Leslie Smith’s Legal Action Brings MMA to a Cross Roads

Kevin Lee announced himself as a legitimate threat to the Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight throne with a dominant fifth-round stoppage of perennial contender Edson Barboza on April 21, but the seeds for a significantly more consequential campaign were planted that same weekend. Going into the final fight on her UFC contract, bantamweight Leslie Smith abruptly parted ways with the promotion, this after opponent Aspen Ladd failed to make weight for their scheduled match. The UFC offered Smith her full purse — it consisted of show and win money totalling $62,000 — but declined to negotiation a contract extension.

Ranked in the top 10 in a notoriously thin division, Smith is riding a three-fight winning streak at 135 pounds — her only loss since 2014 came in a catchweight pairing with current featherweight champion Cristiane Justino. The UFC’s treatment of Smith has been interpreted as a reprisal for her labor-organizing efforts and a warning to would-be agitators to keep their heads down.

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What’s the UFC Doing with its Next Generation of Stars?

Max Griffin landed 33 more strikes than Mike Perry at UFC on Fox 28. He was 1-2 in the Ultimate Fighting Championship heading into the bout and was the second-biggest underdog on the card according to the oddsmakers. Griffin had been brought in to lose to “Platinum Perry,” preferably by the kind of vicious stoppage for which the Florida native has become notorious.

When the fight started, however, it was apparent that Griffin didn’t get the memo. He controlled the distance well, as he took advantage of his five-inch reach advantage and cracked Perry with jabs and a variety of kicks, opening up a nasty cut on Perry’s forehead that would bleed copiously throughout the 15-minute contest. Apart from a desperate third-round rally from Perry, the fight was all Griffin; and when the scorecards were read, Perry was already walking towards the Octagon door. He knew, just as everyone else in the arena knew, that he lost the fight. It was his third loss in his last five contests.

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Ronda Rousey’s Ambiguous Legacy

Ronda Rousey fans were finally given an answer to the questions surrounding the former MMA champion’s future, when she appeared at World Wrestling Entertainment’s Royal Rumble on Jan. 28 and confirmed she had signed a multi-year deal with the professional wrestling conglomerate.

No, she would not be returning to the Ultimate Fighting Championship. No, her abilities as an actor had not improved to the extent that putting a microphone in her hand was a safe option. Yes, she is still not talking about her last two starts in the Octagon, where she suffered devastating knockout defeats to Holly Holm and Amanda Nunes at UFC 193 and UFC 207.

With her transition from the UFC to WWE complete, it is appropriate to comment on the footprint she leaves behind in mixed martial arts and to ask how she should be remembered by the sport that jettisoned her into mainstream stardom.

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A Man After Trump’s Own Heart

You won’t hear a bad word about President Trump come out of Dana White’s mouth. That has been the consistent response from the Ultimate Fighting Championship boss when asked about the reality-star-turned-commander-in-chief since Trump announced he was running for the Republication nomination in 2015. In an interview with the Boston Herald last week, White doubled down on that sentiment, going on to express “disgust” at those protesting against the current White House and revealing that he had spoken to Trump up to 20 times since he won the election.

The friendship between Trump and White and the corresponding proximity of the UFC to the halls of power has perhaps been an under-scrutinized aspect of the contemporary mixed martial arts landscape. Whereas the NBA and the NFL have been engulfed by highly politicized storylines involving the president — the former personified by Trump’s Twitter spats with LeBron James and Stephen Curry, the latter by the #TakeaKnee movement, where Trump repeatedly condemned hundreds of players who kneeled during the national anthem to protest racial inequality — MMA has had no such incitation. In fact, members of the MMA media who do offer political insights are routinely met by a torrent of comments demanding that they “stick to sports.” This kind of cognitive isolationism was on display in all quarters of the Internet after MMAFighting’s Ariel Helwani asked Cameroonian Francis Ngannou about his thoughts on Trump’s alleged “s—hole” comments regarding African countries.

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Threading the McGregor Needle

It has been 14 months since Conor McGregor last stepped foot in the Octagon and decimated Eddie Alvarez to win the undisputed Ultimate Fighting Championship lightweight title, and it feels like a lifetime ago. Back then, Barack Obama was still in the Oval Office, Harvey Weinstein was still a respected member of Hollywood’s elite and the idea that Georges St. Pierre’s return fight would come against Michael Bisping for the middleweight championship was still safely languishing in when-pigs-fly territory.

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How the Ali Act Could Reshape MMA in 2018

The United States Congress’ Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection held a hearing on mixed martial arts just two short months ago. Therein, former two-division Ultimate Fighting Championship titleholder and UFC hall of famer Randy Couture joined Oklahoma Rep. Markwayne Mullin to make the case for extending the economic protections that cover boxers to their counterparts in MMA.

If introduced, H.R. 44, better known as the Ali Expansion Act, would decouple promotions like the UFC and Bellator MMA from their titles and rankings system, placing those responsibilities within the domain of independent sanctioning bodies licensed by state athletic commissions. Champions would be required to fight the No. 1 contender of their division at least once annually, and firewalls would be erected to prevent promoters from also acting as managers.

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The UFC Screwed Robert Whittaker

So there you have it. After one solitary month, Ultimate Fighting middleweight titleholder Georges St. Pierre is no more, relinquishing the belt he won at UFC 217 and elevating interim titlist Robert Whittaker to the position of undisputed champion. GSP now holds records for the second longest title reign ever (2,064 days), which he achieved at welterweight from 2008 to 2013, and the shortest ever title reign, with 33 days at middleweight.

Surprised? UFC President Dana White isn’t. For all the BS White spewed about Whittaker being “next in line” for GSP should he emerge with the title, he admitted last week that he “expected” St. Pierre to vacate rather than defend his belt against the murderer’s row of contenders at 185 pounds.

You can read the rest of this article at Sherdog.com