Where will Mark Hunt go from here? Who should get the next UFC title shot at featherweight? Should WME-IMG be worried about whether or not Dana White is the right man to lead them into the future?
All that and more in this week’s Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.
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Mark Hunt signed a six-fight deal just last year, so new contracts aren’t the big concern right now. For the moment, he’s got to worry about Derrick Lewis throwing those hammers at his head in New Zealand this Saturday at UFC Fight Night 110, but at least Lewis has to worry about the exact same thing in more or less equal measure.
The good news for Hunt here is that, after all his concern about being forced to fight opponents with a history of performance-enhancing drug use, here he can be mostly certain that his opponent isn’t on anything stronger than Fritos.
This is my favorite kind of heavyweight fight, honestly, pitting one fat guy bruiser against another. It feels like it could have taken place in the muck of the Deadwood thoroughfare, on the undercard of Dan Doherty vs. The Captain.
This is a big part of Hunt’s value to the UFC right now. He’s got an exciting style, fans love him, and he serves as a good, though at times limited test for up-and-comers in the heavyweight class. Plus, even in his declining years he can still headline a card in Auckland, and you better believe I’m not going to miss a chance to see it.
As for where he goes from here? Probably back into the cage again as soon as he can. He’s not getting any younger, and the new deal he signed pays pretty handsomely. There are worse fates for a UFC fighter in his 40s.
Either this is a genie with very specific and limited powers, or else I have made a really poor choice on the use of my wishes. But fine, for the sake of the hypothetical, here’s what I would ask of the great genie:
1. Anderson Silva
Because why not, right? Old vs. old. Brazilian vs. Brazilian. Run it back one last time to complete Vitor Belfort’s UFC contract. And then…
2. Chael Sonnen
Assuming the bad guy is willing to put some effort into selling the fight, this could be fun. You know, prior to the bell.
3. Fedor Emelianenko
This one might have to take place in Japan on New Year’s Eve, and I imagine by then Belfort may have found some way to return to the physique he had circa 2012.
4. Guy in a Cartoon Character Mask
Also in Japan. Because if we’re going to get stupid, let’s at least get fun-stupid.
5. Phil ‘CM Punk’ Brooks
After all that, the man deserves to go out on his own terms.
Maybe, but let’s not act like size explains everything here. Yes, Conor McGregor and Max Holloway are both relatively big for featherweight, and definitely bigger than Jose Aldo, who’s about average. But McGregor went on to claim the lightweight title and Holloway was on a 10-fight winning streak coming into his fight with Aldo, so they’re also both just really good fighters.
My money’s on Frankie Edgar. It’s either him or Cub Swanson, and Holloway’s win over Swanson is only about two years old.
Plus, at 25 you can still paint Holloway as a young gun, even with the title around his waist. He beat one grizzled veteran in Aldo, so why not see if he’s up for a legends butt-whooping tour of his own against old man Edgar next? That’ll give Swanson and the rest of the division more time to sort out a pecking order on their own.
Giving UFC President Dana White a share of the profits is a good way to ensure he puts the new company’s interests first, so that wouldn’t be my big concern. What I’d be worried about is the possibility that maybe he only knows one way to do this job, and maybe it’s not the best way to move the company forward.
Especially lately, we see a paint-by-numbers approach to dissent in the ranks. A fighter won’t do what you want? Run to a friendly media outlet (or a UFC-owned one) and blast him. Fighter complains? Make the case that said fighter isn’t really that good. Fighter wants more money? Hey, even if he is good, people don’t pay to see him (which may or may not be related to how many times you’ve told us he isn’t that good).
White’s primary value to the UFC has been his ability to be a bombastically quotable figure capable of hammering a narrative until it becomes true. It’s also his ability to be a constant. Superstar fighters come and go, but White will always be there, and TMZ will always want to hear what he has to say.
One problem is that the UFC is built on a business model that gives athletes a smaller share of the profits than virtually any other pro sport. That’s bound to breed discontent as fighter awareness increases, and in the past White has been known for heavy-handed responses to fighter complaints. But you can’t cut or bully or threaten or intimidate everyone, so as discontent becomes more common your strategy has to change.
Is White capable of that sort of change? I don’t know. If I were a WME-IMG executive, I’d sure hope so.
I like the general idea of referees having a more open dialogue with fans, since I’m sure we could all benefit from a clearer understanding of the rules and the thought processes that officials go through. My concern is that any referee who tried it would quickly become fed up with it, because who wants to spend their time arguing with people who may or may not understand how any of this is supposed to work?
It reminds me of what former UFC matchmaker Joe Silva told me when I asked why he wasn’t active on Twitter or any of the MMA forums. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to engage with fans or answer critics, he said. It was because he knew that if he let himself get started arguing with people, he’d never stop. It would consume his days. And who wants that?
Someone must care about Demetrious Johnson, judging by how much time we’ve all spent talking about him this week. But I think his lack of broader appeal is due in part to a one-size-fits-all approach to fight promotion.
It’s not just the UFC that’s guilty of it. Notice how you jumped right to a McGregor comparison? It’s like we’ve become convinced that the only way for a fighter to sell is by becoming a pro-wrestling cartoon character.
That’s the easiest way, painting in broad, familiar strokes so that even the people in the cheap seats can see, but there are other ways to do it. “Mighty Mouse” isn’t that guy, but he’s still an interesting guy, as anyone who’s interviewed him lately can tell you. It’s just a matter of figuring out what to do with that. One thing I can tell you is that it’s a poor salesman who tries the same approach every time, and then gives up and blames the product when it doesn’t work.
The UFC has toyed with something like that in various informal ways in the past. Back when those UFC Fight Night events on Spike were a relatively new thing, you’d see a clear progression as fighters graduated from cable to pay-per-view. More recently, you’ve seen it on those UFC Fight Pass-only prelims and events. Even “The Ultimate Fighter,” in addition to being an extremely long-running piece of TV content for the UFC, has provided a steady stream of new talent.
This is a more explicit version of that model, and that seems like the better way to go. We’ve seen the slow erosion of meaning in terms like “UFC-caliber” over the years. Now, instead of gobbling up more talent than it can reasonably use all under the same banner, the UFC is coming right out and admitting that what we’re about to see is a glorified tryout.
That helps gives those bouts added meaning, and lends an easy narrative to those who emerge from the process. As with “TUF,” it probably also helps the UFC lock young talent into contracts before they have too much bargaining power. So there’s that, too.
I don’t even think it’s in the top three reasons for it, and at the moment I’m not even prepared to call it an “exodus,” at least not of top fighters.
A lot of the fighters who have jumped from the UFC to Bellator are guys who felt like their options were diminishing inside the octagon, and the appreciation they felt they’d earned just wasn’t there.
Take Rory MacDonald, for instance. He broke his whole face giving us that epic title fight with Robbie Lawler, and afterward what did he have to show for it? He lost, so the UFC started looking at him like he was UFC Fight Night fodder, and no one could realistically tell him what he’d have to do to change that.
If you’re looking for recurring factors in some of these defections, start there. How do you make serious money as a UFC fighter? For a long time the answer was simple – win a title. But how do you get a title shot? And if you’ve already had one and lost, how do you get another one?
Winning the fights isn’t always enough to significantly advance your career anymore. Just ask Lorenz Larkin. If a fighter is unsatisfied with his pay, the UFC can’t sit him down and believably say, “X performance will lead to Y compensation.”
That’s why I think some fighters are rethinking their stance on Bellator. For some, it’s the MMA version of a lucrative old folks’ home. But for others, the ones closer to their prime, it’s a chance to have their past accomplishments really mean something. Because unlike the UFC, Bellator doesn’t have many of those kinds of fighters to choose from.
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, News, UFC
Source: MMA Junkie