It’s that time of year where we all get together with our families and give thanks for everything we have in our lives and everything we have been blessed with.
We all eat like it will not catch up to us while enjoying the company of relatives we rarely get to see throughout the year. In the world of MMA, the food we consume can be metaphorically linked to the fights we have gotten to witness throughout the year while the relatives we rarely see can be linked to some of the bigger names in the sport that have all but vanished before our eyes.
We dined on such classics as Justin Gaethje vs Michael Johnson and Darren Elkins vs Mirsad Bektic until we sat back in our chairs and loosened our belts, uncomfortably full from the dramatic violence and all-too-real storyline that played out before us. We were happy to see Uncle Georges as he finally came to dinner after a long five-year absence and he warmly greeted cousin Michael Bisping back from his own layoff in the UFC family. Let’s take a look at some of the other things we are thankful for in our extended mixed martial arts family.
Bellator's Heavyweight Grand Prix
The first thing I am thankful for is a bit of a sideshow, but for the MMA fans of yesteryear, it will rot your teeth like Pumpkin Pie.
A Heavyweight Grand Prix reminiscent of the Pride years that many of us cherish so fondly. Granted, this tournament features a lot of castoffs and MMA nomads that are way past their primes (Roy Nelson, Frank Mir, Fedor, Chael Sonnen, and King Mo Lawal), and also a few guys that couldn't get to the top in the UFC (Ryan Bader, Matt Mitrione), but, it potentially offers dream matchups that many MMA pundits only dreamed.
Fights like Mir vs Fedor, a fight that pits two of the best ground tacticians the sport has ever seen against each other. One is a guy that would use his slick submission game to come back from the brink of defeat. Another who uses a simple, yet explosive arsenal of submissions to tear your bones apart like breaking wood.
Or how about a fight like Roy Nelson and Rampage Jackson? A fight that would pit a coach on The Ultimate Fighter vs the contestant that won the whole show. Rampage had even gone so far as nickname Nelson "Titties" on the show, something that the light-hearted Nelson probably hasn't forgotten. You can bet your turkey that Nelson would love to show the one time UFC champ that he isn't one to be teased.
Matt Mitrione vs Chael Sonnen? Could the wrestler get the fight to the ground against the former defensive tackle? King Mo vs Ryan Bader? Someone is taking a nap. All of these potential matchups in this tournament are the kinds of things to be thankful for.
The fact that Mayweather vs McGregor is over
For the casual sports fan, this was as big of an event as you can get. For the MMA and boxing fans around the world, this was total farce in which we were being sold the impossible. We were being told that a guy who had struggled to beat a lightweight ranked anywhere from #5 to #10 in his weight class would step into the ring and beat a boxer considered the best of his generation and 49-0 in competition. They paraded around stages throughout the world, hopping on private jets immediately afterwards to probably rehearse their lines for the next venue.
The public tuned in to listen to racist, misogynistic, rants from both fighters, and it made better headlines than the fight. It was the drubbing that every MMA fan and boxing fan expected. Conor clipped Floyd in the early rounds with an uppercut that would prove to be his biggest highlight of the night. The announcers did their best to make you believe this was competitive, but Floyd stepped on the gas whenever he wanted and made the fight look like exactly what it was: a great boxer vs a guy who had never been in the ring before.
Once it was over, the fighters embraced, the checks were cut, and the MMA and boxing world could get back to business. The funny thing about that business is that Mayweather and Conor have both fought exactly the same amount of times since the bout ended. Zero.
Michael Johnson vs Justin Gaethje
This fight would be the main course of your thanksgiving meal.
Gaethje had a decorated career as the champion in the now extinct World Series of Fighting and had a knack for being in exciting and explosive fights. Johnson was known as a giant killer. A guy that was as powerful as he was athletic, and is the only guy to top Tony Ferguson in the octagon. Johnson knew many were writing him off in this fight, and came to prove that he was nobodies stepping stone. Gaethje was here to prove that he belonged amongst the best, and that his reign in WSOF was far from just a good fighter beating up on inferior competition. Both guys came to show out, and that they did.
The fight started as violently as it ended. Johnson clobbered Gaethje right off the bat and the two traded hands until a huge shot put Justin on skates. Johnson couldn't finish the job, but it wasn't for a lack of trying. He threw everything he had at the newcomer, and Justin fought valiantly despite being badly damaged. He survived until the end of the round and seemed to have gathered himself. It wouldn't last. Gaethje was again clobbered by the determined Johnson and the two would again trade hands. Johnson, hell bent on destruction, and Gaethje, in full-on survival mode. Justin survived for a second time, but the crowd was on their feet in anticipation of a thrilling conclusion. They would get it as the round wore on.
Johnson was fatigued from the relentless assault he had put on the tough-as-nails newcomer. Gaethje sensed the tiring Johnson and pounced. He hurt the former TUF alum with a vicious uppercut and poured it on until he got the stoppage in the second round. The crowd roared, the announcers shouted at the top of their lungs, and everyone at home had to be on their feet for the spectacle they had just witnessed. The two rounds of fury should be the fight of the year, and with good reason. Two warriors left it all in the ring and gave everything they had until one was left standing. It was what the sport of MMA is all about.
Georges St-Pierre and Michael Bisping give us the fight none of us expected
Going into UFC 217, the headliner between Michael Bisping and St-Pierre for the middleweight crown felt like the worst of the three title fights we got that night.
T.J. Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt were two young fighters at the peak of their careers. Joanna and Thug Rose were two of the most cold, violent women in the entire sport and a decision seemed as about as likely as anyone outside of Joanna's family spelling her last name correctly on the first try. However, MMA fans were treated to a throwback of a fight between two guys that are almost guaranteed to be first ballot Hall of Famers.
Georges had been away from the game for five years and had campaigned his whole career as a welterweight. Bisping had been away for over a year due to injury and his first defense was against the ghost of Dan Henderson in a fight that Henderson got on his name recognition alone. Nobody thought they would captivate the way they did.
The two aging fighters hammered away on each other for three rounds, with Michael getting the better of the striking exchanges and making St-Pierre show all the ring rust many expected from him. St-Pierre showed none of the explosive athleticism that had become his trademark as his takedowns looked slow and clumsy, and his striking was always a half second late in exchanges with Englishman.
His face looking worse for wear, St Pierre pulled the rabbit out of his hat, turned back the clock just for a moment and sat Bisping down with a hard shot he never saw coming. He quickly took his back and sunk in a rear naked choke that Bisping couldn't defend while he was simultaneously trying to clear the cobwebs. To make the drama even more palpable, Michael elected to go out on his shield and not tap.
It was the turn-back-the-clock moment for St Pierre that can make even the most cold-hearted fan smile, and also a night in which Michael Bisping proved he's more than just a mouth who avoided top contenders during his title reign. It was MMA's feel good story of the year.
Thank you, MMA
These are a few of the things to be thankful for as you dine on an imaginary dish of MMA goodness from the last year.
We have been brought countless hours of violence and drama, with much more in store for next year. We have the Khabib vs Barbosa fight to hopefully look forward to. A fight that will pit electricity against a blanket regarding Barbosa's striking and Khabib's grappling.
We have a light heavyweight title in the UFC to figure out. A possible middleweight showdown between the young lion in Robert Whitaker against St-Pierre, who will once again look to turn back the clock. A lightweight title to figure out as Tony Ferguson holds the current strap, but the return of Conor McGregor could turn the division on its head.
The MMA world is the plate that never gets empty, so bring your pants with the elastic waist and grab the extra large plate, because we have a lot to be thankful for as fans.
And lastly, Miesha Tate. I am thankful for Miesha Tate.
Happy Thanksgiving RealSport fans.
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