UFC: The Top 5 Rubber Matches That Need to Happen

McKinley NobleCorrespondent IJuly 5, 2011

UFC: The Top 5 Rubber Matches That Need to Happen

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    For Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber, UFC 132 was the chance to settle an old score that had overshadowed their title fight since the day it was signed.

    Instead, the score was simply evened to a single win apiece as Cruz proved a point to Faber. Through 25 exhausting minutes of action, Cruz showed he is indeed a vastly different fighter than the relative MMA neophyte who was caught in a first-round guillotine four years ago. It wasn't the decision win result that was unexpected, but the competitive pace. It was something else altogether.

    In a night that proved a worthy thrill for both hardcore and casual fans, UFC 132 already had a brimming pocketful of highlight reels to take to the bank. Melvin Guillard crushed an unfairly overmatched Shane Roller. Rafael dos Anjos flattened George Sotiropoulos. Carlos Condit dropped an atomic knee blast on Dong Hyun Kim's face. Chris Leben violently shut out Wanderlei Silva's lights.

    And, of course, Tito Ortiz dug himself out of a five-year, four-loss hole by upsetting Ryan Bader.

    But even with all that action, the show was stolen by Cruz and Faber, who brawled, scrambled, and raced around the octagon for 25 frantic minutes. It was competitive. It was a barnburner. And it's a match that fight fans want to see again. Could we possibly see Cruz vs. Faber 3 happen in the near future?

    Rubber matches are a rare thing in MMA—and if the fight gods are good to Dana White, Joe Silva and the UFC, these five matches could (and should) happen sometime soon.

Tito Ortiz vs. Forrest Griffin 3

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    Why It Must Happen

    If Tito Ortiz is part feline, he's undoubtedly used up most of his nine lives in the UFC so far. Notching a win against Ryan Bader at UFC 132 not only saves his career, but the nature of MMA rankings also launches Ortiz right back into the upper tier of the light heavyweight division.

    Making another title run is highly improbable, but Ortiz (in a surprising moment of practicality) recognizes his time will be better served rematching certain fighters.

    In many ways, there is no better opponent for Ortiz right now than Forrest Griffin.

    Griffin is a fighter who has been at the top and bottom of the division's best, and like Ortiz, he's currently trying to rebuild himself in a division that is quickly moving on without him.

    Neither man is going to be able to complete at the highest levels of the division for much longer. Both are over 30 years old. Many injuries and surgeries have stolen years of their prime from the octagon.

    For Ortiz, this fight will determine if the "Huntington Beach Bad Boy" has enough left in him to remain a consistent threat to unwary fighters. For Griffin, this fight should provide a definite answer to who really won both of those split decision wins. Either way, the loser falls out of the elite class entirely, while the winner avoids gatekeeper status and endless fights against new, dangerous prospects.

     

    What Needs to Happen

    Either winning or losing, Griffin must put in a good showing against Shogun Rua at UFC 134 in Rio.

    Ortiz must simply remain healthy.

    Since Ortiz emerged from his last fight with nary a scratch, it would make sense to pit the two fighters against each other for a New Year's Day fight card.

Lyoto Machida vs. Shogun Rua 3

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    Why It Should Happen

    Lyoto Machida and Shogun Rua were both considered to be near the top of the "pound-for-pound" MMA rankings last year.

    In Machida's case, his staggering climb up the MMA rankings happened shortly after the decimation of everything between him and the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. His baffling, seemingly effortless undefeated run seemed like it would have no end.

    For Rua, it was a busy stretch of fights in 2009 and 2010, where he rebounded from a loss to Forrest Griffin with explosive thrashings of Chuck Liddell, Mark Coleman and (to many fans) two surprisingly aggressive beatdowns on Machida.

    Machida's famous front kick knockout of Randy Couture puts the Dragon right back into the big picture. Even with a loss to Rampage Jackson, the fight was close enough that Machida could have easily gotten the nod from the judges.

    Shogun's coming off a disappointingly one-sided title loss to Jon "Bones" Jones, but he'll get a chance to clear his head with his upcoming money fight in Rio. Should Rua win, things would be interesting if he was given a title contender's shot against Machida. From a promotional standpoint and matchmaking angle, it would be a perfect setup for a great rubber match.

     

    What Needs to Happen

    For this rubber match to have the proper setup, Rua's best move is to beat (or draw with) Griffin at UFC: Rio. Should Rua's losing streak stretch to two fights, a bout with Machida coming off a win wouldn't make much sense.

Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir 3

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    Why It Should Happen

    Losing Brock Lesnar to recurring diverticulitis and repeated surgeries should do a lot of damage to the UFC this year. If the surly pay-per-view megastar decides to return to the octagon, you can bet that Dana White and Joe Silva might show some hesitation before throwing Lesnar in the deep end of the pool again.

    More than anything, the main issue will be how the extended leave affects Lesnar's fighting ability, health and general public interest.

    Frank Mir would be the perfect test—and an interesting one at that.

    For all the hatred he holds toward Lesnar, the fact remains that Mir is a completely different fighter, thanks to his enemy. First, Mir increased his strength to compete with the sport's "super heavyweight" class. Shortly after a brutal loss to Shane Carwin, Mir sat down to reassess his striking.

    As a result, Mir has notched two wins against tough competition in Mirko Cro Cop and Roy Nelson—but those wins are hardly convincing of Mir's status in the MMA rankings. Sooner or later, it'll be time for a step up.

    In many ways, a returning Lesnar requires a delicate touch. Throwing him into a fight with Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos or even Carwin invites a quick destruction of the promotion's most precious PPV commodity. However, Mir represents a nice alternative—a fighter who will try his best to ruin Lesnar's return party but is unlikely to completely obliterate him in a victory.

    Plus, it also helps build the rubber match with one key detail. Both of these men hate each other. A lot.

     

    What Needs to Happen

    Aside from Mir staying relevant in the division over the next year, Lesnar needs a tune-up fight when he returns to the UFC.

    Of course, Lesnar must win that fight.

    If Lesnar is welcomed back to the UFC and immediately loses to Nelson, Brendan Schaub, Cro Cop, Cheick Kongo or even Matt Mitrione, he's done as a legitimate title contender.

Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard 3

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    Why It Should Happen

    Out of all the UFC's weight classes, no title picture is more cluttered than the "lightweight logjam" caused by Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard.

    Regardless of how many people Edgar beats, both MMA fans and oddsmakers are going to continue underestimating the diminutive UFC champion. Maynard's looming presence doesn't help matters much either, as "The Bully" represents the largest lingering dark spot on Edgar's fight career.

    As the saying goes, this town isn't big enough for the both of them.

    Before Jim Miller, Clay Guida, Dennis Siver or Melvin Guillard can move anywhere on the UFC chessboard, Edgar and Maynard need to do something. It's not fair to any of them to wait so long for a title shot. And from a bigger picture perspective, the MMA rankings will benefit from a lightweight division that's on the move, rather than sitting in a continual circling pattern.

    Of course, the added drama to this match comes directly from the awe-inspiring performance both men gave at UFC 125. Most people thought Maynard would hold Edgar down and grind him into the mat. Others thought Edgar would run around the ring for 25 minutes.

    Instead, both men showed how badly they wanted the title with a memorable scrap—and we can hope we'll get the same thing (with a definite winner) in a rubber match.

     

    What Needs to Happen

    Both fighters need to get healthy and finish this trilogy before we all die of old age.

Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber 3

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    Why It Should Happen

    Perhaps no other title fight this year had as much genuine bad blood fueling it as Cruz vs. Faber II. 

    Stemming from a promotional "diss" move by Dominick Cruz—who was rightly angry at being left out of the fight poster for WEC 26—Urijah Faber was the target of his opponent's aggression early on.

    Each and every time Cruz got his hands on a Sharpie pen, his signature would be scrawled right across Faber's face and distinctive chin. If Faber found out, he didn't have long to stew about it, as he put Cruz to sleep with an early, dominant guillotine choke.

    Fast forward about four years and one weight class later. The heat was still there.

    It was obvious from all the heated interviews. It was anticipated the minute Faber dropped from featherweight to bantamweight. It was electric, right up to the in-ring instructions, as Cruz pointedly glared at Faber, briskly stalking back to his corner without touching gloves at the referee's request.

    Even though Cruz and Faber embraced after the fight—a showing of good sportsmanship that could be seen as begrudging respect on the parts of both men—the judges' decision could have gone either way.

    Faber came closer to solving the riddle of Cruz than anyone so far. Booming power shots and solid counters visibly rattled the champion, but not enough to turn the tide of the fight. Another fight must happen.

    Cruz and Faber need this rubber match. Heck, the bantamweight division needs this rubber match—if, for nothing else, to try and sell fight fans the next credible contender.

     

    What Needs to Happen

    Joe Silva needs to stop talking about Brian Bowles and Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson. Both fighters need more exposure and more tuning before they're ready to challenge for the bantamweight belt. It's clear that Cruz and Faber are at a level above the rest of the division right now.

     

    [McKinley Noble is a staff editor at GamePro and an MMA conspiracy theorist. Follow his Twitter account for crazy talk, 1990s movie references, and general weirdness. Or you could just stalk him on Google.]