If you are Dana White right now, the last several weeks has taught you a painful lesson: karma can be a bitch.
6 months ago, you were flying high. UFC 100 had broke records. UFC 101 followed it up with another blockbuster. Nogueria/Couture turns into an instant classic and fight of the year candidate. Machida/Rua essentially gave you two PPV blockbusters for the price of one.
But then November arrived and reality saw fit to slap you in the face. Brock Lesnar was afflicted by the bubonic plague and the ravages of the Canadian healthcare system. Reigning P4P badass Anderson Silva suffered from a mysterious “here today, gone tomorrow” elbow injury, apparently induced by the PPV drawing power of his proposed opponent. Quinton Jackson left the world of fighting to continue his high octane action career. Fedor ignored your lavish, big money offers and once again joined your competition. Oy vey.
The sky was falling. Events were being hollowed out due to injuries. Cards were being held together with glue and popsicle sticks. People prognosticated the fall of the UFC.
Luckily, it seems those days will soon be in Zuffa’s rear view mirror. The first half of 2010 is packed with blockbuster cards, with St. Pierre/Hardy, Nogueria/Velasquez, the Abu Dhabi super card, and the Machida/Rua rematch in Montreal all primed to draw massive PPV buys and re-establish the UFC brand atop the MMA world.
All well and good, and as fans we should be pumped to the eyeballs that we are about to enter such a heavily stacked couple months of MMA. Throw in the new season of The Ultimate Fighter, and another Fedor bout on network TV, and first quarter 2010 is an MMA’s fans nirvana.
But before all that, there’s UFC 109, the last card left gutted by Dana White’s spate of really bad luck. Traditionally, the UFC’s Super Bowl card is a stacked, star-studded affair - the main event of last year’s event was the GSP vs. BJ Penn rematch. This year’s was slated to be Lesnar vs. Carwin - but we all know what happened there. Dana White and co. had to scramble to find a replacement. Their solution?
Randy Couture vs. Mark Coleman. Hall of famer vs. Hall of famer. Legend vs. Legend. Cardio monster vs. The Scorpion King.
OK, so it’s not really a titanic main event - watching two old men do something nature clearly didn’t intend for them to do, like beer pong. For short notice, I suppose it’s not bad. It’s the other fights on this card that make it worth your $44.99.
Matt Serra vs. Frank Trigg
It’s fitting that the UFC’s senior circuit is both opening and closing the show this Saturday, as Matt Serra meets Frank Trigg in a match that is light-years from welterweight title relevancy. Serra was just outwrestled in a close decision loss to Matt Hughes (in a fight I personally thought he won) while Trigg was absolutely bulldozed by Josh Koscheck (in a fight I personally thought was a near mismatch). Both guys realize that this fight represents the end of the line. Win and you remain relevant for one more fight. Lose, and it’s happy trails.
Luckily, neither guy really seems to care too much. For Serra, full time competition has taken a backseat to running his chain of Jiu-Jitsu schools, as evidenced by his almost yearly competition schedule. And Trigg, well - he’ll do whatever it is he does to get by.
Maybe I’m crazy here, but I see this fight going all Serra’s way. Frank Trigg has never looked impressive in the standup, and Serra has the heavy hands to cause him problems. On the ground, Serra is a legitimate and dangerous BJJ blackbelt with the submission prowess to end the fight in any position. Trigg’s only chance is to follow the Matt Hughes gameplan and use his wrestling to stifle Serra’s offence - and I just don’t see that happening. Serra picks up this one via Rear Naked Choke - what else? - in the 2nd round.
Demian Maia vs. Dan Miller
Poor Demian Maia. He was riding high in the UFC’s middleweight division, a modern day Royce Gracie who’s BJJ skill no one seemed to have an answer for. Then he ran into Nate Marquardt - or more accurately, his right hand. Just like that, the Demian Maia hype train was derailed.
This Saturday, Maia takes the first step towards rebuilding his title shot momentum by taking on the very durable Dan Miller. Miller is a former IFL veteran with a respectable 3-1 record in the UFC, coming off a close decision loss to Chael Sonnen (making this basically the bornze medal match for the night’s co-main event).
Miller recently received his BJJ black belt and own the majority of his wins via submission, and if history is any judge he’ll look to win this fight on the floor. For Maia that is a blessing - none of that tricky standup game to worry about, at least for this fight - and he should be able to control the action in top or bottom position. Maia is one of the best BJJ practitioners in MMA and a pleasure to watch at work. He’s tapped out more accredited guys then Miller on the ground, including - wait for it - Chael Sonnen.
I see him tiring out the tough Miller before taking his arm home with him in the 2nd or 3rd round to once again write his name on a “Submission of the Night” bonus cheque.
Mike Swick vs. Paulo Thiago
For some reason, the guys at American Kickboxing Academy just really hate Paulo Thiago.
This Saturday’s fight will represent the third time BJJ black belt Thiago has faced an elite AKA welterweight (in only 4 UFC bouts). His first crack at AKA against Koscheck ended in stunning upset victory. Then he ran into the brick wall that is Jon Fitch at UFC 100 and dropped a clear UD. Now the Brazilian SWAT officer looks to complete the trifecta in his AKA rubber match against Mike Swick.
So needless to say, Swick has more then enough training partners who have been in the ring with Paulo and know what he can bring (though I doubt Josh Koscheck remembers much of their fight). The lengthy Swick will look to turn this fight into a kickboxing match, using his range and power to pick Thiago apart. He could run into problems here, as we known Thiago has the KO power to put anyone away if he connects solidly. I also don’t see Swick trying to make this a wrestling match like his team mate Fitch did - meaning that if this fight hit’s the ground, it’s probably because Thiago wanted it there.
So who takes it? Swick seems to have the edge in insider training and all around MMA versatility - so I’ll take Paulo Thiago in this one, though I have no idea how. Gotta pick the dark horse sometimes.
Nate Marquardt vs. Chael Sonnen
All too often in MMA, nice guys finish last.
The history of MMA and the UFC in particular is filled with dominant, surging contenders who were ignored or passed up for a title shot because they were quiet, respectful, and non-abrasive - everything we ideally want athletes to be. Instead, we give the shots to whoever can be the biggest raging dickhead on the microphone.
Just look at Marquardt. Since his loss to Anderson Silva, he has amassed a dominant 4-1 record against top-10 middleweight competition. His only loss - a decision to Thales Leities - was on points deducted in a fight he otherwise dominated. Leities got a title shot off that “performance” while Nate has had to prove himself yet again every time he goes out there.
Now instead of a title shot - that went to Vitor Belfort in a move I understand if not fully condone - he gets yet ANOTHER contender’s match. This time the opponent is Chael Sonnen, a tough as nails Team Quest-er and former WEC Middleweight champion with a tenacious, grinding style. Stylistically, he’s a tough match up for just about anyone. Worse, this is a fight Marquardt does not really stand to gain anything from.
Win, and he’s the #1 contender to the MW belt - but with his resume, he really already should be. Lose, and it’s back to the back of the line. Sonnen isn’t even guaranteed a title shot if he wins. This fight is just another hurtle Marquardt must clear because he isn’t a hype drawing, “get on top of my wife tonight WHOOO!” kind of self-promoter.
The good news is that Marquardt should have this match well in hand. Training with GSP and Rashad Evans, his wrestling is the equal of Sonnen’s while his BJJ black belt and solid submission skills give him more options offensively or defensively then Sonnen has. On the feet, it’s not even close. Chael’s standup is functional at best, allowing him to work into the clinch. Marquardt, on the other hand, throws combinations you would expect from a video game and has certified KO power in his hands, feet, knees, elbows etc.
This fight should be all Marquardt, paving the way to his title shot against the winner of Anderson/Belfort. I predict Marquardt will keep this fight standing and TKO the UFC’s resident Republican by the 3rd frame.
Couture vs. Coleman
Randy Couture joked that if this fight was held as Cesear’s, it would be called “The Geezer’s at Cesear’s.” Cue chuckle. The sad thing is that it’s probably true. I’m guessing the fight looks something like this.
Ok, so the combined ages of the two men competing in this major MMA main event is just shy of 92 (for perspective, when Matt Hughes met GSP, their combined aged was in the 50’s). That’s not something you see every day in the world of combat sports.
Still, the truth remains that both men are coming off nearly identical wins - for Coleman over Stephan Bonnar, for Couture over Brandon Vera - over versatile LHW contenders with more complete MMA games then them. And the reason they won is the reason they always won: they played to their strengths,
Sure, there’s a small chance this turns into a Nogueria/Couture slugfest - but I really doubt it. Get ready for a wrestling match, folks, with Randy imposing his dirty boxing/clinch game and Coleman shooting for doubles in between panting for breath. In other words, same old same old. In a fight where each guys bread and butter is gonna determine the outcome, you gotta pick Couture to take it.
Sure, Coleman and Couture met in a wrestling match sometime during the Eisenhower presidency, with Coleman edging the Natural on points. But c’mon folks - even in their primes Randy was a far better, more complete MMA athlete then Coleman ever was. And time has not been kind to “The Hammer”. While Randy still maintains his usual amazing energy and work rate, Coleman’s gas tank now empties around the first few minutes and leaves him a sweaty, panting, staggering mound of muscle, looking for something to lay-n-pray - so business as usual, basically.
Randy takes this by out gaming Coleman in every area to win a decision.
And Dana White - hopefully - doesn't do anything else to piss off the karma gods.
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