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Thursday Throwdown: Chael Sonnen, Eddie Alvarez, NFL Commentating

By on October 18, 2012

In case you haven’t heard, the UFC has realized that putting two fighters without marketable personalities, UFC titles to their names or huge fan bases as opposing coaches on “The Ultimate Fighter” is not such a good idea. This is particularly true when the show itself has the same antiquated, boring format that it’s had since the first season and relies on the same childish behavior and sophomorish pranks that it always has to attract some eyeballs again.

Now, you could just fix the show. Scrap the stupid team format, get some of your overpaid marketing “experts” in a room with the overpaid idiots from the network and figure out an original way to do a show about the lives of young, aspiring UFC fighters. In the process, you could come up with something that the fans would get excited about and that would not only bring improvements in ratings, but bring new fans to the sport while giving a good impression of what the UFC is all about.

Or you could just throw Chael Sonnen on the show and hope that his pro wrestling-style promos will translate well to reality TV.

Guess which one the UFC opted for?

So, “The Ultimate Fighter 17” will feature UFC Light Heavyweight Champ Jon Jones coaching against Sonnen, who will have something in common with all of the young upstarts who will compete on the show: he has never won a fight in the UFC light heavyweight division.

It’s a decision that reinforces one of the stranger things about the way the UFC has been run over the last 10+ years- Zuffa doesn’t know what they want the organization to be. How much effort was spent legitimizing the sport? How much time did Dana White spend traveling around to talk shows and appearing on ESPN, arguing with morons who hadn’t even seen an MMA event that this was not a freak show, but a real sport? How much effort went into defining the UFC as a name brand that symbolized “the Super Bowl of mixed martial arts”?

Yet, alongside all of these efforts to legitimize the sport and the UFC as a brand have come some head-scratching decisions. White scoffed at the “freak show” matchmaking of other promotions while bringing in an old, overweight former heavyweight boxer (James Toney) to face one of the greatest MMA fighters of all-time (Randy Couture) in a fight that I still can’t believe would be given the okay by the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission. We sat through an hour on Spike TV of watching Dana White train for a boxing match with Tito Ortiz that had already been canceled. We watched as White indulged himself in public spats with fighters, media members, and fellow promoters.

Yep, that’s just what a legitimate sporting organization does.

You know what else they do? Give a guy a title shot in a weight class he hasn’t even fought in yet based upon the fact that he was a pretty good middleweight and says amusing, ridiculous things. Nothing wrong with that, right?

I hear people saying a lot of things in defense of this move. “It’s a business,” they say. Oh, sorry, you have to say it in a snarky way, like “Last I heard, the UFC was a business,” or “You ARE aware that the UFC is in business to make money, right?” Because of course, if you don’t think Sonnen deserves a title shot, it’s because you didn’t even know that the UFC was a for-profit organization that exists to make money.

The NFL is a business, too. At the same time, if the Ravens make it to the Super Bowl, Roger Goodell won’t call a press conference and say, “Nobody wants to see the Ravens play in the Super Bowl. What they really want is Tom Brady, so we’re going to put the Patriots in there even though they lost in the wildcard round.”

What’s that? Apples and oranges? You’re right, it is an apples to oranges comparison, because the NFL is a sport first and the UFC is an entertainment company first. That’s fine, guys, but don’t be bitching the next time ESPN doesn’t give you enough time on SportsCenter or you feel disrespected by some idiot in the mainstream media who can’t tell the difference between the UFC and WWE.

(By the way, how many of you “The UFC is a business” apologists were fuming over Jon Jones making a “business” decision and not fighting Chael Sonnen on eight days’ notice? Is it a business or not? It goes both ways.)

Eddie Alvarez Will (Gasp!) Go to the Highest Bidder

Hey guys, I just figured out that the UFC is a business, and it turns out that MMA fighters want to get paid, as well.

As such, former Bellator fighter and current free agent Eddie Alvarez made an extremely surprising statement today when he said that he will go “to the highest bidder”. (I swear, my writing isn’t usually this sarcastic. Really.)

Let’s look a little further into that statement, though. Why would Alvarez voice an already-obvious sentiment like that he will fight for whoever is willing to pay him the most?

It could be a negotiating tactic, and would be a smart one, at that. The UFC can often afford not to bid too highly on free agents because a)they know that fighters are attracted to the idea of fighting in the highest-profile organization, and b)they also know that with their status comes other opportunities like extra sponsorships that can make free agents choose them even if they don’t make the best monetary offer. This statement makes it clear to the UFC that this will not be the case with Alvarez.

Of course, it matters very little since Bellator’s contracts are structured to allow Bellator to match any contract Alvarez is given. Therefore, the UFC would by default have to be willing to pay Alvarez more than Bellator in order to get his services, since a “tie” would mean Alvarez stays with Bellator, anyway. Still, by saying he’ll go to the highest bidder regardless of who it is, the UFC has to also compete with upstart organizations that may decide that a fighter like Alvarez will be worth the considerable expense as a main event fighter that can bring some attention to them.

One has to wonder, though: would signing with Bellator be best for Alvarez? If Alvarez isn’t keen on fighting in tournaments, history indicates that he would only compete 2-3 times per year, although some UFC fighters are already having a tough time getting in the cage more than that, anyway. What about sponsors, though? Bellator is heading to Spike TV, but it is doubtful that they’ll grab anywhere near as many viewers as the UFC does on FX. (I still think that it was a big mistake not to move Bellator to Spike immediately after the UFC left to fill the void as unknowing fans looked to Spike for their MMA fix.)

Ultimately, if I’m Bjorn Rebney, I’m tempted to open up my wallet to pay Eddie Alvarez. Top ten fighters don’t grow on trees, and this is particularly true of top ten fighters who nearly always have exciting fights. As a businessman (because it’s a business, right?), you also have to consider that having Alvarez go to the UFC and possibly under-perform would not reflect well on your brand. For the UFC in that scenario, it would be a win-win because even if Eddie took the lightweight division by storm, it wouldn’t matter because he’d be a UFC fighter then, anyway.

Non-MMA Rant of the Week

I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again many, many times: on the whole, football commentators are the worst in all of sports.

You take a game where there are 22 players on the field at any given time, with five of them (the offensive line) probably having the biggest impact of all on what the outcome of the game will be, and yet what do the simpletons in the booth talk about?

“Aaron Rodgers just has this look in his eye tonight.”

“Tom Brady is willing this team down the field.”

I’m even mostly okay with the fact that a lot of these headset-wearing goons in blazers don’t understand line play, but they can’t even give proper credit to the other skill players on the field. You see a wide receiver run a great route and make a nifty catch in traffic for a touchdown, and what do they say?

“Peyton Manning connects for his third touchdown today!”

Yes, that was ALL Peyton Manning.

All team sports today suffer from this kind of star-centric, oversimplified “analysis”, but none worse than football, and a lot of the reason that the awful commentary is so glaring during football games is that the game requires so much teamwork for any given squad to succeed.

Trust me, I’m a Bears fan. I know firsthand that it doesn’t matter how much you spend to bring a crybaby star quarterback (Cutler hasn’t completely grown on me yet) to town, it won’t matter if he drops back and immediately has guys breathing down his neck like a rabid zombie horde out of “The Walking Dead”. Similarly, it matters little how well he can throw the ball if his receivers are dropping passes or tipping them in the air for easy interceptions. Of course, none of this matters anyway if it’s a close game and any screw-up by anybody on the field- a missed field goal, an awful punt that sacrifices field position, an untimely penalty- can swing the game in the other team’s favor.

So, now we’ve got multiple NFL news programs on multiple cable channels. We’ve got pre-game and post-game shows that run for hours at a time. We have an entire network dedicated to the NFL that has 24 hours per day of time to analyze the tiniest minutiae of the dozens of games we see every month in a sport that we are told features so much strategy that good head coaches work 100 hours per week getting ready for each matchup. Yet, what kind of “analysis” do we get by these “experts”?

“This guy is a downhill runner.” What the fuck does that even mean?!? The field is fucking flat! (By the way, I do know what it “means”, but it’s a stupid expression anyway, and like other football cliches has become such a crutch that it has actually lost any meaning that it was supposed to have in the first place.

“They need to establish the run.” Yes, that would be a good idea. Mostly because there are only two ways to move the fucking ball, and that’s one of them. Hopefully, they won’t rule out half of their total offensive options, because that probably won’t go well for them.

The list goes on and on. Football commentators are often former players or slimy broadcasting majors like Joe Buck who simply string together cliche after cliche rather than saying anything meaningful. That is, when they aren’t abusing the English language altogether.

Just tonight, I heard former NFL All-Pro Deion Sanders on the NFL Network saying at halftime, “It behooves me why [the 49ers] will not throw the ball deep…” Um, what? Deion, that word does not mean what you think it means. This on the same night that Deion used “respectfully” in place of “respectively”.

Deion, it would “behoove” you to buy a fucking dictionary. I say that “respectfully”.

Quote of the Week

Is that you being in good shape on TRT or off TRT?

-Jon Jones, responding to Chael Sonnen’s claim that he is in better shape when he fights than Jones is. It was essentially Jones’ first time taking a shot at Sonnen after quite a bit of needling from Sonnen through the media and via Twitter.

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  1. Mick says:

    Hear Ye, hear ye,

    Dana White and the entire Zuffa gang are still and probably will be for a very long time convinced that they are the only ones in the “real” MMA game. I have come to the reality that
    your entertainment statement vs: viable sports is truly obvious. As for Jones and Sonnen – Not even slightly interested in watching any of that. However there are zillions of mma goons to really enjoy a
    chance to see and hear both of these “coaches” tell everyone how good they are. With the skills Sonnen and Jones possess from a sports view it is actually pitiful that they haven’t a clue what money whores they both work for.

  2. Jon Hartley says:

    Very true! I’ll watch Jones fight just about anybody, but I think Sonnen is far from the most compelling opponent he could face.

    Jones got a clue about how White operates when he pissed him off for not fighting Sonnen on late notice at UFC 151. Not once did Dana ever take any responsibility for building such a weak card that it couldn’t withstand the loss of a main event, of course.

    Thanks for reading! I always enjoy your comments.

  3. Mick says:

    Thank you for the excellent commentaries on MMA.

    Could you possibly address a burning subject for me? It is about Michael (no count) Bisping and his lenghty avoidance of fighting Anderson Silva. On one of the UFC weekly airs Bisping stated after his loss to Sonnen that he shouldn’t be sent to the back of the line for a title shot. Just as quickly two weeks later on the same weekly UFC show Bisping stated if a couple more fights before I get a shot at the title are there then so be it. Now I understand that he has asked White and Zuffa to give him a shot at an interim middleweight title after Silva goes to LHW
    to fight Jones.

    It is obvious to me that this brit is really, really focused on not fighting the current UFC Middleweight Champ in Anderson Silva. Silva’s title defense record is unparelled and Bisping has NEVER pushed or publicly demonstrated
    a real desire to fight him.

    Please tell me your thoughts on this or even better write an article on it.

    Thanks Jon,



  4. Jon Hartley says:

    I agree that Bisping has never shown the kind of desire that most show to get a title shot. He does seem more inclined in recent months to get a title fight, but yeah, I never got the idea before then that he wanted any part of Silva. Like you, I also remember him seeming almost disinterested with getting a title shot and talking about slowly working his way up, etc.

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