icfc.jpgIt was a win that the mixed martial arts community should be heralding as the ascension of a new star into the elite of the welterweight ranks. Instead, nobody knows quite sure what Thiago Alves’ sensational win in the main event at UFC 85 against Matt Hughes means for his career.

Being one of the top prospects from the leading camp in MMA, Alves of American Top Team has all the makings of a top five fighter in the world welterweight rankings. Owner of an impressive 8-2 record in the UFC, the son of a baker holds notable wins over Derrick Noble, John Alessio, Tony DeSouza, Marcus Davis (in a non-UFC bout), Chris Lytle, Karo Parisyan, and just last night added a win to his resume over the greatest welterweight of all-time in Hughes.

But pollsters are left to ponder just how to score this victory for Alves. It was a spectacular performance by the man known as “The Pitbull,” except that he was the beneficiary of an unfair advantage.

Hughes is not a small welterweight. He is a fighter who must put his body through hell in order to condense himself into a compact 170 pounds just so he can make a brief rendezvous with the scale of record. Hughes had to put himself through hell to fight a man whose body did not have to endure the same kind of stress. Alves apparently tried to make weight, but didn’t even come close. Four pounds is a big deal when you’re talking about 170 and the size difference between the two was as plain as the eye could see.

Hughes, notorious for having a size and strength advantage over his opponents, looked like a lightweight compared to the massive Alves. If Alves was forced to get down to 170 and was able to put on that much weight, we’d be singing his praises for being a master weight cutter. Instead, the fact is that he didn’t make 170 lbs. and had a head start on Hughes when it came to the race of re-hydration.

Alves claimed in his post-fight interview that he rolled his ankle in the days leading up to the fight and couldn’t run as much as needed in order to cut weight. If that’s the case, it’s a valid excuse and to some degree, Alves deserves credit for gutting it out. However, it would have been nice if Hughes had been apprised of the situation before he began his mad dash to 170. One also couldn’t help but notice just how healthy Alves looked when delivering the flying knee that put Hughes away.

Rarely has this blog defended Hughes, but to view the outcome of Saturday’s main event at UFC 85 as a loss against him would be a disservice to Hughes and the interest of fair play. Alves looked good and Hughes did not. However, in a catchweight bout, the win should not help Alves move up the welterweight ladder and Hughes should not be penalized for accepting a fight in which his opponent missed weight by four pounds. Getting a portion of Alves’ purse is great, but the size of your wallet does not offer a competitive advantage when it comes to the actual fight.

This is the second time in as many weeks in which MMA fans have been subjected to a fighter in a highly-anticipated contest failing miserably when it comes to making weight. A week ago, it was Gina Carano failing to make 140 pounds for her fight against Kaitlin Young at “Saturday Night Fights” on CBS. Carano spent a good portion the day before the fight in the sauna trying to shed as much water weight as possible. However, the incident is a reminder that too many fighters rely on weight cutting and don’t pay enough attention to actual weight loss.

Some fighters are blessed with the ability of sweating off 15-20 pounds two days before a fight. But being able to do that is a gift that most fighters do not have. The key is managing your weight properly leading up to the fight so that you don’t have to rely as much on unhealthy tricks and tactics to shed unwanted pounds. For my second-ever Smoker, I weighed over 200 pounds when I started my training two months out. Thanks to will-power and sacrifice, I weighed-in at 178 lbs. for my fight and I was able to eat the night before. The reality is that I had to give up the joy of food. It is a reality that many fighters make but a sacrifice that even more need to make.

The difference between weight loss and weight cutting is not one of semantics; they are two completely different things. It’s a reality I live with every day as my wife prepares for her MMA debut in Virginia next week. When she won the WKA Muay Thai title last year, she cut 10 pounds in the sauna. That amount of weight is unheard of for a female to cut and it was not a pretty sight. This year she’s losing the weight the right way, but it’s not exactly a fun time for her at dinner each night watching my son and I eat 2-3 helpings of Hamburger Helper while she feasts on cod and Brussels sprouts with no seasoning of any kind. If Alves wants to be be a 170 lbs. fighter, maybe he should walk away at 190 lbs.?

In the case of Carano, she didn’t maintain and monitor her weight properly leading up to her fight and as such, she yet again failed to make her contracted weight. In the weeks leading up to the promotion’s debut on CBS, EliteXC Live Events President Gary Shaw talked about future plans of instituting a women’s title. It sounds like a great idea, so long as Carano is not allowed to compete for it. Why should someone who has never made weight for a 140 lbs. fight be allowed to fight for a 140 lbs. title? Which begs the same question for Alves, why should Saturday’s win over Hughes put him a step closer to the 170 lbs. title when his most recent victory didn’t come at that weight? The fight we saw between Alves and Hughes doesn’t amount to anything more than an exhibition and shouldn’t count for the record books.

Other UFC 85 Thoughts:

— Can someone please tell me why Alves got a $50,000 bonus for KO of the night? I’m sorry, if you don’t make weight, you should be ineligible for the award. The only thing I can think of is maybe Alves called the UFC right after he hurt the ankle and disclosed everything ahead of time. If he did that and fought anyway, my guess is that the UFC actually isn’t upset with him not making weight since he was willing to fight hurt on a card that had been besieged by injury. That’s the only reason I can think of for giving that kind of bonus to someone who missed weight by four pounds. Even if that’s the case, Hughes should get a cut of the bonus in addition to a cut of Alves’ purse.

— It was another not-so great night for Dan Miragliotta Saturday in London. Dare I say it, but I believe the stoppage of Brandon Vera at the hands of Fabricio Werdum was a tad early. I’m not even going to address how much time was left in the round because the issue of time remaining is irrelevant; I’ve talked to officials before and they’ve told me they cannot make decisions based on time. If a fighter is out; he’s out, whether there is 4:59 on the clock or 0:01. Even if you take the time element out of it, it was still an incorrect stoppage. Giving up mount shows poor skills on the part of a fighter but it does not assure automatic victory for the opponent. Vera was in a bad way but was still defending himself. He was eating some shots while blocking others. He was coherent and aside from escaping the position, was doing everything he was supposed to in that spot.

However, the decision once again puts Miragliotta in the center of a controversy and it’s prompting reckless knuckleheads to once again impugn Miragliotta’s integrity with no regard. Two bad calls does not make you a bad official when you’ve been calling fights for years. Nick Lembo, the legal counsel for the New Jersey Athletic Control Board, made a great point in my interview with him last week; which was to ask critics to judge Miragliotta on his full body of work. Up until John McCarthy’s recent retirement, Miragliotta was primarily a New Jersey-based official. Living in Philadelphia, where MMA is illegal, I’ve spent a lot of time in Jersey over the years watching pro and amateur MMA bouts. Miragliotta has been an official for many of them and usually did an outstanding job. Is he perfect? No, but name me an official in any sport who is. If you can lay out a history of bad calls by Miragliotta and want to brand him as a terrible official, by all means, do so. But to make outlandish statements based on two calls just isn’t rational.

The vitriol displayed towards Miragliotta is just downright embarrassing. And I’m willing to bet that a lot of the same people in the forums who proclaimed Miragliotta a great ref simply because he stopped some over-zealous fan in Montreal are now the ones taking a big crap on him and labeling him “retarded” or “the worst official ever!”

Miragliotta’s issue could be that he has too much empathy for the fighters. If you think he looks the part of the fighter, it’s because he is. I don’t think he still competes but I do know he has trained. I also know that Miragliotta at one point was the co-owner of his own fight gym. He’s not some random fan who submitted the NJACB a referee application and said, “I love MMA! I want to be a ref.” No, Mirgaliotta is a guy who has been in the trenches. Perhaps he saw how bad of a way that Vera was in and felt the overwhelming need to protect the guy. Perhaps he saw a look in James Thompson’s eyes that made him feel like the next punch he was going to receive was going to turn his lights out. This is all purely conjecture on my part but my point is, why can’t people just grade his officiating and leave all of the personal nonsense out of it? I realize I’ve been making several futile attempts at chastising people for how certain people choose to express their opinions, but if you can say whatever you want to say, why can’t I?

— Vera doesn’t want to move to light heavyweight but it’s obvious to me that he’s giving up too much weight at heavyweight. Look at guys like Tim Sylvia and Brett Rogers. These are two fighters who are super heavyweights that cut to heavyweight. In this day and age, if you’re not cutting weight, you’re putting yourself at a disadvantage. Personally, I feel that the disparity between light heavyweight and heavyweight is too steep with a 59 lbs. weight gap. I wouldn’t mind seeing the heavyweight limit reduced to 235 lbs. and that 236-280 pounds becomes the super heavyweight limit. But nobody wants to hear about adding additional weight classes no matter how much the sport truly needs it. So as things stand, people need to get into Vera’s ear about going down to 205 lbs. The situation reminds me of Eddie Alvarez. Alvarez liked fighting bigger guys and never wanted to leave 170 lbs. He was a very good fighter at 170 lbs., but then he ran into Nick Thompson and it changed his perspective. Now, he’s at 155 lbs. and instead of just being very good, he’s elite. At heavyweight, Vera is also very good. At 205 lbs., he’s the future champion in the division.

— The replays showed that Herb Dean erred when he took a second point away from Nathan Marquardt for the elbow to the side of Thales Leites’ head. Dean didn’t have the benefit of replay like we did and maybe didn’t have the best position to make that call. Combat in the Cage promoter Ed Hsu made a good point the other day in that he feels like bigger referees aren’t able to move as quickly and bend down as much as smaller referees due to size. His feeling is that smaller refs usually do a better job of getting into proper position. But in regards to the point deduction against Marquardt, correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t spiking someone on their head illegal? Did Dean give Marquardt a makeup call for not taking a point away from him for that pile driver?

— I second Joe Rogan’s thoughts: what we saw last night from Michael Bisping was the best we’ve seen him look. He came out there like an animal. But the thing that I noticed is that he finished Jason Day with a relentless combination and not power shots. Why do I keep harping on Bisping’s lack of power? Because to have any shot at beating Anderson Silva, you’ve got to hurt him and hurt him bad in order to have any shot at the upset.

— Speaking of Anderson Silva, rumors continue to persist that we could hear next week that he’s moving to 205 lbs. I’d rather see him stay at 185, but if there’s nobody left for him to fight, then what’s the harm in moving him to light heavyweight? If the UFC isn’t going to let him make millions to fight Roy Jones Jr., the least they can do is let him do is move up because with Dan Henderson and Rich Franklin out of the way, there are no money matchups left for him at middleweight.

— If you did horribly in your picks for UFC 85, you’re not alone. By my count, I went 4-7 on the night. I was the leader in CBSSports.com’s Head-to-Head picks standings but I think last night’s effort is going to drop me back a couple of notches. However, I did pick the Alves upset. If you called a win for Kevin Burns and you’re not related to him or best friends with him, then you’re my new hero. I had no idea who this guy was heading into the event and still don’t know much about him. Time to do some research.

— If you’re wondering why I didn’t do a big production review of yesterday’s show, it’s because I thought it was pretty damn good. Like UFC 84, the pacing was very solid and we got to see a lot of fights. I know the pacing is good when I am having trouble fitting a bathroom break in. If the pacing keeps up like this, I may need to start watching UFC events with a catheter. Seriously though, my only complaint is that the HD broadcast wasn’t as strong as UFC 84 was. I have no logical explanation for that other than perhaps the arena made certain things difficult, or they decided not to bring their most expensive equipment overseas?

– Burns got the bonus for submission of the night. Being a blue belt and submitting Roan Carneiro from bottom position is no joke, folks. That feat alone means that whoever Burns trains under should promote him to purple belt. Matt Wiman and Thiago Tavares received bonus for the fight of the night, which was well deserved. That fight was awesome and man, Wiman looked light years better than I have ever seen. Before last night, I just viewed him as a pedestrian guy at 155. However, his jiu-jitsu game was great! I knew he was good on the ground, but he looked world class.

— A lot of people are referring to Martin Kampmann as a submission guy. While his jiu jitsu has been very impressive in his recent fights, Kampmann is better known for his striking. Next to Anderson Silva, I would say he’s the most technical striker right now in the UFC. The fact that his ground game is so good makes him a dangerous threat. I’ve felt for awhile now that his best weight is 170 lbs., but if he’s going to stay at 185 lbs., I’d like to see him in some big fights. Kampmann vs. Bisping for a shot at the title would be a hell of a fight.

— Did Thales Leites read my column about how fighters need to become more litigious after a foul? He did it the right way; he simply told the ref he wanted his five minutes. If Scott Smith had done that, a huge mess could have been avoided. So fighters, when a ref asks if you are okay, say “yes” even if you’re not, and tell them you want your allotted time to recover.

— I was on the fence about putting Marcus Davis in my welterweight top ten for so long. I just wanted to see how he’d do against a step up in competition. While he didn’t look bad vs. Mike Swick, he still was unable to walk away with the victory. Speaking of Swick, the performance we saw from him was clutch. Who knows what another loss would have meant for him?

— Speaking of must-win situations, I would say that Jason Lambert and Eddie Sanchez are in the most danger of being cut. Lambert has lost three out of his last four fights. I’d love to see him in the WEC because lord knows they need the help at 205. Sanchez is 3-2 lifetime in the UFC but his wins are all against guys who are no longer in the promotion. He’s great if they need a last-minute replacement, but is there a need to keep him on the roster when he’s only just a phone call away? As for Thiago Tavares, Jorge Rivera, Roan Carneiro, Jason Day, and Jess Liaudin, I think it would be a mistake to drop any of them. Tavares has two losses in his last three fights but has too much upside. Carneiro is an underrated fighter who got caught in a bad submission. Much like Tavares, he’s too talented to risk losing to a competitor. Liaudin has back-to-back losses and an unimpressive 12-10 record, but the UFC has plans to expand further into Europe and he’s a good guy to have on the undercard for International purposes. Rivera’s record in the UFC isn’t the best but he has an entertaining fighting style. As for Day, the kid deserves at least one more chance.

Luiz Arthur Banta Cain (or whatever his name is) didn’t impress me with his antics vs. James Irvin at UFC 79. But he looked good before the foul and he looked really good last night vs. Lambert. He seems like a surly guy, but as a fighter, he’s a keeper. I’d like to see a match between him and Thiago Silva. If not Silva, how about Goran Reljic?