With plenty of attention-grabbing news coming out of the MMA universe these past few weeks, fight fans have plenty to talk about. The UFC-WEC merger, a fantasized Bellator-Strikeforce Super-Fight Super-Card, the crowning of a new UFC heavyweight champion in Cain Velasquez, it really gets overwhelming.
November and December will have plenty more fireworks with four UFC events, the last two WEC events, and two Strikeforce cards. Throw in a big one-two punch on New Year's eve and New Year's day card with Dream Dynamite and then UFC 125 and the 2010 MMA calendar will close with a bang.
In between all the future matchups scheduled and the shifting organization dynamic, there still remains some outstanding fights to look forward to in 2011, and some that the "powers that be" need to make happen.
Strong Rumor: Cain Velasquez vs Junior dos Santos for the UFC Heavyweight Title. Perfect ascension to the top of the heap for both of these fighters. With Lesnar humbled and Carwin sidelined, these two Latin warriors will deliver a great battle as the pendulum swings from "Size and Power" to "Speed and Technique" at the 265 pound limit class.
Fantasy & Rumor: Alistair Overeem vs Fabricio Werdum for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Title. Overeem has stated that his attention will shift in 2011 from Japan to the U.S. and defending his belt. Let's hope that horse-meat and bar-fights won't get in the way either. Werdum's only loss in 3 1/2 years was to Junior dos Santos who is now on the cusp of a UFC title fight, so that doesn't look so bad when stacked up to wins over once-invincible Fedor and top-10 contender Bigfoot Silva. Fedor will make plenty of noise to break up this title fight, but if Strikeforce is to gain back any momentum at this money-making division, Scott Coker needs to get this fight signed, sealed, and delivered. If it doesn't happen, then can we rename the promotion FinkelsteinForce and at least not lie about who runs the show?
Fantasy: Can we finally get a Fedor vs Barnett fight? Josh can return from his suspension and Fedor has few options, so this fight can put either man back into the elite tier of heavyweight fighters and provide a decent payday too. What other fight can Strikeforce sell to the the MMA fans that would re-create "buzz" around either of these once-great champions? It could be sold as the "I'm Big in Japan" unofficial title. Certainly worthy of a T-shirt for the winner.
Fantasy: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs Brendan Schaub. Big Nog is sidelined for the early part of 2011, but Schaub is coming off a 3 round battle with Gonzaga anyway, so the timeline could be perfect. Schaub has overcome his T.U.F. finale loss to Roy Nelson by dispatching three UFC fighters in less than seven months. His only fight to escape the first round was the last one with Gonzaga, who was immediately released by the UFC afterwords. Big Nog deserves great respect for all he has done for the sport, but at this point, he is going to have to fight off the "next generation" to maintain his hold in the heavyweight picture. A matchup with Schaub would be a great "youth vs experience" contest. Whoever wins this battle would have a legitimate claim to a title shot or a title eliminator fight.
Fantasy: Frank Mir vs Roy Nelson. I was truly looking forward to Shane Carwin vs Roy Nelson, as a Carwin fan (and Colorado MMA fan to avenge Schaub's loss to Big Country) and as a true "style matchup". Now that Carwin is undergoing possible surgery, their fight has been scrapped. So with Nelson on ice and Mir in limbo after the Cro Cop sparring match, let's matchup these two "BJJ Heavies" and see what happens. The winner then has a resume to fight into title contention and the loser would become a target for the next group of up-and-coming heavyweight challengers.
Strong Rumor: Matt Mitrione vs Travis "Hapa" Browne (UFC Fight for the Troops 2). Wow, now this is an aggressive move from the UFC brass to pair up two of their three rising HW stars (Brendan Schaub being the other). Mitrione might be a "meathead" but he has been coldly impressive in his three UFC fights to this point. Meanwhile, Hapa jumped in at the last minute to tangle with the former Mitrione-hater James McSweeney and came away with a first round TKO that made everyone take notice. His squeaker of a victory over perennial gatekeeper Cheick Kongo didn't exactly light the world on fire but was still a good resume builder, so this matchup will separate the contender from the pretender. The winner could be timed perfectly for a Shane Carwin or Brock Lesnar return from injury fight.
Fantasy: Lavar Johnson vs Daniel Cormier. Strikeforce needs some new blood in their heavyweight mix, and "Big" Johnson was certainly on track to deliver when he was tragically shot at a family party. Now that his miraculous recovery has been cemented by a win earlier this month, he can begin to set his sights back on the main prize. His heavy hands would contrast with Cormier's wrestling skills to give the fans a great style matchup. Cormier has been busy helping to train Cain Velasquez for the Lesnar fight, teammate Josh Koscheck's wrestling coach on Ultimate Fighter and prepping for his own matchup against Soa Palelei in early November. Once his slate is open, it would be the perfect time to prep for a big match to gain a contender shot for the Strikeforce crown, especially now that Bobby Lashley is out of the picture.
Fantasy: Shane del Rosario vs winner of Antonio Silva/Valentijn Overeem. As stated Strikeforce needs some heavyweight challengers and up-and-coming fighter del Rosario needs a resume building fight to gain legitimacy. He has called out Arlovski, but I fail to see how that helps his standing in the MMA community. Bigfoot Silva is a top 10 heavyweight and if he gets past Overeem would be a great opponent for del Rosario. If Overeem upsets Bigfoot then he will have proven to be someone del Rosario needs to get through if he wants a shot at "the other" Overeem down the road.
Just For Fun Fights:
Fantasy: Pat Barry vs Jon Madsen. Barry is a great guy, a fun fighter to root for, and an entertaining fighter who never "plays it safe". Madsen is an up-and-coming fighter who worked his way through three UFC wins, then made an impressive step-up victory against the well-respected Gilbert Yvel. Matching Madsen up against a strong striker like Barry, and vice-versa with the wrestler Madsen for Barry; would help either fighter showcase their skills to gain ground in the division.
Fantasy: Ben Rothwell vs Mike Russow. Russow dispatched young stud Todd Duffee after taking a severe beating for most of the fight. His neurologist might not approve, but fight fans will remember that! Rothwell is an entertaining fighter that would bring the fight to Russow. Once both of the "big boys" are healed up, sooner for Russow than Rothwell, this would be a good matchup.
Fantasy: Cheick Kongo vs Mirko "Cro Cop". Yes, this fight has been done once. It has now been over three years since Kongo upset Cro Cop. In the time since that fight, Kongo is 4-3-1 in the UFC while Mirko is 2-3 in the UFC (2-0-0-1 NC oustide the UFC). Both fighters are dealing with injuries that will put them out until around April 2011. Maybe a rematch is needed to give fans a "fun fight" but also to determine which of these two veterans will remain relevant in a rapidly changing division.
Fantasy: Gabriel Gonzaga vs Andrei Arlovski. Strikeforce? Dream? Someone get these two follicle-ly gifted fighters into a cage or ring while we still remember who they are. Both of these fighters have impressive resumes and skill-sets. Arlovski's resume needs no reminder, but his recent fights have been underwhelming in their results. Gonzaga has a highlight reel of great clips of his own. While each of them have an impressive highlight-reel of losses too. A "last ditch" fight for either of these two warriors could vault them into a big-money contract once again, or put the nail in the coffin for a career that has taken the wrong turn of late.
Fantasy: Bellator's Cole Konrad vs Todd Duffee. There is a method in psychology that you are supposed to fight your fears directly in order to overcome the "obstacle" you perceive in your mind that is holding you back from gaining true progress in life. So, Mr. Duffee, let me introduce you to another 260 pound wiggly mass of a plodding fighter that can absorb round-after-round of punishment and keep coming... Bellator's first Heavyweight title-holder won't find many interesting fights coming his way within the currently signed roster of fighters. Facing someone with Duffee's status would help propel Konrad into a more mainstream "sell" as a champion.
Special request to Strikeforce: for the December 2010 matchup for Herschel Walker, can we get Ray Sefo? How awesome would that be for both of those two young-to-MMA "old guys".
Please check back in the next few days for the next in the series!