MMA: Chad Dundas

Despite win, Cyborg still at risk in Invicta

April, 6, 2013
4/06/13
2:28
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Cyborg SantosDave Mandel/Sherdog.comHow long before Cristiane Santos grows bored -- or, even worse, loses -- while with Invicta FC?
Cristiane "Cyborg" Santos needed to accomplish two things on Friday at Invicta FC: defeat Fiona Muxlow and look like a reasonable facsimile of her old self while doing it.

Not necessarily in that order. At least not in terms of degree of difficulty.


The victory was vital, I suppose, but it was also never really in doubt. In practice, the fight turned out to be as lopsided as it looked on paper, which is to say the win was so one-sided that it was almost completely hollow for the former Strikeforce women’s featherweight champion.

Santos dropped Muxlow with her first punch, a straight right that put the replacement fighter, who took the bout on 17 days’ notice, skittering into the frenzied survival mode we so commonly see in Santos' opponents. The rest was essentially cleanup. It took referee John McCarthy 3 minutes, 46 seconds to decide he’d seen enough, but each tick of the clock after that initial salvo felt more gratuitous than the previous. By the time the end came for Muxlow, she was backed up against the cage accepting a series of increasingly inevitable knees and punches and the overriding feeling that swept over us all when Big John stepped in was one of relief for her.

For Santos, we felt only a vague sense of confirmation. Yep, she’s still Cyborg.

Proving that Santos is still the most bloodcurdling figure in women’s MMA was the really essential thing here, because, after nearly 16 months of inactivity owed to a yearlong suspension for a positive steroid test, there were questions about whether she would show up in Kansas City looking as ripped, as relentless and altogether frightening as before. More to the point, because Cyborg still being leaps and bounds ahead of the competition is an integral part of manager Tito Ortiz’s plan to run the longest of long bombs on the UFC.

When Santos and Ortiz very publicly balked at the chance to cut to 135 pounds for an immediate shot at Ronda Rousey’s bantamweight title back in February, instead opting for a much slower burn in Invicta, it prompted copious industry-wide head-scratching. One of those heads belonged to UFC President Dana White, who alternated between describing the Santos-Ortiz negotiating style as “wacky” and “goofy” and then proclaimed Cyborg “pretty much irrelevant” when talks finally appeared to fall apart for good.

Ortiz claims Santos needs a multifight run in Invicta to gradually shed the pounds necessary to safely make the cut to 135. Maybe that’s true, but the perils of this route are obvious. What if something goes wrong, we all asked when the deal was announced. What if she emerges in the Invicta cage looking like something less than the terrifying knockout artist who cut a swath through women’s MMA during seven fights from 2008-11? What if she -- choke, sputter, gasp -- loses?

"She ain't gonna lose …," an ever-confident Ortiz told MMAJunkie.com's Ben Fowlkes when he put voice to these concerns at the time. "You ever sparred with Cris? You ever tried to wrestle with her? Ever watched her wrestle, watched her spar? Have you ever watched her fight?"

Yeah, well, point taken. Never did Ortiz’s long-term plan for Santos’ career feel like less of a gamble than while we were watching her brutalize Muxlow. Granted, the 35-year-old Australian’s prospects were doomed from the moment she agreed to sub in for the injured Ediane Gomes last month, but it must have been reassuring for Ortiz & Co. to get proof that Cyborg can still deal with an overmatched opponent with the kind of extreme prejudice we saw from her against the likes of Jan Finney and Hiroko Yamanaka near the end of her Strikeforce run.
[+] EnlargeSantos/Coenen
Esther Lin/Getty ImagesCris Justino's power was a big surprise for Marloes Coenen in their first fight in 2010.

While not a particularly instructive affair, we’re now told the victory sets Santos up for an Invicta 145-pound title bout with Marloes Coenen later this year. Coenen will no doubt be a far more dangerous opponent, albeit one Santos already defeated back in January 2010 and one who had been competing at bantamweight prior to debuting in Invicta. If Cyborg wins that, she’ll have a shiny new belt to match Rousey’s, and it’ll start to feel more and more like Ortiz’s gamble might just pay off after all, giving Santos time to drop the weight while only stoking the fires of interest in a Rousey bout.

Still, let’s not kid ourselves here. Santos and Ortiz are taking tremendous risks each time Santos steps into the Invicta cage. They are still involved in the kind of clunky, long-range scheme that very seldom pays off in a sport this unpredictable.

If you strip away the veneer of dominance and the fearsome power, Cyborg has exactly one thing going for her right now: There are only two real stars in the landscape of female MMA, and, as of this weekend, she’s still one of them. Rousey and the UFC need her (and by extension, Ortiz) as much as the fighter and manager need the fight promotion and its golden girl. Rousey versus Santos is the one truly marketable superfight in women’s fighting at the moment, and no matter how big the honchos at the UFC talk, they’ll still be interested in it if and when Santos decides she’s ready.

But that delicate balance of power evaporates immediately should Cyborg make a misstep in Invicta. All it takes is one lucky punch or a momentary mental lapse on the ground and, suddenly, she’s not the perfect foil for Rousey’s good looks and slick submission game anymore. Suddenly, she’s just a former champion with a positive steroid test and a reputation for difficult negotiations.

If we’ve learned anything from MMA, it’s that the thing that “ain’t gonna” happen, often does, and, afterward, the people who wind up on the short end wish they’d grabbed the brass ring when they had the chance -- instead of putting it off for another day.

'Bigfoot' proves to be unwilling fall guy

February, 5, 2013
2/05/13
10:23
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva seemed to take particular joy in knocking out Alistair Overeem on Saturday at UFC 156.

Even though the official stoppage came less than 30 seconds into the third round, it somehow looked like Silva took his sweet time once he had Overeem hurt, as if he wanted to savor the moment. By the time referee Herb Dean jumped in to physically restrain him, Bigfoot had already given the erstwhile No. 1 contender to the UFC heavyweight title a few shots for good measure, including one where he appeared to prop Overeem up with his left hand in order to slip in one final right. Even after Dean pulled him off, the Brazilian wanted more, charging back at his prone opponent and shouting things we can only assume were not compliments.

Was it a tad over the line? Maybe, but put yourself in Silva's size-16s, and it's easy to understand the outpouring of emotion.

For years he's been shortchanged as too slow, too plodding and too predictable to compete with the best in MMA. In the wake of his UFC 156 booking, it's even starting to feel like he's the fighter promoters like to call when they need a fall guy for one of their stars. Take a look at his five most recent fights, and it's hard to find one that Bigfoot was actually "supposed" to win.

He fought Fedor Emelianenko in the opening round of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, when "The Last Emperor" was coming off his first loss in 10 years and the pre-fight hype mostly concerned the company's efforts to set up a pay-per-view pitting Fedor against Overeem. Then, after the tournament bracket went kablooey, Bigfoot was tabbed to face Daniel Cormier, the hotshot late entry who went on to win the whole thing.

Silva's UFC appearances have been even less auspicious: facing Cain Velasquez in the heavyweight champion's first fight after initially losing the title to Junior dos Santos; taking on Travis Browne in a bout that was supposed to put the Hawaiian on the heavyweight map; and finally, getting the call to serve as the 6-foot-4, 280-pound appetizer to Overeem's run at the title.

For a guy as tough and proud as Silva, his perennial underdog status must sting a bit, and the Overeem situation was likely the most difficult of all. The two were originally slated to fight in the semifinals of the Strikeforce tournament, but then Overeem withdrew (because of a toe injury or because of scheduling conflicts -- it was never clear) and somehow vaulted directly into the Octagon, while Silva was left to languish with the rest in San Jose.

More recently, Overeem displaced him from his normal training camp with Florida's Blackzilians, characterized him as "a big target" during pre-fight interviews and showed him no respect once the bell rang, hanging his hands around his waist as if daring him to take his best shot. None of the six ESPN analysts on our panel picked Silva to win this fight, and after opening as a 2-to-1 underdog, he dropped to 3-to-1 by fight night because nobody else was betting on him, either.

Overeem had been all but preordained as Velasquez's next challenger, the UFC likely already salivating over a big money showdown between the two later this year. Yet, on Saturday night, when the time did come for everybody to throw their best shots, it turned out to be Overeem who couldn't take them.

[+] EnlargeAntonio 'Bigfoot' Silva
Josh Hedges/Getty ImagesDespite his perennial underdog status, Antonio Silva has continued to turn heads with a series of heavyweight upsets.
Hence, Bigfoot losing his cool a little bit there at the end.

Still, we all got the message: Go ahead, shortchange him all you want due to his ponderous style, his recent back-to-back losses or his physical appearance, but you know what he's really bad at?

Being a patsy.

Turns out Silva is a really terrible fall guy.

All those fights Silva was "supposed" to lose during the last couple of years? He won more than he lost. He's 5-3 in his combined UFC/Strikeforce career dating back to 2009 and now has the same number of wins in the Octagon as were going to fetch Overeem a title shot had things gone according to plan.

Silva won't get one, obviously. Somehow, we're still not buying him as one of the UFC's best heavyweights and, anyway, he just lost a bloody, lopsided bout with Velasquez last May.

A rematch certainly wouldn't go any differently. Just like Silva certainly wasn't going to beat Overeem, Browne or Emelianenko.

Even with Jones-Sonnen, TUF needs reboot

October, 17, 2012
10/17/12
8:21
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Chael Sonnen and Jon Jones are already in midseason form.

With two weeks to go before they don their team colors and become rival coaches on season 17 of "The Ultimate Fighter", both the UFC light heavyweight champion and his out-of-the-blue challenger brought their best prepared material to Wednesday's introductory conference call.

Sonnen, who's been acting like MMA's answer to "Classy" Freddie Blassie for going on three years now, called Jones bratty and selfish and needled him over his recent DUI. For his part, Jones called Sonnen classless, said he doesn't have what it takes to win championships and pestered him about the controversial testosterone replacement therapy he's used since 2010.

In other words, it's clear the UFC and FX Network chose wisely when deciding next season's TUF coaches.

Now the question is, will it really matter?

Jones is already a lightning rod for controversy and some fans will tune in to season 17 simply to see if the champ can do something, anything to countermand their view of him as arrogant and out of touch. Meanwhile, Sonnen talks better than anyone we've ever seen in mixed martial arts. Maybe as well as anyone in professional sports, ever. When he sits down with producers for his coaching interviews in the TUF training center (mats and heavy bags framed neatly in the background), television gold will no doubt ensue.

But to what end?

After last week's episode reportedly garnered the series' all-time worst ratings, this show obviously has problems no coaching tandem can fix. Moving to a new night and adding some new wrinkles -- as both Dana White and FX Vice President Chuck Saftler said will happen -- are good starts, but TUF needs a complete overhaul if it means to survive over the long term.

After a seven-year run, it's staggering to think this show has marched on so long without any real significant changes. For its debut on FX in March, producers attempted to give things a boost with a new "live" format, but it played out awkwardly, failed to garner improved ratings and was quickly deemed a disappointment. During its current season 16 -- pitting a hapless seeming Roy Nelson against a decidedly hands off Shane Carwin as coaches -- the show went back to basics and ratings have sagged even lower.

Jones and Sonnen may well provide a bump, but it won't last. During and after this season, we'll still be stuck in the same warehouse, with the same revolving door of indistinguishable contestants (many of whom we'll never see again) pulling the same "hilarious" pranks inside the same suburban Las Vegas McMansion. Each episode will still feel like a retread of something we saw the season before, or the season before that, or the season before that.

And thus we come to the hard truth about TUF in 2012 and beyond: After 17 seasons (a long run for any show) the only thing that might save it is a complete reboot, with new locations, new plot devices and, above all, new ideas.

If, as White said, change does come to "The Ultimate Fighter" this season, let's hope it's sweeping and comprehensive. If not, no amount of DUI jokes and TRT cracks will be enough.

UFC 152 best remembered in shades of gray

September, 24, 2012
9/24/12
12:04
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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In the coming days, it no doubt will be tempting to paint Jon Jones’ dominant win over Vitor Belfort at UFC 152 as one of two extremes: either the latest triumphant example of the champion’s greatness, or an empty gesture in a fight that never should have been booked in the first place.

This urge is understandable -- it’s tough to have a conversation about Jones right now that doesn’t lapse into the fanatical -- but it should be resisted.

In the wake of a fight as high-profile and arguably nonsensical as this one, it’s natural to go looking for definitive answers. We all want to believe some decisive statement was made during the weekend because that’s what we expect from the best fighters in the world and because otherwise, well, what did we spend our Saturday night watching, exactly? We want to shout: Jones looked fantastic! or This matchup was a farce! and then click “publish” or “tweet” so we can get on with our lives.

These sorts of unyielding positions are fun and make for good conversation, but neither best illustrates what we really learned at UFC 152. As usual, the truth is actually somewhere in the middle.

No, Jones versus Belfort wasn’t particularly meaningful, but it did turn out to be just a bit more interesting and enlightening than anticipated.

If nothing else, this fight gave us a few more pieces to the puzzle that is MMA’s most talented and enigmatic fighter. While Jones revealed what might actually be some vulnerabilities lurking in his fearsome skill set, he also played it cool when Belfort caught him in an armbar early in the first round. He battled through the tightest spot of his mostly spotless career and fought three more rounds sporting a (possible) injury.

This was noteworthy because to date there hasn’t been much cause for Jones to show grit or grace-under-fire. That he was able to tap into both in this most unexpected place was fairly instructive. It was also probably about as substantive an exchange as we could’ve hoped for in this bout, one pitting a brilliant young light heavyweight against an aging middleweight whose flaws have been a matter of public record for nearly 15 years.

We learned more than we had any right to learn from this fight during its first 90 seconds, and that alone saved it from being a total wash. Small victories, right?
[+] EnlargeJon Jones & Vitor Belfort
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comNo surprises here: Vitor Belfort came out and performed how most people expected.

Most of the rest of the way, Belfort was revealed for what he was; a guy who hadn’t even fought at 205 pounds since 2007 and whom the company inked for this bout only after its preferred choices proved either unavailable (Dan Henderson), unacceptable (Chael Sonnen) or unwilling (Lyoto Machida, Mauricio Rua). He may not have belonged in the cage with the sport’s most dominant champion, but at least he briefly forced Jones to do something we’ve never seen him do inside the Octagon: endure.

On the other hand, for all of the positives -- “focus on the positives” was the unofficial motto of UFC 152 -- this can’t rightfully be called a stellar performance from Jonny Bones, either. The 25-year-old juggernaut let Belfort hang around too long and for at least the first 15:30 didn’t show much of the urgency he’d promised during the lead-up to this bout. He won, but had a fairly impossible task on his hands if he meant to impress and now it’s all but assured that his 2012 will fall well short of the lofty standard he set for himself during 2010-11.

Lastly, it had been fairly widely suggested that this fight was somehow about Jones answering his critics. Again, that’s only partially true. Sure, Jones denied his “haters” the chance to see the public pressure get to him or for his seemingly endless media gaffes to someway manifest themselves inside the cage, but that’s as far as it goes.

To propose that Jones could somehow strike back at his detractors or turn the tide of public opinion in his favor by winning a fight is to completely misunderstand the conversation we’ve been having about him for months now. His lack of popularity among hard-core MMA fans has nothing to do with what he does inside the Octagon or even -- as the UFC suggested again and again Saturday -- with his DWI in May.

Those who insist on despising Jones (and it does feel like a weird insistence at this point) do so because they think he’s an arrogant, sanctimonious phony. They thought it long before he got drunk and crashed his Bentley and they’ll continue to think it no matter how many opponents he beats or how many awkward one-on-one interviews he cuts with Joe Rogan.

For some reason, at least part of the MMA industry can only see Jones in absolutes when, in fact, it should be clear by now that he works exclusively in shades of gray. He’s not a villain, but he’s also not a hero.

The same is generally true of his odd, makeshift main event against Belfort at UFC 152. It wasn’t great, but it wasn’t awful. It wasn’t strictly necessary, but we also shouldn’t walk away feeling like it was completely superfluous.

Instant replay, MMA not a perfect match

September, 13, 2012
9/13/12
10:27
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Fight NightStephen Albanese/Sherdog.comMonitor less: The old-fashioned way might be the best way when it comes to MMA officiating.
In the 27 years since it was first used as an officiating tool by the doomed United States Football League during its 1985 season, instant replay has become so commonplace in professional sports as to barely be noticeable anymore.

Replay has long since outlived its originators in the USFL, and today the notion of watching a pro football game without it seems as old-fashioned as leather helmets or (gasp!) real grass. Even baseball, that curmudgeonly old warden of tradition and sentimentality, now allows umpires to check the video evidence in certain situations.

When you consider how routine and relatively iconic replay has become in athletics, the fact it’s still almost unheard of in mixed martial arts -- a sport that certainly likes to fancy itself the wave of the future -- seems pretty bizarre.

To hear Dana White tell it, he’d like to see that change.

“Every other sport has instant replay [and] fighting needs it too,” White said during an appearance on Inside MMA this week, "especially with how bad the officiating has been. ... These athletic commissions have this thing where it’s like once a guy makes a decision, it can’t be overturned. It’s insane. It’s insane.”

White’s off-the-cuff remarks have given some modest momentum to the idea that the time has come for instant replay in MMA. Indeed, judging solely from the UFC president’s sales pitch, you have to admit, it sounds good. On paper, the use of replay is something most fans can get behind without much reservation.

Except for one thing: In fighting, we’ve all learned the hard way never to trust how things look on paper.

The sport’s short history is already littered with the wreckage of ideas that sounded great in theory, only to flounder in real life. TUF: Live, the Yamma pit, even San Do; they all probably seemed like winners the first time a promoter or television executive drew them up on the back of an In-N-Out Burger napkin.

In practice? Yeah, not so much, and the possibility exists that the same would be true for instant replay.

Indeed, the reason replay isn’t more prevalent in combat sports such as MMA and boxing isn’t because the people in charge haven’t thought of it before. On the contrary, it’s because they have thought of it and they’re not sure it’s such a hot idea.

For example, the Nevada State Athletic Commission adopted instant replay back in 2009, but has been careful to make sure it only applies in very limited situations. As it stands, referees can refer to the video only in instances when they believe a stoppage may have been the result of a foul. By design, that allowance is extremely narrow and NSAC executive director Keith Kizer told ESPN.com this week expanding the rule any further could infringe on the fast-paced and relatively free-form nature of a sport such as MMA. Nobody wants that.

“You never want the cure to be worse than the disease, as the old saying goes,” Kizer said.

While the idea of giving referees and ringside judges access to instant replay is easy to endorse from our living rooms, actually implementing it is another matter entirely. Fact is, MMA just may not lend itself to replay the way other more mainstream, stop-and-start games such as football and baseball do.

Even if a referee had wider use of replay at his disposal during a fight, when and how could he use it? Could he call a halt to the bout in the middle of a round, thereby unduly pausing the action in order to check the video screen? Not sure fighters or fans would like that very much. Could he take a peek between rounds and then report back to the fighters that, “Hey guys, remember that eye poke (or low blow or fence grab) from the first round? We’re reversing the decision on that”?

You don’t have to think about either of the above scenarios too long before you realize how either could negatively affect the sport. That goes double once you consider the hard-core fan base’s well-established penchant for kvetching about referee decisions.

Give credit to White for taking a genuine interest in the various ways we might make MMA better. The fact that he’s passionate enough about the sport to suggest solutions for its many problems has always been one of his biggest strengths as the industry’s most powerful executive. However, before fight fans climb aboard the instant replay bandwagon, we’re going to need to see a clear and polished proposal of how it would work -- in practice, not on paper -- as well as how it would affect the action inside the cage.

If anyone has an idea, we should be all ears. But just remember: Once upon a time, someone, somewhere thought San Do seemed like a good idea, too.

GSP’s rapid return comes in nick of time

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
11:27
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Georges St-PierreJoel Saget/AFP/Getty ImagesHead's up, Carlos Condit: Georges St. Pierre is ready to resume training for his next fight.
Amid a week of particularly gloomy headlines the mixed martial arts world enjoyed a precious -- if not altogether unexpected -- breath of crisp, clean air on Tuesday, as Georges St. Pierre announced via social media that he’s been medically cleared to return to the cage at UFC 154 in November.

On Wednesday, St. Pierre did us one better. "I'm taking a few days off," he posted on his Twitter account. "Training camp starts next week."

If that news doesn’t warm your callused, cauliflower-eared heart just a bit, you might as well admit once and for all that you don’t have one. It’s been nearly nine months since the UFC’s iconic welterweight champion tore the ACL in his right knee while training for a fight with Nick Diaz and the mere idea of having him back provides the sport with a much-needed a glimmer of optimism.

We haven’t seen St. Pierre in the cage since April 2011, which in MMA years is about a decade. The last time he fought -- a dominant decision victory over (cough) Jake Shields -- the UFC’s broadcast deal with Fox was just a glimmer in the eyes of its corporate fathers, few people had heard of an obscure, 1-0 fighter named Ronda Rousey and ESPN the Magazine was still a month away from proclaiming Brock Lesnar the sport’s highest paid athlete.

So yeah, you could say a lot has changed since GSP’s been away and very recently it seems as if much of it has been for the worse.

The UFC is still beset on all sides by an ongoing “injury bug” and just last week for the first time in its history the organization was forced to cancel an upcoming pay-per-view event. As a result, the company’s light heavyweight champion is still reeling and doctors remain unsure when his public image might recover. How long does it take to get over being tossed under a bus, anyway?

In other unrelated-but-related developments, the top heavyweight contender is still on the shelf after a positive drug test; the middleweight champion isn’t interested in fighting the division’s No. 1 challenger; the lightweight title picture is only now about to emerge from a blue period typified by disputed outcomes and rematch after rematch; the bantamweight champion is also recuperating from a blown-out knee and a titlist at flyweight has yet to be crowned (not for lack of trying).
[+] EnlargeGeorges St-Pierre, Jake Shields
Tom Szczerbowski/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesWe'll soon find out of Georges St. Pierre is operating at 100 percent after ACL surgery and a long layoff.

Not to go all Bonnie Tyler on you, but right now it sort of feels like MMA needs a hero. At the very least, it needs something halfway good to happen and St. Pierre appears perfectly fit to be a catalyst for positive change, even if the sport at large wants to wait to see him walk to the Octagon without a cane before fitting him for tights and a cape.

The ACL remains among the body’s trickiest soft tissues and GSP’s pedal-to-the-metal return is bound to raise questions about his overall readiness. Many athletes who’ve been through the same devastating injury have said their confidence was the last thing to come back, and there’s simply no telling how that or any number of other factors might affect St. Pierre as he prepares to jump directly back into the deep end of the pool. He’ll get no warm-up fight, no chance to test that surgically repaired wheel in a live fire situation before he puts his legacy on the line against interim champ Carlos Condit. In some ways that seems unfair. In other ways, it’s perfectly fitting.

Win, lose or draw, the fact that one of the UFC’s best known champions and biggest PPV draws is -- knock on wood -- returning to action gives the company and the sport at large a chance to approach the end of the year on a high note. Any way you slice it, that’s good news.

UFC 154 is booked for Nov. 17 in Montreal, which is just 79 days from today.

Not that we’re counting or anything.

Jones' problems mount after White's rant

August, 23, 2012
8/23/12
4:09
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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From the deafening silence that descended over MMA's favorite social media platforms Thursday morning, you could tell something big was about to happen.

You just didn't know it would be quite this weird.

Even as the UFC hastily (and cryptically) organized an afternoon conference call for "a special announcement" about next weekend's UFC 151, news of Dan Henderson's knee injury had been all but confirmed. Befitting the breakneck pace of the sport's news cycle, most of the speculation had already moved on to whom the company would find to replace Henderson in his light heavyweight title fight against Jon Jones.
[+] EnlargeJon Jones
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesJon Jones might have thrown away a perfectly good opportunity to silence Chael Sonnen.

Those in the know fully expected it to be Chael Sonnen and, in that, expected some typically mundane prefight fireworks.

We didn't expect this.

We didn't expect that for the first time in his tenure as UFC president, Dana White would cancel a high-profile pay-per-view event, pulling the plug on UFC 151 just nine days before it was scheduled to go down at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. We didn't expect he would also take a verbal flamethrower to the public image of one of his superstars.

White has always been one to wear his emotions on his sleeve, but after Jones reportedly refused a short-notice fight against Sonnen that would have saved UFC 151, the vitriol he unleashed on his 205-pound champion was unprecedented -- at least for an employee. White lambasted Jones and his coaches during the 45-minute call, saying he "didn't know what to expect anymore" from the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter in the world and labeling Jones' mentor Greg Jackson as a sport killer.

It was awkward, it was ugly, and if you thought Jones was unpopular before, you ain't seen nothing yet.

"This is probably one of my all-time lows as being president of the UFC," White said in one of the tamer, more family-friendly moments. "I don't know why a guy who is a world champion and considered by many one of the pound-for-pound best wouldn't fight somebody. I don't know the answer to that. It's baffling to me. I've never seen it before."

Even by the standards of the unpredictable MMA world and White's acerbic, off-the-cuff nature, this performance may go down as one of the most bizarre happenings in the sport's history. Never before have we seen him this mad at a guy who had previously figured to be one of the UFC's biggest assets in its continued push toward mainstream acceptance.

When asked how much the events of the past 24 hours would affect the UFC's relationship with Jones, White responded, "A lot."

"Jon Jones has been one of these guys who, as much as he's won and all the things he's accomplished in a short amount of time … he's been a champion that hasn't been very popular," White said. "I don't think this is going to do wonders for his popularity. As far as the relationship with us? Me and [UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta] are both disgusted."

Even before today, Jones has been a divisive figure in MMA circles. He breezed through the best competition in the light heavyweight division but has had considerable trouble connecting with the sport's hard-core fan base. It may be the understatement of the year to say this latest turn of events will not help that.

By drawing the ire of the most powerful man in the sport -- rightly or wrongly -- the public relations battle figures to get even more difficult for Jones.

For Edgar's own sake, it's time to move on

August, 14, 2012
8/14/12
7:15
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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If the UFC were still in the habit of saddling its pay-per-views with awkward emotive taglines on the order of UFC 101: Declaration, UFC 97: Redemption or UFC 84: Ill Will (just to name a few, somewhat recent doozies) it might’ve been apt to dub Saturday night’s event something like: UFC 150: Mixed Feelings.

Or, if brevity isn’t your thing, perhaps: UFC 150: In Which the Lightweight Title Fight Goes Exactly the Same Way as Every Other Lightweight Title Fight During the Last Two Years.

Both seem equally appropriate, as a few days removed public sentiment remains bitterly divided about Ben Henderson’s split decision win over Frankie Edgar in a bout that only continued the trend of maddeningly close 155-pound championship fights.

At this point there appears to be something inherent in Edgar’s scrappy, never-say-die style that breeds outcomes like this. For the former champion, it was his third rematch in six fights and the fifth of those to call upon the ringside officials to decide who won. To put that in perspective, the last time Edgar fought somebody not named Ben Henderson, Gray Maynard or B.J. Penn was December 2009, when he submitted Matt Veach in the second round of a fight that aired on free TV.

This time, Edgar came up two judges short in his bid to regain the lightweight strap. The decision was not quite a robbery (as has been suggested early and often in the aftermath) but it was not particularly clear-cut, either. Considering he is now just 1-2-1 in his last four fights, this one must seem like a bitter pill to swallow for the New Jersey native and people (like me) who thought he won both of his fights against Henderson.
[+] EnlargeEdgar/Veach
Josh Hedges/Getty ImagesIt's been nearly three years since Frankie Edgar shared the Octagon with someone not named Penn, Maynard or Henderson.

Unfortunately, though, that’s just the nature of the sport as it currently exists. At some point, does somebody need to come along and change the rules or the judging criteria or the judges themselves? Certainly; but until that happens, this is our reality.

Now, for the most difficult part of all: Even though the decision was controversial and one that fans and analysts alike will continue to argue about for the foreseeable future, it’s time to move on. We need to let this one go. For the sake of both the lightweight division and Edgar himself, we simply can’t keep putting the title on hold for rematch after rematch.

There's just too much talent at 155 pounds and too much potential for greatness in both Edgar and Henderson to continue airing these reruns. It stinks that a guy as likable and easy to root for as Edgar has to be the one to (depending on your opinion, I guess) come out on the short end of this situation, but it’s time. It’s past time.

In Henderson, the UFC has perhaps the prototypical lightweight of the future. He’s enormous for the weight class, dynamic on his feet and, among other things, seemingly impossible to submit. Unfortunately, this disputed victory over Edgar did exactly zero to further his reputation, and there is a preponderance of anecdotal evidence to suggest a third fight between the two would only continue to muddy the waters.

In order to know how good he really is, we’re going to need to see Henderson -- the new-and-improved UFC version, at least -- fight the rest of the best. We need to see him take on divisional stalwarts like Nate Diaz and Gray Maynard. We might even need to see him reboot a couple of old WEC feuds against Anthony Pettis or Donald Cerrone, who (like the champ) seems to have become a wholly new man now that they've unleashed him inside the Octagon.

For Edgar, who will turn 31 two months from now, he’s made his point. For an athlete who would not even be particularly physically imposing at featherweight, he spent the duration of his championship run looking shockingly capable against guys who were essentially junior welterweights (if such a thing existed in MMA).

It would be wrong to suggest that a competitor who’s been so successful at lightweight absolutely needs to drop a class, but even for entirely noncompetition-based reasons the truth is clear: The shortest distance between Edgar and another shot at UFC gold is at 145 pounds.

Let Henderson entertain some different foes, let fans sink their teeth into some fresh rivalries and let Edgar (who is so obviously championship material) go where the grass is greenest.

Everyone involved will be better off for it.

Jones' work clearly (almost) done at 205

August, 7, 2012
8/07/12
6:36
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
Archive
A lot of great things happened on Saturday during the UFC’s fourth live broadcast on Fox.

The show was outstanding, the fights action-packed, and aside from the possible ratings black hole of going head-to-head with the summer Olympics, the fight company pulled off far-and-away its best offering yet for its new network broadcasting partner. For better and worse, all four 205-pound principals played their parts to a T and even though the title picture in that weight class still has more plot holes than “Prometheus,” the UFC’s bizarre four-way sweepstakes to determine a No. 1 contender has at least allegedly shown the way forward.

So, not to be a total downer, but I have to ask: If this weekend's light heavyweight bouts were so amazing, why did they only seem to underscore how badly Jon Jones has outgrown his own division?

Lyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua both came away from this event with fairly impressive victories, but from the start both had been handed an impossible task. If the point here was to convince us that a future rematch with Jones would go more favorably for either man, then Machida’s kryptonite counter of Ryan Bader’s ill-fated superman punch and Rua’s hard fought fourth-round stoppage over Brandon Vera each fell well short of the mark.

Machida, we’re told, will now face the winner of the champion’s UFC 151 title defense against Dan Henderson and nearly a month before that fight can even become official it’s being met with collective indifference from fans.

Likely because he still has the small matter of the Henderson bout to take care of first, Jones hasn’t had much to say on the topic, either. A week ago he responded to initial reports that the winner of Rua-Vera would receive a title shot by telling his nearly half-million Twitter followers he was “scratching his head” over it. Really, what else can he say until after Sept. 1?

I mean, I know what I’d say if I were him, his coaches or managers. I’d say no.

Assuming the enormous 25-year-old light heavyweight defeats the 41-year-old natural middleweight at UFC 151, Jones will have absolutely nothing to gain by fighting Machida again. The two just fought less than a year ago and despite what the prefight hype will try to convince us of during the next 4-5 months, it wasn’t close, nor was it Jones’ most difficult title defense to date. That honor, hollow as it is, has to go to Rashad Evans.

If a bit more than 16 months into his championship reign Jones has so thoroughly cleaned out the weight class that matchmaker have no choice but to begin recycling guys he’s already beaten so convincingly, then the message is clear: His work here is (almost) done.

Short of waiting around for Alexander Gustafsson to be deemed worthy -- or, maybe more appropriately, for the UFC to secure a stadium in Sweden big enough to host that fight -- Jones has nothing left to accomplish at 205 pounds.
[+] EnlargeGustafsson
Martin McNeil for ESPN.comAlexander Gustafsson isn't quite ready to test the likes of Jon Jones.

Provided he beats Hendo next month, there may be but two attractive options for Jones: Either he consents to a superfight with Anderson Silva or he moves up to heavyweight. For some reason, neither he nor the middleweight champion appears particularly interested in signing on for the biggest fight in MMA history, so the latter may well be the only option.

Moving up to 265 pounds is something Jones has talked about being in his future, but the way he’s torn through the top competition at light heavyweight, I don’t see any reason to wait.

For Jones, the future is now.

OK, maybe not now, exactly. Maybe the future’s still not for a few weeks, but if things play out according to chalk against Henderson, it’s obvious Jones will just be spinning his wheels the longer he stays at light heavyweight.

Alvarez, Bellator both face big decisions

July, 28, 2012
7/28/12
11:40
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
Archive
Eddie Alvarez versus Michael ChandlerWilliam Musacchia/Sherdog.comIt's hard to imagine Eddie Alvarez, left, wading through an entire tournament for another crack at Michael Chandler.
Bellator Fighting Championships won’t make its live debut on SpikeTV until early 2013, but the first great challenge of the company’s brave new future may come much sooner than that.

Three months from now, Bellator’s longest standing and best known star will become a free agent. Whether or not the organization can re-sign him -- show him the money, I guess, or lose him forever -- might tell us a lot about its overall prospects, even as the promise of an increased market share, ad revenue and exposure all loom just beyond the end of the Mayan Calendar.
Eddie Alvarez, after all, has been there since the beginning.

Alvarez was around during Bellator's ESPN Deportes days; the tape-delay days; the shoestring, wing-and-a-prayer days back before Bellator was welcomed into the Viacom family and destined for a cushy programming spot on a cable network with a proven record of success broadcasting mixed martial arts. As Bellator’s first lightweight champion and the guy who (almost by default) was the face of the company prior to the rise of Michael Chandler, it will be a shame if Alvarez isn’t there as the promotion officially begins its 2.0 phase.

A shame for everybody -- except maybe Eddie Alvarez.

The 28-year-old Philadelphia-native has already spent three of the most precious years of his athletic career -- specifically, those where he was considered one of the world’s top five lightweights -- marooned on Isle Bellator, fighting whoever matchmakers could turn up on loot. Josh Neer. Roger Huerta. Shinya Aoki. Alvarez’s list of previous opponents reads like a who’s who of nomadic journeymen. His loss to Chandler in a fight-of-the-year-caliber brawl in Nov., 2011 badly hurt his standing in the division, reducing him to (at best) a peripheral member of the 155-pound top 10 and given the dearth of big names on Bellator’s current roster, there isn’t a lot of opportunity to rebuild his reputation, short of one day avenging that defeat.

You think Gilbert Melendez feels like an exile because he’s stuck in Strikeforce? Imagine how Alvarez must feel.
[+] EnlargeAlvarez/Huerta
Dave Mandel/Sherdog.comEddie Alvarez has faced a who's who of lightweight journeymen throughout his time with Bellator.

At this point, it’s pretty much Chandler-or-bust for him in Bellator and the notion of sticking around in the smaller company likely seems less and less appealing the longer it remains committed to its current tournament format. If I were Alvarez or his managers and Bellator really expected me to wade through another eight-man bracket to earn a rematch with the champ, I’d have two words for them: Bye. Bye.

Even if Alvarez did battle his way back into a rematch with Chandler -- heck, even if he did all that and beat him to reclaim the Bellator belt -- then what? Alvarez would have to believe pretty wholeheartedly in the organization’s future and believe that SpikeTV is the missing piece of the puzzle in order to play out the string any longer than he already has.

Either that or he’d have to be kind of insanely well paid.

Alvarez earned a reported $100,000 for blitzing Aoki in two minutes, 14 seconds in April, so it’s not like he’s currently making chump change in Bellator. Still, you’d have to imagine his suitors in free agency -- or, ahem, his suitor (singular) as the case will probably be -- will come loaded for bear in order to lure him away.

According to reports, Bellator has a three-month grace period during which it can match any competing offer made to Alvarez after his contract expires. Organizational honchos have also said they’ll try to re-up with him on a longterm deal before he even makes the last appearance on his current agreement.

If you’re Bellator brass though, at some point you have ask yourself how much Alvarez is worth to you. Do you break the bank to try to keep him, if it comes to that? Or do you stick to what has been a fairly successful formula for your company so far, keeping the budget under control and relying on your tournaments (and, now, the promotional power of Spike) to try to build new stars?

Decisions, decisions.

In any case, Alvarez’s final obligation for the company is currently expected to be on Oct. 12 in Canada. No opponent has yet been announced. Smart money says no one, not even Bellator itself, is quite sure who that’s going to be.

Maybe that’s as good an indicator as any of where all this is headed.

Faber in uncharted water after fifth title shot

July, 24, 2012
7/24/12
6:27
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Urijah Faber is rapidly becoming a man without a country.

After years spent comfortably ensconced as the best known and perhaps most talented fighter under 155 pounds, the going has gotten fairly tough as of late. Faber’s unanimous decision defeat at the hands of Renan Barao at UFC 149 on Saturday dropped the once-dominant champion to 0-5 in title fights across two different weight classes in two different Zuffa-owned promotions dating back to 2008.

Even a guy as charismatic and notoriously cool as “The California Kid” must be feeling the heat after this latest loss. At 33 years old, he’s not ancient by any stretch of the imagination, but he’s no spring chicken, either. Getting out-pointed by the 25-year-old Barao might not bounce Faber from the 135-pound title picture completely, but by now, even his staunchest supporters have to concede that he won’t get an unlimited number of chances to win a UFC championship.

That means the next decision Faber makes about his future may well be the most important one of his career: What now?

What’s next for a guy who was arguably as important to the popularization of featherweight and bantamweight as Tito Ortiz or Chuck Liddell were to the survival of the UFC itself during the early 2000s? What’s next for a guy who spent the best years of his career toiling in relative obscurity, before the Octagon finally deigned to allow entrance to some of the sport’s most exciting, albeit smallest athletes?

Does Faber stay at bantamweight, hoping nemesis Dominick Cruz defeats Barao and the UFC still sees fit to make Cruz-Faber III? Does he go back to featherweight, where Jose Aldo still rules with an iron fist? Could he, would he try to make flyweight, where teammate Joseph Benavidez is the obvious heir apparent?

Good questions all, and the answers might not come easily.

A pair of losses to Mike Brown in 2008-09 cost Faber not only his WEC featherweight title, but also the aura of invincibility he’d built while amassing a 21-1 record during the previous five years. A lopsided defeat by Aldo in April, 2010 chased him down to bantamweight, but the change of scenery has had little effect on the final results.

Make no mistake, Faber has looked good -- very good -- while trumping contenders like Eddie Wineland and Brian Bowles, but has yet to get over the hump when UFC gold is on the line. There should be no doubt over his status as a legitimate title threat, but his innate marketability has also afforded him opportunities that might not have been granted a less popular fighter.
[+] EnlargeBrown/Faber
AP Photo/Jeff ChiuThings went out the window as soon as Urijah Faber lost to Mike Brown.

After losing his first 135-pound title fight to Cruz by close but clear cut decision at UFC 132, Faber needed just a single, dominant win over Bowles before UFC brass gave him another crack. Better than that, they also cast him opposite Cruz as a coach on the first “live” season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show, giving both fighters and the weight class its best exposure to date.

Cruz’s knee injury robbed Faber of his chance to win the rubber match with his rival, but the company went forward with its plans to give him another chance at the belt anyway. For a fifth time, he came up just a bit shy.

The news here is certainly not all bad. Simply getting so many title opportunities in multiple weight classes is a testament to Faber’s skill and his overall importance to the sport. It’s hard to think of another fighter who’s gotten as many chances after so many losses and the guys who are even in the conversation are either already in the UFC’s hall of fame, or will be soon:

Randy Couture went 4-5 fighting for versions of the UFC light heavyweight and heavyweight titles between 2002-07. BJ Penn got six separate shots at UFC gold in the lightweight and welterweight divisions from 2002-10, while going 2-3-1. Kenny Florian lost a total of three title fights at lightweight and featherweight from 2006-11.

Marketability and a previous track record of success can only take a guy so far, however, and Faber is now just 5-5 in his last 10 fights.

In 2011, just before his statement win over Bowles at UFC 139, Faber seemed incredulous when asked if he thought he was running out of chances to win a UFC title, saying: “I’ll make as many [title] shots as opportunity allows ... There’s a reason I’ve been at the top of the weight class, any weight class, since I started in this sport and that’s because there aren’t that many guys out there that can beat me.”

If we had to guess, we'd say he probably still feels the same way, even after losing to Barao.

Still, while it’s not quite time for Faber to hit the panic button, he woudn’t be human if he wasn’t feeling some significant urgency right now. He likely won't get too many more chances before history adds his name to the list of the best fighters never to win a UFC title.

And that’s a list nobody wants to be on.

Weidman busted Munoz, title hunt wide open

July, 13, 2012
7/13/12
5:24
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
Archive
Mark MunozAP Photo/Jeff ChiuDon't sleep on Chris Weidman. Mark Munoz can tell you what happens when you do.

There was a considerable gnashing of analytical teeth leading up to Chris Weidman’s midweek main event against Mark Munoz at UFC on Fuel TV.

The general consensus among the experts was that this bout between two accomplished amateur wrestlers, keen to stake a claim in the UFC middleweight division, was nearly too close to call.

Munoz had been the veritable wrecking machine suggested by his nickname -- the Filipino Wrecking Machine -- since dropping to 185 pounds almost three years ago, putting together a 6-1 mark that had him within striking distance of a title shot. His opponent had been no less impressive, rolling in with an overall record of 8-0, despite taking thee of his previous four UFC bouts on short notice. Weidman was a slight betting favorite leading up to the fight, but the general feeling was that he and Munoz were almost ridiculously evenly matched on paper.

Yeah, paper stinks.

Surely even the people who picked Weidman to edge Munoz were shocked by what they saw on Wednesday night, as the 28-year-old from Long Island dominated all facets of the bout over 6 minutes en route to one of the year’s more unsettling TKOs.

In doing so, Weidman not only gashed Munoz open with a sickeningly sweet standing elbow before finishing him with a barrage of ground strikes that turned just plain sickening, he may as well also have taken a hammer to the title picture in the 185-pound division.

It was just five days ago, after all, that we were lamenting the sudden lack of compelling middleweight matchups for Anderson Silva. Having dealt with Chael Sonnen in karmically fitting fashion at UFC 148, the aging champion’s prospects for finding another opponent befitting both his skills and his place in the history of the sport appeared bleak. All at once Silva’s best options for cementing his legacy felt like retirement or fighting Jon Jones, both of which apparently sounded unappetizing to the champion himself.

Then Weidman smashed Munoz on a night when the UFC was perhaps the only live professional sporting event on national television. And while it would be disingenuous to pretend the performance raised him to Silva’s legendary level in one fell swoop, it did make the middleweight division look suddenly vibrant again.

Indeed, the most surprising and impressive part of Weidman’s win over Munoz was simply his comprehensive dominance. Not only did he take the former NCAA Division I national wrestling champion down at will, but he controlled the scrambles, appeared continually on the verge of finishing things with a number of submissions, and physically overmatched a guy previously regarded as powerhouse at this weight with ease. When Munoz finally did free himself of Weidman’s clutches and looked to unleash his vaunted heavy hands on the feet, Weidman knocked him out less than two minutes into the second round.

It’s tough to imagine anyone putting together a more compelling case for a title shot during the course of a single fight. Where few people were excited about the prospect of seeing Munoz take on Silva, Weidman now seems like the kind of talent that might just pique the public’s interest.

UFC President Dana White has been initially noncommittal about where the victory leaves Weidman. Depending on how things go during a few upcoming bouts, Hector Lombard, Michael Bisping or Alan Belcher could all probably make credible arguments to be Silva’s next opponent. If nothing else, that means there should be some lively debate in the coming weeks about where the middleweight division and its great champion are headed next.

It also means that UFC matchmakers suddenly find themselves a far cry from where we thought they were less than a week ago.

Suddenly, the company has at least one good option. That's an improvement.

Gaffes continue to plague talented Sonnen

July, 9, 2012
7/09/12
2:14
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
Archive
In the immediate aftermath of his second-round TKO loss to Anderson Silva on Saturday at UFC 148, a dazed and disappointed Chael Sonnen didn’t seem to know exactly what had happened.

“You know, he got me with a good shot,” Sonnen told UFC color commentator Joe Rogan inside the cage, his voice betraying the uncertainty of a man still trying to piece together how things had gotten away from him. “I was on the ground and he got me with a good knee; other than that, I’m just going to have to look at the tape.”

No shame in that, really. A total of 13 guys have tangled with the UFC middleweight champion in the Octagon, and in the end they’ve all probably come out feeling pretty much the same way. When Sonnen does go back to review the footage, however, he’ll see something few of Silva’s previous opponents will have seen, something a lot more heartbreaking.

He’ll see a winnable fight undone by yet another careless mistake. He’ll see one more bout lost because of the unforced errors and mental lapses that have plagued him throughout his entire career.

The first 6 minutes of “the most anticipated rematch in UFC history” looked a lot like Sonnen’s first meeting with Silva at UFC 117 in August 2010. The challenger dominated the opening round with his trademark wrestling skills, and in the early stages of the second round he continued to pressure and muscle the champion around the cage, nullifying most of Silva’s attack when “The Spider” didn’t have a big, fat handful of tights.

Everything seemed to be going according to plan.

Then came the spinning backfist that might well haunt Chael Sonnen for the rest of his days.
[+] EnlargeSilva-Sonnen
Al Powers for ESPN.comThe second Silva-Sonnen fight was starting to look a lot like the first -- until this happened.

As is so often the case with immediate postfight interviews, Sonnen’s initial account of how things ended failed to tell the whole story. Truth is, with 3:31 left in the second, he had Silva right where he wanted him -- on defense, pressed against the chain link, fighting off an array of takedown attempts -- when Sonnen inexplicably launched into that wild, spastic backfist, missed by a mile, and fell down.

It was an out-of-character moment of flash from a guy whose offense is typically meat and potatoes. If Sonnen had landed it, we’d probably still be talking about how cool it looked.

But he didn’t.

Instead, he fell on his butt, his face suddenly stricken with the terrified look we might all get if we’d just spent two years talking a raft of trash about the greatest mixed martial arts fighter in history and suddenly found him standing over us with his fists clenched.

Twenty-eight seconds later, the fight was over.

In retrospect, that spinning backfist comes off looking like a needless risk in the midst of a bout Sonnen was solidly winning. With the benefit of hindsight it looks, frankly, dumb.

And yeah, maybe it’s unfair to criticize a guy for a split-second, spur-of-the-moment decision made in the heat of battle, one that was surely more the product of instinct than forethought. Maybe it’s wrongheaded to think that if Sonnen had just played it straight, he might be walking the mean streets of West Linn, Ore., right now with the real UFC title belt, instead of a $30 knockoff.
[+] EnlargeMaia-Sonnen
AP Photo/Tom HeveziA history of mistakes: Demian Maia capitalized on a Chael Sonnen error at UFC 95 back in February 2009.

But the fact remains, this is how Chael Sonnen loses fights. This is how he’s always lost fights. He starts fast and gets ahead, only to make some critical error that costs him everything.

There was Silva’s triangle choke at UFC 117, which came just minutes before Sonnen would have claimed UFC gold. There was UFC 95, when he tapped to the same choke from Demian Maia after controlling the first two minutes of the fight. There was December 2007, when Sonnen conceded with a scream to Paulo Filho’s arm bar in the second round of a WEC title fight the former Oregon wrestler was winning. Keep going back, keep looking at the losses, and you'll find many of them are eerily similar.

On Saturday night, it was a slightly different kind of mistake, but the end result was the same.

It’s strange to think that a guy so talented and so good at the mental part of the fight game outside the cage could be so prone to such blunders during his bouts. It’s perhaps the weirdest kind of hole a fighter can have in his game, and it's one that Sonnen has been incapable of closing while racking up a 27-12-1 record during a 15-year career.

If it seems odd to us, imagine how frustrating it must be for him.

Seconds after succumbing to Silva’s strikes on Saturday, Sonnen may not have been able to put it all together in his mind, but when he watches the tape what he finds might look all too familiar.

When he sees it with his own eyes, I think he’s going to want this one back.

Prior to UFC 148, has Sonnen already won?

July, 3, 2012
7/03/12
11:26
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
Archive
Conventional wisdom says this weekend is finally "put up" or "shut up" time for Chael Sonnen.

After six years of mediocrity followed by 3½ years of glorious superstardom, it’s easy to think Sonnen’s entire MMA career could boil down to the 25 minutes (or less) he’ll spend in the cage Saturday with Anderson Silva at UFC 148.


If Sonnen manages to craft another stunning upset performance like the one we saw at UFC 117 -- this time without pulling an Earnest Byner -- even his staunchest critics will have no choice but to concede his place in the record books. He will have cashed in on perhaps the longest con in UFC history, turning in an Oscar-worthy performance during each step of his slow march to becoming No. 1 in the world.

On the other hand, if Silva makes good on his poorly translated promise to have Sonnen eat his own teeth this weekend, no one outside of West Linn, Ore., will cry for the man who has fashioned himself into the sport’s first real villain. We will shed no tears because, aside from the injuries Silva may inflict during their rematch, the wounds Sonnen has suffered of late all have been self-inflicted.

In the rare instances he's broken character during his latest UFC run, even Sonnen himself admits: It ain’t easy being the bad guy.

The months of trash talk, the arguments about testosterone replacement therapy, the Twitter controversies and even the guilty plea on federal money-laundering charges -- conventional wisdom dictates that this weekend we’ll find out whether it has all been worth it for him.

Then again, conventional wisdom has never seemed to apply to Sonnen, and considering where he was less than five years ago, maybe we already have our answer.

Had the MMA media existed as it does today when Sonnen began his fighting career in earnest in 2002 (after one bout in 1997), we likely would have looked at his amateur wrestling credentials and trumpeted him as a blue-chip prospect. During the first half-decade of his run in MMA, however, it looked as though Sonnen was never going to fulfill that potential.

By autumn 2007, his immense talents had yielded surprisingly middling results. He’d grown into an unsigned 30-year-old journeyman still plodding his way through the indie scene with more than two dozen fights already on his résumé. During 2005-06, he’d had his shot at the big time, but had washed out of the UFC after losing two of three fights in the Octagon, both of them by submission.

To Sonnen, it must have seemed as though his athletic career was all but finished when a strange confluence of events rocketed him back into the UFC in early 2009. With the momentum of being the uncrowned 185-pound champion of the WEC behind him, surely a man as shrewd as Sonnen recognized the unique and serendipitous nature of the opportunity.
[+] EnlargeChael Sonnen
Gregg DeGuire/Getty ImagesChael Sonnen's first stint with the UFC -- a 1-2 run before being cut -- didn't go over so well.

In the years following, he’s done everything he's had to do -- no more and no less -- to become one of the biggest stars in his field.

Has he lied? Has he cheated? Has he made a fool of himself in public? Sacrificed his reputation? His health? Maybe his future? Only he knows for sure.

But ask yourself, if you had worked your whole life in pursuit of one professional goal only to wake up one morning and realize the chance was about to pass you by, if you realized you were about to finish your career as a disappointment, if you texted your boss and it turned out he didn’t even know who you were, what would you do?

Think of what you would do just for the chance to make it right, then imagine what a man like Sonnen might do.

Once you consider that during the past five years he's risen from the relative anonymity of the independent circuit to become one of the sport’s biggest draws, transforming himself from a nobody into the career-defining nemesis of the greatest mixed martial artist of all time -- well, there's only one reasonable conclusion to draw, isn’t there?

Chael Sonnen already has won.

More fighters should follow JDS on PEDs

June, 17, 2012
6/17/12
8:46
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
Archive
It’s pretty out of character for the UFC’s happy-go-lucky heavyweight champion to start making demands.

I guess when even Junior dos Santos stops smiling, you know you've got a problem.

To date, dos Santos’ public image has been built on his blistering boxing skills and the childlike sense of wonder that seems to have stuck with the 27-year-old Brazilian nicknamed “Cigano” (or “gypsy,” in his native Portuguese) through nine straight wins inside the Octagon.

As a child, when other kids in his neighborhood were turning to gangs and drugs, dos Santos sold ice cream on the street to earn extra money for his family, we were told in the first “UFC Primetime” TV special to spotlight him. When he learned how many millions of people in his home country reportedly watched him knock out Cain Velasquez to win the UFC title last November, dos Santos’ responded like a grade schooler whose winning science project had just landed him in the local paper.

“Whoa,” he exclaimed. “I’m famous!”

If dos Santos didn’t seem like his optimistic, lighthearted self this week while suggesting to ESPN Brazil that MMA needs ongoing and widespread blood testing to stamp out the scourge of performance enhancing drugs, you couldn’t blame him.

Dos Santos has unwittingly been cast into the middle of two of the UFC’s most recent drug scandals. His proposed title defense against Alistair Overeem fell apart in April when a surprise drug test caught Overeem with off-the-charts levels of testosterone. Instead, dos Santos fought and easily defeated Frank Mir at UFC 146, only to later learn that Mir too was taking testosterone, after receiving a therapeutic use exemption for hormone replacement therapy from the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
[+] EnlargeShane Carwin
Donald Miralle/Getty ImagesJunior dos Santos, left, took out one heavyweight bigger than the next on his road to the top.

It bears mention that two fights before that, dos Santos defeated Shane Carwin, who in 2010 saw his name included on a list released by federal prosecutors of athletes who allegedly patronized an online pharmacy indicted for selling mail order steroids.

If you were Junior dos Santos, you might feel like the only clean fighter in the heavyweight division right now.

This week he took action, implying he won't sign to face Overeem in the future unless the former Strikeforce champion agrees to increased screening, including blood tests leading up to the fight.

"I think we both need to do that,” dos Santos said. “I want a clean fight and he needs to prove he is not under any kind of substances ... When you have a fight with two 'clean' fighters, you will know after the fight who is the real champion. A guy who uses doping is a fake fighter."

Good for dos Santos for taking this step. No, better yet, great for him.

Fighters are putting their lives on the line each time they step into the Octagon to square off with the world’s best trained and most successful unarmed combatants. Dos Santos routinely faces the biggest and strongest of those opponents, and he has a right to know beyond a reasonable doubt that the men he’s fighting with his bare (or barely covered) hands aren’t souped-up on chemical enhancements.

For the rest of us, PEDs in MMA may be be a complicated issue fraught with moral and ethical conundrums, but for JDS it’s a cut and dried personal safety issue. If he doesn’t feel the current testing is adequate, then he’s well within his bounds to call for more. He is, after all, the industry’s salable product. Without him, there is no show.

Frankly, more high-profile fighters ought to follow dos Santos’ lead and go on record with similar requests. It’d be great, in fact, to see a significant collection of the sport’s top stars all sign up for testing through the Voluntary Anti-Doping Association, and say they weren’t going to fight anybody who didn’t.

Short of comprehensive, company-wide testing from the UFC itself, it might be the best (read: only?) way to truly clean up this sport.

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