Fightweets: UFC time machine

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How can you write about MMA if you've never fought?

It's a question every mixed martial arts writer has heard at one point or another, usually from someone who disagrees with something they've written about their favorite fighter.

The simple answer to this loaded question is you don't need experience as a fighter in order to write with authority about MMA any more or less than you need experience as a professional journalist in order to have an informed opinion on the media.

But that circular logic notwithstanding, it sure doesn't hurt your credentials if you have that fight experience, either.

Chicago-based MMA journalist Elias Cepeda has been juggling a freelance writing career with his jiu-jitsu training for years.

In recent years, though, the Chicago-based Cepeda decided it was time to put his money where his mouth was. No longer content with just training, he has fought several amateur MMA bouts and also an amateur boxing match.

It was inevitable his twin passions would intersect at some point. He's started a series called The Travel Chronicles.

I'll admit I'm biased in my judgement here. Elias is a friend of mine. He stayed with me in Los Angeles a few months back while he trained at Antoni Hardonk's Dynamix gym, before he went off to Las Vegas to spend time at Wanderlei Silva's gym and at Xtreme Couture.

But honest, it's a good read regardless. So check it out when you have a moment.

With that, on to this week's Fightweets. If you want to be included in a future edition, go to my Twitter account at @davedoylemma and leave me a question.

UFC time machine

Jordan K (@SlayKatzNY): Put yourself in a time machine. What is the MMA landscape in five years? How big is the UFC and who are the stars?

Actually Jordan, I think first I'm going to hop in the time machine and go back five years and look at where MMA was then. There are some lessons to learn about where the UFC is now.

In the fall of 2007, there was just as much hand-wringing going on over the UFC's future as there is now. It seemed like one thing after another was going wrong. Dana White took heat after a very public spat with one of his biggest stars, then-heavyweight champion Randy Couture, after Couture quit the company. Chuck Liddell had not only lost the light heavyweight title to Quinton Jackson, but also followed up with a split-decision upset loss to Keith Jardine. UFC 78, held in November, was widely criticized for having a pay-per-view main event perceived as unworthy of headliner status. Those headliners? Rashad Evans and Michael Bisping. Oh, and the lightweight title was vacant, as Sean Sherk popped for steroids over the summer.

So people were teeth-gnashing because 1. Dana White was feuding with one of his superstars; 2. One of the UFC's big PPV headliners was suddenly in career decline; 3. There appeared to be no one ready to step up and take Couture and Liddell's place, leading fans to make knee-jerk judgements on the likes of Evans and Bisping; and 4. Commission suspensions derailed company plans.

Sound familiar?

The turbulence the UFC experienced during a growth period five years ago didn't translate to gloom and doom for the sport of MMA. Far from it. Couture eventually returned to the company. Liddell had no answer for Father Time, but he and his contemporaries were replaced by the likes of Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, Brock Lesnar, and even Evans, whose presence atop UFC 78 was so derided. After all of 2007's drama, 2008 was a record year and 2009 topped it.

Likewise, Zuffa is facing well-documented challenges these days. The company is going through growing pains with its Fox deal; there has been an insane number of fight fallouts and injuries, there are questions how long top draws like GSP and Silva can last, and so on.

The particulars change, but the same fundamental questions stay the same. Whether the injury bug gets fixed is the X factor, but the rest is largely in their control.

Five years ago, when everyone was worried about who would fill Couture and Liddell's spots, Jon Jones hadn't even had his first pro fight and Chael Sonnen was competing on SportFight cards in Portland. No one saw either of these guys coming as monster draws back in 2007. I can't predict who will break through and headline in 2012 any more than I could retroactively claim Sonnen was going to catch fire, but what reason is there to believe new stars won't emerge?

I'm not going to sit here and say that when the UFC figures its way out of its current set of challenges, it will experience growth to the degree it did in 2008 and 2009. But as the quick glimpse back to 2007 shows, they've been here before and they've found their way through.

Does Bonnar have a chance?

@xX_FROST_XX: Considering Silva's hit percentage, do you really feel a guy like Bonnar can hold out? I don't.

On one hand, I agree, but on the other ... isn't this sort of why we're tuning in to begin with? There's a line of thinking in this sport where every fight has to have deep meaning or fit into some sort of complex cosmic puzzle. I'm as guilty of it at times as anyone.

But, you know what? When push comes to shove I'd rather have an occasional fight like Silva vs. Bonnar than, say, have some corrupt outside sanctioning body force a mandatory title defense no one wants to see on the public, as happens so often in boxing.

Maybe Silva will perform some sort of Mortal Kombat "Finish Him!" scene on Bonnar on Saturday night. Maybe we'll see Bonnar pull off the upset of the decade, like we nearly saw Vitor Belfort pull on Jon Jones a few weeks ago. I just want to see the fight for its own sake, and at this stage of the game all the blather about whether this fight is good for the sport is going in one ear and out the other.

Ahem ... not that this was what you asked, of course. So to answer your question, xX, you're probably right, and I'm looking forward to seeing whether Bonnar can prove you and I wrong.

Stephens situation

@Scream13: Was the state of Minnesota going to let Stephens fight on Friday?

Apparently not! *Rimshot*

Look, I'm not going to pretend to know enough about the situation to judge whether Stephens is guilty of the assault charge of which he's accused. That aside, White does seem to be on to something when he said the authorities in Iowa are looking to making an example of Stephens.

The sheriff in Polk County, Iowa, is up for re-election in a tight race. Nabbing Stephens the day of his fight and extraditing him back to Polk County in time for a hearing on Oct. 23, two weeks before the election, is a surefire way to keep your name in the headlines.

This isn't in any way meant to downplay the seriousness of the charges levied against Stephens. But let's be real. Elected law enforcement types making carefully timed busts of public figures is something that's gone on for as long as there have been both elections and newspapers, and that sure looks like what went down with Stephens last Friday.

Women in the UFC?

@Fernando_Rochas: Considering the end of SF and the love Dana has for Rousey, will we be seeing women in the UFC later this year?

Well, Strikeforce isn't actually dead yet. Showtime is the one holding the option on whether to keep the life support systems going for another year.

But as for your main point, with each passing week, I become more and more convinced that women's fighting is one of the things which will help the sport get through it's current rough patch. Each Invicta card so far has featured several good-to-great fights. Women's fighting is pretty much the only hot item left in Strikeforce, no offense to the few big men's names left who have no one of note left to fight.

Women's MMA isn't a novelty anymore. The women belong on MMA's biggest stage. Don't think they have the name recognition yet? Fine. Do an all-women's season of "The Ultimate Fighter" and you'll not only not only get them over to a mainstream audience, but you'll give yourself your best shot at reviving the TUF franchise.

But I'm jumping ahead of things.

Getting Ronda Rousey onto a big UFC show would be a great start. But all you have to do is look at fights over the past couple years like Miesha Tate vs. Julie Kedzie, Sara McMann vs. Shayne Baszler and Liz Carmouche vs. Marloes Coenen to realize that even one televised women's bout per UFC card would be enough to freshen the product with quality fighters. Whether that means absorbing the Strikeforce women's roster or working a talent share with Invicta, something should be done to bring the ladies on board.

UFC cuts DaMarques Johnson

@UFCgirl32: Not surprising.. Should've stuck w/his med suspension the full 60.. And then trained harder..

@sigill77: that's a shame cause he always came to fight like some others that are still there after a string of loses

@NotAirJordan: how can DW bash guys for not taking smart short notice fights and then cutting them when do #badbusiness

@BrettEliBrooks: he needs to leave Utah and go to a better camp!! Jeremy horns submission system is primitive! Career reboot!!

Reaction to the news the UFC cut Johnson was both swift and split right down the middle. Those on Johnson's side, like @NotAirJordan, pointed out the UFC does in fact make a big deal out of taking care of fighters who step up and take short-notice bouts. But on the other hand, Johnson has lost four of his past five bouts, hasn't looked like he really belongs in the big leagues in his last two fights, and missed weight badly before his loss to Gunnar Nelson a couple weeks ago.

The reaction clearly struck a nerve with the UFC, which took the rare step of making matchmaker Joe Silva, who's usually off-limits for on-the-record quotes, available to discuss the situation. Bottom line: Did UFC show its best judgement in offering Johnson the fight to begin with, given that he was coming off a brutal knockout loss to Mike Swick? Probably not. But the moment Johnson accepts the fight, its on him, both to make the agreed-upon weight and to put up a fight in the Octagon which suggests he belongs on the company. Johnson didn't come through on his end of the bargain.

UFC 153 stock report

@Audioderek: Besides Anderson Silva, who's else's stock plummets with a loss at #ufc153?

Jon Fitch. Two years ago, he was ranked in most pound-for-pound polls and seemed on the cusp of another shot at St-Pierre's title. Then he went 0-1-1 in his next two fights and lost quite a bit of time due to injury.

Now he returns to action and he's suddenly a 34-year old fighter facing one of the hottest prospects in the division in Erick Silva, and doing so on Silva's home turf. I admire Fitch for manning up and taking a tough bout. If he can win under these circumstances he deserves to shoot right back up the ratings. But a loss would make his uphill climb that much more steep.

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