This has been a action-packed one-week stretch in mixed martial arts. Within that time, we nearly saw the seemingly unbeatable Jon Jones lose, we heard UFC president Dana White take critics to task, and we absorbed the impact of another event cancellation. That's all before this Saturday's UFC on FUEL 5 event, which showcases two promising heavyweights.
These are all topics for this week's edition of The MMA Roundtable, so join my colleague Dave Doyle and I as we delve into it.
1. In the wake of the cancellation of Strikeforce's planned Saturday night event, is it time to consider shutting down the brand?
Doyle: Yes. It's been obvious from the get-go that Zuffa and Showtime were a forced marriage. There seemed to be a window for relations to improve when Ken Hershman left Showtime Sports to run HBO, but things have hardly gotten better since that time. I can see both sides of this one. I can see why Showtime wants marquee names to draw maximum viewers. But I can also see doing that helped drive Elite XC and Strikeforce's previous owners deep in the red, and Zuffa didn't get to where it is by following that model.
Two things of note transcend numbers: 1. Attendance at Strikeforce events have been abysmal. I never even saw a number released for Strikeforce in San Diego in August, but even with all the Ronda Rousey hype, the place was almost empty, and those who were there were sitting on their hands most of the night, except for the women's fights. Likewise, there was a tiny crowd at the previous San Diego show in December with Gilbert Melendez vs. Jorge Masvidal. 2. When the Sept. 29 cancelation was announced, no one outside the MMA bubble even batted an eye. It's like Strikeforce is a non-entity in the sports world.
I can't blame Showtime for not wanting to air the card without the Melendez fight and I can't blame Zuffa for then canceling the show. I don't know how the TV contract is structured but it's obvious the arrangement isn't working. In an ideal world, Zuffa would fold Strikeforce, hang on to the best remaining talent and make damn sure to add the women to the roster. Whether that will happen remains to be seen.
Chiappetta: It seems that this relationship is destined to end as soon as the contract comes to a close. Either that, or Zuffa hopes to restructure the deal in some way that makes more sense from their side. As it stands now, the promotion is basically run as a bare-bones operation, with just enough fighters to fill cards and little eye towards the future. That's why the event was canceled when a headliner got hurt. It's not as if Strikeforce runs so many shows that their roster might be spread a little thin; it's simply not deep, with no plans of adding.
Given that, you wonder what exactly there is to gain from continuing on past the current deal. Unless Zuffa plans to pitch Showtime on a new vision of Strikeforce that both sides can agree on, there is no doubt their time together as partners is running out. From there, the only question is whether or not they'll hunt for another TV partner like NBC Sports Network or simply bring all the viable Strikeforce names into the UFC. If I were a betting man, I'd take odds on the latter scenario.
2. Who has the most to gain at Saturday's UFC on FUEL show?
Chiappetta: There is little question that heavyweight Stipe Miocic has the most to gain with a win Saturday. Miocic is not only facing his most recognizable opponent in Stefan Struve, he's also facing his best, most well-rounded and biggest foe, all at the same time. That means that he will be able to answer some questions about himself that haven't previously been addressed. Can he deal with Struve's tricky ground game? Will he struggle with range against the lengthy Dutchman? Can he continue to earn finishes as his opponent level advances?
The heavyweight division is always searching for the next prospect. Struve is a known commodity, and even though he's only 24 years old, he's been around long enough that we have a good handle on what his ceiling is. It's certainly possible that he makes unexpected leaps, but we have a general understanding of his strengths and weaknesses. Miocic is more of a mystery. Even though he's 30 years old, we still don't know where the limits of his talent end. After Saturday night, we'll have a much better idea of what we're dealing with.
Doyle: I agree with Mike here. Saturday is basically Stipe Miocic's opportunity to take the ball and run with it.
I don't necessarily agree with the idea that we know Struve's ceiling just yet. Struve was 21 when he was knocked out by Junior dos Santos and had just turned 22 when Roy Nelson finished him. That's a difficult thing to hold against anyone. He's 5-1 since then and looks like a more complete fighter each time out. If Struve is finished by Miocic, though, then its probably fair to say we know the former's limit.
Either way, to basically reiterate what Mike said, if Miocic displays the sort of fight IQ required to solve the puzzle Struve's unique skill set provides, and does so in front of a national cable TV audience, that will be as good an indicator as any that Miocic is ready for the next step.
3. After beating Vitor Belfort, who should Jon Jones face next?
Chiappetta: The answer to this question is of course going to be dependent on Jones' health, and as of now, it remains unclear how long he'll be out. If he has a lengthy period of inactivity, the light-heavyweight division's contenders will have to move on without him. But let's assume he's going to be OK, and deal from our current hand.
To me, there's only one obvious answer, and that's Dan Henderson. Even though others like Lyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua were recently approached about fighting Jones, and there is a growing movement towards Chael Sonnen, Henderson is the only one of the group that is truly deserving at this point.
The 42-year-old came over to the UFC as the reigning Strikeforce champ and knocked off Shogun in his first fight. He was queued up to fight Jones when an injury forced him out of the bout. As long as he is able to return in a timely fashion, it should be his spot. But as you see, we're dealing with a couple of hypotheticals. As of now, we don't know exactly when either Jones or Henderson will be ready to fight again. And that is the UFC's cross to bear. They may pull the trigger too early on a different matchup and get criticized, or they might wait for both to get healthy and get nothing. But in a fair world, it's Henderson's shot.
Doyle: Geez, how often can you get a New York guy and Bostonian to agree on so much? I have to go with Mike again here. All things being equal, Henderson should be the next logical choice to fight Jones.
Hendo's got the most impressive recent resume out of all the guys near the top of the pack. And unlike most of the rest of them, he hasn't already lost to Jones. Machida had a chance to take the title shot, one which he probably didn't deserve to begin with, and he declined. Rua doesn't seem in any rush to tangle with Jones again. Alexander Gustafsson is still a couple wins away from serious contention. And, while I don't deny Jones vs. Sonnen would be one of the biggest-selling fights of all-time, let's at least make Sonnen go through the process of fighting a couple guys at light heavyweight before we put him in with Jones.
So yes, ideally, Jones vs. Henderson should be next. As to whether things go according to plan, well, you saw how the past couple months went down.
4. Which was worse: Fans booing the flyweight title fight at UFC 152, or Dana White for calling those fans morons?
Doyle: Fans have the right to say whatever they want when they buy a ticket. That goes with the whole "freedom of speech" thing. But if you've got a good, well-executed technical fight in front of you, and you're jeering it, yes, you have the right to do so, but that doesn't mean other people are under any obligation to respect your opinion. You might as well be the "Just Bleed" guy. That applies to the people who booed the Benavidez-Johnson fight as well as those who shouted down the Urijah Faber-Renan Barao fight in Calgary.
Likewise, Dana White technically has the right to call his customers "morons." But fans are under no obligation to then go ahead and purchase his product if they're offended.
But let's face it: Some fans will boo good fights. And we know most people who might say they won't buy another PPV based on White's comments will in fact buy the next one, just like those who said they weren't going to buy another Jon Jones fight after UFC 151 watched UFC 152. So in the matter of "which was worse," I'm declaring it a no-contest.
Chiappetta: Even though one caused the other, I have to say White's rant was the worse of the two reactions. I was at the fight, and while I didn't find it a barn-burner, I also don't think it was worthy of the backlash it received. But when people plunk down their hard-earned money to watch, they buy the right to offer immediate feedback. That's sort of the implied transaction between the two sides. For White to go out and basically one-up the negativity by calling the critics "morons," well, how is that any better?
Of course, White has made his reputation as a straight-shooter willing to offer his take on anything, so it's not like his comments came as a shock to anyone. And to be honest, his willingness to defend his fighters' performances was somewhat admirable. Still, there simply isn't a valid reason to insult your audience because they don't like what they see. At the end of the day, it's just a disagreement of opinion.