Some call this the most wonderful time of the year, and fans of mixed martial arts have quite a bit to be thankful for.
Each of the past four weekends, the UFC has gifted us with thrills. First, Nick Diaz beat up B.J. Penn in the substitute main event of UFC 137. Immediately after, Diaz received the shot against welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre that had been snatched away after he skipped some promotional commitments. A week later, Mark Muñoz moved up the middleweight ladder with a UFC 138 win over Chris Leben, and now he's reportedly in line for a fight with the division's No. 1 contender, Chael Sonnen. Then Junior dos Santos KO'd Cain Velasquez in 64 seconds to win the heavyweight belt in a bout that, because it was the UFC's network television debut on Fox, has been called the fight promotion's biggest ever. And, speaking of best ever, that was what many have called the heart-thumping fight last Saturday night in which Dan Henderson got the decision over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.
That's a lot of superlatives to wrestle with. And that doesn't even count last weekend's Bellator Fighting Championship classic in which Michael Chandler took the lightweight title from Eddie Alvarez. But no one has written to me about Bellator, so let's get right to some UFC talk.
Is there such a thing as a 10-7 round in MMA? Shogun took Henderson to the mat 30 seconds into Round 5, kept him there for five minutes and had full mount multiple times. If ever a round could have been scored 10-7, that would be it. Thoughts?
--Ray, Sheboygan, Wis.
To answer the question you began with: I think so and I think not. I do believe there is such a thing as a 10-7 round -- I seem to remember seeing language explaining the scoring criteria in a story about athletic commission rules -- but I don't believe I've ever seen a round scored 10-7. And I don't want to ever see one scored that way.
Yes, I know Shogun took Henderson down within the first half-minute of the final round and maintained a dominant position for most of the fight, but I didn't see him inflict the kind of damage needed to finish. So forget 10-7; I didn't even score it 10-8. And the judges apparently saw the round the same way I did.
The bigger issue here is the problem with a 10-point-must scoring system in mixed martial arts. In boxing, the system works because a fighter on the short end of a 10-8 round has as many as 11 more to make up for it. In MMA, where most bouts are just three rounds, a 10-8 score goes a long way toward determining a judge's decision. A 10-7? You're just going for the KO after that.
The Cain-Velasquez fight was a rerun, so why is anyone giving Fox credit for bringing it to TV? If Fox had wanted to impress its audience, it should have televised live fighting. I, for one, am really disappointed.
--George, Gray, Ga.
Uh oh, George, someone needs remedial lessons with the TV remote. You weren't watching the Fox network, my friend. You were watching the clever counterprogramming of the UFC's soon-to-be-former cable television partner, Spike. The network pulled from its UFC Unleashed archives to show some greatest hits from Velasquez and Junior dos Santos and televised them during the same time slot that Cain and Junior were being dissected in the Fox prefight and postfight coverage -- and, oh yeah, during the 64 seconds of actual live fighting. But yes, there was indeed live fighting. Boy, George, I can't believe you missed the biggest fight in UFC history. (That sound you hear in the background is a boardroom full of snickering Spike execs.)
I don't think Anderson Silva is ducking Chael Sonnen, as some are saying. Silva already has beaten Sonnen, and Silva is never one to actively seek rematches with guys he's vanquished -- even if they've won a round (or four) from him.
And please tell me Michael Bisping won't get an automatic shot at the belt if he beats Jason "Mayhem" Miller. Bisping has faced two great fighters, Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson, and been owned both times. Sorry, beating on Dan Miller and Mayhem Miller doesn't earn you a title shot.
--Trevor, London, Ont.
Look at you, Trevor, being the anti-Joe Silva, a UFC match-breaker. You wrote your e-mail before it was revealed that Silva's shoulder injury will keep him out until mid-2012 and before published reports suggested that Sonnen will fight Mark Muñoz on the second UFC on Fox telecast in January. Still, your point is well taken. My sense is that Silva and his manager, Ed Soares, are simply giving Chael a little of his own medicine, messing with him. When the time comes, they'll agree to a Sonnen fight. He's the clear No. 1 challenger.
As for Bisping, I'm going to go out on a limb here and tell you not to worry because Mayhem is going to win their Dec. 3 fight. If I'm wrong, I still would be surprised if "The Count" were to immediately step to the head of the line. But who knows? The UFC seems to consider Bisping integral to its growth in the United Kingdom, and matchups sometimes are made in the name of commerce, as this reader points out:
I'm not happy that Nick Diaz has been given a shot at George St-Pierre for being a loudmouth. Don't get me wrong: He is more deserving than Dan Hardy was when he got his shot by using the same tactics. However, I say feed Diaz to Jon Fitch. Whoever comes out of that the winner will be truly deserving. I know marketing dictates that GSP-Diaz has to happen, and I want to see it as much as everyone else. But as a parent, I just don't like rewarding bad behavior.
--Ian, Saskatoon, Sask.
Love the parenting analogy, Ian. As I sit here writing, my kids are across the room on their best behavior, because they know Daddy will take them out for pizza if they play quietly and let him finish his work. If they're disruptive, not a slice! Imagine how I'd run the UFC matchmaking office.
But as I said above, I think the key is money, not misbehavior. We talk about boxing being all about the dollar, with Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao dancing around each other at arm's length until the price is right. But MMA has a touch of that, too, hidden beneath the veneer of Dana White's tough talk about how he's a fight fan and he makes happen the fights the fans want to see. That's all true, but sometimes "the fights the fans want to see" are popular choices for reasons other than competitive excellence.
This is not to take anything away from Nick Diaz, but you have to ask yourself this question: If he were a guy who just kept his mouth shut and competed, would he be in this position? The truth is, actually, that if Nick weren't Nick, he would not have been removed from the GSP fight in the first place. Once he was ditched because of his irresponsibility and replaced by Carlos Condit, though, that's the way things should have stayed. What did his victory over B.J. Penn change? Nothing ... except the bottom line for the UFC, which recognized that GSP-Diaz was a hot commodity -- hotter than in its original incarnation, before the win over B.J. -- and the matchmakers and money men opted not to delay on cashing in.
Sometimes the squeaky wheel gets the grease. Sometimes it's not so much about winning as it is about entertaining. That Fitch guy you mentioned, Ian, has exactly one loss (to GSP) in eight years, a stretch during which he's recorded 23 wins. But Fitch is a watching-paint-dry fighter, so he gets stashed at the end of the line, even though everyone knows that he's as good as it gets.
You rank Fitch over Diaz? That is absolutely insane. Diaz pounded Penn like nobody had ever before, while Fitch and Penn fought to a draw. (I think Penn won, but whatever.) And GSP beat the living hell out of Fitch. So how on earth can you have Fitch over Diaz? It's just not an honest evaluation.
--Will, Venice, Calif.
Playing the "A-beat-B-and-B-beat-C, so-A-should-beat-C" game is problematic, because with enough permutations you can persuade yourself that Kimbo Slice is better than Fedor Emelianenko (because Kimbo beat Ray Mercer, who beat Tim Sylvia, who beat Andrei Arlovski, who beat Fabricio Werdum, who beat Fedor).
But setting that aside, here's what I e-mailed back to Will, keeping it short and sweet: "I think Fitch's smothering style would neutralize Diaz, earning him a decision in what would likely be a boring fight."
And Will wrote right back: "You may be right about the smothering. But Fitch brings out the anger in me. I can't stand watching him." Ah, so that's what the vitriol is all about.
Anyway, here's another twist on the commerce angle:
So, Jeff, the other night I say to my wife, an executive at a clothing retailer: "If you had a pricey product that people weren't scooping off the shelves, wouldn't you lower the price to get the product off your hands?" She says, "Absolutely."
So with GSP off the UFC 137 card, and no championship fight, why would you, me or any Joe Schmuckatelly in the world plunk down the $54.99 asking price for a pay-per-view where the big fights just got reduced by half?
--Joseph, Mission Viejo, Calif.
I can't speak for Mr. Schmuckatelly, Joseph, but you and I are in agreement that, with GSP-Condit disappearing from the top of the card and the existing co-main event simply being moved up, UFC 137 lost a lot of appeal. But according to a Yahoo! Sports report, some 280,000 fans forked over the dough. Maybe ol' Schmuckatelly knows something we don't.
The way everything has been playing out, the Diaz-GSP-Condit triangle seems to have a pro wrestling-esque feel to it. What is your take on this? It seems rather convenient that Nick's trainer, Cesar Gracie, called Dana White at the exact time the UFC 137 press conference was going on, and that White checked his cell phone in the middle of a press conference. Is it possible they already knew GSP was injured and would not be ready to fight, so they concocted this scheme to draw more interest to a future GSP-Diaz bout? This scenario also serves the purpose of building interest in Condit facing the winner of Diaz-GSP. I believe Dana took a page out of Vincent K. McMahon's playbook on this one.
--Rocco, Rochester, N.Y.
I don't think the UFC melodrama is scripted. I think it's just life imitating art (although critics from ArtNews to The New Yorker are cringing at my use of the word art in connection with the WWE). But I reserve the right to change my opinion if Captain Lou or Fred Blassie comes charging toward the steel cage and tries to hit GSP with a chair.
I like your column. Why not do a MMA mailbag like we get at SI.com on so many other sports? MMA fans love to argue about who's the best fighter.
On that note, I totally disagree with you that Lyoto Machida's style won't give Jon Jones any trouble at UFC 140. I think Machida's accurate counterstriking is just the recipe to negate Jones's unorthodox striking and length. If Jones gambles with a wild spinning elbow, Machida is a fighter who will make him pay for it. Jones does have a big edge if the fight goes to the floor, though, so the real question is whether Machida can keep it standing.
--Phillip, Flagstaff, Ariz.
Your perspective is one I'm sure a lot of people share, Phillip, after seeing Machida's hit-and-not-be-hit style. And you might be proven right on Dec. 10. But I think Jones will take this fight where he wants it to be, and if he opts to turn it into a wrestling match, watch out.
As for your suggestion that I do a MMA mailbag, I'm hesitant to make a flip remark about this feature having been a fixture of SI.com's MMA coverage for as long as I can remember. Wouldn't want to mock someone who's just tossed me a compliment, would I? So I'll just say thanks for the idea.
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.