The cancellation heard ‘round the world.
There’s no better way to put it. While many men and women stepped into the cage in August, the loudest, most resounding blow came not in the form of a fist to someone face, but rather from the utterance of a single word by a UFC champion—“No.”
In choosing to say no, rather than yes, UFC’s light heavyweight kingpin, Jon Jones, shook the world of mixed martial arts. This is a sport born of the mentality that it doesn’t matter who you fight—anytime, anywhere, anyone is the creed fighters live by. It harkens back to the sports’ earliest days. The fighters at UFC 1 stepped into the eight-sided cage against three different opponents on a single night. They trained to beat all comers, not a specific foe. And that mentality is still expected and respected even as almost every other aspect of the sport evolves.
When Jones refused to fight a different opponent on short notice, it hit the sport in an unprecedented way. The Twitter world was abuzz with the rumors prior to the UFC’s announcement, and once UFC President Dana White confirmed that UFC 151 had been scrapped in its entirety, the Twitter-verse erupted with unrelenting criticism of the troubled champion.
It’s not often that one fighter can cause a historic event without ever throwing a punch. But Jones did, creating a scenario where the UFC saw no other choice but to cancel an event for the first time in its history. And while far from a positive, such a move is exactly what The Gauge is intended to measure.
Jones himself, along with his advisors at Jackson’s MMA, might be his own worst enemy. From ill-advised, reckless adventures in his Bentley, to his refusal to fight, to the worst public relations decisions ever made in the sport, Jones is doing nothing to win over the support of fans, his employer or his current sponsors or potential future suitors. However destructive they might be, his actions do manage to keep his name in the spotlight and in the MMA community’s collective consciousness. He’s now set to fight Vitor Belfort in just a matter of weeks.
But the real question is how long Jones can last before his aura crumbles completely. There have been signs—such as the rumors that he asked Dana White to order Chael Sonnen to back off in their war of words—that Jones’ biggest vulnerability is in his mental makeup, and the pressure of these constant stumbles and the criticism that is now flying at him from all directions cannot be good for the champion’s frame of mind both in and out of the Octagon. With the sport’s rise, and Jones’ mainstream sponsorship from Nike, could we be looking at the first UFC star to fall victim to the trappings of success, fame and money in the same manner that has plagued many a NFL and NBA player?
Ronda Rousey’s rise to stardom has been a combination of skill, looks and a seemingly unfiltered tendency to speak her mind. From claiming arm after arm inside the cage, to shedding every thread of clothing and bringing a new sexiness to wearing nothing but pink hand wraps, to giving the MMA media quotes involving horse semen injections and condoms at the Olympics, Rousey has effortlessly picked up the torch of women’s MMA previously carried by Gina Carano.
With her appearance in ESPN’s Body Issue and her outspoken style at press conferences, Rousey did a wonderful job of putting her name in the spotlight in the lead-up to her August bout with Sarah Kaufman. Then, she snagged another arm for her collection. To top it all off, Rousey followed up her victory by proceeding to call out former Strikeforce 145-pound women’s champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos. That’s one fight that could tempt UFC President Dana White to open the Octagon’s cage door and let a pair of ladies take center stage.
What is there to do when you spinning backfist your way to embarrassment in a middleweight title bout against all-time great Anderson Silva? How about moving up a weight class, signing on to fight Forrest Griffin, starting a Twitter war with light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, and then volunteering to step in on short notice and fight Jones, only to have the champ turn down the fight? Yep, that’s a pretty good month, and it’s doubtful that anyone other than Chael Sonnen could lose his last fight and yet improve his standing in the eyes of fans in such a significant manner.
Sonnen might be known for being outspoken and at times ridiculous, but one thing he isn’t often considered to be is a hero or a good guy. Apparently, all he needed was to go toe-to-toe with Jon Jones, who Sonnen called a “mental midget,” in the virtual world of cyberspace. It’s hard to imagine that Sonnen’s in-ring abilities would have challenged Jones much inside the Octagon, but there’s little doubt that Jones’ psyche would have suffered terribly at the hands of the master self-promoter. In fact, it already might have, if rumors of Jones’ request of Dana White are true.
Sonnen didn’t even set foot inside the cage in August, but he is the breed of fighter that doesn’t need an actual fight to keep the hype machine going. And emerging as the only good guy in the disaster of UFC 151 can’t hurt either.
One man’s—and promotion’s—misfortune is another man’s grand opportunity. So is the case for Tyson Nam. Entering into his contest with Bellator’s reigning 135-pound champion, Eduardo Dantas, Nam already had a record that put him on the radar of the big promotions. But once all was said and done, there could be no way for Bellator, Strikeforce and the UFC to ignore this up-and-comer. Bellator, in fact, is probably silently cursing his name. After all, Nam scored a knockout of Dantas within the opening minutes of their Shooto Brazil: Fight for BOPE 2 bout.
The win for Nam leaves Bellator with a champion coming off a loss, and leaves fans with the image of Nam backing up and scoring a finish reminiscent of Chuck Liddell’s counterpunch knockout of Renato Sobral. Nam now has the signature win he needs to explode onto the national scene.
The judges don’t always get it right, and that might have been the case again at UFC 150, where former UFC lightweight kingpin Frankie Edgar came out on the wrong end of a decision in his bid to recapture the title from Benson Henderson. The loss was a disappointment, but it prompted Edgar to finally make the long-suggested move to featherweight. It paid dividends for Edgar, who now finds his name sharing a headlining billing opposite UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo at UFC 153 in October. With Erik Koch out of the title tilt with an injury, Edgar jumps from a series of rematches involving lightweight gold to an immediate shot at the belt at 145 pounds.
He won, but did he really? Benson Henderson found his hand raised in his UFC 150 rematch against Frankie Edgar. It wasn’t without controversy, however, as a number of analyst and fans saw the fight in Edgar’s favor. The victory allows Henderson to retain the lightweight strap, and with Edgar’s departure to featherweight, it also allows the division to move forward with new title challengers instead of the extended run of rematches. Henderson already has his next date, a December meeting with Nate Diaz.
If you’re a feared submission specialist once ranked among the top middleweights in the world, what do you do to regain some of the momentum that had been lost due to underwhelming performances in stand-up battles? Knocking out an opponent in convincing fashion is one way. Jacare posted the first KO victory of his career at Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman when he took just 41 seconds to demolish Derek Brunson. The win immediately put Souza’s name in the hat for a rematch with Luke Rockhold, the man who snatched the crown away from Souza in the pair’s first encounter.
Is it really that great to be the winner of the UFC light heavyweight title challenger lotto at this point? Given the fallout of UFC 151, Vitor Belfort eventually emerged as the nemesis for UFC champ Jon Jones. The two will square off at UFC 152 in September, but will fans really take a fight seriously when it’s between a dominant light heavyweight and a guy who has resided at middleweight for half a decade? Belfort’s real best bet might be to play mind games with Jones in the lead up to the fight…perhaps he can even enlist Chael Sonnen to coach him in that area.
Lyoto Machida earned the right to fight for the light heavyweight title with his knockout of Ryan Bader at UFC on Fox 4 in early August. Little did he know that his number would be called so soon. With Dan Henderson out, and Jones refusing to fight at UFC 151, Machida was the first opponent announced for Jones at UFC 152. However, shortly after being announced, Machida also cited lack of preparation time in bowing out of the fight.
Heading into this fight from the Strikeforce: Rousey vs. Kaufman event, the question was why it would ever be relegated to the prelims. Well, Tate and Kedzie delivered the perfect answer as to why it should not. The two delivered another in a series of recent women’s matches that have delivered serious excitement and entertainment. Tate took the late stoppage victory over Kedzie, but both women must be applauded for their efforts in the Strikeforce cage. Fights like this continue to prove that women’s MMA is on the same level as the men’s side of the sport, and the women might now replace featherweights and bantamweights when fans talk about the most reliable recipe for an entertaining scrap.
Photo: Jon Jones (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)