Roundtable: UFC 160, retired fighters' grievances, and Vitor Belfort

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The UFC's big heavyweight doubleheader, featuring current champion Cain Velasquez and former titleholder Junior dos Santos in the top two bouts, is just days away. But that's just one item in an eclectic array of subjects on our plate here at The MMA Roundtable this week.

Former fighters came out of the woodwork to air their grievances, from the recently retired John Cholish, who gave his thoughts on the UFC's pay structure, to Luke Cummo, who posted a YouTube rant against the entire sport.

Oh, and we also have the latest chapter in the ongoing saga of Vitor Belfort and TRT.

It's my pleasure, then, to have MMAFighting.com senior editor Luke Thomas join me for the latest edition of the Roundtable.

1. Is there any reason to believe that when the dust settles after Cain Velasquez vs. Antonio Silva and Junior dos Santos vs. Mark Hunt on Saturday, we won't have a Velasquez-dos Santos trilogy fight lined up?

Doyle: It's pretty easy to look at the two top matches at UFC 160 and assume that by Sunday, the Velasquez vs. dos Santos trilogy will be etched in stone. After all, you saw the first Velasquez-Bigfoot fight, right? And you do recall that, even though we all tend to judge fighters by their last performance prior to his title loss to Velasquez, dos Santos mowed down everyone else in his path over the span of five years, right?

Sounds like a cut-and-dried case. But then I remember that in the week leading up to Velasquez-dos Santos II, nearly everyone picked dos Santos to win and swore Velasquez had no realistic path to victory. In fact, Mike Bohn's pre-fight media poll on MMAMania.com had unanimous dos Santos picks. And you all saw what happened there.

Bottom line? I still think Velasquez-dos Santos III is a fairly safe bet. But we're still talking about heavyweights here. One punch changes everything. Bigfoot unleashing his wrath is one of the sport's scariest sights. What happens if Silva avoids Velasquez's takedown this time? Or, what if dos Santos is gun shy in his first fight back after taking a horrific beating? If either happens, all bets are off.

Thomas: I suspect we will and for many of the reasons Dave lists. It is a heavyweight fight, which means it doesn't take much for change to be affected.

I'd also add that Bigfoot is a limited fighter, but one with pretty technical skills and a decent fight IQ. His poor strategy cost him against Velasquez (partly), so that's something he can correct. And it was good strategy that helped him win the Alistair Overeem bout.

The problem, though, is that strategy wasn't the only reason Bigfoot lost to Velasquez the first time. He came up short because of his inability to get up off the bottom. Most importantly, there's a monstrous speed differential between the two heavyweights. There's really not much Silva can do to narrow that gap. He's just short on that end. Given the athletic differences here and Velasquez's superior wrestling, I'd say Silva's road to a title here is not so obvious.

2. From John Cholish to Jacob Volkmann to Chris Weidman to Matt Riddle, there are a ton of complaints about UFC and Bellator payouts and contracts. Is there any big picture takeaway from this?

Thomas: I'd say that there's probably some element of paranoia and incorrectly-articulated information. How much? Likely a very minor share, but every actor in this play has an axe to grind. And as they say, there's two sides to every story. I also have a bit of skepticism for accusations of sleight of hand or contractual malfeasance.

What I do believe, however, is that the current climate of MMA contracts from the UFC to Bellator to even regional shows favor the promoter. The only real leverage a fighter has is there popularity or status, e.g. middleweight champion. If a fighter has little of either, then they have little of anything. There is no collective bargaining agreement or legal minimum standard or the like. It's true in any line of work that the only thing you contractually get is what you can negotiate, but it's also true what you can negotiate is a function of one's own might. Most fighters have little.

Until that changes, I suspect complaints about contracts and pay and similarly related items won't be going away any time soon.

Doyle: I'm with Luke here. I know it sounds cold, but it comes down to the basics of supply and demand. It's not like anyone was going to make a decision on staying in to watch UFC on FX 8 based on whether John Cholish was on the card. I don't mean to pick on Cholish, he just happens to be the person who spoke up in this particular situation. It could apply to anyone. If you're an undercard fighter in the UFC making $6,000 to show and $6K to win, and you don't like the terms of your deal, there are dozens of other fighters who will accept the opportunity and take your spot in a heartbeat.

Tuesday, ESPN announced it was laying off several hundred people, despite the fact that parent corporation Disney makes money hand over fist. Is that fair? We live in an economic climate in which a few people rake in all the money and everyone else fights for the crumbs. "Fair" doesn't enter the equation, regardless of the industry.

It's up to their fighters to improve their lot. Wholesale changes would require the ones at the top of the heap, those making the most money, to rock the boat. Can you see any of the headliners on the upcoming pay-per-views boycotting a fight card in order to make sure John Cholish gets paid better? I think we know the answer to that one.

3. Eccentric retired fighter Luke Cummo recently posted a diatribe against mixed martial in which he said, among other things, "It's a mindless, stupid industry profiting from the spilled blood of the innocent, honest to God." Is this just the bitterness of someone who didn't make it to the top, or is there validity to his words?

Doyle: I don't want to disparage anyone who's stepped into the cage and competed. I can imagine it's frustrating to look back at all the years of effort and sacrifice and wonder if it was worth it, especially in a sport with such a heavy physical toll.

Still, it's not like Cummo wasn't given a fair shot. He trained with an elite gym in the Serra-Longo Fight Club and competed in the UFC for thee years. He was retained by the company even after dropping two of his first three UFC fights. He was 3-4 in the UFC and 6-6 overall when he was let go in 2008, which is where his career ended. He had his chance and he simply didn't get there.

Cummo's right about one thing: MMA is a heartless business. Like any other large sports or entertainment enterprise, the big machine carries on without you. But no one forced Luke Cummo to become a mixed martial artist. We're all adults responsible for making our own choices. Maybe this was just Cummo being Cummo. Maybe this is really how he feels. But we're all ultimately responsible for our own life's paths and Cummo's rants sound a bit too much like blaming the system for one's own choices.

Thomas: Other than saying Luke Cummo has an opinion here, I'm not sure what else to say. I'm also certainly no doctor or psychologist, but did anyone feel something was 'off' about Cummo when he talked? Like, did no one else get the sense he wasn't all there? Could just be me, but his never before seen underbite pausing between breathy sentences seemed a bit detached from it all.

Still, it's his opinion. It's not one I share, but we also don't share the same value system. If we're asking to what extent MMA contributes objectively toward human flourishing, one can make an argument both ways. I tend to think the good outweighs the bad.

Either way, I don't think this has much to do with Cummo's success or lack thereof at the elite level. He seems to have grown apart from MMA and is in a completely new phase of his life. Whatever the merits of his argument, I think they're genuine if rather misguded. No sour grapes. Plenty of weird grapes, though.

4. Will the amount of scrutiny Vitor Belfort is raising about TRT spill over onto other fighters who up to this point haven't been as criticized?

Thomas: I've been thinking about this all weekend and as of now, I'm inclined to say yes.

I find the charges that the English-speaking, Anglo media is focused on Vitor Belfort because he isn't one of 'us' to be a really poor argument. Belfort's situation is unique for any number of reasons, most notably the physical alteration and dramatic career success he's having at this late juncture in his career. If there's a poster child for TRT, Belfort is it. It's true others have had far more uneven experiences on the drug, but all of that sort of underscores my point.

I do suspect the level at which Belfort has lifted the pretension and phoniness that used to surround the conversation around TRT will have an effect on other uses. Just how much is anyone's guess, but I think it's probably fair to say there's a more open atmosphere about TRT's effects and the reasons for a fighter's usage now. But the truth is also that Belfort's erratic behavior exacerbates inquiries into his own use. Dan Henderson gets around the issue by basically dodging it and keeping his nose clean. Ditto for Chael Sonnen (albeit to a slightly lesser extent). So yes, other fighters should be prepared for more forced inquiries, but as long as they don't duck and dodge or threaten the physical safety of other reporters, they'll probably be just fine.

Doyle: I don't know that it necessarily will. The main crux of the problem is that Belfort's case is so blatant. He's the one with a steroid suspension on his record. He's the one who has been fighting outside of commission purview. He's the one with the most blatant "before and after" photos this side of Barry Bonds. And he's the one who's been most flippant about the whole process. Frankly, if whomever wins the Anderson Silva-Chris Weidman bout in July refuses to fight Belfort, I wouldn't blame either of them.

My guess is Belfort is going to continue to take the brunt of it. Sonnen seems to be out of the title picture once and for all. Henderson's not going to be around a lot longer, and the fact he lost his past fight to someone a decade his junior also deflects some of the heat. Belfort's the poster boy for TRT at the moment. And similar to how the baseball players who put up astronomical home run numbers became the focus of steroid attention, the fighter who has most benefited from TRT will likewise come under the biggest microscope.

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