After a short early spring lull, it's been a busy stretch over the last week, with multiple events, others fast-approaching, and a few controversies. Among the biggest has been whether transgender fighter Fallon Fox should be able to compete as a woman. On Monday, UFC heavyweight Matt Mitrione was suspended by the UFC after an unsolicited rant on the Fox situation. Since then, Dana White weighed in on Mitrione's suspension, but didn't have much to say.
For this week's MMA Roundtable, I'm joined by my colleague Luke Thomas as we discuss White's response, as well as other, more positive topics, like whether the TUF season champion will go on to be a contender, whether Urijah Faber's just about due for another title fight, and if Cris Cyborg's recent win proves Tito Ortiz made the right call in guiding her career to Invicta.
1. Given the UFC's previous public denouncement of Matt Mitrione's statements on Fallon Fox, what did you make of Dana White's response on Tuesday that post-fight interviews are to blame?
Thomas: I make that it's very typical Dana White. His statements didn't match the public statement the UFC immediately released in the aftermath of the brewing controversy, which is to be expected. For better or worse, White isn't going to ape the careful wording of more sensitive corporate lawyers.
That said, I wasn't particularly moved by the substance of his response. He didn't reiterate any commitment to the LGBT community, which is a stated value of the UFC. He didn't really condemn anything about Mitrione's statements themselves either. All he really said was that post-fight interviews for fighters don't make sense and the interview has caused headaches. In short, while Mitrione may have acted imprudently, it's really just the media's fault. It's the media who creates phony opportunities to have phony discussions or interviews for the purposes of generating headlines and clicks.
I don't really know what to say about it. I obviously think it's ludicrous to blame the media. Mitrione wasn't asked about Fallon Fox; he offered up that opinion of his own volition. The blame is his to accept. Post-fight interviews are hardly some scourge hurting the careers of fighters. They're almost universally positive experiences for everyone. Blaming the media is easy, almost reflexive, but is neither correct nor will it help the UFC. But can I really say I'm particularly alarmed White blames the media and post-fight interviews over the more obvious culprits here? No. I'm not.
Chiappetta: His response wasn't even a response. It wasn't a reaction. It was simply a lamentation of a fighter's lack of P.R. planning, which is the least important facet of this whole thing.
Essentially, the same executive that offered fighters Twitter bonuses for sharing their random thoughts with the world is saying those same athletes have no business sharing their random thoughts with the media … unless they are promoting a fight. Well, that is a very promotion-first stance to take. How does that benefit the athlete who is trying to get his name into the limelight? How does it benefit the many athletes who actually conduct themselves with professionalism? It doesn't, and it won't. White's response is a classic misdirection of a situation he probably didn't want to address, but make no mistake: no one twisted Mitrione's words, which as Luke noted, came completely unprompted.
Anyways, White totally missed the point, which is that we can all debate each other while remaining civil and respectful. There have been many people who have objected to whether Fallon Fox should be fighting women, but have done so on the grounds of scientific reasons, and not resorted to the Neanderthal ramblings of a true meathead.
Kudos to the UFC for suspending Mitrione for his remarks, an action which is not unprecedented in sports. As recently as last year, Detroit Tigers outfielder Delmon Young was suspended for Anti-Semitic remarks. Mitrione's mistake wasn't in simply talking to the media; it was in what he said, and how he said it.
2) There is a belief that the current season of TUF has generated the best talent in several seasons. What are the chances that the eventual season winner turns out to be a factor (i.e. a contender) in the UFC?
Chiappetta: You can only make a fair analysis in hindsight. Everything else is just guessing, but the season was certainly filled with quality fights. It's no coincidence that during the season that they de-emphasized "characters" and focused on competition, that was the case. It was a group focused on getting where they wanted to go and achieving their dreams, not getting drunk and living some sort of lifestyle that only exists on reality TV shows.
As to the question of whether Uriah Hall or Kelvin Gastelum goes on to become a contender, well, the jury's still out on that. Hall has spectacular standup skills, but what happens if he faces a good wrestler who can hold him down? Also, he doesn't seem huge for the weight class, so I'm not sure 185 is his long-term home. With those doubts out of the way, he is immensely talented and powerful. He is also a very creative striker and seems to have a true confidence and inner peace to himself, and those are important qualities to have in the chaotic fight world. I think he's potentially a top 10 talent.
Gastelum is more of a wild card. While Hall had at least fought a few notables in his past, Gastelum was a complete unknown who had never even competed against an opponent with a winning record. My sense is that he's a legit fighter with a still developing game, but he's got some intriguing raw tools including power in his hands and a wrestling background. If Gastelum had one advantage during his TUF run, he had the element of surprise on his side. In the UFC, everyone will know who he is, and no one will take him lightly.
Thomas: Relatively speaking, fairly strong. I'll be honest and say I didn't watch a single episode of TUF this season. I just can't bring myself to watch it anymore, but I don't begrudge others if they choose to. However, I did keep up with Hall and watched his bouts. As Mike indicated, he is obviously a sensational athlete with a future that at least merits monitoring. And relative to previous seasons, he alone is so markedly better that UFC and FX deserve some praise for raising the bar.
That said, we have to manage our expectations. Even the biggest successes from TUF had to be brought along slowly. If Hall is to be someone special, he is to be someone special at least four or five fights down the road at the earliest. That's also assuming he doesn't face any hiccups along the way.
Also consider that while Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen are elite fighters and capable coaches, they have an incentive to promote their talent. The entire show is about promoting talent. Yes, weakness among the competitors is exposed, but there is just as much art as there is science. Hall is unmistakably talented and as I said previously, worthy of monitoring as he progresses. But it's also true the show seeks to make the fighters look as good as they possibly can and often better.
3. With a win over Scott Jorgensen this Saturday, how likely is it Urijah Faber gets an interim title shot against Renan Barao?
Thomas: I'd say it's highly likely. Here are the two reasons.
First, it's a simple process of elimination, although we have to assume Cruz won't be back before Barao has to defend his interim title again. If that's the case, Michael McDonald is out because he just loss. Eddie Wineland is obviously a top-ranked bantamweight, but he's already got his interim title shot against Barao coming up at UFC 161. Certainly Brad Pickett is out there, but he's 1-1 in his last two fights and not enough of a popular figure to leap frog traditional hierarchy to earn a title shot.
Second, Faber's case isn't bad. There's the process of elimination I've just written about, but also other considerations. A two-win streak, which is what he'll have if he gets past Jorgensen, isn't amazing necessarily, but it's enough to sell Faber as a renewed contender. More importantly, people still like Faber. He's an easy person to admire and an athlete who has the miraculous ability to not let losses mentally derail him. And while he was soundly defeated by Barao the first time, fans believe in Faber's ability to rise to the occasion. Besides, who wouldn't want to see Faber vs. Cruz 3 if/when Cruz returns? That's especially true when Faber will have had the competitive advantage by staying active.
Chiappetta: I like Faber. He's a sportsman and an ambassador, he's an excellent fighter who's had longevity, and he's been one of the few sub-155 fighters who has been able to draw as a headliner. All that said, I don't have any real interest in seeing him fight for a championship again, not after he's lost five title bouts in a row. He's gotten his opportunities, in the UFC and WEC, as a featherweight and a bantamweight, and he simply has not cashed in.
But as Luke says, he has a bulletproof argument in that there is really no one else with a resume that demands the spot ahead of him. I don't particularly think victories over Ivan Menjivar and Jorgensen represent a mandate for that No. 1 slot, but it's incumbent upon the rest of the division's top 10 to unseat him from his spot near the top, and they haven't done that. Cruz's injury actually helps Faber in that he's out of the picture so there is an interim title floating around. If Cruz was active, Barao and Wineland would be ahead of him in gunning for the belt. Instead they are fighting, and one of them will soon be eliminated, leaving Faber waiting in the wings if he gets past Jorgensen.
Once upon a time, the Buffalo Bills played in four straight Super Bowls and lost every one. It was a feat both impressive and maddening. Faber is threatening to take the some role in the UFC, and until someone else knocks him off that top rung, he'll continue to earn cracks at the belt.
4) Cris Cyborg won handily at last week's Invicta show and will soon be fighting for the divisional title. Is this evidence of Tito Ortiz's gamble paying off?
Chiappetta: Luke and I weighed in on the topic of Cyborg's career path a couple months ago, and I noted that the Ronda Rousey vs. Cris Cyborg dynamic can become something similar to Fedor Emelianenko vs. Randy Couture, when those two circled each other from afar but were never able to meet. The difference between that case and the current one is that the UFC has a very strong working relationship with Invicta, so there aren't any daunting obstacles in the path of a potential Rousey vs. Cyborg fight except those two continuing to win until they actually get to each other.
There was an argument to be made that Rousey and Cyborg should have met as the first women's UFC fight to strike when the iron was at its hottest, but the opposite approach of waiting, antagonizing each other from afar and building up anticipation could be an even more lucrative strategy.
I wonder if Ortiz, in crafting his plan, drew upon his own experience with Chuck Liddell almost a decade ago. For a long time, he was supposed to fight Liddell, but he held it off for as long as he could. In the process, interest grew and the rivalry turned into the biggest money feud the sport had seen up to that point. If Cyborg and Rousey keep winning, Ortiz will have pulled off a brilliant play and a payday that will far surpass what Cyborg would have earned if she faced Rousey at UFC 157 as the UFC originally planned.
Thomas: I think Mike brings up an excellent point about Ortiz's experience with Liddell. How could that experience not inform his judgement? Yes, Ortiz lost both fights with Liddell, but that's not the point. The point is that he dramatically increased the level of intrigue and anticipation for their first match while overly heightening the rivalry.
Ortiz is making a gamble, though. Make no mistake about it. It's a simple gamble, but an important one: Cyborg cannot lose. Now, there might be a particular circumstance where Santos can lose and it doesn't necessarily ruin a bout with Rousey. But the entire aim of this move to Invicta is to build further interest while increasing Santos' leverage for future negotiations. A loss does nothing but hurt that. A bad loss positively ruins it. I admit a loss - particularly a bad one - seems highly unlikely. Ortiz is making a fairly safe call. But if MMA has taught us anything, it's that the best laid plans of mice, men, promoters and managers often go awry.