Johny Hendricks is the heir to Chuck Liddell

In the current MMA landscape, being a brawler is a curse. As exemplified by the UFC’s insistence in employing fighters who do nothing but brawl relentlessly, there is no trait more employable. After all, MMA is, at its basic, just an organized, nuanced form of brawling. Unfortunately, brawlers also have two major deficiencies: wrestling and good sense. They either get put on their back or knocked silly as often as they knock others silly.

He may have come up short against Georges St. Pierre this weekend, but it was abundantly clear that Hendricks is the champions equal. Had luck been on his side or had he landed a few more decisive combinations at key stages of the fight, Hendricks would have gold around his waist. That does not change what Hendricks proved on Saturday: he is the next best welterweight in the UFC.

The FD has long hailed Junior Dos Santos as the next incarnation of the knockout artist in the MMA. Dos Santos, like Hendricks, has the power to knock out any fighter. Except Dos Santos fights in the same division as the living, breathing antidote for his style in the form of the relentless, physical cardio machine that is Cain Velasquez.

Hendricks, however, is different from JDS in that his power is genetically rare. Hendricks’ punch power is rumored to be in excess of many heavyweight fighters. He is the incarnation of Chuck Liddell in that in order to get close to him, you have to wade through knockout power in every throw. Even more dangerous than Liddell – who is considered the father of the sprawl-and-brawl style – Hendricks is among the top wrestlers in the sport. There were points at which GSP, who is the master of making half-chances into takedowns, couldn’t drop Hendricks with every advantage. In fact, at one point, GSP isolated Hendricks’ leg for nearly thirty seconds and dragged him across the octagon. There are few fighter capable of taking the fight to the ground against Hendricks.

Looking at the welterweight landscape, despite a flotilla of talented opponents, name one who is even in the vicinity of GSP in wrestling ability. Project that fighter against a wrestler the caliber of Hendricks. Good luck. Hendricks already tore through all the top competitors on his way to a title shot. Who is going to challenge him?

All that tells you that Hendricks will get another shot at gold. When it happens, someone is going to sleep.

 


Rousey: I could beat Cain

During an interview with Spanish-language newspaper Hoy, UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey was asked if she could beat UFC men’s heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.

Rousey replied in the affirmative.

“In any given moment, under the right circumstance, I think it is possible,” said Rousey, “You cannot tell me that it is physically impossible. It is possible that in any given moment that I could beat him. I simply believe in my possibilities.”

What an answer.

While it is fun to debate whether she could or could not, we will never know. What we do know is that nothing is impossible in sports because the outcome is undetermined until it isn’t. Scientific laws exist because they can be proven definitely; sports are not laws and cannot be proven. Even if the match up was fought 99 times and Velasquez won all 99, the 100th fight – while 99% in Velasquez’s favor – is not proven until it’s over. And at any point, Velasquez could be get caught by a punch or kick, in a submission, slip on a pool of sweat; who knows? Anything could happen. That’s why we love sports.

So while we can chuckle and say Rousey is one confident – maybe delusional – competitor, she isn’t wrong.


The UFC going global: Mexico, Velasquez, Werdum and Singapore, Ellenberger, Saffiedine

The UFC has made some big announcements lately.

Their efforts to expand globally are moving quickly. Earlier today the UFC confirmed their first venture into Asia with a card to be crafted for Jan. 4 at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. At the top will be welterweight contender (and jab test dummy for Rory MacDonald)  Jake Ellenberger against Tarec Saffiedine.

That fight card is significant more for it’s locale than the ripples it is likely to make in any of the title hunts. With the UFC ready to unveil TUF: China, a card in Asia was always a logical destination.

The more important news is where their next international card will land.

Bloody Elbow reports that Fabricio Werdum will be Cain Velasquez’s next victim, er, opponent with the fight coming in Mexico City, Mexico. The date of the card is tentatively the weekend of April 19 or April 26, 2014.

Werdum is on a three-fight win streak in the promotion. Famously, he claimed the Strikeforce title by defeating pound-for-pound great Fedor Emelianenko before losing it in a lackluster bout with Alistair Overeem before returning to the UFC. Velasquez meanwhile just defended his title for the second time.

As the story goes, Velasquez’s father, Efrain Velasquez, was a Mexican immigrant who made six trips across the blazing hot desert into the US only to be deported all six times. His seventh time across, he met Cain’s mother, Isable, an American national and was permitted to remain in the states.¬† Both Isabel and Efrain would work daily picking lettuce in the fields of California and Arizona in order to support Cain, his brother and his sister.

Cain went on to be an All-American at Arizona State and the rest is history. Velasquez is sure to be a big hit south of the USA border and big business for the UFC. Keep your eyes on Latin fighters like Gilbert Melendez, Diego Sanchez and Joseph Benevidez, who are sure to be at the top of the UFC list for fights on that card.

As has been the case in many foreign countries, the atmosphere is sure to be intense and passionate. It will be one hell of a show to watch.


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.

 


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.