MMA has answered its fundamental question

UFC founding father Art Davis has written a book (with fellow soccer/MMA commentator Sean Wheelock) on the early days of the UFC — Is This Legal?: The Inside Story of The First UFC from the Man Who Created It.

Bloody Elbow, always interested in MMA history, took advantage of the opportunity for a long conversation with Davie in which he pins his interest in pioneering mixed martial arts as his attempt to answer a question that had always stuck in his mind …

Who would win a fight between a wrestler and a boxer?

Twenty years later, we have the answer. Wrestler.

(Actually, we probably had it 19 years ago. We certainly had it by the time Randy Couture choked out James Toney.)

 

Monday Myriad, July 7: Meb passed a lot of you

Best and worst in myriad sports this week:

BEST CHARITY RUN

Meb Keflezighi started at the back of the Peachtree Road Race. He couldn’t pass everyone — the top runners were had been done for more than an hour by the time he started — but he reached his goal of passing 25,000 runners.

WORST COMPETITION

We were used to the idea of Ronda Rousey being a better grappler than every woman in MMA. Once she got you in her grasp, you were likely to fall prey to the armbar she honed as an Olympic judo medalist.

In her last two fights, Rousey has faced two accomplished grapplers — Olympic wrestling medalist Sara McMann and jiu-jitsu black belt Alexis Davis. She knocked both of them out in a combined time of 1 minute, 22 seconds. McMann, at least, is a relatively inexperienced MMA fighter. But Davis should have the kickboxing experience to avoid being knocked out in 16 seconds. And really, it was over in about 12.

Unless everyone can quit making excuses and let Rousey face Cris Cyborg, the woman who demolished the game but overwhelmed Gina Carano in the biggest pre-Rousey women’s MMA bout, who’s left to face her?

MOST EXPERIENCED YOUTH OLYMPIAN

The USA is sending 94 people to the Youth Olympic Games. One, table tennis player Lily Zhang, is the first U.S. athlete to have been in the regular old Olympics before she was in the Youth Olympics.

WORST OLYMPIC BIDDING PROCESS

The three finalists for the 2022 Winter Olympics are the only cities still bidding — Beijing, Almaty and Oslo. And you can almost hear the IOC saying, “Please be Oslo, please be Oslo.”

BEST GIF

MOST LEAD-FOOTED SWIMMER

BEST SHOWDOWN

Justin Gatlin needed a world-leading time of 9.80 seconds to beat Tyson Gay (9.93), who was returning from a one-year doping suspension.

Gay got a win on Monday.

BEST RALLY (EXCLUDING WIMBLEDON)

Not “rally” in the sense of a comeback. World League volleyball, USA-Russia.

(Start at 1:25 if you’re not already taken there.)

BIGGEST RECLAMATION PROJECT

MOST DIVERSE COLLECTION OF CELEBRITIES

The World Series of Poker main event is underway.

https://twitter.com/pamelam35/status/486308526004772865

BEST RACE

Jenny Simpson got out in front and nearly stayed there in the 1,500 meters in Paris. The quick tempo wound up dragging five runners under the four-minute mark. The Netherlands’ Sifan Hassan posted the top time of the year, Simpson just missed the American record (Mary Slaney, 3:57.12), and fellow American Shannon Rowbury (DUKIE!) set a personal best.

BEST RIVALRY

Kirani James vs LaShawn Merritt, once again. This time in Lausanne. No spoilers. Just watch.

BIGGEST TIE

World League volleyball, Pool A: Brazil, Italy, Iran, Poland. Each team played 12 matches. Brazil’s record: 6-6. Italy’s record: 6-6. Iran’s record: 6-6. Poland’s record: Basic match tells you what it has to be. A four-way tie.

By tiebreakers, it’s Italy, Iran, Brazil, Poland. And that leaves Poland out of the next round. But their fans were still great.

Meanwhile, the USA traveled to Serbia, needing a win to clinch a spot in the final.

BEST ROUNDUPS

The Daily Relay’s Monday Morning Run rounds up the record chases in track and field this year, along with a Tim Howard save. Also in that roundup is the shocking revelation of a massive mistake — when Emma Coburn ran away from an elite field to win the steeplechase in Shanghai, a couple of runners assumed she was just a pacemaker. They didn’t even realize she finished the race, crossing the line and thinking they had finished first and second.

They’re not making that mistake again.

And as always, Ollie Williams’ Frontier Sports roundup is a must-read. The Monday wrap features a lot of cycling (including a third sport for Dutch short-track/long-track speedskater Jorien Ter Mors) and the odd story of a judo athlete who won her appeal against a positive test for cocaine, spurring a new investigation to find out who might have slipped her the powder.

UFC needs Georges St. Pierre, not vice versa

The absurd pressure on Georges St. Pierre to come back to the Octagon tout suite and defend his title against Johny Hendricks one more time sounds like the act of a desperate Ultimate Fighting Championship.

The overwhelming consensus is that GSP should have lost Saturday’s fight to Hendricks by every measure except two of the three judges’ scorecards. (I confess I had to skip this one, but every reporter and pundit I trust has agreed with the mob: 48-47 Hendricks.) GSP then babbled his way through postfight interviews, hinting at major trouble outside the cage.

Fight fans had every right to be saddened at the sight. St. Pierre has been one of the fight game’s classiest champions for years, combining rare athleticism with sophistication and charm. I covered a couple of his fights, and the crowd’s “G-S-P!” chants still ring in my ears. Few fighters have had such respect.

After his dubious title defense Saturday, that respect was lost. Dana White ranted that GSP “owes” everyone a rematch.

I’m sorry Luke Thomas’ #GSPOwesMe hashtag didn’t take off.

(Luke also has an eloquent summary of the cruel demands placed on GSP.)

And I’m sorrier to say the situation has deteriorated from there. TMZ quickly got into the fray with some reports on what may be causing GSP’s problems. A few others did as well.

I’m not sorry to see Johny Hendricks isn’t holding the belt. By all accounts, he fought a stupid fifth round. Dana White reminds fighters not to leave it in the hands of the judges. Hendricks did, and he left a bad final impression. A quick check of the numbers shows he should never have been so cocky.

Now his manager, Ted Ehrhardt, is making it worse. “No respectful champion would want to go out on those terms,” he says. Then this:

I would hope GSP would come back and do the right thing. If he’s going through stuff, of course you feel bad for a guy for that. But he’s made a lot of money in this sport. Like Dana said, he owes it to the sport, not just Johny and the UFC.

Remember when the UFC wasn’t riddled with former wrestlers who have no concept of the values of martial arts? I do, but those memories are starting to fade.

And that’s the bigger problem.

The UFC has already had a big changing of the guard. The pioneers — Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, the Shamrocks — are mostly gone. Even Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar, who ushered the UFC into its peak years with their frenetic finale of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, have moved on.

Six months ago, the UFC had three champions who were clearly among the all-time greats — St. Pierre, Anderson Silva and Jon Jones. Silva recklessly threw away his belt against Chris Weidman in July. Jones squeaked his way past Alexander Gustafsson in September, though that fight was an instant classic. Now St. Pierre is down, possibly out.

And if not for two judges’ iconoclastic view of the first round Saturday, one of the most popular and likable champions of the sport would have been replaced with someone who sounds like Matt Hughes without the jokes.

Hendricks can evolve, of course. It won’t be the end of the world if he grows up and eventually takes the belt without the attitude. But the issue here for the UFC is the prospect of GSP, one of the last true stars of the sport, to walk away and leave a messy void. Unfortunately for the UFC, GSP has every right to do that. His body has failed him in recent years, and now things look bad in other aspects of his life — Joe Rogan has become the voice of reason in suggesting that he should simply move on. No one has the right to demand that he go into the cage and suffer any more. The fact that people think otherwise is a sad commentary on the state of the sport.

There are no shortcuts in MMA training. And there are no shortcuts in MMA promotion. If the UFC has to go through a rebuilding period without its major stars, so be it. Those stars don’t need to “step up.” It’s time for other people to do it. And those people can start by acting like they’re worthy of the fame, fortune and respect that come along with crowning a champion and being one.

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.

Leaving the UFC: It’s the money

John Cholish is leaving MMA, saying he lost money on his last fight.

It’s not really a function of the recently exposed fighter contract, which only accounts for a small part of the problem — Cholish had to pay out of pocket for some of his corner crew. It’s very simple: He’s not making money.

As Brent Brookhouse puts it at Bloody Elbow:

This is why some people get very hung up on the revenue distribution inequality between the UFC and the fighters. That’s not to say that the UFC should be paying out the close to 50% of revenue to fighters that we see from the NFL and NBA, but it doesn’t seem like a stretch to think that fighters that make it to the biggest stage in the sport be able to fight full time and take home an amount of money that their elite skills would seem to demand.

The Major League Soccer historian in me warns that any labor action should be taken with a degree of caution. When MLS players sued the league, the league nearly collapsed.

Then we have two other factors to consider:

1. Other organizations that have come into the MMA marketplace with big-money offers have quickly died. We can’t forget that the UFC bled money for many years before turning the corner less than 10 years ago, and now we’re seeing some troubling indicators on ratings and other measures of interest in the sport.

2. The UFC’s owners have a few negative associations with unions, with good reason.

 

 

UFC contracts laid bare, marginally fair

Ever see something that used to be top-secret, then wondered why it was so secret?

That’s what happened today when Bleacher Report flexed its investigative muscle (No, I don’t mean that sarcastically — they’re making progress) and came up with a UFC fighter’s contract. Then they got comments from Dana White, Lorenzo Fertitta, UFC general counsel Lawrence Epstein, fighter agent Juanito Ibarra, Randy Couture and labor law professor Zev Eigen.

The result is well worth the read. But as with a lot of good journalism, it should start the discussion, not end it.

With that in mind, here are a few slide-by-slide thoughts:

(By suggestion, this has been edited to give more context.)

SLIDE 1 (overview): The comparison to the Yankees falls flat. How many people do the Yankees pay? How many in UFC — fighters, marketing, TV crews, Octagon crews, etc.? Lorenzo says 1,000 at any individual fight. (I’m assuming that the value of the Yankees does not include minor-league clubs, though it would include rights to some of those players.)

SLIDES 2/3: Ancillary rights (merchandising, fight reruns and so forth) are where the UFC arguments fall flat. Actors make money — not much, but a little — off reruns from their shows. Why should Zuffa be the sole profiteer on future runs of its fights?

The lawsuit to watch in terms of owning rights in perpetuity: O’Bannon v. NCAA. (That said, fighters are certainly in better shape than college athletes when it comes to video games and other ancillary rights. If O’Bannon loses, you have to wonder if fighters would have a chance.)

SLIDE 5: This includes the “champions’ clause,” in which the UFC maintains your rights as long you have the belt. All due respect to the expertise of Zev Eigen, but let’s save the “slavery” argument for unwilling workers, shall we?

SLIDE 6: As I read this, in the event a fight can’t happen, the fight still owes Zuffa a fight — and Zuffa still owes the fighter a fight. Not really surprised.

SLIDE 7: Juanito Ibarra: “Who is the genius that decided to pay an athlete less when he loses? Boxers don’t do that. No other sport, basketball or football, does that. They may have bonuses, sure, for making the All-Star team, but the foundation is built on guaranteed money.”

Is Ibarra seriously arguing that a boxer doesn’t get paid less when he loses? If I get paid $2 million to fight Manny Pacquiao and he knocks me out in the first round, am I getting $2 million for my next fight? Or is he arguing that bonuses are bonuses in the NBA, but bonuses aren’t bonuses in MMA?

SLIDE 8: This part is specific to Eddie Alvarez, and it has to do with his bonuses for each pay-per-view sale for his fights. Ibarra and Eigen are arguing here as if Eddie Alvarez is the only reason I paid $55 to watch a pay-per-view. That’s not the case in the UFC. Most cards are sold on the strength of several fights. Some fighters are exceptions who can sell cards by themselves — Eddie Alvarez isn’t one of those.

The better argument on UFC fighters’ behalf is actually farther down the card, where guys are making $6,000. There’s no argument to be made for Eddie Alvarez to receive Floyd Mayweather money.

SLIDE 9: This one shows what the UFC pays for travel for fighters and corner crew, and it’s surprising. UFC fighters generally rave about the treatment they receive when they travel to fights. I would have thought the UFC would have paid for two corner people for every fighter.

SLIDE 12: If you lose, the UFC can cut you. Harsh, perhaps. But that’s the nature of sports, as much as Eigen and Ibarra would like to claim otherwise. A lot of NFL contracts aren’t guaranteed. A lot of NBA and NHL contracts are short. And I’m covering a women’s soccer league in which a lot of players can be cut at any time.

SLIDE 13: The UFC asserts matching rights at the end of a contract. Again with the slavery argument? For a clause that says the UFC (the world’s biggest MMA promotion) can match the terms of a contract offered by someone else? Eigen isn’t helping his credibility here.

SLIDE 15: “Fighter acknowledges risks,” etc. Here, Eigen’s input is valuable. Fighters aren’t alone in signing contracts that say they understand the risks — even executives have to sign such things. Maybe journalists should sign them. “Journalist understands that Journalism is a soul-crushing activity that is hazardous to mental health and often leads to poor sleep and diet, resulting in further health issues …”

SLIDE 16: Limits on fighters referring to their UFC affiliations. This one just seems petty on the UFC’s part, and I’m surprised none of the Zuffa executives commented. Frank Mir can’t bill himself as a former UFC champion? Harsh. Maybe if it were “former UFC champion Frank Mir recommends Bill’s Underground Explosives Shop,” sure, but don’t other clauses in this contract limit such usage?

SLIDE 18: Commercial identification. This is a tricky one. Seems pretty obvious that if Bud Light has spent a zillion dollars to sponsor a fight card, a fighter might not want to walk out with a Miller Lite logo on his shorts. Beyond that, we hit a gray area.

SLIDE 19: Confidentiality. I don’t get this one at all. In most states, fighter pay IS disclosed. What is NOT disclosed is how much money they’re getting from sponsors. They may also get some locker-room bonuses, and I’m not sure it’s in the fighter’s best interests to see that money disclosed.

All of these discussions are worth having. But we’re still not much closer to the larger question: Are UFC fighters paid well enough? In other sports, athletes get maybe 40-50 percent of the revenue. The UFC, though, does much of its own TV production.

So take the total UFC revenue, then subtract the TV production costs. Do fighters get 40-50 percent of that? If yes, then a lot of the questions raised above go away. If not, then you have to wonder why Zuffa is nickel-and-diming these guys.

The Ultimate Fighter 17, Episode 3: Second-biggest KO in TUF history

Given all the hype about the knockout we know will take place at the end of the episode, it’ll be a challenge to keep us interested for the first 45 minutes.

Frank Mir somehow thinks Sonnen blundered by picking Team Jones’s Adam Cella to take on wonderstud Uriah Hall.

Team Sonnen is still ticked that Bubba McDaniel tried to call out Kevin “The King” Casey. Looks like Casey has some sort of cut, so they think it’s weak to try to get the injured guy to fight right away.

But a little later in the episode, in an uncomfortable van ride, Kevin admits to the rest of Team Sonnen that he doesn’t want to fight Bubba right away. Jimmy Quinlan thinks that’s a little wimpy. Casey, as he did in arguing with Bubba, keeps smiling but firmly refutes that notion.

Then we have the most innocuous trigger of a feud in TUF history. Even Uriah Hall, the only person actively feuding, seems to realize it’s silly.

Hall mentioned that someone was a “professional cooker.” Josh Samman said, “You mean chef?” Hall somehow ties it back to being bullied after moving to the USA with a thick Jamaican accent. This is a dude who’s going to have to lose a few chips on his shoulder before he gets married.

Over to Sonnen, who says Hall’s the best. Most talented, hardest worker, etc. But he could always beat himself up. He wants to win every competition in training. When Kevin Casey gets him in an armbar, he wants to roll with Casey again, right away.

Back to Cella, who refreshingly gives the opposite of the “I have to win to feed my family and avoid jail” speech, saying he can always go back to work for his parents’ heating and cooling company. Later, Hall indirectly answers him, saying he also has nothing to lose.

Jones warns Cella that Hall has broken an arm with kicks before, so if Hall starts throwing kicks, get him down and throw elbows. Jones say he has thrown so many elbows that he knows the human skull in vivid detail. He also knows not to throw 12-to-6 elbows, which led to a DQ and his only “loss” so far.

Back to Sonnen’s training: It’s offense, offense, offense.

Then comes one of the remarkable coaching conversations ever seen on TUF. Hall tells Sonnen he has some confidence issues in the past. Sonnen smugly says he could anticipate everything Hall was about to say, then opens up about his past problems, including his uncanny ability to lose by submission in the second round. He treated it “like an alcoholic” by confessing that he had a problem and seeking help from a sports psychologist and from Randy Couture. What he learned is that you can never get rid of that doubt, but you have to plow through it. “I can’t kill this off. I’ve gotta compete with it.”

Sonnen pontificates further: “Failure is always there, and it’s OK to recognize that.” If Sonnen hadn’t pleaded guilty to money laundering and stretched the truth about so many things in his fighting career, he’d be the best source of advice in the UFC.

Jon Jones and his dog stop by the house to visit with the team. They chat about what it would mean to make it in the UFC. Adam wants to prove something to those who thought fighting was a silly thing for him to do. Bubba wants to set an example for his kids. Dylan, the New Zealander, wants to do it for his brothers, a talented rugby player and talented musician who sank their careers with drugs. The last story gets to Jones, whose brothers have been remarkably successful.

On to the fight. We’ve been promised a stunning knockout, and it’s clear it would be a colossal upset if Cella did it.

For all the talk of Team Sonnen pushing the attack, Cella is the one initiating the early action, getting inside and setting up an active guard. Hall looks strong but whiffs with a wild spinning kick, and he doesn’t respond when Sonnen implores him to jab. Someone yells “Your second knockdown” when Cella falls from a Hall kick, but it’s really just a loss of balance. Hall looks strong and dangerous, but Cella is pushing the fight forward and more than holding his …

Ulp.

You’ve probably seen it by now. With less than 10 seconds in the round, Hall spins and lands his foot cleanly on Cella’s head. Hall celebrates for a second or two at most before realizing the whole gym is quiet. He looks down at the glassy-eyed, loud-breathing Cella with a look of shock and concern. “I’m sorry, Adam,” he says while the medical crew attends to Cella. Sonnen calls him over to the side. Dana White, whose reaction and bleeps were captured right away, has already paced partway around the cage and looks frightened.

After the ad break, Cella sits up. Applause. He answers a couple of questions. Applause. He stands. Applause. He recognizes Uriah but says he doesn’t remember anything.

Is it indeed the most brutal, shocking knockout in UFC history, let alone TUF history?

Instant one-kick knockouts aren’t that rare. Anderson Silva did it to Vitor Belfort. Gabriel Gonzaga did it to Mirko Cro Cop. Going back a ways, Shonie Carter’s spinning back fist took out Matt Serra. Brodie Farber fell harder from Rory Markham’s kick.

The TUF gym and cameras can capture more of the impact of a knockout. There’s no crowd to cover up the conversations between fighter and doctors. The other fighters in the gym go quiet when they realize someone is actually hurt.

So we can’t have this conversation without remembering Matt Riddle’s KO of Dan Simmler on the TUF 7 prelims. Simmler made an eerie moaning noise for a while. When he went back to the dressing room, he had no idea what happened, where he was or pretty much anything about his current circumstances. He was surprised to see coach Rampage Jackson. And he had a broken jaw.

By comparison, Cella recovered quickly and seemed to know everything except the circumstances of the knockout, which isn’t unusual.

Given that, we’d have to say Riddle’s knockout is still the most devastating in TUF history. But I don’t think anyone’s rooting for anything worse. Hall’s knockout is about as close as we’d want to see.

Fight announcement time, and Jones is absent, at the hospital with Cella. Sonnen picks … Kevin Casey! And he’s fighting … Collin Hart? Who?

Sonnen says Bubba was considered, and that he thinks that fight will happen, just not yet. Given that the only way that could happen would be for Bubba and Kevin to win their fights (or be wild cards), let the record show that Sonnen has predicted a win for Team Jones.

MMA weekend: Jan. 17-19

You may have noticed that I’ve just finished creating “ladders” for each weight class: flyweight, bantamweight, featherweight, lightweight, welterweight, middleweight, light heavyweight, heavyweight and women’s bantamweight. The ladders draw a bit from SB Nation’s meta-rankings, but rather than rating fighters’ skills and other things I’m not qualified to do, they’re basically guesses at where fighters currently stand. We think. Only Dana White, Joe Silva and company know for sure.

Some ladders are more detailed than others, in part because I was rushing to get it done before this weekend, when we have two MMA cards.

That’s a big MMA showdown itself. Bellator isn’t at the UFC’s level and wouldn’t claim to be. But Spike certainly think it’s still the home of MMA, and you can imagine the clatter if Thursday night’s card on Spike does comparable ratings to Saturday’s UFC card on FX.

The stakes in Bellator are nice and straightforward:

– Lightweight championship: Michael Chandler defending against Rick Hawn.

– Featherweight championship: Pat Curran defending against Patricio Pitbull. Yes, they’re making his nickname his last name.

– Light heavyweight tournament quarterfinal: Renato “Babalu” Sobral vs. Mikhail Zayats. Winner faces the winner of the Seth Petruzelli-Jacob Noe fight, which will be online earlier in the evening.

Also earlier and online is another tournament quarterfinal: Emanuel Newton vs. Atanas Djambazov. The winner of that one faces the winner of the Mo Lawal-Przemyslaw Mysiala fight, which they’re saving for next week.

On to Saturday’s UFC card, live on FX from Sao Paulo, Brazil …

– Middleweights: Michael Bisping (top contender) vs. Vitor Belfort (top contender). Bisping definitely gets a title shot with a win. If Belfort wins, the Earth will spin off its axis and we’ll be flung into space. Well, no, but the UFC may be scraping to find a challenger for Anderson Silva that he hasn’t already beaten.

– Middleweights: Daniel Sarafian (newbie) vs. CB Dollaway (veteran). TUF Brazil finalist, who missed that final due to injury, gets a debut against a veteran he might be able to beat.

– Heavyweights: Gabriel Gonzaga (veteran) vs. Ben Rothwell (veteran). Not likely to affect the ladders in the long run but a good matchup of experienced guys.

– Lightweights: Thiago Tavares (veteran) vs. Khabib Nurmagomedov (prospect). Tavares is on a decent run, but he looks like he’s in a gatekeeper role against the unbeaten sambo star from Dagestan.

The prelims on Fuel …

– Featherweights: Godofredo “Pepey” Castro (newbie) vs. Milton Vieira (newbie). TUF Brazil finalist takes on “the Godfather of the anaconda choke,” who drew in his UFC debut. Sounds fun.

– Middleweights: Ronny Markes (prospect) vs. Andrew Craig (prospect).  Both guys are 2-0 in the UFC. Some excitement building around this one.

– Featherweights: Diego Nunes (veteran) vs. Nik Lentz (veteran). Longtime lightweight Lentz is testing the lower weight class. Nunes has a strong 18-3 record.

– Lightweights: Edson Barboza (prospect) vs. Lucas Martins (newbie). Only one loss between them. Barboza has five UFC fights, Martin none.

– Bantamweights: Yuri Alcantara (prospect) vs. Pedro Nobre (newbie). Alcantara is listed at featherweight but is apparently moving down to bantamweight and was supposed to be fighting George Roop, who would slip through a crack in the floor if he cut to 135. So I don’t get this one at all. In any case, Nobre is getting a shot to show what he can do on short notice.

– Light heavyweights: Wagner Prado (newbie) vs. Ildemar Alcantara (newbie). Prado has a no-contest against Phil Davis, followed by an actual loss to Phil Davis. Alcantara is debuting just before his brother fights.

And one they’re saving for Facebook:

– Lightweights: Francisco “Massaranduba” Trinaldo (newbie) vs. C.J. Keith (newbie). TUF Brazil alum is 1-1 in the UFC; Keith lost for the first time in his UFC debut.

 

Strange things about the Unified Rules of MMA

The legend says that Ken Shamrock has long had a beef about UFC 1, griping that he wasn’t allowed to bring his wrestling shoes into the cage because they were deemed a “weapon,” while Royce Gracie was allowed to wear the gi he used to choke Shamrock into submission.

In the years that followed, mixed martial arts developed the Unified Rules. No eye-gouging, no slippery substances, etc.

And yet, in the course of specifying how many feet of tape can be used to tape a fighter’s hands (10), no one thought to say anything about bringing objects into the cage.

Yes, this came up over the weekend. Ben Henderson allegedly had a toothpick in his mouth during his fight with Nate Diaz. Let Luke Thomas point out all the reasons why this is a really stupid thing to do.

And yet apparently not illegal. Technically, it doesn’t appear to be illegal to bring a chair into the cage and whack someone with it.

The only argument I could see would be that the rules describe “unarmed combat.” If a fighter has a toothpick, is he armed?

Another point from the rules that applies to the Henderson-Diaz fight: “using abusive language” is illegal. Middle fingers seem to be OK. Congratulations, Nate.

The EPL, the UFC and musical chairs on cable

NBC’s purchase of Premier League rights will affect your viewing habits even if you care about nothing but MMA and don’t even know what a “Premier League” is.

Fox has never hesitated to spend money on sports. The network vaulted into respectability when it landed NFL rights nearly 20 years ago. They let the NHL slip away after a few years, but they have aggressively bought rights to everything else in sight.

In 2011, Fox made two more big moves. The deal with the UFC took them in a new direction. The rights to men’s and women’s World Cups from 2015 to 2022 were a perfect fit for the soccer-happy company in the same corporate umbrella as Britain’s Sky Sports.

And Fox started revving up its cable affiliates. Fuel, formerly an obscure action-sports network, got a steady stream of UFC programming. Fox Soccer, formerly the esoteric Fox Sports World, built itself up as the channel of choice for international soccer, adding the World Cup rights to its audacious swipe of the Champions League a couple of years ago. The question mark was Speed, the motorsports channel that had lost Formula One rights to NBC but still had plenty of NASCAR programming.

Now Fox has another question mark. Fox Soccer’s programming is essentially Premier League, more Premier League, and Champions League. Without the Premier League, can Fox justify keeping an all-soccer network along with its all-motorsports network and an MMA/action sports network?

If I were running Fox, I’d combine Speed and Fuel into a motorsports/action sports channel, then rebrand Fox Soccer as Fox Sports, which would still be the source for Champions League and other soccer but would also be the home for any UFC action aside from the occasional show on Fox (the full-fledged Fox, the one with The Simpsons and so forth).

That would solve a recurring complaint about UFC fans — network confusion. One week, it’s a UFC pay-per-view with prelims on FX. Then it’s UFC on FX, with prelims on Fuel. Then UFC on Fuel. (And Spike thinks MMA fans still think everything is airing on Spike, and they won’t notice when it becomes Bellator instead of UFC reruns next year.)

But with Fox’s history of aggressive bidding, perhaps they keep Fuel and Speed as is, then buy more properties for Fox Soccer or Fox Sports or whatever they want to call it. Maybe they’ll actually show some of the rugby they currently hold over for Fox Soccer Plus.

Meanwhile, NBC has become a soccer and international sports fan’s dream — Olympics, Premier League, MLS, cycling, Formula One, etc. They also have the sporadically available Universal Sports.

Oh — and the World Series of Fighting, debuting right now.

Exciting times for the sports we love at Sports Myriad, even if we’re wearing out the “Guide” function on our remotes just trying to keep up with it all.