Grabbing for whatever’s within reach in the MMA world, and throwing shots in every direction:
1. A few weeks ago on The MMA Beat, we were talking about the crazy brawl in the MGM Grand hotel lobby in Las Vegas that had ramped up anticipation for the Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier showdown for the UFC light heavyweight championship. We were a bit giddy over the whole post-press conference brouhaha, which had sent fists, fighters, a shoe and even a PR man flying. Every one of us on the media panel for the MMAfighting.com TV show agreed that this flash of misbehavior, though disrespectful and dangerous, was a positive development for the promotion of the fight, which at the time was scheduled for Sept. 27 but since then has been pushed back to January.
Amid the frivolity, though, I did toss in one longterm caveat: If other fighters recognize the selling power in such an untamed occurrence, they might try it on for size. And that, I suggested, would be bad for the sport.
Fast-forward to this past Tuesday, when the UFC held a press conference in the fabled Rio de Janeiro soccer mecca, Maracanã Stadium, to hype October’s featherweight title tilt between José Aldo and Chad Mendes. The bout is the main event of UFC 179, which will take place in Rio’s 12,000-seat Maracanãzinho Gymnasium. Tickets must be sold. Pay-per-views, too.
So as the fighters faced off for the cameras, just as Jones and Cormier had done weeks earlier, Aldo shoved Mendes. This time a bunch of big bodies jumped between the little guys. As Aldo walked away to depart with his team, his face wore a smirk that looked a bit like a smile.
Speaking to media the next day, Aldo wouldn’t go so far as to acknowledge that the incident was staged, but he did call it “part of the show.” In explaining that he had misgivings after the shove, he said, “We were talking to André [Pederneiras, his trainer] in a meeting about how we could improve our fight promotions. It’s part of the show. But I told Andre after that it’s not my style. It was not staged. We were talking to each other, and it happened.”
As reported by MMAfighting.com, translating the Brazilian outlet UOL Esporte, Aldo said, “We tried to spice things up,” and added, “There was a good thing about it, that people are now talking about it.”
It’s understandable that Aldo would feel the need to drum up interest. Even as one of the UFC’s nine champions, even as the winner of 17 straight fights, including eight defenses of his UFC/WEC belt, Aldo has not shown the kind of star power that translates into dollar signs. He’s headlined a PPV only three times before, most recently with last summer’s defense against Chan Sung Jung at UFC 163. That pay card reportedly sold to only 160,000 homes, abysmal for a title fight.
Adding to the need to hard sell Aldo vs. Mendes is that this is a rematch of a 2012 bout the champ won with a first-round knockout. Yes, Mendes has been a terror ever since, with five victories, four by KO. But do people believe this time will be different? This is a fight that clearly needs a push.
Just not the kind Aldo dealt to his challenger. The incident involving Jones and Cormier was organic, as evidenced by the disdain the two showed for each other in the aftermath, when they didn’t realize their microphones were live and there was no longer a need to put on an act. That doesn’t excuse their bad behavior, but it at least gives it weight. This time the fighters look foolish. Mild-mannered José Aldo acting out of character might prompt a few ambivalent fans to reach into their pockets, but is it worth it?
2. Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson. Remember that one? Not the fight nearly a year ago in which the tall Swede shockingly took it to the 205-pound champ, only to get nailed with a fourth-round spinning elbow strike that turned the tide toward Jones and kept the belt right where it was. No, this is in reference to the rematch, which was originally planned for, yep, this weekend.
That was what the UFC announced back in the spring: Jones vs. Gustafsson II in the main event of UFC 177 on Aug. 30 in Las Vegas.
Then some moving pieces began moving.
Jones was negotiating with the promotion on a contract extension at the time, and because his brother Arthur, a defensive tackle for the Indianapolis Colts, was getting married in July, “Bones” expressed his preference to defend his belt a little later than August. So the bout was moved to UFC 178 on Sept. 27, and then … well, let’s not get into the labyrinth of machinations that resulted in the champ now being slated to face not Gustafsson but Cormier, not in September but in January.
That maneuvering left UFC 177 with a humongous hole to fill at the top of the bill, and Dana White & Co. decided they needed two title fights to do the job. At the top of the marquee would be new bantamweight king T.J. Dillashaw against the man he knocked off the throne back in May, Renan Barão. Right below that on the card would be flyweight titlist Demetrious Johnson’s defense against marginal challenger Chris Cariaso. To further boost the card, the whole thing was moved to the town where Dillashaw lives and trains, Sacramento, Calif.
Since then, of course, the “Mighty Mouse” fight has been shifted to UFC 178, leaving Dillashaw vs. Barão II to carry a PPV with little other star power or even name recognition. Unless, of course, you’re one of those diehards who’ve been salivating in anticipation of the Tony Ferguson vs. Danny Castillo co-main event. Neither is in the lightweight Top 10 of the SI.com fighter rankings, and no one below them on the bill is, either.
So, do people really decide on their PPV purchases based purely on the main event, as some theorize? That won't be tested too definitively here, because lighter-weight champs such as Dillashaw, and Barão before him, are not big draws on their own. But for those who do toss their $54.95 into the hat that’s being passed around, there’s the promise of -- or at least the hope for -- a tightly contested tussle between a couple of guys who might very well be evenly matched.
3. Far be it for me or anyone else at SI.com to tell the nattily dressed fellows at GQ how to do their jobs. But, hey, do you see us sports guys running fashion spreads? Oh, yeah, the Swimsuit Issue. Well, swimming is a sport, OK? And on all but the most remote beaches you need to put on a suit before jumping in the water. So there.
Anyway, GQ dipped its toe into the sports world this week in an embarrassing way. In a short piece in its September issue entitled “The 25 Biggest Sleazebags in Sports,” the mag placed Dana White at No. 8. Really, gents? Now, the UFC president does sometimes rub people the wrong way, but does he belong in a Top 10 that also includes Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end jailed in multiple murder cases, and Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France winner who after years of denials finally admitted to doping for his whole starry-turned-tarnished career?
No, White doesn’t belong in their company. Not even close. If anyone in MMA does, it would be War Machine, the fighter formerly known as Jon Koppenhaver, currently behind bars in connection with the recent beating of his former girlfriend, porn star Christy Mack. And Machine, who competed twice in the UFC after a stint on The Ultimate Fighter reality TV show and more recently fought for Bellator, is indeed on the GQ list.
Vilified for “generally impersonating Don King as a bald white guy,” White took the whole thing in stride. “You’re never going to be able to stop what people say about you,” he said in an interview with UFC.com, “and everybody isn’t going to love you.”
Considering the source, maybe it’s not Dana White the man who’s unloved, maybe it’s the way he dresses. Rather than the T-shirts, big guy, have you considered a cotton suit, a pocket square, and some cufflinks?