- Opportunities exist for MMA fighters to gain fame outside their sport. Strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk is not interested.
After arguably the most dominant performance of Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s career in Dallas against Jessica Andrade at UFC 211, the strawweight champion was pegged as the heir to the throne of women’s MMA.
There aren’t any other challengers.
In Jedrzejczyk’s next strawweight title bout, she can tie Ronda Rousey’s record for title defenses in UFC women’s history with six. But unlike Rousey, Jedrzejczyk’s focus is on chasing UFC gold and not red carpets.
Even if it means less money.
“I’m focused on my preparations. My sponsors, people from media, they know when I’m in the camp I’m just focused on preparations,” Jedrzejczyk told Sports Illustrated. “I prefer to make less money, I prefer to have smaller sponsors, less obligations.
“At the end, I want to defend my title. I wish that all of the fighters they were focused like me. I’m not the best, but I know what is important, what is good, what is better for me.”
The rise in popularity of the sport has brought about other opportunities for prominent MMA fighters besides Rousey. Luke Rockhold is modeling, Chris Weidman acts in a sitcom alongside Kevin James. Miesha Tate, Holly Holm and Cris Cyborg starred in a film called Fight Valley. Felice Herrig has acted and appeared on American Ninja Warrior.
“There are so many dedicated fighters in the UFC, it’s not easy, the UFC is simply the best MMA organization in the world. If you’re not focused or not working hard enough, you’re out,” Jedrzejczyk said.
Even though Jedrzejczyk isn’t looking to supplement her income outside the ring, she’d presumably welcome a pay raise from the UFC as the most dominant active women’s champion.
For the champions, it’s about priorities.
Maintaining a spot in the talent-rich UFC is hard, becoming a champion is even harder and setting a record for title defenses is a Herculean task only completed by the best in the sport.
“It was not easy to become a UFC fighter and UFC champion, but I think it’s more difficult to keep defending the belt because all eyes are on me,” Jedrzjczyk said. “My opponents, the coaches of my opponents, have more time to prepare for the fight with me.
“It’s pretty difficult, but I like it. I like to challenge myself every day and I like to keep on proving to all of them that there is only one strawweight champion of the world.”
Rose Namajunas is presumably the next woman up to challenge Jedrzejczyk, and is the only woman in the top four of the rankings who has yet to fight for the belt. Namajunas’ lone loss in her last four fights came to Karolina Kowalkiewicz, who fought Jedrzejczyk at UFC 205 in Madison Square Garden.
“I think she’s very talented. One day she is going to become a UFC champion, but for sure not this year,” Jedrzejczyk said.
Flyweight title fight confusion
Wednesday night, ESPN’s Brett Okamoto reported that the bantamweight title bout between Cody Garbrandt and T.J. Dillashaw was canceled, with Garbrandt receiving treatment for a back injury in Germany last week.
Instead of rescheduling the Garbrandt-Dillashaw fight, UFC president Dana White elected to book former bantamweight champion Dillashaw in a flyweight title fight against Demetrious Johnson.
But not so fast. Johnson took to Twitter to deny the reports, saying he has not agreed to a fight, is waiting to fight Ray Borg and Dillashaw needs to win a fight at flyweight before jumping the line for a shot at gold.
Shot he can come to flyweight and get a win then get his turn— Demetrious Johnson (@MightyMouseUFC) May 24, 2017
Johnson is on the cusp of history. His next win will set a record for consecutive title defenses with 11. Dillashaw, a former champion in a bigger weight class, will be a tough obstacle, certainly tougher than Borg.
Most of the discussion has surrounded Johnson going up a weight class to challenge for the bantamweight title and pursue a second belt, not the other way around. At 135 pounds, Johnson has the chance to become the fourth person to win a belt in two weight classes and the second to hold two belts in two weight classes at the same time.
Likewise, Dillashaw has the opportunity to become the fourth fighter to win a belt in two weight classes by moving down to 135 pounds.
It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out, and ultimately it will come down to how much the UFC is willing to shell out. If it writes a number on a check with a lot of zeroes, Dillashaw might be the next challenger to the flyweight title.
Romero vs. Whittaker set for interim middleweight title at UFC 213
Another interim title has been added to the UFC title picture, this time in the middleweight division. Now that the Garbrandt-Dillashaw title fight is off UFC 213, another title fight was needed for one of the UFC’s two tent pole events of the year, this one anchoring International Fight Week in Las Vegas.
Middleweight champion Michael Bisping was originally slated to fight Georges St-Pierre for the title but never given a date. After some public jockeying between the fighters, St-Pierre released a video to offer Bisping his pick of dates after October.
The UFC responded by replacing St-Pierre with a new challenger, Yoel Romero, before Bisping revealed an injury would sideline him for months as well. That opened the door for the interim middleweight title in a crowded title picture, and Romero will face Robert Whittaker for the interim belt at UFC 213. The winner will go on to fight Bisping at a later date, and St-Pierre is reportedly ending his exploration of the middleweight division and returning to welterweight, a division he lorded over in two stints as champion, including a run with nine consecutive title defenses.
The booking will also impact the future of Luke Rockhold and Gegard Mousasi. Rockhold was delaying signing for another fight until the title picture was clarified, and expressed as much in a public back and forth with UFC president Dana White.
With the interim title fight booked, Rockhold and Mousasi, who is on a five-fight win streak, seems like the next logical bout. The winner of that will stake their claim to a title fight after the unification bout between Bisping and the winner of Romero-Whittaker.
Cris Cyborg and Angela Magana create drama
The big cloud looming over the UFC Athletes’ Retreat is the skirmish between Cris Cyborg and Angela Magana. Cyborg confronted Magana face-to-face about some troubling tweets making fun of the Cyborg’s physical appearance, using a photo from a visit to a children’s hospital.
The result was a punch and the details surrounding the incident were murky until Cage Pages released video of the incident. Rumors ranged from Magana being staggered to even losing teeth, all of which have been debunked.
The police are now involved, and reportedly cited Cyborg for battery, an offense that could lead to prison time.
UFC president Dana White called the incident “very serious” and said the “district attorney and police” are handling it and passed the buck.
But ultimately it raises two questions.
First, how is this different than Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz chucking water bottles and energy drink cans at one another? Or McGregor threatening to hit Eddie Alvarez with a chair at a press conference?
Second, isn’t it slightly hypocritical? The weekend prior, Michael Chiesa rushed across the stage to attack his future opponent Kevin Lee. And while Chiesa was being held by security, Lee landed a clean shot.
This behavior has become the norm at press conferences, and it does sell fights and generate interest from the fans. The UFC needs to decide whether to embrace this behavior or to get its fighters in line before someone gets hurt.
And if you embrace it, you can’t pick and choose which incidents to make serious and which ones to profit from.
Lastly, Cyborg has used this situation to call attention to bullying and the example professional fighters should be setting for younger students of the martial arts.
Five questions with Zane Simon of Bloody Elbow
1. Dana White called the incident between Cris Cyborg and Angela Magana "very serious." Is it really serious? What do you expect the fallout to be?
Cyborg has definitely stepped in something here since Magana decided to press charges. It's not like Cyborg is the first UFC fighter to punch another UFC fighter outside of the cage or even the first one to do so publicly and in front of multiple witnesses. But, she may be the first to have it turned into a police matter. And at that point, with plenty of witnesses, I wouldn't be surprised if the UFC's takes things a lot further than they normally would.
It also doesn't help Cyborg's case that she's never been popular with Dana White and that her relationship with the UFC has always seemed to be on the edge of breaking down. If the UFC sees Cyborg as an investment worth holding on to (she did very strong numbers with her one headlining spot) then they'll probably wait for her case to be settled and give her a cursory 30-90 day suspension or some other slap on the wrist.
If, on the other hand, they feel that she isn't worth the scandal she's kicked up so far (including her retroactive therapeutic use exemption and a division they seem to have no interest in), then this may be their point to drop the hammer and claim that her conduct at a UFC hosted event clearly crossed a line. The UFC's history with Jon Jones, BJ Penn, Jeremy Stephens, Alex Nicholson, Thiago Silva, and even Kevin Lee would make that a very hypocritical move, but I don't think it's beyond imagination.
2. Was booking Demetrious Johnson against TJ Dillashaw the right move for both DJ as he pursues history and the flyweight division?
I think booking DJ against TJ was absolutely the right move. And one of the better things that some increasingly flexible UFC matchmaking has come up with. Dillashaw isn't just a former champion, he's a hairsbreadth off of still being champ, and the matchup is just unusual enough that for the first time in a while I don't know how a DJ fight would go. Borg is a great talent and fantastic prospect, but he's also a victim of the UFC's anti-hype machine. There's nothing quite like watching a kid fight his way up a division (including a couple losses) to make fans thoroughly unenthused about a good fighter getting a title shot.
For fighters like Borg, who aren't instant magnets to a casual fan audience, the only thing that's going to boost his stock is lots and lots of time to get himself out in front of people. Without it, right now, he's just another in a long line of very talented guys that nobody but hardcore fans have ever heard of or cared about, and even half the hardcore fans are just going to say "Flyweight MMA is boring as hell," and tune out.
The only thing that's going to bring more fans to the yard for a Demetrious Johnson fight than normal is to make his fights as unexpected as possible. Borg is a great talent and a fun fighter, but he's anything other than unexpected.
3. With the creation of another interim title belt, should fans just accept that the interim title will become commonplace in MMA?
I think they have to accept it, and maybe even... embrace it? For a lot of hardcore fans out there, the UFC's slow drift away from a more sporting matchmaking style into a more entertainment first style (which honestly hasn't been nearly as dramatic as people think) has created a bit of distance from the sport as they once knew it. Even fighters are starting to get the idea, with Luke Rockhold recently complaining that there's no clear path to getting a title shot. Whether there ever has been or not, the creation of more interim belts is actually a pretty reasonable way to provide that path.
Being interim champion is as close as any fighter can come to a UFC guarantee that this is the guy who will get the next title shot. It's a way for the promotion to goad the reigning champ into taking a tough fight, by suggesting that he no longer has claim to call himself the best, it's an easy promotional tool for the champ vs. champ narrative, and it's a great excuse to make more big fights be 5 rounds. Does it muddy once relatively clear title waters? Yes. But considering that it looks like things are getting to be kind of a mess with or without the extra belts, Interim titles may be the best solution fighters and the UFC have available.
4. Rory MacDonald said the UFC made a mistake letting him go, is he right?
Can I say "no" and not feel bad?
Kajan Johnson said on the MMA Hour recently that Rory MacDonald is making $400,000 per fight in Bellator. I love to see fighters get paid and I'm really happy for him, but he never even became a PPV headliner for the UFC. Reports for his first Bellator headlining slot against Paul Daley have him pulling 607,000 viewers, slightly down from their average and nowhere near their Ortiz vs. Sonnen high of 1.34 million. MacDonald is a very good fighter but he's never been THE GUY that fans show up for.
Part of that gets back to the Ray Borg thing and the idea of the UFC anti-hype machine. Maybe, over time and with a different promotional style, he'll be marquee talent for Bellator. But right now, as someone fans have seen a lot of against elite competition, win & lose, there's not a lot of "must-see" aura about him.
It also doesn't help that, while only 27, he's already 12 years into his career and has been dealt his first major recurring injury. There's a reasonable chance that by the time he's 30 his body could be too beat up to let him perform the way he wants to. I would love to see Rory Mac succeed and shove that success in everyone's face along the way, but fighting is not a kind sport and very few athletes have the kind of impact to make that reality happen.
5. And we can't wrap up without touching on Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather rumors. Mayweather said he would talk to his team this week, Dana White says he is talking to Mayweather's team this week. Will this fight actually happen?
[stifled screaming] If Dana White has his way, I gotta think there's no way that it happens. I think he's leaving himself every out along the way to say he did what he could and "we just couldn't negotiate with Floyd Mayweather." But, I'm not so sure White gets his way on decisions this big anymore.
It's no secret that the UFC has been reeling a bit in their search for major attractions. Their downgraded credit in 2014 laid bare the fact that they can not depend on their brand to carry the load from card to card the way it once did. Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey righted the ship briefly for them, but only in a way that reiterates the idea that the UFC needs stars and needs them badly. 2017 has started out with a string of reasonably booked cards that have done exactly squat in terms of generating last year's major fan buzz.
McGregor vs. Mayweather may not be a real answer for filling UFC coffers (Mayweather would almost certainly want a majority of any profits from the bout) but it has been a regular headline-grabber and interest generator for a promotion seeking ways to keep people invested in their brand. It seems like the kind of fight that never would have happened under the Fertitta-led era of the UFC. But today, in this market, there's a better than zero chance.
Extra Rounds With Ana Julaton
Ana Julaton is one of the most decorated boxers in the world with a record of 14-4-1 and 2 knockouts. Julaton was the first to win the Women's WBO Super Bantamweight and IBA Super Bantamweight titles.
In MMA her record is 2-2, all underneath the ONE Championship banner in Asia, and she is trying out for the next season of The Ultimate Fighter, which will crown the first-ever UFC women’s flyweight champion.
Julaton took time out to chat with Extra Rounds on Wednesday.
Five quick thoughts
1. Jose “Shorty” Torres deserves to be in the UFC after winning a second title in a second weight class at Titan FC 44. He is also a decorated amateur fighter and would be a solid addition to the flyweight division.
2. It was ridiculous of Paul Daley to confront Michael "Venom" Page outside the cage after a loss to Rory MacDonald at Bellator 179, but it did the job of creating hype for a fight and Bellator should book it, preferably in England.
3. MMA is still a sport seeking validation in the eyes of the mainstream sports world. For the most part it is there, but the sport as a whole still can't shake the skeptics with circus-style events like Team MMA booking a 12-year old fighter against a 24-year old.
4. The UFC Athletes’ Retreat was a great idea by the UFC, who is looking to innovate across the board recently, including press conferences and production. But getting a bunch of fighters in the same room who are consistently prodded to trash talk and taunt one another to drive up their value was destined to be problematic. Still, all-in-all it seemed like a good idea to meet with fighters, impart knowledge and open discussions.
5. That being said, it also created a situation where Kajan Johnson confronted Reebok executives to voice their displeasure with the apparel deal that has cost fighters hundreds of thousands of sponsorship dollars and income. The good news is the UFC reportedly took it to heart, and called a meeting with fighters to discuss their concerns.