The Buzz List: The 5 Hottest, Most Controversial MMA Topics for 10/28-11/3
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.
Here's last week's edition, in case you missed it.
Tito Ortiz: It's Time to Go Home and Stay There
Last July, I took a third-row seat at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center.
I was at the UFC Fan Expo, now held annually as part of International Fight Week in Las Vegas. It's an opportunity for fans to meet their favorite fighters and for MMA-centric exhibitors to hawk their wares to the more-than-20,000 fans who make the pilgrimage for one of the UFC's biggest weekends of the year. I've been to nearly every Fan Expo, and as such they're all a blur for me. But the highlight of that weekend, as with every other Fan Expo, was the Hall of Fame induction of Tito Ortiz.
Say what you will about the UFC Hall of Fame. It's not a true Hall of Fame, if we're going by the same kind of metrics used to determine placement in the Halls of other sports. It's more like a letter of thanks from the UFC, given out to those fighters who have made important contributions to the company. In any other sport, Stephan Bonnar wouldn't merit consideration for enshrinement in a Hall of Fame; in the UFC, he goes in because he had that one important fight with Forrest Griffin.
Back to Ortiz. I sat in that audience and listened to Ortiz speak that day, and I was happy for him. He was retiring after the Griffin fight, win or lose, and he'd done a lot, both for the sport and for the UFC. Unlike Bonnar, he deserved the spotlight. And as he spoke that day, I couldn't help but feel a surge of respect for the man.
"I put my heart, soul and body into this sport," he said. "I've had ACL surgery, back surgery, neck surgery, a meniscus tear. When people ask me, 'Why you retiring?' I'm retiring because it's time."
That was well over a year ago. If you're an MMA fan, you know that Ortiz lost to Griffin, retired, and then reneged on that retirement to sign with Bellator. For some reason, he nonsensically rekindled a feud with Dana White. He told the fans that White and the UFC didn't care about its fighters, despite White paying for Ortiz's medical bills and making him a very rich man over the years. He accepted a fight against Rampage Jackson, another member of the anti-UFC club.
And then, like a broken record, Ortiz was injured and forced to pull out of the fight, forcing the first-ever Bellator pay-per-view to suddenly became another free televised card.
I am not making light of Ortiz's injury. He's had numerous neck problems over the years, and it can't be easy to put hundreds of hours into training for a fight that ultimately didn't happen. Yes, he lost a significant amount of money by pulling out of the fight. But in the end, nothing is more important than his well-being.
Which is why I'm pleading for Ortiz to stop the talk of a comeback when he's healthy. I'm begging for him to take this injury as a sign that his body—the one that helped turn him into a pioneer in this sport—can no longer withstand the rigors of an extended training camp.
When Ortiz finished his Hall of Fame speech, he received a long standing ovation from the fans. It was emotional, and it was well-deserved. But everything that's happened since that day has only served to blemish his standing in the sport. He doesn't need to come back; Bellator will be just fine without him. He doesn't need to fight Rampage Jackson, a bout that would likely see him fall to 1-8-1 since 2006.
Ortiz needs to stay home. If he wants to manage fighters and stay involved in the business of mixed martial arts, fine. I support that idea. He's been around the block a few dozen times, and if he can figure out how to properly communicate the ideas in his head, he could be an asset.
But he doesn't need to step in the cage again.
Everything Is Spectacular and Epic and Literally the Greatest.
When Tito Ortiz suffered an injury that forced him to pull out of his scheduled November 2nd pay-per-view fight with Rampage Jackson, it was a blessing in disguise for Bellator.
The event was destined to be a money loser for the promotion. We don't know what kind of salaries Ortiz and Jackson were scheduled to pull for the event, but it's safe that say that neither man comes cheap for Bellator. When you factor in the salaries for all of the other fighters on the event—and considering many of them are the promotion's top stars and thus draw hefty salaries—one can assume that a large pay per view intake would be needed in order to break even.
But considering the $44.95 price tag and the fact that anything without the UFC brand name tends to draw meager numbers, it's hard to imagine the event being a financial success.
Which is why the cancellation of the pay-per-view and the decision to move the event to Spike TV had to be considered a good thing. For fans, it's a no-brainer. You get to see Chandler vs. Alvarez 2, Curran vs. Straus 2 and Lawal vs. Newton 2, and you don't have to pay a dime.
But make no mistake about it: this is a win for Bellator in the sense that they won't lose money on the show, but it's also a loss. It's a retreat. Instead of moving forward into the pay-per-view realm, they're putting an absolutely stacked card on free television. They're putting their best foot forward, and instead of finding out how many people are willing to pay for their product, they're televising it the same way they do every other card.
In listening to Bjorn Rebney describe it on a Friday conference call, you'd think this was the plan all along. Instead of real discussion on how the decision to move the pay per view to free television affects his company, Rebney continually used words like "spectacular" and "epic" to describe each and every fight on the card. He also used the word "literally" so many times that I literally lost count.
I realize that promoters must promote, and it's their job to build up fights. But Rebney is guilty of the same thing Dana White is often guilty of: painting every single thing his company does as the best thing ever. And when everything is billed as the best thing that's ever happened, then it all becomes the same.
If everything is the best, then nothing is.
Bellator 106 is the most stacked event the history of the company. That it's being televised for free is a major win for mixed martial arts fans, and the folks who love this sport should be well and truly excited.
But I'd like a little honesty mixed in there as well: the decision to move the event to Spike wasn't made because they wanted to be a little generous with MMA fans. The decision was made because few people were going to buy the event, especially with the slight mainstream draw of Jackson vs. Ortiz off the card.
Lyoto Machida: Middleweight Contender
If you want an example of just how quickly fortunes can change in mixed martial arts, look no further than Lyoto Machida.
Since winning and defending the light heavyweight title one time, Machida was 3-4 in his last seven fights. A loss to Phil Davis in his last outing left many believing Machida was on a downward slide, with his best days as a fighter firmly behind him.
But then Machida decided to move to middleweight, a weight class many believed was his best option all along. And after a head kick knockout of Mark Munoz at UFC Fight Night 30, Machida is being talked about as a potential title challenger in 2014. Dana White mentioned the idea of pairing Machida with Vitor Belfort. Belfort must first beat Dan Henderson on Nov. 9, but the winner of a Machida/Belfort bout would no doubt be in line for a shot against the winner of the UFC 168 rematch between Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva.
We didn't see enough of Machida in the Munoz bout to make any judgments on how good he might be at 185 pounds. Physically, he looked to be in the best shape of his life, and the knockout of Munoz cemented the idea that Machida has retained his power in the move down. He's no longer competing against larger men, which should make him dangerous in the cage.
Fighters often switch weight classes as a last-ditch attempt to remain relevant or to avoid Joe Silva's chopping block. It doesn't always work out. And while we don't know how it will work out for Machida in the long run, it sure feels like he's a fresh and interesting fighter at middleweight.
One last thing about Machida: His conduct in the cage and decision to spare Munoz from any further punishment once he saw his friend and training partner unconscious on the ground was something to be applauded. We could use more of that in a sport that so often sees fighters take unnecessary punishment.
Light Heavyweight Title Picture Emerges from the Fog
The light heavyweight title picture has existed in a kind of limbo since Jon Jones beat Alexander Gustafsson in one of the best title fights in UFC history at UFC 165.
Gustafsson's performance merited a rematch, but he needed to face and beat an opponent before he would receive the opportunity. Jones would face Glover Teixeira, but nobody knew when. And then there was Daniel Cormier, who would be making the move down after becoming the 2nd or 3rd best heavyweight in the sport, depending on who you ask.
After UFC Fight Night 30, the clouds have parted. To an extent, anyway.
Dana White announced at the Fight Night 30 press conference that Gustafsson will headline the UFC's return to England in March. He's facing Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who finds himself in a bit of a career resurgence after overcoming injuries and beating Rashad Evans earlier this year. A win will secure the Swede a rematch with Jones, provided the champ beats Teixeira whenever that fight happens. The same opportunity won't be afforded to Nogueira, White said, but a win over Gustafsson would put Nogueira within shouting distance of the champion.
We don't know who Cormier will face when he makes his eventual light heavyweight debut, but we have to assume a win will put him in line for a title shot.
And so it seems that 2014 is fairly set for the light heavyweight title. We'll see Jones vs. Teixeira, Gustafsson vs. Nogueira and then perhaps Jones vs. Gustafsson 2, all while Cormier waits in the wings. All are interesting fights, and all of them have significance.
What more can a fight fan ask for?
Some Rules Need Changing, and Pronto
There are many things that get under Joe Rogan's skin.
For starters, there's the issue with the current gloves utilized by the UFC and the finger pokes that often derail fights. Rogan constantly harps on the gloves, and though the UFC is allegedly working on a new curved design that will prevent many eye pokes from occurring, we're still a long way from actually seeing them in the cage.
And then there are the knees. Oh, the knees.
The No Contest between Melvin Guilard and Ross Pearson at UFC Fight Night 30 was the latest example of a poorly constructed rule that needs changing: knees to the head of a downed opponent. Under the current guidelines, drilling your opponent with knees when he's on the ground is illegal. That's all well and good, because I can't imagine many fans who care about the long-term health of their favorite fighters are too enthused about the idea of seeing them drilled in the head with knees while they're prostrate on the ground.
But the rule also leads to what Rogan calls "playing the game," and Pearson certainly played the game. As Guillard prepared to throw vicious knees at his head, Pearson quickly moved his hand to the ground, thus creating three points of contact with the ground. Guillard's first knee may have been legal, as it wasn't clear from the broadcast if Pearson got his hand on the ground in time. But the second appeared to be illegal under the current MMA rules, and it led to the finish: Pearson suffered a cut on his forehead and was unable to continue, and the fight was ruled a No Contest.
Marc Ratner, the UFC Vice President of Regulatory Affairs, told MMAjunkie.com earlier this year that the UFC wants to see the rule changed:
"We really believe this 'three-point stance rule,' where a fighter is just placing his hand on and off the mat so he won't get hit, needs to be addressed," Ratner said. "That's not what the rule is for. That has to be looked at."
Ratner made that statement in April, and there's been no movement since. Changing MMA rules is a tedious process, and one cannot expect immediate results. But there's no question that the rule needs to be fixed, and pronto.
Knees to the head of a downed opponent can still be deemed illegal, but if a fighter is clearly placing his hand on the ground in order to avoid being kneed in the head—or to draw a penalty if he's kneed in the face—well, the referee should have the ability to call that as he sees it and to award the win to the attacking fighter if a situation like Guillard vs. Pearson unfolds.
Much like the problems with the gloves, this is not something that can be fixed immediately. But Ratner, with the UFC's full support, needs to press the issue and try and affect change. Or, at the very least, ensure that referees have the ability to view instant replay (in all markets) and utilize it as a tool when making decisions.
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