(Somebody kill that motherfucker.)
It’s Thanksgiving today, the most gluttonous of all holidays. So while we play touch football in the yard and gorge ourselves on turkey and potato-based dishes, you can enjoy a little Ben-on-Ben action, with debates covering everything from the future of the heavyweight top ten, the aftermatch of the Jon Fitch debacle, how we prefer to clog our arteries every year around this time, and more. Enjoy.
Let’s say Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira beats Frank Mir next month (obviously). But let’s also say Brock Lesnar manages to beat Big Nog in the belt-unification match next year. If this nightmare scenario were to become a reality, would you rank Lesnar as the #1 heavyweight in the world, or is it still Fedor until he dies or gets beat?
Goldstein: Christ — it depresses me that we’re actually discussing Brock Lesnar as the potential #1 heavyweight in the world. Do not let us down, Nog!
Anyway, I’m going to say Lesnar would have to be placed at #2 in that situation, not #1, and it’s really just on general principle. No fighter with a 4-1 record should be ranked #1 — even if they’ve beaten two top-five fighters back-to-back — unless they’ve beaten the previous #1 fighter in the world in their division (Emelianenko, in this case). Of course if Andrei Arlovski beats Fedor in January, things go into flux a bit, but I’d say Arlovski moves into the #1 spot at that point, and keeps it even if Lesnar goes on to beat Nogueira. (Does your brain hurt yet from this hypothetical bullshit, or is it just me?)
But who-beat-who-when stats are just one aspect of creating rankings — the other part is infuriatingly subjective, and has to do with talent, and personal opinions on how a certain top-10 fighter would do against other top-10 fighters. And if you want my opinion, here goes: Fedor Emelianenko is worlds more talented than Brock Lesnar at this point. I wouldn’t necessarily agree with M-1’s bluster that Brock wouldn’t last a round with Fedor, but I strongly doubt he’d get his hand raised at the end of the fight. So how could I in good conscience call Lesnar the best heavyweight in the world, even if he does follow his win over Couture with a win over Nogueira?
Fowlkes: There’s a lot of inherent Lesnar hate in this discussion already, but since I’m willing to believe it has more to do with his record than his persona I’ll go along with it. But let’s admit our bias here. We don’t want Lesnar to be #1 because he’s still an MMA rookie who came out of the WWE and we’re afraid that if he climbs to the top so quickly, on sheer size and strength alone, not only will the diatribes that show up on the WWE website really get out of hand, but it will become harder to convince anti-MMA jerks that this is truly a nuanced sport.
That said, for anyone to replace Fedor at the top of the list one of these things has to happen: Fedor loses, Fedor retires, Fedor goes two years or more without fighting any top ten heavyweight. The last condition would also require someone else on the list (maybe Lesnar, maybe Big Nog) putting together some impressive victories of his own, but the good thing about the UFC is they’ll make their heavyweights fight somebody just to stay in business.
I don’t think there’s any way Lesnar beats Fedor. Not on his best night. I also don’t think we’ll ever see that fight. Ever. So we have to figure out that top spot via other, more creative means. We also have to remember that these lists are, as you say, pretty arbitrary and subjective. Still fun, though.
Now that the Jon Fitch firing scare is behind us, what should we take away from that precious little clusterfuck?
Fowlkes: The lesson from the Fitch scenario is that the closer the UFC gets to a having a total monopoly of the MMA market, the more they’re going to act like it. This is a fairly brazen example and it sent a clear message to other UFC fighters and their management. That message? We’re very nearly the only game in town, so you’d better play nice.
Essentially the UFC asked one of their fighters to sign a lifelong binding agreement that benefitted only them. When he wanted to discuss it, they cut him. That’s a hardball management tactic designed to intimidate. And it worked. Fitch signed in order to get his job back, and the rest of the UFC stable undoubtedly took note.
Dana White called the request for Fitch to sign the video game deal “a favor.” Where I’m from, helping someone move a sofa is a favor. Signing away your likeness for life is a business decision that you should put some thought into. Sure, Fitch isn’t going to have his own video game any time soon, and no one was going to decide not to buy the completely awesome-looking “Undisputed” game if he wasn’t in it. But that’s why it doesn’t make sense to fire the guy over it, unless you’re just trying to throw your weight around. This is a sign of things to come, make no mistake. It’s also a sign that fighters need a union, now more than ever.
Goldstein: I think the lesson is that Dana White’s unrestrained hotheadedness will eventually result in something truly damaging for the company. Faced with the same situation of a popular fighter requesting that the word "lifetime" be removed from a merchandising agreement, any other effective businessman would have gone one of two routes: 1) negotiate (what a concept), or 2) tell that fighter "Well then screw you, you’re not in the video game." But not Dee-Dubs. He chooses the scorched earth policy because to him, business is personal. And that’s a problem. If Dana can rashly toss out someone as loyal as Jon Fitch over a video game merchandising agreement (while fully aware that fans and MMA journalists would be up in arms), he could easily make the wrong call when the stakes are even higher.
I’m not sure what that wrong call might look like; maybe we’ve already seen it. I’m reminded of the UFC’s failed deal with HBO, which was reportedly sunk because the UFC would have to give up at least some control of the production. An HBO deal would have definitely pushed the sport forward — could Dana White’s inability to compromise have gotten in the way? I can’t tell if he needs anger management or if the UFC needs someone with a lighter touch making more of the decisions.
And sure, the fighters need a union. It’s something that athletes have in every other major sport in this country. For all the UFC’s talk of taking MMA mainstream and going global, their exploitative treatment of fighters is actually helping to keep it ghettoized. A union would announce to critics that this mixed martial arts thing is a real sport, meant to be taken seriously. Because when it comes to fighter contracts, the UFC is still a sideshow.
Making Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture fight for a fourth time seems wrong or lazy somehow — but what the hell else would you have them do?
Goldstein: Randy Couture only has two fights left on what could be his last three-fight contract in the UFC. Is it too much to ask that we send this man out on some wins instead of losses? I don’t need to see him get knocked out by Chuck Liddell for a third time. And even if he does beat Liddell, I don’t need to see him clobbered by Brock Lesnar again in some useless rematch.
By coming into his last fight at 220 pounds, Randy proved that he’s not really a heavyweight anymore. I know it’s not fun to diet down and sweat out that extra 15, but nearly everyone in the UFC does it, so suck it up and go spit in a bucket. At light-heavyweight, he could face the loser of either the Mauricio Rua/Mark Coleman fight or the Rich Franklin/Dan Henderson fight (both at UFC 93 in January), or even Quinton Jackson or Rashad Evans if they lose next month. Put any of those guys against Randy and it’s a big-name fight, and a good use of his time, even if it couldn’t carry a card all by itself. See, it doesn’t always have to be about the championship belt. Randy has friends in the light-heavyweight division, and a big monster named Brock in the heavyweight class — so why can’t he just put on fights that would entertain the fans, in his most effective weight class?
Chuck Liddell’s retirement may not be quite as imminent, so he has a little more time to play around. I’d have him knock out James Irvin just to get his confidence back, then let him loose on any combination of the aforementioned Rua, Coleman, Franklin, and Henderson contingent; it may also be time for a rematch with Wanderlei Silva. What I wouldn’t do is have him move up to heavyweight just for some theoretical possibility that he could face Brock Lesnar in a blockbuster fight if all the cards fall in the right places. The size difference between Couture and Lesnar at UFC 91 put Randy at a hell of a disadvantage. (Fifty pounds, after all, is the difference between lightweight and light-heavyweight.) I understand the appeal of Liddell/Lesnar from a “superfight” perspective, but putting Chuck in with the same disadvantage isn’t really appealing from a competitive matchmaking perspective.
Fowlkes: First of all, I don’t think we’re helping anyone by trying to send Couture out on some wins. A guy like him, you set him up to beat a couple jobbers and he’ll just take it as a sign that he’s still got some fight in him, and next thing you know he’s 55 and taking senseless beatings. No one wants that, but it’s to him so let’s at least give him real fights so he can make an informed decision. I agree he’s not a heavyweight, and 205 is where he should go. I’d love to see him fight any of the old Pride stars: Wanderlei, Rampage, Shogun, you name it. Just for old times’ sake. But just stay at light heavyweight, please.
As for Liddell, I don’t think he has quite as much time to play around as you think. His style (as well as his lifestyle) doesn’t lend itself to Couture-like longevity. I wouldn’t waste any of his remaining fights on anything but a marquee fight. Wanderlei again? Absolutely. Rampage for a third time? Why not. But there’s absolutely no reason for him to go up to heavyweight for any reason. As much as Dana White might hate to hear it, every fight can’t be a superfight. It just can’t.
What’s the greatest Thanksgiving side dish? As a bonus question, what one MMA-related thing are you most thankful for this year?
Fowlkes: No question, my mom’s cornbread dressing is the greatest Thanksgiving food known to man. Honed by decades of Southern cooking, it is guaranteed to shorten your lifespan by a few years while at the same time making you feel like you’re getting a good trade.
What I’m most thankful for in the world of MMA this year was all the free fights we saw, thanks to expanded cable and even network TV coverage. For all the ups and downs, 2008 was a banner year for bringing more MMA into more homes, thus creating new fans and feeding the appetites of existing ones.
As someone who discovered the sport back when you had to wait for the events to come out on VHS and then gather in someone’s parents’ rec room to watch it, it’s hard not to step back and appreciate how far the sport has come in such a short time. While I may take shots at Dana White for his approach to fighter management at times, I also have to give him credit for this one.
Goldstein: The answer to the first part of this question is pumpkin pie. (Yes, I know pie is more traditionally known as a dessert, but let’s not split hairs.) Doesn’t matter where it comes from. Store-bought, homemade, out of a garbage can — it’s all deadly. Of course, I’ve never had Fowlkes’s mom’s cornbread dressing, so my opinion may not be a completely informed one. But whatever, it sounds effing terrible. Dressing, on cornbread? Like, ranch? A mix of creamy Italian and Green Goddess, maybe? Gross.
As for giving thanks, is it too ass-kissy to thank all of you, our passionate CagePotato readers, for helping to make this site so awesome? 13 months ago, I was just a dude with a WordPress account and a dream. To think that 30,000+ MMA fans now read our stupid opinions on this crazy sport every day, is, to be honest, kind of humbling. I wouldn’t exactly say it makes life worth living, but it keeps the ‘ol gun out of the mouth, LOL!
Of course, I’m also thankful that after this sentence, we’ll probably never have to mention the name "$kala" ever again. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.