November 23, 2012

I thought maybe I was just being a killjoy. Last weekend in Montreal, when the final pieces of the alluring puzzle that is a superfight fell into place -- when Georges St-Pierre successfully defended his welterweight championship against Carlos Condit hours after middleweight king Anderson Silva showed up at the Bell Centre to watch the UFC 154 main event and declare, "I got next!" -- I felt like the Grinch in Whoville.

Looking back, I now realize I wasn't the only person feeling lukewarm about a Silva vs. St-Pierre clash. Far from it. It's just that any unenthusiastic, skeptical or downright opposing voices were drowned out in Montreal by the tsunami of zeal being gushed forth by Dana White. That's the promotional genius of the UFC president. He has a way of promoting a newly concocted matchup by making any other possible fight disappear from the collective consciousness. And while there was a time when White would wax poetic about the prospect of Silva and Jon Jones meeting in the octagon, he's shifted gears and now he's driving a whole different steamroller. It's all Silva vs. GSP, all the time.

But it turns out a lot of folks aren't super excited. Ever since my column questioning whether that's the fight the sport needs right now appeared on on Tuesday, I've read several others expressing much the same viewpoint. And e-mails, e-mails, e-mails. They're still coming in.

"Everyone is talking about a potential superfight between GSP and Silva, but is this even a fair fight?" a reader named Trevor from Calgary, Alberta, wrote to me, communicating a widely subscribed refusal to go along. "Silva has an obvious size/reach advantage; do you think GSP would stand a chance? Could only see GSP accepting this fight due to the huge payday involved. I think a true superfight would be Silva-Jones; they are at least close to the same size, and we know Silva can easily fight at 205."

Another reader, Ben from Aurora, Ill., went further, characterizing Silva vs. GSP as a health risk for the smaller man. "Think of Wanderlei Silva's career arc after getting blasted by Mirko Cro Cop in 2006," said this history-minded fan. "Does the UFC really want to risk the long-term viability of the company's biggest star by putting him in with an elite fighter a full weight class (or two) higher, all for one big-money fight? Given the risk vs. the reward, it is unbelievably shortsighted."

I'm not exactly on the same page as Trevor and Ben. While I agree that Jones vs. Silva is the real superfight of our time, I don't believe St-Pierre -- given his wrestling acumen and overall athleticism -- would necessarily be a sitting duck. And I don't fear for GSP's safety or for the health of his career. I don't even buy Georges' contention that once he adds the pounds necessary to take on Silva, he could never again fight at welterweight. I think he's just posturing in an attempt to get the superfight fought as close to 170 as possible.

So where does my opposition lie? Well, I expressed part of it in Tuesday's column -- I feel like Silva is dodging a more attractive superfight against Jones -- but I also feel GSP should first put his focus on a couple of interesting welterweight fights. Seeing Johny Hendricks knock out Martin Kampmann in 46 seconds in the UFC 154 co-main event was eye-opening. Before, his 12-second KO of Jon Fitch last December could have been explained away as the result of a lucky shot. But when that thunderous left hand strikes twice, it's impossible to ignore. And Hendricks also has a wrestling pedigree -- two-time NCAA Division I champion, four-time All-American -- that would seem capable of nullifying GSP's prodigious takedowns.

As Johny himself said in a video shot hours after the Kampmann KO: "Whenever you're fighting GSP, you gotta know he's going to try to take you down. Well, guess what: There's somebody out there that can probably take him down quicker than he can take me down. You know what I'm saying? That's the beauty of it. I know I can outwrestle GSP any day of the week. Can I do it in a fight? That's what I want to see."

So do I. And I also want to see Georges toke on -- I mean, take on Nick Diaz.

GSP would be favored against either of those guys. He'd probably pick apart Hendricks, then put him on his back when he least expected it. He'd probably smother Diaz for five rounds, smartly avoiding submissions on the ground. But I'm still intrigued.

The problem is that when Dana White thinks about those fights, he doesn't envision a football stadium packed with paying customers. When he sets his mind to Silva vs. GSP, though, he sees not just a big fight but a big-money fight. And when he allows himself to look even further into the future, the UFC poobah no doubt gets all tingly at the financial windfall that Jones vs. Silva could bring. But Dana is not talking about that at the moment. He's talking about Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre. And that's all.

About two years ago, I thought MMA had really done it right. Free WEC on TV to generate interest in the sport, and the UFC on PPV to capitalize. However, now that the WEC is history, there is really no consistent programming to keep generating new interest in the sport. I have stopped watching almost altogether. I see no purpose in paying $60 to watch a fight.

The reality is that MMA is going to go down the popularity slope with the public if fans can only see the sport on PPV. I think Dana White made a mistake to take the WEC off the TV waves. There are so many like me who simply turned the channel back to Major League Baseball. Do you think this will ever change back?--Doug, Camas, Wash.

I'm not sure where to start, Doug. There are many angles from which to question the UFC business model, but most criticism comes at the promotion from the opposite perspective: a believe that Dana White & Co. are oversaturating the MMA marketplace, not undersaturating it.

WEC or no WEC, there is more non-PPV UFC on the air now than ever, between the four cards a year on Fox network and the many spread across other Fox properties from FX to Fuel TV. Add to that all of the UFC reruns and ancillary programming on Fuel, plus weekly Bellator cards on MTV2 (soon to be Spike), plus the occasional Strikeforce event on Showtime, plus panel shows on ESPN, Spike and AXS.

Of course, you do miss the biggest fights if you steer clear of the PPVs. If you don't care to drop $60 for an event, invite a bunch of friends over to split the cost or go watch the fight in a sports bar. For my money, you'll get more bang for your buck than you do by changing the channel to baseball ... especially in November!

While I enjoy your columns most days, there was a small mistake in your recap of UFC 154. Johny Hendricks is many things: a great wrestler, a great fighter, but he is not a "fireplug Texan," as you claim. He is from Ada, Okla., and as a fellow Okie, I can't imagine the disgrace of being mistaken for a Texan. He fights out of Dallas but his roots are in the heartland.--Jason, Colorado Springs

Thanks for pointing that out, Jason, you fireplug Coloradan. It's always the little throwaway line I toss in -- something to add some variety to the way I refer to a fighter -- that messes me up. Next time I'll stick to Hendricks, Hendricks, Hendricks. Or, if I hear that Johny has caught wind that I called him a Texan, I'll quietly refer to him as Mr. Hendricks. Don't want to see that big left fist coming in my direction.

Have to disagree with your comment, in the UFC 154 preview story, that no one at TriStar gym could pressure Georges St-Pierre like Carlos Condit would. Were you forgetting about Rory MacDonald?--David, New York/Tokyo

It's not that I forgot about MacDonald, but rather that I got a little carried away with my dismissal of a training gym -- any gym -- as a viable tool for preparing a fighter for the intensity of a real fight. As good as MacDonald is -- and he's damn good -- I can't imagine him going at GSP with the same fury that Condit was going to.

That's what I meant to say, David, but you were right to take me to task for the way I worded it. Once again I must plead mea culpa.

So after two straight missives pointing out my foibles, if only someone could toss me a softball question ...

I read some of your story, and seeing the name Georges St-Pierre reminded me of Pierre and "I don't care." Grandma read that story to Aaron and me.--Rebecca, Northampton, Mass.

OK, folks, that e-mail showed up in my in-box courtesy of my 7-year-old daughter. She's referring to the Maurice Sendak children's book Pierre: A Cautionary Tale in Five Chapters and a Prologue, in which young Pierre says "I don't care!" a lot. The book has nothing to do with GSP or MMA. I include it here simply because I'm jazzed that my girl spared her daddy the indignity of having his writing assessed alongside the masterwork of Sendak.

This "sport" should be banned. Disgusting. Worse than cockfights and Michael Vick's dogfights.--Peter, Charlotte, N.C.

The only thing missing was the Zamboni machine to clean the tarmac of all that blood. A streetfight like that would have landed both pugilists in jail. Simply grotesque.--Mario, Montreal

Every time one of my fight-night stories appears on the main page of, I get a few e-mails like these, presumably from mainstream sports fans unfamiliar with MMA. I used to get defensive, but now I just chalk it up to this being a sport that's not for everyone's tastes.

I guess I would just like to ask Peter and Mario if either of them has actually watched any MMA fighting or if they formed their opinion merely by seeing a picture of a bloody Georges St-Pierre and Carlos Condit. It's rare that I hear such bitter criticism of the sport from someone who's taken the time to watch a few fights and try to understand what's actually happening inside the cage. If you put in a little effort and still don't feel this sport is your thing, fine. But don't be a lazy bomb thrower. It reflects badly on you, not on MMA.

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