Sports Illustrated round table on UFC fight fixing

Maggie Gray leads off a discussion with Sports Illustrated staff, Chris Mannix, Ted Keith, and Andrew Perloff as they discuss the UFC 162 main event between Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman and whether or not it could have been fixed.

It's fair to say that when a big moment happens in sports, everyone is going to weigh in. Some opinions will be carefully measured, some will be well considered, insightful, perhaps even poignant. But many more will be from figures who take little interest on a day-to-day or even month-to-month basis, suddenly finding themselves in need of an opinion on a story bigger than they expected...

When Maggie Gray led off this discussion, her premise was simple enough: some people are crying foul, the UFC is denying, what do you think? Unfortunately, from there things go a bit off the rails, with broad speculation, ambiguous comparisons, and complete misinformation. An impressive feat considering the whole thing runs just a little over two and a half minutes.

Here's the complete transcript:

Maggie: Interesting. Over the weekend, a UFC fight, and it was an upset. Chris Weidman beat Anderson Silva and nobody saw this coming and most people didn't even know who Chris Weidman was. Anderson Silva's the champion. Afterwards, allegations of fight fixing. And Dana White shot them down, said there was no way this happened. This was just Weidman's night and Anderson Silva was kinda messing around and ended up getting clocked in the face and getting the knockout. I don't know, Chris, you cover boxing and you see... it feels like fight fixing is something from long long ago. Like that scene where the mobster's in the back in the dressing room telling the boxer, "Hey..."

Chris: Sonny Liston, down with a punch sort of thing...

Maggie: Yeah, exactly, the Phantom Punch. It seems like something that happened a long time ago. Is this still a reality in these combat sports?

Chris: I think it still could be a reality. I mean I don't have any direct evidence that would say that it is a reality. But there are plenty of rumors out there in boxing that this type of thing still goes on. Maybe not at the highest level, but still goes on in some cases... because there's a lot of money involved. I mean HBO and Showtime put up a lot of money in these license fees and in order to put these guys in position for it they've got to win fights. And there've been some allegations about this stuff in the past. It wouldn't surprise me if it was happening in this UFC case, I mean I just think it does happen a lot of times.

One thing that would surprise me though, Anderson Silva was in line to fight Roy Jones. There was a lot of talk about the crossover fight with Roy Jones and Anderson Silva. That would be a big fight for the UFC, for Roy Jones, for everyone. I don't know why he'd take a dive in this fight, with that much at stake.

Maggie: Yeah it does seem... the timing seems a little suspect. I don't know, do you guys watch these UFC events and wonder whether they're fixed?

Andrew: My first thought, when I read the results on Sunday morning... Yeah, that it made me nervous. But I would have thought they would have fixed it for Silva. But UFC, and correct me if I'm wrong, is even less regulated than boxing, right? And boxing has this long history. UFC is still building its brand and it's very marketing savvy. It has to cross your mind.

Ted: I don't know, it seems like a curious thing, as he said. If they're trying to convince people that this is a sport to be taken seriously I think the last thing you want to do is break the biggest rule in sports. Which is being caught cheating and sort of predetermining the results of a match. I mean this is a sport that most people kind of tune out for the violence and if they're going to follow either boxing or MMA, they're going to follow boxing because they're used to it. As you said, they've dealt with these problems, and gotten past them in years past already. And now the UFC is going to introduce this at a moment where they're just sort of breaking through a little bit. That seems unlikely to me.

Chris: It is a huge risk for boxing or UFC to do something like that because you will detonate your fanbase. If you lose the public trust based on that you go into sports oblivion if that happens.

As referenced, here were Dana White's comments about fight fixing allegations to the NY Post:

"If you think that fight was fixed, you have to be the biggest moron on Earth," White said. "The guy got knocked dead. His head was bouncing off the canvas like a basketball."

That's not to take Dana solely at his word, Sports Illustrated's own Loretta Hunt had a fantastic and well detailed piece on why allegations of fight fixing are far afield. I recommend reading the whole thing, but it boils down to this:

The irony here is I think Silva fights this way not only to challenge himself, but also to entertain the fans. To him, he's creating an experience -- a living art installment, if you will. However, when it all comes crumbling down, fans are left unfulfilled. They know they didn't see Silva perform to his ability and the bout doesn't answer the one question it's supposed to: who was the better fighter tonight?

Why did Silva choose this fight to bring his "art" to a whole new level? His post-fight comments certainly muddied the waters on that one. He said he was tired. He doesn't want a rematch. He doesn't want to fight for a title again. All statements that can lead one to believe that he somehow "gave up" the fight. Was this his way of avoiding the superfights he seemed to be indifferent about? Was this his clever way of getting off the carousel and running for the exit? It's difficult to believe a top-notch competitor would think this way. The reality is that no athlete ever wants to lose, especially by knockout. Knockouts aren't fun. You lose a block of your memory. You're required to go to the hospital afterward. You have to undergo a barrage of tests.

Silva knew he was facing a young, hungry and capable opponent. He chose to walk the tightrope as he did, and this time he fell. From his post-fight speech, we can tell Silva had come to terms with falling a long time ago. Every performer understands that they will sometimes fail, but that doesn't stop them from going out there and taking chances for their art. In the end, that's all this really was.

Eventually whether you want to doubt the motivations, performance, or entire package of what you saw in UFC 162's main event, it helps at the very least to have a good working knowledge of the sport, its history, and how it functions. There are arguments to be made here, but "it's happened before in boxing," and "UFC is unregulated" aren't among them.

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