About this weekend: Three thoughts
1. THE UFC NEEDS A NEW SUPERSTAR — STAT
Saturday night kickboxing ace Alistair Overeem toppled Brock Lesnar with a series of shots to the midsection, but minutes after the bout, when the WWE star-turned UFC cash cow announced his retirement from the Octagon, the folks running the world’s fastest-growing sports league probably felt like they’d been kicked in the gut themselves.
Yes, the UFC is distinct from boxing. Instead of relying on a handful of superstars to generate attention and revenue, the strength of the UFC’s brand is the brand itself, and the idea that no individual competitor — whether it’s Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre or Overeem — is more important than the organization.
Which is true, except that Lesnar generates pay-per-view buys than all of those guys, and even if the UFC doesn’t collapse in his absence it’ll miss the money he brings in.
It’s tough to deny the UFC strength of the brand. After all, Fox wouldn’t have signed on for seven years if the UFC’s popularity appeared set to fizzle out. But unless last Saturday’s card was a blockbuster 2011 figured to be the first year since 2007 that the UFC hasn’t held a single event that drew more than 1 million purchases.
And we can attribute that trend to Lesnar’s extended absence, since four of the previous five events that attracted 1 million buys featured him in the main event. Predicting the next UFC pay-per-view event to do Mayweather and Pacquiao numbers is an exercise in guesswork.
This isn’t to slight any of the UFC’s current roster of superstars. Jon Jones is a once-in-a-generation talent with a constantly evolving set of skills, while Anderson Silva is a virtuoso who doesn’t seem to age. And St-Pierre is the crossover star the sport has always craved.
But while Jones is a pleasant man who apprehends muggers in his spare time, his personality doesn’t polarize — which is key to persuading a few million people to pay to see you bash somebody’s face in.
If Silva were going to undergo a Pacquiao-esque transformation from foreign fight phenom to mainstream marketing marvel he would have done it by now.
And St-Pierre’s surgically repaired knee will sideline him for most of 2012, creating yet another superstar void the UFC needs to fill.
None of that means the UFC will disappear from view, but without Lesnar it will have a significantly smaller pay-per-view footprint.
2. FUNNY HOW “TEBOW TIME”…
Runs out when opponents blitz and play man-to-man.
Especially in the fourth quarter.
I don’t say this to celebrate the Broncos’ loss to the chiefs, or to revel in Tebow’s putrid stat line (6-for-22, 60 yards and an pick, if you’re counting).
It’s just an observation from someone who’s glad to see the runaway Tebow hype lose momentum.
Remember his magical fourth-quarter passer rating? A few short weeks ago it was the highest in the league.
If you were a Tebow “believer” you knew that stat came from Tebow’s unique ability to “turn it on when it counts,” and that his never-before-seen combination of grit, faith and will-to-win would propel Denver to a fourth-quarter comeback and a thrilling win.
You could point out that the entire team needs to play well to make a comeback happen, and that Tebow’s compiled his magical fourth quarter stats against soft zone defenses played by teams content to trade yardage for time off the clock, but that would make you a hater at best and non-believer at worst.
Personally, I’ve never seen Tebow as a figure worthy of belief or disbelief. He’s not Jesus dying for our sins, or even Santa Claus delivering presents. He’s a football player — a great one in college and deeply flawed one as a pro.
Prevent defenses in “Tebow Time” have allowed him to gloss over those flaws, but when defenses keep the pressure cranked up for four quarters Tebow’s numbers suffer. If you don’t believe me, believe Sunday’s stat line, or the two picks and the fumble he served up in the final 17 minutes against the Bills in week 16.
That’s not a coincidence, or a non-believer nit-picking.
It’s game-planning and execution.
It’s defenses cracking the Tebow code and making adjustments.
While we’ve been celebrating Tebow’s legendary will to win, we’ve forgotten that the other team wants to win too. Just as badly as Tebow does.
When everything else is equal skill beats will, and Tebow’s skill needs a ton of work.
But I’m not asking you to believe me.
Just watch the Broncos’ last two games and believe your eyes.
3. A NICKNAME FOR VICTOR CRUZ AND ELI MANNING
How about “El Gran Combo“?
Two simple reasons for this one.
First, Cruz can salsa and he isn’t shy about showing off his steps every time he scores. If you know me, you know I love my salsa, so it didn’t take Cruz long to become my favourite NFLer taller than 5-foot-9.
Amazing thing about Cruz is that he played just three games as a rookie, and didn’t catch a single pass.
This year he has 82 grabs for 1,536 yards and 9 scores, stats that somehow didn’t get him to the Pro Bowl but will put him in the playoffs.
It’s as if the Giants suddenly realized what El Gran Combo knew years ago:
Sin Salsa no Hay Paraiso.
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