The Biggest MMA Turkeys of 2019
This week in Washington, the president will appear before the cameras to unveil a creative use of the presidential pardon.
That's right. Time to pardon the turkeys.
Wait, what? What's that you say? Sir, this is an article about Thanksgiving. Perhaps you should consider a new hobby, like mixed martial arts. In MMA, or at least at Bleacher Report MMA, we don't pardon our turkeys. We devour them down to bone level.
In each of the following slides, a member of our team has identified someone—usually a fighter, but not necessarily—who deserves to be one of 2019's MMA turkeys. What does it take to be a turkey? I mean, I don't know. You have to do dumb things in a public setting...how about that.
There's no shortage of candidates, but we've winnowed our choices down to six. They appear in no particular order. Gobble, gobble.
Conor McGregor punched an old man in the bar. The only apparent provocation was the man's refusal to drink a shot of McGregor's whiskey.
But have you tried McGregor's whiskey? This is what people pour on their pancakes in hell. It's enough in itself to land McGregor on this list.
Just to make sure, though, he went ahead and punched an old man. A man who had no seeming proclivity to fight or sufficient warning to defend himself.
This fall McGregor pled guilty and agreed to pay 1,000 Euros as part of the assault.
This was six months after McGregor destroyed a fan's phone in front of a Miami hotel, and amid the exhausting will-he-or-won't-he drumbeat of a potential return to action—one that for a stew of potential reasons has yet to make it over the dotted line.
This isn't the McGregor who rocketed to the top of the sports world with electric knockouts of Jose Aldo, Eddie Alvarez and others. This is a guy who clearly has lost track of his priorities. If that sounds like something a high school principal would say...well, maybe that's the level of guidance McGregor needs right now.
For Ben Askren, it was easy being a shark in a small pond.
He feasted for years on fighters with names like Agilan Thani, making mincemeat of guys without Wikipedia pages, convincing fans and media that he might just be the best fighter in the world.
All the while he kept up a constant patter, learning from fellow wrestler Chael Sonnen that his bluster required no backing. He even suggested that the greatest welterweight the sport has ever seen, the incomparable Georges St-Pierre, retired from the sport rather than face him in the cage.
But a funny thing happened when Askren had to face world-class competition for the first time—he lost. And he lost badly.
The UFC schedule is a meat grinder, designed by former matchmaker Joe Silva to eliminate the weak and the unworthy. Those who emerge from its flames do so uniquely battle-hardened and prepared for just about anything the sport may throw at them.
Askren had been fed for so long, he forgot how to hunt. He may not have even realized there is a distinction between the two.
He does now.
MMA superagent Ali Abdelaziz has a long list of high-profile clients—champions like Khabib Nurmagomedov, Kamaru Usman and Henry Cejudo—and they're all seemingly willing to vouch for him at a moment's notice.
What I will say about Abdelaziz, though—and the reason he's being named in this festive article—is that he's a hothead. We're talking "baste in its own juices so it doesn't dry out" hot.
This year alone, he's been at the center of two ugly and violent incidents outside the cage.
Back in April, he and Usman had a heated run-in with top welterweight contender Colby Covington. Video of this incident revealed that Abdelaziz actually threw a punch at Covington. Listen, I understand that many people find Covington exceedingly punchable, but managers should never punch fighters. Ever.
In October, he reportedly punched fellow MMA manager Abe Kawa backstage at a Professional Fighters League event and was cited for battery as a result.
As a fight fan, I am well accustomed to seeing people punch each other. I just don't think managers should be the ones doing the punching. I mean, if Abdelaziz really likes fighting so much, why doesn't he try to be a fighter?
Oh that's right, he did, and he sucked at it.
Everything was perfectly laid out for MMA fans when Jorge Masvidal and Nate Diaz entered the cage earlier this month at UFC 244 in New York for the first-ever BMF title.
Despite the promotional headache over Diaz reportedly failing a pre-fight drug test administered by the United States Anti-Doping Association and subsequently demanding his name be cleared, the UFC's two best action stars indeed made their way to a matchup so hotly anticipated that even boxing superstar Canelo Alvarez was compelled to delay the start of his fight in Las Vegas until after Masvidal-Diaz was over.
All we needed was for nobody to ruin it. And that's when Dr. Nitin Sethi, a New York-based neurologist who was serving as the New York State Athletic Commission's ringside physician for the fight, stepped in to halt the action after three blistering rounds.
Look, it's not that anyone should condone what happened to Dr. Sethi afterward. According to MMAFighting.com, Dr. Sethi has been bombarded by threats and harassment from angry MMA fans.
But Dr. Sethi stopped a huge fight, arguably the biggest of the year, because of a cut that didn't even seem to be causing Diaz any problems. That's not what should have happened, especially in a contest built around how tough, exciting and violent the participants are compared to their peers.
To me, Dr. Sethi is the king of all MMA turkeys. He single-handedly ruined the biggest fight of 2019, and nothing that has come out after the fact has explained why it made any kind of sense at all.
Maybe he's a good guy. Maybe he's just misunderstood.
Or maybe Greg Hardy is the worst kind of Thanksgiving guest possible: a spoiled, rotten turkey destined to turn the stomachs of anyone making contact.
When it comes to the UFC cage, he's certainly been fowl since day one—literally.
Hardy's run with Dana Inc. began dubiously in January, when—while tiring badly, and taking opponent guff or it, in the first Round 2 of his pro career—the Prince of War replied to a takedown attempt with a vicious knee to the head. Instant DQ.
Two more eye-blink erasures followed for the stamina-challenged Hardy until he puffed on an inhaler before the final five minutes of a narrow October decision over Ben Sosoli.
"Certainly illegal," said senior UFC executive and rules guru Marc Ratner during the broadcast, within range of ESPN microphones.
"It blows my mind," said Dominick Cruz, an ex-UFC champ, who was calling the fight.
"Who, me?" the former Dallas Cowboy, whose win was quickly flipped to a no-contest, essentially asked.
Most recently, Hardy jetted to Russia for a stint as a late-notice sub against Alexander Volkov, the UFC's seventh-ranked heavyweight. Volkov won nearly every minute of every round on the way to a punishing unanimous decision victory.
You knew we weren't going to depart without a full slide devoted to Covington. Thanks to Covington, we've got white meat, dark meat, drumsticks, wings, sandwiches, soup, hash, burgers and nachos. We're gonna be eating turkey in May. It's an embarrassment of poultry riches.
We know about the politics and the knocks on forthcoming opponent Usman and others. But to illustrate the sheer depth of Covington's 2019 turkey performance—proof his silly antagonism goes well beyond a few repeated applause lines—we can go beyond those top headlines.
This summer, Covington made fun of Glenn Robinson, founder of the famed Blackzilians camp of which Usman was formerly a member. One little issue: Robinson had been dead for nearly a year. That's strange, you know?
It wasn't the only time this year Covington took a shot at someone who wasn't exactly in the best position to fight back. This summer Covington got the better of Robbie Lawler in the main event of UFC on ESPN 5. During his televised post-fight interview, Covington took the opportunity to rip into Matt Hughes, Lawler's mentor and a longtime welterweight UFC champ.
"Let's talk about the lesson we learned tonight that Robbie should have learned from his good buddy Matt Hughes," Covington told broadcaster Jon Anik, per the Express. "You stay off the tracks when the train is coming through, Junior."
Yeah, that's not good. Hughes' vehicle was struck by an oncoming train in 2017, leaving the retired fighter with near-fatal injuries, including significant brain trauma. Hughes released a statement downplaying the slight, but that's not going to make fans forget.
The spoiler-tweeting, MAGA-hat-wearing Covington obviously isn't here to make friends. Whether this is the best way to make a name for oneself, even in the absence of other ways, is a different question. We're also not here to cast aspersions on Covington the fighter, a talented athlete who has a serious test, to put it mildly, in a December welterweight title unification bout with Usman next month.
What can't be argued is the fact that, well, the guy's a turkey. Covington's act, and the real-life stuff on which the act is based, are both over the top and outside the boundaries. Time to bring down the ax.