MMA: Frankie Edgar
Edgar (17-4-1) fights Cub Swanson in a five-round UFC main event on Nov. 22 in Austin, Texas. On paper, it looks like a clear No. 1 contender fight. Edgar has won his last two fights; Swanson (21-5) has won six in a row. Each is universally ranked inside the top five of the 145-pound division.
But in an interview with UFC.com earlier this month, company president Dana White suggested that if champion Jose Aldo defeats Chad Mendes at UFC 179 next week in Rio de Janeiro, the No. 1 contender spot could go to Irish sensation Conor McGregor.
McGregor (16-2) is ranked below Edgar and Swanson, but Aldo has prior wins over the two already (in 2013 and 2009, respectively). Also, and this part is important, McGregor is an emerging star at the box office.
When asked for his reaction to McGregor potentially skipping ahead of him, Edgar said it's not like he didn't see it coming.
"It doesn't surprise me," Edgar told ESPN.com. "As a promoter, it's probably the smart thing to do. He's got a lot of buzz going. Why have him lose before they can make money on that fight?
"Of course, I'll be upset if that happens. I'm sure Cub will be upset. But that's the nature of this game. I do want to fight for the title after I beat Cub, but if I have to fight somebody else, what am I going to do? I can't sit around and feel sorry for myself. I have to go to work and get it done."
On McGregor's abilities, Edgar said: "I think he's talented. Dustin Poirier is not an easy fight. I think there is still some unknown with him. I'd like to see him deal with a wrestler, but he's had an answer for everything so far. Maybe he's the next Anderson Silva, who knows? But I know I match up well against him."
For the record, no decision has been made regarding a No. 1 featherweight contender, although McGregor is scheduled to appear at the UFC 179 title fight in person -- an ominous sign for Edgar and Swanson.
When asked to defend the logic behind McGregor potentially leapfrogging the Edgar-Swanson winner, White reiterated that both had lost to Aldo previously and added that Edgar has been in many title fights in the past.
I do want to fight for the title after I beat Cub Swanson, but if I have to fight somebody else, what am I going to do? I can't sit around and feel sorry for myself. I have to go to work and get it done.” -- Frankie Edgar, on the possibility that a win over Swanson won't land him a featherweight title shot
"What I said in that interview is that everyone in the top five has already lost to Aldo -- and Frankie Edgar has gotten a lot of title fights, you know what I mean?"
Although Edgar, 32, can wrap his head around the idea of promoting McGregor, he does take issue with the second part of White's statement.
Edgar has been involved in seven UFC title fights, but believes he's done more than enough to earn all of them.
The fact he's been in title fights previously, shouldn't work against his chances of getting there again.
"That doesn't make much sense," Edgar said. "I've fought in a lot of title fights because I was the champion. At one point, they gave me a bunch of rematches so I was granted a rematch when I lost the belt to Ben [Henderson]. I was going to save a card for them against Aldo by taking a fight on six weeks' notice. He got injured and they kept that fight together.
"I think I've earned every single one of them, and I think I performed in every single one of them."
One of those performances was a losing effort against Aldo (24-1) at UFC 156 in February 2013. Edgar came up short in the five-round bout but arguably gave the Brazilian his toughest fight thus far in the UFC.
Edgar says he'd love to be the one to finally dethrone Aldo, who is a staple on the pound-for-pound list and hasn't lost since 2005.
But he thinks Mendes (16-1), who also has a loss to Aldo (first-round knockout in 2012), could beat him to it.
"If Aldo beats Mendes, I think Conor will get Aldo," Edgar said. "But there's no guarantee Aldo will beat Mendes.
"I think the first time they fought, Mendes was a little reluctant. I think if he goes in there like he has during this streak he's been on, he could be a nightmare for Aldo. It's a tough fight to pick, but if I'm going to pick anybody, I'll pick Mendes."
The Anderson Silva-Nick Diaz "superfight" is 185 days away.
That should be enough time to determine whether we’re actually going to call it a "superfight" to begin with. We’ve spent years talking about potential superfights in the UFC, but did we ever actually define what they were? We didn't, did we?
Whatever: Superfight status or not, Silva versus Diaz is something you want to watch if you’re a fight fan. Their personalities go a long way in that, but it’s also a fight that just feels different.
At a time when the UFC sometimes airs two cards in one day, different is welcomed.
It's definitely not your average UFC pay-per-view main event. There is no title involved, nor are there any recent wins involved. Both are 0-2 in their respective last two fights.
But this is a matchup that doesn't really care. The stakes feel high, although they’re hard to define. Maybe superfights don’t need UFC titles involved.
In the spirit of this matchup, here are five non-title "superfights" we could all get into. Will any actually happen? Probably not. But that's actually fitting. If there is one attribute about a "superfight" we know of, it's that they rarely come together.
No. 5 -- Nate Diaz versus Matt Brown, welterweight
Right? I mean, right? What if the UFC had announced, "Diaz versus Brown," and when you got to the fight poster it was a picture of Nate? How many pieces would your mind blow into? After Brown lost to Lawler, there was no better opponent for him than Diaz, but he was destined for Silva. How about his younger brother fight Brown instead? We already admitted none of these fights are likely going to happen, but now that this one is out there, I really want it.
No. 4 -- Glover Teixeira versus Junior dos Santos, heavyweight
So many bungalows would be thrown. Both guys don’t go down easy, but they put guys down easily. The exchanges would be nuts. If one of them switched gears and went for a takedown, it would be Teixeira -- but him taking dos Santos down is doubtful. So, what we’re looking at here is a guaranteed stand-up between JdS and Teixeira. Let that marinate for a minute.
No. 3 -- Urijah Faber versus Frankie Edgar, featherweight
Bump Faber back up to featherweight (although a teammate fight between him and Dillashaw would be a good time, too). This one writes itself. The prefight barbs would be as cordial as it gets, but the skill level in the cage would be off the charts. I’d rather see this fight over Faber vs. Masanori Kanehara.
No. 2 -- Anthony Johnson versus Alistair Overeem, heavyweight
Former teammates -- sort of. No one at the Blackzilians camp seems too broken up about Overeem’s decision to bail earlier this year. Johnson said he has no “beef” with Overeem but claims he was never part of the team. This all sounds like something we could exploit and magnify by placing the two in the same room with cameras and microphones for several weeks.
No. 1 -- Conor McGregor versus Donald Cerrone, lightweight
In Dublin. Cerrone would somehow commandeer a Bud Light party submarine for him and his buddies so he could still make a “road trip” out of it. Would Cerrone smile at the weigh-in and carry that carefree aura we’ve seen lately? Or might this kind of moment bring out the Cerrone that screamed expletives after knocking out Charles Oliveira in 2011 or who ran over Jamie Varner in a grudge match in 2010? Both of these guys are down to fight whomever, whenever. McGregor is a big 145.
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.”
ESPN Stats & Information
The UFC was to crown its first ever superfight champion on April 7, 1995, at UFC 5. Royce Gracie, the three-time tournament champion against Ken Shamrock, whose only loss was to the Brazilian jiu-jitsu master at UFC 1 in just 57 seconds. The two men fought for 36 minutes, with Shamrock gaining a takedown shortly into the fight and holding top position for the remainder of the 31-minute period. A five-minute overtime settled nothing and the fight was declared a draw. Despite being in top position, Shamrock landed 10 significant strikes (98 in total). And so began the legacy of the UFC rematch.
Over its 20-year history, the UFC has had more than 100 rematches. Some bouts such as Gracie versus Shamrock have changed the course of UFC history.
Battles that Changed History
UFC 52: Couture vs. Liddell 2
UFC 65: Hughes vs. St-Pierre 2 (aka Bad Intentions)
Matt Hughes had defended his UFC Welterweight Title twice when he fought Georges St-Pierre for the second time at UFC 65. Hughes won the first matchup at UFC 50 by way of armbar, with one second remaining in the opening round. In the rematch, St-Pierre dominated, outstriking Hughes 45-10 and landing a brutal head kick and punches to dethrone the champion. Hughes would fight St-Pierre at UFC 79 and lose again, his last shot at a UFC title.
UFC 77: Silva vs. Franklin 2 (aka Hostile Territory)
UFC 100: Lesnar vs. Mir 2
By November 2008, Brock Lesnar had become the UFC heavyweight champion. But there was one man who had his number: Frank Mir. Mir defeated Lesnar by heel hook at UFC 81, and after Mir became interim champion, it set up the rematch at the UFC’s century mark event. Lesnar would control the action from the opening bell, bloodying Mir and outstriking the interim champ 47-4 in significant strikes. Lesnar would make one more title defense before health issues and losing the title led to his departure from MMA in 2011.
UFC 100 would be a night of redemption for Lesnar, much like these rematches.
Battles of Redemption
UFC 49: Belfort vs. Couture 2 (aka Unfinished Business)
Randy Couture was the UFC light heavyweight champion when he defended his title against Vitor Belfort at UFC 46 in January 2004. The end of the fight was marred in controversy when the doctor halted the bout just 49 seconds into the opening round because of a cut on Couture’s eyelid from a Belfort punch. Belfort was awarded the title because of the doctor stoppage, resulting in an immediate rematch in August. In the rematch, Couture gained two takedowns and damaged Belfort on the ground, ultimately leading to a doctor’s stoppage after the third round. Couture landed 33 of his 50 significant strikes on the grounded Belfort.
UFC 63: Hughes vs. Penn 2
UFC 46 also saw another title change in the co-main event when BJ Penn submitted Matt Hughes to win the UFC welterweight title. Penn would leave the UFC because of contractual issues, but would return in March 2006. He would again fight Hughes at UFC 63, but the result was much different. Hughes was the UFC welterweight champion, and proved why in defeating Penn by TKO stoppage in the third round. They would rematch once more in 2010 with Penn winning by KO 21 seconds into the fight.
UFC 83: Serra vs. St-Pierre 2
UFC 148: Silva vs. Sonnen 2
The matchup against Weidman will be Silva’s third rematch in his MMA career. In his second set of rematches in 2010 and 2012, Silva fought Chael Sonnen and picked up two victories. But the first fight was three minutes away from going to Sonnen. At UFC 117, Sonnen gained takedowns in each of the first three rounds and had Silva on his back in the final round up on the cards when Silva forced a tap out with a triangle choke and armbar. Many thought Sonnen had Silva’s number when the two would rematch at UFC 148, but the Brazilian had other ideas. Sonnen landed 76 total strikes on Silva while the champion threw just two, missing both. But Silva battled in Round 2, eventually striking after a Sonnen slip and finishing the fight with knees against the cage.
All of those battles took place over time, but some rematches remain timeless for their bad blood and exciting results.
UFC 61: Ortiz vs. Shamrock 2 (aka Bitter Rivals)
While Ronda Rousey-Miesha Tate may be the preeminent feud of today’s MMA, it all started with Ortiz and Ken Shamrock. The two fought at UFC 40 in 2002, at the time the most watched UFC PPV of all time. The fight was one-sided as Ortiz dominated Shamrock for three rounds before the fight was stopped. The rematch took place 3 1/2 later at UFC 61 after the rivalry reignited on Season 3 of the Ultimate Fighter. Ortiz, in the middle of his career, beat the aging Shamrock with strikes 68 seconds into the first round. They would rematch in October 2006, and again Ortiz pounded Shamrock into a stoppage. But the rivalry and the bad blood is what kept the feud going for almost 10 years.
UFC 66: Liddell vs. Ortiz 2
UFC 71: Liddell vs. Jackson 2
In 2003, Liddell was sent to Japan by the UFC to represent the company in the PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix. Liddell would face “Rampage” Jackson in the semifinals and the winner was expected to face Wanderlei Silva in the final. Jackson would defeat Liddell by TKO due to corner stoppage in the second round. Fast forward to 2007, and Jackson became the No. 1 contender to Liddell’s UFC light heavyweight title. Once again, Jackson would catch Liddell with big punches, putting him to the mat and winning the bout 1:53 into the first round.
UFC 125: Edgar vs. Maynard 2 (aka Resolution)
The rivalry between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard began in April 2008, when Maynard beat Edgar by unanimous decision. Edgar would go on to win the UFC lightweight title from Penn in April 2010 and would defend it against Penn in August. After winning that rematch, it was time for UFC 125 and a rematch against Maynard, the only man to beat him. Edgar was knocked down three times in the opening round and Maynard looked to be on his way to another win. But Edgar battled back, outstriking Maynard 95-71 in significant strikes and earning a split decision draw. The two men would fight one more time in October 2011, but this time the clear winner was Edgar by fourth-round knockout.
This Saturday night, UFC 168 is headlined by not one, but two of these rematches. Will they be battles of redemption for the challengers, Silva and Tate? Or will Weidman and Rousey continue to cement their places as champions and put their foes out of the title picture for good? Either way, these fights will become part of the ever growing legacy of the UFC rematch.
Maynard (11-2-1), who fights Nate Diaz this weekend at The Ultimate Fighter Finale inside Mandalay Bay Events Center, came as close as one can get to winning a UFC title when he fought then-champion Frankie Edgar to a draw in January 2011.
Judges selected by the Nevada State Athletic Commission that night scored the bout 48-46 for Edgar, 48-46 for Maynard and a 47-47 draw. Edgar retained the belt and went on to defeat Maynard in a rematch nine months later.
Even before the draw with Edgar, Maynard said he has believed mixed martial arts needs to alter the way it scores fights -- and a half-point system would do that.
"If they did half-points, it would be better for the sport," Maynard told ESPN.com. "It's always 10-9, 10-9, 10-9. There's no way to add in that 'this guy did more in that last round.' The half-points would help choose who won the fight."
In the first round of that 2011 title bout, Maynard appeared to be on the verge of a finish when he knocked Edgar down multiple times with punches.
All three judges gave Maynard a 10-8 score in the first round. Some argued that if that dominant of a round was 10-8, then a 10-7 round doesn't really exist.
Edgar went on to recover, somewhat miraculously, between the first and second rounds. On one judge's card he won each of the next four rounds, thus the fight. Those rounds Edgar won were much closer than the one-sided first.
Under a half-point system, it's possible that one or two close rounds scored for Edgar would have rendered 10-9.5 scores, therefore altering the final result.
A similar situation occurred earlier this month in Las Vegas during a welterweight title fight between Georges St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks at UFC 167. St-Pierre retained his title via split decision.
In Maynard's opinion, the scoring of these types of fights isn't ruining the sport (a concern voiced by UFC president Dana White at UFC 167), but it demonstrates athletic commissions' unwillingness to evolve with the sport.
"The scoring system isn't ruining the sport, but it's not helping it grow," Maynard said. "There has been a lot of talk about judging, and you have to take that into account and evolve. The sport changes every year, every month, every day. That change has to happen with the scoring as well."
Several athletic commissions have tested the half-point system through trial runs, although a committee ultimately advised the Association of Boxing Commissions against its use in 2012. The system has its fair share of detractors, including White.
Obviously, Maynard has history to consider when it comes to his stance. The 34-year-old lightweight, whose fight with Diaz on Saturday could very well go to a close decision as it did in 2010, said if commissions don't change the scoring system, they should at least clarify more what they're scoring in a fight.
"It's just kind of hard to tell what they want," Maynard said. "There are a couple that look at the points, that look at damage as points. Some don't look at the ground game at all.
"I don't know. That's the question. What do they want, what do they look at, how will they score it?"
ESPN Stats & Information
At UFC 167, many felt that Johny Hendricks did enough damage against Georges St-Pierre to become the new UFC welterweight champion. On Glenn Trowbridge’s scorecard, Hendricks did just that. The other two judges (Sal D’Amato and Tony Weeks) saw the first round for the champion, giving him the 48-47 decision and the victory for St-Pierre’s UFC record-breaking 19th win inside the Octagon.
While the decision can be argued for both fighters, it marks just another recent example of champions barely leaving the Octagon with their titles.
UFC 165 - Jon Jones defeats Alexander Gustafsson (48-47, 48-47, 49-46)
In September of this year, Jon Jones made the sixth defense of his UFC light heavyweight title against his toughest challenger to date, Alexander Gustafsson. While Jones outstruck the challenger 28-19 in significant strikes in the opening round, Gustafsson scored a takedown while Jones was stuffed on all three of his attempts.
Gustafsson won Round 1 on all three scorecards. Rounds 2 and 3 are where things got tricky with the judging. Neither man gained a takedown (Jones 0-for-3, Gustafsson 0-for-2), but Jones held the striking advantage in Round 2 26-15 and Round 3 29-26.
Jones won four of the six cards in those two rounds. Round 4 was again close in significant strikes (27-26 Jones), but the champion did more damage, winning all three scorecards.
Round 5 was again close, with the significant strikes even at 24 for both fighters and Jones landing a takedown while stuffing all four Gustafsson attempts.
When the final scorecards were read, Jones was ahead on all cards, earning the unanimous decision.
UFC on FOX 7 – Benson Henderson defeats Gilbert Melendez (48-47, 47-48, 48-47)
Benson Henderson made the third defense of his UFC lightweight title in April 2013, defeating former Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez.
Round 1 went to the challenger despite landing fewer significant strikes 9-7. Melendez did land his only takedown of the fight and landed the better strikes in the eyes of the judges.
Round 2 was again close, with the champion holding a 15-13 significant strikes advantage. Both fighters landed hard shots in the cage, but Henderson won the round on two of the three judges’ scorecards. Henderson responded with his best round of the fight, landing 15 of 29 significant strikes (52 percent) and landed two leg kicks during the round that knocked Melendez off balance.
Rounds 4 and 5 were virtually even on the cards despite Henderson outlanding Melendez 29-16 in significant strikes. Henderson landed 12 leg kicks to help him win Round 4 on two of the three cards.
In the final round, Melendez won two of three cards despite landing only 15 percent of his significant strikes. Melendez won the fight 48-47 according to the first card, but Henderson won 48-47 on the other two cards, retaining his title.
UFC 125 – Frankie Edgar draws with Gray Maynard (48-46, 46-48, 47-47)
Frankie Edgar held onto his UFC lightweight title after a very tough fight with the only man to beat him, Gray Maynard, to start the fight calendar in 2011.
The first round of the 2011 Fight of the Year was its most memorable, with Maynard knocking the champ down three times and furiously landing punches to the head. Maynard would win the round 10-8 on all cards, outstriking Edgar 47-10, with 25 of those deemed significant.
Edgar would rebound in Round 2, outstriking a hesitant Maynard 21-6 to win the round as well as landing the slam that you see in the UFC PPV entrance video today.
Round 3 was the closest round of the fight, with Edgar holding a 21-17 significant strike advantage, but Maynard landed two takedowns.
Round 4 went to Edgar across the board as he landed 52 percent of his significant strikes, the highest in any round. Edgar also landed two takedowns.
With the fight on the line, Round 5 was a 20-16 advantage to Edgar with neither man gaining a takedown (Edgar 0-for-3, Maynard 0-for-7).
Maynard would win on two of three judges’ scorecards to close out the fight. The first announced card of Glenn Trowbridge (only one to pick Hendricks) was 48-46 Maynard, while Edgar won a card 48-46 and the final judge scored the bout 47-47 for a split decision draw.
UFC 104 – Lyoto Machida defeats Mauricio Rua (48-47, 48-47, 48-47)
In October 2009, Lyoto Machida made the first and only defense of his UFC light heavyweight title against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Rua came out the gates with his best statistical round, landing 70 percent of his significant strikes (19 of 27).
Machida landed nine significant strikes and stopped Rua’s lone takedown attempt, winning the round on two of three judges’ scorecards. Machida unanimously won Rounds 2 and 3 on the scorecards, but was outstruck 40-16 in significant strikes. Machida did stop each of Rua’s takedown attempts in the rounds and quality kicks the body and legs to win each of the rounds.
The fourth round was a 10-1 striking advantage to Shogun, and he won on two of the three cards. Round 5 was unanimous to the challenger, who mixed in 11 significant strikes to the head and legs while the champion Machida landed six.
In total, Rua outlanded Machida 80-38, with a 49-4 advantage in strikes to the legs. Machida did his damage with punches and kicks to the body, holding a 24-16 advantage. When the scorecards were read, Lyoto Machida won all three cards with identical 48-47 scores to retain his UFC light heavyweight title.
In the UFC’s 20-year history, only one champion has ever lost his title by way of split decision (Kevin Randleman to Bas Rutten at UFC 20). Whether it’s intended to be or not, the words of the famous wrestler Ric Flair come to mind: “To be the man, you have to beat the man.” In the world of the UFC, most of us are still wondering if there’s an exact definition to what that means.
Stream-of-consciousness-style thoughts on Jon Jones versus Alexander Gustafsson, followed by a light heavyweight edition of Pretenders and Contenders. Let’s go.
I scored the title fight in favor of Gustafsson 48-47. I gave him the first three rounds, Jones the final two.
After the fight, I posted on Twitter that Jones was being packed in a stretcher for the hospital, while Gustafsson was good enough to conduct interviews. Many followers jumped on that as an opportunity to point out Gustafsson had been robbed, since Jones was in far worse shape. I get it, but that’s not how you score a fight.
Even though I had it for Gustafsson, I’m happy Jones won -- if I’m allowed to say that. The most conclusive rounds of the bout, I thought, were the fourth and fifth for Jones, which also happen to be the “championship” rounds. Jones basically refused to lose when it really mattered.
The best moments were in the fourth round. That has to be Round of the Year. I remember seeing, literally, blood from Jones’ facial cut flying in the air when Gustafsson hit him. Midway through the round, it almost looked like Jones was about to go down. The crowd was going nuts.
Then Jones looked at the clock. And maybe I’m totally wrong on this, but I bet if you asked him about it today he might not even remember doing it. It was just built in -- the way some ninja spy might subconsciously, without knowing it, remember the exits of a building or something. Busted up, swollen, exhausted -- something inside Jones said “Look at the clock; OK, 90 seconds left in a must-win round, throw the spinning elbow, stay on him.” I don’t want to get too dramatic, but come on. That’s crazy.
I haven’t watched it a second time, but sitting here days later, I’m willing to say that was the best fight in UFC history -- surpassing Mauricio Rua versus Dan Henderson and Frankie Edgar versus Gray Maynard II.
I also see it as the one that solidifies Jones as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. He sort of inherited the spot (in my eyes) after Anderson Silva lost to Chris Weidman, but he really owned it here. Had Silva knocked out Weidman in the first round this year, I think I would still rank Jones ahead of him after the Gustafsson fight. He went to the brink of defeat against a very good opponent who basically forced him to fight his fight, and still left with his arms raised.
We knew about his skills, but now that we know about his heart, it’s virtually impossible to pick against him. But let’s look at the division real close and see.
Really talented fighters with no chance: Ryan Bader, Rashad Evans, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Rua. All four have long roads to even get to Jones. Three of them have already lost to him. Rua appears to me, at 31, pretty much done when it comes to winning elite-level fights. A hard realization, but a realization nevertheless. Bader has plenty of career left, but there’s really no reason to think a second fight against Jones would go any different than the first. On Evans, I know he was the only title contender to go the distance before Gustafsson did, but that grudge match was every bit as one-sided as the fights Jones has finished and Evans hasn’t looked great since.
The athlete: Phil Davis. Davis is more than just an athlete, but I call him this because it’s still his best quality -- at least in a fight against Jones. The problem is, he won’t outwrestle Jones for five rounds. It won’t happen. Jones is a good enough wrestler with good enough intelligence to not let that kind of game plan beat him. You hear this sometimes about great fighters; it’s not really a game plan that will necessarily beat them. You have to be capable of beating them in every area on that one given night. Gustafsson almost did that. Davis, even on his best night, can’t be better than Jones.
The old man and the right hand: Dan Henderson. I would not count Henderson out completely in a Jones fight for three reasons. It’s possible he could defend the takedowns, at least early. He’s crafty at getting inside. His right hand can kill a mule. But yes, I will admit it’s a long, long, looooong shot. It’s going to be very difficult for him to get to Jones and if he did, Jones could probably wear him out pretty quickly, take the right hand out of the equation, and finish him before the end of the second round.
The Olympian: Daniel Cormier. Everyone seems to be putting all eggs in the Daniel Cormier basket, completely ignoring the fact that (A) we don’t know whether he can make the weight; (B) we don’t know what he’ll look like if he can make the weight. You can also add in (C) we don’t know whether he’ll beat Roy Nelson. As much as the UFC’s “Height and Reach” marketing ploy was poked fun at heading into UFC 165, truth is, we saw that having size sure doesn’t hurt in a fight against Jones. Cormier is 5-foot-11, with a 72.5 reach. He’s the only real hope at holding Jones down, but he’s at a huge disadvantage on the feet.
The only two, but the best two: Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira. Everyone basically acted like the hardest part was over for Jones at 205 pounds. He beat all the former champs, after all. What challenge could the lesser-known Swede and Brazilian possibly pose? After the whole Silva-Weidman fiasco we really should have known better. Confident, hungry, well-rounded challengers can’t be dismissed. These two have never held the belt, like most of the other men Jones already fought. They are in their athletic primes. They are true light heavyweights. As awesome as Jones has been, he’s never really shown one-punch knockout power. These two are big and athletic enough to stay upright, take a Jones elbow and respond with effective offense. Jones really is impossible to pick against right now, but if you’re willing to do it at 205 pounds, these are your only options.
As lightweight champion Benson Henderson and top contender Anthony Pettis head into their showdown Saturday night at UFC 164 in Milwaukee, much attention has been paid to their 2010 WEC title bout.
The fight was as an action-filled, closely contested affair, highlighted by Pettis’ off-the-cage kick that floored Henderson in the fifth round. Pettis would win by unanimous decision, lifting the WEC 155-pound belt from Henderson. With images of that bout still fresh, it’s reasonable for fans to expect much of the same in the rematch.
While Henderson-Pettis II is a safe bet to deliver in the action department, the bout could look quite different than their initial encounter. One major difference is Pettis: He is a more aggressive fighter than the one Henderson faced nearly three years ago.
As hard as it is to believe, Pettis has evolved as a fighter in more ways than one. He is not just prepared to become lightweight champion again, but to hold the title for a very long time.
“My mindset is different; my experience, my striking, my wrestling, my jiu-jitsu, everything is top-notch. My dieting, too,” Pettis told ESPN.com. “This [mixed martial arts] has become a lifestyle for me. When we first met, I was only 22 going on 23 years old. Now I’m 26 and I’ve made this my lifestyle. I’ve learned a lot and I’m way more experienced as a mixed martial artist. I’m definitely a whole different Anthony Pettis.
“There’s no more holding back for me. When I go out there, I’m letting loose. When I hold back, I’m thinking about the other fighter, what’s the game plan and what he’s trying to do and how I’m going to finish him.
“I just need go out there and be myself. When I’m being myself, I’m dangerous. And everybody knows it. That’s why I’ve done so well in my last two fights.”
Pettis put on a striking clinic against Joe Lauzon in February 2010 and against Donald Cerrone on Jan. 26. He finished both fighters by first-round knockout.
“In each of those fights, Pettis showed patience and great balance when delivering kicks that sent Lauzon and Cerrone to the canvas. He finished both downed opponent with punches.
I beat him once already, so it wasn't my place to call for a rematch. Since he's the champ that's the key for me. I want to be the champion, so whoever has the belt at this time, and it happens to be Ben Henderson, that's who I'm going after.” -- Anthony Pettis, on fighting Benson Henderson for the second time.
While his striking was impressive, it’s what Pettis did before unleashing his offense that stands out: He controlled the distance. Pettis is athletic and light on his feet.
In the past, he would use that athletic ability to offset deficiencies in his game. But he has tightened up his technique and put his speed and power to better use. This has come in handy in the larger UFC cage, though Pettis doesn’t expect it to be a big advantage against Henderson.
“The WEC cage was about 5 feet shorter than the UFC cage,” Pettis said. “The more room for me, the better. I’m a rangy fighter, I like to fight at a range.
“But it plays well for both of us. Henderson is a rangy guy. He doesn’t like to be in exchanges much and he uses his footwork well to get out of situations.
“The bigger cage benefits both of us. But I’m not going to base my game plan off the size of the cage. I know what I have to do to win this fight.”
Whether in a WEC or UFC cage, where this rematch takes place doesn’t matter to Pettis; his No. 1 priority remains the same: to become lightweight champion again. And having to go through Henderson again to do it isn’t an issue.
For Henderson, the first fight remains fresh in his mind, especially with that now-famous kick repeatedly shown in prefight promos. But for Pettis, a rematch with Henderson was not on his to-do list until the UFC lightweight title changed hands on Feb. 26, 2012. That’s when Henderson unseated then-titleholder Frankie Edgar by unanimous decision.
“Ben’s an amazing fighter; he’s the champ for a reason,” Pettis said. “But I never had my sights set on fighting Ben Henderson again. Once he won that belt, that’s when I said I want to fight him again.
“I beat him once already, so it wasn’t my place to call for a rematch. Since he’s the champ, that’s the key for me. I want to be the champion, so whoever has the belt at this time, and it happens to be Ben Henderson, that’s who I’m going after.”
Currently riding a three-fight losing skid (all title bouts), Edgar is in serious need of a win. He will seek to right the ship Saturday night against crafty Charles Oliveira at UFC 162 in Las Vegas.
Is Edgar in a must-win situation? Sure. Is there weight on his shoulders? Yes. Is he feeling the pressure? No doubt. It all adds up to a sense of urgency.
But this sense of urgency is no different than what Edgar experiences before every bout. There was a sense of urgency on July 10, 2005, when he made his professional debut during an Underground Combat League fight in the Bronx, N.Y.
It was no different when Edgar faced Hermes Franca on July 19, 2008, at UFC Fight Night 14. Edgar stepped into the cage that evening for the first time with a blemish on his record -- Gray Maynard outmuscled him three months earlier en route to a unanimous decision.
Then there were the title bouts: two wins against legendary BJ Penn, a draw with and knockout of Maynard, and the current losing streak -- two very close lightweight affairs against Benson Henderson and one, the most recent setback, to featherweight champion Jose Aldo.
Whether a title is on the line or not, the sense of urgency Edgar feels remains the same.
This prefight adrenaline rush comes from Edgar’s unwavering desire to become or remain a champion. And the only way to achieve this goal is to win the fight immediately in front of him. Nothing else -- what took place before or what might happen afterward -- matters.
“Your next fight is always the most important, so for me everything is on the line,” Edgar told ESPN.com. “I’m very competitive and I want to win no matter what’s on the line.
“The fight’s on the line and that’s just as important to me as a title. I want to win this fight just as much as I want to win a title.”
Expect Edgar (15-4-1) to perform at his usual high level: precision striking, pinpoint takedowns, nonstop head movement and solid footwork. A three-fight losing skid has done nothing to diminish Edgar’s confidence, skills or work ethic.
This training camp has been as smooth as any before it. Edgar is feeling great heading into fight week. And with this camp being his second for a 145-pound contest, the weight cut proved easier – not that Edgar expressed having too much trouble making weight for his initial featherweight bout against Aldo.
“I’m a little more familiar on how to get my body down to featherweight,” Edgar said. “But I’m not cutting much weight at all.
“It doesn’t feel much different fighting at featherweight than it did at lightweight. I’m just a little stricter about what I’m putting in my body. Being it’s my second time doing this makes it a little easier.”
He's a dangerous opponent, long, rangy, with a diverse striking game and slick, slick submission game. There are no easy fights in UFC and I'm prepared [for Saturday].” -- Frankie Edgar, on his UFC 162 opponent Charles Oliveira
Edgar was a diminutive lightweight; he’s an average-sized featherweight. Which begs the question, is a bantamweight title shot in his future? Edgar isn’t ready to make any promises, nor will he rule anything out. The same goes for a return to lightweight.
Edgar is keeping all options on the table. The only nonnegotiable issue is becoming champion again. It’s his driving force, the thing that prevents him from taking this nontitle bout Saturday night lightly, the reason Oliveira (16-3) will get the best Edgar imaginable.
Oliveira has won only two of his six most recent fights. His name won’t be found on any top-10 featherweight lists. But the former lightweight, who failed to make weight in his most recent fight, is a skilled fighter.
“He’s a dangerous opponent, long, rangy, with a diverse striking game and slick, slick submission game,” Edgar said of Oliveira. “There are no easy fights in UFC and I’m prepared.
“I’ve fought the best in my last seven fights, they were all title fights. I will be ready for Charles.”
A victory will shut the door on the most difficult stretch of Edgar’s professional career to date. It also could open the discussion about a possible rematch with Aldo.
Edgar, who is ranked 10th among all mixed martial artists by ESPN.com, suffered a unanimous decision loss Feb. 2 to Aldo at UFC 156. But Edgar gave the No. 4-ranked fighter all he could handle during the encounter. Nearly every round was closely contested.
Aldo has expressed interest in moving to lightweight after his Aug. 3 title defense against Chan Sung Jung at UFC 163 in Rio de Janeiro. Nothing is definitive at this time, but it appears Aldo is on his way out the featherweight door.
A rematch with Aldo isn’t currently at the top of Edgar’s priority list -- Oliveira occupies that spot, but it’s somewhere in the back of his mind. Whether Aldo competes at featherweight or lightweight, it doesn’t matter to Edgar, as long as a title is on the line.
“My goal is always to be the champion,” Edgar said. “I really haven’t thought about what might happen in this division or the lightweight division as things change. I’m just worried about getting back to my winning ways and put myself in position to fight for a title.
“I’d love to fight Aldo again for the title, but we’ll see what happens.”
The UFC lightweight division is the deep end of the pool. It’s nondebatable.
According to the new ESPN.com rankings, a well-rounded talent like Jim Miller no longer cracks the Top 10. Same for Nate Diaz -- and he fought for the title six months ago. Athletic knockout artist Melvin Guillard is facing potential unemployment.
With as loaded as the division is, it’s pretty unbelievable Benson Henderson has already tied BJ Penn's record for all-time wins in a UFC lightweight title fight. Breaking that record in his next fight against TJ Grant is far from a given.
In 2011, I wrote a similar column to this, laying out the qualities it would take to beat Frankie Edgar. I ultimately said Henderson was the guy. I feel about 75 percent correct today. Edgar won that rematch, but you know. Spilled milk.
Question now is, who beats Henderson -- if anyone? Here are the lightweight contenders and pretenders, revisited.
The best of the rest: Mark Bocek, Guillard, Joe Lauzon, Miller, Ross Pearson.
These guys deserve to be in the conversation, but stars would really have to align for them to go all the way. Miller is terrific, but the evidence is there: When he runs into big, athletic lightweights he can’t push around, he struggles. I’d love to see him take his style to the featherweight division, which could use a mean, durable, bearded former lightweight willing to wear a farmer’s tan around. But Miller has long resisted the idea. We know Guillard is good for a handful of knockouts and an equal number of face palms Pearson could still develop, but he’s been beaten at his own game twice in his past five fights. Never a good sign.
That somebody that you used to know: Nate Diaz
Someone should probably stage an intervention for Diaz. Going back to his title fight against Henderson in December (not that long ago!), Diaz has tanked in back-to-back fights, talked about a return to welterweight (makes sense, given his vulnerability to bigger, stronger opponents) and been suspended for using a gay slur in a tweet (which he then said he wasn’t sorry about). How confident are you right now the Diazes aren’t at least thinking about a future WAR MMA card headlined by Nate? Not very, right?
The fantasy keeper league: Edson Barboza, Rafael Dos Anjos, Rustam Khabilov, Jorge Masvidal, Khabib Nurmagomedov
Every one of these guys is under 30 years old. Say you set up a fantasy keeper MMA league, where wins are worth one point and title wins are worth three. What order are you drafting these guys in? Tough call.
Barboza, Khabilov and Nurmagomedov are the Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson of the UFC lightweights. Of the three, there’s something I really like about Khabilov. Even without the first-round finishes, you can just tell this guy does everything well and he’s on opponents from start to finish. Barboza has made that weird jump from slightly overrated to underrated, thanks to a TKO loss to Jamie Varner. It seemed like everybody wanted to talk about this guy, despite the fact he barely, barely squeaked by Anthony Njokuani and Ross Pearson. Now, I don’t think we’re talking about him enough. It’s tough to pick a future champion in this very young group, but I like Khabilov’s chances the best, then probably Barboza.
The head case: Donald Cerrone
It’s possible nobody beats Cerrone when it comes to looking awesome in a win and then fairly terrible in a loss. Cerrone referenced a sports psychologist after his latest win over KJ Noons -- if you’re unaware, that’s been going on for a while now. When he’s on, he’s similar to other Greg Jackson fighters Jon Jones and Cub Swanson. He mixes it up, he reacts, he doesn’t think. Other times, it’s like he’s trying to solve for “x” out there and he seizes up.
At this point, I admit I’m skeptical of Cerrone ever holding the belt. He doesn’t fight particularly well in the big moments and quite frankly, he’s never been that guy who expresses a burning desire to be a champion anyway. Worth mentioning though, I thought he beat Henderson at WEC 43 in 2009. As far as controversial Henderson decisions go, that’s right up there.
The threats: Grant, Pat Healy, Gray Maynard, Gilbert Melendez, Josh Thomson
These guys are somewhat close to a title shot (with the exemption of Maynard, but I’m not willing to count him out). Thomson is going to make a lot of noise. He’s not afraid to ask for things right now because at 34, his window at a title is smaller than it used to be. Melendez will be around. He’s well-rounded, consistent, mentally tough and we know he can go five rounds, let alone three. I like Grant a lot. He’s got the power to hurt Henderson and change the fight. As good as Healy is, and I like the welterweight-to-lightweight move right now, he’s not quite as good as Grant, so if Grant falls to Henderson, it’d be tough to pick Healy over him. Interesting that these are some of the bigger guys at 155. Did small ball pack up and leave with Edgar?
The future champ: Anthony Pettis
What just happened? Pettis had been waiting around for a title shot forever. For various reasons, mostly Edgar rematches, it never happened.
So in a move to speed up his title hopes, he called Dana White and asked to drop to 145. He fights Jose Aldo on Aug. 3. It’s possible (not official) Henderson will defend the lightweight title against Grant 14 days later in Boston on Aug. 17. So basically, Pettis agreed to drop to a weight class he’s never fought in to earn a title shot just two weeks sooner, and the UFC signed off on it. Seems like we all could have handled that better.
Anyway, win or lose, I don’t think Pettis is long for 145 pounds. He has always seen 155 as his division and he’s confident he has Henderson’s number. I’ve always believed Henderson’s claim he got caught up in the moment of the last WEC fight ever and strayed from his game plan against Pettis. I think that’s real. I just don’t think it matters. Even if Henderson goes into a rematch with a strategy more reliant on his size and pressure, Pettis beats him. Bold prediction time: Pettis is your UFC lightweight champion at some point in the next 12-18 months.
This year’s UFC over Independence Day weekend in Las Vegas is, as they tend to be, loaded.
If the lineup holds, a tremendous middleweight championship fight between Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman should get an energy-building lead-in with three important featherweight contests, and a clash at 185 between Mark Munoz and Tim Boetsch.
UFC officials on Thursday announced the addition of two compelling and important fights at 145 to go with an equally important and compelling clash between Chan Sung Jung and Ricardo Lamas.
Former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar makes his second appearance at 145 against slick Brazilian Charles Oliveira. And Dennis Siver reboots a contest with Cub Swanson, which was originally scheduled for Feb. until Siver pulled out of the bout with an injury. Swanson, instead, handled Dustin Poirier to win a unanimous decision in London.
The next featherweight contender will certainly emerge after July 6, which means about a month of waiting to see what happens between champion Jose Aldo and lightweight convert Anthony Pettis in Rio de Janeiro.
Who gets the call? That’s difficult.
We can rule out the winner between Edgar-Oliveira. “The Answer” has lost three in a row, albeit title fights to Aldo and Benson Henderson twice. And Oliveira is returning from a first-round knockout to Swanson.
So that leaves four.
Siver’s unbeaten since moving to 145 two fights ago, out-pointing Diego Nunes and Nam Phan. A win over Swanson would send a sincere message about his intentions.
Riding high, Swanson has won four straight against George Roop, Ross Pearson, Oliveira and Poirier. Adding Siver to that list would be impressive.
Jung’s taken three straight against Leonard Garcia, Mark Hominick and Dustin Poirier. Putting Lamas in that cast sends a clear signal the fan favorite “Korean Zombie” is ready for a title shot.
Lamas, meanwhile, steps in on a four-fight win streak, toppling Matt Grice, Swanson, Hatsu Hioki and Erik Koch. A fifth over Jung makes him the top contender in my book.
Guillard in no man's land
What's to become of Melvin Guillard?
The inconsistent lightweight announced on Twitter this week that he was leaving Florida-based Blackzilians to return to Greg Jackson's camp in New Mexico. But there's a snag. The Jackson crew was unaware of Guillard's pending return since two months ago, MMAjunkie.com reported this week, gym leaders voted that they didn't want him around after he angered them with comments after moving to Blackzilians in 2009. Add to that the report that Guillard, 29, faces two assault charges from separate incidents in Albuquerque in 2010.
"Melvin said he felt it was time for him to go back to Jackson's," ASM founder Glenn Robinson told SI.com "We only want what's best for Melvin, so I spoke to the coaches, and they agreed it was a good chance for him to make a change that he probably needed. We support the decision."
Absent safe harbor in New Mexico, it's unclear where Guillard (30-12-2) will receive the training he needs. He's lost four of five fights in the UFC, and was finished in three of them by Donald Cerrone, Jim Miller and Joe Lauzon.
Je ne parle pas Francais
In the wake of the weigh-in mess in Montreal, Association of Boxing Commission president Tim Lueckenhoff told ESPN.com he asked the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux, also known as the Quebec Boxing Commission, for a copy of their rules to "verify if .9 [pounds] is allowed over the contract weight."
Lueckenhoff, who serves as the head of the Missouri Office of Athletics, received a copy of Quebec's rules, but he still couldn't find an answer.
"They sent me their rules in French, which did not help much," Lueckenhoff said Friday. After following up, the commission claimed "their rule was not specifically clear on whether .9 could be allowed or not."
"I'm certain in the future," he said, "they will have a legal opinion on the allowance of .9 on title fights."
Incidentally, in Missouri, fighters in title bouts aren't allowed to weigh-in above their contract weight, as they aren’t virtually everywhere else.
Prior to receiving Quebec's rules, Lueckenhoff said he told the commission to also provide them to the media if able. Otherwise, release the details of what happened leading up to the weigh-in for UFC 158 between Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz, "and if a mistake was made, admit it. Make sure it does not happen again, and move on."
A spokesperson for the Quebec Boxing Commission did not reply to ESPN.com when asked about Lueckenhoff's comments.
WSOF waiting on title fights
Don't expect to see any "world title" fights from the World Series of Fighting in the near future. I always shrug my shoulders and make face when promoters, big and small, use the phrase. There aren't any "world titles" in MMA, only promotional belts, though if you happen to be in the UFC most fans and media won't see a difference. But in Bellator and anywhere else, no, it's not a world title no matter how many times you say it is.
"A title fight has to mean something to the promotion," Ali Abdel-Aziz told MMAFighting.com on Wednesday. The promotion's senior executive vice president and matchmaker, who like RFA president Ed Soares is also a manager of fighters, including Frankie Edgar, said WSOF "will make sure that when they get title shots they will have earned it."
Don't misunderstand, title fights will come. They'll surely be billed as "world titles" just the same as everyone else. But it's smart to delay, wait for fighters to emerge from the fray, for prospects to mature before going there. So kudos to WSOF, just two shows into its venture, for realizing that throwing belts on the line isn't the smartest way to go at the moment.
Guys in Goldberg’s position are paid to be hyperbole-prone, after all, and the commentary on UFC broadcasts is typically more hype than substance. Add in the fact the company was coming off a year where it couldn’t plan a Sunday brunch without half the invited guests dropping out due to injury or sudden illness, and a certain skepticism seemed justified.
Imagine our surprise, then, when nearly two full months into the new year, Goldberg (or whoever fed him that line) appears downright prophetic. To date, the UFC’s upcoming schedule looks “super” indeed, both for better and for worse.
Take for example the proposed interdivisional superbout between featherweight champion Jose Aldo and lightweight contender Anthony Pettis, which we were briefly told was off over the weekend, but was suddenly back on as of Monday. In terms of potential in-ring action that fight is as super-duper as they come, but otherwise serves as just the latest reminder that the organization’s matchmaking has become maddeningly random. Not to mention confusing.
Aldo-Pettis is scheduled for August and will be for Aldo’s featherweight title, but now an additional stipulation has been added. If Aldo (who has never fought at lightweight in the UFC) retains his belt by defeating Pettis (again, in a bout at 145 pounds) he’ll get a shot at the 155-pound championship sometime later this year. Conversely, if the featherweight crown falls to Pettis (who, again, is a natural lightweight) we can only assume he’ll stay at 145 for the foreseeable future.
In other words it’s a fun fight that will probably make some money, but not the kind of thing you want to think too deeply about if you lack immediate access to Ibuprofen.
(Side Note: Remember also that during that 48-hour window when Aldo was refusing to fight Pettis, he implied “Showtime” didn’t deserve it, because he’d never won a fight in the UFC featherweight division? Apparently, Aldo doesn’t apply that same standard to himself.)
Elsewhere, light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will defend his title against a second consecutive middleweight opponent in April, and (with apologies to Lyoto Machida) a victory could set the stage for Jones to take on erstwhile heavyweight Daniel Cormier. If that doesn’t happen, there’s a longshot chance the UFC could still pull off a megafight between Jones and middleweight champ Anderson Silva. Silva, you’ll remember, most recently fought at light heavyweight and may end up squaring off with welterweight king Georges St-Pierre if the Jones fight won’t go.
If you find yourself perplexed by this company-wide game of divisional musical chairs, you are not alone. Just imagine how a dude like Ricardo Lamas must feel.
Lamas is currently No. 5 on ESPN.com’s featherweight Power Rankings and is riding a four-fight win streak over mostly Top 10-caliber 145-pound opponents. He might well have been up next for Aldo had Pettis not purportedly called out the champ via opportunistic text messages sent to UFC President Dana White a couple of weeks back.
Pettis allegedly texted White about his desire to fight Aldo while watching him defeat Frankie Edgar (another lightweight, one Aldo had no qualms fighting despite coming in off back-to-back losses) at UFC 156 earlier this month. Pettis himself was fresh off a first-round TKO of Donald Cerrone in January, which at the time we were told made him the No. 1 contender at lightweight. As the story goes, White found whatever was said in those texts so convincing that he scrapped the natural pecking order in both weight classes to insert Pettis into a featherweight title match.
An awesome move? Of course, but also one that was bound to rub some people the wrong way. Especially people who care about things like weight classes and title pictures and the UFC’s own newly minted “official” rankings system. That goes double for people like Lamas, who’s been working his tail off to earn a shot at Aldo for a bit shy of two years now.
“What am I, a mirage?!?!?!” Lamas tweeted, when Aldo-Pettis was announced.
We feel your pain, Ricardo. Unfortunately, the music has stopped and you’re the only one without a chair.
Before any of this Aldo-Pettis business happens of course, UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson will meet incoming Strikeforce lightweight champ Gilbert Melendez in an April “superfight” that somehow manages to confine itself to a single weight class. Not to be outdone by his peers however, Henderson is now declaring if he beats Melendez, he’ll request his own dream fight against St. Pierre at 170 pounds.
White has said he’s not particularly interested in booking that fight (both Henderson and GSP seem to have a lot on their plates) but who knows, maybe someone will send him a text that changes his mind.
Long story short: It’s not even March yet and so far -- knock on wood -- it looks like we’re going to get some amazing fights out of the UFC this year. So long as we don’t trouble ourselves with the details, it could be quite a ride.
Cub Swanson understands these obvious differences better than anybody right about now. He first had Siver in his sights for Saturday’s fight in London. Then Siver got injured and morphed into Poirier, which required Swanson to reconfigure his settings on the fly.
Yet if anybody’s been through the fight game’s most active pun of “rolling with the punches,” it’s Swanson. He’s had fights tailored, altered and scotched as much as the next guy.
“I had just gotten back from Albuquerque training with Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, and they said, ‘OK, this is the way we’re going to fight this fight [with Siver], these are the things we like,’” Swanson told ESPN.com. “Then I get back my gym in California [Tru MMA], and I get on the same page with my boxing coach and then they go 'Siver’s out, here’s a new guy.'
“The other guy [Siver] was a short, stocky, standard fighter, and the new guy [Poirier] is a tall, lanky southpaw. I just kind of laughed. I had a feeling something was going to happen, so I said, let’s do it. I was excited because I like fighting guys who are a little bit different every time, and I feel like it shows depth in my game.”
The Poirier-Swanson co-main event at UFC on Fuel TV 7 looks good on paper. Poirier rebounded from his loss to Chan Sung Jung in a No. 1 contender spot by choking out Jonathan Brookins in December. Swanson is coming off of a knockout victory over Charles Oliveira at UFC 152, which will always be remembered for Oliveira’s delayed shutdown process after absorbing a couple of body shots and then the big overhand.
In fact, it was the third knockout win in a row for Swanson, who re-emerged in 2012 as a contender at 145 pounds. Just like that, there’s power in his game again.
“I thought about dropping down to 135, started dieting down, but I didn’t feel very good and started to get weak,” Swanson says. “I decided to give weightlifting and strength training another shot. The first few times I tried lifting weights I didn’t like the way I felt, and we finally developed a way of working out where I wouldn’t lose my speed.
“I walk around about 175-180 pounds, and get up to about 185. I was 185 when I got the phone call for this fight. I put on a lot of size, and I don’t feel like I’ve lost any of my speed. I have my accuracy and my speed and finally have some power behind it. I’m not worried about breaking my hands anymore. It’s all coming together.”
Suddenly the featherweight division -- which has always been a popular destination for resurrectionists and transplants such as Frankie Edgar, Clay Guida and Nik Lentz -- is strong. So strong, in fact, that the “Korean Zombie” and Ricardo Lamas are waiting on title shots while Jose Aldo defends his belt in August against Anthony Pettis. Figure in Chad Mendes and up-and-comers such as Poirier and Swanson, and 145 begins to look like one of the deeper divisions in the UFC.
So where would a win stack Swanson in the grand scheme of things?
“I know I’m right up there,” he says. “I’m not afraid of anybody. I have a pretty good record and my losses are to the top guys. I want to get back in that mix, and be mentioned in the top featherweights. As far as title fight talk, I just want to be mentioned -- I don’t really care about it right now, I’m just enjoying the ride and enjoying winning fights.”
Swanson refers to his rough patch between 2009 and 2011 as “growing pains,” mixed with a little bad luck. In that stretch he went 2-3, with losses to Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes and Ricardo Lamas. In other words, he lost to the division’s elite. At some point, he says, “I’d love to get those losses back,” but heading into Saturday’s fight there’s a renaissance going on with Swanson. It’s in his voice. It’s a kind of emphasis that comes with experience and prioritizing. What it says is that wins and losses and pecking orders are all fun conversations.
But his emphasis is on remembering why he’s in the fight game to begin with.
“I’m finally enjoying what I do,” he says. “I don’t do a whole lot of interviews usually. I just like training hard, fighting, and getting back to my normal life.”
And the wiser Swanson feels he’s looking at his past when he sizes up Poirier.
“I think he’s a tough kid,” he says. “He’s gotten this far off of being well-conditioned, having a lot of heart and being well-rounded. He kind of reminds me of myself a couple of years ago. I just don’t feel like he’s turned that corner yet and I feel very good about this fight.
“I feel like he plays into my style very well and it’s going to make for a good fight.”
It’s easy to sympathize with highly ranked featherweight contender Ricardo Lamas. In his two most recent fights, he handily defeated two of the division’s better fighters -- Hatsu Hioki and Erik Koch.
But on Monday, when the UFC announced who would be featherweight champion Jose Aldo’s next opponent, Lamas’ name wasn’t mentioned. That honor went to a man who’d never competed professionally in the weight class -- lightweight contender Anthony Pettis.
Aldo and Pettis, the former WEC lightweight titleholder, will fight Aug. 3. The only uncertainty is where the bout will take place -- venues in Texas, Chicago, Las Vegas and Rio de Janeiro are being considered. If the fight lands in Chicago it will add salt to Lamas’ already painful wound, which isn’t expected to heal for quite a while. But that’s not an issue of concern to Lamas at this time. Right now, Lamas is struggling to make sense of UFC brass' decision to bypass him in favor of Pettis -- especially on the heels of his impressive second-round TKO victory Jan. 26 over former top featherweight contender Koch.
“I feel like I stand in that No. 1 contender spot now,” Lamas told ESPN.com. “Erik Koch is the second guy that I beat who was supposed to fight for the featherweight title; Hatsu Hioki was offered the fight and he turned it down.
“What do I need to do to get that shot?”
What do I need to do to get that shot?” -- Ricardo Lamas, on being overlooked as a challenger to Jose Aldo
Lamas defeated Hioki by lopsided unanimous decision June 22 in Atlantic City, N.J. It was a fight casual fans expected Hioki to win. Hioki entered the UFC two fights previously amid high expectations. He was a mixed martial arts star before ever setting foot inside the Octagon and talk was starting to brew that a 145-pound title shot might be a few wins away.
Though he was not a newcomer to the Octagon, Lamas was relatively unknown to fight fans. Sure, he’d submitted Cub Swanson in November 2011, but that could be chalked up to the one-time WEC top 145-pound contender having an off night.
But Lamas raised many eyebrows in Atlantic City after running circles around Hioki. He took Hioki to the ground, literally at will, and landed several significant strikes while down there. After three rounds of fighting there was no question in any observer’s mind that Lamas had earned the victory. Lamas wasn’t a stranger anymore after that fight, but he wasn’t a must-see attraction, either.
Even his dominant win over Koch failed to accomplish that feat. And therein lies the problem for Lamas: He has proven himself to be a solid contender, arguably the No. 1 guy at 145 -- strong cases also can be made for Chad Mendes and Chan Sung Jung -- but the paying public is not yet clamoring to see him in the cage against Aldo.
That’s why Pettis was given the shot. He’s a must-see fighter. And while the UFC is the top mixed martial arts promotion in the world, it’s first and foremost a business.
Nothing personal against Lamas, but Aldo-Pettis is a bigger financial draw at this day and time.
“Everyone steps on everyone’s toes in this business,” Pettis’ trainer, Duke Roufus, told ESPN.com. “It’s a dog-eat-dog world. Erik Koch’s toes were stepped on when Frankie stepped in [to fight Aldo].
"Unfortunately in fighting, to take a page from Muhammad Ali: 'It’s not always the best guy; it’s the best guy who can sell a fight.'"
And right now Pettis can sell this fight, especially when visions of him competing against Aldo come to mind. These are two of the most athletic, acrobatic strikers in mixed martial arts.
Aldo is likely to be favored to retain his title, but a large fan contingent will back Pettis. This is a must-see fight, which is already being billed as the UFC’s next superfight. Meanwhile, Lamas will just have to wait a little while longer. He could start running his mouth and become a bad guy in an effort to land a title shot -- that seems to be working for several fighters these days. But that goes against everything Lamas stands for -- he’s not a loudmouth.
“I’ve been in UFC for some time; [the Koch bout] was my 10th fight with Zuffa,” Lamas said. “A lot of people don’t know who I am because I’ve been fighting on the undercards.
“I’ve been flying under the radar, and I’m the type of guy who doesn’t talk trash so that kind of holds me back a little bit. That’s just who I am.”
Lamas should not pretend to be someone he’s not. As recently retired featherweight contender Mark Hominick told ESPN.com, the Aldo-Pettis fight might be a blessing for Lamas.
“What people have to understand is this is not the fight game, it’s the fight business,” said Hominick, who is now a full-time trainer at Ontario, Canada-based Team Tompkins. “By having these guys with big names, it brings credibility to the [145-pound] division.
“People are now starting to understand who Jose Aldo is. By getting him fights against big-name fighters brings credibility to the division and people will understand the excitement and level of competition in the division.
“Beating Frankie Edgar, a former lightweight champion, brings credibility. And with another super fight against Pettis that will open the doors for the next guy in line to headline a pay-per-view card.”
All this might be difficult for Lamas to digest at this moment, but he’s a smart man. What he must do now is regroup and focus on winning his next fight.
Lamas said that his goal is to fight for the featherweight title and win it. If that is truly the case then a comment he made recently should be taken seriously.
“When I go out there I will continue to fight,” Lamas said. “If you want to beat me you will have to put me away. The longer the fight goes the more confidence I gain.
“I don’t give up; I’m stubborn as hell.
“And if I want to get something done, I’m going to get it done come hell or high water.”
Being stubborn in this sport is good; Lamas just needs to be patient as well.
Pettis asked for a chance to fight Jose Aldo, the 145-pound champion who just defended his title against Frankie Edgar on Saturday night. He wasted no time. His text came just minutes after UFC 156 concluded, as Aldo’s feet were still smarting from so many thwacking leg kicks. Pettis knew what he wanted to do, and he went after it.
You know what this is, don’t you? This is one of those "match made in heaven" deals -- the explosive Aldo, who at the end of his five-round war with Edgar sprung himself off the fence for one last sally. And Pettis. The Original Matrix. The WEC champion. Mister Ricochet. The Liver Kicka.
The fight will happen Aug. 3, and it’s a win-win for everybody. Pettis gets his title shot, and therefore the UFC keeps him rolling. Aldo gets the toughest next challenge. Gilbert Melendez and Benson Henderson can go about things in focus, rather than have a looming presence. Ricardo Lamas can fight Chan Jung Sung for the true No. 1 contender bout. And the UFC gets a fight that is filled with thrill, frill and thrall.
Pettis/Aldo will sit on the calendar until August like a new Ang Lee action movie.
But the greatest part about this isn’t the way the fight was made, or even that it was made -- it’s that the champion, Jose Aldo, never hesitated. It took him less than 48 hours to agree to fight Pettis, who by all accounts represents a very true and live threat to take his belt.
Isn’t this how it’s supposed to work? The champion seeing no man as an obstruction to his cause? The champion saying, “bring on all comers,” not in words by in decisive action? Aldo did what we want our champions to do, which is simply say "yes." This translates a lot better than airing their druthers.
Not that other champions haven’t acted the same. Benson Henderson truly doesn’t seem to care whom they stack in front of him. Neither does Cain Velasquez. But in recent times, we’ve seen Georges St-Pierre insist on Nick Diaz (at the omission of Johny Hendricks), and Anderson Silva request everyone from Cung Le to Luke Rockhold (at the very conspicuous expense of Chris Weidman).
Maybe after absorbing so much finicky behavior in recent months, Aldo’s "why hesitate?" attitude shows the right kind of eagerness. Here’s what he’s saying: If you want the belt, come try to take it. If the UFC wants the fight, so do I. If the fans want it, bring it on. Right on, Jose Aldo.
And right on to Anthony Pettis.
Not that there isn’t some logical curiosity in play. Obviously, Pettis fighting in August isn’t exactly expediting anything. Had he waited out Melendez/Henderson, which happens in April, August would have been around the time he’d have fought anyway. That’s just math.
But that's just nitpicking. Bottom line is he wanted a guarantee and to have the fight lined up in front of him. He wanted to zero in on a belt, and this thing played out like an epiphany. He knew there wasn’t a definitive contender at featherweight, and he acted on it. And Pettis -- who goes by “Showtime” -- knows a showstopper when he sees one. Think he can’t bring the house down in a bout with Aldo?
He can. And kudos to Aldo for inviting him to just go ahead and try it.