Can the UFC get any weirder than the events of the past week?
This is all part of Chael Sonnen's standup act, right?
Not just the too-funny-to-be-true, too-true-to-be-funny news of a dance partner change for Sonnen's July shindig in the cage, but everything. The whole week has been so back-assward that the UFC might as well call itself "CFU" until things get put back in order.
Perhaps what triggered the trip to the bizarro world was last Saturday's main event in Las Vegas, a mismatch if ever there were one. The leadup had been hilarious. Dana White launched into his most despairing "step right up" routine to try to con passersby into paying their way in to the circus tent to witness a bantamweight championship fight that the UFC president/barker promised to be competitive but everyone knew wouldn't be. As it turned out, we all had it half right: The fight indeed wasn't competitive, but it was the overmatched guy who did the overwhelming. Who figured?
This weekend's twist by the mammoth promotion is to put on not one fight card but two, in different hemispheres, on the very same day. Get your popcorn ready, but maybe start with some pancakes. The festivities from Berlin get under way Saturday shortly after noon ET with an event available only on the UFC Fight Pass subscription streaming service. And by the time the last fist is flung in São Paulo -- most of that card is on Fox Sports 1 -- it'll be after midnight.
But you know what? There's not a whole lot of sizzle or steak in these servings. Only a couple of competitors in the day's 19 far-flung fights are in the SI.com MMA rankings. Neither headliner in Germany -- not Mark Muñoz, not Gegard Mousasi -- is on our Top 10 middleweight list, and while Brazil main eventer Stipe Miocic is No. 4 at heavyweight, his opponent is not only unranked but also isn't even a heavyweight. In the UFC matchmakers' defense, though, Fabio Maldonado is a late replacement, booked just this month after Junior dos Santos hurt his hand. Miocic vs. the second-ranked dos Santos would have been something to see. Stipe vs Fabio? Not so much.
There actually was far more pizzazz surrounding a fight that happened on Friday morning in another exotic locale, even though it involved a fellow the UFC proclaimed unworthy of its octagon. Ben Askren, the former Bellator welterweight champion, made his One FC debut in Singapore and remained unbeaten, submitting a guy named Bakhtiyar Abbasov in the first round. The judo and samba fighter from Azerbaijan actually got a takedown within the first 10 seconds, but Askren (13-0) reversed to top position and took the guy apart. "You don't go into a spider's web, because you're going to get beat down," smirked the two-time NCAA Division 1 wrestling champion and 2008 Olympian. "What was he doing?"
What were any of us doing, really? Why watch fights when there's fight talk in the offing? Especially if it involves the irrepressible Sonnen and a couple of the sport's Looney Tune-iest characters.
On Wednesday evening the Fox Sports 1 show UFC Tonight began with a story reported by its lead host ... about its lead host. Sonnen told his co-host/straight man, Kenny Florian, that his July 5 fight with Wanderlei Silva is off and he'll instead be taking on Vitor Belfort.
Chael breaking Chael news is absurd enough, of course, though that's bound to happen when an active fighter is moonlighting as a TV talking head. Sonnen's case is particularly complicated, however, because given the source, it's impossible for viewers to know whether they're hearing news or schtick. So when Sonnen went into the details of Silva being removed from the fight, and told us that it happened after a Nevada Athletic Commission representative showed up at Wanderlei's gym but was rebuffed in his attempt to conduct a drug test on the fighter, how much of that were we to believe?
"He ran from the test, Kenny, and I don't mean that figuratively," a gleeful Sonnen burbled to Florian. "I mean, they came to his gym and he literally ran. He goes out of a side door. They go after him saying his name."
Now, if Sonnen's next line had been, "And when Wanderlei got outside, he waved down a passing bus so he could feed the poor, hungry thing" -- an image harkening back to trash talk he used to level at the Nogueira brothers -- we'd at least have known where we stood along the fact-or-fiction spectrum. As it turns out, Sonnen's version pretty much checks out, sources told Adam Hill of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. But on Friday morning, Silva took to Twitter to let it be known, in Portuguese, that he'll be releasing a video to tell his side of the story. That might make a good pay-per-view.
So would the June 17 Vitor Belfort licensing hearing before the Nevada commission. How is it possible that this fighter would be under consideration for a bout in Vegas? Back in 2006, following a fight at the Thomas & Mack Center, Belfort took a urine test and popped for elevated testosterone. That in itself wouldn't disqualify him from fighting again in Nevada, but what sets Belfort apart from others who've failed drug tests is that the Brazilian defied the state bureaucracy's one-year suspension by fighting overseas. That was enough for the commission's former executive director, before testosterone replacement therapy was banned, to go on record to say it was unlikely that Belfort would be granted an exemption.
The licensing procedure became more complicated, it would seem, back in early February when Belfort arrived in Las Vegas to attend the World MMA Awards ceremony and a commission rep showed up to administer a drug test in advance of Vitor's scheduled challenge of middleweight champion Chris Weidman. The result of that test is unknown. Because Belfort had not yet applied for a license, neither the commission nor the UFC is authorized to release that information. And Belfort has chosen not to.
Jump to whatever conclusion you will, but consider this: When Nevada banned TRT later that month, the UFC was quick to pull Belfort from the title fight.
Now he's back. Presumably, Vitor wouldn't put himself through this process if he weren't relatively confident he'll be licensed. Clearly, he knows something the rest of us don't.
If Sonnen vs. Belfort does happen, things get even weirder. According to news correspondent Chael, this fight would be fought at light heavyweight but with the stakes lying 20 pounds away: The winner would be No. 1 contender at middleweight. More absurdity.
Belfort is on a three-fight winning streak -- that trio of head-kick knockouts that made him a 2013 Fighter of the Year candidate -- and the only losses among his dozen bouts dating back seven years have been in title fights with the crème de la crème, Jon Jones and Anderson Silva. Still, shouldn't the post-TRT Vitor, at 37, be tested in the weight class where he hopes to challenge for the belt?
And what about Sonnen, who until this turn of events had been slated for a clash with Wanderlei, which is to say a fight with much emotion involved but no big-picture implications? Now he's one fight away from a title shot? Chael, also 37, has lost three of his last four, and while he, too, can beg hardship, with two of those defeats having come against Jones and A. Silva, he's rebounding from a loss to Rashad Evans in which he was barely competitive. Does a win over Belfort, ranked No. 3 in the SI.com rankings behind Weidman and Silva, make Sonnen -- ranked at light heavy but not on our 185-pound list -- worthy of leapfrogging Top 10 middleweights such as "Jacare" Souza, Luke Rockhold, and Tim Kennedy?
It doesn't make any sense. None of it. But things in this sport -- often connected to Sonnen -- have made no sense before and have plodded forward, oblivious to the incongruity. So stay tuned. Or don't.