How will we regard the complicated legacy of Josh Barnett if he exits the UFC in a feud with the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency? And how might this precedent affect the fate of Jon Jones? Plus, seriously, the MMA movie Warrior is one of the 250 best movies of all time? Are you sure?All that and more in this weeks Twitter Mailbag. To ask a question of your own, tweet to @BenFowlkesMMA.
* * * *According to Josh Barnett, yes, he requested his release because he didnt feel comfortable giving the control necessary to USADA that would continue my career in the UFC. Thats somewhat understandable, considering his recent history with the anti-doping agency.If youre joining this story already in progress, what happened there was USADA flagged Barnett for use of a banned substance, which he later proved was the result of a contaminated supplement. USADA wanted to suspend him, as it often does even in the cases of accidental use. Barnett fought back, took the matter to arbitration and won. It was kind of a big deal, too, since it established a precedent upending a pretty standard USADA practice.
But even after an arbitrator found that Barnett bore the extreme low end of fault for the incident, it still cost him thousands of dollars and more than a year of his career to get that ruling. You can see why he might be reluctant to place himself at the mercy of USADA again, especially at his age. The 40-year-old Barnett might not have another 15-month layoff left in him.
So what now? Bellator will surely be interested in a fighter like Barnett. So will Rizin FF. Hes right in that wheelhouse of aging heavyweights who are still worth watching even if they arent the best.
But if this is really how Barnett ends up exiting the UFC for the final time, what are we to make of him? Doping and the consequences thereof have defined some of the biggest moments in Barnetts career. Its how he got stripped of the UFC heavyweight title right after winning it. Its how he lost his chance to fight Fedor Emelianenko in an incident that played a not insignificant role in the demise of the Affliction fight promotion.
Now hes finally involved in a doping case where hes ultimately exonerated, but how many people will really absorb and understand that detail? How many will just remember it as Barnett exiting the UFC after yet another failed drug test? Thats the part that will sting, even if he has himself to blame for some of that. Theres a lot riding on the outcome of the Jon Jones case, and the precedent set by Barnetts situation could end up playing into it on several different levels.
For one thing, theres the question of punishment. Jones camp has argued that he unintentionally ingested a banned substance, but unlike Barnett, theyve shown little ability to prove it. The case theyve made in public so far essentially hinges on arguing that no one would be stupid enough to dope the way Jones is alleged to have doped. Thats a long way from the meticulous documentation that Barnett was able to provide.
But if USADA tries to get Jones to accept a punishment that he deems too harsh, then its in for another battle. On the other hand, if it lets him off easy, it risks looking soft on superstars especially after some of the more stringent penalties its handed out to lesser-known characters.
Then there are the contractual questions. If Barnett could ask for and receive his release just because he didnt trust USADA, can Jones do the same? Will the UFC let him waltz right over to Bellator if USADA hands down a multi-year suspension? (If youre reading this, I suspect you already know the answer to that question.)
No matter what USADA does with Jones, its going to ripple outward in a big way. Maybe that explains why its taking so long to decide. First of all, curse you for making me look this up. But for anyone reading this and feeling suddenly compelled to do the same, yeah, this checks out. On IMDbs list of the 250 top rated movies (according to IMDb users), Warrior currently sits at 152.
Right in front of it is the original Blade Runner at 151, while the 1957 Ingmar Bergman joint Wild Strawberries occupies the no. 153 spot.
In fact, a quick gander down the list reveals a lot of very good movies that are, according to people on IMDb, not quite as good as Warrior. Some notable examples:
Gone With The Wind (158)
Cool Hand Luke” (167)
Annie Hall” (240
Life of Brian (182)
OK, sorry, I have to stop there. Rocky, seriously? Youre telling me that IMDb users rated Warrior above the ultimate combat sports movie (non-biopic division)?
That … well, that puts the whole list in perspective, doesnt it?
I saw Warrior when it first came out in theaters and never again since then. I remember being pleasantly surprised. Most MMA movies are terrible, in large part because they look and feel like something that was churned out in a hurry to capitalize on this hip new fad. But despite some very cliche elements (like Nick Noltes entire character), Warrior managed to feel fresh and fun, with a great cast and a few nods to the hardcores. (I particularly enjoyed the coach character who is obviously just Greg Jackson.)
But if youre asking me how it happened that a pretty OK movie ended up ranked among the best movies ever, Id invite you to take a closer look at what did and did not make the list.
The top 15 includes all three Lord of the Rings movies, and yet relatively few movies with female leads. Comic book movies and sci-fi are very well represented, but foreign films arent. Its almost as if theres a certain kind of person obsessively rating movies on IMDb.
Because its the referees responsibility to see and call the fouls in the first place. Hes the one in the best position to determine whether a foul was accidental or intentional, whether it merits a penalty or just a warning.
We cant even get the judges to agree on what a 10-8 round looks like. How can we depend on three different people to handle the deduction of points, especially when theyre watching the fight from three different vantage points? What looks like a blatant eye poke from one angle can look like nothing at all from another.
Thats why its up to the referee, whether he wields that power responsibly or not. When you say drastically smaller pay, its worth remembering that for his last publicly disclosed payout at UFC 213, Alistair Overeem made a flat fee of $800,000. Meanwhile, Bellator light heavyweight champ Ryan Bader made a disclosed $150,000 for his first fight in the heavyweight grand prix. So, yeah, theres reason to think that, if it became an option for Overeem, such a move would result in a hit to the pocketbook.
But that has to factor into the UFCs calculations, as well. Remember that thing UFC President Dana White said when he was asked about moving Overeem vs. Curtis Blaydes to the UFC 225 prelims so that CM Punk could fight on the main card? If youre paying a guy nearly a million bucks just to show up, but you dont think of him as a pay-per-view draw, at what point do you decide that you can do without him?
Short answer: Yes, because thats how rights work.
Long answer: It depends what we mean by rights, whether were talking about legal protections or more vaguely moral obligations on the part of the employer, but in the end it doesnt matter since simply being deserving of something doesnt mean youll get it.
Think about other sports. Think about the protections and guarantees afforded to NFL players. They didnt get those just because they deserved them; they got them because players were willing to take the risks, make the sacrifices, and challenge the league for the good of the group.
In the end, the NFL recognized the players association and negotiated a collective bargaining agreement, but the players who were the first beneficiaries of that didnt deserve it any more than the earlier players who came and went in the NFL before then.
Fighters can sit around deserving better treatment all they want. Its not going to get them ongoing health insurance or a pension, though.
Thats the big question in this move to ESPN. For better or worse, FOX Sports was always willing to let the UFC tell us what was what in the UFC. At times, this took a very literal form. There was a whole weekly show where UFC employees (or contractors) talked to other UFC employees (or contractors) about the company that pays their bills. That made it more infomercial than journalism, but we all sort of shrugged it off because it was what we had come to expect.
ESPN likes to hold itself to a higher standard, at least most of the time, but its also been known to adjust its level of coverage depending on its level of financial interest in any given sports property. Remember when ESPNs Outside the Lines shined a light on issues like fighter pay and testosterone-replacement therapy? Its hard not to wonder if it would go after the UFC quite as aggressively now that they have both a broadcast and a streaming deal binding them together.
For now, the only thing we can do is wait and see. ESPN could do a lot of good for the UFC and for MMA as a whole. Its just a question of whether the UFC can get out of the way and let it.Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAYs MMA columnist. Follow him on Twitter at @BenFowlkesMMA. Twitter Mailbag appears every Thursday on MMAjunkie.