On a usual week, I’d be submitting my preview for UFC 151, but the last couple of weeks have been anything but “usual”, haven’t they? While the topic of UFC 151 has officially just about been done to death, I think there are a few different things to look at more closely before we put it to bed for good and move on to actual fights instead of public relations conflicts.
Here are some interesting notes about the continuing fallout from UFC 151 being canceled:
–Dana White has been uncharacteristically silent since the now-infamous media conference call where he dropped the news and blasted both Jon Jones and his trainer, Greg Jackson. He’s had no new Twitter posts in several days and has not addressed the situation further in any interviews or appearances. Is he backing away from the controversy, or is he simply letting what he did say stand for itself?
–The initial UFC press release regarding the cancellation of UFC 151 was a lot different than the Thomas Gerbasi-penned article that replaced it as the featured explanation for UFC 151′s cancellation later that day. The initial press release was just as scathing as the conference call, and included many of the inflammatory statements that White made, including the comment about Jackson being a “sport killer”, how “disgusted” White and Lorenzo Fertitta were of Jones’ decision not to fight Chael Sonnen, and featuring both Dan Henderson and Sonnen’s criticism of Jones’ decision. It referred to the event being “murdered” by Jones and Jackson.
The Gerbasi article focused primarily on Henderson’s injury as the cause of the event’s cancellation, making only a brief mention of Jones’ decision to turn down Sonnen as an opponent. The article alluded to White being “obviously disappointed” in Jones’ decision, but otherwise left out any criticism of Jones and made no mention of Jackson at all. As of the next day, a special alert that had originally linked to the press release for information on UFC 151 began linking to the less-inflammatory Gerbasi article, instead. However, the press release is still readily available on the UFC’s homepage, as is the full audio from the conference call (which is right there on the front page with various videos).
–Jones himself has not helped his cause with some of his recent remarks. First he apologized, but it was a fairly transparent one, saying he was “carrying the cross for my company’s decision.” He added that he would take the blame “if someone has to”, indicating that he didn’t feel wholly responsible. I think his word choice was very significant, especially when he said he’d take responsibility for “the way UFC 151 was canceled”, rather than the cancellation itself.
Later on, he retweeted a fan who reacted to rumors that Henderson had been injured three weeks prior to the announcement, asking “Who carries the blame now?” Jones added his own two cents, saying he was glad the fans were “opening their eyes”.
My take here is that Jones either would have- or wants us to believe he would have- taken a replacement fight if he had been notified three weeks in advance that Henderson was hurt and couldn’t fight, rather than the week before the fight. You never know. Greg Jackson said on Jordan Breen’s Sherdog radio show that he considered eight days notice to be three days notice, since the last five days before a fight are just spent doing light training and cardio while getting ready for weigh-ins. Perhaps three weeks to actually strategize would have made a difference to Jackson and Jones. Who knows?
What I do know is that this event was handled poorly by all involved. Jones was too silent about the decision immediately afterward, and then flip-flopped on his role in things while giving a transparently-insincere apology. Sonnen, as he always does, used the debacle to increase his own profile and leapfrog to a title shot he doesn’t deserve. White and the UFC, if they were indeed aware of Henderson’s knee injury weeks ago, should have had a contingency plan and discussed it with Jones. I know you can’t explicitly discuss an fighter’s injury with his opponent- if he does fight, the injury can be exploited- but there had to be some way to let Jones and his camp know there might be a change.
Meanwhile, we’ve seen dozens of UFC cards where a headliner had to drop out or a main event was changed and sometimes scrapped altogether. All of those cards went on, no questions asked. Is Jones to blame that the rest of the card was weak? The UFC has played a dangerous game in recent years with their top draws, putting their biggest draws (Brock Lesnar, Georges St. Pierre, and now Jones) at the top of cards that are noticeably weaker in star power than usual, knowing that the main event alone will sell pay-per-views. UFC 151 showed why you can’t do that.
One final note: the UFC even botched the replacement fight, officially announcing Lyoto Machida as Jon Jones’ opponent in September and promoting the fight on their website, only to find out that um, Machida didn’t actually want to fight Jones on one month’s notice. Turns out that “Shogun” Rua didn’t, either. It ended up being Vitor Belfort, which was announced the next day. Why promote, even for one day, Jones-Machida II if both parties hadn’t signed, though?
Ups and Downs for Bellator Fighting Championships
The good news for Bellator in the last week was that Bellator’s Summer Series came to a satisfying end, with Attila Vegh knocking out consistent veteran Travis Wiuff in just 25 seconds of round one to earn a light heavyweight title shot, while Marcos Galvao stopped Luis Nogueira in round two to earn the same in the bantamweight division.
The bad news? The structure of Bellator’s “seasons”, where the tournament format leads to challengers either being extremely busy or sitting on the sidelines, while champions largely wait for lengthy tournaments to establish contenders while taking non-title fights, backfired on them.
As part of keeping their fighters active and happy, Bellator has a fairly liberal policy on their fighters competing elsewhere. As such, bantamweight champ Eduardo Dantas competed in a Shooto event in Brazil last week and was promptly knocked out cold by an under-the-radar opponent named Tyson Nam who is not signed to a major promotion. Great for Nam, bad for Dantas, awful for Bellator, where Dantas hadn’t even defended his title for the first time yet before the loss.
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney has stated time and time again that the tournament format is here to stay, and I get that. It’s a big hook and provides some memorable moments. The problem is that it leaves Bellator’s champions (and biggest stars) just sitting around waiting. You could fix it by having each division have a tournament each season, but the problem there is that aside from finding enough space on each season’s cards for such an undertaking, there isn’t enough depth in each division to feature back-to-back tournaments in never-ending fashion. Perhaps if the tournament fields were slashed from eight fighters to four, it would work. Otherwise, by expanding the number of events a bit and rotating the cast of fighters, maybe two to three tournaments could be run in each division each year, allowing the champ to defend his or her crown an equal number of times.
Bellator has seven weight classes for men and four for women, and with an eight-fighter tournament there will be eight fights total (seven to establish a contender and one for the title shot that results), which means to have every one of the 11 weight classes have a tournament and title bout would require 88 fights. You want your tournament bouts and title fights on live television, so let’s say they’re all main card bouts, of which you can have five per event. That means eighteen events are required to have the eleven tournaments, plus the title shot from the last season’s tournament in each division during each season.
To date, Bellator’s seasons are regularly 11 events long, with the most events they’ve run in a calendar year being 25 in 2011. So obviously, they aren’t running enough events for every division to even get two tournaments per year. You could get through tournaments and title fights in all eleven divisions in just 15 events if you cut the women’s division’s tournaments down to four entrants, but that would still require an unprecedented 30 events each year just to give each division two title fights each year.
It’s a unique problem that is brought about by the very structure of the organization that has helped make it so noteworthy. How do you keep champions active when there’s only one to two challengers per year without giving them non-title bouts that cheapen their positions as champions and expose them (and their titles) to being devalued in the event of a loss?
The “Big Fight” This Weekend: Sylvia vs. Arlovski?!?
It’s not just Chael Sonnen who should be thanking Jon Jones (and Dana White) for the cancellation of UFC 151, but also two former pillar’s of the UFC’s heavyweight division: Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski.
The two continue their (ahem) rivalry at ONE FC 5 this weekend as they meet for the fourth time, and the first time outside of the Octagon. Certainly if the two knew they would meet again after their tentative, snore-inducing third bout way back at UFC 61 six years ago, they would have thought it’d be for a UFC title or as part of a pay-per-view main event. Of course, it was not to be, with both fighters suffering high-profile setbacks and bouncing around after being cut from the UFC (and in Arlovski’s case, Strikeforce, as well), and now the “epic” conclusion to their feud which only only a feud because each man has no one else to fight takes place in ONE FC, which you can watch via live video stream on PPV for $10.
As crazy as it sounds, though, there is something at stake. Arlovski, concerns about his chin aside, has always been a talented heavyweight and one could imagine him back in the UFC again if he could put together some wins. Sylvia, on the other hand, faces a much steeper path back to Zuffa’s warm embrace due to his plodding, awkward style and the fact that he’s not much of a fan favorite to begin with, but was almost Daniel Cormier’s final Strikeforce opponent, so who knows?