Mailbag: Familiar faces, plenty of enticing action on off-week for UFC

Friday March 28th, 2014

Which fighter deserves the next shot at Johny Hendricks (left) and the UFC welterweight title?
Matt Strasen/AP

This was the weekend Bellator MMA, the World Series of Fighting and even Metamoris had gleefully marked on the calendar because they had the house to themselves. The UFC was going off on a two-week spell of rest, relaxation and renewal before the top-level fight club gets back in the swing. That leaves the second-fiddle promotion, the third-tier combat company and an unmixed martial arts event as the life of the party.

What party are we talking about? I can hear the fight fan masses droning out that question in darkly skeptical rooms. Maybe that's just in the back of my head, but then there's this in my computer's e-mail in-box. "Since this is an off-week ..." a recently received missive from a reader began. And I stopped right there, having plenty to contemplate.

Yes, this is an off-week for the UFC, and the UFC is the leading promotion in mixed martial arts. So if you're interested in the sport only at its very highest level, perhaps this is the weekend to go off on that little winter's-closure over-nighter that you've been daydreaming about ever since that last achy-breaky morning of shoveling out the driveway. But if you're around, be advised that you're not necessarily relegated to watching old Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski bouts on UFC Fight Pass.

On Friday (9 p.m. ET, Spike), Bellator will be doing what it always does on Friday nights: presenting a fight card with a title bout in which a champion you've seen only a few times faces a challenger you might never have heard of. This week the circular cage is set up in Hammond, Ind., home of Jean Shepherd, and the fights promise to be far more interesting than watching some gullible soul stick his tongue against a frozen pole. In the main event, Alexander Shlemenko will put up his middleweight championship and 12-fight winning streak against Brennan Ward. No one will take a step back.

The next night you can see some familiar faces and endangered appendages. If you remember Rousimar Palhares from his UFC days, raise your hand ... and hide your leg. Last we saw of the Brazilian fire hydrant, he was being evicted from his spot on the UFC roster in a most unusual circumstance: after winning in 31 seconds. The problem was what happened in seconds 32, 33 and 34. That's the time when he held on to his leg lock even after Mike Pyle had submitted. A no-no, meaning it was time for "Toquinho" to go-go. The World Series of Fighting gave him a contract and is putting him right in with its middleweight champ, Steve Carl (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network). Should be fun.

Of course, what happens in the fight will come under less scrutiny than what occurs immediately afterward. If Palhares gets a hold of a leg and fails to let go after a tapout this time, he'll soon be in a different line of work. Maybe shoe sales. "Would you like me to help you try on that pair?" "Um, no thanks. It's OK. I'll just take them home and hope they fit."

Another option for Saturday evening is Metamoris 3 (7 p.m. ET, PPV,, the no-gi, submissions-only jiu-jitsu event dreamed up -- like the UFC -- by the Gracie family. Even though the martial arts aren't missed here, UFC fans will recognize some faces, such as "Babalu" Sobral, Vinny Magalhaes and Dean Lister. But it's really about the main event, a rematch of Eddie Bravo's triangle choke upset of Royler Gracie at the 2003 Abu Dhabi Submission Wrestling Championships. What's the backstory here? While Bravo is the Timothy Leary of mind-altering martial arts, Gracie is a John Quincy Adams figure, part of MMA's founding family.

So, off-week? Pffft.

Now on to some letters that I didn't stop reading after the first half-sentence, starting with a couple that demonstrate that even when the UFC takes a couple of weeks off, the promotion always is right there in the middle of things:

Renan Barão vs. T.J. Dillashaw in the main event of UFC 173? On PPV? Are you kidding me?

--P.J., Phillipsburg, N.J.

Barão hasn't lost in his last 33 fights, going back almost nine years. How could one be lukewarm about an opportunity to watch this guy perform? Sure, this isn't the bantamweight title fight we were expecting, but the guy who was supposed to get this shot and turned it down because of a lingering rib injury, Raphael Assunção, barely squeaked by Dillashaw in a split decision. So this is about as good as it's going to get at 135 pounds until Dominick Cruz comes stomping back to try and reclaim his kingdom.

Plus, the co-main event features the second-baddest man on the planet, heavyweight Junior dos Santos. Can Stipe Miocic demonstrate that "Cigano" is not the toughest guy in the world other than champion Cain Velasquez?

Sure, P.J., I understand why you might be hesitant to plunk down your $55, what with so many fight cards in the offing these days. But let's not be so incredulously dismissive. It's not prime GSP vs. Anderson Silva -- hell, it's not even the May 24 event's original main event, Chris Weidman vs. Vitor Belfort/Lyoto Machida -- but there'll be some star power in Las Vegas that night.

Jeff, Jeff, Jeff. No, Tyron Woodley should not fight Johny Hendricks next. I agree with you that Nick Diaz shouldn't get the title shot. But just as Diaz shouldn't because he's coming off two losses, Woodley should not jump 10 spots in the rankings, leapfrogging Rory MacDonald. What's the point of rankings if we are not going to use them? Rory should be next in line.

--Hilario, San Benito, Texas

I did advocate for a Woodley title shot following his dominant victory over No. 2-ranked welterweight Carlos Condit. But, really, I don't think anyone has distinguished himself over all other contenders. Not Woodley. Not MacDonald. Certainly not Diaz.

You never like to see a fighter injured, but perhaps Hendricks' biceps surgery is a blessing in disguise for the 170-pound class, allowing the top guys to sort themselves out. I'd be up for Woodley vs. MacDonald elimination fight, with Robbie Lawler -- who came so, so close against "Bigg Rigg" -- fighting it out with Diaz or maybe Hector Lombard for the next shot. How's that sound?

I would like to throw two dark horses into the welterweight mix. I know Jake Ellenberger is coming off a lackluster loss to MacDonald, but before that he had won eight of nine, including a six-fight win streak. If he beats Tarec Saffiedine in a month, he'd be in contention. Also, Matt Brown is on a pretty good win streak, although he hasn't beat anyone worth mentioning. These two fighters are probably worth including when talking about the top guys at 170. At least until that French Canadian guy comes back and takes his belt.

--Brian, Gainesville, Va.

Well, the Quebecois isn't going to be grabbing for the gold anytime soon. Your e-mail arrived long before Georges St-Pierre tore up his knee, Brian, so I won't hold that against you. But I wasn't convinced that GSP was going to return even before news of his ACL tear surfaced. MMA would seem to be a tough sport to return to after walking away, not just physically but mentally. I mention that in conjunction with the two names you nominated for our running list of welterweight contenders because more and more it seems that what we see is what we're going to get.

I found it kind of ironic that after the welterweight title fight Hendricks' face looked like he had lost, compared to Lawler's. Wasn't that one of his complaints after losing the decision to GSP? I wonder if he has changed his stance on whether damage should be the main indicator of who won a fight.

--Jim, Lethbridge, Alberta

Funny that you should bring that up, Jim. I thought the same thing when I saw Hendricks' face while the decision was being read. There was a difference, though. In the end, Johny beat up Lawler. He took a beating through the third and fourth rounds, and seemed to be on his way to losing a decision midway through the fifth. Then he turned it on. By the final horn, it was pretty clear who had won. Conversely, Georges never beat up Hendricks. So yes, I do get your point and agree to a degree, but I don't see the fights as entirely parallel.

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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