MMA: Miguel Torres
With a number of former WEC fighters competing Saturday at UFC 164 and one of its most infamous fights set to headline the card in Milwaukee, we took a look back at the best fights from the WEC's 10-year history through the eyes of founder and current UFC vice president of community relations Reed Harris.
So where exactly does the "Showtime kick" from Anthony Pettis rank among his favorite moments? Let's take a look back at Harris' top 10, including his personal memories of each one:
10. WEC 9: Olaf Alfonso SD John Polakowski, Jan. 16, 2004
Harris: Both guys broke their noses in the first 45 seconds of the fight. It was a war. In fact, [UFC president] Dana White was at the fight and HDNet was at the fight. And HDNet reported back to [channel owner] Mark Cuban, "We have to get this on our network." Polakowski took the fight on like two days. Really good striker but not very good on the ground. But Olaf was such a stud back then, he was like, "You know what? I'll stand with him." He just stood there for three rounds and they threw bombs.
9. WEC 29: Carlos Condit SUB1 Brock Larson, Aug. 5, 2007
Harris: It wasn't a fantastic fight, but what happened was Brock Larson was one of the strongest dudes I have ever seen. Like when that guy shook your hand, you were like, "Holy s---." He threw a punch at Condit, and Condit armbarred him, and it was so fast that I've never forgotten that moment. Larson was throwing bombs at him, he timed it perfectly and put that armbar on him and it was just, "Wow."
Harris: A lot of my memories about "Cowboy" are tied to Charles ["Mask" Lewis, Tapout co-founder]. Charles had gone and seen Donald, and he came to me and begged me to sign him -- and Charles was a guy who if he asked you to do something, he would call you every day until you did it. I remember how proud Charles was of [Cerrone]. He loved him.
7. WEC 44: Jose Aldo TKO2 Mike Brown, Nov. 18, 2009
Harris: It was the kind of moment where I really knew how good [Aldo] was. I remember the first time he jumped out of the cage [after knocking out Rolando Perez at WEC 38], I ran him back and I had never yelled at a fighter before. Poor Andre [Pederneiras] was interpreting it and it was basically, "If you ever do that again, I'll cut you." His next fight he won, I walked into the cage and he was running towards the door. He looked at me and smiled, then sat down.
6. WEC 38 and WEC 51: Donald Cerrone vs. Jamie Varner, Jan. 25, 2009 and Sept. 30, 2010
Harris: The fights between Varner and Cowboy [a technical-decision win for Varner followed by a unanimous-decision win for Cerrone] were epic. Those guys hated each other. There was so much going on behind the scenes. Biggest rivalry the WEC saw, by far. When Varner was fighting a year ago [in the UFC], he got sick, and I got a text from Donald saying something like, "You tell Varner to pull up his bootstraps and fight." I thought, "This is still going on and they haven't fought in [almost] two years."
5. WEC 53: Anthony Pettis UD Ben Henderson, Dec. 16, 2010
Harris: The fight itself was great, even without the kick. I'll tell you, when Pettis did that, I literally said, "What the hell just happened?" I didn't process it. I was watching live, and the angle I had wasn't good. I saw what happened, but I didn't know what he had done -- how he had gotten from where he was standing to all of a sudden, Ben was down. It was the most amazing thing I've ever seen someone do in MMA.
4. WEC 34: Urijah Faber UD Jens Pulver, June 1, 2008
Harris: I think we did about 1.5 million viewers, which for a company like WEC -- it's hard to be in that UFC space and command viewers. It was kind of a passing of the torch for Jens. I saw a lot of respect between the two but also a determination with Faber, like he was going to get through this. And I remember him dominating.
Harris: I remember [afterward] Faber being hurt. I gave him a hug and asked how he was. His leg was a mess. Aldo cried in the back. He was so emotional. It was like all the work he had done in his life -- that moment was life-changing to him. I remember when he was standing in that cage before the fight and "California Love" came on, Jose's look was like, "Wow. This guy's got a lot of fans."
2. WEC 40: Miguel Torres UD Takeya Mizugaki, April 5, 2009
Harris: It was such a war. I just remember how excited the crowd was and how brutal the fight was. There's nothing like seeing two guys in the dressing room who have given it everything they got. They had gone to battle. And when Miguel Torres was on, he really was like Anderson Silva. He had this aura about him.
1. WEC 48: Leonard Garcia SD Chan Sung Jung, April 24, 2010
Harris: To have those two guys step up and fight the way they did leading into our pay-per-view -- I know it completely bumped our numbers. Part of the story people don't know is after the fight, I went to the dressing rooms and "Korean Zombie" was crying because he really thought he had won the fight. I was able to tell him he won the fight of the night bonus, which was $65,000, and just the elation on his face was something I'll never forget.
It'd be nice if Ronda Rousey knew better, but you wonder whether she does. Even after her manager Darin Harvey tried to clear things up in an interview with MMA Junkie.
Rousey tweeted an "extremely interesting must watch video" (as she put it) on Tuesday about a government conspiracy in regard to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting on Dec. 14 in Newtown, Conn. (a poorly constructed video presenting the whole thing as a staged massacre to boost anti-gun sentiment.) It takes imagination to conjure a wholesale tragedy like that. It takes suspicious minds to help perpetuate the notion, even if Rousey later said she was only trying to present open-mindedness.
There's open-minded and then there's absent-minded.
Perhaps Rousey had to be here. Perhaps she should be here. After all, there are plenty of people I could introduce her to who would love to learn that the whole thing was a work of creative fiction, so their family and friends could come home. If only that could really be the case. When my own daughter was on lockdown that morning, it seemed real enough for me.
I am as opposed to high horses as the next guy, but tweets like these come off as senseless. And as a transcendent, historical figure in MMA whose actions take on more intensive scrutiny as she goes along, that's not something the UFC needs. Responsibility remains an issue for some of these fighters who've become overnight celebrities.
Rousey has yet to understand her own sense of bigness. She's still dealing in silly.
And right now she's a long way from being an ambassador of this sport. As a self-proclaimed "Diaz brother" -- a product of her better humor -- maybe she doesn't really need to be. She can be as ornery and candid and as opinionated as befits her job. Her mean streak works well in a sport than ends up in a cage.
But she could stand to add something very important to her arsenal that right now is a glaring weakness -- and that is common sense. The UFC goes over social media protocol in its annual fighter summit, but it apparently still leaves people with vague notions of what passes as proper behavior.
The UFC likes raw. I like raw. I like candid. I like Rousey. I want her to be great for the sport, and I believe she will be great for the sport.
But there's a line of decency. It's not in good taste to post a must-see video that the people all around here -- shattered, bereft and traumatized -- are in on a conspiratorial work. That the unthinkable thing that happened to them didn't happen to them at all.
And that's certainly not the kind of response you want from your superstars. While many athletes are using their status to help, Rousey chose to exacerbate the grief. What is the proper response? There isn't one, but you can pick up cues from the professionals in other sports, where players came at it from a place of empathy rather than paranoia.
New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz visited the grieving family of Jack Pinto, one of the first-graders who died on Dec. 14. He was a Giants fan. The Bridgeport Sound Tigers AHL hockey team wore jerseys for a home game with the names of the 20 young victims on their backs. Various NFL teams wore decals. Virginia Tech wore helmets memorializing the tragedy. Landon Donovan and other soccer stars visited and held a clinic here in Newtown. The Providence basketball team wore uniforms of green and white, the Sandy Hook colors, with the name of the village across their chests.
These are ways to pay respects. Even Pat Barry, who knocked out Shane Del Rosario a day after the tragedy, emotionally paid respects to the families.
Was Barry "blindly accepting what he was told," (as Rousey later tweeted) or being a human being? And if you don't want to pay respects, don't say anything at all. What if one of these kids was a fan of Rousey's? What if his or her parents were?
And that's a little bit maddening. The UFC doesn't exactly reprimand its professionals for actions such as these. Yes, the UFC cut Miguel Torres for his "rape" tweet, but it seems like window dressing when he ends up on the roster again so quickly thereafter. Forrest Griffin, who made a rape joke of his own, wasn't given much of a slap on the wrist.
More than likely, Rousey won't be either.
She's the first female world champion in the UFC and is about to become the first woman to defend that title in a UFC main event. She's the "big thing" in MMA right now. It's a terrible time for her to dim her own star.
She made a mistake, and mistakes are forgivable. In an ideal world, you’d hope somebody within the company might want to make sure she understands the nature of her mistake.
Then again, in an ideal world, the Sandy Hook massacre would have never happened to begin with. But the truth is, it did.
A bit of serendipity, right?
It certainly can’t hurt.
The WSOF is a fledging promotion that 41-year-old kickboxer/MMA fighter Ray Sefo is presiding over. You might be familiar with some of the names Sefo & Co. have been gathering to fill up its roster. UFC retreads, mostly -- but retreads with some miles left on them.
There’s former WEC champion Miguel Torres, who was cut abruptly for mysterious disciplinary reasons. There’s the no-longer-shrinkable Anthony Johnson fighting at 205 pounds. There’s the fanged Andrei Arlovski, a requisite Gracie (Gregor) and upstarts like Tyrone Spong. On the undercard? Gerald Harris, Josh Burkman and JZ Cavalcante. Even Waylon Lowe will be in the building come Nov. 3.
Not a bad first roll, really.
“The goal for us is to provide another stage,” Sefo, who was doing a media tour through New York, told ESPN.com. “There’s so much talent, so many fighters out there who don’t have a stage to go to. Obviously the mecca of MMA is the UFC. Our goal is to start slowly and then hopefully be as good or as big as the UFC. Obviously that takes a lot of time and you have to crawl before you walk.”
If it looks like a lot of eggs in one basket, it is. WSOF is loading the first card to gauge things. Having spoken to people within the company, they’re already blueprinting a January card, and there’s a tentative goal of doing 10 cards. By card three? That’s when they’ll start talking title fights, Sefo says. But that’s just projection, and in this racket, projection can barely raise an eyebrow.
The New Zealander Sefo knows that, and the idea is to take things slow, build up, and get better along the way. That’s why, in a way, the WSOF will launch itself happily as a “fallback” option for guys trickling out of the UFC. They will begin as security.
But this isn’t Affliction. They aren’t trying to go head-to-head with the UFC. In fact, Sefo and the WSOF backers are fantastic admirers of what Zuffa has done over the years. It’s to be an alternative. And it was created, in part, on fighter empathy.
... our goal is to make sure that the fighters are looked after. When the fighters are happy where they're at, they're going to come back every single time.” -- WSOF president Ray Sefo, on the treatment of his fighters
“This is a rough sport we’re in, and it takes a lot of discipline, a lot of dedication, a lot of time away from families,” Sefo said. “So being a fighter -- and I have experienced this myself with K-1 owing me so much money, as well as seeing it with other fighters -- our goal is to make sure that the fighters are looked after. When the fighters are happy where they’re at, they’re going to come back every single time.”
Sefo could be a spokesman for fighters being taken advantage of. In fact, by spearheading WSOF, he sort of already is. Sefo recently told MMAFighting that he was owed $800,000 of back pay by K-1. How’s that for a catalyst to action? In fact, some might say that WSOF is being overly generous with its pay. Gerald Harris, for instance, will make more in his first appearance with the promotion than he did in any of his UFC fights. And each fighter is signed to three- or four-fight deals.
As for the production of the event? Sefo says that here he takes his cues from the UFC, which operates as a well-oiled machine come fight night.
“I don’t think there’s much difference at all,” he says. “Everything they do, they do it right and they do it big. They are an inspiration for us, to make sure we take the right steps, one step at a time and we do things right.
“But I don’t think there’s much difference at all [in terms of production]. Being a new company, for us, the next two to three shows is a learning process.”
The first one will take place at Planet Hollywood Resort and Casino, and will be a cheap ticket for locals looking to catch the vibe live. “With the economy the way it is these days, we want to put a ticket out there that everyone can afford -- and everybody can afford a $20 ticket,” Sefo says.
Beyond that, the feeling with WSOF is “let’s see how the first one goes and not get too far ahead of ourselves.” Not that there isn’t optimism.
“Everybody that we’ve got on the card is excited,” Sefo says. “I’m really excited to see everybody come out and perform. It’s such a good card that there’s no one particular fight that stands out as a favorite. We’re very blessed with the card that we have.
“It’s baby steps. Take one step at a time and see where it goes.”
It’s a lot of “ifs,” and a few asterisks -- but it’s possible, and the scenario isn’t all that hard to fathom.
Jon Jones was 23 years and 8 months old when he defeated Mauricio Rua for the light heavyweight belt. If Mayday gets a fight with bantamweight interim titleholder Renan Barao in December -- which is the month McDonald has circled for his return -- he could usurp Jones’ feat of becoming the youngest fighter to be a UFC champion. By a full year and a half, no less.
Yeah, yeah -- even if it’s a placeholder belt that is mostly illusion, while the genuine article remains off-limits until Dominick Cruz returns from his ACL injury.
But first things first. The only jones McDonald is dealing with is the one to crush a heavy bag without wincing.
“I’m dying to start punching something again,” McDonald told ESPN.com this week. “I was going to get permission to start punching again about a month ago, but my doctor wanted to go a more conservative and safe kind of route. Just to make sure it was 100 percent. But I feel great. It’s hard for me to go into the gym and watch everyone else train, and just grapple, and not being able to spar with the guys.”
McDonald has been rehabbing his hand, which for the past couple of years has been nagging him. After defeating Miguel Torres at UFC 145 in April, a fight in which his fists did plenty of the work, the hand wasn’t healing properly for him to begin training again. So rather than perpetuate the situation, he decided to call the UFC and let them know what was going on.
So, what exactly was going on?
“I don’t know the correct terminology, but there’s almost like a protective film over the back of your hand,” he says. “What I did, was I hit somebody in the gym and it split right down the middle between my ring and my middle finger [on the right hand]. And every time I make a fist, that protective film rolls over and exposes my bone. So my bone was unprotected, and I was punching literally with nothing protecting my bone by skin, and the tendon was rolling over, so the whole thing was screwed up but I was punching with it for about two years. After Miguel Torres, it just wasn’t going down at the rate I wanted it to, and I wasn’t able to punch.”
I'm dying to start punching something again. ... It's hard for me to go into the gym and watch everyone else train, and just grapple, and not being able to spar with the guys.” -- Michael McDonald, who is itching to return to training
It was off to surgery for McDonald, but as of the middle of next week, he should be cleared to punch again. And that means able to train, and available to be booked by the UFC’s smaller division matchmaker, Sean Shelby.
With champion Dominick Cruz still out with a bum knee, and Urijah Faber coming off a loss to Renan Barao, and Barao in limbo holding the interim title waiting to find out how this all plays out ... well, McDonald and Barao might dovetail nicely into a title fight.
Should that happen, McDonald -- who is 15-1 in MMA, and began fighting when he was 16 years old -- would have a chance at history.
“It has crossed my mind, but it’s not something I dwell on,” he says. “Me, I just focus on what matters. A lot of people will say this is what I’m going to do, that I’m going to be the champ, and they say I’m the greatest, and they say all these things that really don’t matter. The only thing that truly matters in my opinion is just ability as a martial artist -- who’s a better martial artist is going to win.
“I think that’s the only thing that matters, and I try and keep my mind centered on that. It does cross my mind, ‘Oh, these are the possibilities.’ It is possible if everything goes as planned, I could be the youngest champion. Things like that do cross my mind, but I can’t dwell on them, because it would just take my mind away from what really matters, and what really matters is just being the best martial artist I can be.”
McDonald threatening to win the belt at 21 years old is one thing, even if he’s only indulging glorified speculation just to be polite. But the surprising thing is that this 21-year-old is powered by a sense of Zen-like bearings, and he comes off as honest, direct, non-sanctimonious, practical and, of all things, wise. Having two brothers who compete in MMA -- younger brother Brad McDonald, and older brother Jason Smitley -- helps him stay rooted in the gym.
Yet there’s more to it. If McDonald has the big picture in his mind, he doesn’t wear rose-colored glasses when looking it over. He doesn’t comb the rankings. He doesn’t even keep up with what’s happening in the bantamweight division, nor any of the divisions.
“To put it very bluntly, I really don’t care,” he says. “I learn everything about my career through other people. My friends will tell me, ‘Dude, you’re in the paper,’ and I’m like, ‘What?’ I didn’t talk to anybody. I don’t keep up with anything that happens. I just stick to myself.”
Just what's sticking to oneself does depend on the person. But for McDonald, he’s become a priority man at a tender age. In fact, he’s got his priorities straight before priorities would seem to have time to mature into an order. It’s simplistic, really.
“My love is in training, in the gym, in martial arts,” he says. “That’s my love. Fighting as a job is a very hard thing to do. And I’ve had times where I’ve questioned whether I wanted to do it, I’ve had times where I didn’t want to do it.
“But I’ve never once questioned whether I wanted to be a martial artist. There’s things about being a fighter as a job that I don’t exactly like. Sometimes I don’t want to have to get up and put on a happy face and meet people and be really jolly when I just had a really bad day. There’s things about being a fighter that are very difficult. Missing out on holidays ... not being able to eat food on Thanksgiving. These seem small, but they wear on you.
“Being a fighter is not where my love is. Being a fighter’s my job. But my love is being in the martial arts, and I’m going to be doing martial arts until the day that I die. When it comes to the aspects of being a fighter and the fight game, I’m a fan of fighting, but I’m not a fanatic of fighting.”
So let’s rephrase this: There’s a chance -- if the cards fall in his favor, and his hand is healthy enough to chin-hunt, and UFC matchmakers throw him a bone -- that McDonald could become the youngest martial artist to ever be champion in the UFC.
It’s an important distinction for a young guy on the verge of something so distinctive.
Experiencing a brief exile from UFC was difficult for Miguel Torres. Fortunately, that chapter of his life is over.
Torres has been reinstated, and he's eager to get his bantamweight career back on the positive track with a victory April 21 over Michael McDonald at UFC 145 in Atlanta.
“I’m so happy to be back in the UFC and that they’ve given me such a game opponent like Michael McDonald,” Torres said. “Preparing for this fight, I only have one thought in mind, and that’s to finish my opponent at UFC 145 and show the world I am back.”
Staying mentally focused during training camp is just one hurdle Torres (39-4) must overcome. While the former WEC 135-pound champion has a more impressive résumé, McDonald isn’t someone to take lightly.
With only one loss in 15 pro fights, McDonald is currently riding a seven-fight win streak. He also has won each of his four bouts under the Zuffa banner.
Torres was released from UFC’s roster in December following an inappropriate tweet on his personal Twitter account. He was reinstated later in the month after performing community service, issuing apologies and meeting with UFC president Dana White.
Compared to other, more mainstream sports organizations, the fight company has just flat been better at grasping the power of new-fangled tools like Facebook and Twitter. Born part out of ingenuity and part out of necessity, you could argue the UFC’s more accessible quasi-guerrilla marketing strategy is one reason it has been so successful at building its brand among young people during the last few years.
While the NFL and NBA continue to crack down on athletes using social networking, the UFC has gone whole hog, employing an Arizona-based marketing firm that specializes in new media strategies for corporations and celebrities and offering its fighters financial incentives for staying active on Twitter. As a result, the promotion and its employees have cultivated a vast network of followers it can utilize for direct marketing, keeping tabs on fan chatter and generating demographic information while controlling and shaping breaking news.
That’s the upside.
The considerable downside we saw play out in terms of very real world consequences on Thursday, when former WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres got the axe a couple of days after tweeting a one-liner about “rape vans” he reportedly saw on TV. It was the UFC’s third public sexual assault joke in recent memory, but unlike the very similar remarks made by former “Ultimate Fighter” winners Forrest Griffin and Rashad Evans, something about this one made it a firing offense in the eyes of UFC brass.
Naturally, this is the inherent risk in Zuffa’s social media marketing campaign. When you encourage somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 professional fighters to share their unfiltered thoughts with the masses -- Torres has nearly 50,000 followers -- in staccato burst of 140 characters or less, mistakes are going to be made. Mistakes that have been committed to writing and will live on forever in the unforgiving elephantine brain of the Internet.
Especially when you offer a cash prize to the fighter who does the “most creative” job.
Especially when there is nothing to tell said fighter what’s permissible and what’s not, no policy or guidelines in place aside from telling him to "use common sense."
Because of the lack of formal policy, it's still hard to discern exactly what made Torres’ gaffe so much worse than the others, even after hearing UFC President Dana White's explanation. Maybe it was because Torres didn’t have as good a justification for his specific rape joke as Griffin did for tweeting his a few weeks ago (it was sparked by what he was seeing on the news) or Evans did for speaking his into a microphone at public news conference this week (to get under an opponent and college rival's skin). Maybe it was just the third strike for fighters so soon after White had to reprimand those two jokers, or maybe it was because White found out about Torres’ remark during an interview with a reporter during a high-profile fight week.
Whatever the reason, Torres is now unemployed after broadcasting a thoughtless crack, probably while he was sitting on his couch on a winter night watching television. If that doesn’t speak to the reach and power of social media, I don’t know what does.
In any case, it’s strange that a company so ahead of the curve on reaping the rewards of social media has been so behind the curve in establishing a policy to manage its risks.
What will we be staring at on Saturday night? Only a complicated battle of Ma’ai (spatial distance) that promises to contrast restraint and aggression through lank, lean counterstriking, with plenty of front kicks, spinning elbows, judo throws and flying knees. Machida’s sense of harmony and timing with his circular in and out movements, against Jones’ Zen bouquet of distance striking with flying tassels.
At least that’s what the promo material is telling us. Jones was quick to point out some cruder truths at the UFC 140 prefight news conference. Namely the fact that he’s good with a medley but not great at any one discipline.
“I’m four years into my MMA career, and there’s so much that I don’t know,” he said. “Jiu-jitsu is a whole culture. Taekwondo is a whole culture. Muay Thai is a whole culture. Boxing, the sweet science ... I’m not even close to that yet. There’s so much I don’t know and so much my teammates [at Greg Jackson’s] are way better than me at; I just so happen to be one of the better ones at merging them all together.”
There’s a real chance, too, that somebody gets clubbed early and that’s that. Or that Jones scotches the colorful assortments we’re used to seeing and takes things to the mat, where he can rough up Machida with old-fashioned ground-and-pound. Or that Machida finally breaks through with news on Jones’ chin and claims another casualty via his left hand. The last seems the farthest fetched, since it requires the most imagination.
And that’s the difference between the lead-up to UFC 140 and the other three cards that Jones fought on in 2011 -- that people are beginning to take for granted his dominance. Worse, some are playing at hush words. With the folly of advanced notions, Jones’ invincibility is the subtext.
Fortunately, none of this extends to Jones himself, who has seen people in his rare position fall as quickly as they rose.
“The reason I know I’m not invincible is I know I’ve seen people that do great, and they end up losing,” he said. “I hope that never happens to me. So I stay on the prowl. I’m always working hard. The biggest part is training with Greg Jackson, where I’m surrounded by tons of top fighters from around the world.”
Torres cut a double standard?
It’s been a week of rampant news. If Georges St. Pierre’s ACL tear, the big Chicago news conference and the lead-up to UFC 140 weren’t enough, former WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres was abruptly dropped from the UFC for a joke he made in poor taste on his Twitter feed.
His was yet another rape joke in a head-scratching moment of surplus rape jokes.
“If a rape van was called a surprise van, more women wouldn’t mind going for rides in them,” he wrote. “Everyone like surprises.”
Torres later told Heavy.com that the joke was a quote from the television show “Workaholics,” but he didn’t wrap it in quotes or provide that context. And even if he did, Dana White said it wouldn’t have mattered, particularly with Torres being the third fighter in recent weeks to make light of something as unfunny as rape in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky allegations.
Wednesday, Rashad Evans told his Jan. 28 opponent, Phil Davis, “I’m gonna put those hands on you worse than that dude did to them kids at Penn State.” And a few weeks back, Forrest Griffin tweeted “rape is the new missionary.” The UFC has been very liberal toward Twitter use and in allowing people to speak their minds without policing etiquette. As such, the fighters have gone about saying what’s on their minds without fear of consequence.
But that stops with Torres.
What was it that made Torres’ worse than these other offenders? Something like a forensic trail back to reason. White explained to MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani that in the Griffin case, Forrest was channel flipping and saw three stations reporting on different rapes, and -- seeing it in this ubiquitous light -- he tweeted that it was the new missionary. The joke clanked, and Griffin took a lot of heat for his insensitivity.
In the Evans case, White explained that he was trying to get under Davis’ skin. Davis was a wrestler at Penn State, and therefore it was a personal dig from a Michigan State grad (everything else was incidental). With both Evans and Griffin there was a rhyme or reason to their comments, flimsy as they were, whereas with Torres it was just twisted. Even if he was quoting a television show.
Is it fair? No. Cutting Torres for a joke in bad taste while keeping Evans and Griffin for the same offense looks like favoritism and/or selectivism. But even that’s not really the case. It seems the broader reason for Torres getting cut might be something as arbitrary as timing. It’s clear that White made an “enough is enough” example out of Torres on the fly, an action meant to convey that rape jokes won’t be condoned in the UFC. With no policy in place for social media/public decorum, this action will have to double as Wild West reckoning for future offenders.
For now, anyway.
“Bad Boy” or “People’s Champion”?
So at the UFC 140 prefight news conference somebody asked Ortiz what that means exactly.
“It’s just keep positive,” he said. “I asked a question on Twitter of all my fans, and I asked them what ‘People’s Champ’ meant to them. And it says someone that’s been a champion that’s giving back to their fans all the time throughout their career. And I’ve done that. I can remember back in UFC 33 out at Mandalay Bay, the first time I put my back to the wall and signed autographs for over seven hours. Every UFC I’ve ever been to, I’ve signed for seven hours each time I go. I’m there for the fans. And when you call yourself a ‘People’s Champ,’ you’ve got to be there for your fans. I’ve been there. And not only that, but just being an inspiration. Just showing with hard work and dedication and determination, you can achieve anything in life.”
Not exactly the heel-type talking that earned him a reputation back in the early UFCs, but the bad boy wasn’t all gone. When one reporter asked at what point he decided to move away from the bad boy character, Ortiz’s response was, “I don’t like you, so I’m not going to answer your question.” In other words, as much as the “People’s Champ” is there for his fans, the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” is lurking behind the sheen for select media.
Charisma, charm, mass appeal. Whatever you want to call it, it doesn’t come naturally to Bowles.
His reserved personality has been forced to the forefront this week, the situation only exacerbated because he’s fighting Urijah Faber on Saturday at UFC 139. While Faber is pound-for-pound one of the most outgoing characters in MMA -- his entire persona exuding a kind of laid-back California cool -- Bowles is the exact opposite.
Where Faber is gregarious, Bowles is quiet. Where Faber is over the top, Bowles is understated. Where Faber is one of the most popular figures in the sport, Bowles is perhaps one of the most under the radar.
And you know what? He’s OK with that.
“Some people are going to be popular and some people aren’t,” Bowles said in San Jose this week. “Some people are just gifted with that. He’s like the cool kid in school. You don’t know why he’s cool, but he is. I happen to not have it. Some people have it. Faber has it.”
One thing Bowles has had that Faber has not, of course, is the bantamweight championship. Yet somehow, despite the fact Bowles dealt Miguel Torres his first loss in six years at WEC 42, snapping his 17-fight win streak with a first-round KO and thrusting Torres’ career into a period of uncertainty he’s still trying to work out of, nobody seems to remember that.
Part of that is because Bowles refuses to run around shouting about it. Another part is that his reign on top was short, lasting just seven months before he was forced to concede the title to Dominick Cruz, bowing out of their fight at WEC 47 with a broken hand. It doesn’t help either that he had to spend a year on shelf nursing that injury and that while we was out, the WEC was absorbed into the much larger landscape of the UFC.
Bowles has won two straight fights so far in the Octagon, but seems at peace with the idea the few people yet know his name. He knows that will change so long as he can keep winning.
“I do feel overlooked ...,” Bowles said. "But I’m just now building up my momentum."
He gets his best chance yet to kick start that momentum this weekend, along with the chance earn another shot at Cruz and the UFC 135-pound title.
Bowles enters this bout as a bit more than a 2-1 underdog and Faber’s wrestling prowess arguably makes it a tough matchup for him. Despite the long odds however, he hopes to emerge from UFC 139 as the No. 1 contender and, he said, maybe even a little bit more popular.
“I look at this fight like it’s a chance for me to shine,” Bowles said. “He’s a popular guy. Fighting him is going to bring me fans either way, as long as I go out there and put on a [good] performance.”
But now that we’re through with the privilege of bonus title fights on network television and dangling MMA in front of bemused pop culture, it’s back to our secular intrigues. Or, you know, back to opening the pocketbook to feed the MMA fix.
This weekend, if you want to enjoy the entire spectrum of fights going on -- and it’s a pretty stacked slate of fights spread over three promotions -- it will cost you approximately $75. A little more if you order UFC 139 in high definition (recommended). A little less if you prefer to skip watching Fedor Emelianenko take on Jeff Monson from Moscow at cockcrow (it’s your dime). But around $75 if you want to catch all the action going on behind the pay wall, along with the free preliminary bits and Bellator.
And if planned right, with DVRs and griddles, it actually looks like a ridiculous MMA marathon -- the exact opposite of the showcased 64 seconds of action from this past Saturday’s big event between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez.
Saturday night, UFC 139 is quietly one of the best looking cards of the year -- on paper anyway (which as you know is flammable). There’s the return of Dan Henderson to the UFC, who may or may not be fighting for a title shot against Jon Jones, taking on former champion Mauricio Rua. Their paths never crossed in the halcyon days of Pride when both were champions, a bit of restraint that plays nicely over the back-story -- but that’s a modest allure. The thing is, somebody will be knocked out. Could be Henderson, who never gets knocked out. And the same goes for the co-main event of debutante Cung Le and Wanderlei Silva. Le fights are rare, but he is the “Human Highlight Reel.” Silva is one knockout from either continuing on as he'd like to, or some alternative (which he refuses to contemplate).
Then there’s the Urijah Faber/Brian Bowles fight to determine who’s next for a shot at Dominick Cruz’s bantamweight belt; Martin Kampmann/Rick Story, which could headline a Versus show; Stephan Bonnar/Kyle Kingsbury, Ryan Bader/Jason Brilz, Tom Lawlor/Chris Weidman. It’s stacked. Miguel Torres is buried on the Facebook undercard fighting Nick Pace. Ditto Rafael dos Anjos and Gleison Tibau. And that’s just the first bill of fights.
There’s also one of the best Bellator cards happening on MTV2, with two belts up for grabs. Eddie Alvarez, who ESPN has ranked No. 4 in the lightweight Power Rankings, against Michael Chandler, and Hector Lombard in a middleweight title defense against Trevor Prangley. Bonus? Marlon Sandro and Raphael Dias. And when all that is through, at 7:30 a.m. on the East Coast the next day, Emelianenko fights Monson for $29.95. It’s a steep price for nostalgia on a three-fight skid, but it’s Fedor, and there are hopes and denials all over the place. The other thing? Somebody will get knocked out.
That’s a big bank of highly combustible MMA action for those willing to splurge. Four former Pride champions, three former WEC champions, two current Bellator champions, one former UFC champion, one reigning Strikeforce champion, and the teetering legacy of Stary Oskol all in a 12-hour window. Not all of it will be free, yet -- especially if you won’t be duped into early morning Fedor -- taken as a whole, this weekend’s fights can’t help but live up to the billing they barely received.
In other words, if you begin with hype and end with the price tag, it’s everything that last weekend wasn’t.
Last time it was Melvin Guillard, who wanted to stay busy while the title picture sorted itself out. It took Lauzon 47 seconds to explain why that was a mistake.
Now it’s Anthony Pettis, another antsy fighter, who kept busy despite establishing himself as the clear No. 1 contender while Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard held the division hostage.
We all saw what happened there. Clay Guida took all those Duke Roufusian dynamics and ground them into a fine powder -- so much so that Pettis returned against Jeremy Stephens with an added wrinkle in his game (wrestling). He won the fight through toil, bumming out frill seekers the way that Miguel Torres did by using his reach and jab in decisioning the shorter Antonio Banuelos.
That’s the rub against being a fighter where everyone has grown to expect the unexpected -- the only thing that can possibly feel surprising is disappointment.
And it’s one of the reasons why Pettis now casts an eye towards Lauzon, who rarely sees finish lines. In 27 pro fights, Lauzon has went to the judges' scorecards once, and that was against Sam Stout at UFC 108 while still not fully recovered from ACL surgery (he lost). Lauzon has taken home nine end of the night bonuses; hitching on to a fight against him means potential for a big payday. After two dull bouts (by inflated standards), Pettis looks at Lauzon and sees electricity. He sees a comer that he can convert into a highlight reel victory.
Best of all, he sees meshing schedules for February.
Yet, it’s a bit of trickery what Lauzon does. He’s a cusp top-10 lightweight coming off a big win who doesn’t do any one thing particularly well; he can’t box, can’t wrestle, and his jiu-jitsu is best described as quite a bit better than decent. He’s not a polished anything. As such, he can’t help but be the most enticing thing on the menu to ravenous appetites.
There’s always somebody casting their druthers his way.
But the danger in handpicking Lauzon is that all those mediocre elements add up to something very hard to deal with, as he proved against Pulver in 2006, and recently against Guillard at UFC 136. He’ll use hodgepodge to hurt you, then turn into an incubus to carry the thing through. Nobody pounces quicker that Lauzon, even if he says that moment always feels like it’s in agonizingly slow motion. Pettis may not have the same vulnerability to submissions that Guillard does, but -- right into Lauzon’s wheelhouse -- seems to have similar notions. It’s either a perfect set-up for a spike for Pettis, or (yet another) perfect trap.
Either way, that’s a good fight.
And judging from how eagerly Lauzon accepted the challenge, he thinks so too.
Not all that long ago the two were considered unstoppable forces in the WEC. That much was illustrated when they fought on the same card June 1, 2008 in Sacramento. Faber defended the featherweight belt for the fifth time that night. Torres did the same as bantamweight champion, the first of what would be three title defenses. Collectively, the two held a record of 56-2.
A fight between the champs then would have been a massive event, with the winner having a legitimate claim as perhaps the best in the world. Today, things are different.
“Now, there’s only bragging rights,” Torres told ESPN.com. “He’s coming off a loss. I’m coming off a loss. He’s had four title shots since then. He lost twice to Mike Brown, to Jose Aldo and now to Dominick Cruz. I lost fights to one of his students [Joseph Benavidez] and Brian Bowles.
“All the momentum we both had, we kind of lost. That fight is still one fans want to see, but I think this fight a couple years ago would have been a lot bigger.”
Torres isn’t crying over spilled milk. It’s not bitterness in his voice; it’s desire to get back to where he once was.
The 30-year-old fighter is still trying to get back to his feet from the knockout punch Brian Bowles landed on him at WEC 42 in August 2009. He’s 2-2 since then and continues, as he puts it, looking for a balance between “new Miguel and old Miguel.”
His spirits are high, despite suffering a unanimous decision loss to Demetrious Johnson in his last fight at UFC 130 in May. Many, including Torres, felt he won the fight. UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta even approached him immediately after.
“He came up and said it was a good performance,” Torres said. “I won’t say exactly what he said but he expressed his concern over the scoring. [UFC matchmakers] Sean Shelby and Joe Silva just said, ‘Don’t let it go to the judges.’”
The loss has left Torres fewer options in opponents. The UFC is known for passing on matchups between one fighter coming off a loss and the other, a win.
One fight in particular the loss ruined is a highly coveted rematch against Bowles, who edged Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 132 and should be in strong consideration for a title shot.
“One hundred percent, I would love to fight Brian Bowles,” Torres said. “That’s a fight I’ve wanted for the past two years. He’s the first guy to ever knock me out and take my title. It’s a grudge match for me.
“But he beat Mizugaki and Joe [Silva] has mentioned to me they never match up a guy coming off a win and off a loss. I’d have to run it by him and see what he says.”
A fight against Faber does make sense for the UFC, with both guys coming off losses in which they still looked impressive. Torres is open to the fight and would like to return to the cage in October or November.
It’s maybe not the fight it once would have been, but if it’s a step back toward that, Torres is in.
“It’d be a great fight for me because I never had the chance to fight him and we were on top for a long time,” he said. “What sucks is we both don’t really have as much to gain as we did two years ago, but it’s still a fight I’m looking forward to.”
• Torres gets his grappling grove on
• The Pettis-Maynard beef stews
• Is it curtains for Parisyan?
• Things look up for fans north of the border
• Ivan Menjivar added to UFC 133
• Hector Lombard eyes Mousasi rematch
• Dan Henderson wants a crack at "Bones"