MMA: Ryan Bader
Before he played linebacker and defensive end at the University of Tennessee in 2001 (and well before he was a UFC light heavyweight), St. Preux was persuaded to join his high school wrestling program by the team's head coach.
OSP did it partially because he found he was good at it (he was a state runner-up in Class 1A) but also just because, "it would be a good base for football."
Had St. Preux (16-5) never been a high school wrestler, he would most likely not be fighting Ryan Bader at Saturday's UFC Fight Night 47 in Bangor, Maine. Obviously, OSP had a natural affinity to MMA, but his familiarity with wrestling was crucial.
"A lot of football guys could probably [fight], but if you don't have a wrestling base, it's going to be real hard," St. Preux told ESPN.com. "The hardest thing to pick up in MMA is wrestling. If you're not somewhat of a natural, you're going to be in trouble."
Generally speaking, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world for the sport of MMA to see a few more guys like OSP fall into its lap. He is a former collegiate athlete who successfully transitioned into MMA in a heavier weight class.
The average age of the UFC ranked light heavyweight is 32-years-old. Heavyweights are even older, with an average age of 34. Not one top-10 UFC heavyweight is under the age of 30, and up-and-coming prospects are few and far between.
St. Preux is certainly a phenomenal athlete. He was a standout defensive lineman in high school, and was eventually moved to linebacker in college due to his physical makeup. His speed and explosiveness is unmistakable when he fights.
After attempts at a career in the NFL came up short (he was in contact with the Buffalo Bills and St. Louis Rams at one point), St. Preux effectively retired as a competitive athlete, but went to an MMA facility as a way to stay in shape.
Within two years of his pro debut, he had signed a contract with Strikeforce.
"It wasn't difficult at all," St. Preux said. "I wasn't a world class wrestler, but I know defense and I have strong hips. I'm an athlete. You show me something during the day, I can pull it off by that night.
"There are a lot of fast and explosive guys on the football field. You get a quarter of them in MMA and there's no telling what's going to happen. Imagine if you ever give someone like [San Diego Chargers linebacker] Dwight Freeney just a little bit of wrestling and striking. What would happen?"
And yet, it doesn't happen very often.
St. Preux remains the exception, not the rule, concerning collegiate athletes finding success in professional MMA. St. Preux has seen both sides of it.
He trains out of Knoxville, Tennessee and remains close to the UT football program. He has had several players approach him in recent years about the possibility of following in his footsteps. He invites every single one that does to the gym.
Typically, the same thing happens every time. Athletically, the football players show a ton of promise -- but they don't like getting hit.
"The first thing that comes out of their mouth is the first thing that came out of my mouth when I started and that's, 'I don't want to get hit,'" St. Preux said. "I don't like getting hit to this day, I just now know I can take it.
"You're seeing what great athletes can do in this sport, though. The UFC is evolving. Athletes are picking up moves in a day that used to take people three weeks to learn. You've got guys who can jump across the ring now."
Whether an influx of those athletes, at least from the collegiate realm, ever truly hit MMA is anyone's guess. Meanwhile, St. Preux will continue to set the standard for it and look to break into the division's rankings for the first time in his career.
As OSP's rarity attests, athleticism alone doesn't equate a pro fighting career.
"You have to be a very determined person to say, 'Hey, I haven't done combat sports but I'm going to start from scratch at 21-years-old," said St. Preux's opponent, Bader. "He had a little wrestling, but obviously he's dedicated and [has] taken nicely to it.
"It's a daunting realization to say, 'My football career is over. I'm going to try be the best in the world in combat sports.' That's why you don't see a lot of people doing it. It requires dedication and it's a gamble."
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.”
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---.”
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.”
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.
Special to ESPN.com
Some may see this as an opportunity for Teixeira to make his name and "retire" Jackson from MMA. But Jackson, the former Pride and UFC champion, has other ideas. He is far from retiring as a fighter and has plans that could see him becoming an even bigger draw both in the sport and the mainstream media. After Jackson made changes to his camp, specifically a new nutritionist, and spent time at the new Wolfslair facility in Wigan, England, his trainers are excited by his current form. Manager Anthony McGann was also vocal about any ideas that Quinton is merely seeing out his contract.
“Quinton is looking like the old Rampage in the gym. Believe me, he is already ahead of the curve in training and is going to be 100 percent for the fight,” said McGann.
Jackson is as focused as ever on the upcoming bout with Teixeira, leaving all the distractions of home behind to train with head Muay Thai coach Dave Jackson, Bobby Rimmer (Ricky Hatton’s former boxing trainer) and grappling coach Tom Blackledge.
“I’m with Soulmatefood now and they are planning all my nutrition really well. I was with Mike Dolce for a while but I just got tired of him experimenting on me,” Jackson says. “I used to have to cut a lot of weight with that guy. He would give me a lot of bread and Nutella sandwiches. At the time I was loving it, but then I had to pay for it when I had to cut all the weight.”
That, along with a bad knee injury, meant that Jackson's last outing was not the performance he wanted to give his Japanese fans as he dropped a defeat to Ryan Bader. “I got no respect for Bader. I don’t understand guys that just want to hold you down. It’s MMA; I got no problem with takedowns and wrestling, but just holding a guy down ain’t my style.”
That loss to Bader, and the way Jackson felt he was treated afterward, is a major reason why the fighter decided to not renew his contract with the UFC.
“There’re a lot of reasons I’m leaving the UFC, but the straw that broke the camel’s back was that they knew I was injured before the Bader fight. The card wasn’t strong enough for the fans. I didn’t feel I could pull out of the fight because it was in Japan and that’s where I came from. The UFC had all the old Pride fighters busy,” explains Rampage. “They knew they [were] going to Japan but they had Dan Henderson, Shogun [Mauricio Rua], all the guys fighting before. Then they tried not to put me on the card and go to Chicago on a Fox card, and I just couldn’t understand why they wouldn’t use the Pride guys.”
Though Rampage took the responsibility to fight with his injury, he said it was Dana White’s reaction to his loss that pushed Jackson to make his decision to leave.
“Dana said [publicly] my head wasn’t into the fight and he talked some s--- about me even though he knew I had the injury. They’d helped me with the injury. That was the last straw for me.”
While "Rampage" Jackson has clearly fallen out of love with the UFC, his MMA career is far from over.
“I’m training better than ever now my knee is fixed. I was fighting with a bum knee for 12 years and it finally gave out on me before the Bader fight. Now I’m getting better, I’m getting faster. I’ve got a good team around me and I’m more positive now so I know this is the next chapter for me. I’m training harder than I have in a long time and I know I’m gonna destroy this guy,” Jackson states calmly. “These next fights are about my legacy. I wanna go out there and destroy some people in MMA and move on and start making movies and TV shows and video games.”
Rampage, then, clearly has a focused plan beyond the UFC and is showing no signs of slowing down. “I got at least 10 more fights in me and I want those fights to be my legacy, but I want to do that in a positive organization.”
However, before any of that, he must first take on Glover Teixeira and show the fans and his detractors that Rampage remains a dangerous threat in the cage. Many are questioning Quinton, citing the fact that he has lost his last two bouts. But, one was a Fight of the Night loss to the champion Jones, while the other saw Jackson injured yet determined to give the Japanese fans a show.
“I’ll fight anybody to get this last fight out of the way. I can’t wait to leave the UFC and have nothing to do with them anymore,” reveals Jackson. “I don’t see Glover as a huge threat or that his skills are so good. He’s pretty tough. I mean, anything can happen in the cage. MMA is unpredictable. My job is to fight and I take chances all the time.”
But Rampage and his team are obviously doing their homework, looking at Glover’s skills and examining key areas. “I am sure he is going to try to take me down. He’s talked all this smack about how he is gonna stand with me, but he’s gonna do what everyone else tries to do and take me down.”
In truth, Jackson doesn’t care what Teixeira is going to try to do.
“I’m going out there to destroy him, and then I’m done with the UFC and I can move on.” In what should be an explosive last Octagon outing for Quinton Jackson -- win, lose or draw -- Rampage is eager to get the job done and look to the future.
Yet, while he was super-slick horizontally, he was shackled by his own subpar stand-up. It was a glaring deficiency, and one he simply couldn’t compensate for. We saw it when he was knocked out at the hands of Ryan Bader in the "TUF" finale that season, and again when Eliot Marshall didn’t compromise an inch at UFC 97. The Marshall fight was the shoulder-shrugging moment for the UFC. It served him his walking papers because his game wasn’t whole.
By now, the bulletin is an old one that’s been passed around and snickered over for years: This is MMA, not “The Singular Thing You’re Great At.” Disciplines have to come together in concert; otherwise, what shows up isn’t the medals earned in world submission grappling tournaments. What shows up instead are your world-class deficiencies. The UFC, after all, is made up of cold-blooded exploitists. When Magalhaes left the UFC, he had an overall professional MMA record that was sub-.500. Things needed to change.
So what did he do?
Well, he relocated to Xtreme Couture in Las Vegas, went on a 7-1 run in the more dimly lit theaters (finishing a couple of fights with something as audacious as strikes), captured the M-1 light heavyweight belt, had a son, donned a singlet, began training with Chael Sonnen and, by extension, picking up pointers on how to combine orneriness with the naked truth. All for the sake of sports and entertainment.
Now he’s back with the UFC, fighting at UFC 152 in Toronto against puncher Igor Pokrajac, just in time to see if any of it matters on the big stage.
“Even though there’s the whole thing of me getting back to the UFC, in my mind this is my UFC debut,” he told ESPN.com. “The first time when I was in the UFC was because I got on ["The Ultimate Fighter"], and I got on the show because of Dan Henderson. I had a big name push me to be on the show, and that’s why I got on. Of course, I ended up earning my spot and making the finals, but I didn’t use anything but my jiu-jitsu to get into the finals, so it’s like, I cannot even compare myself back then to what I am right now. I am taking this as my UFC debut.”
If MMA is biased, it’s that fights start on the feet. It’s a jiu-jitsu practitioner’s burden to overcome, and it’s been the bane of the 28-year-old Magalhaes’ career so far. If every fight started on the ground, Magalhaes might be household name right now.
As it stands, Magalhaes has had to figure out a solution. He’s not going to turn into Marvin Hagler on the feet, and as a realist, he’s not trying to. What he’s worked on in the past three years are things as ordinary as game plans, things as disciplined as execution, and things as advantageous as capable wrestling. He’s also fiddling with the manipulation of space, known as “Maai” in some circles, which can be boiled down to closing the gap between his comfort zone and eating big Bader overhands.
In short, he feels he’s diversified.
“I’ve gotten much better with my striking, I’ve gotten much better with my wrestling ... way, way better,” he says. “But, I know how to mix things up. That’s the difference. Before in my UFC fights, I just didn’t know how to close the distance, so I didn’t know how to put things together. And I know how to mix things up. I’m not a great striker, but I know how to throw a couple of punches to close the distance and get the fight where I want it.
“I’m also a much smarter fighter now, too. Before I would go into a fight with no strategy. I would just go there and hope the guy would take me down so I could get the fight where I want it.”
There’s little chance of Pokrajac looking for a takedown, so it’ll be up to Magalhaes to insist. During Pokrajac’s three-fight win streak, he has finished two with strikes (against Todd Brown, and later Soszynski). This will be a classic puncher-versus-grappler fight that will alert everyone as to whether Magalhaes has truly evolved.
“I don’t keep secrets,” Magalhaes says. “My goal is to take this fight to the ground, and if I have to, if I can’t take him down, I’m going to be ready to stand up with him.”
The truth comes out Sept. 22 in Toronto.
But this improved version of Magalhaes has also proved shrewder in staying in the public’s eye, even when not in the UFC.
Who can forget him putting his M-1 Global belt up for auction on eBay, saying later, "it's not worth even a dollar"? Magalhaes has learned a thing from the sultan of talk, Sonnen, whom he helped train for the Anderson Silva rematch. He’s been fairly vocal about situations (like what happened with him and M-1’s Evgeni Kogan) and fighters like Jon Jones (UFC 151), and via his Twitter feed and in the media.
His attitude is to dish it like he sees it.
“I’ll be honest with you: I think I’ve gotten that totally from Chael,” he says. “I’m not going to be making things up. I’m not going to be bashing somebody else’s country like Chael does just to be entertaining. But if I can be entertaining while speaking the truth, I’ll do it.”
And speaking of Sonnen, who is scheduled to fight Magalhaes’ training partner Forrest Griffin at UFC 155 in December, just where will his allegiances fall?
“I was talking to Chael, and I was like, I want to be out of both training camps for you guys,” he says. “I don’t want to help Chael, I don’t want to help Forrest. I like Forrest, and I’ve been training with Forrest for the last four years. He cornered me against Ryan Bader. So I don’t want to be involved.
“But then there’s the side where I became friends with Chael. I like the guy, I like his personality, so it’s a little odd. I’d feel like a traitor if I went there to train with Chael, because I’ve been training with Forrest for four years. So I’m keeping out of it. I like both of you guys. Whoever wins wins, I don’t care. I’m just keeping out of it.”
Not that it’s Magalhaes’ goal to be "training partner to the stars." It’s his turn to try to become one. A good showing against Pokrajac would get him back on his feet in the UFC.
And if that happens, maybe this time he’ll look a little more comfortable there.
When a figure finally emerged from the four-man 205-pound showcase it was Lyoto Machida, in a reduced 201-pound frame, dishing enigma on Ryan Bader. That was a good knockout.
Better yet, the whole main card scored the same. Every fight delivered. A good night of fights like that makes things, if not totally justifiable, at least somewhat rose-tinted. And that beats disaster, if you know what I mean, which is where things left off after the UFC 149 pay-per-view bust.
What a difference a couple of weeks makes. In Calgary, stakes were being tinkered with, too. Hector Lombard was vying for a possible title shot with Anderson Silva. The interim bantamweight title was up for grabs in the main event between Urijah Faber and Renan Barao. Things “mattered.”
But for all the dangling carrots, something went missing -- and that was enjoyability. Guys didn’t “bring it” -- and everyone should know the center of the fight world is all about the “it” -- which had people asking for refunds and complaining about the watered-down product.
Not on Saturday night. As DeMarques Johnson’s premonition of a 100 percent chance of a knockout came through via the sudden hands of Mike Swick, this thing was off to a roaring start. Joe Lauzon, who is incapable of a boring fight, withstood heavy shots by Jamie Varner and, when the opportunity presented itself, came on like an incubus to finish him in the third. It’s what Lauzon, who has made nearly a half a million dollars in bonus money in his career, does better than anybody. The UFC on Fox Twitter feed called it possibly the “best fight we’ve ever had.”
These were undercard table-setters like we haven’t seen on the Fox shows.
And the co-main event raised the bar for the finale. Machida forced Bader’s aggression then punished it, downing him with a counter right. It was vintage “Dragon.” Machida was once again the abstractionist, doing things with body geometry.
Yet the main event was a crescendo. Here was Vera resurfacing, making it a war, looking like old Vera, the one we thought we lost. Here was Rua proving that his Dan Henderson and Mark Coleman fights were no flukes, that he can make any fight -- good or bad -- a battle of epic attrition. Rua just about did away with Vera twice in the second round with sallies, but Vera both times responded with big elbows and defiance.
Suddenly it was a storyline of Vera’s heart in the poetic sense, not the cardiovascular one. And fights are always more fun when they get like that. When fights transfer “will,” the meaning of the transaction comes back into play.
Better still, when fights go down like they did on Saturday night, the question of what’s on the line can be answered like this: "Who cares?" The moment transcends the stakes. The “it” factor is all that matters. Guys on Saturday night brought “it.”
This was the first Fox card that really delivered far more than it promised. From top to bottom on the main card, every fight delivered the goods. For whatever hung in the balance of the outcomes, it didn’t matter to real time. And you know what? That’s the kind of drama that you want on live television, especially in a sport still trying to communicate with the casual viewer.
Mauricio Rua, Lyoto Machida, Ryan Bader and (inexplicably) Brandon Vera will enter the Octagon in the proverbial mix.
Rua is an all-time great, and coming off a war to end all wars against Dan Henderson, who could find much to complain about if he’s next to be slotted in?
Machida, also a former UFC champion, gave Jones the hardest time so far, making good on the audacity to throw punches -- until he was choked unconscious in Round 2 of their December bout.
Bader was totally outclassed when he tangled with Jones a year and a half ago, but he's since improved.
As for Vera, well, no one expects him to be the fighter who emerges from the rubble. If he does, it will truly be an incredible story -- a real-life "Rocky" story. (There’s a reason these sorts of things are brought to life on the big screen.)
So, these are the options for UFC at the moment. An “impressive” performance is all that separates one of these men from a chance at fighting for the UFC light heavyweight title.
The last time 205-pounders were so prominently featured during a UFC on Fox event, Phil Davis and Rashad Evans competed in a hum-drum 25-minute affair. The January contest ended with Davis's first defeat in mixed martial arts while Evans earned the right to challenge Jones, who easily retained his belt. Almost suddenly, the division appeared barren.
This is a major reason why UFC has been forced to tout recycled fighters against a young champion who already handled each of them.
There are, however, two light heavyweights on the card that haven’t had the misfortune of facing Jones. (Yet.) And for all the reasons mentioned above, that makes the fight between the aforementioned Davis and UFC newcomer Wagner Prado more than mildly intriguing.
Davis didn't attend Thursday's news conference at the JW Marriott (he’s not fighting on the main card this time so he didn’t have to be
there) and he later declined to discuss his fight, which airs on Fuel TV rather than Fox. Prado, meanwhile, spent his afternoon at the elegant hotel anonymously soaking in the festivities while catching a glimpse of what it’s like to fight for the UFC.
Until he took a couple minutes to answer questions (via a translator) with a tape recorder in his face, hardly anyone recognized Prado for what he was. Maybe that’s because Prado is listed at 6-foot-4 when in fact he's closer to 6-1. Or perhaps the 25-year-old Team Nogueira product freely walked around because few people in the building had actually seen him fight before. Whatever the case may be, Prado (8-0 with seven stoppages) claimed to be both excited and calm on the eve of his Octagon debut.
"I'm from Team Nogueira and train with guys at a high level and do well against them," Prado said. "That's why I feel I'm home here."
The heavy hitter has built up his record against less than stellar opposition, which, after doing the math, hold more losses than wins. Against Davis, he faces a considerable uptick in competition.
Among the many differences Prado will come to know about fighters at the regional level in Brazil compared to those in the UFC, the ability to wrestle will probably be the most obvious. He hasn't fought a wrestler yet, let alone one of Davis’s caliber, and he’s aware of this.
“They've all tried to take me down,” Prado said of his opponents. “And in training and sparring we concentrated on guys trying to take me down as well."
With that, he cracked a smile.
Prado, a southpaw training partner of Junior dos Santos among others, is predictably sticking with the Brazilians this weekend. Like everyone else, he has Rua over Vera. He was equally confident that Machida would beat Bader. Of the two, Shogun will earn the title shot, he predicted.
As for his "in the mix" prospects, Prado claimed he won’t “look that far into the future.”
“I'm just focused on Saturday,” he said.
With that, he posed for a couple of photos.
Much has changed since UFC 104. When Machida meets Ryan Bader in the co-main event of this weekend’s card, it will have been nearly three years since that first title defense at Staples Center. Machida managed to record a controversial decision win that night, but it’s been a rough road since. He’s 1-3 in his past four fights and has been stopped twice.
The mystique of Machida (17-3), not to mention his belt, might be long gone, but the former champ says his confidence has remained -- even grown.
“I don’t think my confidence has been affected at all; in fact, I think it’s gotten better,” Machida told ESPN.com. “I’m more mature now. I’ve gained more years. As you pass through different experiences, you grow.”
The official verdict on whether Machida will return to greatness is still out.
On one hand, there’s that 1-3 stretch to consider. On the other, he arguably gave Jon Jones the toughest test of his young career at UFC 140 in December and is, curiously, potentially one impressive win on Saturday from earning another title shot.
Critics suggest that the best thing Machida ever had going for him -- his unorthodox style -- has been figured out. Even Jones, before defeating him in that title fight, said in interviews that Machida was a puzzle that had already been solved.
Not surprisingly, the fighter himself believes there’s more to his success than that and points to the nature of his losses as proof.
“If you look at my losses, I’ve never been dominated in a fight,” Machida said. “I lost most of them when one punch came in and put me off balance. I’ve never been taken over in a fight.”
Machida admits he was left a little gun-shy after the knockout loss to Rua in May 2010. He backpedaled for most of the first two rounds in his next fight against Quinton Jackson before coming on hard in the third. Jackson won a split decision.
He’s relatively confident the same thing won’t happen to him this weekend, in a fight UFC president Dana White has said could earn him a title shot should he end things spectacularly. Then again, he says honestly, you never know until the fight starts.
“I’ll have to wait until Saturday to see,” Machida said. “I hope that doesn’t happen. I’m more mature now, and I learned a lot from that fight with 'Rampage' [Jackson]. I don’t think we’ll see a repeat on that.”
Even with his recent struggles, Machida heads the list of potential Jones rematches for many. The fight in December demonstrated that his awkwardness still could give the best fighters in the world trouble. A counter straight left landed by Machida in the first round remains arguably the hardest shot Jones has ever absorbed.
Machida obviously welcomes the opportunity of fighting Jones again but says he believes that any of the success he had against the champion in that first round was completely erased in the second, when Jones opened a cut on his forehead with an elbow, then ended matters with a standing guillotine.
Approaching Jones again would be like approaching things for the first time -- a feeling the once-invincible fighter has become familiar with in his career.
“I think a fight is over when it’s over, and he won that fight. I would have no advantage [in a rematch],” Machida said.
“You learn a lot from every loss, and you accept stuff. That fight is one to remember. I think I lost concentration a little bit in the second round. I came in very confident, and that didn’t help me too much.”
After promising a title shot to the winner of Saturday night’s Brandon Vera/Mauricio Rua bout on a media call, Dana White has had a change of heart. The news of Rua or Vera getting another crack at Jon Jones hit like a thud. As such, UFC on FOX 4 becomes a four-man affair, as Lyoto Machida and Ryan Bader have been added to this penultimate drama. Whoever wins in the most devastating fashion gets the winner of Jones and Dan Henderson.
The fans have spoken. Bigger possibility now comes into play on Saturday night. With bigger possibility, bigger drama.
But this is one of those cases where you wonder if the outcry was fully understood. Back at UFC 103, when the UFC announced a main event rematch between Rich Franklin and Henderson, the “why bother” undertow was so strong that it was immediately shut down. You remember what happened next. Henderson hit a contract snag and defected to Strikeforce, and Franklin got knocked out by Vitor Belfort instead.
It all panned out OK for everybody.
It will pan out OK this time, too; but right now, it’s confusing. It’s White’s prerogative to switch gears as he sees fit, and he’s not afraid to do just that, especially if it calms down outraged fans. Tim Sylvia was pretty close to fighting Daniel Cormier before the roof collapsed in on him. Enter Frank Mir, and everybody breathed a sigh of relief. Mir having no chance is far better than Sylvia having no chance.
Why? Essentially because Mir deserves to be there more. These are the types of alignments we make through initial gut reactions.
But that was last week. This week, whimsy is shaking down the light heavyweight division. The thing is, a lot of people’s fates are attached to the whims. There are the four guys in question, but also Alexander Gustafsson, and even Glover Teixeira, who are hovering around. Not to mention all the out of division foes Jones’ name gets linked to. Are we sorting out merit, or convenience? It’s always a fine line.
I wrote a blog yesterday after it was announced that the Rua/Vera winner would get a title shot, which is down the scroll just below. The gist is, if Jones beats Henderson, neither Rua nor (especially) Vera makes for a compelling rematch. Unfortunately, that problem still exists with the introduction of Bader and Machida. Jones has distanced himself from all of Saturday night’s company. He defeated both Bader and Machida so thoroughly the first time -- the same as with Rua and Vera -- that the drama of a playback just isn’t there.
However, small-view drama that can sort itself out on Saturday night is. And this seems to be what we’re keying in on.
The problem is, we don’t know if Jones will win on Sept. 1. Most only suspect he’ll beat the 41-year old Henderson. Since the promises are being made ahead of the order, it’s difficult to say if any of this makes sense. If Henderson upsets Jones, any of the UFC on FOX guys look like a solid matchup. Since that fight comes a month after this impromptu contender’s tournament, though, we go off of potential disappointments.
And the potential disappointment in this case is that one of these four guys will end up facing Jones in a fight that won’t be altogether riveting, just as Jones enters the most riveting juncture of his career.
White changes his mind quite a bit. Oftentimes it’s because the fans voiced their opinion and, as he’s proved to be many times, he’s a man of the people. By opening up Machida and Bader to the mix, he’s done that again. Now there’s a showcase vibe for Saturday night, and there’s every incentive for each fighter to come out with guns blazing to put the other away.
Whoever does it gets the title shot, whether it makes sense or not. That is, unless, you know, White changes his mind -- which has every chance of being the case.
Silva’s camp says that a fight with Georges St. Pierre at a catch weight of 180 pounds is the only one that makes sense right now. Silva’s manager, Jorge Guimaraes, in stating his full slate of druthers to ESPN.com, was quick to add “in Brazil” to that reasoning.
Hey, when stating your preferences, go whole hog. Besides, they’re owed one after the whole Chael Sonnen switcheroo.
Jon Jones has a fight with Dan Henderson on Sept. 1. Should he defeat Henderson, he has no interest in fighting his mutual admirer Silva. He wouldn’t want to be the one to have to beat him, he says, which has its interpretations, ranging from cocky to tender caring. And besides, to listen to the UFC tell it, Jones’ next opponent will be determined next weekend in Los Angeles, where within the settling dust of Ryan Bader-Lyoto Machida and Brandon Vera-Mauricio Rua at UFC on FOX 5, a challenger is hoped to appear.
Where to begin in all of this?
That the Silva-St. Pierre fight makes sense is true, and the compromise of a catch weight does make it a little more foolproof, but it’s complicated. In fact, it’s so complicated that the fight makes almost no sense. Not right now. Truth be told, there is no "right now." There’s only “when possible,” which feels like “maybe never.” That’s the strange space we find ourselves in.
Forget about the middleweight division’s renewed intrigue over the last few weeks for a minute, and begin with the 170-pound picture. Carlos Condit is holding an interim title white-knuckle tight while waiting on St. Pierre to return from his ACL surgery. That fight has to happen for the unconventional logic of shelving an interim belt to prevail, and it’s still looking like the bout will happen in November at UFC 154.
If we’re dissecting the circumstances in trying to accommodate Silva, the soonest a victorious St. Pierre would be able to fight him would be late first quarter 2013. And let’s not forget that this is St. Pierre, who doesn’t take the idea of yo-yoing between weight classes lightly (even at catch weights), so he would need the time to stuff himself with the right kind of muscular insulation. That could add some more months to the process.
As for Martin Kampmann and Johny Hendricks, the two who are fighting in Montreal for a shot at the welterweight belt? They would be recycled back into the fold, while Silva-St. Pierre played out. As would the crop of emerging contenders at 185 pounds -- guys such as Chris Weidman, Tim Boetsch and Michael Bisping, who are vying for their own shots, through recent actions and pitchmen.
All of that can be overcome. A few hurt feelings and a long time to think about it for a superfight like St. Pierre and Silva is just the condition of the thing. There will never be a perfect time for a superfight so long as contenders are in business -- and contenders are always in business. Cleaning out a division is next to impossible. Unless you’re Jon Jones and you fight four times a year and handle each confrontation as a weed whacker handles a bed of roses.
But the common link is the 185-pound champ. Slice it how you want, but this has become the Silva sweepstakes. The only one not holding a ticket is Jones, but he’s young and perhaps persuadable.
Diaz wants Silva out of left field, but he doesn’t have the merit. He is suspended for those pesky marijuana metabolites, for one thing, and for another he lost to Condit in his last fight. That means we mention him in the Silva sweepstakes only for fun.
St. Pierre has too many obstacles in his path to contemplate Silva. There’s the knee, then there’s Condit, and then there’s the promised Kampmann-Hendricks winner, and in the back of his mind is Diaz. All of this is great if you’re trying to avoid Rory MacDonald (as he sort of is), but not great if, as a fan, you want to see him fight Silva. For him to take the Silva challenge, he -- and the UFC -- will have to just close down the road and divert all traffic around him.
So, whom will the 37-year old Silva face next?
It’s very difficult to sort out, and it depends on the January “megacard” that’s being discussed. The simple thing to do would be to make the Weidman fight for ordinary pay-per-view and keep the divisions from bleeding into each other. But that’s so unimaginative, particularly after the immensity of the Sonnen rematch. Weidman is 9-0 overall. He’s still green. He’s not greatly marketable. And from Silva’s perspective, that singlet looks daunting for a fight that won’t generate the kinds of interest that St. Pierre would.
The fight that could make most sense to everyone is the one that the fighters themselves want nothing to do with. That would be Jones and Silva, should Jones beat Henderson. By the same logic as Silva’s camp is using for St. Pierre, it can be applied to Jones. And there are no conditions to it. Jones would be ready to roll in December or January, same as Silva. No timetables.
But if Rua, Bader or Machida is catapulted back into the title mix to spice up intrigue next weekend, even that doesn’t make sense. Not a lot does right now. There are too many promises and possibilities overlapping.
It’s UFC matchmaker Joe Silva’s job to make sense of it, and he’ll be right (and wrong) no matter what.