It’s that time again, Potato Nation. Cage Potato’s two Bens square off on a host of issues swirling around UFC 88, including what’s to become of Rich Franklin as a light heavyweight, who has the best chances to score an upset on Saturday night, and more. Let’s get it, as they say, on.
Goldstein: A two-fight win streak isn’t much, but it’ll be more than any other top-tier UFC light-heavyweight contender can boast on Sunday morning, with the exception of Lyoto Machida and Thiago Silva — and one of those guys is going to take his first loss next month. The question really is: Who deserves it more, Chuck or the winner of that all-Brazilian eliminator match?
In terms of creating a title fight that fans want to see, Liddell has to be at the front of the line. Chuck vs. Forrest will get fans insanely fired up. The alternative is watching Forrest and (probably) Machida dance around each other for five rounds — I have my doubts about the entertainment value of that matchup. And not to play the race card, but I understand why an American MMA organization is hesitant to create a situation where three of its five champions, as Mike Goldberg would say, “speak the Portuguesa.” (I’m counting Big Nog as one of them, of course; he’s my pick to come out on top of the imminent four-man heavyweight “tournament,” but that’s another debate.)
Chuck’s been unwaveringly loyal to the UFC during his career, and he deserves to be treated well in his final years with the company. If that means jumping ahead of someone who may deserve it more in terms of merit, so be it. Though if they want to put Liddell against Anderson Silva in December before he gets a shot at the belt, well, that’s cool too.
Fowlkes: When it comes to the UFC and title shots, I like to remind myself of a line from the movie Unforgiven: deserve’s got nothing to do with it. In a perfect fighting world, the fight would be set up so that the winner gets a title shot, regardless of who that is. But we both know that even if “Sugar” wins he’s not shooting to the top of the list. So the question is, would beating Evans be enough to reasonably justify putting Liddell up against Forrest Griffin next, which is the fight the UFC really wants to make?
The answer is, of course. Not because Evans is such a difficult test (though he has the ability to make you look bad without making himself look especially good), but because a Liddell-Griffin title fight would be a huge pay-per-view draw for the UFC. All they need is a plausible excuse to make that fight happen, and back-to-back victories over Evans and Wanderlei Silva is plausible like a motherfucker.
Then either way the fight goes they can still put “Rampage” (assuming he has his mental and legal issues together) in against the winner. It’s perfect. It may not be completely fair to Machida, but since when has that mattered? All the UFC needs is for Liddell to not screw things up by getting himself beat.
How much impact will Rich Franklin have on the light-heavyweight division?
Fowlkes: I feel for Rich Franklin. I really do. He’s the second-best middleweight in the UFC. Too bad the gulf between number two and number one in that division is so painfully, face-smashingly wide. There are two options for Franklin as a light heavyweight, depending on what he does against Hamill on Saturday night. Neither is particularly great, but that’s life.
If Franklin wins and wins decisively, he suddenly becomes the newest title-picture sweepstakes member. He won’t get the big check and the balloons, but he’ll get a few encouraging letters telling him he may already be a winner. He’s just too small at light heavyweight, and his punching power goes from potentially devastating to mediocre against the bigger guys. He’s still technically sound, still a smart fighter, but he isn’t going to beat the Chuck Liddell’s or Lyoto Machida’s of the world, though the UFC will briefly try to convince us otherwise.
If Franklin loses, which seems less likely but still possible, he can either hang around as a gatekeeper in a division where he doesn’t belong, or call it quits. He’ll choose the latter. Maybe not right away, but when he gets an offer to fight James Irvin on an Ultimate Fight Night, he’ll see where things are headed. Fortunately for him, I doubt he’s there yet, and Hamill provides an interesting chance for him to prove it.
Goldstein: No, Rich Franklin will never wear a UFC championship belt ever again, and that has to be a depressing concept for Ace to get his head around. But there are two kinds of gatekeepers — the kind at the bottom of the ladder who are used to determine if new hires are worthy of fighting at their level, and the kind near the middle of the ladder who you have to beat to kick off a title run. Franklin could be that second kind of gatekeeper. I know that doesn’t sound awesome, but we’re talking about the most exciting division in MMA’s foremost organization. It’s not exactly the worst life for a professional fighter.
Maybe the futility of Franklin’s situation will eventually wear on him and he’ll retire from fighting to pursue roles in more straight-to-DVD action flicks starring former members of “Saved by the Bell.” I just hope he realizes that he still has a lot of fans who would be genuinely interested in seeing him go toe-to-toe with guys like Brandon Vera, Keith Jardine, and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou. And when Anderson Silva wins the light-heavyweight title, well…has he ever considered dropping to 170?
What will be the best fight on the undercard?
Goldstein: Jason MacDonald went up about a thousand points in my book after his gutsy grappling performance against Demian Maia last month at UFC 87. Afterwards he lamented his choice to keep the fight on the ground, when he knew that Maia’s jiu-jitsu was just as good if not better than his own. But from a fan’s perspective, he has nothing to be ashamed of. MacDonald got caught while doing his best to finish the fight — and there are few moments when “The Athlete” isn’t trying to do that. It’s no surprise that 19 of his 20 wins have come by stoppage.
Similarly, it’s no surprise that Jason Lambert‘s wide-open slugging style has led to each of his last six fights being stopped via strikes before the third round (he’s won three of them, and lost three). I think that Lambert will eat his third-straight loss against MacDonald, but I like the fact that the matchup features a grappler and a striker who refuse to play it safe, and rarely leave it up to the judges. Maybe it won’t be Fight of the Night, but one of these guys could easily be taking home a submission or knockout bonus.
Fowlkes: Your faith in MacDonald is justified, but hailing Lambert for being the type of dude who insists on someone getting knocked out, without being too picky about who, is misguided. “Wide-open” is an apt description, and maybe it’s just me, but that doesn’t necessarily equal a good fight so much as a quick ending.
I like Martin Kampmann-Nate Marquardt to deliver the goods. Marquardt needs a win in a bad way after his debacle against Thales Leites, and Kampmann has looked like a boy wonder in recent fights. Kampmann needs to show that he can get to that next level, and Marquardt’s the perfect test for him right now. Both these guys are well-rounded and should enter this fight with a real sense of urgency. I smell a back-and-forth war for supremacy.
If that doesn’t pan out and what you really want is a beatdown, maybe the UFC will have time to air Tim Boetsch spiking Michael Patt on his head. That should slake your thirst for blood while you’re off hobnobbing with Matt Serra at the 40/40 Club.
Who’s more likely to score an upset: Evans, Hamill, or Palhares?
Fowlkes: The easier question here might be, who has the least chance to score an upset? All three of these guys have legitimate shots at victory on Saturday night, and I don’t think a win for any of them would be shocking. It’s more a matter of whose upset would seem more significant, rather than simply unexpected.
Rashad Evans has the most on the line at UFC 88, but he also has the worst odds. His strengths – takedowns and holding people on the mat the way a drunk holds down the prostitute he’s passed out on top of – don’t play well against “The Iceman,” who can still sprawl and brawl as easily as he picks up women with daddy issues.
Hamill is always a threat when he can dictate the pace of a fight and force it to be contested on his terms, but Rich Franklin is too savvy for that. This is why I like Palhares for my upset pick.
People aren’t giving Palhares enough credit, probably because they haven’t seen enough of him. The guy’s been going around submitting guys who don’t get submitted often. Factor in an aging Dan Henderson, who has a lackluster record against good BJJ practitioners (don’t even bother trying to bring up Murilo Bustamante) and there’s ample reason to expect a Palhares victory. What does Hendo do after that? Hope Wanderlei loses again so they can go at it one more time? Yeah, I’d still pay to see it.
Goldstein: People haven’t seen much of Palhares because there hasn’t been much to see. The UFC lists “Toquinho” as 17-1; more objective sources tell a different story. (Maybe Dana’s counting the unverifiable basement vale tudo matches he had against Johny Johny and Gringo Gringo?) Anyway, Palhares retired Ivan Salaverry at UFC 84, which was kind of impressive, and he holds a trio of credible wins in Fury FC. And that’s about it. I’m still calling the guy untested. This fight was set up to re-establish Hendo in the UFC, and he will rise to the modest challenge — most likely by slugging Palhares with one hand while covering his mouth and nose with the other.
Meanwhile, I can’t shake the image of Matt Hamill laying on top of Rich Franklin for 15 minutes and getting the decision win. This would be a major upset, obviously — and you could say that Hamill is just as untested as Palhares — but I don’t think a crazy-strong wrestler with a solid chin is the best matchup for Ace in his return to the light-heavyweight division. There’s always the challenge of your opponent’s size and strength when you jump a weight class, and this is exhibit A. If Hamill’s cardio has improved since his bullshit loss to Michael Bisping a year ago, he might be able to keep Ace on the defensive the entire fight with takedowns and top control.
But yeah, Evans is going to get his ass kicked.