Twitter Mailbag: Fowlkes on Nick Diaz, Chael Sonnen, UFC rankings and more


Judging by your questions for this week’s Twitter Mailbag, many of you are still trying to unpack all the baggage from UFC 158, which is understandable.

That’s why we’re going to dive right in with questions about Georges St-Pierre’s unpopular popularity, Nick Diaz’s viability as a role model and much, much more. Don’t worry, there’s still space to wonder what will become of Chael Sonnen and whether Matt Hughes actually plans on working for his money in his new VP role with the UFC.

Got a question of your own? Send it on over to @BenFowlkesMMA, and hope for the best. I promise nothing, but I always deliver.

* * * *

That’s a good question, but please, let’s not act like it’s just the media that focuses on Georges St-Pierre’s fighting style. I know that on Saturday night, my Twitter timeline was filled with fans complaining about GSP’s decision-prone approach, with many people claiming (whether you believe them or not) that they’d never buy another one of his pay-per-views again. I realize that’s not exactly a scientific survey, but it does highlight a disconnect between how many fight fans say they feel about St-Pierre’s performances and what the UFC tells us about his dependability as a pay-per-view draw. So what gives?

Maybe the answer is that people aren’t buying the pay-per-views because they’re hoping to see GSP get his GSP on, but rather because they’re hoping to see him do something different (or get knocked out trying). Or maybe it’s because he has such a legion of hardcore fans – I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but he is pretty popular with the ladies, not to mention an absolute superstar in Canada – that don’t care how he wins, as long as they get to see him do his thing. We also can’t discount that GSP has held that title for five years now, and, unlike Anderson Silva, has had a pretty steady stream of legit challengers to keep him busy during that time.

Maybe all of those factors combine to make him the top pay-per-view draw. Or maybe the masses don’t find his particular brand of consistent five-round dominance to be as boring as the vocal minority would have us believe. My guess is that when he goes to check his bank statement, GSP doesn’t care which it is.

Judging by your Twitter handle, I have to assume that you are probably a sentient calculator, or at the very least a cyborg. For that reason, I don’t blame you for arriving at this conclusion, even though I think it’s the wrong one.

Logically, no, Nick Diaz does not seem like a very good role model. He has a lot of trouble taking responsibility for his own actions (after UFC 158, for instance, he blamed his loss on everything from a bad training camp to the vast three-hour time difference between California and Montreal). He doesn’t treat others the way he would like to be treated (can you imagine how he’d react if someone showed up to a press conference after he won a close decision and told him, as he told Johny Hendricks, that he didn’t deserve the victory?) If everyone behaved the way Diaz does, it’d be chaos. Or whatever.

But despite all that, Diaz does seem to have had a positive influence on the lives of many of his fans. For instance, check out this email I got from CME podcast listener Jessica Valerio, who graciously granted permission for me to share it with you here. Jessica writes: “I am one of those people who will think Nick Diaz is important no matter what he does that seems disappointing. I feel like he has given to the community more than he has taken from it. I was a couch potato that got off my ass because I was inspired by him. I run in the trails and hills by my house and started training [Brazilian jiu-jitsu]. I lost some weight and now practically live at Whole Foods/Sprouts/Mothers Market, but the best thing is I am happier.”

I realize that’s just one person’s perspective, but I see some version of that same sentiment expressed by a lot of Diaz fans. While there’s plenty of negative stuff to focus on with this guy, there are also a lot of positives. I guess it’s just a question of which you’d rather pay attention to.

Honestly, I question whether Diaz could change camps. He’s a man who likes to do things his own way. And by “likes to,” I mean has to. Can you see him becoming a full-time member at AKA, showing up to practice on their schedule, according to their system? I think he’d last about a week before he gave everyone the old Stockton Heybuddy and went back home to train the way he wants. Diaz is described as fiercely loyal by his longtime friends and training partners, but there’s a flip side to that. This is not a man who always works well with others. If you think he’s going to show up to Greg Jackson’s and jump up and down with his hands draped around Diego Sanchez’s shoulders, you’re kidding yourself.

That’s a tough one, because in MMA the violence takes so many different forms. For instance, I was in Toronto the night Frank Mir broke Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira’s arm, and that made me dry heave a little. I was also in Vancouver the night Yves Edwards got clipped on the chin by Sam Stout, then did a slow motion collapse that caused his head to whiplash backward with a sickening crack. The time when I thought I might have just witnessed something horrible was when Eddie Wineland nearly slammed Ken Stone through the mat at the final WEC event in Arizona. Stone was down for a while after that one, and you could hear the collective sigh of relief in the arena when fans realized he was going to be OK. Then there are the many, many fights we’ve all seen that were stopped too late, and only after far more brain trauma than was necessary.

That’s the thing about this sport that some people don’t get. Yes, it’s violent. And yes, sometimes that’s terrible to watch. It can feel like the experience is taking a psychological toll on you, but that’s how it should feel. If we could witness this violence without feeling affected by it, what would that say about us?

Weird, isn’t it? It’s almost as if the best welterweight in the world has the ability to take his opponents out of their games and make them look bad as he exploits their weaknesses. That’s what happens when you do your homework on the guys you’re about to fight, and you also happen to be an amazing athlete. Instead of wondering why his opponents can’t do any better, maybe we should be paying attention to precisely how GSP makes that so difficult for them.

By “the 158 treatment,” I assume you mean packing one event with the top fighters in a given division and letting the weight class work itself out on one night, which is a pretty sweet move. Not only does it keep fan attention on one division’s ups and downs, it also makes future matchmaking easier. If everyone fights on the same night, they should be ready to fight again at around the same time. It might even cut down on some of the lengthy waits between title fights, which would be nice.

So which weight class should be next? Lightweight seems like the most talent-rich division in the entire sport, and has for a while now. Whatever it takes for T.J. Grant to finally get his propers, I’m all for it.

Yet again, it seems impossible for us to talk about the Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen fight without operating under the assumption that Sonnen will lose. Not that I disagree, mind you. I think there is very little chance he wins that fight. But then, I wouldn’t have guessed that Vitor Belfort would be able to bend Jones’ arm all out of shape, so who knows?

But fine, let’s assume Sonnen loses after months of talking trash and cracking wise on TV, at which point he’ll have lost back-to-back title shots in two different divisions. He’ll also be 36 years old and the owner of an increasingly familiar (some might even say stale) schtick. Would that be the point where he decides that he no longer needs to get punched in the face for a living? It’d certainly be understandable. He’s got the running TV gig with the UFC, and his future as a broadcaster is starting to look brighter than his options as a fighter. Then again, if there’s anyone who could pivot from even a lopsided a loss to Jones to a big money rivalry fight with, say, Vitor Belfort, it’s Sonnen. Something tells me his ability to sell a fight will outlast his ability to win one.

How do we know they aren’t being used now? The UFC has said it won’t necessarily be tied to them, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t looking at those little numbers next to each guy’s name and trying to figure out which number he should fight next. One thing you hear over and over again when you talk to UFC matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby is that timing and scheduling play a bigger role in who fights who than most people realize. There are a lot of moving parts in each UFC division, so finding two guys who a) don’t already have fights booked, b) are close enough in the rankings so that a fight makes sense, and c) have styles that would compliment rather than cancel out each other, well, it’s a pain. The rankings – which, yes, are subjective and speculative and prone to all kinds of hypothetical nonsense – might help, but they don’t do a matchmaker’s job for him.

I keep waiting to find out what, if anything, former UFC welterweight champ and current UFC Vice President of Athlete Development Matt Hughes will actually do in his new corporate gig. When the UFC first announced it, Zuffa general counsel Lawrence Epstein said Hughes would be “a mentor” to current UFC fighters, creating a “huge connection” between his new role and the UFC’s new code of conduct. Then again, I seem to recall Hughes gleefully rubbing his palms together as he discussed the possibility of getting “one of those Chuck Liddell jobs” back before he officially retired. He didn’t explicitly say so, but it didn’t seem like Hughes was operating under the assumption that Liddell was putting in a nine-to-five every day in order to earn his paycheck.

The difference is, I think we all knew what to expect when we heard Liddell was the new VP of “business development,” which sounds like an almost comically vague job title. Hughes, on the other hand, seems like he actually could get involved with “athlete development.” That is, if he wanted to. When pressed on the subject after UFC 158, Dana White was noncommittal. Sure, he said, Hughes could call up Nick Diaz for a friendly chat if he wanted to. At the same time, it didn’t seem like his paychecks were going to stop showing up if he chose not to. Kind of gives you the sense that Hughes’ level and type of involvement is up to him. Does he want to try to impart some of the wisdom he gained over the course of his long tenure in the UFC, or would he rather not be bothered with trying to explain to a 20-something-year-old fighter why he should show up on time for media events and keep his shirt on when posing for pictures with fans at Buffalo Wild Wings? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

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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