LAS VEGAS -- For the sake of argument, let’s take UFC president Dana White’s words at face value.
Let’s assume White was correct in focusing on the fact Nunes was cleared by a doctor on Friday (and ignore that Nunes said that in her first doctor visit, she was only checked for weight-cut issues and not sinusitis, her actual condition).
Let’s also assume White means what he said when he said Nunes is never going to headline again (we’ll shut off the part of our brain that instantly notes that Jon Jones is headlining UFC 214 in three weeks, just months after White said he’d never headline again).
Yes, let’s assume, just for now, that all of this is true. Even if everything White says is 100 percent accurate, how does this in any way help the UFC going forward?
We’re going through a stretch in which one of the stars who fueled the company’s biggest run, Ronda Rousey, is likely done, and the other, Conor McGregor, is getting ready to box Floyd Mayweather with minimal UFC input. With business in 2017 thus far way down from the past few years, UFC needs to build drawing cards more than ever.
Instead, White ran down Nunes. While he was at it, he may as well have taken the UFC women’s bantamweight belt, the one which was a part of some of the biggest-money events of the past three years, and thrown it in a trash can.
It shouldn’t have taken a cross between PT Barnum and Vince McMahon to figure out how to promote Nunes. Nunes wrecked the two biggest stars in women’s MMA, Miesha Tate and Rousey, in back-to-back fights. If you can’t build a star with that material in your video library, it’s an indictment on someone, and that someone is damn sure not the fighter.
There could have been a legitimate positive vibes coming out of International Fight Week. On back-to-back nights, we had the two best fights of the year in 2017. Justin Gaethje and Michael Johnson put on an all-time display of heart in the TUF 25 Finale main event. Then Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero put on one of the most grueling shows of perseverance and toughness you’ll ever see in the new main event of UFC 213.
The UFC’s been in a bit of a lull, but the weekend could very well have seen the birth of two new stars, maybe not the next McGregor and Rousey level draws, but potentially the next two to develop into that middle-class tier of drawing cards who have been glaringly absent the last few years. Take that very real positive and hype it for all it’s worth.
Instead, we got MMA’s most tired act, the one in which a fighter gets thrown under the bus in public and needlessly gets their future value damaged.
In years past, fans -- and much of the media, if we’re being honest -- often sided with White on these matters. But International Fight Week, the UFC’s annual summer bash, didn’t feel like that big of an event this year. Maybe it’s partly because the fans have listened a little too closely all the times he’s ran down the attractions he’s supposed to promote. And maybe it’s past due time for that to stop.
UFC 213 quotes
“I have chronic sinusitis, I have fought with it before but this time it didn’t work out, during the weight cut I was unable to breathe and felt off balance from the pressure in my sinuses. I was taken to the hospital after the weigh-ins and they only checked my blood and dehydration and only cleared me based on that.” -- Nunes’ statement, in part.
“It’s not like she was like ‘I’m absolutely refusing to fight. She said ‘I don’t feel right, I don’t feel good.’ I think that it was 90 percent mental and maybe 10 percent physical, I think a lot of fighters have had times where they don’t feel right. - White on Nunes
“Yes, of course [I tried to use leg kicks], but he didn’t give me the opportunity,” Romero explained. “When I would try to do the same side kick to the leg, he would switch his leg, and I was running the risk of remaining in his [striking] guard, within reach of his hands.” -- Romero on why he didn’t attack Whittaker’s injured leg
“I think Travis should retire.” — White on Travis Browne after being finished for the fourth time in his past six fights.
Up: Robert Whittaker It’s almost as if Whittaker was looking to live up to the archetype of Down Under toughness. Whittaker injured his left leg early against Yoel Romero, then faced the prospects of five full rounds against one of the nastiest strikers in the middleweight division and a wrestling machine, to boot. Whittaker adapted, waited for Romero’s gas tank to empty, then struck, using his good leg to keep Romero at bay and then closing the distance and showing why he should embrace the “Bobby Knuckles” nickname that fans love and he seems to hate. While we were all debating the merits of Luke Rockhold, Romero, Jacare Souza and the like, Whittaker blazed a path through the division, picking off better and better fighters one by one. Turns out the old fashioned way still works when you’re given a chance.
Up: Yoel Romero. We’re certainly not going to run down Romero after being half of such an epic encounter. This man’s 40 years old and has been on a spectacular run of his own against guys who are mostly significantly younger. Yes, his gas tank ran out toward the end. But losing by a whisker to a fighter the caliber of Whittaker is no reason to hang your head and Romero should remain a factor in the division for some time to come.
Hold: Alistair Overeem. Overeem got what he wanted, a victory in his trilogy fight with Fabricio Werdum. He has six wins in his past seven fights and a tremendous knack for remaining relevant. But the optics weren’t the greatest. The first Overeem-Werdum fight was in PRIDE, and under their scoring system, in which the fight is judged as a whole, Werdum likely would have won. Instead, we ended up with one of those quirks of the 10-point must system, in which a fighter edges out the first two rounds, badly loses the third, and ends up booed by the crowd when the technically correct decision comes in. That’s not enough to put Overeem right back into a title shot against a champ in Stipe Miocic who just finished him in the first round.
Down: Travis Browne. White said it’s time for Browne to retire, and this time, it’s hard to disagree. And maybe White’s “90 percent mental, 10 percent physical” line about Nunes really applies to Browne. It’s not like Browne hasn’t been trying. He’s gone from camp to camp and trainer to trainer trying to regain his old magic. But against Oleksiy Oliynyk, Browne once again got off to a solid start and then wilted under pressure. That’s four straight losses and five out of six, four of them via finish. The heavyweight division is too dangerous a place for someone to linger on their downside.
Up: Rob Font. The best prospect to go through Mark DellaGrotte’s system since Kenny Florian was bumped up to the main card after the main event fell out, and he took advantage to the fullest. Font was all action and all forward motion against Douglas Silva de Andrade, slowly picking him apart before submitting him and earning a Performance of the Night bonus. Time to get this man one of the division’s top guys and see where he stands.
So, Nunes’ issues weren’t tied to a weight cut, per se. But given a last-minute main event fallout on the heels of losing Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Tony Ferguson the last time UFC was in town, maybe it’s time for the Nevada Athletic Commission to join with California in weigh-cut reform. And do so if for no other reason than self-preservation: Fans are rightly starting to balk at making a big trip to Las Vegas when a UFC card is announced, presented with mounting evidence the fight they’re sold in isn’t the fight they’ll see. California is influential, but they can’t do it alone. Time for NAC to step up its game.
Fight I’d like to see next: Robert Whittaker vs. the world
Last night’s Whittaker-Romero fight felt like a more real title fight than most interim championship matchups, didn’t it? Michael Bisping has the belt, but Whittaker’s the hottest and most interesting fighter in the division. Now that he’s dispatched of Jacare and Romero in back-to-back fights, yes, I want to see Whittaker fight Bisping, but I also want to see him fight Luke Rockhold and possibly Gegard Mousasi if he re-signs with the UFC. We very well might be watching the next Great One in the sport and it will be fun to see how far he can run.
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