Saturday, 4 November 2017

UFC 217 Picks & the Health of the Company

UFC 217 is finally here with very limited fanfare to follow it. It has been terribly promoted by everyone involved, even the fighters. It's almost as though WME has no fucking idea what they're doing with this company. There's something I've had in my mind for a while now, an idea that has started to pick up steam lately as the reality of the situation begins to dawn on people: the over-promotion of Conor McGregor has severely damaged the brand of the UFC and reputation of the sport of a whole.

Michael Bisping was on the Herd last week to promote UFC 217 and of course our friend Colin Cowherd wanted to talk about McGregor to which Bisping replied in an exasperated tone, "Conor, Conor, Conor!" It's my feeling too and I apologize in advance for what's about to transpire but this is important.

Before anyone ever knew who Conor and Ronda Rousey were, the PPV King of MMA was UFC 217's headliner Georges St-Pierre. He wasn't a dynamic personality, he wasn't a trash talker spewing myriad lines of bullshit. He wasn't even particularly exciting to watch all of the time. He was just a highly talented and intelligent fighter whose excellence created an aura and star quality organically.

As long as the product remains first and foremost about competition, you will always have a steady stream of that sort of attraction. It's treated as a real sport and the fact someone has developed into an elite fighter is the most important factor; everything else is just an added bonus.

It ain't that anymore. Some people want to tie Ronda Rousey's over-promotion to the decline of the UFC. I don't think that was it. More often than not, she was booked as a supporting act for Chris Weidman. The last two PPV's she headlined as the champion the notoriety she built as a female novelty allowed the UFC to enter new markets. The current problems in the Women's Bantamweight division stem from a lack of depth and a lack of fights being booked.

As an aside I think the UFC should definitely fold up the Women's Featherweight division and consider doing away with Bantamweight. Most, if not all of the more popular Bantamweights could make 125lbs anyway. The two big stars who made those divisions seem like relevant women's divisions in Gina Carano and Ronda Rousey are gone now. Honestly, I even think they were the only reason people were ever interested in Cyborg, whose record I find unappreciatedly padded.

The beginning of the end really started when Conor McGregor was granted an immediate rematch with Nate Diaz at UFC 200. People look back on that (UFC 202 as it eventually became) and think landmark event, they think Fight of the Year. I think of it as a circus freak show that severely damaged the integrity of the matchmaking.

The failure to book a title defense for McGregor despite a catalogue of eligible challengers left the Featherweight division in limbo. Scrambling to create Interim title bouts when the Champion was fit and healthy and ready to defend rendered all Interim belt meaningless. Gifting McGregor an undeserved Lightweight title shot on a one fight win streak so he could make fake history compromised the integrity of the competition and the significance of winning a championship.

Allowing McGregor to box Floyd Mayweather Jr marked the apex of the short term gain they experienced. It made one man definitively bigger than the sport. While Dana White's question "What makes one a star" is well taken, there is a way to handle them. Promoting him at the expense of everyone else involved with the company changed the expectations of the consumers.

Three of the last three PPV cards have turned in atrocious numbers. UFC 213, 215 and 216 between them failed to cracked 400,000 buys. The casual fan catered to by McGregor does not care if it's not a superfight. If the participants don't act like lunatics at the press conference, it's not worth talking about for them. Great fighters who don't talk trash are disregarded as unmarketable. What's the point of putting them in big fights?

I don't expect this card to do as well as the UFC is hoping. It didn't help that Dana White has spent years lambasting GSP's state of mind. As it stands, we are on the lookout for McGregor vs Ferguson to headline the year end show at UFC 219 which will help them end 2017 on a high. 2018 will be a very important year for the future of the UFC. The next TV deal they sign will be very telling. My feeling is that FOX aligns well with their brand, or at least what they ought to be aiming for. they should not under any circumstances sign with the dying yet still somehow reputable ESPN. We'll see where they go from here.

Picks after the jump.

[C] Michael Bisping vs Georges St-Pierre

Middleweight champion Michael Bisping has been out of the cage for over a year and has done a masterful job in the meantime of avoiding any of the top contenders in the division. I'd be a lot harder on him if he weren't a fellow Manchester United fan but since he's one of our own I'm backing.

Former welterweight GSP returns to the sport for unknown reasons. The feeling seems to be that if retired life (I know he didn't technically retire, but for all intents and purposes) was everything he had been hoping for he would not be back after so long a hiatus, much like Gina Carano. Instead he falls into the cliche of fighters looking for 'one  ore fight'. The UFC hopes St-Pierre can recapture his history as a huge PPV draw. I think the new crowd attracted by the Rondas and Conors and the Jon Jones-DC feud for the most part have no idea who he is.

I think the matchup favors Bisping in a big way. The last time GSP fought was against Johny Hendricks, nowadays a tiny Middleweight but at welterweight massive compared to "Rush". Bisping is a solid Middleweight who used to fight at Light Heavyweight. I think the size difference will be stark, almost akin to how shocking the difference was between Darren Till and Donald Cerrone.

Takedowns are GSP's bread and butter but I think he'll find them very difficult to complete against Bisping, renowned for his very good takedown defense in the last few years. I think he'll also have trouble getting inside with his striking with his size difference and unlike what he is used to, he will not a cardio advantage. Of course we're unsure of what he may have added to his arsenal in the past four years. But for now I see a win by decision for Bisping, likely followed by some lusty booing.

[C] Cody Garbrandt vs [2] TJ Dillashaw

This is a pretty tough fight to call and probably the mostly highly anticipated on the card as well for various reasons. I know the general story behind the Team Alpha Male vs TJ feud but don't really follow most of the drama out of the cage.

I didn't watch TUF except for like two minutes when I was waiting for something else. It was top Asian Justin Buchholz squaring off against Duane Ludwig trying to act tough and give him grief about prising TJ away. At that point I vowed to never watch another second of non-all-female TUF because the scenario is completely goddamn fake - those two cornered TJ together for his first fight at Team Elevation against Dominick Cruz! So I don't know how much to believe anything that anyone says in this squabble.

There seems to be turmoil in both camps with news this week that Buchholz is no longer head coach at Team Alpha male and he seems disgruntled about it. Also, MusclePharm is shifting operations away from Colorado leaving Team Elevation in semi-limbo. To me those are off-setting penalties.

In terms of style, Dillashaw is very similar to Dominick Cruz which is one of the things that made their bout so fascinating. Garbrandt however unexpectedly outclassed one of the all-time greats and I believe is well set to do so again, already having intimate knowledge of Dillashaw's techniques. TJ hits a bit harder than Cruz so if Garbrandt slows down in the fifth round again he may get caught. With so much on the line though, I think he will remain focused and defend his title.

[C] Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs [4] Rose Namajunas

There was some grumbling this week from the more socially-minded MMA fans about Joanna's taunts regarding the mental state of "Thug" Rose. Awkward for me because I've also questioned it. There's no need to rehash all of it. Some of Joanna's gopnik-y pre-fight antics have become very tiresome but I certainly don't think the title shot for Rose is earned. This however is what you get when you want to run a women's division but then don't book enough women's fights.

Namajunas looked impressive in her last outing against Michelle Waterson but the size difference between her and the former atomweight was astonishing. "The Karate Hottie" couldn't find her way inside the lanky Rose and walked into repeated power shots.

there will be no such advantage against a larger strawweight like Joanna. I think the difference in skill and experience on the feet will be vast. When you consider that Rose already fought Karolina Kowalkiewicz, an inferior clone of Joanna and got outworked and outmuscled in the clinch and knocked down, I think there is a real possibility she will get finished.

To me her best chance in this fight is to pull guard and work for a submission standing or from the bottom. Contrary to what it appeared before her last fight though, we now know that training at American Top Team has improved Joanna's game immeasurably. I can't imagine she wouldn't be ready for some of those types of tricks. Joanna to win and you know that at least one of these will be wrong because there is no way all three champions are keeping their titles.

One other thing. Brett Okamoto, another top Asian, wrote an article this week about potential future stars and listed Rose as one them. She certainly has her selling points - Her ability to finish is noted by Brett and her spiky attitude is also well suited to the current environment. I don't think she will ever truly break through until she grows her hair back. It sounds superficial but I absolutely believe it to be true. There's a girl at my gym who looks just liek Rose except she has the long blonde hair and the difference is stark. As much as weepy media types whine about the UFC's treatment of athletes, sometimes these people have to help themselves too.

[2] Stephen Thompson vs [4] Jorge Masvidal

When Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia turned in the blight of the night at UFC 214, there were a whole bunch of folks who said that Jorge Masvidal would have made him fight which just absolutely tickled me. I'm convinced at this point that the only Masvidal fight any of these people have ever seen is the one against Donald Cerrone.

Thompson vs Masvidal sounds great on paper but both of these guys can be extremely cautious. I have a suspicion that you're going to get a whole lot of feinting and dancing around in this fight. "Wonderboy's" movement is very difficult to replicate and makes it very hard to pressure.

If Masvidal can catch a kick or get close enough to clinch I think that is a good path to a dominating win for him. That will be a very arfuous task though and I could well see a split decision, which he is usually on the wrong end of.

Johny Hendricks vs Paulo Costa

This is way too easy, it almost seems like a trap. Hendricks is a shadow of the fighter he was at UFC 167 when he lost a contentious split decision to headliner Georges St-Pierre. People sometimes deride Jeremy Stephens for his lack of knockouts despite his fearsome reputation but "Big Rigg" has not so much as even dazed anyone in over four years.

"Borrachinha" is a rising star, handsome, with a string of highlight reel knockout wins over lesser competition. Hendricks is a big name but doesn't seem like a threat on the feet. He is however still a very accomplished wrestler, something Costa has never faced before. Can he stop a takedown or escape the clinch? Against a fat welterweight, I'm inclinced to think 'yes' but it will be an interesting test for the prospect.

I pick: Bisping, Garbrandt, Jedrzejczyk, Thompson, Costa

Chris picks: St--Pierre, Garbrandt, Jedrzejczyk, Masvidal, Costa

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