MMA Debate: WEC hits nerve, while T.U.F. and Kimbo dominate media

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From Ben Henderson's interim WEC title win, to the media's infatuation with The Ultimate Fighter and Kimbo Slice,'s Josh Gross and MMA FanHouse's Michael David Smith felt it was time to weigh in. Here's what the experts had to say about all things MMA.

Michael David Smith:Donald Cerrone vs. Ben Henderson was the kind of fight that demonstrates why I love MMA, but the aftermath demonstrated one of the things I like least about MMA: Too often a great fight ends with everyone complaining about the decision.

I won't add to those complaints. Even though I had it 48-47 for Cerrone, I thought it was close enough that a 48-47 decision for Henderson -- as all three judges had it -- was perfectly reasonable. I think people are too quick to jump on judges they disagree with, and I thought you brought up a good point on this week's Gross Point Blank: We have a different vantage point on TV than the judges have cage-side. And while most people who watched the fight on TV favored Cerrone, most people in the arena had Henderson winning it.

If we're going to complain about anything (and I don't want to spend too much time complaining after a great WEC show), I think we should complain about one judge giving all three rounds to Yves Jabouin against Raphael Assuncao, and about referee Jon Schorle doing a lousy job in the Dave Jansen-RichardCrunkilton bout.

But for the most part, my reaction to WEC 43 is simply that it was another good show from the UFC's little brother promotion. I can't wait for WEC 44.

Josh Gross: Here's a tip I firmly believe in: Turn down the volume (second viewing is fine) for a better impression of how fights really play out. Commentary exerts an enormous influence over viewers' interpretation of the action. (Unfortunately, I couldn't do it for Cerrone-Henderson because of DirecTV and Versus.)

Gross: Even though we both had it for Cerrone, he hardly got Beebe'd. It came down to the first round, which could have easily been scored differently based on the vantage point. My sense from talking to several people watching cage-side is that Henderson's strikes came off as damaging and powerful. Yes, he was threatened by subs, but not to the point that the fight was really on the line. And he also appeared calm in his defense, even when Cerrone was at his most dangerous.

Like you, it kills me when judges 20 feet apart can score a fight as if they viewed it through a mirror. This isn't anything new, and neither is Schorle's poor work in the cage. For as long as he's been charged to ref in California and Nevada, you'd think he would be more consistent. It's a hard job and MMA needs dedicated officials. They should also be competent. If it were up to me, regular testing and screening of refs and judges by regulators would be commonplace. Even then, though, how many regulators really -- and I mean really -- understand MMA?

The topic of bad scoring almost always falls back on the 10-point-must system. I never bought into the argument that it doesn't work for MMA. There's no need to tinker with the system, it would just add more confusion at this point. If you know what you're watching, it works fine.

Smith: I was very surprised by the response to the Cerrone-Henderson decision. This was no robbery; it was simply a close fight in which reasonable observers can disagree about the scoring, especially in the first round.

I'll support scrapping the 10-point must system just as soon as someone proposes a better system. So far, I haven't seen it. I wouldn't mind seeing MMA judges take a cue from K-1 judges and be more liberal about giving scores of 10-10, 10-8 or even 10-7 to certain rounds, but overall I think bad judges would be bad judges no matter what system they're using.


Gross: Reports are WEC 43 ratings were down 37 percent from the company's last card in August. With limited name recognition, the lack of a legit title fight and the ongoing tussle between Versus and DirecTV, a stunted number shouldn't be too surprising. Still, none of that will negatively impact the WEC's plans for a big push in 2010, which should include pay-per-view. There is a commitment to the organization by Lorenzo Fertitta and Dana White, and though it will never get out from under the UFC's shadow or benefit from the full force of UFC's resources and brand recognition, the WEC can set itself up for success if it continues to showcase great fights with compelling fighters.

I'm dubious, however, of the bout(s) WEC can make that would convince anyone currently enjoying the product for free to purchase it on PPV. If Jose Aldo can't beat Mike Thomas Brown, that puts the featherweight division in a bit of a bind. Urijah Faber already lost twice to Brown, so they can't go back to that again. Brian Bowles seems like a nice guy and he's a hell of a fighter, but how marketable is he? I'm also hearing some rumblings that he might be tough to get in the cage three to four times a year. Would a rematch against MiguelTorres sell? I don't think a bout against Dominick Cruz would, though it will likely be very exciting. And guys like Henderson and Jamie Varner won't get a fair shake in terms of lightweight relevance unless the WEC makes a fight between one of them and a ranked competitor at 155.

The WEC needs do a better job of cultivating stars, and they can do so by working harder to sell individual fighters and their stories.

Smith: In terms of the name value of the fighters on the card, this was one of the weakest shows they've ever put on. But it was still an entertaining show that left the fans satisfied. I think Zuffa will look at that as evidence that the WEC should keep on doing what it's doing.

I agree with you about the challenges the WEC would face on pay-per-view. I think the only way a WEC PPV would sell is if it stacks the card: Maybe a Urijah Faber-Miguel Torres bout at 140 pounds on top of both Mike Brown defending the featherweight belt and Brian Bowles defending the bantamweight belt. But if it does that, what's left for the regular Versus shows? I'd like to see the WEC add both women's fights and a 125-pound flyweight class. That would give the promotion more depth.

Smith: I think The Ultimate Fighter warrants attention because it's been a significant part of the growth of the sport. The Big Break and The Contender haven't affected golf and boxing the way The Ultimate Fighter has MMA. However, it surprises me just how big a draw The Ultimate Fighter is. Even when they don't include the cultural phenomenon that is Kimbo Slice, T.U.F. episodes often get higher ratings than live fights on Spike. That baffles me.

A somewhat related question: Should MMA media decide what to cover based on what the majority of fans watch, or based on what we think is important? You and I know that Shinya Aoki vs. Joachim Hansen is a better lightweight fight than Nathan Diaz vs. Melvin Guillard, but we also know that many more American viewers tuned in to Diaz-Guillard. Should we devote more coverage to Aoki-Hansen because it's a better fight, or to Diaz-Guillard because that's what more fans want to know about?

Gross: Fan interest is certainly a factor in what gets covered, though it's hardly the only one. For my taste, too much MMA coverage is determined by entertainment/ratings/readership. Let me pick on Kimbo for a second (I'm sure he won't mind): His press runs counter to the way sports are generally covered in the U.S. Can you think of another athlete or team that's received so much attention while accomplishing nothing? It's a ratings grab, and beyond those with a vested interest, I don't think we serve anyone well by propagating it -- especially when truly talented mixed martial artists get lost in the wake.

MMA should be covered like any other sport. The more meaningful the competition, the more coverage it deserves. There's no doubt in my mind that MMA media would better serve its readership and the sport by producing quality reporting on Aoki-Hansen over Guillard-Diaz, just as we'd focus on GrayMaynard-Roger Huerta over Hong Man Choi-Jose Canseco. I suppose it can be a difficult choice for editors and media outlets to allocate coverage. But there should be room for both, and the balance and weight needs to always be reevaluated. Bottom line for me: Fights with real stakes shouldn't be ignored for hype with little meaning.

Smith: Your question is a good one, and I honestly can't think of any athlete in any sport who has received so much attention while accomplishing so little. At the same time, I do find Kimbo interesting on a personal level, and I'm sure I'll continue to write about him as long as he's in MMA. I hope I don't allow my coverage of the scores of fighters who are more talented and less famous to suffer as a result.

Part of the reason Kimbo has received so much coverage is that he fought twice on network television and that was seen as a breakthrough for the sport. Do you think that's a legitimate reason to cover Kimbo? And will you cover the upcoming Fedor Emelianenko-Brett Rogers fight any differently because it's on CBS than you would if it were on Showtime or pay-per-view?

Gross: I'm with you that Kimbo remains compelling because of his story, and for the way in which people react to him. But if he can't fight well, if he can't beat anyone, he shouldn't get the coverage. (To be clear, that goes for any athlete or fighter.) I've recently wondered how much longer Kimbo's spell over the casual audience -- more traditional sports fan who place a higher value on winning than hardcore MMA fans have shown in the past -- will hold if he doesn't deliver in competition. Guess that's something we'll learn one way or the other soon enough. I can tell you I don't care anymore, and won't until he proves he can defeat someone credible.

The way ProElite, CBS and Showtime pushed Kimbo was definitely worth covering at the time. It felt like a phenomenon, something MMA in the States hadn't experienced before. I've covered a lot of fighters in venues across the globe and very few elicited the kind of reaction that Kimbo did. Today, though, if he was back on CBS, I wouldn't cover it the same way because it's clear he's not good. And I wrote something similar after he skirted by against James Thompson.

In my mind, the quality of the fighters involved is far more important in determining coverage than the level of their celebrity. Simply put, Emelianenko-Rogers is a major fight because of Fedor's involvement. He's the best heavyweight in the sport, and by retaining control over his career he's done something few mixed martial artists have ever been capable of. When he struck out on his own in 2007, getting a spot on CBS was something his handlers desperately wanted, and I think in terms of this particular fight that's an added element to the story. Yet, unlike in 2008, it's hardly the focus. For me, it doesn't really matter that the fight ended up on CBS over Showtime, SpikeTV, HDNet, Versus or anywhere else, though the fact that Emelianenko is fighting on network television in front of a potentially huge audience is an element that can't be ignored.