The Biggest MMA Turkeys of 2017

Steven Rondina@srondinaFeatured ColumnistNovember 23, 2017

The Biggest MMA Turkeys of 2017

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    We'll all be thankful for the turkey dinners on our tables this Thursday...but what about the other kinds of turkeys? The "uncoordinated, inept, clumsy fools" (as Urban Dictionary defines them)? The people who are "just generally uncool?"

    In a year of MMA defined by wackiness, frustration and stupidity, there has been more than enough poultry to go around. Whether it's fighters, network executives or promotional brass, individuals at every level of the sport have been gobbling and jiving in a way that needs fixing(s). 

    With that in mind, the Bleacher Report MMA team is here to reflect on the last 11 months and pinpoint the UFC's biggest turkeys of 2017.

Jon Jones

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    Sometimes you don't need to be a good salesman, because sometimes something sells itself. Do I need to persuade you that Jon Jones is a turkey? Must I twist your arm that hard to convince you Jones is quite possibly the greatest turkey of all time, MMA fighter division? I do not believe that I do.

    When word came out in August that Jones had failed yet another drug test, it was the last straw for a guy who at one point had a pretty good amount of straws.

    He returned from a one-year suspension because of his previous drug test failure—I know, it all gets very confusing—and made all the right noises about being a changed man. Some people believed it. Jones proceeded to put a second licking on Daniel Cormier to re-recapture his light heavyweight belt. Then he called out Brock freaking Lesnar. Everything was right with the world again.

    Then came the failure, which could ultimately mean a four-year suspension and, effectively, the end of Jones' career. All by self-inflicted wounds.

    He's been stripped of the light heavyweight title more times (three) than any other active fighter has defended it. To continue making such mistakes after his well-documented history of malfeasance—to the point that it undermines an equally well-documented history of unparalleled greatness—is either reckless or hapless. Or both.

    The next time he comes around with a story of transformation or deception, it won't be an easy sell. It's hard to imagine anyone who would hear anything but gobbling.

    --Scott Harris

Conor McGregor

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    Leave it to Conor McGregor to find a way to end 2017 simultaneously looking like one of the year's biggest winners and one of its biggest turkeys. Earning both monikers is actually something of an achievement for McGregor, considering the UFC lightweight champion hasn't fought in MMA since November 2016.

    After spending the first half of this year on an extended paternity leave, McGregor resurfaced for his ballyhooed boxing match against Floyd Mayweather Jr. in late summer.

    The lead-up to that bout had some fairly fowl moments—get it?—including McGregor consistently using racially charged taunts to needle Mayweather and Mayweather ultimately flinging an anti-gay slur at McGregor during their string of media events.

    The fight itself went off as a huge success, if the bout's promoters are to be believed. In the immediate aftermath, it was easy to think McGregor might spend the rest of the year fading into the scenery with his new hundreds of millions. Unfortunately, that isn't what happened—the latter stages of 2017 haven't been kind to McGregor.

    First, there was his unscheduled appearance at UFC Fight Night 118 in October. At that event—after first being warned by referee Marc Goddard for his boisterous cageside behavior—McGregor was caught on camera using a slur while consoling teammate Artem Lobov after a loss.

    McGregor later issued an apology.

    The weirdest appearance was yet to come, however, as McGregor also unexpectedly turned up at Bellator 187 in Ireland on Nov. 10. Again, he caused a stir, hopping into the cage to celebrate wildly (and awkwardly) with victorious teammate Charlie Ward. Along the way, McGregor slapped a Bellator official in the face and shoved the referee—who just happened to once again be Goddard.

    McGregor later issued an apology, though this time he was careful to blame Goddard for most of his behavior and include a selfie of himself sporting what can only be described as a manure-shoveling grin.

    Something about that second apology seemed less-than-completely sincere.

    As a result, commission official Mike Mazzulli told The MMA Hour (h/t Brian Campbell of CBS Sports) the UFC had pulled McGregor from an as-yet unannounced bout at UFC 219, and his next fight in the Octagon may well remain a mystery until early 2018.

    Turkey behavior, all around!

    --Chad Dundas

Colby Covington Defenders

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    It would be easy to place Colby Covington on this list due to his laundry list of ignorant comments while he tries to channel his inner-Conor McGregor. But, no, his supporters are the real turkeys this year.

    Covington's racially charged comments about Brazilians or homophobic slurs could go harshly criticized by the MMA community...but that's not the case. Many hardcore fans make excuses for him and perpetuate his hateful rhetoric on social media. More over, fans are buying into a false narrative that Covington's star is growing because of his remarks.

    Not all publicity is good publicity.

    If becoming a star were as simple as making lewd comments, the UFC and WWE would have exploited this a long time ago and be worth as much as the National Football League.

    But it's not controversial statements that make a star—ask the soft-spoken Georges St-Pierre. Being a star comes organically from true stars with charisma. And they make an instant impact that generates curiosity as well as excitement. It's why GSP became a bankable star and ratings for McGregor fights are off the charts. Covington doesn't even register.

    It's time to come out of the MMA bubble. Both in terms of demeaning, nonsensical, hateful comments and thinking that somehow it makes athletes viable stars for the brand. There's no evidence to support Covington doing anything to make him a viable commodity that's good for business. 

    --Nathan McCarter

Germaine de Randamie

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    Two years back, in the 2015 installment of this list, I labeled Vitor Belfort a "full-on turducken." Two years later, I'm returning to that well to talk about Germaine de Randamie.

    Twelve months ago, De Randamie was basically an unknown in the UFC. Inactivity and ill-timed losses kept her from ever truly gaining momentum as a contender, and she lacked the kind of magnetism to hook fans in any meaningful way. 

    A series of unfortunate events, however, saw her leap from mid-card Fight Night status to a pay-per-view main event at UFC 208, where she faced Holly Holm for the inaugural women's featherweight championship.

    Fan reponse was mixed over the announcement (well, mixed between confused and indifferent). Reaction to the fight, however, was unanimously negative, as De Randamie scored a decision win in a contest defined by its sluggish pace and a pair of punches De Randamie landed after the bell.

    It was the worst conceivable introduction for the new champion...and it only got worse from there.

    During the post-fight interview, she flatly stated that she had no immediate plans to return to the cage due to a recurring hand injury. From there, she went radio silent as questions about when and where her first title defense would take place swirled, with her manager eventually saying she had personal issues, according to Steven Marrocco of MMAJunkie.

    All the while, fans and pundits wondered aloud whether these delays were her trying to avoid the seemingly inevitable matchup with dominant Invicta FC champion Cris "Cyborg" Justino.

    Those suspicions were basically confirmed in May, when De Randamie's manager said she was willing to fight anyone except a "known and proven" cheater in Cyborg and came just shy of saying she would rescind the title in order to avoid her, per Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting. The UFC ultimately took them up on that offer, and what was the Iron Lady's response? "I had absolutely no idea that I was being stripped of the belt!"

    In total, it was one of the worst "crisis management" situations in MMA history. When all was said and done, De Randamie chickened out of a fight, and she looked like a grade-A turkey by trying to spin it as a matter of principle. 

    The whole thing looked bad. Even worse than an actual turducken.

    --Steven Rondina

Dana White

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    There was once a time when Dana White, not Conor McGregor, was the UFC's biggest star.

    White was the ultimate fan favorite. He was accessible in a way that no other sporting organization commissioner would dream of making themselves available.

    To wit: One night in 2011, I received a text from White asking what I was doing. I, of course, was doing nothing as usual. He told me to come up and meet him at one of the big Las Vegas nightclubs.

    I met him at his booth in the club an hour later, but the only words we exchanged were a quick "what's up" and a bro head-nod. That's because a long line of adoring fans had formed leading from the booth all the way to the back of the club. There were roughly 400 fans, on a random Las Vegas Saturday night, waiting for White's autograph.

    It took him two hours, but he signed autographs for every single fan and then departed for the night, leaving those of us in the booth with a smorgasbord of free liquor. And this wasn't a special one-time-only thing, either.

    This is what White did. He mingled with the fans. He went to random locations in whatever city the UFC was running an event in that week and tweeted his location; the fans would come running and find White standing with a handful of free tickets for the event.

    But mostly, the fans loved him because he was unpolished and he spoke the truth. He called it like he saw it, even if it meant taking the shine off one of his own fighters. As a media member covering his organization, I knew I could ask White a question and he would respond truthfully, or he wouldn't respond at all.

    My, how times have changed.

    These days, the running joke is that if White says something isn't happening, it's most definitely happening. If he says something isn't true, it is almost certainly true. In his defense, this isn't always the case; he is occasionally still honest to a fault. But those moments seem to be increasingly rare. Dana White the promoter has fully overtaken Dana White the accessible and honest fight fan turned executive.

    2017 hasn't been the best year for White's bluster. If you're looking to pick his worst moment from a lineup, it's something of a tough call. My vote, though, goes to his pathetic scolding of Jason Aldean after the Las Vegas mass shooting in September that left 59 dead and 527 injured.

    Aldean, who was on stage during the shooting, opted to perform on Saturday Night Live the following weekend instead of accepting White's invitation to perform the national anthem at White's UFC event in Vegas. White did not respond well to Aldean's decision, calling up his personal news mouthpiece TMZ to issue one of the grossest and most pathetic threats these ears have heard in quite some time.

    "His image was more important than coming back to Vegas and playing for the people who are his fans and who got shot watching him play. F--k you, Jason Aldean. Stay out of Vegas."

    The thing is, White actually does a lot of good for the community of Las Vegas that doesn't get reported on, because he doesn't want it in the news. Sources close to him told me he was incredibly active in the aftermath of the shooting, providing resources and money to help those affected by the horrible tragedy.

    But all the good he did was overshadowed entirely by his inability to stop acting like a bully. White trashed a survivor of a mass shooting—a man still dealing with the fact that dozens of his own concert-goers were murdered in cold blood—and then told him to stay out of Vegas, like a caricature of a mob film villain.

    There are plenty more instances of White acting like a fool in 2017, but for this one alone, he's one of the year's biggest tone-deaf turkeys.

    --Jeremy Botter

Fox Sports 1

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    Baseball, according to pundits, has a serious problem. The games, they say, take too long.

    Way too long.

    At over three hours and 30 minutes, each postseason game this October seemed to last an eternity, a feeling unfamiliar and unacceptable to younger fans born and bred on instant access, YouTube and the speed of social media.

    Here's the thing, though: If a UFC event on Fox Sports 1 lasted just three hours and 30 minutes, fans around the globe would throw a virtual party. It would be wondrous, a dream come true for everyone on the East Coast, desperate for bed, and everyone out west, hoping it ends in time to do something else with their night.

    It never does.

    The UFC should be different. It's a sport that's been carefully cultivated in the 21st century, combining the best traditions and techniques from martial arts around the world into what should be a fast-paced, explosive, symphony of violence.

    Instead, it's a six-hour slog.

    Every UFC event is too long. But the worst, by far, are events scheduled to air on Fox Sports 1.

    With mandatory air time to fill, the minutes between fights can be endless. Commercial follows commercial, just frequently enough that you will be well and truly sick of them before the event is over. Video packages and UFC promos are sprinkled in so often that, by the end of the night, you could easily repeat them word-for-word.

    A fight card should build to a crescendo, to a main event that makes you feel alive. After hours of mostly filler, fans simply want it all to be over, hoping for a quick finish so they can just go to bed and move on with their lives.

    Watching MMA should be fun. It shouldn't feel like work—but way too often it does.

    --Jonathan Snowden

Fabricio Werdum

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    This guy.

    This guy!

    Oh man this guy.

    What a year it's been for Fabricio Werdum, a formerly beloved jiu-jitsu ace who seemed to make frittering away goodwill his main ambition of 2017.

    Remember Werdum Face? Remember how much fun that was? Wouldn't we all like to go back to that?

    It's not going to happen. Werdum has seen to that.

    The year was his busiest in the cage in nearly a decade, as he fought three times and chalked up a 2-1 record, but it was really his work outside the cage that got him noticed.

    And for all the wrong reasons.

    Early in the year, it was revealed that he was in bed with a Chechen dictator and, while many challenged that as acceptable practice for a professional athlete (or anyone, really), Werdum made no apologies for it. In fact, he doubled down, going so far as to holler at his boy Ramzan Kadyrov after his latest win.

    If that wasn't bad enough, Werdum was also caught on multiple occasions using gay slurs in reference to other fighters and more broadly, which is generally problematic and looks that much worse when one considers the Chechen link.

    Furthermore, Werdum took time to pick fights with multiple fighters in smaller weight classes. By the time November hit, it was apparent that the biggest threat to the health of welterweight and lightweight contenders isn't training injuries or opponents, it's meeting Werdum on the street.

    Oh, and one of those altercations? One of them involved Werdum throwing a boomerang at a guy in a moment of turkey-on-turkey crime.

    It has not been a good year for the UFC's once-proud former heavyweight champion.

    --Matthew Ryder