Saturday night the Bell Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada plays host to the biggest welterweight showcase in years for UFC 158: St. Pierre vs. Diaz. A pair of Ultimate Fighter standouts open the night as “The Martian” Mike Ricci (7-3) takes on English “Freakshow” Colin Fletcher (8-2). Middleweight veteran Chris Camozzi (15-5) tries to keep his three-fight win streak alive against “The Promise” Nick Ring (13-1). “The Juggernaut” Jake Ellenberger (28-6) clashes with “The Great” Nate Marquardt (32-11-2) to vie for relevancy at 170lbs. as the Kingpin of Welterweights, and “Rush” Georges St. Pierre (32-2) settles a grudge match with the pride of Stockton, Nick Diaz (26-8). While the main event is sure to bring fireworks, the co-main event between “The Natural Born Killer” Carlos Condit (28-6) and relentless contender “Bigg Rigg” Johny Hendricks (14-1) has enough heat to thaw the last of Montreal’s icy winter.
As MMA’s 2012 calendar year draws to a close, the UFC returns from its globe-trot to its home in Las Vegas for UFC 155: Dos Santos vs. Velasquez II on December 29. The MGM Grand Garden Arena plays host to a night of thrilling fights including “The Crippler” Chris Leben (22-8) returning to the Octagon against Derek Brunson (9-2). “The Talent” Alan Belcher (18-6) looks to stake his title claim at middleweight against “Thunder” Yushin Okami (27-7). Another surging middleweight, “The Barbarian” Tim Boetsch (16-4), takes on Serra-Longo prospect Constantinos Philippou (11-2). “J-Lau” Joe Lauzon (22-7) looks to keep his win streak alive against the always-tough Jim Miller (21-4). The marquee fight closes out the year perfectly as the UFC Heavyweight Championship is put on the line in a rematch of arguably the two toughest heavyweights on the planet in champ “Cigano” Junior Dos Santos (15-1) and the man from whom he took the title, Cain Velasquez (10-1).
Saturday night the HSBC Arena in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil once again plays host to the Ultimate Fighting Championships for UFC 153: Silva vs. Bonnar. Savvy submission specialist Demian Maia (16-4) hopes to find continued success at welterweight against the always dangerous “Horror” Rick Story (14-5). “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis (9-1) and “Caldeiro” Wagner Prado (8-0) hope to redeem their unfortunate No Contest from UFC on Fox 4 while Jon Fitch (23-4-1) looks to rebound from a knockout loss against fast-rising Brazilian powerhouse “Indio” Erick Silva (14-2). “Minotauro” Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (33-7-1) looks to rack up two wins in Rio against “Pee Wee” Dave Herman (21-4). The co-main event was saved as Fabio Maldonado (18-5) stepped in to replace “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (32-10) against the man few want to face in Glover Teixeira (18-2). The main event pits two unlikely foes against each other as the affable “American Psycho” Stephan Bonnar (15-7) takes on the man many consider the pound-for-pound best Mixed Martial Artist in the world, “The Spider” Anderson Silva (32-4). This bizarre late replacement fight has many scratching their heads, but do not be fooled: both men bring a particular set of skills (thanks, Liam Neeson) that can make this fight one that will be talked about for a long time.
The dreaded “injury bug” in MMA is nothing new, but recently the problem seems to have come to a head. UFC 151 was a card that had already been plagued with injuries when one half of its headliner, “Hendo” Dan Henderson (29-8), pulled out with a very late injury. After much scrambling and some controversial decisions by a few parties, the event was canceled. UFC 153 was saved from one injury when “New Breed” Erik Koch (13-1) was replaced by featherweight-come-lately “The Answer” Frankie Edgar (14-3) to face 145lbs. kingpin Jose Aldo (21-1). UFC 153 would not avoid further injuries, however. Both co-main events were marred when “Rampage” Quinton Jackson (32-10) and Jose Aldo pulled out within hours of each other with respective ailments. It has left the UFC, fans, and the media in an absolute stupor, with everyone voicing any number of opinions and solutions for this problem. Some point to over-training as the root of the problem. They suggest the idea of shorter notice fights that will in turn, lead to shorter training camps and less likelihood of injuries. Others go to the extreme of suggesting PRIDE-style late fight announcements to prevent the debacle of constantly switching out injured opponents – not exactly feasible for a juggernaut like the UFC. Others suggest scaling back the ever-growing number of cards the UFC puts on every year, allowing more opportunities for better stacked cards where undercard fights can take center stage when emergencies arise. But there is a much broader opportunity that can benefit both fighters and promotions. A fighter’s walking weight could be the solution to the injury bug problem.
The UFC takes its second FOX Network fight card to Chicago, Illinois’ United Center tomorrow night for UFC on FOX 2: Evans vs. Davis. The national broadcast network will feature three fights this outing, including a newly shuffled fight between budding middleweight prospect “All American” Chris Weidman (7-0) and crafty submission veteran Demian Maia (15-3). The new co-main event features not only a battle for #1 contender to “The Spider” Anderson Silva’s (31-4) title, but also the crown for the most polarizing figure in MMA as Chael Sonnen (26-11-1) squares off against “The Count” Michael Bisping (22-3) in what is sure to be an all out war of skill and words. The main event is also a title eliminator as “Sugar” Rashad Evans (16-1-1) and “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis (9-0) vie for the next crack at 205lbs. phenom “Bones” Jon Jones (15-1). This fight is not being as hyped as it should be, as both fighters are highly skilled and pose very interesting problems to each other. The winner will also be heavily compared to the dynamic champ so a good showing here is a must for either fighter.
The UFC will cap off a dynamic 2011 calendar year at the MGM Grand Garden Arena December 30 with UFC 141: Lesnar vs. Overeem. The titular marquee fight pits two of the biggest heavyweights against each other in a title eliminator as Brock Lesnar (5-2) returns from longstanding medical issues to battle former Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion, “The Demolition Man” Alistair Overeem (35-11). Nate Diaz (14-7) will try to stop “The Cowboy” Donald Cerrone’s (17-3) emphatic rise up the lightweight ranks in a sure-fire thriller. Long-reigning #2 welterweight Jon Fitch (23-3-1) takes on Johny Hendricks (11-1) in a match that will propel either fighter into contention talk. Nam Phan (17-9) looks to put a win streak together as he faces young submission ace, “The Kid” Jimy Hettes (9-0). The lone light heavyweight tilt on this card gives up-and-comer “The Mauler” Alexander Gustafsson (12-1) a stern test in grinding veteran “The Janitor” Vladimir Matyushenko (26-5). Should Alex pass this test, he will likely draw much stiffer competition on his way up the UFC ladder.
This Saturday night the HP Pavilion in San Jose, California plays host to UFC 139: Shogun vs. Henderson much to the delight of fans both in the crowd and around the world via Pay-Per-View. Light heavyweight funnyman “The American Psycho” Stephan Bonnar (13-7) takes on “Kingsbu” Kyle Kingsbury (11-2). Welterweight stand-outs “Hitman” Martin Kampmann (17-5) and “The Horror” Rick Story (13-4) duke it out to regain relevance. UFC newcomer and former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Cung Le (7-1) takes on legendary slugger “The Axe Murderer” Wanderlei Silva (33-11-1) in what is a guaranteed firefight. “The California Kid” Urijah Faber (25-5) and Brian Bowles (10-1) look to claim their shot at bantamweight gold in a #1 contendership fight. The main event is a hardcore MMA fan’s dream as PRIDE legend and former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion “Shogun” Mauricio Rua (20-5) takes on the only man to hold the PRIDE welterweight and middleweight belts, “Hendo” Dan Henderson (28-8). The winner will regain traction in the 205lbs. division and given both fighters penchant for slugging, this fight could go down in history as one of the all-time greats.
The Honda Center in Anaheim, California plays host to the UFC’s first foray into network television, UFC on Fox: Velasquez vs. Dos Santos. The only broadcast fight and main event is one for the ages as heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez (9-0) takes on Brazilian striking menace “Cigano” Junior Dos Santos (13-1). The internet-only undercard will consist of many lesser-known and up-and-coming fighters including featherweights “The Diamond” Dustin Porier (10-1) versus “The Scarecrow” Pablo Garza (11-1). Veteran 145er Cub Swanson (15-4) goes head-to-head with Ricardo Lamas (10-2) while international favorite “Kid” Norifumi Yamamoto (18-4) takes on “BC” Darren Uyenoyama (6-3) at bantamweight. The historic night’s co-main event is being criminally relegated to FOX Deportes and internet streams as “The Carpenter” Clay Guida (29-11) and former WEC Lightweight Champion “Smooth” Ben Henderson (14-2) square off in what will likely determine the next contender for the lightweight title. With their similar styles and equally strong gas tanks, this could be a three-round fight that fans won’t likely forget.
The Mandalay Bay Events Center welcomes the UFC back to its home in Las Vegas with UFC 137: Penn vs. Diaz this Saturday. Joe Silva should be given a matchmaking award for the roster of fights he’s put together including the debut of Sengoku Raiden and Shooto champion Hatsu Hioki (24-4-2) versus featherweight stalwart George Roop (12-7-1) in what will surely be an early contender for “Fight of the Night” awards. “Big Country” Roy Nelson (15-6) looks to rebound from a lackluster loss against the aging fan favorite “Cro Cop” Mirko Filipovic (27-9-2). Cheick Kongo (16-6-2) will look to stave off the fast rise of “Meathead” Matt Mitrione in the night’s most intriguing heavyweight match. And while the title fight between UFC Welterweight Champion “Rush” Georges St. Pierre (22-2) and underrated contender “The Natural Born Killer” Carlos Condit (27-5) has been scrapped, there is no question that its replacement fight between former UFC Lightweight and Welterweight Champion “The Prodigy” BJ Penn (16-7-2) and former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion “Diablo” Nick Diaz (25-7) has “one for the ages” written all over it. Regardless of the dubious reasons behind this fight’s origin, one thing is for sure: both men will be looking to throw down. Penn has always been a fighter first and foremost and Diaz loves opponents who come at him full-throttle. With two multi-talented, born-to-brawl athletes like Penn and Diaz, this fight is guaranteed to entertain.
Undersized, underpowered, outclassed. These adjectives have dogged UFC Lightweight Champion “The Answer” Frankie Edgar (14-1-1) since he entered the fabled “mix” in the UFC lightweight division. Many dismissed Edgar long before he entered title contention. After a rousing start to his career in the UFC, Frankie hit a wall in “The Bully” Gray Maynard (10-1-1), dropping a one-sided decision to the bigger, stronger wrestler. But after that loss Edgar regrouped. His next few wins didn’t just show a refocused fighter, they showed a man with a plan. He was going to win the title whether anyone cared or not. And seemingly out of nowhere Frankie Edgar was the UFC champ. But just when the shrimpy kid from Toms River, New Jersey thought he was prom king, “The Bully” was back in his face, ready to take his lunch money. Frankie had to win at UFC 136, he had to show he wasn’t just a lucky scrapper. He had to show he was “The Answer” to the question: Who is the UFC’s toughest lightweight?
It can read it on any MMA forum: “the sport is being taken over by wrestlers”, “fighters used to fight, now they play it safe”, “I miss PRIDE rules” (we all do, relax). Even veteran fighters such as “The Prodigy” BJ Penn (16-7-2) have voiced their displeasure with where the sport is supposedly headed. The pundits worry that the days of brawls at the center of the cage are over; overshadowed by collegiate and Olympic dynamos that stifle the brutish element of the sport they fell in love with. But what exactly is all the fuss about? A few more wrestlers? The sport has had plenty of wrestlers since its inception. What the sport needs are gamers. No, not the gamers that obsess over the next World of Warcraft map update. The gamers that MMA needs grit their teeth and plunge headfirst into battle with another fighter. And whether it’s nostalgia for the “glory days” of MMA or the odd disdain fight fans have grown for the ground game, the furrowed brows of MMA fandom have forgotten that regardless of style, gamers still exist in this sport. It just so happens that this past weekend’s UFC Live on Versus 5 brought this point home for fight fans of all persuasions, showing that gameness will trump fighting style any day. And the future of this sport is full of game fighters.
This past weekend’s The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale was a night to remember. TUF crowned a controversial, yet capable champ in “El Cucuy” Tony Ferguson (11-2). Fans were also fortunate enough to witness up-and-comers like “Kingsbu” Kyle Kingsbury (11-2), Fabio Maldonado (18-4), “C-Murder” Chris Cope (5-1), and others who will likely entertain for years to come. But the night was unfairly lambasted by fans when the co-main event fight between “The Carpenter” Clay Guida (29-11) and final WEC champ “Showtime” Anthony Pettis (13-2) went to the judges’ decision. The fight was derided as boring, “lay-and-pray”, and even incorrectly judged – and all this criticism came down on the winner, Clay Guida. Whether or not the fight was enjoyable is subjective and it is a moot point to try and argue. You either enjoyed it or you didn’t; there is not right or wrong there. However, fans’ displeasure with Guida’s winning tactics are unfounded. “The Carpenter” indeed displays varying skills in a sport that caters to those who know when and how to use their strengths, even if it means using one skill at a time. But it is the bias against wrestling that has misguided so much of the post-fight fallout.
After an exciting night of fights at UFC 130: Rampage vs. Hamill, my friends and I quipped about how the originally intended title fight between ”The Answer” Frankie Edgar (13-1-1) and “The Bully” Gray Maynard (10-0-1) would have been icing on the cake. Their second fight was one for the ages. Maynard showed exactly why he should be considered a serious contender and Edgar rallied back from the brink of defeat to show the heart of a champion. I assumed that a fight like that would gain the respect of MMA fans everywhere. What struck me absolutely dumb however, was the fact that the educated and respectful MMA fans in the room with me were completely unimpressed with Frankie Edgar. Are they talking about the same Frankie Edgar who defeated “The Prodigy” BJ Penn (16-7-2) twice? My friends simply said he was “not that good” and “lucky” and explained away his key victories. As Many MMA fans have echoed these very sentiments on internet forums across the globe so I felt compelled to present their arguments and offer the counter-points as well. Interestingly enough, it has been his title fights that have caused the most controversy in his career and the most often-used arguments against his legitimacy as top dog in UFC lightweight division. Perhaps Frankie is not the champ I thought he was? We’ll break down Frankie Edgar through the many factors that have dogged him since taking the belt.
Leading up to UFC 127: Penn vs. Fitch, the relentless and very public trash talk of “El Conquistador” Jorge Rivera (19-8) fueled interest in a fight that many considered a mere formality for his opponent, “The Count” Michael Bisping (21-3). Bisping however, took the ribbing to heart claiming Rivera’s comments hit below the belt. When the two came within arms length of each other at a pre-fight presser, Bisping fired back, likely seeing the need to add fuel to the fire for the sake of hype. And on camera, with many around the world watching, Bisping used the “F” word. In this case the “F” stands for the derogatory word for a homosexual, or if you’re in England, a cigarette. Being an Englishman, Michael knew which version of the “F” word he was using and exactly what context it was delivered in. Whether or not the viewing public found the slur offensive is up for debate. MMA’s key demographics, Males 18-34, are also likely the largest users of this particular “F” word. So we can leave the right or wrong at the door on this one. But hate slurs and post fight misbehavior by Mr. Bisping beg the question: Is it time for MMA’s leading organizations to enforce a code of conduct?
What will become of the legacy of “The Spider” Anderson Silva (27-4), who fights tonight at UFC 126? When his career has faded into the grainy memory of mixed martial arts, what will be remembered? Will it be his vicious, calculated striking? Will fans talk of the daunting 12 consecutive wins that he currently holds within the toughest promotion on the planet? How will the MMA community remember his demolition of “Ace” Rich Franklin (28-5) not once, but twice in a shocking symphony of punches and kicks that left “Ace” crumpled on the floor, humbled and broken? Or will we remember the indifferent, stand-offish Silva? The one who danced around “The Predator” Patrick Cote (13-7) at UFC 90. When the fighter who toyed with Thales Leites (18-4) and Demian Maia (14-2), the latter of which was so painful to watch that even Silva’s biggest supporters shook their heads, puzzled as to why one of the most gifted fighters the sport has ever seen would act in such a pathetic and classless manner.