There are some intriguing questions leading up to next Wednesday’s live Fight Night. Certain fighters are taking a step up in competition, other fighters are looking for redemption, and some fighters simply are looking to make their mark on the sport. With that said, here are eight questions to keep in mind going into next week.
1) Is Tim Boetsch for real?
Tim Boetsch burst onto the scene with his UFC 81 fight with David Heath. His complete destruction of Heath has led many to prematurely crown him the next light heavyweight champion. Still, while his victory was truly impressive, questions remain about the Pennsylvania native.
Can he repeat his incredible debut performance? Does he have a ground game to go along with his front kicks? A bout with wrestling phenom Matt Hamill should give us some clue as to where the other facets of Boetsch’s game stand.
2) Will Karo Ever Get a Title Shot?
Karo Parisyan earned a title shot, at then champion Matt Hughes, that was scheduled for UFC 56.
However, he was forced to pull out after suffering an injury during training. He was never given his title shot, and he has not been shy about voicing his displeasure. With the meteoric rise (I feel like Mike Goldberg!) of Jon Fitch, it seems that Parisyan has once again taken a back seat in the stacked welterweight division.
A win over Thiago Alves is a step in the right direction, but is hardly likely to get him his coveted shot at the strap. If Fitch is given the first shot at the winner of Serra vs. St. Pierre, Karo will most likely have to take on a ranked contender to earn his way back up to the top of the ladder, possibly Josh Koscheck or the currently red hot Marcus Davis.
Karo is also in the unenviable position of having nine of his last ten fights, win or lose, go to decision. The UFC makes no secret of the fact that they like finishers, and while Parisyan is consistently entertaining (excepting the horrendous fight against Ryo Chonan), he needs to start finishing opponents if he wants to really get into contention.
3) How will Alexander respond to adversity?
Before his fight with Thiago Silva, Houston Alexander’s UFC career spanned exactly one minute and forty-nine seconds. In that time, he had wracked up two knockouts and a whole lot of hype.
None of that helped him, however, when he was mounted and eating punches from Silva. After being on the wrong end of a first-round knockout, it remains to be seen how Alexander will respond on April 2nd against Irvin.
Will we see the aggressive, dominating powerhouse that almost derailed Keith Jardine’s career, or the tentative, defensive fighter who had no answer to Silva’s ground game?
The answer could very well define the rest of Alexander’s career, because, at thirty six, “The Assassin” is rapidly running out of time for growth.
4) Can Diaz compete at the top level of the game?
Since winning the Ultimate Fighter 5 because of a fluke injury, Nate Diaz has been very impressive, stopping two opponents, Junior Assuncao and Alvin Robinson, via first-round submission.
He is, however, taking a big step up in competition when he faces Kurt Pellegrino on April 2nd. Pellegrino is 4-1 in the UFC’s lightweight division, with his only loss coming via a hard fought decision to former number-one contender Joe Stevenson.
Diaz possesses good striking, solid wrestling, and very good submissions. While Pellegrino is not considered one of the elite of the lightweight division, he is a talented competitor and poses a tough test for anyone. If Diaz can beat him, and beat him convincingly, he would make a clear statement about his abilities.
While Diaz has shown impressive submission abilities, his striking has yet to improve to the level where it can be called dangerous, and his wrestling remains a bit of a question mark. He showed improved wrestling and top control in an impressive win over Alvin Robinson in January; now we’ll see if his skill set has continued to improve.
5) Can Lauzon compete at the top level of the game?
In an extremely similar position to Nate Diaz is Joe Lauzon. Lauzon has enjoyed success in the octagon, starting with his improbable forty-eight second knockout of former champ Jens Pulver, and following that up with two submission victories.
Lauzon is taking a step up in competition, however, when he takes on Kenny Florian.
Florian is 4-1 in the UFC’s lightweight division, with his only loss coming from former champion Sean Sherk via decision. Lauzon has only recently begun to train full time, with current lightweight champion B.J. Penn, and is only twenty three years old, so the sky is the limit.
A win over a former number one contender could catapult him to the top of the heap at 155 pounds.
However, Kenny Florian has recently stepped up his game and showed improved Mauy Thai and wrestling skills to go along with an already impressive Jiu-Jitsu game. Couple those skills with a solid game plan courtesy of Mark Dellagrotte, and Florian is certainly poised to make another run at the lightweight title.
6) Will any Ultimate Fighter 6 alumni find success in the UFC?
The Ultimate Fighter 6 (Hughes vs. Serra) fighters are beginning to make their way back to the octagon after the trial-by-fire that is the Ultimate Finale.
Three fighters from the show, Tommy Speer, George Sotiropoulos, and Roman Mitchyan, are having their first fights on April 2nd, and the show winner, Mac Danzig, is closely following them at UFC 83 on April 19th.
Every season, several of the fighters who make it past the finale to get a second chance in the UFC simply don’t make the cut (think Sam Hoger or Brad Imes) and end up fighting in smaller shows, hoping to make their way back the big time.
While winner Mac Danzig (who was the overwhelming favorite to win coming into the show and had more experience than any two other contestants put together) seems poised to have a good run in the UFC, none of the other contestants have really positioned themselves to make a splash in the crowded welterweight division.
7) What’s going on with Frankie Edgar?
Frankie Edgar made his UFC debut at UFC 67 against Tyson Griffin. Griffin was pretty much the golden child of the lightweight division, and Edgar was given little chance to win. After three rounds of incredible excitement, including toughing out a horrific looking kneebar, Edgar pulled out a close unanimous decision in what was, in my opinion, the fight of the year.
He followed that up with a first round TKO of Mark Bocek and a total domination of Spencer Fisher.
So why is he toiling in obscurity on the undercard of a fight night? Edgar has made a strong case for himself as a top contender in the UFC’s lightweight division, but now he’s fighting the unheralded Gray Maynard. It makes little sense to me, since one would think that the UFC would want to build up the popularity of their top prospects.
8) Who has the worst nickname on the card?
As with any fight card, there is a plethora of choices. “KenFlo” is always a popular choice for haters, as is “J-Lau.”
“The Assassin” couldn’t possibly be more generic, and “The Grinder” makes one think of boring decisions. “The Emperor” is a little grandiose for someone stuck in the second match of the night, while “The Farmboy” gives one all sorts of unpleasant images of sheep and lonely, lonely nights.
Still, the winner is...Ryan “Are You Ready?” Roberts. Anytime you have punctuation in your nickname, it’s time for a change.