Friday Night Fights: Who Wins the 1st Bellator Versus UFC Showdown?
UFC President Dana White likes to win. His goal, publicly stated, isn't just to be a successful mixed martial arts promoter. It's becoming a global force in the sports. "World f*cking domination," as he puts it. Nothing more, nothing less.
That drive has helped White to demolish the competition over the years. He, famously, used to keep a faux tombstone in his office. Every time a rival promotion died, a name was added to the dearly departed. Those who didn't go out of business because of their own stupidity, the UFC gleefully purchased, adding toys to a toy box already brimming with great martial artists.
No rival has withstood the rigors of MMA promotion for long. Successful boxing promoters, comic book entrepreneurs and online gambling provocateurs have all attempted to run a Pepsi to UFC's Coke. All have failed dramatically.
All but Bellator.
Now under new management, Viacom's little promotion that could is approaching its sixth year in the MMA business. With former Strikeforce boss Scott Coker leading the way, expectations are sky high. Bellator isn't a rival for the UFC yet—but if anyone can give White and company a run for their money over time, it's Coker.
That's what makes Friday's dueling fight shows on Spike and Fox Sports 1 so compelling. Separated by just 15 minutes, the two promotions both enter Connecticut with something to prove. Bellator is trying to show the world it is a show worth paying attention to. The UFC, meanwhile, wants to show that it can, when properly motivated, still put on one heck of a fight card.
The result is a gold mine for MMA fans. But which show is better? Though the best fights don't overlap, most fans will likely choose one or the other to watch live. Along with fellow lead MMA writer Chad Dundas, we'll look at each promotion's main card offering, judging them head-to-head based on their fight card position.
Will Bellator, with featherweight standout Pat Curran and pro wrestling star Bobby Lashley, lead the way? Or will the depth of UFC's offering carry the day? Chad and I render our verdicts. You can have your say in the comments.
Fight No. 4: We Like Lauzon
Lightweights: Joe Lauzon (23-10) Michael Chiesa (11-1)
Heavyweights: Lavar Johnson (18-9) vs. Cheick Kongo (21-9-2)
I know Snowden has a soft spot in his heart for the big fellas, but I have to side with the half-pints here. For what I hope are obvious reasons, discerning MMA fans must tab Lauzon vs. Chiesa as the better fight.
J-Lau is just 2-3 since the start of 2012 and needs this win to prove he’s still on the fringes of the 155-pound elite. Meanwhile, the Fighting Pride of Spokane (Chiesa) requires a signature win to go along with his surprising 4-1 start in the Octagon. I’d be hard-pressed to think of a more interesting or more fun matchup of styles.
You can keep the heavies. Bring on the lightweights.
I was sorely tempted to choose the big boys here. I've always been impressed by Johnson's boom-or-bust slugging style and Kongo's unrepentant attitude toward groin strikes. Sure, the lightweight fight will have the better action—but a Kongo fight is almost certainly going to have a knee to the privates. That has to be worth something.
Still, Lauzon almost never fails to deliver anything less than pure adrenaline. Chiesa, too, has that certain genetic twitch preventing him from having even the slightest concern for his own well-being. That one is going to be bonkers.
Fight No. 3: Lashley Leads the Way
Heavyweights: Matt Mitrione (7-3) vs. Derrick Lewis (11-2, 1NC)
Heavyweights: Josh Burns (12-7) vs. Bobby Lashley (10-2)
While Mitrione vs. Lewis promises a certain amount of visceral fun, I’m actually more interested to see Bobby Lashley return to big-time MMA. By virtue of his own poor timing, he was always unfairly compared to Brock Lesnar back when he debuted for Strikeforce in 2010.
Clearly, Lashley isn’t that kind of talent, and dropping him into Strikeforce with just four previous fights under his belt was too much, too soon. But at this point, he’s 10-2 and a winner of three straight while competing on the independent circuit last year. He's is 38, so we probably need to temper our expectations but, yeah, I’ll cop to being intrigued by him at this point.
On the Co-Main Event podcast, Chad called Lashley's je nais se quoi "curb appeal." I like that.
A former WrestleMania main eventer, Lashley certainly looks the part. His muscles bulge in just the right places, and he's handsome and convivial. He also has the wrestling pedigree to make success seem somehow less than far-fetched.
So far, however, he's been kind of a lousy fighter. While that's unlikely to change as he approaches 40, I'm willing to go with him for the ride.
Fight No. 2: Overeem All the Way
Heavyweights: No. 7 Alistair Overeem (37-13, 1NC) vs. Ben Rothwell (33-9)
Light Heavyweights: Mo Lawal (12-4-1 NC) vs. Dustin Jacoby (10-3)
Muhammed Lawal is a smart guy, a true student of the game and a stellar self-promoter. As a fighter, though? I’m not sure he’s done anything to justify so much interest around him, particularly not in the last few years. Since 2010, he’s more or less been on a path of win one, lost one, and so to see him matched up against somebody like Dustin Jacoby (wait, who?) doesn’t do a ton for me.
On the other hand, Overeem has a lot to prove after starting his UFC career 2-2 and with a failed drug test. With a feud brewing against Anthony Johnson, that at least makes him interesting. Give me The Reem vs. The Roth here.
I'm not a big believer in the former Strikeforce heavyweight champion Overeem. There's something absent in his affect, and his battle with PED's and the accusations of training camp misbehavior are off-putting.
But at least I've heard of Ben Rothwell.
Lawal, for some reason a big name in the sport despite a dearth of accomplishments, is fighting an opponent most are completely unfamiliar with. That's going to lead to plenty of channel clicks over to UFC. Just make sure you catch his entrance before you jump to Fox Sports 1. That's always the best part of a King Mo fight—not exactly a ringing endorsement for his style.
Main Event: Split Decision
Middleweights: No. 4 Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza (20-3, 1 NC) vs. No. 7 Gegard Mousasi (35-4-2)
Featherweights: Pat Curran (20-5) vs. Patricio "Pitbull" Freire (21-2)
Can I take both? No? Against the rules? Fine. Since I’ve long been on record in my belief that Jacare Souza is the UFC middleweight division’s most slept-on contender, I guess I’ll tab Souza vs. Mousasi here.
While Sweet and Sassy has been maddeningly inconsistent for much of his recent MMA career, Jacare has been steadily climbing the middleweight ladder. If he wins this, he should be next up for Chris Weidman. Count me all in on that.
In our recent MMA ratings, we had Curran and Freire as the No. 4 and No. 5 featherweights in the world respectively. Rankings-wise, this is the very best fight Bellator has in its limited arsenal.
The two met in a five-round war of attrition back at Bellator 85 last January; it was a battle of Freire's speed and power against Curran's tactical brilliance. It was a great fight that went to a split decision. There's no reason this one shouldn't be the first's equal—and the best fight of the night.
Final Verdict: UFC by Unanimous Decision
In terms of actual quality, Friday night should be a runaway win for the UFC. I will say, though, that Bellator’s card retains a certain amount of curb appeal. Casual fans (if such a thing really exists in any meaningful number) who are cruising the dial might spot Lashley or King Mo doing work and stop to have a gander.
Now that the UFC has pushed back its start time, those fans with enough time to kill might as well watch both. But if we’re here to declare some sort of winner? Yeah, give me UFC Fight Night 50 all day. Or at least from 9-11 p.m. ET.
Final Results: UFC 3, Bellator 1
I'm strangely attracted to the Bellator main card. It has the kind of absurdist bent I can really get into. Giant heavyweights? Copious low blows? Pro wrestlers galore?
Feed me more!
On top of that, Curran and Freire might very well join the short list of the year's best fights. It's a pretty compelling offering.
Too bad it comes up against a UFC card hitting on all cylinders. Not only is the main card a hoot, but the UFC's undercard is packed to bursting with fun fighters like John Moraga and Charles Oliveira. That's the kind of depth only the UFC can offer. And it makes the UFC the clear winner in this impromptu battle of the bands.
Final Results: UFC 2, Bellator 2