TSN.ca's MMA staff, including John Pollock - TSN Radio 1050 (@iamjohnpollock), James Lynch - TSN.ca (@lynchonsports), and Jordan Cieciwa - TSN Radio 1290 (@FitCityJordan), take a look at some of the hottest issues in the world of mixed martial arts.
1) With the replacement fiasco at UFC on FUEL TV 9, how should the promotion handle fighter injuries in the future?
Lynch: The UFC gambled on the fact that Alexander Gustafsson's cut was going to be cleared by the Swedish MMA Federation for his fight against Gegard Mousasi. The result was that the Swede wasn't allowed to compete and it became very evident there was no solid backup plan with unknown Llir Latifi slotted in as the replacement fighter.
Free card or not, this is the equivalent of if the New Jersey Devils had some college hockey goaltender playing in the Stanley Cup finals instead of Martin Brodeur. Along with the cancellation of UFC 151 (due to Dan Henderson's injury in the main event) this marks the second time the promotion has handled a situation like this very poorly in the last year.
I think the Zuffa is producing too many events, saturating the product and not giving enough leeway for replacement fighters. So what's the solution in handling these types of incidents in the future?
Since the number of events won't decrease (the UFC obviously wants to make as much money as possible), why not name “standby” fighters ahead of time for the main (and co-main) event bouts of future events of weaker cards? In hindsight it seems like a bit much, but this would be a better alternative to cancelling an event or robbing fans in attendance what they paid to see.
I'll also add that there should be some clause in a fighters contract that if he/she takes a fight on short notice, they won't be cut. Too many times we've seen fighters step up to the plate only to be rewarded with a pink slip out of the organization (DaMarques Johnson's release for example). This should also apply to a fighter with a last minute opponent chance too.
This past weekend, Mousasi put on an uninspiring performance in his victory over Ilir Latifi. Frankly I don't blame the Dutch-Armenian fighter for how he fought, because had nothing to and everything to lose.
JC: It's an unfortunate fact, fighters get hurt. The pace they keep is unrelieved in any sport. Pro athletes in most sports limit contact during practices. For MMA, there is often more contact in practice than in an actual fight.
It is always a gamble when a fighter pushes the limit getting ready. Will he do it and be injury free? The stories like Chael Sonnen looking to step up last minute, and frantically finding a fighter in the last few weeks are becoming too frequent. Something needs to be done, the idea of a secondary fighter sounds like it might be ideal.
The last minute removal of injured fighters has ruined a few cards, having a standby means the show goes on, and with a big name who is ready to go. It seems like it's the best insurance available. Whatever the case, something needs to be done.
Pollock: I think you need to have different protocol based on your platform. I couldn't get upset over the Mousasi vs. Latifi scenario based on it being a free television card.
I think in the same scenario you do what you can to find a suitable replacement and you offer refunds as a make good to people that may have spent their money to see Gustafsson. There was all this anger directed at the UFC and what were their options? They could have moved Ross Pearson vs. Ryan Couture to the main event, canceled the event or got a replacement who was a) ready to fight and b) cleared to fight with a visa to fight in Sweden, which eliminated a ton of options.
If this was a pay-per-view scenario I would be more critical of not having a suitable co-feature but I felt this was handled fine and it did not seem to hurt the live audience that Gustafsson was not fighting.
2) With their eighth season finished, how do you grade Bellator's performance as a promotion?
Lynch: I'd hand them out a grade of a B+. Many pundits will point the finger that their two bigger signings, Renato “Babalu” Sobral and King Mo didn't live up to expectations with their early exits from the light heavyweight tournament. However, I'd argue because of this we saw the rise of other talent like eventual tournament winners Emanuel Newton and Doug Marshall.
At the end of the day Bellator needs to produce new talent and not rely on the star power of ex-UFC fighters. Another positive was for the most part, their champions shined in season eight. With successful title defenses by Michael Chandler and Pat Curran (twice), both appear to be exceptional talents in their respective divisions.
I also liked the fact that Bellator held their events on Thursday nights which gave MMA fans a little extra content during the week outside the usual Saturday night timeslot.
My only complaints were that I wish the events didn't air so late at 10pm. I understand they are trying to build off the lead in from Impact Wrestling, but staying up till midnight when most work a 9-5pm job can be difficult.
Also I would have liked to have seen better promotion of their fighters. The features they show prior to the fights seem rushed, I wonder if there was a way they could include these in the Impact Wrestling broadcasts or perhaps on other Spike programming? Either way it was a strong effort this season and surely solidifies them as the number two organization outside the UFC.
JC: This all depends on how you look at the organization. If you grade them on a level with the UFC, they under deliver. If you look at them as a feeder system and a development league, there is no promotion on their level.
Babalu and King Mo didn't live up to expectations, but they definitely pushed the pace. I realize that Bellator doesn't want to be seen as a lower level fight league, but just as the NHL needs the AHL, so MMA needs a place to grow talent.
I give them an A for a growth league, they are well run, use the tournament style rankings and develop solid talent. If they want to be in the big league, I give them a C+. They have yet to manufacture a real star. They had a few stellar knockouts and fights, but hardly enough to turn the heads of a casual fan.
Pollock: It wasn't a home run nor was it a strikeout on Spike TV. The positives are that they maintained a good audience throughout the three-months regardless of whether they had a title fight, a name fighting or just throwing out unfamiliar names.
They definitely benefited from the lead-in audience that Impact Wrestling provided and the timeslot worked to their advantage. My issue is one that has been repeated in many places and that is with a one-week turnaround it becomes very difficult to digest all of the fighters, storylines and tournament brackets without having a chance to breathe and anticipate anything.
The upside also included some great fights and two emerging stars in Michael Chandler and Pat Curran, who stood out in their fights as well as the integration of a number of Russian talents that's Bellator's scouting team have brought over and done a great job introducing. I will give this past season a B-.
3) Which journeyman fighter would you like to see hang up the gloves: Andrei Arlovski, Karo Parisyan or Jens Pulver?
Lynch: I'd like to see all three fighters retire. Starting with the former UFC heavyweight champion Arlovski, it's evident after his unanimous decision loss to Anthony Johnson at WSOF 2 that he doesn't have the talent to compete with top level heavyweight fighters.
Many pundits will argue that he wasn't knocked out during that contest, however towards the end of the first round it almost looked like he was. While I admire his recent resurge in his previous seven fights (going 5-1-1) it's clear his chin isn't what it once was. He's a big enough name that I'm sure teaching or doing seminars would provide a decent living as an alternative to competing as a fighter.
Meanwhile, the Judo black belt Parisyan was most recently knocked out by Rick Hawn at Bellator 95. It's clear since his serious leg injury back in 2005 and a litter of personal issues, the Armenian isn't the same fighter that once was challenging for the UFC welterweight title. The other issue is his “fight age”, which rivals that of Arlovski/Pulver. While he may only be 30 years old, the Jackson/Winklejohn student has been competing in the sport since he was 16 which clearly has taken a beating on his body.
Last on this list is the former UFC lightweight champion Pulver, who most recently suffered a second round submission loss to Masakatsu Ueda at One FC this month. Both in his age (38) and with the fact in his last 15 fights, he has suffered ten losses (including nine finishes) there is no reason for the former Miletich standout to be competing in the sport any longer.
With the level of competition even more difficult as the sport has evolved, these fighters should seriously think about their safety if they would like to still compete.
JC: No matter what, Lil Evil can never quit. I love Pulver, he is a character, and an excellent role model. He is a strange cat, but he is what the sport needs. His triumph over a tough childhood is enough to bring a tear to anyone's eye, and if you haven't seen his documentary, it's a must see. Now back to reality, his record indicates his time in the cage may have come and gone. That being said, I hope, truly hope, he finds a way to mentor and create some great young athletes.
Parisyan is an enigma. So much talent and he can't seem to pull it together and get the win. His Judo is fantastic and when he gets his hands on his opponent he can control the best of them. Parisyan also has the ability to finish fights with solid striking. That being said, he doesn't do either. I'd like to see Parisyan take some time off, get right and head back to the Octagon in 18 months. Not a lay off because of injury or personal issues. A lay off to get the passion back. If it doesn't come back, stay away and just train up-and-coming athletes in MMA specific Judo.
There isn't much to say about Arlovski. He had his time, it's gone, and he should have walked away years ago. His last great fight was against Fedor. That should have been how he left the game. In typical fashion, he threw a silly flying knee that got him knocked out of the air unconscious. He is talented, and unless he stops and walks away, he won't have any reputation left to pursue post fight careers.
Honestly, all three fighters need to find their way into the back office. Their time up front has come and gone.
Pollock: If any of these three were to announce their retirement I don't think it would catch anyone off guard. Of the three I feel Arlovski can at least find some good fights for himself and win enough fights to remain in that slot as a non-UFC heavyweight that upstart promotions look to for some name recognition.
Parisyan will always be a story of someone who battled a lot of issues internally and really prohibited his growth as a fighter when he was poised to be one of the top welterweights in the world back in 2005.
With Pulver he is the one I would like to see hang it up the most as he has been through enough wars and it makes me worried where some of these guys are going to be in a decade or so and what money they have saved for that nest egg. It's funny of all these names being discussed that were once considered “elite” I would place Paulo Filho ahead of all of these guys as someone that just doesn't need to be fighting any longer.