It’s no surprise that this week’s Twitter Mailbag is overflowing with questions about Georges St-Pierre, Nick Diaz, and all the other hype ahead of UFC 158. If that didn’t happen, frankly, I’d be disappointed in you fine people.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t still find some time to weigh in on Mark Hunt, Stephan Bonnar, and plenty of other topics of interest floating around the MMA atmosphere.
If you’ve got a question of your own, aim at over the Twitter in the direction of @BenFowlkesMMA. Otherwise, strap in and enjoy the ride.
* * * *
My guess is GSP’s game plan will rely more on takedowns (or at least the threat of takedowns) than Condit’s did, but even then your point remains. What’s Diaz going to do if/when St-Pierre frustrates him by not standing in one place and trading multi-punch combos the way Diaz would like him to? As we touched on earlier this week, Diaz does a lot of things well, but mid-fight adaptation isn’t one of them. At times it seems like he would almost prefer to lose a decision that he can complain about than change up his own approach in search of a victory. That’s because he seems to think there is only one honorable way to fight, and – surprise! – it just happens to be the way he fights.
So what’s he going to do if he ends up on his back early and often, with those GSP elbows raining down on him? I put that question to longtime Diaz friend and training partner Gilbert Melendez, and he conceded that there’s a very good chance we’ll get to find out.
“He may walk into some takedowns, but he’s clever off his back, and a lot stronger than people think,” Melendez said. “… Nick can kick your butt from his back. Some people might not think he’s winning there, but he will ground-and-pound you off his back.”
According to Melendez, there’s also the chance that, over the course of five rounds, Diaz can literally talk GSP into trying a different approach (don’t be scared, homie), and in this way Diaz will “make it a fight, not a match.” If he manages to do that, he might be the first to successfully get inside St-Pierre’s head and receive anything more than a beating for his trouble.
Something tells me Diaz would not be an easy guy to pamper, no matter how much money he had. Something also tells me that a lot of other managers/trainers would have decided he wasn’t worth the headache by now. Diaz and Cesar Gracie seem to have an addict-enabler relationship at times. Diaz makes trouble and Gracie makes excuses for him. In exchange, Gracie gets to grin in the photos and take a cut of the purse when Diaz finally gets to do the one thing he does extremely well. Other managers might have dumped Diaz already, but other fighters might have been lured away from their manager with promises of bigger paydays and better sponsors. When I spoke to people in Diaz’s inner circle for an article that will appear in Friday’s USA Today, one word I heard over and over again was “loyalty.” Say what you want about Diaz, but he’s loyal to his friends and the people who have stood by him, as Gracie has. It’s obviously not a perfect relationship, but I wonder if anyone else could (or would) do for them what they do for each other.
The biggest winner in that situation might be Rory MacDonald. You’re right that a GSP-Condit rematch wouldn’t generate much interest, at least not right now, and a Condit victory over Johny Hendricks eliminates the most obvious next contender at 170 pounds. That really ups the stakes for MacDonald’s rematch with Condit, since it gives him a chance to beat the man who beat the consensus number one contender. It’s just a question of whether he can get healthy enough to take that fight before everyone forgets about this little rivalry, and also a question of what MacDonald would do with his new number one contender status if he won.
Herschel Walker is obviously a great athlete, and he was an interesting, gracious man to talk to when he showed up at Strikeforce events. From a media perspective, he’s good to have around and fun to write stories about. From an MMA perspective, he is, as Sergeant Roger Murtaugh would say, getting too old for this [poop]. Walker is 51, and he’s 2-0 as a professional against two guys who are nowhere near UFC caliber. I can understand why he’d want to fight at least once in the UFC before hanging up his gloves, but the UFC is not an MMA fantasy camp for aging athletes from other sports. And yes, Walker would almost certainly put up a better fight than James Toney, but I’m not sure how powerful an argument that really is.
Interesting point, Mr. Doherty. For all his talk about the water bottles and the nose powdering that GSP receives, let’s not forget that Diaz gets to play by his own rules in a lot of ways. The UFC makes allowances for him that it wouldn’t make for other fighters, and so do a lot of fans. For instance, look at the reaction when Diaz skipped Wednesday’s open workouts, blaming a long flight from California and a tough weight cut for his absence. The way his supporters latched onto that excuse, you’d think Diaz was the only fighter in UFC history who had to get on a plane while cutting weight. You’d think it was completely unreasonable for anyone to expect him to show up to this thing that all the other fighters showed up for.
Is missing the open workout a huge deal? Not really. I’m sure the UFC would rather he show up, if only to reassure everyone that he can be depended on, but it’s not going to bring down the entire event if he stays in his hotel room and watches Canadian cartoons instead of shadowboxing for the cameras. If anything, it’s more of a story when he doesn’t show up. It ramps up the drama and gets people talking about the big fight on Saturday, and that’s good for the UFC…to a point. Mostly it just shows us that Diaz expects to be treated differently from other UFC fighters. It also shows us that, because of who he is and what he does, he gets that special treatment. Again though, only up to a point.
He should. Especially if he wins in typical Mark Hunt fashion – walkoff knockout, natch – I don’t see how a win over Junior dos Santos wouldn’t quality him for an immediate UFC heavyweight title fight. Not to mention, who else is there? It seems like, at least up to this point, the UFC has regarded Hunt primarily as a pleasant surprise. A few years ago it wanted to pay him off rather than pay him to fight. Now he’s knocking guys out in the co-main event. Still, it’s as if there’s this voice in the back of the collective MMA hivemind whispering: This is nice and all, but surely Mark Hunt isn’t UFC championship material. I understand where that comes from, but at a certain point the knockouts and the walkoffs have to speak for themselves.
I was very happy to see Rashad Evans voice his support for gay marriage, and I expect there are a lot of prominent MMA fighters who feel the same, even if they don’t say so because they’d rather not get into any political discussions that might polarize fans. I can understand that to some degree, since there’s always that pressure on fighters to be popular, build a fan base, and not do or say anything that might ultimately diminish their profitability. For Evans to express a view that some people will inevitably find controversial is brave, but I’m most impressed by his reason for doing it. As Evans told Out Sports, he decided that it’s “not enough to not be against a minority, if you want things to go better for them you have to speak up with them.” Whether you agree with his position on this issue or not (and I do), I don’t see how you can find fault with that reasoning.
It wouldn’t surprise me. In fact, when it comes to Diaz’s post-fight interview, in victory or defeat, I can think of very little that would surprise me. If he went off on a rant about the new pope, or delivered a heartfelt message about social anxiety disorders, or simply invented a brand new obscenity by stringing together five or six known expletives in unexpected fashion, none of that would surprise me. Same goes for him announcing yet another faux-retirement.
But as Jake Shields said when I asked him whether he ever believed Diaz would really stay retired after his announcement following the Condit fight: “I think he meant it at the time, but I had no doubt he’d come back. He’s too young, too healthy, and he likes training and working out too much. There was no way he could stay away. Once you’ve been doing this so long, it becomes all you know. It’s hard to walk away.”
Seems like they’ll have to, right? Otherwise, we could end up with a situation where the UFC gradually signs every decent up-and-comer out there, either to a reality show stint or an actual fight contract, then releases them as tainted goods into an increasingly crowded free agent market, where they go unsigned purely because of their past association with the biggest MMA organization on the planet. Since that would be insane, I have to believe it won’t happen. There’s a difference between signing washed-up UFC castoffs and signing good fighters who have skills and name value thanks to their time in the big show. Eventually, all the other promoters will realize that.
No question: a Diaz win would definitely be more shocking than another positive pot test. I mean, he’s never beaten a fighter of GSP’s caliber before, so that’s uncharted territory for him. But turning in a urine sample that might as well have stems floating in it? Diaz knows all about that. I guess the big question is, what would the UFC do then? Say Diaz knocks GSP out, becomes the new champ, then pops positive for those pesky metabolites and has to give up the title when the result gets changed to a “no contest.” The UFC would probably start thinking rematch at that point, but wait, didn’t we just fire Matt Riddle for his second pot test failure in three fights? Diaz would be 0-2. But what are you going to do, fire him while there’s still a ton of money to be made with GSP-Diaz II? It’s a situation that would sure test the UFC’s commitment to that “strict, consistent” drug policy we keep hearing about.
I’m not sure you can even compare a transgender fighter who has undergone years of hormone treatment to suppress testosterone production with one who has gotten a note from his family doctor giving him permission to increase it. Just look at the Olympics, which allows transgender athletes but almost never gives out therapeutic-use exemptions to those looking to up their testosterone levels. There’s a big difference between someone who changes their entire life in dramatic ways and someone who just wants an edge. No one transitions from male to female just so they can be better at sports. It’s fair to say that Fallon Fox needs to provide medical evidence proving that she has no hormonal or other physical advantage over female opponents, but is it fair to tell her that simply by being transgender she is automatically disqualified? I don’t think so.
I’m not sure it would have been a total disaster, but it definitely would have been more inconvenient if not for the welterweight extravaganza that is UFC 158. As I discussed in my column on Wednesday, there are a lot of advantages to stacking this card with top 170-pounders. One is that it gives the UFC options in case Diaz pulls a Diaz, but another is that it allows for easy reshuffling if the injury bug starts biting. It’s worked well this time, so maybe it’ll become a regular move in the UFC’s matchmaking repertoire. I know I wouldn’t mind seeing a card loaded with light-heavyweights at some point in the near future.
I’ve got to go with Gabriel Gonzaga on Chris Tuchscherer. Maybe I’m biased because I had the misfortune to be sickened by that one in person, but when Gonzaga punted poor Tuchscherer in the pills at UFC 102 I felt like I was going to vomit up all the delicious Portland street food I’d eaten earlier in the day. The worst part was that, after Tuchscherer writhed on the mat for a few minutes, they actually restarted the fight. And Gonzaga, that cold-hearted rapscallion, wasted no time looking low and kicking high, bringing his shin across Tuchscherer’s dome while big Chris instinctively dropped his guard to protect his aching groin. Imagine stubbing your toe while walking through your house in the middle of the night, then, while you’re limping back to bed, you run your head directly into the pointy edge of an open kitchen cabinet. Only, you know, much, much worse than that.
Forgive me if I don’t shed too many tears for dear old Uncle Stephan. He went on Ariel Helwani’s show this week and did his little dance of repentance, but he still seems to be missing the point. He claimed that he’d been using steroids not to train for a fight, but solely for “therapeutic” purposes. Then he got the offer to fight Anderson Silva in Brazil, at which point Bonnar said he consulted several “experts” who all told him the juice would be out of his system by the time he got tested.
“You know, there’s no way if I thought there was any possibility of it showing up, that I would have taken the fight,” Bonnar said.
How noble of him. He wouldn’t have taken the fight if he thought those drugs he used would show up in the drug test. That’s like saying, “I never would have stolen money out of the register if I’d known that security camera was there.” What Bonnar seems genuinely, shockingly unaware of is that the problem here is not the fact that he got caught. It’s good that he got caught. As you point out, it restores at least a little faith in pre-fight drug testing, and reminds us of how desperately this sport needs random, unannounced, out-of-competition testing in order to catch the guys who are consulting better experts than the ones Bonnar talked to.
What’s so maddening about Bonnar’s explanation is that he’s acting almost like he got tripped up on a technicality. Of course he didn’t intend to cheat, he says. He was just using this banned substance to help him feel better and then – whoops! – it’s fight time again. He even did the math to see if he’d be able to successfully defraud the test, but, well, he forgot to carry the one and so he got popped anyway. What a bummer.
Sorry Stephan, but that’s called cheating. It doesn’t matter how you rationalize it. A fighter can tell himself that other people are using steroids to get an unfair advantage, whereas he’s just using it “therapeutically,” but this is a powerful controlled substance we’re talking about. When you inject a syringe full of steroids into your butt, those chemicals are not guided by a moral compass. They don’t do one thing for the nice guys and a completely different thing for the bad ones. It’s all cheating, whether it shows up on the test or not. Even if all you get out of it is some joint rehab, it’s still rehab in a syringe. It’s rehab that the other guy isn’t getting if he’s following the rules that you’re breaking. It’s possible to get an unfair advantage without meaning to, just like it’s possible to enjoy that advantage even after it’s no longer detectable by a drug test. That’s why you can’t do it. Not because you might get caught and embarrass your boss after you spent all week flexing your biceps on the beach in Brazil.
After more than a decade in this sport and two failed drug tests, you’d think Bonnar would have learned that by now. Apparently not.
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.