The UFC has signed a handful of notable women's bantamweight fighters. Cain Velasquez's next opponent is set. The wrestling world was stunned by the International Olympic Committee's decision to drop the sport from the Games. And oh yeah, there's a UFC event this weekend with some quality fights on the card.
In other words, there is no lack of subjects worthy of discussion in the mixed martial arts world this week. So let's get right into another edition of the MMA Roundtable. My MMAFighting.com colleague Mike Chiapetta joins me to talk all of the sport's hot topics.
1. Is the booking of Miesha Tate vs. Cat Zingano on April 13 proof the UFC is in the women's MMA game for the long haul?
Doyle: I had to laugh at the knee-jerk reaction online when the UFC announced Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche. Simply because that was the only women's fight signed at the time, it was assumed this was some sort of one-and-done deal. But the UFC has a history of taking their time with these sort of things: How long did it take the company to fill the lightweight title, again? (Answer: Four years).
Anyway, Tate-Zingano, as well as Tuesday's announcement of the signing of Sara McMann and Alexis Davis, are significant steps in establishing a true women's bantamweight division. Yes, Ronda is the biggest star on the women's side of the sport. But if this was only about making a quick buck off her name, Zuffa could have just as easily sat Tate at cageside for UFC 157 and had her challenge Rousey after the main event, assuming Rousey defeats Liz Carmouche. Then they could have gone straight to Rousey vs. Tate, complete with the backstory of how Tate was the only one who stayed competitive with Rousey before losing.
But that's not the route they took. Assuming UFC and FX don't make the same boneheaded mistake Showtime made in putting Miesha's fight with Julie Kedzie in San Diego last summer on the undercard, this gives the company an opportunity to showcase a women's contender fight featuring one of the one of the better-known women's MMA stars against a legit up-and-comer in the undefeated Zingano, which presumably helps build the next bantamweight title fight after UFC 157.
True, this isn't exactly like the UFC is putting on an Invicta card, here. But it does show the UFC is committed to building the bantamweight division.
Chiappetta: I disagree. Dana White himself has repeatedly said that he's mainly in the Ronda Rousey business over the women's MMA business, so I'm going to take him at his word. As it stands, I take the Tate-Zingano booking as more evidence of that, because it is, as Dave points out, presumably being booked for the sole reason of setting up Rousey's next opponent.
That's a fair reason, but what it's also fair to ask, What else is there? It's not like they set up three or four more women's fights. On one of Dave's points, I do agree: It takes time to build a division, so patience is required, but let's look at things another way. It took 70 days since the UFC first announced Rousey-Carmouche for them to book a second women's fight. Only two more athlete signings have been made public. So nearly three months after White first publicly said the UFC would begin promoting women's fighting, they have a grand total of six fighters in the division. Even if you acknowledge that the whole thing should be a slow process, that's positively glacial.
Look at the division's immediate possibilities. Either Rousey dominates for a while and they build up the division around her, or she is upset and the thing goes nowhere. Why are they going so slow? It would be much easier to dismantle a division of six women than it would be a division of 16, wouldn't it?
2. Tuesday night, the UFC announced Antonio Silva vs. Cain Velasquez II as the next heavyweight championship fight. Does this rematch interest you, coming so shortly after Velasquez dominated the first meeting?
Chiappetta: I'm moderately interested. Before I go into my critique, I'll say this: "Bigfoot" definitely did just about all he could to make a compelling case in short order for himself as a refocused, re-energized challenger. His knockout of Travis Browne was one thing, as Browne appeared to be compromised by a knee injury that robbed him of stability. But his comeback KO of Alistair Overeem was electric. I was in the building and the crowd acted like they'd just seen Buster Douglas crush Mike Tyson.
That said, I don't think it was quite enough to completely erase the bloodbath of UFC 146, a fight that is most accurately described as a "mauling." In the 3 minutes and 36 seconds of the bout, Velasquez took him down twice and out-landed him 53-3. Yes, that's right, 53-3!
Of course, Velasquez's rematch win over Junior dos Santos just one year after he was KO'd in 64 seconds proves that a repeat result is no lock, which is another reason why I'm willing to give Silva another chance. His camp believes that had he holstered his early kicks, it would have been a different fight. I'm not sure I believe that, just because Silva has proven to have trouble getting back to his feet after getting taken down, and let's be realists, Velasquez takes down everyone.
Overshadowing the whole thing is the fact that there is no one else for Velasquez to fight. It would be too early for a trilogy fight with dos Santos, his teammate Daniel Cormier won't fight him, Fabricio Werdum is locked into a June matchup, and Josh Barnett couldn't come to terms with the UFC. So despite the likelihood of a similar outcome, it beats having Velasquez on the sidelines for 6-8 months to wait for other things to shake out. And if Silva happens to upset him, good for him.
Doyle: The UFC is just emerging from a prolonged stretch in which it lost Georges St-Pierre for a year and a half; Velasquez had to sit out a year with a shoulder injury after winning the title for the first time; Jose Aldo Jr. went more than a year without a fight; Dominick Cruz has been out 15 months with no return date in sight; and so on.
With that in mind, it doesn't make sense to keep a healthy champion on the sidelines simply to wait for the perfect challenger to come along. Timing is as important as any other factor in making a title fight, and in this case, as Mike laid out, timing benefits "Bigfoot."
Silva's worst big-stage performance was against Velasquez, which, on first thought, makes this rematch a bit tough to swallow. But Silva at his best manhandled Overeem and Fedor Emelianenko. If that "Bigfoot" shows up to UFC 160, Velasquez will have a fight on his hands.
It's also worth noting that the dos Santos-Overeem semifinal bout is a page out of the UFC 158 playbook, where there are several big-name welterweights on the card in case of an injury in the main event. Hopefully Velasquez and Silva both make it to the main event without a problem, but if not, dos Santos can hypothetically be elevated to the top spot. It's good to see the UFC continue to have a plausible backup waiting in case something goes wrong with the main bout.
3. Why should the Olympics dropping wrestling matter to you?
Chiappetta: This development seemed to take the international sporting community by surprise. Shell-shocked reactions poured in from Japan, Russia, India, Bulgaria, Iran and of course, the U.S.
To the average MMA watcher, it registers only tangentially that this isn't a great thing, but wrestling is woven into the fabric of our sport. Many of the sport's biggest names have found their way to the cage through wrestling. Even among current champions, you have Cain Velasquez, Jon Jones, Benson Henderson, Dominick Cruz and Demetrious Johnson who have their combat sports roots in the art. To put it simply, it's one of the most fertile breeding grounds for MMA talent. You may shrug your shoulders, figuring that most of those guys go on to fight a grinding style that lacks the entertainment factor. But that list I just rattled off? They're pretty well-rounded guys. And that doesn't even include others like Dan Henderson, Daniel Cormier and Hector Lombard, who all competed in the Olympics and went on to fight careers where they truly mixed the martial arts.
The contraction of wrestling from the Olympic Games will eventually affect all the programs below it, until colleges and high schools are left with shells of their old programs. And that means less talent being funneled into the direction of a sport that gives us many stars. No wrestling? No Bones Jones. No Cain. Big problem.
Even if you're not the biggest amateur wrestling fan in the world, what you should know beyond that is that 1984 Olympic wrestler Jeff Blatnick offered his gold medal credibility to MMA when it was needed most. He helped author the rules. He beat the drum for regulation and acceptance. And he was largely effective in his campaign. When MMA was in its dark ages, when its survival was a question, wrestling's Blatnick was there. It's time for MMA to return the favor.
Doyle: In general sports-fan terms, I've long gotten used to the fact the Olympics have whored out the amateur sporting ideals on which the Games were based. But as long as they continued to support the traditional sports like track and field, swimming, wrestling and so on -- the sports in which winning an Olympic medal remains the unquestioned be all and end all -- then I was willing to look the other way. But kicking aside a sport as core to the Olympic identity as wrestling -- something no one in their right mind was demanding, and something that was done for no justifiable reason -- strips away whatever flimsy claims their ideals the Olympics could still maintain.
That was my reaction to the news on a macro level. Now, to bring it down to the micro level of MMA: I'm not going to claim to be a hardcore amateur wrestling fan, but I recognize the sport's key role in the development of both the sport of MMA in and of itself and of some of the finest athletes who have competed within it.
But that said, I'm not sure that removing wrestling from the Olympics will have as drastic an effect on MMA as Mike says. Wrestling is still hugely popular in several parts of the country. If you grow up somewhere like Iowa, Pennsylvania, or Oklahoma, wrestling is still a path to a college scholarship and NCAA wrestling championship is still a pretty big deal. As it was, only a handful of wrestlers at even the NCAA All-America level are going to reach the Olympics.
If anything, more kids are taking up wrestling because of MMA's success. Wrestling in high school and college is a legitimate path to a pro MMA career. So, while the IOC's decision is unconscionable, and can't be good for the sport's health all-around, I don't know that it will necessarily translate into fewer elite athletes joining MMA in North America, at least in the short and medium term.
4. Saturday's UFC event in London boasts a deceptively deep card. Which fight do you think has show-stealing potential?
Doyle: I suppose "show stealing" usually implies something buried deep in the card which jumps off your Facebook page and steals fight of the night honors. But in this case, I've got a gut feeling we're going to be talking about the co-main event of Cub Swanson and Dustin Poirier when all's said and done.
It's a consequential fight in the featherweight division. The winner, should he look impressive in victory, likely elbows his way into the upper echelon with the likes of Chad Mendes, Chan Sung Jung, Ricardo Lamas, etc. Swanson has been on a tear with wins in four of his past five. And in Poirier's case, well, this isn't necessarily "must-win," but it's important to his status as a can't miss-prospect. He lost in spectacular fashion to Jung last May, and he had to rally to defeat Jonathan Brookins, who won't be making anyone's top 10 list anytime soon, back in December.
It's a fight with real divisional consequences between two guys at crucial career spots. And, oh yeah, both guys are capable of fireworks. I'll be really surprised if this fight doesn't deliver.
Chiappetta: I think Dave is on the money, choosing the most likely candidate with Swanson-Poirier, two guys who are likely to deliver mostly because they are both offensive fighters who go for the finish. But I'll throw out another good possibility, the welterweight fight between Gunnar Nelson and Jorge Santiago.
Nelson was outstanding in his UFC debut, submitting DeMarques Johnson in short order. He has a very unique striking style, and he's murder on the ground. Santiago is in his third go-round with the UFC, and at age 32, he has to know he's at a career crossroads. He either has to impress the powers that be or risk what is likely his final opportunity at making a run on the sport's biggest stage.
Throw in the fact that Santiago is a born risk-taker with some good hands and a jiu-jitsu black belt, and you have a fight that is a stylistic match.