Hey, did you know that Ronda Rousey is fighting this weekend? Yes, of course you did. How could you miss her? She's been on Conan O'Brien, has a Showtime camera filming her around the clock for an all-access show, and makes headlines every time she speaks. This is a great thing for Strikeforce, of course, even if Rousey does severely overshadow her Saturday night opponent Sarah Kaufman and the rest of the women's bantamweight division.
Now here's the question: is it too much? Is Strikeforce risking overexposing her, or worse, are they putting all their eggs in one basket.
Luke Thomas and I debate Ms. Rousey's omnipresence and Anderson Silva's future, and wonder what lessons can be gleaned from the unfortunate death of South Carolina fighter Tyrone Mims in this week's MMA Roundtable.
1. Is the Strikeforce women's division overly invested in Ronda Rousey?
As it stands, Strikeforce has a fairly shallow talent pool of female fighters, and Rousey is undoubtedly its star. She is equally capable of making headlines with her words and skills, and that's a fairly rare combination that means something in the event business where every show is built from scratch. In addition, she is fairly new to the scene. While overexposure to Rousey could possibly lead to backlash, we haven't yet seen any signs of that. That's because she has a refreshingly candid personality and a willingness to ruffle feathers. That type of attitude has historically done well as a headline attraction in MMA, and Rousey is no different.
Truth be told, there are only a few female fighters who are capable of capturing the main-event spotlight to the point where no one much cares who else is on the card. Cris Cyborg has inflicted enough beatings on opponents to make us take notice. Gina Carano, if she ever returns, will be a bigger star than ever after her Hollywood turn. Miesha Tate is on the way. But when it comes to women's MMA, Rousey is the one. As long as she keeps winning, Strikeforce has every right to push her as the face of the sport. Even if she loses, she can remain a significant building block, and that's no small consolation.
Thomas: If Strikeforce and Showtime didn't pay as much attention to Rousey as they are, I'd accuse them of promotional malpractice. Mike is totally correct and for all the reasons he states.
Let me add another.
Zuffa is in the middle of a talent exodus. The talent isn't going to Bellator or Japan or anywhere else. They're just going away altogether. They're retiring, moving on to the next chapter in their lives. And this talent isn't insignificant. It's the very fighters who helped carry the sport to the 2008 peak and were part of the overall boom. It's the fighters most casuals think of when they think of MMA.
And the truth is, it's not over. Tito Ortiz retired last month, but there are many more on the way. B.J. Penn's time is probably short, Vitor Belfort doesn't have much longer, Forrest Griffin could be done soon, Matt Hughes has flirted with the idea of retiring, Anderson Silva is 37, Stephan Bonnar doesn't know what's next, and so on and so on.
Zuffa, even if it's in Strikeforce, needs all the new stars it can get. Rousey's situation is complex for the UFC's interest, but that doesn't make her any less valuable in terms of star power. She has the 'it' factor and more than ever in the modern era of MMA, Zuffa needs the fighters people care about. Rousey is one of them and she has the ability to go much, much further. Showtime, Strikeforce and whoever else has a stake in her career would be foolish to do anything but promote her as much as possible.
2. If Anderson Silva follows through on his promise to stay on the sidelines until 2013, what should the UFC do with Chris Weidman?
Thomas: I don't see this as a particularly big problem. No one who has ever headlined a UFC on FUEL show has ever moved directly into a title shot. I know Korean Zombie was promised one after thrashing Dustin Poirier, but I'll believe it when I see it. As far as middleweights go, more people saw Luke Rockhold beat Tim Kennedy on Showtime than Weidman destroy Mark Munoz on FUEL.
The reality is the kid needs more exposure. I am completely sympathetic to Silva's position, namely, he doesn't want to fight opponents no one knows in a world where he gets paid as a function of pay-per-view sales. The greatest fighter ever and alive has earned the leeway to not automatically say yes to an opponent that doesn't do much for his bottom line. He can't hold the belt hostage, but that's where we get into the second part of the argument.
Give Weidman more fights. He needs it and if he is as good as he says he is (and I believe he is), he'll beat whoever we put in front of him, anyway. And when he beats more high-profile names in more high-profile fight cards or events, then he'll be ready for Anderson Silva. He's technically ready now, at least as far as skills go. But this is a sport where putting on the fight the fans - not just hardcore, but casual fans who need help with awareness - want to pay money to see. Weidman will get there, but he isn't there yet. And there are plenty of awesome fights for him to dazzle us with his amazing ability.
Chiappetta: Each day that passes, it seems like more and more an inevitability that Silva won't fight Weidman next. If Silva feels like Weidman isn't a big enough star yet to help carry a pay-per-view promotion, the logical decision would be to have Weidman fight on a major show to boost his profile. I think there are two ideal scenarios here. One would be to have him fight on a FOX card, but since the December event seems basically stacked at the top, that seems to be out.
So instead, I have him face the Michael Bisping vs. Brian Stann winner at the next available opportunity. That would assure him a chance to fight a known commodity with optimal attention. I'd make that fight a co-main event just below a title bout, have Silva sit cageside and begin the storyline of young gun vs. all-time great right there. If Weidman wins, great. And if he loses, well, then maybe he wasn't ready, and we can move on to the Silva vs. Georges St-Pierre superfight after all.
Speaking of which ...
3. Should UFC bypass Georges St-Pierre vs. Carlos Condit and make the GSP vs. Anderson Silva fight while they're both available?
Chiappetta: It pains me to write this, but the answer is no. This is for one simple reason, and it doesn't have to do with the promise to Condit as No. 1 contender. Instead, it has everything to do with St-Pierre. Namely, a superfight with the greatest fighter in MMA history shouldn't be his first fight back after more than 18 months away. That would be an unfair setup to a fight in which he is already at a disadvantage. It will be hard enough for St-Pierre to match up with Silva if they eventually do fight, but remember, he's going to have to navigate significant height, reach and weight differentials.
While St-Pierre is 5-foot-10 with a 76-inch reach and walks around just shy of 190 pounds, Silva is 6-foot-2, has a 77.5-inch reach and weighs around 215-220 pounds between fights.
St-Pierre will never completely close those gaps, but he deserves at least a little time to narrow them, or at least tailor a plan that can overcome them. On top of that, he deserves to have a chance to knock the ring rust off. Not that a matchup against Condit will be some cakewalk. GSP is hardly assured of a win, but at least if he does emerge victorious in the planned November bout, he'll have a chance to get some cage time and knock off the cobwebs in the process. And if he does indeed come out victorious, well, Silva said he will be waiting anyway, as he expects to take the rest of 2012 off. Then we could finally and justly get down to the big business of a superfight.
Thomas: Mike's right on the money here. St. Pierre is still the UFC's biggest star who, provided his rehab is going as well as is claimed, has a lot of fights left in front of him. He'll need the time to get back into the swing of things. As Mike noted, there's getting the weight right, making sure everything goes well with the knee in the first fight back, applying the skills in a real live contest. GSP has earned the opportunity to not get an easy path back to the Octagon, but a more normal one. It makes little sense to do otherwise.
There's also the argument that one can be hurting the sport by doing otherwise. GSP vs. Silva, if they make it, is the biggest fight in UFC history. That's all good for the sport and there's no argument otherwise. But there's a case to be made that bypassing deserved title contenders for gerrymandered bouts between greats for no other reason than spectacle and intrigue is the beginning of a slippery slope. Fights like GSP vs. Silva can and should be made, but not at the clear and direct expense of the normal and proper execution of the sport. Condit deserves a shot and GSP has an obligation to defend the belt against him. From there if he wins, he has more space to take on a vanity project. The first order of business, however, is a title defense. Condit is owed, GSP has a 'debt' to pay and Silva can wait.
4. While acknowledging it's still very early in the discovery process, are there any lessons to be learned in the death of amateur South Carolinian MMA fighter Tyrone Mims?
Thomas: It's too early to say what killed Mims and whether there is true commission negligence or absence. My initial hunch is that when two fighters die in the same state within a three-year timespan, something is going profoundly wrong. The initial autopsy proved inconclusive and deeper tissue tests will take weeks, if not months to come back. For now, we wait.
Let's assume for a moment the commission is not to blame here. They executed the fullest extent of their responsibilities and still couldn't prevent this death. What is the takeaway then? Is there one that satisfies the soul? One wonders if the MMA community (myself included) thinks every death is preventable with the appropriate screens. The question is that remains is whether or not that's actually true. Even with proper medical screening and safe officiating, can everyone be saved before tragedy strikes? I'm not so sure. At least for now, I don't know the answer to that.
Still, I can't help but shake the idea that a 30-year old man who fought in an amateur show in a Shriner's lodge died after a MMA fight is somehow unrelated to someone not doing their job. I don't know who it is and maybe Mims - like every fighter does - concealed some ailment or illness from an honest commission that ended up costing him his life. Again, I'm not saying that's what happened nor am I speculating that's what happened. I'm just issuing a hypothetical. All I know is, before we have to wrestle with the idea that not everyone in MMA can be saved even with proper medical screens, I want to know without a shadow of a doubt that not only were commission rules followed but that the rules in place are sufficiently serious enough to catch potential issues ahead of time.
Chiappetta: I am hesitant to speculate on anything related to Mims' death, simply because there is still such little information about it. The Charleston County coroner said an autopsy revealed no obvious cause of death. State officials said he underwent the required pre-fight exams, and was given a post-fight evaluation before he died. The fight wasn't believed to be especially violent. According to local authorities, Mims took a Percocet before the bout. But that's all we know. And in the absence of further details, it's just not right to speculate wildly.
The reality of life is that you can die doing nearly anything that seems worthwhile, and sports are no exception. Every year since 1982, the University of North Carolina has released a report on catastrophic sports injury, focusing on collegiate and high school sports. In 2010, there were 10 deaths related to football, two in basketball, one in ice hockey, one in swimming and one in cross-country. Since the start of 2010, at least 10 players have died while playing soccer at the pro level. Just last year, two runners died while running the Philadelphia Marathon.
Many and perhaps even most of these deaths were found out to have occurred due to a pre-existing condition that was exacerbated by the physical stress involved with the activity. There are tests that can help diagnose such issues, but any doctor will tell you there is never a sure thing. The human body is a marvelous thing, but it is also unpredictable, and there is no test that can anticipate every eventuality. That said, it would be wise to have uniform standards of pre-fight testing for every state, to give the best chances of catching the next tragedy before it happens.