Opinion: A Half Empty Look at International Fight Week

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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International Fight Week came and went, and with it there was much cause for rejoicing.

“The Ultimate Fighter 25” Finale main card on Friday was surprisingly good. Jared Cannonier laid a dynamic beatdown on a remarkably tough Nick Roehrick in an entertaining brawl; Drakkar Klose provided Marc Diakiese some much-needed adversity in a battle of two promising prospects; Jesse Taylor finally earned the opportunity to aggressively scream “I’m a UFC fighter” around Las Vegas and presumably fought the urge to kick out limousine windows in celebration of his “Ultimate Fighter” victory; and Justin Gaethje brought his beautiful brand of violence to the Ultimate Fighting Championship in a “Fight of the Year” candidate against Michael Johnson.

UFC 213 on Saturday brought its fair share of action, as well. Anthony Pettis once again looked like the Anthony Pettis we all imagine him to be; there were zero butt scoots in the rubber match between Alistair Overeem and Fabricio Werdum; and Robert Whittaker and Yoel Romero went back and forth in a heck of a fight for the interim middleweight title. All things considered, the UFC double-feature delivered. What’s there to complain about? Unfortunately, plenty.

Expectedly, our good friend the Reebok deal is at the center of a lot of these issues. Never mind the fact that Gaethje got a cool $2,500 in sponsorship money for his debut -- something he was fully aware of when he signed the contract and something that was very much negated by the fact that he pulled in an additional $100,000 in bonus money anyway. Rather, both Angela Hill and Elias Theodorou were prevented from hyping their own fights at the weigh-ins. Hill dressed up as the Black Panther, while Theodorou had a makeshift “Breaking Brad” poster with him ahead of his fight with Brad Tavares. However you feel about these examples -- admittedly, Theodorou’s poster is a few too many years late to be cool -- you have to concede how lame and short-sighted it is for the UFC to prevent fighters from being themselves. The weird mixture of personalities is part of the fun of the sport, and even if you’re not into comic books or dated TV references, there are those who are. You’d think the UFC would allow some wiggle room for additional promotional opportunities, being in its best interest and all to expand its exposure, but apparently the 38 or so Reebok Fight Kits that have been sold is worth muffling fighters at any and all costs. I’m surprised they didn’t require Gaethje to cover up his tattoo of Bad Boy eyeballs with Reebok tape.

These situations were all the more annoying when we saw the promo for the Jon Jones-Daniel Cormier rematch at UFC 214. If there was any doubt that WME-IMG didn’t know how to promote fights, this should silence those thoughts. It was excellent, carefully crafted to tap into the nuanced feelings fans have regarding both the former and current light heavyweight champions. It proved the company knows how to promote fights -- which, sadly, needed to be proved -- but conversely it showed that the promotional failures of previous fights this year resulted from lack of effort as opposed to lack of competence. I’m not sure that’s any better, but at least there’s hope moving forward.

The fight-week woes didn’t end at “The Ultimate Fighter 25” Finale. For all the great MMA action we did see, there was a bizarre absence. Women’s bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes pulled out of her UFC 213 main event against Valentina Shevchenko at the last second, citing a sinus inflammation as the cause. Naturally, UFC President Dana White cleared the air by reiterating that Nunes is a proven champion who has never pulled out of a fight before and that he would leave it to her and her camp to make a statement regarding her fight-day hospitalization.

I’m just kidding. He did as he always does and dragged Nunes through the mud, citing the fact that she was medically cleared to fight but simply refused because of a mental weakness of some sort. White, and anyone else, has the right to be upset. It sucks any time an anticipated fight falls apart, especially that close to the event. Being upset and publically trashing a champion are two very different things, though. It’s clear that the only purpose for his statement that Nunes’ decision to pull out was “90 percent mental” is to make an example of her so that this sort of thing doesn’t normalize. The idea, however, that going through a full training camp, making weight and pulling out at the last second to earn exactly $0 will ever become normal is ridiculous. That’s the inherent incentive of a payday; if you don’t work, you don’t get paid. That’s a fair enough punishment. The myopia of muddying a fighter’s reputation is stranger than Nunes pulling out, since it will only hurt the company’s ability to promote her in the future. Apparently in the Dana White School of Business, the only way to make up for a loss of earnings now is to ensure a loss of earnings in the future, too.

Last but not least, there was the main event that replaced Nunes-Shevchenko. The fight between Whittaker and Romero was debatably the best bout of the weekend. Most will say that honor goes to Gaethje-Johnson, but what the interim middleweight title fight lacked in unadulterated violence, it more than made up for in divisional relevance and narrative drama. Yet looming over the action was the fact that this was for an interim belt. Undisputed champion Michael Bisping waited on the sideline, ripping up Cuban flags and doing the whole Bisping shtick while two men who are almost certainly superior fighters fought for the chance to get in the cage with him. Whittaker walked away with the W, but both men proved what most of us already know: The current middleweight champion is not even close to the best middleweight in the world. For anyone who enjoys the actual competition of fighting, it was frustrating to watch. Bisping laying his belt down at Whittaker’s feet after the fight was a fitting gesture; at least now we can suspect that deep down Bisping knows what’s up.

I hate to be a downer, I really do. Both fight cards were entertaining and fun, but even the good aspects of the fights were reminders of all the dumb stuff surrounding them. This is why we can’t have nice things, because even the nice things are clouded by the merciless drive to ruin them in some way or another.

Hailing from Kailua, Hawai’i, Eric Stinton has been contributing to Sherdog since 2014. He received his BFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University and graduate degree in Special Education from University of Hawai’i. He is an occasional columnist for Honolulu Civil Beat, and his work has also appeared in The Classical. You can find his writing at ericstinton.com. He currently lives in Seoul with his fiancé and dachshund.
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