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UFC 246: The Twilight Zone Edition

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears, and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call … The Twilight Zone. – Rod Serling

Stephen A. Smith of ESPN has knocked on the door to a rabbit hole many powerful people connected to the world of mixed martial arts would have preferred he not found. In a sport where the widespread belief is that the UFC is as real as it gets, Smith’s critique of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone’s poor performance against UFC superstar Conor McGregor in the main event of UFC 246 in Las Vegas, Nevada during an ESPN post-fight analysis show has ignited a firestorm in the wake of rumors “Cowboy Cerrone was paid to take a dive against Conor McGregor?” Instead of attacking the message, various mixed martial arts talking heads have attempted to attack the messenger by denying Smith’s ability to discern reality itself for daring to get a little bit too close to the truth at UFC 246 which flew in the face of UFC promotional talking points designed to convince the public Conor McGregor is still a viable economic commodity in 2020.

With McGregor’s 40-second demolition of Cerrone in a one-sided contest that had already been prone to ridicule and suspicion, the fact the fight wasn’t competitive at all and ended so quickly on threw fuel to the fire of conspiracy theories and wild speculation. With big time money fights on the horizon for McGregor, the ESPN+ UFC 246 post fight show was supposed to be a time to analyze, reflect and throw shine on to McGregor’s rather impressive performance, however the proverbial wrench in the wheel occurred as ESPN juggernaut sportscaster Stephen A. Smith refused to play the game and remain silent, calling the evenings main event exactly as they occurred, much to the dismay of his on air colleagues.

“I’m shocked and disappointed” recounted ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith in reflecting on Conor McGregor’s 40-second dismantling of Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone in the first round of UFC 246’s main event which aired live on ESPN+ pay-per-view. “I thought Conor McGregor would win this, I thought he would take him out in two rounds, I thought that obviously he’s been knocked out, “Cowboy” Cerrone’s been knocked out six times in his career, the last two times, so I knew he had a questionable jaw and coming in and swearing that he wanted to strike against Conor McGregor, I thought that he was right there to be had. So, I expected it to end in round two, I didn’t expect it to end in 40-SECONDS,” an astonished Smith said with an emphasis of shock and amazement to his voice. “Or, as you just said Joe Rogan, the first 15-seconds,” concluded Smith in his UFC 246 post fight analysis which can now be viewed in its entirety on ESPN’s YouTube social media platform in the video titled “Stephen A.: I got hit more than Conor McGregor in the last week | SportsCenter.

“Joe Rogan was standing just inches away when Stephen A. Smith provided some harsh criticism of Donald Cerrone following his loss to Conor McGregor at UFC 246,” writes MMA Junkie’s Mike Bohn in his January 24, 2020 article titled, “Joe Rogan takes issue with Stephen A. Smith’s Donald Cerrone rant after loss to Conor to McGregor.” According to the MMA Junkie.com report, “It was clear at the time Rogan, who was positioned on-camera with Smith and ‘SportsCenter’ anchor Michael Eaves, was somewhat put off by the take. He attempted to provide his own insight and put the outcome in perspective as a big moment for McGregor, but the score of MMA fans as well as many fighters had already set in,” according to the MMA Junkie report.

Rogan, a longtime UFC mixed martial arts color commentator who was obviously there alongside ESPN’s Smith and Eaves to give his official post-fight talking points and analysis went on to explain of McGregor’s performance that, “Well his preparation, and I was aware of his preparation,” Rogan said as he looked around the set to Stephen A. Smith. “His preparation for this was rigorous, he prepared for years. He wasn’t just coming back and doing a six-month camp, he had been training MMA as hard as he was in training camp the entire time..It’s just he didn’t have the opportunity to compete again and when he focused himself for this camp and got ready, he didn’t focus like a guy who has $200-million dollars in the bank, he focused like a guy who is starving. He focused like a guy who is trying to regain his position, regain where he used to be, when he was hungry, when he was desperate. And that is why he fought so intensely tonight,” explained Rogan.

Contained within this statement alone from Rogan were the UFC’s talking points on McGregor, the explanations of where he has been, what he has been doing and how he managed to blitzkrieg Donald Cerrone with such relative ease Saturday night after such a long lay-off from the sport. Rogan’s explanation offered every talking point a promotion would want to cover in explaining why Conor McGregor is still mixed martial arts’ biggest star today and an industry cash cow capable of bringing in big money against combat sports elite.

“This is tough for me, because here, I’m standing next to a legend, okay? And far be it for me to refute anything that Joe Rogan says, but here’s my reality,” replied a steadfast Stephen A. Smith as he continued to knock on the door to the rabbit hole many powerful people in the combat sports entertainment world would prefer that he simply walk away from. “We haven’t learned a damn thing about Conor McGregor based off of this fight.”

“Listen, the man did not get hit. Other than one kick to the arm, thats it. I mean…” said Smith as he continued to search for words. “I have gotten hit that much the last week, okay? And I don’t fight. I mean, come on y’all,” exclaimed Smith in absolute astonishment of Cerrone’s performance.

“But you didn’t learn anything from tonight’s fight, because ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone just didn’t show up. I could have ran for 40-seconds,” said Smith in attempting to make the point that even he could have did a better job than “Cowboy” Cerrone did against Conor McGregor at UFC 246, which is obviously hyperbole, but effective in getting the point across nonetheless. 

“I disagree, we learned,” Rogan quickly interjected in an attempt to salvage the McGregor promotional opportunity.  “We learned that he rises to the occasion, we learned that he could put ‘Cowboy’ away. We learned that he could land a head a kick, we learned that he could beat him down. We learned that this guy performs when the lights are on him, but we already know that. But we learned that he was focused, and we saw, look, I’ve been aware of his training, he was, he was in tip-top shape for this. And he was treating this like it was a potential resurrection of his career. Nurmagomedov humiliated, Floyd Mayweather humiliated him. So, there’s two humiliating loses in a row, this is his return and it was a pretty significant return” explained Rogan in covering some of the very same official talking points he had previously made previously.

“All I’m alluding too is what ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone was incapable of TAKING inside of 40-seconds,” countered Smith. “Like you said Joe, if you’re done in 15-seconds, it’s hard for me.  I understand what you’re saying, I’m not disagreeing with it, I get it. I learned something from you tonight, I got that, in terms of what Conor McGregor and something different came to his arsenal.  But my Lord, you couldn’t back up ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone? You couldn’t catch a deep breath? You couldn’t circle the Octagon, just a little bit, get your bearings under you? You couldn’t do anything? 40-seconds? 40-SECONDS?” cried Smith out loud in disbelief before being interrupted by Eaves who went on to immediately bring a close to the post-fight discussion before Stephen A. Smith had anything else provocative to say.

According to the MMAJunkie.com, “Rogan has had a few days to reflect on what unfolded” and that the longtime UFC mixed martial arts color commentator had “condemned the choice to give Smith the platform he was offered.” The author Mike Bohn went on to write of Rogan’s reflection on his interaction with Stephen A. Smith during the UFC 246 post fight analysis show, “That’s a bad look for everybody” Rogan said. ‘It’s a bad look for ESPN, it’s a bad look for him, it’s a bad look for the sport. There’s other people that can do this. …We have plenty of people out there who understand the sport. There’s plenty of them. But the thing about him is he’s really popular. (He just a got a contract extension) because his personality is so fun. He’s a fun guy to watch and people love (expletive)-talking and they love people arguing about (expletive) and one person is better at arguing. Stephen A. Smith is really good at that stuff. But it’s not the place for MMA. It’s just not the place. It’s not the same thing,” said Rogan.

Later, Bohn went on to quote Rogan as stating, “I would’ve preferred to talk to ‘DC’ or Felder or you (Josh Thomson) or anybody who understands the sport. I don’t think it’s the right way to do it. … I have no problem with (Smith) as a human being. Look, I don’t know jack (expletive) about baseball, I don’t know jack (expletive) about basketball. I literally don’t even know the rules. When people foul people, I’m not sure why. I’m not sure what’s happening. I know MMA. I understand. So, if you want to talk MMA, I’d like to talk about it with someone else who knows about MMA.”

In a Twitter social media response to Rogan, Smith stood his ground against the longtime UFC color commentator, going on to vehemently defend his original position while being as respectful as possible:

“Mad respect to Joe Rogan, nothing but respect for the man and the tremendous work that he has done and will continue to do throughout the years and for years to come. But you’re wrong on this one my man. Me, Stephen A. Smith, me being at the Conor McGregor fight against “Cowboy” Cerrone, saying what I said that he didn’t show us much in 40-seconds, that warrants “it’s not good for the sport? It’s not good for me? It’s not good for ESPN?

“First of all, as it pertains to ESPN, check your numbers. The subscribers to ESPN+, the level of attention that it got, the traffic that it generated in digital and beyond. Check the numbers, number one. That’s not just because of me, it’s because of you. Because of Ariel, because of Chael, because of Michael Bisping and everybody else associated with it. Check the numbers, numbes one. Not good for the sport? I think that’s good for the sport. I certainly don’t claim to be the aficionado you are or anybody else covering this sport, but excuse me, I have been a reporter for 25-years. I have covered sports on a variety of competitive levels regardless of what the sport is and that includes boxing and the UFC. And I don’t give a damn if I didn’t, it don’t take much to look at three shoulder shots to the nose that Conor McGregor gave ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone, watching him fold inside 20-seconds, knowing he only got one strike off, and oh, by the way, was blocked by Conor. It doesn’t take much to look at the fight and say excuse me, I didn’t see enough.”

Though the ESPN sportscaster’s response went on, the spirit of his message ultimately reflected confidence in the face of attempted Jedi mind tricks in admonishing Smith for calling the fight as he saw fit. To listen to Rogan’s critique of Smith’s UFC 246 conclusions, one would think that Smith must have been so far off in left field as to warrant locking him up in a strait jacket. However, that is simply not the case and in my opinion is a shameful act of redirection from the actual truth. The fact is Donald Cerrone did fail to perform during the main event of UFC 246, it was a one-sided contest by anyone’s definition and it is completely fair to say we did not see enough of McGregor to declare he deserves another mega payday against combat sports elite.

The 800-pound gorilla in the room that nobody in the mixed martial arts media wants to bring into this discussion is the fact Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone came out and publicly addressed the rumors he was paid to take a dive against Conor McGregor back in December of last year according to multiple mixed martial arts media outlet reports including BloodyElbow.com. Which is a topic that has been covered here at the MMA Press Room extensively in both “The Ultimate UFC 246 Conspiracy Theory” and its follow up sister article “Gone in 40 Seconds – The UFC 246 Conspiracy Theory Report” where the rumors circulating about “Cowboy” Cerrone taking a dive against Conor McGregor were thoroughly addressed.

Interestingly, an astonishing number of longtime MMA analyst Luke Thomas’ viewers inundated his UFC 246 Results: Conor McGregor vs. Donald Cerrone | Post-Fight Special | Luke Thomas” chatroom with comments questioning “Cowboy” Cerrone’s performance at UFC 246 throughout his post-fight broadcast. A fact which Thomas himself seems to have conveniently ignored while later adamantly agreeing with Rogan’s assertion that Stephen A. Smith’s comments were not good for mixed martial arts in a January 27, 2020 YouTube video titled “Joe Rogan is Right About Stephen A. Smith | Luke Thomas.” Though according to Bad Guy Inc. CEO and current ESPN MMA analyst Chael Sonnen “Stephen A. Smith is owed an apology…,” which is a sentiment I would tend to agree with considering multiple members of the mixed martial arts media are dodging the 800-pound gorilla in the room while attempting to criticize Stephen A. Smith for daring to enter the yard of a rabbit hole none of them want to even talk about.

In the wake of the rumors leading up to the main event of UFC 246 that the fix was in and that “Cowboy Cerrone was paid to take a dive against McGregor?” a firestorm was ignited after ESPN sportscaster Stephen A. Smith dared to accurately report on what he saw in the Octagon following the UFC 246 main event during an ESPN post-fight analysis show designed to deliver UFC promotional talking points whose purpose was to convince the pay-per-view buying audience Conor McGregor was still a viable economic draw in 2020. Instead of attacking the message, mixed martial arts opinion makers have sought to attack the messenger in attempting to shamefully denying Stephen A. Smith’s ability to even discern reality. These Soviet like tactics are a sure sign Stephen A. Smith has knocked on the door to a rabbit hole many powerful people in mixed martial arts would have preferred he had not even found.