Welcome to the return of the MMA roundtable for backsportspage.com. S. Robert Sacco (SRS), Coach Rich Ruenzi (CRR) and Marcus Mitchell (MM) discuss some of the more pressing MMA issues.
Q: Judging by the cancelation of UFC 151, is the UFC scheduling more fight cards than they have marketable talent to fill them?
SRS: Simply put, no. There is so much marketable talent that there are guys waiting longer than they should for their next fight. The problem, if there is one, is the narrow scope of how fighters are portrayed. Every fighter has a great story but not every fighter fits an archetype. If fans had greater access to these stories then the UFC could market as many fights as they wanted.
CRR: Since 2010, the UFC has expanded from 24 to 27 to 31 planned events per year . A 12% annual increase doesn't seem overly ambitious considering the significant increase in fighters and gyms. At the end of the day, the UFC simply needs to schedule better. No small task, but this is simply the result of exponential growth and the corresponding growing pains.
MM: I don't believe so. The UFC runs a business by trying to create the most compelling fights which compel fans to open their wallet. MMA fighters train harder than ever, and in turn seem more apt to injure themselves in the process. In regards to marketable talent, fighters are obviously not all going to come from The Ultimate Fighter. Simply put, a stage is needed to show their talents. Though some fans only want to watch the headliners, the UFC generally puts enough fights on a given card to offer newcomers a real opportunity. Assume UFC 151 is an anomaly unless proven otherwise.
Q: What can Jon Jones do, if anything, to get back in MMA fans good graces?
SRS: Get a publicist and listen to him or her but most of all he needs to be quiet and stay out of the public eye for a bit. There is always another scandal around the corner for people to be obsessed with. Jones may flourish or falter as a heel but being a dominant champion means that what we think of him is moot.
CRR: This phenomenon is new to MMA and frankly, beyond my comprehension. Typically, a fighter plays the role of “the heel” (i.e. Josh Koscheck) or fight predominantly in a lay and pray manner (I.e. Jon Fitch) to draw this type of ire. Jones does not fit either profile. He tries to present himself as likable. Moreover, not only does he finish his fights but does so in a brutal and often unique fashion. Fans are incredibly fickle in regards to rooting for individuals. It is more important for Jones to solicit a reaction; regardless of whether its good or bad, then no reaction at all. Just ask Chael Sonnen.
MM: Win and win viciously. In all of sports, winning is the best medicine to quell hatred from fans. If Jones came out and gets knocked stiff by Vitor Belfort, the entire arena would erupt before the fallen champion's eyes rested in the back of his head. Since no one expects him to lose, he must continue to win in devastating style. Since there's no foreseeable way that Bones can KO Belfort in a more shocking manner than Anderson Silva, Jon Jones will have to understand the medicine takes a few doses to take effect.
Q: With Lyoto Machida recently ousted as the number one contender to Jon Jones' belt, who should be next and why?
SRS: Jones will lose his belt the same way that Liddell, Emelianeko, and Franklin lost their titles, to our great shock and amazement by a person we did not expect, in a fashion we never imagined. Jones is the beneficiary of the UFC’s greatest myth, the untouchable champion. He is beatable and we will say of course he was but it will have to be in hindsight. As for whom the next contender should be, put the names of the other top nine in a hat and let the chance take care of the rest.
CRR: Hopefully, he isn't a fighter from a lower weight class who is not even the top contender at that level. Oh wait. My biggest gripe with the UFC is the complete absence of a defined competitive architecture. A process in which fighters are measured and earn their title shots based upon octagon results. In place of this structure, the number one contender is solely based upon the UFC's say-so. WAMMA made a valiant attempt to provide such a structure but it was ultimately unsuccessful. The closest thing we have to an official rankings system is the USA Today's MMA rankings, which is a composite of 20 different ranking polls. According to the USA Today poll, Dan Henderson is the number one contender but is currently injured. With the next three fighters having been beaten convincingly by Jones over the last 18 months (Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, Shogun Rua) , there really is no right answer.
MM: I would like to see Alexander Gustaffson given a chance. Compare their records: Gustaffson is 14-1 with two decisions to his name while Bones is 16-1 with three decisions. Obviously Jones' loss was ridiculous, but these guys are finishers. They are both lanky fighters (Gustaffson at 6'5 and Jones at 6'4) in a weight division suited for them as long as they can maintain their metabolism. And how could this be marketed?
"Alexander Gustaffson holds a win over the only man "Bones" Jones could not defeat: Matt Hamill!"
Q: Should knees to the head, head stomps and downward elbows be allowed on the ground?
SRS: In my opinion, sport fighting should have as few rules and interference as possible while maintaining the integrity of cultivated skill and safety of the fighters. In terms of cultivated skill, there is no benefit to allowing biting; fish hooking, head butting, groin strikes, or small joint manipulation but the attacks in the aforementioned question can change the complexion of a fight in a number of familiar scenarios. As for the safety of the fighters, these techniques were in legal in the now defunct Pride fighting championships and caused no more serious damage than the techniques which are currently allowed in the UFC.
CRR: I have no problems with 12 to 6 elbows. I had a conversation with Big John McCarthy about this very topic last year. McCarthy stated that when they were trying to put together unified rules for MMA, he attended a card with a group of doctors who would be offering their professional opinions on the topic On this card was a fight with a significant size mismatch. The smaller man had the bottom position and the much larger man on top was throwing consecutive 12 to 6 elbows. McCarthy said it looked absolutely brutal and this singular fight is the sole reason this type of strike is illegal. Studies have been conducted which reveal that other blows legal in all contact can generate more power than the 12 to 6 elbow. That being said, I am against head stomps because serious damage is much more feasible. Knees to the head of a downed opponent don't present the same problem unless the fighter's head is pinned against the cage.
MM: This is a fine line. How will they be monitored? Should all strikes be legal or are there hilarious versions that are disallowed a la Tim Sylvia v. Andrei Arlovski III? Personally, I never want to see head stomps or downward elbows allowed. Let me rephrase that, I think that when a wrestler decides he's going to "maneuver for a position" on his way to "grinding out" a decision, head stomps and downward elbows should be fully legal. The referee should immediately announce these to be legal when certain welterweights enter the cage. Seriously though, I am not a fan of head stomps or downward elbows. I think knees to the head of a grounded opponent should absolutely be allowed. There are few times in a fight where a professional fighter looks confused. 99% of those rare times are because the fighter finds himself in a position wondering why he can't knee his opponent whose head is simply asking to be demolished.
Q: Should judges and refs have some experience as a professional fighter as criteria for certification?
SRS: If the quality of judges and referees is of any importance to sanctioning bodies there can be no other choice. In the infancy of a sport, commissions can’t be blamed for the field of qualified officials but as time goes on more retired fighters will be available. As this happens, the criteria for becoming a judge or refereeing should be changed to include some experience as a professional fighter.
CRR: Obviously it would be a good background for a referee if he/she has experience as a professional fighter. I just don't think it should be a requirement. However, I feel very strongly that a referee should have training in both grappling and striking art forms before being allowed to referee a match. Through training, they will have a better understanding when a fighter is in trouble, in a stalemate position and when a reset should be instituted.
MM: I do not believe fighting experience should be a prerequisite to becoming a judge though it would obviously be an asset. For instance, new judge and ex-fighter Ricardo Almeida has a unique opportunity to offer advice to judges from a different viewpoint. The main issue in judging is inconsistency. Baseball faces the same problem on a nightly basis with umpires and strike zones. Are umpires ruining the sport? Absolutely not. Pitchers study to understand each umpire's individual strike zone and use that knowledge to their advantage. Fighters can use this same philosophy. Or, the more desirable gameplan, knock the other person wearing a mouthpiece out.
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