By Elton Hobson
Tomorrow night, as the Ultimate Fighting Championship makes its triumphant debut in Dana White’s hometown of Boston, Mass, fight fans will be treated to what amounts to two main events.
Headlining the show is a rematch between longtime Lightweight kingpin BJ Penn and Frankie Edgar, the man who took his title in a startling upset in Abu Dhabi. Their first fight was a tactical, if somewhat unflashy 5 rounder that saw Edgar outwork and outhustle Penn to a Unanimous decision win. With Penn eager to erase the memory of that loss from fans minds, and Edgar looking to prove he is the true divisional #1, the rematch promises to be a more dramatic, decisive affair.
And as far as most casual fans are concerned, it might as well be an undercard fight.
In the much ballyhooed “Boxing vs. UFC” co-main event, 41 year old boxing champ James “Lights Out” Toney becomes the first big time, elite level boxer to step into the Octagon, as he faces 47 year old MMA legend Randy “The Natural” Couture. Never mind the fact that this fight is about as freakshow a fight as you can get outside of a Minowaman bout. It matters not a lick. By the time the lights come down, and Couture is looking Toney in the eyes inside the cage, fan hype and expectations should be through the roof.
Before any of this happens, a stacked undercard of UFC standbys and Boston favourites takes to the cage to round out the UFC’s opening effort in “Beantown”. So let’s get to a rundown of the nights action, starting with a battle of BJJ masters.
Demian Maia vs. Mario Miranda
If any fighter on this card is desperate for a win, in dramatic, impressive fashion, it’s Maia. Coming off the loss in the 5 round “fight” against Anderson Silva at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi this past April, the man once viewed as the most dangerous submission artist in MMA needs to remind fans why he was once so feared and prove to critics that he has more to his game then just some slick Jiu-Jitsu.
Mario Miranda should prove an intriguing challenge for the multiple time BJJ world championship title holder. A black belt in the Gentle Art himself, Miranda also brings a somewhat polished standup game that gave Canadian vet David Loiseau fits in their fight at UFC 115. Fighting out of AMC Pankration in Seattle, Washington under the tutelage of veteran coach David Hume, Miranda is exactly the kind of well-rounded opponent to test Maia’s mettle at the upper echelon of the division.
Miranda is tough, but Maia is a wizard, and this fight should remind people just why that is. Recent fights vs. Silva and Dan Miller showcased a Maia seemingly enamored with his nascent striking skills. Hopefully he returns to his bread and butter for a signature submission win.
Maia via Submission
Nate Diaz vs. Marcus Davis
Known as “The Irish Hand Grenade”, Marcus Davis has long touted his Irish heritage to the scorn of more then a few detractors. Born in Bangor, Maine, Davis nevertheless stood by his Irish roots in the form of his nickname, his marketing, his ring entrances, his whole schtick period.
Now all of a sudden, the UFC comes to Boston, and Davis suddenly has a fight “in his hometown”. Some may shake their heads at this genealogical pandering. I personally think it’s a marketing coup like few others. If I ever decided to become a professional fighter, I’d be sure to tether myself to some obscure country – “The Lithuanian Hand Grenade” anyone – and ride that for all it’s worth before switching back to the “hometown boy” of whatever major city is nearest my actual birthplace. Genius.
Against Diaz, Davis faces a stern test. The younger brother of Strikeforce Welterweight champ Nick Diaz brings a similar package as his older sibling – a long, lanky frame, effective if awkward boxing combined with Cesar Gracie honed BJJ skills. Davis himself actually comes from a pro boxing background and has some ground skills of his own. Both these guys are scrappers, so expect an exciting back and forth war between these two.
So will Davis come out on top in front of his “hometown fans”. Sadly, I think not. Diaz may not have the kind of power that Ben Saunders used to finish Davis in their UFC 106 bout, but he brings the well rounded skills and tenacity to outwork him for the decision. Now that Diaz fights as a Welterweight, there is no need for concern regarding his gas tank, and he should have plenty of energy to outwork “The Boston Hand Grenade” to a decision win.
Nate Diaz via Decision
Kenny Florian vs. Gray Maynard
Before Penn and Edgar square off for the Lightweight title, two of the division’s top 5 square off for the #1 contender spot. In another involving fight for the hometown Boston fans, Massachusetts own Kenny Florian tries to secure his third Lightweight title shot when he battles undefeated Gray Maynard.
In some ways, this is a more interesting fight then the world title match is it preceding. Florian has continued to improve since his loss to BJ Penn lat year. Always a solid BJJ player, “Ken-Flo” has continued to sharpen his Muay Thai skills as well as his wrestling under the guidance of Friaz Zahabi at Tristar Gym in Montreal, Canada. In impressive wins over Clay Guida and Takanori Gomi, Florian proved he is one of the most versatile and polished fighters at Lightweight in all the world, using crisp and technical striking and footwork to set up picture perfect submission wins. For him, the sky should be the limit.
Unfortunately for Florian, he already has had two cracks at the Lightweight title (against Sean Sherk and BJ Penn respectively) and has come up short both times. For him, this fight represents a last shot at proving he deserves to be called the division’s best.
Gray “The Bully” Maynard, on the other hand, is still chomping at the bit for his first world title match. A surging contender with an impressive resume, Maynard has been held back in part due to his grinding, plodding style, which usually sees the NCAA Division 1 wrestler win one unexciting decision victory after another. In recent fights, however, Maynard has shown much improved standup, and there is every indication that he will continue to improve with each fight. With a win over champion Frankie Edgar already on his docket, a victory here would propel him into a title match he must feel he has already more then earned.
Maynard is a bully for sure, but if Florian’s wrestling has improved to the level it should training alongside guys like GSP and Rashad Evans, he should be able to control Maynard and pick him apart with his technical Muay Thai. Look for Florian to pick Maynard apart en route to a decision win and a third (and possible final) shot at the world championship.
Florian via Decision
Randy Couture vs. James Toney
What more can be said about this fight that hasn’t already been said? It’s “Boxing vs. MMA”, the ultimate battle of style vs. style, the kind of fight Mixed Martial Arts was originally created to have. For everyone tuning in, this fight boils down to one question: how would a world class boxer fare against a world class Greco-Roman wrestler?
Of course, that’s not really the question, is it? Instead, this fight is just another chapter in the largely imagined “Boxing vs. MMA” debate, and fans of both sports will be watching in anxious drives to see if a boxer can upset an MMA legend in his own backyard. You can thank the incoherent, punch drunk rambling of Mr. Toney for driving that point home in the minds of casual fans of both sports.
This fight is ridiculous, really. Toney is 41. Couture is 47. Both guys are over the hill, past their prime, and no longer championship material. What’s more, this fight isn’t really style vs style as it’s been sold – Couture brings far more tools to the table then just wrestling, and Toney supposedly has been “training” wrestling and submission defense for some months now in preparation for “The Natural”.
This fight isin’t going the distance. I bet it’s not even going past the three minute mark. In the end, it all comes down to one question: can Randy take Toney down, and pound him out as he has so many others. The answer, despite all the hype and trash talking, should be an emphatic yes. Randy closes the distance, takes Toney down, and punches him a new breathing hole. Dana White dances a jig. MMA is better then boxing! Hooray!
Couture via TKO
Frankie Edgar vs. BJ Penn 2
It’s remarkable how much in common Frankie Edgar has with Matt Serra.
Both are East Coasters, both are trained by the legendary Renzo Gracie, and both share many training partners such as Ricardo Almeida and Rolles Gracie. Both men are considered small for their respective divisions. And finally, both men scored the “Upset of the Year” when they unseated a P4P great to become the underdog champion of their respective divisions.
In my opinion, Edgar’s win over Penn actually eclipsed Serra’s defeat of GSP in terms of “shock value”. Serra caught the French Canadian with a wild shot behind the ears to set him off balance and never let up. Edgar didn’t need any luck of the draw to defeat the fighting pride of Hilo, Hawaii. He outmoved, outhustled, and plain outworked a lethargic Penn over 5 rounds to take a unanimous decision and turn the world on it’s head. His victory was all hard work, before and during the fight, anf it paid off.
Because it was a close decision, (and because Dana White basically gives BJ Penn whatever he asks for) an immediate rematch was booked and, just like the Serra/GSP situation, the champion and victor in the first fight finds himself an underdog heading into the second bout. As we have heard oh, I don’t know, 100,000 times, BJ Penn is “rededicated” for this fight. “A new BJ”, as it were,m focused on cardio and training like never before. Sure thing Baby Jay. As you yourself has said, talk is fake – the fight is what’s real.
In the rematch, the odds would seem to tilt towards Penn more then the first time around. That’s because the gameplan for Frankie remains the same – outwork him keep moving, use smart head movement and lateral movement, mix in the odd takedown, and grind out a UD. Because Penn knows that, he’ll be more prepared to meet that strategy this time around.
So who takes it? Of all the main card fights, this is the hardest to predict, but I’ll take the New Jersey kid to pull of the shocking upset once again. I think Frankie has “The Answer” for a fighter like BJ, and will make him fight his fight just like he did last time. IN front of a sympathetic East Coast crowd, Edgar will win another decision and secure his place atop the Lightweight division.
Edgar via Decision
By Elton Hobson