Sunday night’s UFC St. Louis card kicks off the next busy stretch on the fight card schedule. And as such, things are heating up. So let’s dive into the latest batch of topics, including who will be calling which of these upcoming fights for which promotion.
Fallout of Jimmy Smith to the UFC andJohn McCarthy to Bellator
@shalegac: @jimmysmithmma is a wealth of knowledge with experience competing. Happy to see this.
@omegacloud: Bad move unless he knows how to do play by play. I loved him doing color in Bellator, but not as much as Rogan and DC.
Commentators are one of the few constants in an ever-changing MMA world. The fighters, venues, and settings come and go, but on any given week, when you turn on the TV, there’s Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan in the booth as always. Or Sean Wheelock and Jimmy Smith.
Until they’re not.
Few things rile the fan base like changes in the announce booth. I’ve included both pro and con reactions to Friday’s news of Jimmy Smith’s move to the UFC above, but it also applies to the announcement earlier in the week that officiating dean John McCarthy is joining the Bellator commentary booth.
Which leads to a natural question: Who came out of this merry-go-round looking better?
The UFC now has an absolute murderer’s row of color commentators to pair with the play-by-play roster headed by Jon Anik. In addition to longtime announcer Joe Rogan, the crew already featured Daniel Cormier, Dominick Cruz, and Paul Felder. That’s not even factoring in the international team.
This is before Bellator decided to practically drop the superbly talented Smith on the UFC’s doorstep. I don’t know what Smith was projected to earn in what was going to be this, his option year with Bellator, a contract which was negotiated under the company’s previous regime. But unless it was an absolutely wild, out-of-control dollar figure, then letting Smith walk to the competition seems an own-goal on Bellator’s part.
That said, even minus Smith, it’s not like Bellator has a bad lineup by any means. Mauro Ranallo is great at everything he does in the combat sports world. Goldberg, who too often came off like he had been going through the motions in his final years with the UFC, seems rejuvenated in his new gig. Chael Sonnen has proven an astute analyst dating back to his days in the WSOF booth and often has a better feel for what should be emphasized in the promotion of the bouts than people signing his paychecks. McCarthy was entirely capable in his first stint as an announcer a decade back. He’s added another decade of experience to his already considerable knowledge base, and his history as an iconic official adds a layer to the commentary that’s been largely missing.
So, yeah. UFC comes out the winner in this one, but that doesn’t imply that Bellator by any means has a bad thing going on. Even without Smith, Bellator a solid collection of announcing talent. The UFC just happens to have assembled a 1927 Yankees-type lineup.
Another thing worth noting: The level of professionalism shown by all involved over the past couple weeks. Rogan has been with the UFC so long, and is so intrinsically part of the brand, that he could have gotten away with being territorial and selfish about the color commentating position. Instead, he’s made room for the likes of DC and Cruz and made it work. And in the case of Smith, he welcomed Smith on his podcast and helped bring him into the fold. That’s commendable.
Smith, for his part, publicly congratulated McCarthy on his new gig. In an MMA world with so much pettiness and backbiting, the way these changes were handled by the participants were a breath of fresh air.
McCarthy and referees
@hellochrisrusso: Do you expect Big John McCarthy to have trouble giving criticism of referees and officials, given they are his colleagues?
This bears watching. You don’t often hear MMA officials openly call out fellow MMA officials. That’s understandable, because other referees and judges are the only people who truly understand the avalanche of criticism they face from, well, basically everyone else who watches the sport and has an opinion.
But it’s a commentator’s role to note the good and the bad of everything, officials included. If a referee deserves praise, praise ‘em. If a referee blows a call, sure, McCarthy will be able to do a better job explaining why it happened than most, but the ref shouldn’t be let off the hook.
Bottom line, as long as officials are held to the same commentary standard as the fighters, no more and no less, then there shouldn’t be a problem.
@frankyhughes95: Who is the best ref in the absence of Big John?
Solid question. Marc Goddard is a tremendous referee, Conor McGregor’s protests notwithstanding. You usually don’t notice Yves Lavigne when he’s in there, which is actually a pretty high compliment to pay a referee. Mike Beltran had a couple weird standups in his last big card at UFC Fresno, but that was noteworthy because he usually does an outstanding job (and besides, any ref unafraid to call a DQ for timidity will always be okay with me).
But I’ll put this one out to the people. Who do you think is MMA’s best ref?
PVZ at 125
@lendmeanearrome: what success do you think Paige will have at new weight?
It got a little too easy to dismiss Paige VanZant, who unquestionably got breaks faster than others based on her appearance and her fame from “Dancing With The Stars,” after losses to Michelle Waterson and Rose Namajunas.
But here’s another thing: It’s hard to blame her for taking advantage of the opportunities she was presented. PVZ is still, after all this, only 23 years old; she showed solid legitimate potential before she got fast-tracked; and, notably, she had absolutely brutal weight cuts getting down to 115 pounds.
Maybe too much water is under the bridge and her moment was missed. Maybe cutting down on the outside stuff and going up to a new weight class will lead to PVZ living up to her considerable potential. I’m leaning more toward the latter than the former, and either way, that’s enough to make her flyweight debut Sunday night against Jessica-Rose Clark interesting.
@Triplercubed: Is the St. Louis fight card better than 220’s minus the two title fights?
I guess it depends on how much you value the potential for two title fights ending via devastating knockout as opposed to a quality card which runs sneakily deep.
UFC 220 next week in Boston, of course, features Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou for the heavyweight title, Daniel Cormier vs. Volkan Oezdemir for the light heavyweight belt, and then … wow. No offense to any of the following folks, but Calvin Kattar vs. Shane Burgos and Gian Villante vs. Francimar Barroso are PPV bouts. And the FS1 prelims feature three fighters without Wikipedia pages.
Contrast that to Sunday’s UFC St. Louis card. There’s a potential barnburner between Jeremy Stephens and Dooho Choi in the main event. Uriah Hall is fighting Vitor Belfort. There’s the aforementioned PVZ fight. Kamaru Usman vs. Emik Meek. Michael Johnson drops to 145, where he meets Darren Elkins. James Krause returns. So does Thiago Alves.
UFC St. Louis is the superior card on paper. But what if UFC 220 does live up to its promise at the top of the card? As Cormier himself noted the other day, people love power punchers, and if UFC 220 produces the kind of slam-bang finishes in the two title fights like UFC 217 did with their three top fights, then UFC St. Louis will be reduced to a footnote.
@dashamas3000: In what way will switching the main event affect tix sales?
So this came out of the blue on Friday: Bellator has switched its main event for Jan. 20 at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., from the welterweight title fight between Douglas Lima and Rory MacDonald to the heavyweight grand prix tournament quarterfinal between Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Chael Sonnen.
So there’s one theory going around as to why this move was made: Maybe the fight isn’t selling. As of Friday afternoon, on the event’s Ticketmaster page you could buy 12 tickets together at the Forum on the floor, and on the 100 level, and on the 200 level (there’s no 300 level at the arena).
Another theory floating around is that, with the realization that the company’s Heavyweight Grand Prix is the Bellator’s marquee event for 2018, a storyline which will play throughout the year, that they’ve decided that the tourney deserves top billing when they’re on the show, regardless who else is on the card.
Either way, that brings us to the next question, which is, how much juice do Rampage and Sonnen have left as ticket sellers and ratings-getters? Guess we’re about to find out.