Guys like me complain about today’s MMA climate getting a little stale. We see almost all of the world’s top fighters under one banner, fighting in a similar style, and now even dressed identically.
We remember when things were different — really different. If you sat down to watch an MMA event fifteen years ago, you’d encounter many different promotions, each with different ways to present the sport. You’d also encounter entirely distinct rule sets; with some fights in a cage, some in a ring.
MMA was intricate; it felt like several sports in one.
Last night’s offering from Bellator tried to replicate that. It even, of course, took its name from the “Dynamite!” New Year’s Eve events, which were co-promoted by PRIDE FC and K-1 during Japan’s MMA heyday.
And it worked… somewhat. But not exactly.
The nod to the past began with a quick video montage of samurai and gladiators to open the broadcast. Then came the screeching voice of Lenne Hardt, who handled fighter introductions for PRIDE FC. I can’t say I exactly missed Hardt, but she certainly adds a little nostalgia and a lot of excitement. So I enjoyed her segment to begin the show, with all the fighters being announced together.
(Last I saw this was an old Rumble on the Rock show in Hawaii which was co-promoted by K-1. A little Polynesian dance brought a feeling of warrior’s gathering. This was didn’t quite measure up to that atmosphere, but hey, it was fun.)
On came the fights, and they had their ups and downs.
A one night tournament at light heavyweight ended up a great showcase for the debuting Phil Davis, who stopped both his opponents with some flashy striking and grappling skills. Sure, it was a bit of a letdown that Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal was forced to pull out of the tourney after his dominant decision win, but it’s safe to say the experiment was an overall positive.
Liam McGeary’s unorthodox submission of Tito Ortiz was another highlight; and while Ortiz’s future is in doubt — McGeary now has two solid contenders in “King Mo” and Davis and the division has a feel of continuity.
I’ve got mixed feelings about Fedor Emelianenko’s return, but what was announced here, that he would fight for a new promotion in Japan? It would seem as good a fit as anywhere. So the segment worked, even though I’d like to see Bellator provide translators for Fedor and Nobuyuki Sakakibara. I’d also like to see a bit of fact-checking. In a revision of history, Sakakibara — who became PRIDE’s president after the controversial death of his predecessor — was dubbed the founder of PRIDE, which is troubling.
Dave Walsh of Liverkick is furious about Dynamite’s GLORY kickboxing bouts, calling the concept a “flop.” I wouldn’t go that far, but to be fair the fights didn’t exactly cast the promotion in a great light.
GLORY is noted for bringing most of the world’s top kickboxers to the world stage, in shows with a high knockout percentage. While the title bout between Saulo Cavaleri and Zack Mwekassa certainly offered the former, no one quite brought the latter. Each bout went to decision, including one mismatch (a showcase for Kari Taylor Melendez) and a bit of a style clash (a showcase for Paul Daley).
Cavaleri showed off a diverse attack, but seemed a bit tentative in earning a majority decision win. In fact, several fighters seemed anxious, especially Josh Thompson, who was fighting in his hometown for perhaps the last time in his storied MMA career.
And — that’s where a bit of the problem lies in this concept. The old Dynamite shows put fighters in weird spots, not only blending the event but even matching MMA guys in kickboxing matches, and vice versa. It was a great fit with the Japanese audience, who didn’t really care so much about wins and losses. Rankings weren’t kept at all. It was all about “fighting spirit.”
In today’s North American fight scene, rankings are everything and a professional loss is horribly damaging. So, this concept is a tough match.
One might say it’s “lost in translation.”
Still, for me at least, it was a breath of fresh air.
Whatever it was, it was still a fun show — and for Scott Coker and company, a good first try.
“Dynamite 1,” as its being called, was an unusual event to say the least. It was fun to experience. With some tweaking, I think it will be one to watch.