Mention “free UFC world title fight on network TV” to your casual MMA fan and chances are they’ll start telling you all about Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos, coming live on FOX this fall!
Hold on just a second. Before the heavyweights take MMA to the next level on network TV, a different set of UFC champions are set to throw down for free under the bright lights of network TV. For the bantamweights, this is a moment to step out from under the shadows of their heavyweight comrades – and that’s important, since I don’t think Demetrious Johnson could step out from Cain Velasquez’s shadow in real life if he tried.
Backing up the title fight on the network card are some intriguing undercard matchups, featuring scrapy lightweights, just as scrappy welterweights, and your obligatory heavyweight slugfest.
What does it all mean? What exactly is at stake when the lights go down in Washington, D.C. Saturday night? Well, let’s find out shall we? Opening the show, a pair of lightweights with a lot to prove…
Mac Danzig vs. Matt Wiman
The UFC lightweight division is frequently referred to as a “shark tank”, and with very good reason. Because of the acquisition of the lightweights in the WEC, the influx of lighter weight guys from the crumbling Japanese MMA scene, and the year-long Frankie Edgar/Gray Maynard logjam at the top of the division – well, let’s just say there’s more contenders now at LW then there are pimples on Chael Sonnen’s back.
What makes this fight so interesting is the history. The two first met at UFC 115, where Wiman came out the winner via guillotine. There was tremendous controversy, however, as referee Yves Lavigne stopped the fight while Danzig was still conscious and fighting, misinterpreting either his gurgles as pleas for mercy or his attempts to escape as being the last twitches of an unconscious man.
Either way, the past is the past, and as that old fight adage goes: “In the cage, the truth will eventually come out”. These two guys finally get the change to settle the score and, much more critically, find out who gets to keep swimming the “shark tank” and who gets turned to chum.
Danzig had so much hope coming off his season of “The Ultimate Fighter”, during which he steamrolled over the competition. Now he’s 2-2 in his last 4 with a lot of people claiming he never lived up to the hype. With over a decade in MMA, I’m sure this isn’t how Danzig wants to be remembered. A win here could launch him to bigger fights – a match with trash-talking Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone comes to mind.
For Wiman, it’s almost the same situation. Another highly touted prospect, Wiman won 3 straight before dropping his last fight to German kick-ninja (no, that’s not his name, but it ought to be) Dennis Siver. Another loss could see the still young Wiman ejected from the LW title hunt, possibly forever. A win could propel him into a contendership position – facing the loser of Clay Guida vs. Ben Henderson seems like a no-lose situation for the fans.
Anthony Johnson vs. Charlie Brenneman
Charlie Brenneman is living, breathing proof that MMAth just doesn’t work.
See, two fights ago Brenneman fought Johny Hendricks, an NCAA Division-1 wrestling champion, and he got outwrestled for the loss. Hendricks then fought Rick Story, who surprised many by outwrestling the NCAA champ and picking up the win.
In his last fight, Brenneman faced Rick Story, taking the fight on 5 minutes notice (not really, but pretty close). And wouldn’t you know it – on that night, Brenneman outwrestled Story, who outwrestled Hendricks, who outwrestled Brenneman. My head hurts.
Anthony Johnson, on the other hand, is a prime example of how MMAth is sometimes spot on. In his last fight, the college national champion wrestler faced British slugger Dan Hardy. See the words “British” and “champion wrestler” in that last sentence? Yeah, you know where this is going: Johnson rode Hardy like a pony around the ring for 3 rounds.
If Brenneman wins this fight, he becomes the next “it” contender at welterweight. Rick Story was the “it” contender until Brenneman beat him, however we still don’t know enough about Charlie to put the crown of “next big deal” on his head yet. He needs to show consistency, and a win over Anthony Johnson would do just that.
For Johnson, a win is critical for re-establishing himself in the division after sitting out over a year with a knee injury. He has all the tools to be a big force for years to come – assuming he can keep making the 170 lbs. weight limit. Johnson regularly cuts over 50 lbs. to make weight, meaning the key to this fight might be Johnson’s battle with Oreo cookies and ice cream cake the week of the weigh-in.
Pat Berry vs. Stefan Struve
This is a battle of two promising young heavyweights with “K-1 level striking” who have, for some reason or another, not performed quite up to par in the UFC thus far.
Pat Berry is one of the funniest fighters in the UFC. Anyone who follows his Twitter, keeps up with him on MMA message boards, or has heard any of his interviews knows well what a character Berry can be. He also has a ton of hype coming from Duke Roofus’s camp and is said to be one of the best kickboxers in the HW division.
Unfortunately for Berry, he currently sports a losing record in the UFC that is as much a fault of bad luck as it is any holes in his game. He was brutalizing Mirko “Cro Cop” before the high-fiving, bro-hugging Berry allowed Mirko to come from behind and win it (breaking his hand probably didn’t help either). Against Cheick Kingo, Berry had everything going his way before he charged in recklessly against a stumbling Kongo – and eat a miracle shot that stretched him.
Stefan Struve is a skyscraper heavyweight with the kind of Dutch kickboxing pedigree that should make him a hyped prospect. Unfortunately for the him, for all his physical gifts he has a balsa wood chin. Chances are most fans know Struve because Junior Dos Santos, Roy Nelson, and Travis Browne shut his lights off in dramatic fashion.
This fight should be STANDABANG fun for the whole family, with a 99.999% chance that somebody is getting put to sleep. Both men occupy similar positions on the roster and bring similar skillsets to the table; in essence, they’re fighting for the same sport on the roster.
A win for either man brings them to the surface of the relatively shallow UFC heavyweight division, and sets up fights with Shane Carwin, Frank Mir, or perhaps even Brock Lesnar – in other words, the winner of this fight better be dusting off the ol’ wrestling singlet or BJJ gi and bone up on his grappling.
Dominick Cruz vs. Demetrious Johnson
Poor Dominick Cruz. Here’s a guy who has run roughshod over his division, achieved championship level success in the WEC and UFC, and has now officially defended his UFC championship. The guy is legit.
Unfortunately for him, all people seem to be able to talk about is what a disappointment he is as champion. Not a disappointment in terms of skills, which he clearly has, or exciting fights, which he almost always puts on. No, Cruz is a “disappointment” because he can’t seem to get the whole world to stand up and applaud him every time he walks into a room.
I exaggerate, but only a little. In the minds of some fans, the lighter weight classes – particularly bantamweight – haven’t “caught on” in fans imaginations yet, and the reason for that is Dominick Cruz. His debut title defense in the UFC drew “only” 350,000 PPV buys, or about what Anderson Silva drew when he faced Patrick Cote. But hey, don’t let me ruin a good media narrative with some facts or anything.
This fight probably won’t do stellar ratings and once again, I’m guessing the blame will be laid at Dominick’s feet. He shouldn’t care about such things, however, since as far as I’m concerned he’s doing his job as he should be. He’s exciting, classy, intelligent and making all the right moves. Plus, he has the UFC promotional machine behind him. I think given time, he’ll have no problem becoming a star in the UFC.
A big part of that process will be watching his fights, as it will be for all the bantam and featherweights. Simply put, the fights will rock, and if the fights rock, people will be watching.
Demetrious Johnson is the perfect opponent to guarantee a fun fight with Cruz – not that the division is really lacking for exciting fighters. Johnson is tough, technical, and fights like the Energizer bunny on cocaine. This fight is going to be a war, and I honestly don’t see any losers in this one. Even the guy who is defeated will see his stock go up with a strong performance. And the fans will benefit from a fun, free world title fight.
And that’s sort of the point of all this, isn’t it?
By Elton Hobson