After Thursday night's Bellator 94 card, major MMA will pass the quarter pole for 2013, with several excellent fights in the books, a few controversies still smoldering, and a new kid on the block still looking to establish itself.
In this week's roundtable, my colleague Luke Thomas joins me to discuss some of these topics, including Nick Diaz's intention to file a complaint against the sanctioning body that regulated UFC 158, the best UFC fights of the year thus far, the good and bad of World Series of Fighting 2, and more.
1. Does Nick Diaz really stand a chance of getting a rematch with his current gambit against Quebec's athletic commission? If not, is there any other value to this effort?
Thomas: I sincerely doubt anything Diaz is requesting will come from this. That isn't to suggest what he's stating lacks merit (more on that in a moment), but simply the reality of what it would take to force any power player's hand - be it UFC or the commission itself - and the timeline of such a process makes any real progress impossible. Besides, when the group you're griping about is ultimately the one you need to act on your behalf, the legitimacy of your complaint becomes irrelevant.
That said, let's be clear about what Diaz is stating. Is part of his claim unequivocally self-serving? Undoubtedly. He's trying to earn a rematch or a monetary reward and perhaps more. But the crux of the claim made by Diaz is that there was commission incompetence or malfeasance or both in two key areas of regulation at UFC 158. He is challenging their fealty to and implementation of their own regulations. He was told something that made positively no sense by a UFC official who was ostensibly relaying a commission rule. That rule exists nowhere in their own codified regulations. They used such regulations to oversee UFC 158. That is a problem. Period. When the watchdogs are playing fast and loose even with what appears to be seemingly innocuous or modifiable rules, that places the entire operation under rightful suspicion.
I don't believe Diaz will earn a title shot or will take home 20 percent of GSP's purse when this is all said and done. But if this puts the Quebec commission on notice as well as regulatory bodies throughout North America, his efforts will have not been a waste.
Chiappetta: I'll go a bit further than Luke and guarantee he has absolutely zero chance of an immediate rematch. After all, as far as we know, he has zero proof that St-Pierre actually missed weight, and his other complaint about improperly supervised drug testing is almost certain to be struck down due to Luke's explanation about the commission policing and then judging itself.
However, as Luke also points out, Diaz does appear to have a legitimate gripe when it comes to the weigh-in issues, with Quebec's Régie des alcohols, des courses et des jeux sanctioning body acting incongruous with their own rules and history.
The commissions carry so much importance and weight that it makes it difficult to check their power. What Diaz and company might have done with a small video camera is just that. Rules need to be clearly written, explained and enforced. One of the big problems in MMA is that they can be slightly altered from one place to the next, leaving both promoters and fighters in a situation where they must hustle to ascertain the applicable information. If Diaz's complaint results in increased transparency, at least others that follow him will benefit from it. Unfortunately for him, that's probably the best result he can hope for.
2. With the first quarter of the UFC's 2013 schedule out of the way, what was the promotion's best fight of the year so far?
Chiappetta: You've got to hand it to the fighters; 2013 has been a bonanza of action so far. In a short time, there are many excellent options to choose from. Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann, Demetrious Johnson vs. John Dodson, Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar, and most recently, Johny Hendricks vs. Carlos Condit, just to name a few.
Those are all worthy candidates but in a squeaker, I'll send my vote to a couple of undercard fighters, Dennis Bermudez and Matt Grice, who absolutely tore it up on the UFC 157 prelims. For 15 minutes, the two featherweights fired heat-seeking missiles at each other. Each was knocked down, and each landed upwards of 80 significant strikes during the course of the three-rounder. Each refused to surrender, making it to the final horn. The fight may not have been a technical showcase, but it was a testament to courage and perseverance. The efforts of both fighters illustrated the best of MMA when it comes to raw desire. Bermudez and Grice, still looking to establish roots in the UFC, put themselves out there, focusing on offense first in an ability to finish. It's always a fine line between aggression and danger, and just like every other sport, there will always be a bias towards offense.
If you wanted to argue about Silva's emotional knockout of Stann in his return to Japan or Hendricks-Condit as the better fight, I wouldn't object much, but what I do know is Bermudez and Grice had more thrilling moments than any other UFC fight thus far.
Thomas: I agree with Mike that 2013 hasn't just been a good year for MMA and UFC, but significantly better than most of 2012. With fewer injuries and the UFC finding its groove with FOX a bit, there's a lot more to enjoy than there was just a year or two ago.
To be honest, though, while the overall quality of fights and match-ups has been higher in 2013, there's nothing in particular that truly stands out to me. John Dodson vs. Demetrious Johnson is probably my candidate for best fight of the quarter followed by Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar. And don't get me wrong, there's very little to complain about in either fight. Both are bouts with champions trying to fend off truly capable challengers in high stakes, stylistically interesting clashes. Still, as superb as they are, they come a touch short of the threshold for spectacular that I'd use to put them in the running for Fight of the Year.
Which leads to my other point. Silva vs. Stann and Grice vs. Bermudez were tons of fun, but I'd probably not include them in Fight of the Year contention. I like slobber knocker brawls as much as the next guy, but I have reservations about awarding accolades like this to fights that emphasize courage more than skill. Those are my subjective criteria. Others may have their own. And again, I enjoyed the bout. I'm just saying after the first quarter of UFC, there's been a lot to like for a lot of different reasons, but nothing transcendent has happened just yet.
3. WSOF's second show held some promise for the organization, but also demonstrated they've got a long way to go. What grade would you give it?
Thomas: I'd give it a C+ or B-.
Let's start with the positives. Upstarts Marlon Moraes and Justin Gaethje put on the kind of performances that make further main card booking a no-brainer. Creating stars from scratch is difficult and often a slow process, but both fighters seemed primed for greater challenges and exposure. Josh Burkman also seems to be in the zone and ready to be a capable competitor in their burgeoning welterweight division. Anthony Johnson is doing well enough, although there are diminishing returns to playing with his weight. Last, but certainly not least, the use of UFC and other well-known veterans created a fair amount of online intrigue and traffic.
But then there are the negatives. The organization badly lacks infrastructure and regulatory know-how. Were it not for the Cage Fury Fighting Championships' assistance, this show would likely have not taken place. That is basically unforgivable. The television commentary was fumbled, too. I'd also add that while their use of faded and former MMA stars has some value, their over reliance means a fairly noticeable lowering in the quality of their product. Andrei Arlovski is simply not the fighter he once was. Big time ditto for Aaron Simpson. I don't even know what Paulo Filho is at this point.
All of this is to say the show was ok, but not great. Only good in parts. And their model of signing of aging, faded or cut UFC fighters has serious liability not to mention little long-term value. Some changes will need to be made.
Chiappetta: Criticizing WSOF for issues in only their second show is a bit unsporting, but they put themselves in the position of being a big-league organization by signing with NBC Sports Network. In doing that, they basically waived the startup period which should have been spent building up the roster and fine-tuning the production. Instead, they're flying by the seat of their pants. That's pretty exciting and all, but it's also going to lead to trouble.
For example during last Saturday night's broadcast, you had fighters asking for title shots when titles don't yet exist, you had color commentator Bas Rutten mistakenly trying to set up lightweight Gaethje with a welterweight, you had Jon Fitch brought into the cage for no apparent reason, and you had issues with the mat that nearly torpedoed the whole show. None of those things proved disastrous -- although the last one came close -- but it's clear evidence they're far from the well-oiled machine they surely one day hope to be.
WSOF's long-term challenge will be to build stars that the MMA fan base doesn't view as UFC castoffs. Anthony Johnson does bring a certain star quality with his crushing KO power, and so his ability to beat a heavyweight can only help. Moraes and Gaethje looked impressive, too, so there are some intriguing building blocks in place. Overall, I think WSOF 2 is worth a C effort, which at least is passing.
4. Christian Morecraft became the latest in a series of young fighters to retire. Is this trend a major issue for MMA going forward?
Chiappetta: It's certainly putting more of a focus on just how difficult it is to be a professional athlete, let alone a fighter who likely has to grind through years of grueling training just to sniff the UFC. While the UFC understandably actively highlights the number of millionaires they've created, there is usually little thought given to the number of fighters who struggle to pay bills while under the employ of that organization along with all the others. That's changed in recent years, as more news outlets give way to differing viewpoints of the sport.
In most other sports, when you reach the big leagues, there is a guaranteed minimum salary that translates to big bucks in the real world, but that doesn't hold true for MMA. When someone like Kyle Kingsbury is making a $12,000 payday after four years in the organization, that's a problem that others will notice.
Brain injuries are another potential cause of dissuading young athletes from entering the fight world. The issue continues to be explored by the scientific community and spotlighted by the sports media, and as such, it can no longer be ignored. UFC fighter Nick Denis recently cited the research as his reason for retiring.
Ultimately, the sport's ranks will continue to be populated by the fighters who feel this is their destiny and the dreamers who believe they can make it to the big payday. The sport's popularity boom ensures that the newcomers will be there in the coming years, but fighter pay and safety will require added emphasis in ensuring that the numbers don't dwindle.
Thomas: I do not believe this to be a major issue, at least not yet. It's certainly a sad reality of the sport. I don't think anyone can deny that. Fighters who are capable of reaching the highest level are having difficulty staying there and not necessarily because they aren't winning as much as they should be. Some fighters fall in the not so sweet spot of being good enough to be there, but not good enough to go anywhere. It's absolutely regrettable.
But I fail to see it currently as a major issue until it begins to affect the talent pool in meaningful ways. Losing Cole Konrad was problematic, but the majority of the young fighters who call it quits early are not elite talent. In fact, they're likely not making money for a reason, insofar as UFC economics go. More often than not, they're good fighters, but not great. They're almost never fighters who ever have or ever will contend for a title. Losing them isn't ideal, but it isn't a sport-killer either.
I don't mean to sound cruel. I also don't think it's acceptable to continuously lose fighters simply because they aren't elite. The sport is healthiest when there's fighters at every level and those who reach the pinnacle of the sport should be able to eke out a living. All I am suggesting is until enough of them leave and as a result take some of the very best with them, the overall quality of the sport isn't necessarily impacted.