Twitter Mailbag: UFC's decision to sideline Mark Hunt against his will is a tricky one
If you make your struggle with the effects of brain trauma public, how surprised can you be when a promoter won’t let you fight? But if the promoter won’t let you fight, what do you get to do?
Plus, what’s the fight of the year so far in 2017? And does the UFC flyweight champ need to jump up a division now?
All that and more in this week’s Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.
I’m torn on this. On one hand, you want the UFC to be proactive about fighter health and safety. If a fighter tells us that he’s slurring his words and struggling with short-term memory – both major red flags – you don’t want to put that person in a cage to fight for money.
On the other hand, Mark Hunt is currently suing the UFC for what he alleges is a failure to look out for fighter health and safety, so we can’t ignore the context of this move by the UFC.
It’s also worth asking if the UFC just set a precedent that it’s not willing to stick to. Georges St-Pierre has also described issues with his memory (which he attributed to possible alien activity, which is not necessarily any less concerning), but he was never pulled from any fights, and is slated to return for more in November.
Then there’s the question of what you do with a fighter who you’ve deemed medically unfit to fight based on a column he wrote for a website. How can you keep him under contract if you’re not going to let him work?
And if you do release him, does that mean any fighter can get out of his contract by publicly proclaiming his brain to be damaged, only to pop up in Bellator a couple months later declaring that, actually, he’s feeling much better now, thank you?
These are uncharted waters. This wasn’t an athletic commission that pulled Hunt from the fight. And, as far as we know, the decision to pull him wasn’t based on any actual medical testing. UFC officials just read a column with Hunt’s name on it and yanked him, which forces us to wonder about the true motives here.
(Also, if talking openly about brain trauma leads to a de facto suspension, what you’ve really done is ensure that fighters will stay quiet about their symptoms if and when they do appear.)
But again, if Hunt really is experiencing the symptoms he wrote about, he shouldn’t be fighting. I wish the UFC had done more to confirm and investigate that before acting. I also wish it hadn’t decided to make this unprecedented principled stance with a fighter who’s currently battling the promotion in court. Then it would have been a lot easier to know what to make of it.
Are those the only two choices? Because if you told me right now that Rory MacDonald has a goat who he cares for and talks to and secretly feels is the only one in this world who understands him, I would believe that in a heartbeat.
First of all, that’s awesome. Second of all, if ever there was a situation where you don’t want to walk around with an imported IPA in your hand, loudly discussing the superiority of Japanese motorcycles, this is it. Third of all, Roy Nelson? Now that’s natural sponsor synergy, right there. Fourth, remember to have a good time. Fifth, but not so good that you forget to apply sunscreen and end up with the inevitable tank top tan. That’s experience talking, my friend.
Is this love? That you’re feeling? Is this – and here I’m just thinking out loud – the love that you’ve been waiting for?
But I know what you mean. Watching Demetrious Johnson pull off a brand new submission reminded me of one of the things that I’ve always loved about MMA, which is that it’s a sport that’s always growing and changing.
Remember 15 years ago when Tito Ortiz would take somebody down, wedge their head against the fence, and elbow a hole in their face? At the time that felt like a new answer for the relatively old problem of the jiu-jitsu guard. Now it’s the first step to having someone wall-walk their way to an escape.
The nature of MMA – just two humans trying to hurt each other in a cage, with relatively few rules restricting them – makes it an environment that allows for a lot of creativity. The opportunities for evolution are everywhere. New attacks lead to new counters, which then breed new variations on the old moves. Every once in a while, an artist appears to blaze a fresh trail.
You don’t really get as much of that with most other sports. Instead you get people who do the old stuff slightly better than their predecessors. This is one of the things that makes MMA special. I hope we never lose that.
Since we’re talking about a health and safety issue, I’m not sure we want to use “try something – anything!” as our mantra here. Some proposed fixes, like same-day weigh-ins or lengthy suspensions for missing weight, are likely to make things worse, because fighters are still going to take the risks even when it’s a bad idea, and you’re not going to punish your way out of this problem.
I think the best hope for a solution is something along the lines of what California is trying to do, using hydration testing and other methods to determine a safe fighting weight for every athlete, then making the fighters stick to those guidelines even when they don’t want to.
Even that system won’t be perfect. There will be times when it feels like regulatory overreach for a commission to tell someone like Renan Barao that he doesn’t get to be a bantamweight anymore.
Plus, fighters’ bodies change. They get old. Or they just let themselves get out of shape. Just because you determine a safe fighting weight, it doesn’t completely rule out the possibility of fighters trying for last-minute, extreme weight cuts. And if you think it’s a bummer when a fight is scratched due to someone missing weight, wait until a big one is called off because someone is too far from the target weight for the commission to even let them try.
Still, this is obviously an issue. Fighters can literally die this way. Not to mention, it’s just insane to put athletes through that kind of intense depletion a day before the competition. There’s no doubt that performances suffer as a result. Careers are probably shortened, and for what? Just so fighters can face someone roughly their own size in the end?
I support athletic commissions that are serious about changing that culture, but it can’t just be one or two of them. As with anti-doping efforts, this needs to be something the whole sport does if we’re every going to get anywhere.
Ultimately? Antonio Silva is. But I see your point. It’s madness to me that GLORY would even book this fight. What’s the point? To let Rico Verhoeven show out against a big, slow punching bag of an opponent for the sake of some memorable violence? What, to prove some point about kickboxing vs. MMA? Is this some kind of sad, off-brand attempt at a Mayweather-McGregor-esque cross-sport challenge? I don’t get it.
Ideally, the people who love and care about Silva would stop him from doing this, but for various reasons I wrote about back when this fight was announced, that’s not happening. Instead we’re just charging ahead with this like these mismatches aren’t very dangerous, which they are.
I like face-punching and knockouts as much as anyone, but I won’t watch this. I can’t. As viewers and fans, that feels like the least we can do to make this sort of matchmaking stop.
Really, that’s your list? There’s something to spoil every one of those, and I’m pretty sure the last one is a cartoon.
If you ask me to pick a fight of the year that I can still feel good about as of this writing, I have to go with Justin Gaethje vs. Michael Johnson. No one got popped for drugs. The judges didn’t screw it up (because Gaethje didn’t give them a chance). The fight was competitive and rational from a matchmaking perspective.
And if that’s not enough, the action was just bananas. B-A-N-A-N-A-S.
That’s not a call for the UFC to make; that’s up to the athletic commission. And no, based on precedence alone, that’s not something that merits an official punishment. We’ve seen fighters get away with much more egregious shots after the bell (looking at you, Germaine de Randamie) and there was no punitive action beyond whatever the referee was willing to do in the fight itself, which is usually nothing at all.
He doesn’t have to, because weight classes exist for a reason. But man, it sure would be great if he did, wouldn’t it?
I can’t help but feel underwhelmed by the thought of watching Johnson keep beating up the same flyweights over and over, all while the UFC has to reach further down the rankings ladder just to find fresh opponents. It feels too easy for a fighter as good as Johnson. He needs a challenge. I’d argue he needs it more than he needs another victory. It’s just a question of whether or not he sees that – and whether or not he cares.
Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA. Twitter Mailbag appears every Thursday on MMAjunkie.
Publication Date: October 12, 2017, 9:15 pm
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