The MMA Rant 2.02.13: Hello to Rankings, So Long to Rampage
Posted by Scott Kuczkowski on 02.02.2013
From Quinton Jackson leaving the UFC and the promotion instituting a rankings system to Evan Dunham's fall from the spotlight and more, 411's Scott Kuczkowski takes a look at the week in MMA!
Welcome to this week's edition of the MMA Rant. For those of you that caught the UFC on Fox 6 event, I hope you all enjoyed the action, as I thought the card unfolded really well. Perhaps the only downside is that the show was headlined by the Flyweights, and I'm not sure that division has built enough of a following to headline a show yet. Still, I thought it was cool that there were three hours of prelims on FX prior to the Fox card, which always makes for a nice evening of free MMA.
Before I start digging into last Saturday's event, let's take a look at some reader's comments from last week:
411's own Robert Winfree writes: I don't think any of those guys you listed (Faber, Mir, Fitch, Sonnen, Maynard) have a real shot at wearing gold in the UFC, Gray Maynard just seems like the most likely out of a pretty motley bunch. As for GSP "ducking" Hendricks, I think he's just looking for big money fights right now. Sure it's not exactly the sporting thing to do, and it annoys me to no end that somehow Nick Diaz gets a title shot, but there is a certain logic to it. Plus if Hendricks beats Ellenberger in Montreal and he can cut a decent post fight promo he'll have set himself up to where people are actually interested in him fighting GSP.
This touches on a watershed issue the UFC will eventually have to come to terms with; is the UFC promoting a legitimate sport? Or are they merely putting on entertaining fights? The differences are very important and something I will discuss later, but the UFC is eventually going to have to choose one direction and stick with it if they plan to market themselves as a sport where only the best and most deserving wear the championship belt.
Longtime reader PWNICON writes: Could be wrong but I imagine Eddie Alvarez getting an instant title shot is a way of adding value to his UFC offered contract, since its something Bellator can't actually match due to their strict tournament format.
I thought Koscheck won their fight, but only just, and I can easily see and accept how people would give the fight to Hendricks. I do take issue with Hendricks throwing his toys out of the cot and threatening to quit if he doesn't get a title shot. Heres why: The guy was known for his mouth and basically acting like Koscheck acts during his collegiate wrestling days. You want a title shot? Sell yourself the way Chael Sonnen has. He has made himself a millionaire and gotten 2 shots against Anderson Silvas belt and an instant title shot against Jon Jones. Give the fans more of a reason to demand that fight.
Vitor looked much more comfortable than Bisping in that first round too. I think Bisping just has that monkey on his back and was being far too cautious that fight. Perhaps he was hoping to fire in rounds 2-3 once he'd settled? Who knows where Vitor goes from here. Is not often you get a guy who is the #1 contender for one belt, who is calling out the champ from a different weight class.
My only beef with expecting a fighter to sell themselves in order to get a title shot is that now we're considering a factor that doesn't have anything to do with fighting or a fighter's performance when doling out title shots. Why should a fighter have to sell themselves to get a title shot? Shouldn't handily knocking out and finishing opponents speak louder than any post-fight interview? The inclusion of "give a good post-fight promo" or "sell yourself to the fans" is just another way to keep a fighter who is winning his fights from ever getting a shot at the title, perhaps even when he is the most deserving contender. Is it nice when a fighter can promote himself? Sure, but it's actually the promotion's job to sell fights and fighters. The promoter should be telling fans why such and such fighter is next in line for a title shot, not the other way around. Should fighters start booking their own fights, too? I think fans (and some promoters) have forgotten who should be fighting and who should be promoting.
I'll try to cover these topics a little more in this article.
UFC on Fox 6: This has been thoroughly covered this week, so I'm just going highlight some observations:
Neither Mick Russow or Shawn Jordan demonstrated they will ever be anything more than fodder for the prelims. The questionable conditioning and limited skillsets of both men will keep them from ever being contenders.
It's probably time for Vladimir Matyushenko to think about his next career; he doesn't have anything else to prove in MMA.
I thought Clay Guida looked better at 155 then he did at 145. I'm still not impressed with Hatsu Hioki. Ricardo Llamas looked good against Erik Koch, but I'm not sold he's at all a threat to Jose Aldo. Donald Cerrone appears to mentally flake out during his biggest fights. Anthony Pettis was masterful in his performance, but I somehow hoped this fight would last longer and be a little more back and forth.
The UFC has finally dumped some dead weight with the departure of Quinton Jackson. I won't call him ‘Rampage' anymore, because the Rampage I remember didn't whine like a bitch and actually used to win fights. Glover Teixeira looked pretty good.
The main event was better than I'd hoped.
Flyweights. Ahhh…125 pounders…what are we to do? I can't help but feel the Flyweight experiment has been a bust thus far. A lot of people are going to point to the ratings from this past weekend and try to tell me how wrong I am about this, but those people are completely delusional in their thinking. The reality is that the UFC headlined this card with a championship fight, promoted it more heavily during the NFL playoffs than any other Fox card since the first, and the main event didn't even break the top 10 of the most watched US fights. In fact, this card is only the fourth most-watched card of the 6 that have been broadcast on Fox. Is that supposed to be encouraging?
Let me put it another way; there isn't any possible way this card could have been promoted more, it was on free TV (not a cable channel) and the UFC still couldn't get more people to watch this fight than EliteXC was able to get to watch Robbie Lawler vs. Scott Smith (and that wasn't broadcast during prime time). Does that clear it up?
Honestly, I don't know what more the UFC can do. As entertaining as the Flyweights are promoted to be (and I admit, the main event was more entertaining that I'd expected), they have some innate qualities about them that will be limiting factors for the foreseeable future.
A lack of distinct stars is a big issue. As much as John Dodson is quirky and Demetrious Johnson is a quiet, hard-working guy, neither guy is going to sell out an arena just because they are on the card. Could they in the future? That's hard to predict, but I doubt they can be placed on a larger stage than they were last week. Did they gain new fans? Will these fans tune in for their next fight? Or, perhaps most importantly, would these new fans buy a PPV with Dodson or Johnson headlining?
An abundance of decisions is another hurdle. UFC Flyweight bouts, for whatever reason, almost always go to a decision. For example, if I were to look at the UFC's top 4 flyweight fighters, (Demetrious Johnson, John Dodson, Ian McCall, and Joseph Benavidez), I can see that of their combined 10 Flyweight fights (some of McCall's were outside the UFC), only three ended via finish. The Champ, Johnson, has only finished 9 opponents in his 17 career wins, and all but one of those was before he made it to the WEC. He might be exciting, but people don't always look forward to watching 25 minutes of action to get an anti-climactic conclusion.
They pale when compared to other Champions. This is something the UFC will have to try to fix, but the fact is Demetrious Johnson wearing his belt doesn't have the same mystique as Georges St. Pierre, Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, or even Cain Velasquez. The champs in the higher weight classes look like killers through their respective performances and their general dominance in the division (even when they weren't champions); Johnson just looks like a little kid who also happens to have a belt.
At the end of the day, the goal of the Flyweights (and the UFC) is for them to be able to headline a PPV card, but that goal seems very far away. What do you guys think?
What happened to Evan Dunham? The announcers mentioned his name during the TJ Grant fight and it suddenly dawned on me that I couldn't ever recall another fighter losing relevancy as quickly as Dunham did. After his win over Efrain Escudero, he made it up to #32 in the Lightweight rankings and his win over Tyson Griffin saw him catapult to #19. Heck, his split decision loss to Sean Sherk still saw him rise into the Top 10 of some websites (this one included). Some even spoke of him being a title contender. Where did it all go wrong?
A brutal knockout at the hands of Melvin Guillard didn't help things; an uninspiring win over Shamar Bailey didn't set the world on fire either. His stoppage of Nik Lentz earned him Fight of the Night honors, but his loss to TJ Grant has him back at #32 again.
Whatever happened to Evan Dunham?
Having been a wrestler in my younger years and also having been on several sports teams, I would bet Ryan Bader did not have the nickname "Darth" during his collegiate athletic career. While "Darth" is a nice play on his last name (and a nod to the George Lucas character), I somehow think his teammates probably branded him with something else in the locker room.
What nickname is that? My money is on "Master."
In organizations like the NFL, MLB, or NBA, a team's success and rankings depend upon their wins and losses. Granted, a schedule of matchups is published at the beginning of the season to ease planning efforts, which conceivably means some teams have "easier" seasons than others. Moreover, certain wins over divisional rivals have a greater impact on a team's playoff chances. Typically though, the team with the most wins and fewest losses is declared the league or division Champion. For example, there isn't a scenario where a team could lose their division championship and still go to the Superbowl or World Series; such a thing would be ridiculous. Wins and losses are all that matter in these situations, and things like the amount of merchandise sold or the number of sellout crowds are meaningless in comparison. Of course, this means that some championship games are less appealing to fans than others and this appeal usually directly impacts viewership during the broadcast of these games. Despite this, the teams that win their division aren't ever overlooked for the sake of a more marketable matchup, because as I said earlier, wins and losses are what truly matter. This is the basis of many major sports.
The WWE on the other hand works with characters, where storylines and matchups are created off the potential to tell a story off the strength of each performer's character. Included in that mix is the appeal of the character to the fans, and the fan's willingness to pay to see that character perform. In this scenario, wins and losses are typically meaningless. The ability to tell a compelling story that will attract viewers and/or a live audience is secondary to previous wins and losses. This method insures the most favorable and marketable matchups are made versus determining the "best" wrestler/performer. Certain matchups and meetings can be "built up" through predetermined events leading to an epic clash between rival personalities. Because there is no published schedule, matchups and storylines can change at any moment.
What is the UFC? What should it be?
In the earliest days of the UFC, the tournament system determined the best fighter in the tournaments. A schedule of matchups was published and wins and losses in each matchup determined who the best overall fighter was. Obviously, the rules have changed and such a thing is no longer possible.
Nowadays, weight classes divide the fighters into divisions, and each division has their own champion. That divisional champion is ideally the best fighter in the division, and challengers to that champion are ideally the most winning and deserving of fighters.
But does that always happen?
Injuries force some fighters out of action for prolonged periods and their title shot can pass them by. 2012 was a terrible year for injuries, in that more fights were scrapped due to injuries than any other year since the emergence of MMA. Not only were challengers like Dan Henderson victims, but Champions like Georges St. Pierre fell to the injury bug as well. But injuries occur in every sport, so this isn't something unique to MMA that can serve as a crutch for these instances.
Political factors such as marketability and fan interest have also hamstringed fighters. A lack of fan following or a perceived lack of marketability have kept several fighters out of the title picture. This is primarily a failure of the promotion. Some people will opine that a fighter should sell himself during interviews, but I think winning convincingly in the cage speaks louder than any words and should be plenty of reason to get a title shot. The expectation that a fighter should win in the cage and then also be entertaining afterwards creates a situation where a fighter may be undervalued based solely on something that has nothing to do with fighting. What is next? A fighter should also have a cool walk-in? Better music? Fancier fight attire? Crazier haircut? How many more meaningless qualities can be piled on top of this situation? If a fighter has won 5 or 6 fights in a row and the promotion isn't sure they can sell him as a contender, whose fault is that? It has to be the promotion's fault, because the fighter is doing his part by fighting and winning. Situations like this are unacceptable and a sign of poor promotion.
In other situations, it is the Champion who refuses to fight certain contenders. This played out with Georges St. Pierre refusing to fight Johny Hendricks and with Anderson Silva refusing to fight Chris Weidman. Could you imagine a scenario where the New York Yankees refuse to play the Chicago Cubs because they haven't won a pennant since the advent of electricity? Or if the New England Patriots refused to travel to Buffalo to face the Bills because they've never won a Superbowl? The fight promotion should be the sole authority when it comes to booking fights. Allowing fighters, especially champions, the opportunity to dictate who does and who doesn't deserve a title shot means a champion can avoid a challenger who may just be a bad matchup for them stylistically. This also potentially prevents the most-deserving challengers from competing for the title and in a sense, devalues their wins and losses. This too, is a failure of the promotion.
So, the questions for my readers are:
Should wins and losses be the primary factor in determining title shots?
Should Champions have a say in who they defend the title against?
Should a fighter have to sell themselves? Or is that the promotion's job?
Could the UFC be doing things better?
Is the UFC better off using an NFL model that focuses on win and losses like most major sports? Or should they rely instead on merely making entertaining matchups? Is there room for both?
And that's it for this week. Next week's I'm going to tell you why I think it's stupid to give Rashad Evans a title shot against Anderson Silva and why fighting from off your back is the easiest way to lose a decision.
Until then, try to be a productive member of society.