‘UFC 199’ Cooldown: the Thrills and the Agonies

Photo credit: Ultimate Fighting Championship©

As mentioned here, I had planned to begin my MMA writings in earnest with UFC Fight Night 89: MacDonald vs. Thompson, which takes place on June 18th at the TD Place Arena in Ottawa, Ontario. Saturday’s UFC 199: Rockhold vs. Bisping 2 has proven, however, something of a black swan event for the organization—perhaps even the sport—and it really cannot go undiscussed. But before I begin, I should mention that I have decided to make post posts like this one a mainstay of their own going forward, if only for events which, for whatever burning reason, compel me to do so, and which I will not have previously committed to writing about in straightforward preview/review fashion.

So, UFC 199. If ever there was an event which should have earned the UFC nothing but goodwill for a night, it was this one. Between the absolutely riveting fights, from the shocking to the surreal, and the persistent cannon-fire of major announcements, only the organization themselves were poised to blot out their own sunshine. And blot they did, physically removing mixed martial arts journalist Ariel Helwani and his MMAfighting.com coworkers from The Forum arena, and—in Helwani’s own words, which were later reinforced by UFC president Dana White—revoked their media privileges from UFC events “for life.” As of today, the UFC has reversed Helwani & Co.’s ban, but the damage is surely done. The condemnation that the organization has since received extends beyond the MMA specialist media well into the mainstream.

The UFC has pushed tirelessly for mainstream legitimacy from the moment parent company Zuffa acquired the brand in 2001; and just as its belt-carrying champions across their respective weight divisions are, by this distinction, expected to be ambassadors for both the company and the sport itself, so is the company which predominantly claims the majority of said sport’s mindshare. The UFC evidently strives to erase any distinction between itself as a promotion and the sport of mixed martial arts generally, so as to make its monopoly absolute, but they would be wise instead to seek fulfillment in the manner their fighters do: by striving to be not only the best at what they do but also the best version of themselves. This is not the best.

Let’s not fool ourselves, however: they are the best at what they do. So much that the “product” has been, of late, almost inconceivably good. UFC 199 was the primest example of this since last July’s incredible UFC 189. From top to bottom, prelims to main card, Saturday night in Inglewood, CA, was masterclass entertainment and masterclass sport. Stunning victories from Dustin Poirier, veteran (and possibly-possibly not retiree) Dan Henderson, Max Holloway, Dominick Cruz (bantamweight champion), Michael Bisping in the middleweight championship main event, and several others.

Then there were, as aforementioned, major fight announcements for future events. The biggest and most surreal of these being the return of former (and formerly retired) UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar at UFC 200 in July at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, which is now undoubtedly the most impressive card the organization has ever produced. (Helwani’s reporting of this news before the UFC had unveiled it themselves via mid-199 promo the reason for his ban.) Lesnar’s opponent at 200 has since been confirmed to be 2001 K1-grand prix winner Mark Hunt, which to me seems like an impossibly tall order for Lesnar, whose principal weakness is his striking (both offensively and defensively) and who hasn’t fought since 2011. All the same, it will be exciting and, again, surreal, to witness Lesnar’s return to the octagon.

Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz 2 is happening. After the consecutive McGregor/UFC, McGregor/Diaz, Diaz/UFC fires blazed on the public stage, the three parties have apparently reached an agreement, though details are still, to my knowledge, undisclosed. I imagine it has everything to do with Diaz’s (much deserved) asking price. On any other night this would have been the headline, and every fan, fighter and reporter, whether tuned-in live or live in attendance Saturday, no doubt wishes it was the Lesnar news, or Henderson and Bisping’s upsets, which had most won attention from McGregor and Diaz’s second date with destiny. It wasn’t, and this is the biggest upset of all.