In this week’s Twitter Mailbag, are we really all-in for McGregor-Diaz III, or are we just desperate for a big fight to look forward to? Also, what happens if GSP becomes UFC middleweight champ? And is it better for fighters to be deep thinkers or non-thinkers?
All that and more in this week’s Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.
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Want to know how easily manipulated the MMA media news cycle is these days, now that there’s not much going on and very little of immediate interest to discuss? All it takes is for Conor McGregor’s longtime coach John Kavanagh to throw a coin in the wishing well with a date and location attached, and suddenly we’re all talking about this Nate Diaz fight in March like it’s practically a done deal.
It’s not. That’s just fantasy matchmaking, and Kavanagh’s the first to admit that he has almost no power to make it happen. But we’re desperate. What else are we supposed to get excited about, interim title fights and the UFC’s debut in Gdansk, Poland? It’s tough out there, and we’ll take any port in a storm.
Yes I do, barely, but does it even matter? The sole reason to do this fight again (instead of, say, an actual UFC lightweight title fight against an actual lightweight contender, of which there are several) would because it would likely make a bunch of money. That’s the hope, anyway. And that hope is based on the pay-per-view numbers from the first two fights, which combined to give the UFC a monster financial year in 2016.
As you may have noticed, 2017 is not shaping up to be quite as monstrous on PPV. The new UFC owners paid a fortune for this thing, and now there’s debt to be paid but precious few superstars to bring in the kind of money that might help pay it. In times like these, no one in the position to make decisions at the UFC cares about the scorecards in McGregor-Diaz II.
Brother, if we can convince the MMA gods to accept Paige VanZant vs. Jessica Eye in return for keeping their malicious mitts off Francis Ngannou vs. Alistair Overeem, let’s just say we’ll have made one excellent trade.
That said, I have to favor Ngannou in this fight. He’s a big, young, athletic guy who hits hard and with plenty of confidence. Overeem has looked a little chinny in recent years, and when people get in his face and stay there he sometimes struggles. I don’t see him taking Ngannou down and beating him there. If he can’t keep Ngannou at kicking range, trouble abounds for “The Reem.”
Then again, these are heavyweights we’re talking about here. I’d sooner bet on a literal coin flip.
Chaos. Mass hysteria. Dogs and cats living together. You know, the usual.
First of all, I think it’s unlikely that Georges St-Pierre beats Michael Bisping. He’s just been out of action so long, and his style isn’t well-suited to beating a bigger man with good cardio and high work rate, who also happens to be a pretty sound defensive wrestler.
But GSP is still GSP, and Bisping is an aging middleweight with plenty of miles on the odometer, so it’s not unthinkable for St-Pierre to become the new UFC middleweight champ.
What happens then, you ask? One thing I don’t see St-Pierre doing is turning right around and defending his belt against Robert Whittaker. I think it’s more likely he looks around for another money fight (maybe against someone whose name rhymes with Bonor McEgger…) outside the division. Maybe he even decides that he’s proven what he had to prove and made the money he came back to make, so he returns to the solace of retirement.
Where would that leave the middleweight division? More or less where it is now, with everyone feeling pretty certain that “Bobby Knuckles” is the man to beat.
You’re asking the wrong question. It’s not a matter of smart vs. dumb, in part because there’s all different kinds of smart, just like there’s all different kinds of dumb. The real mental difference between fighters, according to my observations, is thoughtful vs. not thoughtful.
What I mean by that is, some fighters are very self-aware and introspective and honest with themselves. Others are very not. And while one hates to generalize, yeah, there does seem to be a difference in success rate, and it often favors the less thoughtful fighters – up to a point.
Take somebody like Uriah Hall, for instance. He’s been open about his struggles to get out of his own head at times, which is a problem that most of us would have if our jobs were entirely dependent on one brief physical performance every few months. An introspective person could drive themselves crazy in this business.
But then you have other fighters who rarely seem to struggle with doubt, as if their success is somehow preordained. They are confident almost to the point of being delusional. They don’t even think about all the negative “what if” questions, and it’s not because they’re intentionally avoiding them. Those possibilities just don’t occur to them, because they can only think one way about this stuff.
Greg Jackson likes to say that fighters have to be optimists. You can see his point, because if you get too honest with yourself about this sport and all the ways it can go, you probably wouldn’t ever set foot in the cage.
The problem is, those who manage to stay out of their own heads often have trouble being honest with themselves when they need to be. They can’t or won’t perform necessary risk-versus-reward calculations. They just go. Even when they should stop.
We’re not quite there yet, but such a test might soon be a reality. (You can read more about that here.) If and when that does happen, it could change how we think about violent sports, but I suspect it will have a much greater impact on football than on MMA.
Think about it: Football is an extracurricular activity in America. It’s a game. We grow up playing it in school, as kids, which feeds our fandom as adults. If we become so collectively horrified at the consequences of it that we stop supporting it as this vast American institution, it can’t help but harm the future of the sport and leagues like the NFL.
Fighting, on the other hand? It doesn’t have so far to fall. It’s always been looked at as this brutal fringe of sports culture. You can still put kids in helmets and shoulder pads, but if you throw them in a cage to punch each other you’re likely to be branded a madman.
Most parents already don’t want their kids to take up full-contact mixed martial arts fighting. They don’t view it as an after-school activity. You don’t get a college scholarship that way; you break bones and lose teeth.
If people find out that tackle football is inherently bad for brain health, they might rethink a giant piece of American culture. If they find out the same about fighting, they might just see it as confirmation of what they already suspected.
But if he retires, how is Nick Diaz going to rematch both Anderson Silva and Takanori Gomi in the same night of some insane Rizin FF tournament on New Year’s Eve 2019? Dammit, man. You’ve got to think this stuff through.
I doubt it, because what do Benson Henderson’s and Lorenz Larkin’s losses really tell us? What, that Bellator fighters aren’t pushovers? Seems like that should be obvious to pro fighters who are capable of looking past the brand name and recognizing skill when they see it.
Also, if your main consideration is finding the easiest fights possible, that’s not a great argument for sticking with the UFC, where the talent pool is deeper in just about every division. Free agency is about money, and sometimes also respect and freedom. You don’t make it far enough to be in that conversation if you’re only interested in easy fights.
Henderson is definitely a good fighter, but at this point he’s pretty set in his ways. When he’s getting beat up, you’ll see him pull off (or at least attempt) some fun stuff. When he thinks he’s winning, however, he gets a lot more risk-averse.
The result is that, when it’s close, he tends to feel like he’s already winning. He fights like he doesn’t want to screw around and lose, rather than fighting like he wants to make absolutely certain that he wins.
If there’s any good news, is that at this point he has more to gain than lose by going out there and taking some risks. It’s just a question of whether can really just his approach this far into his career.
First of all, thank you for illustrating what a bad idea the expanded Twitter character count is. I think we can all look at the terrifying example you have provided and conclude that this is not a world we want to live in. So, um, good work?
Second, Rashad Evans is far from the first fighter to ever feel this way. It’s the dilemma of the former champion in decline. He doesn’t want to quit on a loss, but a win would only convince him that he can still do it.
And sure, there are light heavyweights he could beat. There’s probably easier prey at the bottom of that division than there is at middleweight. But is that really what would make this easier for him, just hunting around for a warm body he could beat, for the sole purpose of having a W next to his name at the very end of his career? I suspect that it wouldn’t give him the peace he’s looking for, but I don’t expect that to stop him now.
Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA. Twitter Mailbag appears every Thursday on MMAjunkie.