Jon Jones has everything talent evaluators look for in a mixed martial artist. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Despite its lack of a ready-made superstar, a la LeBron James, the recently completed 2013 NBA Draft was plenty entertaining.
No obvious No. 1 talent made the evening unpredictable throughout, as a number of teams raised eyebrows with their selections. Couple that with some interesting trade activity, and there was plenty of fodder to keep the Twittersphere buzzing all night long. Even without all that, the NBA’s annual talent harvest has a unique charm: the eclectic collection of suits, the posses, the elated moms and girlfriends, the multi-step handshakes and the eternal smugness of longtime commissioner David Stern all add to the event’s appeal. Completed in a matter of hours rather than days, it also caters to the ADD crowd, unlike its more hyped NFL counterpart.
Most of all, there is a feeling of immediacy when a draftee’s name is called and he walks to the podium to shake hands with Stern. These guys could probably step out of their high-priced duds and contribute to their new teams right now, or so each respective fan base hopes.
Sadly, mixed martial arts has no such night, largely because it would be impractical. Fighters choose camps, not the other way around, and there is no set timeframe for when an athlete is ready to compete in the big leagues. Some guys need only a handful of lower-level fights before moving up the ladder, while others could toil for a decade before their names are called.
Current Ultimate Fighting Championship stars Urijah Faber and Phil Davis are expected to unveil an MMA Draft Combine at this weekend’s Fan Expo to help better showcase up-and-coming amateur fighters; it is a prudent idea. Imagine a night where the entire MMA talent pool would be available for selection by the sport’s most renowned camps.
Now also imagine that the order of selection was determined randomly by the same Ping-Pong ball system utilized by the NBA. If Cesar Gracie had the first pick, would he draft a semi-retired Nick Diaz? Would Nova Uniao feel obligated to take a Brazilian if Jon Jones were on the table? Would Anthony Pettis, now a part owner at Roufusport, pull the trigger and draft himself over Benson Henderson? Would Team Alpha Male draft anyone over 6-feet tall? The intrigue is seemingly infinite.
However, for the purposes of this, the first-ever completely unofficial MMA Draft Lottery, it will be assumed that 13 anonymous camps will be making the selections, simply because it is too difficult to read minds. Besides, even hypothetically, all of the sport’s most respected trainers and coaches would never say that they would select anyone but their own guys; loyalty abounds in MMA.
Following the fine tradition of the NBA Lottery, here is one take on how the first 13 picks of such a draft might go down. Take note: this is no mere regurgitation of a pound-for-pound rankings list. Other factors, such as age, marketability and entertainment value, will also be considered. Also, this order could look a lot different in one week’s time:
1. Jon Jones
This was quite possibly the easiest selection of the entire process. While not the most beloved champion of all-time, “Bones” has already bested a laundry list of former champions -- Mauricio Rua, Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans and Vitor Belfort -- and he is just a few weeks shy of his 26th birthday. In addition to a diverse skill set and a penchant for finishing, the New York native already has his own Nike line. Plus, no MMA draft commentary team could resist raving about Jones’ length and upside.
While he currently lacks the drawing power World Wrestling Entertainment convert Brock Lesnar once had, nothing captures the imagination of the fight fan quite like the heavyweight division, and Velasquez is the best big man going. His work ethic and bottomless gas tank suggest longevity, and his Mexican roots give him the potential to lure a massive fan base from boxing to MMA.
3. Ronda Rousey
Do not look so surprised. The Olympic judoka has armbarred her way to prominence in a relatively short period of time, but her crossover of appeal is very real. In addition to dominating the competition in the cage, Rousey is already a media darling, and she nearly single-handedly convinced UFC President Dana White to bring a talented stable of women to the Octagon. It is also significant that in an early commercial for the soon-to-be unveiled Fox Sports 1, Rousey is the first mixed martial artist to appear.
GSP’s presence on a pay-per-view card virtually guarantees a healthy buy rate, despite constant grumbling about his inability to finish fights. “Rush” has not lost a bout since 2007, and he remains a solid ambassador for the sport. After recent outings, it seems that St. Pierre is not enjoying himself as much as he once did. That, along with advancing age and a recent knee injury, drops him out of the top 3.
5. Jose Aldo
Aldo has all the tools to carry the torch as Brazil’s greatest champion once the aforementioned Silva retires, as he has rarely been threatened during his reign as World Extreme Cagefighting and UFC 145-pound king. Lately, however, Aldo has competed far too infrequently due to injury. Signing him to a contract that includes a no-motorcycle clause is a must.
The first non-champion to go off the board, dos Santos remains the clear No. 2 heavyweight in the world. A trilogy with Velasquez awaits this fall, and until the division develops more high-caliber contenders, a best-of-five series with the champion seems feasible. Dos Santos is a solid pick based on his knockout power and good-guy image.
Based on pure ability and career achievement, “The Spider” deserves to be the No. 1 pick. However, it seems inevitable that age will eventually catch up with the middleweight champion. Even if it does not, the Brazilian remains interested in a boxing match against Roy Jones Jr., something that could turn his attention away from MMA-related pursuits.
The last man to defeat Henderson also gets taken before the UFC’s lightweight ruler. Pettis’ “Showtime Kick” at WEC 53 showcased his creativity, and it is his willingness to take chances that makes him a highlight waiting to happen -- something that is not consistently said about Henderson. Pettis’ potential also extends to two divisions: before a knee injury, he was scheduled to face Jose Aldo for the featherweight crown at UFC 163.
Henderson might lead the world in controversial decisions, but the man continues to win consistently in what many consider to be the sport’s deepest division. His blend of size, strength and athleticism makes him a relatively safe pick, and it seems unlikely that he will ever be overwhelmed in a fight. Henderson’s ever-present toothpick is a quirky and identifiable prop.
10. Chris Weidman
He may be a speculative add, but Weidman becomes a bargain here if he is able to unseat Silva at UFC 162. An NCAA All-American wrestler with potent grappling skills and developing striking, Weidman would remain a person of interest even in defeat. Weidman is not easily recognized by the casual fan, but he is potentially one of MMA’s next big stars.
With many of his recent fights having taken place on free TV, “Mighty Mouse” should be a well-known commodity by now. Fans have been slow to warm to the 125-pound division, which explains Johnson’s slide out of the top 10. Consecutive wins over Joseph Benavidez and John Dodson seem to indicate that Johnson has staying power as flyweight champ.
12. Daniel Cormier
A surprise winner of Strikeforce’s heavyweight grand prix, Cormier has the potential to make waves in the UFC’s big-man division. However, Cormier will not fight training partner Velasquez as long as he remains champion. A 205-pound matchup with Jones is a tasty alternative, and many believe Cormier has the tools necessary to give “Bones” fits.
13. Vitor Belfort
Belfort edges Johny Hendricks and Renan Barao for the lottery’s final spot on the strength of back-to-back jaw-dropping knockouts against Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold. Despite being a lightning rod for controversy due to his use of testosterone replacement therapy, Belfort is a must-see attraction and could very well be next in line to face the Silva-Weidman winner.