Just three short months after successfully defending his UFC heavyweight crown against Shane Carwin (11-1), Brock Lesnar (5-1) will return to defend his belt again against young gun Cain Velasquez (8-0) on October 23, 2010 at Anaheim, California’s Honda Center as the headlining bout for UFC 121. While the card has not been “officially” announced by the UFC, UFC president Dana White has confirmed this bout as well as two others featuring lightweights “Hands of Stone” Sam Stout (15-6-1) and “Relentless” Paul Taylor (10-6-1) and middleweights Ryan Jensen (15-6) and TUF season eleven winner Court McGee (10-1). Also rumored to be slated for action on this card is the always crowd pleasing “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (28-8). UFC 121 is already shaping up to be a card with ramifications that run deeper than just the UFC’s pecking order and the chief among those is the answer to the most intense debate between MMA journalists in recent months: Is Brock Lesnar the number one heavyweight fighter in the world?
Brock Lesnar definitively finished Shane Carwin in the second round, of that there is no doubt. However, the severe beating, 10-7 on some observers cards, he took in the first causes many fans to feel that he has no right to the title of number one ranked heavyweight. A win against a solid fighter like Velasquez would be a big step in solidifying his claim to that title. While many will fall back to the tired argument that Brock is far larger than his opponent and that Cain, despite his far superior boxing, doesn’t have the power to drop Lesnar, the majority of Brock’s detractors will concede his position as the greatest in the world following a convincing stoppage of the blue chiper turned top ten fighter. Many would ask how this has any real ramifications outside the UFC…after all, rankings are subjective and don’t matter right? Wrong. While rankings are generally mocked by hardcore fans as a meaningless exercise, to the casual fan who doesn’t know any better rankings are a serious drawing power.
This is what I call The Fedor Effect. Any journalist or hardcore fight fan who tells you that the multitudes of casual fans who tuned in to Strikeforce Saturday Night Fights: Fedor vs. Rogers were interested in seeing the Strikeforce middleweight title fight or Werdum vs. Silva is either a fool or a liar. Everyone wanted to see the man all the rankings and websites said was the baddest man on the planet, numero uno, the greatest fighter in the world. The fact is, fans like belts, fans like titles, and fans like rankings to tell them who they need to watch. If Brock beats Cain, Dana White will have to use some creative keystrokes to tweet a big enough smile. Strikeforce devalued their titles by treating champion “Demolition Man” Alistair Overeem (31-11) as second fiddle to Fedor based solely on his ranking, without that top ranked fighter, they have nothing to promote outside of the occasional freak show fight and women’s MMA. If Brock solidifies himself as the top dog by defeating Cain, the UFC will be the home to the number one fighter in every weight class and Strikeforce will be left with nothing to appeal to the casual fan. The CBS deal will fail, the Showtime ratings will fall, and Strikeforce will again fade into the limbo between regional stepping stone and national production.
Either way you slice it, UFC 121 will mark the end of an era by finishing the series of events set in motion by the triangle that choked the world. If Brock wins (something I personally hope for despite the fact I’d normally pull for Cain) every major talent in American MMA will become a part of the UFC within the next 12 months and Strikeforce will once again be no more than stepping stone where fighters struggle to get noticed by Zuffa. If Cain wins, Strikeforce gets a second chance to show that it has the best heavyweights as the UFC Heavyweight division is thrown into disarray as Valasquez, Lesnar, Carwin, dos Santos, and Nelson all fight for promotional domination, a battle that will give Strikeforce the time it needs to do what it should have done in the first place, develop talent and introduce it to the masses.