It's a cornucopia of mixed martial arts this week in the latest edition of the MMA mailbag. I answer questions about who really is the best fighter in the world – one reader brings up a fighter who may surprise you – and I discuss plenty of issues surrounding the World Extreme Cagefighting in the aftermath of its sensational WEC 51.
In addition, I take on the issue of whether UFC president Dana White may ban trainer Greg Jackson and take a look at Fedor Emelianenko's ranking, so let's hop right into your questions and comments.
I read your column on Jose Aldo's win over Manny Gamburyan, who is a tough guy but a very average fighter, and I had to laugh. You were calling Aldo the best fighter in the world when the truth is, he's not even the best in the WEC. Bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz is the best fighter in the world. I know it's controversial, because he's not in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and he's not a big name, but the facts are the facts. The WEC is so much better than the UFC it is not even funny and most of the top 10 should be made up of guys from the WEC, not the UFC. But Cruz has good speed and quickness but more than anything, he has a great understanding of what goes on in the cage. He's great defensively and he knows how to set up his offense. Aldo is a great offensive fighter, but he doesn't have the all-around game that Cruz has.
You're not going to hear me disparage Cruz one bit, but I believe Aldo is the better fighter of the two. His offense is overwhelming and he's destroying truly great fighters. Cruz is good and his speed makes him very difficult to hit cleanly, but he doesn't have the kind of offensive tools that make Aldo so special. Both of them are top-10 fighters, in my opinion, but I give Aldo the edge.
WEC 51: Great show, bad crowd
I attended WEC 51 in Broomfield, Colo. I was a little disappointed as I saw empty seats all over the place. Is this normal to see on an "off" night being Thursday? I found it amazing how the cameras made it look full, even though it was not.
Fort Collins, Colo.
The television people are good at their jobs, that's for sure. That kind of attendance is not that uncommon, though, for the WEC. Right now, the WEC hasn't developed into anywhere near the kind of draw that the UFC is. This is one of the reasons I think the WEC should be folded into the UFC instead of being run as a separate entity. It would provide a much bigger platform for the WEC's wonderfully talented fighters. The WEC is the best-kept secret in MMA and it delivers great fight cards on a regular basis. But Zuffa so promotes its UFC brand that the WEC kind of is stuck in the background from a marketing standpoint.
Did you spend any time looking into what Jamie Varner has said over the past year before writing your column about the feud between he and Donald Cerrone? I read your stuff all the time on Yahoo! Sports, and don't always agree with you, but don't think too much of it most times. This article, however, seems to lean so far into Varner's corner that I was disappointed. It would not have taken much effort to listen or read to all the things Varner has said for no other reason than to get back his fan base that was lost that night. As for the way you place him on a pedestal (the broken hand, foot, and detached retina), he's not the first in the ring to have that happen, but some (most) finish what they came to do anyway. He called the doctor to the cage, remember that.
Evan, I found Varner and Cerrone to both be direct and forthright in their comments. And I still marvel at fans who ripped Varner for what they perceive to be quitting given the seriousness of the injuries. I can understand where Cerrone's ire came from and I pointed that out in the column: Just as Cerrone was coming on, Varner was unable to continue and, to borrow a phrase from NFL referees, there isn't indisputable visual evidence that it landed. That said, the proof is in the fact that he was hurt and did have a serious eye injury.
Blame Cerrone for the feud
It's difficult for me to believe most of this outlandish behavior doesn't emanate from Donald Cerrone. I saw Mr. Varner coming through boxing. He was all work and no trash talking. He was a sincerely committed young man who wasn't afraid to work humbly and politely. Mr. Cerrone must have quite a bag of demons. Things happen. It wasn't Mr. Varner's fault.
I don't think you can blame either person, Virgil. They are a pair of emotional and competitive men who are competing for a spot near the top of a very difficult division. Cerrone clearly is on top now after his dominant victory at WEC 51, but I don't think there should be blame but rather understanding that their feud is borne of extreme competitiveness and nothing more.
Kevin, thanks for all of your contributions to MMA. I don't understand why Fedor Emelianenko gets a Top 10 pound-for-pound ranking. It seems he has not fought often in the last few years, and the quality of competition has been relatively weak. Granted, the rankings are not a perfect system, but how has he earned a Top 10 ranking. I am dying to see him fight a UFC guy and settle this. How possible is that? Also, I believe that the UFC has the potential to rival the NFL in terms of dollars, and maybe surpass it. Why? The UFC is year round, like sumo in Japan and it has no offseason. Moreover, the fighting market serves the whole world. With franchising and world competitions, I can see the UFC being incredibly big. I would love to see an article touching this subject, with good research, etc.
Kenneth R. Schmidt
Thanks, Kenneth. First, let me explain again how the voting process works in the Yahoo! Sports rankings work. MMA editor Dave Doyle collects the votes of the 20 persons who vote in our poll. They are asked to submit 10 names with the first-place person receiving 10 points and the 10th place person receiving one. Doyle tallies the votes and the order is finalized. It is not the product of one person or one small group of people. The panel includes most of the major MMA sites, including MMA Junkie, MMA Weekly, Sherdog, ESPN.com, SI.com, MMA Fighting as well as Yahoo! Sports and some newspapers. Now, Fedor is a tough call to place. He's 31-2 with a no-contest and before his loss to Fabricio Werdum on June 26, he'd gone 9½ years without a loss. His level of competition didn't really drop until late 2006, early 2007. Now, I will grant you that that has to be taken into consideration. And for me, it is, though I would point out it's a lot easier to grumble about his competition than it is to actually beat him. He's sixth in our poll now and I think that's about right. But I think fighting polls should be fluid, to rank the current ability of fighters, as it varies over time. Certainly, Fedor is not near his peak now. As for the UFC being bigger than the NFL, it will be a long time before that will happen. At one time, boxing was much bigger than the NFL, though, so I wouldn't totally rule it out. I think MMA in general is going to continue to grow as more mainstream media begins to recognize it and treat it as a legitimate sport and not a barbaric sideshow. That said, the NFL is so firmly established in the U.S. that while I won't rule out the UFC surpassing it one day, that day won't be measured by years but rather by decades.
Jackson ruining MMA?
I am interested in your input on Greg Jackson's chess-like fight strategizing (I am sure you are not oblivious to the growing frustration with this among MMA fans). So there is obviously a need to have a game plan in MMA, but these guys are fighters in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Fighters. I feel like most of the high-level fighters Greg Jackson trains suddenly develop the entertainment value of valium. Georges St. Pierre used to be the most exciting fighter in MMA, in my opinion. Now? Not so much. And I was just plain mad at what Melvin Guillard has turned into. That kid was lightning in a bottle! He won with gusto or lost with gusto, but he fought every time. At UFC 119 last month against Jeremy Stevens, I saw an emasculated Melvin Guillard. I was so excited for that fight, and was very disappointed with the way it turned out. It was a win, but it was uninspired, and thoroughly uninspiring. Is there anything UFC president Dana White can do about this? I imagine Dana can't love the Jackson approach any more than casual fans. Can he maybe ban Greg Jackson from training UFC fighters? Please?
Mike, Greg isn't going to be banned, so let's not even go there. And while I know that Greg has received lots of criticism, don't forget that he also coaches Shane Carwin, who is an offensive fighter, and Donald Cerrone, who burst out of his corner to attack Jamie Varner at WEC 51 and fought a very offensive fight. I think Greg is putting the onus on the opponent to make a mistake. In the case of the Jackson-trained Rashad Evans against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 114 in May, Rampage wasn't ready to fight the kind of fight he needed to do. The long layoff he had before the bout clearly affected him, but if they fought again, I'll bet it would be a more exciting fight. In the case of St. Pierre against Dan Hardy at UFC 111, if Hardy could have stuffed even one of those takedowns, the fight might have been different. But when the opponents don't have the ability to force the Jackson-trained fighter to change, this is what you'll get.
Mistake to match 'Bones,' Bader at this point
Is it just me or is it foolish to have Ryan Bader fight Jon Jones at UFC 127? Both are hot prospects and a loss to either would surely take them out of the immediate title picture. Why not have both of them fight more proven guys near the Top 10, such as Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez in the heavyweight division, instead of automatically eliminating one of them?
James, I like the idea that they're going to fight, and there are several reasons why I have no problem if they do indeed meet at 127. First is just the obvious that the loser wouldn't deserve to be in the immediate title picture. If he loses a close fight, all it would take would be a good win or two to get him back. If he gets blown out, then he probably needs to wait awhile before fighting for the championship anyway. To my way of thinking, I want to see fighters encouraged to seek out and take on the best possible opponents and to be rewarded when doing so. A loss doesn't have to be devastating if it's against elite competition. One of the issues in boxing has been that the guys often fight a string of C-level opponents on their way up and a loss is critical to them. But if you're fighting the best you're qualified to face, a loss shouldn't be seen as anything more than the cost of doing business.