Twitter Mailbag: Fowlkes on Gustafsson's cut, Hardy's heart, Wand's funny bone


There’s at least one upside to Alexander Gustafsson being scratched from the UFC on FUEL TV 9 main event: We all got the chance to learn a new Swedish fighter’s name – even if the spelling proved difficult for some of us.

Another upside is that it gives us plenty to discuss in this week’s Twitter Mailbag. From the UFC’s top-heavy strategy in Stockholm, to Gegard Mousasi’s bum deal, we break it all down at the behest of your insightful questions. We also find some space to discuss Dan Hardy’s wolfheart, Wanderlei Silva’s big joke and Uriah Hall’s reality TV dominance.

If you’ve got a question of your own, you might as well spend hours getting the wording just right, then fire it off to @BenFowlkesMMA. Or just do one of those things.

* * * *

Not really. Back when he was still fighting Alexander Gustafsson in the main event of FUEL TV 9, Gegard Mousasi was an underdog with nothing to lose (except for, you know, possibly some blood and money and teeth). Then Gustafsson slipped on a banana peel and fell into a cage post (or was it a doorknob?) and now it’s Ilir Latifi who’s the underdog with nothing to lose. Mousasi is now the man who absolutely has to win, and against an unknown Swede in Sweden.

At least Mousasi knows what the score is. Like he said, he’s got “nothing to win but a lot to lose.” If he beats Latifi, so what? He’s a 13-1 favorite over the Swede right now. He’d better beat him, and beat him badly. If he loses or even just struggles to get the victory, it’ll be a letdown. As they say in politics, you should only attack up. It’s not so different in professional cagefighting, where you always want to face someone who is higher than you in the rankings. That’s how you maximize your wins and minimize your defeats. As awesome as it would have been for Mousasi to pull off an upset against Gustafsson, it’d be just as disastrous to lose to his unknown replacement.

It’s the same lesson the UFC has already been taught, yet refuses to learn: If you build a fight card around just one fighter and/or fight, you’re only one training mishap from big trouble. In a sport where training mishaps are not at all uncommon, that’s kind of a reckless risk to keep taking. It’s also a risk that’s exacerbated by the UFC’s own breakneck schedule. The big-name talent is spread out across so many events that there’s not a solid co-main event to fall back on here. No offense to Ryan Couture and Ross Pearson, but you put them on a poster in Stockholm and you get a lot of politely blank stares in response. It’s fine to tell those of us watching for free on FUEL TV that we’ve got nothing to complain about, but that doesn’t work on the live crowd. They didn’t plop down their hard-earned kronor because they want to be able to tell their grandchildren that they were there the night Pearson fought Couture.

The UFC knows that. It knows that the people paying scalper prices for tickets to this event are doing so mostly for two reasons: 1) They love them some Alex G., and 2) They want to see a UFC event. Reason the first has now evaporated. The appeal of the UFC brand name and the promise of a night’s worth of MMA action is still there, but if the UFC leans on that too hard while offering too little in exchange, it may result in diminished enthusiasm and reluctant ticket-buyers the next time the Octagon comes to town.

I think that’s a call Mousasi should get to make. If he’d said that he wanted to wait until he could get Gustafsson, that would have been reasonable. Instead, he told the UFC that he wanted to fight, or at least that’s the version of the story that both sides are telling. Latifi isn’t exactly an ideal opponent, but I suppose it’s still better than training for months with no paycheck at the end of the rainbow. Mousasi will just have to make the best of it.

C’mon, you know why. It’s because that’s not a main event-worthy fight, and we all know it. If the UFC had bumped that bout into the top slot, it wouldn’t be a main event – it’d just be last. At least the Mousasi-Latifi bout retains 50 percent of the original main event, plus it features a Swede. One or the other alone wouldn’t be enough, but together they just barely qualify for the minimum standards of a main event in Stockholm.

Are you kidding? Latifi has everything to win. Think about it: A couple days ago UFC President Dana White literally couldn’t spell the man’s name. Here he was, a Swedish fighter and a training partner of Gustafsson’s, and the UFC hadn’t even signed him to compete on the one fight card of the year where those two things might actually mean something. That’s how far off the UFC’s radar he was. Now he’s one improbable win away from becoming the Swedish Rocky (“Yo Ingrid, I did it!!”). If he loses, so what? He’s no worse off than where he started, and at least he got to fight in the main event at the Globe once in his life. Maybe the UFC will even give him another go, since he did just step up on extremely short notice and against really long odds. As long as he can avoid completely embarrassing himself, this is a no-lose situation for him. Let him get through this in one piece and then he can worry about what comes next.

Let’s say there are two categories of professional fighters: the ones who need this, and the ones who don’t. The first group is made up of guys who are basically unemployable in almost any other field. They could get jobs as bouncers or, uh, “debt-collectors,” but outside of training and fighting they have few interests and/or skills. They are the minority in MMA, but trust me, they’re out there.

Then there’s the second group, the guys who could do something else, but simply choose not to, at least for right now. Dan Hardy is in that second group. I’ve sat and talked with him on several occasions, and believe me when I tell you that he’s one of the most thoughtful, eloquent and reasonable people in all of MMA. He could do tons of other things, and he knows it. He might even say that, for a while there, he was waiting for his UFC pink slip because it might force him to go do those things.

Now the UFC wants him to have surgery to correct his heart ailment, and Hardy says he won’t do it. Can you blame him? I doubt many of us would be too thrilled about having a heart surgery that we didn’t absolutely need. Especially if it was purely so you could hold on to a job that, one way or another, will probably be at an end for you fairly soon, what’s the point? Why risk it just to get a few more fights? That seems to be exactly the way Hardy is thinking about it, which again only proves why he’s in the category of fighters who doesn’t absolutely need this. To tell the truth, I’m impressed by Hardy’s decision. For a lot of fighters, this sport is like a drug. Even when they know they should quit, they can’t. So when you see a man who’s drawn a line (and elective heart surgery is a pretty good place to draw it) that he won’t cross just to stay employed, that’s refreshing. Encouraging, even. I just hope that he stands by this decision, come what may.

The thing with “Ultimate Fighter” standouts is, sure they look great against reality TV show competition, but what does that really count for? It’s the same cudgel that the UFC likes to use against standouts in other organizations: you don’t know how a fighter will do in the UFC until he fights in the UFC. Uriah Hall certainly looks like one of the most talented fighters to come out of the reality show ranks in years, but let’s not freak out about him until we see him do these fancy moves against someone whose job description does not include wearing a microphone into the bathroom.

Since it was a UFC executive who was shown in the video where the “Canadian loophole” was explained to Nick Diaz’s team, the UFC can’t claim to be totally uninvolved or unaware of the situation. The question is whether the UFC’s Michael Mersch was simply relaying a message from the Quebec commission in that video, or whether the UFC was involved in crafting that message and that loophole to begin with. Honestly, it seems unlikely that the UFC would go to much trouble to get special weigh-in considerations on behalf of Georges St-Pierre, who’s never had much trouble hitting 170 pounds. It seems more likely that this was the commission’s idea, which would explain why it clammed up so quickly when it became apparent that it had misrepresented its own rules in statements to the media. The question for the UFC then becomes, why file a copyright claim with YouTube to get the video taken down? Concealing evidence only makes you appear guilty. In this case, it also makes you seem like a company that thinks it can throw the copyright cloak over any problem that it wants to disappear. Neither is a particularly good look.

That’s a tough one. On one hand, the timekeeper obviously screwed up, and Andrei Arlovski clearly took damage that he wouldn’t have taken if the first round had ended when it was supposed to. On the other hand, he lost that fight by decision after three full rounds. Is it really fair to wipe away 15 minutes of work by Anthony Johnson because of eight extra seconds that he didn’t ask for but had just as much chance to capitalize on as Arlovski did? In MMA, we usually lean in the direction of letting all but the most egregious officiating errors stand. That’s partly because, as I wrote in my column last weekend, we don’t want to keep going back and changing the results of fights. If we start doing that too much, then we start looking at the results on fight night as preliminary findings rather than final conclusions. That’d be bad for the sport. At the same time, in resisting that impulse we create an unfair world where even valid complaints like Arlovski’s fall on deaf ears. There’s got to be a middle ground somewhere, but we have yet to find it.

Neither seems very likely, but I’ll go with A. While I think financial necessity will drive Nick Diaz back into the cage eventually, there is very little he could do at this point that would really surprise me. The UFC, on the other hand, was pretty recently reminded of all the headaches that come with having that guy fight for a title in the main event. I wouldn’t blame Dana White if he was in no hurry to go through that again.

Maybe, but first I’d like someone to define the term “active fighter” for me. Does it just mean not presently injured (to the best of our knowledge)? Does it mean capable of fighting at some point in the next six months? Or nine months, or 12? If Georges St-Pierre runs off to film a Captain America movie instead of defending his title against Johny Hendricks this summer, is he still an active fighter? What about if the movie turns into some kind of “Apocalypse Now” situation that consumes his life for a year and a half? Would we then start to feel like we didn’t know who was welterweight champ? I doubt it. That’s because, regardless of his recent work schedule, the champ is the person who beat somebody in order to get that belt. And until he loses it or announces that he no longer wishes to defend it, that’s how it stays. Even if the champ is at home on his couch, staring at his busted knee, he’s still the champ. We can up and decide to call someone else by that name if we really want to, but we shouldn’t expect it to mean the same thing.

Definitely “it is what it is.” While both are tired cliches, at least “styles make fights” actually means something.

Before we get too carried away with the Wandy-bashing, let’s talk about intentions here. I don’t think Wanderlei Silva meant to cause any harm with his attempt at an April Fools’ joke. I think he thought it would be legitimately hilarious to spend all day committing himself to this prank, only to reveal how thoroughly he had tricked us all the next day. I think he really believed we’d all fall over laughing, or at least shake our heads in deep appreciation of his mischievous sense of humor. It just didn’t work out that way, for a few different reasons.

For one thing, Silva didn’t trick nearly as many people as he seems to think. You’ll note here that MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com) was not one of the websites that ran the Twitter rumor as news. For another, as far as April Fools’ jokes go, announcing a fake fight booking is the MMA equivalent of announcing a fake pregnancy on Facebook. Not only has it been done to death already, it’s just not very funny.

Lastly, Silva forgot a crucial ingredient in any good April Fools’ Day prank. Instead of joking about something that would elicit relief once people learned the truth (see also: this fake announcement that HBO was replacing Peter Dinklage on “Game of Thrones”), he joked about something that only left us feeling disappointed in the end. With Gustafsson out, Silva would have been a perfect replacement opponent for Mousasi. That might have been the best possible ending to this Stockholm saga. That’s another reason why, when people found out it was all a joke, they were more bummed than amused. Silva got our hopes up for nothing, and that just kind of sucks.

Again, I don’t think he meant anything by it. You could see how Silva might have misinterpreted April Fools’ Day as a holiday where we all just lie to each other thoroughly and aggressively. You could also see how he might not have considered the possibility that he was making an already stressful fight week that much worse for Mousasi. Basically, Silva tried to make a funny joke, and he learned the hard way that it’s tougher than it seems. In that sense, at least, I think we can all sympathize with him.

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.

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