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Twitter Mailbag: Talking UFC 149, Showtime and Strikeforce, Interim Titles, and More

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The Twitter Mailbag is back and ready to ignore your misspellings and confusing syntax in order to get to the beating, bloody heart of your MMA questions. In this installment, we sort through the depressing realities of the Strikeforce situation, examine the stakes for some main card fighters at UFC 149, and heap more scorn upon the practice of creating interim titles that go undefended.

If you’ve got a question of your own, I’m on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA and I’ve been told I’m an excellent listener. Mostly that’s because I zone out while other people are talking, but whatever. Let us begin. Who’s first?

Luke Williamson @ltw0303
@benfowlkesMMA Whats your take on the whole Zuffa/Showtime deal ? Dana says Gil and Luke shouldnt be discouraged but how can you not be ?

Mr. White is engaging in some self-serving reasoning here. As he told Ariel Helwani when he acknowledged the facts of the Strikeforce/Showtime situation and then proceeded to act as if that had been public knowledge since the beginning (it wasn’t), he doesn’t think there’s any reason for guys like Luke Rockhold and Gilbert Melendez to be depressed about being stuck in Strikeforce because, hey, they get to be champions and get paid. What’s there to be upset about? The problem is, White has spent the last decade telling everyone who would listen that the UFC is the only promotion that matters, that it’s the biggest show in MMA, and that champions from other organizations haven’t fought the best until they’ve fought in the UFC. He made those points forcefully and he made them often. He can’t unmake them now that he’s facing some inconvenient questions about the fate of Strikeforce fighters.

Obviously, Strikeforce fighters are getting screwed. They know it and so do we. Their options have been severely limited by forces beyond their control. In order for them to have a shot at moving to the UFC and testing themselves on the biggest stage against the best in the world, they have to wait for Showtime to get out of the MMA business, or at least out of the Strikeforce business. That’s a miserable position to be in, because TV executives can afford to be a lot more patient than pro fighters, who often have the professional lifespans of mayflies. If you tell them that they have to hang around in Zuffa’s JV organization (and don’t kid yourself, that’s exactly what it is) all because of a deal that doesn’t benefit them in any way, how can you expect them to be anything other than extremely depressed? Frankly, I’m amazed that the entire Strikeforce roster hasn’t been driven to drink by now.

tony woods @tonywoodsnc
@benfowlkesMMA where would a victory over Lombard put Boetsch?

On a slightly higher plane of the same purgatory that he’s currently in. Even if he knocks out Lombard in the first round, I don’t see him getting an immediate title shot because of it. It’s far more likely that fans would regard a Boetsch victory as a sign that Lombard was over-hyped rather than Boetsch being under-appreciated. That’s the hard part about fighting the hot new UFC acquisition. The best Boetsch can hope for is to knock Lombard out of the title shot sweepstakes, then hope that he can stick around long enough to get second or even third dibs on a crack at the champion. Can he pull it off? Stranger things have happened, I suppose.

wb @wiksenn
@benfowlkesMMA what's the point of having an interim title when the interim champion isn't on planning to defend it?

There isn’t one. When guys like Carlos Condit win the interim strap and take it home with them (or if Renan Barao follows through on his stated plan to do the same thing), it makes it painfully clear that the interim title is nothing more than a marketing gimmick. It’s a physical manifestation of the number one contender spot, and nothing besides. That doesn't make the Urijah Faber vs. Barao fight any less interesting, but it does make me wish that the UFC would present it for what it is. Better to have a first-rate contender fight than a second-rate fake title fight.

Aaron Daane @aarondaane
@benfowlkesMMA you hate TRT, as do I, but who makes it go away - Dana, Keith Kizer, fighter's union (yeah, right), CSAC, Lorenzo? #tmbq

I initially hoped that the Nevada Athletic Commission would be shamed into at least tightening up the requirements for a therapeutic-use exemption, maybe even doing something about the ridiculous 6:1 threshold for testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratios (most other regulatory bodies use 4:1). But with Frank Mir and Chael Sonnen and now Forrest Griffin, the rate of TUE application approval seems to be increasing rather than decreasing in Nevada.

So fine, forget Nevada. It didn’t become America’s haven for prize fighting and gambling because of its willingness to adopt tougher regulations than nearby states. If the commission won’t get tough on testosterone use, I think it’s up to the UFC. It has the power to tell its fighters to stop applying for TUEs and start making do with the testosterone they have rather than the testosterone they want. It also has a good reason to do so, since this spotlight is only going to get hotter.

I think a lot of fighters have developed a bizarrely entitled attitude about TRT. They think that if the commission gives them permission to do it, that should be the end of the discussion. It isn’t. Fans and media are always going to be suspicious when a thirty-something pro athlete with a body that looks like something out of a supplement ad (and not the ‘before’ picture, either) claims he has abnormally low testosterone, necessitating medical intervention. I’ve talked to several endocrinologists about this, including Dr. Don Catlin, the father of modern anti-doping science, and I’ve yet to talk to one who thinks there’s actually something to this rash of hypogonadism in the MMA ranks. They all say that the most likely explanation for low testosterone in fighters (assuming they really do have that problem to begin with) is past steroid abuse. And if that is the case, why should they get a free pass from the commission to avoid the consequences of their own behavior? Why should a cheating past earn you an advantage in the present?

I think what’s really going to decide the future of TRT in MMA is the reaction from fans and (clean) fighters. I was encouraged to see Tito Ortiz speak out after he learned that he’d just been beaten by a guy on some extra hormones. I hope more fighters will come out against it. I also hope fans keep the pressure on fighters who use it. If these guys realize that getting a TRT exemption means being looked at with doubt and suspicion for the rest of their careers, maybe it won’t seem worth it anymore.

j m @cubbiezfan80
@benfowlkesMMA what do u think of an all female TUF cast to develop challengers for @RondaRousey #TMB

I think it would take something closer to a top-secret government training program.

Tommy Ahlering @tahlering
@benfowlkesMMA most promising young prospect at their respective weight class: rory McDonald; Chris weidman, or Michael McDonald?

For starters, Weidman is 28 and, after his savage TKO of Mark Munoz, no longer just a prospect. Let’s take him off the list and start again. In the battle of the two McDonalds, who’s most likely to be a champ some time soon? That’s a tough one, because we haven’t seen much in the way of vulnerability from either of them. If you’re forcing me to choose, however, and it kind of seems like you are, I’ll put my money on Rory McDonald to get to the mountaintop first. He just might have to wait until his teammate retires first.

Jared McKenzie @TheRealChael
@benfowlkesMMA is the ufc ruining the career and potential of legacy for guys like Luke Rockhold and Gil Melendez by not bringing them over?

‘Ruining’ is a strong word. I might use ‘hampering’ instead. Maybe even ‘restricting.’ It’s definitely a bad deal for them, and one you have to think they wouldn’t have agreed to if they knew exactly how this was going to play out. Here they are, in what might be their best years as fighters, and they aren’t getting the chance to test themselves against the best. They also aren’t getting the chance to build up a real fan base and make the big money that comes with UFC stardom, and all because of a contractual situation that they can’t do much about. You know how Dana White loves to make the argument that teammates should fight each other because 1) they’re all in this to be the best, and 2) they have a limited window in which to make their money as pro athletes? Go tell that to Rockhold and Melendez right now. Then stand back and watch the angry veins in their foreheads explode.

Scott @140sNotEnough
@benfowlkesMMA Think Chael can talk Rampage into signing a new contract, then making him wish he hadn't?

I wonder whether "Rampage" Jackson can talk the UFC into offering him a new one at this point. He’s been more trouble than he’s worth lately, especially because he seems to think that he is worth a whole hell of a lot for a few mediocre performances followed by an endless series of complaints.

Jeremy Sexton @jeremysexton
@benfowlkesMMA We all know your stance on TRT. How do you feel about the surgery Nick Diaz had to prevent cuts & what’s the difference?

Here’s one important difference: none of Diaz’s opponents are more likely to be hurt by him as a result of his surgery. The only thing it means to them is that they’re less likely to win via doctor’s stoppage/get bathed in his blood, and I can’t see how they could possibly complain about either. It also makes him safer, since it ultimately decreases the amount of scar tissue he’ll have to carry around on his already, well, let’s say well-traveled face.

TRT, on the other hand, involves injecting a powerful synthetic hormone that helps make athletes stronger, faster, and more resilient. That’s an advantage both in training camp and in the fight. Would you want to fight someone who had been shooting up a substance that made it easier for him to bounce out of bed on mornings when you could barely drag yourself to the gym? Would you want him combining the experience he’s gained in the cage with the hormones he hasn’t had since he was 21 as he punches you in the head? My guess is you’d feel that he was getting an unfair advantage, and one that put you in greater peril. The same can’t be said for Diaz’s facial surgery, which does nothing but decrease the amount of blood on the floor at the end of the night.

Brent Lee Smith @VisorBrent
@benfowlkesMMA You're the best of all time in a martial art transitioning into MMA. You've only trained in that single discipline. Which 1?

Wrestling. Simply because if you don’t have it, your chances of getting to use any other martial art when and how you want to are pretty dismal.

Andre Harrison @Harrison101HD
@benfowlkesMMA Should the UFC fear that Anderson Silva will keep fighting until someone like a Weidman/Munoz/Lombard beats him?

Why would that be anything to fear? That’s how the fight business works. At this point, Silva’s legacy is more or less untouchable (unless he goes all Brett Favre and embarrasses himself outside the sport). He’s the greatest middleweight who ever lived, and quite possibly the greatest fighter in MMA history. If he keeps fighting until a younger fighter eventually beats him, I think we’ll write it off as a natural consequence of age and move on from there. The worst thing the UFC could do is shield him from tough competition. The champ should take on all comers, which is exactly what Silva has done. Just because he might not be able to do it indefinitely, that’s nothing to fear.

Jason Rule @JasonRule
@benfowlkesMMA Kos vs Ellenberger was announced. Who do you see winning this one and what would the win do for either one of em?

I give the slight edge to Jake Ellenberger, mainly because Josh Koscheck has started to look like a man who’s just going through the motions lately. His loss to Johny Hendricks and his win over Mike Pierce both seemed like uninspired performances. Even if he wins, he has to know that nothing short of a sudden GSP retirement and/or an act of God would land him in a title shot while he’s still young enough to capitalize on it. As it is, he’s closing in on 35 years old and facing a crop of UFC welterweights who are no longer living in fear of his takedowns. Ellenberger is younger, quicker, and hungrier than he is, none of which bodes well for Koscheck.

Jay Dera @JayGettit
@benfowlkesMMA why should anyone sign with Strikeforce knowing that it's a dead end with no way of going to the UFC? #mailbag

For the same reason that Nate Marquardt did: a lack of better options.

Tony Fortune, Ph.D. @toneloc2424
@benfowlkesMMA Do u agree with Hector Lombard that your buddy Ariel tries to stir up things between fighters? #twittermailbag

This is an accusation that gets tossed at my old pal Helwani from time to time, but one that I’d expect a person with a doctorate degree to see right through, Mr. Fortune. Helwani interviews fighters, and part of his job is asking the questions that fans want answers to. Asking other, more established UFC middleweights how they feel about a guy like Lombard coming into the UFC and possibly getting a title shot with only one win inside the Octagon is a totally legitimate question. If Lombard doesn’t like the answer, he should get mad at the person who gave it -- not the person who asked the question.

When fighters accuse Ariel of "instigating" beefs between fighters, it makes me think that they don’t understand what constitutes a good interview. Ariel isn’t there to be a guidance counselor and make sure everyone gets along. He’s there to find out what people really think about the MMA landscape around them. Not surprisingly, some fighters think other fighters suck, or aren’t deserving of the opportunities they’ve been given, and they aren’t afraid to say so. If Ariel were making up information and using it to get fighters to blow their lids, then he’d be guilty of stirring up trouble. But that isn’t what he does, and everyone who pays attention to his interviews knows it. If you’re a fighter, you won’t get a fairer shake from anyone with a microphone. What you do with those few minutes in front of the camera -- and who you upset in the process -- is entirely on you.

Ashley Amey @Ash_Amey
@benfowlkesMMA Should BJJ be an Olympic event? How awesome would that be?! #tmb

Short answer: totally awesome. While I’m in no hurry to see a watered-down version of MMA complete with headgear and shinpads added to the Olympic roster, I see no reason why jiu-jitsu shouldn’t be in there. The Olympics already has wrestling and judo, so why not some submission grappling of one kind or another? It’s a whole lot safer than ski jumping and horseback riding, and it’s easy enough on the competitors that maybe even a few famous fighters would be tempted to get in on the act for a chance at a gold medal (not to mention the opportunity to meet a beautiful track star from a foreign land; just saying, when you don’t speak the same language you have to assume you like each other and go from there). The same fighters who wouldn’t want to get punched in the head for free might not have the same reservations about getting choked or armbarred for the sake of national pride.