UFC 156: 9 Things to Watch for at Aldo vs. Edgar
I don't know how we got here, but we're just two days away from UFC 156 and the pay-per-view main card is intact.
No injuries. No drug test failures. Nothing. We're two days away from a card that, barring some kind of crazy thing happening (knock on wood), is going to go off the way the good Lord and Joe Silva intended.
That's saying something. After the year we had in 2012, any fight card happening as planned is a miracle. Not only that, but this is one hell of a fight card.
I spoke yesterday with Joseph Benavidez—who faces Ian McCall in the opening pay-per-view bout—and cornerman T.J. Dillashaw, and both of them are incredibly excited about the fight card. And that's coming from a guy who is fighting on the event.
In one of the coming slides, I'll tell you which fight Benavidez and Dillashaw are most excited about, but I'll also give you nine other reasons that you should watch UFC 156. Because, let's face it: You should. Without a doubt.
Let's get started.
The Return of the Most Intimidating Heavyweight on the Planet
With all apologies to current UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez, one of the main reasons I'm excited for UFC 156 is the return of Alistair Overeem.
I've written plenty of words over the past nine months about Overeem, his drug suspension and the ludicrous Nevada State Athletic Commission proceedings surrounding his case. A lot of you who've read these stories probably think I'm an Overeem hater. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Velasquez may be the heavyweight champion, and Junior dos Santos may have his own stake in claiming the "baddest man on the planet" moniker, but for my money, nobody in mixed martial arts is more intimidating than Overeem. Hugely muscular and terrifyingly good at fighting, Overeem is a must-watch whenever he steps into the cage.
Antonio Silva is a good fighter, but I'll feel bad for him on Saturday night because I think Overeem is going to go in the cage and remind everyone why he's one of the top heavyweights in the world.
Fitch vs. Maia: The Hardcore Grappling Fan's Dream Fight
There are a lot of great reasons to anticipate this card, but Jon Fitch vs. Demian Maia might just get my vote for the fight I'm most excited about. And yes, that includes Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar.
Fitch has been widely panned for his style of fighting over the years, but his last win over Erick Silva proved that Fitch can mix some seriously damaging punches in with his top-heavy wrestling game. For the first time in years, a lot of fans were excited to see Fitch step in the cage again, and he'll do so against Maia.
Maia is still considered one of the best jiu-jitsu players in mixed martial arts, and he's looked incredible since moving to welterweight. He's abandoned his fledgling stand-up game in favor of his dominant grappling, and he looks like the guy who fought his way to a title shot against Anderson Silva a few years ago.
This is a sublime bout. You're going to see two of the best grapplers in mixed martial arts, at the top of their game, testing their skills against each other. That's a reason to celebrate, folks, and it's also a reason to watch.
Oh, yeah: Remember in the opening slide when I told you about the fight that Joseph Benavidez and T.J. Dillashaw were excited for? This is it. Pay close attention, because this one is going to be good.
Crowning the Likely Next Flyweight Contender
Joseph Benavidez and Ian McCall both lost to flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson last year, and still this fight represents a chance to crown the likely next challenger for Johnson after he disposed of John Dodson at UFC on Fox 6.
The flyweight division is still in its infancy. There are potential challengers for Johnson's belt coming up the ranks; guys like John Moraga and Jussier Formiga (as long as he rebounds from his loss to Dodson last year) will be in contention at some point in 2013.
But right now, there are no better contenders than Benavidez and McCall. And that's why I believe the winner of this fight will get his chance to dethrone Johnson in his next fight.
Benavidez is a lot better than he showed against Johnson, and McCall gave Johnson all he could handle in two fights last year. Both of them have much bigger names than Moraga or Formiga at this point, which is why I think they'll get the nod. And even though Johnson has scored wins over both, I'll still be interested in seeing the rematches.
The Last Stand for Antonio Rogerio Nogueira?
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, better known as "Little Nog" to his brother's "Big Nog," is just 36 years old. That's not old in human years, but in fighter years, Nogueira is roughly 55.
He took a lot of damage over the years in various PRIDE wars, and to hear Chael Sonnen tell it on Tuesday night's edition of UFC Tonight, Nogueira's heart might not be in mixed martial arts any more. Of course, you never truly know what to believe when Sonnen speaks, but I think he was telling the truth: I don't believe Nogueira has any desire to compete at the highest level of the UFC's light heavyweight division.
But that's exactly what he's doing here against Rashad Evans, who was a -500 favorite as of 9:45 this morning at the Mandalay Bay sportsbook. In other words, Vegas is giving Evans an 83.33 percent chance to win this fight, while Nogueira is being given just a 20 percent chance to win.
And yet, I think the odds are right. Nogueira would have to be at his absolute best and most driven to compete with Evans, and even then I think Evans wins the fight nine times out of 10. And with the current Nogueira, who has been on the shelf since a December 2011 win over Tito Ortiz? I'd say it would be a miracle if Nogueira pulls off the upset.
This may be it for Nogueira. Or perhaps it won't be. But if he's truly losing interest in the fight game, a beating from Evans may quicken the end of his career.
Rashad Evans: Still a Contender, or Content to Make Money?
By all accounts, Rashad Evans is still one of the best light heavyweights in the world. Strike that—he's actually one of the best light heavyweights of all time.
Evans sports a 17-2-1 record, with his only career losses coming to Lyoto Machida and Jon Jones. Those aren't losses to scoff at; Machida beat Evans at a time when he was considered the best light heavyweight in the world, and we all know that Jones is on the verge of greatness regardless of weight class.
But after losing to Jones last May in such emphatic fashion, what's left for Evans at 205? He'll need three more wins to be considered for a rematch with Jones. By the time he gets them, the current champion will likely have departed for heavyweight.
Most of the stories surrounding Evans going into this fight have completely overlooked the Nogueira fight, centering instead on a potential drop to middleweight for a bout with Anderson Silva. Is that the future for Evans? Can he cut all of that weight for a potential superfight with the greatest fighter of all time?
Evans is one of the UFC's biggest pay-per-view draws, and he's one of the most recognizable and charismatic stars in the sport. Is he content to stay at 205 and take fights for the money? Or is he still in the hunt and still burning with the desire to become the light heavyweight champion for a second time? Or better yet, is he seriously considering a drop in weight class to face Silva?
We won't get the answers to these questions when he faces Nogueira. He's an overwhelming favorite, and rightly so. But Evans still has the potential to be a major player in whatever division he chooses to occupy. These days, it's just a matter of figuring out what he wants to do.
Here Comes Strikeforce
Strikeforce is dead; long live Strikeforce.
And now that the former San Jose-based promotion is in the ground, we can look forward to an influx of talent coming over into the UFC's ranks. That starts in earnest this weekend, when Tyron Woodley, Isaac Vallie-Flagg and Bobby Green all make their UFC debuts on the preliminary card.
Vallie-Flagg has a bout with resurgent veteran Yves Edwards. Green takes on dominant grappler Jacob Volkmann, while Woodley faces another former Strikeforce veteran in Jay Hieron.
We'll see plenty of UFC vs. Strikeforce fights in the coming months, most notably at UFC on Fox 7 in April. But the invasion, New World Order-style, starts this Saturday night.
Frankie Edgar: A Short Stay at Featherweight?
Frankie Edgar has the chance to become just the third man in UFC history to win world titles in two separate weight classes. That'll be a historic accomplishment, so long as Edgar can get past reigning champion Jose Aldo.
But there's something else I find interesting about Edgar, and I doubt I'm the only one. On Tuesday's edition of UFC Tonight, Chael Sonnen revealed that bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz told him that he's already studying and training in preparation for an eventual bout with Edgar.
Yes, Cruz believes Edgar will not be at featherweight for long, and will make a drop to bantamweight at some point in the future.
So how long will Edgar stick around at featherweight? I guess that all depends on the outcome of the Aldo fight. But if he loses, I wouldn't mind seeing Edgar cut the weight and get down to 135 pounds; there are plenty of current bantamweights who are of similar size to Edgar, so it wouldn't be a stretch for him to get down there. It'd be tough, but he'd essentially be cutting the same amount of weight as the bigger guys in the bantamweight division.
I don't give Edgar a great chance of beating Aldo; I simply think Aldo is too fast and hits way too hard for Edgar to overcome. But I've been wrong about Edgar before, and I could be wrong again. We'll see on Saturday night.
Jose Aldo's Final Featherweight Curtain Call?
Jose Aldo is unquestionably one of the best fighters on the planet. He's been a dynamo at featherweight, turning back all comers, often in violent and dominant fashion.
But Aldo has also let it be known that he's interested in moving up to lightweight, and I think that move is coming sooner than everyone realizes.
I saw Aldo this morning at the MGM Grand Sportsbook as he prepared for a segment on MMA Junkie Radio. He's huge. Let me reiterate: This a a man who, even after moving up from featherweight, will still be larger than many current lightweights.
If Aldo loses to Edgar, then he's not going anywhere. But if he beats Edgar, I could see him taking a look at his current crop of challengers and deciding that he wants to test the waters in bigger fights against Gilbert Melendez, Jim Miller and other top lightweights. And if the UFC decided to throw Aldo directly into a fight with lightweight champion Benson Henderson, well, that's a big win for the fans. And you know what? I think he'd be competitive.
But first, Aldo must get past Edgar. And as we've seen in the past, that's much easier said than done.
The Super Fight
Aldo vs. Edgar might have been a bigger deal if Edgar were dropping down to featherweight as the UFC lightweight champion; instead, he's coming off two losses to Benson Henderson.
But make no mistake about it: This is still a super fight. Not because it's going to be a huge pay-per-view seller, but simply because these are two of the best fighters on the planet facing off in a bout that we've wanted to see for several years now.
Seriously, you guys: This is an outstanding matchup. I favor Aldo quite heavily, but then again, I've favored other fighters quite heavily against Edgar and he's found ways to win. So I won't be surprised if Edgar ends up as the new featherweight champion on Saturday night, just as I won't be surprised if Aldo crushes him to retain his belt.
Either way this one ends up, it's all about the fight itself. Consider yourself lucky, because this kind of bout doesn't come along very often.