Stephens steals show with no-show
- Reaction to Friday's debacle involving the arrest of Jeremy Stephens and UFC's subsequent attempts to get him in the Octagon that night were, at best, mixed.
Fans and media took shots at UFC president Dana White for promising that Stephens would be free in time to fight Yves Edwards, even doubling down on that claim. White took shots at the media for doing the math and surmising odds were slim to none it would happen.
Soon it felt as though White was pushing to get Stephens out of jail -- where he was sitting based on a warrant for felony assault -- less to help the veteran lightweight and more to make good on his claim. White said he felt for Stephens, who lost out on a needed payday, but the promoter also admitted to pushing the way he did because of his promises.
Whatever the motivation, lost in the details of Friday's mess is another result of the culture White created for athletes in the UFC.
Over the years we've seen countless examples of fighters messing up.
Most of the time there was White, loudly and defiantly standing behind his people. Short of a three-state bank robbing spree, White said Friday night, this is how he's going to handle sticky situations. Even if it results in PR hits, or unflattering news stories, or being flat wrong.
That's not always how it is, as Miguel Torres can attest, but most of the time the UFC has its athletes' backs. There's risk in this, of course. Someday a fighter will really mess up. White might take his word as truth and put his reputation and the reputation of the UFC brand up as collateral.
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Either you accept claims by Stephens' representatives that he's being used by a "so-called friend" as a scapegoat; that Stephens did nothing to a man who was apparently badly beaten at his party. Or you believe Stephens did in fact have something to do with physically assaulting another person.
The truth is in there somewhere.
As it is, we know where White stands. He has taken the word of his guy.
Since this is a grades column, where does White flush out?
On a PR hit, he looked pretty bad. White made a promise, didn't come through, unnecessarily went after the media, then had to spend much of Friday night offering explanations. That's worth a "D-."
As a businessman, White took a real risk. He can't know the truth about Stephens, yet he pushed and pushed to get him out on bond so he could fight in a cage the same night? Think about the optics, which probably has to do more with public relations but also delves into real-world business. Where's the benefit to UFC? I don't see a big upside in sticking out his neck. Again, a "D."
On his relationship with fighters, White scores an "A+." Stephens isn't a pay-per-view draw. Few people in Minneapolis were on hand to watch him (save, ironically, a few friends from the Des Moines Police Department). But that didn't matter. White's there for his guys, especially ones who have been there for him. Make no mistake, this is an important message to fighters. Play ball, and even if you get in trouble with the law, we'll be there for you. Trust us. White hammered home this point over the weekend.
Overall, White earns a "B-" for his handling of the Stephens mess.
As for the fighters who managed to actually find their way to the Octagon, here you go:
UFC on FX 5 grades
Justin Edwards (8-2) made the most of a mistake and choked Josh Neer into unconsciousness. Cashing in on opportunities is valuable in any profession, but especially MMA because the price for failing to do so can be extremely painful. Edwards slapped on an arm-in guillotine and wrapped it up before Neer could react. It was excellent on all fronts. Still, the 29-year-old welterweight will have trouble moving past a mid-tier slot in the UFC.
He's perennially overlooked in the heavyweight division, which is somewhat obscene considering his combination of size, skill and, yes, athleticism. Antonio Silva (17-4) moves exceedingly well for a man of his dimensions, making the 33-year-old Brazilian's win over a hampered Travis Browne seem inevitable when it happened. True, he was roughed up against Daniel Cormier and Cain Velasquez in his previous two bouts, but I don't think we've heard the last of Silva.
John Dodson, 28, could have put away Jussier da Silva earlier than he did, but that doesn't matter so much considering how things played out in Round 2. The win sealed a flyweight title shot against Demetrious Johnson, which Dodson (14-5) not so facetiously recommended watching in slow-motion. Hard to argue with him. These two will fly around the Octagon, though I see Johnson having clear advantages in footwork, wrestling and boxing.
He thought his way through the fight. He did all he needed to do to defeat veteran Jay Hieron. But Jake Ellenberger (28-6) wasn't terribly inspiring. Watching the highly regarded welterweight ply his trade Friday, it felt as if he was trying to find a happy balance between when to fight and when not to fight. For the most part, he went with the latter option, rendering a slow contest that was beneath his class. It makes sense for Ellenberger, 27, to pick his spots, and I'm betting he'll figure out what works best for him sooner rather than later.
The final result deserved a worse grade, but the fact that Travis Browne (13-1-1) was injured so early against Antonio Silva takes some of the sting off his first defeat. His style is predicated on speed and movement, which is why I picked him to win. Absent both, Browne really didn't have much hope against Silva, and that was borne out at the end when Bigfoot slammed a right into Browne's jaw. This isn't one of those losses that Browne can learn a lot from. The 30-year-old Hawaiian can only heal up and step back into a dangerous pool of heavyweights.
Watching Jay Hieron is utterly frustrating. I can't imagine what he feels like following efforts like the one he put forth against Jake Ellenberger. For some reason Hieron (23-6) just can't pull the trigger in big spots. He sputters along, and three rounds later he's on the wrong end of a decision. He needed to beat Ellenberger. Time is dwindling for Hieron, 36, to make a run in the welterweight division.
Josh Neer (33-12-1) went "night night" early in the first. Hey, say this about the guy, he's willing to suffer the effects of short blood supply to the brain. And I suppose in some twisted way that saves him from an "F." As it is, a loss is a loss, which means two in a row by way of first-round stoppage for the 29-year-old Iowan.
What a disappointment. Jussier Formiga (14-2) looked nothing like a top-class flyweight against John Dodson. He was adequate in the opening five minutes, but once Dodson went after the 27-year-old Brazilian, that was that. Da Silva knew he had to gain strength and size to compete against the emerging North American flyweight class. That, apparently, isn't enough.
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