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Trading Shots: Do accusations of a fix tell us what fans really think of Tito Ortiz and Chael Sonnen?

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In this week’s Trading Shots, was the Bellator 170 main event a fix? A lot of people on the Internet seem to think so, which might tell us more about what they think of the two fighters involved than about the fight itself. Retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes joins MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes to discuss it in this week’s Trading Shots.

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Downes: Ben, last night from The Forum in Inglewood, Calif, Tito Ortiz went out on top. A couple days before his 42nd birthday, the “Huntington Beach Bad Boy” made Chael Sonnen tap to a first-round rear-naked choke.

He doesn’t exactly bring out the warm and fuzzies, but Ortiz (19-12-1 MMA, 3-1 BMMA) is a major part of MMA history. Instead of recognizing that, while flawed, Ortiz deserves some kudos for a storied career, many fans’ first impulse was to scream, “FIX!”

Why is that? Is it because it’s Bellator? Is it the persona of “The Bad Guy” Sonnen (29-15-1 MMA, 0-1 BMMA)? If West Linn’s gangster can sell a fight playing a character, would he throw a fight? I know you don’t trust the fluoride in your drinking water, but do you trust Scott Coker?

Fowlkes: First of all, remember when Kimbo Slice survived Ken Shamrock’s rear-naked choke, then got up and blasted him square in the dome, prompting accusations of a fix? Yeah, that’s not how you fix a fight, by arranging to get yourself concussed. If you were going to fix it – mind you, I’m saying if – you’d do it this way, with a choke.

But then, would you make such a solid attempt at a choke of your own first, if you knew the plan was to lose in the end? And why would you get so close to an escape? Why wouldn’t you just let him sink it under your chin, making it look like all the rear-naked choke finishes, giving people nothing to complain about?

I understand a little bit of the suspicion. Ortiz was off to the side, not under the chin, and you normally don’t see people finish the choke from there. But I just went back and watched the fight, Danny, and Sonnen’s face was changing colors while he was in Ortiz’s grasp. He’s a guy who rocks the Pacific Northwest tan most of the year, and his head went from pale white to purple. Clearly, that choke was doing something.

But you do raise an interesting question about character. I trust Coker, at least to the extent that I trust any promoter, but you wouldn’t need the promoter to be in on a fix. You’d really only need one guy, and that’s Sonnen. And it’s in instances like this where I suspect he might sometimes wish he had guarded his credibility a little more carefully. We know he’ll lie and cheat to try to win fights and cash checks. Now we have to ask ourselves if he’d throw one.

I say no. Partly because I think that, for whatever else he might be, Sonnen is a fierce competitor who hates losing even more than he likes money. But it’s also because, why? Where’s the big payoff on this outcome? Where’s the angle? Maybe a better question is, will MMA fans ever get tired of shouting fix?

Downes: <insert belabored sigh> So after spending the first few lines talking about how a phantom RNC is how you’d pull off a fix, you give a half-hearted explanation and close with, “Hey, what do they have to gain?” I think I speak for everyone when I say I’m glad you decided to become a member of the so-called media instead of a defense attorney.

As usual, it’s up to me to be the voice of reason. First of all, look at the point where the conspiracy theorists say the fix starts. Sonnen is searching for a D’Arce choke and then moves to a front headlock. That’s a perfectly normal progression. Sonnen doesn’t have the grip tight, and if he keeps searching for it, he’ll lose position and potentially have his back taken by Ortiz.

Then we have the issue of the RNC not being secure. A lot of this has to do with people discounting Ortiz’s ability. The guy (for lack of a better term) can be a bit goofy. From juice boxes to threats of making his opponents defecate on themselves, he’s occasionally unpolished.

He is a strong grappler, though. Everyone still wants to think of his as the impresario of ground-and-pound, but his style has changed. He’s more geared toward submission wrestling than the old era of Team Punishment. Sonnen (who now has nine career submission losses) is clearly prone to losing by submission.

Couple that with the fact that Sonnen moved up to light heavyweight with no help from performance-enhancing drugs, and it would make perfect sense that a larger, more powerful fighter would win.

See Ben? That’s how you conduct a defense.

As for your question about if MMA fans will ever tire of yelling fix, I would assume not. For one, conspiracies are appealing. Whether they are political or athletic, shouting “conspiracy” is an attempt to flaunt your (presumed) intelligence. That’s not to say that a fixed fight has never or will never happen, but it did not happen on Saturday night, and it does not happen with the frequency people allege.

Do you think I’m being too trusting? Maybe the Illuminati have pulled the wool over my eyes and I trust everything our corporate Viacom overlords sell us. Doesn’t most of this have to do with us not giving Ortiz the credit he deserves? Maybe Sonnen has convinced a large swathe of fans that he’s the baddest man alive when he’s really a 39-year-old wrestler who hasn’t changed his style over the years.

Fowlkes: Where did you get the idea that my goal was to launch an impassioned defense of these fighters and this fight? I’m not saying I think they fixed it, but I can still recognize how and why it might have looked somewhat fishy to some people. And I think that ethical questions about at least one half of the pairing only encourages that line of thinking.

But you’re right: A lot of this probably has to do with us not giving Ortiz his due. At a certain point he became one of MMA’s favorite punchlines, and that affected our assessments of his ability. How could it not?

It’s kind of a shame that this victory in (what he would have us believe is) his final fight is getting overshadowed by stuff like this. What, we really can’t believe that he could possibly submit an over-the-hill middleweight with a penchant for getting submitted? It just had to be a fix?

But maybe it’s fitting, while still being unfair. Ortiz’s twisted relationship with MMA and its fans continues all the way out the door. I’m telling you, Danny, I think a part of us might actually miss this guy now that’s gone. That is, until his inevitable and ill-conceived comeback in about nine months.

For complete coverage of Bellator 170, check out the MMA Events 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 also writes for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.



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