Three “Huh?” Moments in MMA Last Week: February 4 Edition

We live in confusing and uncertain times. In an era where nothing seems surprising, we find ourselves reacting with “huh?” when it comes to all kinds of news, MMA included.

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is complicated, much less when it functions as a legal sport run by promotions around the world. There’s a lot of moving parts, and awkward moments are bound to happen. Sometimes, the only proper response is “huh?”

Huh is an interjection, defined by Merriam-Webster as “used to express surprise, disbelief, or confusion, or as an inquiry inviting affirmative reply”. Huh would properly describe many reactions to the news populating our feeds in 2017.

In MMA, there have been more than a few confusing and surprising moments and quotes over the years. Recent memory has provided plenty, and each week there seems to be more than the last. Following the $4 billion sale of the UFC to WME-IMG last year, we’re saying “huh” more than ever. But the UFC isn’t alone, and there isn’t an end in sight.

Last week, these moments in MMA made us go “huh?”

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DANA WHITE ON RYAN BADER

After fighting-out his contract, UFC veteran Ryan Bader’s future was uncertain. A top-five fighter in a relatively weak light heavyweight division gave Bader some value going into negotiations with various promotions. But, seemingly before the proposals had been made, UFC President Dana White let everyone know that the winner of The Ultimate Fighter’s eighth season wouldn’t be returning to the UFC.

“We had told Ryan Bader he was good to go,” White said. “We knew he was going to go to Bellator the entire time. I think Bellator is a good place for Ryan Bader. At this point in his career, I think it’s the right move for him.” Huh?

That may all be well and good, but the UFC is desperate for talent at 205-pounds. Bader is still currently ranked as the number-four fighter in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. Behind a trio of title contenders and Glover Teixeira, Bader’s among the UFC’s best in the weight class. In a week in which the UFC also let the rising Misha Cirkunov test free agency, the lack of a move for Bader is odd.

The rest of the division features an aging Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, a lost-looking Ovince Saint Preux, and a number of other fighters unable to make a dent at the top of the 205-pound weight class. Losing Bader, a guy who is 7-1 in his last eight fights with his only loss coming to Anthony Johnson in January of 2016, doesn’t seem to make a bit of sense for the UFC.

Knowing he’s going to Bellator the entire time, or the fact that he’s a good fit for the promotion, isn’t the biggest issue here. The light heavyweight division didn’t have a bout for the undisputed title last year, and the three-horse race atop the weight class has largely stagnated the 205ers in the UFC.

Letting the likes of Bader-and potentially Cirkunov- go, with the current state of the light heavyweight division, are moves that ultimately hurt the product we see on a regular basis. With plans for another event-filled year (we’ll get to that), losing depth where it’s already lacking isn’t the right move for the UFC.

BEC RAWLINGS CALLS FOR 125 POUND DIVISION

Weight cuts and management are a major part of professional mixed martial arts, and making weight is a unique process for everyone involved. When a fighter misses weight, there can be many reasons why. When Bec Rawlings missed weight ahead of UFC Houston last weekend, she explained that she was diagnosed with Secondary Hypothyroidism, after struggling to make the 115-pound weight cut throughout her career.

Fighting in the UFC since December of 2014, Rawlings also called for the creation of a women’s 125-pound flyweight division, splitting the difference between the current existing women’s weight classes. She’s not the first, and she won’t be the last. Invicta FC has a stockpile of talent, and promotion president Shannon Knapp has offered her support as well. Huh.

Instead, we’ll be treated to the creation of another women’s weight class in 2017. One that makes much less sense.

Initially intended for Cris “Cyborg” Justino, the UFC’s women’s featherweight division is an endeavor that has dragged on for the promotion and fans alike. Now, with a flagged test from USADA, Cyborg’s future is as uncertain as ever. Without Cyborg, what exactly is a women’s UFC featherweight division?

By summer, we’ll have four female featherweight champions in major MMA promotions. Invicta FC recently crowned Megan Anderson as interim champion, while reigning champion Cyborg handles her current situaiton. Following suit with the UFC this weekend, Bellator is also crowning their inaugural women’s 145-pound champion, at Bellator 174 in March. Marloes Coenen and Julia Budd will meet for the belt, giving the already-thin weight class champions across a few promotions.

With a few champions, and a general lack of fighters across the three promotions, the UFC looks to be in the toughest spot post-UFC 208. It looked as if Amanda Nunes was going to challenge for the belt, but White recently slowed-talks of a women’s superfight in 2017.

Despite all of these issues, the UFC is going ahead with the women’s featherweight division, rather than the women’s flyweight division. Cyborg is likely the reason why, and with her out for who knows how long, female fighters in the UFC making the tough cut to 115-pounds will be paying the price. There are no plans for a women’s flyweight division in 2017, and we’re hoping the 125-pound weight class is created in MMA’s biggest promotion sooner rather than later.

UFC’S 2017 EVENT SCHEDULE

Last week Ariel Helwani of MMA Fighting wrote a piece looking at the UFC’s current plan for the full 2017 event schedule. Following a year in which the promotion had more than a few issues putting on events, the UFC has another 41 events in the works for this year. Huh?

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Of course, paying for a $4 billion price-tag is a big part of the equation. But, without major stars like Conor McGregor, Jon Jones, Ronda Rousey, Georges St. Pierre, Cyborg and other big-draw fighters for solid chunks of 2017, putting on 13 pay-per-views among 41 events year-round seems ambitious. Because it is.

Last year, the UFC was forced to adjust countless bouts and cards, even cancelling UFC Manila less than 10 days before the event was slated to take place. They’ve even had to reschedule a PPV event this year, moving Anaheim’s event from January to August.

Adjustments to events are nothing new in MMA. If the UFC is going to move into the mainstream, everyday sports fans are going to need more consistency. The growth of the brand is undeniable, but without fighters to populate interesting and meaningful events, the sport’s biggest promotions will continue to face the same issues they’ve been dealing with for years.

Creating a championship without a division behind it and bypassing perfectly creatable weight classes, releasing top-tier contenders in division’s without depth, and continuing the trend of over-extending themselves with events, all had us reacting to the UFC last week with one word: huh.

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