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Shots After The Bell: UFC ‘St. Louis’ showed the problem with manufactured superstars

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With her latest loss at the hands of Jessica Rose-Clark, the Paige VanZant hype probably needs to end.

MMA: UFC Fight Night-St. Louis-VanZant vs Clark Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a lot of disgruntled UFC fighters in the organization these days because they feel it’s nearly impossible to rise above the 600+ strong pack and make a name for yourself without a push from the promotion ... a push they give to some and not others, often based on things other than fighting talent. Sage Northcutt and Paige VanZant are the two examples you’ll hear over and over from fans, and on Sunday night VanZant once again struggled to make an impression in the cage.

She’s made waves on reality shows. She won Chopped. She came in second on Dancing With The Stars. Based on our metrics, there’s no doubt that she’s a fan favorite. But what’s all that worth when she can’t seem to earn a win in the Octagon? Paige is currently 1-3 over her last fight. Previous losses to now champ Rose Namajunas and top contender Michelle Waterson at least came with the caveat that she was losing to the best her division had to offer.

It’s a different kind of loss to Jessica Rose-Clark. Don’t get me long, I’m a big “Jessy Jess” fan. But it took a late replacement opportunity in her home country to land her a contract in the UFC. If you believe Jessica Eye’s version of events, VanZant called Dana White to get out of a fight with Eye into an easier matchup against Rose-Clark. Unfortunately for Paige, “Jessy Jess” hasn’t had all the opportunities and sponsorships to distract her from improving greatly over the past year, and is the latest fighter to see big improvements under the eye of Syndicate MMA coach John Wood.

Rose-Clark could very well end up in the top five in time, but for now we once again have to adjust our expectations for Paige VanZant down. On one hand, that’s no big deal. It may be tough to tell, but I’m also on the Paigewagon. I enjoy seeing her fight and I enjoy seeing her outside the cage as well. She doesn’t have to be a top contender so long as she keeps pushing herself hard and producing entertaining fights. But it says something about the UFC when they put their muscle behind Paige but not other fighters with more skill but maybe less girl next door appeal.

The Damaged

MMA: UFC Fight Night-St. Louis-Elkins vs Johnson  Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

What is it about Darren Elkins where he needs to get beaten from post to post in the cage for a round or two before he manages to turn things around for the win? Being the comeback specialist is better than just losing, but what’s even better is not taking a ton of damage early in the fight in the first place.

Michael Johnson was lighting Elkins up relentlessly through the entire first round before ending up on the ground and submitted in the second. It was an impressive display by Elkins, but it’s never good seeing a guy take repeated blows to the head like that. People really sat up and took notice of Elkins after a similar reversal of fortunes at UFC 209 against Mirsad Bektic. Johnson is the biggest win of his career but if he wants to hang at the top of the division he’s got to fix his slow start issues.

A Heartwarming Tribute

The UFC has never been known for being overly sentimental. We’re talking about a company that dropped their play-by-play announcer of 15 years Mike Goldberg with nary a peep on the broadcast. Their new matchmaker Mick Maynard gets props for actually showing up at the hospital to check in with Urijah Hall after a botched weight cut landed him there.

But they managed to show their heart when they paid tribute to the resilience of Matt Hughes, whose recovery following a traumatic brain injury suffered when his car was hit by a train is nothing less than extraordinary. It was a nice touch on Matt’s part too to come out in a “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler shirt. Since retiring, he’s been one of Robbie’s biggest boosters and it was cool to see him take the spotlight and give it a little to Lawler.

Ugh, Reebok

MMA: UFC Fight Night-St. Louis-Stephens vs Choi Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

Reebok gets a lot of crap from MMA fans because the arrival of their bland, half-assed apparel in the UFC was paired with the UFC’s decision to ban all in-cage sponsorship for fighters, robbing many of them of a lot of money. As the previous sentence implies, I blame the UFC for this more than Reebok. Even if non-clothing related sponsorships on fight shorts was unacceptable for Reebok, those over the cage fight banners pioneered by Tito Ortiz back in the day could still be around. The main reason they’re not? Dana White and Lorenzo Fertitta thought they looked trashy.

But you know what else looked trashy? Jeremy Stephens chasing Dooho Choi around the cage looking like a slobby teenager with a Pornhub premium membership. The first things many people noticed when the new ‘chalked’ Reebok designs were that they looked a whole lot like ... ahem, protein stains. Maybe you needed an immature mind to think that, but hey, welcome to the MMA scene. That thought was front and center again with Jeremy Stephens’ black trunks with a huge smear of white ‘chalk’ right over the crotch. And just a reminder folks: the UFC-Reebok deal ain’t over til 2021.