hardy was then fired from WWE for talking about personal business like that in a public setting. Ever since word of Hardy's release hit the Internet, fans at arenas across the world have bombarded Edge with chants of, "You Screwed Matt" and "We Want Matt," but WWE's announcers and wrestlers have been forbidden from acknowledging those chants or speaking Matt Hardy's name since he no longer works for WWE. (More on the Edge-Dumas-Hardy situation on Ivan's Blog here and here.)
For Heyman to say something like that to Edge not just in the form of an Internet post or something like that, but on a live pay-per-view with a huge worldwide audience, is a huge violation of any and all WWE policy, as is mentioning Matt Hardy's name on the air under any circumstances.
Paul Heyman Signs His WWE Career Death Certificate
However, it was Heyman's last shoot comment that will undoubtedly get him in the most trouble with WWE management. As I wrote about earlier in this post, John Bradshaw Layfield recently injected many shoot comments into an interview on Smackdown, during which he took many personal pot-shots at Heyman, most of which were edited off the show before it ever saw the light of day.
On live pay-per-view, Heyman said, "I almost forgot about you, Bradshaw. Mr. Shoot Promo himself... bounced checks, ECW, we're out of business, and all that. Hey John, on a personal note from all of us to you, since you want to shoot, cowboy: The only reason you were the WWE Champion for a year is because Triple H doesn't want to work Tuesdays."
Even the hardcore ECW crowd seemed stunned that Heyman would say that, as he more than likely just signed his own death certificate as far as his WWE writing career goes. For any WWE employee to publicly criticize the WWE writing team (as Rob Van Dam did earlier in the show) is generally frowned upon, but to specifically reference Stephanie McMahon and her husband Triple H as being the heads of the writing team is forbidden and is just plain unheard of.
Heyman basically said what everyone in WWE knows, but would never dare to say publicly (or privately, out of fear that it would get back to management): That Triple H is ultimately in control of who holds which title belts in WWE, and that he has a long-term monopoly on the world title picture on the Raw brand, and that the only reason ANYONE is able to be a long-term champion on Smackdown is because Triple H isn't on Smackdown (which is taped on Tuesdays, hence the line about working on Tuesdays).
The champion of the Smackdown brand is ultimately just the "B-level champion," and is only the champion because the proverbial 800-pound gorilla in the room, Triple H, isn't on Smackdown. Anyone who follows the pro wrestling industry knows that, but for a WWE employee to actually say that in any setting, much less on live pay-per-view, is absolutely unthinkable and was the single most shocking moment on the show.
Paul Heyman's Future and "The Next ECW"
Paul Heyman could very well lose his job in WWE as a result of his comments, and personally, I hope he does (and maybe he hopes so, too). Only when Heyman is contractually free from WWE, and free to start a new pro wrestling promotion of his own someday, will wrestling fans ever have a chance to truly see "the next ECW" be conceived and born all over again.
In the meantime, for one night at least, hardcore ECW fans and newer wrestling fans alike were able to take themselves to a different time and a different place. For two and a half hours on Sunday night, an old friend named ECW was back. Joey Styles may have put it best when he said on commentary during the closing moments of the show, "I wish I could make time stand still and enjoy this moment forever."
Saturday, June 11, 2005
Boxing--- The legendary career of Mike Tyson appeared to come to an end tonight, as he lost by sixth round TKO to journeyman fighter Kevin McBride and then announced his retirement from boxing. It was a memorable night and a sad finish to one of the most thrilling and controversial careers in the history of boxing. While it's true that athletes regularly come out of retirement, especially in boxing, Tyson came across in every post-fight interview as confident and certain with his decision to retire as anyone I've ever seen.
The Fight, and the Post-Fight Interview
Through five rounds, Tyson vs. McBride was a close fight in which the ferocity of the old Mike Tyson was not present. McBride took a lot of hard shots to the body during the fight, and Tyson took a lot of hard shots to the head. Tyson was ahead on the scorecards going into the sixth round, but he got rocked by an uppercut in the last twenty seconds of the sixth round and was never the same after that. Even before the uppercut, he appeared to be physically hurt and emotionally finished, and the uppercut just sealed the deal.
The closing seconds of the sixth round saw McBride push Tyson to the canvas, which was correctly not ruled a knockdown. Tyson looked dazed and had the look of someone who didn't want to continue, as he struggled to his feet. He staggered back to his corner with a very distant, glassy look in his eyes, and sat down on the stool. Several of Tyson's cornerman then had a heated verbal exchange with each other (more on that in a moment), before the head trainer ultimately asked the referee to stop the fight.
As he announced his retirement during an in-ring interview with Jim Gray after the fight, Tyson said, "I realized early into the fight that I don't have it anymore. I don't have my heart anymore. I was just fighting to take care of my bills. I don't have the stomach for this anymore. I don't have that ferocity anymore. I don't love this anymore."
When asked by Jim Gray what his future holds, Tyson said, "I do not have the guts to be in this sport anymore, and I don't want to disrespect the sport that I love by continuing to fight like this. My heart is not into this anymore. I'm sorry for the fans. I wish I could have done better. I want to move on with my life. It's time to move on with my life and be a father, take care of my children."
Repulsive Display from Tyson's Corner
As Mike Tyson was sitting on the stool in the corner after the sixth round, having taken a lot of clean shots to the head, in a dazed state, and clearly looking like he didn't want to continue, the instant replay on the pay-per-view broadcast with amplified audio was able to clearly reveal that everyone in his corner except the head trainer was actually yelling at the head trainer to NOT stop the fight.
They were yelling at the head trainer to ignore anything Tyson may have to say, and send him out there for the seventh round, even though he would be out on his feet. They were yelling at the head trainer to "leave him alone," meaning don't talk to him and find out what he has to say, and hopefully he will go out for the seventh round just out of pride.
If you rewind through the magic of TIVO and listen carefully, the actual quotes are as follows, with the assistant cornermen yelling the following at the head cornerman: "Come on, come on, leave him alone! Leave him the f--k alone! Just leave him alone! Come on, don't f--k with me! Leave him the f---k alone!"
Fortunately, the head trainer, longtime Tyson friend Jeff Fenech, wasn't willing to send a fighter out for another round who was in no condition to continue, and might have been seriously injured if he had continued.
In the face of everyone in the corner yelling at him to send Tyson out for the seventh round at all costs, Fenech yelled back at them, "I'm the f---ing boss!" essentially telling the others to shut up, before he informed the referee that the fight had to be stopped.
Being a "Quitter" in Boxing, and Retiring as a Shell of Your Former Self
I've already seen a lot of knee-jerk reactionary talk on the Internet, branding Tyson as someone who will be remembered as a "no-good quitter" and acting as though it's disgraceful for a boxer to ever quit during a fight.
It is downright ridiculous for anyone say that a boxer should never quit during a fight, given the fact that countless boxers have died over the years from brain injuries that were suffered during fights. For any boxing fan who thinks that a dazed and disoriented fighter (as Tyson was) doesn't have the right to not go out for the next round, you need a serious reality check of how dangerous boxing can really be.
The online database of boxing deaths lists 1,255 deaths that have been documented from 2005 going all the way back to the year 1741, including 53 deaths in the past five years. In addition to people who have died, there are countless others with mild brain damage, or severe brain damage, or who are in a coma. Just a few weeks ago on a fight card in Los Angeles, a boxer named Ruben Contreras suffered head trauma, had to have emergency brain surgery in order to save his life, and is still in a coma.
There's no doubt Tyson is leaving the sport of boxing as a shell of his former self, but that's really the norm in boxing instead of the exception. It's incredibly common for a legendary boxer to lose fights to sub-par boxers at the end of his career. That includes Muhammad Ali. That includes Sugar Ray Leonard, who actually retired a grand total of seven times according to PTI's count. That includes almost every single heavyweight champion in the history of the sport, with Rocky Marciano being one of the only exceptions. A former champion retiring as a shell of his former self is nothing new in boxing.
Thursday, June 09, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- With the breakout success of The Ultimate Fighter on cable television, the sport of mixed martial arts is starting to get a lot more respect in mainstream media outlets.
The most prominent recent example of this would have to be Forrest Griffin's appearance on "Fox & Friends" in the build-up to UFC 53 last week, in which Griffin was treated just like any other superstar athlete. Shortly after UFC 53, Fox News followed up on Forrest Griffin by writing a news story in which it said that MMA had "arrived as a serious sport," as opposed to the normal mainstream media misconceptions and lies about MMA.
Sadly, some people are still stuck in an outdated, ill-informed mentality about the sport, as evidenced by a recent Boston Herald editorial that said MMA is "on the outer fringes of decency." I would respect that as a valid opinion that someone could have if it were based on fact, but the brief Herald editorial was riddled with blatant factual errors all over the place.
Though the Boston Herald editorial did not have a byline, a previous anti-MMA article in the same newspaper was written by Dave Wedge, a "journalist" whose sterling reputation includes getting sued for libel after he went around telling people that a Superior Court Judge had said that a rape victim should "get over it," to use Wedge's words.
The judge never said that, Wedge was found to have committed libel and slander, and the Boston Herald was forced to pay a whopping $2.1 million to the court for the slander that it printed. The fact that all of this happened and yet Wedge is still working for the Boston Herald does tend to make it less surprising that there would be fraudulent, blantantly false things written in the same newspaper about another topic, in this case mixed martial arts.
I wrote a brief letter to the editors of the Boston Herald, but I have to tip my hat to fellow MMA journalist Jake Rossen for truly hitting the nail on the head with his letter to the editors of the Boston Herald. Here is the letter that Rossen wrote:
"Your unsigned op-ed piece of 6/5, 'Local Opinion on Vile Fights,' was as brutally fraudulent and ignorantly conceived as any I've read.
You make the assertion that MMA is 'not a sport' while neglecting to acknowledge that the Nevada State Athletic Commission - as conservative and influential a board as any in the combat sports arena - gave its blessing in 2001. In the four years since, not one single serious injury - much less death - has been recorded.
Your juvenile hyperbole doesn't seem to extend to hockey or even high school football, sports that result in far greater injuries on a regular basis. Save the 'human cockfighting' drama for boxing, where one can actually witness a man's death if you stick around long enough. Or your Boston Bruins, where two toothless men throwing off their gloves and sloppily brawling drives a crowd into a frenzy.
The most disturbing passage comes when you make mention of Illinois banning these events because 'a 30-year-old woman died in an amateur extreme fighting event in Florida.' How woefully ill-researched and flat-out wrong. The woman you are referring to, Stacy Young, died in a Toughman boxing event, not an MMA match. Toughman events are responsible for thirteen deaths since 1979 due to insufficient medical supervision and rank amateur fighters flaying around. That's a far cry from the Olympic Medalists that compete in MMA under the watchful eye of licensed physicians and trained referees. I expect a retraction. I doubt I'll get it.
As a community, you're welcome to excise any activity you deem inappropriate. But don't do it under false pretenses, and don't condemn those who have dedicated their lives to this sport simply because you have only a superficial, ill-informed understanding of it.
No wonder there's no byline."
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- UFC 53 is now in the books, and it was an exciting event that was only troubled the fact that a few of the fights were a bit too predictable. The basic problem with the event was that when you make matches where you're putting all of your eggs in the basket of one fighter in any given fight who you hope to win so that you can build them up (and you put those "chosen" fighters up against sub-standard competition so that they are less likely to lose), the audience isn't stupid and they can tell what you're doing. Pride has done that for years, and now the UFC seems to be engaging in the same practice.
That was definitely the case at UFC 53 with the "chosen one" Andrei Arlovski being fed Justin Eilers, the chosen one Forrest Griffin being fed Bill Mahood, and the chosen one Paul Buentello being fed Kevin Jordan. In the UFC's defense, it was legitimately the case that they couldn't get any semi-decent heavyweights to fight Andrei Arlovski on this card except for Justin Eilers and Paul Buentello, and they didn't want to throw Buentello to the proverbial wolves by putting him against Arlovski in just his second UFC fight. Also, in the case of Forrest Griffin, the UFC would have to be stupid to NOT feed him opponents who are merely mid-level light-heavyweights due to the circumstances with Griffin being the light-heavyweight winner of the "Ultimate Fighter" reality TV show.
Andrei Arlovski vs. Justin Eilers
The way the card played out, Andrei Arlovski successfully defended his Interim Heavyweight Championship against Justin Eilers. Eilers seemed to recognize that he couldn't engage in a stand-up kickboxing battle with Arlovski if he wanted to win, so he attempted takedowns numerous times. However, Arlovski showed a beautiful sprawl and lightning-quick reflexes in successfully avoiding all of Eilers' takedown attempts. Arlovski landed a lot of good strikes on Eilers, but at the same time Arlovski was leaving himself open for counter-strikes that a more skilled striker than Eilers would have been able to take advantage of.
Eilers suffered an injury to his knee during one of Arlovski's offensive flurries, and the ref stopped the fight as soon as Eilers was no longer able to intelligently defend himself. You would think that Eilers would be a sure bet to get one more shot in the UFC after he recovers from his knee injury, simply because he had the guts to step up to the plate and fight Andrei Arlovski at a time when no one else would.
The great takedown defense that Arlovski showed in the Eilers fight is something that he would also need in a potential match-up down the road against Frank Mir, who is still recovering from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident last summer. The hope is that Mir will be ready to go at UFC 55 in October for a title unification match that would put the champion Mir against the interim champion Arlovski.
As great as Arlovski is, I can't imagine putting him any higher than #4 or #5 on a list of the world's best heavyweight fighters. How could one honestly rank Arlovski higher than Emelianenko Fedor, or Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, or Mirko Cro Cop? We shouldn't forget that Arlovski is still the guy who got knocked out by a half-hearted, going-through-the-motions, just-showing-up-to-collect-a-paycheck Pedro Rizzo, and that was Rizzo's only win in a stretch where he lost four out of five fights. Arlovski has improved a lot since that fight took place in 2002, but so have Fedor, Nogueira, and Cro Cop, so the fact remains that the top three heavyweights in the world are all in Pride.
Evan Tanner vs. Rich Franklin
In the co-main event, Rich Franklin beat Evan Tanner by TKO to become the undisputed 185-pound champion of the world. Pride doesn't even have a title at 185 pounds, so the UFC Middleweight Champion is the #1 middleweight in the world unless someone proves otherwise. Franklin vs. Tanner was a fascinating match-up strategically, as both fighters are very good in both the ground game and the stand-up game. Franklin is probably better at submissions on the ground than Tanner, but Tanner's devastating ground-and-pound could still pose a threat to Franklin. With that presumably in mind, Franklin seemed to have the bold strategy that he was going to try to keep the fight in the stand-up and just bet that his stand-up was significantly better than Tanner's. It turns out Franklin was right.
Evan Tanner has shown in the past that he is a good stand-up fighter who can trade punches and kicks with just about anyone at 185 pounds, but Rich Franklin showed that he is simply in another class above Tanner in the kickboxing department. Tanner tried many times throughout the fight to take the action to the ground, but Franklin wouldn't let him, and that's not an easy task against Evan Tanner. The simple fact that "Rich Franklin hits really, really hard" seemed to sum it all up, just as it did when Franklin's punching power overwhelmed Tanner the first time they fought in 2003, and just as it did when Franklin became the first fighter to knock out Ken Shamrock in Shamrock's 30-fight-plus career.
When standing up trading strikes, Evan Tanner is at his best in the clinch, where he can deliver knees from that position with the best of them. In this fight, it seemed that Tanner wanted no part of the clinch, even though it might have helped lead to a takedown, because being in close quarters like that means that you're going to take some shots in the process, and Franklin simply hits too hard to be able to take those shots. Franklin dominated the stand-up in a mostly uneventful first round until late in the round when Tanner caught Franklin with a perfect punch that knocked Franklin down and nearly out. However, Franklin survived the round and went on to completely dominate rounds two, three, and four in the stand-up before the fight was eventually stopped by the doctor due to cuts on Tanner's face.
It has been a whirlwind year for Franklin that is only going to get more high-profile. First he knocked out Ken Shamrock on the UFC's first ever live fight special on free television back on April 9th, then he won the UFC Middleweight Title, and then he immediately flew out to Las Vegas to begin filming on the second season of The Ultimate Fighter, where he is one of the two coaches along with Matt Hughes. (An agreement was reached before the Tanner-Franklin fight that the winner of the fight would also get to be a coach on the next season of the reality show.)
As for Rich Franklin's first defense of his newly-won Middleweight Title, Matt Lindland is officially the #1 contender for the title, but he is putting that status at risk by fighting Joe Riggs on the UFC's next card in August while Franklin is off filming the reality show. Assuming that Lindland gets past Riggs, the next logical match-up for the Middleweight Title would be Franklin vs. Lindland.
As for Evan Tanner, there's no doubt that he is still one of the top 185-pound fighters in the world, and one loss doesn't change that, but he's in an awkward position. In much the same way that Frank Trigg has now lost twice to the champion of his particular weight class (Matt Hughes), Tanner has now lost twice to the champion of his weight class (Franklin). So, just as it seems unlikely that Trigg will get another title shot as long as Hughes is the Welterweight Champion, it would also have to be considered unlikely that Tanner will get another title shot as long as Franklin is the Middleweight Champion. That doesn't mean that Trigg and Tanner can't continue fighting in the meantime and continue to be among the top fighters in the sport in their respective weight classes.
Forrest Griffin vs. Bill Mahood
Forrest Griffin looked impressive in a completely different way than the general public has come to expect in his fight against Canadian fighter Bill Mahood. While Mahood is not top-flight competition in the 205-pound weight class, the fact is that his record coming into the fight was 12-2, and all twelve of his wins had come by KO or TKO. Having just won a close decision in a Match of the Year-quality stand-up brawl with Stephan Bonnar on the season finale of The Ultimate Fighter, Griffin showed a different side of his skill-set by taking down Mahood, dominating the positioning battle on the ground, and forcing Mahood to tap out to a rear naked choke.
This fight revealed to the general public that Griffin is just as skilled on the ground as he is in the stand-up, as many of his career victories have actually come by submission. It's also interesting to note just how much of a difference The Ultimate Fighter has made to the sport of MMA. Griffin got the biggest reaction of any fighter on the entire show and was treated by the crowd as the biggest star on the show, primarily because more people have seen him fight due to the reality show exposure.
Even more importantly, the education of the general public to how MMA actually works was evident in this fight, as the crowd popped just as big for the submission victory as they would for any knockout victory. Before The Ultimate Fighter, many of the UFC's submission victories caused a large portion of uneducated fans in the audience to simply scratch their hands and wonder what just happened. Now, they know what happened, because they learned about the ground game by watching The Ultimate Fighter.
A big-money PPV rematch with Stephan Bonnar would seem to be the logical next fight. Before that can happen, Bonnar has to beat Sam Hoger in their scheduled UFC bout in August. Assuming that Bonnar gets past Hoger, Griffin vs. Bonnar II has "big money" and "great fight" written all over it.
Paul Buentello vs. Kevin Jordan
Rising heavyweight Paul Buentello got the win against the severely over-matched Kevin Jordan, but it was a bit of an unimpressive win, as opposed to the kind of win that makes you think, "That guy is going to be a huge star!" While Buentello showed that quality in his UFC debut against Justin Eilers in February, he didn't show it against Jordan. Buentello gassed out in literally two and a half minutes, which is not something you can afford to be doing if you want to be one of the top heavyweights in the sport.
Fortunately for Buentello, his opponent gassed out as well, and Buentello finished the fight with a modified neck crank submission that wouldn't be particularly hard for most MMA fighters to escape; Jordan was simply too exhausted to get out of any submission hold at that point. Besides gassing out in two minutes, Buentello left himself open to strikes and actually got rocked on more than one occasion by a fighter who is not known as a heavy hitter. It was another win for Buentello, but he's going to have to do a lot better than that if he wants to be among the top heavyweights in the sport.
Karo Parisyan vs. Matt Serra
Speaking of fights that make you think, "That guy is going to be a huge star!" it seems that 22-year-old welterweight phenom Karo Parisyan gives off that quality just about every time he makes an appearance in the UFC. Parisyan showed once again that he has an incredible grappling game and also great ground-and-pound skills. His only weakness appears to be in the stand-up, and he almost paid dearly for it against UFC veteran Matt Serra. Serra knocked Parisyan down and almost out early in the first round, but Parisyan recovered nicely and ended up putting Serra on the brink of defeat in that same round.
Parisyan also had Serra on the brink of defeat on several other occasions in a fight that he ended up dominating, including a few cleanly-applied submission holds that you've got to believe would have finished the fight if his opponent were anyone other than a ground game wizard like Matt Serra. Parisyan won the fight by unanimous decision and continued to look impressive in doing so.
It's expected that Parisyan's next fight will be for the Welterweight Title against champion Matt Hughes. While he is well deserving of a title shot, one can't help but think that it could be a bad style match-up for Parisyan. Parisyan has only lost three times in his 17-fight career, and two of those three losses were to ground-and-pound specialist Sean Sherk. While it's true that those two losses to Sherk came four years ago when Parisyan was only 18 years old, it's still the case that if you're susceptible to ground-and-pound, the worst possible style match-up for you is probabloy a ground-and-pound machine like Matt Hughes. Then again, Matt Hughes is a "bad style match-up" for just about anyone in the welterweight division, so Parisyan stands just as good of a chance as anyone at dethroning Hughes.
Nate Quarry vs. Shonie Carter
On the undercard, Ultimate Fighter contestant Nate Quarry, who was unable to fight on the reality show due to an ankle injury suffered during filming, made a successful UFC pay-per-view debut by dominating accomplished veteran fighter Shonie Carter in a middleweight fight. Though he's a product of Team Quest, which specializes in ground-and-pound with head trainers Randy Couture and Matt Lindland, Quarry showed that he also has a great striking game, as he picked apart Carter in the stand-up en route to a first-round TKO victory.
What's telling is that even though he was on the undercard, and even though he never actually fought on the reality series, the live crowd treated him to a "superstar" reaction that was second only to the reaction received by Forrest Griffin. Nate Quarry definitely has "potential future star" written all over him, and he re-affirmed that with his victory over Shonie Carter at UFC 53.
David Loiseau vs. Charles McCarthy
David Loiseau reminded everyone that he is still a force to be reckoned with in the middleweight division by dominating UFC newcomer Charles "Chainsaw" McCarthy at UFC 53 and winning by TKO. Prior to this fight, the fight that many people seemed to associate Loiseau with the most was his UFC 44 loss to Jorge Rivera, but since then he has made short work of two up-and-coming fighters by beating Gideon Ray and Charles McCarthy in the UFC.
What's remarkable about Loiseau is not so much that he beat Gideon Ray and Charles McCarthy; it's how he did it. The commentators were correct in their statement during UFC 53 that there is no one with a ground-and-pound style exactly like David Loiseau's. His elbow and forearm strikes on the ground are brutal, and he delivers them with a lightning-quick speed that is scary to watch. Just watching his fights on TV, Loiseau's elbow goes from a neutral position to making contact before you can blink an eye. Can you imagine what it's like for the person on the other end of those strikes who doesn't have a clear view of the action at all times like the TV viewers do?
If Loiseau hadn't gassed out in the final round of his fight against Jorge Rivera, he would probably be 4-0 in the UFC right now and possibly regarded as the undisputed #1 contender for the next title shot. As it is, he's 3-1 in the UFC and has to considered near the top of the list in the UFC's absolutely loaded middleweight division.
Nick Diaz vs. Koji Oishi
Karo Parisyan is regarded as the young sensation of the welterweight division, but make no mistake about it, 21-year-old Nick Diaz is also a young sensation in the division. He's just regarded as one notch below Parisyan because he lost via unanimous decision when he fought Parisyan back at UFC 49. Other than that fight against Parisyan, Diaz is 4-0 in the UFC, and his stock continues to rise with each fight.
The only reason Diaz' stock didn't really rise any further at UFC 53 is because he was in there with an opponent who looked completely unprepared for the fight. The UFC had a deal with the smaller Japanese MMA organization Pancrase in which Pancrase would send someone from their organization to fight in the UFC, and Pancrase chose to send Koji Oishi.
Somehow, Oishi decided that the toughest fight of his career would be the appropriate time to try out a new defensive strategy in which you leave your head wide open to strikes, and you simply try to react with a counter-punch before your opponent can land a strike to your face. I'm not being sarcastic; that was really Oishi's strategy! He was practicing the technique all afternoon in the Octagon prior to the event with his coaches, leaving ringside observers to speculate whether he would be crazy enough to actually try that strategy against Diaz. He did, and the result was a first-round TKO victory for Diaz in about 90 seconds. Oishi's strategy would theoretically work against lesser opposition, but Nick Diaz is not "lesser opposition."
As it stands right now, barring any losses by Diaz, logic would dictate that Diaz would be next in line for a welterweight title shot if Matt Hughes is able to successfully defend the belt against Karo Parisyan. If Parisyan were to beat Hughes for the welterweight title, it would be a completely different set of circumstances, and you'd have to think that Parisyan's first defense would either be a rematch with Hughes, or a fight against the winner of the upcoming bout between Georges St. Pierre and Frank Trigg. Hughes already holds victories over St. Pierre and Trigg while having never fought Parisyan or Diaz, so that's why Parisyan and Diaz have to be considered the next two title contenders as long as Matt Hughes is the champion.