Major potential changes in the mixed martial arts business continue gaining momentum. This week brought about both the formation of the first major MMA fighters’ association and the fallout from the proclaimed end of Conor McGregor’s UFC featherweight title reign.
Oh, and UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson returns to action on Saturday night, so maybe not everything his changed in this rapidly moving sport.
Onward, then, with another edition of Fightweets.
Can the MMAAA succeed?
@gelofool: What % chance do you think the newest fighters association has of succeeding?
Too soon to tell.
But I do know this: The five fighters who participated in Wednesday’s press conference (we’ll get to Bjorn Rebney in a bit) were pretty much the perfect starting point for a fighters’ organization (with a big asterisk we’ll also address).
You have Georges St-Pierre, an absolute legend, someone who could easily say “I’ve got mine” at this point in his life and never come back to the sport, lending his name to the effort. You’ve got Cain Velasquez, who’s been through all the sport’s ups and the downs and commands universal respect among his peers. Donald Cerrone is one of the most wildly popular fighters with the fans. Tim Kennedy like that one libertarian friend everyone has in their life: You sort of roll your eyes when they ramble on and on and don’t adhere to obvious hints to shut up for a little while, but you know they’re passionate and sincere in their beliefs and that they’ll have your back at the end of the day. Always good to have someone like that on board. TJ Dillashaw, meanwhile, represents the fighter subjected to his promoter’s whims: An elite fighter who lost his championship by the most razor-thin of margins who is being given a difficult road back to the top.
(Now, for the asterisk: There were no women out there on Wednesday. And no Brazilians, who are a significant contingent. That needs to be changed. Diversity is one of MMA’s strongest points. Fighters come from all walks of life and a fighters’ association leadership group should reflect this).
This isn’t a group which comes off like bitter old malcontents. They’re not a crew with obvious axes to grind, which has doomed just about every other previous attempt at rallying fighters against the UFC. Most of them are still out on the forefront, and they’re all well-respected.
The key from here, though, is making at least one of two things happen: 1. Getting superstars to sign on, and/or 2. getting the majority of the roster on board. One Conor McGregor or Ronda Rousey will go a whole lot further than even a group as respected as the current Group of Five.
Rousey, being represented by UFC owners WME, isn’t likely to bite the hand that feeds her. McGregor has yet to give an indication either way whether he’d support such an effort, even with St-Pierre making an obvious pitch to him during the press conference.
If neither McGregor nor Rousey sign on, however, an association would have to have so many fighters sign up that they would leave no way for the UFC to ignore them, just through their sheer numbers. Even if, say, 100 fighters signed on and threatened some sort of walkout, that would leave another 400 or so on the roster, and the UFC could chug right along even if there was a work stoppage. If more than half the fighters sign on, well, then it becomes something entirely different.
So I’m not going to assign a percentage to these guys’ chance of succeeding just now. There are simply too many variables. But for the rollout, they absolutely the fighters you want out front when you’re getting things off the ground.
About that other guy ...
@a_gon94: Will it prove to be a mistake having Bjorn Rebney leading the MMAAA movement?
I don’t know about you, but every time Rebney opened his mouth on Wednesday’s two-hour-long media call, the entire nasty contractual and legal situation between Bellator and Eddie Alvarez a few years back flashed into my brain.
Nearly every verbal grenade launched in the UFC’s direction was something you could made of Rebney-era Bellator. That makes for some pretty suboptimal optics as you’re trying to get your group off the ground.
If you’re starting a professional association from scratch, whether it is for fighters, writers, or from any walk of life, the appearance that everything is above board, that there is no one involved with ulterior motives, and that everyone is willing to throw down for the good of the group and put individual vendettas aside is of paramount importance.
With Rebney, you have a fight promoter who has been accused of engaging in many of the practices he’s now accusing of the UFC. Then, you consider how Rebney deflected questions about MMAAA’s financial backing with the skill of a Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender, and also never giving a definitive answer when asked point blank if he never planned on working as a fight promoter again (instead saying he was “fully focused” on MMAAA, which wasn’t the question he was asked).
And that doesn’t even get into the connection between the CAA-represented fighters participating in the MMAAA going up against rival agency WME-IMG, which owns the UFC.
These little things all start adding up. And that’s why, if nothing else than for appearances sake, even if Rebney is going into this with the best of intentions, it’s probably best that he lets the likes of GSP and Kennedy take center stage in public going forward, and retreat to an advisory, behind-the-scenes position at best.
What about other orgs?
@cubbiezfan80: Why not try to include Bellator, WSOF and others? So their bennies/pension/rights travel as a FA
This week, I’ve heard some pretty smart people ridicule the idea that a fighters’ association should include promotions besides the UFC. I think they’re missing the boat on this one.
Yes, the UFC is, far and away, the biggest target out there. Does that make the concerns of fighters competing in Bellator or World Series of Fighting any less real? Do their surgeries cost less? Do they not also have to pay for their medicals out of pocket, their camps, their managers, and so on? Are they not also subject to the arbitrary whims of promoters? Is Bellator, like the UFC, not also backed by a giant conglomerate?
Why should, say, Benson Henderson, who spoke with intelligence and passion before most others about the need for fighters to organize, be excluded from such a group simply because of his promotional affiliation? Why shouldn’t there be a system in place to prevent the next time someone tries to put the screws to a fighter outside the UFC the way Bellator did to Alvarez a couple years ago? Why should a veteran UFC fighter who jumps to Bellator, or gets cut and signs with WSOF, no longer have association protection?
Of course it makes sense for the UFC to be the prime focus coming out of the gate. They’re the biggest promotion and most pressing issue. But limiting it in scope to just the UFC in the long run is the wrong way to go.
This Week in Conor
@RuckerYeah: So what really happened with Conor and the featherweight title?
Depends on who you want to believe. Dana White says McGregor voluntarily relinquished the belt; John Kavanaugh sure doesn’t sound convinced; and finally on Friday night, McGregor quite forcefully proclaimed he was still both the lightweight and featherweight champion.
Conor’s proclamation came after news broke that he had received a license to box in California. We later found he applied for a license in Nevada as well, but was denied due to his ongoing dispute over his Nevada Athletic Commission fine, incurred over the summer.
The chances of McGregor stepping into a boxing ring anytime soon anywhere except the gym, of course, remain pretty slim. He’s got a UFC contract, for one thing. Even if he could find away around that, he’d have to dedicate himself pretty much exclusively to remaking himself as a boxer and dedicate himself full-time with no guarantee of the same success, and do so at the time he’s already making enormous sums of money at his peak in MMA.
And as far as the big one, the mythical and mocked fight with Floyd Mayweather? If we even entertain that notion for the sake of playing along, the fight’s not going down in California, which would take a huge chunk of Floyd’s jumbo paychecks. That’s a reason Mayweather only fights in Nevada, which doesn’t have any state income tax.
But Conor managed to keep himself in the headlines this week, during the week in which the fighters association dropped like a bomb, and managed to send a signal out to the UFC without actively antagonizing them. As always, McGregor is playing chess while the rest of us play checkers.
Mighty Mouse vs. Tim Elliott
@passionatepatk: Is Tim Elliot the guy that Joe B choked and had to tap with his feet? #TUFFinale
Yes, he is. But I wouldn’t necessarily hold it against him. It’s true Tim Elliott washed out of the UFC, but if you look at his record, he was given Joe Benavidez, Henry Cejudo, and Ali Baguatinov all in a row - flyweight title challengers one and all. He went out from there and won three straight fights and a regional title after leaving the UFC, and went through a pretty impressive array of talent in the tournament itself.
If you’re expecting me to pick Elliott over Mighty Mouse, though, you must be crazy. I put up a Twitter poll when DJ-Elliott was officially announced and out of nearly 500 respondents, 76 percent of you said that an Elliott win over Mighty Mouse would be a bigger upset than the granddaddy of all UFC upsets, Matt Serra’s win over GSP. That’s 1. Accurate and 2. Just about says it all.
@hunt5588: Realistically how many TUF fighters from this season should the UFC add to the thin flyweight division?
On paper, you’d think TUF 24 would be the UFC’s chance to stock up on one of its most thin divisions, right? In practice, there’s barely a flyweight fight to be found on the TUF 24 Finale beyond the main event and the coaches’ fights. Unfortunately, in a time in which the UFC is cutting back, by resorting to a gimmick and putting the world’s best pound-for-pound fighter on a TUF Finale card, that doesn’t make it sound like stocking up at 125 pounds is exactly a huge priority for the UFC at the moment.