Fowlkes and I spend a lot of time pondering and writing about MMA. Often, we disagree. With that in mind, we’d like to present the first installment of a new feature where we argue about the topics of the day — in this case, all the major themes coming out of Saturday’s UFC 84. This one’s actually a two-parter; come back tomorrow for spirited debate on Wanderlei Silva‘s future, the necessity of ring girls, and the intensity of BJ Penn and Sean Sherk‘s personal relationship.
QUESTION: What will be the best fight of UFC 84?
Goldstein: The best fight of a given event generally starts with a large dose of drama and ends with a decisive finish. Penn/Sherk has drama out its ass — these guys hate each other — and Ortiz/Machida has it too, as it’s Ortiz’s last fight, and one that Dana White desperately wants him to lose. But I wouldn’t bank on Ortiz/Machida to be a particularly exciting match. Both fighters are questionable finishers (five of Machida’s last seven matches have gone to a decision, compared to four of Ortiz’s last seven) and before his punking of Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou, Machida was widely thought to be a boring fighter. The UFC set this match up to make Ortiz look less marketable, and it isn’t likely to be a barn-burner.
As for Penn and Sherk — how can this be anything less than legendary? Penn tends to make any fight exciting, and both guys will be looking to finish. Penn has to exploit his striking advantage and avoid being laid on by Sherk; a dull fight is not in Penn’s best interest, strategically speaking. I think Sherk is too tough to get stopped earlier than the third round, and if the fight goes into the championship rounds, his conditioning advantage will kick in. So Penn has this sweet spot of the third round where he’s most likely to win, and as the minutes and rounds tick by, anticipation will amp up the drama even further. If BJ wins, he’ll be the UFC’s undisputed lightweight ruler, and his reaction could be just as memorable as the fight itself.
Fowlkes: While I agree with your preconditions for what makes a great fight, I don’t necessarily think it will be Penn-Sherk that turns in the best performance of the night. Seems to me that you’re forgetting about Wanderlei Silva/Keith Jardine. That has plenty of drama — Silva needs a win badly and Jardine needs something to force the UFC to stop overlooking him — and it features two guys who like to stand and bang, which always yields great potential for a decisive finish.
On top of that, when’s the last time you saw Wanderlei in a boring fight? Tell me. I demand to know. I think Sherk-Penn will be worth the pay-per-view price alone, but Silva-Jardine is going to produce some fireworks either way, my friend.
QUESTION: What happens in the Octagon after Tito Ortiz‘s last UFC bout?
Fowlkes: You have to think the UFC has a post-fight contingency plan in place for Tito Ortiz. Everyone from Goldberg and Rogan to the guys in the production truck are in on it. I think the UFC is not opposed to giving Ortiz a kind (though not exuberant) send-off, but he has a way of making kindness towards him difficult at times.
If he wins (which is not out of the question, though not terribly likely), you have to give him the mic. He’ll be insufferable about it, he’ll probably have a t-shirt with a slogan that personally insults Dana White, and he’ll more than likely use the opportunity to paint himself as some kind of MMA revolutionary or labor leader, but you have to grit your teeth and get through it if you’re the UFC.
If he loses, I don’t think we’ll see anything from him. He’ll probably still wear his t-shirt, which the cameras will avoid like it’s Randy Couture. He’ll be quietly ignored, unless he signals some willingness to play nice on his way out the door, and that just doesn’t sound like the Tito I know.
Goldstein: I think I know what Tito’s post-fight t-shirt will say: “Affliction.” How assholishly poetic would that be? After all, Affliction’s free-spending fight league is probably where you’ll see Ortiz compete next. (Don’t worry, he’ll still be wearing a Team Punishment beanie after Machida smothers him for three rounds.)
But dude, do you honestly think the UFC will feel some kind of obligation to give Ortiz the microphone if he wins? Come on, Dana White may be bald and pale, but he ain’t stupid — and Ortiz has made repeated references to how he’ll be using his last Octagon appearance as a final “go fuck yourself” to White and the UFC. There’s no way they’ll send Joe Rogan into the cage to give Ortiz a platform to spout off on whatever he wants. A situation like that could go so many different kinds of wrong, and Ortiz was born without that part of the brain that regulates discretion; I believe it’s the same lobe that regulates skull growth. Don’t expect to hear a word from Ortiz or see a frame of him after the fight, win or lose.
QUESTION: Of UFC 84’s seven Octagon newcomers, who will make the biggest impression?
Goldstein: Shane Carwin is everything a heavyweight fighter should be — a shockingly agile man-beast, made entirely of muscle, who has to cut weight to make 265. Carwin is a former collegiate wrestling champion who has scored half of his eight pro MMA wins in under 50 seconds, with his longest match lasting 2:11. He’s basically Brock Lesnar with MMA aptitude, and according to most pundits and fans who have followed his undefeated career, he’s the Second Coming. As talented as Christian Wellisch can be, he’s basically being set up as a gatekeeper here, to see if Carwin will crack under the big lights.
UFC 84 is stacked with promising newcomers, and Carwin isn’t the only one with an impressive record. Rousimar Palhares,