One of the best things about mixed martial arts is the sport's stubborn refusal to fit in a box. To steal a line from Roddy Piper, every time you think you have all the answers, MMA goes and changes the questions.
Think jiu-jitsu is going to dominate the cage forever and ever? Here comes top-control wrestling to seize the day. Cool. So, Mark Coleman and Mark Kerr will surely be long-time champions, dominating like no one else? Not so fast. Enter strikers with a sprawl and a defensive guard.
Just when you think you have it figured out, the MMA gods laugh at your hubris. There is nothing static about this sport. Anything can happen in the UFC's Octagon. Legends can fall, heroes emerge, and a spilled bag of ice can take center stage.
Paradigms shift on the dime—and that makes bold predictions particularly tempting.
My colleague Chad Dundas and I have taken the challenge to let our unconscious out into the world. But, lest our predictions be too bold, we have also taken on the solemn duty to keep each other grounded. In other words, I'm here to talk trash about his nuttiness, and he about mine.
These are the boldest predictions on the block. Disagree with either of us? Both of us? How dare you? But, if you must, do so in the comments!
Every time Georges St-Pierre defends his welterweight title, the UFC marketing machine attempts to convince us that his current opponent is the most dangerous man he's fought to date. It's been doing this for six years straight. Josh Koscheck, Jake Shields and Nick Diaz have all received this treatment, half hagiography and half portrait of a serial killer. And, for six years, like the lemming I am, I've been buying into the hype.
But this time? This time it's actually true. Johny Hendricks is the most dangerous man GSP has ever fought. He does possess the skills, that alchemous combination of wrestling and punching power, the exact tools he needs to dethrone the champion. He will knock St-Pierre out cold.
Chad, I've never been so sure of anything in my life—at least since the last time St-Pierre fought an indestructible challenger.
Last time I felt that sure of something, I wound up paying a fortune to get a "Cornhuskers 2001 Nat'l Champs" tattoo removed from my back.
Mostly, though, and despite the intense physical pain it causes me to say it, I agree with you. Hendricks’ proprietary blend of heavy hands, wrestling prowess and gee-whiz, Southern-boy-bullheadedness absolutely makes him the biggest threat yet to the St-Pierre dynasty.
I’ve known guys like that before—guys who can run through walls because they never stop to wonder if it’s a bad idea—and if Hendricks drops a J-O-Single-H Bomb on GSP’s noggin in the first and takes the belt home with him to Squirrel River, Okla., or whatever, I won’t really be surprised.
But let’s be real: This is St-Pierre we’re talking about. You know he and Firas Zahabi have some mad scientist stuff cheffed up for the Bigg Rigg. Give me GSP in five complete over an increasingly exhausted and befuddled Hendricks.
New boss, same as the old boss.
Chael Sonnen makes his third straight appearance at 205 pounds this weekend, as he takes on Rashad Evans. When he’s not fighting for the title or pretending to be superstar Billy Graham, your boy Chael P. has actually been pretty strategic about his matchups as of late.
He’s either been steamrolling easily takedown-able strikers Brian Stann and (he assumed) Michael Bisping, plucking low-hanging fruit like Wanderlei Silva or bullying a smallish, cardiovascularly challenged light heavy in Mauricio Rua.
With Evans, though, it’s going to turn out Sonnen’s bitten off a bit more Mean Street Pizza than he can chew. Some might look at this fight and say it’s got split decision written all over it, but not when—gasp!—the “old Rashad” shows up. After back-to-back lackluster performances, Evans finds his fire and runs roughshod over The Bad Guy. Rashad Anton Evans by UD…and not a close one.
One of the striking parts of my recent interview with Chael was our discussion of the Rashad fight. I was kind of hinting around that this was an awfully big test for him. It's a nice way of suggesting he might lose; he essentially shrugged his shoulders in response.
"...the actual result? I'm as curious as anybody..."
While I appreciate the candor, I'm not sure those are the words of a confident man. I didn't like this fight for Chael from the jump. He's still a nightmare of a fight for anyone without a superb wrestling defense. The ease with which he dispatched Shogun, a former champion, proved that. But Rashad Evans? He's Chael Sonnen with a better right hand.
In a sense, it seems like the UFC agrees with our take on the fight. It's already, as you noted, booked Chael into an easier, equally palatable fight for next year. No matter what happens with Rashad, Wanderlei will be the cure for what ails him.
The main point of contention between Johny Hendricks and Georges St-Pierre has nothing to do with personal animus. Hendricks didn't make fun of St-Pierre's outrageous accent, and Georges never once suggested that Hendricks slept with his own cousin in between furious bouts of tractor racing or whatever people do in the Southwest.
Instead, the two bickered about drug testing.
Who should conduct the testing? How much is enough? What will it take to convince a skeptical public that neither man is on the juice?
Dana White thought the whole thing was dumb. As such, the ever cooperative MMA media allowed the issue to drift into the wind.
Meanwhile, in the co-main event, longtime Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT) patient Chael Sonnen will square off with Rashad Evans, a man whose top teammates with the Blackzilians have both been caught up in career-defining drug scandals.
Yet, despite all of that, I'm betting the UFC and its broadcast partners at Fox never once mention steroids or TRT. UFC announcers are not journalists. They are pitchmen, modern-day carnival barkers there to make the UFC look good, not to cover it honestly like it was a real sport. And that's a shame.
Well, we are talking about the same company that just did an entire show last weekend headlined by TRT-user Vitor Belfort’s amazing knockout of TRT-user Dan Henderson without uttering word one about TRT.
So, yeah, I’d say there’s a better chance that Jesus Christ himself descends from the rafters during the UFC 167 main event than anyone mentioning anything about Sonnen’s TRT or the GSP-Hendricks drug-testing boondoggle on the telecast.
I wish it wasn’t so, but at this point it’s just business as usual. These aren’t news broadcasts, and the UFC isn’t in the journalism business; it’s in the selling-people-fights-for-$54.99-a-pop business.
People often lose sight of that—what with all the PR the UFC does under the guise of reportage over on Fox—but fans shouldn’t rely on a fight company for impartial, unfiltered information any more than they would rely on a used car salesman to tell them the ’92 Ford Probe they’re eyeing needs a new fuel pump.
That’s what the media is for.
None of this is to say anything particularly negative about anybody, but rather just to acknowledge the different businesses we’re all in and the different goals we all have.
Could I make the case that it would actually be in the UFC’s best interest to tackle TRT and drug testing in the most transparent and public way possible? Yeah, I could, but that sounds like a different answer.
Salty veterans Josh Koscheck (who is 35) and Robbie Lawler (31) both roll into UFC 167 as underdogs.
Despite a pair of revitalizing wins during 2013, Lawler is a 3-to-1 long shot against Rory MacDonald and appears to be positioned as another credible steppingstone on the 24-year-old Canadian’s march to impeccably coiffed greatness. Meanwhile, on the heels of back-to-back losses (one to Hendricks, one to Lawler), Koscheck is plus-101 against longtime Strikeforce trouper Tyron Woodley.
With that in mind, MMA oddsmakers are going to have to recalibrate their prognostication machines after Koscheck and Lawler each score improbable wins for the old guard—Lawls by first-round KO, Kos by hard-fought decision. Eat that, newcomers!
Also, some free career advice: With Koscheck’s standing in the UFC at an all-time low, he’ll eschew the obvious move of requesting a Lawler rematch during his post-fight interview and will instead call out...old nemesis Chris Leben?!?
“Chris,” he’ll say. “We’ve got a lot of unfinished business together. No matter what happens between you and Uriah Hall, let’s meet in Vegas at UFC 171 in March and settle it once and for all.”
Fine, Kos probably won’t do that, but it’d be awesome if he did.
Well, say this for Chad—he's half right.
I can definitely see Josh Koscheck rising, like a particularly ugly phoenix, back to the top of the welterweight division. After all, his two recent losses were to stereotypes as much as they were to people.
First, Koscheck lost a split decision to Johny Hendricks, a fight many people thought he should have emerged from the victor. A controversial decision? Talk about cliche.
Then, in his last bout, Koscheck went and got caught. There's a maxim that small gloves and big power can cause major trouble, even for the best fighters. Lawler proved that true against Koscheck. But anybody can get caught. That it happened to Koscheck isn't of particular concern. He is still a better version of Woodley in every area.
Lawler? That one's tricky. I love Robbie Lawler. Maybe I'm a sucker for the anti-social, but stories about poor Joe Silva trying to get him to say something, anything, during the UFC's pre-fight interview segments always leave me in stitches.
But, even though Dana White once referred to him as the "welterweight Mike Tyson," Robbie is going down and going down hard. Rory MacDonald is going to jab his face off, followed by months and months of speculation about whether or not he's the next kingpin at welterweight.
While I don't have the answer, I'm bored by that particular question already.