UFC fighters really enjoy calling each other out

It isn’t a big surprise to read a headline when a fighter calls out another. The intrigue isn’t usually in the who or the why – the intrigue is in the politics.

The who and why are related. There are fighters, surprise, surprise, who don’t like each other. Therein lies the how and why. Other times, a fighter is ahead in the rankings and/or they have a big (or bigger) name. As Ric Flair (whoo!) used to say, ‘To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.’ Therein lies the who and why, together again.

A quick rundown of recent call outs:

Lyoto Machida called out Vitor Belfort (and so did Gerard Mousasi). Machida’s makes sense, as the FD mentioned in a recent post while Mousasi’s does, too, but less so, so what’s the point?

Hector Lombard called out Carlos Condit (but would settle for Martin Kampmann). This fight makes sense for Lombard but not Condit. An impressive win in Lombard’s first welterweight fight (after being thought of as a contender at middleweight) means a win over atop flight fighter puts him at least one fight away from a title shot. For Condit, a fighter void of any Machiavellian powers, fighting tough guys matters most. That said, Condit does more for his title contention with losses as anyone. In losing to Johnny Hendricks – a fight which got Big Rig his shot at GSP – Condit pressed forward constantly and proved (again) a threat to anyone given five minutes or fewer. He doesn’t need a fight against someone like Lombard to keep his name in elite talk, an impressive win over a lesser opponent would achieve that.

Rafael Dos Anjos called out TJ Grant (not Benson Henderson). This moves makes sense for Dos Anjos only in that he can justify to some that Grant’s status as number one contender on a win streak is somehow more valuable than a former (read: with four title defenses) champion with one loss. Dos Anjos is playing it as safe as calling out a top fighter can get.

Erick Silva called out Demian Maia. Silva is trying to bait a fighter with a style he has has to conquer, clearly risking a lot to prove he’s not the guy that has ‘no ground game’ and ‘terrible takedown defence’. The fight makes sense for Maia, too, because it would be a fight both men can take in Brazil. Coming off a loss – to Jake Shields, a fellow BJJ specialist – crushing an uppity and talented striker would count as a quick rebound and ease into another top five opponent.

Meanwhile, everybody called out Conor McGregor. Which isn’t a surprise.

The skill at call outs is something more fighters should learn. There are few things as powerful as public perception. Find the right way to say something and people will stop to listen.

 


Latest UFC numbers are lackluster despite serious drawing power

The UFC has some work to do.

An impressive article by Dave Meltzer at MMAFighting.com reveals the latest pay-per-view numbers (the essential lifeblood of the promotion a la TV-revenue for NFL games) are quite disappointing.

Recent studies show certain factors result in improved PPV drawing power. Factors such as a higher weight class, well-known fighters, grudge match, rematch, etc. often determine how well a card can draw. In a bubble these factors are a great barometer. When applied to outside factors, they can shrink in influence.

Despite the two recent cards being headlined by title fights at the two heaviest weight classes – one anchored by a formidable draw of Jon Jones, who has never drawn fewer than 400,000 PPV buys – early estimates are that neither card will top 325,000 buys. This summer, Anderson Silva v. Chris Weidman topped 525,000 buys.

Meltzer breaks down the many factors that contributed to the disappointing draws.

Jones fighting a low-profile fighter in Alexander Gustaffson (who is likely more well-known now) could have contributed. There was little to no bad blood. Few experts even expected Gustaffson to be much of a challenge. More damaging was the show was a week after Floyd Mayweather Jr. v. Canelo Alvarez boxing match which drew 2.2 million buys, the second biggest of all-time. Call it a hangover.

In the case of Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos, the lower numbers are very curious. A trilogy fight between two of the best heavyweights in the sport’s history would surely be a monster draw – the fight was enough to sell out Houston’s Toyota Center which did the third-largest gate in the building’s history.

It appears that being wedged firmly beside the World Series playoffs, college football (prime time meetings between Clemson v. Florida State, USC v. Notre Dame, Arkansas v. Alabama), and HBO boxing could have put a dent in its audience. If that is the case, the UFC is still fighting for mainstream relevance in the marketplace. It’s a battle they are consistently making headway in, but not winning any decisive battles.

Meltzer makes another key point: the first time American audiences on mass saw Velasquez v. Dos Santos was when nine million tuned in for their first fight on Fox. That fight barely lasted a swig of beer before Velasquez was out on the mat. First impressions can last.

Outside of the PPV’s, the recent Fox card was also disappointing. Drawing only 122,000 viewers, it signaled the second lowest draw of the five Fox Sports 2 (and before it, Fuel) cards has broadcast. This in spit of a headliner fight between Lyota Machida v. Mark Munoz – easily the most attractive on paper when compared to the other five cards.

Meltzer goes on to point out it was not isolated to the UFC alone. The World Series of FIghting card that Saturday on NBC Sports drew 161,000 viewers (the lowest of its promotion to date) and Bellator on Spike the evening before did 520,000, its lowest this year as well. It appeared to be a bad weekend for MMA all around.

The UFC expects the upcoming 167 and 168 cards are each expected to top five million live gates, a figure the company has only hit six times in its history. Let’s hope they draw similarly on PPV, or this could be signalling a stagnating mark for the sport.

 


Johnny Hendricks can thank GSP for Reebok

Heading into his title challenge of welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, Johnny Hendricks will be sporting an impressive sponsor: Ariel Helwani reported on UFC Tonight that Reebok will be sponsoring Hendricks for his bout with GSP. Terms of the sponsorship are not released.

The move is double-fold. While Hendricks is an excellent fighter, he’s no more bankable than other title contenders in the past. It’s only logical that Reebok looks to benefit most from the presence of GSP. The number of eyeballs that will be trained on Hendricks is directly correlated to the number of eyeballs drawn to the champ himself. Further to this, the report os that Reebok is only willing to pay the UFC’s sponsorship tax – meant to promote it’s own partners by dissuading competitors – for only this one fight.

That does not mean Hendricks himself isn’t a good bet for Reebok. He’s considered the best contender GSP has had to face in some time, so the odds he takes the belt and instantly reaps Reebok the rewards of it’s sponsorship is very good.

Most important, it testifies to the growth of the sport. It’s hard to fathom that in only 15 years, the promotion has drawn such brand power.

Big-name sponsorship is young to the MMA game – light heavyweight champ Jon ‘Bones’ Jones is one of the few with big-name brands (Nike, Gatorade, the UFC itself) and is the most securely sponsored fighters in the game. Now one of Nike’s competitos has stepped into the fray – at a cost.

Reebok tried to wade into the Octagon years ago with Rampage Jackson. They were dissuaded by the UFC’s sponsorship tax. Essentially, the NFL does the same thing except punishes it’s own athletes by fining them for gear of non-league sponsors.

It appears Reebok is willing to pay up to get their brand out there – to the benefit of Hendricks.


GSP says he will fight Ben Askren, but who will decide if he gets to?

Georges St. Pierre has dominated the welterweight landscape for five years, compiling nine consecutive title defenses.

He has fought grapplers (Josh Koschek, Jon Fitch),  BJJ specialists (Matt Serra, Jake Shields), strikers (Thiago Alves, Nick Diaz, Dan Hardy), and balanced fighters (BJ Penn, Carlos Condit). He has displayed an adaptability both mental and physical Рaltering his strategy to each opponent while focusing his game around exceptionally  crisp striking and stifling wrestling. Some would argue amongst those fighters are a few world-class level practitioners.

Talking with MMJunkie.com, St. Pierre stated he would like to fight Askren, “He’s a good fighter, undefeated, and yes, if he comes, I’ll fight him. No problem.”

The question is if GSP will ever get the chance.

There are a number of parties and politics at play. On one side we have the UFC by extension Dana White and GSP while on the other is Bellator by extension Bjorn Rebney and Askren.

According to Dana White after last weekend’s card, the UFC plans to talk with the Bellator champion. It would appear as such that the ball is in Askren’s corner. Until it isn’t.

The issue is the same as with Eddie Alvarez: Askren has a matching clause in his contract. Per Josh Gross of ESPN on Oct. 10, Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney and Askren have an agreement in place regarding the use of the matching clause Рshould the UFC offer Askren an immediate title shot, Bellator and Rebney will waive the clause.

The likelihood of that is slim. Immediate title shots are rare (they traditionally have gone to fighters who are consolidated onto the UFC’s roster a la Gilbert Melendez and Strikeforce) for a reason. This would make it appear as if the UFC is in the driver’s seat. Dana White has in the past expressed doubt whether Askren is capable of fighting even the tope contenders in the promotion.

Which ultimately brings us back to the champ. Realistically, GSP is in the most influential position. While GSP tried to assert to MMJunkie that, “I am the champion, and I have no choice, so it’s no problem.” That’s largely a lot of bunk. GSP surely has a choice. He had the choice to fight Anderson Silva and chose not to. He had the choice to fight Hendricks or Nikc Diaz and chose Diaz.

If GSP feels Askren is not deserving of an immediate shot or that he would like to take a long break (such as, oh, retirement), what leverage does Askren have? What would motivate the UFC to enter into a contract battle for Askren’s services and a title shot? It would take a huge deal which Bellator could not possibly match – to which Bellator will probably do anyways.

In the end, we won’t know until GSP v. Hendricks has taken place – because the outcome can change everything. If Hendricks wins, GSP retires (as some have rumored he would with a loss), the UFC would absolutely offer Askren a title shot for no reason other than to pilfer him from Bellator san the matching clause.

This could get very interesing.


The heavyweight champ is taken off the shelf

Usually, the guy who gets beat up has to sit for a while.

Despite a one-sided affair in which he put a beating on Junior Dos Santos, it came as a surprise to many – himself especially – when the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation medically suspended Cain Velasquez for six months.

Initially, they cited a fractured jaw as the culprit. Most medical suspensions are not firm, as an athlete can to pass a medical and be cleared if the suspension. However, the length of suspensions is a good indicator of how severely injured a fighter may be and how long we can expect them to be out, at a minimum.

As it turns out, an administartive error led to Valasquez’s suspension being posted incorrectly. Susan Stanford, Public Information Officer for the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation, told MMAWeekly.com that the posting should have read that Velasquez received the mandatory three-days-per-round cautionary suspension which would sideline him until Nov. 3, 2013 and not of April 18, 2014.

That’s good news for Velasquez, allowing him to get back to training sooner. It’s bad news for his night challenger (cough, Fabricio Werdum) who would have hoped for a bit longer to prepare. And of course, it’s sort of bad news for the TDLR – such a public gaff only highlights the missteps of governing bodies in a sport that seems to be evolving more quickly than they can handle.

 


Johnny Hendricks is on fire, literally

Walking into the biggest fight of his career, Johnny Hendricks likely hopes to enter the octagon at the peak of his training regimen. One of the greatest advantages an athlete can have entering competition is momentum, being ‘on fire’ at the right time.

While filming the promotional video for the fight last month, spot lamps were placed too close to Hendricks and the fighter suffered second degree burns on his shoulders.

While the injury looks ugly, it was not debilitating as he missed only a short period of training. Nonetheless, it is an inconvenience and a preventable incident.

Something tells me Dana White placed a call to the production team and let them know a piece of his mind.


Ian McCall injury gives John Dodson big opportunity

The recent history of TUF has produced very few contenders. As in one. That would be John Dodson.

Dodson won TUF in its inaugural bantamweight season then promtly dropped to flyweight upon entering the UFC. Since then, he’s lost to only one man – the UFC champion, Demetrious Johnson.

Dodson is only one fight removed from that title shot and knocked out Darrell Montague in his most recent fight. Buried in his win column is also the man who fought Johnson last – John Moraga.

With an injury to former contender Ian McCall, Dodson will welcome former bantamweight Scott Jorgensen to the flyweight division on Dec. 14. This is an interesting match-up. Jorgensen was once a title contender in the WEC and has been given some big fights in the UFC. He has fought former number one contenders Eddie Wineland and Urijah Faber, as well as current interim champ Renan Barao. Of course he lost all three fights which has prompted his drop in weight class.

Both Dodson and Jorgensen posses great power. Jorgensen will have a huge size advantage while Dodson is by far the quicker man and a better athlete. The fight will then likely be decided in one ofthese areas and how they adjust to one another.

This will be a test for Dodson. If he has the makings of a future champion, this is a fight he needs to win. If he does, he may get that shot sooner rather than later.