Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
The well-oiled machine that is the MMA industry takes a bit of a break this weekend, but it doesn't feel that way. Not coming off three straight weekends of significant events and not with the next monster fight looming in Jon Jones vs. Dan Henderson on Sept. 1.
So it's time to get right back into it with the MMA Roundtable. My esteemed colleague, MMAFighting.com Senior Editor Luke Thomas, joins me to discuss Jones' mindset; what it will take to get Ronda Rousey vs. "Cyborg" Santos done; K-1 on Spike TV; and big fights on the September schedule.
Without further ado, on to this week's debate:
Dave Doyle: Well, Jones, when asked about it during Tuesday's media teleconference, said "I've thought past Henderson a little bit too much this training camp and I kind of regret it. I don't want to talk past him any more, I'm not even going to answer questions about after that." So on one hand that seems to tell you all you need to know. But on the other, it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg thing. The reason the questions about Lyoto Machida were out there over the past several weeks was specifically because Dana White made such a big deal out of the most-impressive light heavyweight winner at UFC on FOX 4 getting the next title shot after Jones-Hendo. With that information out there, it was only natural for Jones to be asked about it and equally natural for Jones to have an opinion.
But ultimately, does anyone really think Jones won't be the same Jon Jones come Sept. 1? Sure, plenty has gone down since the last time Jones fought, from his DUI to the Nike deal and even Chael Sonnen's attempts to get his attention. But Jones has brought it every time the Octagon door has locked in his career, and despite all the extracurriculars, it's hard to imagine it won't be the case again.
Luke Thomas: I believe my colleague is on the money here. Jones already admitted he's spent too much time talking about things not named Dan Henderson and he's had plenty of reasons to have done so.
But Dave is right for another reason, namely, Jones' chances a week from Saturday. If he's prepared professionally -- and we can assume he has, albeit not with certainty -- then it doesn't matter how focused on Machida Jones is or isn't. It doesn't matter. I still favor Jones to win by a huge margin. In fact, I suspect that Jones could think he's fighting Machida, train to fight Machida for months and then find out last minute he's fighting Henderson. My sense is he'd still finish him.
I'm sure some will read this and think I'm dismissing Henderson as some sort of undeserving also-run. Nothing could be further from the truth. Just like Sarah Kaufman and Ronda Rousey, I believed and know Kaufman to be a world-class fighter. She's a serious talent deserving of everyone's utmost respect. Beyond that, he's had one of the best careers in MMA of anyone, irrespective of weight class. I just believe as special as Henderson is, Jones is a once in a generation talent.
2. When push comes to shove, who will give in the tug-of-war over the weight at which a potential Ronda Rousey-Cristiane 'Cyborg' Santos fight would be contested?
Doyle: I'd be surprised if they don't end up meeting in the middle and fighting at 140. As much as Rousey seems to enjoy flaunting the fact that she has the upper hand, she's already cleaned out her division. Rousey's increasing television ratings show that she's become a curiosity, but the mostly empty arenas for her fights show she's not quite the draw she fancies herself. Her manager's ham-handed list of demands completely miss the point that without a true rival, without someone who is perceived as a threat in the cage, Rousey will stay a niche curiosity and won't make the true jump to mainstream star. "Cyborg," for her part, has come off completely out of touch. It's as if she's forgotten she's under suspension for steroids. Her best bet is to simply shut her mouth for awhile and stay off Twitter while she's at it, since this is a PR battle she can't win.
The question of whether Santos is even capable of reaching 135 is valid. As is Rousey's belief that she shouldn't have to jump a weight class. Either way, when White himself steps in and says he could see Rousey-Santos headlining a UFC event, then both sides need to come up with a way to make it work.
Thomas: If this fight isn't made, someone is committing promotional malpractice.
As for who will budge first, that's a really difficult question to answer. I'm with Dave in the sense that both parties are at a point now where fruitful dialogue isn't even remotely possible. Rousey's team is talking tough about setting up bulwarks. Cyborg is pretending this is a fight she's too busy to be concerned with even if she wanted to get down to 135 pounds. Spare us, folks.
Push comes to shove, though, Rousey will be the one to budge. It's easier to go up in weight than down, for starters. Second, this is far too big a fight to not produce. If UFC somehow gets the opportunity to put this fight on one of their platforms (something that is very possible), they're going to incentivize Rousey with heavy monetary compensation. Lastly, if they make it for 140 lbs., is that really much of a disadvantage? Not really. Rousey is absolutely embarrassing everyone just five pounds below. Mind you: not beating them, she's making them appear to be amateurish. She can't maintain a strong competitive advantage just five pounds above that? Of course she can. Drug testing will be a difficult issue to overcome, so I don't know the fight will be made. But if it is, it's Rousey - despite having leverage - who will make more adjustments.
3. From boxing to wrestling to judo, MMA fans don't necessarily follow the individual sports from which its comprised. What can Spike TV do in order to turn MMA fans into K-1 fans?
Thomas: The very premise of this question is important. There are plenty of mixed martial arts fans, but there are very few combat sports fans. Admittedly, one need not be a fan of judo to like MMA. Ditto with kickboxing. But the point is that as it relates to the combat sports world, MMA comes first in popularity. Everything, at least as it relates to today's reality, is a distant second.
As for K-1 and Spike, I'm of a few minds on the matter. Let it be known I am part of a show on Spike TV, so take whatever I say with a grain of salt. My sense is that K-1 still obviously has huge name value, but the roster needs rebuilding. Is it really possible? That's the challenge that remains. My understanding is Glory and Its Showtime are out in front of this, but the move to Spike could make K-1 an attractive place for fighters.
There's also the issue of weight classes. Right now only heavyweight and 70kg really offer any names or stars. There's an argument to be made K-1 can try to build other divisions rather than trying to poach existing stars. There's also a question of whether fans will know the stars are missing if the action is strong and the production is there, at least in the short run.
This is all a long way of saying 'I don't know'. There are too many unknowns to really say with confidence at this juncture. But it's certainly intriguing and if Spike can create synergy among its combat sports brands, look out. Tons of challenges ahead, but tons of upside, too.
Doyle: I have to keep it real, here: I've barely watched K-1 in my life. I've caught it for a few minutes here and there flipping through the channels. But there are only so many hours in the day. It's not like, say, boxing, which I don't follow as closely as MMA but follow enough that I can at least have a semi-intelligent conversation about the sport.
But that said, if K-1's on and being pushed by Spike, I'll at least give it a look. Will others? It seems like a longshot, but there were hundreds of thousands of people who didn't follow the UFC, came across it while channel surfing Spike, and became fans over the years. The difference there, of course, is that UFC had a compelling product. Does K-1? Time will tell. Never say never, but K-1 seems in for an uphill battle.
Thomas: It might be a bit esoteric, but I'm looking forward to the UFC debut of Gunnar Nelson.
Nelson is jiu-jitsu black belt, but not the typical one. He made a huge name for himself at the 2009 ADCC competition when he took fourth in the Absolute division, beating Jeff Monson and David Avellan. He's taken gold at IBJJF Pan-Am and World championships, though his world medal wasn't in the black belt division.
Still, his game is exciting because it's complete and he seems to be a natural at it. From other fighters and grapplers I've talked to who've trained with him, the feedback I get is his ability to master techniques with on an incredibly expedited timeline.
He's facing Pascal Krauss, who isn't a world beater, but is a capable fighter. And we've seen quite a few high level black belts crossover. As everyone is quick to remind us, this is a fight, not a jiu-jitsu match. Nonetheless, it's exciting when an athletic and technical talent from a part of the world not known for producing this kind of beast actually gives us one to evaluate. How far can he go? We'll find out. But I'm curious to watch his journey.
Doyle: Far and away my favorite fight on the September schedule is Joseph Benavidez vs. Demetrious Johnson for the inaugural UFC flyweight title at UFC 152 in Toronto. Benavidez-Johnson is both an interesting stylistic matchup between a pair of well-rounded fighters and the culmination of what's been one of the most interesting storylines of 2012 in the flyweight title tournament.
Benavidez earned his spot with his knockout of Yasuhiro Urushitani. "Mighty Mouse" had his pair of epic bouts with Ian McCall. Save the scoring controversy in the first Johnson-McCall fight, the flyweight tourney has been all about the action in the cage during a year in MMA in which the news has often been about everything but.
The action at 125 pounds has been fast and furious both in the tourney and around the division in general. Flyweight fighting has been a breath of fresh air this year, and the Benavidez-Johnson bout promises to be the division's crowning moment.
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