All posts by Ben Fowlkes

Could McGregor actually win? How the hype shifted to get us all to ask the same question

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Filed under: News, UFC

If you asked me to pinpoint the moment that I went from being mostly annoyed to at least slightly awed with the build-up to the Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor boxing match, I’d have to say that it was when my mom asked what size gloves they were going to fight in.

We hadn’t been talking about gloves. We hadn’t even been talking about the fight. She’s a 68-year-old woman who doesn’t follow combat sports apart from occasionally reading articles written by her son, and still she’d heard that there was some dispute about glove size and was curious how it had been resolved.

When I told her they’d decided on eight-ounce gloves, she replied: “Does that help McGregor?”

This, of course, is the question she was supposed to ask. That’s what the last few weeks have all been about. If you’ve been following the pre-fight headlines – and it would require a diligent, disciplined effort to avoid them – you might have noticed that there’s a recurring theme here.

The smaller gloves. The sparring footage. Mayweather’s admission that he’s “lost a step.” Mayweather’s claim that he’ll be “partying the entire week” leading up to the fight.

All the recent developments point in the same direction, and they’re all intended to get you to ask the same question: Could McGregor actually win this?

It’s a smart promotional strategy, but it also feels like a bit of a course-correction. Back in the time of the four-day world tour, which now feels like it was 15 years ago, the story was money, fame, and hate. At each stop the fighters told us how many millions they’d make, how important they were, and what a weak, no-account loser the other guy was.

Then someone realized that maybe it wasn’t such a great idea to keep bragging about all that money, seeing as how it’s coming from us, the viewing public, and besides, you can only listen to two grown men call each other the same names for so long before you just feel embarrassed for both of them.

That was enough to grab a few headlines, especially when the material got more and more questionable, but it wasn’t going to be enough to sell us this fight. Not when the perceived skill gap was wide enough to drive a fleet of Mayweather’s Bentleys through. Not when people still remembered feeling fleeced by his expensive snoozefest against Manny Pacquiao in the last “fight of the century.”

To really sell this thing, they needed to convince us that McGregor has a chance – a good one, too, not just the lottery-ticket left hand with the odds stacked high against it. That’s a tough case to make when a guy who’s never had a boxing match goes up against one of the best to ever step through the ropes, and so making it requires a series of attacks on multiple fronts.

Convince us that the gloves favor McGregor. Convince us that he’s secretly a boxing genius behind closed doors. Convince us that Mayweather is too old and too arrogant to take it all seriously enough.

Sell us on a perfect storm of circumstances, the chance that the stars may align just a few days after the moon blocks out the sun. Get us to ask the question whose answer previously seemed too obvious to be interesting. At least it beats throwing money in the air and making fun of each other’s clothes.

For more on “The Money Fight: Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor,” check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

Filed under: News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie

Antonio Silva is on a troubling career trajectory, and there's no one who can stop him

Here’s what Antonio Silva’s career looks like over the past two years: Win (TKO), loss (TKO), loss (KO), loss (KO), loss (decision), loss (KO).

He’s been stopped by strikes in seven of his past 10 bouts. He has just two victories since 2012 – one over Soa Palelei, and one over Alistair Overeem, who was beating him soundly until a sudden third-round comeback by Silva.

If you do some combat sports math on the 37-year-old “Bigfoot,” what you see is a fighter on a dangerous trajectory. That path took him out of the UFC and into two fights for smaller Russian promotions, both of which he lost. His last knockout loss was two months ago.

So why did Silva (19-12-1 MMA) just sign on for a kickboxing bout against GLORY heavyweight champion Rico Verhoeven (51-10-1 kickboxing) in China this October?

“Obviously, it’s not a good fight for ‘Bigfoot,’” Silva’s longtime manager Alex Davis told MMAjunkie. “Jumping right into (GLORY) to go against the current champ, who’s a murderer? Yeah, we get it.”

But Silva’s doing it anyway, and for reasons that are as old as the fight game.

For one, he thinks he can win. According to Davis, “Bigfoot” is back on testosterone-replacement therapy, which he used somewhat controversially for a time in the UFC, before the practice was effectively banned.

Now, fighting in places like Russia and China, and for organizations whose anti-doping policies are notably less stringent, he’s free to resume the use of synthetic testosterone, which makes “a huge difference” for him, Davis said.

“And also he needs money,” Davis said. “He can’t turn down fights at the moment for that reason. If it was up to me, he would not take this fight. But at the end of the day, my job is to inform him, give him my advice, and the one who has to make the final decision is him.”

Here we get into a persistent problem for fighters and fight sports. No one can tell Silva to stop. They can suggest and argue and recommend. Promoters can cut him and trainers could refuse to train him. Even Davis, a longtime friend, could stop managing him.

But as long as Silva can find someone willing to pay for his name and his willingness to walk face-first into someone else’s fists, he gets to keep going.

It was the same with Gary Goodridge, another MMA fighter who turned to kickboxing later in his career. He lost about twice as many kickboxing bouts as he won, but his appeal for promoters was that, when you booked “Big Daddy,” you knew someone would get knocked out – even if the someone was usually him.

For Goodridge, those years of damage contributed to brain trauma that eventually left him unable to remember conversations moments after they’d ended. By the evening, he couldn’t tell you what he’d done during the afternoon.

But Goodridge also needed the money. Even when he knew he shouldn’t fight anymore, he was a man in his forties with no real work history outside of cages and rings. What else was he supposed to do?

According to Davis, Silva’s brain health has been closely monitored with testing done at the Cleveland Clinic’s Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health in Las Vegas.

“Physically, ‘Bigfoot’ has no problems whatsoever,” Davis said. “He has no brain damage. We’ve done extensive research and testing, even before he left the UFC. So he’s OK on that end.”

But then, some signs of degenerative brain diseases like CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy), which researchers have found in the brains of deceased fighters and football players, are sometimes not apparent until years after the actual trauma.

And clearly, Silva is doing himself no favors. He went less than five months between knockout losses in 2016. You’d have to go back to 2010 to find a single calendar year in which he didn’t suffer at least one knockout.

This fight against Verhoeven doesn’t promise to be any easier on his brain. Verhoeven is younger, faster, and riding a winning streak that’s about as good as Silva’s losing streak is bad. If anything, the kickboxing rules will likely only lead to Silva absorbing more punishment than he would in an MMA bout. And then what?

Soon the paycheck will be spent and Silva will face the same questions about his future that he faces now. So far, he only seems to know one answer.

“I’ll be very sincere and tell you, I can’t defend a man from himself,” Davis said. “If he fights and doesn’t manage his money, he’ll go looking for the next fight. This is a very common problem with many fighters, not just ‘Bigfoot.’ That’s what creates situations like Gary Goodridge.”

As for Goodridge, he also had people telling him he should stop. Then he had people telling him that there was something troubling happening to him. The damage “sneaks up on you,” he said later. When he finally realized the full extent of it, it was too late to stop it.

“I had no idea it was coming,” Goodridge said in 2012. “You don’t know. Everyone around you tells you it’s happening, but you don’t notice it yourself.”

For more on the upcoming MMA schedule, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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Filed under: Featured, News
Source: MMA Junkie

Twitter Mailbag: How big a deal are these eight-ounce gloves for McGregor and Mayweather?

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Filed under: News, UFC

How much difference will two ounces really make on the fists of McGregor and Mayweather? Why does the UFC middleweight champion still get no respect? With a UFC interim lightweight title bout scheduled, where’s “The Eagle” when you need him?

All that and more in this week’s Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.

The big deal here isn’t the what, it’s the why. Is there a difference between using eight-ounce gloves and 10-ounce ones? Sure there is. (For a more detailed answer on that, I’d recommend this Twitter thread.) But the big issue here is the Nevada State Athletic Commission reversing what it had previously described as a vital safety rule, and without any very good explanation for why.

The Association of Ringside Physicians came out against the glove switch. The commission itself had said it would need to be presented with compelling evidence in order to issue a waiver. That didn’t happen, but the NSAC issued the waiver anyway. Then it tacked on a request that the gloves be turned over to the commission after the fight, ostensibly for a “study” on the effects of glove size. That this study would also give the commission possession of valuable sports memorabilia seems like a happy accident.

Both Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather are enthusiastically supportive of the glove switch, and it might not make a huge difference in the end. But it is worth asking why the NSAC even has these rules if it will throw them out the window the instant the big money draws ask it to.

This was a social media post that snowballed into an actual rule change. As much as the commission said it didn’t want to be used in any stunts to keep the hype alive, that’s it exactly what it did here, and without putting up much of a fight. Kind of makes you wonder what these people wouldn’t agree to for the sake of a dollar.

I don’t want to speak for everyone, but yes, we do all want that. But according to UFC President Dana White, Khabib Nurmagomedov still isn’t ready. That leaves us with Tony Ferguson vs. Kevin Lee in an interim title fight that’s interesting and all, but is bound to lack that title fight feel.

What it’s going to feel like instead is a fight in which the UFC had a date and an interim belt, and it filled in the names based on availability. The reason it will feel like that is because that’s exactly what it is.

Still, right now the UFC has the advantage of working with a division that’s loaded with talent. It would almost be hard to make a bad fight at 155 pounds right now. That’s good, since who knows if or when the real champ will ever return from his epic payday. It’s not hard to imagine that interim belt suddenly morphing into the real thing.

I think we all kind of get it, even if we also kind of don’t. Even before he had the UFC middleweight title, Michael Bisping was a much better fighter than he got credit for. It’s partially due to his personality – a lot people, fighters and fans, just don’t like him, and therefore don’t want to admit that he has legit skills – but it’s also a question of style.

You look at a lot of Bisping’s biggest victories and you see fights with too much room for debate. The knockout win over Luke Rockhold is a glaring exception to most of his recent work, where he won by small margins after nearly losing. That’s how it went against Anderson Silva. It was a similar story in his lone title defense against Dan Henderson.

And that’s the other thing, which is that his reign as middleweight champ isn’t exactly helping him. He’s had the belt for over a year now and has defended it only once, somewhat unconvincingly, against a non-contender who was rapidly closing in on senior citizen discount territory. That’s not the kind of thing that’s going to earn you a ton of respect.

The question is whether the Georges St-Pierre fight will offer him a better opportunity in that regard. On one hand, St-Pierre was a pound-for-pound great and a legend in the division below Bisping. But if Bisping wins, I’m sure a lot of people will write it off to GSP’s age and time off, not to mention the fact that he’s not even a middleweight.

In that sense, it’s kind of a no-win situation for Bisping. In the financial sense, however, it’s exactly the opposite, which explains how we ended up here.

I’m not sure it’s going to change anybody’s viewing habits, but now would be a fair time to ask the UFC president if he’s reconsidering his support, especially since a lot of CEOs have sprinted away from Donald Trump after his response to the unrest in Charlottesville over the weekend.

I feel like I already know what White would say. He’d probably give us the same spiel about how he’s not really political, and he only gave that speech to help out a friend who had helped him out in the past.

And sure, that will placate people up to a point. But when other business leaders have raced to publicly distance themselves from Trump, it might be time to start wondering if we’ve finally passed that point.

If McGregor beats Mayweather, chances are he’ll have to knock him out. And if he knocks out the best boxer in a generation, giving him his first career loss and beating him at his own game the first time out? Then forget fighter, I don’t see how you don’t crown him athlete of the year.

That’s a very good question. Ronda Rousey was tested nine times in 2016, according to the online USADA test history database. As far as we know, she hasn’t officially retired, so she should still be subject to testing, especially since USADA is still looking for other inactive but not technically retired fighters, such as Nick Diaz.

Yesterday I sent an email to USADA to ask if there’s any reason it is suddenly way less interested in Rousey, but so far I haven’t heard back. I suppose it’s possible that her number just hasn’t come up yet this year. But the more time passes, the less plausible that explanation is going to be.

Seriously? This one is really hard for me to pick. A few years ago and forget it, even with the size difference you’ve got to take St-Pierre all day. But the man’s been gone for nearly four years, all while time has marched brutally onward. It’s true that he doesn’t seem like the type to let himself get too out of shape, and clearly he wasn’t about to rush (ha) his return, even if it jeopardized (in theory) his chances of getting the fight.

But still, we have to admit that we’re just guessing when it comes to what GSP will look like in the cage now. Bisping isn’t an easy guy to take down, and if St-Pierre’s timing is off it could spell trouble for him. Plus, while Bisping isn’t exactly known as a knockout artist against middleweights, he might have more power than we think when he’s throwing at a welterweight. If you make me pick right now, I guess I’ve got to go with the champ.

It depends. What does success look like for a weekly internet fight show? Dana White’s Contender Series is filmed in a gym and the fighters make about half the typical UFC minimum, so it’s relatively cheap to make. And if it helps the UFC lock down some talent or snag some Fight Pass subscribers, that might be all it takes to justify the pretty meager expense. Maybe the better question is, what would failure even look like for something like this?

If you had the ability to be at or near the top of either sport, I can’t imagine why you’d pick MMA. In addition to the differences in pay and contractual restrictions, there are just so many more ways to get hurt in MMA. For a long time we’ve told ourselves that boxers suffer more head trauma over the long term, and that may be true, but it’s not like MMA fighters suffer none, plus I know plenty of MMA retirees who are limping around on bad joints after years of grappling in the gym and the cage.

Also, notice how MMA fighters keep calling out boxing champs, trying to get a piece of that pie now that they see how well it’s working for McGregor? Notice how you don’t see so many boxers trying to do the same thing in reverse? That ought to tell us something.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA. Twitter Mailbag appears every Thursday on MMAjunkie.

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Source: MMA Junkie

Today in MMA History: When 'Cyborg' met Carano, and women's MMA reached a new pinnacle

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When she stepped into the cage for the biggest fight in the history of women’s MMA, Gina Carano couldn’t feel the canvas under her feet. A strange sensation. Not unpleasant, in other circumstances, but this was not the time.

Nearly 14,000 people were in HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., and more than half a million more watching on Showtime – all of them held rapt by the promise of seeing MMA’s poster girl with the toothpaste-commercial smile go up against a true force of nature, both unstoppable force and immovable object, the woman who needed only one name: “Cyborg.”

A bad time for Carano to feel suddenly and irrevocably disconnected from her body, and yet there she was, seemingly floating a few inches off the canvas.

“I felt high on a drug I’d never had before,” Carano told MMAjunkie this week. “I might’ve enjoyed that feeling had I not been in front of thousands of people, getting ready to fight, and had ‘Cyborg’ staring across the cage at me.”

Cris “Cyborg” Santos (now known as Cristiane Justino, following a divorce from her husband, Evangelista Santos), watched her from the opposite corner, thinking about all the people who would much rather see Carano win. That list included most of the fans in the arena, and probably most of the people at Strikeforce and Showtime, too.

“It wasn’t what they expected, because they wanted Gina to win,” Justino said. “I was the underdog. But it was my shot. I thought, ‘I have to. I trained too hard for this. This will be my day.’”

It was the evening of Aug. 15, 2009. For the first time in a long time, the eyes of the MMA community were trained not on the UFC, but on Strikeforce, the little fight promotion out of San Jose that had recently made the most aggressive move in its short history when it purchased select assets of a defunct competitor by the name of EliteXC.

Fighter contracts were among those assets, and it didn’t take long for fans and media to start doing some fantasy matchmaking with the new pieces in play. A few days after the sale, and already one question was swirling: What about “Cyborg,” the South American terror, going up against Carano, the unblemished face of women’s MMA?

Carano was already the most famous female fighter in the world, thanks to her time in EliteXC, where promoter Gary Shaw did his best to ensure that fans saw as much of her as possible, and from every conceivable angle. She quickly became the darling of the MMA blogs, then reached out into the mainstream with a role as “Crush” on the rebooted “American Gladiators.” She was a staple at big EliteXC events, giving her shy, girl-next-door smile and looking embarrassed of the attention while also drawing it to her with an unspoken magnetism.

Gina Carano

During her time with the promotion she won four fights in 20 months, competing on both the first EliteXC event and the last. But as much as Shaw and company loved to show her off in a sports bra, or even naked behind a towel on weigh-in day, one thing they never gave her was a spot in the main event.

Female fighters were good enough to be a sideshow, it seemed, but they couldn’t be the primary attraction. Over in Strikeforce, however, Scott Coker had other ideas.

Carano’s 2006 bout with Elaina Maxwell had been Strikeforce’s first foray into women’s MMA, but it took another couple years before female fighters became a regular feature there. By the time Coker purchased EliteXC’s assets and library, there seemed to be one obvious fight to make. The question was if the people who stood to make a lot of money off Carano’s good looks and perfect record would ever let it happen.

To Carano, it seemed too important not to happen.

“I remember thinking when I took that fight that there were so many big fights that so many people wanted to see throughout fight history that never happened,” Carano said. “And win or lose, I wasn’t going to let ‘Cyborg’ and I become one of those big fights that never happened.”

At the time, the MMA world was still figuring out what a force “Cyborg” was. The Brazilian began as something of a curiosity, the menacing female half of a husband-and-wife duo, both of them sharing the nickname that would come to define her more than him. It fit her, too. She had a way of firing punches with a machine-gun efficiency, overwhelming opponents with offense before finishing them with a kind of power not often seen in the women’s divisions.

At 23, she essentially knocked out Shayna Baszler twice in one fight in her U.S. debut for EliteXC, with referee Steve Mazzagatti coaxing her down from an early celebration atop the cage just so she could continue jackhammering Baszler with right hands until Baszler eventually collapsed face-first on the canvas.

In her first fight with Strikeforce after the EliteXC acquisition, she mauled a much smaller fighter in Hitomi Akano after missing weight, then celebrated as Carano watched from cageside, coyly biting her lip as the camera returned to her throughout a post-fight interview in which “Cyborg” vowed, via an interpreter, to “take Carano down.”

The two had met outside the cage a handful of times before their August bout. To Carano, “Cyborg’s” gentle demeanor in person was a stark contrast to the aggressive fighter she’d seen in action. At the ESPY awards before the bout, Carano watched as “Cyborg” and her then husband giggled with excitement at passing celebrities.

Cristiane Justino and Evangelista Santos

The way Justino remembers it, she “didn’t speak a lick of English” at the time, so the language barrier prevented the two from getting to know each other. All they had was a mutual respect, and the growing sense that a fight was inevitable.

“There was no rivalry between us,” Justino said. “It was just a language barrier. We didn’t really know anything about each other.”

Carano knew that “Cyborg” would likely be the most dangerous opponent she’d ever faced. While EliteXC had been criticized at times for trying to protect its valuable assets like Carano and internet brawler Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson, in Strikeforce she was thrown immediately into the toughest fight available, thereby giving Strikeforce a must-see event with a headliner that felt genuinely historic.

But as Carano entered the cage that night, the magnitude of the moment seemed to overpower her. Standing in the glow of a spotlight in an otherwise darkened arena, her face glistening with Vaseline, she looked across the cage at “Cyborg” and almost felt as if she were hovering over her own body, watching herself from afar.

In the opposite corner, “Cyborg” swayed from side to side as her husband spoke to her though the cage in a steady stream of encouragement. When announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr. introduced her as “the baddest woman south of the Equator,” fans pelted her with mixed boos.

“They were fans of Gina,” Justino said. “When I walked out, they booed me. And I was like, ‘OK, then.’”

For Carano, who by now could be seen sucking in deep, nervous breaths, it was a solid wall of cheers. And why not? It was an easy narrative to latch onto, with media outlets running the “beauty and the beast” story all week long. By the time they met each other in the center of the cage, Showtime commentator Gus Johnson managed to get it almost comically wrong, identifying “Cyborg” as a jiu-jitsu specialist, while hailing Carano as “a big-time puncher.”

“Cyborg” set the record straight in the opening seconds, charging forward and pinning Carano against the fence with a barrage of punches. But as Carano covered up, “Cyborg” grabbed her in a body lock and attempted a throw that only succeeded in pulling Carano on top of her, effectively gift-wrapping a dominant position for her opponent.

Cristiane Justino and Gina Carano

It was a baffling error that “Cyborg” would repeat again moments later, giving Carano an opening for her most significant offense of the fight as she hammered down punches from the top in full mount.

“I remember when I went to suplex her, like from the front, and I thought, ‘Wow, she’s heavy,’” Justino said. “I felt she was heavy. I remember that from the fight, that takedown attempt. And I also saw the fear in her face. When I punched her, I saw she didn’t want to be there.”

The way Carano remembers it, she was overwhelmed by adrenaline, her mind racing and her body on autopilot. Even when she found herself in full mount, she couldn’t say how she’d gotten there.

“I felt nothing,” Carano said. “I couldn’t tell you if she had snap on her punches or how strong she was. I remember seeing her on the ground and thinking, ‘How did I do that? I’m not even here.’”

The frantic pace seemed to slow somewhat as the fight returned to the feet, with “Cyborg” stalking forward and Carano trying to halt her progress with strikes from the outside. But “Cyborg” never stopped advancing, using her pressure to bait Carano into throwing so she could counter with stinging right hands on a visibly fatigued Carano.

After hauling Carano down late in the round, “Cyborg” finally had a chance to use her size and strength on the mat. An attempt at an Americana proved unsuccessful, so “Cyborg” stood over Carano and slammed down a series of right hands through Carano’s guard.

Cristiane Justino and Gina Carano

Sensing that she had Carano hurt, “Cyborg” moved into mount and blasted away with both fists as Carano rolled to her side, doing her best to cover up and wait out the storm as the final seconds of the round ticked away.

“You gotta fight back!” warned referee Josh Rosenthal.

But Carano was stuck, trapped against the fence with the force of “Cyborg’s” insistent violence pinning her down. Just as the air horn sounded to end the round, Rosenthal thrust himself forward to shove “Cyborg” off, waving the fight off as both commentators and viewers struggled to ascertain whether it was the end of the fight or just the opening round.

“Cyborg,” however, harbored no doubts. She leapt on the cage to celebrate, extending her arms like a giant hug for a crowd that still murmured with shock and confusion. Carano still lay on her back next to the fence, issuing no complaints about the stoppage as Rosenthal hovered over her. As she would recall later, the fight seemed to end in a flash, when in reality the official time of the stoppage was 4:59 of Round 1.

“Nothing hurt, because I couldn’t feel anything,” Carano said. “The first place I started having feeling again was in my chest when we were standing there and her hand was about to be raised. I went from feeling nothing to feeling everything, but only in my heart. It was an overwhelming ache. It was hard to hold in the emotion.”

In the cage, Carano clapped as “Cyborg’s” team strapped the inaugural Strikeforce women’s 145-pound title around her waist. As “Cyborg” thanked her fans and her coaches in a post-fight interview, Carano walked to the locker room and then sat down on the floor of a bathroom stall and cried quietly by herself.

The outcome, it seemed to her, was a worst-case scenario, something she almost hadn’t even thought possible. The pain she hadn’t felt in the fight was now flooding in, embarrassment and shame and disappointment all rolled into one terrible tsunami of emotion.

“The real heartbreak was that I felt I had broken so many other hearts other than my own,” Carano said. “Everyone who was with me that night that had so much hope in me. Beyond my family, coaches and training partners, there were people I didn’t even know who were heartbroken, and it gutted me. I felt like I completely failed.”

The day after the fight Carano woke with fresh bruises and a swollen lump above her eyebrow, though she couldn’t remember the strikes that had done it to her. She left San Jose and drove down the coast to San Diego with a friend, and two days later an agent called, one who’d previously seemed somewhat indifferent to her. He sounded excited, “like a little boy,” Carano said, his voice racing as he explained that a film director named Steven Soderbergh wanted to meet with her.

Carano was in no mood. She had a black eye. She wasn’t feeling particularly social. Plus, she didn’t know this Soderbergh.

“At the time, he could’ve directed porn for all I knew,” Carano said.

It was only when the agent told her that Soderbergh had directed the 2000 film “Traffic,” starring Michael Douglas and Benicio del Toro, that Carano changed her mind. She loved that movie, and in a strange way the film had helped her through a completely different heartbreak years earlier. Maybe its director could help her now. So she took the meeting, black eye and all, and from that her new career was born, with a starring role in Soderbergh’s 2011 film “Haywire” soon to follow.

From the outside, it looked as if she’d fled combat sports at the first taste of defeat. People said she’d been knocked out of MMA altogether, from the face of the sport to a distant memory after five minutes in the cage with “Cyborg.” That stung.

“It hadn’t been my intention to stop fighting,” Carano said. “I had no clue what all went into movie-making. Actually, when they called me back to do some reshoots after ‘Haywire,’ I said, ‘What’s a reshoot?’ I was in Thailand training.”

The way Carano saw it, she’d carved a path to the top of the sport and blazed a trail for the women that would follow. But what was she supposed to do now? The loss to “Cyborg” had set her back, and a film career seemed like an opportunity that might never come again.

“So I thought I might as well go explore this new world,” Carano said. “It became really hard to train after that, because I had a popular name and anywhere I would show up there would be pictures and video of my training, and I hated that. I was still learning and I had become more socially anxious than I had been before. I just wanted to do what I love, and learn in a safe environment. I hadn’t made millions of dollars to afford a private place and team, and I hated acting like I was all that important to want that kind of environment. But I did want privacy. It wasn’t fun for me if I couldn’t just disappear into training.”

As for “Cyborg,” the win left her alone on a mountaintop, which was both good news and bad. She’d wanted to cement herself as the most dominant woman in MMA, and she’d succeeded. But without a star like Carano in the opposite her corner, she struggled to draw the same kind of broad attention. She would defend her title three times in Strikeforce – never in a main event – before being stripped of the belt following a positive test for stanozolol in December 2011.

News of that drug test failure and ensuing suspension hurt Carano, she said in a subsequent interview.

“That fight with her was definitely the biggest moment of my mixed martial arts career and at that time I had people around me telling me she was on steroids and everything,” Carano said in 2012. “But, if there was a chance that she wasn’t, I never wanted to take anything away from her (win). She is a wonderful athlete, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t sting a little. In fact, I could have gone the rest of my life without hearing that. But, at the same time, she’s a human being and a phenomenal athlete, so maybe someone around her was telling her she needed to do that when she really didn’t. Maybe it was someone around her telling her the wrong things, I don’t know. I kind of feel bad for her.”

“Cyborg” would return to prominence with the all-female fight promotion Invicta FC, where she became champion before moving to the UFC and claiming the vacant women’s featherweight title there with a win over Tonya Evinger at UFC 214. Even she has to wonder sometimes if any of it – the career that followed or the UFC’s eventual embrace of women’s MMA in general – would have happened without that Carano fight.

“I think she did a lot for the sport, too,” Justino said. “I was very sad that she stopped fighting. I think everybody liked and likes her. I think if she ever fights again, the fans who were crazy over Ronda (Rousey) would probably go crazy over her, too. I think she could fight again, who knows.”

Gina Carano and Cristiane Justino

“Today in MMA History” is an MMAjunkie series created in association with MMA History Today, the social media outlet dedicated to reliving “a daily journey through our sport’s history.”

MMAjunkie’s Fernanda Prates contributed to this story.

Filed under: Featured, News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie

Today in MMA history: Chris Lytle's farewell adds to Dan Hardy's painful losing streak

For two fighters coming from very different places in their careers, Chris Lytle and Dan Hardy had reached some similar conclusions about their respective futures by the time they met on Aug. 14, 2011, in the main event of UFC on Versus 5.

Both of them went into the fight expecting it to be their last, albeit for very different reasons. Time would prove that one of them meant it more than the other, but on that night in Milwaukee they each fought with a similar urgency, two men chasing a feeling that they knew they might never get another taste of.

Lytle was the only one who let people in on his secret. At weigh-ins the day before the fight, he handed out two letters – one to UFC President Dana White and another to longtime UFC matchmaker Joe Silva. The sentiment of the letters was relatively simple, according to Lytle. It said thank you and goodbye. After 12 years as a pro fighter, he’d decided to retire.

“But first I just wanted to thank them for everything they’d done to change my life,” Lytle told MMAjunkie. “People criticize Dana and the UFC, but I fought for the UFC before Zuffa owned it, back when it was (Semiphore Entertainment Group) and I was making $500 to fight.”

Lytle had reached the decision well in advance of the Hardy fight. He was coming off a loss to Brian Ebersole some six months earlier, but more importantly, he’d recently been forced to take a month off from training due to a knee injury. For Lytle, a full-time firefighter and committed gym rat, that was unusual.

“I was one of those guys that was always in the gym, never took time off, and that meant that over the course of my career I missed a lot of family stuff, missed my kids’ basketball games and gymnastic meets and stuff like that,” Lytle said. “I started feeling guilty about that. I realized I’m not as big a part of their lives as I wanted to be.”

When the UFC offered him a fight with Hardy in the late summer, Lytle was initially enthusiastic about starting his training camp. He was a fan of Hardy’s aggressive, striking-heavy fighting style. It seemed to lend itself to exciting fights, which had been Lytle’s main career goal after a disappointing outing against Matt Serra in the finale of season four of “The Ultimate Fighter.”

But when he got back in the gym to gear up for the fight, a strange thing happened.

“I started feeling actually guilty going to the gym, and that had never happened to me before,” Lytle said. “I started realizing, man, you’ve got a basketball game you’re missing today. I realized, I’m getting older, my kids are getting older, and there’s time I’m never going to get back.”

That night, Lytle sat down for a talk with his wife. He told her he’d decided to quit fighting after the bout with Hardy. He wanted to be there for his family more. He wanted to stop missing so many important moments. They agreed that, win or lose, he’d hang up his gloves that August.

“After I said that I felt like, ‘OK, I’m going to win my last fight,’” Lytle said. “I had that extra motivation, and I didn’t feel guilty about going to the gym after that.”

Hardy, meanwhile, was battling some very different emotions. A little over a year earlier he’d been the top welterweight contender, unbeaten in four fights with the UFC and headed into a title fight against champion Georges St-Pierre. He would spend the better part of 25 minutes getting out-wrestled in that fight, having his arm wrenched in multiple submission attempts before ultimately losing a unanimous decision.

There was no shame in the defeat. St-Pierre was already regarded as one of the best all-around fighters in the world, and Hardy had hung tough with him. But then he lost his next fight via knockout at the hands of Carlos Condit that October, and in the spring he was once again wrestled into defeat, this time by future light heavyweight contender Anthony Johnson, who surprised everyone by eschewing his usual headhunting tactics in favor of takedowns and top control.

Losing his third consecutive fight was upsetting enough, but the way he lost it was particularly frustrating for Hardy.

“I remember being backstage after that fight and I was sitting with my hand in a bucket of ice because I’d dislocated my thumb, and in my head I was just like, ‘I’m done,’” Hardy said. “I said that to my coach. I told him, ‘This isn’t fun for me anymore. I’m not enjoying it anymore. I’m ready to do something else.’ I was already looking at going back to university and doing something else with my life. When they came to me with Chris Lytle, I thought it was going to be my last fight regardless. I kind of got in there just to have a good time. I had complete disregard for my own career and my own future in the sport, because I really didn’t think I had one at that point.”

It was something of a surprise for Hardy to even get the opportunity to headline a UFC event by that point. The UFC had made a habit of cutting fighters who hit three losses in a row, and already fans had begun to ask how and why Hardy still had a job.

From the outside, that made the fight with Lytle seemed like do-or-die territory. But in his head, Hardy was mainly after one thing – a brawl.

“That was the first time I didn’t get into a fight thinking too much about winning,” Hardy said. “I just wanted to get what I felt like I hadn’t gotten from my last fight with Anthony Johnson.”

When word circulated the day before the fight that it would be Lytle’s final bout, that complicated things for Hardy, he admitted. He’d been an admirer of Lytle’s style and his penchant for thrilling scraps in recent years. It was a compliment, in a way, to be his last fight. It also added even more pressure to entertain, which was evident in the fight’s early exchanges.

Hardy came marching forward that night with a bright red mohawk to match his shorts, and Lytle met him in the center of the cage, ready to plant his feet and throw. His plan, he said, was to prevent Hardy from developing any offensive momentum as he advanced.

“I was always wanting to come forward,” Lytle said. “I felt like I had a better chance if I was moving forward, and I felt like he wasn’t quite as dangerous if you could get him moving backward.”

That strategy would prove to have some flaws. Lytle managed to back Hardy up often in those first two rounds, mainly by employing body shots that opened up Hardy’s defenses for the big bombs that followed. But as Lytle got too enthusiastic about chasing Hardy down, he also ran directly into some short counter strikes from Hardy that sent him wobbling back early in the fight.

“Usually when you get hit with one like that, it’s usually not the first punch – it’s the second one that gets you,” Lytle said. “Because then you’re a little bit slower and that nice, clean, flush shot is the one that hurts you. I knew I had to to be smart then, and I was usually pretty good at avoiding that follow-up shot.”

Lytle’s ability to recover and survive came as a surprise to Hardy, who saw several openings in the first two rounds vanish as Lytle shook off strikes that seemed like potential fight-enders.

“I remember catching him with an elbow on the temple, and I remember him putting both of his hands down,” Hardy said. “I think that was in the second round. More than anything I was amazed at his durability. Most of the time, when I hit someone with a good shot, they tend to go down.”

By the third round, Lytle seemed to be in control on the scorecards. Hardy’s corner was telling him that he likely needed a finish, and his increased aggression in that final frame showed his willingness to take risks in search of it. No matter how many times Lytle rattled his skull with power punches, Hardy never stopped attacking, in part because of how aware he was of the need to put on a show.

“I was taking a lot of chances in that fight, a lot of risks,” Hardy said. “I took more shots in that fight than the majority of the rest of my career, purely because I wasn’t thinking strategically. I kind of got drawn into Chris Lytle’s style of fighting, although I was more than prepared to do that. I was surprised that he was as durable as he was, but at the same time it was a horrible performance from me.”

With precious time draining away in the final minute, Hardy pressed forward behind a punch combo and then shot in for a takedown, looking to surprise Lytle. While Lytle had long ago decided that he wasn’t interested in going for takedowns of his own, the jiu-jitsu black belt was more than ready to grapple when Hardy initiated it.

“I don’t ever trust going to the judges,” Lytle said. “I’ve thought I won some fights and then lost some split-decisions. You don’t ever know what’s going to happen. To be honest, my thought was keep pouring it on. I was landing some good punches, and I wanted to knock his head off if I could. I wanted to stop him, but honestly the submission wasn’t even a thought until he shot in on me. Then the muscle memory kind of took over.”

Almost in a single motion, Lytle sprawled to defend the takedown and locked up a guillotine choke that he used to roll Hardy onto his back. Lytle moved to mount and torqued it harder, and for a moment it looked as though Hardy may slip into unconsciousness.

“I was surprised with how quickly he got the guillotine,” Hardy said. “It wasn’t really a concern at first.”

Once he saw that he couldn’t escape, and with 45 seconds still to go in the round, Hardy had no choice but to tap. As he did, the crowd erupted for Lytle, the retiring fighter who’d capped off a storybook farewell that summed up the last few years of his career. He’d gotten the slugfest he wanted, but also a chance to show off his underrated submissions game in the end.

Most importantly, he’d gotten the win in an exciting fight, meaning he could exit on a high note.

“That’s the thing, you’re always going to remember that last one,” Lytle said. “That’s going to be how you remember the world of MMA and the UFC in your career. You just don’t know how it’s going to go. Fighters have a lot of pressure on them, and it was just a big release of pressure. I could just tell it was going to bring me a lot of satisfaction for years to come. Because if you go out there in your last one and get knocked out, that’s going to leave a bad taste in your mouth for maybe the rest of your life.”

For Hardy, a sense of peace followed the initial disappointment of the loss. Even he had to admit that there was a certain poetic beauty in the way Lytle had capped off his career. Plus, while he hadn’t disclosed his thoughts on his own career, by the time he showed up to the post-fight press conference, Hardy was ready for what would come next. He was almost certain that it would start with getting cut from the UFC. It was social media that told him otherwise.

“I was sitting in the press conference when I saw that tweet from (UFC CEO) Lorenzo (Fertitta) saying, ‘I like guys that war,’” Hardy said. “That was the point when I thought to myself, ‘OK, this is my final chance. This is my opportunity to turn some things around.’ Because I’d almost exorcised some demons in that fight. Even though I lost the fight, I got out of my system a lot of the frustrations that I’d been carrying around from my previous three fights. In my head, I was absolutely accepting of the fact that this was it and I was done.”

Once he realized that his life in the UFC would go on, Hardy decided to take some time off before his next fight. He would return nine months later, ending his four-fight losing streak with a knockout victory over Duane Ludwig at UFC 146. He fought again and won that September before being sidelined by medical issues that have kept him out of the cage to this day, much to his chagrin.

And while he can’t help but thinking of things he might have done differently in that Lytle fight, Hardy said, ultimately he can’t complain. He’s found a new career as a commentator, and he’s happy with where his life has taken him. There’s not much he’d want to change about the journey if it meant changing the current destination.

“The other thing that I keep going back to is that the winner of that fight was supposed to get a Harley-Davidson (via a UFC giveaway through the Harley-Davidson Museum),” Hardy said. “And if I’d won that fight and been given a Harley-Davidson as the winner, I wouldn’t be here today, because I’d have driven that into a wall or something. So there’s a silver lining. I’ve just got to look for it sometimes.”

Filed under: News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie

Trading Shots: A snippet of McGregor-Malignaggi sparring, and an avalanche of speculation

A snippet of sparring footage reignited interest and debate surrounding the Aug. 26 boxing match between UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor and pound-for-pound boxing great Floyd Mayweather. But is it all just hype and edits in the end? MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes and retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes discuss.

Fowlkes: Let me set a scene for you, Danny. It’s Friday night. I’m relaxing with a glass of port (Kokanee) in my study (garage), and my phone buzzes. It’s an email from the UFC. Subject line: “Conor McGregor vs. Paulie Malignaggi sparring footage.”

So naturally, I open this email and click the link so fast that I nearly break my thumb. Can you blame me? All week the headlines have been dominated by talk of what supposedly happened in this sparring session, and now we’re finally going to the videotape. The magic eye don’t lie, Danny.

Except when I click the link I get 10 seconds of sparring footage, and there’s clearly at least one edit in there. What I see is Malignaggi eating a legitimately stiff left hand from McGregor. Then there’s a cut in the video. Then I see Malignaggi going down while McGregor yanks on his head.

Malignaggi is not pleased by this turn of events. He feels like the UFC spliced together some footage to make McGregor look good at his expense. And to some extent, I’d say it worked. McGregor managed to look pretty good against a former two-division world champ. But are we just watching some carefully edited wolf tickets here? And if so, does it matter?

Downes: What you’re seeing is a little bit of panic. For all the hype surrounding Mayweather vs. McGregor, the closer we get to the actual fight date, people don’t seem that interested. Sure talking heads on ESPN or FOX Sports keep yapping about it, but now it’s football season. Tickets aren’t flying off the shelf as anticipated, so they have to spice things up.

What are the two biggest complaints about this carnival fight? 1) Conor McGregor has no chance, and 2) It’ll be a boring 12-round decision. To achieve the numbers the promoters want, you need a lot of casual fans to press the “buy” button. And those same exact people still remember the sting from Mayweather vs. Pacquiao.

How do you combat these problems? You have Mayweather go on ESPN and say that Conor McGregor has the edge “on paper” while admitting that he’s lost a step. Mayweather isn’t known for being the most humble fighter on Earth, so when he criticizes himself, it really means something. What people fail to realize is that Mayweather likes money more than he likes compliments. If he has to call himself old to increase the buy rate, he’ll do it.

What I think the sparring footage was a direct response to, though, was the media day workout. Let’s just say that McGregor looked less than stellar on the heavy bag. There are people who believe “Mystic Mac” is out there playing three-dimensional chess and planning 20 moves ahead, but the average person watches the workout and thinks, “Welp, this is going to be a blowout.” Look at how the betting lines have moved in recent days.

The carnival was in desperate need of some fresh blood, and voila, some edited sparring footage drops. I wouldn’t call this wolf tickets, because that suggests some large, coherent strategy. I think the powers at be are nervous that their cash cow may not be as profitable as they’d hoped.

Then again, maybe I’m selling all the parties involved short. This is still going to make a boatload (I believe that’s a metric measurement) of money, isn’t it? Is the Mayweather-McGregor train running at full speed, or is it struggling just to reach the station?

Fowlkes: I have to admit that I’m impressed with how all sides have continually found new and innovative ways to keep the fight constantly in the news as the date draws nearer. After the borderline embarrassing media tour, there seemed to be a swift backlash from a lot of mainstream forces. You had people essentially predicting cultural disaster, and not in the fun way.

This required a response, but the problem was that the media tour had already ratcheted up the personal animosity meter as far as it would go. It wasn’t enough to have these two guys just keep calling each other names. What followed was this beef with Malignaggi, which might have been the best thing to happen to the Mayweather-McGregor fight.

That’s because, when this all started, McGregor’s boxing skills were an unknown. As in, we didn’t know if he really had any, because he’s never had a boxing match. There was sparring footage even before this (remember Chris van Heerden, who also complained of edited video before releasing the raw footage himself?) but it wasn’t much to go on. And how could a guy with no boxing matches beat the best boxer around?

But now the hype machine has managed to turn the lack of information into a feature rather than a bug. When there’s so little McGregor boxing footage out there, a 10-second sparring clip is bound to get a ton of attention.

You might very well ask why the UFC didn’t release video of the whole round, but the truth is you already know why. It’s because the unknown is what’s helping to sell this fight. If we don’t know whether or not McGregor can really box, then we have to at least allow for the possibility that he might be a preternatural boxing genius.

But the news cycle is such that even this will only carry you so far. There are still two weeks to go until this fight. The question I can’t help but ask myself is, what’s coming next?

Downes: You may be on the edge of your seat asking that, but none of it makes you more likely to buy the actual fight. The drama may be fun and give people something to talk about while the UFC takes a hiatus, but it’s all sizzle and no steak.

At the end of the day, the main selling point of this fight is “anything can happen!” As an MMA fan, it’s a familiar refrain. Remember Daniel Cormier vs. Patrick Cummins? A complete mismatch sold on the premise that anything could happen. Cummins beat Cormier one time at wrestling practice. Let’s make a No. 1 contender fight! How did that work out?

Maybe a better example is Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen. Any serious person knew Sonnen had no chance of beating Jones. It was a complete mismatch, but Sonnen talked a good game and he had some quality one-liners to deliver. Fans may have been entertained in the buildup, but they didn’t want to watch the actual fight. The circus fight barely did better than Jones vs. Machida at UFC 140.

After months of hype and discussion, everyone involved is starting to realize what we knew from the beginning – there’s no substance here. Perhaps they thought they’d find a storyline better than “these guys like money” along the way, but it hasn’t come to fruition. So they’re going to stick with what got them there in the first place, and that’s gimmicks. This week it was a carefully edited sparring video, maybe next week Ido Portal shows up with his pool noodles.

There are a lot of people who want to watch this fight. That’s fine. I’m not in the business of telling people how to spend their money. But don’t pretend for a minute that you want to watch the fight out of some serious consideration for the sporting aspect of it. That’s what these videos are trying to sell, and I’m not buying it.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.

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What Mayweather Promotions CEO really meant when he told us 'mind your (expletive) business'

http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid4621179066001?bckey=AQ~~,AAAABvaL8JE~,ufBHq_I6FnxR-PQW_F3sm5QdUbP7D6E9&bctid=5538262739001
Filed under: Featured, News, UFC

Speaking to reporters during a media day on Thursday to promote Floyd Mayweather’s bout with Conor McGregor, Mayweather Promotions CEO Leonard Ellerbe launched into a monologue that was part sales pitch, part defense, with all of it familiar to anyone who’s followed the UFC for any length of time.

“We appreciate all the fans,” Ellerbe said. “We don’t ever want to turn our back on anyone. But, again, the hardcore fans are the reason why our sport isn’t where football and basketball are. It’s because we stay in our own little box. It’s like, you tell me what’s wrong with these two guys fighting? If you don’t want to watch it, don’t buy it – simple as that. But you can’t be mad and going out there like some media members and promoting, ‘Oh this is why you shouldn’t buy the fight,’ and this and that. Mind your (expletive) business.”

Did you get all that? Because it’s a lot to take in, even if MMA fans have heard most of it – often in some of the exact same words – from people like UFC President Dana White. It’s some stream-of-consciousness accidental insight into the mind of the fight promoter, which is not to say that it’s entirely wrong.

For instance, the most recognizable part of this approach? The part where Ellerbe assures us that it’s very simple to just not buy the event if we don’t like it? That’s true. A quick review of current statutes reveals that no one is legally required to purchase this pay-per-view, which is a relief. Avoiding a $100 pay-per-view that you don’t want to see is actually shockingly easy.

But Ellerbe’s frustration seems to stem mostly from the answer to his own rhetorical question: “It’s like, you tell me what’s wrong with these two guys fighting?”

Plenty of people have told him. They’ve told anyone who would listen. They’ve pointed out that this is a boxing match between probably the world’s most accomplished boxer and an opponent who isn’t any boxer at all. They’ve called it a carnival hype job and a cynical cash grab, and they did it without even needing Ellerbe to ask first.

A lot of the criticism of this fight is valid. Some of it is less so. But Ellerbe’s point seems to be that there should be no criticism at all, lest we risk hurting the sport of boxing.

That’s the really baffling part, is his claim that hardcore fight fans are what’s holding fight sports back. He’s talking specifically about boxing, but he could just as well be talking about any combat sports, since they’re all niche worlds with their own little bubbles that exist outside the mainstream sports of football, basketball and baseball.

The hardcore fans are the reason boxing isn’t where those other sports are, according to Ellerbe. He actually said this, with no apparent sense of irony. The people who follow this sport when others ignore it? They’re the problem, in his view. It’s like saying vegans are the ones holding the hummus industry back.

What Ellerbe means is that the people who know combat sports well enough to care about and call it out when they think it’s made a wrong turn are themselves the problem. The unstated assumption here is that without those people around, promoters could get away with doing anything they want.

One problem with that theory is that, near as I can tell, that’s what’s happening anyway. Mayweather vs. McGregor? It’s happening, and those involved will make a ton of money from it. No one is stopping them, not the media or the athletic commission or the fans.

While Ellerbe seems to want people to talk about the fight (it’s literally the only reason to have a pre-fight media day at the gym), he only seems to want to hear enthusiastic support for the purchase of this pay-per-view. Anything else is holding the sport back, apparently, which is why he’d prefer that we mind our business.

And the legitimacy of the fights that promoters are trying to sell us? That’s apparently none of our business. Unless, of course, we’re buying. But if the only thing you want to hear from your customers is credit card numbers with minimal feedback, at some point we might have to wonder who’s really holding back the sport.

For more on “The Money Fight: Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor,” check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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Are UFC fighters employees or contractors? Why the distinction matters – and could mean millions

Bellator President Scott Coker heard the complaints from his new signees.

Fighters who came over as free agents after their UFC contracts expired had very similar gripes, many of them about the UFC’s “athlete outfitting policy” under an exclusive apparel deal with Reebok. What Coker couldn’t understand was how it was even legal.

“Listen, they’re independent contractors,” Coker said in June. “How they’re forced to wear a uniform, to this day, still baffles me. It should be against the labor laws or something.”

It’s not just the mandatory Reebok fight kits, either. UFC fighters are also forced to participate in an anti-doping program administered by USADA, which requires them to disclose their whereabouts at all times and make themselves available for surprise drug tests.

That’s what rankled former UFC bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw, who discussed the matter on a Team Alpha Male podcast last year. With so many restrictions and requirements, Dillashaw wondered, how could fighters still be classified as independent contractors?

“They treat us like employees, but they don’t give us benefits like employees,” Dillashaw said. “It’s kind of crazy when you think about it. We have to tell them where we’re at at all times so USADA can show up and drug test us, but we don’t get health benefits. It’s kind of crazy that we are controlled. Any time you have to tell work where you’re at and what you’re doing, that’s considered an employee, not a contractor.”

It often seems like an ancillary issue, and one many UFC fighters ignore completely. The state of fighter pay, or the effects that the Reebok deal has had on the sponsor market for individual fighters, these seem to rate higher on the fighters’ lists of grievances.

But as the UFC has placed more restrictions on its fighters, the case for keeping them classified as independent contractors has weakened, according to some observers both in and outside the MMA industry. And if the employment classification of UFC fighters was ever successfully challenged, it could mean major change for the industry leader.

“One consequence for the UFC is if they’re misclassifying employees as independent contractors, then they owe the IRS a lot of money,” said Justin Swartz, an attorney with the firm Outten & Golden, one of the nation’s largest law firms to focus solely on employment law.

Swartz has worked on similar cases involving the misclassification of exotic dancers in New York, where some clubs were eventually forced to pay millions of dollars in settlements after years of misclassifying employees as independent contractors.

“Dancers at strip clubs, they have schedules, they have rules to follow, and they have no business at all without the club,” Swartz said. “In some ways it’s the same with fighters. The fighters rely on the UFC in order to do their business, and they have a dress code, they have a lot of rules. But if they’re getting paid as independent contractors, then they’re paying their own employment tax, and they may be entitled to a refund.”

It’s not just a question of taxes, either. As independent contractors, fighters enjoy fewer protections than they would as employees. Their right to form a union isn’t protected. If they’re fired, they can’t seek unemployment benefits. An injury on the job doesn’t entitle them to workers’ compensation.

By keeping fighters as independent contractors while heaping more and more restrictions on them, the UFC has managed to have the best of both worlds, according to Gary Ibarra, a manager who has represented fighters such as Cung Le and Ben Rothwell. (UFC representatives declined to comment for this story.)

“(The UFC wants) the benefits of having employees, stuff like forcing the guys to wear uniforms, basically, which is an earmark of an employee,” Ibarra said. “But also when certain things happen that would be negatives, then, no, the UFC can say, ‘Hey, they’re independent contractors.’ That’s because, since the UFC has kind of gone unchecked, no one has forced them to adhere to one side or another.”

Which is not to say that a legal challenge couldn’t be forthcoming.

Recent years have seen several such challenges from workers who were long classified as independent contractors. NFL cheerleaders have successfully sued over their employment classification, and states like California have even enacted new laws to categorize them as employees. FedEx drivers have also brought successful cases, and drivers for ride-sharing companies like Uber and Lyft have also challenged their employment classification.

Such a challenge for UFC fighters could come in several forms, according to Swartz, who said his firm has used different avenues to contest employment status.

“Hiring a lawyer to help you seek overtime pay is one way to go about it,” Swartz said. “Another is to file a complaint with the Department of Labor, or with the IRS over employment taxes.”

Fighters could also seek unemployment benefits after being cut from the UFC, or file a worker’s compensation claim, or seek protections to form a union. Attempts to take actions that their status as independent contractors forbids could be enough to force a decision, Swartz said, but the result and the process could vary depending on which body is asked to issue a ruling.

“The National Labor Relations Board, their test is a little different from the IRS test, which is a little bit different than the Department of Labor test,” Swartz said. “But most of these tests, what they come down to is control and freedom. The way to look at it is, how much does the organization control these folks, and how much freedom do they have to run their own business? You need to look at the totality of the circumstances. Ask yourself, is this person in business for themselves, or do they rely on someone else whose rules they have to follow?”

Ask UFC fighters, and they’ll tell you that they have no shortage of rules to follow outside the cage – and a variety of penalties waiting if they run afoul of those rules. Whether that makes them more than just independent contractors remains to be seen, but if that designation is ever successfully challenged it could have a domino effect that’s felt throughout the MMA world.

For more on the UFC’s upcoming schedule, visit the UFC Rumors section of the site.

Filed under: Featured, News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie

Twitter Mailbag: Is this McGregor-Malignaggi thing a feud or a plan for the future?

Is a sparring partner feud just an attempt to set up another boxing match down the road for MMA’s biggest star? After years of pushing for it, why don’t fighters want to work in New York anymore? And will UFC 215 bring a return to normalcy, even if that’s bad for the box office?

All that and more in this week’s Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.

* * * *

I’m not going to say that the gym feud between Conor McGregor and Paulie Malignaggi is fake, exactly, but it sure seems like both sides are determined to milk it for every last ounce. Malignaggi can’t seem to stop talking about his brief time as McGregor’s sparring partner, whether it’s on social media or in multiple interviews. Team McGregor naturally has a conflicting account of the saga, which has served to keep this a top news story all week.

For promotional purposes, that’s all great news. After the press tour and the subsequent shock and awe that follows four days of loud, inane swearing, this fight needed a new kick to fuel headlines as Aug. 26 creeps closer. McGregor vs. Malignaggi provided that kick, and right on time, which ought to make us at least question what we’re seeing here.

Will it result in an actual fight? A lot will depend on how McGregor does against Floyd Mayweather. If he gets thoroughly schooled by Mayweather, I’m not sure how interested people would be in seeing him fight a lesser opponent for the sake of a grudge.

If McGregor hangs tough against Mayweather, but ultimately loses, that would still surprise enough people to generate some continued interest in him as a boxer. Of course, at some point the UFC is going to get less supportive of McGregor’s boxing career, but a contractual challenge to his right to box could potentially force an Ali Act showdown, which the UFC might rather avoid.

Then there’s the least likely scenario, which is a McGregor victory over Mayweather. If that happens, why fight a recently retired former champ like Malignaggi next? Why do anything except an immediate rematch, and for literally all the money that exists in the world?

First would be, don’t overdo it all at once. Remember the old Jon Jones, the one who wanted us to see him as a nice, polite choir boy even while he was partying his way through training camp? People didn’t buy it because it was so clearly an image he was trying to project rather than a life he was trying to actually lead. Eventually the dissonance between the two erupted in a way that was impossible to miss, which is bound to breed some skepticism going forward.

It’s not going to be as simple as fan giveaways or gracious interviews. That’s the stuff we can all see, and we know that he knows it. His problem in the past has been the stuff he says and does when he thinks we can’t see.

If Jones wants to change his image, he’ll have to do it over a longer timeline. It won’t just be what he does, but what he doesn’t do. Because, yeah, we see you being nice to fans and enemies alike. We’re also wondering if there’s not more police bodycam footage in your future. You’re going to have to convince us the same way you convince your insurance company: slowly, over time, and with the absence of notable events.

Any sport where people are hitting each other in the head repeatedly and on purpose is bound to be bad for the brain. Helmets won’t save you, as NFL players have discovered. And while more rest and greater training precautions could probably help fighters, you’re never going to completely remove the risk of brain trauma from combat sports like MMA and boxing.

MMA and its fans will have to find one way or another to make their peace with that, just like with the NFL. One thing that makes it tougher in our sport is that fighters will likely face many of the same health challenges as they age, but without all the money and ongoing care that comes largely as a result of the NFL Players Association.

If you think it can’t get worse than former sports heroes freezing in their cars because they can’t remember to put a coat on, just imagine them doing that with less money and fewer resources to help them when they need it. My guess is MMA has a lot of depressing GoFundMe campaigns in our future.

I’m worried about Johny Hendricks. It was a little over a month ago that he came in heavy at middleweight, then got knocked out by Tim Boetsch. He didn’t look good at any point in that outing, whether before or during or immediately after. Frankly, he looked like a guy who might need to take some time and get his act together before he thinks about fighting again.

So what’s he do? He turns right around and signs to fight Paulo Borrachinho at UFC 217 in November. If Borrachinho’s name doesn’t ring a bell, he’s the guy who knocked out Oluwale Bomgbose at UFC 212. He’s undefeated powerhouse of a middleweight, and he’s a scary dude to face if you’re not completely focused and prepared.

Just as concerning is what this booking says about how the UFC views Hendricks right now. He’s 2-5 since winning the vacant UFC welterweight title, and he hasn’t looked like he really wants to be there in a very long time.

I don’t get the sense that the UFC is throwing him in against Borrachinho because it wants to halt the young Brazilian’s momentum. Seems more likely that the goal here is to give the unbeaten prospect a win over a former champ, making Hendricks the wet rag that the UFC is intent on squeezing every last drop of value from before it tosses him aside. That ought to worry him. The possibility that it’s still not motivating enough for him at this point is what worries me.

First, take a day off and try not to think about what size gloves McGregor and Mayweather will wear, or whether the two megalomaniacs threatening each other with nuclear fire will actually pull the trigger and doom us all. Just mental health-wise, you need a break.

But if it’s going to be a true break, you need to get away from anything that might alert you to what’s happening on the internet/world. For this, I suggest a book, like maybe this one, in which Elmore Leonard spins a fictional yarn about a U.S. Marshall and a bunch of captured Nazi soldiers. Or how about this one, a nonfiction tale about the sinking of the Lusitania, which may or may not have been part of a conspiracy to pull the U.S. into World War I.

What’s that you say? You can’t actually read? In that case, watch a movie or something. Have you seen the documentary “Tickled”? Because that is straight-up bananas. And if you don’t like movies, I don’t know, go see a play or something, you weirdo.

The good news for New York fight fans concerned about a fighter-led boycott is that most fighters don’t have the pull that Jones does, and therefore can’t avoid the Empire State so easily. Also, plenty of them are still starstruck enough by the idea of fighting in Madison Square Garden that they’ll overlook the tax burden that comes with it.

But honestly, I’m weirdly glad to see some fighters getting a little smarter about their tax situation. Pro athletes who work as independent contractors in several different states over the course of any given year face a tricky deal come tax time. If this is how we end up with Jones defending his title exclusively on floating barges in international waters, so be it.

UFC 215 might be a good barometer of the general MMA pay-per-view market in the year 2017. As we saw in Anaheim last month, the UFC can still do big numbers on pay-per-view without McGregor or Ronda Rousey. It just has to offer something special, like a much-hyped rematch between two of the best in the world, plus two extra title fights in support, in order to make up for the loss of the two most famous fighters on the roster.

But UFC 215 is a bit of a throwback. It’s got two title fights featuring zero famous people. The two champions – Demetrious Johnson and Amanda Nunes – aren’t exactly beloved even inside the MMA bubble right now. History tells us that sales should be dismal.

But wait, the undercard for this one is actually really compelling. Francis Ngannou vs. Junior Dos Santos? Jeremy Stephens vs. Gilbert Melendez? Rafael dos Anjos vs. Neil Magny? When you lump them all together, you get a pretty good value for your money.

The question is whether fans will care. The surest path to breaking through on pay-per-view is with a name-brand star. But those are tough to come by, and the problem for the UFC has been that such stars quickly look to leverage their drawing power in some other field, like boxing or movies, because even big paydays for MMA are relatively small paydays for those other endeavors.

That’s something the UFC will have to figure out if it wants to continue basing so much of its business on pay-per-view in a changing media landscape.

Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA. Twitter Mailbag appears every Thursday on MMAjunkie.

Filed under: Featured, News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie

For McGregor-Mayweather, important decisions on gloves and officials to come at next NSAC meeting

Next week’s meeting of the Nevada Athletic Commission is shaping up to be a very important one for Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather. That’s because there’s much that’s still to be decided about how their boxing match will proceed, and with the commission’s final meeting of the month set for 10 days prior to the bout – on Aug. 16 – some potentially divisive calls await.

Among the decisions yet to be made is what sort of gloves the fighters will wear.

Mayweather took to social media recently to request eight-ounce gloves for the bout, as opposed to the 10-ounce gloves that the Nevada commission typically mandates for any bout heavier than 147 pounds. His reasoning was simple, Mayweather (via Instagram):

Instagram Photo

“Whatever advantage McGregor needs to feel more comfortable in the ring, I’m willing to accommodate,” Mayweather wrote. “Let’s give the boxing and MMA fans what they want to see.”

But according to Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) Executive Director Bob Bennett, that would require special permission from the commission, which the commission would likely give only if a compelling case could be made for the change in protocol.

The fighters and their representatives will have the opportunity to make that case at next week’s commission meeting, Bennett today told MMAjunkie in an email.

“We will have one hearing on the gloves,” Bennett wrote, with a decision to follow at the same meeting. The commission will also be selecting officials for the bout at the same meeting, and that decision could get contentious as well.

According to Sky Sports, McGregor has requested that an “international” judge be added to the list of ringside officials, apparently out of concern that a panel of exclusively American judges might be biased against him.

McGregor’s team has also expressed reservations about who the commission might choose as the referee for the bout, with officials like boxing referee Kenny Bayless getting an early thumbs down from McGregor’s longtime coach, John Kavanagh.

“I think we’re going to have a hard time finding a fair referee and a fair set of judges,” Kavanagh said in an interview with ESPN.com last month. “It will be very difficult for a 50- to 60-year-old boxing referee to not go into this bout a little bit biased.”

The NSAC will consider all those arguments at the Aug. 16 meeting, Bennett said, and a final decision on officials will be made at that time. It may prove to be an important one, especially with McGregor competing in his first professional boxing match – and against a legendary fighter who’s been accused by former opponents of stretching the boundaries of the rules.

A hint as to McGregor’s strategy may have come from Kavanagh, who suggested that a referee with experience working MMA bouts be selected, on the grounds that such a person “will understand the inside fighting that will go into this fight.”

Anyone wishing to make their case for or against specific referees and officials had better hone those arguments now. After the NSAC meeting, the cast of pertinent characters will officially be set.

For more on “The Money Fight: Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor,” check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.

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Filed under: News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie