"Do we need to stop the immediate rematch trend?"
That was the opening line of an e-mail that came in a couple of days ago, and my first thought was, "Is that you, Dana?" No, it was a reader from Baltimore named Jason who was posing the rhetorical question in response to a column I had written earlier in the week calling for the UFC to book Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson II. But this note just as well could have been penned by Dana White, because one gets the sense that the fight promotion president is becoming ever more eager to avoid rematches whenever possible.
White had no one to blame but himself, though, for having to step in front of the rematch train to slow its momentum. At the press conference following last Saturday night's classic light heavyweight title bout in Toronto, the UFC boss had spoken freely about having "Bones" and "The Mauler" go at it again. He'd floated the possibility of taking the next fight to Sweden. He'd talked about presumptive No. 1 contender Glover Teixeira, who'd been seated at cageside in anticipation of getting a date with the main event winner, and how the UFC would just give him another fight. White had said, plainly, "Who doesn't want to see this rematch?"
Well, Dana, here's the answer to your question: Dana White doesn't want to see this rematch. At least not yet.
Late on Wednesday night, White revealed to ESPN that Jones will turn the page on the plot-twisting Gustafsson chapter and continue his story with a title defense against Teixeira. It feels a little like a detour, considering the rematch buzz generated over the weekend, but this is no Plan B. It's what was planned all along, until a tall, tough, skilled Swede stepped in the way. White is planning on staging Jones vs. Teixeira in Newark, N.J., on Feb. 1, the night before Super Bowl XLVIII kicks off a few miles away in the Meadowlands. The tie-in is that both the football game and the MMA prelims will be televised by Fox.
Now that we've had nearly a week to allow the fiery fisticuffs of Jones and Gustafsson to settle in our psyche, and have had a full day to digest the announcement of Jones vs. Teixeira, it's beginning to make sense. The UFC has endured spells of rematch mania, but generally those matches are booked after a champion has lost a close fight. When the top guy retains his belt, no matter how slim or questionable the verdict, he tends to move on. Gilbert Melendez gave Benson Henderson every bit the fight that Gustafsson gave Jones, for instance, but Gil didn't get a second shot at the lightweight strap. So this is business as usual for the UFC.
I still would have preferred the rematch, though. Not just because I want to see Rounds 6 through 10 of Jones vs. Gustafsson, but also because I believe Teixeira, despite having won 20 fights in a row, still lacks the signature win against a Top 10 opponent that would prop him up as a formidable title challenger. I suppose you could say, though, that Gustafsson did the promotion for February's fight a favor, not by building up Teixeira but by knocking Jones down a few pegs. Alexander showed that the champ can be hit and he can even be taken down. That gives Teixeira and all future challengers a glimmer of hope that simply was not there when "Bones" was wrecking the parade of ex-champs that came before.
So I'm OK with Jones vs. Teixeira, particularly as it relates to the 205-pound weight class as a whole. This is a division that was looking stale, with Jones having beaten down all comers and starting to look to the heavyweight division for new challenges. But now we have Teixeira and Gustafsson (who'll fight in Sweden against an opponent to be determined) and Phil Davis and even Daniel Cormier, soon to drop from heavyweight. There's room for movement. That's important. As reader Jason continued in his e-mail: "Let's say the first-bout loser wins the rematch. At that point, all signs point toward an immediate rubber match. In the meantime, the natural rise and fall within the division is stilted by a lack of mobility at the top. Do you really think this trend is making the sport better?"
Probably not, Jason. But when I see an exhilarating fight that ends not so decisively, I want more. Don't you?
On to other correspondence ...
I like Glover. Seems like a nice guy, and one hell of a fighter. But how does beating an aging Rampage Jackson and Ryan Bader -- the category's current gatekeeper -- get you a title shot?
Same with Cormier. You want to challenge at 205? First let's see if you can fight a Top 10 light heavy a day after dehydrating yourself to make weight.
-- Ro'ee, Israel
I'm with you, Ro'ee. It would be ludicrous to disregard Teixeira's 20-fight win streak, but when a title shot hangs in the balance I do think it's fair to take a closer look at the resume. Glover's UFC conquests -- Kyles Kingsbury, Fabio Maldonado, Rampage, James Te Huna and Bader -- don't exactly constitute a murderer's row. And I agree that Cormier should have to beat a 205-pounder before getting a shot at that division's strap. We all know that's not a requirement in the UFC -- see Jones vs. Chael Sonnen -- but it should be.
Do you think Teixeira has a shot against Jones? I just don't see it. If guys like Bader or Maldonado are knocking you down, I don't think it's going to happen for you. I picture Glover on his back being pounded on by elbows from Jones.
This guy is just a victim of Chael Sonnen syndrome. He just happens to be the next man up when there are no worthy contenders.
-- Hilario, San Benito, Texas
My thought on Teixeira, as I said above, is that the jury is still out. If getting stunned by both Bader and Maldonado is a red flag, coming back to finish both of them is a green flag. He's resilient. And even though he hasn't shown that against the likes of Jones, we could have said much the same about Gustafsson before he stepped into the cage last Saturday night. And look what he was capable of.
I'm not trying to sell you on Teixeira, Hilario, just saying that the only grade we can fairly give Glover at this point is an incomplete. Someone who's had finishes in 19 of his 22 victories ought not be overlooked, though. Especially if you're Jon Jones and you remember what your face looked like after 25 minutes in the cage with Gustafsson.
What do you think of the train wreck of a portrayal of Ronda Rousey on The Ultimate Fighter? Her image is taking a hit. She was the reason for the UFC's entry into women's MMA. Do you think Dana White & Co. are getting squeamish?
-- Joe, Sunray, Texas
Rousey has looked like an emotional wreck, it's true, but I don't think that has a direct impact on the UFC. The folks who run that promotion are deft at hyping fights and fighters in whatever way the story unfolds. If TUF shifts fan support from Rousey to Miesha Tate in the buildup to their Dec. 28 bout, the UFC will roll with it.
Things do get tricky in two ways, though. First, Rousey often has said she has no emotion when she competes, and has pointed out that Tate was so emotionally charged in their first meeting that it worked against her. Miesha has acknowledged as much. This time, though, Tate appears composed ... at least as the video editors at Fox have depicted her on the reality show. And Rousey is a ball of nerves. If Ronda carries that into the cage come December, how will her performance suffer?
The other issue has nothing to do with the Tate fight but is more of a big-picture concern. Rousey has expressed deep disappointment with the reality show experience, and with good reason. Fox is just out for ratings, but if you're the UFC, you don't purposely manipulate your champion's emotions like that. It's unprofessional. Ronda will remember this, and going forward she might not be willing to bend over backward on the company's behalf.
I didn't watch the Josh Barnett vs. Frank Mir fight a few weeks ago. But it's obvious Mir simply can't handle a big fighter with upper-body strength and a powerful punch. Brock Lesnar. Shane Carwin. Lesnar again. Now Barnett. Mir seems like an OK guy. He was entertaining. But he is older, the competition has changed, and he has had his face smashed in too many times. He should be walking away now, proud and healthy. Unfortunately, he is going to take another beating against the The Reem.
-- Vincent, Dallas
How many fighters, in boxing or MMA, know when to walk away? I suppose that's what comes with the territory of being a tough guy. You don't back down from fights. In the case of Mir, he's chosen to stay in the cage despite three straight losses because, well, look at those he's lost to. Junior dos Santos, Daniel Cormier and Barnett all are legitimate top contenders in the heavyweight division. A loss to any of them is no disgrace. Now comes Alistair Overeem, who not long ago was on the verge of a title shot but has fallen on hard times -- and to the bottom of the Top 10 -- with two straight knockout losses. If Mir is knocked out by Overeem, that'll be a clear signal that the time for retirement has come.
You took some shots at Tito Ortiz for comparing his employment by the UFC to slavery. That might be a stretch, but the other issue raised by Ortiz and Rampage Jackson -- that fighters are pushed to fight soon after surgery, before even knowing if they're recovered -- does lend credence to the complaints. In a sport that involves getting beat senseless or doing the same to your opponent, the guys in the ring have the right to speak out about the conditions they face. Your taking shots at these guys doesn't make sense to me.
-- Mark, Toledo, Ohio
You're right that it would be a legitimate complaint, Mark, if indeed the UFC were forcing injured fighters back into the cage. I haven't seen evidence of that, though. The promotion's bantamweight champion hasn't stepped into the cage in two years, and I haven't heard of Dominick Cruz being pressured or ridiculed by management in any way. Now, maybe Rampage felt pressured in a way that wasn't so overt. Who knows? All I could comment on was what I saw and heard in that interview with Ortiz and Jackson, and it was hard to focus on anything but the ludicrous slavery comment.
Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the next SI.com MMA mailbag, click on the e-mail link at the top of the page.