Goodbye Affliction You Will Be Missed!
To an MMA fan the “Heyday” of the sport was back during the PRIDE! vs. UFC days as far having the most drama. Who could forget the debates over Liddell vs. Wanderlai Silva, which was better the Octagon or the Ring, or elbows vs. knees/ kicks to a downed opponent, just to name a few. But what it always came down to was who had the better fighters and in both organizations there always seemed to be someone who could lay claim to the best in their division or best pound for pound fighter. This debate seemed to make the sport stronger and more intriguing to the fans because it did not offer an actual solution to the argument until PRIDE! was bought out by the UFC, and even then not every fighter came with the purchase. Also by this time some of the biggest names in both organizations just seemed to lack the match up potentials, like Liddell and Silva, because neither was seen as being at the top levels anymore. So the debate about PRIDE! vs. the UFC truly went unanswered for the most part, and the UFC seemed to be the only legitimate game in MMA.
But while there were other promotions who tried to come in to challenge the UFC, like Bodog, the IFL, and Elitexc, these organizations just seemed to always lack a single fighter let alone a division that could be seen as a threat to the UFC dominance of the sport, one did emerge that did have the potential to challenge the all powerful entity that closed the doors on their chief rival, as well as buying up another rising challenger (WEC). But in 2008 Affliction Clothing created Affliction Entertainment and began a rivalry with the UFC that had not been seen in a year. As the organization started to take shape it became apparent that they were concentrating on the fan favored heavyweight division as UFC stars like Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski signed with the company, as did former PRIDE FC stars Josh Barnett and Pedro Rizzo giving the organization instant credibility as having the deepest heavyweight division in MMA. But the icing on the cake was the signing of Fedor Emelianenko, arguably the best heavyweight and considered the best pound for pound fighter in the world by many fans and magazines. In one swoop Affliction Entertainment had made an organization that could challenge the UFC’s dominance right off the bat.
Affliction seemed to do the right things on paper: cross promotions with other organizations, bring in investors from sports and the business world, have fighters who could be seen as legitimate threats to the UFC’s, and get on a network or cable channel. The big bomb had already come before Affliction’s first event when UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture “severed ties” with the UFC, one of the reasons being his desire to fight Fedor, a contest that would not take place in a UFC Octagon. At the first event Affliction Banned, Couture was present immediately after Fedor’s thirty second dismantling of Tim Sylvia, again stating his desire to fight the Last Emperor. And despite the attempts of ZUFFA to block it people believed that Couture, Affliction, and especially Mark Cuban and the Donald Trump’s money would make this fight of fights happen.
But even at the first event the seams were coming undone. While the fights were entertaining the production quality of the show seemed lacking. There was a failure to sell out the arena where the event was being held and paid attendance was relatively low. Pay per view buys also seemed a little low after wards, which when the fighter salaries were figured in made the company’s first show a financial loss. But despite all of that management remained positive. They should have looked at something else, the fact that at the moment they declared Fedor the WAMMA Champion, the strength of their organization was getting ready to crumble. And the enemies were not really just at the gate in the form of ZUFFA, but they were from within and unknown.
Affliction was not done in because the mighty Evil Empire of ZUFFA and Dana “Lord of the Sith” White destroyed the Rebel Alliance (or any other movie scenario or conspiracy theory) it is because they built the organization around Fedor Emalianenko. It is not to be compared to EliteXc’s basing their whole organization around an unproven commodity in Kimbo Slice, but rather the problem was that they took a man unequalled at the time and stuck him in a notoriously weak division. It was the proverbial perfect storm coming true: a fighter unparalleled without a true adversary out there, sitting a top of a throne that could not support his greatness. The roster in Affliction proved to be not worthy of Fedor as he dispatched of Sylvia in thirty six seconds, the next challenger Andrei Arlovski faired better for three minutes and fourteen seconds and until Fedor threw a punch. Barnett was the last really legitimate threat left for him, Couture having gone back to the UFC in September 2, 2008 with a three fight deal at the age of forty-five, destroying any hope of a fight with Fedor. The final nails in the coffin were driven in the month of July 2009, with Josh Barnett testing positive for a banned substance leaving no opponent for the August 1st Trilogy card. On July 24 Affliction Entertainment folded and announced a deal to partner with the UFC, mostly to sell their shirts there.
The company was promoted to be rebellious, but really was not anything of the sort as its shirts and organization are more mainstream than even the UFC is. But despite its business mismanagement it was not that which caused the downfall, but rather the opposite in terms of EliteXc. Unlike the limited skills of Kimbo, Fedor possessed too many skills and is perhaps the most well rounded fighter in the heavyweight division in all MMA. There is now Lesnar vs. Fedor hype, but it lacks the depth of the old Liddell vs. Silva days as Lesnar still needs to win a few fights and defend his belt (remember both of these fighters were cleaning out their respective divisions during this talk). But for a brief time Affliction held our attention and had a man that is one of the most dominant fighters on the planet who could walk into the UFC octagon and claim a title at anytime. Maybe Strikeforce will someday be a force to rival the UFC, but that seems to be in the distant future, if ever. But for now, as much as many fans may wish for the old rivalry days, there is only one game in town, and that is the UFC. Is this good for the sport? Opinions differ on that point. But it is reality, and that is sad. Because it limits the number of fighters and fights out there, but more importantly it takes away anticipation of the biggest match ups possible. And like the first hill on a roller coaster, sometimes the anticipation of that hill is better than the ride itself.