(God damn it, Tim. We will never forgive you for this.)
We envisioned this week’s CagePotato Roundtable as a friendly take-down of everything from “Hello Japan!” to Tito Ortiz’s brief and terrifying career as a post-fight interviewer. But then a funny thing happened — the UFC canceled their first event of the Zuffa era due to a very unexpected decision by one of their champions, and the world exploded. The Jon Jones/UFC 151 fallout and much more will be covered in today’s column, so grab a beverage and get comfortable. And as always, if you have a topic idea for a future Roundtable, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
“World Combat League, bro. It already exists.”
In the perfect MMA Universe I envision whenever I eat enough Lotus Leaf, these words are uttered directly to MMA’s Vince Russo, Bob Meyrowitz, while he’s looking for investors for the mind-numbingly ridiculous YAMMA Pit Fighting. Upon hearing them, Bob decides to become a jaded boxing promoter, World Combat League is still the only promotion that uses a bowl as the fight surface and we are all spared the most stupid, embarrassing, gimmicky event since Heroes of Wrestling. Also in this universe: The Super Hulk division is recognized by the UFC as a real weight class, Paulo Filho never touches the GHB, Fedor knocks out Brock Lesnar and then retires as a UFC Heavyweight Champion and Chael Sonnen never attempts that freaking backfist. Who says us nerds don’t know how to party?
Of course, reality is a cruel mistress, and YAMMA Pit Fighting ended up happening despite the best efforts of an injury curse. Much like the aforementioned Heroes of Wrestling, Meyrowitz attempted to cash in on our love of nostalgia by booking a bunch of aging has-beens, never-weres, nobodies and ne’er-do-wells to compete in the promotion’s inaugural event. Never mind that half of the roster hasn’t been relevant in a decade (using “relevant” as loosely as possible in some cases), or that one of the fighters was best known for getting knocked out by a leg kick, or that another fighter was best known to casual fans for his stint on Celebrity Rehab; they’re going to brawl, you guys! Add on one of Brock Lesnar’s Team Deathclutch punching bags, the cheapest journeyman-for-hire you can find, an obese former Toughman Contest champion and some obscure Russians who dabble at sambo — because, you know, Fedor — and we’ll have all the tools for an exciting bankruptcy case after no one watches this. Tack on the incredibly cheesy, stuck-in-the-mid-90s “On the streets it’s against the law — in the pit it is the law” tagline, and laissez les bons temps rouler.
Of course, if that all doesn’t fail the groan test, then the “revolutionary new fighting surface” that will prevent stalling (i.e. ground fighting) will. Disregard the fact that a so-called MMA promoter thinks that ground fighting has no place in the sport, even though the majority of his fighters are wrestlers, sambo masters and jiu-jitsu practicioners, and focus on how the already brain-meltingly stupid gimmick is nothing more than the World Combat League bowl with a cage around the edges. If anyone is dumb enough to buy tickets to this fiasco, they’ll be completely unable to see anything that’s happening if someone has the gall to attempt a takedown in an MMA fight.
Which, of course, is exactly what the pit ended up causing. As soon as the fighters realized that they could use the incline to trip each other (i.e. immediately), the fights became an unwatchable evening of lay-and-pray, pit-and-quitTM and two unspeakably sad freak shows billed as “Masters Division Super Fights.” Ironically, the event was at least partially saved by the boneheaded decision to hold it in a state that only allowed the championship bout of the tournament to be longer than one round — at least in the eyes of anyone who tried to stay awake through it. On the streets, it’s certainly against the law, but only because lewd conduct is a real offense.
In case you think I’ve been forcing Heroes of Wrestling references for the sake of doing so, both promotions immediately went under after the atrocity that was their debut event. And much like how Heroes of Wrestling’s only redeeming quality was the drunken mess of a Jake the Snake promo it gave us, YAMMA Pit Fighting’s most memorable contribution to the MMA universe has been some hilarious Don Frye promos that surfaced one year after the promotion’s demise. Even in redemption, these promotions managed to embarrass themselves in ways I never thought possible. Should have never messed with the Totally Awesome Sweet Alabama Liquid Snake, boys.
I could easily start this entry with a boatload of disclaimers regarding my view on Jon Jones’ decision to turn down a fight with Chael Sonnen at UFC 151, but they would ultimately be pointless. Was I shocked and kind of puzzled that the UFC outright cancelled the event because of his decision? Absolutely. Do I think Sonnen deserved a shot at Bones? No way in hell. But long before this will be published, before I even began to sit down and write this hopeless addendum, you, our loyal readers, have already made up your minds. Regardless of any justifications I may give, or any opinions I will state that will be misconstrued as concrete facts, there is simply no way that we will be in total agreement by the time this is over. So fuck it, here I go.
Jon Jones’ decision to pull out of UFC 151 was an embarrassment to the sport of MMA unlike any other, one that has literally not been matched by any champion in promotional history.
OK, now that the bitter, kneejerk-reacting members who peruse this site have officially stopped reading and taken to their keyboards with the fire of a thousand suns, let the rest of us mild-tempered, 46 chromosome-possessing individuals have a little chat.
Say what you want about oversaturation and UFC 151 being an abysmally weak card; I would have to agree with you. When your co-main event features a guy who hasn’t fought in the UFC in nearly a decade, you pretty much know what kind of card you’re looking at. But you don’t happen to know what other event was just a step above a Strikeforce Challengers card and suffered from a late replacement in the main event, do you? That would be UFC 147 folks, but Rich Franklin, God bless him, stepped up to partake in a match that next to no one wanted to see, that did next to nothing for his career, because he’s a fighter and he was called upon for a favor.
Although there have been conflicting reports, Dana White claims he informed Jon Jones before he made his decision that, if he didn’t accept the fight with Chael Sonnen, the event would be cancelled. All of the fighters on the card, not to mention thousands of fans, would be screwed out of money because a completely healthy fighter with an entire training camp behind him wouldn’t be willing to fight a middleweight coming off a loss on eight days notice. And Jones decided to anyway. This move would not earn him any fans.
And CHAEL SONNEN is not the issue here; he was simply the first man to offer his services when they were required, and earned my undying respect for putting his money where his mouth is in doing so. Would he have shit talked his way into an undeserved title shot, which is exactly what we were worried about when he announced his move? Yes, but he was willing to fight Jon fucking Jones, the most dominant light-heavyweight in over six years, FOR FREE. That is a fighter, ladies and gentleman. The fact that Sonnen was also the most winnable/relevant matchup for Jones of the guys who volunteered, which included fellow middleweight Chris Weidman, and lightweight Jamie Varner (lolz) is just icing on the cake. But again, Sonnen is not the issue.
The issue here is that Jon Jones and Team Jackson set a precedent with their decision yesterday, a precedent stating that Jones will not fight ANYONE without a full training camp to prepare for them. And that, my friends, is absolute bullshit behavior from a champion and supposed “pound for pound great” who won the belt on short notice to begin with. Jones should have accepted the fight regardless of Sonnen’s qualifications, if only to:
1. Shut Sonnen’s mouth forevermore.
2. Leave Sonnen with nowhere to go but back down to 185.
3. Prove that he can beat anybody, anytime, anyplace. You know, like a champion.
You say Sonnen wasn’t a “worthy” contender? Well who the hell is on eight days notice? Considering that Sonnen is basically Dan Henderson minus the KO power, Jones literally could not ask for a better late replacement matchup. Do you think Anderson Silva really thought Demian Maia, Patrick Cote, or Thales Leites had any business being in the same ring as him? Child please. But Silva took the fights. Sure, they were some of the worst fights the sport has ever seen, but the difference between Bones and Anderson is that one of them shut his mouth, signed the damn contract, and was willing to risk being upset for the sake of the card.
This bitch move on Jones’ part has only confirmed my worst fears that the robots over at Team Jackson have successfully drained away Jones’ ability to think independently, not to mention his self-confidence, like they do with every fighter that enters their gym not named Donald Cerrone, who would fight his mother for a bag of Doritos tomorrow if he caught her eyeballing him the wrong way.
Jones didn’t fight Sonnen for the same reason he won’t fight Anderson, he’s officially moved on to the “protect my legacy” point of his career, which in his mind is only accumulated through wins. And he’s partially right; wins do matter. Yet somehow, Randy Couture, Dan Severn, Mark Coleman, and Chuck Liddell have all become legends of the sport and UFC Hall of Famers despite the fact that they have accumulated 48 losses between them. Being able to handle defeat is what separates true fighters from the posers, for lack of a better word. It’s why George St. Pierre hasn’t lost a fight since getting upset by Matt Serra. Defeat builds character. It builds drive.
For a guy that claims to be all about personal sacrifice and a warrior mentality, Jon Jones sure has a warped view of those concepts.
I love MMA, but as this very Roundtable exemplifies, the sport has had its share of absurd, stupid moments. Frankly, it’s what you should expect from a young, fringe sport. Chances were taken that, in retrospect, should never have been considered to begin with. And there will always be certain athletes who behave bizarrely, to say the least. So with that in mind, I think the truly dumbest moment in MMA history has to be the product of a person or an entity that has a decent track record of intelligent decisions.
Sadly, this precludes me from nominating Ultimate Ball.
So with this in mind, I’m going to say that Dana White acquiescing to James Toney’s demands to fight in the UFC was the single dumbest moment in MMA history. Was it stupid on the level of Rampage living up to his nickname? No. But you expect a little more out of Dana White. (Then again, this is the same man who went on a homophobic tirade because Loretta Hunt published something he didn’t like. So maybe not.) The man had absolutely no reason to let Toney fight in the world’s preeminent MMA organization, let alone against a former champion in Randy Couture.
It’s not like Toney had been a fighting force at the time. The man had the physique of an elephant seal, and linguistic capabilities of a man suffering from Down syndrome after he’d had his tongue amputated. Toney was unable to communicate in anything resembling a language, resorting to unintelligible gibberish whenever he was in the vicinity of someone with a camera. He had absolutely no knowledge of wrestling, jiu-jitsu or anything other than his boxing pedigree, although he hinted at a devastating maneuver roughly translated to the “side check kick.”
While it’s possible that this was an even more exotic and deadly maneuver than the five finger death punch, we never got a chance to find out. James Toney failed to land a single strike in his bout against Couture, getting taken down, mounted, and finally – mercifully – submitted. Couture was then awarded his black belt in jiu-jitsu – an extraordinarily high honor which requires years of training, mastery and hardship – following a fight in which he submitted a beached marine animal. Toney presumably lumbered off to find a local taco stand. Dana White was probably pleased that Toney lost, and deeply, deeply ashamed that he allowed this farce to occur on a pay-per-view. None of it made any sense. It was the dumbest moment in MMA history.
When it comes to embarrassing the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, Josh Barnett is perhaps even more experienced then Tito Ortiz and Paul Daley combined. After being stripped of his UFC Heavyweight Championship for using a banned substance, one might think Barnett would have learned his lesson.
When Affliction was planning the third event for their fledgling promotion, I highly doubt they thought it’d be the last. A week or so before the event that was supposed to feature Barnett and Fedor Emelianenko in the heavyweight matchup of the century, Barnett tested for banned substances again during his required pre-fight screening.
In one fell swoop, Barnett took Affliction’s head right off their shoulders. Duncan MacLeod would have been proud of Barnett. Meanwhile, the rest of us were left to pick our jaws up off the floor. Without anyone except Vitor Belfort willing to step up and take on the Last Emperor — sound familiar? — Affliction’s dreams of being a big time promotion were heading right down the drain right beside their third event which never ended up coming to fruition.
Every sport has its embarrassing moments — bloopers that are occasionally celebrated in the form of compilations on the jumbo-tron during live events, while a musical bed of Yackety-Sax blares in the background. While that is acceptable for most sports, MMA is different. There is an aura of honor and respect by both the competitors and the fans. However, our sport is no different when it comes to blunders and calamities. There will always be “The Running Man” Kalib Starnes or the Dennis Hallman banana-hammock incident as well as Tim Silvia’s…well…Tim Silvia. Yet none of these were a bigger embarrassment than the main event from UFC 112.
The bout pitted the Michael Jordan of MMA, Anderson Silva, against Demian Maia as the headliners during the UFC’s first appearance in Abu Dhabi. Zuffa had recently sold a minority percentage to the Abu Dhabi-based Flash Entertainment and a temporary 11,000 seat open-air arena was constructed specifically for the event and was torn down a week after. The red carpet was rolled out for the UFC, and then Anderson Silva stepped into the Octagon and puked all over said red carpet.
The odds of The Spider winning were the same as Anthony Johnson looking like the love child of Lee Haney and Gabourey Sidibe, which is to say, certain. [Ed. note: Wow.] Silva was just coming off the demolition of LHW Forrest Griffin and was supposed to mow right through Maia. Silva dotted Maia early and often for the first two rounds, but then it all fell apart. Between rounds two and three Silva seemingly decided that it would be more entertaining to taunt Maia and dance like Gregory Hines for the remaining 15 minutes of the fight. It was sickening to watch Maia and his swollen-shut eyeball continue to press forward while Silva danced a jig and ridiculed his challenger.
It got so bad that the Abu Dhabi crowd started to cheer for Maia even though they all knew he didn’t have a chance to succeed. Martial arts are based in traditions of respect and honor, and clearly Anderson Silva had those qualities seized at customs while entering The United Arab Emirates, because he showed neither. Dana White left ringside after the fourth round, tossed the middleweight belt on the lap of Silva’s manager Ed Soares and told him to put it on the champion himself. White later said that it was the most embarrassed he had ever been since becoming the UFC president. So don’t expect any blooper reels to be played on the jumbo-tron at upcoming UFC events, because nobody’s laughing.
Not all athletes are meant to be sex symbols. Just because you can put Anna Kournikova on the cover of Maxim in a bikini, doesn’t mean you should do the same thing with Martina Navratilova. And that’s fine — sexiness isn’t a pre-requisite for athletic achievement, and most people are comfortable with that concept. You know what we’re not comfortable with? Jamming a female fighter into the “sexy chick” role just because that’s the only way you know how to sell a fight. And no MMA promo — with the possible exception of Jeff Monson threatening to fuck people for free — has made me cringe harder than Strikeforce’s latex bodysuit teaser starring Ronda Rousey and Sarah Kaufman.
You want to turn Rowdy into Catwoman? Go for it; she’s already decided that she wants to make her beauty and her body part of her persona. Kaufman, however, isn’t cut out for it. And honestly, that’s not a diss on her looks. If Kaufman wanted to be a sex symbol, she could certainly put on the attitude and the skimpy clothing, and make it happen though the sheer power of will. (See also: Felice Herrig.) The problem is, we all know this is not Sarah Kaufman in her natural state. She’s a humble, understated woman, only concerned with competing in the sport she loves to the best of her abilities. Being sexy is not on her list of priorities as an MMA fighter. And yet, Showtime decided to inflict this embarrassing white bodysuit on her anyway, out of some misguided attempt at equal time.
These are the dark ages for women in MMA, and shit like this is to expected, I guess. I just hope I’m alive to see the day when women’s MMA is flourishing to the point where the athletes’ looks are a peripheral element of the experience, and not the entire promotional strategy.