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TGIFighting: Boxing Gets a New Legend, and Why Saturday's UFC Card Is Not Great

Scott Harris@ScottHarrisMMAMMA Lead WriterSeptember 17, 2021

Anderson Silva
Anderson SilvaDouglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

This whole "legends" boxing phenomenon comes with a caveat: Sooner or later, the legends age out. This is a problem, because "new blood" and "old fighters" are not always compatible ideas.

We all saw the sausage-making Saturday at a boxing card hosted by Triller, the media company that popularized the combat career of Jake Paul. Even as two combat sports icons were unceremoniously shown the exit, a new fixture on the nostalgia tour appears to have earned his stripes.

Legends fighters leave the ranks not because they're no longer serious competitors or face outsized risks—those things don't seem to bother anyone very much—but because their ability to merely be in the ring swinging their arms has been irredeemably compromised. No one wants "irredeemably compromised" next to their favorite fighter's name, but that's Father Time for you.

We saw it quite emphatically in the evening's main event, where 58-year-old former boxing god Evander Holyfield (44-10-2) was saved by the ref after one scary, gross, disturbing exhibition round with 44-year-old Vitor Belfort (26-14 [1 NC]), the former UFC champ. From the moment the bout started, it was clear Holyfield was sadly in over his head against Belfort, who was long known for his hands in MMA circles. He barely even needed them against Holyfield, who wasn't able to move well under his own power. Are you not entertained? Uh, no! Nope.

ESPN Ringside @ESPNRingside

Vitor Belfort’s pressure proved to be too much for Evander Holyfield. (via @OmarESPN) https://t.co/wlR89gCjJC

But as Holyfield presumably exits this shady corner of the sports world—who would pay to see him again? Not many did this time—we saw a new entrant in 46-year-old Anderson Silva (34-11 MMA, 3-1 boxing). Silva, who went 1-7 (1 NC) over the last eight years of his time in the UFC, looked like Roy Jones Jr. as he likely ended the golden-year career of former UFC light heavyweight Tito Ortiz (21-12-1 MMA, 0-1 boxing).

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The @SpiderAnderson KO hits different from ringside 👀 #SilvaOrtiz (via @OmarESPN) https://t.co/5tUEa9UwgK

Ortiz, also 46, has been making a tidy living off legends fights for years, going back to his 2017 Bellator MMA bout against then-39-year-old Chael Sonnen (31-17-1). Ortiz managed only 82 seconds against Silva before being slow-motion crumpled to the ground.

Knowing Ortiz, he could find some way to hang on by his fingernails—are the bareknuckle fighting people accepting applications? Could he fight a parked car?—but at this point his appeal as a fighter and public figure is one of pure morbid curiosity, even when grading on the legends curve.

It's "funny" that fresh blood comes from two people with a combined age of 92, but here we are, fight fans. Silva and maybe Belfort do look to have a future on the legends circuit—a boxing rematch of their 2011 MMA bout, which Silva famously won with a spectacular front-kick KO, would likely do numbers—but let's not get carried away. Each man beat a hollow husk with a splashy nametag. That's fine, as we're all consenting adults here, but there's really no such thing as a quality win on the legends circuit. It's more of a binary thing.

     

Yoel Romero vs. Phil Davis: Give It a Chance

With the UFC staging a fairly lackluster card Saturday, Bellator MMA has wisely stepped into the breach with Bellator 266, which goes down Saturday from San Jose, California.

Atop the card are two of the brighter names in Bellator in light heavyweights Yoel Romero (13-5) and Phil Davis (22-6 [1 NC]). It's the Bellator debut for Romero, after an eye injury scuttled his original, much-anticipated start date against the hard-hitting Anthony Johnson (23-6), which would have been part of Bellator's light heavyweight grand prix.

The first takeaway here is that Bellator continues to be snakebitten with its big stars. From Romero to Aaron Pico (8-3) to Michael "Venom" Page (19-1) to Darrion Caldwell (15-5) and beyond, some of the promotion's biggest names and talents haven't always delivered in the big spots.

Davis (left) kicks Ryan Bader (right)
Davis (left) kicks Ryan Bader (right)Chad Matthew Carlson/Getty Images

The second is that Davis-Romero feels very much like a consolation match. And while the potential for a knockout here is half that of Romero-Johnson, it could still make for interesting viewing.

Both of these men have extensive experience in the UFC and, in Davis' case, Bellator, and both have elite wrestling backgrounds, with Davis winning a national title at Penn State and Romero taking home an Olympic silver medal for his native Cuba.

Davis and Romero are both athletic if past their primes at 36 and 44 years old, respectively. Still, ask guys like Robert Whittaker (23-5) if Romero can still crack. Davis can still win fights, but on Saturday his takedown attempts may go begging against someone for whom sprawling is as easy as breathing. But if he can use his rangy limbs to pick Romero apart from distance, we could have ourselves a fight.

So what will we see Saturday? You can't gloss over the fact that both men are prone to bouts of, shall we say, extended reflection in the cage. I know what Bellator is hoping for, especially given its headliner history over the past several years. It wants fireworks. We'll see if the fighters play along or play it safe.

     

This Weekend's UFC Card Is Not Good

No other way to put it.

Anthony Smith (35-16) has had a rock-solid UFC career. Don't forget: This is a fighter who went the distance with then-light heavyweight champ and GOAT short-lister Jon Jones (26-1-1). But that moral victory—and that is very much a thing, no matter what the athletes tell you—may have been his high-water mark. He's 3-2 in the five fights since, with two performance bonuses (and lots of subconcussive trauma) along the way.

His opponent in the main event of Saturday's UFC Fight Night 192 in Las Vegas, Ryan Spann (19-6), is 4-1 over his last five, albeit with wins over mediocre-at-best competition like Sam Alvey (33-16-1 [1 NC]) and a diminished Misha Cirkunov (15-6).

Smith is ranked No. 6 in the official UFC light heavyweight rankings, while Spann is No. 11. 

This fight may have action, but it won't have much in the way of title stakes, which is typically what you look for in a UFC main event. But compared to the rest of this card, the main event might as well be McGregor-Alvarez at the Garden. Of the 10 other fighters on this main card, only one—lightweight Arman Tsarukyan (16-2)—cracks the rankings. Tsarukyan clocks in at No. 14 on a list that goes 15 deep, so feel free to do that math.

There are no bona fide super-prospects on the card, either. It all feels a little like Brunswick stew; the UFC is opening random cans of corn niblets and wax beans and dumping them all in the stewpot in hopes they'll coalesce into some kind of final product. We'll see what comes out Saturday.

     

Stone-Cold Lead Pipe Lock of the Week

Record to date: 18-4

After a week without major league MMA action, we're back to find the unassailable lock on this week's UFC card. Don't forget: I'm betting these picks, too, so if this bet goes down, so do I.

Our last pick, Jack Shore, ran his record to 15-0 by washing Liudvik Sholinian (9-2-1) for a dominant decision win. He was a pretty big favorite, though, so why don't we go for a pick this week that isn't quite such a squash match. Raquel Pennington (11-8) is a -130 favorite, per DraftKings, to handle Pannie Kianzad (15-5) in the UFC women's bantamweight division.

Pennington has never been what you'd call a world-beater, but she's a proven winner against proven competition. Kianzad has four straight wins over some intriguing names like hardened vet Sijara Eubanks (7-6) and the fading but still talented Alexis Davis (20-11), but Pennington is undoubtedly a step up. They don't come any tougher than Pennington, who excels against fighters she can pressure—which Kianzad looks to be. There may not be a finish in the offing, but a decision win is a strong possibility for the elder Pennington.

     

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