We're in week two of a four-week stretch without major mixed martial arts events. That's an eternity in a sport that often seems to measure time by the number attached to an Ultimate Fighting Championship card instead of the date on the calendar.
But that doesn't mean there is a lack of conversational topics. Far from it. There's plenty of fodder for verbal sparring to fill the void left by the absence of fisticuffs. From SI.com's news break Tuesday about women's fighting in the UFC, to the ongoing fallout from the controversial announcement of UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones' title defense against Chael Sonnen, to rumors of a big Super Bowl weekend fight and more, there's much to discuss.
So without further ado, time to go Five Rounds:
1. Dana White confirms women's UFC competition. Tuesday night, SI.com's Melissa Segura reported UFC president Dana White has committed to the idea of adding women's fighting to his company. While White has hinted at the notion for months, this marked the first time he made a firm, on-the-record commitment to the idea. Quite simply, the time has come.
White's contention over the past several years has been that women's MMA did not have deep enough talent pools at each division to be worth a wholehearted investment. But 2012 has proven the women's fighting game is fast catching up. Bouts like Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate, Rousey vs. Sarah Kaufman, and Tate vs. Julie Kedzie have been the saving grace of an otherwise sputtering Strikeforce brand. And the all-women's Invicta Fighting Championship has been an artistic (if not financial) success. Invicta's three events have been top-to-bottom, action-packed fight cards that have sent those who missed the live webcasts scurrying to YouTube to see what the buzz is all about.
I wouldn't expect women fighters to show up in the UFC tomorrow -- White talked about adding a men's flyweight division for a year before it came to fruition -- but White's newfound commitment to women's fighting shows the company is aggressively looking to beef up its product in 2013 after experiencing a turbulent 2012.
2. But then, some still don't get it. While Zuffa commits to women's mixed martial arts, rival promotion Bellator this week took a step in the opposite direction. A firestorm erupted on Twitter this week -- largely spearheaded by the aforementioned Tate -- as word emerged that Bellator's 115-pound women's champion, Zoila Gurgel, will compete on the non-televised undercard of a Friday night event in Gurgel's home state of Ohio.
Noting that Gurgel has been sidelined with injuries this year, and that Friday's bout with Casey Noland will be a non-title fight contested at 125 pounds, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney told MMAFighting.com: "Depending on how Zoila performs on Friday, we can then determine the next appropriate step back." Still, Gurgel's placement on the undercard gives the appearance Bellator is going in one way on women's MMA while the rest of the industry stampedes in the other.
3. The Ultimate Fighter and Jones-Sonnen. A week has passed since the UFC announced that Jones and Sonnen would take the roles of coaches on the 17th season of The Ultimate Fighter, followed by a Jones-Sonnen UFC light heavyweight title bout on April 27. Given the overreaction to the announcement in hardcore MMA circles, you'd think the company declared it had stripped Jones of the title and will put his belt for grabs in a pro wrestling-style battle royal, rather than simply made the sort of business-first fight that has been conducted in combat sports since about the time the Marquess of Queensberry hit the scene.
Now that things have settled down and MMA is, in fact, still being covered on the sports pages in spite of all the hand-wringing, a question remains: Will this be enough to save TUF? Star power and a change from Friday to a TBD new night should be enough to give ratings a short-term boost. But the fact remains that people have seen the same basic concept for years: A bunch of dudes hang around a house and train to fight without outside-world contact. Edgy for 2005, not so much for 2013.
At last Wednesday's TUF teleconference, FX vice president Chuck Saftler said that the changes were coming. Will we see large-scale format changes, or just the latest round of wacky house antics? The answer to that question will help determine whether TUF: Jones-Sonnen is a turning point in the show's evolution or simply a one-season diversion.
4. Rashad Evans-Antonio Rogerio Nogueira expected for Super Bowl weekend. Word came down on Wednesday morning that this light heavyweight matchup is all but official for Feb. 2 in Las Vegas. While the bout isn't exactly blockbuster, it does makes sense given the division's current parameters.
Jones and Sonnen are both off the table until April. Alexander Gustafsson is scheduled to fight Mauricio "Shogun" Rua on Dec. 8. Dan Henderson and Lyoto Machida have long been talked about as potentially meeting. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson is angling on Twitter for a shot at Glover Teixeira (a bout signed for last month, from which Jackson had to withdraw due to injury), and Forrest Griffin is fighting Phil Davis on Dec. 29.
Given the rest of the elites either have something concrete lined up or have proposed dance partners, Evans-Nogueira serves a practical purpose: Evans is looking to come off a one-sided loss to Jones in April and "Lil Nog" has something to prove at 36, coming off injuries that have kept him sidelined all year.
5. California commission names new executive director. Sure, it's not the sexiest headline out there, but Tuesday's news that Andy Foster was named executive director of the California State Athletic Commission is significant in the industry. While Nevada consistently lands the largest share of the country's biggest mixed martial arts and boxing fights, California runs the highest volume of combat sports events overall.
CSAC has been through a tumultuous 2012, one in which its overseeing body, the state's Department of Consumer Affairs, accused the commission of insolvency and ordered an audit of its accounting practices. This ended with the previous director, George Dodd, resigning at the end of July. While one could argue that California's problems are too big for any one person to handle, naming Foster is a step in the right direction.
Foster has been head of the Georgia commission since 2008. Under his watch, the commission has become one of the nation's most well-regarded and efficient combat sports bodies. And as a former pro MMA fighter (career record: 9-2), Foster's appointment bodes well for the sport in a state whose commission was often staffed with old-school types who didn't quite understand this newfangled cagefighting stuff.