The Buzz List: The 10 Hottest, Most Controversial MMA Topics for Aug. 19-25
Welcome to The Buzz List.
What you'll find in the following pages is not anything resembling fighter rankings. We've got plenty of those already.
The Buzz List—which will be published every two weeks—is our comprehensive look at the hottest things going on in mixed martial arts. If a fighter puts on a stellar performance that garners rave reviews, he might find his way into the list. Or if another fighter says/does something dumb, well, he could also be included.
This is not a look at the best fighters in mixed martial arts. Sure, it may end up that way from time to time, but that's not the point. What we're doing here is presenting a look at the most popular and controversial fighters and topics from the current mixed martial arts landscape.
With that introduction out of the way, it's time to get started. In the words of the immortal Tommy Toe Hold, let's do this.
Just when you think "The Bad Guy" is firmly set on a path to irrelevancy, he goes and reminds you just why he's been one of MMA's hottest fighters over the past few years.
With his victory over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua last Saturday night on Fox Sports 1, Sonnen answered the critics who said he was too old, too small and too limited to compete with the best fighters at light heavyweight. I'll include myself in that group, though I believed Sonnen would beat Rua, I had my reservations about his chances against the best light heavyweights the UFC has to offer in the long term.
And Sonnen didn't just beat Rua. He submitted him by pulling guard on a guillotine, which is just about the most non-Sonnen move I can think of. And the submission came after Sonnen utterly dominated Rua through the first round. It was the best performance of his career.
In typical Sonnen fashion, he used his post-fight interview time with Joe Rogan to set up a potential fight with Wanderlei Silva. It's one of the oldest tricks in the promotional book: always plan ahead and always leave the fans wanting more.
Sonnen may face Silva. But if he doesn't, there's a host of fighters who would love nothing more than to step in the cage with "The Gangster from West Linn."
Which leads us to our next slide...
People Who Want to Fight Chael Sonnen
After Sonnen's win over Rua, fighters came out of the woodwork, begging the UFC for their chance to step in the cage with him. And why not? Sonnen is one of the UFC's biggest stars, and when you fight him, you're guaranteed the kind of exposure that could lead to a lengthy stretch of big pay days.
Vitor Belfort, who has seemingly made a habit out of turning down fights, was the first:
@sonnench don't run from me. Why are u asking for wand? Let's fight.— Vitor Belfort (@vitorbelfort) August 18, 2013
He would quickly be followed by Lyoto Machida, who multi-tasked by also taking a shot at Belfort for turning down a potential fight with him:
Not to be outdone, light heavyweight contender Phil Davis also decided that he wants a piece of the Sonnen business:
Enough is enough... I want to fight @sonnench for the whole country of Brazil! Name a time, name a date and bring your face!— Phil Davis (@PhilMrWonderful) August 18, 2013
From a business perspective, Silva or Belfort makes the most sense. Sonnen has a long history with both. He's also taken potshots at Machida over the past few years.
The Davis challenge came out of nowhere, and it doesn't make much sense because Sonnen is heading back to middleweight. But it also proved another point: that the Sonnen business is good, and when business is good, everyone wants a piece of the action.
Needless to say, it's a good time to be Chael Sonnen.
Fox Sports 1
There was much skepticism heading into the launch of Fox Sports 1 last Saturday.
Carriage deals with DirecTV, Dish Network and other major providers weren't completed until the days leading into the launch. Plenty of fans weren't sure they'd even get the channel when it launched in the early morning hours of Saturday.
Luckily for the UFC, the deals were done. Fox Sports 1 kicked off a new era in style with one of the best UFC shows in recent memory. And when the ratings came out, it was an unquestioned success.
An average of 1.78 million viewers tuned into the broadcast, according to preliminary Nielsen estimates. That's a higher viewership total than FX averaged for previous UFC broadcasts.
It's doubtful the UFC will be able to maintain those numbers for Fox Sports 1 events held on Wednesday nights. The debut event also featured a stacked card, and that won't be the case going forward.
But no matter where the numbers eventually settle, there's little doubt the UFC's first foray on Fox Sports 1 was a big success.
It was something I'd never seen before: a preliminary card fighter receiving the same lights out, long walk from the back treatment usually reserved for the main event fighters.
But Conor McGregor is no ordinary preliminary card fighter. That much is certain.
Whether McGregor ever lives up to his potential remains to be seen. But for now, we know three things: that McGregor is very talented, he's incredibly charismatic and the UFC loves him. If you need further proof, just take a gander at the video of McGregor and Dana White cruising the Las Vegas strip in White's Ferrari after White treated the Irish fighter to a birthday dinner.
McGregor has the chance to become the UFC's first true breakout star below 155 pounds. All he'll need to do is win another fight or two, and then it's almost certain that he'll get a shot at Jose Aldo's title, perhaps even in Ireland.
Dana White doesn't like the UFC's official rankings. That's not surprising. OK, it's a little surprising, since White was one of the forces behind the installation of the rankings in the first place. But I digress.
White aired his frustration over Chael Sonnen's spot in the middleweight rankings after Sonnen beat Shogun Rua last Saturday night.
'The Media' had him ranked at number 9 or 10 at 185 underneath guys that he actually beat. So obviously a win over Shogun puts him in a great place at 205, and puts him at a great place at 185.
White's grouping of all the journalists who were invited by his own company to participate in the rankings into one nefarious group called "The Media" is amusing, if not a bit silly. After all, we're not talking about five or 10 people being polled for the rankings; the number of journalists receiving a ballot is high enough that I'm not going to take the time to count them.
The point: this isn't the opinion of a few guys. They're decided by a lot of people, some of whom are very smart on the subject. But White works best when he has an enemy to deride and make fun of. If "The Media" serves that purpose for him, well, that's great.
But there's another aspect that White is completely ignoring. He's mad Sonnen is only ranked ninth in the middleweight division, right? But Sonnen left the middleweight division. Sure, he's going back down now, but he hasn't competed at middleweight since losing to Anderson Silva last summer. As of right now, he's a light heavyweight.
Silva has competed at light heavyweight three times, but you still don't rank him in that division because he's a middleweight. The same goes for Frankie Edgar. He was near the top of the lightweight division, but he's now a featherweight. He's not ranked at 155 anymore, but you don't hear White blaming "The Media" for that one.
When the UFC first installed the rankings voting system earlier this year, it was set up to pull eligible fighters from the UFC's official roster database. Sonnen was listed at light heavyweight despite not actually fighting there yet. Anthony Pettis was still a lightweight, but he planned on dropping to fight Jose Aldo, so he was only eligible at featherweight.
After many complaints, the UFC and Fight Metric (the company handling the balloting process) switched things around so that all fighters were eligible to be voted on in any weight class. If I wanted to, I could have ranked Alistair Overeem at flyweight.
The change gave journalists the option of including Sonnen at middleweight, even after he made his light heavyweight debut. Some of those journalists kept including Sonnen at middleweight, and they're still doing it despite Sonnen's last two fights taking place in another weight class.
That's their prerogative, of course. I think it's wrong and silly, but that's why the balloting pool is so deep: to get a clear picture of where fighters stand from a large collection of onlookers. Sonnen shouldn't be ranked at 185, but he's still receiving enough votes to land on the list. That's just the way it is. I don't like it, but I can't do anything about it.
If White thinks his hand-picked pool of journalists is getting it wrong, then he should abolish the system. It's not like he pays any attention whatsoever to the rankings when booking fights, anyway, so what's the point? He might be better off just drawing up his own rankings.
But that wouldn't be fun, because then he couldn't blame "The Media" when fans disagree with the rankings.
With his first-round knockout of Mike Pyle at UFC on Fox Sports 1, Matt Brown ran his winning streak to six in the UFC's ultra-tough welterweight division.
That's something to be proud of. Sure, none of those wins came over a top-shelf opponent. But winning six in a row, well, that's an accomplishment no matter who Brown did it against.
As far as the title picture goes, he's still on the outside looking in. He'll need at least one more win, this time over an opponent with plenty of name value, before he will be allowed to punch his ticket to a night filled with Georges St-Pierre lying on top of him. But he's close, and that's something.
Brown knows he's close, too. He's already taken it upon himself to tell the world his one goal in life is to beat St-Pierre, and he's even taking a page from the Chael Sonnen playbook by saying that he thinks he can out-wrestle the champion. Even if that's a bit of a silly notion (St-Pierre might be the most effective wrestler in all of MMA), it reveals that Brown has learned that winning alone won't get him where he wants to be, at least not as quickly as he'd like it to happen.
It's been nearly two years since Brown lost a fight. Back then, I never even considered he'd be knocking on the door of a championship fight at any point in the future. And yet, here he is, with one foot over the threshold and the other ready to knock down anyone who gets in his way.
Nick Diaz is, for all intents and purposes, retired from fighting. He's lost two in a row. And yet, somehow, he remains a major topic of conversation for fans, media and Dana White.
It seems inevitable that Diaz will return to the Octagon. He's never been a man that cares about money or fame, but the prospect of leaving what could potentially be millions of dollars on the table might be too much even for the Stockton native.
White is already offering Diaz fights. He wanted to book him against Lyoto Machida, but backtracked last week:
That was a bad idea. The Diaz-Machida thing I was—I'm going to throw Joe Silva under the bus again. That was Joe Silva's idea. It was a bad idea.
Diaz didn't turn it down. There's other things going on with Diaz.
As always, I'm intrigued by what the "other things going on with Diaz" could be. You just never know with the mercurial welterweight, and that's part of his charm, for lack of a better word. It's also the thing that endears him so greatly to hardcore fans that they'll ignore the fact that he's lost two fights in a row. They'll pretend it never happened, because Diaz is so interesting and so unlike every other athlete in this sport.
I hope Diaz finds his way back to the cage. The sport is better with him in it, or at least more interesting. All of the hassles involved with getting him to "play the game" are worth it because there's simply nobody else like him. And if you'll allow me to be a bit selfish for a second, well, I'd sure like to see him come back and face Robbie Lawler for a second time or Josh Koscheck or just about any other welterweight on the roster.
Diaz may not need fighting. But fighting sure needs him.
Boston is one of the greatest cities I've ever traveled to while covering mixed martial arts.
It's hard to describe. The feeling of suddenly stumbling upon Fenway Park, right in the middle of the city. Sitting in buildings that date back to the Revolutionary War period. Trying to decipher, exactly, what the locals are telling you in that thick accent.
Boston isn't just a great fight town. It's a great town, period. But the UFC's latest foray there, according to Dana White, wasn't the easiest one:
It's a great place to hang out with my friends and eat, but not a great place to put on fights.
Once the Culinary Union's efforts to keep Chael Sonnen from fighting in the main event were swept aside, Boston reminded us why they're considered a great fight town in the first place. The audience was boisterous from beginning to end. They gave Conor McGregor a massive reaction despite his placement on the preliminary card. They reacted big to Travis Browne knocking out Alistair Overeem. They gave a thunderous ovation when Sonnen submitted Rua in the main event.
They were so good, in fact, that White recanted his previous statements about the city:
I love this city. It’s a great city. It’s a great sports town. All the things that were said this week leading up to this fight, I wasn’t talking about the athletic commission here.
So never fear, Boston: the UFC will return to your city for memorable cards in the future.
The Ultimate Fighter: Rousey vs. Tate
I'll admit that my interest in The Ultimate Fighter has waned in recent years. And by that, I mean that I haven't watched more than one or two episodes per season in at least three years.
But I'll be tuning into the latest installment, which bows next month with coaches Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate at the helm of the ship.
Why? I've got a few reasons.
The feud between Rousey and Tate is an intriguing one. We must remember that Rousey essentially used Tate to vault herself from unknown Strikeforce Challengers fighter to the top of the women's fighting world. That entire period left a bad taste in Tate's mouth. She'd like nothing more than to be the first fighter to shut Rousey up and erase the memory of Rousey twisting Tate's arm into a gruesome pretzel during their last fight.
And then there's the cast. While the men's side is nothing special, the female roster is intriguing. There is the usual collection of people you've never heard of, but sprinkled in there are some true veterans of the sport. Tara LaRosa, Shayna Baszler and Roxanne Modafferi will be familiar names for those who were watching women's MMA long before Rousey almost single-handedly forced Dana White to include them on his roster.
With men and women living together in the house, I'm sure we'll be treated to the kind of stupid antics that were thankfully missing from the last season of the show. It'll be train-wreck television of the highest (or lowest) order.
But at the same time, we'll also see some of the best female fighters in the world attempting to make their way onto the UFC roster through sheer competition.
That's enough to get me to tune in. And even if the majority of fans out there don't care about the show right now, the UFC and Fox's tag-team marketing effort should pay off. Whether or not this will be one of those seasons that White says is the best ever but really isn't remains to be seen. But I'll tune in, and I think most of you will too.
The End of the UFC Line for the Reem?
The confused look on Alistair Overeem's face as he peeled himself off the canvas after being knocked out by Travis Browne—illustrated oh so perfectly in the photo above—is a bit like Overeem's UFC run thus far.
He came into the UFC with as much hype as any fighter I can remember. He was the DREAM champion, the Strikeforce champion and the G-1 Grand Prix champion. The first man to hold dual titles in mixed martial arts and kickboxing, Overeem was a fearsome sight to behold, all rippling muscle and cocky sneers. His December 2011 dismantling of Brock Lesnar only cemented the idea that Overeem might be the UFC's next big thing.
Fast forward to today. He's served a suspension for failing a drug test. While he's still a giant, he's no longer the physical specimen he once was. And he's suffered two consecutive knockout losses in a row, both of which came at the hands of opponents he was expected to easily defeat.
Is Overeem the biggest bust in UFC history? Perhaps. If he isn't, he's certainly up there.
And what now? Will the UFC give Overeem another chance to right his sinking ship? Dana White was non-committal after the conclusion of Fox Sports 1, which usually isn't a good sign. Overeem is still a marketable fighter, but the promotion may come to the conclusion that he's no longer worth the high price they're paying to put him in the Octagon.