(Get ready for hell, Philly. Stay just about as hellish as usual, Pittsburgh.)
You know what time it is. With UFC 101 set to invade Philadelphia on Saturday night, we debate the possibilities for an upset, whether the lackluster undercard presents the perfect opportunity to go make ourselves some hoagies, and so much more.
Who has the best chance of scoring an upset this weekend: Kenny Florian, Forrest Griffin, or Brian Bowles?
BG: I have to go with Griffin, because at least you can point to his size as one clear advantage he has over Anderson Silva. Plus, he’s a tough S.O.B. who’s not afraid to take a punch — which means he’ll probably do better against the Spider than Patrick Cote and Thales Leites, who seemed to be psyched out before they even stepped into the cage. I like what Forrest has been saying about "touching" Silva, and focusing on just making contact. I’m not saying he’ll be successful, but at least he’ll give Silva a fight, and that’s a good start. You can’t shock the world if you don’t put the ball into play.
Kenny Florian is tough, focused, and talented, and the chance of an upset against Penn is there, but he just doesn’t surpass BJ in any quantifiable area. As for Bowles? Forget about it. Torres is going to ruin his boyish face then trade his ass for cigarettes.
BF: I’d like Griffin’s chances to grit his way to a victory better if this were a five-rounder, but it isn’t. Over the course of just three rounds, I’m not convinced that he’ll even locate Silva long enough to put his mitts on him more than once or twice. It’s not that I don’t think he can stand up to the beating Silva is bound to put on him — he probably can. But Silva’s not going to get tired of hitting him in the head after fifteen minutes, and Griffin’s not exactly known for his blistering counter-attacks.
Instead I’ll take Florian. I could justify that by pointing out the torrent of petty distractions B.J. Penn has surrounded himself with lately, or I could claim that the beating GSP put on him has changed him forever, but I don’t believe either of those explanations. I just think that at least Florian has a chance to come in there with a smart game plan, stick to it, and make it a fight. There’s always a chance Penn gets cut or tired or spots someone in the crowd who looks like GSP and then gets disqualified for climbing out of the cage and going after the guy.
At least the chances of that happening are better than Brian Bowles’ odds of eating solid food on Monday morning.
Who came out looking the worst in the Fedor debacle: the UFC, M-1/Vadim Finklechtein, or Fedor himself?
BF: Well, it wasn’t the UFC. They did a good enough job of manipulating public perception (we can argue over how honest they were about it, but we’ll never really know for sure) to show that they were willing to make reasonable concessions to get that crazy Russian on their side. As Dana White said, “He could do Sambo every Thursday night if he wanted to.” And isn’t that all any of us can ask from our employer?
So that leaves Fedor and M-1. It’s tempting to say that Vadim Finkelchtein is the real asshole here, since he’s the one who’s always stressing that co-promotion jive and also because he looks like he’s ordered at least a couple murders during his lifetime. But ultimately the blame has to fall on Fedor. He put these people in charge of his career, so he’s the one who has to accept the responsibility.
The fact is that he chose increased freedom and the siren’s song of “co-promotion” in Strikeforce, despite their lack of top heavyweights, because those things are more important to him than his legacy in the eyes of the fans is. He simply doesn’t care about fighting the best heavyweights, and would rather beat up Brett Rogers and Alistair Overeem even though it won’t mean much. If that’s where his priorities lie, fine. But I don’t have to like it.
BG: No, you don’t have to like it — but you have to get over it. Fedor isn’t the fighter we want him to be. He’s the square peg that refuses to be roughly jammed into the round hole. He doesn’t consider himself to be a great fighter. He doesn’t take his career cues from American bloggers. He has a personal priest. He’s a strange dude, and I can’t blame him for just living his life the way he wants to live it. If you don’t feel complete without seeing Fedor Emelianenko fight Brock Lesnar, then you need re-examine your priorities, hater.
M-1 came out looking the worst during the Fedor free-agency frenzy because they established themselves as an obstacle to good matchmaking, not a facilitator of it. The fact that Vadim Finkelchtein and his crew were reportedly able to make the UFC bend on several points of negotiation — Sambo competition, M-1 signage, paying Fedor like a superstar when he still isn’t a proven draw in the U.S. — was admittedly impressive. But they didn’t seem to make any concessions of their own, which sunk the UFC deal and turned off most of the fans who were paying attention. As a brand, M-1 is virtually irrelevant, yet they throw their weight around like mafia goons. Their new co-promotional deal with Strikeforce may turn out to be great publicity, but after all the bad publicity they’re already created for themselves, they’re breaking even at best.
Other than the two main events, UFC 101 has a fairly weak lineup. Are you excited about any of the non-headlining fights?
BG: As my manager Vadim might say: Nyet. And there’s only a couple fights that I’m even casually interested in. I think we’re all curious to see how the injury-prone Amir Sadollah does in his first fight since the TUF 7 finale, and Johny Hendricks definitely won’t be making it easy for him. And I hope Thales Leites submits Alessio Sakara quickly enough so that the fight can make it onto the broadcast. Other than that, are you kidding me with this shit?
The main card-opening fight between Josh Neer and Kurt Pellegrino has "Spike TV" written all over it, and the undercard is stacked with Ultimate Fighter also-rans, newcomers, and guys we just don’t care about. (Sorry, Tamdan.) Those top two fights better deliver the OMFGs, or Philadelphia might see its worst riot since the Nativist Riots of 1864. Or the race riot of 1964. Or the Election Riot of 1742. Bottom line is, Philadelphians love a good riot, and it doesn’t take much to set them off.
BF: There you go again, always bringing me down with your special breed of Russian pessimism and attempts to incite a riot. Okay, so it’s a top-heavy card. What did you expect? They’re coming off the UFC 100 hangover and they knew it wouldn’t take anything too epic to make Philly lose its cheesesteak-saturated mind. I’ll admit that I don’t care that much about Fight Night match-ups like Neer/Pellegrino and Grove/Almeida. The Sadollah/Hendricks fight has a certain appeal, if only because we might finally find out whether Amir is worth a shit, but either way I doubt we’ll be talking about that one at the bar on Sunday morning.
That said, I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit here and let you disparage “The Barn Cat.” He’s got himself a tough fight with John Howard on Saturday night, and McCrory almost never turns in a boring performance. He’s young and still improving, and I never get tired of his fightin’ nerd routine. All we need is for Almeida to submit Grove quickly so we get to see it, and I’ll be content enough with UFC 101’s offerings.
Diego Sanchez will likely get the winner of Penn vs. Florian. How would the Nightmare do against each guy?
BF: Before his fight with Clay Guida I would have said, very well. Now? I’m not so sure. It’s not that he didn’t deserve the decision over Guida, but he did display some vulnerabilities in his wrestling game. The more likely outcome is that Penn beats Florian, tries and fails to talk Dana White into letting him get beat up by GSP again, then deigns to defend his lightweight title again by outpointing Sanchez nine months from now. Diego’s stand-up is good, but not good enough to give Penn real problems. His best chance would be to outwork Penn on the mat, but I just don’t see him getting Penn on his back.
In the event that Florian beats Penn via TKO due to hellbow-induced cuts, then I think Sanchez has a legitimate shot to briefly become UFC lightweight champ. KenFlo would be a much tougher opponent the second time around, but Sanchez’s constant pressure and overwhelmingly positive mental attitude would still be too much for him. But after his moment in the sun, would Sanchez immediately yield that title to a pissed off and vengeful Penn? The answer is Yes!!!
BG: I don’t think you’re giving Sanchez enough credit. Clay Guida would make anybody look like they had holes in their wrestling game, and Sanchez wouldn’t encounter those same challenges against Penn or Florian. What impressed me most in the Sanchez/Guida fight was that Sanchez was able to beat Guida at his own game — the ultra-physical battle that rages on from bell to bell. Guida survived because he’s comfortable with that pace and because he has a cast-iron chin. Few other lightweights would have lasted.
I’m going to reserve full judgment on BJ until I see him fight Florian on Saturday, but at this point I can easily see Sanchez defeating Penn by decision. Sanchez’s cardio would become a tremendous advantage during the championship rounds, and his size and power would be an advantage from the outset. In a brutal war of attrition, my money’s on the Nightmare. And against Florian, yes, Sanchez takes the belt by stoppage. Ken-Flo may be a much different fighter than he was when he first met Sanchez at the TUF 1 finale, but so is Sanchez himself. Diego is in his prime now. Jesus + Stevia is a fearsome combination.