Everyone answers to somebody, so we, the staff at Sherdog.com, have decided to defer to our readers.
“The Doggy Bag” gives you the opportunity to speak about what is on your mind from time to time. Our reporters, columnists, radio hosts and editors will chime in with their answers and thoughts, so keep the emails coming.
UFC on Fuel TV 8 in Saitama, Japan ignited many talking points. Wanderlei Silva's dramatic knockout of Brian Stann thrilled MMA fans but left them wondering if it was not a good moment for “The Axe Murderer” to put down his weapon. Mark Hunt ripped off his fourth straight UFC win, literally cracking Stefan Struve's jaw and announcing himself as an improbable-but-viable heavyweight contender. Meanwhile, the blame for Bryan Caraway's head-scratching decision loss to Takeya Mizugaki was not placed on the judges but on his girlfriend, Miesha Tate, for her cornering advice. Fair or unfair, folks are wondering if having your significant other in your corner for significant fights is the best plan.
However, just as soon as onlookers started to digest these bits, the UFC unloaded a deluge of information, from its new look on Fox Sports 1, title fights for Anderson Silva and Renan Barao, the injury to Alistair Overeem and a battery of fights. It has been a week of information overload, and true to form, this is where we sort through it.
Also, you cannot forget the obligatory Ronda Rousey email. You can never have too many Ronda Rousey emails.
This is maybe a hard question to answer but I want to ask anyway. With the UFC announcing so many major fights this week while still releasing so many fighters, do you think that the MMA landscape could change drastically this year? Do you think that there will be any new champions to start 2014 or high-profile releases like Jon Fitch? I am reading MMA news and it is strange to see Fitch in World Series of Fighting while Eddie Wineland fights for a UFC title. I get a feeling like “something” is changing, but I'm not sure what it is. -- Lasse from Finland
Jordan Breen, administrative editor: I could probably answer such an open-ended question a million different ways. The UFC is readying a move to a new television platform, Bellator is gaining traction on Spike TV and, as you mentioned, World Series of Fighting is plucking some intriguing fighters but remains a promotional and financial wild card. All three of these promotions could have wild successes or painful failures by the time the year is up, and that is to say nothing of the actual fights that occur.
The term “landscape” in MMA is naturally a foggy one, so let's explore the more concrete ideas you offered. First up, new champions. Right now, the UFC has nine weight classes and 10 champions -- I remember you, Dominick Cruz! -- but they have varying levels of stability. Demetrious Johnson will be returning from injury, and whether or not he ends up getting penciled in to face John Moraga again, the larger goal for the UFC is a rematch with Joseph Benavidez. This is a fight that could perhaps tip the apple cart on “Mighty Mouse,” even if the champ will be a favorite to replicate his UFC 152 victory. Lightweight champion Benson Henderson is always expected to face a murderer's row at 155 pounds, a division that historically has produced some eye-opening results in UFC title fights. However, the most obvious weight range for change (now we're rhyming good) would seem to be at 135 and 145 pounds.
UFC bantamweight champion Cruz is coming off of back-to-back surgeries on his left knee and refuses to offer a firm timetable on his return, saying he wants to simply focus on recovery. Meanwhile, Renan Barao on June 15 has the Wineland bout to which you alluded. Since Cruz's last bout against Johnson, who was at that point still a bantamweight, Barao is 4-0 in the UFC and improving his game each time out. Wineland is a fearsome puncher, and given the Brazilian's brush with mortality against Michael McDonald, there are some elements of an upset present. Nonetheless, a Barao submission or decision seems most likely. If Cruz is unable to face Barao by winter, the promotion will at least think seriously about stripping Cruz and promoting Barao to full champion status as a matter of form. When fans haven't seen a particular fighter in two years while constantly being exposed to the successes of the “interim champ,” how much longer can you play that game? Plus, it could allow Cruz to return to the Octagon in a warm-up fight against someone other than Barao, giving him the chance to test his knee in a combat environment that would be perhaps be more appropriate.
Technically, that's a “new” champ, but if that isn't enough of a stir-up for you, the obvious candidate is in the featherweight division. Jose Aldo is a pound-for-pound all-star, but Anthony Pettis' striking dynamism, defensive savvy and sharp grappling seem to suggest he's the best man for the job. Aldo will be a righteous favorite against the Duke Roufus pupil, but stylistically, Pettis has a better chance to prevail than anyone we've seen so far. Given Aldo's injury issues in the past and their impact on his camp and weight cuts, this is a feasible and potentially thrilling upset.
If that happened, does Pettis stay and defend the title, as UFC President Dana White has publicly demanded of him? Does he get the chance to fight at 155 simultaneously, as he has publicly hoped for? If Aldo wins, is he moving right into a title shot at 155 pounds? Any of these scenarios could possibly give us a new 145-pound ace and some serious shakeup.
I'm not sure that a new UFC champ or two really constitutes some kind of sea change in MMA. However, the nature of what I just described could offer that. Aldo moving up to 155 and conquering it or Pettis competing in two divisions actively would mark that kind of conceptual change in the UFC product. For years, Zuffa sought to keep its stars and champs in a weight class until they were simply caught at a competitive dead end, running a tidy, predictable product in that way. Perhaps the “super fight era” has been overblown since we haven't exactly gotten to see Anderson Silva-Jon Jones yet, but we are seeing more loose, creative matchmaking at every level in the UFC, which portends intriguing things in the future. If the UFC can worm its way through the loopholes in the Empire State to allow for a New York event to happen late 2013, maybe we do get Jones-Silva or something similar.
As far as releasing fighters go, the UFC has always been relatively savvy about who it releases and when. It worried about other companies taking former champions or notable faces, matching them up and confusing consumers. I am not so sure that Fitch-Gerald Harris is going to trick folks into thinking it's a UFC bout and I doubt the UFC is going to stop dropping too many top 5 talents just because of Fitch's unique, polarizing situation. After all, if it was just going to start hacking away on high-priced, recently defeated fighters that have already fought for titles, Josh Koscheck would be joining Fitch on the WSOF 2 card, but he's not.
All of this being said, I don't think your gut feeling is without warrant. Perhaps we won't remember 2013 as the “Year of Landscape Change,” but there's no doubt that there is still a change on the horizon. Anderson Silva is 37 and clearly winding down his career; should he beat Chris Weidman at UFC 162, he might end up with just a couple super fights before calling it a day. Georges St. Pierre fights twice a year, has always been adamant that he'll retire before he starts to deteriorate and has loads of loot. Jones may clean out the 205-pound division sooner rather than later. Quinton Jackson has left the promotion; Matt Hughes has retired; and B.J. Penn is in a perpetual “Will he ever fight again?” state. Other notable faces -- Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio Rua, to name a few -- are in their twilight. Hell, even Bellator is starting to have turnover in its season-in, season-out tournament competitors. A guy like Marlon Sandro has fought 10 times in the last 20 months and is clearly showing the wear-and-tear of that grind, all while a whole new class of Russian badasses emerges.
I've been typing a lot here, so let me summarize this: it's not about who is going to knock off the champs or what upsets might happen this year, nor is it about whether or not competitors could snap up some talent the UFC doesn't want. The fact is that the superstars of this sport, the fighting idols for whom people buy pay-per-views and tickets and with whom they have a strong nostalgic connection are coming to the end of the line. Maybe it's a year from now, maybe it's two, but at some point in the near future, you're going to be watching Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold fight for the UFC middleweight title and you'll gasp for a moment and think, “Holy smokes, Anderson Silva isn't UFC champion any more. He's just the face of Burger King.”
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