My favorite holiday of the year is here: Thanksgiving. Some of you just read that and are headed straight to the comments to say, "What about Christmas?" You mean that holiday when I have to spend hundreds of dollars on people who aren't me, only to get a gift card I didn't want in return? "Well what about the 4th of July?" You mean the 5 days in a row all the dogs in my neighborhood freak out because the hillbilly down the street decided to give his kids a can of gas and a bunch of explosives from a sketchy fireworks warehouse in Indiana? "Halloween?" You mean that one day of the year when I drop $50 on a costume that I'll only wear once and will likely have puke on it by the end of the night?
Thanksgiving CRUSHES all of the other holidays. First off, you get drunk on Wednesday night catching up with your hometown friends that you only see once a year. Then you wake up whenever you want on Thursday morning/afternoon. You might have to cook something but really your biggest commitments that day are to watch football, eating as many calories as Johnny Hendricks between fight camps, and napping to gain the strength to do it all over again. And if you're an office drone, you probably also get Friday off, resulting in a massive 4-day weekend filled with leftovers, rivalry NCAA football match ups on Saturday, and day drinking. Fuck your face all other holidays, Thanksgiving is the pound for pound greatest of all time.
One thing I neglected to mention is that Thanksgiving is supposed to be about being thankful. You know, as in I am thankful to have an incredible wife and I am thankful to have a loving family. And all of the other stuff you are supposed to say when your mom asks you what are you thankful for at dinner. Well, this year, I am changing it up and talking about all of the things I am thankful for in MMA in 2017. So let's ring the bell and bust open this cornucopia of MMA goodness.
Derrick Lewis' Instagram - "The Black Beast" has the best Instagram account in MMA. While other fighters are sharing selfies after a "sick jits sessh" or "cardio gah!", Lewis has dedicated his Instagram to bringing you the dankest memes and videos on the planet. The big man also shared daily Instagram stories of himself helping flood victims in his hometown of Houston, including carrying people out of their homes and using his gigantic truck to tow others to safety. Lewis is a good dude and I'd love to crack a few beers and a couple jokes with him someday.
Michael Bisping - Someone has to play the asshole villain, and Bisping does it to a T. He will talk shit on anyone and show up half-lit or hungover to press conferences while doing it. He constantly has a sneer on his face that you want to see get punched back to England, and he could give two shits what you think of him. But guess what? Someone has to play that role. Someone has to be the guy you will pay money to see get his ass kicked, and few do it better than Bisping. On top of that, he's always in great shape, incredibly durable, and is one of the most intelligent veterans on the UFC roster. I am not sure how many years he has left in the game because he has nothing left to prove, but I am definitely going to miss this prick when he is gone.
New Stars - The UFC has had a real problem with a lack of PPV star power for a while now. We haven't seen Brock Lesnar since his boring decision over Mark Hunt at UFC 200 and his post-fight piss test failure. We might never see Ronda Rousey in an Octagon again after two back-to-back soul-crushing losses to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes. The closest Conor McGregor has come to having an MMA match in a year is (allegedly) getting coked out of his skull and trying to fight a referee in Bellator. And then there is the pound-for-pound champ of fucking up, Jon Jones, who tested positive for a Cold War-era steroid and is facing a possible 4-year suspension. If I was part of WME-IMG, I would be drinking my breakfast and openly weeping anytime someone reminded me that we bought the UFC for $4 billion.
The good news is, even though the UFC is lacking megastars right now, we are starting to see the rise of new young fighters and the return of an old favorite. Judging by his interviews, Cody Garbrandt couldn't pass a junior high English class, but he is a good-looking dude with off-the-charts speed, heavy hands, and a mean streak. Plus he has a feud with TJ Dillashaw that could easily become a PPV headlining trilogy. Max Holloway is the truth ruling at the top of a stacked 145-pound division. He is currently riding an 11-fight win streak and continues to improve with each fight. And who was the last man to beat him? Conor McGregor.
The women's division continues to grow with recognizable names such as Jędrzejczyk, Nunes, Namajunas, Holm, and Cyborg. Finally we recently saw the return of GSP to the Octagon which could lead to a number of must watch super fights at Welterweight or Middleweight. While none of these fighters (besides GSP) have hit mega stardom yet in PPV buys they are all prospects could someday reach that level.
UFC Pulling Mark Hunt from UFC Sydney - I've been a Mark Hunt fan for years. The Super Samoan entered his first K1 tournament in 2000. After establishing himself as one of the top heavyweight kick boxers in the world, he transitioned to MMA, where he fought in both PRIDE and DREAM in Japan. Finally he made his debut in the UFC in 2010. For 17 years, Hunt has been pushing one of the most aggressive striking games in MMA and has locked horns with Wanderlei Silva, Fedor Emelianenko, Josh Barnett, Melvin Manhoef, Junior Dos Santos, Alistar Overeem, Stipe Miocic, and this brutal 5-round war with Bigfoot Silva....
Before UFC Sydney Hunt wrote a testimonial for Player's Voice in which he stated: "My body is f**ked but my mind is still here. I’ve still got my senses about me and I know what’s right and wrong, which is the main thing. Sometimes I don’t sleep well. You can hear me starting to stutter and slur my words. My memory is not that good anymore. I’ll forget something I did yesterday but I can remember the s**t I did years and years ago."
Two of the biggest problems with aggressive full contact sports is 1. CTE and 2. knowing when to walk away from the sport. While Mark Hunt is fine with dying in a cage, I personally do not want to see that. I also don't want to see him not being able to remember his wife and kids' names by the time he is 50.
Title Changes - During the course of 2017, we have seen 2 new Middleweight champions and title changes at Lightweight, Featherweight, and Bantamweight. Plus we have seen 2 new Women's champions at Strawweight and Featherweight. New champions means new storylines and new fights that I want to see. Now the question becomes who can hold onto the gold and for how long?
Joe Rogan Experience Fight Companions - One of my favorite parts about watching an UFC PPV card is that I have a standing group of people I get together with once a month to watch the fights. We catch up, we crack jokes, and eat a bunch of food. I love listening to JRE's Fight Companions because I get the same feeling from these podcasts as the conversation shifts between the fights to modern life to total randomness. The shows have been pretty good lately with Rogan and Brendan Schaub doing the bulk of the heavy lifting, and it seems that they have both lost Bryan Callen's number as he hasn't appeared on a companion in a while which is fine by me. The only thing I don't like about these shows is when Eddie Bravo is talking about anything that isn't jiu jitsu.
Bellator - I'll be the first to admit I don't watch Bellator nearly as much as I should because of my lack of cable, but I am happy to see them continue to grow. Scott Coker has created an alternative to the UFC that gives young fighters a place to go before the UFC and a place for older fighters to go after they leave the UFC. And now we are even seeing top tier fighters like Rory MacDonald jumping ship to fight for a company where you can still have your own sponsors on your shorts instead of wearing Reebok's awful fight kits. Michael Venom Page's stock continues to rise as one of their brightest homegrown stars. Finally, Bellator has recently announced that they will be hosting a star studded Heavyweight Grand Prix that will definitely bring eyeballs (including mine) to multiple fight cards in 2018. They have solidified themselves as the number 2 MMA promotion on the planet and they aren't done growing yet.
The Return of GSP - It's great to see GSP back in an Octagon after taking a few years off to heal up. Georges has always been one of my favorite fighters because of his technical ability but also because of the way he carries himself outside of the cage. In a sport filled with the likes of Colby Covington and a bunch of other Conor McGregor knockoffs, it's nice to see a mild-mannered, good guy that is a true martial artist. Sure it can make for some boring press conferences but I have a hard time thinking of a better role model for young MMA fans.
That is my list of things I am thankful for in MMA in 2017, but what are you thankful for? Join in on the conversation by leaving a comment below or in the Craft Brewed Sports Facebook Group.