MMA: Dan Henderson
Those numbers aren't promising, but they could be worse. He could be turning 45.
Henderson (30-11) is considered one of the best mixed martial artists of all time -- a distinction that will remain in place regardless of what happens Saturday, when he faces undefeated light heavyweight Daniel Cormier at UFC 173 in Las Vegas.
The big knock on Henderson going into this fight is attached to his age. He's simply too old, man. Not too old to still win a fight here and there, but certainly too old to mix it up with Cormier, who is eight years younger. This can't end well for him.
Things didn't end well for him in November, when he was lifted off his feet by a left hook from Vitor Belfort and finished moments later with a head kick. He rebounded from the loss with a comeback TKO win over Mauricio Rua in March, but was nearly knocked out again in the first two rounds of that fight.
It's the lasting images of those two fights that seem to have many concerned about Henderson's health this weekend. For his part, Henderson says, that's fighting.
"There has been a few fights where that has happened to me," Henderson told ESPN.com. "Obviously, not quite as bad as the Vitor fight but real similar, where I got rocked and had to recover and ended up winning the fight. It wasn't anything new.
"Having it happen back-to-back in big settings where everybody is watching, I think that's why people are talking about it. Am I as quick as I used to be? Probably not. But I don't know. It's hard for me to tell. I don't feel old."
It seems incredible to think that Henderson began fighting professionally in 1997, first fought for the UFC in 1998, has won 30 fights during that time but never won a UFC title. It truly is the last empty space on his MMA bingo card.
And whether he feels old or not, Henderson acknowledges this could be his final run at that achievement. He says he won't lose sleep (at least not "too much sleep") if it never happens, but it'd be icing on the cake. And who eats cake without icing?
"I won't ever say 'never,' but, you know, there's not too many opportunities left for me to get that title belt," Henderson said.
UFC president Dana White has said the winner of Saturday's fight will be next in line to challenge for the 205-pound title.
Henderson had fought almost exclusively in a ring before that title fight and says he didn't acclimate himself enough to the cage beforehand. Six months later, he lost to Anderson Silva via submission in a bid for the UFC's middleweight title.
The one that might hurt the most, though, is UFC 151 in September 2012. Henderson was scheduled to fight Jon Jones in the main event of that card, but withdrew with a knee injury. He lost a non-title bout to Lyoto Machida in his return.
The Jones matchup was one Henderson badly wanted, as he bluntly stated ahead of the fight that Jones, 25 at the time, would only get better with age. Although he still believes he can beat Jones now, he's not as ripe for the picking as he was in 2012.
"I said that three or four years ago, that here is a guy who lacks experience and I'd rather fight him now rather than later," Henderson said. "I think he got offended when I said it, but it was absolutely true.
"He became champ at a young age with not many fights. I would have liked to fight him then, but it is what it is. I still think I can beat him."
To prove it, Henderson will have to find a way to beat an opponent who is a 9-1 favorite over him this weekend. To Henderson, those odds are just numbers. They mean little. Just like the number 43.
Daniel Cormier’s run at a UFC light heavyweight title might soon be less about weight and more about a wait.
Cormier (14-0) will look to improve to 2-0 in the UFC’s 205-pound division when he meets Dan Henderson at UFC 173 on Saturday in Las Vegas.
Already ranked No. 4 in the division by ESPN.com, Cormier, a former heavyweight, says he’s content to sit on the sideline and wait for a title shot should he beat Henderson -- even though that might mean he wouldn’t fight the rest of the year.
Would two wins at light heavyweight really justify that type of layoff? And what are his thoughts on the upcoming fight with an accomplished veteran like Henderson (30-11)? Cormier answered those questions and more ahead of UFC 173.
ESPN: Everyone knows the issues you’ve gone through with weight cutting in the past, but at this point is your cut to 205 pretty much a non-topic?
Cormier: I don’t think it’s an issue. Cutting weight is always pretty tough. It’s not like it’s ever going to be easy. I think if I do the right things and not let it worry me, where I’m on the scale every 30 minutes, it’ll be fine.
ESPN: If you remove Henderson’s right hand from this fight, do you basically take away his only chance at beating you?
Cormier: I’ve been lucky enough to call his last four fights [as a television analyst]. I had to watch him a lot closer than I would have normally. The thing about Dan is he doesn’t wrestle anymore, which is great for me because I’m going to wrestle. If I take away the right hand, it really does limit him. He’s a tough, gritty, durable guy.
One thing I’ve taken from Dan in these fights is that Rashad [Evans] and Lyoto [Machida] actually fought him very conservative. Vitor [Belfort] went after him and finished him. [Mauricio Rua] went after him and hurt him very bad. So, what I took away is that I have to get after this guy. I’ll just make it look like his right hand is tied behind his back.
ESPN: You’ve said if you win this fight, you’d wait for a title shot. In that scenario, your record at 205 would be 2-0 with a win over Patrick Cummins on short notice and Dan Henderson, who would be 1-4 in his last five fights. Is that really enough to make you a title contender?
Cormier: Just because I fought at heavyweight, that stuff doesn’t go out the window. I was scheduled to fight Rashad Evans at UFC 170. The UFC wasn’t trying to give me an easy fight. I was scheduled to fight Rashad up until 10 days before that event. It’s not my fault [he had to pull out with injury]. I still fought and held up my end of the deal.
You look at my resume. I’ll put it next to anybody’s. Alexander Gustafsson beat [Rua], who is a former champion. I beat Josh Barnett and Frank Mir, that’s two. Two is better than one. Glover Teixeira, before he got his title shot, he beat Ryan Bader, Kyle Kingsbury, Fabio Maldonado and James Te Huna. That guy [Teixeira] got a title shot. My resume would include Henderson, Mir, Barnett, [Antonio] Silva and Roy Nelson. I think me getting a title shot is only fair.
ESPN: What if you go and knock out Henderson in the first round this weekend? You would be looking at a situation where your last two fights ended quickly and then you sit out the rest of the year.
Cormier: That won’t happen. With Dan Henderson, it will be a 15-minute battle. He’s too tough to let anybody walk out there and finish him that fast. I know Vitor did it, but Vitor did that to everybody last year.
ESPN: If you win and decide to wait for a title shot, could that negatively affect your weight at all? Is it a benefit to remain active since you’re cutting to 205?
Cormier: I would have to be very disciplined, but in that time off I would get better. There are a lot of things that can come up in a year. When is Jon [Jones] going to fight Gustafsson? That plays a factor. Dana [White] says I like to stay busy, which is true. That’s how you make money. I’m 35 years old so I like to fight. But I just think at some point you’ve got to say, "What if I get past Henderson and the next guy puts me in a war and I’m out for a long time?" Then I don’t get my title shot.
A lot can happen. Am I completely opposed to fighting a non-title fight before I get a title shot? No. I’m not afraid to earn a shot. I just think I already have.
Cormier: You watch the Klitschko brothers fight and they always do that. That’s how they find their range. Tall guys do that and there are things you can do to actually make them stop. I’m not opposed to doing them. I’ll punch him in the elbow or I’ll wrench his arm like he did to Glover in that fight.
ESPN: Pretty quick turnaround for you here, as you just fought on Feb. 22. How did camp feel and are you fully prepared for this fight?
Cormier: I’m getting to fight a guy who I’ve looked up to for a long time. He’s a legend. It takes hard work to beat a legend. I’ve worked my tail off for this fight. I’m pretty thorough in my approach. This is a little shorter notice than I like, but after the UFC found me a coffee guy [Cummins] to fight on 10 days' notice, they can ask me for a favor this time.
There is one fight Dan Henderson admits he doesn’t like his chances in -- and it’s one that involves the recent bans of testosterone replacement therapy (TRT).
Henderson, 43, was approved to use TRT ahead of his fight against Mauricio Rua this weekend, which will headline a UFC Fight Night event in Natal, Brazil, but it’s likely the last such approval he’ll ever receive.
The Brazilian MMA Athletic Commission has banned future use of TRT, following the lead of the Nevada State Athletic Commission and the UFC.
Henderson (29-11), who has received use exemptions for TRT since 2007, isn’t in favor of the development -- but he isn’t willing to hire an attorney and combat it, either.
“It probably did cross my mind for a second, but it’s a battle that probably isn’t going to be won,” Henderson told ESPN.com. “At this point in my career, I’m not going to sit around and wait for things like that.
“It seems to me there could be a case out there [for an appeal]. I just think it was the easy way to appease some people instead of doing it the right way.”
The TRT conversation is a well-beaten dead horse. It’s almost over now.
No advance notice drug testing would be the best way to handle all the problems. If you grab somebody and they don't know when they're going to be tested, they'll think twice about abusing things."
-- Dan Henderson, on the advantages of random drug testing in the UFC
UFC owner Lorenzo Fertitta said he’s happy it’s banned for that very reason. The treatment had started to overshadow what the sport is really about -- the fights.
“Any time you have a gray area and you can turn it into black-and-white, it’s easier for everybody,” Fertitta told ESPN.com. “It was continuing to become more of a media issue than anything. It was taking away from the fights.
“If you’re in a situation as an athlete where your testosterone is getting low because you’re getting older and you don’t feel like you can compete, then you can’t compete. That’s just the bottom line.”
The afterlife of the TRT discussion in combat sports will be focused on how those who were on it can adjust. Henderson, who signed a six-fight deal with the UFC earlier this year, should have an idea of how his body will respond.
Last year, he stopped taking TRT for a fight against Rashad Evans at UFC 161 in June when it appeared the Manitoba Combative Sports Commission overseeing the event wouldn’t approve his request.
Henderson, who has always said he takes very low dosages of testosterone to reach normal levels, says doing so wasn’t a huge deal and had no effect on his performance (he lost a three-round fight via split decision).
The former Pride and Strikeforce champion suspects other TRT users utilized the treatment differently than he did. In his previous fight in November, Henderson suffered the first knockout loss of his career to Vitor Belfort, who was also on TRT.
“I’m sure he wasn’t quite abiding by the rules,” Henderson said. “I think that’s probably a good reason why he was pulled out of his title fight (against Chris Weidman at UFC 174). I’d say it was for that very reason.
“No advance notice drug testing would be the best way to handle all the problems. If you grab somebody and they don’t know when they’re going to be tested, they’ll think twice about abusing things.”
As for the fight in front of him, Henderson understands it's being classified as mostly a "fun fight." He and "Shogun" produced one of the most memorable fights in UFC history when they met in a five-round class at UFC 139 in November 2011. Henderson won the fight via unanimous decision.
Although he and Rua have gone a combined 2-5 since, Henderson sees Sunday's main event as more than just a fun fight between two veterans.
"It'd be tough to duplicate how exciting the first one was but the potential is there for that," Henderson said. "I think a solid win over Shogun is always impressive. It can't hurt. We'll see what happens."
“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---.”
Throughout his career, Vitor Belfort has built a reputation as someone who doesn’t pull punches or cut corners. Whether in the cage or out, he gives it to you straight.
And Saturday night when he steps in the Octagon at UFC Fight Night 32 for a main-event showdown in Goiania, Brazil, with Dan Henderson, fans will get the best Belfort has to offer. He will not shy away from the action or pull punches.
The same can be expected from Henderson.
While the fight is being contested at light heavyweight, Belfort is very much aware that a win likely lands him the middleweight title shot he has coveted for a while. At 36 years old, and competing in a 185-pound division that has gotten much deeper with the recent addition of former 205-pound champion Lyoto Machida, a loss Saturday night could end Belfort’s title hopes.
"“I deserve it [the middleweight title shot],” Belfort told ESPN.com. “I want the [Chris Weidman-Anderson Silva] winner.”
I'm not doing anything illegal. It's a treatment. Actually, if I go without it I will be at a disadvantage. It will be like the other guy is on something and I'm not." -- Vitor Belfort on receiving TRT exemptions.
A possibility of getting a middleweight title shot can’t be completely ignored. Belfort admits that much, but he refuses to allow it to consume his thoughts. His mind is fully on Henderson. To do otherwise would almost assure defeat.
“I’m looking forward to Dan Henderson,” Belfort said. “That’s what I can talk about; he’s my challenge right now. My mind is on him.
“I don’t care what people think, talk or say. It’s doesn’t take my focus away. I do want to fight for and win the UFC title, but I don’t need to keep talking about it over and over.
“I’m about to have one of the hardest fights of my career, so there is no reason to start talking about what is next. It’s totally disrespectful to [Henderson]. And I don’t have that kind of attitude; I’m focused on winning this fight. He’s one of the legends of this sport. He beats guys and he’s defeated me one time [by unanimous decision at Pride 32 in Las Vegas on Oct. 21, 2006] in the past. This is a great fight. What most people remember, however, is your last fight.”
That’s Belfort being Belfort. There’s no need to shy away from the matter at hand -- beating Henderson. He will address what comes next, a potential title shot, when the time arrives.
This method of handling fight-related matters has served Belfort well in recent outings. He’s won four of his five most recent fights, the lone loss coming in a 205-pound title loss to champion Jon Jones at UFC 152 in September 2012.
But Belfort doesn’t just fight to remain relevant at middleweight, he must battle the perception of being a cheater. To be competitive, Belfort regularly requests and receives exemption for testosterone replacement therapy.
No matter how hard he trains; no matter how impressive he looks inside the Octagon, Belfort never receives full credit. His critics are loud and relentless.
The criticism has been a little less voluminous than usual lately; maybe it has to do with the fact that Henderson also receives TRT exemptions. But the attacks will return to normal after the fight, especially if a title shot is granted.
Belfort is prepared for the onslaught.
“The [TRT] critics are always going to be there,” Belfort said. “If you do it, they will say, ‘he cheated.’ What people don’t know is that we do good work.
“I was the only guy to do blood work. Now Dan Henderson has to go through blood work; it’s in our contract. All the fighters have to do blood work. With the blood work you can track if they [fighters] use testosterone. We know some guys do it; they do things to cheat. My lab work is right there. My levels are right there, every week.”
Belfort makes no apology for seeking and receiving TRT exemptions and he does not intend to relinquish the process. He does what is necessary to remain a competitive fighter. There’s nothing wrong with that.
“I’m not doing anything illegal. It’s a treatment,” Belfort said. “Actually, if I go without it I will be at a disadvantage. It will be like the other guy is on something and I’m not.
“If you have asthma you get treatment. If your have high blood pressure, you get treatment for it. This is my treatment. Everybody knows.”
Belfort isn’t hiding anything. His testosterone levels are available to all proper authorities. But there is a circumstance under which Belfort will relinquish his medical treatment -- for a title shot.
Some have questioned whether Belfort is avoiding a bout in the United States, especially Las Vegas, to receive TRT. That’s the furthest thing from the truth, Belfort says.
As usual, Belfort holds nothing back when addressing another attack from his critics.
“I’d love to fight in Las Vegas; I’ve fought in Canada,” said Belfort, who trains in Boca Raton, Fla., but has not fought in the United States since his first-round knockout of Yoshihiro Akiyama in August 2011. “I love fighting in America, I have lots of fans here. I have just as many fans here in America as I have in Brazil. Of course I want to fight here, I live in America.”
Henderson, 43, has a rematch with Vitor Belfort this Saturday in the headlining contest of UFC's event in Goiania, Brazil -- some 16 years after the American's hurried yet successful fighting debut there.
Coming off consecutive lackluster performances, Henderson (29-10) steps into the Octagon against Belfort (23-10) knowing another defeat could precipitate his departure from the UFC. Operating on the last fight of his contract, Henderson claims UFC officials are waiting to see how he fares before entering discussions over terms of a new deal. That sounds prudent after Henderson dropped split decisions to Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans.
The UFC is where he wants to be, Henderson said, and he's hoping to sign for four more fights, because winning a belt in the Octagon is "the extent" of his goals at this stage. To do that, he needs to defeat a legion of assassins at 185 or 205 pounds, and odds are long that Henderson would make good on those plans.
Even if he's sincere about feeling as healthy and prepared as he can be since having knee surgery at the end of 2012, there's no guarantee that Henderson can maneuver past Belfort, who's coming off spectacular back-to-back finishes, making this contest a rare bit of matchmaking by the UFC, because winners and losers don't usually square off.
The pair, meeting at 205 this weekend, competed at the same weight in 2006, when Pride Fighting Championships visited Las Vegas for the first time.
"He's more dangerous than he used to be, but I am, too," Henderson said Sunday while traveling from the U.S. to Brazil. "I feel I have more tools I can utilize, and that makes it tougher on him."
Belfort kicks much better than he did seven years ago, though Henderson isn't necessarily concerned about any of that. The former two-division Pride champion expects to break him like he did in Las Vegas.
Henderson's confidence stems from knowing Belfort used anabolic agents for their first fight and still fell short. The "Phenom" claimed over-the-counter supplements were the culprit for a positive test, but Henderson is of the opinion that previous steroid use is the real reason Belfort qualifies for testosterone replacement therapy today.
“That wasn't the case I had,” Henderson said. “I never touched steroids. But I still have low testosterone. I am on TRT so I can't really point fingers too bad, other than the fact that I've never taken steroids and he has. With that being said, I don't really care what he's on or not on -- I'm going to beat him up no matter what. Just like the last time I fought him."
In 2007, Henderson sought and received a use exemption for hormone replacement therapy, and has since fought the majority of his bouts, largely without controversy, while using treatments designed to lift testosterone levels from abnormally low to normal ranges.
After skipping TRT for his previous fight in Winnipeg, Manitoba, because the commission declined to approve a use exemption, Henderson is back on the treatment for the Belfort rematch. The Brazilian commission overseeing the event has required lab work each fortnight during camp, he said. None of this bothers Henderson, who has kept records and undergone tests to “cover my ass” since the start of his hormone program.
Asked if he felt right for this fight because of renewed treatments, Henderson said, "I just feel like I'm back to where I was, and I don't think it has anything to do with that."
Unless something goes unhinged, Henderson’s return to Brazil won’t mimic his experience from 1997. At the time, Henderson was set to travel to Brazil with his friend and teammate Randy Couture, who was also lined up to fight for the first time. Couture, however, got the call from UFC, and made his debut there. The rest is history.
With “The Natural” bowing out of the Brazil Open ’97, super heavyweight wrestler Tom Erikson, a coach at Purdue University, stepped in. Erikson managed two knockouts, including a particularly vicious one in 71 seconds over future UFC champion Kevin Randleman.
Henderson remembers having “fun, but at the same time I was a little nervous,” he said. "I had about two weeks of training or less for MMA. I was just a wrestler, basically."
A little more than five minutes into Henderson’s pro debut, the referee intervened and the American was declared the winner over Crezio de Souza. Fans reacted badly to the stoppage, and Henderson remembers a mob of about 50 people had to be talked off the ledge by Souza and the referee.
"Luckily, the height of the cage walls was about 10 feet high,” Henderson said, “so no one tried to climb over.”
Such was the inclination of Brazilian fight fans at the time. A couple of months after Henderson won twice in one night to kick off his important career, an infamous riot during Renzo Gracie’s fight with Eugenio Tadeu at Pentagon Combat essentially shut down big-time mixed martial arts in Brazil -- until the UFC relit the pilot light in 2011.
More than 16 years since his debut, Henderson can, without sounding silly, boast of being among the most accomplished fighters in the sport. He said the experience has flown by, and there are things yet to do.
"I will continue fighting regardless if I win or lose this fight,” Henderson said. “I'm not done at all."
Stream-of-consciousness-style thoughts on Jon Jones versus Alexander Gustafsson, followed by a light heavyweight edition of Pretenders and Contenders. Let’s go.
I scored the title fight in favor of Gustafsson 48-47. I gave him the first three rounds, Jones the final two.
After the fight, I posted on Twitter that Jones was being packed in a stretcher for the hospital, while Gustafsson was good enough to conduct interviews. Many followers jumped on that as an opportunity to point out Gustafsson had been robbed, since Jones was in far worse shape. I get it, but that’s not how you score a fight.
Even though I had it for Gustafsson, I’m happy Jones won -- if I’m allowed to say that. The most conclusive rounds of the bout, I thought, were the fourth and fifth for Jones, which also happen to be the “championship” rounds. Jones basically refused to lose when it really mattered.
The best moments were in the fourth round. That has to be Round of the Year. I remember seeing, literally, blood from Jones’ facial cut flying in the air when Gustafsson hit him. Midway through the round, it almost looked like Jones was about to go down. The crowd was going nuts.
Then Jones looked at the clock. And maybe I’m totally wrong on this, but I bet if you asked him about it today he might not even remember doing it. It was just built in -- the way some ninja spy might subconsciously, without knowing it, remember the exits of a building or something. Busted up, swollen, exhausted -- something inside Jones said “Look at the clock; OK, 90 seconds left in a must-win round, throw the spinning elbow, stay on him.” I don’t want to get too dramatic, but come on. That’s crazy.
I haven’t watched it a second time, but sitting here days later, I’m willing to say that was the best fight in UFC history -- surpassing Mauricio Rua versus Dan Henderson and Frankie Edgar versus Gray Maynard II.
I also see it as the one that solidifies Jones as the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. He sort of inherited the spot (in my eyes) after Anderson Silva lost to Chris Weidman, but he really owned it here. Had Silva knocked out Weidman in the first round this year, I think I would still rank Jones ahead of him after the Gustafsson fight. He went to the brink of defeat against a very good opponent who basically forced him to fight his fight, and still left with his arms raised.
We knew about his skills, but now that we know about his heart, it’s virtually impossible to pick against him. But let’s look at the division real close and see.
Really talented fighters with no chance: Ryan Bader, Rashad Evans, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Rua. All four have long roads to even get to Jones. Three of them have already lost to him. Rua appears to me, at 31, pretty much done when it comes to winning elite-level fights. A hard realization, but a realization nevertheless. Bader has plenty of career left, but there’s really no reason to think a second fight against Jones would go any different than the first. On Evans, I know he was the only title contender to go the distance before Gustafsson did, but that grudge match was every bit as one-sided as the fights Jones has finished and Evans hasn’t looked great since.
The athlete: Phil Davis. Davis is more than just an athlete, but I call him this because it’s still his best quality -- at least in a fight against Jones. The problem is, he won’t outwrestle Jones for five rounds. It won’t happen. Jones is a good enough wrestler with good enough intelligence to not let that kind of game plan beat him. You hear this sometimes about great fighters; it’s not really a game plan that will necessarily beat them. You have to be capable of beating them in every area on that one given night. Gustafsson almost did that. Davis, even on his best night, can’t be better than Jones.
The old man and the right hand: Dan Henderson. I would not count Henderson out completely in a Jones fight for three reasons. It’s possible he could defend the takedowns, at least early. He’s crafty at getting inside. His right hand can kill a mule. But yes, I will admit it’s a long, long, looooong shot. It’s going to be very difficult for him to get to Jones and if he did, Jones could probably wear him out pretty quickly, take the right hand out of the equation, and finish him before the end of the second round.
The Olympian: Daniel Cormier. Everyone seems to be putting all eggs in the Daniel Cormier basket, completely ignoring the fact that (A) we don’t know whether he can make the weight; (B) we don’t know what he’ll look like if he can make the weight. You can also add in (C) we don’t know whether he’ll beat Roy Nelson. As much as the UFC’s “Height and Reach” marketing ploy was poked fun at heading into UFC 165, truth is, we saw that having size sure doesn’t hurt in a fight against Jones. Cormier is 5-foot-11, with a 72.5 reach. He’s the only real hope at holding Jones down, but he’s at a huge disadvantage on the feet.
The only two, but the best two: Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira. Everyone basically acted like the hardest part was over for Jones at 205 pounds. He beat all the former champs, after all. What challenge could the lesser-known Swede and Brazilian possibly pose? After the whole Silva-Weidman fiasco we really should have known better. Confident, hungry, well-rounded challengers can’t be dismissed. These two have never held the belt, like most of the other men Jones already fought. They are in their athletic primes. They are true light heavyweights. As awesome as Jones has been, he’s never really shown one-punch knockout power. These two are big and athletic enough to stay upright, take a Jones elbow and respond with effective offense. Jones really is impossible to pick against right now, but if you’re willing to do it at 205 pounds, these are your only options.
Middleweight contender Chael Sonnen has been pursuing Wanderlei Silva for several months. As is common when Sonnen targets a fighter, especially a Brazilian, the verbal assault can turn vicious.
Silva has received some of the best trash talk in Sonnen’s repertoire, making a potential showdown between them enticing. A Sonnen-Wanderlei matchup has main event written all over it, especially if held in Brazil. But this fight, which seemed certain a week ago, lost a bit of its luster Saturday night in Boston.
When Sonnen submitted Mauricio Rua in the first round of their light heavyweight bout, he quickly became UFC’s most sought-after non-titleholder. Middleweights and light heavyweights alike began jostling for position to secure a fight with him.
Normally the hunter, Sonnen now finds himself being hunted. This comes as no surprise, really: Sonnen, once he starts yapping, becomes one of the biggest attractions in UFC.
Within minutes of Rua’s demise, fellow Brazilian title contenders Vitor Belfort and Lyoto Machida went public with their eagerness to be Sonnen’s next Octagon dance partner. Sonnen became such a hot commodity that even American light heavyweight contender Phil Davis announced that he wants in.
Overwhelmed by his newfound popularity, an excited Sonnen refused to reject any of his suitors, except Davis. That’s because Sonnen has a thing for Brazilians.
“I will beat up Vitor on the way to the ring to kick Wanderlei’s a--,” Sonnen said Saturday night. “And I will take care of that third guy [Machida], whose name I’ve already forgotten, in the parking lot on my way to my after-party. I would take all three.”
If given the opportunity, Sonnen would fight all three in one night. But let’s get back to reality. He can pick only one for his next date and that person should be Machida.
While Silva has been harassed by Sonnen for a while, and his overall career accomplishments are impressive, the former Pride middleweight champion has struggled since returning to UFC in December 2007. In his nine most recent UFC bouts, Silva is 4-5. As a result of his inconsistency, Silva hasn’t received 185-pound contender consideration in well more than a year. Silva just isn’t as attractive as he once was.
Belfort seems poised to fight Dan Henderson at an as-of-yet unannounced event in Brazil, according to a report on “UFC Tonight.”
That leaves Sonnen against Machida, which would be huge. Their contrasting fighting styles would be fun to watch. Transferring hostility from Silva to Machida will be a piece of cake for Sonnen. He’s been tossing verbal darts at Machida for a while, anyway. And it’s clearly gotten under Machida’s skin -- he is itching to get his hands on "The American Gangster.”
Despite a disputed unanimous decision loss to Davis on Aug. 3, Machida remains among the top contenders at light heavyweight; Sonnen is a contender at 185 pounds. But weight won’t be an issue for either -- Machida has hinted at dropping to middleweight, while Sonnen is comfortable at 205 as he proved Saturday night.
This fight makes the most sense. Dana White and UFC matchmaker Joe Silva need to make it happen.
Unbeaten Chris Weidman did what some thought to have been the unthinkable by knocking out middleweight champion Anderson Silva on Saturday at UFC 162 in Las Vegas.
Weidman, 29, caught Silva, who had defended his title a UFC-record 11 times, leaning back with a short left hook and finished the job on the ground to score a stunning second-round knockout.
The Baldwin, N.Y., native and former two-time Division I All-American wrestler at Hofstra University visited ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Conn., Thursday and took some time to answer our questions:
What did you do to celebrate after getting home from Saturday’s victory in Las Vegas?
I didn’t get to celebrate yet when I got home from Vegas -- it was right into media stuff for the UFC. I was in Vegas until Monday, but I got back early Tuesday morning and tried to get some sleep, which did not happen. It’s just been rock 'n' roll with the media. I can’t wait to get home and just lie down in my bed, hang out with the family and let it absorb a little bit.
Going back to your initial takedown of Anderson Silva in the first round, was that something you practiced countless hours specifically for him, or was it just muscle memory in the moment?
Yeah, muscle memory. It just happened. That specific takedown and the way I finished it, I don’t think I’ve done that once in sparring. I’ve wrestled my whole life and done that takedown a million times, but never in sparring [for this fight.] It was just natural feel.
Was there any one of Silva’s antics inside the Octagon that irritated you the most?
Just the excessiveness of it. I was just like, yo, you’re not punching me and I don’t know, like, bro … I mean if you could do all that, punch me in the face. I actually let him punch me in the face; there was one time where I just said, "hit me." He punched me [Weidman points to his chin] and I said, "hit me again." He punched me, and then I could hear my coaches yelling, “Wideman! Stop! Stop!” I’m like, all right, and I circled out. I was just like, bro, what are you doing? I’m laughing inside and saying, I’m winning the fight. It got to the point where I wanted to hit him, so it motivated me to put my hands on him.
Silva has long been considered the No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in MMA. But who do you now consider to be No. 1 in the world?
I’m not a big rankings guy, to be honest with you. But I would say Georges St-Pierre or Jon Jones. One of those two, I think.
You debuted this week on our ESPN.com P4P list at No. 5 with Silva right ahead of you at No. 4. Do you feel like you have to beat him another time to disprove all the naysayers?
I expected that when I took this fight. I said I would beat him and that after I finish him, we’re going to have an immediate rematch at Madison Square Garden. That was the only part that I got wrong, the Madison Square Garden. So we are having a rematch and I understood that, no matter what I did to him. I did the impossible and knocked him out and there’s more naysayers than anything. But if I would have submitted him it probably would have been worse. No matter what I did out there, if I had decisioned him, no matter what I did, he’s known as the greatest of all time and people think that he’s unbeatable and are shocked that anyone could actually beat him. So they are going to come up with excuses.
You have probably already heard a lot of excuses since Saturday not giving you a lot of credit. So how motivated are you for a rematch?
I’m very motivated. I’m motivated without that. I get to fight him again, and I want to put on an even better performance.
Stone Cold Steve Austin. I thought that was cool. He direct messaged me on Twitter. First he wished me good luck. I had never met him before. But I thought that was pretty cool. He thinks I’m a badass apparently. So, I’m a big fan of his now.
We’ve read that your home was severely damaged during Hurricane Sandy and about the nonprofit work you have done to help rebuild the area. Tell us about that and about how you and your family have recovered?
We are about nine months out from Hurricane Sandy. The house is still not back to 100 percent. It’s still a mess. But we have recovered -- we are on the second floor. We are good and are happy with where we are at. Obviously this fight has helped us a lot. We might be moving out and getting a new house, we’ll see. As far as nonprofit, I worked with Theo Rossi from “Sons Of Anarachy” and [Dallas Cowboys running back] DeMarco Murray. It’s something Theo Rossi started called Staten Strong that I just kind of jumped on because I was affected. We work together to get some money together and help people. But honestly the biggest thing I did right after Hurricane Sandy was me and my wife set up a point where people could bring food and batteries and cleaning supplies. We had it through my social media where everyone brought it to our local church and we passed it out to different charities and helped a lot of people.
There are a lot of great nicknames, of course, in MMA. You are known as The All-American. How did you get that name?
When I started and first got to the MMA gym the guys would start and say, “You’re like the All-American kid.” It was because, I don’t know, I go to church every Sunday, I got married young and I’ve always been an All-American in college having gone All-American all four years [two years each at Nassau Community College and Hofstra]. They just started calling me it and that was really it.
Let’s talk about some other fighters in your division not named Anderson Silva whom you could potentially fight. We’ll start with Vitor Belfort. What are your thoughts about him?
Tough guy. I would say he’s the No. 1 contender right now. If I wasn’t fighting Anderson Silva in a rematch, I’d probably be fighting him.
What do you think about all of the controversy surrounding him about testosterone-replacement therapy, and what are your thoughts on TRT in general?
I don’t like it, to be honest with you. If your testosterone is low, man, that’s God telling you that you have low testosterone, and if you can’t train the right way or whatever it is, it’s time to retire and do something else. It’s a little unfair that you could be 38 years old and he definitely has higher testosterone than me. [Note: Belfort is actually 36.] I’m 29 and have decently low testosterone, but I would never take testosterone because you are stuck on that thing for your whole life. I would never want to be on TRT. And I feel fine, [having low testosterone] doesn’t bother me. So I can’t imagine these guys that are using it for performance reasons. I don’t like it, and I know California banned it recently although other commissions allow it. I don’t like it.
What are your thoughts on Michael Bisping?
Another tough guy. I would love to fight Bisping, to be honest with you. That would be a great fight for me.
How about Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza?
Really good jiu-jitsu, good standup. He’s another tough guy, I think. All of these guys would be great challenges, and I would really love to entertain them.
Of all the other fighters out there, who is the one you admire the most and why?
I really like Cain Velasquez. I like his pace that he puts on; he is mentally and physically breaking everybody he goes with. He’s just tenacious and relentless. I like Anderson Silva, too. I like his style. He’s very relaxed.
If Silva had won the fight against you, there was talk about possible superfights for Silva against either Jon Jones or Georges St-Pierre. Now that for the time being that’s not going to happen, would you ever consider a fight against either of those two guys?
Definitely not against GSP. First off, I would never call out someone who was a lot smaller than me. I’ve trained with him before, and he’s just a smaller guy. I’m not the type of guy who is going to be like, Hey, you want to fight? I’ve got Anderson Silva on my mind, but if the fans wanted to see that fight [against Jones] and the UFC wanted it to happen, I’m 1000 percent in. I asked to fight Jon Jones on 10 days’ notice back when Dan Henderson got hurt. But I wasn’t a big enough name at that point, so they were like, no.
With your wrestling background, what are your thoughts about the current state of Olympic wrestling?
It’s crazy that it’s even in question and up for voting. But it is, so it’s sad. I think wrestling is the one of the greatest sports there are. It’s the ultimate combat sport, and I just think it needs to be in the Olympics. I think the Olympics was made from wrestling and that it’s a staple. There just needs to be a lot of attention brought to it to keep it there.
Your goal has always been to be champion. Now that you have reached the pinnacle of your profession, how have you readjusted your goals?
My ultimate goal was always that I want to be known as one of the greatest of all time. The first step was obviously to be UFC champion. I did that, and now it’s time to take one fight at a time and really just set myself apart from the group. That’s my goal.
WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- If it turns out Saturday does mark the end of what’s been an awkward relationship between Roy Nelson and the UFC, it’s actually pretty fitting.
If there is one thing about Roy “Big Country” Nelson we’ve come to learn in the last 43 months, it’s that he is always unapologetically himself. He’s not going to change. Not for you, not for me and certainly not for anybody in the UFC.
Nelson took a risk this weekend in Winnipeg. Rather than sign an extension with the promotion earlier this year, he finished his original contract -- the one he signed in 2009 after winning the 10th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality series.
It was a bold move, but a perfectly defensible one. Even, for some, an inspiring one. Nelson has long been unhappy with the finances of that TUF contract -- and one can understand why.
His early fight purses were reported at $15,000. That’s what Nelson’s payout was when he stood with Junior dos Santos for 15 minutes at UFC 117. It was the same when he fought Frank Mir in UFC 130 co-main event. When he headlined the TUF 16 Finale in December, he made $24,000 to show and $24,000 to win.
Of course, Nelson has made more money during his UFC career than what’s represented in these reported payouts. But the point is -- he was consistently one of the lowest-paid UFC fighters among those appearing on pay-per-view main cards.
Apparently, an effort to change that was made prior to this final fight in Winnipeg, but UFC president Dana White says Nelson turned it down.
“He called [UFC matchmaker] Joe Silva and said, ‘Listen, I’m fighting tough guys here and I’m winning, you know?’” White said. “And Joe said, ‘You’re absolutely right. We’ll get rid of the TUF contract and give you new contract.’ We offered him a deal for more money and Roy said, ‘That’s not enough.’”
That is White’s side of the story, at least. And certainly, there might have been small print involved in that scenario we’re not hearing about. But at least according to White, a better-paying deal was offered, which Nelson refused.
It appears Nelson believed the best way to maximize his profit was run his UFC win streak to four, capped by a knockout of Stipe Miocic at UFC 161. He would be a free agent with leverage. He would have negotiating power with the UFC.
The problem is he lost -- in record-breaking fashion. He ran after Miocic with overhand rights. He was gassed before the end of the first round. He became such an easy target, Miocic hit him 137 times according to Fightmetric -- the most strikes any UFC fighter has absorbed in a bout without being knocked out.
It’s not that Nelson lost the fight. Everybody loses. The frustrating aspect comes when you consider how he lost. It was so “Roy.” The defiance he has regarding his weight and appearance has endeared him to fans, but the facts are the facts.
Nelson holds a 5-0 UFC record in fights that end in the first round. He’s 1-4 when they go beyond that.
His ability to take a punch, his heart, his belief in his right hand -- Roy Nelson puts on amazing fights. But there’s no reason why any heavyweight should ever absorb 137 strikes in one fight.
The question is not, “How is that possible?” The question is, “Why did he get hit so much?”
Nelson is an easy guy to cheer for. He lives by his own principles. He has a young son at home, who he wants to provide financially for. He leaves everything in the cage every time he fights -- that alone is enough to make total strangers love the guy.
He rolled the dice in a “high stakes poker game,” in White’s words, and there was no problem with that. If Nelson was going to do it, though -- at some point, he needed to make sure he could be there, physically, fighting Miocic after just one round. And he didn’t do that.
Dan Henderson's past two fights in the Octagon couldn't have been any more different.
If Saturday's UFC 161 main event effort against Rashad Evans in Winnipeg manages to find the happy middle between Henderson's classic with Mauricio Rua and subsequent snoozer against Lyoto Machida, the 42-year-old American believes a victory should net him another championship opportunity.
However, "if I go out there and squeeze out a boring win," he said, "I wouldn't give me a title shot."
That's not necessarily something he controls. Henderson mostly blames Machida for one of the worst bouts of his illustrious career.
"Nothing notable happened in the whole thing," he said. "You can barely even call it a fight.
"I really should have and could have maybe been a bit more aggressive. But it's pretty hard to do when someone's running."
Coming off a split decision that was as frustrating for Henderson to participate in as it was for the rest of us to watch, the two-division Pride king isn’t sure what to expect from Evans, who looked bad in his two most recent fights -- a destabilizing effort versus his rival Jon Jones followed by a terrible performance against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in February.
"He just wasn't very aggressive at all," Henderson said of the Nogueira contest. "Even when you're being cautious you can do a lot more than that. It didn't show what he normally does or what he's capable of. Everybody has an off fight or is flat occasionally, and that seemed like his. It's not anything that I'm going to judge that that's the Rashad I'm going to fight. I don't think that at all. I'm sure he's going to come out a little more aggressive with more of a purpose.
"Either way, he doesn't run and move nearly as bad as Machida does. I don't think it'll be even close as bad as the last fight."
Henderson described Evans in all the expected ways. Well-rounded. Quick. Powerful with a solid wrestling base. "So you gotta be aware of all of it," Henderson said. "Have to be careful of everything. At the same thing I feel I have a bit more power and good take-down defense.
"Better in the clinch. There are some situations that I'm going to try and put him in that I think are good for me."
He claimed not to have a clue what was happening between Evans' ears, and explained that it doesn't matter. Because no matter how poorly Evans performed in his last outing, it would be foolish to expect anything less than the best from the former Michigan State University wrestler.
"I think Rashad definitely has some skills I need to really be careful with," Henderson said.
During a pre-event conference call, Evans expressed hope of moving beyond the recent disappointments. A good clash with Henderson would help.
I really should have and could have maybe been a bit more aggressive. But it's pretty hard to do when someone's running.” -- Dan Henderson, on the frustration he faced in a February 2013 bout against Lyoto Machida
"You almost have to have a short[-term] memory on that kind of thing," Evans said. "Because if you dwell on it too long then it can definitely hinder you again. I know how to perform. I know how to go out there and fight to the best of my abilities. It's just a matter of going out there and doing it. Second-guessing myself is not going to get me any closer to fighting to the best of my capabilities. So I learned from that performance."
Henderson sounds willing to give him a chance to prove it. And while the Olympic wrestler admitted Evans' strengths might cause him to "be really patient, for sure, and not be overly aggressive," Henderson suggested the three-round fight could come down to making the most of a particular moment.
Rebounding after a troubled training camp leading up to the Machida contest, Henderson said his preparation for Evans was on point. He feels far more mobile than he did in February, and expects that to pay off in Canada. If so, Henderson is eyeing UFC champion Jon Jones, who is expected to defend his title against Alexander Gustafsson later this year.
Because a knee injury cost Henderson the chance to fight Jones at UFC 151, he said the pair has unfinished business. The way Henderson sees it, "I never got to take the test I studied for.
"I just feel like someone like Jon Jones is a challenge. I trust in myself and what I'm capable of doing."
Henderson has fought all manner of opponents since entering MMA in 1997, and he repeatedly proved what he’s capable of doing. As he boarded a plane for Canada earlier this week, Henderson tweeted how excited he felt to step into a cage again, in part because of just how badly he wants to wash away the stain of the Machida bout.
"It's typically not in my nature to be close to boring," he said, "but it happened recently."
As Evans noted, mixed martial artists are often pinned down by the result of their most recent outing.
For both men, then, there’s plenty of room for improvement.
Against better judgment, let’s talk about UFC 149 one last time.
The pay-per-view event took place on July 21, 2012, at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta. An interim bantamweight title bout between Renan Barao and Urijah Faber served as the main event.
It was, by most accounts, a terrible night. UFC president Dana White admitted he was “embarrassed” by the main card. It really was one awkward fight after another.
Cheick Kongo and Shawn Jordan embraced in a tired hug for 15 minutes. Brian Ebersole resorted to a series of strange karate slaps to James Head’s leg in a dull split-decision loss. Hector Lombard stood in place and ate jabs. By the time the main event started, the Calgary crowd had fallen in love with a “refund” chant.
To this day, White remains apologetic to the entire Canadian city for that event.
Well, meet the ill-fated UFC 149's brother, UFC 161. The similarities between these two events are eerie.
UFC 161 was originally headlined by an interim bantamweight title bout between Barao and Eddie Wineland, which fell through due to a Barao injury. Similarly, UFC 149 lost its main event, a featherweight title fight, when Jose Aldo was injured.
Mauricio Rua was supposed to fight at UFC 149 and 161. In both cases, he was removed when his opponent suffered an injury. Thiago Silva withdrew from the contest last year. This time it was an injury to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Speaking of Nogueira injuries, Lil Nog may have just been following the example of his twin brother. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was originally scheduled to fight Cheick Kongo at UFC 149, but he withdrew due to injury.
In both cases, a “name” fight was added by the UFC to give the card more value. At UFC 149, it was Lombard and Tim Boetsch serving as the co-main event. This weekend, it’s Roy Nelson and Stipe Miocic serving as ... the co-main event.
Kind of weird, right? Hopefully, the similarities stop come fight night.
Glover Teixeira’s Twitter account. It’s nice and simple -- @gloverteixeira. You might want to keep an eye on it when the main event goes off. Teixeira has read the writing on the wall and it says “Alexander Gustafsson.” Feeling one win away from a title shot, it wouldn’t be shocking to see Teixeira comment publicly on the winner of Hendo, Evans.
Alexis Davis’ party. You see this from time to time -- Brazilian fights in Brazil or an Aussie fights in Australia. They don’t just look good. They ignite the crowd and win in such a way that you don’t forget about it when the next UFC card comes around. Alexis Davis is a dark horse in the women’s division. She’s well-respected, but few fans really know her yet. That could change here. She’s fighting on home soil and has a type of charm that once cameras find her, they might stick on her.
The evolution of Stipe Miocic. Miocic has the athleticism and the intelligence to turn into a legitimate heavyweight -- the question is when will it happen? He has good instincts and he comes with a game plan, but sometimes in martial arts you have to go off script. Can he surprise a guy like Roy Nelson? Miocic has the fundamentals. Has he added that element of unpredictability?
Seriously, don’t be UFC 149. UFC 160 was three weeks ago. UFC 162 isn’t for another three weeks. If UFC 161 does end up being the second coming of UFC 149 we can’t hide from it. The smell will linger.
He and his team would say yes. Certain critics would say he hasn’t been the same dating way back to the knockout loss to Lyoto Machida in 2009. That might be a stretch, he did dominate Phil Davis with three cracked ribs as recently as last year, but no doubt about it, this fight will answer questions about Evans after he didn’t look like himself in February.
Q: Is Dan Henderson still Dan Henderson?
It was hard to tell in his last fight. Machida stayed on the outside and refused to really engage with him. Henderson’s too smart to just sprint after him, so we were kind of left with a points fight that Henderson came out on the short end of. One right hand is all it takes for Henderson to get right back into title talk -- an opportunity many still feel he deserves. Can he still land it against the elite 205ers?
Q: How good is Tyron Woodley?
He’s always been an eye-catching prospect. In the same way a loss to Jon Fitch might have gotten Erick Silva to turn a corner, maybe a loss to Nate Marquardt did the same for Woodley. He destroyed a tough veteran guy in Jay Hieron his first time out. If he looks half as good in his second UFC fight against a talent like Jake Shields, we might need to get this guy on the fast track.
Q: Can lightning strike twice?
The one saving grace of UFC 149 was Mr. Ryan Jimmo’s seven-second knockout over Anthony Perosh, followed by a strikingly good robot dance. Perosh was knocked out instantly, so much so that Internet users started Photoshopping his knockout face onto pop-culture images. What will Jimmo do in his Canadian encore?
Q: Is Sam Stout good or just entertaining?
It’s OK if it’s the latter, but it seems he has potential for more. He’s always good for a show. Six times he’s taken home bonus money, but he’s never set great expectations in terms of racking up wins with an overall 8-7 UFC record. That might be changing, as Stout has won four of his past six.
WHO’S ON THE HOT SEAT?Jake Shields. The UFC’s acquisition of then-Strikeforce middleweight champion Jake Shields was a big deal in 2010 -- but it’s failed to deliver much. Through five UFC appearances, Shields is 2-2 with a no-contest and a drug suspension last August. He can’t seem to figure out what weight class he wants to compete in, and his fighting style is such that even when he’s winning, he’s getting booed. He has little room for error here.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because even though it’s not the most stacked card in the world, it’s still Evans and it’s still Hendo ... because you don’t know Alexis Davis and you should ... because Roy Nelson is rolling the dice on behalf of disgruntled employees everywhere ... because there are sure to be live shots of Winnipeg, Manitoba -- which is quite lovely this time of year ... because Game 5 isn’t until Sunday ... because if it does turn into UFC 149 revisited, Dana White’s head will turn a bright red that should be visible regardless of what camera angle is being used ... because the H-bomb will be there.
The concern about Rashad Evans is understandable.
From an outside perspective, Evans has never recovered from that five-round loss to Jon Jones in April 2012. He was absent from the cage for 10 months after that, and then looked like a shell of his former self in a decision loss to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
Evans looked hesitant in that fight -- unsure of himself. Come to think of it, he even looked a little sad.
It might lead us all into thinking that competitively speaking, with the words “UFC champ” already on his résumé and money in the bank, we’ve seen the best of Evans. He gave it a good try against Jones at UFC 145, but that was the beginning of the end.
If the former light heavyweight champion is going through the motions now, or even if he’s just trying to relight a competitive flame on a burned-down wick, it’s going to show against Dan Henderson at UFC 161 this weekend.
Talk to those around Evans (17-3-1) though, and conversation doesn’t revolve around rekindling his love for the sport or rebuilding his confidence.
The Blackzilians actually can’t wait for Henderson on Saturday, the start of a title run and, you had better believe it, Jones again.
Glenn Robinson, Evans’ manager: It’s crazy to watch. People ask, 'Rashad, are you all right, are you sure you’re OK?' Like he’s got a sickness or something. He just lost a fight and people are treating him like a kid who lost football tryouts or something. Listening to these people talk, I thought they were going to take him for ice cream.
Tyrone Spong, teammate: For me, he’s the same guy he’s always been. He’s very hungry. I know what it is to be criticized, but sometimes I’m like, come on. Don’t talk stupid. Give the guy a break here. It’s two losses -- and it’s not like he got his a-- whupped [in the Nogueira fight]. He had less of a night. That’s the whole story.
Robinson: There was a point over the last couple of years where he’d been through a rough time. It’s one thing for you to know you’re getting divorced (Evans finalized his divorce in 2012), it’s another thing when it becomes official. He was with his ex-wife from the time he was really just a kid. That was all going on leading up to his last fight. Every one of us has bad times in life and that was Rashad’s bad time. That doesn’t mean he’s changed as a fighter or a person. He had a fight that didn’t go his way. That doesn’t mean he’s done.
Spong: People don’t know the real Rashad. They see him as a character -- the UFC fighter. What comes first is that we are all human beings with the same emotions as every other person. Not every camp is the same. We all go through different things emotionally and physically. Every camp is different, so every fight is different.
Kenny Monday, Blackzilians wrestling coach: From the first day I joined the camp (Monday joined the team in April), he’s been great. My message right away was, 'How do you want your career to be defined?' I asked about the possibility of being a champion and getting back to the top and he said, 'I want to be defined as one of the best in the sport.' He didn’t have to say anything else. I said, 'Let’s get to work.'
Robinson: I’ll tell you exactly what happened in the Jones fight. That training camp was a circus. I mean, I love Coach [Mike] Van Arsdale, but he ran that camp like he would have if he was fighting, not Rashad (Van Arsdale parted ways with the Blackzilians in mid-2012). Rashad had, at one point, five different striking coaches.
Spong: That Jones fight -- even during that camp a lot of stuff happened. It didn’t go as planned. He still went out there and fought his a-- off. He has no problem talking about it. If he looks back at it, things didn’t go as planned in the camp and he couldn’t do everything he wanted, but other than you can’t regret anything. He still went out there and gave Jon Jones a hell of a fight.
Robinson: It’s just not true [his confidence suffered after the Jones fight]. Rashad’s confidence never wavers. He had a lot on his mind after that, but he never lost confidence on who he was. When you have a bad day as an MMA fighter, you’re washed up and this and that but let me tell you -- Rashad completely destroyed the tackling dummy in the gym for this fight. His confidence level is just fine and he’ll show that.
Monday: I’ve been around the sport a long time and I can see it when a fighter is done. I can see it in their eyes -- see the passion is not quite there. They train, but they don’t have that edge. I still see that hunger of wanting to win in practice. When guys stop trying to win in practice, that’s when you see them looking for the exit door. Rashad still gets pissed off in practice.
Robinson: The most important thing for Rashad was he needed to enjoy fighting again, and he does. He’s in great shape. He and Tyrone were in my house watching Thiago [Silva] fight and they are flexing their arms to see who has bigger biceps. Rashad’s body is ripped. His legs are huge -- you can see the muscle in them. That came from hard work and you can’t put that hard work into something unless you enjoy it. That’s the biggest change in the last year.
Roberto Flamingo, Blackzilians striking coach: We expected a better fight against Nogueira. It didn’t go as it had to go. That night, Alistair was fighting right before so I walked him to the Octagon and wasn’t there to warm up Rashad. The preparation half an hour before the fight wasn’t where it needed to be. He has to prepare good before he goes to the Octagon. He couldn’t find his range.
Spong: It all felt good going into that fight. He was strong in everything. He just missed his rhythm and he couldn’t get into the fight. He was off the whole time. It was frustrating for me as it was for him.
Monday: After the Jones fight, he was doing more commentary and after the emotional drain from that fight I think he may have thought about wrapping it up. I don’t know, I wasn’t here. After that second loss though, I think he said, 'Nah, this is not how I want to go out.' We’ve talked about leaving a legacy of greatness. He knows in order to set that up, he needs this fight.
Spong: It’s your opinion if you don’t think he can beat Jon Jones, but I think it’s stupid. Look at Jon’s fights in the 205-pound division. When he defends his belt, he’s finished everyone easy but Rashad. Rashad is the only one to give him a fight. I know for sure if he had a proper camp he is the one to beat Jon Jones.
Robinson: The bottom line is who of all these great champions, some of them are in the title hunt right now, can say they went five rounds with Jon Jones? I asked him if he wants that fight again and Rashad told me, 'I’d love to get the belt again, but right now I just want to fight.' He’s not going to pressure himself into the belt. If he does the right job, the belt will come.
Monday: We talked about Jon Jones one time, about his mindset going into the fight and if he wanted him again. Absolutely [he wants him again]. If you don’t want that fight, you know, then I think you are done. The guy is the best out there. Who wouldn’t want that fight? I want to fight him.
Robinson: He trained harder for this fight than the [second] Tito [Ortiz] fight. Way harder. Rashad excels under pressure. In the Tito fight he had to prove to the world he deserved the title shot. He went into the Phil Davis fight with three cracked ribs. He really put 100 percent into this camp. Betting against Rashad because of what happened in the past is a foolish move. Rashad will be dangerous on Monday. Today, people are concerned -- on Monday, Rashad will be dangerous.
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.