Thursday, June 18, 2009

The UFC Isn't the Only Game in Town

While the UFC may dominate the headlines of the Mixed Martial Arts world and organizations like Affliction that try to compete with the Zuffa-powered juggernaut put together big name shows once every six months, two smaller organizations - Strikeforce and Bellator Fighting Championships - are doing things their own way and doing so successfully.

What's more is that the success of organizations such as these and smaller, regional promotions as well, is imparative to the success and long-term viability of Mixed Martial Arts as a whole.

As Zak Woods and I discuss on this week's initial Watch Kalib Run podcast, both Strikeforce and Bellator have outstanding cards taking place this Friday and though they are overshadowed by the UFC's Ultimate Fighter Finale card on Saturday night, they are both worth watching.

Bellator has found a home on highlight reels during their initial entry into the fight game with outstanding finishes at every level of their four-class tournament format. From Toby Imada's early contender for Submission of the Year to Yahir Reyes' equally impressive and award-worthy spinning backfist knockout clip, fans of up-and-coming fighters have flocked to YouTube and MMA websites alike to see these guys they have never heard of before doing things you won't see again any time soon.

In it's own way, Strikeforce too has crafted a strong following by building slowly to where they now have some well-known and extremely talented fighters on their roster that results in outstanding shows like the Jake Shields - Robbie Lawler card from a couple weeks back.

There is no questioning that the UFC is the pinnacle of the sport; the most well-known and widely watched of all the MMA organizations on the planet and home a great deal of the sport's best. That being said, they are not the only game in town and are far from the only organization worth paying attention to.

Don't get me wrong: I love the UFC and they were my introduction and indoctrination to the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, but that doesn't mean that my fandom stops there. In fact, there are times when I would prefer to watch organizations like Strikeforce, Bellator or the Zuffa-operated WEC over the UFC, simply because I enjoy the opportunity to watch new fighters I have never seen before and spend a little bit of time outside of the UFC vacuum.

Take Friday's fights for example. Bellator will have the finals of their lightweight and middleweight tournaments featuring Eddie Alvarez taking on the aforementioned Toby Imada and Jared Hess waging war with Hector Lombard. With no disrespect intended to Hess and Imada, both Alvarez and Lombard have been highly impressive in their previous bouts and could do similarly in a major organization in the future. Here, you get the chance to watch them shine without forking over $50 for a pay-per-view.

The same goes with Strikeforce, as Joey Villasenor and Evangelista "Cyborg" Santos headline a card that also features Sarah Kaufman vs. Shayna Baszler, Tim Kennedy vs. Nick "The Goat" Thompson and quality veterans like Dennis Hallman and Duane "Bang" Ludwig on the undercard.

To me, the situation is analogous to music: while I predominantly listen to and love hip hop, I'm not going to listen to only hip hop because there is great music out there in all other genres of music. The same goes for fighting.

The UFC may be the biggest fish in the sea, but there are all kinds of smaller fish that are worth paying attention to too... and you don't have to pay to pay attention.

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