Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
We’ve reached that point with MMA again where there is kind of a lot going on but because there are no lulls in the event schedule, everything is starting to blend together. So this week we got a number of questions on a variety of topics so let’s bounce around a little.
Politics in the UFC
What is the net effect of fighters (not to mention Dana) being more and more vocal about politics on the sport? Any evidence it brings more buys?
— Paul Garcia (@hpaulg) November 5, 2020
Given the nature of this week in the UFC, it seemed fitting to start here. Also, let me preface all of this by saying it’s pure speculation. I have no facts whatsoever to back up my contentions.
My belief is that fighters becoming more outright political likely has increased viewership to some degree. The reason I think it has is pretty simple, by aligning themselves politically with Donald Trump, Dana White, Colby Covington, and a number of other fighters have made headlines, which in turn, promotes the sport. The truth of the matter is that there are not a great many people in the athletic and entertainment industries who publicly support Trump, and by associating with him, there has to be a boost of support from Trump’s many fans who are mostly restricted to a choice of supporting athletes with a different political ideology than their own or not supporting at all. From a pure numbers standpoint, 70 million+ people voted for Donald Trump. If by aligning with him you can pick up even a small percentage of viewers, you’re gaining ground.
Now that being said, I think the overall effect is fairly miniscule for another simple reason: we’re still talking about cage fighting. MMA will never be the biggest sport in the world because of what it is, fundamentally. Fighting is not something everyone enjoys watching and, frankly, loses its appeal the higher up the mountain of Elite you climb. A lot of people will stare at a drunken brawl if it breaks out in front of them, but substantially fewer will seek out drunken brawls to watch, and even fewer will watch a high-level technical affair. People want to see things go boom and then they’re on to the next one. So while Covington can maybe get a few more people in the door to watch him, keeping them there is a vastly different proposition.
So as far as net effect on fighters, from an X’s and O’s standpoint, I think it’s pretty marginal. But from a holistic standpoint, I think it’s a good thing. Being more politically active is a good thing. Speaking out about issues you find important is a good thing. The “stick to sports” argument has always been dumb as politics is nothing more or less than the governance of our society, which by definition attaches itself to all facets of our lives. If you have a platform, you have the right to use it how you see fit (so long as what you’re saying doesn’t devolve into hate speech, which Colby has flirted with from time to time), and doing so gives fans a broader understanding of who they are rooting for/financially supporting. It allows fighters to connect better with their fan base while also being free to be themselves so it’s, in my opinion, a net positive for fighters.
The lightweight title
Why do u think the LW belt is not Vacated despite Khabib announce his retirement because his mother told him that his last fight will be against Gaethje ?
— HONG KONG (@AbdullahShwihdi) November 6, 2020
This one is pretty straightforward: because the UFC can pull that trigger anytime and there is no rush. If Dana hauled off vacated Khabib’s title, the only thing that does it take one card off the table for them. Instead, the UFC is just going to wait and see if maybe Khabib changes his mind. Grief is a powerful emotion and perhaps given a few more months he will ultimately decide he wants one more. I certainly don’t think that’s true, but the UFC loses nothing by waiting and seeing. It’s not like there is a pivotal lightweight matchup hanging in the balance here. The next major lightweight bout is the planned Conor McGregor–Dustin Poirier fight for January and, I suspect, if that fight gets made official it will be for an interim title and, come January if Khabib is still holding steady, then they will just declare it for the true lightweight title. And if Khabib changes his mind before then, so much the better for everyone.
Who damaged their legacy worse towards the end of their career, Anderson or BJ? I believe they both ended it on 8 fight losing streaks and both have been considered p4p #1 at some point.
— Daniel Pompilio (@elpompilio) November 6, 2020
Look, I’m about as big of a B.J. as there is out there, but since losing the lightweight title, he has just cratered his reputation because he’s losing badly. Say what you will about the results, but Anderson has been legitimately competitive against top fighters well into his 40s. B.J., on the other hand, has been getting his doors blown off by guys that couldn’t carry his jock strap a few years earlier.
The one argument for Anderson her would be taking into account their starting statures. In 2012, Anderson Silva was a fixture of GOAT conversations and undeniably one of the 2-3 best fighters ever, and had he retired after the Stephan Bonnar fight as it was rumored at the time, he would be in that untouchable pantheon. Instead though, he kept fighting, popped for PEDs a couple of time, and has generally tarnished his reputation to where he is still in the GOAT conversation but it’s no longer a given. In contrast, B.J. was really only on the periphery of the GOAT conversation for intangible reasons – being the best lightweight, two-division champion, fights at heavyweight, etc – not because of his actual, on paper resume. Now he’s just removed from the conversation entirely. It’s not a huge drop-off for him, whereas the difference for Silva is substantial.
Still though, my pick is B.J.
Is it a bad look or just coincidence that Adesanya feuded with Jones for so long but refused to move up and challenge him at LHW for the title, but now that Jones has relinquished his title and gone to HW, Adesanaya now decides to move up to LHW and challenge for the title?
— Mean Gene (@MeanGene0022) November 3, 2020
First of all, even if this were intentional, I don’t think it’s a bad look at all. It’s a bad look for Jon Jones to obsessively feud with a man considerably smaller than him, not the other way around. The thing people seem to forget is Jon started all of this. Jon said respectfully that he liked the idea of fighting Israel Adesanya (which, again, he’s a middleweight), Izzy responded in kind, and then Jon went over the top about how Izzy would get murdered and yada yada. You notice Jon didn’t do the same thing when he and Francis Ngannou publicly said they were interested in fighting each other? Wonder why that is…
But secondly, this is pretty obviously not Izzy intentionally ducking Jon. “The Last Stylebender” has consistently said he was looking to fight Jon in 2021 after doing his duty as middleweight champion first. That’s literally what has happened here. He’s defended his belt, the next man in line to fight Adesanya already definitively destroyed so now he’s moving up for a new challenge. If Jon hadn’t vacated the title so he maybe one day, think about possibly, potentially moving up to heavyweight, they’d be the two men fighting next year. Instead, now we have to see if Adesanya can beat Jan Blachowicz a, and if he does, then it’s Jon next, for sure.
Champion vs Champion fights are losing their appeal imo,
What legitimate ‘superfights’ can the UFC make at the moment?
— Hardcore Casual UFC Fan (@CasualYves) November 6, 2020
Champion vs. Champion fights aren’t losing their appeal, they are just coming down to Earth. Champion fights used to happen once a decade, now it’s basically once a year so while the fights themselves are of course going to be great fights, given the nature of the competitors, the luster of the belts has worn off.
As for what superfights can be made, I think there are plenty of cross-divisional bouts that would be awesome. The most obvious ones are:
Israel Adesanya vs. Jon Jones
Jon Jones vs. Francis Ngannou/Stipe Miocic
Conor McGregor vs. Jorge Masvidal
Weili Zhang vs. Valentina Shevchenko
Khabib vs. Georges St-Pierre.
All of those would have a superfight feel to me and could easily headline a PPV event. And then there are a number of other fights that may not quite be to that level but would be interesting matchups like Frankie Edgar vs. Dominick Cruz or Robbie Lawler vs. Anderson Silva. In short, there are plenty of ways to match up fighters to create interesting bouts, the UFC just has to get creative.
Speaking of creative
You are in charge of the UFC. What are the first three things you do to help fix the lack of creativity?
— Moltisanti (@bstecher) November 6, 2020
Well, to “fix” the lac of creativity would be a fairly straightforward affair, you just replace Dana White. Dana’s fingerprints are all over the UFC’s finished product, and match his preferred aesthetic, which is why everything still very much has an Affliction-era vibe to it. Bringing in a new president who values creative energy and experimentation would almost immediately have noticeable effects. Put simply, I don’t think the lack of creativity in most aspects of the UFC stems from untalented or terrible employees. They are just forced to paint within a very specific set of lines.
But, if what you’re asking is what changes would I enact on a more micro level, here are my three:
- Bring back tournaments/Grand Prix. The tournament structure is the original foundation of the UFC but the reason they moved on from it is because of the myriad problems that occur trying to run one, and it’s easier to just book individual fights. But while that mostly remains true, it also presumes people will give a shit about the fights you book and I’m sorry, but the vast increase of Contender Series talent on every card makes that not true anymore. Half the fighters on any given UFC undercard don’t even have Wikipedia pages these days, and you expect people to care? Of course they won’t. But if you made the undercard tournament bouts, or parts of a larger Grand Prix, then there is an established narrative to buy into. Leave the stars of the sport to fight onesie-twosie, and let’s have some fun with the unknowns.
- Make more belts. I’m not talking about weight classes. In fact, the UFC could probably stand to lose a few of those. I’m talking make more conceptual titles, like the BMF belt. You can establish a specific set of parameters the fights must achieve to warrant keeping the belt and go from there. It gives all fighters more targets to aim at and gives the UFC more arrows in its promotional quiver. The first time they should’ve done this was with the Most Violent Fighter bout between Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez and instead of a belt it should’ve been a crown of thorns. You telling me fighters wouldn’t get f*cking pumped to fight for something like that? And since it’s your title you can set the terms how you’d like, for instance, for MVF, the winning fighter must either get a finish or land more than 300 strikes. Just imagine the kind of fights that would lead to. The UFC could literally do a dozen of these kind of conceptual belts across all weight classes and it would be f*cking awesome.
- Cross promote. Now this one I know would be a pipe-dream but it’s not as bad an idea as the UFC believes it to be. Yes, doing so would raise the profile of Bellator/ONE but consider this: how does that hurt the UFC? Fighting is not a finite resource and the UFC is not, in actuality, in competition with Bellator. People who watch fighting , watch fighting. Seriously, how many people in the world do you think there are who watch Bellator but not the UFC? Are there any at all? Doubtful. The UFC, like Bellator and ONE and PFL, are all in the same boat, competing with all the other viewing options available to modern consumers. And that’s a tough nut to crack. You know what would break through? The occasional “Super Bowl of MMA” card with champion vs. champion fights, etc.
Now, you may argue that Bellator actually is in competition with the UFC over fighters, and I suppose there is some merit to that but really, how much? When has the UFC ever wanted a fighter and Bellator won the fight? Never is the answer because Dana’s war chest is bigger. But even if that were the case, that road travels both ways and, if you’re doing periodic cross-promotional events, it’s less imperative you hoard talent. And I’m not just talking about other MMA organization: boxing too. The most lucrative event the UFC ever put on was a boxing match, and while you can’t bottle that lightning twice, you could make an effort to get some of it again. Let Floyd box Khabib, let Ngannou throw hammers with Deontay Wilder, let Douglas Lima and Kamaru Usman go at it. In short, let’s have some damn fun!
Thanks for reading this week, and thank you for everyone who sent in Tweets! Do you have any burning questions about at least tacitly related to combat sports? Then you’re in luck because you can send your Hot Tweets to me, @JedKMeshew and I will answer them! Doesn’t matter if they’re topical or insane. Get weird with it. Let’s have fun.