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The Biggest MMA and Boxing Turkeys of 2021

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterNovember 24, 2021

Dillon Danis
Dillon DanisDavid Sherman/Getty Images

Forget talking turkey. Let's talk some trash.

It's been quite a year in MMA, with the level of competition now arguably higher and deeper than ever. From the emergence of captivating champions like Alex Volkanovski and Francis Ngannou to the creation of bona fide stars like Kamaru Usman—and a host of incendiary prospects and storylines in between—there's plenty to celebrate. 

Boxing has had its share of highlights as well, from Fury-Wilder 3 garnering global fascination to the continued dominance of Canelo Alvarez.

But combat sports is still combat sports, and combat sports is as combat sports does. So let's now take a moment over this Thanksgiving holiday to identify the turkeys who insisted on laying their weird oversized turkey eggs in the punch bowl.

Our combat sports team here at Bleacher Report—Lyle Fitzsimmons, Tom Taylor and myself, Scott Harris—put our heads together to find the biggest turkeys in MMA and boxing. Maybe you want to give these guys a pardon. In this space, we let the axe fall.

Any additions or omissions? Let us know in the comments.

                        

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Lyle Fitzsimmons: Kenny Porter

It's not an easy gig. 

Acting as lead cornerman for any fighter brings with it an awareness that if things go bad, you might be forced to pull the plug. And if fighter and trainer aren't on the same page when/if that occurs, it can lead for some bad optics in the aftermath.

For reference, just ask Mark Breland.

But stopping a fight and ending your charge's dream is one thing. Doing all that and proceeding to rip said fighter in a subsequent interview—suggesting the loss was a result of shoddy preparation and repeated failure to follow directions—that's another.

"Honestly, [I blame] his preparation. He didn't prepare like I wanted him to prepare. ... I didn't want him in that situation. He fought a great fighter, the guy is super sharp, and he's at a deficit. It's like fighting this guy blindfolded. ... When guys get to certain levels, they believe they know what they're doing, and they don't necessarily take all the information."

And when the fighter in question is your kid, well…let's just say that puts you in turkey range.

Step right up, Kenny Porter. Regardless of whether your stopping the fight with Terence Crawford on Saturday was justified (and the thought here, by the way, is that it was), there was zero reason to use the subsequent platform to blast your son, whether or not any of the words you spoke were true.

Bad matchup. Bad result. Bad taste.

                        

Evander Holyfield
Evander HolyfieldRebecca Blackwell/Associated Press

Tom Taylor: Triller Fight Club

I love a good sideshow. If two 400-pound bodybuilders want to fight under Poland's KSW banner, I say let them (just reinforce the cage). If two scrawny social media stars want to strap on the gloves and settle some asinine quarrel in the boxing ring, more power to them. When the circus comes to town, I will watch—with the caveat that nobody is being put at risk of serious, long-term damage. 

That's why I can't get down with Triller Fight Club.

On September 11, the upstart organization—whose only mission thus far seems to be burning money—promoted a boxing match between 59-year-old legend Evander Holyfield and 44-year-old former UFC champ Vitor Belfort. As expected, Belfort was younger, faster and stronger, brutalizing his aging foe inside a single round. It was a grim and terrible thing to watch, likely as damaging to Holyfield's long-term health as it was to his legacy. Everyone involved was complicit, and everyone who watched—me included—spent the next few days trying to scrub away the shame in scalding-hot showers.

As if the execution of Holyfield wasn't awful enough, Triller also sent Tito Ortiz to slaughter against legendary UFC striker Anderson Silva on the same night and paid former president Donald Trump an exorbitant sum to provide bumbling commentary about fighters he clearly knew nothing about. This was all on the 20th anniversary of 9/11, no less. It was a heinous event, and unfortunately, it doesn't look like Triller has learned anything from its failure. Its next event will see a host of banged-up combat sports stars, such as Frank Mir, Mike Perry and Kubrat Pulev, competing in a clumped-together amalgam of boxing and MMA in a ludicrous triangular enclosure—which is already the subject of a lawsuit.

I'm not saying Triller can't turn it around and become a great organization to watch, but in 2021, it's doing just about everything wrong.

                

Scott Harris: Vyacheslav Kiselev

While watching the UFC 267 undercard bout between Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos and Benoit Saint Denis, you have to ask yourself one question: What was Vyacheslav Kiselev paying attention to? Because it wasn't his refereeing duties.

Maybe a bee flew into the ring. Now, you gotta keep an eye on that. Bees can sting! Perhaps he was receiving a dispatch from his robot overlords. Maybe he left the oven on at his house and was just remembering.

It could be that he simply didn't realize that you can sustain serious damage without falling down. I know it sounds weird, but you don't have to be unconscious or lying down in order to absorb brain punishment. I'm not a doctor, but isn't that something a referee should know?

UFC @ufc

Benoit Saint Denis showcasing some true toughness, my goodness! 😤 [ #UFC267 | The prelims are LIVE on @ESPNPlus | @VisitAbuDhabi | @InAbuDhabi | #InAbuDhabi ] https://t.co/ZOPjxmD5mD

Saint Denis refused to go down, and that's a testament to his toughness. Toughness is his job. The referee has a different job, which is not to help fighters be tough but to protect the fighters from unnecessary harm. This was the epitome of unnecessary. Dos Santos landed 96 significant strikes to the head of Saint Denis, per UFC stats. Saint Denis landed a full-body total of 67. 

Maybe this is why the UFC yanked Kiselev mid-card. It's rare to see action that swift. Even Daniel Cormier was calling for the stoppage from the broadcast booth. It takes a whole heck of a lot to make Daniel Cormier mad. But Kiselev did that and worse in his thankfully curtailed UFC tenure. 

Rolando Romero
Rolando RomeroMichael Owens/Getty Images

                    

Lyle Fitzsimmons: Rolando Romero

Once upon a time, fighters would agree to terms for a match, appear together at a press conference, lob an innocuous verbal grenade or two and then retreat to their training camps for preparation. 

These days, those press conferences can be a much different occasion, complete with over-the-top gestures, further over-the-top words and, every now and then, a full-on physical confrontation. 

Some love it. Some loathe it. Among the latter set, Rolando Romero is particularly unseemly. 

The 26-year-old is a capable enough combatant, having won 14 straight fights (12 by KO) while earning a place opposite Gervonta Davis for a Dec. 5 pay-per-view fight in Los Angeles. Still, as if the presser announcing the fight weren't bad enough—with Romero threatening his foe with "skull sodomy" amid a torrent of obscenities—his alleged behavior beyond the boxing environment doesn't improve the perception. 

In fact, Romero was pulled from the bout days after the gathering after a woman who had previously accused him of sexual assault on social media filed a report with the Henderson (Nev.) Police Department. Multiple other women subsequently came forward with similar stories, prompting Showtime to replace Romero with once-beaten contender Isaac Cruz. 

Romero has not been charged in the matter and an investigation is ongoing. 

Regardless, his conduct at the media event alone was enough to leave a rotten holiday-week taste. 

                   

Tom Taylor: Dillon Danis

Dillon Danis is blowing it.

The New Jersey native is a world-class grappler, a close friend and training partner of one Conor McGregor and a fighter whom Bellator MMA seems interested in giving a big promotional push. All the perquisites for a successful fighting career seem to be there—except for the actual fighting.  

Since committing to a career in MMA, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist has fought just twice, first defeating Kyle Walker in 2018, then beating Max Humphrey in 2019, both by first-round submission. Granted, he was briefly slated to fight Kegan Gennrich in early 2020, but he was forced out of that bout with an injury and hasn't been booked for a fight since.

It's not like he's been quietly grinding away in the gym, either. Danis has seemingly worked his way into the headlines every few weeks this year, and it's never for anything positive. In the last few months alone, he's made headlines for being choked by a security guard after an incident at a New Jersey bar, for getting kicked out of UFC 268 after an alleged altercation with MMA manager Ali Abdelaziz and for allegedly trying to start a street fight with UFC lightweight Al Iaquinta in New York City. The bellicose prospect seems to be willing to fight anyone, anytime, anywhere, so long as it's not in a cage—or a ring, for that matter.

Danis spent the better part of two years trash-talking combat sports superstar Jake Paul on Twitter, but when the opportunity to cash in and fight the Youtuber-turned-boxer finally presented itself earlier this year, he seemingly blew his side of the negotiations—or "fumbled the bag," as the kids say.

It's sad to see, really. Danis is a legitimately skilled martial artist, and his McGregor association all but guarantees him the fast track in any organization he fights for. Unfortunately, he seems unwilling to take advantage of his situation, and worse, unable to stay out of trouble.  

                        

Paulo Costa
Paulo CostaJeff Bottari/Getty Images

Scott Harris: Paulo Costa


Here's what galls me most about Paulo Costa's blatant missing of weight by almost 20 pounds. He simply brushed it off.

He was just like, "nah." He just didn't wanna. So because he didn't feel like it, he simply decided to just sort of go ahead and not do it. He retroactively and sheepishly tried to blame a biceps injury for the mishap, but a) it's unclear how that would cause you to miss weight by 20 pounds and b) the explanation came only after social media exploded in his direction.

How many fighters have missed by even a pound and spent the 24 hours before fight night eating you-know-what from the UFC and the media? How many times has UFC Prez Dana White called it an unprofessional move?

White later suggested Costa move up to light heavyweight, which Costa effectively shrugged off.

A part of Costa probably realized he was untouchable. The UFC was not about to shelve its main eventer, and he knew it. Still, at least try to pretend you care. This is the UFC, after all. It's a hard job to get and an even harder job to keep. Costa acted in direct contrast to that reality.

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