Fans weren’t exactly on the light-heavyweight champion’s side at UFC 210 in Buffalo, N.Y., on Saturday night. What does that say about the champ, the division he’s in, and the nature of MMA fandom? Retired WEC and UFC fighter Danny Downes joins MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes to discuss.
* * * *
Downes: Ben, (19-1 MMA, 8-1 UFC) retained his light-heavyweight title on Saturday night with his over (22-6 MMA, 13-6 UFC). Cormier may have won the fight, but he doesn’t seem to be winning over fans. The boos greatly outweighed the cheers, and the ratio seems to be getting worse over time.
Long before at weigh-ins this past week, Cormier’s popularity has been waning. Why do you think that is? What’s really going on?
Fowlkes: I don’t think it’s any one thing. It can’t be. It has to be a combination of factors, because no one thing explains it.
For instance, take that bit of weigh-in skullduggery. Imagine if Conor McGregor had done it. Imagine if he’d succeeded in not only taking over the game, Danny, but in bending the numbers on the scale to his will simply by clutching a towel that someone else provided. He’d be hailed as a genius and a hero, and you know it. He’d go off tapping his skull like a wily old pro wrestling manager, and fans would love him for it. He worked the system! He outsmarted the scale! Long live McGregor!
Bu Cormier does it, and he’s a dirty cheating scoundrel. How dare he. Let’s strip him of his title and run him out of the sport if we can.
Then look at “Rumble” Johnson. Here’s a guy with a troubling history of domestic violence, a guy who once bragged on Facebook about about how he totally bossed up on some woman at the gym who had displeased him with the positioning of her yoga mat. Here’s a guy who said he wants to be remembered in this sport as someone , even when it would seem like we’ve all personally witnessed him giving up on numerous occasions.
And yet, when he stood there and , the same crowd that booed Cormier sounded like it was on the verge of begging Johnson to stay. Forgive me if I suspect that it might not be moral virtue alone that these people are reacting to.
I think part of it has to be that fans regard Cormier as an imposter. He’s the champ, in large part because is “ineligible,” to borrow Cormier’s phrasing. But here Cormier is, walking around with a big smile on his face, rubbing the big gold belt like he wants to make sure you didn’t fail to notice it.
Maybe that drives people crazy. They don’t think he ought to be having this much fun wearing someone else’s belt.
Or, another possibility, maybe we just want to make sure there’s someone to boo in this sport. And with Jones suddenly seeming more likable as he’s maybe fans felt the need to move on to the next guy in line?
Downes: Like everything in the light-heavyweight division, Jones plays a role. Jones’s irresponsibility and recklessness have caused this logjam, yet somehow, fans don’t hold it against him. Regardless of his personal failings or the fact that he’s been stripped of the title, many fans still view him as the champion. If he took his punishment in shame and disappeared for a few months, maybe Cormier would feel more legitimate. When Jones shows up publicly to a UFC event, though, it’s impossible for Cormier to gain momentum.
As much as Jones plays a factor, Cormier himself is the major reason for fan disdain. He is a 38-year-old father of three. He talks, dresses, and acts like a 38-year-old father of three. Look at him dance in over on state-run television after his UFC 210 win. He looks like how you probably dance at a cousin’s wedding.
He also goes out in the post-fight press conference and calls Jones “.” Besides being a weak nickname in general, Jones was already out there earlier in the week recommending his “sex pills.” Jones is unapologetic, and he’s not embarrassed by it. You can’t come at him with that weak stuff.
Cormier is safe. He’s a company man that tucks his T-shirts into his athletic shorts. Those are great qualities for the guy you want coaching your kid’s baseball team, but not for getting a lot of UFC fans on your side. He’s a minivan, and Jones is a sports car. That van lifestyle is working out great for your co-host, but he’s not out there fighting guys in cages (I assume).
Does Cormier have any way to turn this around? He has to stay authentic. The only thing fans would dislike more than a 38-year-old dad is a 38-year-old dad trying to act like a rebel in his 20s. Does it matter that fans don’t seem to be hopping aboard the DC train?
Fowlkes: First of all, while some fans might be enjoying Jones’ unapologetic bad boy thing way more than the I’m-just-a-humble-Christian-athlete act, that doesn’t mean he’s a fan favorite. Still, this way he seems more authentic, and you can’t deny that he’s proven himself to be the best in the division so far.
The thing with Cormier is, I’m not even convinced that people actually dislike him. I mean, some of them, sure, they weren’t standing up and booing because they love the guy so much. But I bet a lot of those people found that they enjoyed Cormier the heel a lot more than Cormier the lovable contender, even if the way they expressed that enjoyment was with the magic of the boo.
Cormier’s out there taunting , imploring him to be more honest with himself like he’s actually trying to do him a favor. He’s treating the greatest fighter in his division like he’s some punk kid who got himself suspended from school. If he could have only insulted the Buffalo Bills and called the audience a bunch of sweat hogs, he might have hit every note in the pro wrestling villain songbook.
People booed him, sure, but were they not entertained, Danny? We ask that fighters make themselves into larger than life figures who, in one way or another, evoke feelings that are worthy of the price of admission. They don’t all have to do that by being so likable. They can’t.
For more on , check out the section of the site.
Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at and .