Friday 24 November 2017

Comment: UFC 199 overshadowed by a huge media miss by promoter

Michael Bisping, left, fights Luke Rockhold during a UFC 199 at the Forum in Inglewood
Michael Bisping, left, fights Luke Rockhold during a UFC 199 at the Forum in Inglewood
Fergus Ryan

Fergus Ryan

It’s been a whirlwind few days in the MMA world. This week’s column looks back at a sensational UFC 199, Michael Bisping’s title win and some strong-arm tactics used on the media.

The weekend should have been about celebrating a fantastic UFC 199. The biggest story coming out of the sensational event should have been Michael Bisping capturing the middleweight title.

Rather than just dealing in ‘the now’ the UFC sought to use the UFC 199 event as a grandstand for future events. Throughout the broadcast a number of announcements were made about more great stuff coming down the track for UFC fans.

Ordinarily this is fine and makes sense, but when an MMA reporter beat the UFC to the punch and announced the news before the fact, the UFC brass loss sight of the bigger picture.


But first, the fights

From the ‘get-go’ UFC 199 was fantastic. When reviewing the fight card I’m guessing the opening scrap between Marco Reyes and Dong Hyun Kim was probably passed over by a lot of people; two guys most have never heard of. Whoever did skip it missed an instant classic.

What it lacked in technique it made up for in spades with heart, endurance and excitement.

At one point colour commentator Joe Rogan remarked that this fight was giving people unrealistic expectation for how much punishment a human being can take. Joe was spot one as both men seemed to be immune to the relentless attacks of the other.

In truth it could have been stopped a number of times but eventually Reyes made the difference and forced the referee to intervene more than half way through the final round.

Social media blew up in praise for the two combatants and no doubt drew a few more eyes to event.

In the very next fight Muhammed Ali’s son-in-law, Kevin Casey fought; guaranteeing UFC 199 would now trend alongside posts about the legendary boxer who had passed away. Casey ground out a draw with the tough Elvis Mutapcic. And though the result wasn’t what people were looking for the first two fights had set the tone for UFC 199. The significance of the event would only keep growing as the night went on.


Miss the Prelims at your peril

For the remainder of the preliminary fights the action kept on coming.

Alex Caceres put on a virtuoso performance to best Cole Miller by unanimous decision.

Jessica Andrade went after Jessica Penne with executioner like precision to get the TKO stoppage in the second round.

Beneil Dariush and Brian Ortega endured some adversity before getting stoppages in the first and third rounds respectively.

Eight fights into the night and value had already been returned to the paying fans and viewers.

But we we’re done, not by a long shot.


Cracking Main Card

Dustin Poirier and Dan Henderson served up spectacular knockouts in the first and second rounds respectively. Poirier shut up the trash talking Bobby Green in the most convincing way possible by dropping him in the first round. Henderson showed incredible invention with a high-kick, back elbow combination that starched Hector Lombard.

Max Holloway extended his winning streak to nine fights with a win over Ricardo Lamas. Lamas proved why he was once a title contender and Holloway showed why he soon will be.

Holloway created an iconic moment right as the 10-second hooter sounded to bring round three and the fight to a close. Holloway starred at Lamas, nodded and pointed down to the canvas… The message was clear, let’s stay right here and swing for the fences… 10 seconds of fury ensued; a fitting end to an incredible contest.


Titles on the line, careers hanging in the balance

The last two fights were both were laced with storylines and smack talk.

On paper both match-ups could be questioned as to whether there were more suitable challengers for the champion but the dislike between the fighters propelled the fights to ‘must see’ status.

Dominic Cruz began his rivalry with Urijah Faber in 2007 in a different promotion and a different weight class.

Nine years later they would fight for a third time and the winner would go home with all the marbles.

Faber was one of the greatest fighters before the sport took the smaller weight classes seriously. Having flip-flopped between bantamweight and featherweight in search of a title, the UFC gold had always eluded him. His third fight with Cruz would surely be his last for a title.

Cruz has only fought five times in five years as a series of knee injuries kept him benched. He was stripped of his bantamweight title in 2014 due to inactivity but reclaimed it in January this year.

Though there may have been more worthy challengers than Faber the competitive rivalry between the two made this fight compelling.


Cruz Control

The contest wasn’t close. Cruz dictated the pace of the fight and where it took place. He bested Faber in the grappling, the striking and controlled the Octagon for every minute of the scheduled twenty five.

After the fight both men were complimentary of each other to a point.

Faber was very respectful to the winner but seized the opportunity to talk up one of his team-mates for a title shot. This wasn’t lost on Cruz. He too complimented Faber’s efforts but recognised that the defeated fighter had instantly turned into a commercial minded coach once he realised the outcome.

These men may never fight gain but their competitive rivalry will live on, at least for Faber, through other fighters.


Bisping claims title in huge upset

The consensus around the main event was pretty clear. The majority were happy to see Michael Bisping finally get his title shot in his ten year, 26 fight UFC career but not many gave him a chance. The kindest thing people could say was along the lines of ‘the head says Luke Rockhold but the heart says Bisping’.

Rockhold was the younger fighter, held a win over Bisping and had a full training camp to prepare.

Bisping was a short notice replacement and seemed destined to be remembered as one of the greatest fighters never to get a title shot.

All that changed in an instant on Saturday night.

Bisping was originally known as a striker but worked on his grappling to become an extremely well rounded fighter. Most of his best work with his hands was behind him though.

In recent years opponents had made light of the fact that he has landed more punches than anyone but had very few knock-downs let alone knockouts.

Cut to the second minute of the first round and Bisping lands a left hook flush to the side of Rockhold’s head that drops the American. Bisping doesn’t miss a beat and follows up with a few more thunderous blows to leave the former champion out cold slumped against the fence.

To underline how heated the rivalry had become once the referee waved off the fight out, Bisping climbs atop the Octagon wall and screams ‘F**k You!’ back at the prone Rockhold.

If there was one constant in Bisping’s career it was his dedication to his art and his belief that one day he would get to the top of the mountain. Well, he did it. And, he looked good doing it.

Prior to getting his title shot we all would have expected Michael Bisping to keep fighting and retire as one of the best never to get all the way to the top. Now that’s he’s actually done, he is a UFC champion, what’s left to prove? Why not walk away at the top of the game?


Descent into chaos

After a great card of action, this is where things began to turn a little sour.

Unlike Faber, Rockhold showed nothing but distain and disrespect towards the winner.

Most of the time when a fighter loses in the manner Rockhold did, they’ll stand by the ref, await the decision and then applaud the winner. Rockhold sulked in the background taking off the tape and his gloves as Bisping was presented with the belt. He then stood by the fence to be interviewed by Joe Rogan like he was waiting on a bus out of The Forum.

Rockhold continued to show a lack of class throughout the post-fight press conference. Sure Bisping was brash and arrogant as he is known to be but he did also speak very highly of Rockhold and offered an olive branch on more than one occasion. As the press conference concluded the trash talk continued and Rockhold refused to shake Bisping’s hand.

Media crackdown

What also transpired during the presser was noted MMA journalist Ariel Helwani from MMA Fighting had been removed from the event and banned for life from attending future UFC events.

His crime, reporting news that the UFC had intended releasing during their UFC 199 broadcast. The reason given to him as he was escorted from the building, he is too negative. The explanation afterwards was that he didn’t follow journalist best practise and reach out to the UFC to have his story confirmed. All of which stinks and smacks of someone trying to rewrite the rules as they go along.

Helwani is far from negative. So much so that some corners would say he is a UFC ‘fan boy’, which mainstream media tend to fall back on when they run out of ways to say ‘I don’t like MMA and you do’.

He is only guilty of doing his job exceptionally well. Had he reached out to confirm the stories he broke you can guarantee the UFC would have moved to break them before him or offer them to another outlet as has happened him in the past.

The real issue was Helwani stole some of the UFC’s thunder.

On his internet show, The MMA Hour, Helwani frequently refers to the fact that as an MMA reporter he is, using a baseball analogy, ‘batting 1.000’. He only ever breaks stories he is positive are 100% true and always confirms with multiple sources.

On Saturday night he broke the news that Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz would rematch before the UFC. The straw that broke the camel’s back was him reporting Brock Lesnar would return at UFC 200.

As he was being escorted from The Forum in Inglewood, California he was told that he had really upset Lesnar. Lesnar would later deny this on ESPN.

Helwani conducted an emotional MMA Hour show as usual on Monday and described in detail what happened on Saturday night. He also went back down through years of incidents that lead to this point. This was now the biggest story coming out of UFC 199 and it didn’t have to be.

UFC 200 has dominated the MMA news feeds for months. Whether its fight announcements or fight removals, the UFC are determined that this event be the centre piece in their calendar.

So much so, that it may have clouded some judgement. In addition to creating the story, they seem to want to control the story as well.

Banning the foremost MMA journalist for doing an exceptional job seemed petty, needless, and based on Helwani’s account of similar incidents, a personal attack and cruel.

In a statement this morning the UFC has retracted the ban and advised that all MMA Fighting staff would be allowed apply for media credentials to cover future events.

The statement went on to say “the recurring tactics used by its (MMA Fighting’s) lead reporter extended beyond the purpose of journalism.” This is at best sour grapes because someone did a good job.

It’s no secret that Helwani’s ability to source and break stories has run him afoul of the UFC in the past. He also said, prior to the ban being lifted, that he wouldn’t be going away. It will be interesting to see if this can be reconciled so that we can get back to talking about the fights and events like UFC 199.

Online Editors

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