It’s fight week once again, which means this edition of the Twitter Mailbag gets right to work with questions about the upcoming UFC on FOX 8 card in Seattle.
After that, well, that’s when we get into the fun stuff like light heavyweights who really want to be middleweights and heavyweights who want to be light heavyweights. Don’t worry, we’ll also find some time to talk discretionary bonuses, zombies of Korean origin, and broadcasting dream teams.
As always, you can direct your own question to @BenFowlkesMMA on Twitter.
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Maybe I’m just spending my time on the wrong websites (mainly that one where Garfield is removed from all the Garfield cartoons, filling them with a strangely touching existential dread), but I actually haven’t seen too much complaining about Saturday night’s flyweight headliner. And that’s good, because what is there to complain about?
The 125-pound tilt between champ Demetrious Johnson and John Moraga at the top of the UFC on FOX 8 card is, after all, a title fight on free TV. If you complain that it’s not a big enough title fight for the UFC’s FOX series, then you can’t also complain when the same title is being contested on pay-per-view. You can’t complain that the flyweights aren’t getting enough exposure either, because dude, it doesn’t get much more exposed than a main event on FOX. How are we ever supposed to get to the point where fans won’t complain about paying for flyweight fights if we also complain about getting their fights for free?
Point is, we’ve got to pick our complaints carefully, lest we turn into a bunch of jerks who will complain about absolutely anything. Or, more accurately, lest we continue to be those jerks indefinitely.
To be fair, Moraga didn’t dump it all on Johnson’s doorstep. But he is right that, as the champion, Johnson is the most consistently visible fighter in the UFC’s 125-pound class. For fans who don’t watch Facebook prelims, he might be the only flyweight they’ve ever seen more than once. It’s reasonable to assume that those fans will make assumptions about the entire weight class based on what they see from Johnson, and at least so far we haven’t seen anything too spectacular.
Look at the criticism of the flyweights in general and of Johnson in particular, and you’ll see some similarities. The little guys, or so their detractors say, just bounce around the seemingly cavernous cage with displays of speed and footwork that are impressive, but ultimately result in very little violence. Flyweights don’t finish, at least according to the people who have seen Johnson but not Moraga. So yeah, Johnson has to take a little of the responsibility for that. He is pretty darn bouncy in there. And no, he hasn’t finished anyone in the UFC. If he wants people to shut up about it, he’s got five rounds worth of chances to change that narrative on Saturday night.
For starters, the UFC could have not put his most recent fight on Facebook. That seems like the obvious answer, though one with the benefit of hindsight.
Still, because the division is so shallow, as you point out, the UFC should have been able to predict that the winner of Moraga’s fight with Chris Cariaso at UFC 155 would probably end up in a flyweight title fight relatively soon thereafter. But instead of putting it on the main card (you can’t tell me it wouldn’t have been a better kickoff to the pay-per-view portion than Chris Leben vs. Derek Brunson) or even the FX portion of the prelims, the UFC stuck the only two flyweights in the lineup all the way at the bottom. That doesn’t seem like a great plan for building future stars in a still-growing division.
If you want people to care about a title fight, it helps if they care about both fighters competing in it. Failing that, you’d like for fans to at least have heard of these guys before you try and promote one of them as the next potential champ.
Not necessarily. Between the superfight talk that just won’t die and Georges St-Pierre’s slow shuffle toward possible careers outside the cage, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if GSP was no longer in the welterweight picture by the time Rory MacDonald’s case for a title shot becomes impossible to ignore. I also wouldn’t be too terribly surprised if MacDonald gets beaten by Jake Ellenberger this weekend, which would shut down that teammate-vs.-teammate situation before it really starts.
Clearly, the 24-year-old MacDonald has a ton of talent and potential. At the same time, he doesn’t have any wins over elite, full-time welterweights. He beat Mike Pyle, but so did Ellenberger. He looked good in a loss to Carlos Condit, but so did Ellenberger. He beat an over-the-hill B.J. Penn and an undersized Nate Diaz, while Ellenberger knocked out Jake Shields and Nate Marquardt.
This is a close enough matchup that I wouldn’t be too surprised either way it went, but it does seem like maybe the hype has gotten ahead of the actual results when it comes to MacDonald. I can understand people feeling exciting about what he might become, but that doesn’t mean he’s there yet. We’ll have to wait until Saturday night to find out.
Possibly. It certainly makes you wonder how big a role it played in Chael Sonnen’s decision to move back down to middleweight after his fight with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, doesn’t it?
In fact, without that shakeup at the top of the division, Sonnen’s move doesn’t make that much sense. Why go on TV before a fight with a former light heavyweight champ and announce that, once it’s over, you’re bolting from the weight class and heading back to the division where you’ve already lost two title fights? It makes the matchup with Rua seem suddenly meaningless. Maybe Sonnen likes his chances against Chris Weidman, or maybe he just likes his chances of snagging another big money title fight if he moves to a weight class where he hasn’t already been throttled by the champ. Either way, it’s hard to imagine him making the same move at the same time if Silva had come out on the winning end earlier this month.
Roy Nelson is a fighter with the virtues of his faults. Dude is stubborn as all hell, which serves him well in fights but maybe not so much in areas such as training and career management. He is literally and figuratively hard-headed, and he always has been. Before his last fight with Stipe Miocic, there were rumors that Nelson had burned too many bridges at home in Las Vegas and, for that reason, was having trouble finding quality training partners. By the time he got in the cage in Winnipeg, he looked like a man who’d either pushed himself too hard or not enough, though his sheer obstinance carried him through the full three rounds.
Now he’s got the new contract he wanted, and he seems happy with the nine-fight deal – at least for now. You have to wonder if the UFC wasn’t at least partially motivated to lock him down for so long just to avoid having to renegotiate with him in a year or two. Will he fight all nine? My guess is probably not. He’s 37 years old right now, and even if he fought at a consistent pace of three times a year, which is optimistic, he’d be 40 before this deal is done. In this sport, the guys who rely on stubbornness as much as Nelson does usually do so at the expense of career longevity.
It’s getting there, but I think lightweight is still the most talent-rich division not only in the UFC, but in all of MMA. To support that claim, I’d point to the fact that at least one the men in the featherweight title picture is really a lightweight who figured he could drop the extra 10 pounds and get a shot quicker than if he stuck around in the crowded 155-pound class.
It seems odd that it would, because a) a win over Nelson right now wouldn’t (and by wouldn’t I mean shouldn’t) earn you a title shot in the heavyweight division, and b) most people would probably want to see Cormier prove he can make light heavyweight before granting him a crack at the champ.
Word is that Cormier wants to bring his weight down gradually in anticipation of a potential move to 205 pounds, which is why this fight with Nelson makes sense to begin with. If Cormier wants to come in lighter than usual to see how his body reacts, who better to do it against than one of the less enormous heavyweights in the division? And if the UFC is going to let Cormier have a chance at knocking one of its existing heavyweight contenders further down the ranks, why not let it be Nelson, who’s already out of the title picture for the time being?
If Nelson pulls off the upset and beats him, fine, he’s back in the conversation and Cormier can still move down and get himself a win at light heavyweight to bolster his case for a shot at Jon Jones. Ideally, he would do that anyway.
Not really. Teixeira’s run is impressive, but he still hasn’t beaten any elite light heavyweights in the UFC. A win over Bader right now wouldn’t change that, which is what sucks about this match-up for Teixeira. He absolutely cannot afford to lose if he wants to make his case for a title shot while he’s still young, but beating a guy who’s 3-3 in his past six fights doesn’t propel you to the top. He can’t become a top light heavyweight until he beats one, and he can’t beat one if the UFC won’t give him one. If Cormier does come straight down from heavyweight and into a title fight with Jones, Teixeira doesn’t have to like it. He does, however, probably have to accept it.
I’m not sure if you’re asking me to name my three favorite two-person broadcast teams (there aren’t that many existing combos to choose from in this sport to begin with) or if you’re asking me to put together a three-person dream team. Because it seems like a more interesting question, I’m going to assume it’s the latter and tell you that if I had my way and if contractual obstacles were no issue, all big fights would get a three-person crew.
In the play-by-play spot, I’d want either Jon Anik or Mauro Ranallo, assuming Ranallo hasn’t abandoned us for good in favor of boxing. In the color commentator spot, I’d want Joe Rogan, who is not without his faults but is generally a solid, dependable presence on the broadcast. The third spot I’d reserve for an ex-fighter analyst like Brian Stann or Pat Miletich. Both are excellent at explaining the finer technical points of the sport, without it feeling inaccessible to the newer fans. Maybe they could also come up with something new to say when Rogan goes off on another rant about steel cups or MMA glove designs.
It sure doesn’t sound easy, and the odds only get longer if you’ve been on the shelf with injuries for over a year, as Chan Sung Jung has. Honestly, that’s my biggest concern for “The Korean Zombie.” Jose Aldo is tough enough as it is. Fighting him in Brazil is even tougher. But fighting him in Brazil while you’re even just a little bit rusty from a long layoff? That sounds like the blueprint for a very bad night, if you ask me.
It’s one of the issues, sure. The problem is, it’s difficult to talk about, precisely because of the undisclosed nature of those discretionary bonuses. The UFC seems to want it both ways on this one. It won’t tell us what it pays fighters in bonuses (unless they complain about their pay, and then we hear all about it), and it claims that the fighters want it this way. And yet, when we start having a discussion about fighter pay, the UFC somehow expects us to include these unreported figures in the conversation. We can’t do that because we don’t know exactly what the figures are. The UFC is essentially asking us to take its word for it that the fighters are getting plenty of money, which obviously we aren’t going to do.
Talking to fighters about the discretionary bonuses, you get the sense that they’re kept guessing as well. Sometimes they can double their pay with a performance that the UFC execs deem exciting enough. Other times they might get a couple grand extra for a so-so fight. Sometimes they keep checking the mailbox in the weeks after a fight, only to find there’s no bonus coming at all.
You talk to the UFC and they tell you that fighters are feeling the financial love behind closed doors, don’t you worry. Then you talk to the fighters and they tell you that there are times when they expected a little more appreciation than they found. As long as the bonuses stay private and undisclosed, we can’t talk about them in any more than the vaguest of terms. Right now, what we know is that some guys get some extra money some of the time. They don’t know exactly what they’ll earn before the fight, and we rarely find out what they really made after the fact. That does not make for an informed and intelligent discussion on fighter pay, which might be exactly how the UFC wants it.
Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie.com and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA. Twitter Mailbag appears every Thursday on MMAjunkie.com.