Emptying out the MMA mailbag

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It all began back in February with a battle of up-and-coming light heavyweights, one unbeaten and the other having beat down all who'd stepped into the cage with him but nonetheless with a bogus "L" on his resume. Jon Jones handed Ryan Bader his first loss in another dominant display that night, and immediately afterward was informed that he, not his training partner (who'd been scheduled for a title bout but was newly injured), would next fight for the UFC championship.

Five weeks later, Jones warmed up on the morning of his title bout by subduing a robber on the New Jersey streets, then had enough left to annihilate Shogun Rua and capture the belt. Immediately after the bout this time, he stood face to face in the cage with that teammate who'd originally been slated to fight Rua. Jones and Rashad Evans looked pretty uncomfortable as they made it official that teammates who'd previously sworn they'd never fight each other would soon fight each other.

Then Jones pulled out of the bout to have surgery on his hand. Rather than wait, as he had done when Rua had the belt but was healing from injury, Evans signed to fight Phil Davis. Then Jones decided not to have surgery after all.

With Evans no longer available, the champ signed to defend his title against Rampage Jackson, who just happens to be the guy Evans beat in his last fight. Is that a slap in the face of Suga Rashad, or what? Jackson had somehow earned this shot by beating Matt Hamill.

Hamill was far from a contender. Sure, he's the only fighter whose record shows a victory over Jones, but it came courtesy of a questionable disqualification declared while Bones was beating the crap out of him. Since that "win," Hamill had defeated Keith Jardine, who's no longer in the UFC, and 36-year-old Tito Ortiz, who hadn't won a fight in five years. Some resume.

Speaking of Ortiz, he appeared to be having the exit door held for him. After Hamill, he was matched against that previously unbeaten contender, Bader. It was as close to a warmup fight as the UFC ever sets up, an opportunity for Bader to settle himself down after the Jones fiasco and at the same time shove Tito into retirement. How convenient. Except Ortiz didn't turn out to be the retiring type. He dropped Bader with a right hand and clamped on a guillotine to win in the first round. No longer is Ken Shamrock the last man Tito has beat.

Instead of being out of the picture, Ortiz is in the title picture.

After Davis dropped out of the Evans bout, Ortiz now is Rashad's opponent in the main event of UFC 133 three weeks from now in Philadelphia. No promises have been made, but Rashad was the No. 1 contender before this mess got started. What would Tito earn with a win? Good question.

Around and around we go. Where the game of musical chairs stops, nobody knows. I'm thinking maybe that robber from the streets if Jersey will be the one who ends up with the title shot.

But what do I know? That's a question often asked, it turns out ...

I think you're dead wrong about the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix being uninspiring and anticlimactic. I thought the June 18 card was riveting. Josh Barnett was masterful over an overmatched Brett Rogers: He stretched him out and took away Rogers' gas tank, just as planned. And Alistair Overeem wasn't going to go to the ground with Fabricio Werdum. While some may think it was a boring fight, it was smart strategy. MMA is not cockfighting, not all fireworks all the time. It's a chess match. If you've ever trained in MMA, you'd know that.--Matt, Boston

I appreciate a display of martial artistry as much as the next guy, but c'mon, Matt, chess match, schmess match, that Strikeforce fight card was nowhere nearly as riveting as Fischer vs. Spassky. (Oh, the fireworks that ensued when Bobby's creativity countered the Benoni Defense.) But it wasn't simply that the heavyweight tournament bouts were unwatchable mismatches. The mere fact that one set of quarterfinal fights took place in February and the others didn't occur until four months had passed made the whole event seem laughable.

No less laughable is the image of me rolling in an MMA dojo. I mean, I know it would do my mind, body and spirit good, but I have trouble staying disciplined enough to get in bike rides on a consistent basis. That, however, does not disqualify me from opining on MMA fighting. I've been around sports media for 30 years, and I've yet to meet a baseball writer who could hit a curveball or a basketball scribe who could hit more than an occasional lucky 3-pointer.

Rick Story did not slip down a few rungs on the welterweight ladder, as you said in the aftermath of his loss to Charlie Brenneman. Ask Dana White. This was a win-win for Story, who took the fight short notice and put up a good fight. Brenneman looked great and fought an inspired fight. There were no losers here.--John, Corpus Christi, Texas

True, White did heap much praise upon Story in the post-fight press conference. But while the boss still loves him, the guy did lose some mystique. There's a big difference between a fighter who's mowing everybody down and a fighter who's just lost. Opponents suddenly are emboldened. Doubts creep into the fighter's own psyche. Story might still make it to the top of the heap, but now he has a little extra climbing to do.

So you won't have Rampage in your rankings for being rude to women, but will have a steroid-using convicted felon without even a license at this point? Seems a bit odd. Maybe you hate black people.--Paul, Newburgh, N.Y.

OK, Paul, you're kidding, right? That's your stab at sarcasm, I assume, especially the part about race. Because you do realize, I hope, that in the very rankings that left out Jackson, two of the three ranked light heavyweights -- Jones and Evans -- are African-Americans. So maybe what you really were asking me was this: Do you disapprove of men -- black, white, Hispanic, Asian, you name it -- mistreating women in an unprofessional, discourteous, even misogynistic manner? If that was your question, Paul, then my answer is yes.

But as I pointed out in the July rankings column, I tried to set aside Jackson's behavior and judge him simply as a fighter. That assessment of mine is what ultimately landed him outside the SI.com top three in his weight class. And similarly, despite all of the turmoil surrounding convicted felon Chael Sonnen, he remains No. 2 at middleweight because he's a damn good fighter. And now that his suspension is over and he's slated to fight Brian Stann this fall, we'll see just how good.

A lot of diehard boxing fans probably did not like your opinion about how the UFC card headlined by Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber earlier this month overshadowed the same day's heavyweight championship boxing match. They are in denial that their sport is dying. I've been burned by overhyped boxing matches time and again, but I rarely go away from an MMA card unfulfilled.--Mike, Nashville

I'm with you on the comparative value of MMA events, with their deep and robust undercards. While some recent boxing cards have featured appealing second-fiddle fights, for the most part it's all about the main event in that sport. And Wladimir Klitschko vs. David Haye was only the latest dud that didn't live up to its hype. But hype is part of the game. That's what sells tickets and pay-per-views. And selling tickets and PPVs are what pay fighters. So I have nothing against hype.

I have nothing against boxing, either. If the sport is dying, it's maybe in the latter years of middle age and it goes to the gym consistently. Boxing will be here for a long time.

There's a Dream card coming up. Does anyone care?--Bo, Austin, Texas


I should probably stop right there, but let me amplify: As the UFC's parent company continues to buy up the rights to every fight in the world -- from Pride to the WEC to Strikeforce to seventh graders going at it behind the town library to last call for alcohol and testosterone at some seedy watering hole -- the non-UFC world of MMA is atrophying. When Zuffa rests, as is the case at the moment, with the next event not for another couple of weeks, so does the sport itself.

As for Dream, well, I must admit that I had to look up the card to learn its date (this Saturday in Tokyo) and fight card (Gegard Mousasi fights in the main event). Even after doing the research, I'm not canceling my weekend evening plans.