Notes: Fading stars a sad sight

Last weekend’s Impact Fighting Championship pay-per-view show from Sydney was a sad reminder of what the future may hold for many of today’s top stars.

Ken Shamrock, Carlos Newton, Murilo Bustamante, Pedro Rizzo and Josh Barnett were all at various points either UFC champions or groomed to be top stars.

But there they were, on the other side of the world, fighting before quiet, small crowds in an atmosphere that hardly felt like they were part of a booming sport.

Ken Shamrock was a shell of his former self in Australia.
(Ross Dettman/Getty Images for IFL file photo)

Shamrock, a UFC Hall of Famer and the first holder of the championship that evolved into the current heavyweight title held by Brock Lesnar, was sad to watch.

Shamrock, 46, in his first fight since serving a one-year suspension for failing a steroid test, had no answer to Rizzo’s hard sweeping kicks to his left leg. The only question was if Shamrock, 2-6 in his last eight fights, would go to the second round for the first time since his 2002 fight with Tito Ortiz.

Rizzo’s Muay Thai technique and takedown defense was such that when the Fertitta Brothers bought UFC in 2001, they signed him to the company’s most lucrative contract, at $175,000 per fight, thinking he’d be their heavyweight superstar. He never reached those levels, losing two title matches with Randy Couture, and now 36, has also been working his way down the food chain.

Shamrock (27-14), who at 212 was 32 pounds lighter than Rizzo (19-9), didn’t even try for a takedown, and was way out of his league standing, not being able to do anything to counter the low kicks.

At 3:33, he went down when his left leg gave out, and referee John McCarthy mercifully stopped it.

Shamrock was, by far, the most popular fighter on the show, and can still talk the talk. But while the fans who were there seemed to appreciate Shamrock for his historical influence, there weren’t many of them. The show drew only about 2,000 fans in the 10,000-seat Sydney Entertainment Center, all congregated in front of the camera, and were quiet for most of the rest of the matches.

“The day it’s over will be a sad day for me, and it’s getting very close to that day,” said Shamrock in the cage after losing. When asked by announcer Elvis Sinosic if he would fight again, he said, “As long as people want to see me continue to see me get beat up.”

It’s doubtful he meant it exactly as the words came out, but they were probably far too true.

Perhaps sadder was Bustamante, who turns 44 in two weeks. Another of the sport’s pioneers, Bustamante (14-8-1), moving up a weight class, lost a close decision to a prime Chuck Liddell in 2001, and then followed by winning the UFC middleweight title in 2002. He left after a financial dispute, and in 2005, lost via split decision to Dan Henderson in the match to crown PRIDE’s first champion in the weight class.

Bustamante still had enough left to hang with former Ultimate Fighter contestant Jesse Taylor (15-6), 27, when it came to takedowns and ground positioning for a round. But in the second round, against a fighter who washed out of both UFC and Strikeforce in recent years, after little action on the ground, when McCarthy ordered a stand-up. Bustamante tried to get up, and stumbled back down. He had taken an elbow to the temple and couldn’t regain get his equilibrium. The fight was stopped and Taylor declared the winner.

Newton, who is only 33, was one of the sport’s biggest stars a decade ago. In 2001 he captured the UFC welterweight title from Pat Miletich, then lost it to Matt Hughes. His fight on the pay-per-view was actually taped six days earlier in Brisbane, Australia, where he lost to Brian Ebersol, an American journeyman fighter.

Newton’s career has gone downward in recent years, and failed to make weight in his last two fights. After Ebersol took the decision, Newton fell to 15-14, having lost seven out of his past ten.

Barnett (26-5), who beat Couture for the UFC heavyweight title in 2002 and was stripped of it after failing a steroid test, fighting in Brisbane, was able to take down and ground-and-pound a completely outclassed Geronimo Dos Santos (18-10) in 2:45. A multiple-time steroid offender, this was Barnett’s second fight since being denied a license in California last summer for a prospective match with Fedor Emelianenko when he failed another steroid test. Barnett has yet to be re-licensed and both of his fights have been overseas.

Judging changes afoot?

Well-known MMA officials McCarthy, Nelson “Doc” Hamilton, and Herb Dean will be speaking on July 26 before the California State Athletic Commission, united in an attempt to change the current judging system.

Hamilton, one of the most experienced judges in the sport, and McCarthy and Dean, the two most respected referees, are all proponents of the half-point system, which has been used in kickboxing.

Under that system, a close round would be scored 10-9.5, a clear but not dominant round is 10-9, a dominant but not overwhelmingly damaging round would be 10-8.5 and a totally one-sided round would be scored 10-8. Hamilton is also trying to come up with tie-breaker criteria in the event of a draw, like is used in judo and wrestling tournaments.

The most significant flaw in the current system is that whether a fighter squeaks by in a round, or strongly wins the round but doesn’t have the opponent near being finished, both are scored 10-9. This can lead to a fighter who completely dominates one round but barely loses the other two coming out on the wrong end of the scorecard despite doing more damage overall in the fight.

FEG’s cash infusion

At a press conference on Friday in Japan, Fighting Entertainment Group president Sadaharu Tanigawa stated they are going to partner with Puji, a Chinese investment bank, to try and raise funding for an international expansion. FEG is the parent company of both K-1 kickboxing and Dream MMA.

“This is a declaration of war against the WWE and UFC,” said Tanigawa, who controls the two biggest martial arts companies in Japan, which, until 2005, was the business center for both sports.

Tanigawa said they will attempt to raise $230-345 million over the next three years to globalize their product, noting they’ve lost out on market share and top fighters in recent years to UFC. However, he said the expansion would not include the U.S., feeling the market is already saturated, but would be looking to battle UFC, and I guess in their minds WWE, for market share in Asia first, particularly China, and then Europe.

Despite its events regularly being viewed by 10-15 million people on a major television network when airing in prime time, the company has had financial issues in recent years and insiders believed they had to make a statement because fighters, who have often had to wait months to be paid, were losing confidence and looking to hook up with UFC and Strikeforce.

Dave Meltzer covers mixed martial arts for Yahoo! Sports. Send Dave a question or comment for potential use in a future column or webcast.
Updated Monday, Jul 19, 2010