May 07, 2013
Johny Hendricks (right) has a distinctive beard, but does it actually protect him from punches?
Carlos M. Saavedra/SI

Boy, the publicity train for Anderson Silva's next title defense sure got chugging out of the station. A full three months before the UFC middleweight champion is scheduled to take on unbeaten Chris Weidman, the buildup has started building up steam. Even with Silva not aboard -- in fact, with the enigmatic Brazilian even headed in a different direction.

Silva was scheduled to spend Tuesday in Los Angeles promoting UFC 162, which goes down July 7 in Las Vegas. He was to make appearances on TV and radio stations and attend a luncheon with print and online reporters. Well, maybe the champ wasn't hungry. And was camera shy. He skipped out on everything the UFC had lined up and flew home to Brazil. It was an expensive flight.

"We had a full media day set up for him in Los Angeles, and he just decided he didn't want to do it, so he's being fined $50,000," UFC president Dana White told "He doesn't like talking to the media, but it's part of his contractual obligation. Everybody wants more money, more money, more money, but nobody wants to sell the fight or go out and talk to the media. Talking to the media is part of your job, whether you like it or not."

Dana is right. It's part of a UFC fighter's job to talk to us notepad-wielding leeches who eat up his or her every word. Which in the case of covering Silva means we starve. I'm not talking about when we get not a crumb of information or insight because the champ neglects to show up. I'm talking about the times when he does show up and still feeds us nothing. The UFC is getting far more promotional mileage out of Silva's disappearing act than it would have gotten out of a drearily dutiful day of media appearances. How do you say "vanilla" in Portuguese?

And that is a jumping-off point for how I responded to an email I received shortly after news broke of Silva's latest act of recalcitrance. Even in its brevity, the note took a predictably reproachful tone. "So Silva just gets fined for not showing up while Nick Diaz was pulled from his title fight," wrote Robert from Lavallette, N.J. "Nice double standard by the UFC."

Well, duh. Silva is the champ, the pound-for-pound king of the sport, arguably the best ever. Diaz is, well, just a guy. I know we've built up Nick into a figure larger than life, but if his eventually rescheduled challenge of Georges St-Pierre showed us anything, it was that while he's a Top 10 fighter -- which is nothing to sneeze at, for sure -- the only thing about him that's elite is his extraordinary surliness. He doesn't warrant special treatment. Maybe you believe that neither Silva nor anyone else should be treated differently, either. Tell that to the UFC. And to the NFL and NBA and Major League Baseball and every other sports entity where there's a different standard for stars.

And then there's the practical side of the double standard. By skipping a couple of press conferences held to hype an ill-fated meeting with GSP, Diaz robbed us of what was most interesting about having him in a title bout in the first place. We saw evidence of this when the bout eventually was rebooked and Nick showed up for (most of) his promotional obligations. We heard all about wolf tickets and toxic airplane water and all sorts of other stuff that found its way into his baffling, often contradictory stream-of-(un)consciousness.

By contrast, here's what we missed out on by Anderson Silva skipping his media day:

Don't strain your eyes looking for the rest of that sentence. There's nothing there. We probably wouldn't have written a word about what he said, if he'd showed up to say it. But we do feel obligated to let you know about the $50,000 fine. And in doing so, we naturally have to mention the fight coming up in July. Oh, by the way, tickets go on sale on Friday. Choo-choo goes the publicity express.

That matter aside, about half of all the mail I received over the past month has had to do with Matt Mitrione's suspension for his hateful tirade about transgendered fighter Fallon Fox. Nearly everyone got on my case for opining that "Meathead" had lived up to his nickname. Some readers simply agreed with Matt's underlying opinion -- shared by others in MMA but not by me -- that a person born as a man shouldn't be allowed to compete against women. Others took the matter to the gutter, making Mitrione's "lying, sick, sociopathic, disgusting freak" comment seem almost tame. I'd love to have a go at the nitwits, but instead I'll stick to this note from a reader who I think was trying to be funny.

I have a solution to the Fallon Fox controversy: a transgender division. There are likely more out there. Additionally, this division would provide an opportunity for past-their-prime fighters. Someone like, say, Wanderlei Silva could get the surgery and have another five-year run in the transgender division. --Jimmer, Rochester, N.Y.

Is that you, Chael? Probably not. If there were a trans division, Sonnen wouldn't be able to call out "The Axe Murderer," as he's been doing ever since his two-division championship aspirations went poof a couple of weeks ago. Now the Internet is abuzz with a rumor that Sonnen and Silva will headline the Aug. 17 card in Boston that will launch Fox Sports 1. Hard to imagine a fight of that (lack of) magnitude as a high-profile main event. But both guys draw viewers, so why not?

Getting back to the transgender issue, Jimmer's joking email underscores one of the oddball criticisms of Fallon Fox: that she went under the knife just so she could beat up women. Yeah, that makes sense. You put yourself through the emotional and physical rigors of changing genders just so you can get your man hands on a championship belt. I think Jon Jones hit on it when he said of Fox, "This is a strong person." And he wasn't talking about bone density.

This might be a stupid question, but it's something I've never seen addressed, and I'm curious: Does Johny Hendricks' beard give him a little bit of an advantage? Maybe I'm an idiot, but it seems to me that getting hit flush on the chin would have a lot more impact than if your opponent has to punch through a two- or three-inch cushion. -- Ray, Sheboygan, Wisc.

What a stupid question, Ray. How stupid? So stupid that I've often wondered the same thing. Look, if you get hit square on the kisser by a Hendricks left or a Roy Nelson right, you're going down even if you're Sophocles, Santa Claus or Yosemite Sam. But having that little chin guard has to be at least as much of an edge as, say, weighing in a few ounces over your division's limit. Why is it that the athletic commissions will insist that you sweat it off but not shave it off? I do recall that Hendricks was asked to trim his beard before his last fight, but he still was allowed to look like a philosopher out there.

You wrote that you were surprised that Nate Diaz would lose on 4/20, and you suggested that anyone who didn't understand the significance of that number should ask a Deadhead. As a Deadhead, I can confirm that most of us are too old for 4/20 to hold much real significance as drug-culture code. A great many of us don't use drugs anymore, those that ever did. The drugs were always secondary to the music, or they weren't true Deadheads. -- Jack, Waterville, Maine

Dude. It was a joke. I like to look at the fighter's plight this way: "Busted, down on Bourbon Street / Set up, like a bowlin' pin / Knocked down, it gets to wearin' thin / They just won't let you be, oh no."

I appreciate your not-so-veiled disdain of Dana White the commissioner, even though I happen to L-O-V-E him as a promoter. He's inarguably the best in the biz. -- Gary, Fort Worth, Texas

Disdain? Me? I actually like White. He's accessible and quotable, which should make him a favorite of anyone who covers the UFC. Sure, even in his frankness everything he says is colored by his promotional interests, but that comes with the territory. He's not an impartial observer.

Where I've been critical, as Gary hints at, is in how Dana's conflicting interests alter the landscape. As a businessman, he was smart to match Chael Sonnen against Jon Jones, as was evident by the big crowd the fight drew to the Prudential Center in Newark two weekends ago. But having a championship on the line that night cheapened the belt, considering Sonnen's lack of credentials in the light heavyweight division. White wouldn't acknowledge that, naturally. But as head of the sport's largest fight promotion, Dana is de facto commissioner. And he cannot properly oversee the sport as long as he's handing out title shots based on money-making potential rather than meritocracy.

I've sung that song many a time. But it's not the only Dana White cover I know.

Questions? Comments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the next MMA mailbag, click on the e-mail link at the top of the page.

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