Thursday, April 19, 2012

UFC 145: Words With Friends

Former friends and current egos collide.

The resounding crescendo for one of combat sports most heated and personal feuds comes to an end Saturday night in Atlanta during the main event at UFC 145: Jones v Evans. The road to this fight between former friends and training partners light heavyweight champion Johnny 'Bones' Jones and 'Suga' Rashad Evans has been filled with so many twists, turns, betrayals, and back stabbings that Bill Shakespeare himself would nod in approval.

Of course the end of this drama won't end in typical Shakespeare fashion with everyone dead in a pool of blood, but it may not be that far off.

Well documented is the history of this feud, and it's reached a point where any common outcome of an MMA fight would be anti-climactic. Of course when Jon Jones is involved, everyone expects the extraordinary. Whether that be a new move from his You Tube bag of tricks or his opponent, the man in the ring who knows him inside and out better than any other fighter, can pull of a momentous upset and wash away Jones' now infamous AURA OF INVINCIBILITY-Ty-ty-ty!!!!!! 

There are a lot of story lines converging, but before we give Jones the win and ask a million Alexander Gustafsson questions, it's important to focus on what this fight means to each competitor. Outside of the obvious title implications, this battle of former friends that have had them jarring back and forth at each other for almost a year has moved from words to motivation for the upcoming fight.

MMA camps are often referred to as brotherhoods or a family. Fighters eat, train, and spend time together. They are there to make each individual better. It's an interesting dynamic. As such, many camps pledge to never fight each other. A rather ridiculous rule to set as fighters are paid to fight. And if your goal as a fighter is to earn a living and be the best, then it seems like a boundary that needs to be crossed.

Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck are the most notorious and ultimately faithful members of the "We Won't Fight Our Own" team. Much to UFC President Dana White's annoyance, these two constantly refused to fight each other since they are in the same camp. Fitch would famously explain that he would move up a weight class or even turn down a title shot rather that fight Kos. This seeming unwillingness to fight is not appealing to fans or the UFC. It's a business. In most cases, Bones and Rashad not included, it's not personal.

Now, Fitch is tumbling down the 170 ranks and Kos is in another camp. So much for brotherhood.

This is not to say their stance hurt them professionally, but it surely didn't help. Like most things, if Fitch or Kos are up for a fight and there's another candidate, if you're White or matchmaker extraordinaire Joe Silva, would you rather give it to one of those guys who will just cause a potential log jam should they win, or give it to the guy that'll fight his neighbor for a title shot?

Leaning on the understanding of what a fight camp is, the popular genesis of this hatred is during an interview when Jones said he'd fight Rashad if Dana made him. When in actuality, this slow simmering rivalry probably started long before that. Rashad was one of the original pillars of Greg Jackson's camp. Him and Keith Jardine were the only notable 205'ers there at the time, and when Jackson looked to bring in Jones from an anonymous New York camp, Evans didn't like the idea.

Jackson went forward anyway, and although Jones and Evans got along, eventually it was clear their paths would cross. The interview seemed to not be the beginning but rather the spark that exploded all of these pent up feelings Rashad had for Jones. Jones, the younger, more athletic, more heralded fighter that was impeding on Rashad's turf and taking his spotlight.

It's not totally indefensible that Rashad felt betrayed, however, in all of Rashad's comments leading up to the fight it certainly seems jealousy is a big motivating factor for him. In Rashad's mind beating Jones would give him everything that Jones has. Adoration, respect, the belt, and this is his opportunity to take back everything Jones took from him 2 years ago when he first entered Jackson MMA. Showing everyone that not only is Jones a fraud as a person, but also an inferior fighter is more important to him than the title.

Jones has ceased this overly emotional moment by going the opposite direction and downplaying the emotional aspect of the fight. As fight night nears, both fighters have gone to their respective verbal corners in lieu of focusing on the task at hand. The months of build up are what verbal attacks are for. As Rashad continued down his similar path of saying the young champ is fake and cocky, Jones had disengaged from the verbal lock-up and opted for his more zen like approach.

This is more about the fight than the person for Jones. Something he sees as a weakness and lack of focus in Rashad. As if that wasn't Karate Kid enough for you, Jones is constantly referencing his mental focus and strength leading up to the fight.

Whatch'a gonna do when fans turn on you, brother!?
Mental strength is derived from many areas. For some being at peace with the world around you and finding your chi is enough. For others, it's being extraordinarily pissed off and angry. One isn't better than the other. Different strokes for different folks.

But in a world where Jones may have his oms in check, he's living in a world where fans are starting to turn on him.

This isn't a new thing in the world of MMA where fans like to find under the radar picks, follow them along their development, then turn on them when they reach the pinnacle and get a bit too much fame and notoriety.

Jones was lustily booed at his last two weigh-ins, and his on-going pursuit as the face of UFC has earned him a fair amount of enemies to go along with the fans. Being the best for so long can be a fickle thing, ask Hollywood Hogan.

The hype around Jones has always been there, and he's lived up to every part of it. He is on the verge of becoming the biggest star in the sport, and his youth and personality give him the best chance to be the biggest cross-over star (that didn't start in the WWF) in the UFC.

The risk Jones is running as coming off as too perfect. People constantly say how naturally gifted he is and how things just come naturally to him. That very well may be the case, but the reason more people like Batman than Superman is that Batman has flaws. He appears human. There's emotion there, and while Jones  certainly has flaws, his public persona and rightfully so, his ego is leaving a bad taste in some fans' mouths.

Look at the second half of Josh Gross' ESPN column. As true as this may be, it reeks of pomposity and writers kissing up to Jones.

Comparisons to Muhammad Ali and him being treated like the greatest champion of all-time is a bit much. Further down this road Jones goes, the more and more fans will want to see failure. In a sport where your opponent can knock you unconscious it's probably not the best thing in the world.

When the fight is over, it will be interesting to see if the proverbial beef is squashed. There will be good sportsmanship, but whether these two former friends can rebuild their friendship or if either even want to do that will be interesting to see. Perhaps this drama will go on a bit longer.


For the past several fights, all I've really wanted to see is someone challenge Jones. Machida grazed him with a couple shots and that got me excited, but before I could give out a Machida "Waaaaaaaaaah" he was dropped like a heavy bag after Jones choked the life out of him.

This has to be the fight where Jones is challenged. Rashad is the #1 contender at light heavyweight and he knows Jones better than any fighter could. Rashad has fought, trained, and probably tagged Jones numerous times. While Rashad was never a true mentor for Jones and Jones has rankings wise passed Rashad, it is a little of the student becoming the master type thing around this fight.

If Bones is able to roll through Rashad and finish him it would be his most impressive display to date. At that point we could talk Dan Henderson or Gustafsson, but really it should be about Jones moving to heavyweight. He's steamrolled every big name in 205 over the past 5 years (minus Rashad and Hendo) and trying to see anyone down the line that provides an intriguing challenge would be wishful thinking. Jones should take an extended vacation and pack on some pounds if he beats Rashad. Heavyweight is calling.

Ultimately, I think Jones will win. I can see Rashad taking him down, but I'm sure in Jones fashion he'll be well prepared for that.

I say Jones by unanimous decision. Good fight by Rashad, a guy I always liked more outside the ring than in it.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Axl Rose Makes Sense

Axl Rose would rather pass on his Hall of Fame induction, thank you very much.
4/18/12 UPDATE: Axl added some more thoughts via his Twitter account. Certainly exceeding the 140 character limit, but still representing all things rock. Grantland's main  poppy culture guy Amos Bashard shared his thoughts, and we at Lockration. agree wholeheartedly. 
In aw, shucks news Axl Rose officially declined his induction as a member of Guns N' Roses into the Hall of Fame this past week. Typically bands that are inducted into the Hall perform in a celebration of music and musical history. The catch with Guns' induction is that Axl and the rest of the HOF band absolutely hate each other. While their credentials to get into the HOF are not in question, it's without a doubt many were hoping for one night, the band could bury their differences and play something off of "Spaghetti Incident?" or something. Rightfully so, would the Hall have been able to pull this off it probably would have been the biggest moment in their 28 year existence and probably one of the biggest moments in rock in the past decade. Although it probably wouldn't have beat out the Tupac Hologram. Of course, that all sounds grand until Axl Rose becomes a part of the picture.

Axl's mystique is forged over decades of rock n' roll bad-assness. He epitomized everything a rock frontman should be. Charismatic, splendidly talented, neurotic, egotistical, deranged, dangerous, and a total asshole. For those not interested in music history, Axl's rise is comparable to that of Daniel Plainview in "There Will Be Blood" only Daniel Plainview gets away with beating a faux-evangelical to death with a bowling pin from his indoor alley then goes on to record Use Your Illusion II and make a 9 minute music video where he's jumping off aircraft carriers and swimming with dolphins.

Let's face it, Axl is eccentric. It's what alienated so many fans and left so many more eagerly awaiting the eventual release of "Chinese Democracy" exactly 15 years after Guns released their last group effort. Of course, now all that was left was Axl and a guy with a KFC bucket on his head (can you guess his name?). Though out of the many iterations of Guns it's the original line-up everyone wants to see. While Axl and his group of currently merry men are touring the globe, it's no surprise that after the long, long sordid history of the band, the inner animosity, egos, and hostility Axl will not be joining them in Cleveland for a one-night only gig.

Axl is the last real rock star the planet has seen. He's outlasted the David Lee Roths of the world and guys like Kurt Cobain, Eddie Vedder, and Trent Reznor have no need for the infamy required to reach the highest of rock star heights. In all of his, for lack of a better term, insanity, Axl has actually managed to come full circle to a point where rejecting to show up to the Hall of Fame ceremony makes sense.

 The premise Axl highlights in his letter (first link) is that he doesn't associate himself with that version of "Guns". As altruistic as he sounds, trying to find a compromise, etc. the truth is he has moved on from that group and those people, whether it is his own doing or not. He's not looking back and appreciating a phase of his career that he still feels is continuing, and I'm sure in his mind improving.

While it's easy to look at this as Axl being Axl, in his own way he is standing up for something beyond himself. He is making a stand for Rock N' Roll music and in a lot of ways what G N'R stood for in their music. Just because a committee says you're in the Hall of Fame doesn't mean that you're required to participate. Sure in some circles that would be looked at as poor form or not being respectful or something like that, but this is rock music. There is no poor form or formal wear. This is sticking to your "guns" and being an individual. Going against what any committee tells you to do.

Axl isn't going to be guilted into joining his ex-bandmates. You want to see him? Go buy a ticket to his rock concert. The ultimate frontman doesn't want to pose in front of cameras and have Billy Joe Armstrong feign niceties on him. He wants to run out to roaring fans and have pyro blasting off behind him.

Hall of Fames are museums. They are there to preserve history and show future generations what this thing (music, baseball, badminton) is all about. The Rock N' Roll Hall of Fame does have its place. And future inductees will be more than happy to jam along and hear a fellow artist, but it's not for everyone. It's certainly not something we should hold as incorrigible a person as Axl's feet to the fire for. Sure seeing the original Guns line-up is a dream that will probably never come true. But for the spirit in which something like the construct of the Hall of Fame is intended, we should be silently raising some devil horns for Axl.

For someone like Axl and for a thing like rock n' roll the HOF might as well be a mausoleum, and what rock star would want to be a part of that?

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Guillen Embargo

Miami Marlins skipper was suspended 5 games for seemingly pro-Fidel Castro remarks.

Unfortunately for Ozzie Guillen, the Castro he seemed to be praising in his Time Magazine article wasn't Starlin. Guillen was suspended by the Miami Marlins for 5 games after raising the ire in the Miami community and probably other places as well for complimenting Cuban dictator Fidel Castro. Fine cigars aside, the Cuban dictator has reigned over his people for generations.

Guillen referenced that his 'admiration' stemmed more from Castro's ability to remain in power with everyone essentially hating him. Now, that's easier to do as a dictator than say manager of the Miami Marlins, but here's the thing Ozzie Guillen is a loudmouth. Everyone knows this, and he is known for it. I can see where his comments are stemming from. Partially in jest that, hey here's a guy everyone dislikes, dictators are getting overthrown all over the world; but this old guy whose smoked more cigars than the entirety of Mahogany combined, has failing health, and let's face it...if I said to you that we're overthrowing a dictator who would you choose? Egypt? Iran? The guy has the odds against him.

The biggest goof of the whole situation is that Guillen made these comments as the skipper of the most pro-Latino baseball team ever, the Miami Marlins. Everything the Marlins rebranded themselves as was pro Miami, pro the culture, pro the people there. For Guillen to reference a man so many people in that community have not only ill feelings towards, but probably directly or tangentially experienced what living under Castro was the extra fire to overcook everyone's ropa vieja.

Seemingly without intent Guillen mixed together sports, politics, and culture into one innocuous set of statements that sent his new employers scrambling for damage control. One of the new faces of the Miami franchise had taken a step towards insulting the large fan base the Marlins were hoping to bring into their flashy new stadium. To see their flashy new players. And to be a part of a cultural atmosphere in South Beach. The Heat may wear 'El Heat' on their jerseys some nights, but the Marlins were the main team reaching out to the Latino fans. They had Brazilian dancers escort players to the field on opening night for crying out loud.

The team had to act swiftly and put on the big production they did on Tuesday. Guillen should have known better, but the Marlins should have a Guillen Emergency Plan in a safe behind a painting of Ernesto Lecuona for all of the dust ups he will have in his time as Marlins skipper. I'm sure no one in the Marlins organization could imagine even Guillen could do this in such a short span of time, but now they know they're in the Ozzie Guillen business.