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MMA Roundtable: Fighters and media, Fight Master, Sonnen vs. Silva, and Rockhold

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

You didn't think that a lack of fight cards in the early part of May would mean a corresponding lack of news, did you? MMA has a way of filling it's own void, which has been the case this week.

From Anderson Silva skipping out on UFC press events, to the announcement of Bellator's Fight Master cast, to the prospects of Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva, to Luke Rockhold's prospects for a middleweight title shot, there's still plenty to discuss.

That's why I'm glad to have my colleague, Mike Chiappetta, on board with me for the latest edition of the MMA Roundtable, where we give our opinions on all the above topics:

1. Anderson Silva blew off a media tour in Los Angeles on Tuesday. Georges St-Pierre has admitted he's getting tired of doing media rounds and Nick Diaz has blown off several events. Are fighters being asked to do too much with the media?

Doyle: In some ways, I can see both sides of this one. There have been times, especially on fight week, when I've wondered what it's like to be on the other side of the microphone. After you've been through a tough training camp and you're trying to cut weight, it has to get a little annoying when you get asked the same question for the 3,000th time.

But on the other hand, well, let's put it this way: We're still not all that far removed from the time when there was no money to be made in mixed martial arts. How much do you think Silva was paid for his fight with Jeremy Horn in 2004? How many interviews did he do then, compared to now? What about St-Pierre? I'm sure he was unencumbered by a week of media hassles when he was fighting in TKO in Quebec. How did his bank account look back when no one was interested in what he had to say?

Baseball players have to deal with media nearly every day from February through October. Kobe Bryant didn't dodge reporters the night he tore his Achilles tendon. Fighters, on the other hand, have to deal with heavy media attention maybe three times a year at most.

There's often a direct correlation between the amount of time a fighter spends making themselves available and the benefits to their bank account (look at a media-savvy fighter like Joe Lauzon, who isn't a title contender but has parlayed his fan friendliness into several successful businesses). Bottom line, as much as people enjoy bashing the media (ironically, the loudest such voices usually come from those who consume the most media), if it wasn't for media attention, there wouldn't be too many million-dollar paydays in MMA.

Chiappetta: It's hard to answer this question mostly because I have never been in Anderson Silva's shoes, so I don't know exactly how much he was being asked to do in this particular instance. Generally though, I would say that fighters are not asked to do too much media-wise.

As Dave mentioned, most top fighters are only competing at most three times a year. That's when they are in the highest demand, and that demand may or may not fuel interest in their fight. Yes, they do get asked the same questions repeatedly, and over the course of a few days, answering those queries can become a tiresome chore. However, when you look at the recipe of how a star is made, it's one part success, and one part exposure.

Some may argue that at this point of his career, Silva is teflon, and that none of his behavior will color his public perception, but that is besides the point. Fight promotion in the UFC is a partnership between the organization and the athletes, particularly those who share in the pay-per-view revenue. There is an inherent (and sometimes contractually stated) agreement that each will do his piece in boosting the event's profile in a positive light. Silva did not do that here. The irony here is that in many cases, the absenteeism of a headliner is more newsworthy and more interesting than a color-by-numbers appearance, so in the end, the only harm done may be to Silva's wallet in the form of a fine.

2. Bellator just released the names of the 32 fighters picked for their upcoming reality show. Does this make you any more or less excited for its debut?

Chiappetta: It hasn't changed my interest level either way. With the exception of former UFC fighter Joe Riggs (who, by the way, is somehow just 30 years old) and Bellator veteran Chris Lozano, the names are fairly anonymous, which is neither good nor bad. That means there can be no major expectations, and the cast can mostly thrive or fail on their own merits.

I realize I may be in the minority on my indifference to the cast's unveiling. To be honest, I think it would have been perfectly fine to keep the list under wraps until the debut, just because it would have given fans an extra reason to tune in. At least there would have been that possibility that some surprise major entrant made it into the field. As it stands now, the draw to the show is, of course, the fights, as well as the star-power of the coaching staff, most importantly Randy Couture.

The name value of the contestants is less important. As many reality shows have taught us over the years, their personalities are what ultimately will get us to tune in or tune out. Look at this past season of The Ultimate Fighter as an example. When the season began, few fight fans outside of the northeast knew Uriah Hall, but by the end of the 13-week run, some people were wondering if he could one day challenge Anderson Silva. That's how quickly stars can be made.

Is there a star in this group? It gets more and more difficult to find hidden gems in this sport, so Bellator has their work cut out for them.

Doyle: I can't lie, the cast announcement barely registered a blip with me. But then, that's nothing new with MMA reality shows by this point. This is not a slam on Bellator: When was the last time you were really jazzed about the announcement of an Ultimate Fighter cast? I think you have to go all the way back to season five, when the UFC was still looking to fill out the lightweight division and there were several recognizable names like Lauzon and Nate Diaz on the cast.

Other than that, the only time a roster announcement really registers is when a familiar face is added to the mix, like Roy Nelson and Kimbo Slice in TUF 10, or Riggs on Fight Master.

But that's sort of the point at this stage of the game. The novelty of simply being on a show, in and of itself, is worn out. It's the opportunity to make your name from there, like Hall or Ryan Bader, and all 32 of the Fight Master fighters. That's the real draw, not the cast unveil in and of itself.

3. How big of a fight would Chael Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva be, if the fight gets made?

Doyle: It's either a main event or a co-main event, depending on timing and how the schedule breaks.

Is it a pay-per-view main event? There's a possibility. Since the start of 2012, the only UFC pay-per-view events which didn't have a title fight (regular or interim) as the headliner was UFC 147, which was headlined by Rich Franklin vs. Wanderlei Silva, and UFC 153, topped by Anderson Silva vs. Stephan Bonnar. Recent Brazilian events have aired on cable television, but if the UFC was to go the PPV route in the country again, Sonnen vs. Wanderlei Silva would seem a fight that could fill an arena -- if they could guarantee Sonnen's safety, which isn't a given.

Barring that, I see Sonnen vs. Silva as going one of two ways: 1. It could be the co-main event fight for a PPV card which needs a boost at the top. Like, say, one headlined with a title fight contested at lightweight or lower. Or, it could be used atop a UFC on FOX event, with Sonnen's mouth and Silva's popularity a safe bet to carry a big ratings number.

How such a fight would fare in the Octagon is another matter for another time. But from a hype perspective, Sonnen vs. Silva is a gift that's fallen into the UFC's lap. They just have to figure out where to fit it.

Chiappetta: If we were judging it solely from where they lined up in the divisional picture, it'd be a co-feature at best, but we can't do that, can we? This fight has a built-in storyline going back a few years, Silva looking to take another step towards revitalizing his career after knocking out Brian Stann, and Sonnen's ability to talk it up week after week on his FOX platforms. That's a pretty fair recipe for a main event on a non-PPV card.

That's where I think the fight belongs. The reason is that through his fights with Anderson Silva and Jon Jones, Sonnen has built up a recognizable name for himself among general sports fans. While they may not buy him any more as a title contender, they may be more than willing to part with their time to see the bad guy possibly get his. And those casual fans are the ones who lift an event's numbers to make ratings gold.

In some ways, the fact that neither man is in any kind of contender role helps the matchup. There doesn't need to be any contrived stakes. It's just a good old-fashioned grudge match, and we have the genesis of it all on video as well as its escalation through Twitter. As fight booking goes, it's all so very social media-y.

The style matchup between the two is far less compelling. Silva's takedown defense is OK at best, and so the fight would likely be a battle of positioning that lacks the typical Wand fireworks. The lead-up though? That will be the big draw.

4. Next week, Luke Rockhold makes his UFC debut against Vitor Belfort. If he beats Belfort, does he deserve to fight for the belt?

Chiappetta: The long and short of it is, yes, Rockhold most definitely will deserve to fight the winner of the Anderson Silva vs. Chris Weidman fight. Why? Because he arrived in the UFC as a Strikeforce champ. Because a victory would mean a 10-fight win streak. Because he would boast triumphs over Belfort, Kennedy and Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza in a four-fight span. And mostly because, he will have the best recent resume of anyone in the division.

There are two caveats to this. One, if Weidman upsets Silva, well, I'm sure many people wouldn't mind seeing an instant rematch for "the Spider." Two, if Georges St-Pierre wants to come up to 185 to fight Silva, well, then Rockhold might have to make way for a superfight. But those are the only two guys who I would put ahead of Rockhold if he wins.

But a look at the rest of the division's contenders show a list of fighters who have already competed for the belt (Yushin Okami), others without any real momentum (Michael Bisping, Hector Lombard) and others quite not ready (Costa Philippou). Given his track record and what's available, Rockhold should have a chance to seize his opportunity with a win over Belfort.

Doyle: Weidman is getting a title shot despite the fact that he hasn't fought in nearly a year, was out awhile with an injury, and with his biggest win being Mark Munoz. Now, I'm not implying here that Weidman isn't a potential future champion, but I do think he's being rushed into the title-contender position, for the same reasons that Rockhold could very well end up with a title shot if he defeats Belfort.

A year ago, it seemed like the middleweight division was shaping up to be something pretty exciting. Instead, most of the potential contenders knocked one another off in a way that left few looking good and left Weidman with the best case for a crack at Silva. If Rockhold can score an impressive win over Belfort -- a fighter who has only lost to Silva and Jon Jones since 2007 -- then he's got another notch on his winning streak to go with his Strikeforce title credential. In that case, it would seem hard to deny Rockhold his title shot.

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