MMA Ratings Podcast

January 4, 2020

Fight Fixing: Believe It Or Not, Fans Wouldn't Know It If They Saw It Happen Live

By Raphael Garcia

Recently, there have been headlines jumping off the page that relate to fighters supposedly “throwing” mixed martial arts contests. Today’s sports world allows the loudest voices on social media to gain traction, which in turn causes media outlets to cover their conversations. And this conversation is an interesting one. But the reality of the situation is that in mixed martial arts, fight viewers would not be able to tell when a fight was fixed. Furthermore, even though there have been situations in which questionable outcomes occurred, the cost is too high when it comes to fixing professional fights.

Last weekend at Bellator Japan, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson took a loss to Fedor Emelianenko in a bout where he was knocked out in less than dramatic fashion. He stepped into the cage grossly overweight, which elicited questions about how he prepared for the contest. His commentary that followed on social media about “getting paid” and “securing the bag” didn’t help the optics of the matter. But when some fans accused him of taking a dive, Jackson's response, which he posted on Instagram, was clear and direct:

“I’ll never do a fixed fight. Fador won fair. I have to get my weight down, that loss was on me. Non-fighters need to [shut-up emoji].”

Nevertheless, the criticism of Jackson’s performance was valid, and Bellator MMA will have to determine how to handle his fights in the future.

Over in the UFC, there's another fight that is being viewed with suspicion. This month at UFC 246, Donald Cerrone is scheduled to welcome Conor McGregor back to the Octagon. UFC President Dana White has called this bout a “lightweight fight that’s fought at welterweight,” and announced that McGregor would be in line for a rematch against Khabib Nurmagomedov if he wins. Due to the large amount of money the promotion stands to make from Nurmagomedov-McGregor 2, some fans have suggested that Cerrone was put into this bout to lose, and perhaps even throw the fight. And in an interview with MMA Fighting's Damon Martin, Cerrone fired back with a strong retort:

“There wouldn’t be enough money in the world for someone to pay me to take a dive. I could never look myself in the mirror if somebody paid me to take a dive. S--t, never happen. I'd rather fight for free than take money to f--king lose. That's not me. I'm going to fight my ass off like I do every time.”

These accusations against Cerrone and Jackson are based on a misunderstanding of how the sport works. Yes, Rampage was the perfect type of opponent, at the perfect time, for Fedor to face. And the same thing could be said about Cowboy for McGregor. Their styles play right into the strengths of their opponents, and planning these matches at the right time for the favored fighter can yield a favorable financial outcome for all the parties involved. Ultimately, it's more about favorable matchmaking than fight-fixing.

In MMA, it's long been said that styles make fights. When the goal is to get certain fighters elevated to a position of prominence to create future opportunities for said fighter, then matchmaking comes into play. Cerrone has 50 professional fights on his ledger and is on a two-fight losing streak, both of which came via TKO stoppage. McGregor is an apt southpaw boxer with less wear on his body, making him the favorite heading into their fight. If he stops Cerrone, that shouldn’t spark questions about Cerrone throwing the fight as much as it should spark questions about the UFC "protecting" McGregor through its matchmaking.

In fact, the notion of fans being able to tell that a fighter has thrown a fight is highly dubious. Remember Josh Burkman? Burkman has nearly 17 years of MMA experience. His resume includes wins over Jon Fitch, K.J. Noons, and Gerald Harris. But of all his losses, one is questionable -- his 2013 welterweight title fight at WSOF 6 against Steve Carl. Burkman lost that fight via submission in the fourth round. He would fight for World Series of Fighting one more time before heading to the UFC for his second run with that promotion in 2015. On its face, this doesn’t seem like much of a matter to look at, but it was this Burkman comment on Twitter in October 2014 that stood out:

“Evrybdy knws I lost that fight to get out of my contract. No 1 releases champions. Only one belt counts, that's why ur bitter; )”
Burkman was responding to a comment made by Ben Askren mocking him for the loss to Carl. He would later delete the tweet and call it an attempt at “being sarcastic.” Yet the fact that a fight that had come and gone without any scrutiny could have questions raised about it demonstrates the reality -- MMA bouts have too many nuances for fans to be able to point to one thing as "proof" that a fight is being fixed.

But that also means that once questions are raised about a particular fight potentially being fixed, it's difficult to disprove. Then UFC spokesperson Dave Sholler had to address Burkman's tweet publicly. PRIDE FC was accused by Jackson, Gary Goodridge, and others of fight-fixing. None of these accusations were ever proven, but the cloud of suspicion remains.

In the modern context, the ramifications of a thrown fight being proven would be punishment not only for the offending fighter, but for the promotion involved. Fighters and promotions can lose their licenses, which would have a massive impact on the business and open up the possibility of further legal action. For that reason, the idea of a promotion risking all of that to ensure a particular result seems highly unlikely, but that doesn't stop fans from throwing the word "fix" around whenever things don’t go in the manner they expect. The bottom line is always what’s best for business in the combat sports world, but that doesn't mean fights have to be fixed to get the results the promoters want.

Bellator 237
Fedor Emelianenko vs. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson: Fedor Emelianenko def. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson via KO (punch) at 2:44 of Round 1.

UFC 246
Conor McGregor vs. Donald Cerrone

Bellator 237: Fedor vs. Rampage took place December 29, 2019 at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, Japan. Due to time zone differences, the event aired on December 28, 2019 in the United States.

Click HERE for more Bellator Japan Post-Fight Analysis

UFC 246: McGregor vs. Cowboy takes place January 18, 2020 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Click HERE for more UFC 246 Pre-Fight Analysis

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