Multi-division success is a difficult achievement in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). It can turn a very good fighter in to a legend. Naming the fighters that have had legitimate success in more than one division isn’t a trivia question that will cause any brain cramps.
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Bellator 153 is sure to be overshadowed by the hoopla leading up to UFC 197, and the return of the companies crown jewel—Jon Jones. That’s what happens when a pound-for-pound great makes a long awaited return. But on Friday night, Benson Henderson’s Bellator debut could actually be considered the biggest moment this weekend, this year, and one of the biggest moments in the sports history.
Promoting amateur Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) successfully takes a special breed of individual. Especially in the state of New York, where it was outlawed for 19 years until its recent sanctioning on March 22. It requires equal parts infatuation for the martial arts, dedication, drive and a healthy enjoyment of a good scrap. New York Fight Exchange (NYFE) owners Tom Sconzo and Mike Washington have turned their passion project into a premiere destination for MMA in New York City. Their drive to succeed, in the sport they love, looks to have no clear end in sight.
March 22, 2016 will be remembered as a watershed moment in MMA history. But for New York based mixed martial artists , trainers and fans, it will be looked at as a day where the chains of legality were removed on a 19-year ban on the sport. Because on six different occasions, the bill to legalize MMA passed in the State Senate. Yet every time it reached the State Assembly floor, it was always snuffed out quickly and quietly. It left New York, a state that often lead the way in forward thinking politics, as the lone state in the nation to not have legalized MMA. The process toward government approval was often complicated and frustrating.
In 2002 the WWE came up with an innovative business strategy. They split their company’s roster of talent into two separate promotions, or brands. The Raw brand and its opposite, the Smackdown brand. By 2011 the initiative had run its course and the two shows’ rosters were merged once again. However, with the recent return of Shane McMahon, rumors are abound of a possible return of the “brand extension.”
Story-telling is one of the unique characteristics that makes an athletic spectacle like professional wrestling special. However, in recent times it seems like good story telling in World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) only comes when a championship belt is the impetus for a rivalry. A.J. Styles and Chris Jericho are showing fans, and their contemporaries in the company, a feud between two performers can be very successful without “the gold” being on the line.
“Footwork is one of the primary prerequisites to becoming a great player.” -Mike Krzyzewski
Mike Krzyzewski, the legendary Duke University basketball coach, has never trained a professional fighter. But his views on footwork holds true in most athletic endeavors known to man. Proper technique starts from the ground up. In prize fighting, if you don’t know how to use your feet, you will end up off of them. Especially in MMA.
2015 was a very strong year for film, which made this list that much harder to come up with. Lots of strong movies and lots of great stories. But I managed to whittle this down to my 10 favorite films of the year.
Here are my Top 10 of 2015:
The act of scoring a mixed martial-arts fight is a difficult task. Judging bouts like the likes of Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit and Dominick Cruz vs. T.J. Dillashaw are not enviable undertakings.
Yet for as long as MMA has existed, there has always been a question of if the current American scoring system is the best aggregation of guidelines to properly judge such a diverse sport? UFC color commentator Joe Rogan recently tweeted a similar sentiment after the decision for Lawler/Condit was divisive among fans. Are the judges selected by state athletic commissions not adequately informed to call such bouts? Or is it all of the above and a complete systemic problem?
Going through the rules themselves and getting useful suggestions from the professionals that must adhere to them, brings about some interesting topics for possible improvement.
Freedom of speech and of the press we have a Americans is an important luxury at our disposal. It is a constitutional opportunity to express our opinions while trying to inform ourselves about our world. But what happens when the government that gives us these privileges are as honest as a press secretary trying to misdirect questions from the controversial truths of the official they work for?
When this country was founded, the forefathers had to know even they could never be fully trusted. They encountered the difficulties that came from questionable governance in their homelands. John Dalberg-Acton once said “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Being in a position of power, along with compliance from the individuals who believe in that authority, often leads to a need to maintain said power.
Unfortunately, in American history our government has undertaken many projects that would put their ethics in an unflattering light and would make citizens call for great change. To avoid an all-out revolution, our government has become very skilled at framing and molding a story into one that seems plausible to Americans—despite facts contradicting them. In the end, misinforming the media, and letting them do the work of gaining trust with the public, is one of the best weapons a government has the ability to employ.
After the attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the eventual invasion of Afghanistan, our government told us that Iraq had become and even deadlier threat than the terrorist group Al Qaeda; masterminds of the 9/11 attacks and cause of the Afghan invasion. Former Vice President Dick Cheney was quoted as saying, “Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein (President of Iraq) now has weapons of mass destruction.” Yet that was never truly the case.
In 2012 Jeremy R. Hammond wrote an essay for the Foreign Policy Journal analyzing the release of a CIA document titled “Misreading Intentions: Iraq’s Reaction to Inspection Created Picture of Deception”. He explained that the document tried to convey a message of poor intelligence being the force behind armed forces heading into Iraq. However, “there was no such ‘intelligence failure’. On the contrary, there was an extremely successful disinformation campaign coordinated by the CIA in furtherance of the government’s policy of seeking regime change in Iraq.” And for a country that can get the intelligence to land a scud missile on a house 1,000 miles away, it is hard to believe the regime would blindly believe poor intelligence that would lead many enlisted men and women’s lives to being put in danger. The media was sold a great story, and they did their job and passed it on to the public.
The events of a second war in Iraq are part of a long history the U.S. government has with misleading its citizens. Another example is in 1996 when the San Jose Mercury News released their article “Dark Alliance: The Story Behind the Crack Explosion”. The piece by Gary Webb detailed the alliance between the Nicaraguan Contras; a revolutionary group trying to overthrow the Sandinista Junta National Reconstruction government; and the CIA. Through this relationship the CIA turned a blind-eye to representatives of the Contras selling drugs to dealers in the U.S., which helped to fund their campaign. The belief was that the CIA and the Contras shared a common goal of regime change.
Soon after the release of the article counter-pieces came out from the Washington Post and Los Angeles Times questioning the allegations and integrity of Webb. This push to discredit him, along with veiled threats from the government are depicted in the motion picture Kill the Messenger. Unfortunately for Webb, this vigorous backlash may have led to his eventual suicide. The eventual release of Department of Justice documents admitting to the CIA’s backing of the contras drug trafficking posthumously makes the tale all the more tragic.
Sometimes suspicious motives are undertaken by the holder of the highest office in the country. They too do not take kindly to the threat of losing their status. And they are willing to use all of the power designated to them to hold that position.
In 1972 the Washington Post discovered the deplorable events that took place at the Watergate Hotel. Offices working for the Democratic National Committee were burgled by officials operating on the orders of then President Richard M. Nixon. It has never been discovered what the motive of the break in was, but it was another instance of the government (in this case the President) taking part in actions that were done to maintain their hold on power.
Of course despite the explosive information revealed through the work of the authors of the story, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, the White House still denied the connections alleged in the article. In a couple of speeches after the new broke, Nixon denied any truth in the piece and tried to persuade the public to believe in his credibility. This led to his heavily quoted line “I am not a crook”, a quote that is heavily played over and over in any video documenting his career in office. Despite the push to mislead the country, these unethical actions helped to eventually force Nixon to resign from his position as President.
In some scenarios, it takes brave citizens working for the government to take it upon themselves and risk their long-term freedom to inform their fellow Americans about dubious undertakings by their administration.
This leads me to the next episode on this hit list of governmental suppression, the infamous “Pentagon Papers”. This moment in June of 1971 is one of the most well-known instances of a whistleblower coming forward to release classified documents to the press. Daniel Ellsberg, while working for an independent contractor for the government, became disillusioned with the project he had long been working on. In a moment of determined patriotism, he handed over a great deal of files to the New York Times and Washington Post. The papers showed a long history of U.S. involvement in Vietnam and a grand campaign to undermine the country’s regime. This anti-communist crusade stretched over multiple presidential regimes, including those of Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon.
With the release of the first set of documents the government sought to get the distribution of more documents stopped, on the grounds that it would cause “immediate and irreparable harm” to U.S. national interests. After two weeks of litigation, the courts upheld the publications’ rights to continue publishing the papers. Though that did not stop the Nixon administration from doing their best to tarnish the credibility of Ellsberg as the story became global news. He was also put on trial for treason via the Espionage Act of 1917. Fortunately he was found innocent of treason and later that year the papers were put into book form and released in totality to the world.
Daniel Ellsberg was far from the last whistleblower to blow the doors off of the governments secret deeds. In June of 2013, National Security Agency contracted employee, Edward Snowden leaked information pertaining to the departments program for spying on everyday American citizens. Through a surveillance program known as Prism, the NSA was tapping the servers of companies like Facebook, Google and Yahoo. Along with that they also forced Verizon to hand over telecommunications data daily. The story went from national to international news when it was also revealed that Great Brittan’s version of the NSA, the GCHQ (Government Communications Head Quarters), were also using intelligence gathered from the Prism program.
It was an unprecedented moment in the disillusion of the relationship between citizens and the defense departments supposedly protecting them and their interests. Now it seemed that the NSA was as much aware of many harmless Americans daily lives as they were.
Snowden entrusted the files to Guardian writer Glen Greenwald. The paper disseminated the information and unleashed a firestorm of controversy throughout the NSA and the communication industry. Of course, the government took steps against Snowden that were similar to the ones they used against Daniel Ellsberg. To discredit him and defend the purposes of these secret programs that appeared to seriously violate the privacies of many Americans. Snowden too was a target in the crosshairs of the legal weapon that is the Espionage Act. However, knowing the government would reign down on him with all of its power, Snowden fled the country well before the documents were ever released. The documentary film Citizen Four actually follows the historic moments as they unfold. Filming Snowden as he, the filmmaker and Greenwald meet covertly in a Chinese hotel. Snowden goes as far as putting a blanket over him while using his laptop, because he is so fearful that the government has eyes always watching, even in the most unlikely of places.
Whistleblowers like Ellsberg and Snowden’s actions while technically illegal, did a service for the American media and the public it informs. It was the rare instances when the government couldn’t misinform news companies with contrasting facts, because the media already had undeniable facts in hand.
One of the most grotesque examples of misinformation by the government happened during the Central Intelligence Agencies utilization of the Mockingbird Program. During this initiative, which stretched out during the 1950s to the 70s, the CIA purchased the public standing of many journalists working for media outlets globally. Through these secret relationships, the agency had these writers spread propaganda and their news companies suppress the reporting of news events, to manipulate public opinion. Unlike the previously mentioned events where the government took a stance of damage-control to salvage credibility after information was released, this was an unseemly strategy to control the media and lie to the public via the publications of respected media companies.
Without a doubt we live in a country that is more advantageous towards free speech and privacy. We are not citizens of a government that runs news stations that serves the federal agenda. Unfortunately, that does not mean our government won’t try and subvert those privileges to serve its goals. Thankfully our constitution does allow for the public to pull the curtain back on these secret plots and be the watchdog not only amongst ourselves, but for our own authority figures. Or is that what the government wants you to think?