The Buzz List: The 10 Hottest, Most Controversial UFC Topics for Aug. 26-Sept. 8
Welcome to The Buzz List.
First, an introduction (in case you missed the last edition):
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 the Ultimate Fighting Championship. 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 or 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 the appetizer out of the way, let's get started with the meat and potatoes.
Benson Henderson was a very good lightweight champion.
Despite his penchant for winning close (and often controversial) decisions, he added stability to the UFC's 155-pound weight class. He was well-spoken, free of controversy outside the cage and generally the kind of champion the UFC can point to when trying to explain to non-believers that mixed martial arts isn't ruled by a bunch of meatheads.
But despite that, you just know the UFC brass breathed a collective sigh of relief after Anthony Pettis submitted Henderson to capture the lightweight title at UFC 164.
Pettis is a marketable champion. He's young, good-looking and brash. Oh, and he's an exceptional star in the cage—a creative and unique fighter with actual, honest-to-God finishing skills. Three of his four wins, including the one that earned him the lightweight title, came by TKO or submission.
The Pettis era has a ton of potential. It won't get started immediately, since he's out of action for seven to eight weeks with a knee injury suffered in the Henderson fight. But when he returns, we have a slew of outstanding title fights to look forward to.
Chad Mendes, Duane Ludwig
Since losing his featherweight championship bid to Jose Aldo in early 2012, Chad Mendes has gone 4-0. Better yet? He's won all four fights by TKO or knockout.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call finishing power. And in a division where finishes are not the norm, that power helps him stand out from the crowd. It's put him back within shouting distance of a rematch with Aldo, which means something in a division that's become increasingly top-heavy with contenders.
Mendes, in fact, may be more deserving of a shot at Aldo than Ricardo Lamas or Cub Swanson, the two other fighters considered most deserving of a title opportunity.
But let's not give Mendes all the credit: Duane "Bang" Ludwig has turned himself into one of the hottest coaches in mixed martial arts since assuming the head coaching role at Team Alpha Male.
The Alpha Male fighters were always good, but Ludwig has improved all of them in the striking department. After Joseph Benavidez's TKO finish of Jussier Formiga at UFC Fight Night 28 in Brazil, Alpha Male fighters are 19-0 under Ludwig's tutelage this year.
Watch out, Greg Jackson. That Coach of the Year award you take home seemingly every year? Ludwig is coming for it.
With his TKO win over Ryan Bader at UFC Fight Night 28, Glover Teixeira improved to 5-0 since debuting in the UFC a little more than a year ago.
He also earned a title shot. He'll face the winner of UFC 165's main event between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson.
Teixeira is an interesting challenger for Jones. He has knockout power in both hands and outstanding submission skills. But is he a truly deserving contender?
My vote is no.
Thus far, Teixeira has yet to beat an honest-to-God Top-10 light heavyweight. Twenty wins in a row is an impressive thing no matter who the opponents are, because running up that kind of winning streak in a sport as mercurial as mixed martial arts is difficult.
And yet, I haven't seen much from Teixeira that makes me believe he'll stand a chance against Jones. Against Bader, he was plodding and slow. Sure, he won by TKO, but he looked anything but a world beater before landing the left hook that put Bader on the mat.
I do want to see Teixeira challenge for the title down the road, but not right now. I'd much rather see him face someone like Phil Davis or perhaps the winner of UFC 167's bout between Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen, before putting him in the cage with the best fighter in the world.
Josh Barnett's return to the UFC after more than a decade away from the Octagon couldn't have gone any better for "The Warmaster."
All right, that's not entirely true. He probably would've enjoyed the moment a lot more if there was no controversy surrounding his finish of Frank Mir. Even though it was a perfectly acceptable finish—when a fighter falls flat on his face, there's no way anyone can find fault the referee for stopping the fight.
The win moved Barnett up four places in the official UFC rankings to No. 6. A veteran of the sport, he is back in the heavyweight title hunt, and the thought of seeing him face Travis Browne, Fabricio Werdum or even Cain Velasquez or Junior dos Santos is intriguing.
Barnett is older than most of the other heavyweight contenders, but he still has the skills to compete. I'm looking forward to his next outing just as much as you are.
Despite that being a ludicrous statement, it's clear that the UFC is building the foundation for the long-term growth of the sport around the world. The promotion is running countless events in Brazil, heading back to Australia in December and planning an extensive list of live events for Singapore, China and Europe in 2014 and beyond.
The UFC truly is going everywhere, as Dana likes to say.
But is that a good thing for fight fans in the United States?
Wednesday night's Fight Night 28 card from Brazil featured a preliminary card chock full of fighters I've never heard of. Viewers who tuned in early saw a card comparable to a Brazilian regional fight card.
And boy, the fights were not good. Two of the early bouts were downright awful in fact and had me reaching for a freshly brewed pot of coffee in order to stay alert and awake.
Thing is, we can complain about mediocre undercards as much as we want. It won't do any good, because this is going to be the norm going forward. As the UFC expands into these markets, it's going to include local fighters on the preliminary card, which will support fighters you're actually aware of in the featured fights.
This is done for two reasons. First, it keeps costs down. Second and more importantly (at least for the future of the company in these markets), it offers the UFC a chance to build up fighters from all over the world in the hopes that a few of them will break through and become headliners in front of their countrymen.
These fights aren't designed to thrill viewers in the United States. Sure, they're available to watch on television if you want, and hardcore fans who just love fighting and don't care about superstars will tune in.
But that's not the point. The UFC is trying to build up future marketable assets around the world. Sometimes, that will lead to moments like Wednesday, when you're facing a broadcast without having the slightest idea of whom you're actually watching. That's not fun for folks who tune in to see stars, but it's a smart business decision for the UFC as it lays the groundwork for global expansion and domination.
That doesn't mean we can't complain about it, though, because we can and will.
Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren is one of the hottest topics in the sport right now, and that's because he's expressed his desire to go to the UFC.
With that desire comes all manner of intriguing plot lines. Is Bellator telling Askren that he can sign with the UFC because it'll "pull an Alvarez" and match the UFC's offer, thereby likely paying him less than it would be required to if Bellator signed him outright?
Recent history tells us yes, that's exactly what they're doing. Here's what Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney said about the situation, per Sherdog:
I don't think we're going to make an offer at this point. So I don't see any reason to make anybody sit out. If Ben's going to go to the UFC, we should speed up that process so he can go fight. I'd love to see Ben versus GSP.
That's all fine and good, but Rebney made the same kind of declaration about Eddie Alvarez, so let's not put the cart before the horse.
For the time being, Askren remains a free agent. Will we see the former Olympian in the UFC, perhaps against Carlos Condit or another top welterweight? I know Askren's style isn't exactly crowd pleasing, but there's no question that I'd love to see him paired up with the best in the world.
Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza is one of the most feared grapplers in the world and has been for years.
But now, he's turning into one of the most feared middleweights as well.
Souza's striking game has improved drastically since he made his MMA debut, and his knockout win over perennial contender Yushin Okami at UFC Fight Night 28 served notice to the rest of the division that he's becoming a well-rounded and violent contender.
The idea of Souza facing Chris Weidman, as long the current champion bests Anderson Silva in their December rematch, is an intriguing one. But Souza matches up well with nearly every top middleweight contender, and it'll be fun to see what he does next.
The Ultimate Fighter 18
I'll be honest with you: It's been a long time since I've actively watched every episode of a season of The Ultimate Fighter.
A lot of you are in the same boat. A declining talent level combined with season after season of what was essentially the same product left me looking for other things to do while the show aired.
The latest installment of the show likely won't change that. But I'm far more intrigued by Season 18 than I typically am, and there's one major reason why.
I mentioned the declining talent level above, and that's still the same...on the men's side. The female side of the equation is a different story.
Veterans like Roxanne Modafferi and Shayna Baszler highlight a cast of excellent female fighters trying to work their way onto a UFC roster that, in a perfect world, would already include them. Even Tara LaRosa, one of the true veterans of the sport, was featured in the premiere episode, though she lost her fight to get into the house and will not be featured for the rest of the season.
I already know that coaches Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate hate each other. I'm slightly intrigued in seeing it play out on television, because it appears that Rousey might just emerge from the show with far fewer fans than she had before the series. But the coaching rivalry has a "been there, done that" feel to it, with the only real change being that the coaches are women.
But if you give me a chance to see Baszler, Modafferi and Bleacher Report's own TUF 18 blogger Jessamyn Duke competing on a weekly basis? Well, I'm going to tune in.
Chael Sonnen vs. Rashad Evans
We've known that Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks would headline November's UFC 167 event for quite some time.
What we didn't know was the co-main event slot. That's no longer a mystery.
Rashad Evans revealed the news on Tuesday's edition of Alchemist Radio that he would be facing Chael Sonnen at UFC 167. Sonnen confirmed the story on Wednesday night's pre-fight show before Fight Night 28 got under way from Brazil.
It's an interesting pairing. Evans halted a losing streak by beating Dan Henderson at UFC 161, and Sonnen did the same by submitting Mauricio Rua at UFC Fight Night 26 last month. Both men have placements on the UFC's official rankings, with Evans clocking in at No. 5 and Sonnen at No. 9. It's a relevant fight, even though it may not seem so upon first glance.
And it's marketable. Sonnen has become one of the UFC's biggest stars over the past few years, thanks largely to his gift of gab. Evans has been a big personality pretty much since he left The Ultimate Fighter house in 2005.
What does it mean? Will the winner inch closer to a rematch with Jon Jones? I'm not sure anyone would buy the notion that Sonnen or Evans would be more successful the second time around with Jones; then again, I'm not sure many people believe anyone has a real chance of knocking Jones off his perch.
But sometimes, as in this case, a fight doesn't have to hold lofty importance. This is a fight for the fans, and it's a good one.
Women Featured in EA Sports UFC
I'm a big video game nerd. Huge. I've been one ever since my granddad bought me the original Nintendo Entertainment System and Mike Tyson's Punch Out back in the '80s. I spent copious amounts of time playing UFC Undisputed 3 when it was released last year, and I still fire up the old XBox for a little UFC vs. PRIDE action on a regular basis.
I've pre-ordered the XBox One. I'm sure you won't be surprised at all to learn that the game I'm looking forward to the most, even though it won't be released until next spring, is EA Sports UFC.
Which is why I was thrilled at the news that female fighters, including TUF 18 coaches Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, will be featured in the game upon release. The women's division is an important part of the UFC these days; the ranks are fairly sparse at this point, but they'll be chock full of great talent after Season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter draws to a close.
Submitting one opponent after another with Rousey's patented armbar? That's a good way to spend a rainy day. And with Rousey's skyrocketing popularity, it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest if she's the fighter chosen to appear on the cover of the game.
It's not the first time a female fighter will appear in a UFC game, as the marketing push would have you believe. That honor went to Erica Montoya, who debuted in UFC Sudden Impact back in 2004. But it's guaranteed that the digital representations of Rousey, Tate, Sarah McMann and the rest of the UFC female bantamweight fighters will be the absolute best.