Welcome to The Buzz List.
First, an introduction (in case you missed the last edition):
What you'll find in the following slides is not anything resembling fighter rankings. We've got plenty of those already.
The Buzz List, which will now be published weekly (!), 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 onto the list. Or if another fighter says or does something dumb, well, he or she 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.
Dana White is no stranger to hyperbole. That's fine. It's his job, as promoter of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, to hype up his product.
Fighting is in our DNA. This thing is going to be the biggest sport in the world.
You get the picture.
And look, I'm not here to tell you that UFC 166 was not awesome. Because it most certainly was awesome. I long ago lost the precise count of how many events I've covered as part of the media, and my memory is not what it used to be. While I'm not ready to be committed to the old folks home by my loved ones just yet, there's no doubt that many of the fights I've covered are all congealed in my mind.
What I'm saying is that it's hard to remember the best of the best. Some of them stick out, like UFC 116 or Shogun vs. Henderson. But the point is that even with the benefit of a year or more of hindsight, I can't tell you what the greatest event in UFC history is, because it's all so very subjective.
I know what moves me. I know what sticks in my fading memory. They are the moments that have already endured the test of time.
We can't possibly know if UFC 166 was the greatest fight card of all time. We certainly can't make that kind of judgement, as White did in the heated glow of the moment. Saturday night was alright for fighting, to be sure. Anyone who was at the Toyota Center can tell you it was a special night. In the heat of the moment, I was ready to declare UFC 166 the greatest thing to happen to humankind since our astronauts walked on the moon.
So I can understand why White, especially with his snug promoter hat on, would proclaim it the greatest night of his professional life. Only the most cynical among us don't get caught up in things like this. If that means a hint of fanboy still courses through my veins, that's a fine price to pay.
But we also must remember this: if we constantly refer to the greatest things we've ever seen, then the shine on those things becomes more and more dull. It means less. All I'm saying is that a little breathing room might do us all some good.
Gilbert Melendez considers himself the uncrowned champion of the UFC's lightweight division. He said as much after Saturday's war with Diego Sanchez.
He has a point. I scored his fight with then-champion Benson Henderson for Melendez. I'm sure many of you did, too. And while Melendez didn't walk away with the belt that night, he did walk away with something else—validation.
For so many years, Melendez became increasingly frustrated as his compatriots in the UFC got all of the attention even as he cemented himself as one of the best in the world. He could never be the absolute best, though, because he wasn't in the UFC. You can see how that would be frustrating to a man who thrives on living on the competitive edge.
But now, Melendez is in the UFC. And after surviving three rounds of the traditional old Sanchez run-and-gun, you might say "El Niño" is finally getting the respect he's craved for so long. He's one of the best technical fighters in the division, but he's also willing to put his body on the line for the sake of a good old-fashioned slobberknocker—even when it nearly costs him the fight, as Saturday's third round did.
Sanchez may have received more cheers on the night. There's something endearing, after all, about a man who is willing to take 50 punches to dish out 1, even if he must slur his way through a post-fight speech. But Melendez will head into his next fight—likely against the winner of December's bout between Josh Thomson and Anthony Pettis, if you ask me—with more support and recognition than ever before.
And if that's all he got out of Saturday night, then it has to be considered a success.
The UFC heads to Singapore in January. They've already done shows in Japan, and one assumes they'll be heading back to Tokyo at some point in 2014.
Dana White likes to say that he's taking the UFC everywhere. Well, everywhere except Florida, that is; Florida has the worst crowds in mixed martial arts history, which is why you rarely see the promotion targeting those major markets.
But there's no question that the UFC is heavily leaning on international expansion in 2014 and beyond. And with that in mind, they're loading up the roster for bear.
On Tuesday, the promotion confirmed the signing of PRIDE veteran Tatsuya Kawajiri. At the same time, MMAjunkie.com reported the signing of former DEEP champion Katsunori Kikuno.
Neither of these fighters are superstars, in their home country or beyond. But they do have the kind of name recognition with hardcore Japanese fans that the UFC needs as they plan more and more events in Japan, China and beyond. Fans in Tokyo were gracious and accepting when the UFC brought foreign fighters in for UFC 144, but that isn't a viable long-term solution. In order to make headway, local stars will have to be purchased and/or built.
They've got a good start. I'd expect more signings in the future.
Remember The Machida Era?
Man, that didn't last very long. But even though Machida's run as light heavyweight champion wasn't nearly as convincing or enduring as Joe Rogan (and many of the rest of us, I must admit) believed at the time, there's no question that Machida was a perennial contender in the division despite being of smaller stature than many of the opponents he faced. He even gave Jon Jones a modicum of trouble at one point, which was impressive because Jones had very little trouble with anything in those days.
It's hard to believe that Machida is just 3-4 since 2010. I automatically associate him with excellence, just because he was so very excellent for so very long.
It's good, then, that he's moving down to middleweight. He was always undersized as a light heavyweight; fighters often talk about finally being at their natural weight after they lose a few consecutive fights, as though it's the magical cure for all that ails him.
For Machida, that might be the case. Have you seen his latest selfie? Dude is all ripped up, and that's weird because we're so used to seeing him be a little bit on the fat side. Or, if not fat (because that's a wee bit harsh), then at least doughy. Can we agree on "doughy"?
I'll go out on a limb and make a prediction right now: Machida will be a terrific middleweight contender, and he'll start on Saturday when he faces Mark Munoz on something called a Fox Sports 2.
Earlier this year, I was convinced that Chael Sonnen would retire with a loss to Jon Jones.
He lost. He didn't retire. Not by a long shot.
Since that loss to Jones, Sonnen has:
- Become a co-host for UFC Tonight on its new day and time on Fox Sports 1
- Become a regular featured contributor to Fox Sports Live
- Headlined the first-ever live UFC event on Fox Sports 1
- Submitted Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in said Fox Sports 1 event
- Made inappropriate comments about Rihanna that forced Fox Sports to apologize for him
- Booked a fight against Rashad Evans at UFC 167, one of the biggest events of the year
And now? He's going to Brazil, where he'll coach the next season of The Ultimate Fighter against his "nemesis" Wanderlei Silva.
I surrounded the word nemesis in quotation marks because, with Sonnen, you can never be sure when something is real and when it isn't. I don't know that he despises Silva, because Sonnen is one of the nicest people I've met in this sport and I'm not sure there's anyone he actually hates.
But he's excellent at creating something out of nothing. That's the thing that vaulted him to the spotlight and it's one of the things that keeps him there. And, true feelings or not, Sonnen spent plenty of time blasting Brazil over the past three years. Now? Now, he's going to live there for at least six weeks while facing a man he's constantly belittled and mocked.
Dana White promised Sonnen that he'd give him a good security detail. Let's hope he delivers on that guarantee.