MMA: Glover Teixeira
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.
Last week, Kennedy (18-4) wrote on Twitter he would not compete again unless he and his future opponents underwent random blood testing during training camp.
Kennedy asked the UFC to book his next fight in Nevada so that it would be under the jurisdiction of the state's athletic commission, which twice this year has implemented an enhanced testing program for UFC bouts.
Kennedy, 34, has made it clear he is willing to pay for his half of the program, which he has been told could cost anywhere from $10,000 to $35,000. The previous time Kennedy fought in Las Vegas, in July 2013, he earned a $90,000 purse.
“Whatever it takes to ensure we are moving toward having a clean sport, which we are nowhere near right now,” Kennedy told ESPN.com. “Something has to change.”
Kennedy’s manager, Leo Khorolinsky, told ESPN.com Kennedy wouldn’t go so far as to pull out of the fight should random testing not be implemented, but is optimistic the NSAC would approve the request.
Whatever it takes to ensure we are moving toward having a clean sport, which we are nowhere near right now. Something has to change."
-- Tim Kennedy, on requesting an enhanced, random drug-testing program
“In no way would he back out of the fight, because he has a contractual obligation,” Khorolinsky said. “What he’s saying is that he’s trying to make a statement. Let’s make this a real campaign and others will start doing it.”
According to Khorolinsky, UFC heavyweight Andrei Arlovski, whom he also represents, will request the same form of testing ahead of the Sept. 13 bout against Antonio Silva in Brasilia, Brazil.
The NSAC program consists of unannounced urine and blood tests taken during a fighter’s camp. It is far more effective than traditional urine tests on fight night.
The NSAC utilized the random tests prior to a welterweight fight between Jake Ellenberger and Robbie Lawler at UFC 173 and a light heavyweight fight between Chael Sonnen and Wanderlei Silva, which was eventually canceled, at UFC 175.
On May 24, Silva avoided a random drug test administered by the NSAC, which led to him not receiving a license to fight at UFC 175. Sonnen failed two random tests on May 24 and June 5, which led to an indefinite suspension of his license.
Middleweight contender Vitor Belfort is also facing licensing issues in Nevada after a blood test taken on Feb. 7 showed his testosterone levels were above normal.
After seeing three athletes, all of whom have competed in his weight class, admit to working outside the rules, Kennedy says he had to take stronger individual action.
“They randomly test three dudes and all three fail,” Kennedy said. “All in my weight class. All dudes I could potentially be fighting. I went from just being vocal about drug use, to saying to myself, ‘I have to make a stand about this.’ ”
Whether Kennedy will get his wish is yet to be seen. Even though he is willing to pay for his share, there is no guarantee the NSAC will order it.
UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones requested a similar program prior to his title defense against Glover Teixeira at UFC 172, which took place in Baltimore. The Maryland State Athletic Commission approved it and the UFC agreed to cover the costs.
Similarly, the UFC has picked up costs for both enhanced programs in Nevada. The NSAC is committed to randomly testing at least one bout on every major UFC card, but for obvious reasons, won’t disclose which fights it will be testing ahead of time.
“Any fighter can request all they want to the promoter,” Robert Bennett, NSAC executive director, said. “We appreciate any athlete who wants more testing, but we are certainly not going to reveal who, when and where we’ll be testing.
“The less said about who we will test, the more effective the program. The UFC has been very supportive of our efforts so far.”
For the record, Romero has never failed a drug test.
The UFC has taken more action against performance-enhancing drugs in 2014 than any other year in company history. The promotion has agreed, for now, to handle costs of the program in Nevada, which can be up to $45,000 per fight.
UFC officials are also tentatively planning to address the issue this month at the annual Association of Boxing Commissions convention in Clearwater Beach, Florida.
Kennedy says he appreciates the UFC’s recent efforts to curb PED use, but still believes his action is necessary to help fix a serious problem in mixed martial arts.
“I’m really impressed in the change in both the climate and the UFC’s perception of it,” Kennedy said. “The UFC is forking over money for testing, so it’s been top-driven, which makes me proud to be in the UFC. They are really the only organization that is doing it and it’s definitely a step in the right direction.
“But the first time [the NSAC] randomly tested people, everybody failed. Imagine what that looks like across 450 athletes. Are we talking 60 or 70 percent? I really believe it’s somewhere in that range of fighters that are using.”
You can turn only so many corners in a career before starting to wonder if all you're really doing is running in circles.
UFC light heavyweight Ryan Bader has turned his share of corners. Since coming off "The Ultimate Fighter" reality series in 2008, Bader has had several moments in which it looked as if, maybe, he was about to truly arrive; reach that next level.
And yet, despite all the clips on his highlight reel and the time he has spent within the top 10 rankings, Bader (16-4) is still without that one special, defining, vindicating win. The closest thing he has is a decision over an injured Quinton Jackson in 2012.
Bader, who meets Rafael Cavalcante at UFC 174 on Saturday in Vancouver, is aware of this. He also knows he hasn’t strung together a win streak beyond two since 2010. He's at a bit of a crossroads here and he admits it.
“This is a fight I’ve got to go out and win,” Bader told ESPN.com. “It is a crossroads. I’m either going to keep fighting the best or I’m going to be one of those guys who just go out to put on exciting fights; go down that road. I need to get this win.
“Every fight, there is pressure -- but there’s a lot of pressure on me. I’m at that place where if I want to be the best, I have to beat 'Feijao' [Cavalcante].”
In September, Bader came tantalizingly close to scoring that big win that has eluded him. Midway through the first round of a fight against Glover Teixeira, Bader landed a stiff counter left hook and a right uppercut that had the Brazilian staggered.
Bader opened up with punches looking for a finish and ended up eating a straight right, left hook from Teixeira that essentially knocked him out.
It was just another lesson to learn in a sport that’s always teaching you, but at this point in his career, Bader knows he can’t afford many more lessons if he realistically wants to hold a title.
“I’ve fought some of the best guys, Lyoto Machida and Glover, but I need to get over that hump,” Bader said. “ I had [Glover] on the ropes and then I got careless. I’ve learned from these losses, but I have to start a win streak now.”
Coming off a decision win over Anthony Perosh in December, Bader says a win over Cavalcante won’t necessarily shoot him up the 205-pound rankings, but it will put him on a win streak and hopefully earn a top name in his next fight.
Cavalcante (12-4) is a former champion in Strikeforce -- a title he earned in a TKO win over Muhammed Lawal in April 2010.
“I like the matchup,” Bader said. “I think he’s underrated. He’s tough. I’m not looking at this fight in terms of rankings. Obviously, there are certain guys where if you beat them, you jump way up, but I feel like fighting Feijao and fighting the No. 6 or 7 guy in the division -- there’s no real difference.
“The thing that comes to mind in this fight is momentum. I need to get momentum going from my last fight to this fight. My ultimate goal is win the UFC championship. I have a tough fight standing in my way. This is the kind of fight that puts you on one of two roads. Take a loss and you’re out of the top 10, whereas a win gets me closer to that fight against a top-five guy.”
LAS VEGAS -- On Thursday, UFC president Dana White clarified his stance regarding Jon Jones’ eye pokes in his title defense against Glover Teixeira on Saturday.
Jones (20-1) recorded his seventh consecutive light heavyweight title defense over Teixeira at UFC 172 via dominant unanimous decision.
In the second round, referee Dan Miragliotta warned Jones for poking Teixeira in the eye. Despite the warning, Jones continued to open his hand and place it on Teixeira’s forehead. Miragliotta never warned Jones again and did not deduct a point.
Immediately after the bout, White said in an interview with Fox Sports, “We’ve got to stop that stuff -- opening of the hands and putting hands on the face.”
On Thursday, White told ESPN.com that while Jones’ foul in the second round made him cringe, he thought the referee handled it well and didn’t mind Jones’ tactics the rest of the fight.
“He stopped,” White said. “I think what Jones is trying to do is, he’s got that range against a hard puncher. So, he’s trying to push him off. It’s no different than what [Muhammad] Ali used to do.
“A lot of guys [open their hands] when they block punches. You have to close your hands. I hate that. It’s very dangerous. Trust me, when Jones did it the first few times I was like, ‘Oh my god, don’t make this fight stop on an eye poke.’
“But that’s what the referee is there for and he handled it. That was it. People will nitpick Jones for anything he does. The guy puts on the sickest performance. He put on a flawless performance.”
Jones, 26, posted a video on Instagram this week in which he mocked his critics by pretending to cry and say, “Jones put his finger in his eye. Dirtiest fighter in MMA.” He has since deleted it from his account.
It was the second consecutive fight in which a Jones opponent complained of an eye poke. Jones caught Alexander Gustafsson in the eye in the first round of a title fight at UFC 165 in September.
Jones is set to face Gustafsson in a rematch of that September fight later this year. White has said the UFC is considering hosting it in the challenger’s backyard, at Friends Arena near Stockholm, Sweden.
White said he plans to speak to Jones in two weeks.
“I’m about two weeks away from talking to him,” White said. “Forty thousand seats. That will sell out like that. I was just talking to AEG [Anschutz Entertainment Group] guys and it’s 40,000. We’ll sell out.”
Yes, Glover Teixeira is 34 years old.
At a time when UFC fighters generally begin their decent into physical and skill-set mediocrity, Teixeira has only now risen to his peak.
Teixeira (22-2) hasn’t lost since 2005 and is 5-0 since coming to the UFC in 2012. In his last fight, against Ryan Bader in September, Teixeira dismantled Bader via first-round TKO. However, against UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones at UFC 172 on Saturday, Teixeira gives away 8 inches of reach and about eight years in age to the 26-year-old Jones.
But consider age a state of mind. Just don’t call Teixeira old. Sure, it took him a while just to get to the UFC, but with the quick work he made of his opponents, a title shot in the UFC never seemed far off.
“Well, I had trouble with my visa and I was stuck in Brazil, so I couldn’t get into the UFC,” Teixeira said. “But some things happen for a reason. So during that time I was able to get more experience. It worked out good for me in the end.”
Indeed, that experience will have to take him far against Jones, who says he was renewed and invigorated in this fight camp after what he viewed as his lackluster performance against Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 in September. Gustafsson went the distance with Jones, who broke a toe in the process. Jones said he had the “worst camp of his career” in preparing for Gustafsson, but the champ said he's completely prepared this time.
Teixeira doesn’t seem to care. And why should he? Teixeira hasn’t lost in nine years. He only knows how to win.
He admits he had some butterflies before his first UFC fight against Kyle Kingsbury at UFC 146; it was a happy nervous that he was finally fighting in the UFC. Now, against Jones, there might be some of that in fighting for a title. But it’s not because of Jones.
Teixeira attributes this to the support he’s received at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Fla. He’s sparring with champions and All-Americans every day. So to him, Jones is just another guy.
“At ATT, I have great coaches and training partners. Muay Thai, jiu-jitsu champions, K-1 champions. They also brought John Hackleman down to train with, and Steve Mocco is one of the best wrestlers in U.S. history. I trained with him for my last three fights. King Mo [Muhammed Lawal] was there for half the camp. There’s so much talent and experience to learn from. Jones is the champ and he is great, but right now he’s just another guy in front of me.”
Teixeira’s wins in the UFC have dispelled the notion that his competition outside the league was substandard. There was some lack of name recognition, both from his previous opponents and for himself. Mauricio Rua reportedly declined to fight Teixeira for UFC 149, citing Teixeira’s then-lack of ranking within the light heavyweight division. UFC boss Dana White was not happy. But Teixeira couldn’t be mad at his fellow countryman.
“I don’t think what he did was cool, but I don’t like, how do you say it -- holding a grudge,” Teixeira said. “That was only a year and a half ago, maybe. And now I’m fighting for the title. So what do I have to be mad about?”
And you can bet Rua would take a fight with Teixeira now.
It is this easygoing, nice-guy demeanor that makes it seem as if Teixeira is still flying under the radar. Certainly, after he got to the UFC, it didn’t take long for him to run through anyone the UFC put in front of him. And calling Jones “just another guy” doesn’t come off as bravado. Rather, it seems simply more like a serendipitous perspective. Whatever comes his way, he’ll take it on. He doesn’t overly self-promote despite a healthy 57,000 Twitter followers. There just isn’t a lot of show.
“I’ll fight anyone who the UFC asks me to fight,” Teixeira said. “It doesn’t matter; I’m just glad to be fighting in the UFC and I want that belt.”
He’ll have to figure out a way to close the distance between him and Jones (that is, Jones' massive reach advantage). To be sure, Teixeira’s chin has yet to be tested.
But he’s confident in both phases of his game: “Since I came to the UFC, I’ve improved everything in my game. My wrestling, my striking and having more overall experience. My coaches have made a good strategy for me so now it’s time for me to do it in the Octagon and take that belt.”
Sounds like Teixeira is just getting started. Not bad for an "old" guy.
“Rampage” Jackson’s knees have hurt since his college wrestling days in the 1990s. An injury he suffered in his teens was never operated on and when he became a professional fighter in 1999, he entered the sport, he says, “babying my knees.”
When he was training for Rashad Evans in 2010, Jackson heard a pop in his knee and anticipated a torn ligament -- an MRI confirmed a deep bone bruise instead. He believes linear leg strikes used by UFC champion Jon Jones during a September 2011 title fight aggravated his already unstable left knee. One month before fighting Ryan Bader at UFC 144 in February 2012, Jackson says he tore his meniscus.
“A lot of pain,” summarized Jackson to ESPN.com. “The type of pain you don’t want to put any weight on. It would heal up a little bit and I would baby it. It’s one of those things that just depresses you. You don’t really want to train.”
"The depressing state of his knees continued in 2013. Jackson underwent surgery on his right knee in 2012, with the intention to do the same on his left. He was so unhappy with the results and necessary rehab for the first knee that he opted out of surgery on the left.
It makes me plan on staying in this sport longer. I was kind of thinking about retiring soon. I was going to retire when I was 35, but things didn't go the way I planned. I want to retire on top. Thank God I've found a way to get my love [for the sport] back." -- Quinton Jackson
Enter Bryant’s 2012 NBA season. Bryant, then 33, reportedly flew to Germany to receive an experimental version of a treatment known as Regenokine during the offseason. The procedure entails drawing blood from the patient, which is then incubated, separated into unique parts and partially restored back into the body.
Jackson, until recently, knew nothing about it. He says a friend brought it up, based on his long history of knee problems. Jackson -- who underwent the procedure in September under the care of Dr. Chris Renna, according to Bellator officials -- didn’t know of a single other athlete, such as New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who had utilized Regenokine.
For the Bellator light heavyweight, one friend’s observation that Bryant “was dunking again,” coupled with years of frustrating knee pain, was all the reason he needed to look into it.
“When I heard about the procedure, I thought it was stem cell,” Jackson said. “I didn’t know what to expect. At the end of the day, it couldn’t hurt my knees.
“Long story short, [Bellator CEO] Bjorn Rebney got wind of it, he researched it and found the guy in Santa Monica, Calif., from the same company Kobe Bryant went to. They did the procedure on my knees and it changed my life, to be honest.”
One day after receiving injections of his own altered blood, Jackson felt a difference. His left knee just felt stronger. Physicians told him not go hard too early, to allow his body to take to it. Jackson refrained from running for three weeks, but when he got full-time into the gym, he wanted to truly test his knees immediately and that meant wrestling practice.
“It felt really good in wrestling,” Jackson said. “Normally, my knees would ache but not this camp. There are a lot of skeptics, but I’m a believer in this type of procedure.
“It makes me plan on staying in this sport longer. I was kind of thinking about retiring soon. I was going to retire when I was 35, but things didn't go the way I planned. I want to retire on top. Thank God I've found a way to get my love [for the sport] back.”
Jackson knows the timing of this news, the fact it comes (or came) just weeks before his scheduled Bellator debut, which was supposed to be Nov. 2 on pay-per-view against Tito Ortiz, could be construed as a marketing ploy. He doesn’t care.
For Jackson (32-11), Friday's fight against Joey Beltran at Bellator 108 in Atlantic City, N.J., is for himself and the fans he believes have stuck by him through a current three-fight losing streak that spans two full years.
A former UFC light heavyweight champion, Jackson feels he can always identify the reasons behind a loss. Any good fighter should be able to do so, he says.
When he lost to Jones via submission in 2011, the reason was simple: “Jon Jones is a better fighter than me,” Jackson said.
Subsequent losses to Bader and Glover Teixeira, however, were different. In Jackson’s mind, he was injured and should have most likely never fought them.
There is no guarantee Jackson’s knees will hold up. The medical community has not exactly embraced the Regenokine procedure as legitimate yet, and two months of healthy knees don’t erase Jackson’s memory of years in pain.
They feel good right now, though, and up for what Jackson has in store for them. At 35, he says the rest of his career won’t be defined necessarily by wins or losses, but the quality of his performance. He expects a good performance this week.
“I want to prove I still have what it takes to be in this sport,” Jackson said. “A win can define that, but America is all caught up in winning. They’re so quick to call people 'washed up' and 'has-been.' I think that’s very disrespectful to fighters.
“We’re human beings and we age just like everybody else. If we choose to entertain people past our prime, they should give us the respect to do it and don’t talk s---.”
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.
TORONTO -- Light heavyweight champion Jon Jones asked for an opponent who could push him to the limit. Jones got what he asked for Saturday night at UFC 165 in Alexander Gustafsson.
And it was exactly the type of fight Jones needed.
The Swedish contender, who very few thought had a chance against the world’s most dominant mixed martial arts champion, gave Jones all he could handle and more. Gustafsson punched Jones in the face, he kicked him in the stomach, hit him with reverse elbows and uppercuts and even tossed him to the ground. No one had done that before.
By the time they had concluded their five-round title affair, Jones looked like the character from the old Jim Croce’s song, "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown." He looked like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces missing. He left the Octagon with a bloodied, swollen right eye, a swollen lip and could barely walk on his own.
Jones was so badly beaten that he could not attend the postfight news conference. He was immediately taken to a local hospital for evaluation, according to UFC president Dana White. Matter-of-factly, neither did Gustafsson -- he too was taken to a local hospital.
But despite the beating he took, Jones refused to let Gustafsson take his light heavyweight title belt. While Jones was brutally punished, he dished it out just the same. And that says more about who the champion Jones is than any of his previous title defense walkovers.
“I know there are a lot of people who don’t like Jones and boo him for whatever the reason is," White said. "Everybody has a different reason for why they are not a fan of Jones, but I don’t care if you like him or don’t like him. You’ve got to respect him, man. Even today with breaking the record [most successful light heavyweight title defense, his sixth] he went through murderers’ row, Jon did.
“The guy’s got heart, a chin. To get busted up in those first two rounds and to come on the way he did at the end of the fight, he’s a special fighter. He’s a special fighter.”
Of course, some will say that the fight with Gustafsson proves Jones has benefited from being taller, longer and stronger than the average 205-pound fighter. And because Gustafsson is slightly taller than Jones and equally as strong, that's the reason he came so close to taking his title.
But a less biased observer is likely to conclude that a major part of Jones’ success is that he utilizes his advantages better than everyone else. The difference Saturday night between Jones and Gustafsson is that the champ refused to lose. When he realized his title was slipping away, he dug deep and willed himself to victory.
Before the fight, Gustafsson said he would win because he was hungrier than Jones. That proved not to be the case.
Jones fought for his legacy Saturday night. He also fought to maintain his quest to become the greatest mixed martial artist ever.
We all knew he was a exceptionally gifted fighter. But he taught everyone that he also possesses the will and heart of a champion.
Gustafsson gave Jones everything he could handle, plus some. And it is very likely they will meet again in the not-too-distant future. But after this close call, expect Jones to be a much better champion the next time around.
It’s going to get a lot harder to take that belt from Jones. Every light heavyweight hopeful can thank Gustafsson for that.
Long before facing Ryan Bader on Sept. 4, landing a UFC light heavyweight title shot was something Glover Teixeira was confident he would achieve.
His confidence, however, didn’t end there. Teixeira went into the Octagon in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, not only expecting to beat Bader, but his next opponent as well. That would of course be the winner between champion Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson -- those two will meet Saturday night at UFC 165 in Toronto.
But first things first: He needed to take care of Bader. And as far as Teixeira was concerned, that would be relatively easy. In Teixeira’s mind, Bader posed no threat whatsoever.
After watching countless hours of video on Bader and going through a vigorous training camp, the soon-to-be top-ranked light heavyweight contender concluded a victory was certain. Teixeira will never admit this openly, but the look on his face while walking toward the cage made it clear that he didn’t take Bader the least bit seriously.
Teixeira went into that fight overconfident, especially about the possibility of Bader standing with him. It might not seem like much, but that mindset nearly cost Teixeira the victory and a light heavyweight title shot.
“I was really confident,” Teixeira told ESPN.com. “I was a little concerned about his wrestling, but I was in no way concerned about his hands at all. In my mind, there was no way this guy was going to do anything standing up.
“But that [being hurt by Bader] gave me a wake-up call. Anybody in this game is a difficult fight, and you have to be careful.”
A Bader right hand in the first round stunned Teixeira, and for a brief moment it appeared his hopes of getting that title shot were about to end. But Teixeira quickly recovered and, during an exchange of punches, he delivered a right hook that floored Bader. Teixeira immediately jumped on his defenseless foe and finished him with strikes.
Despite overcoming that momentary scare, the direct result of being overconfident, Teixeira vows it will never happen again. It was a flaw that has since been corrected, and Teixeira is now a better overall fighter.
His confidence remains high; he just makes sure to keep it check. With overconfidence, which might have led to defeat in a title fight, out of the way, Teixeira can turn his full attention to Jones and Gustafsson.
Teixeira is eager and mentally ready to face the winner. He expects it will be Jones and believes the timing is right to dethrone him. But unlike in the days leading to his fight against Bader, Teixeira is already taking a measured approach.
The confidence is still there, and with his win streak now at 20, Teixeira has no reason to start doubting himself. But he isn’t about to take Jones or Gustafsson for granted. He’s smart enough to know that each guy poses a serious threat.
“I went into the [Bader] fight with a guy who I never thought could hurt me with his hands standing up,” Teixeira said. “But the next fight, I am going to be careful with everything. Even if Gustafsson wins this fight, I will have watched everything. I’m going to be prepared for his ground, his wrestling and for his stand-up.
“He is known for his great stand-up, but not so much for his ground. But I will be prepared for everything. This guy can give me a hard time on the ground as well.
Still, Teixeira is picking Jones to defend his title Saturday.
“But I believe that Jones is going to [beat Gustafsson],” Teixeira said. “Jones is a more complete fighter. He’s a better wrestler, has better ground, the stand-up is pretty even, but [Jones] is smart enough to take him down.
“I believe in myself against Jon Jones, but I still have to watch this fight, all of his fights and study everything. But I believe in myself.”
While already familiar with the fighting style of each UFC 165 main event participant, Teixeira isn’t satisfied with his knowledge. He will be seated at cageside Saturday night. Being in close proximity allows Teixeira to absorb the atmosphere that surrounds a UFC light heavyweight title bout; it also offers him a chance to see first-hand the tendencies of Jones and Gustafsson inside the Octagon.
“I’m going to be close; I believe I’m going to get a good seat and I’m going to be watching him from there,” Teixeira said. “And I will get the adrenaline going, fighting for the title, because I know that is the next thing I am going to be doing.
“I will feel the vibe and see how everything is going to be. I’m going to be watching those guys and probably do some interviews, so it’s going to be a good vibe, a good thing for me.”
That's why the 33-year-old Brazilian will pay a visit to Toronto the night of Sept. 21.
Since debuting in the UFC a year ago in May 2012, Teixeira has rolled through five opponents while handing down a quartet of finishes. The latest came Wednesday with an opening round stoppage of Ryan Bader in Brazil -- impressive enough indeed for UFC to confirm Teixeira gets next after Alexander Gustafsson tries Jon Jones in Canada.
As UFC ascensions go, a more threatening contender could not have been produced. Teixeira always was a brute. He’s unbeaten since 2005; including his UFC venture that’s 20 consecutive victories. Living up to that reputation has helped induce an air of intimidation when he’s around the Octagon.
To this end, Teixeira’s title-focused journey is instructive and predictive. The guy embodies dangerousness. Let there be no doubt about that. So we should expect him to do as he’s done. This is why fight watchers won't stretch their imaginations much to envision Teixeira beating, perhaps stopping, Jones or his lanky Swedish challenger.
"To tell you the truth I don't have any preference; my dream is to get the belt," Teixeira said through a translator after stopping Bader. "But I believe Jon Jones will win, that's the way I see it, and I definitely prefer him as well in a certain manner because Jon Jones has a better name, he's been a champ for a long time, so whoever goes to face him has to be very focused, very well-trained, and to look at his game to make him disappear.”
Disappear. Like Bader on the end of Teixeira’s fists, which thud with a concussive, uplifting and motivating quality.
“I believe I have it and if I hit [Jones],” Teixeira said of his power, “he's going to go down."
Like Teixeira's mentor Chuck Liddell, the emerging light heavyweight possesses trainer John Hackleman’s bravado and left hook (both were useful in starching Bader). He's gifted with being an agile powerhouse. Thick and strong, Teixeira is put together like a bruising light heavyweight. He isn’t especially fast. If there's a knock against him, there you have it. Faced with greased lightning like "Bones" Jones, Teixeira could wind up looking silly. Then again, when a masher walks into a cage willing and able to give one to get one, speed can be fleeting and overrated.
Bader was faster than Teixeira, but Teixeira didn't care because he wanted a knockout. He waited for a knockout. He waited for Bader “to punch me so I could punch him.” He did.
"That's one thing he brings to the table against Jon Jones is the ability to put him away,” Bader said of Teixeira. “Props to him. He had a great fight. Definitely feel he has a great chance of getting the title."
Despite Bader’s endorsement, Teixeira wasn't totally pleased with his effort. He thought he was hit too much (he was) while waiting to counterattack.
“I was very close to him. That's where he got me,” Teixeira said. “I remember we always have to move and we always have to be the first. I have to do my strategy, which is always to move my head around and to go forward. And to make punches connect.
"As they say in English, 'Hit and don't get hit.'"
For what it's worth, Jones must have thought enough about Teixeira's effort to comment. The champion said on Twitter that he didn't mind if people thought he’d lose, he simply wanted to hear a logical argument how. Teixeira, wrote Jones, regurgitated memories of Quinton "Rampage" Jackson "just with better grappling." That would be a quick and sloppy assessment.
When Jones or Gustafsson take a closer look at Teixeira they’ll find a heavy-handed, persistent striker, a stalker with enough accuracy and explosion to instantly change a fight. They’ll see a guy who downed Bader while standing with his feet parallel to the cage -- hardly an ideal power-producing scenario. They’ll see someone competent to initiate and defend grappling exchanges. They’ll see a man unafraid of submission attempts.
They’ll see him in Toronto, watching, like the predator he appears to be.
The plan is set, and the wheels are in motion. Hard-hitting light heavyweight contender Glover Teixeira will land a title shot with a victory Wednesday night at UFC Fight Night 28 at Estadio Jornalista Felipe Drummond in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.
This isn’t a secret. Everyone is aware of the plan -- Teixeira and titleholder Jon Jones (who’s expected to defeat Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 on Sept. 21) have been briefed. UFC president Dana White has spoken publicly about the matter.
Ryan Bader also knows of the plan, but doesn’t like it one bit. He is the guy penciled in to be Teixeira’s next victim. Bader, however, does not intend to play along. He has a plan of his own -- to dash Teixeira’s hopes of landing a title fight anytime soon.
“It pisses me off that everyone is overlooking me,” Bader told ESPN.com. “He’s talking about a title shot, other people are talking about a title shot. Fans are saying I don’t have a chance and how good the fight is going to be between [Teixeira] and Jones.
“But he has a tough fight ahead of him on Sept. 4 and I’m looking to spoil all their plans. UFC is saying that he gets the next title shot with an impressive win. A lot of people are going to be upset on Sept. 4. I’m going to come out and take everything away from them.”
A lot of hype has been heaped on Teixeira from the moment he signed with UFC in February 2012. Thus far, in his brief Octagon career, he has met all expectations. He has finished three of his four UFC opponents -- only former 205-pound champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson has gone the distance with him.
Despite the impressive showings, Bader isn’t fully convinced Teixeira is the fighter folks believe him to be. He’s good, even Bader concedes that much, but title shot-ready? Bader is of the opinion that’s taking things a little too far.
“He’s had his long win streak,” Bader said, referring to Teixeira’s current 19-fight victory run. “But he’s had this long win streak outside the UFC. If you look at his record, who has he fought? If you look at our past six, seven fights and put them side by side, I’ve definitely fought much tougher guys.
““His hype is deserved because he has been winning, he’s undefeated in UFC and all that, but he hasn’t fought the right brand of people. If he fights the right brand of people he’s definitely going to lose, and his night [to face the right brand of opposition] is the night we’re fighting.”
Definitely; I'm going to go out there to knock him out. No doubt. I'm going to pressure him, pressure him the whole time. I'm going to stay in his face and push him back; he's going to be walking backward the entire fight.” -- Glover Teixeira on his fight against Ryan Bader on Wednesday.
Teixeira isn’t angered by or losing sleep over Bader’s comments. He’s heard these sentiments a lot since word of him being next in line for a title shot surfaced. But the comments have served to fuel his determination to put on a spectacular performance Wednesday night in his native Brazil.
When the main-event showdown is over Teixeira expects not only to be victorious, but to end questions about his legitimacy as the No. 1 light heavyweight contender. Teixeira is on a personal mission: Put Bader to sleep and leave fight fans shocked by the viciousness of the destruction.
“Definitely; I’m going to go out there to knock him out. No doubt,” Teixeira told ESPN.com. “I’m going to pressure him, pressure him the whole time. I’m going to stay in his face and push him back; he’s going to be walking backward the entire fight.
“He’s a very tough opponent. But I’m going to go out there and finish this fight before the fifth round.”
Bader, on the other hand, has a slightly different view of how the fight will play out. His approach is to feed Teixeira a heavy dose of wrestling.
That fight plan is one more reason Teixeira is confident he will beat Bader. According to Teixeira, Bader has several holes in his game -- though he didn’t offer any specifics.
But Teixeira does point to Bader’s fight plan and shakes his head in disbelief. Have Bader or his trainers closely examined Teixeira’s skill set? Teixeira thinks not, especially if they’ve concluded that wrestling is the key to defeating him.
“Ryan is a good wrestler, but I train with much better wrestlers than Ryan Bader,” Teixeira said. “I’m a good wrestler myself. I’m confident in my wrestling, but there is one thing I don’t care about and that’s being on my back. That will make it more difficult for him because I’m confident in my jiu-jitsu as well.”
Finally, for those who say he isn’t yet deserving of a title shot because there are no top-10 light heavyweights on his UFC ledger, Teixeira offered these thoughts: “I don’t mind it too much. I can’t look at it that way. Ryan is a top-10 fighter. When I fought Rampage he was ranked nine or 10; I don’t know.
“Every fighter in the UFC is dangerous. Hey, I will just keep fighting. And if they keep giving me top-10 guys I will keep fighting and winning.”
A year ago at this time, TJ Grant had just earned a yeoman’s decision over Carlo Prater, to the attention of almost nobody. He was 2-0 since moving down to the lightweight division, but there was a colony of contenders well ahead of him in what had become the UFC’s most competitive weight class.
That’s when the pride of Nova Scotia began crashing through all the obstacles in his way.
Grant, a perennial undercard name to this point, surprised many by beating the brakes off of Evan Dunham at UFC 152 for three rounds. That performance was good enough for fight of the night honors, and set him up for a confrontation with the surging Matt Wiman. This was a bout of classic matchmaking: It was two heads of momentum coming together on national television, with an unspoken understanding that top ten status was on the line. Entering the fight, Wiman had won five of six, and had just derailed Paul Sass a couple of months earlier in Nottingham.
Once again, most didn’t see Grant coming. And once again, Grant forced our eyes open with his poised no-nonsense dominance, this time finishing Wiman in the first round by letting his hands (and elbows) go. It was the first time Wiman had been finished since catching that famous flying knee from Spencer Fisher at UFC 60 in his promotional debut.
Grant, the soft-spoken redhead from the remote northeastern town of Cole Harbour, had arrived. That TKO was how he kicked off 2013.
The thing is, Grant’s encore at UFC 160 in May was better still, even if the stakes were sliding. When he battled Gray Maynard in Las Vegas, the promise was that the winner would get the next crack at Benson Henderson’s title. However, this promise was somewhat qualified, aimed more directly at Maynard, who had hovered as the No. 1 contender since defeating Clay Guida. Maynard was guaranteed a shot with a win. For the lesser-known Grant, Dana White later admitted, he needed to win and do it emphatically to get his chance at the gold.
So what did Grant do? He won. Emphatically. He came in and knocked the bluster from Maynard early, before pursuing him around the cage and delivering power shot after power shot until Maynard slipped to the floor for good. A little more than two minutes into the biggest fight of his career, Grant emerged as the No. 1 contender in a weight class that hadn’t exactly budgeted for woodwork contenders. If his approach seemed quiet, it’s because we weren’t listening. Grant pulled the trick of dawning on everybody slowly and all at once.
His impressive victories over Wiman and Maynard at the halfway point of 2013 is good enough to stick him at the top of this list. Now 5-0 since moving from welterweight to 155 pounds, Grant has earned his shot at Henderson and presents himself as a more than capable challenge.
You know what that means? He’s a win away from becoming fighter of the year.
No. 2: Vitor Belfort. What can you say about Belfort, who at 36 years old has become one of the game’s more divisive figures, yet keeps drawing X’s over guys' eyes? To close out 2012, he jarred Jon Jones’ arm off its moorings in an otherwise one-sided fight. That was what it was. In 2013, though, he kept Michael Bisping from getting a title shot by headkicking him senseless, and then followed that up with a spinning-heel kick KO of Luke Rockhold. With the new mohawk as his warrior’s mane, the old lion roars on.
No. 3: Josh Burkman. In some ways, the World Series of Fighting couldn’t have asked for a better outcome. Jon Fitch, who was ranked No. 8 on ESPN.com’s welterweight rankings heading into his fight with Burkman, was a unique sort of UFC castoff who was supposed to rule his new terrain. That would have only served to show the depth of the UFC, that an expendable piece could be king elsewhere. Instead, it took Burkman 41 seconds to make a case that the face of the WSOF promotion was there all along. And how impressive was that choke?
No. 4: Pat Curran. Speaking of faces of their given promotion, Pat Curran -- together with Michael Chandler -- has become exactly that for Bellator. Curran hasn’t looked back since his 2011 loss to Eddie Alvarez for the lightweight belt. As a natural featherweight, he’s gone 6-0 and now sits among the best in the world at that weight class. So far in 2013 he’s held court, too: a hard-fought victory over Patricio Freire, followed by a first-round submission of Shahbulat Shamhalaev. At 25, he’s only getting better.
No. 5: Glover Teixeira. Teixeira has won what feels like 85 fights in a row (19 to be exact), and is 4-0 in the UFC. This would have most people in his position calling for an imminent title shot. Teixeira, on the other hand, is happy to just keep knocking the guy in front of him down. Adding Quinton Jackson and James Te-Huna this year to his long casualty list is enough to inflate the imagination as to what challenges he could present Jon Jones. By the end of 2013, we might just be in the shotgun seat to find out.
Against better judgment, let’s talk about UFC 149 one last time.
The pay-per-view event took place on July 21, 2012, at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta. An interim bantamweight title bout between Renan Barao and Urijah Faber served as the main event.
It was, by most accounts, a terrible night. UFC president Dana White admitted he was “embarrassed” by the main card. It really was one awkward fight after another.
Cheick Kongo and Shawn Jordan embraced in a tired hug for 15 minutes. Brian Ebersole resorted to a series of strange karate slaps to James Head’s leg in a dull split-decision loss. Hector Lombard stood in place and ate jabs. By the time the main event started, the Calgary crowd had fallen in love with a “refund” chant.
To this day, White remains apologetic to the entire Canadian city for that event.
Well, meet the ill-fated UFC 149's brother, UFC 161. The similarities between these two events are eerie.
UFC 161 was originally headlined by an interim bantamweight title bout between Barao and Eddie Wineland, which fell through due to a Barao injury. Similarly, UFC 149 lost its main event, a featherweight title fight, when Jose Aldo was injured.
Mauricio Rua was supposed to fight at UFC 149 and 161. In both cases, he was removed when his opponent suffered an injury. Thiago Silva withdrew from the contest last year. This time it was an injury to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Speaking of Nogueira injuries, Lil Nog may have just been following the example of his twin brother. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was originally scheduled to fight Cheick Kongo at UFC 149, but he withdrew due to injury.
In both cases, a “name” fight was added by the UFC to give the card more value. At UFC 149, it was Lombard and Tim Boetsch serving as the co-main event. This weekend, it’s Roy Nelson and Stipe Miocic serving as ... the co-main event.
Kind of weird, right? Hopefully, the similarities stop come fight night.
Glover Teixeira’s Twitter account. It’s nice and simple -- @gloverteixeira. You might want to keep an eye on it when the main event goes off. Teixeira has read the writing on the wall and it says “Alexander Gustafsson.” Feeling one win away from a title shot, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Teixeira comment publicly on the winner of Hendo, Evans.
Alexis Davis’ party. You see this from time to time -- Brazilian fights in Brazil or an Aussie fights in Australia. They don’t just look good. They ignite the crowd and win in such a way that you don’t forget about it when the next UFC card comes around. Alexis Davis is a dark horse in the women’s division. She’s well-respected, but few fans really know her yet. That could change here. She’s fighting on home soil and has a type of charm that once cameras find her, they might stick on her.
The evolution of Stipe Miocic. Miocic has the athleticism and the intelligence to turn into a legitimate heavyweight -- the question is when will it happen? He has good instincts and he comes with a game plan, but sometimes in martial arts you have to go off script. Can he surprise a guy like Roy Nelson? Miocic has the fundamentals. Has he added that element of unpredictability?
Seriously, don’t be UFC 149. UFC 160 was three weeks ago. UFC 162 isn’t for another three weeks. If UFC 161 does end up being the second coming of UFC 149 we can’t hide from it. The smell will linger.
He and his team would say yes. Certain critics would say he hasn’t been the same dating way back to the knockout loss to Lyoto Machida in 2009. That might be a stretch, he did dominate Phil Davis with three cracked ribs as recently as last year, but no doubt about it, this fight will answer questions about Evans after he didn’t look like himself in February.
Q: Is Dan Henderson still Dan Henderson?
It was hard to tell in his last fight. Machida stayed on the outside and refused to really engage with him. Henderson’s too smart to just sprint after him, so we were kind of left with a points fight that Henderson came out on the short end of. One right hand is all it takes for Henderson to get right back into title talk -- an opportunity many still feel he deserves. Can he still land it against the elite 205ers?
Q: How good is Tyron Woodley?
He’s always been an eye-catching prospect. In the same way a loss to Jon Fitch might have gotten Erick Silva to turn a corner, maybe a loss to Nate Marquardt did the same for Woodley. He destroyed a tough veteran guy in Jay Hieron his first time out. If he looks half as good in his second UFC fight against a talent like Jake Shields, we might need to get this guy on the fast track.
Q: Can lightning strike twice?
The one saving grace of UFC 149 was Mr. Ryan Jimmo’s seven-second knockout over Anthony Perosh, followed by a strikingly good robot dance. Perosh was knocked out instantly, so much so that Internet users started Photoshopping his knockout face onto pop-culture images. What will Jimmo do in his Canadian encore?
Q: Is Sam Stout good or just entertaining?
It’s OK if it’s the latter, but it seems he has potential for more. He’s always good for a show. Six times he’s taken home bonus money, but he’s never set great expectations in terms of racking up wins with an overall 8-7 UFC record. That might be changing, as Stout has won four of his past six.
WHO’S ON THE HOT SEAT?Jake Shields. The UFC’s acquisition of then-Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields was a big deal in 2010 -- but it’s failed to deliver much. Through five UFC appearances, Shields is 2-2 with a no-contest and a drug suspension last August. He can’t seem to figure out what weight class he wants to compete in, and his fighting style is such that even when he’s winning, he’s getting booed. He has little room for error here.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because even though it’s not the most stacked card in the world, it’s still Evans and it’s still Hendo ... because you don’t know Alexis Davis and you should ... because Roy Nelson is rolling the dice on behalf of disgruntled employees everywhere ... because there are sure to be live shots of Winnipeg, Manitoba -- which is quite lovely this time of year ... because Game 5 isn’t until Sunday ... because if it does turn into UFC 149 revisited, Dana White’s head will turn a bright red that should be visible regardless of what camera angle is being used ... because the H-bomb will be there.
The word “popularity” trumps a word like “retread” six days of the week. It did in the case of Quinton Jackson -- the popular, yet polarizing, former UFC champion who just became Bellator’s latest acquisition, according to a Spike TV press release. “Rampage” is presumably headed to the so-called “toughest tournament in sports.”
And with him comes an ounce of that hard-to-find intrigue.
Bellator will hold a news conference Wednesday in Los Angeles to make the announcement. If a 34-year-old on a three-fight losing streak and with strong associations to a rival league seems like an odd choice for a multiyear contract with Bellator, that’s because it is. Traditionally, Bellator has steered clear of picking up the UFC’s sloppy seconds, with a few exceptions. Just last week, Bellator inked prospect Bubba Jenkins, a collegiate wrestling champion from Arizona State who is 3-0 in MMA. That’s a signing that falls more in line with the Bellator ideology of unearthing talent. Landing Jenkins was a major boon.
But Jackson isn’t exactly a cast-off either. He was a disgruntled UFC employee who openly battled with Dana White and the UFC over pay, treatment, integrity, the reinvention of B.A. Baracus, fighting boring wrestlers and a descending scale of pettier issues over the past few years. He’s not known as an “entertainer” for fighting alone. That’s why he fits with Spike, where he can roam into pro wrestling waters under the TNA platform (an idea he’s flirted with before) and play a role in the network’s reality programming. With “Rampage” comes drama, and in his case, that’s interchangeable with “baggage.”
You know what else he brings? Star power and accessible validity.
After all, as of UFC 135, Jackson was name enough to challenge Jon Jones for the UFC’s light heavyweight belt. He didn’t make good, but the UFC sold more than 500,000 pay-per-views, which was the most since UFC 129 when Georges St-Pierre fought Jake Shields. It was the most pay-per-views sold for all of the UFC 130s. When he fought Dan Henderson on Spike, there were 6 million viewers.
Even in a sport where yesterday is a distant memory, that wasn’t so long ago. Yes, the Japan homecoming at UFC 144 against Ryan Bader was a disaster, with the missed weight and the swirling chaos of his TRT/groveling over how the UFC had handled him poorly. And yes, his sayonara bout with Glover Teixeira wasn’t exactly the barn burner he (or we) imagined. Just like Rashad Evans, Henderson and anyone who’s been in the fight game long enough, he’s capable of duds. Ennui is a hard thing to shake.
Yet even with all of that, what’s not to like about this signing? It was Josh Koscheck who said that fans can love him or hate him, it doesn’t matter, so long as they care. Signing “Rampage” will get people to care. And realistically, Bellator could use some love and caring, especially for its tournament structure that stubbornly makes a star of attrition. That concept’s not a fit for everyone. Maybe not even for Jackson, who has had trouble with motivation and weight in the past. It's tough to maintain health, weight and mindset through three fights in three months for anybody. But for a millionaire who doesn't particularly need to?
Then again, remember that he made a name in those Pride Grand Prix’s back in the early days fighting the likes of Wanderlei Silva, Chuck Liddell and Mauricio Rua. Those yesteryear names now become Attila Vegh and his longtime off-limits rival Muhammed Lawal -- not to mention Emanuel Newton, who knocked “King Mo” out in February with a spinning backfist. There’s something about those Memphis “bungalows” that tuned people in, even if they’re being flung at the more curious retread cases of Renato “Babalu” Sobral and Vladimir Matyushenko.
There are always exceptions to the exceptions.
The thing is, Bellator hasn’t strictly adhered to anything other than its own bracketology. Hard to imagine it giving Jackson special treatment and holding him out of the 205-pound tournament. And the promotion has loosely gone about its business of bringing up the next best names over the past couple of years. It's scored with Michael Chandler, Ben Askren, Pat Curran, Eduardo Dantas and Eddie Alvarez (now the subject of a fierce tug-of-war). This is its traditional model, insomuch as tradition exists.
Yet while Jon Fitch didn’t raise the Bellator eyebrow when the UFC released him with a 14-3-1 record under Zuffa, Jackson -- 7-5 in the UFC -- did. Why is that? Fitch will never be confused with entertainment, that’s why. He was never a champion. He doesn’t use words like “bungalows,” much less throw them. Eyeballs aren’t as likely to follow his every move.
Jackson, on the other hand, doesn’t feel too much like the UFC’s leftovers. Kudos to Bellator for thinking inside the box enough to see it.
You remember the fallout before the fallout, though.
Junior dos Santos was scheduled to face Alistair Overeem -- the one man who could turn that gentle giant's smile into a look of constipation -- for the belt. Then the first domino fell: Overeem's test from his previous fight with Brock Lesnar came back with -- to put it gently -- spiked testosterone levels, which meant dos Santos was re-saddled with Frank Mir.
Cain Velasquez, who was supposed to fight Mir that night, was then given Antonio Silva. That meant Roy Nelson, who was supposed to take on "Bigfoot," ended up fighting Dave Herman. Mark Hunt, still for the most part a journeyman at this point, was supposed to fight Stefan Struve, yet didn't end up fighting at all because he got injured. So Struve fought Lavar Johnson -- if we're being generous enough to call what happened that night a "fight."
The players are (basically) the same a year later for UFC 160, yet perceptions are slightly different. Overeem again was supposed to appear on the heavyweight showcase, yet again against dos Santos. And once again, he was scotched from the card, this time due to an injury. That means Hunt, and his visa issues, rides an unlikely four-fight winning streak into a confrontation with dos Santos. The winner (likely) will get a shot at the heavyweight belt next.
As for the belt, it's back in the possession of Velasquez, who defends his title on Saturday night against a familiar name: Silva. The stakes are different this go-round, but the memory of Silva's blood covering the canvas floor at UFC 146 is still fresh. One might say too fresh.
And that's your mystery heading into UFC 160: Will history repeat itself? Which, when you think about it, opens up the broader query: Why is history repeating itself?
(Answers: Probably; and because history has a wicked sense of humor.)
What was a bottleneck situation at the top of the lightweight division is now a mile of open highway. The winner of Gray Maynard and TJ Grant will get the next shot at Benson Henderson's belt. We've seen Maynard in that penultimate spot before. But Grant? Talk about a quiet approach.
Hunt as Cinderella
Woodwork contenders II
With a relative dearth of 205-pound contenders to challenge Jon Jones, Glover Teixeira's name could go from being whispered in polite company to shouted from the mountaintops with an emphatic win over James Te-Huna. But let's take it a step further: Can you imagine if Te-Huna wins? Suddenly a second New Zealander is on your radar from UFC 160.
Return of Brian Bowles
"Where's Brian Bowles?" became MMA's game of "Where's Waldo?" in 2012. So where was he? Finding that drive, baby. Citing apathy as the reason he took some time away from the fight game, the one-time WEC bantamweight champion returns to face all 6-foot-1 and 135 pounds of George Roop.
Woodwork contenders III
Right now Khabib Nurmagomedov has one more victory in professional MMA than he does letters in his name (19 wins, 18 letters). If he beats Abel Trujillo, he'll be a sparkling 20-0. Nurmagomedov is tomorrow's bottleneck at the top of the 155-pound division.
Can things be different for Silva this time?
The more basic question: Can Silva compete this time against the relentlessly aggressive, forward-moving wrestler Velasquez who has cardio for days and a chin made of cinder block? It feels as if we're answering our own question.
Can Hunt KO dos Santos?
Dos Santos has never been knocked out. Knocking people out is what Hunt does. In a fight where the ground is designated for slips and one-way trips, a single punch from either guy ends the co-main. Can it be Hunt on the delivering end? (Smiles and shakes head approvingly.)
Is there still wonder to "Wonderboy"?
Remember when Stephen Thompson had that hot roulette player's moment after knocking out Dan Stittgen in his UFC debut with a head kick? Matt Brown brought him down to earth in a hurry in April 2012 with a one-sided decision. This bout with Nah-Shon Burrell will tell us if it's back to "Wonderboy" or if he's a "one-hit wonder."
Is Cain the greatest heavyweight champ ever?
Take away that glancing moment in the ballyhooed first bout with dos Santos -- a bout that Velasquez should never have been fighting in the first place (knee) -- and the answer is "yup." But what are we talking about? This is the ultimate proving ground, so we'll ask him for more proof. More proof!
Does KJ Noons belong in a fight with Donald Cerrone?
The short answer is no. The correct answer is LOL. Even if you omit the Ryan Couture fight (a loss that he actually won), Noons still lost three of his previous four fights. Cerrone is coming off of that Anthony Pettis incident where his liver got rearranged. In other words: Cerrone's the proverbial hornet's nest that Noons is walking into.
WHO'S ON THE HOT SEAT?
He did beat Brad Scott in his UFC debut, but a loss to Colton Smith, just as the UFC is tightening its belt rosterwise, makes young shakers expendable. (However, if Robert Whittaker knocks out Smith like he did Luke Newman on "TUF: The Smashes"? Then it's "Watch out for the Aussie!").
If the fact that he's opening the prelims portion of the card doesn't tip you off, the three-fight losing streak will. This move to 145 pounds is Stephens' "all-in" moment. Another loss and it's adios, "Lil' Heathen."
It would feel a little merciless of the UFC to cut him, particularly because it'd be on the heels of a likely loss to Cerrone, but Noons needs a good showing to remind everyone of the guy who beat Nick Diaz in 2007. A fifth loss in six fights, though, is either a red flag or a white one, depending on how you squint.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Velasquez might as well dig his hooves in the mat before he charges at Silva as if Silva were a red cape ... because "Bigfoot" has fists the size of pet carriers, yet his gloves weigh 4 ounces, just like everybody else's ... because if you put dos Santos' and Hunt's combined knockouts on a highlight reel, it'd run longer than the average romantic comedy ... because Grant versus Maynard is dog-eared for fight of the night ... because "Cowboy" Cerrone is mad, and Noons, by stepping in with him, is saying "come hither" ... because Grant fights like Ulysses S. Grant ... because Te-Huna and Teixeira will require smelling salts ... because Dennis Bermudez was already in one fight of the year candidate (against Matt Grice) and Max Holloway is a gamer ... because Mike Pyle can make it four in a row against Rick Story ... because what could be more fun than watching Hunt try to stuff his foot into a glass slipper?