SAN JOSE -- Daniel Cormier will challenge Jon Jones for the light heavyweight title at UFC 178 on Sept. 27 with a "technically" injured right knee. There is no hiding that.
Following a third-round submission win over Dan Henderson in May, Cormier (15-0) revealed he went into the fight with a torn LCL. Additionally, physicians informed Cormier he had a partially torn ACL, a previous injury he had been unaware of.
Cormier considered undergoing surgery to repair the ACL, but ultimately decided to forgo it. He says he had already made that decision before receiving an offer to face Jones, in place of the recently injured Alexander Gustafsson.
The 35-year-old former heavyweight says he’s not concerned with the knee heading into a fight against Jones, who will obviously be aware of it. Cormier says the reason is that he’s fought with the partially torn ligament unknowingly before and it never affected him.
“With time, the LCL is supposed to heal,” Cormier told ESPN.com. “There’s nothing you can really do for it. I never felt the ACL. It wasn’t the ACL that was bothering me, so as soon as the LCL stopped hurting, I told myself I didn’t need surgery.
“You have to realize the position I’m in. I went in there with the same knee against [Antonio] Silva. I had the same knee against Josh Barnett. I went in with everybody in the same situation. It’s no different. It’s just something I know about now.”
Is he concerned Jones (20-1) will target the knee with kicks, as he’s been known to do anyway against previous opponents? The answer is Cormier isn’t concerned with a single thing Jones does. He’s felt that way for a long time.
“I’ll put my bank account [on me to win],” Cormier said. “I’m very confident.
“This is no gamesmanship: I don’t know if I can beat Rashad Evans. I don’t really know if I can beat Glover Teixeira. But I know, without question, I can beat Jon Jones. It’s just the way we match up. It’s his mentality and my mentality. Everything about Jon makes me think there is no way he can beat me.”
The two have a history, which dates back to what's sort of become a folk story from 2011. There was a (non-violent) "altercation" in Las Vegas. Cormier was still fighting in the heavyweight division at the time.
Both fighters have acknowledged a rift exists, while generally steering away from going into detail. After the fight was announced on Wednesday, Jones privately messaged Cormier on social media, “I hope you’re ready to come to daddy.”
Cormier publicly posted a screenshot of the message. He attempted to respond but couldn’t, as Jones doesn’t follow his account.
“That’s just how he is,” Cormier said. “He’s kind of protecting an image that’s not real anymore because people have seen through it. It’s sort of passive-aggressive, from putting up tweets and deleting them to sending messages to my coaches.
“Is this fight personal? Jon and I have some things outside of the cage that don’t allow us to be friends. We’ll never be friends. But when that cage door closes, it’s business. I don’t let my emotions carry me into a fight.”
That sentence alone is enough to infuriate parts of the mixed martial arts world. Belfort, 37, is a polarizing figure. He was brilliant in 2013, with three highlight-reel knockout victories -- but all came under a cloud of suspicion due to his use of testosterone-replacement-therapy (TRT) in Brazil.
Earlier this year, when the UFC booked Belfort to a fight in Las Vegas, which would place him under the Nevada State Athletic Commission's jurisdiction for the first time since 2011, he didn't make it. An NSAC ban on TRT and a technically failed drug test on Feb. 7 erased Belfort from a May 24 card.
On Wednesday, however, Belfort stormed back. The NSAC voted in favor of licensing him to fight middleweight champion Chris Weidman at UFC 181 on Dec. 6 in Las Vegas. The event figures to be one of the biggest of the year.
Some were disgusted with the NSAC following the news. How could it allow a fighter to fail a drug test within its state and return to a title fight?
Fair question, but let's not forget the UFC has played a significant role in this.
In essence, the UFC created the "Belfort situation" last year by allowing him to fight in Brazil three times -- with TRT -- even though it was common knowledge he probably would not have received an exemption for it in Nevada.
The reason the NSAC would have likely turned down Belfort's request to use TRT was that he tested positive for anabolic steroids in 2006. Steroid use can shut down an athlete's ability to produce testosterone naturally.
The NSAC effectively announced whether or not it felt Belfort was eligible to use TRT when it banned the treatment from combat sports altogether in February. The fact Belfort was expected to apply for a use exemption the following month was likely a catalyst in the NSAC's decision to do so.
Throughout 2013, UFC president Dana White argued with any media scrutinization of Belfort. He would eventually fight in Las Vegas, White said, and if he isn't allowed to use TRT there, so be it. He'll compete without it.
Here is where the NSAC comes in.
The NSAC elected to test Belfort randomly on Feb. 7 in Las Vegas -- a great initiative. More random testing is better. Everyone agrees on that. The results that came back technically constituted as a failed test, but probably not enough to suspend Belfort, who was an unlicensed fighter at the time.
His testosterone-to-epitestosterone ratio was elevated, which is normal for a TRT patient. His serum testosterone level in the blood was also elevated, which is not normal and potentially equates to an athletic advantage.
A TRT patient should be able to maintain "normal" testosterone levels. Still, NSAC consulting physician Timothy Trainor said the results the NSAC had were not enough to conclude Belfort was "abusing" TRT. It is possible, although convenient if you're Belfort, that a doctor could unintentionally (and temporarily) spike levels.
Basically what this means is: Could the NSAC have suspended Belfort? It probably could have. Its case against him, however, was not especially strong. Its decision to license Belfort is debatable, but not shameful.
The UFC's stance on Belfort has always been clear. Within minutes of the NSAC's ruling, the company had announced his spot on the Dec. 6 title fight.
The UFC could have taken a stand on this. After months of having Belfort's back, officials could have said, "You kind of burned us, Vitor. We defended you on this and then in basically the first test Nevada orders of you, your testosterone is high. You don't come back to a title fight after that."
That was never going to happen, though. The UFC was always going to book the fight and even went so far, albeit very briefly, as to tease it might take place in Brazil.
How wrong it is of the UFC to still promote this fight is up to the individual. It's certainly not the first time a professional sports league, organization or franchise will have chosen business over perhaps a higher moral standard.
The majority of fans won't boycott the UFC 181 pay-per-view; in fact it should sell very well. And the champ himself, Weidman, has said all along he wanted to fight Belfort next.
Maybe all is well that ends well, but if you're unhappy about Belfort cashing in at the end of 2014, given everything that has happened, direct your anger toward the UFC -- because it definitely played a part in creating this.
The Nevada State Athletic Commission has no precedence regarding certain details of Belfort’s application -- nor is it likely to face these details again as they pertain to testosterone replacement therapy, which is now effectively banned in combat sports.
On Feb. 7, Belfort, 37, submitted to a random urine test at the NSAC’s request while he was in Las Vegas to attend an MMA awards show. As an unlicensed fighter within the state, Belfort could have declined the test, but he agreed to it. He was expected to file an application with the NSAC around that time for a then-proposed UFC fight in May.
The results of that urinalysis were kept private under medical law until early June, when Belfort released a public statement admitting he tested positive for a high testosterone level and published corresponding lab reports to prove it.
There is a common misunderstanding in terms of that ratio, however. In Belfort’s case, that number means very little. In February, Belfort’s lawyer Neal Tabachnick said the NSAC results were “not relevant.” Technically, he was correct.
At the time Belfort took the test on Feb. 7, he was on TRT, which was controversial but legal if approved. Belfort had received the necessary approval to use TRT prior to three fights in 2013, all of which took place in Brazil.
It was no secret Belfort was on TRT when he took the urine test in Nevada, and since he wasn’t licensed in the state, he had no legal obligation to stop. He was expected to apply for a therapeutic use exemption for that title fight in May. The NSAC made that a moot point on Feb. 27, however, when it banned TRT.
A medical patient on TRT is expected to produce an elevated T/E ratio. That ratio does not necessarily indicate a high serum testosterone level in the blood. It only strongly indicates the presence of synthetic testosterone.
In other words, the random test conducted by the NSAC did not medically prove Belfort’s testosterone levels were above normal. They merely confirmed he was using synthetic testosterone. Again, everyone knew that already.
“Typically, you can say a 6:1 ratio proves PED [performance-enhancing drug] use,” said Dr. Timothy Trainor, consulting physician to the NSAC. “But when it comes to ‘Joe Smith,’ who is a TRT patient, the T/E ratio is a useless, meaningless test.”
Why would the NSAC request Belfort to produce a "useless and meaningless test" in the first place? The answer is it probably shouldn’t have. In random tests taken since Belfort’s case, the NSAC has ordered blood and urine tests, which in the case of Chael Sonnen produced positive results for several banned substances.
Belfort apparently underwent a voluntary blood test on Feb. 7 -- which is not a useless, meaningless test in terms of determining actual levels of testosterone in the blood. Belfort submitted the results of that test as part of his application.
Results showed Belfort’s testosterone level was at 1,472 nanograms per deciliter. According to the Phoenix-based LabCorp that analyzed the test, a normal range of testosterone should fall between 348 and 1197 ng/dL.
Essentially Belfort willingly submitted a self-incriminating blood test.
“That is absolutely, 100 percent correct,” Trainor said.
After the initial urine test, which produced the T/E ratio, the NSAC requested additional blood and urine tests from Belfort over an extended period of time.
The blood tests showed a substantial drop in Belfort’s serum testosterone level, to as low as 142 ng/dL on May 29. The urine tests showed his T/E ratio returned to a far more normal 2:1. Both indicated he had stopped taking TRT.
“I wrote a letter to the NSAC after reviewing his tests that stated, ‘This looks good,’” Trainor said. “The urine tests look like he was taking TRT and then he stopped.”
What does all this mean in terms of Belfort receiving a license Wednesday?
The NSAC has a “failed” urine test from Feb. 7 that it conducted, but the test doesn’t mean much for the reasons stated above. The results prove Belfort was on testosterone, but he had approval from the Brazilian athletic commission to do so.
The NSAC has the blood test that shows Belfort’s levels were spiked above normal ranges on Feb. 7, but there is no precedent on how to handle that, so it would have to set one.
Does an unlicensed fighter with a testosterone level approximately 300 ng/dL above normal deserve a suspension? If yes, how long?
According to Trainor, the information provided is not enough to come to any kind of conclusion regarding Belfort’s “abuse” or lack thereof of TRT. He did say, however, that every fighter who had previously received an exemption for TRT in Nevada had been monitored by the commission and never tested above normal ranges.
“Anyone who received an exemption from our state was overseen and always come back within normal range,” Trainor said. “In theory, Belfort should have been able to keep his at a normal range if he had a competent doctor.”
UFC president Dana White stated last week that the promotion will book Belfort for a title fight against Chris Weidman, as long as Belfort receives a license in Nevada. White added that the fight does not have to take place in Nevada and that Brazil will be considered.
UFC president Dana White said on Friday that the defending champion Weidman (12-0) wants to meet Belfort in his next title defense. The two were originally scheduled to fight at UFC 173 in May, but Belfort (24-10) was ultimately pulled due to licensing issues.
“[Weidman] wants to fight Vitor Belfort,” White said. “We want to make that fight happen. That’s the next fight. It should have already happened. I love this kid calling out Vitor. He’s awesome. The champ wants to fight Belfort, and I don’t blame him.”
Belfort will seek a license to fight in Nevada at a commission meeting on July 23. His application is unique in that he voluntarily submitted a positive test for an elevated testosterone level earlier this year.
Should the Nevada State Athletic Commission (NSAC) vote in favor of licensing Belfort, which is not guaranteed, White said that didn’t necessarily mean the title fight would take place in Las Vegas.
“It doesn’t have to take place in Nevada,” White said. “That fight would be big in Brazil. I would do it in Brazil as long as the commission clears him. We’d want the OK from Nevada, and if Nevada is cool with it, we’d do it in Brazil.
“We could do it in Nevada [but] you know how big that fight would be in Brazil? Huge. We’d get a big stadium and we’d sell out there.”
Belfort, 37, fought three times in 2013, exclusively in Brazil. He recorded three consecutive knockout victories.
The Brazilian commission approved Belfort to use testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) prior to all three bouts. The NSAC voted earlier this year to ban TRT from combat sports, however, which ultimately led to Belfort’s exit from UFC 173.
Last month, Belfort publicly requested to fight Weidman at Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro. The stadium recently served as one of the host sites for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
It’s been stated numerous times in 2014 that the UFC has a star problem on its hands.
Proven, sellable, marquee names such as Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, Nick Diaz and Chael Sonnen might combine for zero total UFC appearances this year.
Replacements exist in Jon Jones, Chris Weidman and Ronda Rousey, however none of them have reached the level of the names mentioned. Regardless of what’s behind it, the end result is that the UFC seems to be struggling to create modern star power.
The exception to this is Conor McGregor.
McGregor (14-2) will headline his first UFC event Saturday, as he takes on Diego Brandao at O2 Arena in McGregor's native Dublin, Ireland. It is only McGregor’s third fight in the UFC and first in nearly a year, but his box-office appeal is unmistakable.
The UFC Fight Night event sold out within hours of tickets going on sale. Part of that can be attributed to the area’s general interest in the UFC brand, but not all of it. The last time UFC visited Dublin in January 2009, the event sold out in weeks. Not hours.
I don't really pay attention to it, but all I know is when they put me on the headline, it's the fastest sellout in UFC history. When they put me on the headline of a fight, there are tickets for the weigh-in."
-- Connor McGregor, on his ability to move tickets
Attendance is so strong this time around, the UFC issued tickets for Friday’s weigh-in, an initiative the promotion has rarely had to do.
“I don't really pay attention to it, but all I know is when they put me on the headline, it’s the fastest sellout in UFC history,” McGregor told ESPN.com. “When they put me on the headline of a fight, there are tickets for the weigh-in.
“How many times have there been tickets for a weigh-in, you know what I mean?”
McGregor still has a long way to go in terms of establishing himself as a legitimate UFC title threat or a draw on pay-per-view, but he’s filled with potential to be both. Even his opponent this weekend can't dispute that.
“Just the way he dresses even, I love it,” Brandao said. “Classy. It’s amazing. The way he talks and goes on about guy, moving his hands around and touching his beard -- he looks like a movie superstar to me.”
The 26-year-old Irishman is not the first fighter to wear a suit to a press conference, (although, McGregor does wear them rather cleanly). Nor is he the first UFC athlete to toss out a sound byte (although, again, his are usually top-shelf stuff).
The disdain McGregor has expressed publicly for other fighters in the division has placed him on an island early in his UFC career. When recently asked if he felt the 145-pound division has changed in the last 12 months, which he sat out because of knee injury, McGregor responded, “They sucked then, and they suck now.”
Too few fighters appreciate the power a microphone provides in terms of building a career, but at the same time, if a few quotable lines were all it took to create a star, the UFC would have plenty of them.
McGregor’s appeal goes well beyond that. To say it doesn’t is an oversight.
When the UFC visited Dublin in 2009, McGregor was 20. The year prior, he made his professional mixed martial arts debut, but he wouldn’t end up fighting at all in 2009. He suffered a few minor injuries, but mostly, he was figuring out what to do in life.
The storybook version of events says that McGregor, while attending UFC 93 at O2 Arena, told his coach he would headline the next UFC card that went to Dublin. More accurately, that card had an impact on McGregor, but it wasn’t life-changing.
“Of course, UFC 93 spurred me on, but even then, I didn’t know,” McGregor said. “I was a young kid. No Irish man had ever done anything like this before. The dream wasn’t really attainable at that point because it wasn’t really there.”
Regardless of whether he could become rich and famous from it, though, McGregor liked to fight. Then one day, McGregor loved to fight. Eventually, McGregor had to fight.
“I don’t know when it clicked for me,” McGregor said. “It just became an obsession. It was an addiction. I’m an addict for this. I can’t do anything else.”
When McGregor underwent surgery on a torn ACL in September, he was bedridden for five to seven days in Orange County, California. The only time he would get up was to go to the bathroom several times a day.
“There was a counter on the way to the bathroom, and I used to lean over it and do clap pushups,” McGregor said. “They weren’t full pushups, but I’d do a lot of them to just, I don’t know, get rid of energy. I like to move. Movement is good for the mind.”
He says he constantly shadowboxes throughout the day, regardless of the setting. As he puts it, “I side kick every wall I walk by.”
In competition, McGregor regularly talks to his opponents and claps at them during exchanges. Sometimes, it “clouds an opponent’s judgment,” but McGregor says that’s not why he does it. It’s natural.
“I never worked on it or nothing,” McGregor said. “It’s just the way it is in the gym, and I think that translates into competition. If I was to do it another way and be too emotional, it could go bad for me. It just happens naturally, I don’t force it.”
McGregor expects to win the UFC featherweight title this year, although that seems impossible given the schedule. Current champion Jose Aldo is injured, but he is expected to defend his belt against Chad Mendes sometime around October.
Featherweight contender Cub Swanson will attend Saturday’s fight, leading many to think he might face the winner. McGregor is on record as saying Swanson is "old."
Despite never facing a ranked opponent in the UFC, McGregor says his gut tells him the title is within reach by the start of 2015. It’s an unrealistic goal, but maybe that further illustrates why McGregor is the UFC’s best shot at a new star this year.
“I have a clear, clear vision of me winning the belt by the end of the year,” McGregor said. “It seems to be this very clear picture I have, and I’m not going against it. So, I believe I will be the world champion by the end of the year.
"Bad Boy" Garcia (18-11-1) is no longer a boy at all, at least by professional athlete standards. The featherweight fighter's career is 15 years long and counting.
He says he has grown up a lot within the past 15 months, since the UFC was basically left no choice but to cut him on the heels of a five-fight losing streak. His wild, swing-from-the-hips style was always fun to watch, but also very beatable.
Since 2007, Garcia has lost more fights than he has won.
The Jackson-Winkeljohn featherweight went 3-0, however, outside the UFC last year and won Legacy Fighting Championship's 145-pound title along the way. He will look to defend that belt against Damon Jackson (8-0) on Friday, at Legacy FC 33 in Allen, Texas.
As much growing as Garcia has done, make no mistake -- he’s still Leonard Garcia.
Earlier this year, Garcia's half-brother and professional boxer Bryan Vera told ESPN in an interview: "Back in the day you just don’t care [about getting hit] but as you get older, you start realizing it could play a part and you see people getting hurt. As a younger fighter you don’t really think about that. Getting hit is not that big of a deal."
When asked if, at 35, Garcia has found the same to be true, he responds immediately.
"I haven't gotten to that point yet," Garcia said. "I still love it. It's almost comical. I'll hit pads and I'll put my hands down and tell my mitt guy, 'Go ahead and let me have one.' Just so I know I’m fighting.
"I'm not saying that day will never come, but I love it man. I love that 'wake-up' feel. 'Oh man, I just got hit.' You smell a little blood. It is one of the best feelings. People think I'm nuts because I say that but it’s true. It makes me feel alive, man."
I love that 'wake-up' feel. 'Oh man, I just got hit.' You smell a little blood. It is one of the best feelings. People think I'm nuts because I say that but it's true. It makes me feel alive, man."
-- Leonard Garcia
Here's more on what Garcia had to say about his evolution in the past year and his upcoming title defense.
ESPN: What's on the line for you in this fight on Friday? In addition to defending your title, could this punch a ticket back to one of the bigger MMA promotions?
Garcia: To be completely honest, my motivation for this fight is just the same thing it’s been the past three fights: Become a better fighter, more complete, coming in and listening to my coaches instead of making a fool of them.
ESPN: In your past three wins, it's not as if you have avoided exchanges, so what is different about your game now that might not be obvious to those watching?
Garcia: It happens in the gym for me. It used to be that I would learn a technique real slowly, and then I'd try to do it 100 mph. That was my way. Now, I'm becoming more of a wrestler, more of a jiu-jitsu fighter, I have my feet underneath me when I throw combinations.
Everybody knows my trademark punch is the right hand. I used to always just fling it. Pad holders used to complain because I would always land it in a different spot. Now, I actually bought a pair of mitts just for me and I am wearing them out in the one area I'm supposed to be landing the punches. That never used to happen.
ESPN: Your tendency to get wild and go for broke definitely hurt you at times in the UFC, but that pace can also be hard for opponents to deal with. Is it about finding a balance at this point?
Garcia: I hear so many people say, 'I am so afraid to get tired.' I actually invite being tired. I love that. I've noticed when I'm in the cage and I'm tired and the five guys that just went with me were fresh -- when they came in and when they leave -- they are just as tired as I am. That means that [approach] works for me.
I think I'm starting to get a good grasp on it and learn when I can recover and when I can pressure a guy. Pressure is my style.
ESPN: The way you have fought throughout your career, it's almost seemed like you would rather fight an entertaining fight and lose than a boring one and win. Is that still true after the UFC cut you in 2013?
Garcia: Now, absolutely the win is most important. I think there have been several times in my fights since where I would get hit early on and I've learned to kind of find the medium point and not get so wild and reckless at that point. I know I have to hit my opponents more than they hit me. I definitely don't like trading as much as I used to if my legs aren't beneath me.
ESPN: What can you say about the challenge you've got Friday in Jackson?
Garcia: I think he's a great, great test for me. I think he's the toughest guy I've fought in Legacy. He's undefeated, which is good. The thing about that is you have to teach him to love. You have to make him lose. Those are the types of guys I want to fight -- guys who will fight me tooth and nail to the bitter end.
Donald Cerrone’s latest toy is called a Flyboard.
It basically looks like a jetpack/wakeboard hybrid connected to the back-end of a jet ski via long hoses. It can power a rider high into the air or deep underwater. Cerrone summarizes it by saying, “You ride around like Iron Man.”
Cerrone (23-6) describes the board during a phone call from inside his RV. At the time of the interview, he’s not sure exactly where in the United States he is, but knows he’s en route to Atlantic City, where he fights Jim Miller on Wednesday.
Loading into an RV and driving to a fight has become tradition for Cerrone, who says this is probably about the sixth time he’s done it.
On this trip, the group made a stop at the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour in St. Louis, Mo. While there, Cerrone’s girlfriend fell in love with Clydesdales -- which means, in the near future, Cerrone thinks he will be forced into owning a Clydesdale.
“She wants a damn Clydesdale,” he said. “We were at the Budweiser thing and she saw them. I have no idea what you do with a Clydesdale. Budweiser said they would give us one. It’s going to cost so much money.”
Between talk of expensive horses and Flyboards, Cerrone states something he’s said numerous times over the course of his career: He doesn’t care about winning a UFC title. He’d take it, of course, but he says it’s not what he fights for.
I think my feelings for the belt have always been the same. ... Having it would be cool, but that is not my drive"
-- Donald Cerrone, on why title belts aren't his reason for fighting
“Who wants to ask stupid questions about fighting, let’s talk about this other stuff,” Cerrone said, half-jokingly. “I think my feelings for the belt have always been the same. I don’t really give a s---. Having it would be cool, but that is not my drive.”
Cerrone has never won a significant title in mixed martial arts. He came up short in three WEC championship fights from 2009 to 2010. He’s 10-3 in the UFC since 2011, but has never reached a UFC title fight.
If it never happens for Cerrone, he’ll still have a heck of a career to look back on. He is, without question, one of the most entertaining fighters in the sport and one of its best finishers. He’s won performance bonuses in each of his last three fights.
At the same time, though -- boy, it would be a bit of a shame to never see Cerrone at least step into the cage with a UFC title on the line. "Cowboy," 31, has flirted with greatness for years, but struggled with slow starts and ill-timed flat performances.
Leonard Garcia, Cerrone’s teammate at Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA, has spent a career watching Cerrone’s maddening inconsistency from the sidelines.
“There is nobody at Jackson’s -- I’m talking Jon Jones or any one who has walked through there, like a Georges St-Pierre -- who is as talented as ‘Cowboy,’” Garcia said.
“There have been times where I have literally lost the farm betting on him. You see a guy at Jackson’s who doesn’t lose a round in anything go out and lose to a guy he shouldn’t lose to. It’s just crazy to me.”
The key, everyone thinks, for Cerrone has finally been identified and it actually has to do with Clydesdales and Flyboards. Somewhere along the way, Cerrone, his team and his sports psychologists decided a happy "Cowboy" is a dangerous "Cowboy."
In contrast to Cerrone’s claims about lifelong lukewarm feelings towards a title, Garcia says there was a time when it was "all he talked about," and that at one point in his career he even had a place in mind to store a championship belt once he won it.
"He was all about getting a belt earlier in his career," Garcia said.
Regardless of which man's account is more accurate, they both agree that at this stage of his career, Cerrone has learned to treat fighting the same way he treats the rest of his life, which is to enjoy it.
“As far as now in my career, my mind is in a much better place,” Cerrone said. “There was a time where I was like, ‘Am I as good as these other guys?’ I doubted myself so bad. I’ll tell you though, if Jim Miller came to Jackson’s to spar, it’d be on.
“That’s the mentality I have now. I just think about going out there, kicking a-- and having fun.”
Win this week and Cerrone will be on a four-fight win streak and possibly one victory away from a UFC title shot. Lose; and his window of ever earning that opportunity continues to close.
Either way, he’ll remain one of the most popular fighters in the UFC. But a "Cowboy" title shot would be fun. And Cerrone’s all about fun.
Justino (12-1) has long said she would cut to bantamweight by the end of this year, but originally claimed she would fight one more time at featherweight. She has not competed in mixed martial arts since July 2013.
Justino is committed to making the weight to book a potential fight against UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey in early 2015.
"We anticipated fighting three times this year in MMA and now she hasn't fought in almost a year," Prajin said. "We really had to think about it. If she fought in September, it was going to be hard to get down to 135 by December.
"If we're going to do this, we need to do it now. We don't know how long Ronda is going to be in the sport. She might pack up tomorrow and go do movies. Cris wants this fight. She doesn't want to miss the opportunity."
Prajin said the team has enlisted "weight cutting guru" Tony Aponte to help Justino make 135 pounds. The Brazilian currently struggles to make 145 pounds.
According to Prajin, Justino is walking "a little heavy" right now, due to not having a fight booked. She competed in a professional muay Thai bout in March, which she lost via unanimous decision to Jorina Baars.
"She was doing really well and then with the unknown of when she was going to fight, she kind of slacked off a little bit. We hired Tony Aponte, who has helped people cut weight for a long time."
Justino is planning a multi-week trip to Thailand in the coming month to train her muay Thai skills. Invicta FC has not yet announced a December card, but Prajin said that timetable is fairly reliable.
"That's pretty solid," Prajin said. "I don't know the exact date but we're assuming Ronda will be fighting around that time. Cris will fight on Fight Pass one or two weeks prior."
The UFC added to its female bantamweight division on Thursday, by signing professional boxer and undefeated mixed martial artist Holly Holm.
White told ESPN.com he and UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta will look to add another major piece to the roster in Carano next week, when the two are scheduled to meet with her in Los Angeles.
"One down, one to go," White said. "I'm going to meet with Gina next week and get that f---ing thing done. Next week, man.
"It's just a matter of me and Lorenzo going to jump on a plane to Los Angeles, get in a room with her and her lawyer and get this thing done."
Carano (7-1) is considered the former face of female MMA, but has not fought since August 2009. She exited the sport following a first-round TKO loss to Cris "Cyborg" Justino in a Strikeforce featherweight title fight.
The UFC purchased Strikeforce in 2011, acquiring all of the promotion's contracts in the deal. Technically, Carano remained under Zuffa contract due to her original Strikeforce deal, but that contract expired last month.
A bantamweight title fight between defending champion Ronda Rousey and Carano would equal big business for the UFC. Rousey has stated publicly she credits Carano for her interest in the sport and would relish the opportunity to fight her.
According to White, the holdup in signing Carano (UFC Tonight reported two weeks ago talks had "stalled" between the two sides) has nothing to do with her desire to compete. It all comes down to finalizing details in a new contract.
"There is no doubt about it, she wants to fight," White said. "And she wants to fight Ronda."
Last week, Kennedy (18-4) wrote on Twitter he would not compete again unless he and his future opponents underwent random blood testing during training camp.
Kennedy asked the UFC to book his next fight in Nevada so that it would be under the jurisdiction of the state's athletic commission, which twice this year has implemented an enhanced testing program for UFC bouts.
Kennedy, 34, has made it clear he is willing to pay for his half of the program, which he has been told could cost anywhere from $10,000 to $35,000. The previous time Kennedy fought in Las Vegas, in July 2013, he earned a $90,000 purse.
“Whatever it takes to ensure we are moving toward having a clean sport, which we are nowhere near right now,” Kennedy told ESPN.com. “Something has to change.”
Kennedy’s manager, Leo Khorolinsky, told ESPN.com Kennedy wouldn’t go so far as to pull out of the fight should random testing not be implemented, but is optimistic the NSAC would approve the request.
Whatever it takes to ensure we are moving toward having a clean sport, which we are nowhere near right now. Something has to change."
-- Tim Kennedy, on requesting an enhanced, random drug-testing program
“In no way would he back out of the fight, because he has a contractual obligation,” Khorolinsky said. “What he’s saying is that he’s trying to make a statement. Let’s make this a real campaign and others will start doing it.”
According to Khorolinsky, UFC heavyweight Andrei Arlovski, whom he also represents, will request the same form of testing ahead of the Sept. 13 bout against Antonio Silva in Brasilia, Brazil.
The NSAC program consists of unannounced urine and blood tests taken during a fighter’s camp. It is far more effective than traditional urine tests on fight night.
The NSAC utilized the random tests prior to a welterweight fight between Jake Ellenberger and Robbie Lawler at UFC 173 and a light heavyweight fight between Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva, which was eventually canceled, at UFC 175.
On May 24, Silva avoided a random drug test administered by the NSAC, which led to him not receiving a license to fight at UFC 175. Sonnen failed two random tests on May 24 and June 5, which led to an indefinite suspension of his license.
Middleweight contender Vitor Belfort is also facing licensing issues in Nevada after a blood test taken on Feb. 7 showed his testosterone levels were above normal.
After seeing three athletes, all of whom have competed in his weight class, admit to working outside the rules, Kennedy says he had to take stronger individual action.
“They randomly test three dudes and all three fail,” Kennedy said. “All in my weight class. All dudes I could potentially be fighting. I went from just being vocal about drug use, to saying to myself, ‘I have to make a stand about this.’ ”
Whether Kennedy will get his wish is yet to be seen. Even though he is willing to pay for his share, there is no guarantee the NSAC will order it.
UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones requested a similar program prior to his title defense against Glover Teixeira at UFC 172, which took place in Baltimore. The Maryland State Athletic Commission approved it and the UFC agreed to cover the costs.
Similarly, the UFC has picked up costs for both enhanced programs in Nevada. The NSAC is committed to randomly testing at least one bout on every major UFC card, but for obvious reasons, won’t disclose which fights it will be testing ahead of time.
“Any fighter can request all they want to the promoter,” Robert Bennett, NSAC executive director, said. “We appreciate any athlete who wants more testing, but we are certainly not going to reveal who, when and where we’ll be testing.
“The less said about who we will test, the more effective the program. The UFC has been very supportive of our efforts so far.”
For the record, Romero has never failed a drug test.
The UFC has taken more action against performance-enhancing drugs in 2014 than any other year in company history. The promotion has agreed, for now, to handle costs of the program in Nevada, which can be up to $45,000 per fight.
UFC officials are also tentatively planning to address the issue this month at the annual Association of Boxing Commissions convention in Clearwater Beach, Florida.
Kennedy says he appreciates the UFC’s recent efforts to curb PED use, but still believes his action is necessary to help fix a serious problem in mixed martial arts.
“I’m really impressed in the change in both the climate and the UFC’s perception of it,” Kennedy said. “The UFC is forking over money for testing, so it’s been top-driven, which makes me proud to be in the UFC. They are really the only organization that is doing it and it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
“But the first time [the NSAC] randomly tested people, everybody failed. Imagine what that looks like across 450 athletes. Are we talking 60 or 70 percent? I really believe it’s somewhere in that range of fighters that are using.”
LAS VEGAS -- It was only Tuesday of UFC’s International Fight Week, which means the Mandalay Bay Events Center was relatively deserted.
The venue will host not one but two live UFC cards this weekend, but there’s little reason to be here until then. Nevertheless, a group of approximately 35 to 50 serious fight fans accumulated near one entrance, seeking autographs.
One of the men they had hoped to meet was actually inside the arena, but they were unlikely to catch him.
BJ Penn cherishes his fans, but he couldn't afford distractions this week. He avoided the casino floors and even spent his nights away from the Las Vegas strip.
Inside the press area of the arena, Penn, 35, unpacked a small meal that consisted of basically raw greens. He was upbeat, as he weighed in at 148 pounds on the UFC’s official scale -- a weight he says he hasn’t been at since age 19.
Penn, who fights Frankie Edgar for the third time at "The Ultimate Fighter" finale on Sunday, is a fascinating interview -- mostly because his career has been incredibly unique. At one point in our conversation, he stated the obvious.
“Fighting, to me, has always been something different than what everybody’s else opinion is,” Penn said. “I’ve never believed what everybody else has.”
A lot of mixed martial artists are popular. Few are outright loved the way Penn is. There are several reasons for it, but if you had to pinpoint one, it’s probably that he embodies the attitude fans like to think a fighter should have.
Penn has gone out of his way to find the most impossible challenge throughout his career. He will always pick a fight with the most intimidating figure in the room.
There are countless examples of this. An obvious one is when Penn fought Lyoto Machida. There comes a time in every new MMA fan’s life when, while researching old fights, they sit back and say, "Wait -- timeout. BJ Penn fought Lyoto Machida?"
Fourteen months after Penn won the UFC welterweight title against Matt Hughes in January 2004, he appeared as a self-described “fat 185 pounds” in a fight against future UFC light heavyweight champion Machida in Japan. He lost via decision.
One largely unknown fact about the fight is that Penn actually wanted to fight Japanese heavyweight Kazuyuki Fujita. He eventually settled on Machida.
“In reality, BJ wanted to fight Fujita,” Machida recalled. “Fujita and I had the same management back then. He didn’t want the fight and said, ‘Lyoto, you go.’ That’s how BJ ended up fighting me.”
When reminded of this, Penn shrugs as if a severely bloated lightweight wanting to take on a full-size 240-pound heavyweight is a perfectly normal thing.
“We were thinking we would be faster, right?” Penn said. “That was the thought.”
That kind of approach has defined Penn’s career -- and possibly shortened it. Since losing the UFC lightweight title to Edgar in 2010, Penn has competed exclusively at welterweight. In his last two fights, he’s been badly beaten up.
His longtime coach and friend Jason Parillo, who once threw in the towel for Penn when he fought welterweight Georges St-Pierre in 2009, has spent a career trying to persuade Penn to fight entirely at 155 pounds.
Parillo was noticeably absent from Penn’s corner when he fought Rory MacDonald in December 2012. Parillo believes it’s because Penn knew he despised the fight.
“He knew I didn’t agree with him going to fight Rory MacDonald,” Parillo said. “I just didn’t know where the fight was going to put him. He probably thought, ‘Jason doesn’t agree with this, so I’m going to do it how I’m going to do it.’
“I believe he is more talented than these guys at welterweight; but when the talent is close, the size comes into play. We end up in the hospital when we lose at 170.”
At a UFC 175 prefight news conference in May, a reporter read back to Penn a statement he had once made in a previous interview.
The quote read: "There’s just something about BJ Penn that gets people amped up. You don’t know what’s going to happen but something is going to happen. He might disappoint you, make you happy, make you cry or make you jump out of your chair, but he’ll do something to you."
The reporter then asked: Is that BJ Penn still here?
In reality, that Penn never left. That description is BJ Penn for better or for worse. His potential has always been intoxicating to watch -- regardless of whether he was realizing it or wasting it.
The better question might be: How much of Penn’s potential remains and how much of it has been chipped off while fighting men 20 pounds larger than him?
For Penn, the present isn’t reliant upon the past as much as people make it out to be.
“There is some kind of fascination with who I used to be and who I am now,” Penn said. “People are always trying to look at it. I don’t know if it’s a curse or a blessing.
“When the whole fighting thing started, I never knew at the end it was going to be all about your record. I never had that mentality. I wanted to fight everybody.”
In the last two-and-a-half years, Penn (16-9-2) has nearly retired twice. Last year, he underwent corrective surgery on his left eye to repair cataracts that were affecting his vision.
The former two-division UFC champion doesn’t know whether Sunday will mark the end of his fighting career. When talking about it, he sounds like he knows retirement might be the best, safest choice.
But in Penn’s case, that has always been the hardest path to take.
“The plan is to go in on Sunday, take Frankie out and then sit down and figure out what’s the smartest thing to do,” Penn said. “You know once I win, it will be, ‘I want to fight this guy, this guy and this guy!’
“Of course I can’t retire on a win -- but then, I can’t retire on a loss either.”
While UFC 175 might be billed somewhat as a United States versus Brazil matchup, what the Chris Weidman and Lyoto Machida UFC middleweight title bout will really feature is a stark contrast in styles.
Machida is one of the UFC’s deadliest strikers, but middleweight champion Weidman (11-0) has fashioned himself into a very capable striker and skilled jiu-jitsu artist under the careful tutelage of renowned trainer Ray Longo and former UFC welterweight champion Matt Serra. As we’ve seen in his past three fights, Weidman’s striking does not lag behind the competition.
Having said that, Weidman’s base discipline remains wrestling. It is the bedrock on which the rest of his game is built.
An All-American wrestler at Hofstra University, Weidman has relied on his ability to take his opponents down. Once down, the ability to control the fight’s pace and direction is a game-changer. Opponents must plan against that, especially those with less experience in wrestling and grappling.
It is little wonder why six of the nine UFC champions can claim wrestling as their base discipline. Demetrious Johnson (flyweight), TJ Dillashaw (bantamweight), Johny Hendricks (welterweight), Weidman (middleweight), Jon Jones (light heavyweight) and Cain Velasquez (heavyweight) were all accomplished wrestlers before joining the UFC.
Has the reign of wrestlers arrived? It most certainly looks like it. This is not to say the aforementioned champions are one-trick ponies. Indeed, as champions, they are the most skilled and well-rounded fighters, possessing complete striking repertoires along with their grappling games. They’ve earned their belts mainly with a clenched fist, not an ankle lock.
That wrestling background offers all sorts of technical advantages, says Weidman; many of the other martial arts do not including leverage, body-weight positioning.
“In other martial arts there are similar things, but none of them are as brutal as wrestling,” he said.
Wrestlers also can often dictate where the fight goes.
“If you have a wrestling advantage in a fight, you have the clear option of keeping the fight on the feet or taking it down to the ground. There’s a lot of control in that,” Weidman said. “That is huge.”
But more than that, he believes this reign of wrestlers starts with the psychological advantages. The mental toughness and work ethic that accompany years of wrestling is unparalleled in mixed martial arts, he said.
“I think the commitment and the discipline you need to have to succeed in wrestling is in close measure second to none,” Weidman said. “It’s a whole other planet. So now that I’m training all MMA techniques, when I get to my wrestling training sometimes I can’t believe I wrestled for as long as I did because it actually hurts -- and you have to have that mindset of pushing past the pain. The grind of wrestling is like no other martial art, especially at the Division I level.”
Indeed, Weidman says that many fellow MMA fighters who did not train in wrestling almost always wish they did.
“No question. Every guy I talk to in MMA who didn’t wrestle growing up always says to me, ‘I wish I wrestled in high school,' " he said. “It really should be the base for every MMA fighter’s game. There’s a certain mentality with wrestling. You want to mentally and physically break your opponent.”
If you do that -- as the UFC’s current champion monarchy attests -- you win.
“I’d bet any guy in the UFC who didn’t wrestle wishes he did. It’s just one of those things that if you do it from an early age, that brutal mentality gets ingrained in you, to be relentless and apply constant pressure. Most guys who don’t have that background come to wrestlers for help.”
That includes training in how to effectively cut weight.
“I think most guys that come in from other backgrounds ask wrestlers to help them with this,” Weidman said. “I help guys cut weight all the time because I’ve had so much experience with it.”
Weidman’s wrestling skill, however, doesn’t mean he can take it for granted. The UFC landscape is littered with fighters who forsook their base discipline in order to improve in another. They reduce the time they devote to it, sometimes not practicing it at all for the sake of polishing other skills. Weidman makes it mandatory to practice wrestling at least two or three times a week.
Wrestling might be the best foundation for an MMA fighter, but I know so many guys who tried MMA and it doesn't work out for them. You might watch the kid and think he'd be perfect for it, and it turns out he doesn't like getting hit in the face."
-- UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman, on the pros and cons of having a wrestling background in the UFC
“I think a lot of people in the UFC past have made that mistake, thinking ‘OK, I’m already a good wrestler, I’m going to just really focus on the other aspects of mixed martial arts.' But we’ve seen in the history of the UFC how that can really take away from what they started with -- their wrestling," he said. "And you don’t want to repeat the same mistakes other people have made.”
Among the collegiate and high school wrestlers he has come into contact with over the years, Weidman believes there is a healthy pipeline of wrestlers heading into mixed martial arts. But just as wrestling offers many advantages within MMA, not every wrestler is cut out to be an MMA fighter.
“Yeah, wrestling might be the best foundation for an MMA fighter, but I know so many guys who tried MMA and it doesn’t work out for them," he said. "You might watch the kid and think he’d be perfect for it, and it turns out he doesn’t like getting hit in the face.
“But most importantly, I think anyone who wants to be an MMA fighter has to be open-minded. I’ve seen guys who are amazing wrestlers, but they come into the sport thinking, ‘I know wrestling, so I’m just going to take everybody down' until they meet a guy who can stop the takedown . . . and you’re in trouble.
"You have to be open-minded -- that’s what MMA is all about -- mixing all the disciplines together. From day one, I started with that mentality, which is the main reason for my success in MMA.”
LAS VEGAS -- When it finally came time for former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida to make his long-anticipated move to middleweight, it just kind of happened. There was little fanfare.
The UFC called, offered Machida a fight at 185 pounds, and he accepted. In a way, it was more or less decided for him.
“I felt comfortable at 205 pounds,” Machida told ESPN.com. “I was always at the top of my weight class. But they offered me a chance at 185 and I took it.”
Not the most entrancing story -- but it's the outcome that's important. Machida was a middleweight.
A new (old) star will make a run at UFC history on Saturday, when Machida (21-4) meets 185-pound champion Chris Weidman at UFC 175 at MGM Grand Garden Arena.
If victorious, Machida would join Randy Couture and BJ Penn as the only fighters to ever win titles in more than one weight class. Coincidentally, Machida has beaten both Couture (April 2011) and Penn (March 2005) in his career.
I don't think not moving to middleweight was ever about [Anderson Silva]. Lyoto liked being the quicker guy at light heavyweight."
-- Ed Soares, manager for both Lyoto Machida and Anderson Silva, on Machida's reasons for staying at 205 pounds for so long
Machida, 36, officially dropped to 185 pounds last year, but could have done it well before. He won the UFC light heavyweight title in May 2009, but relinquished it one year later to Mauricio Rua in a first-round knockout.
For years, it was assumed Machida wouldn’t drop in weight because his friend and occasional training partner Anderson Silva was the middleweight kingpin -- but as it turns out, that was never entirely accurate.
The two are definitely friends, but their careers aren’t dictated by that relationship. Machida can’t even remember the previous time they trained together and although Silva is familiar with Weidman (11-0), having fought him twice, they haven’t compared notes on the champion.
“I don’t think not moving to middleweight was ever about [Silva],” said Ed Soares, who manages both fighters. “Lyoto liked being the quicker guy at light heavyweight.
“He always believed he could work his way back up and beat Jon Jones, but there was a Plan B to reinvent himself at middleweight. And after that robbery loss to Phil Davis (Machida lost to Davis via decision last August), he was forced to take it.”
That controversial unanimous decision loss to Davis at UFC 163 might prove to have a positive effect on Machida’s career. Some would argue his move to middleweight was long overdue, even though he’s a young 36 due to his defensive fighting style.
Had he defeated Davis, who knows how long Machida would have stayed at 205?
“I think if I hadn’t lost to Phil Davis in that way, I imagine I’d still be at light heavyweight,” Machida said. “In reality, that weight class was a little stopped up so it was a good thing I moved down.”
In addition to dropping to a weight class that suits him far better, Machida started to work full time with Muay Thai instructor Rafael Cordeiro in Huntington Beach, California.
The two had worked together previously, but Machida says the partnership truly took off last year prior to his first middleweight fight. The results have been outstanding thus far, as Machida knocked out Mark Munoz in the first round of his 185-pound UFC debut, then dominated Gegard Mousasi in a five-round fight in February.
Having his game evolve under Cordeiro's eye is Machida’s current concern -- more so than rewriting UFC history this weekend. But whether it’s his focus or not, there’s little doubt that the fact he’s in position to do so has been great for his career.
“When people bring (winning titles in two weight classes) up, yeah I think about it and it’s a pretty cool opportunity but that’s not really motivating me," he said. "What’s motivating me is to train hard and go out and have a good performance.”
There is no easy way to say this: Davis (16-5) will attempt to do the seemingly impossible at UFC 175 on Saturday in Las Vegas -- that is, defeat UFC female bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey in a cage fight.
There is no blueprint on how to do it. Not even close. Rousey, a former U.S. Olympian in judo, has devoured every opponent put in front of her in mixed martial arts. Surviving one round against her infamous armbar has become an accomplishment in and of itself.
There are, however, blueprints for Davis on how to win a fight no one thinks is winnable. Her adopted teammate, TJ Dillashaw, actually just drew one at UFC 173 on May 24.
As many will recall, Dillashaw put a whooping on Renan Barao that night, eventually claiming the UFC bantamweight championship via TKO in the fifth round. The performance was immediately hailed as one of the greatest upsets in UFC history.
Davis, who shared a training room with Dillashaw at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento for large portions of this camp, had a front-row seat at that event.
To be clear, she always believed she could beat Rousey -- but watching Dillashaw dominate a heavily favored opponent was reassuring.
When preparing to shock the world, it's nice to be reminded that shocking the world is indeed possible to begin with.
"The fight itself was kind of the same scenario as mine," Davis said. "Nobody thought TJ was going to win. Watching that, you kind of feel the anxiety before the fight and then he was doing so well and then came away with the win -- it kind of shoots right through you -- the adrenaline that comes with all that.
"I remember talking to him after and he gave me great advice. He said, 'Nobody thought I was going to win so I just said I was going to enjoy myself. The press, media and then just have fun when I fight.' It was great for me to hear that."
I remember talking to [TJ Dillashaw] after and he gave me great advice. He said, 'Nobody thought I was going to win so I just said I was going to enjoy myself. The press, media and then just have fun when I fight.' It was great for me to hear that."
-- Alexis Davis, on taking a positive approach to her upcoming fight against heavy favorite Ronda Rousey
It's impossible not to know where you stand when facing Rousey.
Davis is embedded right now in the Rousey Effect. It's inevitable. Certain things happen to you when you fight one of the most recognizable faces on the UFC roster.
An Ontario, Canada, native, Davis says her number of Twitter followers has exploded since the fight was announced. Fans want to take photos with her. Media want to hear from her.
The final stages of the Rousey Effect, however, can look like the opposite of that. Just as suddenly as everyone cared, they don't anymore. Expectations are that, by Sunday morning, Davis will be recycled back into the women's 135-pound division.
Maybe -- some day long from now -- she'll resurface and we can ask her what it was like the day she lost to Ronda Rousey.
Even Rousey (9-0) occasionally lets it slip that is just the way it is. She swears to never take an opponent lightly (and to her credit, she hasn't thus far) but she's aware of the situation. She summarized it rather well in a recent UFC promo.
"Alexis Davis is just the next one," Rousey said.
And in so many ways, Davis does look the part of "just the next one."
She doesn't look necessarily uncomfortable under the spotlight, but admits that during a news conference held on Memorial Day weekend in Las Vegas, she continually reminded herself to, "not say anything stupid."
That same day, she made the rookie mistake of not wearing high heels. In stare-down photos taken on stage, she appeared half a foot shorter than Rousey.
"I do really wish I would have worn heels," Davis said.
In other ways, though, Davis has reason to believe she's more than just an inevitable footnote to Rousey's greatness.
As you are certain to hear again before the fight starts, Davis is a black belt in both Brazilian and Japanese jiu-jitsu, which makes her more familiar with Rousey's judo than many previous opponents.
"Every single day I visualize the fight," Davis said. "Every single time I get my hand raised. One moment, it's a first-round knockout. Then a submission. Then it goes all the way to the fifth round and it's an all-out war. I always see myself on top."
Not too many share Davis' vision of the fight. Almost none, actually.
But as Dillashaw proved six weeks ago in a building across the street from where Davis and Rousey will meet, sometimes it only takes the belief of one to get it done.
Christmas did not come early for UFC featherweight Cub Swanson.
Earlier this year, freshly recovered from a successful elbow surgery in November, Swanson went to the UFC with a wish list of names he hoped to fight next.
There was nothing all that complicated about the list -- in fact, it was basically just a copy of the featherweight division rankings from the UFC website. Starting from the top, Swanson went through each name with UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby.
And crossed all of them out.
“I was told ‘no’ to everybody I asked for,” Swanson said. “I was like, ‘What about this person?’ They said it didn’t make sense for the division.
“We basically sat down and went through the entire list of names from [champion] Jose Aldo all the way down, and they told me why I couldn’t fight them. It was just very clear I would have to wait for the fights I wanted.”
Swanson (20-5) is set to face Jeremy Stephens in a headlining bout of this weekend’s UFC Fight Night event at AT&T Center in San Antonio. Stylistically, the bout should provide plenty of entertainment, but it’s not the marquee fight Swanson asked for.
Stephens (23-9), although undefeated as a featherweight, has yet to break into a top 10 ranking at 145 pounds. Oddly enough, Swanson’s last two victims -- Dennis Siver and Dustin Poirier -- are currently ranked higher than Stephens is.
In Swanson’s mind, he’s the division's No. 1 contender with a win on Saturday. Whoever wins a title fight between Aldo and Chad Mendes at UFC 176 on Aug. 2, that name becomes the only entry on his next wish list.
But as Swanson recently found out, what is true in his head doesn’t always match the UFC’s business plan.
“It’s no secret that if I win this fight, I should be next in line,” Swanson said. “But the UFC can’t guarantee that to me, which I understand. There are so many variables.
“There is that Frankie Edgar-B.J. Penn fight [on July 6 in Las Vegas] -- and that fight shows why I need more popularity. I deserve a title shot way more than either of those two, but they could come in and take it because they are household name[s].”
Despite his belief he should be next in line, Swanson says he has no intention of a post-fight callout this weekend. He says doing would seem like “begging.”
Since early 2012, Swanson has done nothing but produce results. He’s recorded four knockouts during his five-fight winning streak, two of which have netted him performance bonuses.
Swanson, who fights out of Palm Springs, Calif., still credits the recent success to a nasty training injury in 2011, in which he suffered a broken jaw, a caved-in cheekbone and a shattered eye socket.
The injury required a dual surgery, during which two surgeons inserted metal plates into his face and wired his jaw shut. Family members begged Swanson to never fight again, but he ultimately decided he wasn’t satisfied enough with his career to retire.
He hasn’t lost a fight since.
“I think one thing that really changed was I started questioning my coaches,” said Swanson, who trains out of Jackson-Winkeljohn MMA. “Before, I would sit there and go, ‘Yes sir. Yes sir.’ [After the injury], I started asking, ‘Why? Is there a better way?’
“I realized I knew a lot about the game, and if I suggested something to them, maybe it was better for me. They trusted me enough to say, ‘Yes, I’m on board with that.’ It’s more of a marriage now and not me just doing exactly what I’m told.”
Win or lose this weekend, Swanson says he’s likely to be in Los Angeles for the Aldo-Mendes rematch on Aug. 2. He’s hoping he’ll be on the short list to face the winner.