March 16, 2012

You can just picture a room full of mixed martial artists lounging around on a big, old sofa and a couple of recliners, chugging beer and munching on chips, a big-screen TV tuned to the NCAA tournament.

What else are the UFC's finest supposed to do with themselves during this six-week lull between fighting events?

Nah, the fighters actually have plenty to occupy them. Those Superman punches don't just happen ... well, unless you're Superman. MMA's elite have to work out, spar, eschew junk food.

But what about the fans? What are they supposed to do during these 42 days of March Sadness? Some are no doubt developing a little crush on Bellator, seen every Friday at 8 p.m. ET. Some have managed to hunt down Fuel TV deep in the previously unexplored frontierland of their cable lineup so they can check out the Fox outlet's all-UFC-all-the-time offerings, or they're living la vida nostalgic with old friend Spike's array of leftover UFC reruns. But old fights and second-tier cards will get you only so far when you're feeling withdrawal symptoms. I mean, by the time UFC fighters step into the cage again, a bunch of student-athletes from Kentucky, North Carolina or some other roundball hotbed will be nearly two weeks into their reign as national champions.

For some fans, this period of fistic inactivity clearly is a philosophical time. Ponder this: If there is someone around to hear it, but no fighter falls (via takedown or knockdown) in the octagonal forest, is there a sound ... other than the creaky churning of the mind wandering? Much of this deep thinking has been spilled into e-mails addressed to me. To wit:

After looking at your monthly rankings, I wondered if you've ever considered putting someone who's not the current champ at No. 1. I ask because you said you had Frankie Edgar winning the fight with Benson Henderson, yet Ben moved up to No. 1. If you really feel that Frankie won, shouldn't he still be No. 1?--Brian, Marysville, Calif.

You make an astute observation, Brian. I've wrestled with that conundrum quite a bit, and have come to the conclusion that a win is a win, even if I don't agree with the decision. So I couldn't hold down Henderson. (Nor could Edgar ...)

By the way, I did once rank a non-champion at No. 1: Urijah Faber, when he first dropped down to 135 pounds. At the time, I felt that he was better than champion Dominick Cruz, in part because he'd already beaten him, but more because I thought "The California Kid" would win the rematch as well. You know how that turned out for me.

If the lightweight division were as deep as you say, Edgar wouldn't be afraid to leave the weight class for a more appropriate one. Even if he fears 145-pound champ José Aldo, he could cut to 135 to avoid him. But Edgar sees a talent void in the lightweight division and thinks he can get the belt back. It's like Randy Couture coming back and taking out Tim Sylvia: He saw an undeserving title holder and a void of talent at heavyweight, so rather than fight at light heavyweight he came in and took the title.--Rob, Washington, D.C.

Nicely thought out theory, Rob, but I don't buy your core analogy: New lightweight champ Benson Henderson is no Sylvia. (For one thing, "Smooth" doesn't have the sideburns.) And I also don't think Edgar is afraid of anything; on the contrary, I suspect that his reluctance to drop down a weight class is at least in part fueled by his concern that he'd be seen as frightfully fleeing the 155-pound division. He's too prideful to allow that perception to spread its wings.

How can you call into question the judges' criteria until you have heard from them on what they were thinking when they submit their scorecards? It would be great if judges had to explain their rulings after fights. Until that happens, it is all pure speculation.--John, Chicago

I don't know that making judges explain themselves would solve anything. It'd probably just be a source of further frustration, in fact, when a judge's thought process veers far afield from ours. And judges wouldn't like being in the spotlight, either. I suspect they relish their relative anonymity, which allows them to scuttle from cageside to their car without being accosted in the parking lot.

As for me and my speculation, that's the business I'm in. I do my homework (at least as diligently as my 8-year-old) so I can present readers an informed opinion, but it's still just opinion.

How do you score/count a takedown? I know Edgar had more than Henderson, but Henderson either got up right away or Edgar didn't do any damage.--Michael, Chino Hills, Calif.

Takedowns should count for something, in and of themselves. And when you keep an opponent on his back and land some punches and elbows, or gain dominant position and put him in peril, it should count for more. So Edgar didn't score big with his takedowns, but he did score. And a little goes a long way in a close fight. Or not.

Totally disagree with King Dana's denigration of the concept of a half-point scoring system. I'm sorry, but if Fighter A squeaks out the first two rounds over Fighter B (like, say, by a takedown with 10 seconds left in the round), but Fighter B soundly wins the third round, a half-point system would in all likelihood render such a contest a well-deserved draw. I believe scoring should reflect the totality of the fight, not merely a consolidation of three or five mini-fights.--Mike, Indianatlantic, Fla.

I have nothing to add, Mike, because you've said all there is to say. Even characterizing Dana White as a noble UFC ruler is spot on.

I've always hated how athletes game the system by dehydrating for weigh-ins, only to put all that water back in their system for the actual fight. The obvious size difference between Edgar and Henderson on fight night was a classic example of some of the problems that can occur. How feasible would it be to add 15 pounds to each weight class and have the fighters weigh in on their way to the cage?--Matt, Tulsa, Okla.

Coming from the wrestling hotbed of Oklahoma, you must appreciate the concept of cutting weight. I don't know that you can call it gaming the system when it is the system.

What's the alternative? Weighing in right before a fight presents a safety issue, because fighters still are going to cut weight but in that scenario might step into the cage depleted. Perhaps you could go with two weigh-ins, one a few days before the fight with a target weight that ensures that a fighter isn't cutting massive poundage all at once. But no matter how you do it, fighters are going to do what they have to do to step into the cage as big as they can be within the rules.

I agree with your suggestion that there should be a cruiserweight division in MMA. I think the cutoff should be 220 or 225 pounds, though. This would have been a great weight class for fighters like Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz. Plus, can you imagine Jon "Bones" Jones at 225?--Loren, Miami

Hey, Loren, don't put words in my mouth. I did call for a new weight class, but I would hate for it to be called cruiserweight. I find that name to be so foolish that I refuse to watch a boxing match contested at cruiserweight.

As for the substance of your note, I'd be fine with whatever weight cutoff creates the best call-it-anything-but-cruiserweight division. And yes, it'd be fun to see whether Jones could be as dominant against slightly bigger men. Then again, one reader apparently doesn't see "Bones" as being so special ...

I'm so sick of these pound-for-pound rankings including Jon Jones in the Top 3. Has he been incredible? Without a doubt. But his win streak pales in comparison to what José Aldo has done. Aldo has absolutely crushed the competition at 145 pounds so badly that, even when considering the possibility of guys moving down from 155, it seems unimaginable that anyone can challenge him.

Jones? He was scared of "Rampage" Jackson's punches. He was a little slower than Lyoto Machida. He's defended only seven takedowns in his UFC career. Can we wait at least until he fights one of the division's two elite wrestlers before calling him one of the pound-for-pound bests?--Zarog, Kansas

I appreciate the perspective, Zarog, I really do. But ... wow. If you can make an argument against Jones, you can make one against anybody. Anderson Silva? Look how Chael Sonnen dominated him! Georges St-Pierre? Whom has he finished lately? "Bones" has been utterly dominant at light heavyweight, finishing a reigning or former champion in all three of his bouts last year and preparing to take on another next month. What more must the guy do to impress you?

As for Aldo, he's not far behind. He's won 14 straight, and while three of his last five opponents have gone the distance, "Scarface" has been a clear winner each time. I rank him just outside the top three. And there's no discredit in that.

It seems sex and appeal outweigh talent in women's MMA. Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate have the looks and skill, as did Gina Carano. Not all woman have that combination. If some gender-challenged woman, like "Cyborg" Santos, or a dull personality, like Sarah Kaufman, is champion, the women are finished. Dana White is smart in keeping the UFC out of women's MMA, which is a tough sell to a male audience. Fans want the women's champion to look like a woman.--Allen, York, Pa.

Every one of the fighters you mentioned looks like a woman, Allen. Maybe not in the idealized image you're projecting, but strong, feisty, resilient women nonetheless. I do understand what you're saying, though, and to an extent I agree that it's good for marketing when a champion is appealing and charismatic. But that's true for the men as well as the women. A handsome, personable guy like Jon Jones is an easier sell than a champion like, say, Aldo, who is quiet and connects with English-speaking fans only via a translator. But José's dynamism in the cage speaks for itself, and makes Aldo a fan favorite.

For most fans, I believe, it's about the fight, not the charisma, regardless of whether the combatants in the cage are men or women. If there's a difference between the sexes in MMA, it's that some fans -- men and women alike -- find it difficult to watch women slug it out ... while a bloodbath between men is a sight to see.

Could you please stop bundling your replies at the end of a long list of comments/questions? It's much easier to follow if you reply after each one or even if you give one reply for a few questions. Reading 10 comments, then trying to read your replies and scroll back up to figure out what your were replying to is unnecessarily annoying. I do enjoy your commentary, though. Otherwise, I wouldn't bother with the hassle of scrolling back and forth.--Dave, Buffalo, N.Y.

Are you happy now, Dave? Kidding aside, thanks for your comment, and for making the effort to wade through my mailbags. I sometimes like to lump together like-minded e-mails, because often one reader addresses the substance of another reader's correspondence. In other words, I like letting you guys do the heavy lifting for me.

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