A fixed fight is a strange thing in combat sports, especially since fixing a fight doesn’t necessarily happen as an agreement between fighters to perform a certain way. Referees, judges, cornermen, and ringside doctors can all be gotten to just as easily as an athlete, and without all the necessity of choreographing moves in front of hundreds of thousands of viewers.
That climate of uncertainty creates a strange duality in combat sports, in that there are likely both more and fewer fixed fights than people think. Fewer of the unexpected and sometimes nearly inexplicable actions fighters may take are likely the result of a fighter taking a dive, while more of the scoring inconsistencies, doctors stoppages, or referee decisions may be.
Most often though, when fans think they’ve seen a ‘fix’, it’s down to the fighters and how they performed.
All of which leads to the main event of Bellator 170 on Saturday, January 21st when Chael Sonnen fought Tito Ortiz. After a few tentative exchanges, Ortiz shot in for a single leg on Sonnen, who immediately went down to the mat and tried to counter with an arm-in guillotine and a sweep into a front headlock series. Sonnen ended up going for another guillotine and ended up giving up mount as a result. That became back mount, which became the submission finish.
For many, the fight had the look of a work.
That was UFC commentator Dan Hardy’s take on it, as he alluded to on Twitter shortly after the fight.
“The #Bellator170 main event was more choreographed than a Brittany Spears music video. Shame really... It might have been a fun fight,” Hardy said, in a since deleted message (h/t MMA Fighting).
Now however, with a couple days to think about it, it seems Hardy is changing his tune... a bit. In a recent interview on The MMA Hour, Hardy explained that after re-watching the bout several times, he’s laying the blame for the strange looking fight squarely on one man: Chael Sonnen (transcript via MMA Fighting).
“Now, when I first watched it, the first time around, I didn’t see the controversy of the tap, I don’t know what that was, and I’m not suggesting that Tito had anything to do with it,” he said. “To me, Tito looked like he was celebrating like he’d just won his UFC belt again. I think Tito was all in. My question is whether Chael Sonnen went into that fight with the intention of giving it everything he’s got. Because that was the story that he sold everybody, and that what was I was so disappointed with.”
And with that perspective, Hardy explained that he doesn’t feel the fight was fixed, specifically. However, it may be that Sonnen didn’t show up to really compete:
“No, I don’t think so, I don’t think Bellator had anything to do with it,” Hardy said of a potential ‘fixed’ bout, “and I’m not necessarily saying the fight was contrived in any way. That was just my first reaction when I saw it because I couldn’t think of any other way that Chael would have rolled over like that. And then giving my perspective of the fact that Bellator brought him in basically as a mouthpiece to draw in an audience, but I just never got the impression that they expecting him to do anything athletically. I mean, he’s 40 years old, and he’s been retired for a time. From my perspective it seemed like he was there to kind of give Tito this big boost, and he just looked like he didn’t want to fight.
“That’s what I’m saying, and I’m not saying that Bellator was in on it, and I’m not saying that Tito is in on it. And to be honest, what I’m saying now, after watching it a few more times — probably 20 or 40 times — Tito kept that squeeze on a bit too long. And this was discussed at the press conference.”
Either way, for a fight that drove viewers to Bellator well above the promotion’s norm, Sonnen vs. Ortiz ended up being a bizarre anti-climax. Add in the circumstances of Ortiz’s retirement, Sonnen’s layoff, and Sonnen’s past willingness to skirt the rules, and it’s unlikely that controversy surrounding the bout will ever reach a clear resolution.