The Greatest MMA News Column 08.07.12: Heavyweight Condundrum
Posted by Dan Plunkett on 08.07.2012
News and thoughts on whether Cain Velasquez or Alistair Overeem should be next for Junior dos Santos, UFC on FOX 4, Machida's title shot, ratings, Ronda Rousey's Showtime special, and more!
When Cain Velasquez quickly and easily dispatched Antonio Silva and Junior dos Santos KO'd former champ Frank Mir on Memorial Day Weekend, the UFC's next major heavyweight clash seemed to fall in their laps. The two had just met seven months prior in the most-watched televised MMA bout in North American history – and audience that would have ended up considerably larger had the fight gone on for any length of time. The much-hyped heavyweight title fight, which kicked off the UFC's relationship with FOX, ended surprisingly abruptly in 64 seconds with Dos Santos scoring a knockout victory.
Despite already having a quick loss against the champion, selling Velasquez as a legitimate threat to the champion doesn't pose to be too difficult. He has outs in that he entered the bout with a legitimate knee injury (though Dos Santos came in with a meniscus tear) which is why he looked unusually soft, he dominated every opponent he faced prior to Junior, and he followed up the loss with a dominant win. Plus, contrary to what his mundane personality would lead one to believe, Velasquez has a real fan base and is a draw.
The title rematch was initially penciled in for September 22 in Toronto, but an injury to Dos Santos pushed that date back. Now, it questionable as to whether Dos Santos vs. Velasquez II will be the next heavyweight title match after all.
This past weekend, UFC President Dana White revealed Junior dos Santos is angling for a fight against Alistair Overeem as opposed to a Velasquez rematch.
The May title match was originally slated to be Dos Santos defending against Overeem, but the result of a random pre-fight drug screening on March 27. Overeem's sample came back with a T/E ratio of 14:1 (the average male has a ratio of 1:1 and the allowed ratio in Nevada is 6:1), which is generally an indicator of the presence of artificial testosterone, a banned substance. In late April, Overeem was officially pulled from the bout just prior to a licensing hearing with the Nevada Athletic Commission. During that hearing, Overeem explained his positive test as a mistake made in the treatment of an injury. Overeem claimed his doctor, who testified at the hearing and came across as woefully incompetent (a quick Google search of his name, "Dr. Hector Molina," confirms that feeling), prescribed him an anti-inflammatory drug which the doctor, without telling Overeem, mixed with testosterone. That claim in addition to the commission members' fondness of Overeem, got him a light sanction of 9-months without being able to apply for a license retroactive to the date of the failed test. That restriction ends on December 27, two days before the UFC's annual New Year's Eve weekend show.
UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta confirmed to ESPN.com Dos Santos is currently penciled in for the December 29 show. As for a possible opponent, he was less clear. "The best case scenario is [Alistair Overeem's] licensed in enough time to put him on the December card," Fertitta said. "We can't commit to that because we don't know what the commission will do." Fertitta believes it's possible the commission could allow Overeem to apply in advance of the December 27 date, which would be needed for the UFC to promote the card. Nevada Athletic Commission Executive Director Keith Kizer went on record in the piece stating he would oppose such a move.
The appeal of Overeem as a challenger for Dos Santos is he's the one top heavyweight with better striking, at least credential-wise, than the reigning champ and he hasn't been beaten since bulking up to his current 260+ pound frame in 2008. In December of 2010, Overeem came out on top of the K-1 World Grand Prix, a then-annual kickboxing tournament in Japan featuring many of the world's best in that sport. In MMA competition, Overeem has gone unbeaten in his past 12 bouts dating back nearly five years. That includes 11 wins, five knockouts, five submissions, and 1 no contest.
While Overeem's success in recent years certainly make him worthy of a title shot, the occurrences earlier this year that resulted in his withdrawal from the May title bout makes handing him a title shot in December risky. If the universe aligns and Overeem is given a title shot on December 29, the UFC could make a lot of money, Overeem could win the belt, and everything could be perfect. Or, an influential media source such as ESPN or Yahoo!, could easily run a story opposing the decision because of the drug test controversy. Even though it would be the commission's decision to grant him a license it may still reflect poorly on the UFC to book him in a title fight right off the bat. The last thing the UFC needs is to be perceived – even if falsely – as a steroid sport with a steroid heavyweight champion.
In terms of drawing for a title fight against Dos Santos, there isn't much difference between Velasquez and Overeem. Velasquez is a proven draw while Overeem has great clips and a rare mystique of a guy that just crushes people. Without Overeem-Dos Santos promising to be a considerably bigger money match than the other option, it's clear that Velasquez is the way to go.
With Velasquez, there's no risk; no controversy, he's a legitimate title contender, and it will draw well. Between Velasquez and Overeem, UFC has two guaranteed money fights (and perhaps more should rematches prove necessary) for the heavyweight title. It's been established for some time that whenever Overeem is back, he's getting a title shot without taking a fight in the interim. If Overeem were to somehow get the title shot in December and Velasquez fights a top contender like Fabricio Werdum, it's risking a money match, which isn't something you want to do in a sport where there are so many ways to lose. If Overeem gets the shot and Velasquez sits out, there's still the risk of how the public will react to that news given Overeem's situation. Allowing more time for the Overeem situation to become old news, serve out the full 9-month waiting period, and giving the title shot to Cain Velasquez on December 29 is the safe move.
Shogun beats Vera; Machida gets title shot with win over Bader. Unfortunately I don't have time for a full recap of the show, so it's relegated to this section. From an action standpoint, UFC on FOX 4 was everything you could hope for from a prime time network show. There wasn't a bad fight on the card. In the main event, Shogun Rua stopped a game Brandon Vera in the fourth round. Shogun nailed Vera throughout the fight and it looked like Vera wouldn't survive much longer, but he survived for quite a bit longer. Shogun didn't' look great in victory and as a result didn't earn a title shot, but it was a win. In the co-main event, Lyoto Machida completely Machida'd Ryan Bader. He controlled the distance the entire first round, and when Bader tried to make a move in the second Lyoto landed a straight right that put Bader out. Machida got the title shot at the Jon Jones vs. Dan Henderson winner, but even though he had a very good performance, people didn't seem very interested in his title quest after the fight. He was already beaten by Jon Jones, the man most think will win the 9/1 showdown and this was only his first win since that fight. I'd like to see Jones take a one-off fight at heavyweight, just for the sport of it, and let Machida and Shogun fight it out for the title shot. Either way, Jones really should be fighting on the December FOX show; it'd be a great way to increase his visibility and star power. Elsewhere on the card, Joe Lauzon and Jamie Varner had an awesome fight that ended with Lauzon submitting Varner in the third round. In the opener, Mike Swick returned from a long, long absence from the Octagon with a knockout win against DaMarques Johnson. Swick had been battling esophageal for much of his time off and it's nice to see he's gotten past those. He didn't look great against Johnson, but he did better than I expected he would coming off such a long layoff.
Early ratings for UFC on FOX 4 about as expected. It has to be noted these numbers don't account for the west coast, where UFC on FOX 4 aired live and thus out of prime time, which usually isn't a good thing for ratings, but by doing so it avoided going up against the Olympics in many of the company's strongest markets. Again, these numbers are extremely like to increase, and perhaps to a considerably degree because they account for what aired on the west coast FOX affiliates in prime time. Furthermore, they don't account for the overrun of the show (when the show went past its scheduled time slot). UFC on FOX averaged more than 2 million viewers, with the half hour totals being 1.91 million, 2.1 million, 2.2 million, and 2.36 million. The show will very likely end up as either the least and second-least watched MMA event on network TV, with the former being the more likely case. Considering the show aired opposite the Olympics, which during the UFC show ranged from 19.77 to 28.01 million viewers (those numbers are more accurate because they aired in prime time everywhere), the summer is generally harder to draw on television, and the lack of a strong marquee match-up, the show fell roughly where it was expected to. If the show ends up being the last UFC show on FOX, it really says something about the power of the Olympics (to be fair, UFC on FOX 3 had to contend with the Floyd Mayweather fight and a record-breaking box office from "The Avengers") as well as the difficulty of drawing in the summer because the top names on this card – Shogun Rua, Lyoto Machida, Ryan Bader, and Brandon Vera – were stronger than they were on the May 5 show (Josh Koscheck, Nate Diaz, Jim Miller, Pat Barry).
Ronda Rousey special debuts on Showtime Wednesday. "All Access: Ronda Rousey" debuts Wednesday night on Showtime to promote Rousey's August 18 fight with Sarah Kaufman. It will be a two part series culminating on 8/15 (also the three-year anniversary of the biggest women's fight of all time – Gina Carano vs. Cyborg Santos). It's clear that Zuffa and Showtime view Rousey as a huge star – more examples of that include Dana White wearing a Rousey t-shirt to the UFC on FOX weigh-ins and her upcoming appearance on the Conan O'Brien show. While it's great they're going so over the top in promoting a fighter, there is a risk in that there's a good chance she will lose to Kaufman (not a favored chance, but a good chance nonetheless). This isn't a situation where they're putting the promotion on her back like Kimbo with Elite XC or Fedor with Affliction and to a lesser degree Strikeforce, but it doesn't seem that Zuffa is preparing for a possible upset on August 18 by promoting Kaufman at all. Rousey is absolutely the one that's going to draw and Kaufman is just an opponent, but she's far from a tomato can and she's getting no attention.
Penn vs. MacDonald off due to cut. Rory MacDonald suffered a cut that has forced him out of his scheduled 9/22 match against BJ Penn. The fight was supposed to be MacDonald's big coming out party as the next big Canadian draw. Now, Penn wants to do the bout three weeks later in Brazil on a show headlined by Jose Aldo vs. Erik Koch (with Rampage Jackson vs. Glover Teixeira in the co-main), while MacDonald would prefer November in Montreal. The right move is to move it to 11/17 in Montreal. It's already slated to be a big show with Georges St-Pierre's return against Carlos Condit, and while Penn-MacDonald would help the weak Brazil headliner, if you want to put Rory MacDonald in the best position to emerge as a star, you put him underneath the current huge Canadian draw (St-Pierre) in Canada.
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