By Elton “Hobbie” Hobson
With the news that Frank Mir vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueria 2 will be headlining the UFC’s September show in Indianapolis breaking this past week, I’d like to take a moment to get something off my chest. Something important, heavy, and straight from the heart:
I told you so.
Actually, sadly, I didn’t tell you so. Or, more to the point, I didn’t write it down definitively somewhere for all to read. See, I’d been calling that the UFC was going to make this fight for months now; it just makes too much sense. Both guys are established, big name heavyweights with lots of exposure. Both guys are flirting with the possibility of being “over the hill” and unable to compete with the new generation of heavyweight monsters. And finally, both men share a history, having fought already in an exciting fight that left lots of questions unanswered and controversy swirling for some fans.
It seemed like a no-brainer to me. And of course, I talked about it all the time with anyone who would listen: friends, family, co-workers, the pizza delivery guy, the recent Pakistani immigrant doing my tech support, even random guys in the urinal next to me (followed of course by the obligatory fist-bump). Everybody but you, the internet-going public, and everywhere but here, the one place my Nostradamus-like predictions could be recorded for posterity.
So that’s exactly what I intend to do. Below are the fights that I think—nay, that I KNOW—will be made before the year is fully out. This is not a wish list per se. Instead, I look into my crystal ball of MMA prognostication to see what fights are coming down the pipe, and what fans can expect from their fistic action for the rest of an already action-packed 2010.
Toby Imada vs. Roger Huerta (Bellator)
When Bellator’s season two lightweight tournament came to a close, no two people were left more out in the rain then Toby "Tortilla Choke" Imada (when I asked him once what he called his now infamous Inverted Trianlge, this was his reply) and Roger "The Mexican Braveheart" Huerta (ok, I just made that one up).
For the second year running, Imada made it to the finals of the Bellator Lightweight Tourney before being vanquished just short of the prize. In the inaugural season, he almost single-handedly brought Bellator viral marketing success with the aforementioned "Tortilla Choke" and its 750,000 hits on YouTube, yet he continues to be Bellator's 155 lb. bridesmaid.
For his part, UFC castoff Huerta is easily Bellator’s biggest (and highest paid) star, and his signing was expected to be a coup for its entry into the Latino market—until he too fell in the Bellator tourney. In either case, you can thank eventual season two winner Pat Curran for playing the part of spoiler.
Both men are "big names" in their own right and I don't think Bellator has the time to build them back up by having them fight in another tournament in the next season. And they don’t have to—Imada vs. Huerta is a big fight in it’s own right, and would provide an interim challenger to the lightweight title while the season three lightweight tourney is underway. Expect it sometime this fall, with the winner facing Alvarez or Curran in early 2011.
Sarah Kaufman vs. Kerry Vera (Strikeforce)
Gina Carano is still without a doubt the biggest draw in women’s MMA. She’s also quite possibly the biggest draw Strikeforce has now that Fedor has been toppled off his throne. But with every day she spends being an "American Gladiator," becoming a video game character, or hanging out with Antonio Banderas and Ewan McGreggor on a big-budget movie set, Scott Coker and company are slowly realizing the inevitable truth: Carano’s fighting days are probably over.
Yes, folks, sad as it may be to hear, the "Face of Women’s MMA" seems perfectly content to trade MMA for a job that better protects, well, her face among other things. With Carano using MMA as a stepping stone to bigger and better (and who could blame her), the time has come for Strikeforce to find a new "face" for their women’s division.
But what about "Cyborg" Santos? Sure, she’s tough, skilled, and has looked unstoppable. But let’s be honest: She’s never going to be the face of women’s MMA in North America the same way Carano is. Be it her poor English, brutal fighting style, and lack of, ahem, "feminine grace," Santos just won’t draw the eyeballs that her former adversary did. She’s also managed to completely exhaust her list of challengers only two fights into her title reign.
Enter Kerry Vera, wife of UFC star Brandon Vera as well as star of the Oxygen reality TV show, Fight Girls . She brings the looks of a Gina Carano and the skills to back it up, and unlike "Conviction," seems to be in MMA for the long haul. At 135 lbs, she also faces a much deeper pool of female talent then does "Cyborg." A matchup with Canadian Sarah Kaufman, the Undefeated Strikeforce 135 lb. Womens' Champion, would instantly inject interest and excitement into the division and position one of these women to rise into the void left by Carano.
Expect Strikeforce to book this fight before the year’s out—possibly their only good decision of 2010.
Shinya Aoki vs. "JZ" Cavalcante 3 (DREAM)
This one might seem like a bit of a head scratcher, but I’d wager we’re likely to see an Aoki/Cavalcante rubber match before 2010 is said and done.
Rubber match may be the wrong term, as their first fight ended in a No Contest, while their second resulted in an Unanimous Decision for Shinya Aoki. And really, this isn’t an "in demand" fight right now. Some of you may be wondering why I think a third fight between the two is coming considering no one is really calling for it yet.
But has lack of fan demand ever stopped DREAM from making fights (Jose Canseco vs. Hong Man Choi, anybody?). Besides, they need this fight to rebuild their biggest cash cow.
The simple truth is that lightweight champ Aoki is still DREAM’s (and Japan’s) biggest star, but the blowout loss to Gilbert Melendez in Strikeforce really hurt his brand. And despite tearing off Tatsuya Kawajiri’s ankle at DREAM 15 this past weekend, Aoki still has a long way to go before he can once again make a legitimate claim to being the world's best fighter at 155 lbs.
A rematch with Melendez (preferably in a DREAM ring) is the ultimate goal, but even Aoki himself admitted he must work to earn a second match with the Strikeforce lightweight champion. Aoki needs to build up hype, his mental state needs to be tested, and his resume needs to be rebuilt. To do this, there is no better opponent currently under contract with DREAM than American Top Team standout Gesias "JZ" Cavalcante.
Cavalcante has been on a bit of a downturn himself as of late. The former Top 10 ranked lightweight is 2-2-1 over his last five fights, and has seen lots of time missed due to injuries. Back and healthy once again, "JZ" righted his ship with a victory over Katsunori Kikuno at the same DREAM 15 event where Aoki wish boned Kawajiri’s ankle. He stands as the only legitimate lightweight challenger left for Aoki, unless the Japanese promotion wants to start doing four- and even five-fight series.
Look for Cavalcante vs. Aoki for the DREAM title at an event this fall—and for Aoki to call out Melendez for a rematch in Japan should he win.
Dave Batista vs. Bobby Lashley (Strikeforce)
Cue the eye rolling.
Yes folks, as much as I hate to say it, get ready for the ultimate freak show match. Just kidding—that honour awaits the inevitable Herschel Walker vs. Jose Canseco showdown. And before you kid yourselves with silly notions like "the integrity of the sport," remember that this is Strikeforce—the same promotion where the aforementioned Walker vs. Canseco fight is probably going to end up happening. Unless they want to feed one of them to Fedor as a "rebuild opponent" (I bet M-1 would go for it).
Before you heap scorn, remember that PRIDE’s original rise was premised on a "pro-wrestlers fighting for real" appeal, and guys like Bob Sapp, Kazushi Sakuraba, Kazuyuki Fujita, and other giants of the early PRIDE days all toiled in the ranks of professional wrestling. Early UFC stars like Ken Shamrock and Dan Severn also came from a sports entertainment background. And lest we forget, the biggest draw in all of MMA is a certain Coors Light drinking, bird flipping, poorly tattooed former WWE champion—who also happens to be a hell of a fighter as it turns out.
Don’t get me wrong. This fight is ridiculous. So, so, SO ridiculous. Bobby Lashley has spent the last couple of years flirting between a wrestling career with TNA and an MMA career with Strikeforce. He hasn’t shown the kind of commitment Brock Lesnar has in making the jump from sports-entertainment to "the real thing," looking unpolished and unimpressive in his fights so far. There’s no doubt he has the tools—the only questions is does he have the will? Or the time?
Luckily, this fight won’t test any of that. Dave Batista has no amateur wrestling background, or significant martial arts background of any kind. He is also making the jump to MMA at 41 years of age, after a decade spent eating chair shots and "Stone Cold Stunners" in arenas across the world. Not exactly a good base for making a successful run at MMA competition.
So this fight will be a silly, one-time only cash-in that will trade Strikeforce’s credibility, Lashley’s potential down the road, and Batista’s remaining career prospects in pro wrestling for lots of curious eyes and a big paycheque. And seeing as how it’s Strikeforce, I have no doubt at all they will take that deal in a heartbeat. If CBS decides to stay Strikeforce’s execution on network TV, look for this fight to be a featured—probably alongside Herschel Walker vs. a warm body, Cung Le vs. a sparring dummy, and a nice shot of Gina Carano sitting in the crowd.
Somebody vs. Somebody in a Sanctioned MMA Match in Ontario
Ok, so I’m not 100 percent on this one, but a guy can hope, can’t he?
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