An Upset for the Ages
Make no mistake about it: I'm not predicting that Stephan Bonnar is going to beat Anderson Silva. Only the most foolhardy among us media types would do such a thing. If you picked Bonnar, you're one of those types who will routinely pick the underdog simply because you'll look brilliant if he somehow pulls it off. I know the type, because I've done it.
I'm not doing it this time, though. I'm taking Silva, and it's pretty easy to see why. I've picked against Silva in the past (where I was attempting to look like a genius in case the underdog pulled out the win), but no longer. Until he starts looking human in the cage, I'll continue to treat him like a god from another world.
But what if? That's the big question, right?
What happens if Bonnar somehow pulls off the impossible, the implausible and the improbable, all in one night? What if he uses the size advantage he'll have going into the cage to nullify Silva and smother him on the ground for three rounds without being caught in a miraculous submission? What if Bonnar and Silva get into a punching exchange, only Silva is the one to go down this time? Or what if Silva just suddenly gets old, like so many other fighters before him have done?
That would be something. And again, I'm not saying it's likely, because it certainly isn't. I give Bonnar a much better shot to win this thing than most people—and I think he's going to put on a good showing for himself in the final fight of his career—but a good showing is not the same thing as beating the greatest fighter in the history of the sport.
A good showing is good enough, and Bonnar can go back to Vegas on Sunday morning resting comfortably in the knowledge that he gave a legend all he could handle. But boy, oh boy, if Bonnar pulls out the win? You'll never forget where you were the moment it happened, and that's why we watch this sport.
The Ascension of Erick Silva
You could tell from watching Erick Silva's first two fights in the UFC that he was something special, or that he had the look of something special. And by that, I'm not referring to the fact that he's a doppelganger of Taylor Lautner, the (fairly terrible) actor who plays a werewolf in the Twilight movie franchise.
(By the way, I must give credit to UFC flyweight Ulysses Gomez for pointing out the Silva/Lautner comparison to me.)
What I'm referring to is the ease with which Silva fights in the cage. When he fights, Silva looks like he's supremely confident on his feet, against the cage, on the ground—anywhere the fight goes, really. He has the look of someone going for a stroll in the park instead of a guy being threatened with punches, kicks and submissions. Which, if you think about it, is a whole lot like the other Silva—you know, the one that is headlining this very same event.
I'm not saying Erick Silva is Anderson Silva. I'm saying he has the look of someone who could be a welterweight version of Anderson Silva.
But Erick has never faced anyone quite like Jon Fitch before, either. It was believed that Charlie Brenneman would provide a stern wrestling test for Silva, and he passed that one with flying colors. But there's a major difference between Fitch and Brennenam, both in wrestling and the fact that Fitch has simply been one of the better welterweights in the UFC over the past five years.
If Silva beats Fitch with ease, then it'll be time to consider him a top welterweight contender, perhaps even THE top welterweight contender. If he struggles and still scores a win, then he still gets elevated near the top of the division.
But if he loses? The Silva hype train won't go away completely, but it'll certainly start moving at a more reasonable pace. Fitch is a big step up in competition, and how Silva handles this fight on Saturday night will go a long way towards telling us exactly where he stands in 2013.
Maia, Story at Crossroads
The PPV opener between Demian Maia and Rick Story is a lot more important than most people realize.
I say this not because the winner will be an immediate title contender or anything of that nature, but because the loser will be edging ever closer to a precipice that could lead to a massive downward spiral.
Both fighters won their last bouts, but if we're being honest, neither was all that impressive. Maia won his welterweight debut because Dong Hyun Kim was injured, and Story beat Brock Jardine, a fighter most notable for sharing names with two other notable fighters.
Maia and Story still have the skills to compete with anyone in the division; we know this to be true. But Maia has seemingly tried to fashion himself into a striker over the past two years, with predictably disastrous results. If he's ever going to compete at the highest level again, he'll need to focus on using that striking game to set up his bread and butter; his grappling skills are still among the best in mixed martial arts.
The winner of this fight will earn a bit of redemption and likely a fight with another big-name welterweight. The loser? He won't be cut from his UFC contract, but he'll be closer to irrelevance than ever before.