June 15, 2012

"If Carlos Condit is just going to wait for Georges St-Pierre, who won't be ready to fight until November, why even have an interim champion?"

This was the beginning of an e-mail sent to me by a reader, Mike from Chino Hills, Calif. And while it seemed to be a rhetorical question rather than one I was expected to answer, it got me to thinking. Which is always dangerous.

My initial inclination was to simply agree with Mike, who went on to say the UFC should force Condit to put his interim welterweight belt on the line against Johny Hendricks or Martin Kampmann. Yes, yes, I thought. That's what needs to happen.

But as I pondered the matter some more, I realized that my discontent runs deeper. Sure, I want to see Condit fight Hendricks or Kampmann or Rory MacDonald or, at some point, GSP, but I want that because I enjoy big fights, not because Carlos would be putting on the line some championship that isn't really a championship. So I've decided to strip away the first part of Mike's question and boil it down to what I see as its essence: Why even have an interim champion?

An interim championship is meaningless. What constitutes an interim, anyway? Isn't every championship interim, in the sense that it's yours for the interim between when you win the belt and when someone else takes it away?

I understand that the UFC utilizes the concept of an interim belt as a marketing tool. With St-Pierre having been on the shelf for 13 months and counting, the fight organization was down to only six fighters it could sell as champions. Then Condit takes a decision from Nick Diaz and -- voila! -- the UFC magically has another belt holder. But does putting Condit's picture on a fight poster, a leather strap with a shiny brass UFC logo slung over his shoulder, fool anyone onto buying a cageside ticket or pay-per-view? Yeah, I was going to pass on this event until I saw that championship belt. Now I'm in!

You're either a champion or you're not. Imagine if your wife twisted her ankle and couldn't join you for that week in the Caribbean you've been planning. Do you take an "interim wife"? (Dream on.) There's only one champ. No one looks at Carlos Condit and thinks "champion" -- maybe "future champion," but until he steps in with Georges St-Pierre and has his hand raised, that belt he wears is worthless.

Unless Carlos' pants are too loose in the waist.

Hey Mike in Chino Hills, you had no idea what you were stirring up, did you? Let's see what other readers have to say:

Can't see anyone handling Junior dos Santos. Daniel Cormier would be a fun fight, but how many of those massive shots could he withstand before he crumbled?--Herb, Sunapee, N.H.

Invincibility seems so definitive, Herb, until it isn't. I remember a time when a lot of us who watch MMA thought Chuck Liddell was unbeatable. B.J. Penn. Matt Hughes. Royce Gracie. Dos Santos might hold onto his heavyweight belt for a long time, but history suggests otherwise. One more successful defense, in fact, and he'll have as many as any heavyweight in UFC history. Junior will lose someday, and so will Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, GSP and everyone else we view as unconquerable.

As for Cormier specifically as a challenger, if anyone is capable of doing what has not yet been done -- putting dos Santos on his back -- this two-time Olympic wrestler would seem most qualified. I'd enjoy watching him try.

I read recently that Cormier suggested Shane Carwin as a possible opponent for his final Strikeforce fight. If he could get past Carwin, the case could be made for giving Daniel a shot at the UFC champ. And wouldn't it be interesting if it was Cain Velasquez who was wearing the strap at the time?--Patrick, Rahway, N.J.

You're a troublemaker, Patrick, trying to pit American Kickboxing Academy teammates against each other. The thing is, I wouldn't be surprised if it comes to that. In the Velasquez-Dos Santos and Cormier-Carwin daily double, I'd put my two dollars on the AKA guys. And then? A pair of training partners would have to make a decision about what's most important to them.

Speaking of Cain ...

Do you think the referee should have stopped the Velazquez vs. Antonio Silva fight sooner? I mean, yikes! What a bloodbath! I thought they would stop it. But I will admit that I never looked away.--Kevin, Atlanta

Good thing the Cain-Bigfoot fight wasn't on Fox. That might have been the bloodiest fight I've ever seen. I don't know if network TV is ready for that type of display. I really think the UFC is better served on pay-per-view. No one should be surfing network TV and accidentally come upon that type of bloodbath. Zuffa and Fox should think very hard about the potential consequences and whether it's truly beneficial for their sport. I choose to watch, but I would absolutely hate for my young nieces to stumble across that while they were panning channels looking for Shrek.--Vincent, Dallas

Kevin: The referee did what he was supposed to do. When it appeared that the facial cut might be inhibiting Silva's vision, he halted the bout and called on the cageside doctor. And the doc, after what seemed to be at best a perfunctory exam, gave his OK for the fight to continue. If anyone did not fully do his job, it was the M.D., not the ref. Even my untrained eyes -- not a minute spent in med school -- were capable of seeing that "Bigfoot" could not use his.

Vincent: Young kids aren't usually up when a UFC event is on, although I think I might have seen Shrek at cageside a time or two. Or was that Brock? Anyway, children's interests aside, there are plenty of squeamish grown-ups out there, so I get your point. The UFC professes to not be concerned about this, but I don't believe that. With fights potentially being seen not just by the diehards who plunk down $55 but by anyone with a clicker and basic cable, all it takes is one center-of-the-octagon crime scene to unfold. Then, out of the woodwork, come people like this:

Giving UFC any credibility at all is akin to suggesting that what the gladiators did back in Roman times was just a good spectator sport. UFC is barbaric, and the only sport there is within it is merely to entertain the bloodthirsty among us. Only those sick in the head could actually accept this Neanderthal activity as a "sport."--Geoff, Dallas

I assume, Geoff, that you don't care for that sport played in your town by a team wearing starred silver helmets, either. Who but the most bloodthirsty among us would follow the concussion ward known as the NFL, where bounties are being placed on players' heads? The head injury bugaboo would also mean hockey is out as well, right? No basketball, either, unless you're OK with seeing a guy brutally knocked into the third row when he drives to the hoop in the playoffs. And forget baseball, where they throw hardballs at each other. No NASCAR. No boxing. No ...

Look, MMA can be brutal. It also can be a dazzling display of skill and technique. It can be poetic in its flow of movement, inspiring in its resiliency and drama. But clearly all you're capable of seeing, Geoff, is the first part. So why waste your time watching "this Neanderthal activity" or writing to complain about it?

Now, some who aren't MMA fans are at least capable of making a coherent argument about the sport's limitations. Such as this reader, who took exception to the analogy I used to make a case for Dos Santos being the baddest man on the planet. I had said I'd like Junior's chances if he and Cain Velasquez were walking in a dark alley and had an unpleasant encounter with heavyweight boxing champs Wladimir and Vitali Klitschko.

I'll take the Klitschko brothers. Cain couldn't even take one flush punch from the best boxer in the UFC heavyweight division. Dos Santos wouldn't have an answer for the reach and hand speed of Wladimir. If the boxing brothers took a couple of months to learn takedown defense, they would rule MMA like they do the WBC, WBA and IBF.--David, Denver

A couple of months to learn takedown defense? Ask James Toney how that worked out for him. It kept the three-time world champion boxer on his feet for all of 18 seconds against Randy Couture a couple of summers ago. After that "Lights Out" was defenseless, as the only thing his boxing training had taught him to do if he ended up on his back was to get up before the count of 10. But there was no getting up while blanketed by an elite wrestler. And that's the way I believe it would go down for Wladimir or Vitali ... unless, of course, Dos Santos decided to test his boxing skills. That'd be a losing strategy for a guy with so many other tools in his toolbox.

Great interview with Dana White. Interesting to hear his take on The Ultimate Fighter. I tape it, then speed through to get to the fights. I like the live aspect as well.--Scott, Indianapolis

Watching a reality show, you inevitably find yourself getting pissed off at one of the jackasses cashing in on their 15 minutes. TUF is the only show that ends with those people getting their asses beat (e.g. Josh Koscheck, Alex Caceres, etc.) That is a major part of its popularity.--Jared, Chesapeake, Va.

Scott: I preferred the live format as much as you and Dana. Alas, the show is returning to tape in the fall. What does FX know that we don't?

Jared: Interesting selling point. But I'd prefer to just watch the fighters compete for the "six-figure UFC contract" and leave the vengeful stuff to "Mayhem" Miller and his MTV show, Bully Beatdown.

Lastly, it would not be an MMA mailbag if we didn't include some discussion of -- that is, complaint over -- the monthly fighter rankings:

Who in the world is in charge of these rankings? You're in the minority. Jon Jones isn't No. 1 or 2. Anderson Silva is still No. 1. It's a fact, and the majority of the MMA community knows it. Georges St-Pierre is still No. 2, despite not fighting in a while. And Junior dos Santos is clearly No. 3. If anybody is going to knock Anderson and GSP out of the Nos. 1 and 2 spots, it's the heavyweight kingpin. Jon Jones is good, but his techniques still aren't polished enough to rank him anywhere near guys who have perfect technique and have been dominating for years. Your list is just wrong, flat-out wrong. Period.--Bobby, Mars

My list isn't wrong, Bobby. It accurately conveys one man's opinion about the sport's pecking order, which is all the list claims to do. You're the one who's wrong. Not in your contrary opinion that Silva is No. 1 -- you're entitled to that opinion, which many share -- but in stating that "It's a fact." Even on your planet, opinions are not facts.

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