The Biggest MMA Turkeys of 2018
In some quarters, they pardon Thanksgiving turkeys. Here at Bleacher Report MMA, we do no such thing.
It is time once again for one of the great Thanksgiving traditions—not just in MMA but the entire United States: naming the year's biggest MMA turkeys.
If you gobble like a turkey and you waddle like a turkey, chances are you are indeed a turkey. We're here to highlight members of the MMA community, fighters and others who didn't clear the bar this year.
Several members of the Bleacher Report MMA team came together for the effort, with each sticking his neck out for his selection. Some are kind of serious, some less so. Enjoy the snark, and happy Turkey Day.
You can read our piece from 2017 here.
Floyd Mayweather Jr.
When it comes to making my pick each year for this slideshow, I don't just look for a turkey—I look for a turducken.
Somebody that chickens out of things. Somebody that ducks challenges. Somebody that talks enough nonsense that they fit the strict, legal definition of "jive turkey."
For over a decade, Floyd Mayweather Jr. has brought a unique brand of disappointment to fans of boxing. Despite being a bona fide generational talent, the pugilist has frustrated with his unrepentant risk aversion, nonstop lying and general grossness outside the ring. The only constant with him has been frustration over compelling fights either not being made or underwhelming when they finally come together.
In 2018, however, he started spreading his wings and bringing those woes into the realm of MMA. The first quarter of the year was dominated with teases of a transition to the cage. Multiple posts were made on social media hinting at an MMA rematch with Conor McGregor, and the buzz only intensified when UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley discussed plans to serve as a coach for Mayweather.
Of course, believing that he would make the jump was always somewhat silly. Mayweather is spectacularly wealthy but still revels in siphoning attention away from younger, more active boxers. The MMA teases, not coincidentally, came out around the same time as the announcement of Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin II and died out unceremoniously not long after.
That should have been the end of it. Lesson learned, right? Wrong.
Earlier this month, Mayweather appeared in Tokyo alongside pro wrestling legend Nobuhiko Takada and MMA promoter Nobuyuki Sakakibara to announce he would fight kickboxing prodigy Tenshin Nasukawa at Rizin FF.
What kind of fight? That was unclear, but the flames of a pivot to MMA were stoked by an intriguing photo that showed Mayweather with a boxing glove on one hand and an MMA glove on the other (the photo was deleted on Instagram but has been preserved by others on social media).
Just days later, however, Mayweather caused a stir by pulling out of the fight in the most absurd way possible, saying on Instagram (since-deleted) that Rizin had essentially tricked him into accepting a match rather than the Japanese equivalent of a clandestine soccer game at Pablo Escobar's ranch. With time, the two sides would come back together...for a no-stakes, three-round boxing match.
Will that last until December? Who knows.
It's a microcosm of Mayweather's career, and it's MMA fans' first—and hopefully last—taste of this triple-whammy of poultry.
On the surface, 2018 has been an epic year for UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
For years, Khabib had been the next big thing at 155 pounds, praised profusely by teammates like Daniel Cormier. He backed up the kind words with dominant performances whenever he stepped into the cage.
That, of course, was the problem.
Thanks in part to injuries and plain old bad luck, the man many considered the best fighter in the division had never gotten a real opportunity against the top fighters in the world. That changed against Conor McGregor.
Defending the lightweight title against a man who had made the bout profoundly personal was no doubt a glorious moment. Unfortunately, it was almost immediately marred by what followed: a brawl in the stands and the cage that put spectators in danger and sullied what was left of the sport's good reputation.
The incident underscored the darkness that shadows the great Nurmagomedov: the poor treatment of those less fortunate, the casual meetings with brutal dictators, the questionable associations of all kinds.
Nurmagomedov may be the best fighter in the world, but have his antics outside the Octagon already ruined what could've been a legendary career? A potent question to ponder over a slice of pumpkin pie. Enjoy your holiday, everyone!
Look, we all know that MMA referees have a difficult job, in large part because of the nature of the action they are overseeing. But such action requires the best, as men and women are at hazard more in MMA than in any other sport. Their explicit mission is to protect the fighters at all time.
Herb Dean is a bit of an elder statesmen among referees. He has long had a reputation for being one of the best in the business, but cracks have appeared in that reputation of late, and 2018 blew a gaping hole through it.
In September, middleweight C.B. Dollaway had clearly had enough when he turtled up along the fence, but Khalid Murtazaliev continued. He pounded on Dollaway's head for second after merciless second as Dean stood by, inexplicably motionless.
It continued until the round ended. Dollaway was physically unable to reach his stool. Could he fight? Dean asked. No noticeably coherent response. Dean asked again, and again no response. Then, and only then, did Dean wave it off.
He watched a terrible beating, watched a man unable to get to his corner, and still had to ask him twice if he wanted to continue. What if Dollaway had said yes and then face-planted on the canvas? OK, cool; well he said yes.
This wasn't the first time, either. It happened in 2017 (too early). And several times before. The truth is, for MMA referees, it only takes one bad mistake to alter the course of somebody's life. Dean now has a good deal more than one.
Who the heck is Logan Paul?
That's the question much of the combat sports world asked in unison in August 2018, when YouTube celebrity Paul fought his online nemesis KSI (real name Olajide Olatunji) in a boxing match at Manchester Arena in England. The fight was broadcast by a streaming pay-per-view service and pulled down somewhere around one million buys.
With the internet briefly transfixed after the fight ended in a draw, Paul immediately started talking about rolling his celebrity boxing experience into, you guessed it, a career as a pro MMA fighter.
"The thought of securing a fight in the UFC is exciting," Paul wrote on Twitter. "[I] could finally use my wrestling background ... but I hear some other celebrities/athletes want to catch these hands first?"
Naturally, the legitimate fight world wanted nothing more than to laugh off Paul's braggadocio. But with the UFC's 2014 signing of CM Punk, rumors that Brock Lesnar might soon return and Greg Hardy still kicking around on Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender series, any celebrity signing seemed possible as long as it might make the UFC a buck.
Paul's tweet caught the attention of UFC lightweight Sage Northcutt—who looks like the Octagon's version of Paul to begin with—and Super Sage volunteered to be Paul's UFC welcoming committee.
Fortunately for everyone's sanity, White quickly poured cold water on Paul's dreams, saying the YouTuber with the prodigious social media following would never fight in the Octagon.
"That guy would get murdered here," White told MMA Fighting's Jose Youngs in September. "He would get hurt badly. If I ever let him fight in the UFC, I should be arrested."
The UFC and Its Television Partners
Last year, our own Jonathan Snowden mentioned Fox Sports 1 as a turkey because of the absurd length of UFC events.
Snowden wrote, "At over three hours and 30 minutes, each postseason [baseball] game this October seemed to last an eternity... 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."
The UFC is about to shift from Fox Sports 1 to ESPN. And guess what? Nothing is going to change.
TSN's Aaron Bronsteter reported (h/t The Score's Mitch Sanderson) there will be no changes to the pacing of the events, partially because of international television deals. We can't disregard that bit of context, but many fans were hopeful to not have seven-hour events.
Can fans tune in and out for select fights, or maybe just the final hour? Sure, but why should fans have to find workarounds to avoid being put to sleep by a dragging fight card? MMA is an exciting sport, but the UFC and its television partners do their best to ensure fans have a poor viewing experience.
Bronsteter also noted there won't even be a change in main card start times. Want a 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. start? Well, you best move westward. East coast will still be saddled with 10 p.m. main card beginnings.
We wanted one thing: a quicker-moving fight card. The UFC, ESPN and others didn't have to lessen the number of fights (although that would help). All they had to do was quicken the pace.
For 2019 and the foreseeable future, fans should invest in the Snuggie, because they'll still need to catch a few cat naps to make it through Fight Nights. These events are our own form of tryptophan.
At one point this year, Bruce Buffer said (without a trace of irony) that he is irreplaceable for the UFC.
This from a man who has watched the promotion survive by continuously replacing people who actually mattered to the product for nearly two decades.
From Chuck Liddell to Georges St-Pierre to Ronda Rousey, the UFC has seen stars leave, and the promotion keeps right on chugging.
Men of considerable brains and influence on the business side? The Ferttita brothers are out, Joe Silva left, Marshall Zelaznik is onto bigger things. Yet here's the UFC, still front and center in the MMA space.
The very voices of the UFC? Mike Goldberg got the boot, Brian Stann retired, Joe Rogan is working a reduced schedule. There are still familiar voices calling the action every Saturday night.
And what's more, Buffer has already been partially replaced. Gone are the days when it was a guarantee you'd hear his sultry boom introducing fighters. Since the UFC entered an era of events taking place all over the world in short order or on multiple platforms, it isn't unusual to see Joe Martinez jumping into the fray.
So, sorry Bruce, but you're way off-base on this one. The only place you're irreplaceable as of this moment is right here on this MMA turkeys slideshow.