Time To Take A Stand Against PEDS

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There is something very wrong with our sport.

We’ve all known it for a while but by and large we’ve taken each failed PED test as an isolated incident, shaken our heads about cheats and tried not to think too hard about it.

We can’t do that anymore. With Jon Fitch, Hector Lombard and most shockingly of all… Anderson Silva, the Greatest of All Time failing drug tests, it’s clear that cheating is endemic in MMA and the sport as a whole has to do something drastic about it now, or else risk it’s very future.

It’s clear that we can’t rely on all the promotions to do it because drug testing is expensive and can cost you your star attraction, both of which can sink a lesser company. We can’t rely on the many governing bodies to do it, because as we’ve seen so often, they are directly beholden to the promotions for their funding and you don’t bite the hand that feeds.

So, is an international governing body the answer?

No. For one thing, such a body would be almost impossible to create in a meaningful fashion. For another, it’s been shown that international governing bodies tend to be far from corruption and bias free (yes FIFA and the IOC, I’m looking at you.)

In a sport which is dominated by one brand, it falls to the UFC to put their money where their mouth is and take a stand. They need to institute a broad ranging, transparent, out-of-competition testing regime, probably using one of the major independent anti-doping organisations like VADA or WADA where their fighters can be tested at any time.

These test results would be released to UFC officials and the public simultaneously, with set punishments for each drug infraction. A failure for PEDS should result in a ban of no less than a year and immediate stripping of any titles, while a failure for other drugs like painkillers or recreational drugs should receive a lesser, if still considerable penalty which includes mandatory rehabilitation treatment.

If the UFC – as the highest paying, most prestigious organization in the world – makes a stand against cheating, that you will be caught and your career will suffer considerable harm, then the use of performance enhancing drugs in the sport will diminish and at the very least, the sport will be seen to at least be trying to self police and keep itself clean.

Fighters with aspirations of UFC careers will be discouraged from juicing and promotion seeking to emulate the banner-brand’s sheen of respectability will follow suit insofar as they can.

If the UFC’s announcement today is anything less than something this far reaching, then the prospects for the sport as a whole are not pleasant.

MMA needs to be seen to be a clean, fair sport in order to maintain (let alone increase) it’s tenuous hold on mainstream acceptance. Any shirking from the contest ahead, against the sport’s inner demons could spell the end for MMA as a legitimate sport.

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Shadows and Dust

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In which Chris discusses the harsh reality of the recent UFC cuts…

There has been a LOT of chat over the last week or so regarding the UFC’s recent cuts, especially given the stature, win/loss record and general entrainment level of those handed pink slips.

The news that the UFC intends to cut 100 more fighters over the next year was like throwing petrol on a fire and the reaction of the MMA public has ranged from the hysterical trolling of ‘OMG, Dana fired Jon Fitch, he’s the devil!!!’ to the cynical position that the UFC is a sports entertainment business, and if you want to be a part of it, then you need to contribute to that business by winning or at least losing in entertaining fashion.

Now, I personally don’t agree with cutting Jon Fitch, or Che Mills or a few others who were given their walking papers this week but their relative star power or usual entertainment value made me think that maybe we need to look at this from the wider business perspective. How many fighters should the UFC have?

It strikes me that the simplest way to work this out is to see how many UFC bouts are available, as there is no point in having more fighters than you have the space for.

The UFC is currently running about 3 events a month, – over a year that spans to 36 events (the promotion ran 31 events in 2012) and each card usually has 11 matches.

That means that in a year, there are 396 UFC matches, giving opportunities for 792 individual fighter slots. If you assume that most fighters will have, on average three UFC bouts in a calendar year (champions and big names often only fighting twice, up and comers being more prolific) that gives an ideal roster size for the UFC of 264 contracted fighters at any one time*.

* of course, fighters will still be hired and cut, but with a stabilised roster this should almost be on a one-in, one-out basis.

Even after the recent roster cuts, the UFC has 375 fighters under contract, and with more women and flyweights looking to be added, the cuts will need to go a bit further than 100 to balance out the roster.

If we assume that all divisions should receive equal time, then the UFC should play host to 29/30 athletes in each if its nine weight divisions. At the current time, heavyweight, light heavyweight and bantamweight all sit close to this number, the female bantamweight division and male flyweight divisions are considerably emptier and need filling.

On the flip side, the classes between 145lbs and 185lbs are more than a little bloated and I’d be pretty worried if I was a competitor in any of these divisions who was on a slide or had earned Dana’s ire in some fashion.

It might seem harsh to advocate pink slips for so many fighters, but at the end of the day the UFC is a business and it’s selling point is the elite level of competition. If you aren’t drawing viewers or making a case for being in the top 20 of your weight class, then maybe you should be reassessing your game in a lower pressure environment? The UFC does not owe you a living, and if you lose, especially in a less than compelling manner then what do you expect?

In many ways, top level MMA is the spiritual successor of the gladiatorial games in the sense that your worth to the promoter is directly proportional to the love the crowd has for you. Those who the crowd does not care for can be tossed to the lions, and they will not be remembered. Big names, or fighters who have earned the love of the crowd through a hearty performance… they get a reprieve, a chance to fight and make everybody some more money another day.

Folks have washed out of the UFC before, only to earn their way back in, so a UFC cut is not a career ending setback – just look at Nick Diaz, Fabricio Werdum or Vitor Belfort – you can come back and climb the mountain again, if your form and popularity merit it.

As I said, I don’t agree with cutting Fitch, but he has been falling back through the pack and he is an expensive commodity. I feel he had more to offer the UFC as a gatekeeper (because let’s be honest, if Fitch can grind you out, you aren’t going to bother GSP overmuch) but you could say that his release could be the best thing for his career. A renewed fire could lead to some brutal GnP finishes in the lesser leagues and he could come back on a wave of public support.

Either way, the UFC isn’t a charity and its not as if it stands alone in sports for washing its hands of those it doesn’t need. How many young players are signed to Premiership football clubs only to be released, or start dropping down the divisions when they don’t fulfil their potential?

The message is simple, win or make yourself so beloved of the crowd that we CAN’T fire you. The message from Proximo to Maximus in Gladiator could not be more apt.

Bringing Down The Axe: UFC Announces 16 Fighters Released

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The UFC today released no less than 16 fighters from their roster, including a few names which to say they were surprising would be an understatement. The full list of cut fighters is as follows:

Jon Fitch, Wagner Prado, Mike Russow, Jacob Volkmann, Vladimir Matyushenko, Che Mills, Jay Hieron, Terry Etim, Paul Sass, Jorge Santiago, Mike Stumpf, Simeon Thoresen, C.J. Keith, Motonobu Tezuka, Josh Grispi and Ulysses Gomez

The 1st name on the list jumps out immediately. Jon Fitch, who has gone 14-3-1 in the promotion and is listed as their current #9 Welterweight in the official UFC Rankings. He may be 1-2-1 in his last 4 but is a draw against BJ Penn and losses to Hendricks & Maia really cutting material? It would appear so.

Brits Paul Sass & Terry Etim being cut also raises an eybrow, even though both are coming off the back of 2 losses each they both have featured a number of times when the fight night bonuses have been announced.

Granted some of the names were to be expected but there are rumours doing the rounds that this will not be the end of fighters being shown the door, with @mmajunkiejohn tweeting just a few minutes ago at the time of writing:

Surprised at some of names but not # of guys released by UFC. Was told they need to trim about 100 guys right now.

Dana White has regularly said that he felt the company needed more fighters and not less, so if the above statement turns out to be correct you have to wonder what the reasoning is and why they need to shed such a large amount of fighters so quickly.

It cannot be passed over either how grappler heavy the above list is and many have already suggested that this is the UFC’s way of trying to influence the future of the sport and force fighters into more marketable stand up wars instead of wrestling or Jiu Jitsu battles. The cutting of Fitch especially, who has long been heralded by many as ‘boring’ fighter, would seem to add creedence to this suggestion.

We will need to wait and see if more information is forthcoming regarding these developments but it would certainly appear from the outside at least that there are some major goings on behind the scenes at ZUFFA headquarters. We will ofcourse endeavor to keep you up to date with any further updates as and when they become available.

For now please let us know what you think and feel about the group of fighters who are now looking for work.

Kumite would like to take this opportunity to wish all the fighters the best for the future. If any of them read this and are looking for a new challange, Cage Warriors (@CageWarriors) Graham Boylan has already taken to social media to extend the welcoming mat for any fighter looking for a new home. We are big fans of CW and would urge you to give him a call.

Ross Stevenson

UFC 156: Aldo vs. Edgar Preview

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Sat, 02 Feb 2013
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

It may be their third event in as many weeks, but this is the first proper UFC pay per view of the year and as much as last week’s FOX card was stacked, this event beats it hands down.

The main event is billed as a superfight, and a year ago it would truly have been just that. Twelve months ago, Jose Aldo (20-1) had just retained his Featherweight title with a knockout of the year contender against Chad Mendes and Frankie Edgar was looking ahead to his fourth defence of the Lightweight title having disposed of BJ Penn and Gray Maynard against all the odds.

Now, however the picture is a little different. Injury has kept Aldo inactive since his memorable victory and crowd dive in Brazil and Edgar has suffered back to back decision defeats, no longer owns the Lightweight belt and boasts a record of (15-3-1).

However, that doesn’t mean this isn’t still a compelling fight. Despite labouring to overcome Mark Hominick and Kenny Florian in his first UFC matches, Aldo showed against Mendes exactly why he’s rated as a top 3 pound for pound talent. Incredible speed, precise, powerful and varied kicks, great takedown defence and a formidable jiujitsu game should the bout go to the floor make Aldo a scary proposition for anyone.

Aldo’s only career defeat came by a second round submission back in 2005 and since then he’s been wrecking the careers of wrestlers, kickboxers, submission specialists a d everyone in between.

I’ve complained a lot recently about guys coming off defeats getting a title shot, but I don’t really mind in the case of Frankie Edgar. You see, Edgar literally punched well above his weight in the 155lb division, as a fighter who is of a size more usually associated with the 145lb class and could probably make 135lb without too much difficulty he was competing against guys who naturally weighed between ten and thirty pounds more than him.

In that light, his wins over BJ Penn and Gray Maynard are all the more remarkable and his wafer thin decision losses to Benson Henderson almost carry a feeling that Henderson should have been handicapped somehow.

Relieved of the Lightweight title, Edgar drops to Featherweight and immediately skips to the front of the queue as the most marketable and credible threat to Aldo’s belt.

While Aldo has made a habit of beating up wrestler-boxers, he’s never yet faced one with Edgar’s sheer level of excellence. Edgar’s movement, hand speed and ability to switch levels and land sudden, inescapable takedowns befuddled most at 155lbs and for once, he’ll be fighting a guy who only weighs a wee bit more than him.

I find myself genuinely unable to predict this fight. If Aldo can land his trademark leg kicks early and dictate distance, Edgar could be in for a long (or brief) night, but if Edgar boxes on the outside, evades the leg kicks and finds the timing for his takedowns he could easily decision or knock the champion out.

In the co-main event slot, we have the return of two of the Light Heavyweight division’s old horses looking for a big win to return them to title contention as Rashad Evans (17-2-1) faces Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (20-5).

Evans is the consensus #2 light heavyweight in the world, but having been unable to do much in his title challenge against former teammate Jon Jones last April his chances of a speedy rematch don’t look great. The option of cutting to middleweight seems to be one Rashad isn’t too happy to contemplate so he’d rather earn himself another shot.

Nogueira was billed as the top free agent at 205lbs when he signed for the UFC back in 2009 but a run of stogy performances against wrestlers mean that it’s only his debut against Luis Cane and his most recent win over Tito Ortiz which have really been memorable.

Here we have two well rounded and experienced fighters, with a jiujitsu specialist and Olympic calibre boxer facing off with a wrestler who has some of the sharpest MMA boxing in the division.

Like the main event, I’m loathe to predict this as both of these guys are capable of highlight reel KOs, grinding out decision wins or just having an off day at the office. We’ll need to see which version of ‘Suga’ or ‘Lil Nog’ turn up…

Astonishingly in a lowly mid card slot, we find Alistair Overeem (36-11) returning from his year long drugs ban to re-earn a shot at the UFC title if he can overcome this years designated gatekeeper, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva (17-4)

What can I say about Overeem, a K1 Grand Prix champion who fought in Pride as a light heavyweight before packing on about sixty pounds of muscle mass in a suspiciously short time frame and went on a twelve fight unbeaten streak to stand as arguably the biggest challenge to UFC champ Cain Velasquez.

Silva on the other hand, you can either see as the dominant, heavy handed jiujitsu machine that the UFC are trying to portray him as, or you can see him as the somewhat overmatched fighter with a glass jaw who is still riding his one great moment, his 2011 TKO of Fedor Emelianenko.

I’m not saying for one second that Silva isn’t legit and wouldn’t squash me like a bug, but at the elite level he’s been badly exposed by Daniel Cormier and Cain Velasquez in the past year and a half, and his TKO win over Travis Browne had more to do with Browne pulling a tendon in his leg than it did to Silva’s dominance.

Put it this way, I see this as much as a gimme win for Overeem as he’s gonna get. Like Velasquez, the UFC brass are feeding Silva to him to give him a highlight reel win to carry into his near inevitable title match.

Funny, that’s how WWE used the Big Show for years as well…

… the difference is, that this is MMA and Bigfoot could easily upset the script. If Overeem puts in a tired performance as he did against Fabricio Werdum or Bigfoot gets the fight to the ground, this one could easily be less clear cut than my cynicism expects…

Wait, the awesome fights aren’t over yet! Now we have the interesting-again Jon Fitch (24-4-1-1) fresh from his exciting (yes, I said exciting) win over Erick Silva facing off with arguably the only man at 170bs that Fitch might have second thoughts going to the ground with, Demian Maia (17-4).

Fitch has made a career out of taking fighters down and rubbing his chest and shoulders into their face for fifteen minutes before being awarded a unanimous decision victory. However, following the shock of losing two rounds against BJ Penn (Fitch brutalised Penn in the third to earn a draw) and following that up with KO loss to Johny Hendricks, Fitch appeared to have embraced the desire to finish fights, or at least try to and thus make them fun to watch in his tussle with Silva.

Maia spent a long time as the designated jiujitsu guy at Middleweight, subbing most guys but occasionally getting knocked the hell out or decisioned by quality wrestlers or strikers he couldn’t get close enough to. Since dropping to welterweight, where he adds a strength advantage to his jiujitsu acumen, he’s looked a bit scary and in his last match became the first competitor to finish noted grinder Rick Story with a nasty looking neck crank submission.

Now, does Fitch try and take Maia down, knowing what he’s capable of off his back? Does Maia try and pull guard in Fitch, knowing what he’s capable of on top? Does both or either fighter decide to see how it plays out striking before going to their usual gameplan?

If you’re the kind of MMA ‘fan’ who chants ‘stand them up’ after ten seconds on the ground or boos a fight where guys aren’t throwing haymakers or flying knees, this one might not be for you. However to me, it’s as interesting a styles clash as anything on the card and I’m very interested to see how it plays out.

Rounding off the main card is a bout that could so easily have been for the inaugural Flyweight title if only Ian McCall (11-3-1) had been a bit more focused and put Demtrious Johnson away last March. Instead, the bout was ruled a draw and Johnson went on to win the belt against Joseph Benavidez (16-3) after defeating McCall in the rematch.

McCall is still seeking his first win in the UFC, while Benavidez has still never been stopped and has only lost to guys who ended up going on to win title belts.

Admittedly, two of McCall’s losses are to the same champions (Dominick Cruz and Demetrious Johnson) and he comes into this match as very much the man with more to lose. Like a job. 0-2-1 is not an Octagon record that does much for your hopes of future employment with the UFC.

Sadly, because I’m a huge fan of Uncle Creepy, I see Benavidez winning this as he’s bigger and finishes more of his fights. Of course, I’d be only too happy if McCall took the win back to Team Oyama, because the UFC flyweight division needs characters as much as it needs off the peg Team Alpha Male jocks…

The pick of the preliminary card is easily the FX main event between Evan Dunham (13-3) and Gleison Tibau (26-8), two guys who’ve pretty much spent the last few years just outside the top ten of the Lightweight division, reliably putting on fun fights and generally losing to guys on their way towards title contention.

This is a quite stunning card and I’m very much looking forward to staying up till silly am UK time to watch it. For viewing details wherever you are, please check www.ufc.com

MAIN (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
• Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar – for featherweight title
• Rashad Evans vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
• Alistair Overeem vs. Antonio Silva
• Jon Fitch vs. Demian Maia
• Joseph Benavidez vs. Ian McCall

PRELIMINARY (FX, 8 p.m. ET)
• Evan Dunham vs. Gleison Tibau
• Jay Hieron vs. Tyron Woodley
• Bobby Green vs. Jacob Volkmann
• Yves Edwards vs. Isaac Vallie-Flagg

PRELIMINARY (Facebook, 7 p.m. ET)
• Chico Camus vs. Dustin Kimura
• Edwin Figueroa vs. Francisco Rivera