With Independence Day upon us and UFC 86 just one day away, what better way to celebrate both occasions than by arguing over every insignificant detail of the weekend to come. That’s what we do best, after all, which may mean only that we do everything else exceptionally poorly.
Don’t forget to check out our UFC 86 Liveblog tomorrow night where you can get in on the heated bickering — and in real time!
Who’s next in line for a shot at the UFC light heavyweight title after Jackson-Griffin?
Fowlkes: As always in the UFC, who’s next depends on who wins. If Jackson wins, which is the more likely outcome, then the UFC is faced with two distinct possibilities, both of them involving rematches.
Chuck Liddell probably only needs to beat Rashad Evans to be back at the top of the list. That’s not necessarily because a win over “Sugar” Rashad is so impressive, but because the UFC knows they could get big money for Jackson-Liddell III.
The same is true regarding Wanderlei Silva. He needs at least one more win and even then it would be just barely credible to put him in a title fight with “Rampage”, but barely credible is more than enough for the UFC.
If Griffin wins, however, all bets are off. Anyone with anything resembling a winning streak is a candidate, except maybe Lyoto Machida. An immediate rematch with Jackson wouldn’t be out of the question, nor would a Griffin-Liddell scenario. Either way, Liddell should be the odds-on favorite to get the next shot, provided he doesn’t get lay-and-prayed to death by Evans.
Goldstein: Dude? Silva destroyed Rampage twice in PRIDE, which makes him a whole lot more than “barely credible,” no matter what he’s accomplished in the UFC so far. Sure, Wandy would probably need another win just to keep up appearances, but Jackson vs. Silva is the match that needs to happen for Rampage’s title reign to have true legitimacy. And if the UFC felt like playing up their history, they could surely convince the casual Chuck-hugging fans that Silva deserves it more.
Unfortunately, that marketability thing is a bitch. Of course Liddell’s a bigger draw than Silva, and the UFC probably dreads the idea of one of their remaining American champions potentially being replaced by another marble-mouthed Brazilian. (For the record, I think Portuguese is a beautiful language.) Also, Chuck wants a title shot bad, and being the beloved mascot that he is, he tends to get what he asks for.
If Griffin wins, a Chuck Liddell title shot would make even more sense, since Chuck wouldn’t be coming into the matchup down 0-2. As talented as the UFC’s top light heavyweights are, none of them are currently on an impressive enough run to line-jump Liddell if Griffin took the belt; Wanderlei wouldn’t have the personal rivalry, and Machida doesn’t have the star power.
Who least deserves to be on this card?
Goldstein: Jesus Christ do I not want to sit through another boring decision match starring Jorge Gurgel. He may have tapped guys left and right before coming to the UFC, but now he can’t finish a fight to safe his life, and all of his Octagon appearances have gone the distance. Still, the UFC generally waits until you lose two straight before giving you the boot, so I get why he’s still around.
What’s really inexplicable is the presence of Melvin Guillard. Not that he’s a bad fighter — he’s just a semi-unstable hothead who’s already been busted by the NSAC for cocaine use. After dropping two straight to Joe Stevenson and Rich Clementi, the UFC gave Guillard their standard “win a few somewhere else and come back” semi-firing, but apparently all it took to get back in their good graces was a single decision win over a 9-7 fighter at a Rage in the Cage event in March.
If UFC 86 was taking place in Guillard’s hometown of New Orleans, it would make sense. Without that connection, I don’t understand why on a card with only nine fights, Melvin Guillard needs to be in one of them.
Fowlkes: Guillard may not really deserve to be on this card in any meaningful sense of the word, but he will put on a show in one way or another. Gurgel, however, probably won’t. What’s really baffling to me is not just that out of an already lackluster undercard we get more lackluster fights, but that in the incredibly deep lightweight class we’re expected to care about guys like Guillard and Gurgel, who are going nowhere.
With so many good lightweights hanging around, why can’t we see a fight that may have some future impact on the division? Is that so much to ask?
Five of the nine fights on this card are lightweight bouts, and at least three of them are not significant to the division as a whole. It’s filler, which is one thing on a Spike TV “Ultimate Fight Night”, but it’s a whole different story on a card you want me to pay for.
How will the end of the night bonuses be distributed?
Fowlkes: Predicting bonuses is partly about predicting which fights will deliver and how, but also partly about predicting who the UFC wants to make happy with some extra cash. Main eventers are always an easy choice for Fight of the Night, as long as they don’t completely flop, for this exact reason.
But instead of taking the easy route, I’m going to predict that Fight of the Night will go to Patrick Cote and Ricardo Almeida. Both guys are hungry and neither can afford to take a step back with a loss. That’s a recipe for a war. I like Almeida for the win some time late in the second or third, and I also like him for Submission of the Night.
As for Knockout of the Night, my money’s on Gabriel Gonzaga turning out the lights on Justin McCully. I won’t go so far as to predict a head kick KO, but Gonzaga is the better pure athlete and a sense of desperation has to be setting in after his embarrassing performance against Fabricio Werdum. He’s going to come out guns blazing and McCully’s going to end up facedown on the mat.
Goldstein: Are you trying to imply that the Jackson/Griffin fight won’t deliver? This has “bashfest” stamped all over it, and Griffin is tough enough to last until the third round, no matter how hard Rampage punches. And if we’re talking about guys the UFC wants to keep happy, Rampage and Forrest are exhibits A and B. Both men are popular and loyal employees who just had to take themselves out of competition for months and deal with a pack of wild, screaming kids on “The Ultimate Fighter”. The UFC will have no problem opening their wallets and showing some Fight of the Night love as long as their match doesn’t suck. (Don’t worry, it won’t.)
I agree that Submission of the Night is there for Almeida to take. As for Gonzaga, his last two losses should have eliminated all his hype by now; I won’t even publicly predict that he’ll beat McCully at this point, sad as that may sound.
Besides Rampage’s likely beating of Forrest, there aren’t many matches at UFC 86 that I’m expecting to end via stoppage due to strikes, so Jackson might pick up that Knockout of the Night bonus by default. My dark horse pick for the KO bonus is Josh Koscheck, who’s been drilling his striking at AKA, and could put a hurting on Chris Lytle just like he did to Dustin Hazelett at UFC 82.