UFC 129 Fight Card: 10 Questions That Will Be Answered April 30
Though all the hype is on Georges St-Pierre and Jake Shields at UFC 129 next Saturday, that actually may be a disservice to the larger fight card, which, in the aggregate, is actually pretty intriguing.
On the main card, you've got a featherweight title fight between champion Jose Aldo and Mark Hominick, a terrific light heavyweight matchup between Randy Couture and Lyoto Machida, a head-scratching light heavyweight fight between Vladimir Matyushenko and Jason Brilz and a collision between Mark Bocek and Ben Henderson to determine the newest contender at 155.
That's not to say there aren't plenty of questions set to be answered in the main event--because there are--but they shouldn't be the entire focus at the expense of the other fights.
Here are 10 questions that will be answered in the entire course of UFC 129.
For news and updates on this event, visit Bleacher Report's ongoing coverage of UFC 129: St-Pierre vs. Shields.
10. Is Mark Bocek a Contender in the Lightweight Division?
Mark Bocek is on a serious run. He has won four of his last five fights, all by submission. In December, he submitted a submissions expert when he choked out Dustin Hazelett. Bocek's only loss in his last five fights came at the hands of Jim Miller, now a bona fide challenger for the belt.
If he can defeat Ben Henderson, who held the WEC's lightweight championship for more than a year and is making his UFC debut, he's a contender, plain and simple.
9. Can Ben Henderson Keep the WEC's Momentum Going at Lightweight?
So far, the WEC transfers have more than held their own in the big, bad UFC.
Nowhere is this more true than the lightweight division.
In February, Donald Cerrone started the WEC's foray into the UFC with a bang by submitting Paul Kelly.
In March, Shane Roller knocked out Thiago Tavares. On the same card, Danny Castillo defeated Joe "Daddy" Stevenson.
Later that month, Joseph Benavidez beat Ian Loveland.
And WEC champ Anthony Pettis, who last December earned the belt and a spot in the YouTube Hall of Fame with the help of a mind-bending off-the-fence head kick on Henderson, hasn't even fought yet. (He'll do so in June against Clay Guida.)
By my count, WEC lightweights are 4-3 thus far in the UFC since the WEC folded up the tent, and that's against pretty stiff competition. They have even earned respect in defeat (Anthony Njokuani's Fight of the Night loss to Edson Barbosa March 19 comes to mind).
Before falling into Pettis' real-life version of The Matrix, Henderson built a 10-fight win streak, including victories over WEC standouts Cerrone, Roller and Jamie Varner. If he can handle Bocek, it will not only shoot Henderson into the UFC's contender discussion but provide further evidence that WEC talent is second to none.
8. Does Randy Couture Still Have His Fastball?
All due respect to James Toney, Couture's last opponent, but come on. That was a sideshow fight.
Before that, his wrestlefest with fellow MMA legend Mark Coleman also carried the distinct whiff of novelty.
At this stage of his career, The Natural probably stands a better chance of making waves at light heavyweight than heavyweight, where he was overpowered twice in a row against Brock Lesnar and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. Couture has a three-fight win streak since his more-or-less permanent return to 205, but Lyoto Machida will be his toughest test in nearly two years.
How he fares against a hungry Machida will determine whether Couture is still a legitimate threat or if, at this stage of The Natural's career, the circus circuit is the more logical home.
7. Can Machida Find His Mojo?
There's no question Lyoto Machida is tired of hearing peoples' sarcastic quips about that "Machida era" we all lived in for exactly .416 years. The real question is: Can he do anything to shut their yaps?
For his own sake, the answer better be yes. Because as UFC 129 looms, it is clear The Dragon is backed into a corner. He may or may not be in a true must-win situation, but at a minimum, a loss to Couture— which would be his third straight—would push him out of the A-ring of the division.
Couture's wrestling presents a provocative matchup for Machida. Both men are considered strong in the strategery department. Couture will surely test Machida's ability to fight from his back, just as Machida will test Couture's speed and standup.
Though Machida is the favorite here, he can't afford to be overly deliberate against The Natural. He has always looked best when mixing aggression with his trademark elusiveness. If he can return to that against Couture, he will also return to the winner's circle.
6. Do Jason Brilz or Vladimir Matyushenko Belong Anywhere Near a Main Card?
I know Matyushenko is a grizzled veteran. But he's not THAT grizzled.
I know Jason Brilz is a promising young fighter. But he's not THAT promising.
I know the rest of the undercard is a little sparse. But it's not THAT sparse.
I think you see where I'm going here.
These two guys deserve credit for filling in for Phil Davis and Matt Hamil, who both withdrew from the card on relatively short notice. But to not only put these two guys on the main card, but then put it above Machida-Couture? Sorry...I'm not buying it.
Having said that, this is why they fight the fights. We'll know for sure on May 1 whether one or both of these fighters are worthy of such valuable real estate.
5. Will Jose Aldo Show and Prove in His UFC Debut?
Jose Aldo is a consensus top-five fighter in the world. That's probably partially why the UFC did not hesitate to declare Aldo its first-ever featherweight champion before he ever set foot in the Octagon.
At UFC 129, he'll defend the belt for the first time against Canadian Mark Hominick.
Though Aldo is rightly favored in the bout, on paper this is not a cake walk. Hominick is a dangerous, well-rounded professional who will be fighting in front of a friendly crowd in Toronto. Hominick has held a belt before, in Canada's now-defunct TKO promotion. And there's a chance Aldo may be a touch jittery in his first fight for the UFC; the presumably hostile crowd won't help with that. Hominick, by comparison, made his Octagon debut in January.
Don't get me wrong: This is Aldo's fight to lose. But that doesn't mean this isn't a pivotal, telling and perhaps risky moment in the young man's brilliant career.
4. The GSP-Shields Fight Isn't Going To Be Boring, Is It?
Short answer: yes, with an if.
Long answer: no, with a but.
There's a good chance the fight is going to be boring if you don't like extended periods of grappling for position. Both of these men are extremely talented on the ground, but neither man (especially Shields) has shown the ability and/or the willingness to finish fights from that position. If a fight between two fighters who aren't necessarily looking to finish fights is not your ideal fight, then yes, you may be bored.
On the other hand, hardcore fans fall all over themselves to talk about how grappling is the foundation of all combat. It is the Beautiful Chess Match! It's The Perfect Contest! It's an entire intergalactic space war for the ages, condensed down so that it fits inside the wills of two men! And so on.
So if you like skill and strategy, this could indeed be your cup of tea. And if you want to boost up your MMA fan cred, definitely talk up how awesome it was and how enthralled you were once it went to the mat.
But on the third hand...
3. Georges St-Pierre: Head Hunter?
Georges St-Pierre has heard the talk. He knows that plenty of people out there find him dull. No elite fighter is as obsessed with their legacy, for better or worse, as GSP.
I agree with GSP when he says he probably needs to finish more fights in order to be fully ensconced among the all-time greats. But since he's been saying that for quite a while now, with every fight that goes by and doesn't see him achieve the stoppage, the sense of urgency grows.
So the real question is whether he will allow this desire and the public perception of his fighting style to have an undue influence on his fight strategy.
If he can stuff Shields' takedowns, St-Pierre will enjoy a decided advantage on the feet. But can he capitalize? Will he grow reckless in his quest for the knockout? Will he try too hard to make the highlight reels? Will he focus so much on takedown defense that his takedown offense is marginalized?
We shall see.
2. Who Is the Best Welterweight in MMA?
Sorry, Nick Diaz, but these are the two greatest welterweights on Planet Earth today. So the question is simple: Who's the best?
This fight will provide as close to a definitive answer as you can get.
1. If St-Pierre Beats Shields, Has He Earned the Right To Move Up?
Perhaps the million-dollar question at UFC 129.
What if GSP can't pull the stoppage on Shields but wins via unanimous decision? Split decision?
What if Shields wins?
Where is the tipping point that breaks St-Pierre free of the welterweight division? When can we consider the division "cleaned out?" What would it take for Nick Diaz fans to sit back and say "You know what, I think Jon Fitch sounds about right."