(Big Dan gives Rich Franklin the old ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ speech.)
Listen up, all you gay skinheads. With a big fight weekend coming up we have a lot of important stuff to get through. So please put down the baby oil and the copy of Mein Kampf and let’s see if we can figure a thing or two out in this edition of Ben vs. Ben.
If he triumphs against Vitor Belfort, Rich Franklin is clearly the man to beat at 195 pounds. Will that mean anything at all? What’s next for the winner and the loser of this one?
BF: At this point I have to assume that either Franklin is just happy to keep getting paid for stepping in the Octagon even if he’s fighting at a non-existent weight class, or else he figures that, with Anderson Silva bouncing between 205 and 185, the safest place to hide is somewhere in the middle. But to answer the question, yes, beating Vitor Belfort, no matter what weight you do it at, still means something.
I’m not one of the people who is ready to say that Belfort is experiencing a career Renaissance just yet. He knocked out a mediocre Terry Martin and an aging Matt Lindland, so I think we should temper our expectations just a bit. Still, he’s a quality opponent on the upswing and it never hurts to beat a guy like that, which I think Franklin will do.
The problem is, after he does it he’s still no better off. He doesn’t have much of a future at 205, where guys like Rashad Evans and probably even Tito Ortiz would block his path to a title. He’s already tried 185 and we know how that story goes, at least as long as Silva is still around. His best hope is to become the guy the UFC can count on for a good fight against whoever, whenever, for as long as he can keep it up. As for Belfort, after losing to Franklin he drops down to middleweight and says those extra ten pounds made all the difference. It’s an obviously bullshit line of reasoning, but that never stopped anyone before.
BG: You know, I hope Vitor Belfort knocks Rich Franklin into a living death so that we can end this 195-pound-division charade. The hope of a safe haven, away from Anderson Silva? It’s a pipe-dream, Rich. He’ll eventually hear about this "catchweight" business, and kick your ass again. You might as well balloon up to 240 pounds and test your fate against Cheick Kongo.
I actually feel bad for Belfort. He reinvents himself at middleweight, and then he’s dragged into a fight against a guy who’s supposed to be fighting at light-heavyweight. The idea was to bring Belfort in to challenge Silva for his belt; if he loses to Franklin, nobody will want to see that fight, and we’re back to square one in the sad middleweight title picture. That’s why my fingers are crossed for him. I want Belfort to smash Rich Franklin and move on to title contendership at 185. I want Rich to go back to light heavyweight like he said he was going to and slowly fade into irrelevance. I’m sorry if I sound upset, but that’s what fights at made-up weight classes do to me.
For all the talk about the UFC going head to head with Floyd Mayweather this weekend, is there really a threat that one event could steal viewers from the other, or was Bob Arum on to something when he said that there are two completely different audiences for MMA and boxing?
BG: I watched Manny Pacquiao vs. Ricky Hatton with a group of guys who don’t follow boxing, but decided to hit up Bounce that night to see what all the fuss was about; it seemed that a lot of people around us were also there more out of curiosity than true fandom. Likewise, UFC 100 reportedly pulled in a staggering 1.6 million PPV buys, on the basis of the “anniversary show” hype that invaded everything from mainstream news outlets to Twitter’s Trending Topics. For the most part, there are MMA fans who will only watch MMA, boxing fans who will only watch boxing, and a small crossover group that regularly follows both. What Dana White and Bob Arum are really competing for is that extra mainstream bump that comes when a fight card feels extra important, and people who don’t even follow combat sports tune in because everybody’s talking about it.
The dispute seems silly, because these barely-casual fans simply follow the hype, wherever it is. Do you think the sorority girls at the sports bar care that Mayweather vs. Marquez isn’t “the fight you wanted to see”? They don’t even know who Bob Arum is, let alone agree with his insightful analysis of the gay skinhead market. Saturday’s installment of the boxing vs. MMA battle will likely be won by boxing, because it’s easier to lure people to “the Mayweather fight” than Franklin vs. Belfort — two guys you probably wouldn’t know unless you follow the sport. If Dana White wants to take on boxing, he needs to make sure there’s real excitement surrounding more of the UFC’s events, especially when they’re scheduled against Mayweather or Pacquiao. Internet mud-slinging by itself won’t do much to help take the sport and his brand to the next level.
BF: To me, the boxing vs. MMA debate seems a lot like any hot-button political issue in America. You’ve got the hardcore extremists on either side who will look for any reason to bash their opponents, but they’re relatively few in number when compared to the people in the middle who either see the merits of both sides or else don’t give a shit. That said, I don’t personally know anyone who would rather watch Mayweather-Marquez over just about any UFC event. I realize that might be because I hang out almost exclusively with racists who don’t feel boxing is homo-erotic enough, but dammit, those dudes know how to party.
The point is, there’s no reason for boxing and MMA to pretend like they’re really competing with one another. Also like hot-button political issues, you’ve probably already decided which camp you’re in by now, so it’s not as if they’re really vying for a large segment of the population that is undecided about combat sports issues. I don’t see either of them stealing would-be pay-per-view buyers away from one another. Instead I see guys with huge egos looking for something to argue about and hold over one another’s heads.
The UFC seems to be running a little low on credible welterweight challengers at the moment, and yet we have Kampmann/Daley and Trigg/Koscheck both on this card. Of those four guys, who, if anyone, poses the greatest threat to GSP?
BF: That’s easy. The answer is: nobody. Koscheck is probably the best of that bunch, and the guy who you’d think would have the best shot at dealing with GSP’s wrestling, but that didn’t work the first time he tried it and things would probably only be worse the second time around. Trigg is just a slightly worse version of Koscheck, plus he’s already had his turn on the GSP beatdown-go-round, too. That leaves Kampmann and Daley in third and fourth place respectively.
There’s no way around it, the UFC has a welterweight problem right now. Mike Swick poses a somewhat interesting stylistic challenge, but if Alves couldn’t threaten GSP it’s hard to think Swick would do that much better. The only options are to keep putting St. Pierre against guys he’s already beat or will almost certainly destroy, or else head down to the secret lab underneath the Zuffa offices and build a welterweight cyborg with excellent takedown defense and a right hand literally made of steel. They’ll call him Monstro, hailing from “parts unknown.” He’ll live in a utility closet at Station Casino and his only weakness will be an inability to love. He’ll still be a +145 underdog against GSP.
BG: You’d put Kampmann in third? How can you be sleeping on him that hard? He’s an aggressive, well-rounded finisher who’s going to wreck Paul Daley, and he’d probably handle Koscheck and Trigg as well. Sure, GSP would stomp him, but after Kampmann gets a couple more fights under his belt at welterweight, I think he could make a fight against St. Pierre at least competitive.
Still, if we’re talking about welterweights who pose a legitimate threat of actually beating GSP, no, there’s nobody, and more rematches are a terrible idea. The UFC needs to steal Jake Shields from Strikeforce. They need that Marius Zaromskis guy from DREAM. You’re right, they need Monstro. But once he postpones his fight against GSP to star in a remake of Short Circuit, Dana White is going to absolutely fucking lose his mind.
Cro Cop’s last win was a TKO (aided by an eye-poke) against a pretty unimpressive opponent. Does he have any real future in the UFC’s heavyweight division, or is he being used as a potential stepping-stone for Junior Dos Santos?
BG: I think Cro Cop vs. Dos Santos is one of those rare fights where the matchmaker doesn’t care what the result will be. The fight will produce a legitimate heavyweight contender no matter who takes it — either the young killer who’s been wrecking everybody in his path, or the resurgent legend. I don’t get the feeling that Cro Cop is <intentionally> being used as a stepping-stone for Cigano. But that’s probably what’s going to happen.
Cro Cop hasn’t beaten a respectable heavyweight since Josh Barnett at the PRIDE Openweight GP Finals, which was a full three years ago. Sure, he can whip scrubs, but I don’t have much faith that he’ll find success against someone as dangerous as Dos Santos. One-dimensional fighters don’t stay on top forever; Cro Cop is a solely a striker, and his opponents know what he’s going to bring at this point. The left straights and high kicks will arrive as if on cue, and Dos Santos will be ready. It’s a shame, because I’d love to see Brock Lesnar take on a prime Mirko Cro Cop. Sadly, Mirko’s prime is in the rear-view mirror, and he won’t climb very far up the UFC’s heavyweight ladder relying on the skills he already has.
BF: I want to believe in the myth of the reborn Cro Cop, just like I want to believe that someone is actually reading those letters I keep sending to the UFC begging them to do away with the cheesy Gladiator intro. But deep down I know that I’m going to see that guy rubbing sand in his palms at the start of each pay-per-view just like I know Cro Cop is going to look like a shadow of his former self.
I agree that this is smart matchmaking, because either way it produces another quality contender for an uncommonly deep UFC heavyweight division. Dos Santos seems like he could be a real talent, and I think he’s going to run through Cro Cop on Saturday. The question for me is, what the hell do you do with Mirko after that? He’s still going to be a fan favorite, but he’s also going to start looking like a broke down old man. Fortunately, Dana White doesn’t care enough about him to make him stop, so we’ll probably see him take a few more beatdowns before he runs off to Croatia’s version of "Dancing with the Stars," which I assume is controlled by the mob and features about 70% less smiling than the U.S. version. Actually, that sounds kind of fun.