Zuffa's purchase of Strikeforce, late subject of much consternation and confusion, was a surprise only in its timing. Given long term trends in the fight game, a buyout was always inevitable. Whether it will turn in the end to be a good thing, I have no more idea than anyone else does.
There are clear reasons to think it will be. Most obviously, it offers the potential for some great fights that we might not otherwise have seen, such as Gilbert Melendez vs. Frankie Edgar, or Phil Davis vs. Muhammad Lawal, or Mark Hunt vs. Chad Griggs. Somewhat less obviously, it offers the promise of help and fresh perspectives for UFC's overworked matchmakers, Joe Silva and Sean Shelby.
Mainly, it marks the point where UFC stops competing with fight promotions and starts competing with the real players in sports. Mixed-martial-arts fans tend to have comically low expectations, thinking that their sport has gone mainstream when Georges St-Pierre scores an underwear ad, or when Anthony Pettis makes an ESPN highlight reel. They forget, or don't know, that the Chicago Cubs' fifth starter makes more money and is more famous than GSP, and junior high school girl's volleyball players make ESPN highlight reels, too.
I have high expectations. I don't think fighting will ever be as popular as the NBA, but I see no real reason why there shouldn't be fighters as famous as LeBron James and Kobe Bryant at some point. Clear of serious rivals, UFC can now focus on making that happen.
Throat clearing aside, I rolled my eyes when I heard the news Saturday, in a way I hadn't since I saw the arrow shaved into Brian Ebersole's chest hair at UFC 127. This isn't an obviously bad move, but it's a dubious one, with implications even broader than it seems. The following, in no particular order, are reasons why.
Of course a lot of this is speculative, and if I were laying a lot of money on it I'd say this will in the end turn out swimmingly for everyone save the fighters, who if they aren't going to unionize or employ their leverage honestly deserve what they get. But there are sound reasons to be skeptical.
Understandably, a lot of fight fans are wondering why it is that the press has seemingly forgotten that Jon Jones is by a fair amount the second most accomplished in Saturday's title fight. Most of this is just about the mechanics of how the press covers things: Jones is a fresh, exciting face with a certain intangible quality that equally good fighters like Cain Velasquez just don't have. Of course he's going to get a lot of hype.
Another part of it, though, is that he really is the favorite by a lot, and should be.
Jones has obviously never faced anyone of Mauricio Rua's caliber before, but he's a nightmare matchup for Shogun. A swarming striking attack that relies on getting within a certain range is a dubious bet against a man with a reach of 84½ inches, and if Jones has never faced a striker like Rua, it's hardly as if Rua has chewed up lots of wrestlers like Jones. Add in that Rua hasn't fought in nearly a year and that he has the worst knees this side Vlad Guerrero and there's a reason, beyond sheer hype, that the money is coming in on Jones.
Past even that, though, let's not kid ourselves about Rua, who is himself the product of more than a bit of hype. The Pride Middleweight Grand Prix was a long time ago, and you can make a case that the man's title win over Lyoto Machida last year was his only quality win in the last five and a half years:
• However you and I may have felt about his first fight against Lyoto Machida, he lost it.
• His two fights before that were against Chuck Liddell and Mark Coleman, both of whom were, to put it gently, past their primes.
• Before he fought those two, he took on Forrest Griffin in a bout that was, if we're being honest, set up to showcase Rua, unknown to the American audience, against a famous and overmatched opponent. He lost.
• His final fight in Pride was against Alistair Overeem, who'd lost three of his previous four fights going in. Before that it was Kazuhiro Nakamura, not a top flight opponent. Before that it was Kevin Randleman, loser at the time of four of five. And before that it was Cyrille Diabaté, not a candidate for MMA's Rushmore. Prior to that fight, of course, was 2005, the year in which Rua went on a murder spree that might well be the best year any fighter has ever had.
Rua is an awesome challenge for Jones, and I'm not going to be a bit surprised if he knocks him out or even if he tangles up one of those long legs in a kneebar. If Rua is being treated as something less than a world beater, though, that's because it's been quite a while since he was proved he was one.