Covering MMA: Fascinating, frustrating, never dull

One of my projects for this year is to wrap up a book on my experiences covering mixed martial arts. I promise it’ll be a fun read.

So I was happy to see SI’s terrific media reporter, Richard Deitsch, hosting a roundtable of MMA journalists. He got a good cross-section — people are very much “in” the UFC orbit (Heidi Fang, Ariel Helwani) and those who are “out” (Josh Gross).

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Boxer James Toney, soaking up attention in a Boston hotel lobby before his lone UFC fight.

It’s a unique environment. I’ve never covered another sport that handed out copies of Playboy featuring an employee. I’ve rarely found athletes in other sports who’ll just chat, though that’s largely a function of having media and athletes in the same hotels.

I’ve also rarely seen qualified journalists — in some cases, the best in the sport — denied credentials for obviously petty reasons. And I hated that. Not only did it strike me as unfair, but it gave readers the impression that those of us who were “in” had sold our souls and agreed not to say anything negative about the UFC.

So it was refreshing to see this roundtable address that issue and a lot of other things that you’ll see in my book whenever I get around to finishing it.

In order of appearance in the roundtable:

Fans on press row, real journalists not: Fang mentions this in her first answer, and she’s right. To an extent, it’s simply a function of having reporters who didn’t go through the dues-paying you get at a local newspaper. I experienced the same thing when I was courtside at the ACC basketball tournament in the late 90s alongside a couple of kids fresh out of college working for a new whiz-bang website, cheering for N.C. State over Duke while I swallowed my tongue.

Helwani says every reporter working for a credible outlet should be credentialed. And that’s something Kevin Iole and others get into as well later in the roundtable.

Media access: Fighters are, for the most part, quite accessible. I interviewed Tom Lawlor while he was going in and out of the sauna to cut weight. Randy Couture saved a seat for me in the stands backstage at a weigh-in so we could do our interview. Kimbo Slice teased me in a small-group interview, which was hilarious.

Helwani raises a good point — fighters only compete 2-4 times per year, so it’s not like they’re doing locker-room interviews 100 times a year. There’s no time for familiarity to breed contempt.

Some are more private than others. I needed a bit of back-and-forth through PR reps to get a phone interview with Brock Lesnar, and he called me from a number that came up as “Private Number” on my called ID. But the interview was just fine.

Rampage Jackson is another story.

Dana White access: Helwani points out the UFC boss isn’t as accessible today as he was a few years ago, back when I was on the beat. When I was at USA TODAY, he’d chat with me regularly. He has withdrawn over the years, to the point of actually not being present at some press conferences. I think it’s a function of rapid UFC expansion — they put on so many fights each year now, and he can’t be everywhere.

Social media: Some of the nastiest stuff I’ve ever read has been directed at female MMA journalists. The MMA fan base is generally more civil than you’d think from afar, but Twitter gives the idiots a platform.

Of course, I’ve been threatened by Alex Morgan fans, so perhaps it’s not unique to MMA. But I don’t want to trivialize the abuse female journalists have received, on Twitter and on message boards. Some people need Royce Gracie to knee them in a place where it used to be legal.

Will your job exist in 20 years?: I don’t know. I think writing jobs are going to decline. Multimedia jobs are safer. And organizations are likely to demand more control.

The roundtable is a good read, with good thoughtful people. Enjoy.

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UFC: Your unofficial guide to survival as a reporter

Dana White can make things very difficult for those who cross him in any way. Rival promotions are left in the dust. Fighters are cut. And reporters, even entire news organizations, can be tossed into the cold.

The funny thing is that I still like him on a personal level, and I respect what he and the Fertitta brothers did to build MMA from a sideshow to a main event. Had the UFC folded circa 2004 when the brothers were losing a ton of money, I doubt MMA would ever have risen to anything resembling the prominence it has today. The Friends episode in which Monica’s boyfriend is beaten up might have been the peak of the sport.

I don’t blame him for playing hardball with other promotions. Most of the cuts from the UFC’s oversized roster are justifiable, and they let a fighter go off and headline a smaller show instead of taking more lumps in the Octagon.

The attitude toward reporters, though, is an issue. I’ve told Dana before that I don’t think it’s fair to keep out Loretta Hunt, Josh Gross and others who have fallen afoul of the UFC’s good graces.

So today, Deadspin got a tip — a note from Bleacher Report/Houston Chronicle MMA writer Jeremy Botter to other writers, explaining What Not To Do To Piss Off Dana.

(Disclaimer time: I’ve written for Bleacher Report. Most of you know that already. Yes, I was paid. Moving on.)

The fact that it was at Deadspin should set off some alarm bells. Writer Tim Marchman seems to be casting himself as the MMA-community equivalent of the guy who says, “Fine, I don’t want to go to your stupid party, anyway.” He notes with pride that Deadspin itself is blacklisted from the UFC. But … it’s Deadspin. Deadspin has always taken the stance that it doesn’t WANT credentials because its brilliant bloggers might meet actual athletes and come to consider them as human beings rather than fodder for their snark cannons.

But the funny thing is that Botter’s note — not really a memo — is mostly spot-on.

The exception is the mention of Loretta Hunt. She wasn’t actually banned for her reporting on UFC backstage access. At the time of the backstage access story, she was working for Sherdog, which was already banned. And her previous employer fell out with the UFC, too. The details in each case are rather arcane.

(Yes, I know the “official version” UFC drones post to impress basement-dwellers on the UG is vastly different, but that just shows how effective the unofficial UFC spin machine can be. One of the UFC drones on the UG is female, and I think a lot of people in that community are just excited to be speaking to a girl.)

In any case, Sam Caplan backed up Hunt’s story. And to this day, I think it’s a story that would’ve been forgotten if Dana hadn’t responded on video in a way that forced him to reconsider his language. The fact that Dana responded so harshly makes me think Hunt was on to something. Why else would he care?

In any case, it’s worth remembering here that Botter never intended for this to be public. If he was writing this for publication, he’d be a little more careful with the research.

With that out of the way, let’s look at just how accurate this note really is:

1. Nothing pisses Dana off more than people talking about Zuffa’s financials and getting everything wrong.

True of nearly everyone in the news. The UFC (Zuffa) is stingy with details, sure. But reporters can’t try to fill in gaps in their knowledge with flimsy information.

2. Don’t “report” things unless you have two very credible sources.

Basic journalism there.

3. Don’t be a mouthpiece for a manager who may be feeding you false information.

Hunt was used as the example here, and that’s inaccurate. But the point is correct.

4. Don’t be a mouthpiece for a fighter who may be feeding you false information.

Frankly, if Bleacher Report lives up to this, they’ll be ethically ahead of a lot of major news orgs.

5. Don’t talk about Dana’s history with his mom.

I didn’t know about this, but it never occurred to me to ask. Not sure how it’s anyone’s business unless his mom starts a rival fight promotion.

6. Don’t mix rumors with opinion.

Funny — people loved it when William Safire did it. But again, it’s good basic journalism here. You’re entitled to your opinion. Dana may tease you about it, but I don’t think he has banned anyone simply for an opinion. He doesn’t like inaccurate reporting about it. (The problem comes when the reporting is accurate, and he insists it’s not.)

7. Don’t be negative just to be edgy.

Well, no wonder Deadspin thought this was amusing. That’s their entire business model.

7a. Wait until the media scrum after an official press conference to bring up controversial topics.

People in the news often have their idiosyncrasies, and this is one. I don’t think a reporter is bending to Dana’s will by waiting for the media scrum to ask about fighter pay or something like that. If you know you’re going to get a better answer then, why not wait to ask it until then? Reporters want answers, not pointless confrontations.

8. You’re being watched. They pay attention to all media reports.

They most certainly do. Some in the sports world say they don’t read the papers or pay attention to the news. Dana doesn’t say that. He knows people would just laugh. The UFC is image-conscious to a fault.

So there’s really nothing controversial (other than the Hunt comment) in this note. I could write something similar about nearly everyone I’ve covered.

The larger issue is the UFC’s insistence on vindictive bans against Hunt, Gross, Sherdog (off and on), etc. It actually puts those of us who are “in” the UFC media circle in a tough spot. We seem compromised. I see people accuse credentialed reporters of being UFC mouthpieces all the time, and it’s usually unfair.

In that context, it probably doesn’t help that Botter’s note went public. People with an unflattering view of the UFC’s media relations may see it as a guide to genuflection toward Dana White and company. But it’s nothing more than a reasonable piece of advice for dealing with an oft-unreasonable community.

Today in wrestling’s Olympic battle

Hey, Dana White! Bjorn Rebney! What do you big-time MMA promoters think wrestling should do to stay in the Olympics?

Wrestling’s leaders have indeed asked, and my former USA TODAY colleague Kelly Whiteside has the story on what they’re considering — everything from dramatic walkouts to new clothes. The story includes this great anecdote:

 “Two pieces? Dan will probably roll over in his grave,” (Mike Novogratz) said about the legend standing next to him.

“Nah. I wore a three-piece in college,” said Gable about his time at Iowa State in the late 1960s. “A shirt, tights and a pair of shorts that went over.”

Someone who wore a lot less than that on his way to nine Olympic gold medals is weighing in on wrestling’s behalf (via OlympicTalk):

As are more Olympic legends of the 70s and 80s:

(Still can’t believe Mark Spitz shaved that mustache.)

The “Rumble on the Rails” — USA, Iran and Russia in Grand Central Terminal — will be broadcast live today. USA vs. Iran at 3:30 ET on NBC Sports Network and USA vs. Russia on Universal Sports at 6 ET. Also online at TeamUSA.org

DaMarques Johnson’s UFC cut sends bad message

Let’s say you’re an MMA promoter. In fact, let’s say you’re the biggest in the world.

Your fight cards will inevitably be undercut by injuries and other changes of plans. So you’ll need to have fighters who are willing to step in on short notice.

You may even heap praise among fighters who take such calls. You may question the manhood, dedication, sanity or humanity of fighters who do not take short-notice fights.

So then why would you cut someone from your roster after they step up?

DaMarques Johnson cut from UFC roster – MMA Fighting

Let’s make this clear: Rich Attonito, according to MMA Junkie, passed on the fight against Gunnar Nelson because he was worried about making weight. But Attonito is still in the UFC. Johnson, who always put on entertaining fights and rarely leaves a fight in the hands of the judges, is not.

So let’s switch hats here. Suppose you’re a fighter, not the promoter. And Dana White calls you to say there’s a slot open on a card in four weeks. What would you say?

Jon Jones: The UFC’s fault lines finally lead to an earthquake

Jones and White in happier times.

When Dana White is angry, he doesn’t hide it. Even through the impersonal nature of a conference call, White’s anger crackles over the phone lines.

Dana White is angry. And he’s angry at his best fighter, Jon Jones.

That in itself would be a big story. The fact that the UFC has just canceled a card for the first time, at least since White and the Fertitta brothers bought the company more than 10 years ago, is a bigger story.

So today, White held that conference call and dumped all over Jones and his coach, Greg Jackson. The issue, in case you don’t follow the MMA blogoTwittersphere that immediately revved into high gear: Jones’ opponent, Dan Henderson, is hurt. Chael Sonnen volunteered to fight Jones. But Jones refused to fight Sonnen on short notice.

The UFC line is to place the blame for the card cancellation squarely on the broad shoulders of one person — Jon Jones. It’s not just Dana being mad in the conference call. A couple of hours later, a UFC press release started like this:

For the first time in the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship®, a UFC® champion has refused to face an alternative challenger after an injury to his original opponent, forcing the organization to cancel an event.

It goes on:

White explained: “UFC 151 will be remembered as the event Jon Jones and Greg Jackson murdered.”

The release ends with quotes from Henderson and Sonnen, both of whom are shocked that a champion would turn down a fight. But the meat of the release is in between — White laments the financial losses incurred by the other fighters on the card, PPV distributors, sponsors, etc.

Have others piled on? Oh yes. They have. The reaction from fighters isn’t unanimous, but it’s lopsided, particularly among those who lost a payday Sept. 1. (The two fighters on the co-main event, Jay Hieron and Jake Ellenberger, had a restrained response.)

One point people seem to forgetting: Jon Jones didn’t cancel the card. The UFC did.

And the reasons the UFC canceled the card go far beyond one injury and one fight refusal. In the long term, several conflicts within the UFC world have been violently yanked to the surface like Frank Mir yanking an arm.

(Or Ronda Rousey, for those who are a little newer to this sport.)

Those conflicts are:

1. Supply and demand/too many cards. MMA Mania made a prophetic point last month:

The cards have become increasingly top heavy. UFC President Dana White used to criticize the boxing model for having one big headliner littered with undercard bouts no one cared about, but his company is slowly but surely moving along this path.

White deflected this question in the conference call, insisting that the UFC’s bosses know what they’re doing. But this problem has been brewing for a while, as the numbers-mad MMA media digest the disappointing ratings and PPV buy rates this year. This year — and last year, to an extent — has been a year of more fights, fewer blockbusters.

For a hard-core fight fan who isn’t cynical — if such a person exists — the explosion of UFC fights is a good thing, as Bloody Elbow’s Tim Burke points out in something that will take you a few days to read. When White has been asked in the past about putting on too many fights, he responds that he’s besieged by people from every city and every country asking when he’s going to bring another UFC card to their local arenas. And he has a point.

And it’s not as if the UFC is stretching the same talent pool more thinly. The UFC has ballooned from five weight classes to eight. When White and company bought Strikeforce, they brought over more good fighters. And as a younger generation grows up in this relatively new sport, the talent pool grows steadily deeper.

But for both the hard-cores and the “casuals,” the problem is the lack of main event-worthy fights. Georges St. Pierre’s injury woes don’t help, nor does Brock Lesnar’s retirement.

The first UFC card I attended was the promotion’s Atlanta debut, UFC 88. It wasn’t considered one of the UFC’s biggest cards. At that time, it was still unusual to have a card without a title fight. That card’s main event — Chuck Liddell vs. Rashad Evans — featured a UFC Hall of Famer against someone who has a shot to join him. The co-main event had former champion Rich Franklin, still a company star, against Matt Hamill, an alumnus of The Ultimate Fighter whose life was chronicled in the excellent film The Hammer. The third bout on the main card? Brazilian submission ace Rousimar Palhares against Dan Henderson — the same Dan Henderson slated for the main event at UFC 151.

Not bad, is it? If Chuck Liddell had been hurt at the last minute, that card surely would’ve gone on without him. Henderson would’ve been the co-main event, at least.

The next time the UFC was in Atlanta, in April 2012, the co-main event featured rising prospect Rory McDonald against Che Mills, a British fighter with a good track record who had nevertheless failed to make the cast of The Ultimate Fighter a couple of years earlier. That was Mills’ second UFC fight. His first was in his native England — on the undercard, broadcast on Facebook.

Still, the UFC kept up the “show must go on” mentality — even for UFC 147, where plans to bring Anderson Silva and Sonnen to Brazil fell through, and Vitor Belfort pulled out of his fight against Wanderlei Silva. The UFC offered refunds in advance of the show. The PPV sales were abysmal by the UFC’s lofty standards. The UFC took the hit and moved on with a very strong UFC 148.

UFC’s 151 co-main event, Hieron-Ellenberger, would’ve been one of the weakest main events of any UFC pay-per-view card. But Greg Jackson has a point when he says, “I didn’t know they had it all riding on one fight.”

And Jackson leads us to another point …

2. Brawling vs. technical fighting. “He’s a (bleeping) sport-killer,” White says of Greg Jackson, the fight guru whose cerebral approach was recently chronicled in a compelling Sports Illustrated piece. Jackson is a game-planner. He has been accused of taking everyone from Georges St. Pierre to Clay Guida and turning them into dull fighters content to grind out decisions.

It’s not just Jackson. The 13th season of The Ultimate Fighter was full of plodding wrestlers. Even Sonnen, for all his wild-man talk outside the cage, isn’t a particularly interesting fighter — he gets the takedown, pounds away without much result and tries to remember not to get submitted.

Jackson says he and Jones would’ve had only three days or so to prepare for Sonnen before starting the weight cut, press conferences and other obligations of the days leading up to the fight. To the coach, that’s not enough.  That attitude may not sit well with an audience nostalgic for the days of Tank Abbott’s devil-may-care approach or at least Chuck Liddell’s hands-at-the-hips striking style. But until someone proves Jackson’s style to be ineffective in the cage, he’s going to keep teaching it.

And that leads to the third issue …

3. The legitimacy of the sport. The UFC prides itself on being real. They don’t do gimmicky matchups (usually). They don’t tell you Kimbo Slice is one of the world’s top heavyweights.

Given that, why would Chael Sonnen get a title shot in the first place? He lost his last fight — at middleweight. Before that, he had an unconvincing win over Michael Bisping. He hasn’t fought at 205 pounds in years. But if he had fought Jones, landed a lucky punch and won, we were supposed to hail him as the legitimate light heavyweight champion?

Kid Nate and Luke Thomas discussed one option — have Jones fight a non-title bout … against Sonnen, against a heavyweight, against whomever.

That might have worked. A Hieron-Ellenberger main event might have worked. Even better — between UFC 151 and 152, stack one of the cards with a couple of decent fights (the 152 card was already solid before moving Jones there to fight Lyoto Machida), and promote the other as a “Fight Night” card.

That’s hindsight, of course. But looking ahead, the problems that led to UFC 151’s cancellation aren’t going away on their own. From fans’ expectations to front-office planning, those problems are part of a new reality. Time to adjust.

 

UFC in transition as it debuts on Fox

A montage of Fox Sports properties scrolls past, with the UFC listed alongside the Super Bowl, World Series and other major American events. Then we see an overhead shot of the Honda Center in Anaheim, mimicking the skyline and arena shots that opened the first Ultimate Fighting Championship broadcast exactly 18 years earlier. But instead of generic music and graphics, it’s the familiar Fox theme and feel.

The first UFC on Fox broadcast is a milestone for a young sport. Yet it’s more of a symptom of the sport’s upheaval and progress than the cause. The UFC and mixed martial arts as a whole are still in a state of rapid transition from an underground movement with breakthrough stars to a new world of great potential … and uncertainty.

Technically, little about Saturday night’s broadcast was a “first.” It wasn’t the first UFC appearance on a Fox network — a 2002 bout between Robbie Lawler and Steve Berger was plucked from a hastily assembled fight card to air later on Fox Sports Net’s The Best Damn Sports Show Period. Live UFC fights have been on cable for several years. Mixed martial arts had been on network TV with CBS a few times, with UFC rival EliteXC leading the way in May 2008.

EliteXC’s run, though, was over by the end of 2008. Though the organization had a few good fighters — Lawler once again was on the broadcast, and outstanding female fighter Gina Carano drew plenty of publicity — EliteXC put much of its promotional efforts behind Kimbo Slice, who had risen to celebrity through YouTube videos of his knockouts in backyards and boat yards. It was the equivalent of an upstart basketball league hiring locked-out NBA players but featuring someone who had an impressive reel of playground dunks.

UFC President Dana White had pledged that he wouldn’t do a network TV deal just to say he had one. He waited until he and a broadcast partner could do it right.

Continue reading UFC in transition as it debuts on Fox

The actual cause for concern beneath the Brock Lesnar panic

In a whirlwind of a heavyweight title fight Saturday night, Cain Velasquez wrested the UFC heavyweight belt away from Brock Lesnar. No controversies in this one — Lesnar was gracious in defeat, and referee Herb Dean stopped it at exactly the right time.

The reaction: Lesnar’s wrestling isn’t enough for him to succeed, the era of the colossal heavyweight might be over, Lesnar might not have a “fighter’s heart” and Dana White has to be fretting about business with his big-time draw defeated. And that’s just at Bloody Elbow, a reasonable MMA blog (and a great partner for USA TODAY). Somewhere in that mix, we even saw an argument that Lesnar might turn around and go back to pro wrestling.

The question about Lesnar’s heart comes from designated provocateur Jonathan Snowden and seems a little harsh after Lesnar’s twin comebacks from diverticulitis and the first-round battering he took from Shane Carwin. The questions about how his skills can and will match up with other talented heavyweights will be intriguing for a couple of years to come — if he isn’t slowed by age and whatever toll pro wrestling and illness took on his body.

The question about Lesnar going back to pro wrestling is a by-product of The Undertaker showing up and saying something to Lesnar, which seems the work of a desperate entertainment company or a desperate man. From my conversation with Lesnar in the weeks leading up to the fight, I think he’s very happy with his lifestyle and has no interest in going back to anything else. He wants to train in his private gym in Minnesota. He’s tired of talking and won’t want a scriptwriter putting words in his mouth.

So that leaves the question of the impact of Lesnar’s loss on the UFC, which Bloody Elbow’s Kid Nate rounds up as a short-term loss and long-term potential gain.

This much we can say with confidence: The UFC was building up pretty well before Brock Lesnar’s emergence. And only in his last two fights has Lesnar been asked to carry a card with little help. He first fought for the title against Randy Couture, a huge figure in UFC history making his return to the Octagon. He defended/unified the title on a star-studded UFC 100 card. Only in his comeback bout against Carwin and Saturday’s bout against Velasquez was he THE guy — and in the Spanish-speaking media, Velasquez was the guy.

So UFC naysayers can put the gloating to rest. This isn’t EliteXC screaming in terror as Kimbo Slice tumbles or Strikeforce trying to salvage the Fedor relationship and aura.

But there’s an underlying issue. Technically two, and one possible solution covers both of them.

Issue 1: The fighters who ruled the UFC as it went through explosive growth are starting to fade. That includes older stalwarts such as Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Matt Hughes and Tito Ortiz. It includes BJ Penn, shockingly dethroned as lightweight champion by lower-profile Frankie Edgar, and Anderson Silva, who is still middleweight champion but saves his explosiveness for brief forays at light heavyweight. Stretch a few years into this growth period, and it includes Lesnar, who hasn’t faded but isn’t quite as invincible as he once seemed. The exception is Georges St. Pierre, who has his critics after failing to finish a couple of opponents.

Issue 2: The UFC has been stretching its marquee fighters through an increasingly busy schedule of “numbered” events — 13 in 2009, 15 in 2009, 17 in 2010. That has led to a few pay-per-view cards with main events or co-main events featuring fighters who might be well-known to the devoted fan but not so much to the recent converts that UFC needs to keep those buy rates and ticket sales up. The UFC is getting by with good numbers, but the unrest among fans who don’t want to pay for all these cards is palpable. (Particularly if you’ve ever hosted a live chat.)

How can you make the fans happier while building more marquee names? One possibility: more fights on free TV. More “Fight Nights” and cards on Versus, which is nice for those of us who are a little too old and married for the Spike demographic.

The UFC Primetime shows, featuring up-close-and-personal looks at the fighters, can only do so much to build them up. When you have someone unpredictable like BJ Penn, it works. For Lesnar and Velasquez, it didn’t. TV producers can only do so much to push the “hard-working private Midwestern guy vs. hard-working Mexican-American guy” angle. Through three episodes, we saw more farmland than we’d see in a six-hour John Mellencamp video retrospective.

Free TV may not always be big business — for some reason, casual MMA fans have yet to realize how entertaining WEC cards can be, even without Urijah Faber — but they can help build these guys up. We can meet someone on The Ultimate Fighter and watch him progress to pay-per-view.

The problem isn’t that the UFC is doing too many pay-per-views. But as they build worldwide, they’ll need to do so with a mix of pay and free TV. Without The Ultimate Fighter and the exposure to casual fans, would the UFC be anywhere near the status it enjoys today?

Lesnar isn’t the problem. His next fight should draw some interest, and a possible championship comeback would be huge. Yet he shows why the UFC has been wise never to put all its eggs in a couple of baskets. And the emergence of relatively unknown champions such as Edgar and Velasquez shows why we need more time to meet these guys.

‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 10: Iceman 1, Crabman 0

We start with Chuck Liddell taking out his frustration over Tito Ortiz pulling out of their fight, ranting in front of an amused Dana White. Tito says Chuck doesn’t understand what he’s going through.

Then, in one of the most abrupt segues in Ultimate Fighter history, we have the weigh-in for the Josh Bryant-Jamie “Crabman” Yager quarterfinal.

As we get to the part with teammates talking up each fighter’s chances, we see Kyacey Uscola casting doubt on Yager. They’re both on Team Ortiz. Or is Yager officially on Team Yager now?

Yager, though, gives a good analysis of the Bryant bout. Bryant is busy taking out the trash.

Crabman should be the favorite, based on the speed of his prelim and first-round wins. Bryant needed a majority decision to get into the house, then labored his way to an upset of Kris McCray.

Steve Mazzagatti is the ref. Crabman is the tall one. It’s one of the biggest height differentials in Ultimate Fighter history. We’re off.

Continue reading ‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 10: Iceman 1, Crabman 0

‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 8: Wild

Already at the eighth episode? And we still don’t know why Tito isn’t fighting Chuck. We still don’t know if any two fighters will be healthy enough to fight in the finale. We still don’t know if anyone eventually tapes Crabman’s mouth shut.

We do know the wild-card matchup. One wrinkle: Kyacey Uscola gets special dispensation to take a phone call from his wife, who has just delivered their baby boy. It’s a touching scene. Kris McCray, his opponent, sincerely congratulates him. No trash-talking going into this one. McCray, humbled by his earlier loss, says he’s probably the underdog. No, Kris, you’re not.

Steve Mazzagatti is our ref, and we’re underway before the first ad break! That has to be a record.

Uscola seems looser and more confident early, letting his hands go a bit. McCray answers with kicks. Then an Uscola leg kick catches McCray badly, and his corner urges him to pounce on his grimacing opponent. But McCray recovers quickly and lands some shots against the cage.

It’s one of the quietest fights in the show’s history. Tito, as promised, is keeping his mouth shut, not willing to pick sides between teammates. Other fighters are also staying out of it. You hear one or two guys from each corner.

McCray catches Uscola in the groin with a knee, and Mazzagatti breaks them up, giving Uscola time to recover and, more importantly, escape from being pinned against the cage. But McCray presses the action again and easily takes the first round.

Continue reading ‘The Ultimate Fighter’: Season 11, Episode 8: Wild

Judging the Rashad-Rampage UFC conference call

Rashad Evans and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson spent most of a season of The Ultimate Fighter jawing at each other. Odds were pretty good they’d do the same thing in Tuesday’s conference call to promote next Saturday’s UFC 114 fight card. The UFC is depending on them as the draw, as the co-main event of Antonio Rogerio “Little Nog” Nogueira vs. Forrest Griffin fell apart with a Griffin injury, and substitute Jason Brilz doesn’t quote carry the same star power.

So let’s judge this conference call as if it were a fight. A 10-point must system is in effect. The most thorough instant recap is at Heavy.com, which I’m using as a sort of instant replay on what I heard. Also, the full audio is at MMAJunkie.com

(Interesting start: UFC President Dana White, not the PR staff, is hosting.)

ROUND 1

Rampage: Rashad shouldn’t run his mouth because he’s not at the same level. This fight is like a step backward.

Rashad responds on the next question (I think it was actually mine, but whatever I asked was forgotten in the answer): “M–f–, who is he to fight me!” Rashad beat Forrest Griffin, who beat Rampage. That brings Rampage back in for some back-and-forth that’s hard to follow, though we hear Rampage saying he didn’t train for the Forrest fight. Oh, and he didn’t lose.

Then Rashad lays the hammer down: “Stop acting like just because you’re black, you’re stupid. I can’t stand that attitude.”

We segue into some argument about who has a belt and who doesn’t. Neither fighter currently has a title, but Rampage claims to have three belts.

Rashad says he sent Rampage a package. Rampage says he didn’t get it and says he’s a “grown-ass man” while Rashad is playing “little-boy games.” Then he answers Rashad on the “big words” argument, saying Rashad has no sense of humor. That doesn’t really work after accusing your opponent of “little-boy games.”

RASHAD, 10-9

ROUND 2

They start with some inconclusive sparring over who turned down which fight. This matchup was put on hold for several months for Rampage’s A-Team filming. Rampage claims Rashad backed out of a fight to improve his odds of keeping the light heavyweight belt a little longer. Rashad answers that he turned down a fight because it was on a quick turnaround while he had a newborn baby.

That gives Rashad the edge, but he quickly devolves into some unnecessary sexual stuff. That’s a one-point deduction.

Rampage has landed a couple of zingers during this round. He responds with sexual stuff as well, so he also loses a point. This one’s hard to score.

RAMPAGE, 9-8

ROUND 3

Rashad teases Rampage about using smaller guys in training and then acting like he accomplished something when he wins in sparring. Rampage claims Rashad has a glass jaw, a tough accusation against someone with one career loss.

Asked to trace their dislike of each other, they go to back Evans’ days on the Gladiator Challenge circuit. Rashad says he admired Rampage then and was crushed when he lost to Wanderlei Silva, who devastated Rampage twice in Japan before Rampage took revenge in the UFC. Rampage said he thought Rashad was OK until he celebrated a win over a friend of Rampage’s.

Not much of substance here.

DRAW, 10-10.

Final tally: DRAW, 28-28.