Just a hunch, but 2012 could see more UFC champions from the cradle of MMA. The ‘Boys from Brazil’ continue to emerge as potential UFC kings. Innate hunger and desire, and the route from poverty made possible by the wider professionalisation of MMA, has created a conveyor belt of talent. Breeding grounds for success in combat sports were ever thus. Time was when, through association football, men from the poorer nations of Africa and South America sought their fortunes abroad, notably in Europe.
That is changing.
The Brazilians are ploughing the same rich furrow in the USA through MMA. Look around in the UFC and we already have three notable champions, all of whom have transformed their lives by ‘escaping’ poverty through success in their sport: Anderson Silva, champion emeritus (and now extremely wealthy), looks immovable at middleweight; featherweight champion of the UFC José Aldo, the street kid who found a gym, scrubbed the floors, met the love of his life there and clambered to the top of the tree with his vicious fighting style; and, latterly, Junior dos Santos, the newly crowned heavyweight champion.
At the age of 11, he was selling drinks in the streets to help his mother make ends meet. His rise and rise was told time and again in 2011, as a paean to the sport’s development. Yet look around and emerging Brazilians loom large in other divisions: Renan Barao looks like a wrecking machine at bantamweight, most likely to be joined soon by the exciting TUF 14 145lb champion Diego Brandao.
COUTURE MAJOR HOLLYWOOD HIT
Randy Couture continues to impress. He may have called time after losing a tooth (but certainly not his pride) against Lyoto Machida in Toronto last April, but has taken to Tinseltown with the same vim and vigour he brought to both his military career and his 14 years in MMA. It seems his commitment to acting has had a distinct impression on a few guys who act tough. Notably, Jason Statham and Sylvester Stallone. Stallone admitted Couture was “the toughest guy on set” during filming of The Expendables, and, by all accounts, the unflappable stuntmen don’t want to do a fight scene with him.
Statham, action man in the movies and a serious MMA follower, explained: “I had the pleasure of working alongside Randy on The Expendables, and I’ve had the thrill of sitting cageside at his fights. I’ve seen him teach beginners and I’ve seen him challenge fighters decades younger in the gym. Randy is a legend, a mentor and, I’m privileged to say, a friend. And from what the ladies tell me, he’s also the guy you want as your wingman.
“I’ve played a lot of tough guys on screen. On the set I throw kicks and punches, choke thugs out – ever mindful of the proper camera angle – and sometimes even get the girl. I get to be the hero on the screen and usually go home without much more than a couple of bruises for my troubles. Randy, on the other hand? Hell, he’s a 24-hour, straight-up, real-world badass.
“He’s the guy running at 11pm with a 40lb weight vest on after two sparring sessions and strength and conditioning training. He’s the guy working his Olympic-level wrestling and world-famous ground ‘n’ pound for weeks on end, all to ready himself for 15–25 minutes of absolute, unadulterated war inside the Octagon. He’s the guy who has won three heavyweight titles, two light-heavyweight titles and who competed at the highest level until the age of 47. Makes you think to yourself: what did I do today? Well, probably not as much as Randy did.” Now that’s admiration. But that’s Randy, too. A one-off.
MMA IN THE MILITARY
Mixed martial arts is loved by military men. It has all the in-built ingredients involved in the serviceman’s daily life. The heroic lives of Brian Stann and Tim Kennedy, Marine and Special Forces soldier respectively, have been well documented. In England, Jack Marshman is cut from the same cloth. He started out on the wrong side of the tracks, spending his juvenile years in and out of jails, consistently involved in fights on the streets of South Wales. Great fighters have emerged from the tough area once populated by coal mining.
However, Marshman joined the Parachute Regiment, and is rising through the ranks. Now, rather than fights in the streets, he fights in a cage and jumps out of planes over Afghanistan. Marshman became BAMMA’s first British middleweight champion in the Autumn and made a successful first defence against Leroy Barnes at BAMMA 8, coming through another war. The army boxing champion may take two shots to land with one but Marshman has fought 11 times since the start of 2010.
My wishlist for 2012: Rashad Evans to get the light heavyweight title shot he deserves; moves to set up a much-needed ‘MMA Commission’ in the UK to get underway; New York sanctioned for MMA so that we can witness our first event at Madison Square Garden; and the realisation of the Fox deal with an identifiable impact on the mainstream, even if that means the vagaries of the sport are debated in public, even by the game’s detractors. Better off out in the open, than in the shadows.