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Fightweets: Has UFC diluted the value of superfights?

Cris Cyborg and Amanda Nunes
Cris Cyborg and Amanda Nunes will compete at UFC 232.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Floyd Mayweather was supposedly going to fight in Japan, in a ruse so obvious Hellen Keller could have spotted it as phony. The UFC flyweight division seemed to be falling apart, and then a curveball came in which T.J. Dillashaw is apparently fighting for Henry Cejudo’s 125-pound belt.

Hey, this is MMA. None of this has to make any sense.

In the words of noted philosophical giants Slayer, on and on, south of heaven. And on to another edition of Fightweets.

Watering down superfights

@MookieAlexander: Now that the UFC has totally opened the floodgates for trying to be a simultaneous two-division champion, at what point do fights like these start to lose their luster?

Well, Bloody Elbow’s Mookie Alexander, how about, let’s say, right now, as we barrel toward “champ champ” fights in back-to-back months?

If we’ve learned anything about the UFC in the WME/Endeavor era, it’s that when they fixate on something, they will absolutely beat the concept to death, whether or not the fans want any part of it in the first place.

First there was the over-the-top fixation on fighters who fit the Hollywood mold of what a fighter should look like getting pushed way too fast. Sometimes, like with Michelle Waterson, it worked out. Sometimes, with Paige VanZant, not so much, and sometimes, Yair Rodriguez gets rushed into the wrong fight and gets absolutely wrecked.

Then there were company’s bizarre fixation on interim titles, the sort of thing only a consultant who never actually spent a day actually working in the fight business could think was a good idea.

And then there’s the champion vs. champion superfights. There are reasons why these things were rare during the Zuffa era. Partially, of course, is that there were just five weight classes during the bulk of Zuffa’s rise as opposed to 12 over both genders at the moment. Partially, it’s because of the damage that can be done by putting two weight classes on hold too long to make such a fight work. Partially, it’s because of what can go wrong in these fights. B.J. Penn was bullet-proof enough as lightweight champion that he was able to shake off a shellacking by Georges St-Pierre back in 2009, true, but Eddie Alvarez is 1-2 with a no-contest dating back to his title loss to Conor McGregor and is out of the North American MMA scene entirely.

But that was then and this is now. It’s blindingly obvious at this point WME isn’t going to let concerns about the future of a weight class, or the future trajectory of a superfight loser, be a factor in their decision-making. They just need to keep the big machine moving and figure out how to pay off that $4B price tag, and worry about the long-term consequences later.

That worked out splendidly the first time, but now we’re hitting the point of diminishing returns. McGregor becoming lightweight/featherweight champ-champ at UFC 205 by finishing Eddie Alvarez at Madison Square Garden was historical and a 1.3 million PPV seller, to boot. Daniel Cormier’s knockout of Stipe Miocic to claim the heavyweight belt this summer at UFC 226 was an electrifying moment, and a gratifying one for anybody who has come to appreciate DC as a person. It also was nowhere near as big a seller as McGregor-Alvarez.

Now, the assembly line is practically spitting out “superfights.” Cris Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes has been relegated to co-feature status at UFC 232. Okay, fine, the return of Jon Jones — in a remach against Alexander Gustafsson, no less — is a huge deal. But it still says something that champ-champ fights have gone from all-time great sellers to co-features in two years flat.

And then we come to T.J. Dillashaw vs. Henry Cejudo, the headliner for UFC 233. A great fight all on its own merits, undoubtedly. It would be an even better one if it was for Dillashaw’s bantamweight belt. But instead, in the face of everything that’s happened in the flyweight division in recent weeks (we’ll get into this more in a bit), they’ve decided to make this fight for Cejudo’s flyweight belt, a title he just won, in a division which might not be around much longer. And that’s with Dillashaw never having to make 125 pounds before in his career, and Cejudo having his own problems earlier in his career.

Even in this age in which WME/Endeavor takes bad ideas and beats you over the head with them until you want to tap from strikes, the path to making Dillashaw-Cejudo at 125 something pretty special. I’m not wishing any ill upon Dillashaw or Cejudo, but if either of them were to miss weight for this fight, that would seem the most apropos conclusion to this mess.

The Floyd farce

@oscarswillis: Which is more likely: That RIZIN tricked Floyd with an impromptu fight announcement, or Floyd was in on it and is painting RIZIN as liars to make himself look innocent?

If we’re being fully honest with you, then we’ll admit that on a beat like mixed martial arts, you have to swallow more bullsh*t than you do any just about any other journalism beat, save for politics. Whether it’s a promoter lying through his teeth or a high-profile manager using a preferred media mouthpiece to get his slant on a story placed front and center, there are just too many times you have to go along to get along.

If you believed for a minute that Floyd Mayweather was going to fight in Japan on New Year’s Eve, then let me sell you some oceanfront property in Iowa.
Esther Lin, Showtime Sports

But then there are the moments where the nonsense is just too much to humor. Such was the case on Sunday night, with out of the blue news dropped that allegedly, Floyd Mayweather Jr. was going to fight Tenshin Nasukawa on their New Year’s Eve show.

You’re telling me that a promotion whose previous biggest U.S. signing was Daron Cruickshank has the financial means to sign a boxer accustomed to nine-figure paydays? And that Mayweather, who had severe financial penalties for McGregor placed in the contract for their 2016 boxing match in the event McGregor went rogue and blasted him with a kick or elbow, was going to be okay with just making up the rules and weight class at another date? Really?

To anyone who uncritically passed along this unmitigated garbage Sunday night: Were you born yesterday?

Fortunately, this farce unraveled quickly, as Mayweather distanced himself as soon as he returned back to the United States. To answer your question, given Nobuyuki Sakakibara’s history with such matters -- he pulled a similar stunt with Mike Tyson during PRIDE’s heyday -- it’s entire reasonable to assume Mayweather was brought in for a meeting to make an offer on which intention on delivering, made a bait-and-switch announcement to garner publicity, and that was that.

Maybe next time, everyone should take a deep breath before instantly deciding a sham this obvious was legit.

Flyweight follies

@SigepWesleyG: @TJDillashaw vs @HenryCejudo for the 125lb title, a division they are dissolving... so why is the @ufc doing this?

You know, as the events of the past couple weeks have unfolded in the flyweight division have unfolded, I’ve had a vision flash through my brain: Former UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta checks in one morning online over coffee to see how his former company is doing. He sees they’ve shipped Demetrious Johnson to Asia, starts cutting flyweights left and right, and then after all this, decides to make the Dillashaw-Cejudo fight for the flyweight title anyway. Fertitta’s blood pressure rises for a moment, he grimaces ... then he Googles his net worth, laughs, and forgets about the UFC for the rest of the day.

Sure, Fertitta is a billionaire casino magnate with enough money to buy his own planet, but there’s no denying that for anything else you can say about Zuffa, they cared passionately about their product and were zealous about making their promotion the best in the world. That meant buying out competitors; that meant adding weight classes; that meant worldwide expansion; that meant keeping on top of technological changes. It also often meant losing a dollar today so you can make two down the road.

Just as a thought exercise, can you even conceive of that notion, when the Fertitta brothers were in charge, of the UFC banishing the greatest fighter in the history of a division halfway around the world; cutting a bunch of the remaining competitors in the division; and then after all that, deciding to make a champion vs. champion fight be for the belt you just devalued, are rumored to be getting rid of, and with a competitor who has never made the weight in his pro career? If you believe that, you probably also believed Floyd Mayweather was going to fight a kickboxer in Japan on New Year’s Eve.

All the news which has surfaced with the flyweight division, for me, have only underscored everything else we’ve come to understand about the WME era: The idea that the UFC’s goal is to be the all-encompassing No. 1 mixed martial arts promotion in the world, cornering the market on all the best talent, is simply no more. Not when fighters as talented as Gegard Mousasi are allowed to walk. Not when you give up on Demetrious Johnson just months after the greatest fight in his division’s history. Not when you make superfights lose meaning in two years flat and not when you hand out interim belts like they’re Halloween candy. The sooner we rid ourselves of the notion the UFC is thinking of anything beyond simply punting their long-term problems down the road, the more sane we’ll all be. At least in the short term.

What next for Weidman?

@SebastionHman: Chris Weidman’s future, does he have a clear path to a 205 title let’s say he fights Smith and wins could you see him as an immediate challenger in that class?

There are few things tougher to watch in this sport than seeing guys and gals who are legitimately good, down-to-earth people give it their all and continually come up just short. Especially in a case like Chris Weidman.

The title loss to Luke Rockhold was tough, but you can chalk that up to just being a bad night. In each of his three losses since then, meanwhile: Yoel Romero, Gegard Mousasi, and last weekend to Jacare Souza (man, UFC 230 seems like a whole lot longer than a week ago), he was doing really, really well, right up until he wasn’t, and lost via three knockouts, one of which was controversial, two of which weren’t, and all of which were nasty.

So that puts Weidman in a tough spot. A fresh start at light heavyweight seems like his best option (no title fights, not for someone with four stoppage losses in his past five fights). But then, he might be hitting the point where he’s been KO’d one time too many, and it’s not like opponents will be hitting him with less force when he moves up in weight. But for lack of better options, a change of scenery isn’t the worst idea.

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