Total Recall: The MMA Week in Review

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Follow Underground Columnist Ralph Welch on Twitter.

Edgar feels the heat

It was another night of hotly disputed judging at UFC 150 in Denver, Colorado on Saturday.

No sooner had the judges delivered their split decision verdict in favor of champion Benson Henderson than former lightweight king Frankie “The Answer” Edgar was being consigned to the sauna. The post-fight press conference was peppered with questions about whether the defeated challenger would finally relent and drop to 145lb in search of glory.

The New Jersey native defies conventional combat logic by fighting at a weight suited to his frame, rather than robbing his body of much-needed moisture to compete at a lower poundage.

It is an admirable stance that has served him well to date. A veteran of six five-round title fights, Edgar has never been outmuscled or overpowered – and not once has his cardio been found wanting.

Normally a fighter switching division occurs after a punishing loss. That is certainly not the case here. Edgar’s three decision losses have been razor-thin and there’s a compelling argument that he’s been on the sharp end of some contentious officiating. Nevertheless, he will be painfully aware that he now has to take his place at the back of the long line of title hopefuls.

In reality, the pressure for Edgar to drop down to 145 reflects more on the comparative lack of depth in the lower division, where Jose Aldo remains peerless. Messrs Hominick, Florian, Mendes have all tried and failed. Next up is the unfancied Erik Koch.

UFC matchmakers have been struggling to find an opponent who could deliver the kind of spectacle that will justify PPV billing. In Frankie Edgar, whose trilogy with Gray Maynard gave us some of the most compelling television in UFC history, they believe they may have found the answer.

Guillard perishes in friendly fire

One of the longest-running debates in Mixed Martial Arts is the question of whether teammates should wage war if circumstances dictate that they meet within the caged battlefield. Many fighters insist they couldn’t make enemies of men they consider brothers in the tight-knit environment of training camps.

UFC supremo Dana White insists that it’s a flawed argument. After all, MMA is not a team sport. When the cage door slams shut and the fighters touch gloves, they are painfully aware that destiny lies in their hands alone. Friendship, White argues, should always play second fiddle to finance when potentially lucrative paydays are on offer.

At UFC 150 we saw definitive proof that good friends can indeed make better foes as Melvin Guillard and Donald Cerrone put personal feelings aside to wage war in the Octagon. And what a war it was. It may have only lasted 76 seconds in total, but it was enough time for Cerrone to recover from a left hook that had him on life support, and complete the most unlikely of comebacks.

Guillard, meanwhile, finds himself in the unenviable position of always being in fun fights, but he can’t beat the best around. Once touted, possibly prematurely, as the future of the 155lb ranks, he now has to rebuild carefully. In a division bursting with talent, that will be no easy task. His entertainment value remains high, which means he’ll get plenty of opportunity for redemption in a sport where winning the crowd can occasionally carry the same weight as winning fights.

Just ask Jake Shields. The cacophony of boos that greeted his victory over Ed Herman was predictable after 15 minutes of lackluster action that did little for the collective pulse of the Colorado crowd. Shields may find himself under pressure to sacrifice effectiveness for entertainment if he is to be a main eventer at 185.

Jones and Rousey sail into mainstream

One man whose popularity has dwindled as his profitability soared is the light-heavyweight phenom Jon “Bones” Jones. The youngest-ever UFC champion has faced accusations of arrogance from some quarters as he dispatches his divisional rivals with the minimum of fuss. It seems that some fans who once marvelled at his mercurial talents are now tiring of his domination. It’s noticeable that much of the UG chatter on the forthcoming Jones-Henderson title fight is not about the destination of the belt, but whether it will be a genuine contest. Oddsmakers have decided it won’t be, and in matters of dollar bills they are rarely mistaken.

Jones’ bank was bolstered handsomely this week when he inked a deal with sportswear giant Nike. Jones will be a global face of the brand and the historic endorsement cements his position as a franchise player in the Zuffa ranks. As the good ship MMA sails into mainstream waters, Jones will be at the front of the vessel.

He’ll be joined at the captain’s table by Ronda Rousey whose profile continues to rise exponentially. After becoming a magazine cover model and then appearing on Conan O’Brien’s chat show, the Strikeforce Women’s Champion was the subject of “Access All Areas” which aired this week on Showtime.

It offered a fascinating insight into the life of a fighter who has electrified the women’s division. Rousey has the marketable mix of natural beauty and supreme athletic ability. Thankfully both come with a healthy degree of humility. Despite her increasing notoriety, Rousey continues to live her life as she did when she was on the fringes of the public consciousness. The paychecks and endorsements may be significantly more sizeable but there are no outward signs of the garish consumption that often accompanies a sudden increase in wealth.

Indeed rather than gloat in her financial gain, Rousey spoke about the daily pressure of gaining acceptance in the macho world of MMA. It involves being the first in the gym and the last one out; a frightening work ethic that commands nothing but absolute respect from her male counterparts.
Having won the title in only her fifth professional contest, Rousey’s first defense occurs this Saturday night in California against Sarah Kaufman.

Publicly, the latter has bemoaned that Rousey’s notorious trash talking initially catapulted her into title contention above other, more worthy candidates.

Privately, she will admit that Rousey’s rising star has shone a long overdue light on our female fighters.

And finally…

Alistair Overeem’s charm offensive came off the rails this week when his attempts to hype up an early return following a drug violation were kyboshed by the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC).
Buoyed by a positive meeting at UFC headquarters a few weeks ago which saw a contrite Overeem build bridges with Dana White and the Fertittas, Overeem was hoping his mea culpa would hasten a potential December title tilt versus Junior Dos Santos. Sadly NSAC Commissioner Keith Kizer was not of the same opinion:

“There is some discretion at commission level, but I don’t think this is the case to use that discretion. This is not just a guy who engaged in cheating, but a guy who ran out the front door when the testing was being done.”

If the sport is serious about its own war on drugs then the sentences need to be sufficiently harsh to deter potential offenders. In the short-term, Kizer’s uncompromising response may rob us of a matchup between two genuine heavyweight stars we are all desperate to see. However, if it ensures that in the long-term they meet on a level playing field, it is a price worth paying.