It was announced earlier this week that Georges St-Pierre was pulling out of the main event at next weeks UFC 137 with a knee injury. In his weekly column, MMA Insider Alex Donno looks at the impact of GSP’s injury and how UFC has faced as recent rash of injuries that have impacted their main events. Plus a look ahead to this weekends Bellator 55.
The immediate pay per view future of the Ultimate Fighting Championship took an unfortunate hit this week, when it was revealed that UFC welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre had suffered a knee injury in training. “GSP” was scheduled to defend his title at UFC 137 on October 29th, against top contender Carlos Condit. That fight has been postponed, but luckily not for too long. GSP’s trainer Firas Zahabi has assured the media that St-Pierre’s injury is minor, and will only keep him out of training for a month or so. For now, Carlos Condit will play the waiting game, rather than put his title shot in jeopardy by taking another fight. Zahabi expects St-Pierre vs. Condit to take place in early 2012.
The good news is St-Pierre’s injury isn’t serious and fans won’t have to wait very long to see him fight Carlos Condit. The bad news? The UFC has lost another pay per view main event due to injury. This marks the sixth time in 2011 that a UFC pay per view main event fight has been altered. From a business standpoint, that’s not an easy thing to recover from. On paper, what’s left of UFC 137 might still be a commercial success, but to what degree? The previously scheduled co-main event of BJ Penn vs. Nick Diaz will now earn top billing. Penn and Diaz are well known by casual and hardcore fans alike, and both are known for their consistency in putting on crowd pleasing fights. Penn vs. Diaz will serve as a reasonable consolation prize, but losing GSP for this show is a serious disappointment. As a private company, the UFC doesn’t publicize its pay per view buy rate statistics, but company President Dana White has often referred to St-Pierre as the UFC’s top pay per view draw. He’s a celebrity that transcends the sporting world. Fans that merely have a lukewarm interest in the UFC are well aware of Georges St-Pierre, and are willing to invest both time and money to watch him fight.
Georges St-Pierre’s disappointment in pulling out of UFC 137 is tremendously evident. In an interview with Canada’s Sportsnet, he admitted he cried when he was forced to pull out of the bout. The combination of nerves and excitement leading up the fight caused his emotions to overflow. Condit, meanwhile, was taken by surprise and is certainly disappointed, but was relieved to hear that his title shot will materialize within a few months. Condit’s manager, Malki Kawa, confirmed that Condit was not offered a different opponent on October 29th. The UFC’s plan from the get go was to have him wait for St-Pierre, but in the meantime, fans will lose out on what would have been a spectacular main event. With just over a week to go before UFC 137, the show must go on.
One of the many things that separates the UFC from boxing is the fact that the UFC schedules what fans would call “stacked” fight cards. Even when the company’s top pay per view draw drops out with injury, the company is able to present fans with a more than serviceable main event replacement. Imagine if a boxing show being headlined by Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Manny Pacquiao had to announce twelve days prior to an event that Mayweather or Pacquiao would not be fighting. Such a scenario would be simply catastrophic.
Luckily, UFC 137 has Penn vs. Diaz to fall back on. And it’s certainly ironic seeing Nick Diaz find his way back into the main event. Originally, the UFC brought Diaz over from Strikeforce to have him challenge GSP for the UFC welterweight title. In the early stages of UFC 137 promotion, Diaz failed to show up to a pair of mandatory press events, and was shuffled out of the main event as “punishment.” Such behavior was reason enough for Dana White to justify removing him from a title fight, but apparently not reason enough to take him off the fight card altogether. Instead, he would fight a legendary former lightweight champion, and future hall of famer, BJ Penn. Already, that seemed like a more than suitable consolation prize. But now, thanks to GSP’s injured knee, Penn vs Diaz becomes UFC 137’s featured bout. Despite his standoffish demeanor and inability to follow instructions from UFC brass, Diaz, this time, ends up with the best possible outcome.
I have no doubt that Diaz and Penn will deliver in the cage. Diaz fights a high risk style, throwing punches in bunches, and often dropping his hands and sticking his chin out to try and lure his opponent into a fire fight. He’s always coming forward, but doing so against Penn’s surgically accurate hands could create trouble. But it is also more likely to create excitement. Penn credits Diaz for having some of the best boxing in MMA, but he isn’t too far behind. If the fight goes to the ground, you’ll see two high level Brazilian Jiu Jitsu black belts with active submission games. On paper, their skills appear to virtually cancel out. The difference in this fight could lie in Diaz’ size advantage. He’s a legitimate welterweight, while BJ Penn can be more accurately described as a bloated lightweight. Lightweight is where Penn is at his best, but after losing to reigning lightweight champ Frankie Edgar twice, Penn felt it was time to look for success in a different weight class.
A big question surrounding Penn vs Diaz is: how many rounds will the fight be? The bout was originally signed as a standard three round under card fight. But the UFC has recently begun implementing five round fights in main events, regardless of whether or not a title is on the line. Most fans assumed that by elevating Penn vs Diaz to the main event, an automatic upgrade in rounds from three to five would follow. Not so fast…
The contracts signed by each fighter were for a three round fight, not five. Both Penn and Diaz have been specifically tailoring their training camps to fight three rounds. Is it too late contractually to upgrade to five? Technically, the change can be made, but the contracts must be tweaked first, and the fighters must be compensated accordingly. Furthermore, is it even fair to do this, as neither man has technically trained for two extra rounds on fight night? Not surprisingly, Nick Diaz’ manager Cesar Gracie was the first to openly lobby for a five round fight. This makes perfect sense for Diaz, who runs in triathlons between MMA fights, keeping him self in impeccable cardio condition all year round. Penn, on the other hand, isn’t known for his cardio. He’s long been regarded as a fighter who “lets himself go” between fights. To be fair, though, Penn claims he’d be more than happy to fight five rounds with Diaz, but for the right price. If anyone, whether it be the UFC, or even Diaz’ manager, is willing to put up the extra money needed for BJ to accept a five round fight, he’s all for it. But I wouldn’t blame him for avoiding it at any cost. Two extra rounds would be a clear advantage for Diaz.
It will be interesting to see how things shape up by October 29th. Will casual fans be willing to part with their hard earned money to watch a show that promised Georges St-Pierre, but didn’t deliver? Or maybe the enigmatic bad boy Nick Diaz, who has no regard for authority or conformity, will create a storyline interesting enough to generate pay per view money. Perhaps the legend of BJ Penn still burns brighter than we give him credit for. Or, hell, people might just want to watch the somewhat “freak show” heavyweight fight between past-his-prime Mirko Cro Cop and fat Roy Nelson (more on that fight in next week’s column).
Even without Georges St-Pierre, UFC 137 will have plenty of drama, storylines, and good fights. But will those remnants be enough to move the dial?
Season five of Bellator continues Saturday night, with the semifinal round of the bantamweight tournament. Four bantamweights remain, all vying for a shot at title holder Zach Makovsky.
The biggest story of this tournament so far has been the electrifying Bellator debut of former freestyle wrestling Olympic bronze medalist Alexis Vila. In the opening round on September 24th, he faced reigning featherweight champion Joe Warren, and knocked Warren unconscious with a left hook in just over four minutes of the opening round. Vila’s size, strength, wrestling base, and punching power provides a tough match up to anyone at 135 lbs. On paper, a matchup between Vila and champion Zach Makovsky looks sensational, but he will have to get through two opponents first.
In Saturday’s main event, he meets perhaps the most well rounded fighter in the tournament, Marcos Galvao. Galvao brings a serious submission threat to this fight, to go along with improving hands and body movement in the striking game. Like Vila, Galvao once faced featherweight champion Joe Warren. Warren won the fight by controversial unanimous decision, in what will be remembered as one of the most egregious judges “robberies” of 2011. It will be interesting to see if Vila will be hesitant to use his takedowns and put Galvao on his back, for fear of the Brazilian’s submissions. He may opt to keep the fight standing up, and based on his recent success, that might not be such a bad idea.
In the co-feature, the remaining semifinalists, Ed West and Eduardo Dantas, will do battle. West is a familiar face in Bellator’s bantamweight division. He advanced to the final of the season 3 tournament, where he dropped a decision in the championship fight to Zach Makovsky. West has a formidable arsenal of kicks. He moves well, and uses distance effectively. He’s also dangerous on the ground. Dantas, meanwhile, is a dynamic striker who can create a flash knockout at any moment. In the quarterfinal round, he stopped Wilson Reis with a flying knee. He also possesses slick and dangerous submission skills, but prefers to keep the fight standing.
Bellator 55 can be seen live and free on MTV 2 and EPIX HD. The televised fight card goes live at 9:00pm EST.