MMA Tweet-O-Rama: Botter, Dundas and Snowden Sound off on Rousey, Diaz and Pride
Everyone loves a hot take. And, per our contracts, here at Bleacher Report the takes are always sizzling.
But if you've ever ventured into the comments section, you know we have nothing on you guys. Readers say the darnedest things—so we solicited your boldest statements in a new feature we are calling MMA Tweet-O-Rama.
Our three lead writers put out a Twitter call for your thoughts, and boy did you all deliver. Each of us picked our two favorites and then the chaos commenced, roundtable style.
This time out, we talk trash about your beloved Pride Fighting Championship, combat some gentle sexism and talk about the mighty Nate Diaz. To play along next time, you'll need to follow us on Twitter: Jonathan, Jeremy and Chad.
Women in MMA Are Terrible Athletes
Jonathan Snowden: While this seems like inflammatory troll bait in some ways, on a certain level it rings very true. While professional sports have been a mainstay of male fantasy for more than 100 years, for women it's a pursuit that has only recently become a possibility.
Women's athletics have come a long way, especially since the passage of Title IX, a law demonized in many circles, but one that has revolutionized sport for girls in their formative years.
But we aren't quite there yet.
For decades, top female athletes have been pushed into a certain subset of sports, places where it's safe for them to achieve and grow as athletes and competitors—tennis, volleyball, gymnastics and track come immediately to mind. Forays into typically male territories, sports like basketball and golf, have been met with more resistance.
When women are only just proving themselves capable of drawing a crowd on the basketball court, it may be too much to expect a truly elite athlete to trickle all the way down to the athletic ghetto that is combat sport.
Jeremy Botter: It does ring true, but it's also inflammatory troll bait. There are several fantastic female athletes who happen to be fighters. Sure, most of them did other athletic ventures before finding out that the Olympics only makes you famous for a brief period of time and then jumping into professional cagefighting.
But still, they exist. I don't even need to bring up Ronda Rousey and what she's capable of from an athletic standpoint. Her up-and-coming teammate (and former Olympic judo teammate) Marina "The Supernova from Moldova" Shafir is also a breathtakingly good athlete. Cat Zingano is another.
I suspect we feel this way about women's MMA because we just watched a season of The Ultimate Fighter that, though historic, was filled with female fighters who simply are not very good right now. Julianna Pena looks as though she's trying to figure all this stuff out in the cage, and she was the best of the lot. Once we get our attention focused back on the Rouseys and the Tates and the Zinganos, I suspect we'll feel a little differently.
Chad Dundas: If we’re going to start throwing out jabs about “the best of the worst athletes,” we might as well go whole hog and admit that statement could just as easily apply to MMA’s men as its women. I hate to break it to you, kids, but Adrian Peterson, LeBron James and Lionel Messi aren’t on the next season of TUF.
Why? Because real, super-duper, world-class athletes usually get better offers than getting punched in the face for a living. Unless they’re wrestlers. We get the wrestlers.
In fact, if we’re being really, really real about it, there’s probably a better chance for MMA to eventually net an overall higher caliber of female athletes than male athletes. This is because of all the things Jonathan mentioned above and an overall lack of more lucrative opportunities in women’s sports.
Female MMA just isn’t there yet. The competitive pool is pretty shallow right now. In women’s MMA it’s essentially 2001 and Ronda Rousey is Matt Hughes. Give it a few more years, then let’s reassess before we get hysterical with words like “terrible.”
Pride Was Overrated and Unwatchable
Botter: Is "unwatchable" the right term? I don't know if unwatchable is the right term. Granted, I haven't gone on a Pride-watching binge in, oh, four or so years. I'll watch the soon-to-be-canceled Best of PRIDE event on Fox Sports 276 or whatever channel airs it, but I can't remember the last time I actually sat down and re-watched a Pride event from start to finish. Perhaps I should do that.
Pride is like anything else in life, I suppose. Not everything ages well. A bottle of Pappy Van Winkle? You can put that stuff on the shelf for years and know it'll be much better and more complex when you eventually pull it down. You can't say the same for something like Jameson or Crown Royal.
What I'm saying here is that I'll always have a special place in my heart for Pride events, even if they aren't nearly as much fun to watch as they were a decade ago.
Dundas: Yeah, unwatchable is a bit harsh—I guess we asked for bold statements—but it’s also true that MMA history tends to cast Pride in a rose-colored spotlight a bit too often. Especially now that our primary interactions with the brand are message board dudes waxing nostalgic about knees on the ground and UFC employees strutting around in those pre-faded, retro Pride logo T-shirts.
And hey, parts of Pride were great. Back when the UFC was giving title shots to dudes like Gan McGee, the Pride heavyweight division was rocking in-their-prime versions of Fedor Emelianenko, Mirko CroCop and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. When people get in full-on “Pride Never Die” mode, those are the sort of memories they’re reveling in.
Then again, a lot of Pride fights also featured Tokyo cab drivers getting arm-barred by the Akira Shojis of the world. Not to mention the (allegedly) lax drug testing, the (allegedly) fixed fights and, oh yeah, the (alleged) ties to the underworld.
So, yeah, kind of a mixed bag, both in terms of watchability and everything else.
Snowden: Pride was the greatest promotion of all time and all you TUF-noobs better go and call somebody with a clue.
Is that the answer you wanted, Alan? Well, the joke's on you. I tend to agree with you in part.
When you watch Pride today, it's remarkable how scatter-shot the whole thing feels. If you aren't a product of that era, it's easy to forget that the entire enterprise is best viewed through the prism of Japanese professional wrestling. No matter how much we (and the hardcore Japanese fans) loved Fedor and Cro Cop and all the rest, the guys paying the bills were the Takadas, Sakurabas, Ogawas and Tamuras of the world.
It's part of the reason why nothing quite flows the way it should, at least from a pure sports perspective. The priority was on finding the next big bout for their pro wrestling crossovers, not finding the best fighter in the world.
Nate Diaz Hasn't Even Peaked Yet
Dundas: Depends on what you mean by "peak," I guess. If you mean that in the coming year Diaz will be able to work himself into reasonably competitive fights against contenders like T.J. Grant, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Rafael dos Anjos then, sure, I’m on board.
But will Diaz be able to defeat enough of those guys to reclaim No. 1 contender status? Probably not. Even if he does somehow manage to leverage himself into a title fight against current champ Anthony Pettis—which admittedly sounds like a lot of fun—Diaz isn’t winning that one. No way.
So, really, I guess you could make the argument that by defeating Gray Maynard and reestablishing himself as a 155-pound player, he’s already peaked. When you’re talking about the sport’s most competitive weight class, that actually ain’t too shabby.
Snowden: I can't put a time stamp on exactly when Nate Diaz peaked. But I can certainly pinpoint the moment. In an unknown residence, on an unknown day, before an anonymous audience, Nate and his brother Nick engaged in the Sai Fighting Championships. Armed with three-pronged edged blades, popular with ninjas and Stocktonites alike, the two siblings did battle for honor and glory.
It was super sweet.
That's what I love about the Diaz brothers. The fighting in the cage is just icing on the cake of the awesomeness that is their lives.
Botter: I hope Diaz hasn't peaked. Or, if he does peak, I hope he continues to peak for the next 25 years. Because Nate Diaz is awesome. He says awesome things and then he goes in the cage and does awesome things, and there's none of that unprofessional stuff that makes his awesome brother Nick not so very awesome at times.
On the UFC's propaganda news show this week (UFC Tonight), Kenny Florian called for a fight between Diaz and Diego Sanchez. And my mind was blown. In 2013, both of them are just crazy enough outside the cage to make the build-up an interesting one. And once they step in the Octagon? Hooooo boy. Hooo boy.
Give me that, or give me something else equally great. But for the love of all things holy, give me more Nate Diaz.
UFC Matchmaking and Lavar Johnson
Snowden: While Lavar Johnson might not be the best example, there is truth hidden in MattOCL's seemingly random babbling. We've seen the UFC struggle to create stars in the last five years, and a big part of the problem stems from its matchmaking style. The UFC just won't work with a fighter like Lavar to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses.
On a certain level it works wonderfully—matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby put the best fighters in the world across from each other, turn them loose, and watch to see who gets knocked silly and who lives to fight another day. It's a meritocracy in the best way, with fighters earning their positions in a trial by fire. The result has been a stunningly good show, cards featuring five or six compelling fights instead of the one or two bones boxing typically throws rabid fans on a slow Saturday night.
But that style comes with a cost. By the time a challenger rises to the top of the heap, fans have already seen him exposed. He's lost fights, or sometimes worse, looked human and dull along the path to the summit. Any chance to truly shine is lost on the journey. That's led to a roster full of good professional fighters—but one without many names capable of carrying a show to the stratosphere.
Dundas: First of all: Its. The UFC decline is due to its failure to feed Lavar Johnson cans. But I digress.
I totally get the sentiment here, and honestly it makes me a little ill. Call me old-fashioned, but I’m the kind of guy who wants to watch the best, most qualified artisans of unarmed combat strip to the waist and fight inside a steel cage without the meddling influence of promoter bias gumming up the works.
How about we just let the invisible hand of the marketplace decide who is best, without favor or discrimination toward big, tatted-up monsters who throw them bungalows?
Besides, surely by now we’ve all learned that the best way to get your best drawing card knocked out in career-destroying fashion is to try to build his/her rep by setting him/her up with easy fights. The MMA Gods will only allow that sort of nonsense for so long before they send a Seth Petruzelli or Emanuel Newton your way.
In this sport, we have no choice but to book the best fights we possibly can and hope stuff pans out. If that’s not good for business, well, so be it.
Seriously though, it was awesome when Johnson used to knock out tomato cans in the old WEC and then drink a beer in the cage while he did his postfight interview. So, I guess I can’t pretend like I wouldn’t watch.
Botter: Joe Silva once sat me down and explained his matchmaking philosophy. His job, he says, is to find someone to beat the world champion. He's continually on a search to find that next person who can step into any weight division and beat the champion.
But his job is also to create stars, and as Jonathan said earlier, there's a contrast here that is tough for the matchmakers to overcome. They want to pit young rising stars and other young rising stars, having them fight their way up the ladder instead of going the old Pride route and building stars by putting exciting young dudes in fights that are easy to win that will make them look good.
The UFC very rarely books squash matches, or at least not anymore; the last one I can really think of was Randy Couture vs. James Toney. And that featured two old dudes.
I get their matchmaking. It really does help separate the wheat from the chaff, as Chad and his farmer friends in Montana like to say. But it doesn't help anyone capture the public's imagination, and that's a more important factor in pay-per-view sales and television ratings than simply determining who is the best.
WSOF Will Overtake Bellator in 2014
Botter: Look, I enjoy a good Bellator joke as much as the next guy. And I mean that in a good way, because Bellator's made some questionable business (Alvarez, Askren) and ethical (the continual employment of War Machine despite that guy quite possibly being the worst human involved in mixed martial arts, and we all know that's saying something profound) moves over the past year or so.
But no, they won't be bigger than Bellator. For starters, Bellator is owned by Viacom. They don't have to pay for airtime and they benefit from the advertising. WSOF? They're backed by a shadowy group of Vegas money men, and if they aren't outright paying from their own pockets for the airtime on NBC Sports, they're certainly not making much of a profit.
WSOF is very much like Affliction or other promotions who have come along, spent huge amounts of money and then burned themselves to the ground or sold to the UFC. When your business model consists solely of losing money, you're in trouble. WSOF will be lucky to even exist by next Christmas, much less be larger than Bellator.
Snowden: Arguing about the relative merits of Bellator and World Series of Fighting is like engaging in an honest debate about whether the Arena Football League is more prestigious than the Canadian Football League. That is to say, you could probably hop on Wikipedia and make an effort—but why would you want to?
The most powerful and respected promotions in the MMA game are the UFC, the UFC prelims and the UFC on Facebook. Everything else is a distant fourth. Anyone pretending otherwise is living in a fantasy world, a cagefighting Narnia with Fedor as the most adorable Aslan ever. Say "hi" to him for me when you are there, and watch out for Edmund. He can't be trusted.
Dundas: Dude, CFL, and it’s not even close.
Anyway, not to rehash too much of what Botter has already said, but Bellator has been in business since 2008, has the backing of a media behemoth and has shown the ability to cultivate a reasonable amount of homegrown talent.
WSOF, from what I can tell, has exactly one thing going for it: It hasn’t pissed off the UFC president. Yet.
If we’re living in a world where the best-case scenario for mid-major MMA promotions like Bellator and WSOF is to someday sell out to the UFC, then maybe Ray Sefo’s band of misfit toys has the inside track. But if we’re talking about which of these two companies is the most stable, and which will ring in the next holiday season in better health? Yeah, give me Bellator all day.
Vitor Belfort Will Never Be Champion Again
Dundas: I wish I could be that confident. Few things have the potential to be worse for the overall health of the UFC middleweight division than having a champion a lot of people think is a cheater. Honestly though, I have this weird sinking feeling deep in my brain’s heart that it’s going to happen in 2014.
Sometimes I’ll be sitting alone in a dark room, just brooding—you know, like I do—and suddenly the ridiculousness of Belfort’s recent performances will hit me all over again. Three consecutive head-kick knockouts? A 36-year-old athlete who is suddenly as dangerous as he’s ever been? The first man ever to KO Dan Henderson?
Of course, then I start getting mad that this industry is apparently full of people who are content to take those performances at face value. People who act like you’re being a jerk if you ask questions about them. People who will shamelessly author message board comments revealing that they don’t care if performance-enhancing drugs undo everything we like about this sport.
And then I have to go make myself some tea and count to 100. I’ll be right back, you guys.
Botter: I'm with Chad on this one. In a perfect world, we'd know exactly what Vitor Belfort is putting in his body before we give him a title shot. We'd know what he's taking, when he's taking it and how much of it he's taking. And in this perfect world, puppies play with children and everyone breaks into song and dance numbers and the UFC is watched by 1.5 billion people, thus making it the biggest sport in the world, bro.
As you can see, this perfect world is also a fantasy land. We're never going to know if Belfort is juiced to the gills in the most crucial moments of his training camp. We're never going to know if the UFC's mysterious "testing" of Belfort during his camps is actually a real thing.
What we are going to get, however, is a Belfort title shot. It's coming down the road, sooner than you think. I think it's going to come against Anderson Silva, and I think Belfort might be catching Silva's second reign as champ at the exact right moment in time. Belfort will be world champion in 2014; the only question will be the one that surrounds him every time he steps in the cage.
Snowden: Vitor Belfort has never fallen short when it comes to speed, strength or prodigious punching power. When the good lord was handing out those attributes, Belfort took a triple helping. Greedy and selfish, but whatever. What's done is done.
What he's lacked—has always lacked—is that little thing that separates the good from the great—heart. Belfort, when the going gets tough, will crack. There isn't a pill or a needle that can make a man persevere when things get hard. When he gets into deep waters, Belfort will drown. He always has. He likely always will.
I'm not prepared to say Vitor won't ever win a UFC title. Silva is old, Weidman untested and testosterone is a hell of a drug. But there will never be a "Vitor Belfort Era" in the UFC. He simply isn't built, mentally, for long-term success at the highest levels.