Kingdom Come: When Anthony Pettis Lost the Title at UFC 185 & Created a Third Act

A battered Anthony Pettis in between rounds at UFC 185.

A battered Anthony Pettis in between rounds at UFC 185.

The next few days will find legions of MMA pundits and talking heads espousing the performance of newly minted 155-pound king Rafael Dos Anjos at UFC 185 in Dallas—and rightfully so.  This wasn’t Dos Anjos’ first rodeo in Dallas.  In 2006, Dos Anjos rode into North Texas for UFC 103 on a 2-fight losing streak before taking an unmemorable decision win over Rob Emerson.  This time around, he left Dallas to a hail of fanfare and several pounds heavier after taking the belt from Anthony “Showtime” Pettis in a one-sided affair. The King is dead; hail to the King.

This is not a eulogy for Anthony Pettis.  This is on par for the course.

One of the worst things about MMA and the UFC in particular is the lack of a true sporting season. With one event after another, there is no shortage of content and fights, but there is little time for reflection, especially as a title reign is being built.  And when a title reign is halted, like some mansion whose beams and girders stand exposed to the elements and without ornamentation, the one thing that comes into stark focus is its foundation. Today, many are questioning the foundation of Team Pettis in light of the Dos Anjos victory, but it’s Pettis’ foundation that remains as it always has—obstinate. Pettis’ loss wasn’t the lone upset of UFC 185, and this wasn’t Pettis’ first loss even if it feels that way to many.

Anthony Pettis before round one at UFC 185.

Anthony Pettis before round one at UFC 185.

Pettis won his first title, the WEC lightweight championship, on the promotion’s very last show before it was folded under the UFC’s promotional belt.  Pettis was the ruler of a kingdom that ceased to exist minutes after he was crowed. And just because he was crowned WEC royalty did not guarantee him a place at the UFC’s Parthenon after the merging of the two promotions.  The intrigue of a champion versus champion matchup would be put aside, and Pettis would have to earn his way into a title shot despite his resume and his bonafides.  And in the first test of his UFC career against one-man strobe light Clay Guida, Pettis was weighed, measured, and found wanting.  To add insult to injury, Pettis, the champion who personified Showtime and who had made his bones on techniques only seen in videos games, found himself losing in the worst possible way—a control-heavy decision. No muss; no fuss.

The one-time and future 155-pound king would have to start from the bottom at the largest and most notorious MMA promotion in the world.  A pauper’s story for sure, but a second act and one that would find Pettis cutting through Joe Lauzon, Jeremy Stephens, and Donald Cerrone—fan favorites, veterans, and contenders in the UFC’s stable of 155-pound killers.  It was a winning streak filled with highlights and capped off by an unprecedented lightweight title win as Pettis submitted fellow WEC alum, former WEC champion, and UFC champion Benson Henderson, a man who had never been submitted in his lightweight career.

Then, the freshly coronated ruler of the 155-pound class was then taken down by something even worse than a labored decision victory—injury.  A champion who could not defend his championship, Pettis was once again a king with no kingdom, and the division flourished in his year-long absence. Pettis would be welcomed back to competition by Gilbert Melendez—a stiff out for any first title defense let alone for a champion returning from a year-long absence due to injury.  By round two Melendez would be vanquished, and in typical Showtime fashion, by submitting a rival who had never been submitted in his 26-fight career. It would also be Pettis’ only title defense.

Throughout fight week in Dallas for UFC 185, the city was treated to the heavy-handed UFC branded #welcometotheshow tagline, a not so subtle and pun-filled reference lofted upon a man who literally wears those expectations on his shoulders.  Heavy words to be certain.  Perhaps heavier than the heft of the championship belt.

Duke Roufus & Anthonsy Showtime Pettis at the UFC 185 Weigh Ins.

Duke Roufus & Anthony Showtime Pettis at the UFC 185 Weigh Ins.

Before Bruce Buffer’s announcement of a clear-cut winning decision for Dos Anjos had a chance to resonate through the American Airlines Center, Pettis’ critics, one-time contenders and future rivals, struck at Pettis’ lowest point.  If the end of a championship reign is one of the few times the MMA community can get introspective, it’s also one of the ripest times to shamelessly self-promote. Many on Twitter extoled Dos Anjos.  Many more criticized or called out Pettis.  The King is dead; hail to the King.

No one but Pettis knows if the expectations of a promotional juggernaut, the expectations of a world-class team in Roufusport, or the personal expectations Pettis placed on himself were too much to bear. What’s more likely is it was simply Dos Anjos’ night.

It’s clear Pettis was defeated round after round in the main event at UFC 185.  It’s also clear that round after round, he never stopped fighting.  Pettis had no answer for Dos Anjos’ onslaught, but he continued to answer the bell.  For Pettis, a man whose fighting career has seen more than its share of setbacks, the result of UFC 185’s main event serves as another challenge, another kingdom to claim and reclaim. Vanquish, rule, fall, rinse, repeat.  Few fighters make it through a quarter of that cycle.  Fewer still make it through an entire revolution of that cycle. Anthony Pettis makes it routine.  Call it the third act. Call it a fourth act. Call it a saga.  The King is dead; hail to the King.

Anthony Pettis with Joe Rogan

Anthony Pettis with Joe Rogan

Bellator Casts Stephan Bonnar in American Psycho 2

 

Bonner

American Psycho 2: Electric Bugaloo

In 2000, Lions Gate Films released a theatrical version of the Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho. Its modest $7 million dollar budget pulled in over $30 million dollars, and Lion’s Gate saw this success as reason enough to release a direct-to-video sequel American Psycho 2 starring a then unknown box office starlet named Mila Kunis.  Fans of the original film and the book saw the release of the sequel as odd (if not confusing), but Lions Gate simply saw an opportunity to make a quick buck off the surprise success of the original film.  In fact, a script for an American Psycho sequel didn’t even exist.  The production company found a script in its archives with a serial killer and worked in a scene with the main character from the original film (someone not named Christian Bale), and attempted to tie it together to the original by throwing the title “American Psycho” on it.  American Psycho 2 currently holds an 18% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, proving it’s difficult to follow up an original with a half-baked sequel, especially if it’s only released to be an ATM machine.

So when word broke this morning that UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar had signed a new contract to fight in Bellator, many MMA fans also cocked their heads sideways. No one outside of Forrest Griffin or Chuck Liddell has been as much of a UFC company man historically as Stephan Bonnar. In addition to fighting for the UFC, Bonnarwas a familiar voice to WEC broadcasts, calling the action cageside.  So to see him emerge from retirement and jump ship to rival promotion Bellator is as odd, at least as odd as seeing a sequel to a movie with a cult following and modest reviews.

The fact that Bonnar took his nickname The American Psycho from the title of the book & film of the same name is quaint, but when you consider the parallels in the movie’s sequel and Bonnar’s own follow-up to a post-UFC career, the nickname is suddenly more than apropos.  It’s uncanny.

Bonnar will always be linked to his showdown with Forrest Griffin, and that fight will outlive everyone involved in putting it together. Despite your feelings on the way they fought, there is no doubt it was a watershed moment in MMA. There is a pre-TUF/post-TUF demarcation in the history of MMA thanks in part to Stephan Bonnar.  Whatever your feelings are as to the rest of his in-cage bona fides, Bonnar can hang his hat on that, an accomplishment to which few can lay claim.

In the last fight of his UFC career, Bonnar lost to then-middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva in violent fashion.  To add insult to injury, Bonnar later tested positive for the anabolic steroid Drostanolone in said match with Silva.  Bonnar, quietly, retired shortly after the loss.  Still, Bonnar’s fight with Griffin in 2005 gave the UFC its identity and a huge audience, and Dana White announced that he was inducting both Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2013, a huge feather in the cap for someone who never fought in a championship fight let alone won a belt for the promotion.

No one asked for a Stephan Bonnar sequel.  I’m not even sure Scott Coker sought out Bonnar specifically. This seems more of a move by Spike TV who remembers what Bonnar did for the channel back in 2005 when he and Griffin put on the fight that put the UFC (and Spike TV) on the map.  If Bellator plans to build its brand using former UFC fighters as the basis for its future, I doubt it has a long-term strategy in mind.  Having Ortiz, Rampage, Kongo, Couture, and now Bonnar as part of its smells more like a tactical solution than a strategic one. However, what most people may fail to realize is a tactical solution was exactly what the first season of The Ultimate Fighter was.  Tactical solutions can put a plateaued product on the right track as long as there is follow through, as long as there is an evolution into something more strategic. If nothing else, Bonnar’s signing begs the question what will Bellator’s follow through be?  That’s what makes his signing intriguing.

Sure, bemoan the matchups of Bonnar/Ortiz, Bonnar/Rampage, or Bonnar/King-Mo all you’d like. Bonnar himself has already started the promotion digs Tito’s direction in a Bellator press release.  Ready yourself for Tito bringing up Bonnar’s past steroid abuse and for Bonnar lambasting Ortiz’s chronic injury-prone body.  Much like American Psycho 2, Bonnar/Ortiz, Bonnar/Lawal, and BonnarRampage aren’t matchups anyone is clamoring for.  However, sometimes, those things that have the least demand end up delivering the most.  I’m not saying a potential Bonnar/Ortiz matchup will deliver more than a rematch between Will Brooks and Michael Chandler.  I don’t know if Bonnar has enough left to make a run at Bellator’s 205-pound title.  Bellator’s light-heavyweight roster is thin enough that a couple of wins may just find him on the path to title contention.

Bonnar should use Huey Lewis as walkout music.

What I am saying is that I’ve seen American Psycho 2, and it’s not bad.  If you watch it as a movie onto itself outside of the shadow of the first film, it’s a fun flick. If MMA fans can get out from under the shadow Bonnar cast in his UFC run, if they can make room for the possibility that Bonnar is at the very least an entertaining fighter, maybe they can make room for the possibility that Bonnar has a fun fight or two he can contribute under the Bellator banner.  Bonnar/Griffin 1 & The Ultimate Fighter was the avenue by which a whole generation of MMA fans entered the sport.  Stephan Bonnar’s follow-up to his UFC run may not garner the same attention, but it definitely will not go unnoticed. There are many reasons to produce a sequel. Here’s hoping that Stephan Bonnar and Bellator find the right audience.

PICKING A FIGHT – UFC FIGHT NIGHT 47

Pardon my absence from the premises as of late fellow Donnybrookers, but with the news of Josh Grispi, the ridiculousness that is War Machine, and the injury to Jon Jones, it’s been a pretty miserable time to write about MMA.

Regarding the War Machine news, I didn’t want to give it more ink than what’s out there. I didn’t have the fight in me to point out to the “alpha male” War Machine fans that nothing screams “alpha male” quite like beating up your girlfriend and then cowardly going on the lam. I didn’t have the pluck to debate people who think Christy Mack’s line of work prevents her from being treated like a human being and not being beaten to near death.   I lost the inclination to hear two sides of the story because if you saw the pictures of what War Machine did to Christy Mack, you know there is nothing about the other side of that story that could have justified him putting hands on the woman he supposedly loves.

There simply wasn’t anything worthwhile to mention regarding the combat landscape.  Even the silver lining of Cathal Pendred donating his portion of Mike King’s forfeited Fight of the Night performance purse to a Children’s hospital wasn’t enough to pull me out of the MMA doldrums.  Though good on Cathal. There’s a reason that guy has a following, and I’m starting to think it has less to do with his fighting abilities and has more to do with him being a good dude.

Yes, this is Cathal Pendred pulling a George Costanza rescuing a beached baby dolphin.

Yes, this is Cathal Pendred pulling a George Costanza and rescuing a beached baby dolphin.

And Robin Williams died.  And the news out of Ferguson, Missouri gets worse and worse. And it just felt like a good time to take a hiatus.

Similarly, the UFC has taken a powder and been on hiatus since July 26, one of the promotions longer breaks in recent history.  For the contingent of fans decrying the oversaturation of UFC events, the last three weeks have been Xanadu.  For everyone else, it’s been shark week, which apparently is just as staged as the WWE. So this Saturday’s free UFC event from Bangor, Maine, live on Fox Sports 1, is a welcome return to form for everyone who watches fights.  Everyone except Maine’s own Tim Sylvia.

In the main event, Ryan Bader locks horns with Ovince St. Preux which does little in the way of advancement with a Bader victory and barely moves the needle with an OSP win. Bader is the favorite, so it will be interesting to see what game plan he implements. Will he stand with the unorthodox of OSP, or will he control OSP on the ground?  For OSP, Bader represents a clear step up in competition, so he shouldn’t expect to Von Flue choke Ryan Bader.  It won’t be that easy.  What everyone should dread the most about this match-up is the likely abundance of references to OSP’s “athleticism” or his being “an athlete.”  They will come fast and furious. Do not make a drinking game out of it, or you will likely not make it out of the second round.

In the co-main, Gray Maynard steps in for an injured Abel Trujillo to take on Ross Pearson.  Maynard may be the bigger fighter, but if Pearson can avoid the takedown and keep things standing, look for Pearson to capitalize on Maynard’s perceived inability to take big shots.  For Maynard, one too many hardline KOs have left many fans wondering if he can still take a shot.  However don’t dismiss Maynard’s ability to give shots, primarily when he shoots for a takedown.  If Maynard gets back to his takedown roots, he could make Pearson’s night a long one.

The Fight Night 47 card also sees the return of Sara McMann, the one-time UFC Women’s Bantamweight contender and Olympic medalist who hopes to rebound after a one-sided shellacking by Ronda Rousey earlier this year.  McMann is the overwhelming favorite for a reason.  She’s a wrestler, and she’s a top flight grappler. Look for McMann to secure the takedown at will and land big shots en route to a referee stoppage.

As always, feel free to come back to ridicule my picks as I am proven wrong.

Clearly, Jon Jones Is Really Tired of the Media Stunts

DCJJStare

After Alexander Gustafsson decided to poke the bear late last week and tease UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones about an injury the champ sustained in training, Jon Jones was quick to respond.  Jones, in typical Jones fashion, decided to take the opportunity to address how he was not only focused on his next opponent, Daniel Cormier, but that he was tired of the media shenanigans.

Of course that was 24 hours ago.

Today, Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier decided to fight for free, well ahead of their UFC 178 matchup in September.  Wrapping up a media Q&A in the lobby of the MGM Grand to promote the fight, Cormier and Jones took to the stage for the cameras to carry out the age-old staredown photo-op, when Jones decided a face-off simply wasn’t enough and that he wanted to be in Cormier.  Head-to-head became literal and then exchanged shoving, and soon fists, were the order of the day. MMA Fighting captured the entirety of the brawl here, where Jones showed that his commitment to stopping “media stunts” is about as consistent as everything else he does outside of the cage.

Of course the most telling aspect of the pre-fight fight comes when Jones, pleased with the carnage, stood a top a nearby podium amid the public he and Cormier almost put in danger and crowed, loudly and intensely as only a man who abhors media tomfoolery can be.

Growl! via MMAFighting.com

Growl! via MMAFighting.com

And of course, Bones Jones couldn’t simply let the dust-up speak for itself and took to Twitter to needle Cormier.

Cormier went on to respond to Jones’s taunt via Twitter (presumably after he was able to locate his shoe).  Now, it stands to reason that the Nevada State Athletic Commission will likely review the incident, but the bigger issue may be that the fight spilled into the general audience.  All it takes is one person to to file suit, and suddenly, Cormier and Jones are taking on civil litigation instead of exchanging fisticuffs.

With that, a highly-anticipated fight for UFC 178 suddenly became much bigger. Nothing, however, captures the moment from the perspective of the UFC brass quite like UFC PR Director Dave Sholler in this shot:

ShollerWhat’s the over/under for when the mea culpas begin to be issued?

Thiago Silva Returns to Fighting… Despite Reports, It Won’t Be in The Octagon

I'm pretty sure Silva won't be returning to the Octagon.

I’m pretty sure Silva won’t be returning to the Octagon.

If there was any real question about how the “mainstream” views MMA, this should tell you a great deal.

The video, which you can see here, flat out states that Silva will be fighting in the Octagon.

Thiago Silva was arrested in February and charged with aggravated assault and battery that came on the heels of an alleged confrontation with his estranged wife.  You can read more about his arrest and the fallout here.

As far as the claim that Silva will be fighting in the Octagon, yes, it’s lazy reporting.  Yes, all it would take is an extra step or two to call the UFC and figure out that Thiago Silva is not a part of its organization and will not be stepping into the “Octagon”.  Yes, it’s sensationalistic and misleading to use the UFC’s name and trademark in the story when he doesn’t have ties to the UFC anymore.  Yahoo, should know better.  Hell, they could go and ask Kevin Iole.  More than that, though, it demonstrates how the UFC brand name can cut both ways.

In the end, I suppose it could have been worse.  The news outlet and Yahoo could have used a picture of this Thiago Silva in the report:

photo via WikiCommons

Thiago Silva; photo via WikiCommons