Thursday, January 25, 2007

What The...??

Friday, January 05, 2007

Why Are "Old School" Fighters Coming Back?

There seems to be a trend that a lot of “old school” fighters are coming out of retirement, and as a reaction, it also seems to be a trend that a lot of them are losing; badly.

Royce Gracie, the reigning UFC Hall of Famer, recently came out of retirement to fight the current UFC middle heavyweight champion Matt Hughes…and pretty much got humiliated. Royce had a perfect record of 11-0 back in the days of UFC where there were fewer rules, no time limits, and no weight classes. He hit it up with guys much bigger than he, and who were of a quality of toughness that maybe today’s fighters only aspire to be. But Royce is also 40 years old and far passed his prime, whereas Hughes was 32 years of lean, mean, ground’n’pounding machinery. I lost $10 betting on the Royce/Hughes fight (yeah ten whole dollars), I really thought he could pull it off, but even watching Royce and Hughes during the pre-fight warmups made me nervous. Hughes just looked like he was ready to rock and roll, while Gracie looked like he was teaching one of his jiu jitsu classes. I honestly thought he could win, but then again I’m only a blue belt, what do I know right?...Did he actually think he could win though?

Jean-Jacques Machado did the same thing in the Abu Dhabi Submission Wrestling Championships in 2005. My friend and I had perfect seats to that tourney, 5th row, and incidentally right next to none other than the Legendary “Judo” Gene LeBell himself and Gokor Chivickyan (my friend was psyched that he met Rickson Gracie)! During all the rest of the amazing fights that day, Marcelo vs. Ricco and Jacare vs. Roger Gracie, all of the crowd was wild! But during the superfight, when JJ Machado and PrideFC prodigy Dean Lister squared up to meet on the mat, the roar of the crowd and the energy of the hundreds of cheering fans was suddenly completely silenced. The entire stadium went dead quiet. You could literally hear a pin drop in that entire arena; you couldn’t cut through the suspense with a knife. Machado played his classic Butterfly Guard and Lister grappled conservatively, but in the end, it was ultimately Lister who would come out victorious that day, the silence was shattered by the uproar of hoorays from the stands. Machado, once again, was just too old.

And let us not forget the famous abomination of Ken Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz! The man named “The Worlds Most Dangerous Man” was utterly defeated 3 times by the cocky “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz; a fighter with really not much specialization besides Collegiate Wrestling was able to beat a professional shootfighter who studied under names like Fujiwara and Karl Gotch himself…3 TIMES SEQENCIALLY! And not only did Tito dominate Ken, he trash talked The Lion’s Den, berated Ken’s fighters, and pretty much acted like the royal ass that is the Tito Ortiz fans love. Ken had all the reason to come back and defend his name, but again, in his 40’s he just couldn’t pull it off.

Now there are some fighters in their 40’s that are absolute forces to be reckoned with. Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture practically took turns holding the title from each other! When Chuck and Tito fought in UFC 66, Tito tried to make Chuck flinch like he did with Ken Shamrock, Chuck didn’t move a muscle and Tito looked like an idiot. Needless to say he got GGPWNED! And Randy! Who in the world though an NCAA wrestler would even stand a chance against an Olympian? Enough said! Mirko Cro Cop isn’t exactly the youngest guy either. But the thing about these guys is that they haven’t gone into retirement for 10 years and then tried to get back in the game all at once, they’ve stayed on top of the game and evolved with their changing sport and changing bodies, which is why they have been so successful.

Even Dan Severn is fighting Wade Hamilton in King of the Cage this month. What’s going on with this trend of “old school” trying to come back?

My dad probably explained it to me best when we went to see Rocky Balboa this past weekend. (SPOILER SPOILER) Rocky came out of retirement to fight the current heavyweight champ who, very much like a lot of today’s fighters, was cocky and arrogant about his abilities. That fight was an all-out slugfest, an “It Aint Over Til It’s Over,” a bloody war. At the end, I thought Rocky had won. The fight was scored 95-94, and Rocky told Mason “The Line” Dixon that he was a great fighter and a good champ. Rocky’s name was chanted as he left the stadium, officially retiring The Italian Stallion, even though he lost.

My dad said that if he were Rocky he would have come back too. To be 40 or 50 or whatever and own a restaurant and know what your life was going to be like every day until you died was unbearable. It would be unbearable to guys like Rocky who came up not knowing what tomorrow was going to hold and fighting for the right to exist; for people like Royce Gracie who taught jiu jitsu out of the back of his garage in the beginning, and Machado who had to do it just like everyone else and come up through the ranks of competition to earn his name.

In a world where people are living to one hundred, we are saying 40 is too old. George Foreman the Boxer did it, maybe it can be done. I always thought the real tough guy wasn’t necessarily the guy who won, but the guy who could feel what its like to lose, and not be daunted. Even if Royce will never win another fight, or Machado and Shamrock are pretty much washed up, I say we stand behind them just for what they represent. That they will at least live their lives knowing that they didn’t back down when someone was dissing their home and friends because they were scared they were going to lose, or they didn’t go on living their life wondering if they could hit it up in what they have created in the present day, at least they went for their dreams. How about the rest of us?

“It aint about how hard you can hit, its about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”