There is no off-season in MMA, and there never will be, given the small horde of promotions putting on events month after month. But a rare break in the action from any major MMA event this past weekend was a key reminder that you can have too much of a good thing.
Are we simply too addicted as fans to the sport we hold dear, or did MMA remain the story this weekend even though there was an utter lack of, you know, MMA? That was the original question I planned to posit following a weekend with no major mixed martial arts shows, but with a couple of events with strong ties to the sport.
Then, I came to realize something: over the past forty-eight hours, I’d watched Bob Cole’s final NHL broadcast, made time for friends and family, and never once had to tell someone “sorry, there are fights on, I’ve got to work.”
And that, folks, is a very good thing.
Oh, before we go any further: As someone will no doubt point out, there was MMA action this past weekend. Yet the UFC, Bellator, Invicta, ONE, they were nowhere to be found. The PFL hasn’t started its season yet. RIZIN is back later this month. Somehow, the MMA gods forgot this lonely April weekend.
And yet we still had plenty to talk about. With no major MMA shows going on, MMA couldn’t stay out of the headlines. Part of that was thanks to the WWE, which has long been happy to capitalize on the growth of the sport for its own gain. Two of the biggest stars in the company, Brock Lesnar and Ronda Rousey, both turned up at WrestleMania 35 on Sunday night. Both lost their titles, Lesnar to Seth Rollins, Rousey to Becky Lynch.
This is no doubt the moment where MMA purists spit, or make a hasty sign of the cross, or simply begin to froth at the mouth, but the reality is, Rousey and Lesnar’s respective losses will now have the MMA-sphere talking. Monday morning, the chatter will be all about when Lesnar is coming back. When the inevitable fight with Daniel Cormier will happen.
For Rousey, talk will be about whether she’ll come back from a scripted loss. Or if she’s going to leave the WWE after just a year, to start a family. As if it were unthinkable, some insurmountable task, to accomplish both.
But MMA getting involved didn’t stop there. In a bizarre scene Saturday, Bret Hart, the Canadian pro wrestling icon, was attacked during his WWE Hall of Fame speech by a fan making an idiot of himself. That fan was later identified as Zachary Madsen, an amateur MMA fighter with a 2-1 record who last competed in March 2018. The less said about him, the better, but it was Travis Browne, Rousey’s better half, who was first to Hart’s aid, softening up Madsen with some ground n’ pound.
The publicity seeker is probably lucky it’s not the good ol’ days of wrestling’s heyday, or he likely would have taken a fair bit more punishment.
Then there was what might have been the biggest combat sports event of the weekend, Bare Knuckle FC 5. Licensed in just a handful of states, bare knuckle boxing made a big comeback in 2018, and that appears set to continue in 2019. Is it a sideshow spectacle? Pretty much. Is there much sporting merit to it? That remains to be seen.
Will it draw attention when guys as tough as Artem Lobov and Jason Knight throw down in the main event? Absolutely. Say what you will about Artem and all the GOAT jokes, but the ‘Russian Hammer’ is one tough son of a gun.
Any plaster lads??? pic.twitter.com/JnivAMyMUy
— Artem Lobov (@RusHammerMMA) April 7, 2019
Remember folks, that photo represents what the winner looked like after the fight. Lobov has now landed himself a fight with Paulie Malignaggi, ex-sparring partner of Lobov’s pal Conor McGregor. Malignaggi has done everything he can to land a fight with the Irish star, and a bareknuckle bout with Lobov is something he may see as an inroad to land it.
Then again, after witnessing the carnage of Lobov vs. Knight, he may wake up Monday morning having second thoughts.
But again, it was MMA stars bringing the spotlight to a competing venture. Just as they did the WWE. But no MMA itself. Not this weekend. This weekend was a rarity in the sport — but one that should probably happen a little more often.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, after all.
It was nice to have a break. As much as MMA is a passion for those of us covering the sport, and for fans, it’s nearly impossible to keep up. Off-seasons in other sports let players, and fans, regroup. The PFL has followed that format, in a nice change-up. It’s doubtful the biggest players, like the UFC and Bellator, ever will — there’s simply too much on the line.
Yet wouldn’t it be nice. We’d still be talking about the sport, as we did this weekend with Rousey and Lesnar and Lobov making headlines. It would simply be from a different angle. We’d free ourselves from a never-ending cycle of what’s next, who’s next. We’d anticipate the start of the new fight season. Fighters wouldn’t have to worry about always being ready, in case a short notice opportunity were to arise.
Again, though, too many promotions. Too much money on the line. So we’ll continue to have to take our breaks when we can get them.