MMA Roundtable: Is the UFC debasing Jon Jones' title?

Paul Abell-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Just when you thought you this week was going to be boring ...

My colleague Mike Chiapetta and I had what we thought was a pretty solid lineup of topics set for this week's MMA Roundtable: Who should be next for Anderson Silva? If Eddie Alvarez goes to the UFC, where do you slot him in the lightweight division? Which UFC 153 welterweight is closest to a title shot? And what to make of Strikeforce?

Then the bomb dropped Tuesday afternoon. Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen, the most polarizing UFC decision since -- well, there's a new UFC-inspired Internet outrage pretty much every month, so take your pick -- came down, and Twitter hasn't settled down since.

Without further ado, then, on to the latest MMA Roundtable, leading off with a fresh new bonus question on Jones vs. Sonnen:

1. Does the booking of undeserving challengers like Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen devalue the light heavyweight title Jon Jones holds?

Chiappetta: The legitimacy of the title lies with the fighter as much as the matchups that he partakes in. The thing about the belts is that the UFC has always taken "artistic license" with finding challengers. Remember when Jon Jones won the belt from Mauricio "Shogun" Rua? He wasn't the No. 1 contender at the time. Sure, he was basically on the verge of cracking the top five, but Rashad Evans was queued up ahead of him. Does that make Jones "undeserving" of the opportunity he got, and does it devalue the belt he now holds? Of course not. And that's because he has proven himself through time with his decimations of former champions.

Fighting Chael Sonnen and/or Vitor Belfort doesn't change that. Are they the men he should be fighting? No. Of course there are others who have done more to create the opportunity they are being denied with these out-of-left-field matchups.

If the UFC continues on this track of putting Jones into the cage against blown-up middleweights with no divisional wins, well, then you have the right to reconsider what's going on. But two fights doesn't change Jones' history of meeting and beating the best. And it doesn't devalue the strap around his waist. At least not yet.

Doyle: I agree with Mike's take on Jones, but I'd also like to add another thought: Where were all the self-appointed Guardians of Mixed Martial Arts Championship Sanctity on the day Frankie Edgar was granted a shot at Jose Aldo Jr.'s featherweight title?

Sonnen's shot at Jones is being treated as credibility-destroying disgrace because he hasn't fought anyone in the light heavyweight division and is coming off a loss. Remind me, how many fights did Edgar have at featherweight when he was granted a crack at Aldo? And what does Edgar's won-loss record over the past two years look like? But these were conveniently overlooked because it was a fun fight on paper.

Oh, and here's a pop quiz for you: Can you name another fighter who was granted a title shot at a higher weight class after losing two title fights at his lower weight class? Give up? The answer is Randy Couture, who had gone five years without a heavyweight fight and had been retired a full year when he defeated Tim Sylvia for the title at UFC 68. Not only did the sky not fall that evening, the bout is remembered as one of the sport's most magical moments.

If you're going to pontificate righteous indignation over the notion MMA a pure sport and insist a fighter has to work his way through the division to earn a title shot, then you have to show consistency in your position. You can't have it both ways based one whether you personally like one fight and not another. Either someone earned their title shot in their division or they didn't.

Anyway, the Guardians of Mixed Martial Arts Championship Sanctity howled their way through the first Tito Ortiz-Ken Shamrock fight, bleated their way through middleweight and welterweight title shots being granted to the winners of "The Ultimate Fighter 4," and brayed their way through Brock Lesnar getting a title shot in his fourth pro fight.

The UFC got through those fights just fine and will do the same here.

2. Regardless of the UFC's surprise Jones-Sonnen announcement, which would have made the most sense for Anderson Silva's next fight: A super fight with Jones, a fight with Georges St-Pierre, or a middleweight title defense?

Chiappetta: The Georges St-Pierre fight has always been the right direction, assuming he beats Carlos Condit.

Silva may be closer in size to Jones than GSP, that's mostly inarguable, but on the other hand, his management team has made it clear that he's willing to compromise himself and cut more weight than normal to face St-Pierre at a catch weight. That's a middle ground that does not exist in the Silva-Jones fight, where most expect him to fight Jones at his normal weight.

Think about this: Silva hasn't cut below 185 since his Rumble on the Rock 8 fight with Yushin Okami, and that's nearly seven years ago. So you think it will be easy for the man, who is 37 years old by the way, to suddenly dip below that number and still be at full strength and speed on fight night? If you do, I invite you to look up Oscar de la Hoya's final fight, when he tried the same thing against Manny Pacquiao and fought listlessly until declining to come out for the ninth round.

Couple that together with the fact that GSP is the UFC's biggest pay-per-view draw, and I think it's the smart business and fight decision to have him be the one to fight Silva. Now, all he's got to do is beat Condit, no small task.

Doyle: The UFC's announcement of Jones vs Sonnen just as Silva-Jones talk heated up makes the latter fight moot. This leaves us with the choice of Silva-GSP or Silva vs. a middleweight contender, and out of the two, I'd go with Silva vs. St-Pierre.

You only get so many champion vs. champion super fights. We haven't had one since St-Pierre vs. B.J. Penn. St-Pierre has been reluctant to make the fight the fight with Silva, but when pushed, he's said he would do it if he's given enough time to properly put on the extra weight. And Silva, as Mike notes, wouldn't have as easy a weight cut as people seem to assume.

Add to this the fact there simply isn't a clear-cut No. 1 middleweight contender at the moment. Chris Weidman (win over Mark Munoz), Michael Bisping (Brian Stann), and Tim Boetsch (Yushin Okami) all have exactly one win over top-10 middleweights. If GSP beats Carlos Condit (and that's a considerable "if"), that gives enough time for the middleweight situation to sort itself out while the UFC builds toward GSP-Silva.

3. Assuming that Eddie Alvarez lands in the UFC as expected, do you put him in right away against a top-five fighter, start him against a mid-card guy, or make him fight his way up from the bottom?

Chiappetta: I think it's a stone cold lock that Alvarez will wind up in the octagon, and since Dana White is on record saying that he believes Alvarez is one of the best fighters in the world, I think it's reasonable to assume that he breaks in against one of the division's biggest names.

Here's another reason: because Bellator (and the UFC) keep matching rights on expiring contracts, the UFC has to structure the deal in such a way that makes it impossible for Alvarez's current organization to match. That likely means big money. And when someone gets paid big money, you expect them to start producing right away.

So there will be no honeymoon period for Alvarez. Expect to see him get thrown in with a shark right away. At last, he'll have the opportunity to prove that he can succeed in the octagon.

Doyle: I would be inclined to agree wholesale with Mike's take if not for one thing: UFC already went this route with Hector Lombard and had it bite them on the backside. Lombard was hyped as a middleweight killing machine, but the only thing he killed in his UFC debut fight with Boetsch was his future drawing power.

I agree that Alvarez has put himself in a nice position. He's going to make some bank. My guess is he'll get one bout against a borderline middle-to-upper level guy in his debut fight, but the UFC will place it in a high-profile spot like a Fox event or the main card of one of the bigger PPV events. If he wins that, he'll get a fight with a Benson Henderson or Nate Diaz-caliber fighter.

4. We saw three fantastic welterweight performances at UFC 153: Jon Fitch, Demian Maia, and even Erick Silva in a losing effort. Which of the 3, if any, stands the most realistic chance of being a true threat for the belt in the future?

Doyle: It depends on how far in the future we're talking.

Short-term? I wouldn't count Fitch out against anyone at 170 pounds, including St-Pierre. Fitch spent the whole week leading up to UFC 153 talking about how he's changed his priorities, changed his approach, changed his entire career philosophy. Then he went out against Silva and looked like a fighter who finally added that one percent his game was missing after having the other 99 percent all along. Fitch clearly used his setbacks over the past couple years to reflect and regroup. The only impediment I see in his future is that he's already in his mid-30s, so time is a factor. But for now, if the Fitch who showed up against Silva keeps coming back for more, I don't count him out against anyone.

Long-term? Don't write off Silva. During the Fitch fight, I found myself thinking about St-Pierre's first match against Matt Hughes. GSP had his moments before Hughes caught him and finished him. Later in the night, White made the same observation, so I'm not the only one who saw the similarity. After Hughes taught St-Pierre a lesson, St-Pierre figured out what he had to work on and brought his game to the next level. Can Silva do the same? If he can, then three years from now we might have ourselves a future champion.

As for Maia, I feel the jury's still out. He looks like a new fighter. He looks impressive. But beating Dong Hyun Kim and Rick Story is one thing, and the upper-echelon guys are another. Will he be able to impose his will on the likes of GSP, Fitch and Carlos Condit the way he did Kim and Story? I don't feel like I have enough information to say yes or no to that one yet. A bout with a top-five opponent, maybe even Fitch, would help find an answer.

Chiappetta: As three separate works in progress, Silva has the most upside as the one who can make the leap to next-level talent. I'm sure that since returning home, Silva has realized that he lost a winnable fight. His risk-taking makes for a helluva show, but it's not always going to work, and sometimes it's going to backfire against some of the guys willing to grind like St-Pierre and Fitch.

There are slight changes he can make that allow him to retain the spirit of his style while shoring up his takedown defense. The raw talent is there. Now the fight IQ has to catch up.

I agree with Dave that age is a factor working against Fitch. While he looked outstanding, he's going to have to create that title opportunity for himself very quickly to cash it in, and Dana White is on record saying that he'll have a tough time being convinced Fitch deserves another chance after a one-sided beating in their first meeting. Maia is capable of beating anyone on a good day, but he's lacked consistency in his previous big fights, and must prove his ability to beat a top five before we can project him as a title winner.

5. Late last week we had a second straight Strikeforce event canceled. The promotion claims they will be back in January with a stacked card. Is it still viable as a promotion, or have they irretrievably broken the fans' trust?

Doyle: Before I answer the question, I think it's telling what comprises a stacked card by 2012 Strikeforce standards. Let's say they go ahead and book Daniel Cormier vs. Frank Mir, Ronda Rousey vs. whomever, and rebook Gilbert Melendez vs. Pat Healy and Luke Rockhold vs. Lorenz Larkin. Sure, it's a nice card and a quality night of fights. But it's also pretty much an average offering compared to Strikeforce's 2009-10 heyday. How far has a promotion fallen when such a fight is cast as a supercard?

Let's play hypothetical and look beyond January. If you have this stacked card, then who are you going to book on the next Strikeforce card in February or March? You've just used all of your slim roster of bankable talent on one night.

There isn't enough talent in Strikeforce to sustain a full schedule of fight cards. It's not fair to let the quality fighters left under fritter away their career primes like they are.

The fans obviously understand this, since they were staying away from Strikeforce events in droves even before the company started pulling the plug on events.

Strikeforce's contract with Showtime is up in early 2013. I say go ahead and book the January event, build it up as Strikeforce's last hurrah, and then dissolve this forced marriage ASAP.

Chiappetta: If we've learned one thing, it's that Dave is a tough audience. I'd say the card he proposed is pretty legit if it includes three title matches and Cormier-Mir as the headliner. That's a great night of action worth a ticket buy. But yes, his larger point remains valid that there's a future beyond that, and it seems to be a vast wasteland.

When's the last time we heard that Strikeforce signed a big name? Who are the upcoming contenders? Who are the rising stars? If Strikeforce was hellbent on its future, we'd have answers to these questions. We have them in regards to the UFC. That we don't have them, well, that doesn't exactly inspire confidence in what lies beyond January.

Add to that the fact that they've canceled two events in a row, and you can see why fans are skeptical about where they are and where they're going. Unfortunately, the ultimate losers in the whole deal are the fighters. Cormier, who got into the fight game late to begin with, has only fought once in 13 months. Tim Kennedy's fought once since July 2011. When the Strikeforce-Showtime deal got renewed, Dana White said he'd make the fighters happy. And now, he's washed his hands of the organization's problems. Does that seem fair?

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