MMA: Tito Ortiz
On Thursday, “Cyborg” sat in a chair inside her guest room on the fifth floor of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino. The thermostat was cranked to 85 degrees, the highest it would go, and she had three layers of clothing on.
Justino looked tired but hopeful. She had just finished an hourlong weight cut and (fingers crossed) weighed 145 pounds on the dot. An electronic scale in the bathroom confirmed this hope moments later.
The cut, for a Muay Thai title bout at Lion Fight Promotions the following day, was one of the best of Justino’s career. She woke up light on the day of the weigh-in, 148 pounds. She never cried once during the final cut, which she’s been known to do.
Even a good cut is still a difficult one for Justino, though. She leaned on her friend and former manager Tito Ortiz at the weigh-in until it was her turn to step on the scale and, immediately afterward, had an IV line inserted to help her rehydrate.
In the final seconds of that weight cut in her hotel room, right when she hit 145 pounds, I asked Justino a question that is currently a big one in mixed martial arts.
“Can you really weigh 10 pounds less than you weigh right now?”
There is one marquee fight for Justino in 2014, and it’s against UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey. The two have gone back and forth in headlines for years, and a matchup between them would draw big business for the UFC.
The main reason the fight hasn’t happened yet is weight. Rousey has settled into the 135-pound division, and the UFC has said it won’t book her to a catchweight. Justino, who walks around at 170 pounds, has had difficulty cutting to 145 before.
One year ago, Justino and Ortiz, her manager at the time, declined a multifight deal with the UFC based on financial reasons and the fact that it was “impossible” for her to compete at bantamweight. The UFC does not promote a 145-pound division.
It's a year later, and I guess all the things Ronda [Rousey] has said about her, all the things [UFC president] Dana White has said about her, it hurt her feelings. Hearing all that makes a person want to make it possible." -- Tito Ortiz, on Cris Justino's motivation to cut weight
This year, however, Justino has stated she intends to be at 135 pounds by summer. Concerns about her health still exist, but she is willing to remain at the weight for three fights: Once to prove she can do it and then two Rousey fights. Two fights because she wants to beat her twice, leaving no doubt who is the best.
“It’s a year later, and I guess all the things Ronda has said about her, all the things [UFC president] Dana White has said about her, it hurt her feelings,” Ortiz told ESPN.com. “Hearing all that makes a person want to make it possible.
“If she thinks she can get down there, we’ll try. We’ll make that push. But for this [145-pound Muay Thai fight] she had no carbs. She didn’t lift any weights. She was still walking around at 159 pounds. She’s still having trouble. Yes, it was easier this time, but she’s still making that 15-pound cut the week of the fight.”
What Ortiz is saying is that Justino committing to 135 pounds is one thing. Her actually weighing it is another.
Her stable of coaches is willing to try anything it takes to get her there, and they are supremely confident she would handle Rousey easily (early knockout predictions were made) -- but all of them have reservations about the cut.
“She walks around at 170 pounds with a six-pack,” said Andy Schnadig, Justino’s strength and conditioning coach. “You start getting to 160, and you can see the veins in her abdominals. To get to 135 she’s going to have to lose lean muscle tissue.
“I don’t think going to 135 pounds is really good for her, but she kind of has to do it to prove her point.”
In addition to general health concerns, no one knows how Justino will perform with 10 pounds less muscle on her frame. One of the identifying characteristics of the Brazilian’s success has been her physical strength.
Schnadig said it is difficult to predict where on the body Justino will lose muscle mass and even more difficult to predict what effect it will have on her performance.
“Where it’s going to come off is genetics,” Schnadig said. “We can’t spot reduce and say she has really strong hips, so we can afford to lose muscle in her glutes. It’s going to come off where it comes off.
“I don’t know if she’ll lose some of that incredible power she has in her hips or not. You’ve seen her fight. She’s a killer. She’ll still have that aggression, but everything from basically her bottom rib to her knees is so strong. If she loses that muscle tissue, maybe she doesn’t have that anymore.”
For now, Justino and her camp are putting those concerns aside and taking it day by day. She came in to last week’s cut light partially because of an extensive roadwork program, which saw her run eight to 10 miles per day.
Schnadig would prefer to move away from that schedule, as he said long runs can encourage the body to carry fat as a fuel source. He said 70 percent of Justino's future weight loss will be tied to significantly altering her diet.
The plan is for her to defend her Invicta FC featherweight title in either April or May and then fight for the all-female promotion’s bantamweight title by summer.
Justino lost to Jorina Baars via unanimous decision at the Lion Fight kickboxing event Friday, but that result has no effect on the rest of her year in MMA, according to manager George Prajin.
“She’s a little disappointed, of course, but it doesn’t change anything in our plans,” Prajin told ESPN.com. “Our goal is still get to 135 by summer and fight Ronda Rousey in the fall if the UFC is willing to step up.
“I don’t see how this fight or this loss puts Cris back at all in the MMA world or makes people want to see the [Rousey] fight less. Rousey is out making movies while Cris is taking on the best fighters in the world in other sports.”
If a fight between Rousey and Justino doesn’t happen in the UFC, it won’t be due to Justino’s loss. And likely, it won’t be due to Justino’s friendly relationship with Ortiz, who has a rocky history with the UFC.
“It doesn’t matter at all whether Tito is managing somebody or not,” UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta told ESPN.com. “That might affect whether or not the fighter makes good decisions or not, but it wouldn’t affect whether or not we’d sign them. I have no ill will towards Tito. I don’t care.”
If the fight doesn’t happen, it will be because either Justino can’t make the weight or the UFC decides it can’t contract her at 135 pounds if she intends to fight at the weight only twice in the Octagon.
The first problem is the one Justino has control over, and she’s working on it. She smiled when asked about weighing 135 pounds last week. Still weak from the cut and the fact that she had consumed 8 ounces of water in the last 48 hours, she kept her answer short.
“This time, it does not feel impossible,” Justino said. “In December, I put it in my head that nothing is impossible. I’ve put it in my head that I can. I can.”
Jackson (33-11) will make his first appearance of 2014 against Christian M'Pumbu at Bellator 110 on Friday in Uncasville, Conn. The card will be televised on Spike TV.
The bout is part of a four-man light heavyweight tournament, which also includes former Strikeforce champion Muhammed Lawal and Mikhail Zayats. With a win on Friday, Jackson is expecting a somewhat quick turnaround to the tournament final.
Jackson, 35, hasn’t fought three times in one year since a monster campaign in 2007, when he defeated Marvin Eastman, Chuck Liddell and Dan Henderson, unifying the Pride middleweight and UFC light heavyweight titles in the process.
“These days, I do whatever I want,” Jackson told ESPN.com. “I don’t do stuff because people bully me or make me do it contractually.
“If I want to fight three times, I will. I know for sure I’m fighting two times pretty soon. I could fight four times this year. When I was in Pride, I fought six times. If I’m healthy and I want to do it, then I’ll do it.”
The biggest problem, as it has been for Jackson, could be avoiding long breaks from the gym in between fights. He admits it’s still a challenge to work out on a regular basis, especially when a fight isn’t booked.
“In my old age, I should get smarter and train year-round,” Jackson said. “This is not my hobby. A lot of people are fan-boys who do it year-round. No disrespect, but that’s not me. It’s hard for me to get out of my house and train twice a day.”
With his tournament semifinal bout days away, “Rampage” Jackson talked about his upcoming opponent, a knockout win over Joey Beltran in November and some of the bigger headlines currently dominating mixed martial arts.
ESPN: You were thrilled with the restoration of your knees heading into your previous fight. How have they held up since?
Jackson: You know, one of my cars is a stick shift and when I change the gears, my knees bothered me. I stopped driving that car and my knees immediately felt a lot better. I thought something was wrong with them, but it was driving that car. It was one of my favorite cars, a Dodge Challenger, but I think I’m going to have to sell it.
ESPN: You earned your first knockout since 2008 in that fight against Joey Beltran [at Bellator 108]. Was it a satisfying win for you?
Jackson: I could just say this: It’s no secret Beltran took the fight on short notice and he’s never been in the cage with a person like me. He was swinging, even though he did push me up against the cage and kneed me in my bad knee. I can understand that, though. He wanted to win. Beltran is a very hard guy to knock out. I showed people I still have thunder in my hands. It’s hard -- any time you are an athlete and you try to explain to a non-athlete why you can’t do everything the way you used to because of injuries, they think you’re making excuses. No, I’m trying to explain why I’m not the same as I used to be.
ESPN: Before the fight, Beltran promised to stand in the pocket and give you a brawl, but you could tell he had more of a strategy once it started. Did you expect that?
Jackson: A lot of people don’t understand, I’m one of the few fighters left. I’m a dying breed. I go out there and try to fight. I wasn’t surprised when he did that. People have a little cowardice in them. There’s always a chance I could knock them out and people worry about that. They go out there and do what they’ve got to do to survive. And win. America is all about the win. It’s not about the show anymore. I don’t agree with that way of thinking.
Jackson: He has a real serious injury. Me and Tito are cool. We’re not besties or anything, but he has a neck injury. I don’t want to be held accountable for hurting Tito because I know for a fact I got Tito’s number. I really can hurt Tito if I want to, so it’s probably best if that fight doesn’t happen.
ESPN: Is that your way of saying he probably needs to retire?
Jackson: I’m not saying that. I would like to see Tito fight somebody else -- see how he do. See that he’s OK and in good enough shape to fight. Then I’d be interested in fighting him again. I’m not going to say he needs to retire. Tito might have fight left in him. He’s had bad luck with injuries. Every athlete goes through that.
ESPN: Are you excited to be in this Bellator tournament, working towards a belt? Or does that part of the game not mean as much to you now?
Jackson: I don’t focus on what people say. People don’t know me and they don’t know what motivates me. I’m looking forward to getting in the cage and fighting. I’ll do anything I have to do to win this fight. Honestly, the belt is not my motivation, but I’m in this tournament. My motivation is to be the best I can be. I’m not looking to lose.
ESPN: What was your take on the Gilbert Melendez situation -- him agreeing to terms with Bellator, and the UFC deciding to match the contract?
Jackson: Bellator is growing rapidly. If Bellator keeps making decisions and doing the stuff they are doing, I see a lot of fighters trying to get out of their contract and come to Bellator -- just based on sponsorships alone. Right now, the UFC was smart in matching Bellator’s offer. I guarantee you Melendez would have been happier here in Bellator. He’s a great fighter. I wish he could have been over here.
The UFC was to crown its first ever superfight champion on April 7, 1995, at UFC 5. Royce Gracie, the three-time tournament champion against Ken Shamrock, whose only loss was to the Brazilian jiu-jitsu master at UFC 1 in just 57 seconds. The two men fought for 36 minutes, with Shamrock gaining a takedown shortly into the fight and holding top position for the remainder of the 31-minute period. A five-minute overtime settled nothing and the fight was declared a draw. Despite being in top position, Shamrock landed 10 significant strikes (98 in total). And so began the legacy of the UFC rematch.
Over its 20-year history, the UFC has had more than 100 rematches. Some bouts such as Gracie versus Shamrock have changed the course of UFC history.
Battles that Changed History
UFC 52: Couture vs. Liddell 2
UFC 65: Hughes vs. St-Pierre 2 (aka Bad Intentions)
Matt Hughes had defended his UFC Welterweight Title twice when he fought Georges St-Pierre for the second time at UFC 65. Hughes won the first matchup at UFC 50 by way of armbar, with one second remaining in the opening round. In the rematch, St-Pierre dominated, outstriking Hughes 45-10 and landing a brutal head kick and punches to dethrone the champion. Hughes would fight St-Pierre at UFC 79 and lose again, his last shot at a UFC title.
UFC 77: Silva vs. Franklin 2 (aka Hostile Territory)
UFC 100: Lesnar vs. Mir 2
By November 2008, Brock Lesnar had become the UFC heavyweight champion. But there was one man who had his number: Frank Mir. Mir defeated Lesnar by heel hook at UFC 81, and after Mir became interim champion, it set up the rematch at the UFC’s century mark event. Lesnar would control the action from the opening bell, bloodying Mir and outstriking the interim champ 47-4 in significant strikes. Lesnar would make one more title defense before health issues and losing the title led to his departure from MMA in 2011.
UFC 100 would be a night of redemption for Lesnar, much like these rematches.
Battles of Redemption
UFC 49: Belfort vs. Couture 2 (aka Unfinished Business)
Randy Couture was the UFC light heavyweight champion when he defended his title against Vitor Belfort at UFC 46 in January 2004. The end of the fight was marred in controversy when the doctor halted the bout just 49 seconds into the opening round because of a cut on Couture’s eyelid from a Belfort punch. Belfort was awarded the title because of the doctor stoppage, resulting in an immediate rematch in August. In the rematch, Couture gained two takedowns and damaged Belfort on the ground, ultimately leading to a doctor’s stoppage after the third round. Couture landed 33 of his 50 significant strikes on the grounded Belfort.
UFC 63: Hughes vs. Penn 2
UFC 46 also saw another title change in the co-main event when BJ Penn submitted Matt Hughes to win the UFC welterweight title. Penn would leave the UFC because of contractual issues, but would return in March 2006. He would again fight Hughes at UFC 63, but the result was much different. Hughes was the UFC welterweight champion, and proved why in defeating Penn by TKO stoppage in the third round. They would rematch once more in 2010 with Penn winning by KO 21 seconds into the fight.
UFC 83: Serra vs. St-Pierre 2
UFC 148: Silva vs. Sonnen 2
The matchup against Weidman will be Silva’s third rematch in his MMA career. In his second set of rematches in 2010 and 2012, Silva fought Chael Sonnen and picked up two victories. But the first fight was three minutes away from going to Sonnen. At UFC 117, Sonnen gained takedowns in each of the first three rounds and had Silva on his back in the final round up on the cards when Silva forced a tap out with a triangle choke and armbar. Many thought Sonnen had Silva’s number when the two would rematch at UFC 148, but the Brazilian had other ideas. Sonnen landed 76 total strikes on Silva while the champion threw just two, missing both. But Silva battled in Round 2, eventually striking after a Sonnen slip and finishing the fight with knees against the cage.
All of those battles took place over time, but some rematches remain timeless for their bad blood and exciting results.
UFC 61: Ortiz vs. Shamrock 2 (aka Bitter Rivals)
While Ronda Rousey-Miesha Tate may be the preeminent feud of today’s MMA, it all started with Ortiz and Ken Shamrock. The two fought at UFC 40 in 2002, at the time the most watched UFC PPV of all time. The fight was one-sided as Ortiz dominated Shamrock for three rounds before the fight was stopped. The rematch took place 3 1/2 later at UFC 61 after the rivalry reignited on Season 3 of the Ultimate Fighter. Ortiz, in the middle of his career, beat the aging Shamrock with strikes 68 seconds into the first round. They would rematch in October 2006, and again Ortiz pounded Shamrock into a stoppage. But the rivalry and the bad blood is what kept the feud going for almost 10 years.
UFC 66: Liddell vs. Ortiz 2
UFC 71: Liddell vs. Jackson 2
In 2003, Liddell was sent to Japan by the UFC to represent the company in the PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix. Liddell would face “Rampage” Jackson in the semifinals and the winner was expected to face Wanderlei Silva in the final. Jackson would defeat Liddell by TKO due to corner stoppage in the second round. Fast forward to 2007, and Jackson became the No. 1 contender to Liddell’s UFC light heavyweight title. Once again, Jackson would catch Liddell with big punches, putting him to the mat and winning the bout 1:53 into the first round.
UFC 125: Edgar vs. Maynard 2 (aka Resolution)
The rivalry between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard began in April 2008, when Maynard beat Edgar by unanimous decision. Edgar would go on to win the UFC lightweight title from Penn in April 2010 and would defend it against Penn in August. After winning that rematch, it was time for UFC 125 and a rematch against Maynard, the only man to beat him. Edgar was knocked down three times in the opening round and Maynard looked to be on his way to another win. But Edgar battled back, outstriking Maynard 95-71 in significant strikes and earning a split decision draw. The two men would fight one more time in October 2011, but this time the clear winner was Edgar by fourth-round knockout.
This Saturday night, UFC 168 is headlined by not one, but two of these rematches. Will they be battles of redemption for the challengers, Silva and Tate? Or will Weidman and Rousey continue to cement their places as champions and put their foes out of the title picture for good? Either way, these fights will become part of the ever growing legacy of the UFC rematch.
“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---.”
A trilogy is defined as a series of three novels, movies, etc. that are closely related and involve the same characters or themes.
On Saturday, UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez completes his series of three bouts with Junior dos Santos in Houston. The third battle sold out in less than three days and could set the Toyota Center record for highest-grossing event, already held by the UFC.
The event also will mark the 10th trilogy completed solely inside the UFC Octagon. Depending on how the fight goes, it could take its place among some other notable UFC trilogies.
Randy Couture versus Chuck Liddell (UFC 43, UFC 52, UFC 57)
Randy Couture already had won two UFC heavyweight titles when he stepped down in weight to challenge Chuck Liddell for the interim light heavyweight title at UFC 43 in June 2003. Liddell was 11-1 and coming off a brutal head-kick knockout of Renato Sobral. Couture landed four of five takedowns and outstruck Liddell 46-22 in significant strikes to win the title by third-round TKO. The two men met again in April 2005 at UFC 52 after both served as coaches on the debut season of “The Ultimate Fighter.” Liddell won the rematch, knocking out Couture 2:06 into the first round to win the undisputed light heavyweight title. Their third matchup took place at UFC 57 in February 2006 with Liddell still champion at 205 pounds. Liddell controlled the fight, landing 18 head strikes, including the final blows to a downed Couture to win by TKO in the second round and retain the title. Both men were eventually inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame (Couture in 2006, Liddell in 2009).
Georges St-Pierre versus Matt Hughes (UFC 50, UFC 65, UFC 79)
Another Hall of Famer, Matt Hughes, was involved in two trilogies inside the UFC Octagon. Hughes landed on the losing end of both at 1-2, and while his trilogy with BJ Penn was memorable, it’s his rivalry with Georges St-Pierre for the UFC welterweight title that is remembered. At UFC 50 in October 2004, former champion Hughes faced a young 24-year-old from Canada in St-Pierre for the welterweight title. With 1:14 left in the first round, Hughes gained his second takedown of the fight and eventually secured an arm bar on St-Pierre, forcing a tapout with one second remaining to become a two-time UFC welterweight champion. Hughes made two defenses of the title before meeting St-Pierre again at UFC 65 in November 2006. St-Pierre outstruck the champion 45-10 and landed a devastating head kick and punches to win the title by TKO in the second round. December 2007 was the final battle at UFC 79. Hughes and GSP once again fought for a vacant interim title, as undisputed champion Matt Serra was out because of injury. St-Pierre landed three takedowns and finished Hughes via arm bar in the second round. That fight remains St-Pierre’s second UFC victory by submission in 20 fights. Hughes was inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2010, before finishing his second trilogy with Penn and retiring in 2011.
Frankie Edgar versus Gray Maynard (Ultimate Fight Night 13, UFC 125, UFC 136)
At UFC Fight Night 13 in 2008, two undefeated lightweight prospects took to the Octagon in Frankie Edgar (9-0) and Gray Maynard (4-0, 1 NC). Maynard used his Michigan State wrestling background to score nine takedowns on "The Answer," winning 30-27 on all scorecards. Fast-forward to New Year’s Day 2011 and Edgar was the reigning and defending UFC lightweight champion. Maynard was still undefeated and the No. 1 contender to Edgar’s title when they fought at UFC 125. Edgar was knocked down three times in the first round and on the verge of losing to Maynard again, this time for the title. But the New Jersey product fought back valiantly, outstriking Maynard 85-46 for the remaining four rounds to earn a split decision draw. The third fight was inevitable and took place at UFC 136 seven months later. Maynard was again the aggressor, outstriking Edgar 24-11 in the first round and earning another knockdown against the champ. As with the second fight, Maynard slowed and Edgar battled back. In the fourth round, Edgar landed 21 significant strikes to 5 for Maynard and finished "The Bully" with punches to the head. The fight was stopped at 3:54 of the round with Edgar winning by TKO and retaining his UFC lightweight title. Edgar moved to featherweight in February 2013 and Maynard will face Nate Diaz at "The Ultimate Fighter 18" finale in November of this year. While it is their third fight, the first on the "The Ultimate Fighter" is not considered an official bout.
Ken Shamrock versus Tito Ortiz (UFC 40, UFC 61, “UFC Fight Night: The Final Chapter”)
Vendetta. Bitter Rivals. The Final Chapter. Those were the titles of the trilogy fights between Ken Shamrock and Tito Ortiz and did they ever fit the descriptions. After 1999 victories over Lion’s Den fighters Jerry Bohlander and Guy Mezger, Ortiz berated the Shamrock camp with taunts and T-shirts, enraging the "World’s Most Dangerous Man." Shamrock also was in the middle of a pro wrestling career, but made his Octagon return at UFC 40 in November 2002 to challenge Ortiz for the UFC light heavyweight title. In what was arguably one of the pivotal moments in UFC history, Ortiz dominated the former UFC Superfight champion in significant strikes 74-12, and takedowns 3-0. The fight was stopped in the third round by Shamrock’s corner, and Ortiz retained his title. Shamrock would be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame the following year, but his career was not over. The two crossed paths again in 2006, not as opponents in the cage, but rather coaches on Season 3 of "The Ultimate Fighter." Verbal spats arose and the two men again faced off at UFC 61 in July 2006. Shamrock started strong, but Ortiz secured a takedown and landed elbows in the guard. Referee Herb Dean controversially stopped the fight at the 1:18 mark, giving Ortiz his second victory over Shamrock. The third fight was in October 2006 at UFC Fight Night: The Final Chapter. Ortiz landed a takedown 40 seconds into the fight and finished Shamrock with strikes 2:23 into the fight. Ortiz would be involved in one more trilogy during his UFC career, losing the final two bouts of his trilogy with Forrest Griffin. The third fight ended his UFC career on the same weekend he became the eighth fighter inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.
Velasquez and dos Santos will fight for the third time this Saturday to finish the 11th trilogy in UFC history. Will this be the last? Unlikely. Here are some potential UFC trilogies for each division you may see in the coming years.
Heavyweight: Frank Mir versus Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (2 fights): Mir needs to beat Alistair Overeem or he might face a release after fighting in the UFC since 2001. Nogueira is at the tail end of his career and Mir was the first man to make "Big Nog" submit in his MMA career.
Light heavyweight: Lyoto Machida versus Mauricio Rua (2 fights): This would require one fighter to move weight classes, most likely Machida back to 205. They split the first two over the title and a third battle could certainly go either way.
Middleweight: Anderson Silva versus Chris Weidman (1 fight, 1 upcoming): If Weidman wins at UFC 168, there won’t be a third fight. But if "The Spider" is victorious, you’d have to think either Weidman gets an immediate rematch or can work his way back to the title before Silva's contract runs out.
Welterweight: Carlos Condit versus Martin Kampmann (2 fights): While Condit certainly looked sharp against "The Hitman" in earning a TKO victory, Kampmann will always be lurking in the welterweight picture. He’d have to pull off two or three wins in a row somewhere along the line if he's to face "The Natural Born Killer" again.
Lightweight: Nate Diaz versus Gray Maynard (1 fight, 1 upcoming): Matt Wiman and Mac Danzig have fought twice, but Wiman won both, which essentially puts that out. Technically this will be the third fight of Diaz versus Maynard (they fought on TUF 5), but officially two on their fight records. Still, a Diaz win at the TUF 18 finale could make a third official fight very interesting.
Featherweight: Cub Swanson versus Dustin Poirier (1 fight): The odds gets a little longer starting at 145 because of the recent UFC addition, but these two should be in the division for a while. Swanson is currently ranked sixth and defeated eighth-ranked Poirier by unanimous decision in February.
Bantamweight: Michael McDonald versus Sergio Pettis (0 fights): With Jose Aldo probably moving to lightweight and Renan Barao to featherweight, bantamweight trilogies look bleak. Michael McDonald is 22 and Sergio Pettis is 20 ,so with success, they’ll be around a while. The question is if the younger Pettis’ future is at 135 pounds or 125.
Flyweight: Demetrious Johnson versus Joseph Benavidez (1 fight, 1 upcoming): By year's end, these men will have fought twice. If Benavidez wins the rematch at the TUF 18 finale, expect these two to finish the rivalry in mid to late 2014.
Women’s bantamweight: Ronda Rousey versus Sara McMann (0 fights): Rousey-Tate would be the obvious choice because they will have fought twice by year's end, but Tate has to win at UFC 168. Many see McMann's wrestling as the key to beating Rousey. Whoever beats the No. 1-ranked women’s fighter certainly would have to face "Rowdy" Ronda again.
Bellator MMA settled with Eddie Alvarez and secured the former champion's rematch with Michael Chandler for its Nov. 2 pay-per-view in Southern California.
For several reasons, this is significant news.
The real main event
Mark my words: Even with the gravitational pull of fighters such as Quinton Jackson and Tito Ortiz, Chandler-Alvarez 2 will earn the bulk of media and fan attention. That's a good thing, as it should receive the spotlight, even if their names aren't front and center on the marquee.
"I think the true-blue MMA fans will see this one, even though it's the co-main event, and think it's definitely as interesting if not more than Tito-Rampage," said Chandler, who made sure to pay his respects to the light heavyweight pair.
Chandler-Alvarez 2 provides something for the pay-per-view that Rampage-Ortiz could not: legitimacy. All of a sudden the card elicits a new feeling, one far less frivolous than the fun time implied by Jackson-Ortiz.
This lightweight rematch is, as Chandler described, the best contest Bellator can make right now, in part because it's the most promotable, which if done right looks like a useful combination for selling pay-per-views.
"There's been a lot of tension and drama built up since that [first] fight," said Alvarez's manager, Glenn Robinson. "I think people will tune in to see."
Said Chandler, when asked how to effectively promote a matchup that fans saw for free the first time: "All you got to do is hop on YouTube, type in 'Michael Chandler versus Eddie Alvarez' and you will be entertained for 21 minutes."
In speaking with Alvarez and Bellator founder and CEO Bjorn Rebney on Monday, it's clear neither man is happy with the other at the moment. They're glad the litigation is over. They're glad a contract and fight is in place. But they're not on the best of terms with each other.
Alvarez said regardless of how they feel, they'll do business together. Rebney basically said the same thing.
Asked if he was happy that Alvarez, who has been with Bellator since it began in 2009, returned in time to participate in the promotion's first pay-per-view, Rebney was cool in his response.
"I like the fact that Ed Alvarez is a world-class lightweight," Rebney said. "I like the fact that I've been able to make the rematch between Chandler and Alvarez, which was a fight that a lot of MMA fans ask me about and talk about. I like both of those facets a great deal."
One interesting point about the closing of this deal is the involvement of Bellator president Tim Danaher, who's thought of as a level-headed counterweight to Rebney's sometimes manic people skills.
"He's an incredibly talented executive and was able to step in and bring this entire matter, after a very long and involved negotiation, to a conclusion," Rebney said. "He did an amazing job. It was about time. It was about reaching a resolution."
Robinson called Danaher a "really, really great guy." And Alvarez said "we owe it to him for being able to nail this down and put this behind us."
Rebney suggested his feelings about Alvarez (and vice versa) don't matter. Focusing on them takes away from the point of the whole negotiation: getting both fighters into the Bellator cage again.
Free-agency lessons learned
Alvarez's experience as a free agent isn't typical. But it was valuable.
"Everybody wants to know their true value and what they're worth as a fighter," Alvarez said. "It's a rare occasion where you get to go out and do that."
Alvarez said when the UFC offer became public, he learned of five or six fighters who immediately received raises as a result.
"That made me feel regardless of what happened, a little bit of power was put back in the fighters' hands and guys got raises," he said. "We deserve it. We work hard."
Alvarez was willing to go to the UFC, which he called a "great" organization, but based on his history, it's fitting that, for now, the move won't happen.
Since his pro debut, Alvarez has bounced around the globe, landing some of the biggest non-UFC fights he could find in his division. Participating on the first Bellator MMA pay-per-view makes sense considering Alvarez was one of the company's first stars.
Alvarez said the most important lesson was not becoming emotional, which was easier said than done.
"I'm guilty," he said. "I got emotional about it because I was in it."
Did Bellator one-up the UFC?
UFC made a play for Alvarez.
Bellator countered and prevailed.
This is only one example, but it's an important boost for people inside the Viacom-tied promotion. The fact that Zuffa couldn't nab Alvarez means very little for UFC business. Joe Silva is swamped with terrific lightweights, and the Octagon will continue to host important fights at 155 for as long as it wants. But this news marks a rare loss for Zuffa outside the Octagon on the contractual/legal front.
Bellator has shown itself willing and able to make the most out of courtroom maneuvers. Against a litigious behemoth like Zuffa, this is incredibly important when it comes to competitive viability.
As for Rebney: Despite having to back off to nail down the deal with Alvarez, he comes out looking like a guy who can make good things happen.
Three men with separate yet intertwined aspirations have been tabbed to carry the water for Bellator MMA's first pay-per-view on Nov. 2 in Long Beach, Calif. The trio took questions Monday at Bellator's office in Newport Beach, Calif., shedding light on how it came to be that a pair of the best-known fighters to compete in the UFC, both clear about their distaste for UFC president Dana White and Zuffa, will anchor Rebney's initial attempt to court a paying TV audience.
The promoter conjured the idea on one of his many sleepless nights. Rebney's reputation as a supreme micromanager is well earned. It's no secret that he has driven his staff crazy trying to maneuver a proper direction for the company. Over the past four years, though, even Rebney's most vocal critics would concede he did well by advancing Bellator up the food chain to the point that Viacom, a major media conglomerate, took notice and purchased a controlling stake.
One year after Ortiz's last fight in the Octagon, a decision loss to Forrest Griffin, Rebney called the former UFC champion with an offer.
"I looked at it and said, 'Here's a fight we can make,'" the promoter said. "We can put on a pay-per-view, and if I had nothing to do with it, I'd buy it."
Both sides spoke several times before the veil was lifted last month. The moment Ortiz was free from Zuffa's contractual handcuffs, Rebney showed just how serious he was. Ortiz viewed the lucrative contract offer as solid footing for him and his family. This wasn't something he could simply walk away from, so retirement, as short as it was, came to an abrupt end. Beyond the money, Ortiz expressed a "hunger to be great again," although many people will understandably hear lip service. After all, Ortiz hasn't been near the top of his game for several years, and just 12 weeks ago he underwent an ACL replacement in his right knee.
Some fans will agree with the promoter's assessment, but many more are likely to opt against paying their local cable or satellite distributor $35-45 to witness 38-year-old Ortiz (1-7-1 from the end of 2006 through July 7 of last year) fight 35-year-old Jackson (who lost three straight before exiting the UFC last year).
No MMA promotion except the UFC has marshaled a successful pay-per-view campaign, and history says a weak response for Ortiz and Jackson, despite their strong brands and long-held UFC ties, is the most likely outcome.
Rebney surely will have his promotional chops tested like never before during the run-up to an event situated on one of the busiest, most compelling stretches in UFC history. He claimed to feel "really good" about its potential even though the card is sandwiched between Cain Velasquez's third fight with Junior dos Santos and the 20th anniversary of the UFC headlined by megastar Georges St-Pierre and respected challenger Johny Hendricks.
As opposed to Affliction Entertainment, which hemorrhaged money like a partying rock star while it tried to get established on pay-per-view at the end of last decade, Rebney said Bellator is primed for success any time it chooses to go there, which won't be more than a couple of times a year at the beginning.
For all of Rebney's handwringing over the number of events Zuffa promotes that require fans to fork over money to view them, each card through the end of 2013 looks spectacular. Truth is, Bellator can't compete that way with Zuffa right now. But that hasn't deterred Rebney, who said fans should expect five bouts during the Nov. 2 pay-per-view, including an appearance from Bellator lightweight star Michael Chandler.
Rebney was unsure whom Chandler would fight, leaving open the possibility of Eddie Alvarez, the former Bellator champion currently embroiled in litigation with the company. Pay-per-view considerations outlined in the lawsuit with Alvarez carried no weight in the company's decision to step into the pay-per-view game, Rebney said. But as far as the promoter is concerned, "nothing is off the table."
It was just a couple of weeks ago that Rebney touted Chandler's new eight-fight contract as among the richest in MMA's lightweight division. That deal, Jackson's contract and the just-announced relationship with Ortiz are emblematic of a newfound willingness inside Bellator to spend money -- "but only when it makes sense and the company is able to monetize it," Rebney said. "Michael was one of those decisions. Tito was one of those decisions. Rampage was one of those decisions. There are guys that make sense and we think will put us in a better place at the end of the year."
For a whole host of reasons it would be easy to pick apart the fight (just look at their records over the past few years) and the decision to promote it, but that won't change the fact that Bellator and Viacom chose to use Jackson and Ortiz in this way.
One presumes it makes sense for their businesses because they need a pay-per-view showcase. Some have already suggested this news is a reaction to the ongoing lawsuit between Bellator and Eddie Alvarez, in which the ability of the promotion to host and sell pay-per-views is a significant point of contention. Whether or not there's truth to that, and whether or not Bellator or Viacom would cop to it, is unclear.
Bellator officials have discussed getting into the pay-per-view business for some time, so this shouldn't be a shock to anyone. It's just the circumstances and the headliners that have people wondering what's up.
A quiet rumor emanating from Bellator circles the past few months may also have something to do with the matchmaking. There has been talk of a shift in company philosophy. Not just in the way Bellator finds, creates, builds and showcases fighters, but how it treats the idea of signing once-bankable stars, even if they have little to offer in the cage.
Since Viacom purchased a majority stake in Bellator, Bjorn Rebney has moved from a well-staked-out position of not wanting to sign UFC castoffs to making room on a loaded calender to book a pay-per-view attraction between former champions from any top 10 ranking. So, November's pay-per-view is, if nothing else (and it's much more), an important experiment for the people involved in the only real MMA alternative to the UFC.
In the wake of Thursday's announcement, Rebney did express that the Nov. 2 event in Long Beach, Calif., is essentially a one-off. That the model of weekly events shown on free television through Spike TV will continue to dominate its focus. But it's obvious that there are changes underway to Bellator's approach, including spending money on ventures that could serve as loss leaders.
For the moment, the fight accomplished what Bellator folks hoped: It got people talking.
UFC World Tour Wraps
For the past few years at least, UFC hasn't had a problem getting people interested in what it's up to.
Yet, for the first time that I can recall, the company opted to trot out a week-long media tour, investing several hundred thousand dollars and many man-hours into pitching a slew of championship fights set for the last half of 2013.
Ronda Rousey, Georges St-Pierre, Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez were flanked by UFC president Dana White and their challengers in Los Angeles and New York. Totaling 150,000 miles traveled, this was no small deal. The crew splintered off, landing in 11 cities in five countries, creating interest and storylines that, presuming everyone stays healthy, should strongly propel the company into 2014.
The week-long cavalcade wrapped in style, as St-Pierre and Johny Hendricks, who kicked it off in Las Vegas Monday, scored mat time in front of fans on the field at Cowboys Stadium. Hendricks did well on the tour, making the most of his media attention by publicly wishing to batter the welterweight champion. Call it a toss-up between Rousey and Hendricks for most quotable.
The star of the show was Rousey, who continues to be a huge driver of PR for the UFC. She and Miesha Tate did well, especially during a "car wash" at ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn.
Including Saturday's featherweight title fight pitting Jose Aldo and Chan Sung Jung, as well as an end of August showdown at 155 pounds between champion Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis, the back half of this year sets up to be the most impressive stretch in UFC history.
There's no right answer here, but this is how things shake out on my anticipation meter:
1. St-Pierre vs. Hendricks
2. Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva II
3. Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson
4. Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos III
5. Henderson vs. Pettis II
6. Aldo vs. Jung
7. Rousey vs. Tate II
Down to hit
The fights mentioned above or the undercards preceding them will probably produce at least one moment addressed by the Association of Boxing Commissions at its annual convention this week in San Antonio.
We've all seen it. We've all groaned. A fighter, hoping to avoid punishment or induce a foul, will touch the ground with a hand. That immediately prevents the opponent from kneeing or kicking the fighter's head. More to the point, it stalls the contest and makes for an awkward moment for all involved.
So, as part of this week's discussion, the ABC addressed the loophole.
As recommended by Nick Lembo (New Jersey), Keith Kizer (Nevada) and Bernie Profato (Ohio) at the convention referee rules meeting:
"Referees should instruct the fighters that they may still be considered a standing fighter even if they have a finger or portion of the hand (or entire hand) on the canvas. In the discretion of the referee, a fighter who has a finger or hand on the canvas may still be legally struck in the head with knees and kicks. The referee may decide that the downed fighter is placing his or her finger or hand down without doing so for an offensive or countering maneuver in an attempt to advance or improve their position. The referee may decide that the downed fighter is instead simply trying to draw a foul. If the referee decides that the fighter is 'touching down' simply to benefit from a foul, the referee may consider that fighter a standing fighter and decide that no foul has occurred."
Considering the state of officiating in MMA, leaving issues like this up to referee discretion creates valid concerns. But the men and women assigned to oversee these contests need leeway here, especially if commissions across the U.S. won't repeal the rule banning knees to the head of a ground opponent. This course correction looks like a smart step in the right direction.
SEATTLE -- An acting role in the Hollywood movie “Expendables 3” is definitely on Ronda Rousey's radar. A rematch with Miesha Tate at UFC 168 is, too.
Newly crowned 145-pound Invicta champion Cris Justino, aka “Cyborg,” yeah, she’s also on Rousey’s radar -- but just barely, she says.
“I mean yeah, she’s always on my radar,” said Rousey at this weekend’s UFC event. “But I have a really, really full plate and she has nothing to worry about but me.”
Rousey (7-0) downplayed questions regarding a future fight against Justino, saying if Justino wants it, “she needs to get off her a-- and try to make (it) happen.”
Justino returned from a one-year drug suspension in April and recently claimed the inaugural 145-pound Invicta title in a TKO win over Marloes Coenen.
She was stripped of the Strikeforce featherweight title following a positive drug test in December 2010. She was expected to still fight in the UFC when the suspension was up, but instead requested her release from the promotion.
Justino (12-1) has constantly said she is unable to physically cut to 135 pounds. Her management has cited that as the primary reason behind her UFC departure.
Rousey was clearly aware of Justino’s recent win over Coenen, but didn’t seem overly impressed. She also reiterated she has more important things on her mind.
“I have a lot of things going on,” Rousey said. “She’s fighting random chicks. I mean, Marloes -- it took her longer and more energy to beat Marloes than it took Miesha (in July 2011).
“It’s only the MMA diehards that want to see that fight. I have so many things going on. If she really wants to make that fight happen, I’m here.”
UFC president Dana White told reporters he has had no recent contact with Justino or her manager, former UFC light heavyweight Tito Ortiz.
“I have not heard from her manager,” White said. “I have not seen any press conferences. So, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s going on with Cyborg.”
This Saturday, the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J., hosts UFC 159. In the main event, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones will defend his title for the fifth time against Chael Sonnen, who stood opposite of Jones as coach on Season 17 of “The Ultimate Fighter.” In the co-main event, middleweight contenders will battle when Michael Bisping takes on Alan Belcher.
Here are the numbers you need to know for Saturday’s fights:
4: UFC light heavyweight title defenses for Jones, tied with Chuck Liddell and Frank Shamrock for second most. With a win, Jones would tie Tito Ortiz, who defended the title five times from 2000-2002.
231: Jones has outlanded opponents in significant strikes 330-99 in title fights, a difference of 231. In 12 UFC fights, Jones has never been outstruck (nor has Sonnen in 11 UFC fights).
11: Jones (84.5-inch wingspan) will have an 11-inch reach advantage over Sonnen (73.5-inch wingspan). Sonnen has never faced an opponent with a reach longer than 77.5 (Anderson Silva).
16: Jones has stopped all 16 takedown attempts by his opponents in his UFC career. Sonnen, who is known for his wrestling background, averages four takedown attempts per fight.
38: Sonnen has 38 takedowns in his 11-fight UFC career, including at least one takedown in each of his past seven fights. Sonnen also does a good job advancing his position when getting the fight to the ground. In 11 fights, Sonnen advanced his position on the ground 29 times (2.6 times per fight).
5: Jones has six submission victories in his career, five of which have come by way of choke (four by guillotine, one rear-naked). Eight of Sonnen’s 12 career losses are by submission, five by choke (four by triangle choke, one by guillotine).
8: Years since Sonnen has fought at light heavyweight. Sonnen is making his first UFC appearance at light heavyweight since his UFC debut in October 2005 against Renato Sobral.
13: This is the 13th time that TUF coaches will face off against one another inside the Octagon. On six occasions, the coach with the winning fighter(s) also won the fight against the opposing coach.
5: Bisping has landed 854 significant strikes in his UFC career, five away from taking over second place all time behind Georges St-Pierre (1,153). Bisping averages 47 significant strikes landed per fight.
25: Combined UFC middleweight fights between Bisping (13) and Belcher (12). Both fighters are still looking for their first opportunity at the UFC middleweight title. Chris Leben (20) has had the most fights among active UFC fighters at middleweight without a title shot.
Not necessarily in that order. At least not in terms of degree of difficulty.
The victory was vital, I suppose, but it was also never really in doubt. In practice, the fight turned out to be as lopsided as it looked on paper, which is to say the win was so one-sided that it was almost completely hollow for the former Strikeforce women’s featherweight champion.
Santos dropped Muxlow with her first punch, a straight right that put the replacement fighter, who took the bout on 17 days’ notice, skittering into the frenzied survival mode we so commonly see in Santos' opponents. The rest was essentially cleanup. It took referee John McCarthy 3 minutes, 46 seconds to decide he’d seen enough, but each tick of the clock after that initial salvo felt more gratuitous than the previous. By the time the end came for Muxlow, she was backed up against the cage accepting a series of increasingly inevitable knees and punches and the overriding feeling that swept over us all when Big John stepped in was one of relief for her.
For Santos, we felt only a vague sense of confirmation. Yep, she’s still Cyborg.
Proving that Santos is still the most bloodcurdling figure in women’s MMA was the really essential thing here, because, after nearly 16 months of inactivity owed to a yearlong suspension for a positive steroid test, there were questions about whether she would show up in Kansas City looking as ripped, as relentless and altogether frightening as before. More to the point, because Cyborg still being leaps and bounds ahead of the competition is an integral part of manager Tito Ortiz’s plan to run the longest of long bombs on the UFC.
When Santos and Ortiz very publicly balked at the chance to cut to 135 pounds for an immediate shot at Ronda Rousey’s bantamweight title back in February, instead opting for a much slower burn in Invicta, it prompted copious industry-wide head-scratching. One of those heads belonged to UFC President Dana White, who alternated between describing the Santos-Ortiz negotiating style as “wacky” and “goofy” and then proclaimed Cyborg “pretty much irrelevant” when talks finally appeared to fall apart for good.
Ortiz claims Santos needs a multifight run in Invicta to gradually shed the pounds necessary to safely make the cut to 135. Maybe that’s true, but the perils of this route are obvious. What if something goes wrong, we all asked when the deal was announced. What if she emerges in the Invicta cage looking like something less than the terrifying knockout artist who cut a swath through women’s MMA during seven fights from 2008-11? What if she -- choke, sputter, gasp -- loses?
"She ain't gonna lose ," an ever-confident Ortiz told MMAJunkie.com's Ben Fowlkes when he put voice to these concerns at the time. "You ever sparred with Cris? You ever tried to wrestle with her? Ever watched her wrestle, watched her spar? Have you ever watched her fight?"
Yeah, well, point taken. Never did Ortiz’s long-term plan for Santos’ career feel like less of a gamble than while we were watching her brutalize Muxlow. Granted, the 35-year-old Australian’s prospects were doomed from the moment she agreed to sub in for the injured Ediane Gomes last month, but it must have been reassuring for Ortiz & Co. to get proof that Cyborg can still deal with an overmatched opponent with the kind of extreme prejudice we saw from her against the likes of Jan Finney and Hiroko Yamanaka near the end of her Strikeforce run.
While not a particularly instructive affair, we’re now told the victory sets Santos up for an Invicta 145-pound title bout with Marloes Coenen later this year. Coenen will no doubt be a far more dangerous opponent, albeit one Santos already defeated back in January 2010 and one who had been competing at bantamweight prior to debuting in Invicta. If Cyborg wins that, she’ll have a shiny new belt to match Rousey’s, and it’ll start to feel more and more like Ortiz’s gamble might just pay off after all, giving Santos time to drop the weight while only stoking the fires of interest in a Rousey bout.
Still, let’s not kid ourselves here. Santos and Ortiz are taking tremendous risks each time Santos steps into the Invicta cage. They are still involved in the kind of clunky, long-range scheme that very seldom pays off in a sport this unpredictable.
If you strip away the veneer of dominance and the fearsome power, Cyborg has exactly one thing going for her right now: There are only two real stars in the landscape of female MMA, and, as of this weekend, she’s still one of them. Rousey and the UFC need her (and by extension, Ortiz) as much as the fighter and manager need the fight promotion and its golden girl. Rousey versus Santos is the one truly marketable superfight in women’s fighting at the moment, and no matter how big the honchos at the UFC talk, they’ll still be interested in it if and when Santos decides she’s ready.
But that delicate balance of power evaporates immediately should Cyborg make a misstep in Invicta. All it takes is one lucky punch or a momentary mental lapse on the ground and, suddenly, she’s not the perfect foil for Rousey’s good looks and slick submission game anymore. Suddenly, she’s just a former champion with a positive steroid test and a reputation for difficult negotiations.
If we’ve learned anything from MMA, it’s that the thing that “ain’t gonna” happen, often does, and, afterward, the people who wind up on the short end wish they’d grabbed the brass ring when they had the chance -- instead of putting it off for another day.
Did Santos, her management, Rousey, Invicta FC or Zuffa come out looking great? Did any of them blow it? The answer is a big, fat meh. Winners. Losers. The line's a blur with this one. Despite a lot of not getting what was wanted most, in certain ways everyone came out ahead.
The only thing we know for sure is this episode has added texture and dimension to a fight that will happen if everyone is as good and smart as they think they are.
How they win ...
Zuffa: The UFC holds rights to Rousey, so they're way ahead of the game. They stuck to their guns on keeping one weight division, which is the smart move as new fans are indoctrinated into the ways of women's mixed martial arts. Again, they've refused to let a fighter dictate terms and get away with it. The absence of Cyborg shouldn't hurt too much because 135 features several appealing contenders.
Santos: After a year away from the cage because of steroids, Cyborg has a fight again. She'll compete for a promotion that quickly earned a reputation as the home for women's MMA. She'll face a legitimate challenger at 145 in Ediane Gomes. She won't have to kill herself to make 135 pounds, which she could if she had to, but only at a cost. Another year of destroying women would lather up fans for a fight against Rousey, boosting her leverage heading into another round of contract talks with Zuffa.
Rousey: If it comes together, Rousey-Cyborg has the makings of the biggest money fight in female combat sports history. This chapter does nothing but add to that. It's all part of the story and, hey, now it has gotten personal. Right? Rousey is a clear winner if she holds up her end of the bargain and gets that payday.
Primetime 360: Tito Ortiz and two attorneys are trying their hand at the management business. The Cyborg episode landed them press. If their female star remains clean and beats up the competition, the "flexibility" they said they opted for could pay off a year from now.
Invicta FC: The female-focused promotion landed Cyborg to a three-bout contract. Duh. So long as Invicta didn't do something foolish with the money or terms (and there's no reason to suspect they did), it's a no-brainer. Press interest will hit a new high for Invicta this April.
How they lose ...
Zuffa: Dana White said he didn't understand why UFC's offer to pay Santos to fight in Invicta was turned down when she ended up with the same promotion for less money. Santos said she didn't want to sign the eight-fight contract Zuffa offered. And so Zuffa loses if Cyborg puts herself in the best possible position. That's not so terrible. Zuffa still stands to make big money on this deal whenever it happens. Zuffa, too, loses if it continues to play up the narrative that Cyborg is running from Rousey.
Santos: She drops one of her next three fights in Invicta. That would be bad.
Rousey: Rousey has her mountaintop to defend. So long as she's the top female bantamweight in MMA, there's not much downside to seeing Cyborg compete outside of the Octagon. Fights will arise, money will be made, her fame will continue to grow. There is the chance, however, that if she's unable to fight Cyborg, Rousey can't take the title of the sport's best female fighter. And that's worth something.
Primetime 360: Cyborg loses. Zuffa decides it doesn't like how Ortiz and his team do business.
Invicta FC: Pay-per-view numbers are lower than expected. Cyborg falls on her face in the cage or screws up another steroid test. All the usual pitfalls.
Where it stands ...
Zuffa: Business as usual. They're invested in Rousey. If she should falter, though, it will be interesting to see what that does to UFC's interest in Cyborg.
Santos: She'll have to do what she has done and keep hurting women in the cage. Cyborg is lined up for big things if it plays out this way. She's taking a potentially riskier route to her goal, but the benefits could be greater.
Rousey: Let's check back on the 23rd.
Primetime 360: Ortiz's group also has wrestler Bubba Jenkins under contract, with a promise to focus on brand building and contractual protections. It was refreshing to hear a management group openly discuss the inner workings of contract negotiations. Hopefully that continues.
Invicta FC: As of right now, they're not a "feeder organization," per Dana White. The Cyborg signing isn't quite Fedor Emelianenko to Strikeforce, but it's a major moment for the young promotion.
Now 35, he’s facing the Jon Jones of today -- the Jon Jones. Jones, the invulnerable. Jones, the colossus of the light heavyweight division, a division Belfort hasn’t fought in since 2007. It’s a legit old-meets-new with a sense of “martyrdom” underwriting it all. To go by the specs, Jones -- at 25 years old -- is the new “phenom.” Belfort, in his twilight, is the new “unenviable.”
Welcome to Toronto!
By now, it’s past the point of marveling at how UFC 152 came together through wild controversy and swerving circumstances. We saw UFC 151 go belly up; the Jones-Belfort main event is the consolation.
But Belfort makes his headlong clash into Jones seem like it’s always been in the cards. If you know anything about him, you know that when things happen by chance -- no matter the situation or how clumsily it falls into existence -- Belfort senses the divine hand in play. As a man of faith, his is always a macro view. He’s winking at the cosmos, with a secret he’ll happily let you in on.
And that is this: There is orchestration at work far greater than Jones versus Belfort. Anything can happen, Belfort reminds us, with faith and belief (and more immediately, a timely left hand). Remember when he was the "Big Thing" at 19 years old, and Randy Couture knocked him down to size at UFC 15 all those years ago?
These things are funny. Now the shoe’s on the other foot.
“I think the toughest fight is always the fight that is next,” he told ESPN.com. “Everyone has a different style, different body type -- every fight is hard. Nothing’s easy. In this sport, you don’t have easy things. You just have to enjoy the process and enjoy the journey. I don’t look at an opponent thinking, oh, my god. ... I look to the opponent as a chance. As a prize. Here’s my prize. I have to hunt that prize. But you have to enjoy the process.”
Belfort’s process is never dull, and the chances he takes, he rarely regrets. He’s currently training in southern Florida with a star-studded cast of sparring partners who have come to be known as the Blackzilians. What began as an orphanage for wayward fighters has become a who’s who of expatriates, former champions and promising upstarts. Belfort arrived in August.
And filling in the Delray Beach gym around him is a who's who of talent -- everyone from Eddie Alvarez and Gesias Cavalcante to Melvin Guillard and Matt Mitrione; from Thiago Silva and Michael Johnson to Tyrone Spong. Some of his training partners are guys he previously went to war against in the cage. There’s Anthony Johnson, the after-picture of a one-time welterweight who lost to Belfort earlier this year, and Alistair Overeem, a hulk who looks nothing like the man who defeated Belfort at the Pride middleweight grand prix back in the day.
But Belfort’s main coach for this camp is the only one with an insider’s track to Jones, and that’s Rashad Evans. Evans is readying Belfort to do what has been so far impossible, and that’s pass through an immovable object ... that’s to get inside an 84-inch reach and try to lower the boom ... that’s to prove a man vincible who has heretofore been flawless. Belfort’s job, in a roundabout way, is to rearrange our perception about what can and can’t be done. That’s what’s ultimately at stake when it comes to one-sided matchmaking.
Beating Jones is something Evans himself could not do.
“I’m training with high-level guys, and we’re helping each other,” Belfort says. “Rashad’s been so important for me -- he has so much knowledge, so much experience. It’s so good to look into somebody’s eye, and you really trust that person and you bind with that person. There are amazing guys here helping me every day, different body types, guys who look you in the eyes.
“If you want to go to a jungle and you want to hang with the lions, you cannot be with the zebras and hyenas, you’ve got to go in the midst of the lions. So that’s what I did.”
No, Belfort is not rattling off "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" analogies just to produce a strong sound bite; he genuinely believes he is the Jones antidote. Jones is the latest obstacle in Belfort’s journey, a journey that can’t be fairly judged by simple wins and losses.
It began when he and Carlson Gracie came to the United States when he was 16 years old, and faith was the only game in town.
“He taught me so many things,” Belfort says of the late Gracie. “I brought him here. We motivated each other. He believed in me; I believed in him. So we made history, and we wrote our names on history, and nobody can erase it.”
Things have careened every which way since.
Belfort has fought and won magnificently (remember the original UFC Brazil, when he stormed Wanderlei Silva with one-twos the length of the cage?). He has lost heartbreakingly (the split decision to Tito Ortiz at UFC 51) and decisively (the dreaded Anderson Silva front kick at UFC 126). He has experienced triumph (winning the UFC light heavyweight championship against Randy Couture) and crisis (his sister being kidnapped in 2004). He has bounced around organizations, from the UFC to Pride to Cage Rage to Strikeforce and Affliction, and back to the UFC, in numerous countries from the United States to Brazil to Japan and Europe. He has been busted for elevated testosterone levels, back at Pride 32 following a bout with Dan Henderson.
The same Henderson, of all people, who is now TRT exempt. It’s been a lot of twisting and turning.
Belfort has worked at finding “the heart of God,” got married, started a family and has been posterized by a kick that later was accredited to Steven Seagal. All of it goes into his tapestry. And back in 1998, it was Belfort who was the young unbeatable, when he faced Couture at UFC 15.
If anything, Belfort has an empathy edge on Jones. In fact, he empathizes with Jones at a time when almost nobody else in the world can (or will).
“I remember there was a lot of pressure,” he says of the Couture fight. “I remember being so young -- I had a lot of pressure. Everything happened instantly for me. But the tendency before was, ‘Oh, I have to do this -- I have to.’ Now it’s, I want to. I turned the have to and want to. I have to be a good fighter? No, I want to be a good fighter. I have to be a good husband? No, I want to be a good husband. When you turn have to and want to, your life gets better. You see life different. You enjoy every day differently.”
In 1997, when Belfort first earned the nickname “The Phenom,” he knocked out a pair of heavyweights -- Tra Telligman and Scott Ferrozzo -- in a combined two minutes at UFC 12. He followed that impressive turn a couple of months later against the UFC’s most notorious barroom Hun at the time, Tank Abbott, at UFC 13. That time, he needed only 52 seconds.
He was barely 20 years old and, inarguably, by strict definition, a “phenom.” But it’s a handle that comes with a gradual expiration date, isn't it? Phenoms are generally young, those whose first impressions make the previous standards seem ordinary, right?
At 35 years old, can you still be a “phenom”?
At the end of the line, we're all going to die. It's how you live your life. How you leave your fingerprints in every moment of your life. Every moment is a moment when you can do something.” -- Vitor Belfort, on why he didn't think twice about accepting a bout with Jon Jones
“Yeah, to this day I enjoy it,” Belfort says. “It’s pretty cool, and I try to live to bring it to reality, to my inner man that I have. My inner man, something that the cameras and people can’t see. For me, a phenom is a guy who could be a father, a husband, a human being, a guy who loves God, a guy who lives by what he preaches -- that’s a phenom. Being a performer, winning championships and being a great athlete, that’s just your job. But I believe phenoms are people who can go out there and live their private life the best way they can live it.”
Part of what makes Belfort Belfort is that he talks in such celestials. There’s very little separation between the “inner man” and the “outer man.” You ask him about a specific fighter or circumstance -- as with Couture and UFC 15, say -- and he takes you to the broader reaches. His sermonizing is legendary but never judging.
And really, whether you believe in the higher power that he does or not, there’s a simplistic thing Belfort acknowledges that could serve as inspiration: that life is a running thing. That real life is always now. Say what you want about the level of Belfort’s competition the past few years, but he makes the most of his moments.
It’s no surprise that he didn’t hesitate to fight Jones.
“At the end of the line, we’re all going to die,” he says. “It’s how you live your life. How you leave your fingerprints in every moment of your life. Every moment is a moment when you can do something.”
Does he stand a chance? We’ll have to wait and see. But Belfort believes he does, enough that he volunteered to try. Yet, to put his attitude in perspective, if he “shocks the world” and beats Jon Jones, don’t expect him to be shocked along with it. He’s been knocked from the perch, and he believes it’s in his power to return the favor.
And at the bottom of all of the undercurrents and karmic nods, there’s a man who practices what he preaches. Losing to Jones won’t change that. And neither will winning.
But imagine if he does win, for a minute -- Vitor Belfort, the old “Phenom,” recapturing the light heavyweight championship and bringing his career full circle at 35 years old. That’s just storybook stuff right there.
In fact, it’s almost beyond belief. Good thing Belfort has enough to go around.
Following an incredible fight week in Las Vegas, which featured more than 8,000 fans attending the weigh-in and culminated at the MGM Grand Garden Arena with Silva keeping his belt and record streaks intact -- consecutive wins (15) and title defenses (10) -- we now have the answers.
Chael Sonnen: champion?
Musing on the possibility, I suggested the answer would trump anything else we learned on fight night.
Well, Sonnen came closer than anyone else in the UFC to beating Silva, but a champion that does not make. He won't be remembered among a group of competitors who made good in the most pressure-packed moments. In fact, he'll likely be remembered for exactly the opposite.
It's important to say that there's no shame in losing to the best fighter mixed martial arts has produced during the past 20 years. None at all. But that doesn't absolve Sonnen for the way he lost. The first bout ended in a total meltdown. The second, pretty much the same.
If Sonnen were championship material, perhaps he wouldn't have squandered a minute-long stretch in mount to close out Round 1. Rather than making the most of a dominant position, Sonnen remained tight to Silva, failing to threaten his foe. That just won't do. Sonnen's inability (or lack of desire) to go after the champion in that position could have cost him a title; it's impossible to know for sure. What's clear, though, is this: Sonnen walked into the fight intending to play a tight, controlling game. As such, he was unwilling to lodge his forearm in Silva's neck and face, unwilling to lift his posture to attack, unwilling to do what was necessary to take the title.
Does someone need a perfect night to defeat Silva?
Sonnen obviously did, for all the reasons I laid out on Monday.
He was nearly perfect in 2010, made one mistake, and lost. On Saturday, he was solid in the opening round -- save the final minute in mount, which came after a slick guard pass -- before reverting to ordinary in the second. Takedowns didn't come so easily. Silva defended and moved the way he was unable to do with an injured rib the first time around. It seemed only a matter of time before something decisive was going to happen.
The hourglass shattered when Sonnen moved forward with an awkward, out-of-the-blue spinning back fist that will forever be preserved among savvy MMA fans in .gif form. The strike was so out of character for Sonnen that, in the moment it happened, most people, including myself, didn't realize what he was attempting to do.
Sonnen's remarkably foolish attack led Silva to duck, move and attack in one fell swoop. The champion, eagle-eyed as he is, pulled off something very few fighters are capable of. Silva wasn't perfect (he spent most of Round 1 on the bottom, defending with a long guard and avoiding most of Sonnen's short shots), but he didn't need to be. The onus was on the challenger, a challenger who can't seem to get it right in the most important moments.
Should the middleweight rematch rank among the biggest sporting events of 2012?
Judging by UFC president Dana White's reaction to predictive metrics Zuffa uses in establishing the moneymaking potential of an event, UFC 148 essentially blew away everything else.
There's no question that as fight week wore on, interest swelled. Sonnen-Silva 2 was treated the way it should have been by the sporting press.
None of this means it will rank among the biggest sporting events of the year. MMA isn't there yet. For as much as UFC 148 (and the entire week leading up to the fights) showcased how far the sport had come, it also served as a reminder that there's a long way to go.
UFC set a record for gate, making Sonnen-Silva 2 the first MMA headliner in Nevada to register among the top 35 boxing cards sanctioned by the state. That's a testament to the sport, the combatants and the promotion, but it also is a clear reminder of where MMA ranks relative to its fistic brethren (and other sports).
Silva-Sonnen 2 won't be remembered among the biggest sporting events in 2012. Had the fight gone down similarly to the first, perhaps I'd be saying something else. Nonetheless, it was an unmitigated success, offering proof once again that when real stakes are at play with compelling figures, MMA can move the needle.
Saturday's least competitive fight was?Chad Mendes versus Cody McKenzie was the pick on Monday. I'm not trying to look smart here. It was just the obvious choice, and Saturday's result exemplified why. This was a showcase for Mendes and he delivered.
What story will be overshadowed by Sonnen-Silva?
I thought all of them would be, and they were. Even still, I was a bit surprised how much oxygen Silva-Sonnen 2 took up. From Tuesday's news conference, where Silva put his hands on Sonnen, to the mammoth weigh-in where Silva jabbed his shoulder into Sonnen's mouth, this fight deserved all the coverage it could get, and certainly benefited from plenty.
Thankfully, Tito Ortiz still got his due -- regardless of Forrest Griffin's oddities at the end.