TGIFighting: Stephen A. Smith Admits the Obvious and Saturday's Snakebitten Card

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterMay 7, 2021

Stephen A Smith
Stephen A SmithJohn Salangsang/Associated Press

Happy Friday and welcome back to TGIFighting. We'll get you set for this weekend's MMA action and react to the news of the day. Let's get it on.


Stephen A. Smith Just Made the Case for His Own Demotion 

Let me offer you a little hypothetical scenario. Let's say I work in a pastry shop, and in that shop I'm always making pastries. I serve these pastries to the customers. But here's the thing: I'm an accountant.

I don't actually know anything about making pastries. My job is to balance the books. All the pastries I make are half-baked, with icing like bathroom caulk.

Now let us say you're one of these unfortunate customers, and you come back to complain. In response, I say: "Don't come complaining to me. I'm not even a pastry chef!"


That's precisely the scenario we're looking at with Stephen A. Smith, the voluble talking head on ESPN—your primary home for UFC broadcasts!—and his MMA commentary.

Fight fans have long known the obvious, but Smith himself made the point last week: When it comes to the UFC, he is, quite frankly, out of his depth.

Conor McGregor (left) punches Donald Cerrone
Conor McGregor (left) punches Donald CerroneJohn Locher/Associated Press

During an on-air discussion about the best fighter in the UFC, Smith said the following (h/t MMA Junkie): "I'm not an expert like idiots out there try to accuse me of pretending that I'm being just because I'm commenting. No, I'm a fan. I'm not an expert on the UFC. I didn't start watching until a few years ago."

So to extrapolate, Smith has admitted he's not an expert, and at the same time has stated that the people who challenge his expertise are idiots. Good to know.

If I'm not an expert on something, I try not to talk about it in public, much less on television. You know what I mean? 

As indicated, there are lots of examples of Smith just kinda saying MMA stuff and receiving blowback for  flawed commentary. Earlier this year, for example, Smith offered his opinions on women's MMA.

"There's an awful lot of women who are incredibly qualified to do the jobs they're doing here," he magnanimously told The Ringer's Larry Wilmore (h/t Yahoo Sports). "Where I jump off the bandwagon is where they try to engage physically … I don't want to see women punching each other in the face. I don't want to see women fighting in the Octagon and stuff like that."

Does that strike you as a take you needed to hear? Probably not. Several prominent fighters reached the same conclusion.    

Joanna Jedrzejczyk @joannamma

I appreciate your transparency @stephenasmith . Although I wish everyone at ESPN—and throughout the world—saw women’s sports in a positive light, I assure you that we women don’t need your support. #2020WorldMMAAwardsFightOfTheYear #NationalGirlsandWomenInSportsDay

Fri May21 #Bellator259 @CrisCyborg.Com @criscyborg

😂😂😂 @stephenasmith Cmon SON! https://t.co/mpeJJg8bvE https://t.co/33qTM81XQm

There was also his pot-stirring last year following Conor McGregor's (22-5) win over Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone (35-16, 2 NC), in which he suggested that Cerrone quit early (uh, no). He also got in a row with McGregor and Joe Rogan over the issue.

Rogan called the commentary "a bad look" for all involved, while Smith took refuge under the, Hey, I never claimed to be an expert umbrella that he and so many media pundits seek when accountability comes knocking. 

On a milder but still illustrative note, in March on First Take, Smith emphatically labeled Francis Ngannou's (16-3) title-winning knockout of Stipe Miocic (20-4) the "greatest thing to ever happen to the UFC." Some supporting evidence might have been nice, especially since any serious fan could instantly name several moments that have proved to be much larger. As is, it just looks like you're ignoring history in order to insert yourself into the news cycle. I'd like to think Smith is above such things.

How much bathroom caulk are we required to eat before we conclude that Smith probably isn't equipped to weigh in on this particular sport—or, on a larger scale, that simply raising the volume of your voice and serially doubling down doesn't magically make your takes legitimate?

Smith may bring the noise, but he doesn't always bring quality. If ESPN ever wanted to differentiate between the two, Stephen A. wouldn't talk about the UFC anymore.


UFC on ESPN 24: Truly Snakebitten

It was a tear-jerking moment when word came down last week that UFC on ESPN 24 had lost its firecracker main event between former bantamweight champ TJ Dillashaw (16-4) and Cory Sandhagen (14-2). Dillashaw suffered a cut in training ahead of what would have been his return to action after a two-year suspension for an anti-doping violation.

But it was standard operating procedure for this event, where repeated high-profile withdrawals have left the card depleted and hollowed. Holly Holm (14-5) had to pull out of her bantamweight bout with Julianna Pena (10-4) because of hydronephrosis (kidney swelling). Diego Sanchez (30-13) was controversially released by the UFC in advance of a bout with Cerrone after he failed to prove he was in full health (more on that in a moment).

Cerrone stays on the card but against a lesser name in Alex Morono (18-7, 1 NC). Fan favorite Roxanne Modafferi (25-18) was also forced to withdraw from her bout with fast-rising dynamo Taila Santos (17-1), thanks to a torn meniscus. 

Michelle Waterson
Michelle WatersonGregory Payan/Associated Press

Into the breach stepped Michelle Waterson (18-8) and Marina Rodriguez (13-1-2), who now headline Saturday's card in Las Vegas. Somehow, they made it through the minefield, and although they both normally compete at strawweight, they're fighting up at flyweight to make it easier to make weight on short notice. The other side of the coin is that the bout is now devoid of relevance because of the one-off weight change. And even if it had gone down at 115 pounds, both top out in the bottom half of the division's top 10.

Nevertheless, props to both of the two of them for stepping in and semi-salvaging the card (and congrats to Rodriguez for scoring a new contract as part of the deal). It could be a fun scrap, but it's still a bummer because this card could have been so much funner.

That's the way the cookie (or card) crumbles sometimes. Saturday's card isn't not compelling, but it's shaky as it limps into the station.


This Is Strange, Even for Diego Sanchez

Following his aforementioned release, the famously eccentric Sanchez said he feared for his life after criticizing the UFC. It's hard to know whether this equates to a red flag, or if it's just Diego being Diego. What we do know is that his coach, Joshua Fabia, isn't exactly a favorite at UFC headquarters and beyond. Cerrone likened him to a "cult leader" when speaking to reporters.

Remember that in Sanchez we have a guy who also thought he might die from medical marijuana. (Spoiler: he didn't.) Still, this seems like something more than just the latest wild chapter in a wild life. We'll see if Sanchez has another resurgence left in him if he joins another promotion.   


UFC Deserves Kudos for New Concussion Protocols

Here's something that almost got lost in the weekly buzz: Per Steven Marocco of MMA Fighting, the UFC Performance Institute has finally released protocols to protect fighters from concussions and concussive trauma during competition in training. 

Unlike more major sports leagues like the NFL, the UFC's protocol is not mandatory, though it does follow familiar tenets like rest after a concussion (including a break from screen time), and monitoring for symptoms like nausea and headaches.

Kudos to the UFC. There's still plenty of work to be done, but at least it put a marker down in the name of fighter safety.


Stone Cold Lead-Pipe Lock of the Week

Record: 8-1

Thanks to Sean Strickland (23-3) and his outpointing of underdog Krzysztof Jotko (22-5), I suffered my first L of the series. But we must be undaunted in life. We must surge forward! Can you feel the surging? Surge!

With that mindset, let us look to Saturday for our lock of the week. Throw it in your parlays or just sit back and let the mediocre returns roll in. In this case, give me old man Cerrone, who's a -177 favorite (bet $177 to win $100) on DraftKings to handle Morono. Recall that Morono is entering on just a week's notice, which in and of itself is enough to put a thumb on the scale. Either way, this could be the kind of brawl that Cerrone and his muay thai were designed to win. Lock it in.


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