There never seems to be an off-weekend in mixed martial arts anymore, so my colleague Mike Chiappetta went back-and-forth with me over which fight was best this weekend, the responsibility of athletic commissions in disclosing failed drug tests and just who on this planet is going to fight Daniel Cormier.
1. With UFC on FX 5, Bellator 75, ONE FC 6, Invicta 3 and the MMA debut of Dave Bautista this weekend, what fight are you looking forward to most?
Thomas: This is a weekend with a lower-tiered UFC event on a Friday night and tons of regional-level mixed martial arts. That means even though there isn't a big UFC pay-per-view, fans still have plenty to look forward to if they pay attention just a bit closer.
For me, though, I don't know if I can focus on just one fight. I think the better question is about the superior or potentially most entertaining fight card.
I'd say it's hard to put anything above UFC on FX 5. The fight that opens the broadcast on FX will determine who gets a flyweight title shot against Demetrious Johnson. Travis Browne could also emerge as the next big thing at heavyweight if he can keep winning. Most importantly, previous UFC on FX events have been saddled by incredibly weak prelim cards with fighters barely UFC caliber who are there just to give enough cushion to promoters to fill out a full main card. Not this one. Friday's prelim card is positively stacked. There are a few fights that could end up being boring, but at least it's between good prospects, established contenders or solid gatekeepers.
The other events this weekend offer a lot to different kinds of MMA fans. Invicta's pro-women outfit usually delivers, I'm sure pro wrestling fans are eagerly anticipating the debut of Dave Bautista and so forth. To each his own. For me, however, it's hard to overlook an important card with divisional implications that's free for fans at home.
Chiappetta: Two things here: first, did Luke answer the question without really answering the question? Yes, I believe he did, and since he lives in the Washington D.C. area, I will assume it's an homage to Wednesday night's presidential debate. Second, how come when it comes to the UFC, we say they're saturating the market, but if every other organization floods the weekend with shows, it's seen as a positive? Don't they all contribute to the saturation "problem" if there actually is one?
Anyhow, since it was hard to pick just one match out of the huge group, I'll give my top five.
1) Danny Castillo vs. Michael Johnson - two high-energy, well-rounded UFC lightweights. What's not to like?
2) Travis Browne vs. Antonio Silva - Browne is the rare massive yet athletic heavyweight. How can you not be intrigued by his progress?
3) Dave Batista vs. Vince Lucero - Yeah, I said it. Say what you will about another former pro wrestler coming into MMA, but his willingness to do it against a seriously experienced opponent is something to admire, and it'll be interesting to see how he does.
4) Naho Sugiyama vs. Jessica Penne - An unbeaten fighter vs. one with only one loss.
5) Eric Prindle vs. Thiago Santos - When these two get together, it's almost a lock that something really bizarre is going to happen, right?
2. With Matt Mitrione declining to fill in for an injured Frank Mir against Daniel Cormier, who should the UFC find to fight the winner of the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix?
Thomas: What a tough spot Zuffa brass is in with this situation. It's partly one of their own doing, so we can't cry too much. But they're also trying desperately to fix it and bad fortune is conspiring against them.
The answers really aren't obvious. They can choose to go the Frank Mir route and try to find someone with a name, but that's difficult. Mir was eager for the opportunity and was coming off of a loss. He was looking for a rebound effect and therefore willing to take an unconventional challenge. There aren't many other - if any - other available heavyweights in Mir's echelon who are as willing to gamble on an opportunity like that.
Looking at the roster of names, that immediately pushes the discussion past the top 10 of the division. And why cannibalize them anyway? Still, that makes matters seem less appealing. No one really thinks any of those guys have even a chance against Cormier. Stefan Struve, Pat Barry, and a few other heavyweights are available, and maybe some fans just want to see a UFC heavyweight vs. Cormier for the sake of its novelty, but none of those fights are likely to be even remotely competitive.
At this point, however, asking for something overly competitive is trying to be overly ambitious. If they can't get a mid-tier heavyweight, what about an available light heavyweight? What about a catchweight? If the answer isn't in finding a true heavyweight, look elsewhere.
Chiappetta: With exactly one month to go until fight night, It's about time to throw up the emergency flare. The problem is that as we saw last month with the cancellation of the Melendez vs. Healy card, Showtime gets the last say, so it's not like Zuffa can throw just anyone in there and wipe their hands of the situation. They need someone that Showtime suits will agree to. Cormier has campaigned for Pat Barry and that seems fine, though of course, he doesn't come with nearly the credentials of Mir, a former champion. Honestly, he's about the best they can do at this stage.
Here's the deal: with many other heavyweights already booked, the available talent pool is shockingly thin. Would someone like Cheick Kongo or Ben Rothwell want the fight on such late notice? Would Showtime accept someone like Mike Russow? What's Todd Duffee up to, anyway? These are the types of names we'd have to be looking at. Looking outside the Zuffa walls, there's probably even fewer worthy names. Andrei Arlovski would have made some sense, but he's already booked for that night at the competing World Series of Fighting show. Some of the other available names just aren't big enough to matter.
I'm going to guess that someone like Barry or Kongo ultimately steps up and does Zuffa a favor.
3. Forrest Griffin disclosed this week that he had tested positive for Xanax after fighting Anderson Silva at UFC 101. This information had never before come to light. Should commissions be obligated to disclose this information, and if their state privacy laws forbid them, should the UFC disclose it?
Chiappetta: This is actually a very strange case, as benzodiazepines, the class of drugs Xanax falls into, aren't actually banned by WADA. However, they are banned by the Pennsylvania state athletic commission, so it is entirely possible that Griffin didn't realize he was breaking a rule when he took the Xanax.
Whenever a fighter fails a drug test, the information should be made public. Certainly, it should be the commission's job to shine on a light on the infraction, but Pennsylvania has always maintained that their strict medical privacy laws prevent the state from publicizing such transgressions. If that is the case, it should be incumbent upon the host promotion (in this case the UFC) to self-report the test result. The UFC does it when it runs its own testing in foreign locales, so it's certainly capable of doing the same here.
There is an understood pact between athletes and observers that the competition will be clean. When an athlete breaks that trust, the state has the obligation to punish him and the public has the right to know. Those two things should work hand in hand.
Kudos to Griffin for self-reporting his result, even if it is three years after the fact. If he didn't, it would never have come to light. In all likelihood, it won't cause any stain on his career legacy, but at least now we have the whole story and can judge for ourselves.
Thomas: I'm not overly concerned with this situation even if I agree with Mike. Medical information should be and is kept private in America for a reason, but when that runs headlong into the needs to make dangerous sporting contests as transparent as possible in that very name of safety then relevant drug test failures should be public record.
The only matter I'm concerned with is UFC's reluctance to report this. Tyson Griffin also tested positive for marijuana after UFC 123 and neither the relevant athletic commission nor the UFC reported it. That should change.
I understand the UFC is sensitive about bad press. It's an understandable concern, but a lack of transparency is not the answer. If and when it's revealed the UFC didn't disclose this information when they knew it, they look even worse as they did in the case of Griffin. That should be incentive enough. But perhaps more importantly, fighters need to know the UFC will not shield them from unflattering information about dubious choices they've made with their health or medical conditions. If there is anyone in MMA who believes marijuana testing should go away, it's me. But if they UFC is willing to keep this information private, what else are they willing to conceal when athletic commissions don't proactively report failed drug test results?
Don't get me wrong. The UFC is not to blame for Griffin's misdeeds, be it Tyson or Forrest. And at the annual fighter symposium, they clearly articulate their views on drugs of abuse or those related to performance enhancement. But they can't stop there. In fact, the guidelines can't be clearer: a real commitment to transparency means every fighter and every fight they stage in every place in the world. Nothing more, nothing less.