MMA, like the action itself, is a sport of distractions. In trying to focus on analysis, I'm distracted by random chatter about YouTube videos and crime reports. But this is not why we're here fellow MMA fans. We're here to talk MMA, so let's move on, while understanding that it's ok to be thoroughly embarrassed by our combat culture. January is not only a time to give the oxygen of publicity to our village idiots, but also to illustrate how graceful mixed martial arts can be. And there's plenty of it this month.
Let's take a tour through the five fights you should be watching before making your picks for UFC on FX 7: Bisping vs. Belfort this weekend.
Michael Bisping vs. Wanderlei Silva UFC 110
Bisping will once again have to contend with a dangerous striker in Vitor Belfort this weekend, so I think we should consider what Bisping looked like the last time he fought a capable striker. Granted, I know what you're thinking; "Silva was past his prime, and doesn't shoot half as straight as Vitor". Those are all true of course.
However, the lesson learned in that fight is that Bisping still sits down on his imaginary roller skates whenever he gets charged. Even after what should have been a hard lesson learned about which way to circle when Dan Henderson dug his grave, Bisping still looks uncomfortable, and nervous. Wand isn't even a better striker than Mike at this point, but his aggressiveness earned him points, as well as a victory. If Bisping is ready for Anderson Silva, these are the flaws in his game he'll need to address. Backing up straight, and circling the wrong way won't do his brain any favors either against a potential fight against Anderson, or this weekend in Brazil.
Vitor Belfort vs. Randy Couture UFC 49
I'm choosing this fight because I feel it's relevant, but mostly because it damn near makes me misty-eyed. UFC 49 gave us Yves Edwards brilliantly knocking out Josh Thomson, and Karo and Nick putting on a minor classic. It reminded us of the HW dark ages with Justin Eilers gaining credibility as a HW contender, while also explaining how Lindland's shot at Franklin was less about the UFC protecting their poster boy, and more about getting knocked out in 20 seconds by a then (and still) unkown in David Terrell. But also because it concluded the accidental trilogy of Randy Couture and Vitor Belfort.
I bring this fight up because Bisping has revealed his inner Couture in a lot of recent fights. Less a full blown striker, Bisping is very much a phase shifter; preferring to use his boxing to set up takedowns, and becoming more proficient with his ground and pound. Though some fans would prefer a slugfest, don't be surprised if this fight looks very much like Couture vs Belfort III, in which Couture successfully neutralized Vitor with dirty boxing, and top control on the ground.
It's hard to find a real facsimile for Daniel Sarafian when looking at C.B.'s resume. Sarafian, the should-be finalist for TUF's Brazil stint, is a solid grappler with a game enhanced by his athletic prowess more than anything. He's got chops on the feet, which cannot be said for Dollaway's pedestrian standup.
No, Sarafian won't ice C.B. like Mark Munoz did, but I think they share the same rugged yet polished look that gave C.B. fits (and fists). There's not much to read into any C.B. fight. He's a gifted offensive grappler, with a whole lot less to offer defensively, and a liability on the feet where his chin isn't granite despite a willingness to swing recklessly.
The same night Brock Lesnar was about to fade away from the UFC spotlight, a veteran of a different stripe would too, in Gabriel Gonzaga.
Gonzaga has always been an enigmatic figure; Mundials gold, and a sterling record assigned him a special kind of status as a blue chip prospect early on. With only one loss to his name (in a rugged, fun scrap against another contender in Fabricio Werdum at Jungle Fight), nobody expected any of that to be enough to defeat Mirko Filipovic. Maybe it was too much too soon, but I don't think anybody expected his spirited scrap with Randy Couture at UFC 74 to become the time capsule we now know it as.
Against Schaub, Gonzaga revealed what would become a trademark of sorts; fading late, and quickly succumbing to pressure. Ben Rothwell isnt' that far removed from his frenetic KO win over Schaub, which doesn't bode well for Gonzaga. If Gonzaga can stay out of his own head and fight like he's capable, perhaps he'll find a way to win. But if Rothwell gets Gabe to start thinking about how much time is left on the clock, Gonzaga's night will end just like it did against Junior.
For such a small card, I don't remember UFC 85 being as fun as it was. One of the best tilts that evening was the scrap between Thiago and Wiman. Tavares' opponent, Khabib Nurmagomedov, reminds me a bit of Wiman. Against Shalorus and the eternally UFC-employed Gleison Tibau, Khabib displayed the kind of doggedness, and persistence that has marked Wiman's career.
Khabib isn't as diverse, and offensively threatening, but it's exactly the kind of outline Tavares should be worried about. Tavares has always had trouble when dealing when talented, but aggressive fighters. Despite being quite the talent, he has yet to prove his durability.