As the world of mixed martial arts continues to turn in the strange and rapid ways it does, there are moments we have to stop, smell the roses and wonder what the hell is going on. This week, my colleague Dave Doyle joins me to think about a future where Stephan Bonnar has defeated Anderson Silva, how valuable Eddie Alvarez is to the UFC, whether Invicta is likeable and more.
1. It's unthinkable and highly unlikely, but does an Anderson Silva loss at light heavyweight kill a future superfight with George St. Pierre at middleweight?
Thomas: Kill? No. Deeply undercut the potential monumental impact? Yes.
Let's take the Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather, Jr. arrangement as an example. There are key differences to be noted up front. Pacquiao and Mayweather are in the same weight class. Both are also significantly more popular than either Georges St. Pierre or Anderson Silva and have captured the imagination of far more casual fans. Pacquiao's defeat at the hands of Timothy Bradley in June of this year was hugely controversial. All of those factors to heighten the effect of the gravity pushing these two boxers into one another.
Still, we have a situation where two popular fighters are being asked to face one another despite one of them recently suffering a loss. And that loss came within the normal weight class space, not a venture into significantly different territory. Despite the stain the loss could bring, it hasn't really dampened enthusiasm for what would be the most lucrative fight in boxing history.
As I mentioned earlier, the Pacquiao vs. Mayweather scenario is in no way identical to GSP vs. Silva. But there are helpful parallels, namely, a win by Bonnar likely would not extinguish desire among fans to see the MMA superfight. Much of it depends on the complexion of the loss, should it happen. If somehow Bonnar buzz saws Silva into a TKO loss, that could affect enthusiasm. But there's also a case to be made a fluke submission by Bonnar might heighten interest in the Silva vs. GSP, or at least offer a convenient narrative of parity.
So, yes, the UFC putting Silva in a fight with Bonnar to fill in the gaps in their schedule is risky, but not overly so.
Doyle: For Silva vs. St-Pierre to fully live up to its megafight potential, Silva needs to avoid the upset against Bonnar (GSP also needs to beat Carlos Condit, but that wouldn't be nearly as epic an upset). If Silva wins (and GSP follows), then yes, the bout we would expect to shatter all North American MMA money records would likely play out.
But even if Silva does stumble and find himself on the wrong end of a massive upset, Silva-GSP could remain a highly anticipated fight. And you don't even have to go over to boxing to find an example of such a bout (although the Mayweather-Pacquiao analogy is apt) Just look at Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva at UFC 79.
This was a fight fans lusted after for years, as Liddell and Silva ruled their respective roosts at 205 pounds. The match was never made when the two were at their peak, Liddell in UFC and Silva in PRIDE, but not for a lack of trying: Remember Silva coming into the Octagon after Liddell finished "Babalu" Sobral at UFC 62?
By the time they squared off, Liddell had not only lost his title, but was coming off a loss to Keith Jardine; and Silva had been knocked out by Dan Henderson to lose his PRIDE title (and, not inconsequentially, PRIDE had closed up shop).
And yet it still made for one of the most magic nights in MMA history. Liddell vs. Silva wasn't even the main event at UFC 79 in Las Vegas (that honor went to GSP-Matt Hughes III), but the electricity in the audience was something no one there will ever forget, and the action in the cage delivered.
So yes, Silva vs. GSP could still be memorable even if one or both fighters stumble. But timing's everything in the promotional business, and the result of Silva-Bonnar could help determine whether Silva-GSP would be the biggest fight in MMA history or another Liddell-Silva, a great fight which came a bit too late.
2. If Eddie Alvarez loses to Pitbull on Friday in what is expected to be the former champion's last fight with Bellator, how much does that hurt his negotiating position with UFC?
Thomas: It depends greatly on the way things look, but not entirely. There's a favorable climate Alvarez is operating in that should give him some cushion.
If Alvarez wins impressively, his position to negotiate is strong. Should he win, but look vulnerable or not overly impressive, he's still in a good position. Even if he loses or loses badly, there are two good reasons that benefit Alavarez's chances of locking up a strong contract.
First, the UFC wants to stick it to Bellator. The UFC won't want to overpay for an Alvarez they aren't sure can ever contend for a title, but having one of Bellator's more notable names poached from that roster is a valuable acquisition for UFC. They probably overpaid for Lombard - I'm told he received hundreds of thousands of dollars for his UFC debut - but on balance I suspect UFC is still happy they hit Bellator where it hurts.
Second, UFC believes they need more fighters. As they expand internationally, they need fighters to fill roster spots on their various fight cards. I've been a critic of this strategy, at least of the pace at which it's executed. But if they're going to move forward with it, having more fighters is going to be necessary. Having fighters of Alvarez's caliber is going to be even more ideal.
Doyle: I see Luke's point here, but at the same time, it's not like the UFC's 155-pound weight class is exactly hurting for talent at the moment. Would Alvarez make a nice addition to Zuffa's lightweight ranks? He sure would. Do they need him to get by? Not at all.
Let's say Alvarez loses Friday night. How much leverage will a fighter with losses in two of his past three fights, against two fighters a casual UFC fan wouldn't be able to pick out of a police lineup, who also isn't a ratings or ticket-selling draw, really have?
I think there's more riding on the result of Friday night's fight than some might think. With a win, Alvarez is in a spot to land a nice contract simply so Zuffa can pluck away a fighter with some momentum. A loss and it all goes out the window.
3. Never mind talk of money or total live stream viewers: What do you think of Invicta purely as a product?
Doyle: Saturday night was the first time I watched an Invicta fight card live from start to finish. Previously, like others, I got around to watching great fights like the first Kaitlin Young-Leslie Smith bout and Sara McMann vs. Shayna Baszler after the fact on YouTube when buzz about the fights spread.
After watching a full card for the first time, I came away with the same feeling I got when I started watching the WEC in 2007 and was exposed to featherweight and bantamweight fighters on a regular basis for the first time: It's something fresh and new, and, oh yeah, most importantly, the fighters can fight.
Invicta 3 featured a little bit of everything, from impressive singular performances from the likes of Baszler and Jessica Penne to great back-and-forth fights like Michelle Waterson's split decision over Lacey Schuckman. Even a fight between two women making their pro debuts, Tecia Torres's win over Kaiyana Rain, was entertaining.
Whether Invicta can make a go of it financially is up for debate, but that's not the subject at hand. As a product, Invicta has proven that the women's MMA game is rapidly coming of age and women belong on the big stage. In that sense, Invicta is already an artistic success.
Thomas: The Sports Business Journal recently reported on a study that indicated the women's side of the sport could prove to be a boon to MMA's overall popularity if not now then in the relatively near future. The modest but consistent buzz around Invicta could be evidence of such a claim.
It's hard to not watch the current product and notice what's lacking. Some of the fighters are sensational athletes, some are pretty average. That's true for a lot of MMA organizations, but the disparity is more pronounced at Invicta. After all, they aren't just trying to stage MMA fights among women, but help fix and reorganize the sport entirely. That wouldn't be a mission statement if there weren't a few things missing and a consistently high level of athlete is one of them.
On the other hand, Invicta gives off the feeling they're building towards something. A new TV deal? More developed weight classes? A real super fight that captures the MMA community's attention? I don't know. But I can feel the momentum. They're on their way to somewhere. I recognize what's currently there isn't the world's best product, but I'm curious to see what this will all amount to.
4. What do you make of Jason "Mayhem" Miller's behavior on The MMA Hour on Monday?
Doyle: I know we're supposed to guard against playing armchair psychologist in this business, but sometimes, there's a case that seems to obvious to ignore. It seems either one of two things is going on here. One, there's a chance that "Mayhem" knows what he's doing and he's hatched a plot to make it look like he's going off the rails in order to get attention. If that's the case, sorry, but it's not working. Playing his "Here Comes the Boom" character might have been cute for a minute or two if Miller had then dropped the act, but the schtick just made for an unbearably bad segment. And one that won't get anyone who was on the fence about seeing the movie out to go see it.
That leaves us, sadly, with the notion that we really are watching Miller self-destruct. From his Twitter war with Dana White to his incident in an Orange County church to the MMA Hour fiasco, "Mayhem" comes off like someone in need of help. If he has any real friends in his life (as opposed to the plentiful leeches out here in Southern California who latch on to the famous and then vanish at the first sign of trouble), then they need to intervene and get him back on the right path.
Thomas: I hate to be a bit of a spoiler, but it's instructive in this case. Jason Miller's character has no lines in 'Here Comes The Boom'. Zero. Not one. In fact, I could be wrong about this, but I don't recall a ring announcer in the movie even saying his name.
That means his act on Monday is a character largely if not entirely of his creation. And that's hugely problematic. For example, the anti-Semitic jokes? Unless they were part of Miller's character in the movie that hit the cutting room floor, that's entirely his creation and choice. Is that supposed to be a shortcut for adding character depth? God, I hope not.
So what does this mean in the larger context of Miller's life? Like Dave says, there appears to be a pattern here. I'm in no position to be handing out diagnoses, but does anyone really think all of the behavior we are seeing pass the smell test?
Lastly, let's address this Andy Kaufman comparison so we can end it. Kaufman is one of the greatest comedic actors of the twentieth century and a pioneer in situational humor. Note: he wasn't good at much else. Miller's fallen on hard times and has lots of talents, but if he, or recently was, an elite-level MMA fighter. The notion that one can be that good at fighting in a cage and that clever as a comedic actor is just irrational. You can't. Maybe Miller got a laugh out of what he did when he got home, but it's hard to imagine why. Kaufman got a laugh out of his work because the joke was on the audience. He generated strong reactions to his characters, in many cases because he had them fooled. With Miller, no one is fooled or tricked or being driven into play along. We're all just really concerned.
Here's to hoping he gets some help.