Ask Ant: The Unprotected Knuckles and Exposed Prospects Edition

By: Anthony Walker
Jun 21, 2019

TouchButtDork: What is your take on the Loughnane / DWTNCS situation?

Brendan Loughnane deserves a UFC contract. He fought his heart out, showed tremendous skill and outstruck Bill Algeo. A last-second takedown being the reason why he was passed over is ludicrous.

Loughnane was clearly the best fighter featured on Tuesday night. He came into the new UFC Apex Center with the best record of the 8 fighters. He was fighting the toughest adversary of the night. If the Tuesday Night Contender Series is supposed to find the best fighters that aren’t tied to a major promotion, anything short of a dubious decision win should have guaranteed a roster spot for Loughnane.

This should take nothing away from Punahele Soriano and Yorgan De Castro. Both men fought well and deserve whatever good fortunes await them in the UFC. However, passing on the most experienced and most skilled fighter just can’t be justified by any logical train of thought. Of course, that statement is only true if the goal is to find the best fighters.

It’s not just that White passed on signing the British prospect, it’s how he did it. The look of disgust on his face when Loughnane took Algeo down in the final seconds was telling. It would appear that his declaration of only wanting “killers” wasn’t hyperbole. He wants someone who would recklessly stand and trade, as opposed to being a mixed martial artist that actually mixes his martial arts. Loughnane showed all of the aggression and grit necessary to prove himself. White himself said that he was “talented, with a ton of heart,” yet he angrily refused to accept someone who shot for a double-leg takedown in an MMA fight. The young man sat there with a busted face, blood in his urine and was then told that he didn’t sacrifice enough of himself.

The promotion is called Dana White's Tuesday Night Contender Series, and the UFC is a privately owned company. He can sign whoever he wants. But in a world where Tony Ferguson may not get the next title shot and Justin Bieber fighting Tom Cruise is welcomed with open arms by White, it’s time to start wondering what’s going on. Loughnane being snubbed is just another sign that sport can become a distant second to entertainment on a whim.

Cole Shelton: Why do MMA fans get mad at Danis' matchmaking yet also get mad at Pico's matchmaking? It has to be one or the other.

Sherdog’s own Cole Shelton, who much to my dismay is destroying me on the staff picks right now, dropped this well-timed gem on me. Scott Coker and company were getting a ton of flak for the matchmaking at Bellator 222. Aaron Pico was paired with an undefeated prospect while Dillon Danis found himself in the cage with what seemed to be grappling dummy with a pulse. By the way, let’s not forget about the 0-12 amateur that was originally slated to face Valerie Loureda in her debut.

The promotion is clearly all over the place in its handling of young talent and deserves at least some criticism for it. For Pico, there was simply no decent excuse for having him in such a tough matchup. Adam Borics had nearly twice the experience of Pico, with an impressive string of finishes. If the lesson that a slower build was more appropriate for the young phenom wasn’t learned after his failed debut against a 10-fight veteran, then it should’ve been learned after Henry Corrales ended Pico’s night early in January. Yet somehow the decision was made to once again ignore his inexperience and need for development.

On the other hand, Danis undoubtedly has tougher off-days in the gym. He simply did whatever he wanted to his opponent. While people were questioning how this fight was put together, they seemed to be forgetting just how little time Danis has spent as a mixed martial artist. While he is very well-known among fans, it’s not for a long and consistent career in the cage, but for his friendship with Conor McGregor, his skills as a social media troll and for being assaulted by Khabib Nurmagomedov. All of the celebrity and media coverage didn’t stem from the 1:38 he spent in his lone MMA fight before last Friday. With only two fights, Danis should be fighting this level of opposition. The challenges should slowly build up, but don’t expect to see him in anything resembling a relevant fight for some time.

If Bellator is serious about Danis being a legitimate contender, they will follow a slow and steady approach. The idea of building a fighter up this way is nothing new. Boxers will face a plethora of hand-picked fights to carefully construct an eventual champion. While MMA hasn’t embraced this idea as much, the regional scene will typically put a fighter like Danis against similarly experienced opposition and let the chips fall where they may. Bellator, being a top-tier brand in the sport, is being criticized for doing something no different than the myriad of local shows that take place all around the world.

Obviously, Pico could have benefited for this style of match making as well. At 22 years old, with a world of hype and the resulting pressure on his shoulders, being on the wrong side of two brutal knockouts with a near .500 record was not the plan. The good news is at that age, it’s not too late. With the right development, he can rebound and this will just be a speed bump on the way to greatness.

Bellator deserves every bit of side-eye it gets concerning Pico, but the handling of Danis seems appropriate. The backlash is understandable given the lack of consistency. To witness Pico in this two-fight skid while watching Danis barely crack a sweat is a jarring juxtaposition. It’s even possible that fans can’t help but have flashbacks to Michael Page styling on clearly outclassed opponents for several years before facing true adversity.

My advice to anyone who questions the validity of any fight is pretty simple. Do the math. Look at the records of both fighters and the quality of opponents on their way to one another. If that seems right, from a matchmaking standpoint, it probably is. We can talk about whether those fights make sense on the main card of a major promotion’s event, but that’s an entirely different conversation.

Wise1: - Would it surprise you to know that Paulie has done some of his preparation AT AN MMA GYM? ?

The news that Paulie Malignaggi has been doing some of his training for his Bare Knuckle FC 6 bout against Artem Lobov with Ray Longo is not surprising in the least. Even though Malignaggi was a championship-caliber boxer and one of the most skilled of his era, this isn’t the style of boxing he’s accustomed to.

The absence of gloves, or at least knuckle padding on the “gloves” does change some variables. This is especially true for a boxer known for a stick-and-move style that relied on hand speed and technique instead of power. Additionally, he’s had multiple hand injuries that threatened his career at one point. It’s much harder to use that style of boxing without fully padded gloves especially with injury prone hands. Getting familiar with MMA training, which for obvious reasons has more bare-knuckle applications, makes sense.

Also, Malignaggi is one of the brightest minds in boxing. His work as an analyst is superb and he’s able to break down a fighter’s style and strategy with an incredible level of accuracy and detail. As a competitor, he always stepped in the ring with a solid idea of how to handle the challenge in front of him with a smart and strategic plan. Someone who spends that much thought on the X’s and O’s would want as thorough of an understanding of the task at hand as possible. An MMA gym would give him some training in the clinch that may come in handy as that range of combat will be much more important Saturday than what he’s used to.

I’d honestly be surprised if Malignaggi didn’t try to get familiar with the change of the scenery beforehand. He’s just too smart and has been retired for too long to think he can just get off the couch and jump in the ring. Even if he sees Lobov as an unworthy fighter, he still sees him as a fighter. That means you take it seriously and train accordingly.

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