UFC MIA: Where Are They, Now?

In the news cycle and marketing cycle of the UFC juggernaut, a lot of fighters get lost in the shuffle.  With so many events, one card seems to dovetail into another with very little time left for reflection on where the competitors stand.  Make no mistake. This isn’t a commentary on fighters who are past their prime, fighters who are retired, or fighters who have fallen away from the sport. This is a legitimate question about fighters on the UFC’s active roster who seem to have fallen off the UFC’s radar in the announcements of upcoming events.  All of these fighters bring tremendous value to the promotion, so to see their faces on the backs of milk cartons seems more than just insulting. It seems troubling.

Recharging the Stun Gun

After Ronda Rousey’s domination of Sara McMann in late February of 2014, the immediate talk in the aftermath was who could challenge Rosuey for the title.  This brought along weeks of Cyborg Justino talk (which still continues) and briefly, talks of Gina Carano. However, there was little time to reflect on a next opponent under the Zuffa umbrella and Rousey’s legacy before she was off to shoot a movie, and the UFC circus was off to Macau for the Ultimate Fighter finale on March 1st. In the main event of that card, Dong Hyun Kim floored John Hathaway with a vicious spinning elbow KO. The sound Kim’s elbow made as if connected to Hathaway was so audible, it left many in the live crowd stunned.  It was a vicious performance with such a defining finish, it created immediate talk of The Stun Gun’s place at the 170-pound division and whether or not he deserved a shot at the title. However, before fans could argue over Kim’s place in the welterweight picture, it was time to promote Fight Night: Gustafsson/Manuwa, and the narrative changed to the light heavyweight division. Once that card concluded, the UFC headed to Dallas, Texas for UFC 171 (where a new welterweight champ would be crowned on a welterweight-heavy card).

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It took 3 weeks from Kim’s KO-of-the-year candidacy for him to go MIA.  His is an example of a performance that makes for great “best of” shows, but the UFC can’t seem to build on it.  As of May 1st 2014, the UFC hasn’t uttered a peep about Dong Hyun Kim’s next opponent or his next fight.  Apparently, fans aren’t the only people who have forgotten about Dong Hyun Kim as the UFC has yet to discuss when he will make his next appearance.  To rub salt in the wound, fellow welterweights with varied performances in Tyron Woodley, Robbie Lawler, and Rory McDonald all have new fights lined up for the summer despite fighting between late February and March of 2014.  The Stun Gun remains opponent-less.

Lauzon, Gone?

Remember that one fight where Joe Lauzon and Jim Miller went toe-to-toe and literally left it all in the cage at UFC 155 in one of the most exciting and unbelievable examples of heart in a fight?  Of course you do.  Joe Lauzon definitely does.

The hope, of course, is that the tingle he felt watching Jim Miller work at UFC 172 translates into a full-blown itch to return to the cage.  You get the impression, Lauzon’s got the fever from this April 20th tweet:

Aside from reminiscing, hosting Q&As, doing fight commentary, watching Game of Thrones and The Ultimate Fighter, and enjoying his time being a father, all is quiet regarding Joe Lauzon. It’s not that surprising that Lauzon would take his time getting back to the cage form a personal perspective, but also consider the state of the 155-pound division.  It’s already been decided that Gilbert Melendez will get the next shot at the title against Anthony “Showtime” Pettis, and with that fight taking place at year’s end, the rest of the division is left in neutral to sort itself out. So, there’s no real hurry to get Lauzon a fight.  However, with Melvin Guillard being cut, Mac Danzig retiring, Nate Diaz trying to negotiate a raise, the lightweight division is shifting and reshuffling.

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Seeing Lauzon match up with other lightweights coming off of recent wins would be a welcome sight.  Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone, and Ramsey Nijem all represent newly minted wins and solid opponents for Lauzon.  Perhaps even a rematch with Jorge Masvidal. Any of those opponents would be a fight fan’s delight against Lauzon.  Those potential fights would also likely rack up more post-fight bonuses for Lauzon, who’s made winning post-fight bonuses a habit.

Until then, fight fans can at least take comfort in the knowledge that Lauzon is usually spending his Sunday nights the way a lot of people do—watching the goings-on in Westeros.

In Absence of Truth

If you can say one thing about Brandon “The Truth” Vera, it’s that he’s ambitious.  He once declared he would own the UFC light heavyweight championship and the heavyweight championship simultaneously, and he’s moved between the two divisions simply for the challenge of it.

Despite losing his last two fights, Vera has never backed down from a challenge.  Look at the losses on his ledger, and you see an MMA murderer’s row: Couture, Jon Jones, Fabricio Werdum, and Shogun Rua. The other thing you’ll notice is that many of his losses should include asterisks.

Throw out the Ben Rothwell loss since Rothwell tested for high levels of testosterone (a fight that should have been overturned to a “no contest” given that Rothwell was suspended by the UFC). The decision of the Couture fight is widely thought of as a case of the judges making the wrong call. Include the Werdum loss where the referee arguably stopped the bout too soon (even though Werdum had Vera mounted, many of his shots weren’t connecting).   Added together, it can be argued that there are only two fights in the last five years where Vera was stopped legitimately, against Jon Jones and against Shogun Rua: neither of which is anything to be ashamed of.

If you believe in luck, you have to believe that Vera has simply hit a streak of it.  Twice on his resume, Vera ran into opponents desperate enough to cheat to win. One of whom, Rothwell, is still under suspension. The other, in Thiago Silva, has been banned for life from the UFC after being charged with aggravated assault and allegedly holding a gun in his wife’s mouth and threatening to kill her.  For whatever reason, Vera seems to either get the cheaters or the cream of the crop when his number is called. Despite this, he’s never backed out of a fight.

photo via Lee Brimelow

Since his fight with Rothwell, news on Vera’s next fight has been silent.  Unless, of course you follow him on Twitter, where he links to and discusses all things political, religious, environmental, and just about anything else that strikes his fancy.  However, his absence is noticeable to the UFC and to fight fans.  Whether it’s because Vera is working things out and taking time for himself or because Joe Silva lost his number is unclear.  What is clear is the dearth in the light-heavyweight division and the heavyweight division.  Neither is particularly deep, so to have a veteran guy that can move between divisions seems like a pretty valuable asset.  Vera is too talented a fighter to have work as an understudy for injured light heavies or heavies.  He’s headlined cards, and he’s fought the best in two different divisions.  His is a noteworthy void and, hopefully, one that is simply self-imposed.

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UFC on Fox – Browne/Werdum: The Afterglow

VER-DOOM! This guy now uses his hands.

This guy now uses his hands.

In 2011, Strikeforce visited Dallas in an event headlined by Alistair Overreem taking on Fabricio Werdum.  Werdum was coming off an immortal performance where he tapped out MMA deity Fedor Emelianenko. The expectations for the Stirkeforce main event in Dallas were supercharged, and they lost steam, as Werdum butt-scooted around the cage, begging for Overreem to lose his mind and jump into Werdum’s guard.  It didn’t happen, and the boos rained down on both men for the lackluster showing.  It was clear that Werdum was too intimidated to stand. What Werdum did on the Fox card Saturday night in Orlando effectively turned that 2011 version of himself into a ghost.

OF THE NIGHT PERFORMANCES

“Ver-DOOM!”

Browne was the heavy favorite going into the showdown.  Most MMA pundits gave Browne the nod due to his striking and his conditioning.  However, he was also the more active fighter as tonight was only the fourth time Werdum has fought since his loss to Overreem in 2011.  Werdum threw ungodly combos at Browne, who never seemed to get comfortable the entire fight.  At times, Browne was so outclassed, he looked to be headhunting simply trying to put Werdum in a bad spot but only putting himself in a bad place.  Early in the fight, Browne floored Werdum, and Big John looked to be close to stepping in.  Instead, Werdum snuck out, worked his way off the cage and to his feet, grabbed his bearings, and jabbed his way to victory.

It’s clear that Fabricio Werdum used his time not fighting to build upon the striking display he showed against Roy Nelson.  In addition, his cardio also looked on point as he seemed to be more than fresh going into the 4th and 5th, jawing at Browne and smack taking him to simply keep things interesting.  There’s no other way to put it than Werdum toyed with Browne, peppering him with jabs and combos when he felt like it, and easing off the gas just because he could. In fact Werdum did a lot of things just because he could. At one point, a Werdum did a kip up, channelling Shawn Michaels:

I was one of many in the MMA community who thought Werdum had nothing to offer Browne.  Werdum barely had time to bask in the glow of his performance and earned shot against Cain Velasquez before the MMA community was again quick to count him out.  In fact, despite Werdum’s one-sided victory, the only thing he was getting credit for was speaking better Spanish than Cain Velasquez.  I don’t know if I’m sold on Werdum beating Cain, but I am completely sold it will be a more entertaining fight than what I could have predicted 24 hours ago.

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Concerto of the Desperado

The sun rises in the east.  Donald Cerrone wins bonus checks.  Book it.

Even though the fight itself didn’t get out of the first round, Edson Barboza and Donald Cerrone delivered the kind of drama and tension you’d normally see in a Hitchcock film. Edson hit Cowboy early and often with solid shots and punctuated leg kicks.  At one point, Cerrone looked stunned and grimaced as one of Barboza’s shots stuck his body.  Cerrone regained his composure and landed a short jab that walloped Barboza.  Before Barboza knew what hit him, Cowboy went to the ground, slipped in the hooks, and snaked in a deep rear-naked choke.  And just like that, Cowboy picked up another performance check.

Cerrone expressed interest that he wanted to fight at least six times this calendar year.  Coming out of the Barboza fight unscathed and with a spectacular performance gives him the kind of cache he needs to make good on that request.  Nothing says Cowboy like Texas. To see Cerrone get back on the horse and throw his hat into the ring for the for the San Antonio card in late June seems like a great next step since the card is still under construction.  The last time Cerrone fought in Alamo City, he and Benson Henderson put on a fight for the ages.  Seeing Cowboy ride into San Antonio once again after a few weeks off for wake boarding, bull riding, skydiving, lion taming, and beer drinking would be a welcome treat for both Texans and UFC fans.

“ATT Rises to the Top”

The MMA gods looked down upon American Top Team with great favor Saturday night.  The camp at ATT represented by Yoel Romero, Jorge Masvidal, and Thiago Alves all picked up impressive wins for themselves and their team Saturday.  Whatever they are putting into the water in Coconut Creek, they should bottle it.

Romero, an Olympic silver medalist in wrestling, tossed Brad Tavares around the octagon in what can only be described at a mauling. It really was something animalistic in the way Romero flung Tavares around.  In the second round, you could hear the shrieks from Fox network executives as Romero threw a gorgeous left elbow, splitting Tavares open at the hairline. The blood unwound from Tavares’s head like ribbon from a spool, and before he could adjust, Romero again tossed him to the ground.

At 36, Romero displayed old-man strength.  He also displayed why he is ready for a bigger challenge.  He’s won four fights in a row in the middleweight division, a feat only accomplished by one other contender, Vitor Belfort, the same Vitor Belfort who turned down a title fight against Chris Weidman.  He may not be ready for the champ, but Romero may be ready for the upper-echelon of that division, starting with Jacare Souza.

In addition to the showing by Romero, Jorge Masvidal displayed gorgeous striking, taking the center of the Octagon against notorious grinder Pat Healy.  Healy’s M.O. is to make it ugly, and each time he bullied Masvidal to the cage, it appeared to be an elephant man-like performance.  But Masvidal was too pretty for that and managed to escape time and again.  While the fight itself wasn’t pretty, it was entertaining, particularly when the Masvidal got loose in the center of the cage.  If Masvidal comes out of the fight without any major injury, seeing him get a quick turnaround could help to build some consistency from a fighter who has seen limited action. In fact, Masvidal and Cerrone would be a fan-pleasing fight, despite its lack of import.

In the end, the night belonged to Thiago Alves, and rightfully so.  After missing more than two years due to four major surgeries, Alves, who has had trouble making weight in the past due to his solid frame, looked like a legit welterweight.  The ATT water I talked about earlier must also make the guys at ATT rust-resistant. Alves looked like he picked up where he left off last time he was in the cage (before he got choked out by Martin Kampman, I mean).  He hammered at Seth Baczynski repeatedly with leg kicks that left a game Baczynski bloodied and almost broken.  In the third, Baczynski literally fought on one leg and still managed to make a proper showing, peppering Alves with some solid jabs. In the end, the punishment form Alves proved to be too much.

The emotion of Alves was palpable as he tried to explain how good it felt to be back in the cage after a long absence.  In fact, the same emotion was on clear display in the locker room of all the ATT fighters as Romero came back after beating Tavares.  They embraced. They chanted. They cheered.  They were a family, and the night belonged to them.

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Fight Picks – UFC on FOX: Browne vs. Werdum

Two events in one week? I’m getting spoiled.

The heavyweight tilt in the main has me completely dialed in.  I think Browne is simply on a collision course with Cain Velasquez.  The guy simply cannot be denied.  Carmouche and Tate will likely draw a lot of eyes, and the prelims also feature a lot of new faces. It will also feature the return of Thiago Alves after a significant time on the mend.

Look for Cerrone and Barboza to steal the “of the night” performances. Add appearances by Nurmagomedov, Jordan Mein, Pat Healy, and Jorge Masvidal, and baby, you got a stew going.

The Power of Social Media: Josh Burkman & the WSOF Make Nice

peace, love, & understanding

peace, love, & understanding

It may have not been a national nightmare, but the speed bump in the 5-fight relationship between Josh Burkman and The World Series of Fighting is over.  Jeremy Botter has the details of the reconciliation.

At the center, money and Burkman feeling he had not being compensated via the terms of his contract while fighting on last minute notice at WSOF 9 against Tyler Stinson.

Burkman took to Twitter 24 hours after voicing his desire to be let out of his contract:

Contract negotiation tactics via Twitter.  Promotional executives attacking fighters’ integrity over social media.  This is MMA; still in its infancy.  Imagine an NFL executive or a CFL executive by comparison implying that a linebacker was scared of an opposing tight end or fullback. It would never happen.   It’s absurd.  It’s also why the NBA, NFL, and MLB have policies for their players, coaches, and executives regarding social media.  That’s what differentiates MMA and promotions like the UFC and WSOF from those more established leagues.  It’s also the tradeoff.

This is an exchange I had with UFC lightweight Donald Cowboy Cerrone earlier today:

The NFL or MLB doesn’t have the same fan connection or access.  Jerry Jones doesn’t indulge players’ complaints via traditional media let alone Twitter.  Russell Wilson doesn’t trade Tombstone quotes with fans.  So the drama of a Twitter conflict between an employee and an employer becomes something unique to MMA.  It becomes just as much a draw as the fighters who face off in the cage. Whether or not that’s a good thing remains to be seen.

In the short term, seeing the airing of grievances via Twitter eight months before Festivus proved to be a good thing for Josh Burkman.  In fact, it could be argued that Burkman is now 5-1 in the WSOF after taking on matchmaker Ali Abdelaziz and getting not only what he asked for from a monetary perspective but also a title fight against the winner of Rousimar Palhares and Jon Fitch.

Lost in the reconciliation and tidings of comfort and joy is what happens after Burkman’s next fight, the last fight on his contract with the organization.  Is there a title clause that prevents him from taking the WSOF welterweight title to a different organization if he beats the winner of Palhares/Fitch? Does Burkman want to continue fighting for the WSOF once he has completed his contract?  Will the WSOF institute a social media clause that keeps its fighters from pressuring them in public the way Burkman did?  Lots of questions remain despite the resolution.