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411 MMA Fact or Fiction: UFC 171, Gustafsson/Cormier, More

March 14, 2014 | Posted by Wyatt Beougher

Welcome back everyone to another edition of 411’s MMA Fact or Fiction, and I’m your host, Wyatt Beougher. It’s day three of week three of the 2014 MMA Fact or Fiction Tournament, and today is the final bout of the opening! If you haven’t been keeping up, let’s take a look at this year’s brackets, which have been updated to include all completed contests:

Voting is now closed on our first two weeks of contests, but if you missed them and want to catch up, you can find them here:

Wednesday, 02.26: #4 Evan Zivin vs #5 Jarrod Atkinson, East
Thursday, 02.27: #4 Robert Practor vs #5 Robert Cooper, West
Friday, 02.28: Play-In Contest, Koeddy Laemmle vs Eric Moore
Wednesday, 03.05: #3 Alex Watt vs #6 Robert Winfree, East
Thursday, 03.06: #3 Mark Radulich vs #6 Todd Vote, West
Friday, 03.07: #2 Paul Lapointe vs #7 Dustin James, East

And if by chance you’ve missed this week’s column, you can find (and vote on) them here:

Wednesday, 03.12: #2 Patrick Mullin vs #7 Stewart Lange, West
Thursday, 03.13: #1 Alex Rella vs #8 Koeddy Laemmle, East

Just like last year, the voting window for each contest will be approximately 73 hours from the time they go live on the site, so you’ve got until midnight EST on Saturday to vote for Wednesday’s, midnight EST on Sunday to vote for Thursday’s, and midnight EST on Monday to vote for today’s. On tap for today is the West’s top seed, Dino Zucconi, taking on Dan Plunkett..

Dino “Salad Bar” Zucconi, #1 Seed West Dan “The Dancing Destroyer” Plunkett, #8 Seed West
Columnist, Smart Marks (Wrestling Zone) Columnist, The Greatest MMA News Column/MMA Roundtable Coordinator
2-0-0 2-3-0

Will UFC 171 go a long way towards settling the UFC’s welterweight turmoil?

1.) With three welterweight bouts featuring six fighters from the top 12 of the division on the main card of this weekend’s UFC 171, the overall landscape of the welterweight division should be clearer on Sunday morning that it has been at any point since Georges St. Pierre opted to take a sabbatical.

Dino Zucconi: FACT I would say so, as we’ll most likely have a champion crowned, and, should Condit pull out the win, a clear #1 contender. Even if Woodley beats Condit, you could most likely just put Rory in as the next challenger, or maybe Woodley himself. I don’t think Woodley’s loss to Shields ever really hurt his standing in the division just based on how that fight went, and certainly starching Koscheck and then beating Condit would be more of an upswing. Either way, we’ll have a champion, and there are easily 3 guys that could be plugged in as the next challenger in Rory, Condit, or Woodley depending on whether or not Condit beats Woodley. Throw in the Shields/Lombard fight as another guy who could possibly find himself in contention soon, and the welterweight division looks pretty clear to me.

Dan Plunkett: FICTION Generally, key fights only serve to make the divisional picture clearer, and Saturday’s show does feature what most would consider three key fights within the welterweight division. However, I don’t think they are the right key fights to sorting everything out. The landscape of a division is clear when there is a definitive #1, a natural top contender for that spot, two contenders for the soon-to-be vacant top contender’s slot, and the rest fall in a few categories where the rankings are more or less interchangeable. Saturday’s title fight, the fight for the #1 spot, is between Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler. It was a fine choice for a title match and should be a good fight, but Carlos Condit is a stronger candidate for best current welterweight in the sport than Lawler, and as such his participation in the title fight would serve to present a clearer picture of the division than the current setup. Hendricks and Condit had a supremely close three round bout one year ago, won on the judges’ scorecards by Hendricks. But by the end of the fight, the momentum was in favor of Condit and a five-round fight could come with a vastly different outcome. Lawler, who had an incredible run in 2013, could have fought Jake Shields to determine the number one contender, leaving Tyron Woodley vs. Hector Lombard, which would be a good test for both. To further the murkiness of the welterweight division, there’s no telling of where Ben Askren would fit in had the UFC made an effort to sign him. Without him, the division can never be crystal clear.

Is Fox hurting the UFC by moving prelims to Fox Sports 2 in favor of college hoops?

2.) The preliminary card for UFC 171 that would normally air on Fox Sports 1 being bumped for Fox Sports 2 due to college basketball is yet another decision by Fox that actually hurts the UFC.

Dan Plunkett: FICTION The preliminary fights began airing on television in attempt to give UFC an edge on pay-per-view because UFC 103 happened to go up against a Floyd Mayweather fight (UFC got crushed anyway and they’ve never attempted to go opposite Floyd again). However, save one example (WEC 48), there’s really no evidence televised prelims have helped UFC on pay-per-view. The prelims didn’t help UFC when their PPV numbers fell by a third in 2011 and there’s no strong correlation between how a show does on pay-per-view and how many viewers it draws for the prelims. At that point, the prelims become a television property that can maybe in rare cases help the PPV and maybe build the name of a potential title contender. The best known fighter on Saturday’s prelims is Rick Story. None of the eight fighters featured are even a win or two away from a title shot (Dennis Bermudez has won five fights in a row, but there are a few featherweights far ahead of him in line). Could UFC 171, which probably won’t do well on PPV, use the extra exposure? Certainly, but there’s no reason to think the PPV will do better if the prelims are on Fox Sports 1.

Additionally, Fox Sports 1 needs to build an audience of general sports fans that UFC programming won’t necessarily attract. The Big East Tournament Final, the college basketball bumping the UFC on Saturday, will attract that audience. If Fox Sports 1 can begin to attract that audience for its regular programming like ESPN does, it’s only beneficial to the UFC. As long as Fox Sports 1’s commitment to UFC doesn’t waver in the long-term in favor of more traditional sports (like, say continually bumping shows to Fox Sports 2 and not giving them much coverage on Fox Sports Live), then Saturday’s scheduling is likely a positive in the long-term view of things.

Dino Zucconi: FACT Absolutely hurts the UFC, as FS2 is not nearly as available as FS1, judging by my small group of people I talk to. I personally have both, so it’s of no consequence to me, but pulling the card (and thus depriving fans of seeing lesser known names) absolutely hurts. The prelims are a great way to scout future talent, and not getting that opportunity, especially when your home is still somewhat “new” and you’re still trying to grow your fanbase, is not the best move. I understand Fox’s point of view here, as college basketball will more than likely produce much better numbers than UFC prelims, but if we’re solely being selfish about this and only looking at what this does to UFC, then yeah, this isn’t the best move for the promotion.

The UFC has to put Conor McGregor on their upcoming Ireland card, right?

3.) Making a fight between Conor McGregor and Cole Miller for the UFC’s upcoming Fight Night show in Dublin, Ireland, seems like a no-brainer.

Dino Zucconi: FACT They had their little back and forth during the fall of 2013, and while Miller has since called out Cowboy Cerrone, that fight just isn’t going to happen. McGregor, meanwhile, has also talked trash with Diego Sanchez, but that fight also isn’t going to happen. Miller’s won 3 of his last 4, and is a good name for McGregor to test himself against upon his return from injury. The issue between the two should make McGregor an even bigger crowd favorite than he clearly already would be, as the house would be packed just waiting to see Miller get picked apart, as opposed to just rooting for Conor against anyone else. I think this is the easy fight to make, and we’ll either see McGregor step up to another level, or we’ll see Miller “expose” the new guy like he wants to do so badly.

Dan Plunkett: FICTION I like the fight, just not in July. McGregor, despite a limited track record, has become a relatively big name over the past year and was treated like a real star by the Boston crowd at his last fight. He has charisma and a certain something that makes people pay attention to him; he could be a real big star. However, he’s still recovering from a torn ACL and fighters are never the same in their comeback fight from that injury. Cole Miller is a tough fight for McGregor, and it would be a blow to his momentum for him to lose in his hometown. It would be one thing if the show’s success hinged on the match, but it would likely sell out even without McGregor on the card. The safe route is to give McGregor a fighter he absolutely should beat and do the Miller bout after that.

And now, Jon Jones with a bunny!

4.) Jon Jones’ suggestion that Alexander Gustafsson fight Daniel Cormier in a title eliminator bout is an awful idea and reflects poorly on the light heavyweight champion.

Dan Plunkett: FACT I wouldn’t agree with the second part if there weren’t stupid people tweeting at him calling him a coward for the suggestion, but I suppose that’s the MMA fanbase. In the sporting sense, Jon’s suggestion makes a lot of sense. In the business sense, Gustafsson vs. Cormier is a bad idea, and as UFC’s decision making has shown, this is a business. It’s rare in MMA for a dominant champion to have a legitimate title threat come along, and not just one that Joe Rogan swears is a killer and the perfect foil for the champion. After his April fight with Glover Teixeira, Jon Jones, who, save for his last bout, has been perhaps MMA’s most dominant champion, has two legitimate title threats lined up. From the UFC’s point of view, why would you take two legitimate title contenders in a division where they’re hard to come by because the champion is so great, and shrink them down to one? The idea of Gustafsson vs. Cormier isn’t even worth considering until after both have fought Jones. The only idea UFC should be taking a real look at is whether to book Cormier in the interim, as he’d have a long layoff before the title match and father time isn’t on his side.

Dino Zucconi: FICTION I have seen Jones get some grief for this, but really, I think it’s a great idea. At the heart of it, he’s thinking in terms of sport, and not simply entertainment. It’s easy to try and turn this into a “he’s ducking Gus!” type of conversation, and I’d even grant that there’s validity to that point, but in the end, the champion is saying he wants to fight the best possible challenger. If that’s Gus, he’ll beat DC, and then he’ll fight Jones. And for Cormier, I’d be pretty happy to only have to beat Pat Cummins and then Gus to get a title shot. Accomplishments in other divisions shouldn’t carry over, and so Cormier needs to have a real win under his belt before he starts talking title shots. Jones is basically giving him the fast track he wants to that fight. In the end, Jones fights the winner, so while slightly valid, the “he’s ducking!” argument ultimately fails there. He’s not afraid of either. He just wants a shot to be earned, instead of allowing the UFC’s usual practice of not sacrificing contenders to each other. Really though, how is Phil Davis still being ignored in this? If he beats Rumble, I hope Jones starts getting used to the idea of him being a possible challenger. Either way, I don’t think this is an awful idea in any way. Especially if you’re Daniel Cormier. And really, if one can get another title shot by losing to the champ and then beating Jimi Manuwa, maybe Jones has a point.

So, the two guys you recognize in this image? Yeah, they’re not in it anymore.

5.) War Machine and Joe Riggs pulling out of Bellator’s Season 10 tournament shortly before it began hurts a tournament that already didn’t have a lot of name value.

Dino Zucconi: FACT When Koreshkov, Bradley, and Burrell are the best known fighters left in your tournament, you’re gonna have a bad time. I can’t believe I’ve seen the day where losing War Machine is actually a bad thing for a promotion, but here we are. Riggs, of course, would have been the “star” of the tournament with his standing as Fight Master, so his loss is definitely one that hurts Bellator. It’s too bad, but with Bellator, it’s usually about the fights more than the names anyways, so here’s to hoping we still get some exciting action out of this tournament before it’s all said and done!

Dan Plunkett: FICTION It really doesn’t matter as much as it would seem at face value. War Machine and Riggs are names, but they haven’t proven any sort of drawing ability. One of War Machine’s bouts last season fell slightly above the season viewership average, the other fell below the average. Joe Riggs’ only official Bellator bout last season had the benefit of being on the Chandler vs. Alvarez card, but before that, the reality show he won drew poor numbers. Furthermore, Bellator already has main events in place for the remainder of the season, and the welterweight tournament was never going to be relied upon to draw. At that point, it becomes about building a challenger for a potential main event next season, not who has the biggest name today. If it was clear War Machine or Joe Riggs was going to win the tournament, then you could say it hurts Bellator, but that wasn’t the case, especially with the tournament format in general making bouts tougher to pick.

Who do you think won this bout? Did Dino pick up a win against someone other than me, or did Dan make his return to Fact or Fiction in style? Voting will be open until midnight EST on Monday, so make sure you vote and make your voice heard! This tournament can’t progress without you!

And that’s it for this week, but we’ll be back next week with our first pair of quarterfinal bouts! As always, if there’s anything you’d like to see featured in a future edition, leave your statement in the comments and I’ll add it in. Let us know what you thought in the comments, on Twitter, or on Google+. And please, be sure to vote!

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Wyatt Beougher
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