Years ago, if you were an MMA fan in the US, and you wanted to know how a fight between two of MMA’s top ten heavyweights was going, it often wasn’t an option to watch them duke it out on your TV.
Nope, because many of those top heavyweights were fighting for PRIDE FC, whose events weren’t TV in the US for a long time – and later only became available on delay.
If you were a diehard fan and couldn’t wait, you’d be in front of a computer screen looking for an online update.
It was a weird time, but kind of a fun time too. MMA fandom was a goofy worldwide clique with a big Japanese influence, not followers of a sport dominated by a Las Vegas-based fight promotion.
It wasn’t exactly ideal, but I loved it.
Tonight’s UFC event at the Saitama Super Arena is the closest we’ve gotten to that in recent years. So I was actually looking forward to being up all night– watching along with a hushed Japanese crowd saluting the fighting spirit of two of the world’s top ten heavyweights, and a fairly solid under card.
So yes, if you’re anything like me, you were preparing for an all-night MMA marathon in front of a computer screen today when one of the legends of that bygone era, Wanderlei Silva, announced his retirement.
It was kind of a sad place to be.
“This organization took away my desire to fight,” the man we call “The Axe Murderer” said, blasting his bosses at the UFC. “I can’t do this anymore. I can’t keep being treated this way.”
“If you’re not going to give them money,” he bellowed at one point, “at least give them respect!”
Sad indeed. Silva probably has a point or two to make point regarding being underpaid, and athletes not being treated fairly. Today’s MMA market is so dominated by the UFC, it seems a fighter has little recourse but to do what Dana White & Co. ask, and what they ask may not always be fair.
“Will they take care of us later, so that they can use us in this way now? They use us to make rivers of money! ”
These are points well taken. The current MMA climate may not be ideal either. And sure, Wanderlei Silva is right when he says that the UFC exists because of fighters like him. Wanderlei Silva’s own fighting career began in the mid-90’s vale tudo scene, a movement which long pre-dates the UFC.
“We wrote an amazing story together,” Silva says in a tearful goodbye to his fans towards the video’s conclusion. “Keep giving us your support, because you are the only motivation to keep fighting. But the wheels keep turning and tomorrow everything can change.”
But there’s a lot left unsaid here, like his recent issues with the Nevada Athletic Commission, where he was forced to admit using PED’s.
“I am stepping down from the ring. After today, Wanderlei Silva will not fight again. My career is over. I do not have a stage to perform where athletes get proper respect.”
The sad truth is Wand may be retiring to end his relationship with the UFC so he may sign with ONE FC, or another organization for which PED testing won’t be such an issue.
But maybe that’s not the point here either.
When Wanderlei describes his ideal of fighters being treated the same way win or lose, it screams out PRIDE and the way Japanese fans loved “fighting spirit.” Today’s MMA product depends more on how much weight you can cut – it’s moved into a sport and not a spectacle. We lose a little samurai spirit, to find ourselves on US network TV.
Maybe there’s no just room for Axe Murderers on network TV.
It’s just a different time, and there’s really no going back. But hey — sometimes I miss those times. And that’s when I know, whatever happens next, Wanderlei Silva will be missed.