Opinions, Preview, and Prediction not actually expert in any way
MMA on free television is truly a double edged sword.
On the one had, the advertisements are endless. Every commercial break becomes monotonous, repetitive, and most critically if you lack a Tivo, un-skibbable. By the time the hundredth “Mickey’s Fine Malt Liquor” add is followed by a seizure inducing spot for “Saw VI”…well, that $44.99 doesn’t look so bad.
Then there’s the general timing, shuffle and grind of live television, which can often work to a fighters detriment. Coming off of last weekend’s Strikeforce network card, and almost lost in the praise over Fedor Emeleianenko, was a story about a fight that was scrapped from the card, entirely, due to timing purposes. Both guys had gone through a 8-10 week training camp. Both guys were hometown fighters. Both guys had significant family and friends at the event who came only to see them. And at the last minute…nothing. That’s just unforgivable, and unfortunate.
Alright, so MMA on free television can have it’s downsides. It’s also free, so my usual instinct is to just shut up and enjoy it. We’re in a recession folks - free is good. And $44.99 buys many cans of beans and tuna.
This month, our free event comes from across the pond in Manchester, England, from the unfortunately named “MEN” Arena - only the British. On the under card is, seemingly, every British fighter on the UFC’s roster, so any soccer hooligans in attendance (I’d imagine a pretty high percentage) will have plenty to cheer about. In the main event, 46 year old fighting legend Randy “The Natural” Couture makes one last shot at relevancy against Brandon “The Truth” Vera - who sadly at only 32 years of age is basically doing the exact same thing.
It’s old lion vs. young lion, folks, the oldest story in sports - and brought to you by Bud Light (the difference is drinkability!), Harley Davidson (the official motorcycle of the UFC!) and John Cusack in 2012 (in theatres this November!)!
Someone get me a shot of something…
Brandon Vera vs. Randy Couture
The most awkward thing about this fight is that before it was announced as the main event for the UFC’s third foray to the British isles in 2009, well, no one at all was calling for it.
Randy was coming off two losses at heavyweight, and seemed to finally be in the twilight of his storied career. Vera, once the hyped phenom of the heavyweights, had experienced some serious career instability and was trying to rebuild his image at 205. In all likelihood, if things had progressed according to Dana White’s master plan, these two would never have crossed paths.
But then there was elbow surgery, a torn groin, contract fallouts, the terrible affliction of the mononucleosis virus, and that accursed A-Team feature film. Needless to say, Dana’s plan fell to pieces - and hence we have Couture vs. Vera. And a whole lot of head scratching.
Alright, so Couture is still a giant star in the sport, and a huge fan favourite even in spite of recent losses. Even if Brandon’s once white hot hype has cooled considerably, the proven name of “The Natural” will make this event a success, especially on free TV. So Dana White gets to drink champagne with the Spike TV executives - all well and good, but I feel this fight has far bigger implications then one would initially think.
A win for Vera would give his career some desperately needed momentum on which he could being to rebuild a title campaign. If Couture wins, he proves he’s good for one last huge fight, one last big payday - don’t be surprised if he is then pushed to fight the winner of Rua/Machida 2.
So who takes it? As with all of Randy Couture’s modern fights, it’s impossible to say. Every time he steps up, reporters and fans everywhere hold our breath. Will this be the moment that Father Time finally catches up with “The Natural”? It hasn’t happened yet - even in defeat Randy has looked competitive, and he continues to claim he’s the best fighter now that he’s ever been. And so fans the world over gather to cheer on “The Natural”, still a viable combat athlete at 46 with 20 years of fighting experience, try to beat the odds once again.
And, just like the fans in “The Wrestler”, our rabid support keeps a 46 year old man with 20 years of fighting experience coming back once again in what must be the twilight of his career. He is coming off two losses to much bigger men, but they are losses all the same, and losing to Vera would signal the end of his career - unless he goes the Ken Shamrock route of fighting legitimate competition and big time challengers.
On paper, Vera is a bad matchup for Randy. He is tall and long, able to use his range well against opponents. His Muay Thai is very technical, and he brings a solid Greco-Roman background and Jiu-Jitsu founding that makes him offensively and defensively versatile. Not to mention the obvious fact that he’s the much younger man, and seemingly at this point focused and committed to his training - there have been no cardio issues in his recent fights.
The X factor lies in the mental aspect of the fight, and in that department no one is the equal of “The Natural”. If he wants to win this fight, he needs to make it a clinch fighting trench war. He needs to close the distance and make Brandon carry his weight. He needs to sap his will, wear him down, and prevent him from implementing his rangy striking game. Brandon has shown in past fights that when pressured heavily in the clinch, he can fold mentally and quit on himself. Randy needs to drag him to this point and force him over as he has so many others.
Can he do it? He has the tools, but who knows which version of Randy will show up? The confident, seemingly ageless wonder of old - or the slow, tired, over the hill fighter we’ve all been waiting for for years now. I’ll be cheering for Randy, so it would be wrong to pick against him here. Couture by Unanimous Decision in a fight that’s all dirty boxing, underhooks, and thankfully no constant chants of “USA! USA! USA!”. Besides, I have to go for the guy with the same dance style as me.
Dennis Kang vs. Michael Bisping
Poor Michael Bisping.
Before July ‘09, life was good for the Season 3 winner of “The Ultimate Fighter”. He was the face of MMA in his native England, and marketed beyond all reason by the UFC hype machine looking to break into the UK market. He had moved down in weight, rattled off a string of wins, and stood one fight away from getting a shot against Anderson Silva (which would have been on this card, ironically enough).
Unfortunately, he ran right into Dan Henderson’s balled fist - stopping cold his career momentum and fan hype right along with his higher brain functions. Once the “Great British Hope” of the MMA world, Bisping finds himself in the uncomfortable position of having to rebuild his career - and he’s being given no favours.
Relatively unknown on the North American scene, Dennis Kang is nonetheless an elite middleweight with a ton of international experience. A veteran of Pride and K-1 Max, the Korean/Quebecois fighter brings solid all around skills to back up his long resume. He has world class kickboxing skills and is equally capable of pulling off a submission - in almost every area of the fight game, Kang should have the Brit’s number.
The problem is that Kang generally tends to defeat himself in fights he was otherwise winning. In his debut in the UFC in January, he battered and controlled Alan Belcher with ease - until he inexplicably gave Belcher a guillotine in a needless scramble and was tapping seconds later. Against Gegard Mousasi, it was the same story. If Kang wants to establish some consistency in the UFC and cement his name seriously among the casual fans, he needs to avoid making a mental malfunction against the hyper-active Briton.
In preparing for this fight, Kang spent half his time in Montreal training with Firas Zahabi and Georges St. Pierre, and the other half training down in Florida with American Top Team. That should make him a killer, and I’m hoping it’s corrected his tendency towards rookie mistakes. A focused Kang has the measure of Bisping in every department, and takes a workmanlike unanimous decision win to the great disappointment of Bisping’s famously calm and serene hometown Manchester fans.
Make Swick vs. Dan Hardy
The last time the UFC came to Manchester, Bisping had to carry the weight of fan expectation and interest almost solo. This time, the UFC is coming with a whole stable to British MMA stars - none bigger then Dan “The Outlaw” Hardy.
In only 4 fights in the UFC, Hardy has established a firm place outside Bisping’s shadow both in the UK and in the MMA world at large. With his trademark red Mohawk, bandit’s bandanna, and tendency to talk an entertaining amount of smack about his opponent, Hardy has definitely opened some eyes. Also opening eyes were his wins over Akihiro Gono and Marcus Davis - tough dance partners for anyone.
Across the Octagon will be Mike “Quick” Swick, the UFC’s resident blue chipper. Much is made of his 8-1 record in the UFC - the lone loss coming at the hands of durable Yushin Okami at 185 - and his success at two different weight classes. Still, Swick has flown mostly under the radar, and a title shot has eluded him - until now. With Georges St. Pierre having cleaned out the upper ranks of the welterweight division, it was announced that the winner of this fight would be the next to challenge GSP’s title - consider it the worst win bonus ever.
Ok, so neither guy is really a top 5 welterweight, even with a win in this fight - but who cares, really? The champion simply can’t always fight the #2 ranked guy. When you have a dominant champion, you have to accept the occasional weaker challenger, resume-wise, while other contenders are built up in the division. Anderson Silva fought Thales Leites. BJ Penn fought Joe Stevenson. Chuck Liddell fought Jeremy Horn. Dan Hardy/Mike Swick vs. Georges St. Pierre is a closer fight then any of those. Besides, “Shogun” Rua wasn’t considered the #1 or even #2 contender when he challenged Lyoto Machida and gave the karate master his toughest fight ever.
The good news about this fight is that it’s almost guaranteed to be “Fight of the Night”. Both guys are young, athletic fighters who are well rounded and love to swing. Both have been in some absolute wars and have pulled it out, so there will be no shortage of will in either man. I get the feeling that the winner of this fight will look to take it in the most impressive fashion - to prove he’s earned that shot at GSP - and so I see both men swinging wild, with a KO one way or the other the most likely result.
Mike “Quick” Swick is certainly that - a devastatingly fast fighter. He knocks your out not with one blow, but three or four delivered lightning fast. He brings his solid training at AKA and his long resume to the fight and thus it is easy to see why he is the betting favourite. Despite that, I’m going to pick Hardy by KO or TKO. His time spent training boxing with Freddie Roach and Jiu-Jitsu with Eddie Bravo has given him a game to easily match Swick’s in diversity and versatility, and I see the home town crown pumping “The Outlaw” up and causing him to pull the trigger on Swick as the fight goes into the later rounds.
James Wilks vs. Matt Brown
Opening the show will be not one, but both of the British winners of season 9 of “The Ultimate Fighter”. First, James Wilks gets a tough welcome to the Octagon in the form of Matt “The Immortal” Brown. I haven’t seen enough of Wilks to know the full range of his skillset - or how far it’s improved since his days in “the house”. Still, Brown is a warrior that can test the Brit standing and on the ground, and I don’t see Wilks being able to withstand the pressure. Brown gets the submission - let’s say a choke of some kind - before the final bell rings.
Ross Pearson vs. Aaron Riley
In this fight, we get the easily sellable narrative of - wait for it - the hometown British fighter taking on the evil American opponent. The whole card (with the exception of Couture/Vera) is a long repetition of this same theme, and I can’t say I fault the UFC for taking this easily marketable tack. I think the more likeable Ross Pearson is being given the much easier fight for his official cage debut - Aaron Riley has over 40 fights under his belt, and that mileage combined with his age makes him basically a journeymen fighter at this point - ironic, because the UFC used to look to the British empire for a steady supply of journeymen, gatekeepers, and stepping stones. Pearson wins this one via a ground and pound stoppage in the first or second and an undoubtedly amusing post-fight interview.