Posted 06/11/2014 by Mike Fagan in Untethered MMA

UFC 174: Demetrious Johnson vs. Ali Bagautinov

The UFC returns to Vancouver with a flyweight title headliner featuring champion Demetrious Johnson and challenger Ali Bagautinov. It’s the promotion’s third event in Vancouver, and the first since Junior dos Santos met Shane Carwin in June of 2011. In other action, local boy Rory MacDonald meets Tyron Woodley in a matchup that may determine the next next challenger to Johny Hendricks’ welterweight title. Ryan Bader and Rafael Cavalcante will determine who gets to maintain his spot as a fringe top ten light heavyweight. Plus, the return of Andrei Arlovski!


You know how I know you’re desperate to find legitimate PPV main events? It’s when you take the flyweight champion you’ve desperately avoided featuring in a PPV main event (3 Fox headliners in a row following his title win in the co-main of UFC 152) and match him up with a Dagestani Russian who doesn’t speak English and whose last name half your audience and both your A-team broadcasters cannot pronounce.

It’s unfortunate, of course, because Johnson is a wonderful champion, and Bagautinov a legitimate contender, even if it would have been nice to have him beat one of John Dodson, Joseph Benavidez, Ian McCall, or John Moraga. But all those guys have had their shot at Johnson, and all of them have fallen, and the UFC is all about fresh faces when they have a logjam at the top of a division.

Johnson’s problem, if you’ll allow me a Colin Cowherd moment and an annoying use of capital lettering, is that he’s the Nice Guy. He’s got everything you want from a champion – talent, intelligence, good looks – but he doesn’t have the it. The attraction. You like Demetrious Johnson, but you don’t lust after Demetrious Johnson. He doesn’t talk any shit, he doesn’t create any trouble outside the cage, and his personality lacks anything resembling compelling.

The UFC lacks the ability to market a guy like that at the weight that he fights at, which is no discredit to them. Marketing a fighter like Demetrious Johnson is not easy, and the UFC has basically thrown their hands up in the air and told the world, “Just look at…how fast he is! Oh my god, he’s so fast! Some people say the fastest guy in the UFC! Some people say the fastest guy in UFC history! Some people say faster than Usain Bolt! Some people say faster than an actual bolt!” But being fast, like having long arms, doesn’t sell, which is unfortunate because this could end up being a very interesting fight.


It’s odd to think that Rory MacDonald and Tyron Woodley would take a backseat to Robbie Lawler and Matt Brown in 2014. It’s even odder to think that not only is it probably the right business move, but it might be the right move, period, full stop, end the fucking sentence now. We live in wild times.

The other thing about this fight is that it might seem like a quick turnaround for both. It is. MacDonald last fought February 22 (a three-and-a-half month turnaround); Woodley last fought March 15 (a twelve week turnaround). This is great. One of the problems with the UFC’s roster and event expansion is that guys that don’t fight for 8 or 10 or 12 months really get lost in the shuffle, which makes division continuity that much more difficult to follow. With Lawler and Brown getting relatively quick turnarounds as well, you have an exciting division moving at an exciting pace, which, one hopes, pays off for everyone involved.


Andrei Arlovski’s return to the UFC took everyone by surprise. Most of that is a result of Arlovski’s run outside the UFC: wins over Ben Rothwell and Roy Nelson preceded losses to Fedor Emelianenko, Brett Rogers (!), Antonio Silva, and Sergei Kharitonov (three of those by some form of knockout). After washing out of Strikeforce, Arlvoski floated through Easter Jesus Pro Elite and ONE FC and World Series of Fighting, taking on the likes of Travis Fulton and Devin Cole and long-time nemesis Tim Sylvia. He went 8-1 (with 1 no contest) during that period, including a loss to Anthony Johnson, who made his own recent return the UFC.

There’s also the issue of how Arlovski left the UFC. Arlovski, with one fight left on his UFC contract, told the UFC he wanted to test free agency, so the UFC responded by keeping him on the shelf for a year before burying him in the then-unaired-live prelims with Jake O’Brien at UFC 82. This despite Arlovski’s popularity (I was at the event, and Arlovski got the biggest pop outside of Dan Henderson), and his long history with the promotion. To Dana White’s credit, he’s publicly regretted the decision, and obviously Arlovski got over it (if he was ever upset while grabbing millions from Tom Atencio anyway).

That anecdote goes to show just how much leverage the UFC had back in 2007-08. Pride was dying, but still around (Zuffa wouldn’t officially buy it until after Arlovski’s last fight), EliteXC had just announced a deal with CBS, and Strikeforce was entering their third year of MMA operations. And the UFC still felt they had enough market power to take Arlovski’s career hostage.

The MMA landscape is completely different today. Pride, EliteXC, and Strikeforce are all gone. The de facto number two promotion, Bellator, has only made a single notable play at top UFC talent, which seems more like a leverage play by the fighter involved.

So, it should be no surprise that Jon Jones is playing hardball with the UFC,* because he’s one of the few fighters in any position to play hardball in the UFC. He’s an established, dominant champion with one of the widest reach into mainstream sports culture. He might be refusing to sign a bout agreement to fight Alexander Gustafsson because he wants more money or he is ducking Gustafsson or he wants a football helmet full of cream cheese and naked pictures of Bea Arthur. Whatever the case may be, he’s one of the few fighters in the company that has that sort of leverage, and it’s fascinating that the UFC’s response is to, once again, bury one of their own fighters.

* – Article written before Jones agreed to fight Gustafsson at UFC 178. The point still stands.

Mike Fagan