Mailbag: Why the MMA lightweight division is top-notch
There is a lot going on the mixed martial arts world, so I thought I’d go with an expanded edition of the MMA mailbag this week.
Let’s get right into your comments.
Regarding your comment, “The lightweight division is so strong because it’s where the perfect combination of speed, skill and power reside,” I’m afraid I don’t understand your reasoning. UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones isn’t athletic? Middleweight champion Anderson Silva isn’t athletic? Welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre isn’t athletic? Each of those fighters contain a higher level of athleticism than Frankie Edgar. I’m afraid you are interpreting cardiovascular conditioning as athleticism. Yes, Clay Guida, Edgar and new lightweight champion Benson Henderson can go five rounds at a frenetic pace. But that isn’t athleticism; that’s just physiology. Worse, though, was your comment about power. How many knockouts does Edgar have? How about Guida? [Gray] Maynard? Kenny Florian? Henderson? Now, how many knockouts does featherweight champion Jose Aldo have? I believe if you count Aldo’s entire body of work, he has more knockouts than all of those lightweights.
Michael, of course Jones, Silva and St. Pierre (among many others) are great athletes. I never said they were not. I was talking about them as a group. When you factor in the group of athletes in a division from top to bottom, I believe my comments are accurate. Of course, it’s an opinion. You may think that, top to bottom, there are more athletes and better fights at, say, 170 or 205. That’s fine. But my larger point was that the division is stacked with great athletes and great fighters and there are more top-level fights to be made at lightweight than anywhere else.
[Related: Kevin Iole’s UFC 144 breakdown]
Frankie Edgar and Jose Aldo are the same size. Aldo has a weight problem. Who really cares what they weigh when Edgar kicks Aldo’s overrated butt all over the ring?
I’ll disagree with your point about Aldo being overrated, but forgetting that for a second, I’ll answer your question: Aldo and Edgar would care, among others. If they fought at lightweight now, it wouldn’t be for a title since Edgar is no longer the champion. If they fight at featherweight it would be a championship match so they clearly would care. Edgar is an interesting case study because he chooses to fight at lightweight when he could easily make featherweight (one of his camp members said he thought he could make bantamweight, though I’m not so sure I believe that). Unlike most fighters who work extremely hard to fight at the lowest possible class, Edgar cuts almost no weight. He feels it doesn’t deplete his body and it’s hard to argue with him, given his success. A 10-pound cut shouldn’t take much of a toll on him and could set up a fascinating fight for the featherweight title against Aldo, if he chooses to go that way.
Mixed Martial Arts has grown so fast that judging, and judges, already seems antiquated. Fans and fighters both are confused on what criteria a given judge is using on any event. What plays well one week doesn’t play at all the following. There needs to be an updated, consistent set of criteria that judges use to score (and not just assuming the guy on the bottom is losing). But, when is UFC president Dana White going to realize that frequently disagreeing with the judges and giving win bonuses to fighters who lost on the judges’ cards is a harmful thing? Why have judges if Dana is going to unofficially reverse the decision and/or very openly criticize judges (and to some extent, referees)? He likes to say, “Don’t leave it in the hands of the judges,” but given his actions, why not? If you think you can’t knock someone out or submit them, isn’t the next best course of victory to let it go to the judges? If you lose and it’s close, you might just get paid anyway.
There is a set criteria judges use, but how each judge views things is a personal decision. As for your point about White, I don’t get it. First of all, if a fighter can’t knock someone out or submit him, what other choice does he have other than to let it go to a decision? I suppose the other choice is getting knocked out or submitted himself. But why would you not want fighters to get paid for fighting well? If White can incentivize the fighters to compete harder (and thus put on better shows for the fans) by paying them extra when they do well, why would you oppose that? I would object if the UFC stripped a champion who won a decision according to the judges and White objected. He hasn’t done that, though. He’s simply rewarded fighters he, as an owner of the company, thought performed well. There’s nothing wrong with that. I’d much rather a promoter pay a fighter more than he has to rather than less.
Who do the referees and judges work for when they work in the UFC? Do they work for the state athletic commission where the fight is held or do they work for the UFC? I have seen some of the same referees when they hold events in different states or countries. I believe if the referee works for the organization, there can be manipulation for fight outcomes.
Jose, there is a twofold answer here. When the UFC (or any promoter) holds an event where there is an athletic commission that regulates MMA, the officials work for that commission. So, if you see Herb Dean refereeing a bout in Nevada, he’s paid by the Nevada Athletic Commission and reports to executive director Keith Kizer. But when the UFC travels internationally, it often holds events where there is no commission. In those events, the UFC appoints its vice president of regulatory affairs, Marc Ratner, to serve as the de facto commissioner of those events. Ratner then chooses the referees and the judges and they are, in fact, paid by the UFC. That’s not ideal, but if it didn’t work that way, the UFC couldn’t go to places like Japan and the U.K., for examples, which don’t have a body that regulates the sport.
Once I heard that Rampage Jackson didn’t make weight for his UFC 144 bout against Ryan Bader, I wondered what he was doing. I feel he didn’t show up to the event and after finding out the results the next day, it didn’t surprise me to find out he lost. The only thing the fans in Japan got to show for it was his signature slam move, when he slammed Bader. To me, he showed up to get paid and didn’t show up to fight. Rampage has always been my fighter of choice, but for some reason I knew he wasn’t going to win as soon as I heard he missed weight. It makes me wonder if he even trained for the fight, like when he trained hard when he fought Jon Jones.
That’s been the knock on Rampage for a long time now, that he’s not always motivated. He certainly seemed lethargic in the fight against Bader, which he blamed on a knee injury that prevented him from doing cardiovascular training.
Losing twice to Frankie Edgar forced B.J. Penn to move up in weight. He subsequently said he was going to consider whether to fight again after a couple of lackluster performances. A few weeks back, I read that those ever-reliable “unnamed sources close to” B.J. have said that he’s got the fire back and will fight again. Does Benson Henderson’s win open the door for Penn to come back as a lightweight?
I’m not sure it impacts it at all, Scott. If B.J. is hungry and motivated, he’s one of the best fighters in the world whether he fights at lightweight or welterweight. When he’s not, he’s just another guy. He hasn’t decided if he wants to fight any longer. If he does want to fight and chooses to go to lightweight, he’d be a contender but would be behind a number of guys like Nate Diaz, Jim Miller, Anthony Pettis and, of course, Edgar, who have won fights and looked impressive while Penn has been away.
I don’t know why there isn’t more outrage about Benson Henderson’s “victory” at UFC 144 over Frankie Edgar. First, Frankie was fighting a guy who was probably a welterweight, not a lightweight. But if you tell me you think Henderson won four of the five rounds, like two of the judges’ did, I’m going to show you someone who knows nothing about MMA. Frankie won that fight without a doubt and anyone who knows MMA knows that.
Edgar and Henderson each weighed 154, so they were both lightweights. As I said previously, Edgar chooses to fight at a class in which he doesn’t have to cut weight. He probably weighed no more than 160 in the ring after he rehydrated. Henderson had to cut a lot of weight and probably rehydrated to more than 170, but that’s the way it is when the weigh-in is the day before. As for the fight, I had it 3-2 for Henderson, giving Henderson rounds 2, 3 and 4 and Edgar rounds 1 and 5. It was close and I don’t have an argument with how it was judged. I wouldn’t have had an argument if it was 3-2 Edgar, as Dana White had it, either. In those kinds of fights, there is going to be a lot of disagreement.
“This isn’t my first rodeo, and this won’t be a walk in the park, but the jitters won’t be on my side.” – UFC flyweight Demetrious Johnson, talking about his opening-round tournament fight Friday against UFC newcomer Ian McCall
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