Its been a rough start to the year for the UFC but it looked like UFC 210 on April 8th in Buffalo, New York was going to be the start of another upswing. The top two fights were significant in their respective divisions and there were some potentially fun fights sprinkled throughout the rest of the card. The latter turned out to be true but both of the top two bouts of the event each had their own bizarre and disappointing results. Instead of coming out of the night thinking about the possibilities of whats next I was left to try and process what just happened and why. Let me continue that process...
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
DC Retains, Rumble Retires? – It may not have been the most highly anticipated rematch in the light heavyweight division (Jones/Cormier and Jones/Gustafsson both probably rank higher) but Daniel Cormier vs. Anthony Johnson was still a captivating fight to run back after how the first affair went. Early in the first fight Johnson rocked Cormier multiple times with shots that would've put an end to almost any other man on the receiving end but DC was able to maintain his composure, wait for Rumble to exhaust himself, and dominate him on the ground ultimately submitting him in the third round. Since then the 33 year old Johnson recovered nicely with three consecutive devastating knockouts over Jimi Manuwa, Glover Teixeira, and Ryan Bader. Cormier meanwhile defended his belt against Alexander Gustafsson in a close split decision where he took quite a bit of damage and then layed on Anderson Silva for three rounds after Jon Jones was pulled from UFC 200. The rematch was originally supposed to take place last December but Cormier had to pull out due to injury which is something he is no stranger to. In fact that was part of why it seemed like Johnson had such a good chance to win the second fight. DC is getting older (hes 38), hes been through some wars of late, and has a career full of injuries that could theoretically be catching up with him. If the rematch went exactly the same way as the initial bout could Cormier withstand the same amount of punishment to win again?
At the weigh ins before the fight even more questions entered the picture. Cormier originally missed weight by 1.2 pounds which would eliminate the title from the mix if the fight was to go on. But in a twist, apparently the NYSAC has a rule where the combatants in a championship fight get a second chance to weigh in. More on them later but less than three minutes later Cormier somehow weighed in on target and 1.2 pounds less. It was all a little sketchy especially when Johnson weighed in right after him and just happened to be exactly 1.2 pounds under the weight limit. I'll save the conspiracies but at least the fight was able to go on as planned. Unfortunately there were things we didn't know at the time that would've at least shifted our expectations. Rumble came out and instead of trying to keep the fight in the only realm where he has a clear and sizable advantage and tried to wrestle the former Olympian, the position where he had a clear and sizable disadvantage. Predictably he gassed himself out and in the second round got dominated on the ground and submitted. Sound familiar? It was one of the worst game plans I've ever witnessed, especially when they had already fought before and they had tape of what worked and what didn't before. In the post fight interview Johnson shockingly announced his retirement saying hes known he was going to do it for awhile and didn't want to distract from the fight by telling anyone. That makes things make a little more sense but also has more conspiracy theories (which I generally never believe) swarming around in my head. Did Johnson throw this fight? How much did Cormier know coming into this? Were the people who bought this Pay-Per-View sold fake goods? There are more questions than answers.
After the fight Cormier called out Jimi Manuwa who has a modest two fight winning streak, both by knockout, most recently beating prospect Corey Anderson in the first round. Hes a guy that has good striking and power but hasn't been able to win the fights against upper echelon competition. Of course DC wants to fight him, it would be a fairly easy win for him. But I think thats just the UFC's backup plan because the obvious match to make is the second fight against Jon Jones that was supposed to main event at UFC 200 before Jones tested positive for a banned substance. Cormier took aim at Bones after calling out Manuwa telling him to get his act together and maybe he can get a shot at his belt. Which is funny because that fight against Jones is the only blemish on Cormier's record across two weight classes. Hes fought and beat big names at light heavyweight and heavyweight. Josh Barnett, Roy Nelson, Antonio Silva, Frank Mir, Dan Henderson, Anderson Silva, Alexander Gustafsson, and now Anthony Johnson twice. Hes one of the best pound for pound fighters in the sport and could make a case for the best if he could beat Jones. Thats why its the fight to make for the big international fight week card in July. They just need to make sure they book Manuwa for a fight on the same night in case they need him to jump up to fight Cormier instead at a moments notice.
NYSAC Has 99 Problems – And I'm not sure what isn't one. They had a nightmare of a week when it comes to the regulation side of the sport. Coming off of UFC 205 where two bouts had to be postponed at the last minute when they wouldn't approve Rashad Evans' medicals and because of a rule they have where if a fighter misses weight they have to be within a certain weight of their opponent. That turned out to just be the tip of the iceberg. I mentioned the whole weigh in fiasco with Daniel Cormier above but there was even more drama on weigh in day. A women's strawweight bout between Cynthia Calvillo and Pearl Gonzalez was called off after both fighters made weight because of a rule that a fighter is not allowed to fight if they have breast implants. First of all, what a stupid rule. I understand there can be health concerns if something was to rupture but you can also snap your leg in half on a checked kick. Thats why they have licensed physicians cageside. Not to mention this is a combat sport and there are known health risks associated that the fighters understand and sign up for. Seems archaic to me. But all that aside, even if it was the best rule in the world how could it get to the point where both fighters go through the rigorous act of cutting and making weight before they are told about it. I'd say the UFC is at fault for not being aware of the rule and just booking the fight for an event in a different location but at UFC 205 a fighter with breast implants fought in the main event without one word being uttered about it. I'm assuming the NYSAC had this information much earlier in the week when the fighters arrive and provide their medical history. They could've saved everyone a lot of pain (from the weight cut) and embarrassment if they had worked something out before the eve of the event. In the end they somehow allowed the fight to go on so I'm not sure what that means if this situation comes up again.
To be fair the NYSAC is the youngest commission to regulate MMA in the country with the sport just being legalized in New York almost exactly a year ago. They're still in the stone ages as Dana White said in the post fight press conference. At the same time maybe they should've done more homework and not rushed in putting their rules together. There are 49 other athletic commissions in the US (some better than others) to learn from that have been doing this for awhile. The issues didn't stop the night of the event. In the co-main event there was mass confusion when Gegard Mousasi hit Chris Weidman with what appeared at first glance to be illegal knees. Weidman was hurt and it looked like would be given time to recover but then replays on the broadcast showed them to be legal knees. Somewhere in the time when Weidman was being attended to referee Dan Mirgliotta was told that the strikes were legal. Only problem with that is another genius NYSAC rule that prohibits the use of replay. Once Weidman found out that the strikes were legal he argued his case that his was fit to continue but it was too late and the doctors called off the fight giving Mousasi a win via TKO. Nobody was happy with this and its hard to find anyone in particular to blame. Weidman had no idea if the blows were legal or not. The only issue I have with him is that he looked to be playing it up hoping for a disqualification to get a win. That might not be the case but it looked sketchy and is the downside to trying to play games with the rules. Mousasi was just fighting and it turned out he didn't do anything wrong. I'm sure hes happy with the win but nobody wants to win like that. He might've gotten the finish anyway if the fight was allowed to continue. Mirgliotta got the call wrong but it was really close especially live at full speed. Even though he got it wrong they should've either gone through with his call or went to replay to figure it out.
The biggest problem is probably the rule itself. It didn't benefit either of the fighters themselves, nobody went home happy especially the fans. I'm not sure why they couldn't determine what the truth was and once they knew the knees were legal put them back in the exact position they were when the fight was stopped. Regardless, what happened happened and that makes three consecutive losses for the former middleweight champion, all of them by knockout. He might get an immediate rematch here because of the controversy but even so its not like he was dominating the match. He won the first round but the momentum was shifting and in his best case scenario he was going to lose the second round and need to win the third. I think the best move for him is to look into moving up to light heavyweight. Its a super thin division that continues to get thinner. It might be the quickest way for a comeback into contender status. On the other hand Mousasi continues his hot streak winning five fights in a row, four consecutive by knockout, against pretty good competition. He should be in line for a top contender fight. A rematch isn't ideal for him but even if it happened I think he'd be favored. The problem is that was the last fight on his UFC contract and hes talked about looking for more money. If recent history is any example thats not good for his prospects of re-signing with the company. They've been letting ranked fighters walk of late, most of them signing with the second biggest MMA promotion – Bellator. There is reason to believe Mousasi is the next to join those ranks. The guy leading the way for Bellator, Scott Coker, used to run the Strikeforce promotion where Mousasi fought and did well. There is a good relationship there and Coker is not opposed to giving out big deals to those he believes deserve it. With the logjam in the UFC's middleweight division it might be the best move for Gegard to make if the quickest path to a championship is what hes looking for. Selfishly I hope he stays in the UFC. There are just more fights I'd like to see for him in that scenario.
Next month's stacked UFC 211 is going to be when we get back to meaningful and entertaining MMA action. Right?...