YES, WE GET IT, BENDO
Benson Henderson believes that he is the UFC’s version of Rodney Dangerfield. He doesn’t think that the media gives him enough respect. Most fight cognoscenti picked Frankie Edgar to beat the champion, twice. Many picked Clay Guida to dispose of him in a title elimination bout. And a very large percentage picked Nate Diaz to dethrone the reigning lightweight king on Saturday night.
It wasn’t a big surprise, therefore, to hear Bendo scream to media members sitting cageside, “I don’t talk; it’s in here. Do you guys get it?”
Yes, we do, Bendo. The message you sent on Saturday night was loud and clear, and I’m not referring to his defiant question to press row. Bendo’s dismantling of Diaz was, in my opinion at least, the most impressive performance of his career. I don’t know who he is going to face next. But it is tough to imagine picking against him again.
PASSING OF THE TORCH TOUGH TO WATCH
BJ Penn is a surefire Hall of Famer as soon as he hangs up the vale tudo gloves. The guy remains one of only two men to win UFC championships in multiple divisions. Current Hall of Fame inductee Randy Couture is the other.
There was also a time, back in 2004 and 2005, when Penn was viewed by many as the best fighter in the world, pound for pound. He earned that distinction by moving up from lightweight to defeat a fighter who seemed to be unbeatable at the time, Matt Hughes. He then moved up to middleweight to topple a Gracie (Rodrigo). And then he fought a guy who was soon to become the UFC light heavyweight champion (Lyoto Machida) to a close decision loss in an openweight bout. All that before dropping all the way down to lightweight to win and successfully defend the UFC lightweight championship three times.
In terms of pound-for-pound greatness, that is one heck of a resume.
Maybe that is why it was tough to watch Rory MacDonald dominate him on Saturday night. MacDonald is one of the game’s bright young stars. He appears to have the same limitless potential that his countryman and training partner Georges St-Pierre had during his early days in the UFC. It wasn’t surprising to watch him destroy Penn, who appears to be on the downside of his great career. That is the natural course of combat sports, the young lion taking his rightful place in a division by defeating a fading great. But that didn’t make it easy to watch, either.
I don’t know if Penn will continue to fight. He doesn’t need the money. And his legacy doesn’t need future accomplishments. If this was, indeed, the last time we will see Penn in the Octagon, I want to state without reservation that it was an absolute privilege to watch him compete over the years.
When I think about my favorite Penn moment, it wasn’t watching him crush Hughes in an amazing statement of his pound-for-pound greatness. It wasn’t watching him dominate the lightweight division during his reign as champion. And it wasn’t watching him defy all odds by stalemating a much, much larger Jon Fitch—a fighter who on paper should have been a nightmarish matchup for the Hawaiian.
My favorite Penn moment remains a conversation that we had two weeks prior to his first bout with Hughes. I called him to talk about the upcoming matchup for a piece I was writing. I asked Penn what made him believe that he could move up in weight and beat a man on a 13-fight winning streak, arguably making him the most dominant champion in the UFC at the time. I will never forget his answer.
“Look, I’m standing outside of a McDonald’s right now,” Penn said. “This big guy just walked out with a Big Mac. If I want that Big Mac, I’m just going to walk over there, beat him down and take it. I’m not going to ask him how much he weighs first. I’m just going to do it. Weight doesn’t mean anything, and I’m going to prove it on January 31st.”
That quote describes his career in a nutshell.
WHAT TO DO, WHAT TO DO
Alexander Gustafsson earned his first shot at UFC gold by crushing former champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in a title elimination bout. That is the good news. The bad news is the champion already has a date on the books with another foe. Jon Jones will face former middleweight contender Chael Sonnen in April. Barring injury, Jones could probably turn around and fight again in early August, probably not before then.
Thus, Gustafsson finds himself in a quagmire. Does he wait eight months, at least, to take advantage of his title opportunity? Or, would he be better served taking another fight in the spring so that he can remain active and sharp ahead of his inaugural championship bout?
Carlos Condit found himself in a similar position after he defeated Nick Diaz in February in an eliminator. Reigning champion Georges St-Pierre did not have an interim fight planned. Instead, he was healing from knee surgery. But the timeline was similar. GSP was going to be on the shelf for at least eight months. It turned out to be nine. Condit gave a valiant effort, but he came up short nonetheless.
Would Condit have been better served taking an interim bout, even though that would have put his title shot at jeopardy? Would it have impacted the outcome at all?
Gustafsson endured a 238-day layoff leading into his bout with Shogun. Yet, he gave what many probably believe was a career-best performance. Would another 30 to 60 days really matter much? Honestly, I doubt it. I think Gustafsson should wait on the sideline until Jones is ready, assuming Jones defeats Sonnen and doesn’t otherwise suffer some sort of setback that will keep him out of action beyond late summer.
My reasoning for that position is simple. A UFC title bout is such an amazing, potentially life-changing opportunity that fighters have to do whatever is within reason to secure the bout. Taking an interim fight poses tremendous risk. Parity is the name of the game in the UFC. Anyone not named Anderson Silva can be defeated on any given day. We have seen examples of that over and over again in the last decade. The risk of losing in an interim bout far exceeds the benefit gained from staying busy, in my opinion.
If, on the other hand, Jones or Sonnen win and sustain a sideline-imposing injury (or if Sonnen wins and Jones is granted an immediate rematch), then Gustafsson should definitely take in interim bout. Waiting a year or more between bouts is a bad idea for even the best fighter. Just about everyone taking a break that long between bouts complains of cage rust, impaired conditioning or some other issue. GSP, Rashad Evans, Quinton Jackson, and many others will co-sign on that statement. Fighting for the title is a tremendous opportunity, so a fighter needs to make sure he both gets the opportunity and then maximizes it.
BROWN FINALLY GETS SIGNATURE WIN
Matt Brown has been a fun, fan-friendly fighter in the UFC since his debut on June 21, 2008. The one thing his career lacked, however, was a signature win against a marquee opponent. Brown solved that on Saturday night with a dramatic second-round knockout win over Mike Swick. That was by far the biggest win of Brown’s entertaining career. He is now in the midst of a four-fight winning streak. Having a name like Swick in that streak almost certainly means that another main card opportunity is right around the corner, possibly against another 170-pound contender. Another win or two against guys of that level and anything becomes possible for the Ohioan in the welterweight division.