Posted 12/09/2013 by Derek Suboticki in Subo Says

The Perils of a Unified Talent Pool, Part 1

(The beginning of an ongoing series as events dictate.)

I write a lot about the insular nature of the hardcore MMA universe, but it’s because so much of the discourse is so alien to the vast majority of casual sports fans (and, ergo, the vast majority of sports fans). The common laments regarding fighter pay and promotional efforts are intentionally lost; they don’t care about how much a NBDL point guard makes or what color bats MLB uses to raise awareness of breast cancer and, in an indication of their priorities, are more likely to bitch about the latter than be concerned about the former. Fans know who Roger Goodell and Bud Selig are, but they didn’t read media accounts of their mothers writing “tell-all” books about them and remain in blissful ignorance of their betting habits. Even among the individual non-combat sports – golf, tennis and the like – the concerns are completely different. And virtually no one is advocating for fracturing the elite talent pool that fuels their favorite sport.

Anyone that’s watched the various “consensus” MMA rankings that the MMA blogosphere has spawned over the last 10 years has noticed a marked shift in the promotional column; with increasingly few exceptions (and, in the case of Ben Askren, unnecessary pissing matches), the UFC is the home of the top talent in every weight class on Earth. Additionally, since Bigfoot’s second loss to Cain Velasquez, the lineal title of every class rests in conjunction with the UFC title. It’s only natural that every fighter that thinks they can be the best in the world (read: every fighter) sees a Zuffa contract as their ultimate goal. Aside from the clean narratives and amazing title fights this business model produces, it also means that injury – the inevitable bane of combat sports matchmaking – can easily be dealt with due to greater resources and a deeper reserve of talent. This piece is going to focus on three amazing examples of the benefits of a unified talent pool (I know, the title is misleading, but I want hardcores to read it).

No Dodson? No problem! Jorgensen-Makovsky, UFC on Fox 9

This one is actually a twofer. Scott Jorgensen, affectionately known to many as “Spot”, was originally slated to face Ian “Uncle Creepy” McCall at the December Fox card before injury intervened. Instead of shelving a top ten fighter for lack of a quality opponent (cough Michael Chandler cough), Zuffa was able to call up flyweight standout John Dodson as a replacement, but HE was forced to withdraw less than a week ago. Poor Jorgensen, right? Wrong – he works for the UFC, which wasted no time in signing former Bellator bantamweight champion Zach “Fun Size” Makovsky to fill the void.

Makovsky, for those scoring at home, went 6-0 in Bellator before losing his title to Eduardo Dantas. A split decision loss in his next bout left Fun Size at 6-2, at which point… Bellator cut him. Because, you know, their 135 division is just stuffed to the brim with better fighters. Anyone bitching about the Okami/Fitch cuts (this group includes me) that doesn’t also rake Bellator over the coals for releasing Makovsky is being hypocritical.

Strikeforce vs. Bellator: Lombard-Shields, UFC 171

Can anyone imagine or explicate a world in which MMA is better off with these fighters in secondary organizations? Seriously. I’ll wait – I can’t fathom it. Now, it’s undeniable that Lombard’s success in Bellator led to a larger UFC contract (Strikeforce, on the other hand, announced they would not be bidding on Shields before his departure – maybe they were mad that Jake had blanketed Dan Henderson on his way out the door), one that looks positively albatross-like before his starching of Nate Marquardt in his 170 debut. Now, with the welterweight Mount Olympus in disarray, someone with Lombard’s power poses a devastating threat to everyone in the division. I can’t get particularly excited for Shields; I feel he lost to Tyron Woodley AND Demian Maia (more on him later) and that the Ellenberger fight showed a certain chinniness that wasn’t in play during the Henderson bout. However, this fight is a prime example of how and why MMA – and the fighters involved – are better off when those that have proven themselves worthy are given unfettered access to the UFC.

Pick two numbers 1-10, mix, match, repeat: Macdonald-Maia, UFC 170

I was shocked by Rory Macdonald’s loss to Robbie Lawler at UFC 167. It wasn’t the result of faulty judging; while I personally had the bout as a draw (scoring the first 10-10), making an argument for Rory clearly capturing two rounds was and remains difficult. It was never supposed to get to the scorecards. Despite Rory’s somewhat lackluster dismantling of Jake Ellenberger and inability/disinterest in finishing BJ Penn, I firmly believed he would finish Robbie in spectacular fashion; instead, he was seemingly outworked for three rounds, and his vaunted GSP-trained wrestling game failed to impress as it had before. What does one do with such a young, talented and yet mercurial fighter?

You put him against someone that threatens him, forces him to react. A submission wizard, say, with power in his (sloppy) hands and an evolving wrestling game. Someone desperate – maybe trying to establish themselves as a force in a new division following a questionable split decision loss. And if he can threaten off of his back? All the better. Let me crib from Joe Rogan here: if you went into a Xyience lab and created the perfect opponent for Rory Macdonald after that fight, it would be Demian Maia.

Because everyone’s in the same place, we get to see these fights and more.

Let’s not forget why it’s possible, and let’s battle against those that would render it impossible.




Derek Suboticki

Derek Suboticki is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also co-hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET at, also available as a podcast via iTunes. Previous work includes being former editor at Head Kick Legend and Fightlinker and contributor for Watch Kalib Run and Cageside Seats.