LAS VEGAS — Nostalgia was certainly in the air this week here in the fight capital of the world.
The 20th anniversary of the Ultimate Fighting Championship meant a lot to the folks who work at Zuffa.
They weren't there in the early days, but they've nurtured the company and the sport as a whole since purchasing the UFC from SEG in 2001. And though Zuffa's official version of history doesn't always line up with actual events, there's no question that they've done more than anyone else to grow mixed martial arts.
And so Zuffa celebrated themselves this week, as they rightly should. But they also showed gratitude to the people who founded the company back in 1993.
Royce Gracie—easily the most important fighter of those early UFCs and something of a spiritual father to each and every person who steps in the Octagon today—waltzed around the MGM Grand all week, reveling in fan adoration.
Dan Severn—who still looks as though he could walk in the Octagon today and put a whuppin' on some of these youngsters—sported a wry smile and a killer mustache throughout the week.
Mark Coleman—who is in the middle of filming the next season of The Ultimate Fighter, where he serves as a coach for Team Penn—said he still has the desire to compete nearly four years after hanging up the gloves for good after losing to Randy Couture at UFC 109.
And then there were the executives from SEG, the men who launched the UFC and pushed it forward during a time when the only real way to watch the live events was to own one of those giant satellite dishes that allowed you to pick up nearly every station on earth.
Campbell McLaren, the man who helped create all of the controversy of the early days with his unique public relations spin.
Art Davie, the matchmaker who acted as a combination of Dana White and Joe Silva.
Rorion Gracie, who envisioned the UFC as a giant marketing tool for Gracie jiu-jitsu.
And Joe Silva, who started sending notes to the folks at SEG with his thoughts on fighting styles and matchmaking and then stuck around to become the longest-serving employee of the UFC.
All of them were in attendance at UFC 167. Zuffa curiously didn't do any sort of public ceremony to honor the SEG folks, but White said that he had an absolutely perfect weekend planned for all of them. And, judging by the radiant smiles on their faces as they saw the evolution of the sport they helped create, it appears that White was telling the truth.
GEORGES ST-PIERRE AND THE UNCOMFORTABLE CONCLUSION TO UFC 167
On Thursday afternoon, I asked Firas Zahabi if St-Pierre planned on retiring after the bout with Hendricks. Zahabi was non-committal, as you would expect him to be. He said that it might be St-Pierre's last fight, or perhaps it would not be. He mentioned that a change in weight class might be in store, either to lightweight or up to middleweight.
Zahabi said that the decision was solely up to St-Pierre. But after watching how things unfolded after St-Pierre scored a controversial win over Johny Hendricks, I'm not so sure that's the case.
When Joe Rogan began wrapping up his post-fight interview with St-Pierre, the welterweight champion grabbed the microphone. Well, he tried to grab it, anyway, but Rogan wasn't willing to hand it over. It appeared that St-Pierre had something he wanted to say, but the moment passed when Rogan refused to give him the microphone.
And then Rogan—likely urged on by someone talking into his ear piece—asked St-Pierre if he had something he wanted to say. St-Pierre said he wanted to step away for awhile, noting that he has some personal problems that he wants to take care of.
It was an uncomfortable moment. It was clear that St-Pierre is struggling with something. And the moment was made even more uncomfortable at the post-fight press conference when White, seething in the way that only he can, angrily said that St-Pierre owed his company, the fans and Hendricks an immediate rematch.
Things became even more uncomfortable when St-Pierre joined the press conference after a trip to a local hospital for stitches. He noted again that he's struggling with personal issues and needs a break.
Reporter after reporter asked different variations of the same question, trying to get St-Pierre to reveal what was troubling him. It was clear, both from his battered countenance and the words he used to describe his current situation, that he's not in the right kind of mindset to fight.
White pulled St-Pierre aside after the press conference. They spoke in a backstage room for 15 minutes, and then White returned to the media center to meet with journalists. He said that St-Pierre's issues weren't as bad as he made them out to be and that he was confident his welterweight champion and biggest pay per view draw would continue to fight like he usually does.
Here's the thing: White doesn't get to determine if something is a big deal or not. He's not the one who is struggling with mental issues.
White is not a psychiatrist, and he's not qualified to determine if St-Pierre is capable of stepping back in the Octagon. That's a decision that should be left solely up to St-Pierre, and he should not be pressured into returning before he's ready simply because White doesn't think his personal issues are a big deal.
St-Pierre doesn't owe the UFC anything; he's single-handedly responsible for making them millions over the course of his career.
He doesn't owe Johny Hendricks anything, because it's not his fault the judges awarded him the fight. And he doesn't owe the fans anything, because he's given them so much over the years. He has been an absolute joy to watch, and if he never fights again, he'll go down as one of the greatest fighters in the history of the sport.
Whatever happens next needs to happen because of St-Pierre, not White.
CHAEL SONNEN REALIZES HE'S A MIDDLEWEIGHT
Chael Sonnen is a fantastic wrestler. We know this. He's manhandled some fantastic fighters over the course of his career using his pressing, in-your-face style, putting them on their backs and grinding them until he breaks their spirit.
But it's clear Sonnen won't be able to do that at light heavyweight, and Sonnen apparently realizes it. He told Ariel Helwani on the Fox Sports 1 post-fight show that he realizes he's undersized at 205 pounds and that a move back to middleweight would probably be the smart thing to do.
I hope Sonnen follows through on that, because it's the best thing he can do for his career. The size and strength advantage he enjoys at middleweight is virtually gone at light heavyweight, and he'll constantly be the smaller man when competing against the best 205 has to offer.
Up next for Sonnen is the long-awaited grudge match with Wanderlei Silva. We don't know what weight that'll be contested at.
But regardless of the result in that fight, and regardless of the weight class, Sonnen should move back down to 185 afterward. If he's going to continue fighting—and given how busy Fox keeps him, he doesn't really need to keep fighting for the sake of money—he owes it to himself to put himself in the best position available to compete.
THE BEST THING JOSH KOSCHECK CAN DO IS RETIRE
Josh Koscheck has been an important fighter for the UFC. He was one of the first major "heels," a fighter who attained superstar status while being booed out of just about every arena he walked into.
I can vividly remember one event where the crowd started booing heavily in the middle of a fairly exciting fight; I was confused at first, because booing the fight made no sense at all. But then I saw Koscheck making his way down the aisle to his seat with an evil grin on his face, and it all made sense. They were booing Koscheck.
Koscheck probably still has the skills to compete with good UFC welterweights, but his chin is gone. He has suffered three consecutive losses, with the last two coming by brutal knockouts.
More concerning than his performance in those fights is the fact that he stumbled or fell nearly every time Tyron Woodley landed a punch. Sure, Woodley hits like a ton of bricks, but several of those punches are the kind that Koscheck used to walk through. He can't do that anymore, and that doesn't bode well for him.
Koscheck is a rich man who has made enough money to last the rest of his life. I'm all for fighters retiring before their brains are scrambled with more knockouts, and Koscheck falls into that category. If the text he sent White after the fight was truly his retirement, White should let him walk away in peace.
THE RE-EMERGENCE OF ROBBIE LAWLER
I'll be honest with you: I did not expect Robbie Lawler to beat Rory MacDonald. To me, it was an unlikely scenario; I gave him just a 20 percent chance to win the fight.
I also picked Lawler to lose against Josh Koscheck earlier this year. I just figured that Lawler's best days were behind him and that he'd be easy pickings for a fighter with any sort of wrestling ability.
Yeah, I was wrong.
Lawler's win over MacDonald was the most important of his career. Every time he goes in the Octagon, he's proving that he's still a force to be reckoned with in the welterweight division. He's a more complete fighter than he's ever been, and he still has that nasty punching power.
As unlikely as it seemed a year ago, Lawler is approaching title contention. A fight against the winner of next month's UFC on FOX bout between Matt Brown and Carlos Condit makes a lot of sense, and the winner would certainly be in line for a title shot.
If you're the type who hands out end-of-year awards, then you understand that there is no other choice for Comeback Fighter of the Year. Lawler's already wrapped that one up, hands down, and 2014 could be a very interesting one for Lawler.
THE NEVADA STATE ATHLETIC COMMISSION
At the post-fight press conference, Dana White directed his boiling anger at the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Calling the NSAC "the worst commission on the planet," White implored Nevada governor Brian Sandoval to step in and affect change.
White also said he was afraid to hold fights in the state due to the ineptness of the commission and, without saying his name directly, hinted that NSAC chairman Keith Kizer is assigning poor judges and referees to UFC events because of a grudge he holds against White.
There's no question that a major overhaul is needed for judging. It's been that way for a while, and it's not something that is unique to Nevada. Bad decisions happen all over the world, but the lights are brightest in Las Vegas and thus are in the spotlight more than they are anywhere else.
But here's the thing: White's tirades toward the commission aren't going to help anything. Major changes to the rules and judging don't happen overnight, and publicly berating the commission won't do anything but solidify those grudges White spoke of.
And besides, White probably has no room to talk about bad judging.
He said he awarded St-Pierre just one round in the fight, which is ludicrous. It was not the blowout White described it to be. It was a close fight that could've gone either way, and though I scored it for Hendricks, I know of at least two highly respected media members—Greg Savage of Sherdog.com and Dave Meltzer—who gave the fight to St-Pierre.
I think we can all agree that judging and officiating needs an overhaul. But White's angry rants aren't going to help anything, and he might end up doing more harm than good.
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