Opinion: Why a Rematch of the Worst Title Fight in MMA History is Necessary

By David Bixenspan Apr 6, 2017
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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Mixed martial arts fans are, thanks mostly to longtime Ultimate Fighting Championship matchmaker Joe Silva’s booking philosophy, rather averse to rematches, especially immediate ones. The trends have reversed lately, to the point that both major MMA events this Saturday are headlined by championship rematches, one of which is immediate. Both are the right fights to make, though the circumstances around them are very different.

UFC 210 in Buffalo, New York, is headlined by the obvious light heavyweight title fight right now: Daniel Cormier defending against the man he beat to win the vacant title in 2015, Anthony Johnson. Meanwhile, in Torino, Italy, Bellator MMA’s main event sees middleweight champion Rafael Carvalho defending his title against the man that everyone but two of the judges thought beat him in their last fight: Melvin Manhoef.

Oh, and that first fight between Manhoef and Carvalho? It was literally one of the worst “contests” in the history of major league MMA.

This is not normal. Terrible fights don’t have rematches, and this was an especially horrible fight, with Carvalho doing nothing and Manhoef not doing much more. The problem was that Carvalho won the split decision, and with Bellator’s middleweight division being an absolute barren wasteland with somewhere between zero and one other worthy contenders available (depending on if you count John Salter), there was no doubt that Manhoef was the most deserving contender.

But that first fight...yowza.

I dare you to watch the whole thing on Bellator’s website. Not only is the fight bad, it’s awful in ways that nobody could have expected. If anything, the fight was fairly exciting on paper. Manhoef is one of the great action fighters in MMA history, and had been in nothing but entertaining fights since signing with Bellator. Carvalho, while not necessarily an action fighter, had made something of a name for himself as a guy who finds ways to win. But it quickly became clear that the fight was not going to be anything like what was expected.

Worse, it was like a greatest hits compilation of awful fights past.

The mind numbing, time-dilating staring contest that was Dan Kelly vs. Patrick Walsh.

The Brazilian champion looked distracted and preoccupied to the point it seemed like he was turning his head to talk to someone who wasn’t there, like the second Paulo Filho vs. Chael Sonnen fight.

Some small fraction of the disappointment factor from Anderson Silva’s fights against Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, and Demian Maia.

Interesting that all of these fights are at middleweight, isn’t it?

Nobody wanted to see rematches of any of these fights. They had out of the cage consequences, too: Walsh was unceremoniously dumped by the UFC while Kelly, even with a win, needed 13 months to get back the momentum he gained from a first-round finish in his UFC debut. Silva slowly needed to rehab his image. And Filho needed, well, rehab.

Bellator on the other hand? They booked a rematch. And you can’t blame them.

The decision was arguably worse than the fight. Carvalho retained his title in spite of mounting little to no effective offense. This includes all three judges giving him round one, where he may have landed a body kick...maybe. Manhoef, seemingly seeing this as his last shot at glory in MMA, fought overly conservative, but seemingly did enough to win. Instead, he only got one judge to see it his way. Perhaps most alarmingly, one of the judges who went for Carvalho was Rob Hinds: normally a respected referee, judge and instructor.

This had to be done over, and maybe, just maybe, with Carvalho claiming to have suffered an inordinate number of injuries in his training camp, it will be better. Plus it’s not like there are really any other options. Hisaki Kato is in the mix in spite of no meaningful wins other than Joe Schilling, who is a hell of a kickboxer but not much more. Divisional mainstays like Alexander Shlemenko and Doug Marshall are in limbo. Salter has a legitimate claim, but doesn't have Manhoef's advantage of losing a decision so awful that the announcers were openly talking about how he had the title stolen from him. It’s Bellator, he can wait. It’s not like middleweight has anyone lined up that can be randomly thrown into a shot like what was done in the past with Linton Vassell and Joey Beltran at light heavyweight.

So, keep your fingers crossed this Saturday if you’re a Bellator fan. Maybe you’ll witness history. No, I don’t mean a title change; the worst major promotion division in MMA having a title change doesn’t qualify. The first fight being redeemed, however, would. Just how good would it have to be, though? Good enough to erase the first bout...and that might not be realistic.
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