The UFC's novelty circuit is alive and well.
Truly, don't cry for it. Yes, it lost Rich Franklin earlier this year. Then it lost Chael Sonnen just as Uncle P. was riding in to reinforce it. It was robbed of Chris Leben before he even got there. Vitor Belfort is still getting title fights.
I know it looks bleak, but there's still much to celebrate. Michael Bisping is visiting the tour with his upcoming bout against perennial novelty Cung Le. Will he be there to stay? We'll soon have our answer. Roy Nelson and Mark Hunt will throw down this September in the biggest circus bout of 2014. Big guys. Big fists. Big personalities. Big paydays.
But perhaps the most heartening news is that the circuit still has two of its very best standard-bearers: Dan Henderson and Wanderlei Silva. Neither age nor trauma nor the banning of TRT will stay them from the completion of their appointed rounds.
In fact, Silva challenged Henderson just three weeks ago. Hendo accepted. And you know what? That's a good thing, because this is a fight that needs to happen. (Assuming the necessary licensing comes through, of course.)
For the uninitiated, novelty or "fun" fights basically involve pitting big-name but past-their-prime fighters against each other in a bout that has no larger implications whatsoever but attracts interest because of the name value involved.
Franklin made money this way for years. Ditto for Forrest Griffin and the still-enduring-in-some-form Tito Ortiz, whose 2012 rubber match with Griffin might be one of the most notable (and depressing) examples of the subgenre.
So, you can see how Hendo and Wandy fit the mold like fingerless gloves. Both men are surefire Hall of Famers. Their combined age (81) is almost as impressive as their combined professional record (65-24-1-2). Both are decorated ex-champions. Both have one-name recognizability.
As with all the best novelty fights, the entertainment factor is strong, if schadenfreude-tinged, with this one. Silva is the most aggressive fighter in the history of big-time MMA, and none of his 38 years are slowing down his will to finish—even if his fists, feet and, uh, neurotransmissions are a touch more lethargic these days.
Henderson is the walking embodiment of a puncher's chance, using his Olympic wrestling pedigree as a simple deterrent, a preventive measure that forces opponents to expose themselves to his curtain-closing right hand.
And MMA fans are a nostalgic bunch. They will all surely remember (or at least pretend to remember) the Pride days, when Silva won the open-weight grand prix and Henderson held belts in two different weight classes, among other accomplishments. They'll also remember that these two have twice fought before, with Silva prevailing by decision back in 2000 and Henderson capturing revenge and the middleweight title with a first-round knockout in 2007.
But none of that is what makes this a must-book. All joking aside, the fact is, both of these guys could probably stand to hang up the gloves. It's not like either of these MMA celebrities are without prospects after fighting. Their prospects in the cage, though, are dimmer than ever. Henderson has lost four of his last five. Silva is 4-5 since joining the UFC in 2007.
This will be Silva's 50th pro fight, and there's clear symmetry in a rubber match. Despite their age, both these men are capable of inflicting a big knockout. Could they send the other permanently out of the cage?
No one roots for a fighter, much less a Hall of Famer, to leave under duress. But this novelty stuff, as fun of a diversion as it can be, is beneath these guys. No one's suggesting it's not their decision to make. However, you like to see people make good decisions when possible. Especially in a sport that common sense and, increasingly, hard science tell us has a very negative and decidedly snowballish effect on brain health and safety.
Given these factors, it stands to reason that playing out the string as a shell of your former self is something better avoided in MMA. Nevertheless, that's solidly where these two are, for reasons that are hard for us outsiders to discern. What will make them see the light? Maybe this is finally it.
Scott Harris writes about the serious and silly aspects of MMA, sometimes both at the same time, for Bleacher Report. For more of this sort of thing, follow Scott on Twitter.