At Wednesday’s press conference in Los Angeles every single Affliction employee made sure to refer to their event as “the biggest event in MMA history.” That may be a blatant exaggeration, but this coming weekend is still a monumental one for our sport, not to mention a great one for those of us who love it. With that in mind, we bring you another edition of Ben vs. Ben, where Cage Potato’s similarly named editors battle it out. This time it’s personal.
Which underdog has the best chance of scoring an upset this weekend?
Fowlkes: There are underdogs and then there are underdogs. By that I mean there are the guys who are betting underdogs and the guys who are mostly just perceived to be underdogs, even if the line on them doesn’t really reflect it.
For the latter I like Ben Rothwell. It might only be a mild upset for him to beat Andrei Arlovski, but it would go a long way toward silencing the Rothwell haters who still think his thirteen-fight win streak was all IFL hype. Some of it was, sure, but Rothwell is a monster. He can do everything Arlovski does, only better. He’s also matured and become a real workhorse in the gym since leaving the IFL, whereas a lot of guys might have slacked off with no fights on the horizon.
As for real betting underdogs, at +400 Reese Andy’s my man (okay, so the old IFL loyalties are starting to show, I admit it). It’s not that he’s so much better than Brandon Vera, but I just don’t believe Vera’s head is really in this fight. He’s still dwelling on the Werdum fight, still feeling like he ought to be a heavyweight, and now Andy’s going to come in, take him down, and grind away at his face for a decision victory. It’s definitely not out of the question.
Goldstein: Wow. You should have prefaced that response with “Caution: Extreme Nuthugging Ahead.” I like Rothwell too, but to say that he does everything Arlovski does, only better — well, it’s a statement that can only be proved by the fight itself. Still, I have to agree that Rothwell has a good shot at surprising a lot of people. Arlovski vs. Rothwell is the only fight on the Affliction main card that isn’t completely lopsided, and Big Ben has the tools to win.
As far as other smart underdog bets, Bodog is letting hype affect their lines a little too much. Relative newcomer Cain Velasquez (3-0) is somehow a sizable favorite over the far more seasoned Jake O’Brien (10-1), and smother-master Jesse Taylor is a +130 ‘dog against the armbar-prone and cardio-challenged CB Dollaway.
And for you thrill-seekers, I’d just like to point out that the line on Affliction’s Antonio Rogerio Nogueira/Edwin Dewees match is -1500/+700. Hey, you can’t win if you don’t play…
Are any of the fights on the UFC card worth getting excited about besides the main event?
Goldstein: Short answer — no.
Long answer — though the event could turn out to be very entertaining, the main card is heavy on squash matches meant to showcase a single fighter, and with the exception of maybe Edgar/Franca, none of the fights will have any bearing on the pecking orders among the UFC’s weight divisions. CB Dollaway vs. Jesse Taylor will hold some interest for fans of “The Ultimate Fighter”, but it could potentially be the most boring bout of the night, with both wrestlers struggling to lay on top of each other. I suppose the interesting match for diehards will be the aforementioned lightweight bout between Frankie Edgar and Hermes Franca. Still, the idea of a rusty Franca against a guy who can’t finish doesn’t really fire me up.
I’m looking forward to seeing Anthony Johnson go for another dramatic KO, Cain Velasquez continue to fulfill his hype, and Brandon Vera try to regroup as a 205-pounder after back-to-back losses at heavyweight — but I’d be just as interested in these fights no matter who their opponents were. (See also: Anderson Silva vs. light-heavyweight gatekeeper James Irvin.)
The point of this card is having the “real” best fighter in the world steal some attention from Fedor Emelianenko. The rest of the lineup feels like an afterthought, so I’m keeping my expectations low.
Fowlkes: I’d really like to disagree with you here, mostly so I could insult you personally, but I just can’t do it. Squash matches are indeed the theme of the night. We may get a few highlight-reel finishes when “Rumble” Johnson (awesome nickname) smashes Kevin Burns or when Jake O’Brien comes in with something to prove and gets immediately swarmed by Cain Velasquez, but I don’t see any matches that are exciting and competitive.
That’s why I have to think this card is more for the casual fans who only know Affliction as a clothing company. That crowd also loves a big finish more than a close, technical fight, and the UFC is doing their best to deliver that. Once Affliction is over, then I’ll go back and find out if I was right.
What will Affliction’s pay-per-view buys look like, and will it be enough to declare the show a success?
Fowlkes: Something about this event – maybe it’s the presence of both Fedor and Matt Lindland – has everyone harkening back to the dismal 14,000-odd pay-per-view buys that Bodog generated last spring. It seems like if we agree on nothing else, we all feel strongly that Affliction has to do better than that, even if we don’t expect a UFC-like 500,000 buys.
A good night for Affliction would be breaking 100,000 buys. That’s what they need in order to feel like they’ve done something, even if they’ll still take a bath on the event as a whole. I think they’ll reach that milestone, but just barely. I can’t see them getting more than 200,000 and, yes, that’s due in part to the UFC’s Anti-Affliction show.
But I don’t think Affliction should be deterred by that. This event should establish them as a credible competitor with some buzz and a little forward momentum heading into the fall. That’s all they need to do, and they’ll do it. That, and maybe sell a few t-shirts.
Goldstein: If anything, Affliction: Banned will demonstrate the difference between “MMA fans” and “UFC fans.” Obviously, Affliction won’t pull in the number of buys that the UFC does with every show, but if we’re going to set the magic number at 100,000, I think they’ll hit it. Banned has little in common with that BodogFight fiasco — it’s a domestic card, stacked top to bottom with recognizable fighters, pushed by the names of Affliction and Donald Trump. MMA has also gone through a noticeable growth spurt in the last year. There are a lot more people following the sport now, and nearly everyone who considers themselves “hardcore fans” will be tuning in.
Less than 100,000 buys, and it’s a stiff blow to the morale of Affliction — they basically shot their wad talent-wise for their first event, so if they can’t sell pay-per-views with a card as stacked as this one, they’re in big trouble. Assuming the buy rate is decent, I think the real measure of success will be how quickly they can put together show #2. Right now, they’re a historic one-off; if they can follow up their debut in less than three months, they’ll become legitimate players.
No flip-floppy bullshit now — how exactly will the Fedor/Sylvia fight end?
Goldstein: In all the analysis of this matchup, one factor sticks out for me: Sylvia is a slow, lumbering giant, while Fedor’s classic overhand-right-into-shoot is one of the quickest sequences you’ll ever see from a heavyweight. With that in mind, I’m going with Emelianenko by armbar, late in round one, following a takedown.
Sylvia’s takedown defense may be top-notch, but I don’t believe it’ll stand up to Fedor’s explosiveness, dogged determination, and his willingness to absorb some shots on the way in. And I’m not even convinced that Sylvia will win the standup exchanges leading up to that decisive moment, either. The real question is, will Sylvia tap from the armbar, or will the ref have to step in for him?
Fowlkes: You’ll get no flip-flopping from me. My pro-Fedor platform is well-established, and I’m certainly not going against it now just because Tim Sylvia has a height advantage and likes to run off at the mouth about wanting to fight pro boxers. There’s some Fedor kryptonite out there somewhere. There has to be. But a lanky striker with a decent ground game, that isn’t it.
The way I see it happening is Tim Sylvia comes in with a full head of steam but it all dissipates after he feels Fedor’s power and quickness. Fedor has a way of communicating the inevitability of defeat to his opponents, and Sylvia has been known to get that ‘so this is how I’m going to lose’ look in his eyes when things aren’t going his way. If you don’t know the look I’m talking about, just wait until the second round when Sylvia’s lying on the bottom in side control, staring up at the ceiling and sucking air through his mouth.
Fedor by armbar, round two.