Just when you thought things were getting a little slow in the MMA world, Tuesday happened. The UFC's injury bug struck again, as both the main event and co-main event to UFC 153 fell out, thanks to injuries to Jose Aldo Jr. and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson.
What can the UFC do about the continuing string of fight fallouts? How can the company fix UFC 153? My colleague Luke Thomas and I discuss those topics, Roy Nelson vs. Shane Carwin, and a proposed future fight for Jon Jones in the latest edition of the MMA Roundtable.
1. The injury bug isn't going away and is seriously affecting important bouts the UFC needs. What, reasonably speaking, can UFC do to reduce the injury rate or at least combat the effects of it?
Thomas: Here's the truth: no one really knows what's causing the apparent uptick in injury. And that's the central problem.
We can all offer our top theories on what's causing the injury problem. We can all even say what we think would be a good solution to the perceived problem. The issue is that as long as we're groping in the dark for some idea of what ails us, we'll never properly address the issue. I don't know if UFC is internally working to find the data on what's causing the issue, but if not they should be. Their very business depends on it.
Were I part of the UFC brass - and I am not - I'd first entertain the idea of discovering whether or not fighter insurance is the culprit. There's no going back on that advancement, but it would at least provide some confirmation about what is or isn't the problem. If it is, then they have some tough choices to make because that means the rate of injury isn't changing. They'll need to reduce the amount of cards (if possible), hire shadow fighters to train in the event a fighter falls out (if possible) or some other creative solution that accepts the injury rate as a given and looks to offset the deleterious effects.
If it's not the fighter insurance and some other factors, they need to vigorously fight them. Easier said than done, of course, but the future of the business depends on it. Is the issue steroid abuse? Then don't rule out out of competition testing. Perhaps the problem is overly aggressive training. Solutions there range a discovery and dissemination of best practices to public disclosure of camp injury rate. Frankly, I don't know. Just as I stated before, until we know the troubling issue, offering solutions is pointless. But what I know for certain is discovery of this incredibly difficult issue has never been more important. The very future of the UFC depends on it.
Oh yeah, the UFC also needs a clause in fighter contracts banning use of risky activities - much like other sports leagues - such as banning the riding of all-terrain vehicles, skiing and the like. Add motorcycles to the list for fighters. I don't care who arethe sponsors. Losing Aldo in a main event because of a supposedly minor motorcycle accident and then complaining about bad luck would be the epitome of chutzpah.
Doyle: The UFC went into the business of fighter insurance with the best of intentions. This is something unprecedented on this level in the history of major professional combat sports in North America. Zuffa legitimately wanted to do right by their fighters. Can you even imagine Don King spending a dime on a similar program?
And yet the fight fallouts continue unabated. The knee-jerk reaction on message boards and in comment sections has been that the UFC should scrap the insurance program, but that would be a bridge too far (That said, we'd have to be born yesterday to think that there haven't been instances of fighters milking injuries for a payout, and no doubt the insurer is looking into it).
Since there's no clear cause, the company basically needs to leave no stone unturned in trying to adjust to circumstances.
Remember UFC 146? It was an all-heavyweight main card, and it was wracked with injuries and fight fallouts. But because so many fighters in the same division were on the card, they were able to seamlessly adapt and produced one of the truly great main cards in recent years.
Granted, the odds of having an entire division come together in such a manner on the same night isn't great, but if the UFC geared their main cards toward a couple divisions instead of placing them all over the divisional map, they'd have more flexibility in terms of making substitute fights. What if, say, of a fight's top six bouts, three were at light heavyweight and three at welterweight? If one fight drops out, that would leave considerable wiggle room to rebook an already-booked fighter in the same division who is already training to fight on the same night.
Slowing down the schedule, as Luke notes, would be ideal. But if they're gung-ho on running the same number of events, dropping the number of fights per card from 10-12 to eight or nine cuts back the number of fighter bookings and in theory should decrease the volume of injuries.
Finally, I want to give credit to one of the most constructive ideas I saw offered in the wake of the UFC 153 drama. MMA Payout founder Adam Swift suggested Zuffa study injuries on a camp-by-camp basis. If there are camps with significantly lower injuries rates than others, learn from them and try to come up with an industry-wide list of best practices. That's as solid a starting point as any.
2. Playing UFC matchmaker, what would you do to fix the main and co-main event situation at UFC 153?
Thomas: This is tough and I suspect there a number of different ways to go. Personally speaking, I don't think Urijah Faber moving up to face Edgar the worst idea. I admit there's a hugely intriguing factor, but Faber left featherweight. I don't believe he'd beat Edgar and if he did, it would cause divisional havoc...all so Faber could get another fight with Aldo. What on earth would the point of that be? Without hesitation, Chad Mendes is the best choice for that fight. I would go with Chan Sung Jung, but he's likely still rehabbing his injury.
As for the Rampage-Teixeira bout, this one is a little tougher. The UFC was using an exiting Rampage as a way to build up the unknown Teixeira. Chael Sonnen could serve that role, too, but that seems to be a waste of a new light heavyweight contender. Lyoto Machida is likely out because the two train together. Is Rashad Evans available and willing? That wouldn't be the best use of Evans either, but it'd be nicely competitive and Teixeira is still viable after a loss. I suppose UFC could also yank Forrest Griffin from his Sonnen bout to fight Teixeira, but again we're robbing Peter to pay Paul. The truth is there aren't a ton of good options here. Good fights can be made, but at the expense of already good fights or future contenders.
Let's hope the UFC can pull a rabbit out of their hat I'm just not seeing at the moment.
Doyle: I agree with Luke that it will be tough for the UFC to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but they need to. Brazil has been the UFC's golden goose in 2012. With all the other drama going down, the fact business is on fire in the sport's birthplace has been its saving grace. Given the fans tolerated all the changes made to UFC 147, the company needs to make good this time around.
I mostly agree with Luke's read on potential featherweight replacement fights. I've felt all along that Edgar should meet Mendes in the former's first bout at 145, though I didn't exactly complain when Edgar got fast-tracked into a title bout with Aldo. Whether you want to call this an interim title bout or simply make it a No. 1 contender's fight, the stakes make this a meaningful fight. If that doesn't happen, Edgar vs. Faber isn't a bad backup plan. I don't necessarily agree with Luke that a Faber win sets us up Faber vs. Aldo; if Faber wins you can go to Jung for the next title shot once both Jung and Aldo are healed.
Light heavyweight is a trickier proposition because of a lack of available opponents. I'm guessing Stephan Bonnar will get a call, or maybe Rich Franklin can be talked into taking a fight at 205. Given that Teixeira is a star in the making and given the company will feel pressure to come up with a strong bout, is it worth pulling a bigger-name 205er out of a scheduled fight to meet Teixeira? I'm glad I'm the one who doesn't have to make that call.
3. "Is the Ultimate Fighter getting stale" is a question which has been beaten to death. So with another TUF season about to kick off, a change of direction: Are you looking forward to the Shane Carwin-Roy Nelson coaches' fight at season's end? Why or why not?
Doyle: I am. I think this is an intriguing matchup with major implications for both fighters' future. Start with Carwin. He's been out of action for a year and a half. Will the time off lead to the re-emergence of the 265-pound block of granite who bullied his way to a UFC heavyweight title shot and nearly took the belt? Or has the division passed by a guy who is suddenly in his late-30s and coming off both an injury and a brutal beating at the hands of Junior dos Santos?
Then there's Nelson, who's as good a test as any for an elite heavyweight's return bout. This is going to be the biggest spot in Nelson's career. For all his rambling about how Dana White doesn't want him in the company, is holding him back, and so on, Nelson will face a "put up or shut up" moment when he steps into the Octagon with Carwin.
"Big Country" is getting his platform. He's going to be one of the faces of TUF, which still draws an audience. He'll have consistent television exposure and a high-profile fight against one of the elite guys. If Nelson can get the job done against Carwin -- and with heavy hands and an underrated ground game, it's never smart to count Nelson out -- then he has his opportunity to stand among the elite. If he fails against Carwin, he can never again complain about not getting his chance.
Thomas: Dave is right here. This season of TUF is going to be, well, this season of TUF. It's the coaches' eventual fight that's most worth paying attention to for all the reasons Dave underscores.
Nelson has widely complained about pay. The last time I spoke to him (a few months ago) he told me he was still under the contact he earned from winning the tenth season of TUF. Beating Carwin may not itself be the moment where the huge checks come rolling in, but it would mark the moment where Nelson finally earned the signature win over the level of opposition (perceived, if not real) that has always eluded him.
That's the beauty of this fight. For Carwin, it's a chance to prove he still belongs. For Nelson, it's two birds with one stone: it's to win against an elite opponent where he's almost lost and in so doing, turn a corner that could very likely lead to the exposure, fights and paydays he's long said have been denied him.
And hey, the style contrast in both fighters' offenses is noteworthy, too. Iron chin with solid overhand right/good top control vs. extraordinarily heavy hands and good wrestling. May the best man win, indeed.
4. Daniel Cormier recently told Bloody Elbow he'd like to fight Jon Jones (link). Does this fight make sense?
Doyle: It could be an exciting fight for sure, but let's not get ahead of ourselves.
Remember what went down less than two months ago? White decreed that the light heavyweight who looked best at UFC on FOX 4 would get the next shot at the belt after Jon Jones met Dan Henderson. How did that work out? That shows the dangers of projecting into the future.
Even if both fighters win their bouts as most expect, is Cormier-Jones the next fight to make? That's tougher to figure. Could Jones adequately be said to have cleaned out 205 if he hasn't yet fought Henderson? What if Jones wants to go to heavyweight, and White doesn't want him to, or vice versa? Can they bridge that gap if they disagree?
Cormier on paper makes sense as a potential first heavyweight fight for Jones simply because he's on the smaller side for the 265-pound division. But let's project forward and say he beats Mir. That would send an unbeaten Cormier into the UFC with back-to-back wins over former champions. At that point, wouldn't it make more sense to have Cormier fight one of the big, established names in the division for his debut?
And if they were to contest the bout at light heavyweight, can Cormier really get down to 205 at age 33? It's been years since he had to cut down to 211 for wrestling.
All that said, I wouldn't complain if the bout was put together. I'd love to see it. I just don't think the pieces quite fit at the moment given where both fighters stand in the respective points in their careers.
Thomas: At the current juncture? Absolutely not.
I spoke to Javier Mendez about Cormier's future. If he gets by Mir, he'll want a title shot. That'll either be against Junior dos Santos or teammate Cain Velasquez. In the event it's Velasquez, Mendez tells me Cormier will decide with the team whether he should face Velasquez or drop to 205lbs and ask for an immediate title shot against Jones (who is presumed to be the champion at that time). Short of that, any talk of the bout is a distraction and waste of time.
It's not that the fight wouldn't be good. I suspect it'd be pretty incredible. And yes, I'd want to see it. But I fail to see the point in disrupting a fighter's career and a division's hierarchy for a vanity bout of dubious present value. The truth is Cormier at heavyweight is enough to do substantive financial returns all under the umbrella of authentic athletic competition between top fighters and contenders. Why play with such a precious thing?
I understand the impulse to talk about the fight. I even see the path to potentially making it. I just don't understand why we'd ruin a perfectly good thing to do it.