By: S. Davis
I’ve been holding on to this piece for a while because watching how the UFC arranges their chessboard going forward is quite embarrassing. With all eyes – and marketing – geared towards UFC 200, in July, the management is intent on making a spectacle (i.e., cash) over making the fights that should happen. Where do I even begin?
Congratulations, Holly Holm! The new UFC bantamweight champion overcame the odds (bluster, and unwarranted personal attacks) of Ronda Rousey to take the title in spectacular fashion. She’s articulate, soft-spoken, humble and ready to defend her crown. How does the UFC strike on the momentum of such a ripple in the sport of mixed martial arts? They put her on the shelf, dimming her star, while Rousey fulfills her well-earned Hollywood pursuits. Huh?
So Holm, who so thoroughly dominated Rousey that an immediate rematch can be debated at-length, has to stand around eight months? Was Dana White occupied and not paying attention to what happened in that octagon when both women were locked inside? It wasn’t a close fight in any sense. Rousey wasn’t hit with a lucky shot by an overmatched contender that caused her to lose the title. Holm exposed the holes in her game – that other women were unable to take advantage of – and controlled her over the six minutes the fight lasted.
Rousey showed a lack of ANY head movement, her poor striking defense was visible to even a novice, casual, fan of the sport and her footwork was elementary for a woman of her accomplishments. If you watched the fight with the sound muted you would walk away thinking that Holm was defending the belt against a contender that wasn’t prepared to challenge for a championship. It was that lopsided.
If Rousey took the time she could clean up those three deficiencies at a level where it could possibly allow her to get the fight into the clinch where she can transition to her judo throws and trips. She could work on her striking until 2020 and never make up the gap that Holm has on her in that discipline. The point is that Rousey could win a rematch but she would have to change her style to actually stop being a pressure fighter, which gives Holm the opportunity to really control the distance and beat her on points, defeating the need for Holm to be aggressive at all – and lower the risk of being within arm’s distance of Rousey’s optimal fighting range.
Like I stated above, her best chance is to improve her head movement, because it was stationary, footwork and striking defense. Maybe with those three facets undergoing further development she could get the fight in her distance to set up her trips, throws and possible armbar. Who knows what would’ve happened if Rousey were able to get Holm into her clinch three or four more times? The problem is that Holm has been a seasoned champion in boxing and kickboxing so no matter the outcome, the event atmosphere itself would not rattle her – and she’s been training mixed martial arts with elite athletes and coaches at the Jackson Wink Academy for possibly longer than the time it took Rousey to ascend in the sport. In hindsight the outcome from last month shouldn’t have been so shocking. Lastly, Holm is bigger and stronger than any opponent Rousey has faced and those attributes are unlikely to change in July.
Rousey gets to go off and do her films while a burgeoning star waits? Who’s the champion again? Dana White stills thinks it’s Rousey, clearly. Holm is on her clock when it should be the other way around. Maybe I should quit being reasonable here.
Holm-Rousey 2 is the money fight for UFC 200 – and I get that but they are courting disaster by that being Rousey’s last fight…ever. Why put the company in that position, Mr. White? No more bank off her name, the headlines begin to melt away and the record-breaking numbers from one of the most marketed athletes ever become past tense. Rousey has already stated that if she drops the rematch she will retire. Now that could just be the raw emotion that she’s still dealing with in the aftermath of her aura being eviscerated in the most visible way but isn’t the fact that she’s talking about retirement an indictment of her confidence, her mental state? Isn’t that against many of the foolish (and unwritten) rules in the athletic credo? White is setting up Rousey to be retired after a second loss to the champion – and she would easily find herself in the same position that she put Miesha Tate in. It doesn’t seem logical to even consider this route.
Holm deserves to defend against Tate. It’s almost as if she’s being punished for defeating the promotion’s golden girl. YOU WIN, YOU SIT DOWN! Rousey could have a big return fight against Amanda Nunes or Julianna Pena while Holm could give Tate her well deserved title shot (I’d pick Holm to retain) and if Rousey wins her fight…boom! Of course both women could lose and the rematch could be shot in the foot but there’s always risk in combat sports. I just don’t like Holm being put in a freezer when she could fight anywhere from Febraury-April and still make it to July for another battle. Looking back at the minimal damage she took at UFC 193, Holm could possibly fight twice and still compete in July.
Holm is the champion – and deserves the same, maniacal, whirlwind push that the woman she unseated received. That way you have two stars simultaneously. Who’s not going to be excited to see Holm defend her title before UFC 200? Where’s the person that’s going to boo a Rousey comeback story? Not many. But it’s the UFC and if it doesn’t make dollars, first and foremost, they don’t care. Just ask Frankie Edgar about fairness. Give Holm her spotlight, her platform to reign in a manner fitting for her; she doesn’t need to replicate the former champion. It’s called variety so let Holm realize her potential by allowing her to stay active.
Moving on to another issue that would make me want to jump through a window if I wasn’t familiar with how White conducts business: Jose Aldo and Conor McGregor. Full disclosure, I picked Aldo to win a four-round, close fight by TKO. Needless to say that after parking my car en route to a holiday party and checking my phone I almost couldn’t see clearly when it read “McGregor finishes Aldo in 13 seconds.” Congratulations to McGregor, he’s good. However I do not think he’s revolutionizing striking by any means (Tell me how?) or do I find him to be a master of angles, distance and movement. If that’s true why is his defense, the majority of the time, supreme confidence in his chin?
He gets hit, a lot. Now Aldo did nothing of note in the fight with him two weeks ago but Chad Mendes put fists on his face a number of times (outside of the takedowns he scored) at UFC 189. Biting down on a mouthpiece and taking clean shots from anyone is not mastering of distance and movement, it’s gambling. I compare a fighter’s chin to a running backs legs as there are but so many carries for a running back as there are so many times the button can be pressed on a chin before your brain starts shutting off – and your knees take on the consistency of macaroni. McGregor is a good fighter but he’s not the first of his kind, he’s not dissimilar to what we’ve seen before. He’s a gifted striker with a variety of accurate punches and kicks, excellent stopping power in both hands, although his left is a night-ender, and up to this point he has questionable takedown defense. That’s an apt description of Anthony Pettis (without the finishing power in his fists), Carlos Condit, Donald Cerrone, etc. His mouth makes him unique, I’d imagine, but as a fighter he fits a well established template. If someone should have the title of unique applied to them on that roster, look at Demetrious Johnson. He masters every facet of martial arts in the octagon and searching for someone to join him on that list is a chore.
What I think is a major plus for McGregor is his composure in the cage; not the trash talk and mean-mugging when he eats a shot to the head but how calm he seems the entire time. That might play a part into how he’s able to influence an opponent mentally. Now that is one aspect of his that I think – along from the verbal missiles he launched at Aldo over the past year – pushed Aldo to start so aggressively. He began his attack in a way that’s a stark contrast to how he’s opened fights over his most of his career. If you watch McGregor in a fight, just by his facial expression you would think he’s ordering a coffee or relaxing at the beach with his girlfriend.
Now standing as the undisputed champion at featherweight, he has “options” as the division that he rules waits for him to make a decision. (Again, sorry Frankie.) So why again is Rousey automatically granted a title rematch while Aldo is not? Rousey was dominant and undefeated since 2010, impressive. Aldo was just as dominant – and although his record wasn’t without a loss (now a second after McGregor’s left hand hit flesh) he entered his clash with McGregor sporting an 18-fight win streak with his last loss dating back to 2005. What’s going on? While a 13 second loss is devastating, in a way, it doesn’t really prove much in terms of who’s the best among the two men. Holm controlled her counterpart for two rounds – and I think that’s a bigger statement of why Rousey should not get an immediate rematch. Yet I’m reasonable, I get what the UFC is looking at but I don’t think they’re seeing clearly.
Any reasonable MMA fan can understand this, right? You know what? I retract that as it seems the most unreasonable fans are in fact those that follow MMA.
Consider me outside of the chorus of those worshipping the boastful Irishman, it’s not because I’m a “hater,” it’s more of the fact that I’m not into the deification of humans. Not. At. All. Furthermore, I don’t classify myself as a “fan” as that’s short for fanatic. I like sports – and by direct relation I have respect for athletes who compete. I think Edgar should get the featherweight shot against McGregor next as it seems he’s not that excited to challenge for the lightweight title now that Rafael dos Anjos retained (and Aldo has to get in line for some reason). I’m not of the ilk that feels McGregor is “better” than Aldo but it was an impressive win nonetheless. I stand on the sideline of grand declarations as most of the MMA world said, loudly, that Junior Dos Santos was “better” than Cain Velasquez after their first meeting…then they met twice after that.
Does Aldo not deserve his redemption in a second showing? What’s the exact criteria for an immediate rematch?
I’m not stupid in thinking the UFC is very comfortable with McGregor holding one title, threatening to try for two, and making sure Aldo is pushed to the side. I say this because Aldo has been critical of management, has had to pull out of title fights due to injury and they have a hard time marketing him. In defense of the UFC, he has not taken to learning English, unlike his fellow countrymen Vitor Belfort and Junior Dos Santos and the company must be bonkers over having an English-speaking star. Of course it would be detrimental to class and business sense to ever declare that publicly. I also thought it would echo the same sentiment to release the dressing room footage of Aldo after losing the featherweight title fight…and then it went viral. What do I know? Maybe they just want to let the promotional beast – and fans – take a deep breath after having to promote Aldo-McGregor twice already. That’s fair.
Now the ongoing narrative from McGregor’s mouth and others that he’s “cleaned out the featherweight division” is comical. It doesn’t make any sense. Are MMA fans and media dumbing down the meaning of “cleaning” out one? Yes.
You can legitimately say that Jon Jones cleaned out light heavyweight with eight title defenses, Anderson Silva at middleweight with 10, and Georges St. Pierre joined that elite club with nine defenses at welterweight. McGregor does not have ONE title defense. Yes he defeated Chad Mendes, Dustin Poirer, Jose Aldo and (a young) Max Holloway but does that mean the division is conquered? If so, then Jones completely defeated the light heavyweight division before he went on his perfectly legal attempted-murder spree of 2011.
Someone always emerges so it can be argued that a weight class will always provide new challengers. It’s the cyclical nature of things. I wish the UFC, and more importantly, the MMA media would behave like objective journalists and not wide-eyed fanboys when it comes to common sense topics. Featherweight is not a dying division – and if the weight cut is a threat to his physical well-being then he should stop dropping pounds and go to 155 exclusively…or hold both belts simultaneously (if he can win the second and keep the first).
Sorry but the Cerrone fight is no longer an option, Mr. White. How about trying to add some legitimacy to your rankings by actually using them for something aside from you to acknowledge when you want to push someone up the ladder? One minute you boast about how high a fighter is ranked for one possible matchup and then blatantly disregard those same numbers preceding their name when another fight makes more sense “for the company.” Are you going to continue to do this? C’mon Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, Dana White you are all smarter that this. How else would you three have been able to spearhead a brand that couldn’t secure legitimacy worldwide to now having corporate sponsors like Reebok? For the most part, the UFC makes the right fights but there are a few times that match-making falls short.
Clear some things up. Is it Edgar or Aldo? Why should Holm sit on her star when it’s burning? Why can’t Rousey take a fight and earn a title shot? Why put her directly across the cage from a woman who handed her the only professional loss of her career upon her return? It can’t all be about money, although of course it is, it’s prize fighting. You’ve got to do better than this, White.