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Fightweets: ‘Jacare’ Souza, Gegard Mousasi, and free agency

UFC 198 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

A second UFC fight card in as many weeks, the latest set of free-agent dealings, and fresh batches of controversy all around. Maybe we’re not back into big-fight mode, but it sure seems like the worst of the lull is over. So let’s get right into things ...

Jacare, Mousasi, middleweights, and free agency

@hunt5588: With Jacare's new 8 fight deal, does this show a possible re-commitment to free agents from WME-IMG?

First off, I got a bunch of questions related to Ronald “Jacare” Souza, Gegard Mousasi, middleweights, and free agency. The complexion of this equation changed when Souza announced his new UFC contract on Friday, so thanks to the rest of you who submitted questions beforehand but things have obviously changed.

Jacare’s new contract heads off a worst-case scenario for the UFC. If both Souza and Mousasi, who have strong ties to Scott Coker from their Strikeforce days, had been allowed to walk to Bellator, it would have made for a seismic shift in the perception of both companies’ momentum. The UFC has already let a surprising amount of talent go, from Lorenz Larkin to Ryan Bader to Michael McDonald. But two former world champions who are both perceived to be capable of defeating the current titleholder leaving at the same time? That would have done a major PR blow.

Making a point to sign Souza before his contract was up, while letting Mousasi fight out his contract, certainly sends a message to Mousasi. No doubt Mousasi’s loud and relentless complaints about his pay and level of competition have helped raise his profile, but UFC took care of the fighter who didn’t raise the public ruckus first, and in doing so, cut down on Mousasi’s leverage.

It’s also worth noting that by signing Souza, a fighter from Brazil who is just now making his first attempts at communicating directly in English for his fight weeks in the United States after using an interpreter for years, the UFC mutes Mousasi’s inferences that the UFC’s contractual decision-making is based on nationality.

As for what this means from here? It’s hard to compare this to situations with other fighters whose contracts have come due, because this is the first time the UFC had two fighters the caliber of Souza and Mousasi near the top of the same division come up on their contracts right around the same time. If the UFC finds a way to get the deal done with Mousasi, it demonstrates their level of commitment to maintaining the depth of a murderously talented division. If Mousasi walks, well... it hurts, they’ve hung on to Jacare, and they still have a great division anyway.

As for Jacare himself, I saw many people on Twitter question the fact Souza took a an eight-fight deal, in his late 30s. Of course, most UFC contracts allow the UFC to cut the fighter under several circumstances but the fighter is bound for the duration. That said, without knowing the numbers, Souza chose to accept this deal before even reaching free agency, during a time the other side is paying out some big bucks. So it’s not unreasonable to assume Souza must be happy with the deal he got if he signed already.

Now, if he goes 7-1 in the eight fights of his new deal and finds himself still without a title shot, that will be a different story, but hey ...

UFC title belts

@iainkidd: Exactly how many belts do the UFC owe their current champions?

I mean, they don’t legally owe their champions anything. But they’ve made it a tradition over the years to award a new belt after every title fight, which allows the fighters to hold on to the belts they’ve won as keepsakes. For example, at Anderson Silva’s gym in Gardena, Calif., there’s a wonderful display case from his UFC 64 championship-clinching victory over Rich Franklin with his belt and gloves from the evening. If its something they’ve routinely for other fighters, why wouldn’t they do it for one of the greatest champions in company history, Demetrious Johnson?

Mighty Mouse has said he wants to take a picture with all his belts, like Floyd Mayweather, which would be one hell of a look and a fresh way to drum up a little publicity. Not giving Johnson a new belt each time he successfully defends, when the UFC usually does it for the rest, is not such a good look.

2017 blues

@BookieSumner: What’s or who is to blame for the UFC's poor start to 2017?

We’re done with the first quarter of 2017, which seems as good a time as any to take a look at this topic. There’s no doubting the first the months of this year have felt as dead as any time since about 2012 or so, before Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey came along and jumpstarted the next wave.

The biggest item, of course, is that Rousey, for all we know, might be finished with her career, and McGregor is out for the foreseeable future. The UFC spent 2015 and 2016 building up to huge events based around Rousey or McGregor on a more or less quarterly basis, and there’s no one ready to fill in the void.

Nearly as vexing, until Jon Jones returns, there’s no one really ready to step in and fill that void on the next level down. In the heyday of Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva, there was always a Forrest Griffin or Rashad Evans or Rampage Jackson or a handful of others who could do a half-million pay-per-view buys in between the biggest stars’ megafights. That class of fighter just doesn’t seem to exist anymore.

Exacerbating matters is that all this comes right after the UFC went for broke loading up UFC 205 and 207 toward the end of last year. Then, in the true manner of a snowball rolling downhill, one thing after another went wrong: The controversial Holly Holm-Germaine de Randamie fight at UFC 208. Khabib Nurmagomeov having to pull out of his fight with Tony Ferguson at UFC 209, followed Tyron Woodley and Stephen Thompson getting booed out of the joint in the main event. The Mousasi-Chris Weidman controversy at UFC 210. Sure, technically the latter fight was in the second quarter of the year, but the point is, on three straight events, your hardcore fans who paid $60 a show had a major disappointment, the sort out of the company’s control. Too many of those in a row is how you slowly erode your baseline pay-per-view numbers.

(We can’t let Bellator entirely off the hook here, even though they generated plenty of positive press over the past few months. The Fedor Emelianenko-Matt Mitrione cancelation, while again out of control, was a big downer in Scott Coker’s traditionally strong San Jose market).

So where does the UFC go from here? A lot of this is cyclical. The UFC has pulled out of funks like their string of disappointing events before and come out stronger. But that was during the Zuffa era. WME, in their seeming quest to save a nickel now instead of make a dollar later, has run off a lot of the long-time office brain trust who had the knowledge on how to build a specialized business. Does WME have the moxie to not only build the next megastars, but also the next tier of reliable draws in the next tier? Time will tell.

Rumble and Hooft

@christopher_kit: What did you make of the Henri Hooft / Rumble situation? Didn't look good on TV nor during his interview on mmahour

Agreed, and for a guy who’s looking to break out on his own and establish himself as an elite coach following the breakup of the Blackzilians, this was a bad start. Yes, it’s true, you don’t have to be a Dominick Cruz-level analyst to understand that Anthony Johnson had a terrible game plan against Cormier and made every conceivable mistake in their UFC 210 main event. But the way Hooft not only left Johnson out on his own to make his career retirement announcement, and then follow up by basically hanging him out to dry on The MMA Hour, is just poor, poor form. And if you disagree, look at it this way: Have you ever seen Greg Jackson act like that? Javier Mendes? Dan Lambert? No, no, and no. Hey, this is the first time Hooft’s been in this spotlight, so hopefully, for his sake, he’ll learn. If not, and he keeps blaming his fighters in public, which big-name fighter is going to want to align with him?

Silva not the GOAT?

@MMAEnthusiast26: Anderson Silva cannot pick and choose every opponent and then have the audacity to call himself the GOAT. Jon Jones is the real GOAT.

Let’s not get too carried away here. Silva turned 42 years old Saturday. He wakes up this morning as the record holder for most successful UFC title defenses and at worst will be sharing the spot with DJ when the night is through. His seven-year, seven-month reign as UFC middleweight champion is still the longest in history, and Georges St-Pierre’s second-place five years and eight months doesn’t seem nearly as close as it is. He not only all but cleaned out his division, but he went up in weight class and challenged himself there, too, when he didn’t seem to have a worthy contender. While delivering all-time highlight reel moments every step along the way. Oh and by the way, he returned from a compound fracture in his leg.

So yeah, not only is Anderson Silva still the greatest of all-time (the window is not closed on Jones getting there eventually, but that is far less a certainty than it was two years ago), but when you do what Silva’s done, you get to call whatever shot you want for the rest of your career.

Spider vs. Spider

@guicruzzz: Anderson Silva vs. his clone, who wins?

We all do, Gui. We all do.

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