We have a varied, deep, maybe even overwhelming slate of international MMA on tap this weekend. The coming days fight cards feature offerings from the UFC, Bellator, ONE Championship, KSW, Combate Americas, and Cage Warriors—to name more than just a few. Hell, we’ll even be graced with the farcical boxing rematch between Youtube superstars Logan Paul and Olajide “KSI” Olatunji, if that’s anyone’s thing. Yet, there’s seemingly little buzz or explicit interest from fans or the media regarding any of it. Frankly, I think there’s a ton of reasons for fight enthusiasts to care. Yet, at the same time, I think those reasons depend on a very specific view of what constitutes ‘caring.’
Many of the reasons fans may be tuning out are understandable in today’s fight climate. After all, we’re just a week removed from Jorge Masvidal’s UFC 244 win over Nick Diaz in a fight that, on paper, was so richly sought after and anticipated. Unfortunately, Masvidal’s ‘BMF’ title win came with some bitter aftertaste, due to a much-ballyhooed cut above Diaz’s right eye—giving the whole thing an unceremonious conclusion that could easily serve to disenchant some fans. More than that, the prefight quackery from the UFC and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency almost removed Diaz from the fight, only for all parties to pull a shady 180-degree turn and stage the bout anyhow.
To top it all off, the prefight hijinks and result only seem to have driven the ever-popular Diaz into yet another hiatus of indeterminate length. At least based on his latest Instagram post on Thursday.
Exacerbating any feelings of detachment related to the Masvidal-Diaz situation, is that it comes immediately following the announcement that, next week, USADA will release a group of slated rule changes. Those include provisional oral swab and blood droplet tests, above and beyond current testing methods, as well as a rule that could potentially suspend fighters for knowingly associating with trainers and athletes who are under their own suspensions. More hoops to jump through for athletes, from a testing agency in a monopsonistic marketspace whose interest is primarily financial? Yep.
All these factors combined already create enough disenchantment on their own. But, like I said, caring depends on what drives someone to watch fights and inspires their passion for them.
As for the UFC card itself? Well, we have a fantastic fight that’s essentially a de facto title eliminator between Zabit Magomedsharipov and Calvin Kattar. On the flipside, it’s a fight originally scheduled for UFC on ESPN 6, in Boston, in Kattar’s backyard, before a reported infection forced its postponement. Now moved to a region more friendly to Magomedsharipov, in Moscow. As fantastic as the fight is, and lovely as it is that it was remade, it’s something of a makeshift headliner, on a card that’s mostly filled with low profile talent and potential rising prospects.
One of those prospects [sigh] is former NFL All-Pro turned controversial heavyweight Greg Hardy, in a curious bout with top-10 contender Alexander Volkov. Following his horrific domestic violence case in 2014-15, Hardy set his sights on an MMA career, to the chagrin of fans. That sentiment was taken to the nth degree when, after destroying three amateur opponents in just over 2:30 combined, he made his pro debut in Dana White’s Contenders Series—and quickly transitioned to the UFC amidst vociferous protest and discuss from the prizefighting populace.
Since then, Hardy has continued to dominate his foes, but that’s merely ratcheted up the controversy. In his proper UFC debut, the former Carolina Panther lineman was hammering Allen Crowder, only to get himself foolishly disqualified for belting him with an illegal knee. Last month, he was taken the distance for the first time as amateur or pro—earning a unanimous decision over Ben Sosoli. Only to have that result overturned by the Massachusetts State Athletic Commission for the illegal use of an inhaler between rounds.
With every turn, the fracas surrounding Hardy grows. And so, his coming in as a late replacement, travelling to Moscow to face a native Russian – who is infinitely better and more experienced than anyone he’s ever faced – creates two vastly different, but sticky situations: If Hardy somehow pulls off the upset despite his still raw yet freakish fighting ability, many fans will be inflamed by the idea that he is here to stay as a notable fighter. And if Volkov does what he’s supposed to do, it will bring a smile to most of those same fans’ faces, but also draw into question what the hell the UFC was attempting? Bringing in this monstrous athlete with a gruesome past, only to turn on him promotionally when the heat surrounding his presence got too hot. Reactions will depend on the personal, cultural, and sporting values of the viewer entirely.
The conflicting nature of this weekend’s fight lineup doesn’t end with the UFC and its star building attempts, however. The most notable fighter on Bellator 233, veteran Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, is set up to get a ‘gimme’ fight in his retirement bout against Andrew Kapel. And barring a stunning upset, Lawal will get to go out with grace in the state where he won a Big 12 wrestling title as a collegiate athlete. It seems more than likely he’ll end up being a coach and trainer in this sport after he hangs up his gloves, but for many he’ll ultimately be remembered as somethign of a letdown. A fighter whose achievements never quite equalled his athletic gifts and charisma.
KSW, consistently one of the best promotions in the world, is staging a card that’s something of a step down from their usual fair (while still not actually bad). It’s headlined by all-time strongman great Mariusz Pudzianowski, facing Erko Jun—a 3-0 former bodybuilder and fitness model. It’s a classic KSW-style freakshow. And as much as hardcore MMA fans tend to love the promotion’s wacky elements, is there a time where those same people may disabuse themselves of the tongue in cheek enjoyment of Pudzianowski’s positioning as the leading star for a major company?
The cruelest irony is that the biggest fight this weekend, of any kind, will be the aforementioned farce of a circus between Paul and KSI. Their shambolic first fight in August of last year put an estimated 20,000 people inside the Manchester Arena and drew an alleged 1.05 million live pay-per-view buys online (with 1.2 million illegally pirating the stream, likely because their respective audiences are prepubescent teens and kids with no disposable income to buy it). Media reports the fight drew anywhere between $8 and 10 million dollars. With over 40 million Youtube subscribers, the rematch may eclipse those numbers. Maybe some will have lost their taste for both online content creators or the transparent nature of their ‘fight,’ but it’s just as possible that even more tune in for the grotesque, sign-o-the-times type nature of the rematch—and enjoy an old fashioned hate watch.
This is the fighting world we inhabit now. Whether it’s better or worse compared to any era is up to your taste; what flavor you prefer, while your palette dictates your enjoyment.
By the way, Logan Paul says he’s going to call out Dana White to give him a shot in the UFC if he wins. So just in case, viewers really might want to consider what that palette of theirs savors and what their stomach can stand.