Second and third chances may not come around too often in life, but they do tend to pop up pretty consistently in MMA. Unlike other sports where your career basically lasts as long as you can compete at the highest level, MMA, for better or worse, provides opportunities for fighters well after they’ve fallen out of the spotlight. Whether you’re a 50-year-old veteran of UFC 1, a former champion or contender in the midst of a long losing streak or even a multiple-time rule-breaker, there’s almost always someone willing to use your name and reputation in order to sell tickets.
For a promotion trying to get some recognition, there’s nothing better than locking down a few former UFC veterans to compete on the card. Obviously, the more popular the veterans are, the better. That’s exactly what the relatively new European company Venator FC thinks. The company is trying to build a card full of familiar faces for the upcoming Venator FC 3 event set for May, but a couple of the promotion’s choices are a little more than controversial.
UFC and Strikeforce veteran Jason “Mayhem” Miller, who hasn’t competed in almost four years and has had more than his share of run-ins with the law since he stepped away from the cage, is slated to headline the event opposite fellow UFC vet Luke Barnatt. Miller’s behavior over the last few years has been troubling, to say the least. Since being released by the UFC and subsequently retiring from MMA in 2012, Mayhem — an increasingly accurate nickname, it would seem — has been arrested a half dozen times for everything from vandalism to breaking and entering. He even live-tweeted a stand-off with the police a few years ago. Miller obviously hasn’t been in a good place, and his behavior has caused Venator to come under fire for booking the fighter. The criticism led Venator head Frank Merenda to make a statement in defense of Miller’s participation on the card.
Merenda made it clear that he thinks getting back in the cage would be beneficial to Mayhem. Well, yes, it would be great if getting back into the game can help turn Miller’s life around. However, the fighter’s last brush with the law came less than a month ago and he’s already been arrested twice this year. Even though we tend to forget it sometimes, stepping into the cage is dangerous. If Miller is still getting into trouble, it’s hard to envision him showing up truly prepared on fight night. Mayhem has the right to compete, but if he’s not prepared, then there’s a good chance he’s just going to get beaten up.
It’s not just Mayhem’s signing that’s creating controversy either. Venator recently decided to take things a step further by acquiring the services of former World Series of Fighting champion Rousimar Palhares. Palhares is one of the scariest fighters in the world when it comes to locking on submissions, and not just because he’s the premier leg-lock specialist in the sport. Despite his obvious talent, Palhares has consistently gotten in his own way due to his habit of holding onto submissions after the bout has already been called off. In fact, “Toquinho” is currently serving a two- year suspension from the Nevada State Athletic Commission for that very infraction after a bout with Jake Shields last year. The Brazilian’s looking to bypass his suspension by fighting overseas for Venator. This could end up being problematic the next time Palhares tries to get licensed in the United States.
The idea of letting a fighter compete under suspension is already sort of taboo in the MMA world, but that’s not the only problem regarding Venator’s signing of Palhares. On top of the suspension, the WSOF is still claiming to have the Brazilian under contract and has warned the fighter he would be breaching his deal if he competes on the card. The Brazilian’s manager has insisted that isn’t the case, but if the WSOF turns out to be right, then it’s going to leave yet another stain on Venator’s reputation.
Venator seems to believe that controversy will create some cash, but the company is playing a risky game by putting its faith in Miller and Palhares. While they’ve certainly captured the attention of the MMA world with these signings, the reactions to both weren’t exactly positive and have left the organization feeling a little like a sideshow. Adding Miller and Palhares to the fold may have doubled fan interest, but at what cost?
It may have been at the cost of having anyone take the promotion seriously in the future. An organization can’t make headlines like this before every event, and we’ve seen plenty of promotions come around and provide a handful of star-studded cards before eventually folding. Venator is hoping that Miller and Palhares will convince fans to give the company a chance to prove they’re worth watching. If the gamble doesn’t pay off, then it could lead to disaster for the entire promotion.