All of that heavy-duty brainstorming, weighing the possibilities. And for what?
The moment Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva upset both Alistair Overeem and the entire UFC big-boy hierarchy two weeks ago, fans and media started pondering what was next. Now that The Reem was not going to get the title shot he'd been promised with a win, who'd be the first challenger in Cain Velasquez's second reign with the belt?
Some called for a third fight ? a rubber match ? between Cain and Junior dos Santos, the man who'd dethroned him back in November 20111 and from whom he'd reclaimed the strap this past December. Some advocated for Velasquez to take on his American Kickboxing Academy teammate, Daniel Cormier, winner of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix. Some saw other possibilities (see below), many of which I laid out in a column that concluded with my opinion that the man for the job was jiu-jitsu magician Fabricio Werdum.
But the only opinions that matter are those of the UFC matchmakers, and earlier this week they announced via their weekly Fuel TV show that the title shot will go to "Bigfoot." Even though promotion president Dana White had dropped a hint after the KO of Overeem, I didn't see this coming. Here's what I'd written about this potential matchup in my column weighing the many possibilities for a Velasquez opponent: "At Saturday's post-fight press conference, the question of whether 'Bigfoot' had earned a shot at Velasquez was brought up, and Dana White said, 'I wouldn't be opposed to that.' Yeah, but the local emergency room might be. Did you see the ruthless beatdown Cain put on Silva last May? If the UFC wants to make that rematch, fine, but please alert the Red Cross so it can conduct a blood drive."
A touch sarcastic, I know, but my underlying judgment about the competitiveness of this rematch ? or lack thererof ? is dead serious. In case you missed it, Velasquez put Silva on his back five seconds in and proceeded to batter the Brazilian into a bloody mess before the referee mercifully jumped in at 3:36 of the first round to end the massacre last Memorial Day weekend at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
A year later, on the same holiday weekend and in the same building, Silva will try to make things different. I don't think he can. His victory over Overeem was as much Alistair's doing as it was his. That is to say, the comic book superhero Dutchman clearly was looking ahead to the title fight that was awaiting him. He showed no respect for "Bigfoot" and his fighting skills, and he paid the price. Velasquez, by contrast, is a guy who focuses on the task at hand, sticks to a game plan and is relentless. He might not get a takedown five seconds into the fight this time, but he'll continue to go for one until he gets it. I fully expect him to swarm Silva just like he did last time.
I'm not upset with this matchup, though, because Silva earned his title shot. He didn't talk his way in, like Chael Sonnen, or text his way in, like Anthony Pettis, or even venture off to a different weight class and jump to the head of the line, like both of those guys did. "Bigfoot" fought his way to where he is today, and for that he deserves some respect.
Respect doesn't sell pay-per-views, though, so the UFC bolstered the Memorial Day weekend card in a big way, with the long-awaited grudge match between Overeem and Dos Santos. Even though it won't be for a title, as it had been expected to be when the two were yapping at each other during Junior's reign, the fight nonetheless has some major selling points. Both men are standup specialists, and we all know how much fans love fisticuffs. Fans also love watching big boys go at it. And, of course, the fighters' mutual disdain won't hurt the hype.
So there you have it, a mini-Grand Prix to sort out the heavyweight picture. Some readers have other suggestions, though, as expressed in the mailbag...
What about Josh Barnett? He could use the broken hand as his excuse for losing to Cormier [in the Strikeforce Grand Prix] and say he didn't lose his UFC belt in the ring. This really is pathetic.? Joe, Tinton Falls, N.J.
The heavyweight division was supposedly topped with Strikeforce guys, but in reality it probably only heads flyweight in the depth chart. I love watching both divisions, but the fighters I love are mostly not title contenders ? now or possibly in the future (Stefan Struve, Mark Hunt, Cheick Kongo, Pat Barry, etc.). The UFC needs Barnett and needs Jon Jones to arrive at heavyweight sooner rather than latter to make the competition for the belt interesting. ? Nick, Melbourne, Australia
I think the competition for the heavyweight belt is already mighty interesting, Nick. Sure, Velasquez-Silva is a dog of a fight, but I'd be intrigued to see Dos Santos, Overeem, Cormier or Werdum take a shot at the champ.
Having said that, I do agree with you and Joe that it'd be nice to see Barnett in the UFC. We might see it happen. Even though there's apparently been some snag in the negotiations, Dana White hasn't turned that into an opportunity to insult Barnett, as is his tendency. He sounds like he'd actually like to see Josh join the company. That's a little surprising, considering that Barnett has failed drug tests three times, the first of which resulted in him being stripped of the UFC heavyweight title and banished from the promotion back in 2002.
The real question is not whether the UFC wants Barnett, I suspect, but how much Josh wants the UFC. He'd probably be asked to cease his Japanese professional wrestling activities. And while he might relish the challenge that comes along with returning to the big show, the 35-year-old Barnett also must recognize that the fighting life he's led over the past decade is more sustainable than a jump into the UFC shark tank. By fighting overseas, he could remain the rebel he seems to enjoy being, while earning a comfortable living, with the emphasis on the word comfortable.
As for Jones at heavyweight, have patience, my friend. "Bones" has indicated that he'll move up a weight class by next year, if not the end of this year. But he's still just 25 years old, and he still has some work to do at 205 pounds. Let's enjoy watching that unfold before we start packing pounds onto the guy.
And on the topic of getting ahead of ourselves ...
Cormier needs to be careful! Frank Mir is a dangerous guy, especially with his knack for submissions, and I don't really think Cormier is taking him seriously. I wouldn't be thinking of Jon Jones. I'd be worried about Mir. ? Herb, Tulsa, Okla.
I understand why you're saying what you're saying, Herb, considering all of the interviews we've seen in which Cormier is asked about fighting Jones and fighting Velasquez ? everything but his April 20 fight with Mir. But I wouldn't be too worried for the guy. Daniel is no Alistair Overeem, losing sight of the prize. Cormier is a personable, talkative guy who's accommodating to interviewers who want to talk big-picture about his UFC career. But he was a two-time Olympian for a reason. His focus will be where it should be when he steps into the octagon with Mir. And while, yes, Cormier must be wary of a submission, I think Mir is the one with more to worry about. After all, Daniel's strength and Frank's weakness are one and the same: wrestling. So that puts Cormier in control of where the fight will be fought.
Flyweight fights seem like women's hockey to me. They try to sell it on the skill, but the skill isn't really any higher than in other divisions and the violence is toned down significantly. Skill and speed I can see in a martial arts demonstration. You don't see a lot of those televised, and there is a reason for that. In order for a fight to have the drama fans want, there have to be close calls. And without knockout power, you lose a lot of that. Maybe John Dodson can provide the power necessary, but it'll take more than one fight for me to buy in. ? Eric, Montreal, Quebec
I'm not going to argue with you, Eric, because you're entitled to like what you like. But if you're willing to make an exception for Dodson, you should do the same for Joseph Benavidez, who opened the UFC's flyweight tournament with a nice KO of Yasuhiro Urushitani. And there are a couple of other 125-pounders on the UFC roster who have a little thunder in their fists.
Is it the lack of finishes that offends you, or just the dearth of knockouts? I ask because the next challenger for Demetrious Johnson's belt, John Moraga, has finishes in eight of his 13 pro wins. Six of those finishes are by submission, though, which isn't as violent a show closer as a KO (unless it's Mir snapping an arm) but nonetheless can get fans on the edges of their seats.
Let's see how the division develops. It's not like the 125-pounders are playing patty-cake out there. They're throwing serious leather, and at some point I suspect we'll see a string of KO's that will open some eyes (while closing a few as well, of course).
What if judges were required to provide a narrative justifying why they scored a fight the way they did? For example, the unified rules state that on the 10-point-must scoring system is based on effective striking, grappling, aggression and octagon/cage/ring control. So a sample narrative could be: "Although Demian Maia did not have much of a striking game, his aggression and octagon control were evident from they way he controlled the fight against Jon Fitch by initiating the grappling exchanges and controlling position and hunting for submissions."
Narrative like this would allow the media, fans and promoters alike to understand what the judges were thinking. More transparency would show whether judges are sane or not. ? J., Edmonton, Alberta
I doubt that written narratives or even two-hour interrogations under a heat lamp would end the controversy over fight judging. Sure, it would provide transparency. But I suspect we all could piece together that narrative ourselves. I mean, when I see Fighter A lose a bout because two judges gave Fighter B a round that I think should have been scored for his opponent, I might say, "I don't know what these judges were watching," but I nonetheless could write a narrative supporting their scoring. I wouldn't agree with the conclusion drawn by the narrative, but I could make something up.
My point, J., is that the solution to the judging problem in MMA is to improve judging. Rather than asking bad judges to justify their faulty thought process, we should be devoting our energy to training them to be better judges or simply replacing them with higher-quality judges. I understand why Dana White likes to tell his fighters, "Don't leave it in the hands of the judges." He's a promoter, and his customers are happier watching knockouts and submissions than decisions, even good decisions. But that warning should only be about marketability, not the competitive balance of the sport. The fighter who wins a bout over three or five rounds should be the one who has his hand raised at the end. That's the last word that need be written.
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.