Saturday in Brazil has come and gone and along with it the UFC’s return to the hometown of the choke-out. Not a bad card on paper, the PPV event proved to be one of the more disappointing in recent memory. Perhaps with the exception of Nogueria’s retirement-delaying KO of Schuab and Nedkov’s first round blasting of the dangerous Luis Cane, the fights were a bit of a dud. A sluggish looking Shogun took all of a minute to dismantle Forrest Griffin without landing a single clean punch, a contest that would appear to have de-valued the stock of both fighters. Anderson Silva tried his best to treat us to his signature striking magic, unfortunately finding himself so under-matched against a Frankenstein-like Yushin Okami that he barely got the opportunity to land a few jabs before his opponent retreated to the defensive ground position that is sign language for “please make the bad man stop hurting me, Herb Dean”.
The most intriguing match up of the night (Edson Barbosa vs. Ross Pearson) had its moments, but ultimately led to dissatisfaction as we watched Barbosa not show up for the third round, only to received an ill-deserved decision victory courtesy of hometown favoritism. Pearson was robbed of his decision, we were robbed of closure to what should have been a satiating striking battle.
So, like the proverbial thong-donning phoenix rising from the ashes of the MMA loving beach paradise, let us return to a positive note and look at a few of the potential match ups that we have to look forward to in the coming year:
1) Ben Henderson vs. Melvin Guillard:
I have been extolling the virtues of the newly Greg Jackson-ized Guillard for awhile now. Always having possessed the tools to be a champion, the thunder-fisted Louisiana native has found the guidance and focus necessary to put it all together and seal up the holes in his game. The result is a more patient, disciplined Guillard who is faster and more explosive than anyone else in the division and on any given night is capable of rendering unconscious just about any 155 pounder on the planet.
Henderson is coming off of the most impressive victory of his career (his decision win over gritty Jim Miller) and since entering the octagon less than 6 months ago has looked like one of the hottest fighters in the division. If this fight panned out to be even half as entertaining as it ought to be it would be a shoe-in for fight of the year.
Henderson cannot and should not stand with Guillard. Melvin’s boxing and hand speed is on another level. Henderson would be wise to work his excellent wrestling and strength to tie his opponent up against the cage, work the dirty boxing and, when possible, take the fight to the mat in search of a submission.
The real question and determining factor in this fight would be Guillard’s wrestling and submission defense. Melvin has always had very good and highly underrated wrestling, but his submission defense game is another story, one that tends to end with The Young Assassin using his opponents body to tap out morse code for “I like being conscious”. Guillard’s evolution will be on display as he works to avoid Henderson’s dangerous submissions, keep the fight standing and wait for the opportunity to land a big combination.
Either way, this would be a war.
2) Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen II:
Closure. I need it. I need it bad. I need it like a redhead needs a hat. I, like any other self-respecting Anderson Silva fan, need to see The Spider have one more crack at the man who beat the hell out of him for four rounds before making the mistake of sleeping on Anderson’s web-like guard. Sure, Chael Sonnen had the testosterone levels of Mickey Rourke during the pre-production of “The Wrestler”, but it still doesn’t sit right with me. Frankly, if I don’t see Anderson Silva beat Sonnen before stepping into retirement I will forever consider his legacy tarnished. I don’t want that. I want to remember Anderson Silva as quite possibly the greatest MMA fighter who ever lived, but without retribution, that footage of Silva-Sonnen 1 might make that an impossibility for me. The good news is, now that Sonnen’s various legal escapades are behind him, the UFC seems open to making this happen.
I know, I know. Sonnen must get through a very tough welcome back bout with the rapidly improving Brian Stann. I have Sonnen winning this, but, given the layoff and Stann’s exponential learning curve, not by much. But lets assume he does. Further, lets assume that Silva does not lose to George St. Pierre (unlikely), Dan Henderson (more likely) or whoever else the UFC may throw at him in the interim. How does part 2 play out? It goes without saying that Anderson could catch anyone with a strike or a submission and end any fight in the blink of an eye. With him that is always a possibility, more often than not a probability. But I think the more pertinent question is- how does Silva deal with Sonnen’s wrestling?
I personally feel like the tone for the first fight was set when Silva, having underestimated Sonnen’s ability to throw a dangerous punch, got caught square on the jaw by a right cross. This punch, miraculously, hurt him and he spent the next couple of rounds trying to recover by which time Sonnen had depleted his gas tank with methodical ground and pound. Sonnen is not likely to catch Anderson with strikes again. Like, EVER again. But he is still going to be able to get takedowns and control Silva for a fair portion of the fight. The Spider needs to realize that he can’t afford to get too flashy on the feet here. He needs to be efficient and effective for the portion of the fight that will remain standing, hurting Sonnen when and where he gets the opportunity before they head to the mat. An injured, dazed Sonnen is much less likely to be as effective at controlling his opponent and from there Silva can use submissions to end the fight or get things upright again.
I see Silva winning with another late fight sub, but I expect to see a much more even give and take until that point. I also expect to be able to sleep again.
3) Edson Barbosa vs. Ross Pearson II (in England):
It seems only fair, right? The truth is, even though this bout didn’t quite live up the hype there were some very interesting moments and I have reason to believe that the second time might be a charm. Pearson has never been short on tenacity and drive, in this fight it was Barbosa who appeared to fade late in the fight, seeming to have been convinced that he had the first two rounds in the bag and simply needed to coast in round 3 (turns out he was right). I think the hometown advantage clearly played a role here and I would love to see Barbosa step into a third round with Pearson convinced that he was losing. These fighter’s styles match in a very entertaining way, the only missing ingredient was Barbosa’s sense of urgency.
Well, thats it for now. Feel free to lend your thoughts on these bouts or to shower me with praise, ridicule, clarifications, questions or any other kind of response. As Chael Sonnen will tell you: any attention is good attention.