What are your thoughts on the UFC booking Robbie Lawler-Tyron Woodley and Demetrious Johnson vs. Wilson Reis for UFC 201 in Atlanta? What opponents would you have rather seen them face on that card?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
It was about time that Robbie Lawler was scheduled to defend his Welterweight Title. In case anyone hasn’t been paying attention, Lawler had the fight of the year in 2014 (against Johny Hendricks), the fight of the year (possibly decade) in 2015 (against Rory McDonald), and may very well end up with the fight of the year in 2016 (Carlos Condit). Given his penchant for entertaining violence, it only makes sense to get him back into the Octagon. What doesn’t make sense is setting up the most boring matchup possible for him at UFC 201. Nothing against Tyron Woodley personally, but I have little interest in watching him fight. I’d actually pretty much forgotten about him, as it’s been about a year and a half since his last actual time in the cage. Woodley is powerful and explosive, but if he’s not knocking someone out early, his fights turn into boring grindfests that do little to inspire interest in his division? Do you remember his loss to Jake Shields? I’ll forgive you if you don’t, you were probably asleep.
Setting aside Woodley’s lack of entertainment value, he doesn’t deserve the shot anyway. I’d put Stephen Thompson, Rory MacDonald, Carlos Condit and Demian Maia ahead of Woodley at the moment. I’m just assuming Georges St-Pierre doesn’t want to come back (yet?) otherwise he jumps to the front of the line. Seriously, let’s look at the last couple years of Woodley’s career with the appropriate “where he’s at as a contender” commentary.
2012 – Knocked out by Nate Marquardt – Oh geez, Nate Marquardt? Here’s a guy that’s never going to do anything in the UFC when Strikeforce ends.
2013 – Knockout win over Jay Heiron – Wait, what? How did Jay Heiron get back into the UFC?
2013 – Loss to Jake Shields – If I ever have to sit through something like this again I might have to give up MMA. Hopefully some second rate promotion will come along where all these snoozer fighters end up. Back to the drawing board, Woodley.
2013 – Knocks out Josh Koscheck – Is it just me, or is Koscheck losing a step? Good step for Woodley though.
2014 – Defeats Carlos Condit when Condit tears his ACL – I guess he was winning even before the fluke injury. Let’s give him a top 5 guy and see if he’s the real deal.
2015 – Loss to Rory MacDonald – He’s not the real deal. Top 10 guy, not a title contender. Back to the drawing board, Woodley (again).
2014 – Knocks out Dong Hyun Kim – Heh, you said “Dong.” Er, I mean, yes Woodley is still top 10. Not anywhere close to a title shot unless he gets a signature victory against a top contender.
2015 – Beats Kelvin Gastelum by split decision. Gastelum should have been in the hospital. – Yes!!! The convincing win over a top contender that Woodley needed to get to a title shot! – Said absolutely no one.
Following me here? We’re giving a guy a crack at the belt off of wins over Kim (impressive knockout, I’ll concede) and Gastelum (barely beat a guy who could barely make it to the cage)? And no, I am not counting Johny Hendricks weight cut no-show as a “win” for Woodley (although it was probably a win for us since we didn’t have to watch it). It’s not like Lawler has cleared out the division or anything and Woodley is just the only body available. Woodley doesn’t deserve this fight at all, and neither do the fans. I would have rather seen “Ruthless” Robbie face any of the guys previously named that deserve the fight ahead of him.
Demetrious Johnson vs. Wilson Reis looks comparable at first glance. Reis has gone 1-1 in his last two fights, 3-2 in his last five, hardly the resume of a contending fighter. In reality, Reis doesn’t deserve it, and this fight isn’t all that likely to be competitive. A far more sensible fight would have been Joseph Benavidez, whom Johnson has already beaten twice. The fact the best fight to make right now is the one where Johnson has already dispatched the opponent twice is an illustration of how much Mighty Mouse has cleared out the division.
Reis is, literally, the next man up. He’s a body to put in front of the champion, because someone has to fight him. This fight will generate little in the way of hype, which is a shame because Johnson is so incredibly good at what he does. Under-appreciated doesn’t begin to describe the public’s general lack of interest in the champion. So why doesn’t the UFC at least put the best fight up first, with a guy that is the clear #2 in the division? As we saw earlier this week, Johnson is a box office bomb. No one cares about his fights, or what he does. There’s a myriad of reasons for this, but the fact remains that if the UFC is going to continue to promote the division with Johnson as its champion, they’ve got to grab every interesting bit of story they can to boost Johnson’s popularity.
Johnson is two wins away from tying Anderson Silva’s record for successful title defenses. Reis is a tomato can set up to get him closer to that. Benavidez probably wouldn’t beat Johnson, but he’s got a heck of a lot better chance than anyone else does at the moment. In a division no one pays attention to, generating interest by promoting Johnson’s pursuit and eventual breaking of Silva’s record is something that might draw some eyeballs. It’s easier to sell record breaking fights than it is to promote “Small guy you’ve never heard of fights other small guy you’ve never heard of.” If it gains any traction, Johnson may get closer to some of those paydays he’s been longing for. No, this isn’t the most logical fight to make on its face, but this fight is about more than that. This is a long term plan to try to bolster viewership of a division that most have just ignored. The downside if it doesn’t work? Not much, no one’s watching these guys anyway, so it can’t get any worse than that.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I think Lawler should be fighting Stephen Thompson and Johnson should be fighting Joe Benavidez, but these matchups are fine. I’m just glad that the UFC isn’t having Johnson sit on his hands while TUF 24 films. I hate when a fighter who is able to compete is sidelined because of a TV show. The Ultimate Fighter is a nice thing to have, but it should never hold up a division. I do think the UFC should try another big fight for this card, though, to try to bring in more eyes. I know there’s already two title fights here, but neither champion is as popular as they should be so anything that can help them get more popular should be done.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I’m not a fan of either booking, but I can at least stomach Johnson facing Reis whereas I can’t recall a fight booking that makes less sense than Woodley getting his title shot.
There have been fights that have had less deserving challengers such as Reis himself. But who else is there in the division that Johnson hasn’t already beaten? At welterweight there are at least three more deserving opponents if not more. Demian Maia, Stephen Thompson, and Carlos Condit all have stronger cases while Johny Hendricks, Rory MacDonald, and (if he wants it) Georges St-Pierre could argue that they have stronger cases than Woodley. In a case where there are challengers that are more deserving then I can at least understand when they offer a strong case in terms of marketing and star power. For instance, when Chael Sonnen got his title shot against Jon Jones, no one believed that he actually deserved it. But it was known that Sonnen would be able to sell more pay-per-views than other more deserving candidates. Woodley doesn’t have that type of star power. In fact, it could be argued that he is the weakest draw out of all of the names that I’ve mentioned.
What about the idea that you need to stay active to remain in contention? Aside from St. Pierre who retired as champion (or took a break… however you want to put it as he gave up the belt without actually losing it), all of the others have fought since Woodley’s last fight. Even worse, all of them sans MacDonald have fought at least twice since then and MacDonald will have fulfilled that criteria by the end of June provided the proverbial injury bug doesn’t rear its ugly head. Another element that upsets me was Woodley refused to fight Hector Lombard last year (before word came out on Lombard’s PED failure) on the basis that they were teammates. Wait a minute… aren’t he and Lawler teammates as well? Sounds like someone is picking and choosing their opponents. Call me old-fashioned, but I like a dude who will throwdown with anyone. There isn’t a fight booking that I’ve hated more than Lawler-Woodley.
I would have rather seen Condit get a rematch after putting on the easy choice for FOTY if I could pick one person followed by Thompson and then Maia. Rather than elaborate further as I’m forced to sit and stew other this travesty of injustice, I’d rather move on to the more palatable of the title fights in Atlanta.
Johnson has cleaned out his division more thoroughly than I’ve ever seen a champion clear out the competition. Part of that has to do with the lack of depth at flyweight, but that isn’t his fault as he has taken out every challenge set in front of him and done so on a consistent basis without a lengthy interval between defenses. That means that there isn’t a worthy challenger whom he hasn’t already defeated which is why we’re relegated to scraping out of the bottom of the barrel for a defense against Reis. I hate to rip on Reis as he is a solid veteran who has won three of his four fights since dropping to 125, but he wouldn’t be getting the shot if he were in any other division. His best win of those three is #9 ranked Dustin Ortiz. Yeah. That isn’t worthy of a title shot in an ideal world by any means.
I would much rather see Joseph Benavidez get the shot. I know that he has already lost to Mighty Mouse twice, but there are caveats that make sense for a third booking. He is 9-0 at flyweight against everyone not named Demetrious Johnson. The first meeting between him and Johnson was close enough that it went to split decision (though I agree Johnson was the rightful winner) and the second loss ended quickly because Johnson landed a shot in the right spot. It isn’t like Johnson dominated him over the course of 25 minutes. He simply happened to get caught and dropped like a bag of potatoes. And do you really think Wilson Reis is going to sell more pay-per-views than Benavidez would against Johnson simply because he is a fresh face? I get Benavidez being a tough sell, but so is anyone else in the division Johnson has yet to face.
[Photo (c) Joe Camporeale via USA Today Sports]
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