Veteran readers of MMAFighting.com know the drill by now with the MMA Roundtable: We keep one eye on the past and another on the future, all while keeping NSA-like surveillance on breaking news.
A few times per year, though, an event happens which leaves so many questions in its wake — and so many options for the future — that it demands a whole Roundtable unto itself. Such was the case with last Saturday’s UFC Fight Night at Boston’s TD Garden, one of the most top-to-bottom eventful events in recent memory.
From Chael Sonnen’s masterful win over Mauricio Rua to Travis Browne’s stunning knockout of Alistair Overeem, and from Urijah Faber’s vintage victory over Iuri Alcantara to Conor McGregor’s big day in Boston, there was plenty to discuss.
So it’s my pleasure to have my brand-new MMAFighting.com colleague, Chuck Mindenall, join me for his first MMA Roundtable. Now, while the newbie goes and fetches me a beer, I’ll get the ball rolling:
1. Let’s say you had to book Chael Sonnen’s opponent right now: Who, when, and why?
Doyle: Wanderlei Silva, Super Bowl weekend. Look, short of giving Sonnen yet another title shot, you pretty much can’t go wrong in booking him at this point. His victory over Mauricio “Shogun” Rua on Saturday, at 205 pounds, was exactly the sort of win he needed to remind everyone what he’s capable of at his best.
But out of the potential names bandied about, nothing makes for a surefire, money main event or co-main like Sonnen vs. SIlva. Not after all the yapping and bad blood back and forth that’s gone down between the two. And neither of the other potential foes being discussed, Vitor Belfort or Lyoto Machida, are beloved to the degree Silva is. This fight would be money in the bank.
Why Super Bowl weekend? Well, the big PPV cards between now and the end of the year are already booked. During Saturday’s post-fight press conference. Sonnen attempted to position himself as part of the Dec. 28 card, which would conveniently enable him to call out the winner of the Chris Weidman-Anderson Silva rematch. Slick move, but that card is already going to be among the biggest sellers in UFC history without Sonnen’s name attached. Best to save Sonnen for later. A Jon Jones fight, or the winner of Cain Velasquez-Junior dos Santos, defending in the New York area on Super Bowl weekend, with Sonnen-SIlva as a co-main? The string of big PPVs continues.
Mindenhall: Interesting to me that Dana White was taking the media to task for having Sonnen so low in the UFC’s official middleweight rankings (Sonnen showed up eighth in a division he bolted). He was like the dad who felt absurd having trusted us with the keys to the car. But you know what? This feels like White preemptively justifying a nudge for Sonnen towards that Silva/Weidman winner — particularly if it’s Weidman who wins on December 28.
Does a victory over Wanderlei Silva get him there, though? In my mind, no. He’d have to beat Belfort for that. And that’s the fight I would make if the idea is “contention.” Obviously everybody wants to fight Belfort right now, and it looks like Dan Henderson has emerged as a favorite to get him next. That’s a great rematch, thought it makes almost no sense to such high-minded concepts as “pecking orders” or any of that.
But I would completely understand if the UFC decided to capitalize on Sonnen’s ongoing public feud with Wanderlei SIlva right now. It would seem criminal for these two not to fight after all the back-and-forth (including Sonnen’s Leaping Lanny Poffo-like poem in Boston). Contention aside, matches like these are the gems of the fight game. What’s not to appreciate about genuine disgust-driven hostility?
2. With his second loss in a row in the UFC and the year-long suspension, is Alistair Overeem officially a bust in the UFC?
Mindenhall: Though the inclination is to say, “why yes, of course, don’t be silly,” the real answer is “sort of.” The bottom line is Overeem was working the heavy bag on both Antonio Silva and Travis Browne, giving them aftershocks through their ribcages and teeing off before…you know…losing cataclysmically. Seems to me he needs to work on his defense a little bit.
But the other thing is he’s still a colossus in a division that sorely needs names. He lost two in a row, which stings, but we need look no further than that same Boston card to find salvation stories that might give us pause from giving ‘Reem the gladiatorial thumbs down. Matt Brown. He had lost three in a row and four of five before surging back to life with six straight wins. That dude is immortal.
Bigger issue with Overeem is the notion that he was only at his best when he was on the needle. This could be the case. He’s a big investment for very little return and — either because of that, or in spite of it — I still think he gets another fight in the UFC to see if he can kick up some momentum.
Doyle: Has Overeem been a bust in the UFC? Yes. Unequivocally. We’re talking, all-timer, Fedor Emelianenko in Strikeforce and Mirko Cro Cop in the UFC-level busts. Overeem made “Bigfoot” Silva look like he deserved another crack at Velasquez, fer crissakes.
At least in Fedor’s case, he retains the dignity of the noble warrior who was simply on the downside of his career. Overeem fought a string of gimmes in Japan, came over here, literally tried to flee from a random drug test in a car, flunked said drug test, and hasn’t looked the same since, both in physique and performance.
Did he look great right up until the moment he was knocked silly in each of his past two fights? Sure. But considering he made a bit more than $ 285,000 for his loss to Silva (UFC Fight Night salaries have yet to be released), there’s no doubt number crunching going down on W. Sahara Ave. in Las Vegas right now. My guess is that he’ll get one more chance, simply because of the dearth of big names at heavyweight, but who knows?
3. Ignoring the logjam at the top of the bantamweight division at the moment, is it fair to say Urijah Faber is in line for another title shot?
Doyle: Who would have thought a year ago, after losing to Renan Barao in his fourth crack at a championship since dropping the WEC featherweight title to Mike Brown, that we’d even be able to ask this question with a straight face? But that’s exactly what Faber’s done after three straight impressive victories in 2013.
Something’s obviously clicked in Faber’s head, because in 2013, he’s looked more like the WEC Urijah Faber than he has in quite some time. Following Ivan Menjivar off the mat, climbing his back, and getting a mounted, standing choke submission? That might as well have gone down at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas in 2007. Ditto for Faber’s relentless performance Saturday from the big first-round slam and onward.
So “The California Kid” has moved his way back up onto the list and is clearly a contender at 135 pounds. That said, even if we had just one, non-injured champion at the top of the heap, I think he’d still be one fight away from a title shot. And hey, what do you know … there’s this kid named Michael McDonald who also looks a solid win away from a crack at the gold. Match them up, let the Dominick Cruz-Barao thing sort itself up, and you’ve got yourself a solid next contender.
Mindenhall: Completely agree with you on this one, and I even asked the fighters about this possibility (inevitability?) in Boston. McDonald and Faber are obviously longtime NoCal homies with a hella deep history together. But they are also competitors who admitted they can compartmentalize things like friendships and “doing what has to be done to get a title shot.” In fact, they said they’d even discussed fighting each other like two level-headed businessmen discoursing over a fun yet necessary evil.
This is the fight to make. Both guys already fought Barao recently, and it’s too soon to rebook anything there — particularly with Cruz steadily making progress towards his return.
I know. Faber is accused of finding a title shot under each rock he kicks over, but he’s got a burgeoning new angle in play for himself this time through: The more we call him an invincible force when facing common contenders, and the more we say the onus is he can’t win the big one, the more the narrative develops to see him “get that one last shot.” The most obvious thing the UFC can do is book Faber versus McDonald next, therefore providing the winner the proper merit to take on the Cruz/Barao winner. This is elementary stuff, Dave.
4. Should Conor McGregor be expedited into facing a top-10 featherweight in his next bout?
Mindenhall: We spent a couple of weeks prior to UFC Fight Night 26 making sure that everybody knew that “Max Holloway was no slouch.” You know what McGregor did? Went in there and treated him like a slouch. And he did it with a bum knee from midway through the second round on. To me, this showing was far more impressive than his KO of Marcus Brimage. This one showed his depths.
The featherweight division has swiftly become one of the most stacked in the UFC. It began with the hiatus of lightweights who needed reinvention, but it has been and remains Jose Aldo’s class. There are a lot of guys trying to get that next shot (Ricardo Lamas, Cub Swanson, Chad Mendes), but there are some who are intriguing yet a couple of fights away. The fighters that come to mind are Erik Koch and Dustin Poirier. They fight at UFC 164 in Milwaukee, and how great would a fight be between McGregor and the winner?
Too much too soon? I doubt it. Remember, when McGregor was asked if he was afraid of being thrown to the wolves, he pointed out that he had his own canus lupus instincts. Not only do I think he’d handle himself fine against a top 10 guy (or against Diego Brandao, whom he has targeted), I think that he could (and will) headline that Ireland card in the “third quarter of next year” that Dana White talked about.
Doyle: Geez, do we have to agree on everything, Chuck? I think The Man With The Hat is spot on, here. McGregor might have been unhappy about going home without bonus money — three people died making his solid gold pocket watch, after all — but as Chuck alluded to, he answered far more questions with his 15-minute dismantling of Holloway then he would have if he had simply bulldozed him and knocked him out.
Takedown ability? Check. Solid transitions once they hit the ground? Check? Ability to switch from Plan A to Plan B under duress, even if you claim to have no Plans? Check. McGregor’s well on his way to a perfect superstar buildup. A top-10 fighter is next (or Diego Brandao. Close enough). If he wins there, as Chuck says, have him fight at home, preferably against whichever current fighter in the top five logjam finds himself in need of a ‘W’ this time next year. This is elementary stuff, Chuck.
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