Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
What a week for mixed martial arts. Alistair Overeem's title hopes went up in flames, Anthony Pettis became the surprise entry in the Jose Aldo sweepstakes, and Randy Couture and Dana White torched the bridge between them.
To discuss it all and how the moves will affect the MMA landscape going forward, I'm joined by my colleague Luke Thomas, in this edition of the MMA Roundtable.
1. After a whirlwind weekend, UFC booked a featherweight title fight between champion Jose Aldo and Anthony Pettis. Is that the right call?
Thomas: Like or dislike the move, there's no denying it's a bit weird. Clay Guida beats Anthony Pettis and a few fights pass. Guida eventually drops to featherweight, beats Hatsu Hioki (albeit unimpressively and controversially) and gets nothing. Pettis, admittedly on a roll, beats Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone at lightweight and gets a featherweight title shot. What?
The other strange part is that Erik Koch, who was at one point scheduled to face Aldo for the featherweight title, gets nearly bludgeoned to death by Ricardo Lamas, yet Lamas still gets passed over for a title shot. Worse, Lamas did all of this not on FUEL or some preliminary card. He did it on FOX to a huge audience. If beating top contenders in devastating fashion on main cards of top UFC shows aren't good enough to get title shots in the UFC anymore, what is? There's no debating Lamas is getting a raw deal.
But there's another side to this whole thing. There's a case to be made that Aldo can probably beat all of the clear featherweight contenders and it'd do nothing for his profile as one of the sport's top fighters or help featherweight generally. If Aldo beats Pettis, it's hard to see how back-to-back victories of Edgar and the Duke Roufus-product wouldn't make him a much bigger box office sensation than he is today. I'd also add this is doing more to bring attention and intrigue to the lighter weight classes than standard matchmaking.
So, my take? I'm not overly fond of this policy of top lightweights jumping the featherweight line, but I don't believe it has no benefits. It does and as long as this isn't a continuous thing, it's probably the right call.
Chiappetta: I'm not one of these people who flips out every time a contender is passed over for a title shot, because each situation is unique.
Let's use Lamas as an example, since Luke brought him up. Lamas has looked excellent since moving to featherweight, with a 4-0 record and three stoppages. During that time, he has wins over three contenders in Koch, Hioki and Cub Swanson. While that's a strong resume, it's not an overwhelming resume.
Have we reached the point where someone who has won four straight fights is a lock to fight for the belt? To be sure, that's more than Pettis has done as a featherweight, which is the grand sum of zero. But featherweight is still a division in the growth stage, and that means that it's wide open territory. That's why so much consideration is given to lightweight fighters who step down. As Luke said, as long as this doesn't become the norm, it's OK. Let's face it: Pettis vs. Aldo is a compelling and competitive matchup. Chael Sonnen vs. Jon Jones, this is not.
Meanwhile, Lamas now has the opportunity to make an even stronger case for the No. 1 contender slot. He'll have the spotlight to make his case with words and through action, and that can only stand to benefit him if and when he does fight for the belt.
3. After his knockout loss at UFC 156, is Alistair Overeem ruined forever as a major UFC draw?
Chiappetta: The crushing loss to Silva is a major setback to his career, even more so than the elevated testosterone ratio that led to a nine-month suspension. Let's face it: in this era where steroid busts and PED headlines are regular occurrences, fans are conditioned to gloss over such situations, allowing the athlete to pay their penance and then treating them as normal afterward.
It was clear by the reaction to Overeem last week that whatever anger was directed at him for his indiscretion had subsided; observers were now only interested in what he could do in the arena of combat. After talking a big game and dismissing Antonio Silva as any kind of challenge, he was violently KO'd. Coming into the UFC with a long winning streak, Overeem had a mystique which was only strengthened by his comic-book superhero appearance. Some observers bought into him; others are always wary of fighters who build up records on non-UFC competition. Either way, everyone was intrigued. When he annihilated Brock Lesnar, interest only grew.
Most of that goes away now. Since many people believed Overeem was, as Bigfoot said, "created in the lab," the combination of that along with the devastating loss comes as a double whammy. You can probably survive one or the other, but probably not both. You can't chalk up the loss to a fluke or bad luck. And after seeing what you saw, do you really believe him to be a threat to Cain Velasquez? Overeem is still just 32 years old so he has the time to string together a few dominant wins and regain interest, but he will never have quite the same aura again.
Thomas: It's hard for me to say never in a 'never say never' world like MMA, but Mike's probably right. Overeem can string together a few more wins and maybe even get a title shot. In that sense, I don't necessarily think his career is ruined. Besides, if the PED issue that sidelined him for a year taught us anything, it's that Overeem and his team are good at developing their own narratives about what he did and didn't do or what he is and isn't about. Like I said, never say never.
But here's the problem. The fight business is all about timing. You have to strike when the iron is hot. Overeem's best shot at becoming someone was after defeating Lesnar. He looked the part, acted the part and did so under the bright lights of the MMA community's attention. That was the moment to capitalize on all the momentum he had developed since his move to heavyweight. Instead he sat out a year. Now he's returned and looked like a shell of himself, all the while getting knocked out by someone he was widely expected to defeat.
I think the worst part of it all is that while he's not exactly the same Overeem we knew from PRIDE in his light heavyweight days, he's really not significantly different either. He's a better striker now and in a weaker division, but his famously bad cardio is still there. He doesn't have a bad chin per se, but he doesn't take the best punch. And if we're being honest, whatever contributed to his smaller physique affected his physical performance as much as it did his mental. So, can he get back to the top? Anything is possible, but even if he gets there, he's reminded us that while he's improved at heavyweight, he hasn't reinvented himself.
3. Bellator announced on Tuesday that Randy Couture, Frank Shamrock and Greg Jackson have been signed to star in their upcoming reality show. How much will that help?
Thomas: Do I think this will 'change the game' exactly? No, I don't. Do I believe this will be one of the key building blocks in the promotion of Bellator as a world-class MMA organization that can make MMA careers blossom? I do.
People - fans, media and fighters - don't have a strong relationship with Bellator. There's a misconception out there that because Bellator has had so many shows, they've 'established' themselves. From an infrastructure standpoint they have. In terms of currying positive press and cementing positive relationships, they've got some work to do.
That's where Couture, Jackson and the others come into play. These power players have the trust of (many) fans and the ears of (many) fighters. When they lend their credibility to the Bellator name and format, they're depositing a fair amount of positive equity. One of the real keys to Bellator's growth is convincing fighters this is a place to be, that fans should watch and Bellator can be trusted to do the right thing. Having these central figures as part of the operation in this key stage in Bellator's development is positively central to their growth generally with development of positive relationships in the community specifically.
Chiappetta: The biggest benefit for Bellator in adding those three names is in the improvement of public perception. For the last few years, Bellator has been dismissed by many observers as "minor league." While the UFC has established itself and its stars in short order, it had the benefit of being first. As a result, brands that followed such as Bellator have an uphill task; many of their fighters are immediately considered as second-rate, because the perception is that the UFC must have the best available talent. That's a real concern because the television ratings game is mainly about either driving people to recognizable stars or to a recognizable brand. In its early days, Bellator had neither.
But in the last few months, they've moved to a brand in Spike which is closely linked to MMA, they've acquired a fairly well known fighter in Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal, and now they've established ties to Randy Couture, who is inarguably one of the three best-known fighters of MMA's boom period, and a man who brings with him instant credibility. So what they are doing is laying the groundwork for the future. For the hardcore fan, you may still not be totally sold on the in-cage product, but Bellator is hoping that little by little, they are convincing you to give them a chance. And for the mainstream fan, they are offering a familiar, famous face. It doesn't mean their ratings will suddenly rival TUF, but it certainly gives them their best chance of success.
4. Over the weekend, Dana White said Randy Couture would not be allowed to corner his son Ryan Couture when he fights next in the UFC. Should White have the right to ban cornermen?
Chiappetta: Absolutely, positively not. To be clear, I don't think White actually has the right to ban cornermen, which must be licensed by state athletic commissions. I asked Nevada state athletic commission executive director Keith Kizer about this, and he said each fighter is allowed to decide his cornermen for himself. He didn't specifically address the Couture situation though, since from his perspective, it is technically a hypothetical for now.
But as far as I'm concerned, it's not right for White to even put a fighter in such an unfair position. A fighter has to have complete trust in his corners, and obviously, he is going to favor the people who have been with him through training camp. In Ryan Couture's case, not only has his father been in his corner for most of his fights, his dad happens to be one of the great analytical minds in the sport. Losing him would be a major blow.
Dana White is allowed to have his personal feelings, and no one says he needs to be friends with Randy Couture. He doesn't have to even be civil to him. Ignore him, avoid him, whatever. But why should Ryan Couture be affected when he has nothing to do with the issue between his father and White? After all, other personalities who have been on White's enemies list including Frank Shamrock and Matt Lindland have cornered fighters in the UFC. Hopefully White cools off a little and doesn't make an issue out of this. Let fighters bring their trusted corners.
Thomas: The mere suggestion from White that he would start banning cornermen with whom he had personal issues is appalling, even if he doesn't have the power he's claiming he'll use. Mike is absolutely correct and there's no argument to the contrary. I'm also told that independent contractors (which fights are) are allowed to bring their own licensed help when hired for service, be they fighters who need cornermen or plumbers who need electricians. The UFC can't have it both ways. Either fighters are employees or they're not. And if they're not (by the way, they're not), then trying to run roughshod over existing laws to stick it to a personal rival should be repudiated in every conceivable way.
If they don't want to mic Couture when he's cageside cornering, fine. If they want to make sure he's never brought up during the broadcast, fine. If Ryan Couture does a post-fight interview and they don't want his father even on screen in the background, who cares? Those are the UFC's decisions to make. As for the cornermen, those are the commission's responsibility. Let them worry about it.
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