Twitter Mailbag: Sonnen's future, Kongo's price tag, eye-poking and toe-bending


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The Twitter Mailbag is back and overflowing with questions about all the eye-poking, toe-bending weirdness at UFC 159.

Of course, we’ll also find some time to debate Chael Sonnen‘s future, Cheick Kongo‘s price tag, and so much more.

Got a question? Fire it off to @BenFowlkesMMA on the old Twitter machine, and then see what happens. What, you’ve got something better to do?

* * * *

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but it seems pretty difficult to get disqualified in an MMA fight. You’ve basically got to keep punching your opponent directly in the back of the skull with one hand, gouge out his eye with your other hand, pausing occasionally to grab the fence in order to get better leverage on your head stomps, all while the referee politely asks you to stop. OK, so I’m exaggerating, but you get the point.

The problem lies with the hazy distinction between an accidental foul and an intentional one. It’s up to the referee to make that call, and MMA refs are generally pretty reluctant to deem a foul intentional. Maybe that’s because, in MMA, so many illegal blows seem to stem from attempts at legal ones. Inside leg kicks become groin shots. Creating distance with an open hand leads to an eye poke. A punch aimed at the side of the head finds its way to the brain stem. As long as you don’t add a Three Stooges sound effect to your illegal blow, you can plausibly claim that it was all an accident, and you’ll usually get away with it.

Should Michael Bisping have been DQ’d? Probably not. His eye poke did seem unintentional (not sure we can say the same about the knee he landed on Jorge Rivera at UFC 127), and he was clearly on his way to winning by decision. That said, eye pokes are a problem in MMA right now. Even if fighters aren’t doing them on purpose, they’re not trying hard enough to prevent them, probably because they know they’ll always get at least one free one (same with the fence grab). The only solution I see is to get serious with the penalties. Poke your opponent in the eye, and that’s an automatic point deduction. No discussion about whether you meant to or whether you were warned first. As soon as your finger touches eyeball, you’re down a point. Poke him a second time, then you’re disqualified. That’ll get fighters to pay closer attention to where their fingers are. Repeated, empty warnings clearly aren’t getting it done.

Honestly? I didn’t even know it was possible to do something so gross, so easily. I wish I still didn’t. It makes me second guess every move I make, wondering if I’m going to snap my own toes in half just by using them to propel me forward. It’s some consolation to think that a) apparently Jon Jones‘ toe isn’t even that bad off, somehow, and b) there’s no way the rest of us are, as Jones clearly is, too strong for our own digits. So us mortals will be fine. Right? Guys?

Certainly Chael Sonnen doesn’t need to retire. Losing back-to-back fights to Anderson Silva and Jon Jones doesn’t mean you suck; it means you’re probably just like most other fighters in the UFC. But then, wasn’t the driving force behind the Sonnen schtick the fact that he was gunning for the top fighters in each weight class? If he’d been calling himself the best in the world leading up to co-main-event bouts against mid-level competition all this time, wouldn’t that have just been sad?

That’s the danger for Sonnen now, I think. If he goes back to middleweight, he’s just a roadblock to the top. If he stays at light heavyweight, he has to choose his foes carefully. Admittedly, a fight between Chael P. and Wanderlei Silva sounds mildly intriguing, but when you go from picking fights with champions to picking fights with guys who should at least consider retirement themselves, well, let’s just say you’re on a downward trending line. Maybe Sonnen’s fine with that, as long as there are a few more paycheck pitstops on the way out. But if he wants to hang around as a commentator for years to come, which he seems perfectly capable of, he should probably take at least a little care with what he leaves us to remember him by at the end.

For starters, I don’t like the idea of Roy Nelson fighting Mark Hunt if Hunt beats Junior dos Santos. That’s mainly because it makes no sense for Hunt. We’re told that JDS could get a title shot next if he wins that fight, so why wouldn’t Hunt get the same deal? I suspect it’s because, as with Nelson, the UFC has a hard time seeing him as potential championship material. Neither Hunt nor Nelson necessarily look the part of the heavyweight champion of the world. But then, if they keeping winning fights, how long can you deny them a shot? If Hunt loses to dos Santos, then a fight with Nelson makes a little more sense. Or, if Daniel Cormier wants to hang around heavyweight a little longer, I could see pitting him against Nelson next. Either way, the UFC has to be prepared to let the chips fall where they may with these guys. Dana White might not be crazy about “Big Country,” but it’s hard to argue with a string of knockouts.

There’s no women’s 125-pound division in the UFC yet. That doesn’t mean there never will be, especially if, as you predict, the next season of “The Ultimate Fighter” yields a new crop of talented fighters who are better off there. As the UFC comes around to the idea of women’s MMA, I think it will also come around to the idea that good female fighters come in more than one size.

The fact that you can reasonably make that case now, after Sonnen has lost two consecutive UFC title fights in two different divisions, really only proves that he in no way deserved the second one. Why else would we be so busy trying to pin a “participant” ribbon on the man after a fight in which he was never really competitive? Sonnen’s fights with Anderson Silva are a different story. He earned both of those by not just talking, but beating legitimate contenders. The fight with Jones, on the other hand, made no sense at all. Sure, there’s no shame in being beaten up by both Silva and Jones. They’re two of the greatest fighters on the planet. That’s why, before you get in there with either of them, you have to prove that you’re deserving of the opportunity. Sonnen got a pass from the UFC for his ability to sell a fight, and the result was predictably one-sided. I’m not sure how eager we should be now to pat him on the back just for showing up.

I don’t know. Seems like Sonnen is still in the probationary period of his weight class leap. Let him win a UFC fight at light heavyweight first. Then we’ll go to the trouble of printing up a new ID card for him.

Isn’t it how funny how almost every UFC champion seems way more excited about a superfight with the champion one weight class below him than he is about taking on the guy who’s a weight class above? Georges St-Pierre is lukewarm about a fight with Anderson Silva, and yet intrigued about the possibility of fighting Benson Henderson. Silva would love to scrap with GSP, but not so much with Jon Jones. Jones is coming around to the notion of fighting Silva, but that move to heavyweight is still just a dream for the future. Really, Henderson is the only one who seems genuinely enthusiastic about going up in weight to face another champ, possibly because he has the most to gain. Then again, that might also be why GSP-Henderson is the least interesting superfight possibility I can imagine right now. It should be a huge fight. On paper, it has all the necessary ingredients. It’s just missing that certain indefinable magic that transforms a fight from “Yeah, I’d watch that” to “I will call in sick to my own wedding to see this.”

The last “official” reported payout I saw for Cheick Kongo was following UFC 137 in Las Vegas, where he made $70,000 to show and another $70,000 to win. If your memory’s a little hazy, that was the event where he pinned Matt Mitrione against the cage and held him there until the judges declared him a winner. Then he went home with at least $140,000 of the UFC’s money in his pocket, so yeah, maybe he wasn’t offering a great return on the investment.

By comparison, take a look at the “super f—ing expensive” Jon Fitch, who made a reported $66,000 to show in his last UFC fight before being cut following a decision loss to Demian Maia. Fitch was a top welterweight who’d fought for a UFC title, and yet his price tag was deemed to be too high. Kongo was a heavyweight who excelled far more at looking the part than playing it, so how could the UFC justify continuing to foot that bill just to get his pecs on TV?

What’s interesting is the added detail that Kongo was not technically cut, but rather had fulfilled his contract with the UFC. Usually, if the UFC wants to keep a fighter, it will negotiate a new contract with him before the current one has ended. The fact that that didn’t happen in Kongo’s case makes you wonder if the UFC asked him to take a substantial pay cut that he wasn’t feeling, or if the UFC had just had enough of being in the Kongo business altogether. Either way, it’s hard to feel like the UFC’s heavyweight division will suffer too much as a result of his exit.

Ideally, your personal honor and integrity would keep you from doing that. Assuming you had neither, the fear of a backlash from fans and your employers would hopefully do the trick. I mean, consider Bisping. Is there any other way he could have soundly defeated Alan Belcher and still come away looking bad? The refs might not know how to crack down on eye-pokes and other illegal maneuvers just yet, but fans don’t forget.

I’ll be generous here and hypothesize that maybe the goal is to find out whether Maia can really continue his streak of welterweight dominance against the wrestler bullies of the weight class. After all, takedown ability and/or defense seem to be the keys to the top of the division right now, so better to find out sooner rather than later if Maia can keep this up. Or maybe the UFC is just looking for a way to get rid of Koscheck, who is winless in his past two and even more “super f—ing expensive” than Fitch or Kongo.

The second one. This country still isn’t sure what to do about marijuana, which means athletic commissions really aren’t sure. I spoke to representatives from the commissions in Colorado and Washington, two states which made major changes to their marijuana laws recently, and both seemed to have adopted the stance that the best thing to do about existing marijuana policies is nothing at all. My guess is it will be easier (though still not easy) to get the Association of Boxing Commissions to change the Unified Rules than it will be to get state athletic commissions to individually stick their necks out for the sake of letting fighters get stoned during training camp. Bummer, man.

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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