The Twitter Mailbag is back to answer all your insightful queries on topics ranging from this weekend’s surprisingly stacked UFC on FOX 7 card to what we should expect from the first women to appear on “The Ultimate Fighter” in a full-time, non-ring-girl role.
And because it just wouldn’t be a TMB without some discussion of Chael Sonnen, illegal blows and Ronda Rousey, we’ll mix in some of that too.
You can ask your own question by finding me on Twitter @BenFowlkesMMA. Or you can just keep sending me emails that are way too long for me to even consider reading. Your choice.
* * * *
Such a performance wouldn’t do much for any fighter’s (or defunct organization’s) legacy, I’m afraid. If Gilbert Melendez spends 25 minutes getting suffocated by Benson Henderson, my guess is he’ll do the whole I-lost-the-match-but-not-the-fight thing that we’ve come to expect from certain fighters. He’ll also probably get some slack from people who a) already think Henderson is too much of a point fighter, and b) appreciate what it means for Melendez to take on a challenge like this after nearly a year out of action. That’s fine, but it won’t make him UFC champion or validate all the time he spent waiting for this chance.
For Henderson, this is a great opportunity to put a stamp on his title reign. If he can dominate Melendez like he did Nate Diaz – or, dare I suggest it, maybe even finish him – he’ll have beaten the last reigning Strikeforce lightweight champion, a man who hasn’t lost a fight in almost five years. That would really mean something. The only way he could win and still lose is if he fights like he’s only concerned with winning rounds as conservatively as possible.
As for Strikeforce, I think that book is already written. A win for Melendez would prove that he was overlooked and under-appreciated for far too long, and it might teach us all something about discounting the talent outside the UFC, but I don’t know that it would say that much about the entire organization he came from, or even that organization’s lightweight division. Whatever there is to learn about Strikeforce, I think we’ve already learned it.
It’s weird that we should even be discussing what a win at heavyweight does for Cormier’s standing as a light heavyweight, but fine. I get the appeal, especially since his teammate is currently the UFC heavyweight champ, all while light-heavyweight titleholder Jon Jones seems to be running thin on fresh challengers. My colleague John Morgan has an excellent look at Cormier’s weight-cutting prospects in Thursday’s USA TODAY, and in it we learn that Cormier is much closer to the 205-pound limit than he was when a similar cut nearly killed him at the 2008 Olympics. Sure seems like dropping to light heavyweight is something that can be done, which leaves us with the question of whether he should do it.
Personally, if he does go down a division, I’d like to see him fight a contender there before challenging for the belt. Even if he steamrolls through Mir, which wouldn’t surprise me one bit, let’s see what he looks like after making that cut before we decide that he’s the No. 1 contender in a weight class he’s never, ever competed in as a professional. Because, honestly, isn’t there enough of that going around already?
I totally agree, Cesar. I look at the main card for each the next two events, and I immediately feel like this is the one the UFC ought to be charging $54.95 for. You’ve got an actual superfight(!) between two actual champions(!!!). You’ve got the UFC debut of an undefeated talent who could be a star in two weight classes, and here he is taking on a former heavyweight champ. You’ve got what looks like a good old-fashioned slobberknocker between Matt Brown and Jordan Mein. Then you’ve got a little something for the locals with Josh Thomson taking on the always-exciting Nate Diaz. There’s not a bad fight in that bunch.
Trouble is, there’s more financial incentive for the UFC to give the hard sell to next weekend’s pay-per-view. This FOX stuff? Yeah, the UFC would like to thump its chest over ratings numbers, but bragging rights aren’t as powerful a motivator as cold hard cash in the form of pay-per-view buys. It’s kind of a shame for the fighters on this card since they deserve a big push. But if you have to settle for being seen by millions on live network TV, I suppose that’s not a bad consolation prize either.
Depending on which off-shore bookie you prefer, Chael Sonnen is about a 5-1 or 6-1 underdog in his title fight against Jon Jones at UFC 159. I’ve heard from a lot of diehard Sonnen fans via Twitter and email this week, and even the ones with an overly optimistic view of his abilities don’t seem all that ready to predict a Sonnen victory. What I’m hearing a lot is that he’ll give Jones a fight. People keep telling me he’ll do better or last longer against Jones than “Shogun” Rua or “Rampage” Jackson did, as if professional fighting is a game of Pac-Man where success is determined by how far you can make it before getting ghosted. That’s a weird way to think about it, and the fact that even Sonnen himself promised that, while he may go down, he’ll do it “like a gangster,” tells me that we all kind of know the score here.
Sonnen wasn’t brought in to beat Jones. I mean, that may happen because, as we are constantly being reminded, anything can happen in this sport, but it’s not the appeal of Sonnen for the UFC or for many fans. He’s here first to sell the fight, and second to make something memorable happen. Of course, that was also his role in the Anderson Silva rivalry, and he came oh so very close to winning at least one of those two bouts. He didn’t, though. He lost them both. Then he got a shot at the UFC light heavyweight title. Let’s not act like we don’t know how or why that happened.
Depends on the situation. What we have to remember about illegal blows is that they don’t all mean the same thing at the same time. Not in practice, anyway. A fighter stuns his opponent with a legal blow, and then tags him in the back of the head in the ensuing melee, maybe while he’s going down or struggling to get up? Happens all the time, and is rarely called. Kick a guy in the groin during an attempted inside thigh kick? You just bought yourself a stern warning and a breather. Knee a man in the head while his hand is on the mat? If it’s remarked upon at all, it might just be the other guy who gets warned for “playing the game.”
When it comes to multiple illegal blows, however, that’s when the ref actually has a chance to do something. If one fighter is teeing off on the base of his opponent’s skull, he should at least get a quick refresher on the rules from a nearby ref. The problem is, if a fighter lands one borderline blow (looking at you, Travis Browne), and the ref says nothing, he’s essentially telling that fighter that it’s open season. That’s how we get a torrent of borderline blows that eventually cross over into illegal territory, by which point no one is really sure what to do about it. Just one more reason why you’re better off cheating in MMA.
That probably is the one big downside. That, and the lack of a significant upside. Strikeforce is dead and buried. Now that the obligatory nostalgia phase has passed, Zuffa would likely prefer to move on and be done with it. Hardcore MMA fans can look at the main card for UFC on FOX 7 and see that it’s all Strikeforce vs. UFC matchups. It’s even in the same building that used to be Strikeforce’s home base. Maybe the UFC figures there’s no use in drawing any more attention to it and risk confusing the casual channel surfers who stumble upon it while searching for a new episode of “COPS.” Plus, when you look at the four fights at the top of the card, you have to admit that there’s a pretty decent chance of the Strikeforce alums taking home more wins than their UFC counterparts. Zuffa could be forgiven for not wanting to call too much attention to that.
Considering that three quick little pats of the hand can cost a fighter half his paycheck, no, I’m not concerned that they’re being offered up too easily. After weeks of training and sacrifice, I don’t think there’s any professional fighter who finds himself in a choke that he thinks he could possibly escape from but decides instead: screw it, let’s hit the showers and grab a beer. What seems more likely is that they a) know when they’re stuck, whether we can see it or not, or b) are so frustrated/exhausted/beaten down that they don’t have it in them to keep resisting. If your opponent has a choke sunk all the way in, and if it’s too late to mount a defense that might save you or even buy you a couple more seconds, what’s the point of sitting there and letting him crank it some more? Once you’ve stopped fighting, you might as well stop fighting.
No, but I’m not optimistic about our chances of getting rid of it. Like longtime referee “Big” John McCarthy likes to say, it’s much easier to add rules than take them away at this point. The rule that identifies a fighter with one hand on the mat as a grounded opponent had good intentions. It was meant to protect fighters who were hurt or dazed and had resorted to reaching out with a hand to check their fall or help them stay on their feet. In theory, you can imagine a fighter getting kneed in the head in the clinch until he drops down, putting his hand out to stop him from falling face-first into the mat. In practice, it’s more often used to limit one fighter’s options in the front headlock position, and it creates a gray area that seems silly and arbitrary and just begging for accidental fouls. Many times a fighter in that position can’t see if the opponent has a hand on the mat. Other times the hand comes up and goes back down several times. This creates needless confusion, and we’d be better off getting rid of the rule altogether.
Want to keep your opponent from kneeing or kicking you in the head? Drop to one knee. Become an actual downed opponent, rather than exploiting the rules in order to be protected as one while you’re still standing up. That said, it seems like every time we have even a potential violation of this rule (Zingano-Tate, Johnson-Dodson, etc.), we get people who argue that it shouldn’t matter because it’s a stupid rule, anyway. I agree that it’s a stupid rule, but it’s still a rule. The fighter who gets kneed in the head still has a right to expect it to be honored and enforced, especially if her or she is going to be expected to abide by it when the tables are turned. I’d rather see that rule eliminated altogether, but as long as we have it, we have to enforce it.
I keep waiting for someone to show that they have good enough armbar defense to at least force Ronda Rousey to do something new to them. I can’t say for sure that Cat Zingano is that person, but when you’re married to a jiu-jitsu black belt, at least you know you’ll get plenty of practice in the months to come. If she ends up as just another first-round armbar victim after all that, it could make for some tense mornings at the breakfast table.
In the past four years, Frank Mir‘s only been beaten by Junior dos Santos, Shane Carwin and Brock Lesnar. That’s actually not bad for a guy who came up back in the days when you could still win a heavyweight fight in the UFC with a toehold. I wouldn’t say he’s inconsistent so much as limited. He has an excellent submissions game, but these days he mostly uses it as his plan B. He’s a decent striker, but not good enough to stand with the best. He has solid wrestling, but not solid enough to shut down the stand-up game of most other top heavyweights.
That’s a problem against Cormier, who hits like a truck and has forgotten more about wrestling than Mir will ever know. Sure, there’s at least a chance that Mir can catch Cormier in a submission off his back or in a moment of pure desperation, but that’s not exactly a game plan. If you don’t want to stand up with a guy, but can’t take him down, you run out of options in a hurry.
Probably not. As Shinya Aoki himself has said, he much prefers fighting in Asia, and as long as the opportunities there don’t completely dry up, he won’t have to reconsider any time soon. With ONE FC he has at least a temporary home and enough economic incentive to stick around. I don’t think he has any desire to leave that behind if he doesn’t absolutely have to.
As crazy as it might sound, I actually agree with Dana White. Just look at the fighters who showed up for the tryouts. You had big, established names such as Tara LaRosa, Roxanne Modafferi, Shayna Baszler and plenty of others. That has to be the most talented, experienced crop to try out for “The Ultimate Fighter” in years. It makes sense when you think about it. If you were a male fighter with as many years in the game as some of these women have, either we’d have already seen you in the UFC or we’d have established that we didn’t want to. But since the doors for female fighters have only recently been thrown open, there are a ton of great fighters just waiting for their shot, much like on the first season of “TUF.”
It kind of makes me wish that this whole season was focused solely on the women since there are clearly so many good ones who are going to have to share the spotlight with male fighters we’ve never heard of. Then again, it might make for good reality TV if LaRosa goes on a Karo Parisyan-esque “Do you know who I am?!” rant on some 21-year-old dude with a blue mohawk. Did I say good? I meant great.
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.