UG Columnist Ralph Welch discusses Chris Weidman seizing the moment, a TUF start for Gilbert Smith, Randy Couture Bjorn Again, and Ben Askren hitting the heights.
Weidman Seizes the Moment
After the dust settled in Chicago this past weekend, Chris Weidman and his management team sat down with Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta. Top of the agenda was the fate of Anderson Silva’s middleweight title.
Having destroyed Mark Munoz in 2012, Weidman (9-0) was in pole position to challenge the 185lb king before a shoulder injury moved him to the back of the line.
However, the legendary “Spider” has seen a host of pretenders to the throne falter in recent weeks. Messrs Bisping, Belcher and Boetsch have all fallen at the last hurdle, leaving him bereft of a worthy challenger.
Without throwing so much as an elbow in anger, Weidman has seen himself charge back into contention.
Silva’s management have voiced concerns over the young New Yorker, citing their preference for a bigger name such as veteran Cung Le or Luke Rockhold. Neither excites the UFC brass, who believe they can sweeten the Weidman deal by hosting the fight in Silva’s Brazilian backyard.
Weidman, by nature a humble and personable young man, had initially been circumspect about his chances of landing the biggest payday of his career. Recent weeks have finally seen him lobby publicly in the MMA media for his shot at glory.
There’s a middleweight title on the line and the chance get into the Octagon with the greatest fighter this sport has ever seen.
This is no time for humility.
Keep talking, Chris.
TUF Start for Gilbert Smith
The new series of long-standing reality show “The Ultimate Fighter” continues to impress. After several lacklustre seasons, the latest incarnation has a more honest feel about it.
Perhaps it is too early to judge after only two episodes, but already it appears that the childish exploits of the past have been consigned to the cutting room floor. Gone are the food fights and the infantile practical jokes between fighters.
Instead the focus is on the human side of a life spent fighting for pay.
Behind each and every man/ woman that decides their best hope of a financial future lies in the Octagon, is a deeply interesting personal story.
These stories, the exploration of what drives them to pursue such a violent vocation, are compelling television. Last week we saw the impact on families. Watching the reactions of parents, wives and children as their loved ones traded blows in the Octagon was moving, if occasionally uncomfortable.
This week we saw the emotional toll of knowing your future, everything you’ve sacrificed for, could hinge on a split-second in the cage.
It was a weight that was too much even for the colossal shoulders of Team Jones bruiser Gilbert Smith. Before his fight with UK prospect Luke Barnatt, Smith was reduced to tears as he pondered the consequences of faltering in his defining moment.
Those are consequence he will have to deal with, after he was crumpled by a devastating flying knee strike in the second round.
His hopes of a UFC contract were crushed, but his dignity remained intact.
Dignity, emotion and defining moments. “The Ultimate Fighter” has gone back to its roots.
Couture is Bjorn Again
One man who no longer has to worry about his own future is decorated Hall of Famer Randy Couture.
Dubbed “Captain America”, the career of the three-time UFC Heavyweight Champion and two-time UFC Light Heavyweight Champion is enshrined in UFC folklore.
Like Chuck Liddell and the recently-retired Matt Hughes, Couture seemed destined to keep cashing UFC-related checks for years to come. He’s been a regular in the broadcast booth for FOX events and thus it was a seismic shock to find out that his next TV appearance would be under the banner of Bellator.
Sports Illustrated revealed that the Viacom-owned company, locked in litigation with the UFC over the future of Eddie Alvarez, had signed Couture to work on “multiple projects."
In a further twist of fate, Couture’s first task will be to coach the hopefuls on Bellator’s forthcoming reality TV series. It was Couture who famously coached opposite nemesis Chuck Liddell in the first series of “The Ultimate Fighter”, the series that changed the fortunes of the UFC forever.
Securing Couture’s signature is some coup. CEO Bjorn Rebney, the victim of a verbal assault from UFC President Dana White over Alvarezgate, will have allowed himself a wry smile.
There’s a delicious irony about the situation. Back in 2007, Couture left the UFC under a cloud in a dispute over his pay packet. Put simply, he wanted more transparency over his salary, which is the main bone of contention in the current courtroom controversy.
Couture brings history and - more importantly - eyeballs to the Bellator brand. His recent crossover to the silver screen, as a star of The Expendables franchise, has only increased his name recognition.
This is a move that’s as bold as it was unexpected. The UFC will forever be the monolithic entity in the MMA universe. But those who ridiculed Bellator’s stargazing should probably stop now.
Business just picked up a little around here.
And finally… Askren Hits the Heights
One man who won’t be switching paymasters anytime soon is Bellator welterweight boss Ben Askren (11-0).
One of the most decorated collegiate wrestlers on US soil (he holds the NCAA pin record for a single season); Askren has barely broken sweat in claiming the title. However, while his suffocating style has won him plenty of fights, fans have been harder to come by.
Dana White has been one vociferous critic and the two have traded words over social media. So it was interesting to see what sort of reception Askren would get whilst cornering his Roufusport team-mates at UFC on FOX 6 last weekend. Would all be forgiven? Would Askren get the red carpet treatment given to Eddie Alvarez (spotted cageside with Dana White) last year?
Having completed his cornerman duties, Askren tweeted a picture from his seats for the main event...
Follow Ralph on Twitter