clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

5 things that make me go ‘Hmmm’ before an MMA-heavy weekend

Jordan Breen puzzles over the week’s main MMA story lines heading into UFC Copenhagen and Bellator 228.

UFC on FX: Hioki v Lamas Photo by Nick Laham/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

The weekend is upon us, but it’s not just any weekend. No, it’s one of those weekends. You know, one of those weekends with a bajillion notable MMA cards clustered together over a 48-hour period.

We’ve got the UFC making its Danish debut, Bellator hitting Ireland again before finishing up the opening round of its Featherweight Grand Prix, plus a veritable smorgasbord of fights from all over the world. (And yes, I’m aware smorgasbord is Swedish and not Danish, pal.) The craziest part of all? As much as there is to sink our teeth into here, the best fight of the whole weekend is actually not in a cage, but the squared circle—where Errol Spence and Shawn Porter will contest the WBC and IBF welterweight titles.

Suffice to say, there’s a lot of things that make me look up and down the massive roster of fistic contests as my eyes glaze over. Here’s five of the things that make me say, “Hmmm”...

#1 - Can either Jack Hermansson or Jared Cannonier become viable UFC contenders?

UFC Fight Night: Ultimate Media Day Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Partially informing my answer, let me say that I think Hermansson takes this handily and should be a much larger favorite than -240. He’s a superior fighter in absolutely every regard other than pure, one-punch power.

I’ve been consistently perplexed listening to people invest any sort of faith in someone who once got plunked by Shawn Jordan, and who has lost to every quality, prime fighter he’s ever faced. His two best wins were a deteriorated David Branch, and freakishly breaking the brittle leg of a decrepit Anderson Silva.

But, to the point of the question (and for the sake of argument), let’s say that Cannonier lands a massive shot—even though in 24 fights, the only person to ever stop Hermansson with strikes is Thiago Santos, who is a far more varied, predatory striker than Cannonier.

Given how good the upper echelon of middleweight has become in recent years, who do fans really see Cannonier beating? A win over Hermansson, at best, puts him two wins away from a title shot. Would anyone favor Cannonier – who is defensively porous and a fairly one-note fighter – over say, Kelvin Gastelum? Jacare Souza, who Hermansson just soundly, shockingly tooled for 25 minutes? Nevermind how badly he would get hurt, especially in a five-round fight against a Yoel Romero, an Israel Adesanya, or a Robert Whittaker. If the 35-year-old American is able to pull off the upset with the one major tool he has – with all due respect to his fluky leg kick on Silva – it will likely remain the biggest win of his career until he hangs ‘em up.

Hermansson on the other hand, I can buy. Not as a champion, given how good the top three or four are in this division, but certainly as someone who could sneak through the cracks and get a sniff at the title. I think, all things considered, his performance against Jacare earlier this year may be the best performance of 2019—given how thoroughly he outclassed a better athlete, a legendary grappler, and a theoretically better fighter. Hermansson isn’t perfect, but he’s got a sneaky array of weapons that – as the fight with Jacare indicated – he can mix up perfectly to do some damage and carry rounds, while keeping up a solid pace.

I anticipate Hemansson styling on Cannonier here, and eventually bumping up against a ceiling when he faces the top four or five guys at 185. But, he’s shown me enough over the last two years, especially with constant improvement, that he is here to stay as an elite fixture. And, if you can orbit the upper echelon of any division for a sustained period of time, there’s always the chance you might luck into a shot at the king.

#2 - Between the UFC and Bellator, which prospect this weekend has the most to lose or gain? Who will shine?

UFC Fight Night: Chiasson v Moras Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

In terms of the most to gain, I think people have to consider how a win would impact a prospect’s public image and competitive standing. To which end, I have to go with Macy Chiasson. The fact she’s a -400 favorite against a sturdy Lina Lansberg already speaks to a strong perception, but the Louisiana native has still only been a pro for two years.

More importantly, she stands a gain an enormous amount, because Amanda Nunes has been so predatory over the last four and a half years. The champion has more-or-less exhausted all notable opposition. A win for the Ultimate Fighter 28 winner could vault her into immediate contention.

As for most to lose, do we still consider Michael Page a “prospect”? I mean, he’s certainly a work in progress still. And while there’s no shame in getting clobbered by Douglas Lima in your first loss, losing to a +600 unknown like Richard Kiely – after all the hype and hoopla built around him – would be a massively deflating upset and steal every last bit of his thunder.

If Page doesn’t qualify, I’ll go with 8-0 Olympic silver medalist Mark Madsen—who even if he’s already in his mid-30’s, still has tons of athletic upside. The Danish UFC newcomer is a -650 favorite against a virtual unknown in Danilo Belluardo.

Chiasson will probably wind up looking the best since, she’ll piece Lansberg up on the feet. But, I was also surprised to see undefeated 11-0 Welshman Jack Shore was only -165 against Nohelin Hernandez. Shore still needs to be polished up, but he’s got all the tools and is exceptionally dynamic.

#3 - After Bellator 228, will the Grand Prix ‘random draw’ format have any impact on the tournament’s conclusion?

MMA: APR 21 Bellator MMA Photo by Williams Paul/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Unfortunately and bluntly, no. But, even if I think it will only prove to be a gimmick, I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We know Bellator CEO Scott Coker loves tournaments—whether he owes that to his own karate background, or his fetishizing of yesteryear, when the MMA planet revolved or Japan. However, in a time where MMA has been largely homogenized and overwhelming in volume, it can be nice to switch things up from time to time. It’s not a bad idea to draw a little extra attention, just likely ineffectual in this case, for two major reasons.

The first is the fact that Patricio ‘Pitbull’ Freire is defending his title against Juan Archuleta this Saturday in the opening round. And while maybe upstart A.J. McKee proves us wrong, they’re the two presumptive favorites. It reminds me of the Pride Lightweight Grand Prix in 2005, when the company put the two hottest lightweights in the world, Takanori Gomi and Tatsuya Kawajiri, against one another in the first round. Gomi went on to beat Luiz Azaredo and ‘Mach’ Sakurai to win the whole thing.

The other is competitive and strategic tendency. Now, Coker pretty much cribbed this idea straight from K-1’s World Grand Prix. Year after year, you could almost predict which fighter would pick which fighter down to a tee—and I suspect this will be no different. Things would’ve been more interesting if they started the random draw before the tournament started, with all 16 fighters.

There is one unique angle here though, that makes things a little spicier: because Coker had the keen idea to have the title on the line throughout these Bellator tournaments, every fighter in sequence has the chance to afford themselves a title shot. That move de-emphasizes the usual tactic of choosing the weakest or most-infirmed fighter. For instance, if A.J. McKee tops Georgi Karakhyan and ends up with the top pick, does he decide, at 24-years-old and now 15-0, it’s time for him to face the champ? This dynamic makes the whole mechanism worthwhile, even if I don’t think it will change the odds of the Freire-Archuleta winner

#4 - UFC parent company Endeavor was supposed to go public with its IPO on Friday. What impact, if any, will it have on the UFC?

Palm Casino Resort Unveils The Empathy Suite Designed by Damien Hirst Photo by David Becker/WireImage

Ahead of Endeavor’s now cancelled plans to become publicly traded, it was internally projected that the company would rake in $600 to $620 million in investment. Hell, the New York Post reported a figure as high as $720 mil. However, the UFC Is just a slice of the pie for its parent company, who looks to dole out over 19 million shares at between $30 and $32. All that said, does the media giant’s potential moves toward an IPO impact the UFC in any direct, tangible way? Too early to tell, but I’d say bet on “Not really.”

If the UFC was supposed to have a major role in the IPO, it’s that Endeavour is using this venture to alleviate some of its $4.6 billion debt—a constituent part of which is that the company, then under the WME-IMG banner, paid $4.2 billion for the UFC back in July 2106. Hell, if someone buys stock in Endeavor, they are only buying into the Endeavor Holding Company, which owns 58.6 percent of the whole conglomerate. The remaining 41.4 percent of which is owned by an entity called “WME Holdco,” and controlled by Endeavor’s top executives.

If there is any tangible, noticeable upside for the UFC in this kind of financial wrangling in the future, it’s that it may have some unclear impact on Endeavor’s corporate bargaining power. And that could allow them to broker deals with large companies with multiple interests. For instance, ever wonder why two years ago, UFC 217 in Edmonton was promised two title fights—before Ray Borg got injured, nixing his fight with Demetrious Johnson? Because they were dealing directly with Oilers Entertainment Group, who own the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers, all the team’s regional affiliates, and the building in which the Oilers play, Rogers Place.

Those kind of broad deals could dovetail with Endeavor bringing one of its other properties like Professional Bull Riding to Rogers Place, in a crossover with rodeo fandom. But, by and large, it’ll be business as usual for the UFC.

#5 - What on Earth is a 49-year-old Antonio McGee going to look like in the cage?

UFC Fighter Portraits Photo by Jim Kemper/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

This may seem like a glib throwaway question and not a hot button issue, but hey... I told you earlier, this is the stuff that makes me say “Hmmm.” Bellator 228 has received a dose of quaint media attention for featuring both father and son, McKee and his 14-0 progeny A.J. McKee, fighting alongside one another. The uninitiated may think I’m hand-wringing about Bellator putting a 49-year old man in the cage. I assure you, that’s not what I’m talking about at all.

After all, the elder McKee has always been, and remains, in remarkable shape. Personally, I’ve always found a perverse amusement in him—but certainly not because of his work in the cage. McKee, even in his prime and for all his physically gifts, might be the most boring notable MMA fighter in history. It became a running gag for MMA fans, that he was the most dreadful thing to witness in fighting—despite his athleticism and outstanding wrestling. More frustratingly, McKee fought that way against vastly inferior opponents, as if he was doing it was on purpose. Over time, he seemingly retconned that idea – claiming he did in fact do it on purpose – with a chip on his shoulder so big, it’s a wonder it didn’t crush his torso.

McKee should have no problems with a 47-year-old William Syripai, a one-dimesnional striking journeyman. However, McKee being highlighted on Saturday night is entertaining in one way: his unbeaten son A.J. is one of the most exciting young fighters in the sport, and may be a Bellator champion in the next year or two, despite being trained by his father. Maybe the gene skips a generation.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bloody Elbow Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your MMA and UFC news from Bloody Elbow