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MMA Roundtable: Shogun's Decision, Johnson-Benavidez, UFC Schedule and More

Richard Wolowicz, Getty Images
Richard Wolowicz, Getty Images
Getty Images

This week's collection of questions has a loose theme, as they all relate to the unrelenting UFC schedule. Fighters are often faced with pressure decisions, injuries occur, adjustments are made, and management is left to try to explain it all. It's not exactly a stress-free way to make a living, even if it can be pretty intoxicating on fight night.

Ah yes, fight night. Everything revolves around it. In the quest for money, fame or a moment of glory, everything must be flexible, from minds to schedules to game plans to value systems, it seems. And therein lies the rub. In a sport where hard men must make hard decisions, that can't always be the end of it. There's always something more to consider, there's always something else to answer for, there's always another critic to placate.

So when the camp of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua decides to turn down an intriguing fight, that's not the end of it. Because then Dana White must explain an underwhelming main event, and cries of market saturation intensify, and Rua is branded by some a coward, etc. It's one domino after another. Is any of this fair? That's up to each fan, but my colleague Luke Thomas and I try to make sense of this and more in this week's roundtable.

1. News of Mauricio Rua turning down Glover Teixeira blew up over the weekend. Does Shogun deserve any criticism for it? Did he deserve to be outed? Did he make the right call?

Thomas: I'm not sure I can get behind one alleged assertion Rua and his team made about a potential fight with Teixeira, namely, that Rua would rather be cut from the UFC ranks altogether rather than face Teixeira. That's a tad bit on the extreme side.

However, I completely understand Rua's position. The fact is this: Glover Teixeira is an absolute nightmare to fight. That's true for the middle of the pack of the light heavyweight division as much as it is the elite. The other fact to consider is Rua is 2-3 in his last five UFC fights. All three losses were grueling affairs and put considerable miles on the 30-year old. This isn't to say he's on the verge of being cut, but it does mean being selective and thoughtful about opposition at this stage of his career is both prudent and has all sorts of benefits.

Beating Teixeira does little for Rua's career even if it's a legitimate win and would likely be an excellent scrap. Rua needs and frankly deserves to be in fights against opposition that meaningfully helps his stature, bank account or title opportunities. Teixeira does none of those things. Let's please disavow ourselves of the notion that one of MMA's grittiest, most battle-tested light heavyweights is somehow 'scared' of any of his contemporaries. The only thing Shogun is worried about is wasting his time or negatively impacting his career. I won't be the one to blame him.

Chiappetta: As a reporter, I appreciate Dana White's candidness on most matters, but if I am to be candid in return, part of me wonders exactly what he gains by outing Rua on this one. It no doubt led some to the believe that Shogun was "ducking" Teixeira out of fear, which as Luke noted, is a ridiculous notion.

When a fighter is young and green, he must take what's given him. That's just the way it is. But somewhere along the line, he passes the benchmark into veteran status and earns the right to have a real say in his career. Much to the chagrin of promoters everywhere, one man can not be made to fight another; they must agree. For whatever reason, Rua does not like this matchup. That's his prerogative. White reasoned his outing of Rua by saying that if camps don't want it getting out, don't say it to him. Yet on the other hand, the UFC demands strict confidentiality when the bout is being offered, and that doesn't exactly seem like a two-way street, does it?

I would have liked to see Rua fight Teixeira, and I think he had more to gain in the offered matchup than his team determined. That's their right, and at this stage of his career, he's done enough that his decision should be respected.

2. It took three months and two continents, but last week, Demetrious Johnson finally beat Ian McCall to advance to the first-ever UFC flyweight title fight, where he'll face the long-waiting Joseph Benavidez. Who will win?

At some point, you think we would learn our lesson and stop picking against Johnson, but I think he will have a tough time with Benavidez. For one, Benavidez doesn't have a major speed gap to make up. Johnson has the edge, but it's fairly negligible. Benavidez also puts together excellent game plans. Remember, he nearly upset Dominick Cruz in 2010 by using a strategy that emphasized counter fighting with power strikes as Cruz waded in with his finesse approach. He certainly might employ a similar plan with Johnson, and that experience will help him.

In addition, he has the edge in power, strength and probably wrestling as well, so Johnson has several areas he'll have to negate in order to win. Is it possible for him? Sure. Johnson's fight IQ is underrated as it is. McCall was no gimme and Johnson figured out a way to beat him, correcting several of his wrestling mistakes from the first fight.

If Benavidez-Johnson was a three-round fight, speed might be more of a factor, but if Johnson slows down even a little, I think the fight sways heavily in Benavidez's favor. Given all of the other aforementioned factors, I think Benavidez will win a decision.

I'm with Mike on this one. I like Benavidez to take it all even if I grant I'm probably unfairly overlooking Johnson.

I certainly don't think Benavidez will be able to put Mighty Mouse away with his patented guillotine. I also don't suspect he'll be able to blast Johnson out with strikes, although Benavidez has underrated punching power. Johnson's easy to look good against in the sense that you have to dig deep into your offensive arsenal to beat him, but you're going to be hard pressed to pull any personal highlight reel achievement out of the bout.

The only matter where I disagree with Mike is the issue of rounds. Three or five, I don't think it matters. Johnson is a great offensive wrestler, but isn't quite as adept on the other end. The most important consideration is that Benavidez will be able to win and hold position in contested scrambles. That'll be enough to accrue the MMA equivalent of riding time while he damages Johnson on top.

3. Is the UFC product being diluted with too many fighters of questionable quality on too many cards?

Thomas: There's more talent in the UFC now than ever, but here's also a more troubling truth. The UFC has surrounded said talent with sub-UFC or prospective fighters who are not delivering fans the kind of action and level of play they are accustomed to enjoying. All of this is done in an effort to create more product. More, however, is not more.

The problem has been noticeable for some time, but was on full display last Friday. While the main card of UFC on FX 3 featured superb, world-class talent, the preliminary card is arguably the worst the UFC has ever produced. There were some bright spots, but it generally featured talent who likely won't last very long at this level or might be able to in the future but aren't ready now.

And the reason they exist is partly because the UFC wants an understandable grip on prospects, but also because it's running far, far too many shows. The UFC serves an astounding number of masters: The Ultimate Fighter, UFC on FUEL TV, UFC on FX, UFC on FOX and pay-per-view. There isn't enough talent possibly in the entire sport to satisfy those demands, much less in one organization.

Chiappetta: This is sort of a trick question in a way. Are there certain events that feature too many marginal fighters? Yes. Are there too many events, period? Not necessarily. First of all, let's consider that the UFC had mapped out their 2012 schedule by October 2011. Now, let's think about all of the unexpected problems that have robbed them of headliners since that schedule of 34 events was set.

Here's a partial list: Brock Lesnar retired, B.J. Penn retired (temporarily), Alistair Overeem suspended, Nick Diaz suspended, Georges St-Pierre injured, Anderson Silva injured, Jose Aldo injured, Dominick Cruz injured, Shane Carwin injured, Vitor Belfort injured, Quinton Jackson injured.

That's 11 fighters -- including four current champions -- who have all been in main events of successful shows that were suddenly made unavailable. Between them all, they have a grand total of four matches in 2012 (Diaz, Aldo, Belfort and Jackson have all fought once apiece). Despite our continual insistence to the contrary, main events sell pay-per-views and shape our ideas on card depth. Complaining about the first few prelims is like complaining about your favorite NFL team's bench; if the starters are doing the job, no one cares. With so many major fighters on the shelf, major main events have not been consistently been made. If the UFC gets a run of good luck when it comes to health, the complaints of a saturated calendar will likely fade. If your favorite NFL team's starting quarterback gets hurt and your team sucks the rest of the year, you're going to feel like the NFL season is dragging along, too. It's the same concept.

There is certainly a lot of MMA on the calendar, but we wouldn't be complaining if most of these guys were healthy. All that stuff aside, it wasn't a bad move for the UFC to scrap a planned Montreal show in March, and hopefully, they'll start to consider the option in the future when they can't deliver a quality main event.

4. Hector Lombard could have earned a title shot by beating Brian Stann, but with Stann injured and out, should Lombard get the same reward for beating replacement Tim Boetsch?

Chiappetta: I would not promise Lombard a title fight based off a single win. It would be more important to me how he won. For example, if he comes out well but fades late and just edges out a decision, that's probably not the type of performance to vault him into a title fight with Anderson Silva or Chael Sonnen. On the other hand, given Boetsch's durability, if Lombard shows up and knocks him out in a minute, well, that might just be enough.

Lombard has been around for quite a while but he still needs to be introduced to UFC audiences that might have missed his exploits in promotions like Bellator. In that way, a FOX headlining slot would have been better for him than UFC 149, a card that might have a hard time selling on pay-per-view after a glut of injuries (see question No. 3 above).

Honestly, the best thing about Lombard-Stann was that he had a chance to beat a name opponent. Boetsch is tough but he's not nearly as well known. Even if he wins, Lombard might need one more fight, and Michael Bisping might be just the ticket.

Thomas: Absolutely not. Creating new stars as old stars depart has been a challenge for the UFC. The company needs to put as much emphasis as is reasonably possible on creating an environment to develop new stars.

Here's the reality: if Lombard had defeated Brian Stann, he still shouldn't have received a title shot. You mean to tell me a guy with literally zero UFC experience is going to get a title shot potentially against MMA's best fighter after beating a fighter mostly known by hardcore fans? How on earth does that make sense? UFC seems to be trending their UFC on FOX shows in a direction where they serve as an introduction to burgeoning talent rather than a showcase of star power. That's fine, but there's a tipping point where you're working with too much anonymity. This was it.

Lombard vs. Boetsch stands to be a fun fight and is important for the middleweight division. But it's promotional malpractice to reward the winner with a title shot and not just by business considerations. Boetsch's win over Okami was incredible, but it's his only win against a top five opponent at middleweight. There's more to prove for both men. It actually works out better for the middleweight division and the UFC that the Lombard vs. Stann fight was scrapped.

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