I’m sure it will come as a shock to absolutely no one that this week’s Twitter Mailbag fields several questions about both the weekend that was in our fine sport, as well as the weekend that’s about to be.
Does Chael Sonnen have any chance at all against UFC light heavyweight Jon Jones? Does just surviving count as kind of winning for the gangster from West Linn, Ore.? Is UFC 159 really worth $55, especially considering all the action we just got for free on FOX?
All that and much more in this week’s TMB, so let’s dive right in. You can direct your own questions, comments, concerns and compliments to @BenFowlkesMMA. I’ve been told I’m a great listener. OK, not really.
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The fact that we’re even talking about whether Chael Sonnen can lose and still win, provided he doesn’t lose badly and immediately, tells us something about this title fight. Mostly it tells us what we already knew, which is that there is no real reason for it to be happening. Other than money, of course. Yours, mine, all of ours. The money the UFC thinks it can make by drumming up the weakest of rationale and using it to justify not only a reality TV installment, but also a pay-per-view main event. That’s how we got here, to a fight where we all assume that Sonnen is essentially chasing after a paycheck, a participant ribbon, maybe an “‘atta boy!” if he makes it all the way to the end of the fifth round without getting his face caved in. Like he said, he may go down, but he’ll go down “like a gangster.” Does that sound to you like a man who knows he earned this opportunity and will do whatever’s necessary to capitalize on it?
That’s not to say Sonnen can’t win. The MMA gods are fickle, and they have a twisted sense of humor at times. Jones could always slip on a banana peel and fall into a submission. It’s possible. But say it did happen; would any of us immediately regard Sonnen as the No. 1 light heavyweight as a result? Or would we think of him as the temporary custodian of the belt, not to mention the beneficiary of some astounding good fortune? If we look at how low the bar is set for him in this fight, I think we’ll have our answer.
It’s unfair to compare two UFC events when only one of them has actually, you know, happened. Still, I think it will be pretty difficult for UFC 159 to live up to the face-smashing standard set by UFC on FOX 7, which was arguably one of the best fight cards of the year. But does that necessarily mean that the UFC is wrong to charge us for UFC 159, or that it was a mistake to give this past weekend’s fights away for free on account of how awesome it was?
One of the most common complaints about the UFC’s run on FOX so far is that it saves the best stuff for PPV and only gives away the leftovers on free TV. There are definitely past examples to support that hypothesis, but this isn’t one of them. UFC on FOX 7 did exactly what a lot of us have been urging the UFC to do since this deal was announced. It put a great lineup of exciting fights – along with a truly main event-worthy title fight – on free TV. That’s how you expand your fan base. You don’t do it by offering up bouts where the significance is lost on everybody who isn’t already a hardcore follower. Does that make UFC 159 a tougher sell on PPV, especially after two straight weeks of free fight cards? Possibly. But if you think I’m going to complain about the UFC giving away too many good fights for free, while saving the head-scratching matchups for pay TV, think again.
It might be frowned upon under the Stockton unified rules, but as my podcast cohost Chad Dundas pointed out on this week’s episode, it would actually be pretty consistent with Nick Diaz’s general take on MMA. Ever notice how he seems at times horrified by the violence and the bloodlust of it all, or how he seemed genuinely appalled at the suggestion that Georges St-Pierre might really want to put a beating on him?
Diaz doesn’t want to see anyone hurt in there, as paradoxical as that seems given literally every other aspect of his internally inconsistent fighting philosophy. When it’s his little brother who’s getting kicked upside the head and then pummeled with undefended blows, you could see how his disdain for the violent nature of the business might make him reach for the towel. As the older brother, Nick’s been protecting and looking out for Nate practically all their lives. I don’t know why we should be surprised if he couldn’t stop himself from trying to do the same this past Saturday night.
Fair point, Clayton. The lightweight tilt between Jim Miller and Pat Healy looks like it could be a fun one to kick off the UFC 159 PPV broadcast, but since neither one them is much of a trash-talker, it risks getting completely lost in the fight week shouting match.
So here you go. Here’s your TMB love for Miller vs. Healy, which gets my vote for “Fight That Most Closely Resembles Something You Could Have Seen at a State Fair in 1910.” Just saying, everything about Miller screams: old-timey carnival wrestler. And Healy? He looks like a guy who just got off work at the lumber mill and, sure, he’ll put down his tankard of ale and go a round or seven. Why not? It is Saturday night, after all. In other words, yeah, I’m totally looking forward to this one.
It would legitimize the UFC’s decision to give him this title fight in the first place. It would also probably set Dana White off on another rant about the idiots who talk about fight cards before they happen (again, a rant he would launch into mere hours after standing next to Joe Rogan and screaming into a camera about how awesome this fight card is about to be). But would it actively harm or actively help either the UFC or the light heavyweight class? My guess is no, neither, none of the above.
Sure, you could argue that a Sonnen win hurts the Jones mystique, or makes the UFC look like a farce where anything can happen. But I would argue that a) if the Jones mystique is really that fragile, let’s find out now, and b) the fact that anything can happen is part of the appeal of MMA, even if it is a readily abused trope that serves as a convenient excuse for opportunistic matchmaking. If Sonnen wins (however unlikely is right), the MMA world won’t stop spinning. It’ll just have to endure more of his tired schtick, only this time with a real belt draped over his shoulder. And yeah, I’m sure that will make him less obnoxious in future Sportscenter appearances.
Sadly, I don’t think there’d be much triumphing if B.J. Penn jumped back into the lightweight picture now. You never know with that guy since his competitive fire seems to wax and wane at unpredictable times. Even with Penn at 34 years old, I wouldn’t say it’s impossible for him to come back strong at 155 pounds. I just think it’s unlikely that he could sustain it for very long.
There’s that Alexander Gustafsson guy, for one. And I wouldn’t mind seeing him finish his unfinished business with Dan Henderson, assuming Hendo can get back in the win column this summer. Plus, if Daniel Cormier decides to drop down in weight, it’d be a real shame for those two to pass each other like two heat-seeking missiles in the night. Once all that’s done, sure, start thinking heavyweight. But let’s not forget that Jones is only 25(!!!). He’s got time, so why not let him get all the 205-pound action he can before he gets older and bigger and it’s no longer such a viable option?
To paraphrase Eminem, mother[fudgers] act like they forgot about [Luke Rockhold].
You do remember that the Strikeforce middleweight champ is set to fight young dinosaur Vitor Belfort here in May, right? Perhaps you also remember seeing this past weekend’s UFC on FOX card and thinking to yourself, huh, maybe Strikeforce really did have some solid fighters after all, because these dudes are definitely hanging with the UFC guys. Then maybe you glanced at Rockhold’s record and realized he hasn’t lost a fight since 2007. You did that math on that, factored in what a win over Belfort would mean, divided by the lack of fresh middleweight challengers, carried the one, and – what do you know? – you got yourself a potential contender. All he needs to do now is win, and maybe get a little more vocal about wanting the title shot next. That last part shouldn’t be too difficult. Nowadays everybody wanna talk like they got something to say…
If you force me to choose right now, I side with Jake Ellenberger over Rory MacDonald, but not by much. As excited as the MMA world has gotten over MacDonald’s potential, and not without reason, I think we still haven’t seen enough of him against top contenders in their prime. Talking to reporters backstage at UFC on FOX 7, Ellenberger made the point that MacDonald’s toughest opponent so far was Carlos Condit, and he lost that fight. He’s also coming off an injury layoff while Ellenberger’s rolling right in off a quick TKO of a very tough opponent. It ought to be a close one, and in those kinds of matchups all it takes is a minor edge to swing it in one man’s favor.
I assume we’re talking about Matt Brown here, so let me point out that it’s not just how many people you beat, but who you beat. Brown’s past two wins – most recently over Jordan Mein, and before that against Mike Swick – have been legitimately impressive. But this five-fight win streak you mention also includes wins over Luis Ramos and Chris Cope, neither of whom is within smelling distance of the top 10. Our USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie.com rankings have Brown listed as an honorable mention at welterweight, which feels about right to me. One more big win and he’ll crack the list for sure.
By “unfortunate victim,” I assume you mean that he has no chance of getting an immediate rematch because of how many immediate rematches we’ve already seen in that division. Between Edgar-Penn, Edgar-Maynard, and Edgar-Henderson (anyone seeing a pattern, here?), it’s true that the lightweight class has been a little rematch crazy in recent years.
It’s also true that, because of how deep the division usually is, it kind of sucks to hold up the line so we can keep seeing the same fights over and over. But does Melendez deserve another crack at Henderson? I’m not so sure. I’m also not sure that five more rounds would get us any closer to determining a clear victor. Those two could fight all five rounds once a month for an entire year, and I think we’d still end up with one of them winning 31 rounds and the other taking 29. That’s the problem with two guys who are so evenly matched.
What the lightweight division needs now isn’t more rematches, it’s someone – anyone, whether it’s Henderson or someone else – who can dominate the fight and leave no question in anyone’s minds as to who won. For now, we’re still waiting for our 155-pound messiah to emerge.
I don’t see why not. At the very least, we could do it like they do in some boxing matches, where the score is announced at various intervals, like maybe after the second and fourth rounds. Letting the fighters know where they stand on the scorecards while there’s still a chance for them to do something about it can’t be a bad thing. What, we’re afraid a fighter will realize he’s got a comfortable lead and then decide to take Miesha Tate’s advice and just coast? That threat clearly already exists, so we might as well let the other fighter know that it’s time to go into desperation mode in search of a finish. Seems like that would not only make fights more exciting, but also fairer.
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.