Friday, April 6, 2007

Merger means more kicks for fans

By Ian Walker

Hell, yeah! We're one step closer to seeing who is the best fighter on the planet.

The most important acquisition in mixed martial arts history finally became a reality last week, as it was announced that the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) had purchased Japanese rival Pride Fighting Championships.

Since the dawn of the sport, Pride FC and UFC have continued to be the driving forces behind the mixed martial arts scene. The mega-merger is a dream come true for fans, who have long filled the Internet with dream match-ups they believed they would never see. Now those fights will happen.

While the two circuits will continue to operate "as competitors and two separate entities," UFC president Dana White said the rivals will pit their best fighters against each other -- perhaps once a year -- to decide who rules, in what he called the "Super Bowl" of mixed martial arts.

Possible "super" matchups mentioned include Fedor Emelianenko vs. Randy Couture, Takanori Gomi vs. Georges St. Pierre, Dan Henderson vs. Anderson Silva, and Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva.

"From a fan's standpoint, the merger is very, very favourable," said Loretta Hunt, managing editor of MMA news content for The Fight Network. "From what Dana is telling us, we are going to see some marquee matchups that only could have been dreamed of a few months ago. Dana said probably within a year there will be a cross-over UFC-Pride event."

In terms of logistics, Pride fights will continue in a ring, unlike the Octagon used by the UFC. And Pride will stick with its current judging system, which is not the traditional boxing "10-point must" system used by the UFC.

However, Pride will adopt all of the UFC's weight classes, round lengths and, most importantly, rules. No longer are kicks, knees and stomps to the head of a downed opponent legal.

The uniform rules should go a long way towards bringing the sport of MMA to the same sort of popularity and acceptance as hockey, football or boxing in the mainstream media.

"Having Pride and UFC under the same rules is the biggest impact the deal is going to have on the sport on the whole," said Hunt, who is in Houston to cover UFC 69 on Saturday. Highlighting the pay-per-view event is Montreal's Georges St. Pierre defending his welterweight crown against Matt Serra.

"It's the first step to the sport becoming a unified sport with rules that match each other."

Seemingly more popular by the day, the UFC is the unquestioned king of American MMA. Pride had once been the world's top MMA organization, drawing more than 90,000 fans to an event in 2002. But the organization lost its television deal in 2006 and suffered a string of setbacks, paving the way for the purchase.

While the reported $60-million US deal is great for the fans, it's a spinning roundhouse to the solar plexus of the fighters. It's hard to imagine there will continue to be bidding wars for top athletes with the two groups united. And that could bring an end to those great big pays day enjoyed by high-ranked free agents like Matt Lindland, who takes on Fedor Emelianenko in bodogFight's Clash of the Nations on pay per view from Russia on April 14.


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