Is Brock Lesnar really coming back? Is UFC 214 really a clash between two 205-pounders who will eventually be heavyweights together? Would Dana White’s Contender Series be a good replacement for “The Ultimate Fighter”? Is Demian Maia going to get his whole head knocked off?
All that and more in this week’s Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.
Word from the UFC is that, regardless of claims to the contrary, Brock Lesnar has not reentered the USADA testing pool. And if you’re thinking that it might not matter, since the UFC gave him a pass on that last time, please remind yourself that that decision has since been used against the UFC in both a lawsuit and a congressional hearing.
I know the UFC is desperate for heavyweights and pay-per-view buys, but Lesnar feels like more trouble than he’s worth. The last time we saw him, he failed two different drug tests and laid on top of Mark Hunt for three rounds. Another one of his temporary returns doesn’t interest me one bit.
I see two clear options: If he loses again, Daniel Cormier can go to heavyweight or he can go to the commentary desk full-time. A second loss to Jon Jones would be a serious roadblock for him at light heavyweight, and I can’t see how it would be worth it for him to keep making that cut just to be an impediment to other potential contenders.
You could say the same about Jones at light heavyweight. You’d also have to admit that he’s the best light heavyweight in the history of the sport, so maybe knockout power isn’t a prerequisite for success.
I know we’re all waiting for Jones to make that jump, but there’s still some work for him to do at 205 pounds. If he can reclaim his title at UFC 214, maybe defend it in a rematch with Alexander Gustafsson after that, then beat up the winner of Jimi Manuwa vs. Volkan Oezdemir, just to put a stamp on the division (and prove he can hold down the title without sabotaging himself), then the time will be right for a jump.
Plus, where do you think Cormier will be by then? If he has to go to heavyweight after another loss to Jones, he may quickly rocket up the ranks. Who knows, he could even be champ by the time Jones moves up. And wouldn’t that just delight Jones, to get another chance to snatch something away from his most hated rival.
Whoa there. I’m going to need you to slow way down. Before we can even talk about something like that, your boy Kelvin Gastelum needs to do two things: 1) Beat Chris Weidman at UFC on FOX 25, and 2) Not do anything stupid like fail a drug test afterwards, even if it’s just for marijuana.
Isn’t it funny how, if you’d told someone in 2015 that Gastelum would be the favorite against Weidman, that would have seemed insane? Gastelum went 1-2 as a welterweight that year, while Weidman was the defending UFC middleweight champ right up until mid December.
The big question for me in this fight is where each guy’s head is at. Weidman didn’t lose at all until he suddenly couldn’t stop losing. Gastelum has the momentum, but also a history of finding ways to shoot himself in the foot. I’m not certain who has the edge there, but they’re both still a ways off from the man they call “Bobby Knuckles.”
Sure he can. As in, it’s not impossible. We’ve seen Demian Maia get some good wrestlers down, one way or another, even when they know it’s coming.
What I wonder is whether Maia can do it often enough, and to meaningful effect, or whether he’ll have to keep trying over and over again for five rounds, giving Tyron Woodley one too many practice swings at his skull.
We’re never going to completely stop it as long as MMA uses open-fingered gloves. The best we can hope for is that referees get better at spotting it when it happens and taking action to penalize the offenders enough that it’s worth being careful about.
The rule change is a start, since it gives referees more authority to crack down on fighters who let their fingers hang out in that danger zone in front of their opponents’ eyes. But referees are still reluctant to deduct points in MMA, which is somewhat understandable. In a three-round fight, one point deduction can change everything. Then again, as we saw in Sunday’s main event, the same is true of getting poked in the eye.
I don’t think it’s that simple. I watched the “HBO Real Sports” episode that detailed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadryrov’s use of MMA to help him consolidate power for his brutal regime. It was even more disturbing than I was expecting it to be, especially after Kadyrov explicitly condoned the murder of gay men and ended with a threat of nuclear Armageddon.
Clearly, that’s a place where sports and politics are intersecting, like it or not. The fighters who have taken money in exchange for allowing themselves to be used as public relations pawns – a list that includes Weidman, Fabricio Werdum, and Frank Mir, among others – should explain why they felt comfortable cozying up to someone like Kadyrov.
But when people complain about political views mixing with sports coverage, I think it usually means one of two things. The first possibility is that they view sports as an escape, some entertaining break from the real world, and they’d rather not have that bubble burst for them. That’s naive and a little selfish, since sports are made up of people and people are invariably affected by politics, but I almost see their point.
The other possibility is that, as my colleague Dave Doyle put it on Twitter recently, what these people really object to is hearing political views that they don’t share.
Fighters have convinced everyone, from judges to fans to coaches to each other, that a takedown in the final minute of a remotely close round is the deciding factor. It’s this weird kind of strategy that reinforces itself the more it’s used. We see a somewhat even round. We see someone shoot for a takedown in the waning seconds, when we all know that there’s not time enough to do much with it, and we tell ourselves that the success or failure of that attempt is what will swing the round.
And so it does. We’ve all accepted that, somewhat unconsciously, as the way the scoring works. If judges would stop rewarding that strategy so consistently, I suspect fighters would stop relying on it. I’m just not sure how you get that snowball rolling downhill.
For the record, MMAjunkie is referring to these as “Dana White’s Contender Series,” with the number of each event attached at the end. Still a mouthful, but an improvement. (Plus, how are you going to stick “Tuesday night” in the name when the thing starts in the late afternoon, local time?)
It probably won’t come as a shock to you that I would love to see this replace “The Ultimate Fighter.” We get more weekly action without the stale reality show drama, and it’s all happening live rather than as part of a pre-taped and carefully edited narrative. It also fills a niche in the MMA world, since it gives us a weekly fight show that doesn’t require the time commitment of a full-time job.
Not every MMA event needs to be a 13-course meal that takes six hours of your life. Dana White’s Contender Series is a bite-sized snack, and I’m into that.
Those two examples you mentioned are such wildly different circumstances that it’s hard to even compare them, but the root question here is worth considering.
For a good long while, the UFC didn’t have much meaningful competition in the free agent market. That’s only recently begun to change as Bellator, under CEO Scott Coker’s leadership, has gotten serious about bidding for name fighters like Gegard Mousasi. It can’t match the prestige of the UFC brand, but it can offer more freedom and flexibility, which makes things interesting for fighters who have chafed under the rigid structure of the current UFC.
Conor McGregor’s situation is a whole other ballgame, and yet some of the same issues still apply. Odds are he’ll make more than $100 million for his fight with Floyd Mayweather (though the UFC will reportedly pocket around $40 million just for greenlighting the thing). He’ll also get to sign his own lucrative sponsor deals. Once that’s all over, the UFC hopes to get him back in its cage before the year is out.
But asking McGregor to go back to being, as Mayweather likes to put it, “a $3 million fighter” making $40,000 in outfitting pay could be a tough sell. It’s a step backwards, both in pay and personal autonomy.
McGregor’s not the only person who will see that, either. Long term, these limitations have the power to hurt the sport, simply because they hurt athlete recruitment. It’s like we always say about the lack of quality heavyweights and light heavyweights in MMA. If you’re a big guy who’s also good at contact sports, you probably have options that will pay and treat you better than this sport will. It didn’t get this way on accident, either.
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: News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie