It's a quiet week in MMA. No major fights in the next few days, yet there always seems to be something to discuss. In the past day or two, Rory MacDonald has found himself in the headlines as the target of Jake Ellenberger's constant jabs.
On this week's MMA Roundtable, my colleague Luke Thomas and I wonder what exactly MacDonald is doing in the welterweight division with his teammate Georges St-Pierre still holding down the top spot. We'll also look at the fairness of fighters losing "promised" title shots, debate the best remaining major fights of the year, and try to figure out what to expect from Anderson Silva in his rematch with Chris Weidman.
On to the questions ...
1. Rory MacDonald, who fights Jake Ellenberger at next week's UFC on FOX 8, has consistently said he will not fight Georges St-Pierre. Is he wasting his time at welterweight?
Chiappetta: I sense that MacDonald is conflicted about the whole situation, and it's hard to blame him. St-Pierre opened his door to let MacDonald into the Tristar family, and it would be discourteous for MacDonald to openly campaign for a title match against him.
On the other hand, everyone gets into sports with the goal of going as far as they can. In the case of fighters, they want to be the champion. MacDonald is no different, and it's not like he's hid that ambition from the world. He's openly stated it for years already, even though he's still only 23. He wants a belt, and as long as St-Pierre continues to reign over the welterweight division, he also stands as a roadblock to MacDonald. If it's not fair for MacDonald to openly challenge St-Pierre, it's also unfair for St-Pierre to stand in the way of MacDonald's dreams.
If St-Pierre retains the belt, and if MacDonald becomes the No. 1 contender, the best-case scenario would be the two reaching a gentlemen's agreement to split camps and fight each other. While it may prove to be a temporarily awkward situation, at least neither of them will have to live with regret over the lost chance to fulfill a dream.
To sum up, I don't feel that MacDonald is wasting his time at welterweight unless he officially turns down a match against GSP, because all of what he's done will have led to nothing.
Thomas: I haven't heard much in the way of GSP being overly enthusiastic about this fight. There's a lot of talk around MacDonald and that's understandable to an extent. It's a hard cut for him to make welterweight, so he could conceivably move up if need be. By contrast, GSP is fixed in the position by virtue of being champion. But GSP had a hard time fighting Matt Hughes the first time. Granted, that was ages ago and GSP looked up to him as an icon in the sport. But the point being is it's not exactly clear GSP is chomping at the bit for a fight with his teammate either.
And that's sort of the point. It really all comes down to the camp's ethics and values. Some camps put you on high alert: no matter what, be ready to fight even if it's a teammate. In camps where fighters are raised and groomed there, it's generally no issue. In other camps, this sort of view could never be accepted. Your teammate isn't also someone who fights for your team, they're your support group. You need this person to not just train, but to get you through training. You suffer hardship together. You build an identity with this person (and everyone else). Fighting them, then, becomes impossible because it sets in motion an act that divides everything you've worked toward building. That's why often in jiu-jitsu tournaments teammates who meet in a match will have one forfeit rather than the two compete. In MMA, they just won't fight one another.
As for MacDonald, he's only wasting his time if GSP continues to sit and sit on the crown while the two avoid each other. But I have a belief GSP isn't in this game for much longer. If MacDonald can hang on and continue to beat contenders, he'll actually be situated nicely to take over when GSP departs. And that way, the Tristar flag will continue to fly on the welterweight peak.
2. T.J. Grant said on Monday's MMA Hour that he is not guaranteed a title match when he's ready to return. Should fighters lose out on promised title bouts due to injury?
Chiappetta: In a perfect world, no. But fighting is far from a perfect world. Often, there are just too many moving parts in play when a match has to be rescheduled. Think about all of the things the promoter has to consider when constructing a plan: 1) when is the injured fighter scheduled to return, 2) what is the timing of the replacement fight, 3) will the champion come out healthy enough to face him in a timely manner, 4) what cards need headlining bouts, etc.
It is a dizzying list, and that's just for one fight; at any given time there are dozens more being planned, and other contenders waiting in the wings.
But let's examine Grant as a good example of how tricky this can be. After suffering a concussion in June, he said he expects to be ready to fight around November. If that is the case, he might only have to wait a bit longer to face the Ben Henderson vs. Anthony Pettis winner. In this case, there seems to be a possible match. But in the same interview, he mentioned he's already had a couple of setbacks when he's done too much too soon. Concussions are notoriously difficult to return from; just ask NHL star Sidney Crosby or former baseball MVP Justin Morneau. Can the UFC really pencil him in to a November date? It's too early to tell, and that could be a problem.
What happens if the problem lingers? How long does he have dibs on the No. 1 contender spot? How long should the champion wait for the contender? These are real issues with no easy answers. Generally speaking, the UFC should do what they can to honor that promise, but often, timing or other circumstances will make rebooking a hardship.
Thomas: I agree with much of what Mike writes here. The promotional needs of the UFC don't always align with the medical needs of top contenders. He explains that nicely above.
But let's also introduce another measure of honesty here. If the UFC wants to prioritize around you, they can and will. For a champion like Dominick Cruz, they'll wait literally years for you to get better. He's already the champion, of course, but the point is they didn't strip him even when they put an interim champ in rotation. We'll see how things go with Cat Zingano, but I suspect she'll get her shot when the time comes because of the dearth of contenders and her widely acclaimed drubbing of Miesha Tate.
I'm not sure Grant has the same leverage. There is no denying what he's done at lightweight is remarkable and then some. He's defied everyone, including this writer, in beating top fighter after top fighter. He has earned his shot. But 'earning a shot' often means 'earning a shot at this place and time'. Once that window of timing and location closes, it's not obvious it can reopen. The game moves on. The promotion moves on. New contenders can sometimes emerge in the blink of an eye. It's hardly fair or right or just or however one wishes to describe it. But it is real. As real as it gets, in fact.
3. There are a ton of interesting main and co-main event fights left for the UFC in 2013. Which of them is your favorite and why?
Thomas: It's really hard to go wrong with any pick and this is all basically going to come down to preference. As for me, my choices go like this.
For the best main event, I have little choice but to go with the rematch between Anderson Silva and champion Chris Weidman. This is almost an obvious pick. The amount of anger, surprise, contention, hand wringing, dismissal, expectation, confusion, surprise, general gobsmackery and more after the first fight is like something I've never seen before. It sets up one of the most important rematches in UFC history for one of the best fighters - if not the best - in the history of the sport. I just don't know how anything can top that.
As an honorable mention, I'll give Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks a nod. A prime GSP beats a prime Hendricks, but I'm not convinced we still have a prime champion. We might. I don't know. I know he claimed illness for his last fight. I also think he's battling burnout and loss of interest still. We shall see. Either way, that's a hugely compelling main event.
As a second honorable mention, I'll go with Anthony Pettis vs. Benson Henderson. I think these two are stylistically made for each other. Both are capable of winning. Both very capable of losing. This could also serve as the true moment of popular ascension for whoever wins.
For co-main event, there isn't much better than the rematch of Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate. I admit it's not the most competitive fight on paper. But they'll be coming off of The Ultimate Fighter, the bad blood is legitimate and as far as Rousey fights go, Tate gave her a run.
Whatever your preferences, buckle up. The rest of 2013 is going to be insane.
Chiappetta: I think there's no question that UFC 168 -- Weidman vs. Silva, Rousey vs. Tate -- is the marquee event for all of 2013. If all four of the particulars manage to stay healthy, there won't be an MMA show in all of the year that will manage as much attention and interest as the UFC's year-end show.
That said, I'll look elsewhere other than Luke's picks for my No. 2's. For main event, we don't have long to wait until Jose Aldo vs. Chan Sung Jung. We all know just how good Aldo is, but Jung is a highlight machine. In his last five fights, he's had two Fight of the Nights, two Submission of the Nights, and one Knockout of the Night. Oh yeah, he also had the 2012 Fight of the Year for his win over Dustin Poirier. So Jung is capable of anything, so it's almost guaranteed will give Aldo hell, and it will be interesting to see how the smooth champion responds.
Since far fewer co-main events are announced, I'll go with next week's UFC on FOX 8 fight between MacDonald and Ellenberger. Both guys hit like trucks, fight like beasts, and there is a bit of animosity between them. That's a good formula.
4. What do you make of Anderson Silva's defense of his 'clowning' and that it's 'part of the show'? Do you think he'll do it again in the rematch with Weidman? Is he just trolling the media?
Thomas: I don't think there is much to make of it, honestly. That isn't to say it's not worth taking seriously. I could very well see him doing it again, although perhaps not to the extent seen in the original fight. And part of me feels like he enjoys fighting that way. It's not simply that he he's had success with it, but that he enjoys himself in the process. On some level, I do believe he views himself as a showman and his fight as part of a diet of fisticuffs for fans to enjoy for an evening.
On the other hand, we'd be wise to not overreach as well. There is often a gap between what Silva says and what he does, sometimes considerably so. Just as Silva enjoys being a showman inside the cage, I'm convinced he likes to play games outside. Not malicious games, of course. These are victimless crimes, if they're crimes at all. But my reading of things is that he enjoys saying things partly because he believes some of it, partly to make some kind of an impact on an intended audience. Who that audience is and what the intended impact could be can vary greatly, but he's a careful craftsman and honest broker just as much as he is a gambler and ever so harmless troublemaker.
Chiappetta: Fighting is an arduous career path. At the beginning, you make little money. The training is physically and mentally demanding, there are often politics involves, and injuries are a certainty. You train for months and months to compete a few times a year. Those few moments aren't exactly a refuge, but it's all you get to share with the world of your journey. How you portray yourself, how you choose to compete, is hugely personal, and it is one of the few things you have control over. So you think I'm going to criticize Anderson Silva over how he conducts himself?
I have always seen Silva's bobbing, weaving and taunting as a way to get his opponents to come forward and overcommit, opening themselves for a counter, which is, by the way, his speciality. It all works together as part of his style. Sure, it's possible that even the G.O.A.T. goes too far. He was badly off-balance as Weidman closed the distance to land the game-changing left hook. Weidman scored with it, but let's also remember that the new champion has also admitted several times since the fight that he was angered by Silva's actions, and abandoned his game plan. If Silva can get him to do the same thing the next time while keeping a better defensive posture, would it be surprising if Weidman's fire gets used against him?
Silva found greatness at least partially because he found a way to meld his brilliant physical skills with his mental edge over his competition. I don't expect him to abandon that formula in the rematch, just to tweak it a bit.