BY SHOWDOWN JOE FERRARO
While most of the buzz in Canada this week was focused on the NHL trade deadline, the world of MMA saw one specific story dominate the headlines. One that ignited the MMA fan base into a viral online explosion; the time was ripe to exercise their right to freedom speech. While I took part in some exceptional conversation and debate, it thankfully covered up some of the lunacy that tried to filter through. While my Facebook page was littered with some questionable theories, my Twitter feed provided the main question which I will address today.
Going back to my days promoting MMA events, I somewhat understand what the UFC went through here, albeit, on a much smaller scale, as many a time the team I worked with lost our fair share of main event fighters very close to fight time. While the UFC has far more options to pull in a replacement, that does not mean that all (or any) of these options were truly available or would agree to step in.
First and foremost, it was not the UFC’s call to remove Gustafsson. That fell on the shoulders of the Swedish MMA Federation who were the ones who decided to pull him from the card. When the UFC first got wind of Alexander’s situation, they obviously began weighing out there options. The issue though was that this was not like telling another light heavyweight that they had seven days (or less) to prepare for Gegard Mousasi, they figuratively had ZERO days to prepare. In essence, the agreeing party would have had to jump on a plane and begin cutting weight on the flight to Sweden. No training time for Mousasi – just land, keep cutting weight, do all the media, pictures, interviews, etc, weigh in on Friday, and fight on Saturday.
But, the arm chair UFC Executives online felt the following fighters should or could have stepped up to face "The Dream Catcher." I'll list the names, with my thoughts.
Jon Jones - I don't feel I need to address this suggestion.
Chael Sonnen - Similar to my thoughts above, but I digress.
Lyoto Machida - The same guy who already has a title shot locked up, pending whether or not Gustafsson would have won or not. Forget your title shot right now, just fight Gegard first. I don't think so.
Dan Henderson - The same one prepping for a fight vs. Rashad Evans, who can ill afford a loss, seeing as he had the title shot, got injured, fought Machida, lost, and has now fallen a few steps down the ladder. Yet, fight Gegard, win, and what does that do for his stock value? Not much, as Gegard is not in everyone's Top 10 list, but is a Top Tier fighter.
Rashad Evans - The guy whose last performance was surprising. A defeat to Lil Nog which pushed him down the LWH ladder and messed up a million dollar pay day vs. Anderson Silva. Evans is on a two fight losing streak; one more, and he's in big trouble. And please refrain from rebutting with he would be fine, the UFC would consider this a mulligan, etc. They likely would not.
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira - No chance. He's finally got his rematch with Mauricio Shogun Rua which is eight years in the making. Give that up to take a short notice fight which does not get him closer to a title shot on zero notice? Nope.
Shogun - The former champion, who is 2-3 in his last five fights, who lost to Gustafsson, and who is taking his career one fight at a time, for fear that another loss could spell the end of an era? No chance.
Ryan Bader - Even though he's injured, there were those who suggested he should and could step in. No need for me to say anything else.
Forrest Griffin - See my thoughts on Rua, but the difference is, he hasn't competed since July of 2012. And if you've seen Forrest Griffin in between training camps, the man is a monster. Ring rust, plus weight cut - scratch him off the list.
Glover Teixeira - While I liked this option, again, zero notice for the fight, risking an 18 fight win streak, cutting weight on a plane then fighting a fellow dangerous contender, which he was already doing for Ryan Bader (now James Te Huna) - no chance it was going to happen.
Anthony Johnson - The same one who competed just last week and is medically suspended.
Phil Davis - The one prepping for his grudge match with Vinny Magalhaes in three weeks time? In essence, the UFC would have to start rejigging upcoming shows to save this one. Sure I can understand that, but not one in three weeks. Maybe one in a few months (i.e. Hendo, Suga, Shogun, Lil Nog) but go back and read why some of these guys may have chosen not to take the bout.
Vitor Belfort - This was the name I heard was stepping in, as "The Phenom" would barely have to cut any weight, but I'm sure the reasons listed above (and likely more) had the Brazilian birthday boy think twice about confirming he would take the fight.
I could go on, with many other names, but I will simply revert readers to the zero notice and risk in taking the fight.
I personally commend middleweight Tom Lawlor for stepping up, but then that would have left Michael Kuiper, his opponent on Saturday without a bout. Easier fix, and the UFC likely weighed out that option but then chose not to pursue it.
Cancel the event
There were those who also said cancel the whole event, simultaneously asserting their disdain for the quality of the card. While I respectfully disagree with their assessment, it is part short sighted and part (fill in your own word here). Their answer was to penalize the other fighters on the card (who definitely need the pay cheque) who are there to compete, and win, to keep their job and work their way up the rankings.
Yes - cancel a FREE event on television. This is another reason I scratch my head with some of the MMA fan base. On one hand, I am discussing solutions with some fans, while on the other, ignoring the narrow-mindedness of a small, yet vocal minority. Saturday's card is a free one on Sportsnet and internationally around the world. It's not costing any fans a dime. Yet they are disappointed, disgusted and ticked off to the point they litter social media with their f-bombed laced hatred and tirades. Truth be told, it's actually comical reading some of the content. Baffling, but still funny.
Sweden's Rocky Balboa
To address whether or not Ilir Latifi has any chance vs. Gegard, my answer is obviously yes. Nicknamed "The Sledgehammer" for a reason, he does possess some power, and is a short(er) stocky light heavyweight, who, if he can land, will rock Mousasi. I obviously give the serious edge to Gegard, but will I be surprised if Latifi wins on Saturday? Not in a million years - nothing surprises me in MMA anymore.
I've learned it's far more important to remember what has happened in the past - going as far back as day one in 1993 - than to make automatic assumptions about the end of a fight. In fact, my challenge to those who disagree with me, has been the same since day one - how much are you willing to wager on Gegard? Would you put up your house? Your annual salary? Your car? If so, do it - show me the proof, and I guarantee you will be on UFC Central (and every MMA show out there).
I am far from the man to tell Zuffa how to run their business. Folks forget that it was purchased for $2 million, went deep into a financial hole, was turned around, and now is worth more than $2 BILLION. It's safe to say they already know what they are doing, but if I may offer one simple suggestion, it's that they perhaps begin reworking future cards to emulate that which they put forth in Montreal last month.
I'm talking about UFC 158 and the mini-welterweight tournament. I know it's far easier said than done, but if they did it once, I'm sure they could do it again. It's also similar to many other cards they've put together in the past. Remember UFC 146 - that was an heavyweight loaded event. UFC 161 in Winnipeg has a mini-light heavyweight tournament on the card with Hendo, Evans, Shogun and Lil Nog.
Moving forward, perhaps fixing this type of issue is to load each card with one (maybe two) divisions, and place them in a rotation, just like they did with the 170-pound guys at UFC 158. If one guy gets injured (e.g. Rory MacDonald), you have options on the card to fill in the blank (in this case, it was Johny Hendricks vs. Carlos Condit).
If every UFC event, be it free or pay per view, had these types of mini-tournaments, I believe it could make for some fantastic shows. Most of the elite fighters would be on similar training and fighting timelines, which could hopefully alleviate this ongoing issue with injury replacements.
As for a solution to stop and prevent the injuries in MMA - that's on the fighters themselves, and lady luck.