Welcome back to our second edition of the BloodyElbow Roundtable, where we have a few of our lovely staff members look at a few juicy MMA topics and chop it up. We had a fair amount to parse the first time around, and now have more to delve into.
This week we’ve got the brilliant Evan Zivin, returning champion Jack Wannan, the debut of Miguel Class, and the annoying Victor Rodriguez. We absolutely had to look at the big shakeup with the UFC women’s bantamweight title, and also look at a bit of the fallout from BKFC’s mammoth weekend. And of course, the big merger/purchase rumor going around. It’s all good fun.
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What’s all this about Conor McGregor vs Mike Perry?
BKFC had arguably their biggest and most consequential event this weekend with a massive boost from Conor McGregor being there and the UFC having such a lackluster event. beyond the question of whether or not a fight between him and Mike Perry should happen, can it happen?
Jack Wannan: “I’m not a businessman. I’m a business, man!” Money talks. And despite Conor McGregor’s most recent performances being lackluster at best, he’s still one of the top price tags in combat sports. I have a feeling that the amount of money that Conor McGregor probably prices him out of BKFC (or any bare-knuckle boxing) and there’s nothing to gain from doing a bare-knuckle bout with him that you can’t already get in a UFC bout.
Here’s what I’m thinking: From a business perspective, what is there to gain from having McGregor in bare-knuckle boxing as opposed to MMA? The mainstream audiences tune in to watch McGregor, but I don’t think the allure of him doing a bare-knuckle bout would bring any extra eyes in that wouldn’t already be tuning in if he was competing in MMA.
You’re probably asking “Jack, if he’s never going to do bare-knuckle, why did he do a face-off last weekend?” Probably to spark conversations like this one right now, that keeps him in headlines. Celebrity 101!
Miguel Class: Conor McGregor being ringside, slamming whiskey, and jumping in to satiate his unquenchable appetite for attention is something we saw long before BKFC 41 and it shouldn’t be taken as a sign of things to come. Recall that at Bellator 187, McGregor hopped inside the cage to celebrate his teammate Charlie Ward’s win and shoved referee Marc Goddard.
Moreover, the UFC would have nothing to gain from allowing the sport’s biggest star a chance to get his teeth smashed in. Given their historic unwillingness to co-promote, even if this was something Conor McGregor really wanted to do (which I have my doubts about), I imagine the UFC would shut it down quickly and thoroughly.
Victor Rodriguez: BKFC pres. Feldman better savor this moment, because I’m not sure he’ll taste anything like this again. This card had to be stacked to high heaven with two UFC all-timers in Mendes and Alvarez (who very much overdelivered), Ferea vs Rodriguez (formerly Rawlings) for the hardcores, and Perry vs Rockhold in what was expected to be chaos. And it was. This event was a grand slam and the Conor McGregor callout followed by him not only being in the building but actually coming into the ring for the faceoff? That was choice.
Now go ahead. Top that. You kinda can’t. Because in the end, Conor’s under contract with the UFC and he’s locked up real good. The UFC’s not lending him out to anybody else again, especially a promotion like BKFC where he could get put out of commission for a while. I’ve mentioned this ad nauseam, but nobody’s making money off him but them. So while it’s a cool thought experiment in theory, I also frankly believe this would be a dope fight in practice. Unless he’s released, it’s not happening.
Even if that happens, you have to wonder what Conor McGregor would demand because he’s not a cheap date. And that’s gonna be a problem. Because if Feldman thought that Francis Ngannou was asking for too much, wait until he sits down at the Black Forge Inn with a man that’s becoming increasingly unhinged as time goes on. And good luck competing with promoters that would kill to have him in actual boxing, where he’d probably make as much if not more than he did against Floyd Mayweather. Should it happen? Yes, absolutely. I’m down for it. Can it happen? It’s not looking too possible or too likely.
Evan Zivin: Conor McGregor got Dana White to let him fight Floyd Mayweather while under contract. Of course a bare knuckle fight with Mike Perry could happen. The only question is whether Conor McGregor actually wants the fight and if he’s willing to challenge Dana on it, as I doubt Dana wants to give BKFC any legitimacy by giving his blessing to another crossover or co-promotion.
I think it’s going to depend on what Conor McGregor does after the Michael Chandler fight (assuming that fight still happens). Conor has said he wants a welterweight title shot with a win. If Dana doesn’t grant him that then I don’t see a whole lot of reason for Conor to want to stick around (he says he wants to stick with the UFC for the rest of his career, but he also retires any time the promotion doesn’t do what he wants).
So maybe he finds a way out of his UFC deal and decides to go become the king of a new sport. It’s going to be that or he teases making a move to get more money in his next contract. Either way, no one knows how to press Dana’s buttons like Mystic Mac.
Is Nunes vs Aldana addition by subtraction?
Now that Irene Aldana is getting the title shot against Amanda Nunes, is this the fight that should have been made in the first place?
Miguel: Absolutely. In a division as weak as women’s bantamweight, a fresh matchup for the typically dominant champ is much preferable to a rubber match with Juliana Peña. Peña was outclassed in their UFC 277 rematch in a way that made their first encounter feel more like a failure on Nunes’ part. While Aldana never became the type of contender some expected when she moved over from Invicta, her recent knockouts have made her about as interesting of a challenge for Nunes as we could want for this struggling division.
Jack: Yes, next question. Just kidding, here’s some more words: The matchup of Amanda Nunes vs. Julianna Pena in a trilogy was a massive head-scratcher. Anyone who watched their second fight saw Nunes absolutely dominate the bout. And was there any hype around seeing them again for any reason whatsoever? Don’t think so. I’ve yet to see any actual real explanation for why that fight was made. Maybe not the worst thing ever that it just sorta faded out of existence this week.
Victor: I dunno, I think I was the only person fine with the Peña booking. Call it a fluke all you want, she won the first fight fair and square. Landed some shots on the feet and got the sub. You cannot take that away from her no matter how bad things were going for Amanda in camp. The second fight played out more like what most of us expected. So it’s easy to sell a tiebreaker, rubber match, whatever you wanna call it.
It’s unfortunate that Julianna’s out with a month to go, and now Aldana’s got about a month to prepare for her title shot. But the main silver lining here is that it’s not a bad matchup and Irene isn’t coming in on like a week’s notice. She’s a worthy opponent, it makes sense in terms of divisional standing, and you can also be smart and sell it as “well, if Julianna got the wild upset and Irene’s friend and teammate Alexa Grasso just did what she did in dethroning Shevchenko…” and juice it that way.
That is, of course, if the UFC weren’t the laziest at actually promoting their events with any true effort. In short, we’re fortunate that it’s a deserving substitution even if I thought the original booking was fine.
Evan: If I’m being honest, I think Raquel Pennington might have been a bit more deserving of the next title shot (and presumably would have earned one had she defeated Aldana in the main event they were going to have two weeks from now before plans changed) but I’m not bothered by Aldana getting it. The top five at women’s bantamweight, with them, Holly Holm, and Ketlen Vieira, are all pretty close to one another, so you could have handed the fight to any one of them and it would have made sense.
What didn’t make sense was making a trilogy fight between Nunes and Pena. You can say Nunes deserved the rematch because all long-term champions get them. Good champions can have a bad night. Pena needed to prove, like Leon Edwards, that she truly was the better fighter and, like Alex Pereira, she failed to do that. She needs to earn her way back. Maybe she can take the fight with Pennington while we get to see Nunes in a fresh matchup.
PFL+Bellator = chocolate+peanut butter?
Rumors are swirling that PFL has expressed interest in purchasing Bellator. Would PFL purchasing Bellator be a net good, or not? How would that ultimately benefit both organizations as well as the fighters?
Miguel: The merging of promotions is something I am not typically keen to celebrate, but with the UFC commanding such a dominant position in the market that it’s willing to jettison its heavyweight champion rather than offer a more fighter-friendly contract, it’s tempting to look at this potential merger as a glimmer of hope for a challenge to the UFC’s monopsonistic control. Both PFL and Bellator have the issue of having several great fighters, but not enough to form high-functioning divisions, so a roster combination could result in a product that tips over that important mark of being enjoyable to watch more often than not.
With the UFC favoring a steady stream of lower-quality and lower-paid talent farmed in-house through the Contenders Series, I can see a PFL-Bellator merger actually being able to compete with the UFC’s ability to showcase the highest levels of MMA. Furthermore, if this new PFL can establish itself as a promotion more friendly to the fighters (as Jake Paul has assured us), there’s a real chance that it can siphon off some of the UFC’s disgruntled roster.
Jack: I am of the opinion that competition is good for everyone. Fans get variety of choice and different products that are trying to outdo each other. Talent gets more options to explore in free agency. Promotions having some motivation to fight complacency. I do not know what benefits a merger (if that’s what would happen) between the two would provide, other than maybe putting together some interesting matchups that weren’t available in the past. It takes away options for everyone – viewers and fighters alike.
You could make the case that two promotions coming together could make them a bigger competitor against the UFC. But I am of the less-than-optimistic belief that no combination of promotions in the sport currently can make a real challenge for their position. And it might be doing more harm to put some promotions together than keep them separate for the market in general.
Victor: I guess it’s gonna depend on how this looks when it’s done, and I don’t think it’ll really happen. Bellator has existing distribution agreements and talent sharing with RIZIN, and it would be a shame to blow that up. Sakikabara might not want to play ball with PFL, and not all Bellator fighters would be in the yearly million dollar season tournaments. Bellator does their own million dollar tournaments and they work out fine.
I’m curious as to whether or not they’d be under the same ownership but run separately, like Bellator and Bellator Kickboxing were. And Bellator’s finally blossomed into a product worth watching with some pleasant surprises with the biggest drawback being the fact that for US viewers, they’re on premium cable. Not sure how this would be absorbed and how the ESPN and Showtime/Paramount agreements would shake out, either.
One thing of note that I can’t let go of is how our own John Nash (Minnesota’s Finest Gentleman) noted that it may not even be a full sale, but a portion of Bellator shares being sold off. Paramount is rumored to also be selling off BET and this could be a partial casualty, where Bellator at least makes some good gate money while PFL gives stacks and stacks of tickets away. If PFL does purchase any or all of Bellator, it’s likely not going to be recognizable and may not be great for fighters. See how Ngannou is getting offers left and right? Having two big suitors turn into one won’t be good. And I don’t like that.
Evan: It’s bad in the sense that, if PFL purchases Bellator, that likely means Bellator will get dissolved, which means one less major fed for fighters to compete in. Less competition is never a good thing.
With that being said, I think it could be a good thing overall because the only way to shake up the status quo of the UFC and get fighters in a position where they have a chance to earn more is through a strong competitor. Bellator stopped being competition to the UFC years ago and, while PFL has done little of note since back when they were still World Series of Fighting (except make Kayla Harrison a thing), they are trying to make some moves now that could really shake things up in the future.
Creating a division where fighters can earn a bigger piece of the pie and signing talent like Jake Paul and, if Chael Sonnen is right for once, Francis Ngannou shows that PFL wants to come at the king. I can only hope they don’t miss. Or at least offer health insurance.
Killing them softly with his Song
Song Yadong scored a lovely finish in a pretty exciting fight over the weekend. Now that he’s ranked at #7, how does he break into the top 5 in a busy and dense bantamweight division?
Miguel: I think Yadong’s best chance at cracking the top 5 of one of MMA’s deepest divisions is to provoke Marlon “Chito” Vera into a rematch. Vera has repeatedly expressed his dissatisfaction with the decision in their first bout from three years ago and it would be hard to argue that Yadong’s best matchup isn’t with the one top 5 fighter that he has already beaten.
Don’t get confused by Yadong’s age though. While it’s true that he’s only 25 and seems to be improving, he started fighting professionally before turning 16, which means that he has actually been in the sport for a deceptively long time. Fighters that start fighting young tend to age out young, so now is the time for Yadong to sink or swim in the shark tank of the bantamweight top 5.
Jack: This is such a cop-out answer, and I’m sorry for that, but it’s also a testament to how strong bantamweight is currently: I like every single matchup between him and the top one-to-six in the division. Every single one has main event quality written all over it.
I just hope we keep seeing him in five-round spotlights. His performance last weekend showed that he’s comfortable in that position and is ready to be tested more. Miguel’s suggestion of Marlon Vera is really good. I think Rob Font would be neat too. I think Song needs to take fights up, though. He will be going at a crawling pace through the rankings if he gets put against more guys who are lower than him on the standings.
Victor: Vera’s a great choice, but I’d campaign for a fight against Petr Yan or Corey Sandhagen at this point. Sandhagen might want to sit and wait for a title shot, but Yan doesn’t have that luxury and might see Song as vulnerable. With Song’s improved wrestling defense, he’s going to be a bigger headache for Petr than he would have been two years ago. A win against either might get him bigger visibility.
Evan: Well, there’s nowhere for him to go but up and take a crack at the top 5. He already has a win against Marlon Vera but I wouldn’t say no to that fight again. The Sean O’Malley call-up was pretty good but he might be right that the UFC is looking to protect Suga to make him available to fight the Aljamain Sterling-Henry Cejudo winner.
If Song really wants to make a statement, he should call out Merab Dvalishvili. I mean, if Aljo beats Cejudo and chooses to fight one more time at 135, Merab will likely need to take a fight. Song just beat the last guy Merab lost to so why not? No better way to prove he’s ready for the title. Otherwise, a fight against the skidding Petyr Yan might be a good next step toward contention.
Maybe they should have backed down
Infamous MMA-themed film Never Back Down quietly turned 15 this year. While MMA portrayal in the media has arguably improved, is it also a “one step forward, two steps back situation”?
Miguel: As someone whose MMA fandom started in 2007, I do not miss the days of ashamedly admitting to being obsessed with Affliction-shirt-wearing men stripping down to legally assault each other in a cage. While the sport has undoubtedly improved its image over the years and certainly bridged the gap with fans of other sports, I still cringe whenever I see MMA depicted in the media.
Even as the level of professionalism has increased, I don’t think the types of fans the sport attracts have necessarily gotten more sophisticated, and advertisers and producers recognize this and cater their portrayals to their audience.
Jack: I think that the growing popularity of MMA means that it is seen as less of a taboo thing (keyword here is “less,” not fully un-taboo. I’ll get to that in a moment). The fact that it’s covered alongside other sports by major publications, is on high-profile TV channels and is consumed by many different age groups makes it a more mainstream in turn more normal thing. However, MMA will always have a certain image to it that cannot be erased, I think.
MMA will never not be seen as violent for the reason that, well, it’s violent! I personally don’t share clips of knockouts or folks getting put to sleep, because non-MMA people who follow me might find it particularly unsettling to watch on their lunch break. No matter how much you clean up the image, culture or politics of the sport (which I think we can agree the sport has a very, very long way to go with), at the end of the day it’s fighting and won’t be for everyone. That will always make it subject to criticism from people not involved, and it’s better to accept that rather than hope it will go away someday.
Victor: I frankly have more of a problem with the rest of the movie that doesn’t have to do with MMA. The obnoxious music, the idiotic house party scene with obligatory “two girls making out” scene, the bully being unnecessarily hostile, etc. It was also basically 21st Century Karate Kid, where the master bully villain gets defeated by a guy that only started training for a few weeks. The choreography was bad, the themes were bad, the only good thing was Djimon Hounsou getting a check.
It’s at least good that MMA is covered somewhat more seriously and in a far more grounded manner now. The training and techniques are respected with people like Joe Stevenson doing choreography on Kingdom, for example. It’s not treated like some carny sideshow thing even if some elements of the sport lend themselves to that.
I guess I’m just relieved that if there’s anything MMA-themed in major media, it’s at least getting input form people that actually know what they’re doing. That didn’t seem to be the case for most stuff until just a few years ago.
Evan: No lie, I just watched Never Back Down the other day. I’ve had this idea in my head about reviewing MMA-based films in preparation for the release of the Road House remake. It’s probably a bad idea (let me know how bad in the comments) since I’ve yet to come across a portrayal that doesn’t look overly choreographed or present the sport as little more than a series of deranged lunatics fighting dirty with little to no defense.
The problem with professional fighting in film, and this includes boxing too considering how good Rocky Balboa was supposed to be for how many concussions he probably had, is that it’s always made to look dramatic, and the more dramatized a fight is, the less realistic it looks.
It also doesn’t help that MMA is rarely presented as a true athletic endeavor and is more like something that happens in illegal underground fight clubs between overly muscular brutes with stupid looking hair and smooth-talking, revenge-seeking frat bros with daddy issues, all while My Chemical Romance is playing over everything. The sport has come a long way but it still has a long way to go to approach anything resembling cultural acceptance.
Is Kingdom good? Maybe I need to watch that…
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