Words

Anyone, Any Place, Anytime

Fightland Blog

By Tom Taylor


 

When asked “what’s next?” in post-fight interviews with Joe Rogan, or Dan Hardy, or Kenny Florian—whomever—this is one of the most common responses fighters give. And it sounds damned good. Really, there’s no better answer. It implies fearlessness. It implies a thirst for success. And at a time when the number of pay-per-view events are increasing with the growing market, it implies a sorely needed whatever’s-best-for-the-company attitude. 

But how many fighters actually mean it? How many fighters can truly claim to take on all comers, with no complaints about steps down the ladder or salaries or the alleged PED use of their opponents? You could argue that most up-and-comers have this attitude, but as debutants, they have no choice. For that reason, their cases will be ignored. So this begs the question: Which of MMA’s more established names can claim to truly own this philosophy? As it turns out, in a sport comprised of the toughest men and women on the planet, a willingness to compete against anyone on any night (even with adequate preparation) is surprisingly rare. 

I tried to imagine the list of fighters who really would fight anybody. One of the first competitors to pop into my head was Dan Henderson. He embodies fearlessness, and an any weight, any time credo that is impossible not to admire. After all, the guy jumped up to heavyweight to fight Fedor Emelianenko just a year after fighting Jake Shields for the Strikeforce middleweight strap. That takes some seriously sizable nuts. But despite his cojones, history tells us that “Hendo” will fight anyone—as long as his name carries enough weight (at this stage of his career, that’s absolutely fair), and the money is right (the reason he moved to Strikeforce was because he and the UFC didn’t see eye-to-eye on his worth). So really, the owner of the “H-bomb” might not be the best example of the kind of fighter in question. 

Another pair of fighters who embody a similar kind of tenacity are the Diaz brothers. Proof? In January of the coming year, Nick Diaz will enter the cage after an almost two-year layoff, undersized and outmatched against the generally acknowledged best fighter of all time, Anderson Silva. Really, there’s nobody on earth that can question the courage of the brothers from the 209. But as with Henderson, the big variable in the case of the Diaz brothers is the size of the pay-day. That’s the very reason we haven’t seen Nick’s brother Nate compete in so long. I’m not suggesting that fighters shouldn’t attempt to better their financial situations. It’s just nice when the dollar doesn’t keep them out of action. 

So who really does embody the “I’ll fight anybody” philosophy? To me, the best example is one of the most notorious gunslingers on the UFC roster. Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone. I don’t imagine anyone will disagree with that claim. But if you do, just listen to the Cerrone sound bites from the UFC Fight Night- Cerrone vs Miller post-fight presser. 

“I’ll fight anybody,” he told reporters. “All the UFC has to do is call me, and I’ll be there. Whether it’s 170 [pounds], 155—I’ll fight whoever.” Still not convinced? Take a look at his recent record. He’s fought five times in the last year. And while he’s taken on some big names in that stretch, he’s proven he’s willing to fight anyone by stepping into the cage with unranked newcomers like Adriano Martins.

Now, you might argue that the only reason Cerrone fights so often is because he’s after more money. And you’re probably right. He has alluded to money woes in the past. I guess jet skis and cowboy hats don’t come cheap. The difference between Cerrone and fighters like Hendo and the Diaz brothers, however, is that he doesn’t publicly gripe about his wages. If he wants more money, he’s going to go out there and earn it by fighting anybody with two gloves and a cup. He’s not going play hard ball by openly complaining about his contract. And that’s a solid quality in a fighter. It’s a quality that matters.

Why? Because the game is changing. Everyone and their grandmother suddenly wants to be a mixed martial artist, and as a result, the world’s top MMA organizations are oversaturated with talent. Which means that for every one of the increasing number of fight cards, there are less big names, and less big fights. And that doesn’t bode well for pay-per-view sales or viewership. Add to the equation the wash of injuries that has piled up over the last few years, and the value of fighters who don’t complain about who, or where, or for how much, becomes that much clearer.

Sure, guys like Donald Cerrone want their title shots. Everyone wants big fights (Cerrone just had one. Ask Jim Miller how it went). The difference lies in the strategy with which they earn those big fights. Anyone can beg. “Please, Joe Silva!” Anyone can talk trash until the match-up becomes something the fans want to see. But it takes a special kind of fighter to go out there, do their best to flatten whomever they’re asked to fight, and gamble on the simple fact that if you knock down enough pawns, you’ll eventually find yourself face-to-face with the king. And in a time when injuries, and failed drug tests and gripes like “he’s ranked too far below me” or “the money’s not right” make matchmaking increasingly difficult, fighters who will suck it up and walk into that cage to win or lose against whomever they’re set up with, are a rare and wonderful thing.  We owe those fighters a “thank you” for providing precisely the kind of no-strings-attached fighting we’re all after. 

 

 

Check out these related stories:

Diaz vs Silva: The Welcome Return of Kabuki Theater

Nick Diaz: Say Hello to the Bad Guy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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