Musical Chairs: Injury Forces Aldo Out of UFC 176; Could Rousey Take Over Main Event Duties?

Ronda Rousey & fan; photo via Pedro Gaytan

Ronda Rousey & fan; photo via Pedro Gaytan

Word late yesterday was that UFC Featherweight champ Jose Aldo was pulling out of his main event fight with Chad Mendes due to an injury sustained in training.  This puts the UFC in a bit of a bucket of syrup as it already has four events scheduled for August with two of them PPV events, UFC 176 and UFC 177.

Now, the speculation machine is running at full tilt with who can be booked on such short notice. During the media scrum on Thursday for UFC 175, Ronda Rousey spoke to a glut of reporters when Fox Sports reporter Marc Raimondi dropped this little nugget:

It wouldn’t be the first time Rousey has come to the UFC’s rescue. However this assumes two things.  One, she will beat Alexis Davis Saturday night. Two, the UFC has a potential opponent lined up.

With the odds on a Rousey win being as lopsided as they are, and with her history of finishing opponents, and for the sake of argument, assume she does win. It still leaves her without a legit opponent.  Cat Zingano, the former contender, has just started to return to training, but Dana White believes she needs a warm-up fight before she cashes in the ticket to a title fight she earned by TKOing Miesha Tate last year.  Despite White’s reluctance to allow Zingano an immediate shot considering the rough year she has had, there may be few options left.

Unless of course you look to the outliers.

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Surely you haven’t forgotten about the circus that took place when Dana White and Ronda Rousey took their two-person promotional act on the road and floated the idea of Gina Carano coming in to the UFC challenge Rousey after 5 years of being out of the sport?  That speculation of course was deaded when it was casually announced over Twitter on a Friday night (during a Bellator broadcast) that Rousey would be taking on Davis, despite weeks of teasing the media and MMA fans that Gina Carano was UFC-bound.

With Rousey going on record that she would gladly step in and fight on a month’s notice, a showdown with Carano might be exactly the kind of silver-lining the UFC needs to save the August 2nd card, even if the fight itself makes absolutely zero sense from a competitive aspect. Unfortunately for the UFC, just because Rousey is willing and ready to fight at a moment’s notice doesn’t mean Carano is ready.  In fact, according to Bloody Elbow, negotiations between Carano and the UFC have come to an impasse.  However, if Carano’s management team isn’t using Aldo’s injury as an opportunity to get what they want from the UFC, she needs better representation.

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Consider then the other outlier opponent in Holly Holm. If the rumored negotiations between Holm and the UFC are going as swimmingly as Dana White would like for everyone to believe, Rousey could have a legit threat on her hands, or a very real challenge at the very least.  Holm, who last fought in April and suffered a broken arm, may not even be ready for primetime let alone a PPV, but she remains an intriguing out for Rousey.  Holm is an accomplished stand-up fighter who would likely give Rousey fits on the feet.  However, even if her contract negotiations are progressing positively, it remains unknown whether or not her arm is healed enough for her to begin training.

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Then, there is Cyborg, but I have a feeling that Rousey might want to take more than a month to prep for Cristiane Santos. Also Santos would need to drop to 135, and I doubt she has been working to that lately.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility to see Rousey headlining the August 2nd card. Who is standing across from her in the cage remains to be seen, but I’m willing to bet if the tumblers fall into place, Cat Zingano will finally get her chance at the title.

Then again, if Eddie Alvarez can get out of his Bellator deal now that Bjorn Rebney is out, where there is smoke, there could be fire.

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Game of Thrones – Bjorn Rebney Out As Bellator CEO

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The scuttlebutt around the MMA landscape for the last few months was that Viacom was unhappy with Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney.  Today, it becomes official.  Rebney is out as CEO of Bellator.  Rebney, Bellator’s founder and CEO, helped to make the Bellator the number 2 MMA promotion in the states in a deal with Viacom in 2011, but after a tumultuous three year period under his watch, he is out.

In a press release, Rebney said:

“This has been a wonderful eight plus years of creation, development and success. I will miss the courageous, strong and dedicated fighters I have had the pleasure of promoting, and equally, I will miss the incredibly hard working, remarkable team that has become a family for me over the years. Viacom and Tim and I differed in our views of the right strategic direction for Bellator, but Tim and I both wish them well.”

Don’t expect anything other than this kind of PR boilerplate language.  Viacom is likely sending Rebney on his way with a plum severance deal, which in addition to having a non-compete clause likely contains language that prevents him from lambasting the company on the way out.  At least, don’t expect him to get vocal until the terms of that deal have expired.   After all, Rebney isn’t shy about the airing of grievances.

Bellator certainly isn’t underperforming, but it also isn’t firing on all cylinders either.  And nothing gets corporations nervy like a plateauing product.  So what or who could be to blame?  Rebney’s public comments about former welterweight champion Ben Askren, his feud and litigious conflict with lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez, and his perceived bias toward Rampage Jackson did him few favors in the court of public perception. Further, he did himself no favors from the fans and fighters alike by altering the tournament “win to get in” format and allowing Pat Curran to avoid the tournament route and challenge Daniel Straus for the featherweight title instead of tournament winner Patricio Pitbull Freire.  It may have been a culmination of these things.  It could have been that the heir apparent Scott Coker was finally available after riding out his own Zuffa-imposed non-compete clause.  It’s all speculative.  And since I’m no journalist, let’s continue to speculate.

Every time an MMA promotion tried to take the UFC on directly, it folded because it couldn’t keep up pace.  Or Zuffa simply bought them out.  The Zuffa mountain is a tough one to scale.  Bellator distinguished itself from the UFC brand with its tournament approach to title fights and a crop of blue chip MMA prospects like Ben Askren, Eddie Alvarez, Daniel Straus, Joe Warren, the brothers Pitbull, and Michael Chandler. They were even able to hang their hats on some quality matches including the first two Alvarez/Chandler matches.  The company was carving out a niche and finding an audience.

Two things continued to hamstring Bellator though. The first was the injury bug.  The injury bug forced them to scrap their first foray into PPV, which featured a main event of former UFC champions Tito Ortiz and Rampage Jackson.  From a tactical standpoint, having two known names headline the company’s first PPV may have seemed like a no-brainer, but from a strategic standpoint, how you could throw all of your marketing budget behind a man notorious for injuries is baffling. Sure enough, when Tito pulled out, the PPV had to be postponed.   When Alvarez/Chandler III was booked for the second swing at a first PPV event, an injured Eddie Alvarez almost caused a second delay as well.  Ultimately, the inaugural Bellator PPV went down as a success, but not before it showed some significant cracks behind the scenes, and the majority of those fissures sprung from promoter Bjorn Rebney. In fact, King Mo Lawal, clearly unhappy with the way Rebney promoted the main event for the PPV, vented as much during the actual PPV broadcast when he called Rebney a “d*ck rider” for Lawal’s perceived bias that Rebney had toward Rampage Jackson.

In short, Rebeny couldn’t get out of the way.  Much in the way other MMA promotions tried to go head-to-head with Zuffa with aping the company’s efforts, Rebney did his best at every turn to emulate the most well-known MMA promoter on the planet, Dana White, right down to the blustering bravado and bald head.

Rebney would deride his champions, as he did with Bellator’s unstoppable welterweight champion Ben Askren, offering a backhanded compliment regarding Askren’s style of fighting and his release from Bellator when he said, “I’ve said it many times, Ben’s a completely one-dimensional fighter who is utterly dominant in that dimension… he presents a weird conundrum from the MMA promoter’s perspective.  I hope he makes a fortune wrestling people to death.”

Rebney would also constantly reference the UFC in an attempt to deride Zuffa’s efforts, as he did when Dana White and the UFC responded to Georges St-Pierre’s sabbatical from the cage. Rebney just had to chime in saying, “The UFC has set the bar pretty high in terms of tasteless comments. The recent comments on Georges St-Pierre are some of the most tasteless comments they’ve made in some time.”

And much like the man he desperately tried to imitate, Rebney would trip over his own hypocrisy.  As recently as May of 2014, Rebney went on record with MMA Junkie saying, “I used to watch the UFC years ago, and I used to buy pay-per-views when they were significant and every pay-per-view had big fights on it, but that’s not the case anymore…  They do one every three weeks, and some of them, I’m like, ‘I wouldn’t watch that if it was on (FOX Sports 1).’” Of course that stands in contrast to when in April of 2014, Rebney was quick to vocalize his displeasure at the UFC’s marketing of Ronda Rousey as the biggest star in MMA. “…to characterize [Rousey] as the biggest star is a bit disingenuous. I think there are a lot of huge stars in MMA.”  Could it be that in the end, Rebney was answering more questions about the UFC than he was his own product?  Was he was talking more about the competition than he was his own stable of fighters?

I don’t know Bjorn Rebney from a ham sandwich, and from the outpouring of goodwill and tidings of comfort and joy tweeted by the fighters in Bellator, he seems to have done right by many of them, which is what makes the news of his ousting challenging (though rumor of a Scott Coker takeover comes as a most welcome salve given Coker’s reputation and history with MMA) for Bellator’s future.

In the end, perhaps Rebney should have taken his own advice; advice he issued in an interview to mmafighting.com in February of this year. Said Rebney at the time, “The fighters are the ones fueling pay-per-view buys or fueling cable television ratings. You’re not fueling ratings by promoting Bjorn or Bellator. Promoting the fighters should be first and foremost.”

And that is how Bjorn Rebney should be judged.  Did any of his bombast of rival promotions or needling of fighters in the public result in a wider public knowledge of the names Ben Askren, Eddie Alvarez, Daniel Straus, Joe Warren, the brothers Pitbull, and Michael Chandler? If so, then, he should ride off into the sunset with the knowledge that he left the company better than when he found it. If not, I’m uncertain whether it will keep him up at night, but he’ll, at the very least, be left shaking his head.

WAR OF THE WORDS: BEST MMA QUOTES – DAY 6

“I spent the night at the bar; he spent the night at the hospital.”—BJ Penn

BJ Penn

MMA legend BJ Penn; photo via Adam S

Back in 2006 before “superfight” was a buzzword, BJ Penn was in the middle of carving out his fighting legacy as a pioneer and legend of the sport, and Georges St-Pierre was still in the infancy of his legacy. At the time, Penn was the first fighter in the UFC to have won two different belts in two different weight divisions—lightweight and welterweight. He was considered one of the pound-for-pound best, given his proclivity for taking on any opponent at any weight class. GSP was still working his way up, but fans knew there was something special about him, and the thought of GSP and BJ Penn fighting each other had most fight fans eager with antici… pation.

At UFC 58, Penn and GSP were set to face off in a number one-contender matchup, with the winner receiving the opportunity to face off against then welterweight champion Matt Hughes. Penn had already beaten Hughes once as a lightweight moving up a weight class and taking the title from Hughes.  The three-round welterweight fight saw GSP apply what would become his signature style—keeping opponents at the end of his jab and kicks, racking up points with takedowns and ground attacks, and clinching against the cage to tire his opponents. Penn, however, was able to counter and do some damage on the inside and, early on, broke GSP’s face, bloodying up his nose, and swelling his eye.

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Despite the obvious damage, GSP did enough to control the fight’s pace, control the location of the fight, and control BJ and was awarded the split decision.  Later, Penn, who was disappointed with the judges’ verdict, alluded to the fact that the damage he had done to GSP’s face was more than enough to earn him the win. Penn was quoted as saying, “I spent the night at the bar; he spent the night at the hospital.”

It’s a common misconception among MMA fans (and quite a few fighters and MMA writers) that somehow physical damage counts or is evidence of a win.  It’s not hard to see why that perception exists. The physical proof is hard to argue against. It’s hard to look at a fighter that appears as if he/she has come out of a wood chipper, let a lone imagine he/she was the victor in a fight.  The natural assumption is that the opponent who inflicted said damage (especially if the opponent appears unscathed) must have won.  If you were to look at both Penn and GSP after their fight, you’d think that the damage would speak to the real winner.  You’d also be dead wrong. Damage is not a criterion by which a fight is judged in the UFC.  When BJ Penn let his feelings about the damage he inflicted on GSP known, it inadvertently helped to perpetuate the assumption that somehow damage counts.

While this was the thought in 2006—that damage wins fights—things haven’t really changed over the last eight years. Recently, welterweight champion Johny Hendricks used damage as a measuring stick to argue that he deserved a win over—you guessed it—Georges St-Pierre. At UFC 167, Hendricks battered GSP and turned his face into a broken and bumpy mess, yet GSP did enough in the judges eyes to squeak out a controversial decision win.

GSP at the UFC 167 post-fight presser.

In a post-fight interview with UFC.com’s Megan Olivi, Hendricks was adamant that the damage he inflicted on GSP, and the fact that he himself had nary a scratch, was proof enough he won the fight. “Do I look like I got into a fight?” Hendricks said. It also didn’t help matters that the UFC’s president also used damage as the benchmark for what he believed was a Hendricks win. “It’s about damage; this is a fight; it’s whoever inflicts the most damage,” said Dana White in the UFC 167 post-fight press conference, demonstrating his own lack of knowledge about the sport he promotes.

Of course damage cuts both ways, and at UFC 171 when Hendricks fought Robbie Lawler in another controversial win, this time for the vacant welterweight championship, Hendricks came out of the fight doing his own GSP-damaged impression.

Hendricks at the UFC 171 post-fight presser; photo via Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

That night, the cries of damage as a standard for winning were being hurled back at Hendricks, who looked every bit the part of a man who had been molly-wopped (even if he wasn’t feeling that way), by the same fans who believed the damage he wreaked against GSP should have been used against him. The worm had turned.  Even GSP, talking to Arel Helwani on the MMA Hour, weighed in with his own thoughts about damage as it related to the Hendricks and Lawler fight:

I believe Lawler, the rounds that he won, it was more decisively, and he did more damage on the face, but sometimes that doesn’t mean anything. Lawler had a lot of damage too, but you couldn’t see the damage on the legs. Damage on the face sometimes is superficial, so that’s one of the reasons I think Hendricks won the fight. 

In 2006, BJ vocalized what many fight fans (and some fighters) still believe—damage counts or at least, it should count. It’s not surprising this rallying cry came from BJ Penn considering the amount of damage he inflicted on his opponents through the years (hello Diego Sanchez and Joe Stevenson); however, it simply doesn’t matter insofar as the judging of a fight goes. Damage can be an ugly thing in the cage, but like all blemishes, it’s subjective.  Some fighters simply wear damage better than others.

War of the Words: Best MMA Quotes – Day 1

“Even if I thought I could get a submission I’m not lying underneath a grown man with my legs spread on worldwide TV. Some guys subscribe to that theory but I am a Republican and we don’t do that.”

—Chael Sonnen

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Chael Sonnen is a quote machine.   Should you ask him a question, you had better be prepared for his response. And Sonnen is never off the record.

To pull any quote from the American Gangster is to be entertained and educated.  Whether he’s calling out Anderson Silva’s wife to cook him a steak or whether it’s calling out the country of Brazil for “playing in the mud,” Sonnen’s incendiary comments dig and dig and dig until his opponents and fans are swallowed in a sinkhole.  And just when you think you can ignore him and his comments as bloviations, he does something like choking out MMA legend Shogun Rua in a weight class one step above his normal division.  He makes his comments tangible or he owns up to them.

To short change Sonnen by looking into his encyclopedia of quotes and pull just one seems like a disservice.  However, among everything that he’s said in his tenure as a competitor in the sport, one of the most revealing and rewarding quotes is when he said, “Even if I thought I could get a submission I’m not lying underneath a grown man with my legs spread on worldwide TV. Some guys subscribe to that theory but I am a Republican and we don’t do that.” However, even Sonnen won’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

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Whether or not the man in the pictured above is in fact Chael Sonnen and not Tony Clifton or Bigfoot, it’s still a win over Shogun Rua on Sonnen’s ledger. Chalk another one up for the bad guy.

Nothing encapsulates Sonnen’s bluster, hypocrisy, and moxie, as well as the above-mentioned quote.  It rings of something that promoter Dana White would say, so nothing would surprise me less once Sonnen hangs up his gloves if he were to take the reigns of UFC promoter from Dana White once White is ready to ride off into the sunset.

Something Rank in the UFC’s Rankings

The piece below is a fantastic commentary by the mighty Ben Fowlkes on the ridiculousness of the UFC’s ranking system. The outcry from those media members who decided to cast votes seems a little like sour grapes, though. The UFC will do what it needs to in order to keep its company in business. Using the media is part of that. Sure that little bit of fighter access and “exclusives” sounds tasty when they are offered, but if you give a mouse a cookie, its going to want a glass of milk. Hopefully, every media member who decided to lie in bed with the UFC and contribute to this potemkin village of a rankings system feels a little dirtier today. After all, this is the same promotion that was willing to allow Gina Carao a chance to face its women’s bantamweight champion despite her 5 years of inactivity. That’s how much it cared about the media’s opinion and its own rankings. As for the move itself by the UFC, Fowlkes said it best, it seems petty. But petty is what the UFC does best regarding the media (ask Josh Gross and Loretta Hunt) and its fighters (ask GSP and Jon Jones). Hell, the UFC does petty regarding fighters not under the Zuffa umbrella, too. just as Cris Cyborg Justino. You know the mantra.  Second verse, same as the first, “Business as usual.”

MMAjunkie

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As of Monday afternoon, [autotag]Nate Diaz[/autotag] was listed as the UFC’s fifth-ranked lightweight. On Tuesday he was nowhere to be found in the top 15.

Gone. Vanished. Was there a Monday night event I didn’t know about? Maybe one where Diaz got quietly trounced by some no-name opponent who knocked him off the UFC’s official rankings altogether?

No, nothing like that. Instead Diaz, like fellow lightweight [autotag]T.J. Grant[/autotag], who’s been out nearly a year with symptoms apparently related to a concussion suffered in training, was “removed due to inactivity,” according to a UFC official who explained the rankings reshuffle in an email to MMAjunkie on Tuesday. The cause of that inactivity, according to the same UFC official, is “related to [Diaz’s] refusal to accept bouts.”

“There is no timetable for if and when he returns. Thus, he’s been removed from the rankings.”

This seems troubling, and I write that as…

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