Debets: Counter-Punch!

By Jacob Debets Sep 21, 2018



Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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Sitting down at my laptop the day before this column was due, I was bursting with ideas with what to write on. Johny Hendricks making a U-turn on his retirement to appear in World Bare Knuckle Fighting Federation’s inaugural event was on the shortlist, as was B.J. Penn making his 37th Ultimate Fighting Championship comeback. But then USADA announced that Jon Jones would be cleared to return to the Octagon just in time for UFC 230, and I was officially split in too many different directions. So I decided to take a page out of fellow Sherdog columnist Ben Duffy’s book and weigh in on all of the above.

To use the immortal words of Mike Goldberg: HERE. WE. GO.

Johny Hendricks Takes a Bare Knuckle to his Legacy

At one time a destructive power-puncher with terrifying offensive wrestling to match, Johny Hendricks went just 2-6 after capturing the strap with his unanimous decision victory over Robbie Lawler back at UFC 171, missing weight four times over that period and looking less and less like the man that melted top-contenders like Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann just a few years earlier. Gone was his KO power, his killer instinct and his enthusiasm for the fight game; and it seemed like as his performances deteriorated, so too did his life outside the cage. He had an acrimonious split with Team Takedown, his long-time management company that had steered him to the apex of the MMA world; his steakhouse restaurant folded after only one year of operation; and he began exhibiting hostility towards members of the MMA media during interviews.

Six months after being chewed up by middleweight super-prospect Paulo Henrique Costa at UFC 217 last year -- paradoxically on the same night that Georges St. Pierre won the middleweight title in his first bout since controversially edging Hendricks to retain his title back at UFC 167 --“Big Rigg” announced he was hanging up the gloves, and the MMA community let out a collective sigh of relief.

Now, less than 12 weeks after telling us he was looking to funnel all his energy into his home life and coaching high school wrestling, he’s set to return at the World Bare Knuckle Fighting Federation opposite one-time Bellator title challenger Brennan Ward, adding another chapter to his seemingly bottomless fall from grace. While details on the pairing are scarce, and Hendricks has declined to reveal how much he’s making for the event, it’s probably safe to speculate that his financial position had something to do with the decision. It’s also safe to say that the move will do nothing to preserve the memory of the Hendricks, who put together one of the most impressive runs in UFC welterweight history.

The Prodigy Returns (Again)

It’s been nearly eight years since B.J. Penn last tasted victory in the Octagon -- a blistering 21-second KO over Matt Hughes at UFC 123 in Michigan -- but a draw and five consecutive losses since then apparently hasn’t been enough to deter “The Prodigy” from jumping back in there to throw hands. This time, he’ll be standing opposite “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 22 winner Ryan Hall, who will be coming off a two-year hiatus of his own to fight the former lightweight and welterweight champion.

On the one hand, the pairing seems to strike the right balance between catering to Penn’s desire to compete whilst mitigating the likelihood we’ll have to watch him get brutalised. Unlike many of the opponents Penn has faced since he his decline began in 2011 -- a list that includes killers like Rory MacDonald, Nick Diaz and Frankie Edgar -- Hall is relatively inexperienced as an MMA fighter, and his forte is grappling. That means if Penn does lose, as the odds makers will surely predict, it should at least be accompanied by less head trauma than some of his past fights, and may even allow the old timer to showcase his vaunted rubber guard. It’s also some consolation that, despite his decline, Penn will be competing under the UFC banner, an opportunity that isn’t afforded to all former champions on the downswing (see above). If he does call it a career for the millionth time come December then, at least he can leave his gloves in the Octagon, as opposed to a bareknuckle boxing ring in Casper, Wyoming.

On the other hand, when all we’re hoping for out of a Penn fight is for it to not look like a snuff film, it’s probably time to make a retirement plan that sticks. Over 100 pay-per-views have taken place since the Hawaiian last won a fight, and while we’re all hoping and praying he can channel the same spirits that guided Jim Miller and Diego Sanchez to victory earlier this month at UFC 228, in all likelihood he’ll extend his losing streak to six. Whether that will be enough to convince him -- or the UFC -- to pull the pin on these misadventures remains to be seen. But at some point, the fat lady has to sing.

Free(d) Jon Jones

The United States Anti-Doping Agency dealt a major blow to its credibility yesterday when it announced that former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones would receive just a 15-month suspension for failing his UFC 214 drug test last July. While an “independent” arbitrator technically handed down the ruling (you can read it in full here), USADA had already exercised its discretion to reduce the maximum period of Jones’ suspension by a full 30 months -- a decision that the arbitrator did not have the power to review.

The agency invoked clause 10.6.1.1 in its anti-doping program to effect the reduction, which basically allows the body to give a doping athlete leniency where they “provide substantial assistance” to USADA or another authority which results in another doping athlete being discovered or charged. Unsurprisingly, the arbitrator’s ruling did not elaborate on who Jones “snitched” on, but given how much his suspension was reduced by, it’s likely the information he provided was significant.

But here’s where things don’t quite add up. Whilst USADA and the arbitrator appeared to accept that Jones did not intentionally take the banned substances he tested positive for -- a conclusion it reached despite not being able to find traces of the drug in any of the supplements Jones provided to the agency for testing -- Jones also knows enough about who’s dealing in PEDs to cut his sentence by more than half? Seems like an incongruity that deserved addressing in the ruling.

But even more suspect is the timing. With Jones’ suspension set to end on Oct. 28th, the former pound-for-pound king will theoretically be cleared to compete at UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden in November -- an event the UFC has yet to announce a blockbuster for. Whether or not that’s just one massive coincidence will likely be clarified in the coming week when the main event is revealed, but judging by how fighters and media have reacted to the ruling, the damage to the agency’s reputation has already been done.

Given how inconsistently its handled different fighters’ infractions, and how pained the agency and the arbitrator was to paint Jones, a repeat offender, in a favorable light, it’s not hard to see why.

Jacob Debets is a recent law graduate who lives in Melbourne, Australia. He has been an MMA fan for more than a decade and trains in muay Thai and boxing at DMDs MMA in Brunswick. He is currently writing a book analyzing the economics and politics of the MMA industry. You can view more of his writing at jacobdebets.com.

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