clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

MMA Roundtable: GSP's Legacy of Decisions, Lesnar's Coaching, & More

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

As the MMA community tries to regain its bearings after a momentous event in Toronto last weekend, I could think of no better way to process the glut of information than a nice little roundtable discussion with MMA Fighting's Michael David Smith.

Now that UFC 129 is in the books, we go back and forth on Georges St. Pierre's ability to entertain, the future of Bellator, and whether anybody is having any fun on this season of The Ultimate Fighter. Let's do this thing:

1. Many people keep pointing to GSP's streak of decisions as proof that he's a boring fighter. How justified a metric is that of a fighter's skill, worth and entertainment value?

Fowlkes: The mere fact that a fight went the distance doesn't tell us that much about it, so we should stop focusing in on that stat alone. Didn't some of the greatest bouts in the MMA canon go to the judges? Griffin-Bonnar I, for instance. Or, more recently, Anthony Pettis-Ben Henderson. The second Frankie Edgar-Gray Maynard fight ended in the dreaded draw, for Crom's sake, but you can't tell me it wasn't an exciting fight.

My point is, the best fights are sometimes the ones where the two combatants are so evenly matched that neither can finish it. Then again, sometimes they're so evenly matched that they end up doing very little of anything. But a finish, while satisfying for the sense of finality it gives us, isn't necessarily a sign of a great fight. Mismatches usually end in finishes, but where's the fun in that? It's a specific type of entertainment, like watching a monster truck roll over a Chrysler. MMA is about the struggle, not simply the destruction.

GSP's problem is that he seems so much better than his opposition lately that people think he's cruising to decisions without ever trying too hard to end fights. Granted, there's some validity in that. He's not exactly going for broke in the later rounds, but then again, imagine how much flack he'd take if he got himself knocked out in the last round of a fight where he was pitching a shutout on the scorecards. What St. Pierre needs is an opponent who will either push him in each round or wreck himself trying. In other words, what he needs is Nick Diaz.

MDS: You're right that there's nothing inherently bad about decisions, as many of the great fights in history have gone the distance. The flip side of that is that plenty of fights that get finished are lousy: My top two choices for the worst fights of the last year would probably be Randy Couture vs. James Toney and Frank Mir vs. Mirko Cro Cop. Just because those fights ended with a submission and a knockout didn't make them good.

Having said that, I do admire fighters who go for the finish, and I do get frustrated by fighters who are satisfied with going the distance. When you think about all-time great fighters at their absolute best, you think of Anderson Silva against Forrest Griffin or Fedor Emelianenko against Tim Sylvia. (Or, if you're a boxing fan, you think of Mike Tyson against Michael Spinks or Muhammad Ali against Sonny Liston.) There's something special about a fighter finishing his opponent off within one round. In GSP's 18 UFC fights, he has as many first-round losses (to Matt Hughes and Matt Serra) as he has first-round wins (over Frank Trigg and Jay Hieron).

Ultimately, what St. Pierre needs is a fight against an opponent who simply won't allow him to cruise to a 50-45 decision. At 170 pounds, I agree with you that Nick Diaz is that opponent. But I'm starting to come around on the idea that what we really need is an even bigger challenge for GSP, the kind of enormous challenge that Anderson Silva would provide.

2. Has Bellator gained all the traction it's going to with the MMA audience? And if so, is that enough?

MDS: I've watched every one of this season's Bellator events live, and I've enjoyed them a lot. Unfortunately, I don't think I have much company in that respect.

MTV2 doesn't strike me as the right network for live MMA. Yes, you could make the argument that the young demographic MTV2 caters to represents a good opportunity for Bellator to appeal to new fans, but I just don't think the average MTV2 viewer who tunes in for reruns of Jackass and Pimp My Ride is all that likely to discover Bellator through MTV2 and become a new fan. Bellator has some extraordinarily talented fighters -- I love Joe Warren, Ben Askren, Eddie Alvarez and the Pitbull brothers -- but only the hardest of the hard-core MMA fans know who those guys are. If Bellator wants to make it, it needs a breakout star, and right now it doesn't have one.

Zuffa's purchase of Strikeforce has only widened the gulf between the top dog in MMA and everyone else. I'll keep watching Bellator as long as Bellator keeps putting good fighters in the cage, but I'm sorry to say I don't think a whole lot of fans will be joining me.

Fowlkes: For starters, I think you're underestimating the overlap between the Pimp My Ride audience and the MMA audience. You can't tell me there's not a 14-year-old out there who might tune in to see just how awesome an old Buick can look with a bubble bath installed in the trunk, and then – BOOM! – next thing he knows he's sitting there going, 'Who is this delightful little ball of energy they call Joe Warren, and how can I learn more about him?'

For me, the best thing about Bellator is also the worst: it's on every freaking weekend. I'm as big an MMA fan as anyone, but I also have a social life that occasionally requires me to leave my home on a Saturday night. Because my DVR recognizes each Bellator event as its own separate show and not a recurring series that I can program to record every new installment of, that only increases the chances that I'll forget to set it and miss a show (which has happened enough times for me to know better by now, but I digress).

For the most part, I catch all the important Bellator moments either on TV or the internet -- the latter of which Bellator does an excellent job of using -- but I rarely sit down to watch it live. To me the question for Bellator is, how successful is successful enough? Face it, pretty much every Bellator fighter would like to be in the UFC some day, just like pretty much every Bellator viewer would opt to watch the UFC instead if forced to choose. That's the reality of the industry right now.

But if Bellator can live with doing small-time ratings for small-time shows, making it all work on a small-time budget, there's no reason it can't hang around and maybe snare a couple of the Jackass faithful every now and then, especially if Bellator fighters can incorporate a few more groin shots. Trust me, that crowd really goes for that.

3. Now that we're well into season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter, how interested are you in the reality series that has lasted longer than many MMA organizations?

Fowlkes: When TUF first premiered on Spike TV, it felt a little like seeing your favorite underground band pop up on an extremely late-night talk show. Sure, it wasn't quite the big time yet, but it was thrilling to see something you loved finally getting a modicum of decent exposure. That was then. Now? To be honest, it kind of feels like a labor.

These days I DVR the show and I'm always tempted to skip through the nonsense and get to the fights. Of course, then I'd miss the chance to watch Brock Lesnar demonstrate why good fighters don't always make good coaches, which is one of the only sources of reliable entertainment left in the TUF franchise. Maybe it's just me, but I love reveling in the disconnect between what we can see happening (Lesnar actively alienating his own team) and what he says is happening (these guys are mostly chicken excrement).

The trouble is, much like in an unintentionally ridiculous pro sports memoir (looking at you, 'Romo: My Life on the Edge') that appeal can only get you so far. Petty arguments between men who have been forced into a house together and denied anything that might accidentally entertain them? Sorry, that just doesn't interest me. And Junior dos Santos comes off as an extremely warm, gregarious person, but once that's established there's not much else to say about it. That leaves only the fights, which are often two-round exhibitions between fighters who aren't quite ready for primetime. Back in 2005, when there wasn't any MMA on TV in the U.S., that was enough to convince me to sit through almost anything (anyone else remember the absurd challenges?). These days, well, let's just say my fast-forward button gets a lot of use.

MDS: The ratings for this season have been a disappointment, so it seems that most fans are in agreement with your take on The Ultimate Fighter. But I've been enjoying this season.

The quality of the fights this year started slow, although Episode 6 produced what I thought were the two best fights on the show so far. And I do think it's fun to see how these young men conduct themselves as they pursue their goals of getting into the UFC, even though I think the UFC could do a better job of attracting high-level prospects to fight on the show.

To me, the disappointment lies with Lesnar: He's not a particularly good coach, but more importantly, he's not a particularly compelling coach. Ken Shamrock wasn't a very good coach, either, but at least he made the show fun to watch. Lesnar just doesn't do anything all that interesting.

4. Which fight on the MMA schedule are you most looking forward to and why?

MDS: There are so many good ones: A third helping of Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard. The heavy hands of Junior dos Santos testing the suspect chin of Brock Lesnar. Anthony "Showtime" Pettis making his UFC debut against Clay Guida in a fight that couldn't possibly be anything less than a thriller. Cheick Kongo and Pat Barry, two heavyweights who will try to knock each other's blocks off. Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber, a grudge match for the bantamweight title. And a bantamweight bout which is going largely unnoticed but which I believe is going to be a fascinating contrast in styles, Miguel Torres vs. Demetrious Johnson.

But if I could only pick one, I'd pick none of the above. Instead, the fight I'm most looking forward to is Alistair Overeem vs. Fabricio Werdum on the June 18 Strikeforce card.

MMA fans have had to wait way, way too long for Overeem vs. Werdum 2, and I'm still skeptical that this whole heavyweight tournament is going to reach its conclusion, but you can't deny that this fight has all the makings of a great one. Overeem is the best pure striker in the heavyweight division and Werdum is the best pure grappler, and there's nothing I'm going to enjoy more than seeing those two big boys go at it.

Fowlkes: My initial reaction is to say I'm most eager about Edgar-Maynard III. Partially that's because the last fight was so fun to watch, but it's also partially because I'm ready for the UFC lightweight division to finally move on and give some of these other contenders a chance to fight for the belt already. There's so much talent in that division, but the backlog at the top is making it hard for the UFC to showcase it.

But really, I think the fight that is at the very top of my list is Cruz-Faber II. Not only is there a genuine interpersonal element to it, but I think Cruz gets far too little recognition right now. His style is both brilliant and exhausting to watch. If he can avenge his only loss to Faber, we'll all have to admit that he's one of the pound-for-pound best. Or you can be a jerk and just geek out about the Lesnar-dos Santos fight. Do whatever you want. See if I care.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the MMA Fighting Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your fighting news from MMA Fighting