Who deserves the edge in a clash of middleweight giants? Will the octagon jitters get to Justin Gaethje? And what comes next if the UFC women’s bantamweight champ manages to bring a little stability back to the division with another successful title defense?
All that and more in this week’s Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.
Last time I checked, which was just now, Robert Whittaker was a slight favorite over Yoel Romero. But when I say slight, I mean very slight, and that sounds about right to me given both men’s capacity for sudden, effective violence.
What I wonder is how much consistency will matter in this fight between two of the best middleweights in the world. Because Romero? He’ll give away rounds. He’ll supply his opponents with free opportunities. Sometimes this gets him dangerously close to defeat, at which point he comes stampeding back with some freakish spasm of brutality and then it’s over.
Whittaker is a different kind of fighter. He doesn’t make many mistakes, doesn’t take crazy chances. He fights smart and exploits openings, and he seems just as solid in the last minute as the first. A fighter like that might beat a fighter like Romero. If he can keep from catching a flying knee to the head.
You never know what the “octagon jitters” might do to a fighter until he’s in there, but I don’t get the sense that Justin Gaethje is the type to freeze up when he’s in the spotlight. If anything, his greatest danger might be tilting too far in the other direction.
Say you’re Gaethje and you finally make the jump to the UFC after a couple years of riling up fans with your ferociously fistic fighting style. You know what they expect of you now. They expect you to go flying at Michael Johnson like you’ve been shot out of a cannon, which means that a smart, tactical performance en route to a decision win just won’t do.
There’s a real risk in adopting that mindset. It also give Johnson an advantage, since he knows that Gaethje is going to charge after him in search of a slugfest. Expectations are relatively low for Johnson here. If he can stay calm and exploit Gaethje’s aggressiveness, however, he stands a very good chance of being the first person to beat him. That would mean something, UFC debut or no.
First of all, maybe we should stop calling it a division. That implies there are numerous people all competing in it, which just isn’t the case for the UFC’s women’s 145-pound … situation. Right now, and probably for the foreseeable future, there are only two people in this “division,” and that’s Cristiane Justino and whomever she’s fighting.
This seems to be the plan for the moment. Instead of having contenders establish themselves one at a time, the UFC seems content to import title challengers one at a time, while letting Invicta FC handle the non-championship aspects of running a working weight class.
So could Amanda Nunes punch her ticket to a “Cyborg” fight with another win over Valentina Shevchenko? Maybe, but I don’t see the point. If Nunes were to lose to “Cyborg,” then she’s damaged goods. If she wins, what then? The UFC wouldn’t let Conor McGregor hold onto two belts. You think it’s going to bend the rules for Nunes?
The only way it would make sense is if the two women’s champions involved were both big names on pay-per-view. Justino is on her way there. Nunes? She might still have some work to do.
For the sake of context, here are some past instances of the UFC taking the sport to the next level:
– Signed a deal with Jakks Pacific to produce action figures of fighters.
– Got Lorenzo Fertitta to leave his Station Casinos job to focus more on the UFC.
– Signed a TV deal with FOX.
– Signed an exclusive apparel deal with Reebok.
I’m not saying these weren’t significant moves in one way or another. The FOX deal gave the UFC regular network TV exposure. Fertitta brought some needed executive savvy and sanity to the boardroom. The Reebok deal, well, you can’t say that didn’t have an impact on the sport, even if it still seems more negative than positive. I can’t remember the last time I heard anyone mention those action figures.
Point is, big business developments for the UFC don’t always feel like huge strides to fans. What fans like are the fights. If you want to take those to the next level you could put on better fights, or make them easier and cheaper to watch. You could attract more and better athletes by improving the state of fighter pay.
If any of that happens, I’ll agree that the sport has been taken to the next level. If it turns out to be UFC-branded fidget spinners or more international expansion efforts, I’m going to be a lot less impressed.
The UFC is in no hurry to cut name brand heavyweights, and Travis Browne still qualifies as one of those. As long as he can get his name in the news by having Ronda Rousey go on TV and tell tales of his valor, he’s likely to keep that position.
But also, let’s be fair and acknowledge that this three-fight losing streak he’s on includes two former UFC champs and one knockout artist who Browne was beating right up until he wasn’t. Aleksei Oliynyk represents a significant step down in both quality of competition and name value, almost as if the UFC went looking for someone Browne could beat up on before the broadcast switched to pay-per-view.
This is not a fight he can afford to lose, and you’ve got to think he knows it. Still, a loss would damage his name more than it would doom his contract status. For that, Browne has outside circumstances to thank.
The clear answer here is Gaethje vs. Johnson, but do you know I almost forgot that Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overeem were concluding their trilogy at UFC 213? I know, the second fight was hot garbage, but that was mostly because Werdum opted to flop to his guard rather than trusting in his striking.
Times have changed (for both of them) since then, and I am legitimately curious how those changes will manifest themselves in this rubber match.
Chris Weidman suffers from a similar, though much less severe version of the affliction plaguing Johny Hendricks. Once you’ve been a UFC champion with a high profile, you can’t just slip back into the middle of the pack against relatively easy opponents. There are no easy fights left. Not unless you fall so far down the rankings, hitting and being hit by every branch of that tree on the way, that you finally land severely damaged at the bottom.
In other words? I know Kelvin Gastelum is far from a gimme, but Weidman had better win this one if he doesn’t want to become a cautionary tale about the fleeting nature of MMA stardom.
Careful throwing around terms like “medically cleared” in this sport. Depending on the state and the commission, they might not even look at the fighter until the week of the event, and even then they might be easily hoodwinked. I’ve heard stories of fighters getting cleared to compete with broken bones, torn ligaments, recently glued facial lacerations, you name it.
What I wonder is whether it was wise to rebook this fight so quickly. First you had Dana White telling us that Donald Cerrone was crazy to want to fight Robbie Lawler at UFC 213 with a groin injury and a staph infection, which seemed like sound reasoning from the UFC prez. But then the fight gets shuffled to UFC 214, less than a month later, prompting us to wonder how much healing can really take place in those extra few weeks.
Hopefully quite a bit. Not that I would want to fight Lawler at any point, for any reason, but I’d sure hate to do it when I was less than 100 percent.
It makes sense. If you’re Bellator, you have to assume your audience is familiar with the UFC. You rely on it, in a lot of ways, since most of your popular fighters built their names there. Mentioning the UFC on Bellator broadcasts can give fans the impression that the two are parallel promotions, signing talent back and forth without any major distinction between the two brands.
If you’re the UFC, however, mentioning Bellator might mean unwittingly alerting your fans to your biggest competitor. And why do that?
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: Bellator, Featured, News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie