For a UFC non-event week, there is plenty going on in the world of MMA, some of it good, some of it very bad. From Alistair Overeem's fighting future, to Hector Lombard's move to the UFC, to Dan Henderson's chances of unseating Jon Jones, several of the big names are making the news.
One name we won't be debating? Dr. Hector Oscar Molina, who wants us to believe that he knowingly injected a man he knew was a professional athlete with testosterone, and felt no need to tell said man about it. Worse yet, apparently he's not being held liable by this pro athlete, because, according to Overeem, there was no "ill will" in his actions.
While those two consider new careers in the bridge-selling business, Luke Thomas and I move on, gather around the old roundtable and get to some serious MMA questions.
1. After today's NSAC ruling, will the UFC cut Alistair Overeem?
Thomas: If the UFC or more specifically Dana White had intentions of cutting Overeem, they'd likely have done it by now. It's not often White takes prolonged periods of time to deliberate those sorts of decisions. Typically he knows whether they're in or out. It's true in the case of Nate Marquardt he waited until the commission couldn't clear him to fight, but even then White knew that decision was the line in the sand. Either Marquardt was going to be cleared or he wasn't. If he wasn't, he was out. When he was out, we all received word rather quickly.
The bigger question is probably, Should Overeem be cut? That one is significantly more difficult to tackle. That the UFC hasn't cut him yet tells you that letting go of Overeem is, in their minds, bad for their bottom line. Despite causing a fair number of bad headlines related to performance-enhancing drugs and dealing with regulatory issues in both of his proposed UFC fights, Overeem is still valuable to the company (and valuable to have so competitors may not have him). And given how borderline perfunctory yesterday's hearing was - the NSAC pleaded with Overeem to return to Nevada to fight! - he could be on a January 2013 card without much additional issue. In other words, despite the costs of doing business with Overeem, matters haven't reached a tipping point where the benefits no longer count. There's still gold in those hills and the UFC plans to mine it as long as they can.
Chiappetta: Not only will they not cut Overeem, I wouldn't be surprised if his first fight back is a championship fight.
Over the weekend, we had the chance to speak with UFC president Dana White about the Overeem issue. He voiced anger that Overeem put the promotion in this position, but he also said a decision about the situation was "not his call." In the past, White has always been very candid about the fact that he believes penalties handed down by state commissions are fairly strict. In some senses, Overeem will indeed pay the price for testing for an elevated T/E level. He lost out on a championship match, a huge payday, and he can't fight again until the final days of 2012 or perhaps after the new year. Since he last fought in December 2011, that will end up costing him an entire year of his prime. Since he turns 32 next month, that's no small thing.
But Luke's point about Overeem's value will ultimately make the decision for them. They will not want to set him free, where he can go to a competitor, not when he still has value. In the end, keeping Overeem and restoring him to his prior spot in the heavyweight hierarchy is no different than what would happen in any other sport. When a player is suspended for drugs or PEDs, they usually return to their previous spot in the lineup. If they are important enough, the decision-makers may privately (or even publicly) shake their heads and sigh, but they will also ultimately put them back out there.
2. Who should welcome Hector Lombard to UFC?
Chiappetta: As far as I'm concerned, there's only one obvious answer here: Brian Stann. The two match up perfectly in several ways. For one, Stann is free; he's not tied up in any upcoming fight. For another, their styles will no doubt add up to a barnburner. For those who haven't seen him, Lombard usually competes with maximum aggression. That will play nicely with Stann's willingness to put his head down and slug it out. Both guys have huge KO power. Finally, they're both top 10 fighters.
But the most important part of making the matchup is to set him on a path towards the championship quickly. Lombard is 34 years old, so he's not the type of guy who should sit around fighting marginal contenders. Either he's going to sink or swim at the top of the division, and a matchup against the respected and popular Stann will help to figure that out quickly. If he wins, he'll get instant respect from many in the UFC fan base who don't watch fights outside of the octagon. And if he loses, well, then those who've criticized the opponents he's mauled during a 25-fight unbeaten streak will have their bragging rights.
Thomas: Stann's a good choice for all the reasons Mike mentions, but more so than anything else because of the timing. I doubt Lombard is overly eager to wait for Tim Boetsch and Michael Bisping to duke it out on July 7th so he can get the winner three months after that point. It'd be a huge layoff for him and as Mike rightly points out, the Cuban-born judoka is 34. If he's going to make waves in the UFC, he's going to make them now.
Still, Stann is 1-1 in his last two fights. Lombard is unbeaten since 2006. Lombard hasn't faced the same sort of elite competition Stann has, but going unbeaten for as long as Lombard did is no easy feat. Plus, he enters the UFC as a now former champion from another organization. Bellator is not the same as Strikeforce was at its peak, but former PRIDE and Strikeforce champions have been jumped to the front of the contenders line when they've matriculated to the UFC. I'm not the biggest fan of making Lombard wait for a fight, but he deserves someone a tad higher in the rankings. I think that guy is Vitor Belfort.
The fight would be fun for virtually all of the same reasons the Stann fight would be. Belfort is explosive, powerful, battle-tested and matches up against Lombard in an extraordinarily fan-friendly way. It's true Belfort has to get past Wanderlei Silva in late June, so it's not automatic Belfort is the guy and the timing isn't ideal. But a Belfort vs. Lombard fight would be unreal for the action it could deliver and the winner would arguably be next in line for a title shot. Let's follow existing precedent and give Lombard the kind of fight he deserves. By placing him across the Octagon from Belfort, you also please the fans and help further sort divisional hierarchy. That's probably enough of a reason to overlook the less than perfect timing.
3. Does Dan Henderson have a better chance of defeating Jon Jones than Rashad Evans?
Thomas: Generally, no. However, I would say Henderson has a better first round chance than Evans.
I absolutely do not think Henderson can fight over the long haul with Jones or really any other elite light heavyweight. But there's also no denying he's a terror in the first five minutes (perhaps a little longer) of a fight. That isn't to say he has the absolute advantage over Jones in any portion or dimension of the fight, but Henderson's commitment to exchanging in the pocket and killer instinct is not something to be overlooked.
Jones is hard to hurt. Even if you land on him, gathering momentum and landing valuable follow-up is an arduous task. The champion composes himself quickly and uses his reach as well as evasive maneuvers to gather himself. Henderson's got an uphill climb just as anyone else does in that regard, but he won't play the more thoughtful potshot game Evans did early in his bout with Jones. Henderson's going to get in Jones' face and try desperately to land his right hand made of lead. And if he does so successfully, he's going to blitzkrieg him until he lands it again and again.
Admittedly, I find the overall chances of that working pretty slim, but I'll be more invested in the first round of Jones vs. Henderson than I was for Jones vs. Evans.
Chiappetta: I don't think his chance of winning is any better or worse than Evans'. In one sense, he has an advantage over Evans as an opponent for Jones: his right hand. Anytime you have fight-ending, one-punch KO power, you have a legitimate chance to win. The thing about Hendo is that even when his opponents know it's coming, he has still shown a consistent ability to land it. The question, as Luke notes, is whether he can follow up with it and finish.
In his most recent loss -- a decision to Jake Shields in 2010 -- Henderson crushed Shields with the right, nearly finished him there, and then had trouble staying off his back for the final 4+ rounds. That's the downside to Hendo that Evans doesn't have. When Henderson's opponents make up their mind to work inside and take him down, he's not as difficult to take down as his Olympic wrestling pedigree would suggest. According to FightMetric, 42 percent of attempts against him are successful. In his last fight with Mauricio Rua, for example, "Shogun" took him down on five of 10 tries. That doesn't sound like a recipe for success against Jones. It's going to be right hand or bust for Hendo.