When a Fighter's Pride Gets in the Way
Fighters are a different breed. Would you get punched in the face to make a living? Enough said. MMA athletes are seen as 21st century gladiators, who pride themselves in their disciplines and enduring memorable battles. That pride, while making them successful, often brings stubbornness. There is an unwillingness to realize that their best days have passed and a belief that they have more to give. That’s when we as fans come in.
Fans have an emotional investment in fighters. It’s the reason they root on “their guys”, follow every interview, every movement and ultimately purchase the tickets and pay-per-views that help compensate these warriors. The fans are dedicated and hopeful, but there’s not much else more depressing to a fight fan then when their once prideful champion succumbs to father time.
At WEC 47, we saw the latest example of a fan favorite who has become all too mortal. Jens “Lil’ Evil” Pulver, a former UFC Lightweight Champion who is the only man to beat BJ Penn at 155 lbs., was easily defeated by Javier Vasquez via arm lock submission in the first round. It’s not the latest result that stirs emotion from a disappointed fan base; rather it’s the fact that Pulver fought.
Pulver has now lost five fights in a row. Every time he loses another, his legacy can’t help but be tarnished that much more. And while it’s true that some of these losses were to damn good fighters, it’s also true that “Lil’ Evil” has managed to get out of the first round only once. Oh yeah, and that one time? It was a five round decision that began the streak of losses.
The list doesn’t begin nor end with Pulver. Royce Gracie, a man who is regarded as one of the founding fathers of the UFC suffered much of the same fate. Gracie came out of retirement from the UFC at the age of 39 for a $400,000 pay day and was thoroughly embarrassed in the first round by a younger and much better Matt Hughes at UFC 60.
Then there might be the most popular and polarizing personality out of them all, the “Ice Man” Chuck Liddell. To MMA fans that began watching over the past five years, Liddell is one of the guys that brought this sport to the next level. He made us purchase shows with his badass personality, undeniable charisma and devastating knockout ability.
Unfortunately for Liddell, over the past two to three years he’s remembered more for being knocked out than delivering knock outs. The former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion has lost four of his last five fights, three by either TKO or KO. Even UFC President and close friend, Dana White, hopes Liddell will call it a career after his next scheduled fight versus old rival Tito Ortiz.
It’s that inevitable battle of Ortiz v. Liddell that only compounds the problem. Even though we as fans are at the least disappointed, at the most heartbroken, to witness our favorite fighters regress, we’re still willing to “witness” their last battle. We have labeled them heroes and admire their will, power, skills and spirit. We’ll watch Ortiz and Liddell this season on “The Ultimate Fighter” and then pay to watch the fight at home or at a bar. Even if beat that night, we’ll cheer “our guys” because they’ve earned our loyalty and praise. It’s only our hope that those cheers will be recognized for what they truly are at certain times, well wishes and goodbyes. Not our cries for more.
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