(The suit may make your opponent feel like a bum, but we’ll see who’s laughing when the sponsorship money gets tallied up. Photo courtesy of Sherdog.)
With our technical problems now solved (for the moment), we bring you the UFC 104 edition of Ben vs. Ben in its entirety. There will be no further interruptions. We hope.
Realistically, what chance do you give Shogun Rua to pull off a major upset at UFC 104 this Saturday? If you had to bet on him, what odds would it take before it seemed like a good idea?
BF: Here’s the problem with Shogun – when he was at his best in Pride’s twilight years, he was beating people thanks largely to his aggression and constant pressure. He was like a Wanderlei Silva who threw straighter punches and didn’t have a flash chin. But against Machida, being hyper-aggressive on the feet just means getting knocked out faster. If you aren’t technically superior (and Rua isn’t), the only option left is to put him on his back and try to wear him out on the mat, which isn’t exactly Rua’s forte. No two ways about it, he’s getting knocked out. Whether it happens early or late-ish is up to him.
As far as odds go, Shogun is currently hovering somewhere in the neighborhood of a 3-1 underdog, depending on the source. I’d need at least 5-1 before I’d consider the risk to be worth the reward. We all know MMA is unpredictable, anybody can get caught, all that stuff. But really? I don’t see how Rua does anything but get picked apart and put to sleep. Personally, I’m just looking forward to another unforgettable Machida-induced punch face.
BG: I look at Shogun as one of the two green spots on a roulette table. They pay off 35-1, which is great and all, but there’s just so many red and black numbers on the board it’s like, damn, I’d better just bet on black, or play craps for a while, or marry a casino hustler — all of which seem like smarter options than laying money down on double-zero. Without the soccer kicks and stomps that helped make him famous in Pride, Rua is pretty much just a talented kickboxer, and that won’t get him too far against the Dragon. I’m tempted to say that Shogun might have the single least effective style to challenge Machida with, but Machida has fucked up wrestlers and judokas just as badly as strikers, so who even knows at this point. If I had to bet on Rua, it would be with money I stole from my mother’s wallet. And when I inevitably lose that money, it would be great if I could get my room comped.
BG: I’m leaning towards "total bullshit" on this one. Yes, Okami has been in some boring matches — his last appearance against Dean Lister was particularly dreadful, not that it was all his fault — and he’s had trouble keeping momentum because of injuries. But he’s still a top-five middleweight, and sticking him on UFC 104′s preliminary card is a terrible waste of resources. Every time a top-ten fighter is buried on a card in favor of two guys who might win a Fight of the Night bonus with three rounds of Ultimate Brawling, the sport becomes a little less legitimate. If the UFC doesn’t want to put any more effort into promoting Okami, he should jump to Strikeforce at his first opportunity. At least they’d appreciate him there.
And make no mistake: Tibau vs. Neer doesn’t deserve to be on the main card of a pay-per-view show to begin with. Both guys are coming off losses, neither one is anywhere close to title contendership, and neither can claim to have any larger of a fanbase than Okami does. The UFC is rolling the dice that this will be an entertaining scrap, worthy of main card status. If it isn’t, then we’re stuck paying for a Fight Night-caliber matchup for no apparent reason.
BF: Normally, I’d be right there with you, riding the Total Bullshit train on the way to Fuck This Nonsenseville. But honestly? In this case I think it makes some degree of sense. For starters, tell me about your favorite Yushin Okami fight. Go ‘head. I’ll wait. What’s that? You’re simply aware of his victories, rather than having a clear memory of the performance itself and where you were when you saw it? That’s what I thought.
Okami is an excellent fighter, but he’s not a fighter that a lot of people get fired up to see. It doesn’t help that he’s fighting Chael Sonnen, who’s a wrestler under that same heading. Putting them on the dark portion of the card doesn’t mean that we won’t get to see them. For one thing, there’s the Spike TV undercard broadcast. For another, there’s bound to be extra time on this card, which the UFC could use to show us Okami/Sonnen, unless it turns out to be a total snoozer.
Of course, you’re absolutely right about Neer/Tibau, which is in no way a pay-per-view fight. And there is a certain element of total bullshit about putting those guys ahead of Okami. But dammit, this is still entertainment. MMA purists may not like it, but at least there’s some form of logic behind it, however depressing.
Who do you like in the Cain Velasquez-Ben Rothwell showdown? Once it’s over, how far away will the winner be from a title shot?
BF: I guess I should start this one by admitting to being a total Ben Rothwell mark. After a year and a half working for the IFL, I can’t help it. It’s possible that I think he’s better than he is because I like him personally and want to see him do well, and I realize that. All that aside, I still think he’s going to put a beating on Cain Velasquez, and I’ll tell you why.
As we saw against Cheick Kongo, Velasquez is a great wrestler with some serious holes in his stand-up game. Rothwell trains with the Miletich camp, where you almost can’t help but learn a little takedown defense if only by osmosis. Rothwell is bigger than Velasquez and will be able to keep him at a distance if he lets his hands and feet go. All he really needs to do is stop the takedown and kick Velasquez upside his head a couple times and I think he’s got this.
But a title shot? He’s at least a couple of big wins away from that. The UFC’s heavyweight division is deep and only getting deeper with a bunch of TUF fighters set to drop in. Whether he beats Cain or not, his next fight ought to be a rematch with Roy Nelson. If he gets through that one, then he can start thinking about the belt.
BG: Once again, your love of burly bear-types is clouding your judgment, BF. Yeah, we all saw Velasquez get rocked a few times against Kongo, but Velasquez was always able to bounce back right away and score a takedown. What I took from that fight was that Velasquez’s wrestling is dangerous even when he’s taking a stroll down Queer Street; stopping his shot is going to be a lot harder for Rothwell than you make it sound, and Cain can inflict a ton of damage from the top. Rothwell’s experience advantage has been a talking point in the run-up to this fight, but what I see is an Octagon first-timer facing a guy who’s made a pretty comfortable home there. Not to mention the fact that Velasquez is a young fighter who’s improving rapidly. It’ll be close, but I still think Cain can eke out a decision.
Beating Rothwell could put Velasquez just one fight away from the belt. He’s young, exciting, undefeated, and bilingual — just the kind of guy that the UFC wants to promote. I think matching him up against the winner of Gonzaga vs. Dos Santos makes sense as a #1 heavyweight contender match, assuming Velasquez doesn’t mind waiting that long to fight again. I’d also like to see Rothwell vs. Nelson II after this, though the UFC may want to give Big Country an easier first opponent after he wins TUF 10. (What, you thought it would be Titties? No guy with titties is gonna beat Roy Nelson. The dude has titties, man. You feel me?)
Lyoto Machida recently said that if he can defend his belt five times, he’d like to fight Brock Lesnar. Is this a good idea, or a terrible and insane one? Subquestion: Assuming Machida gets past Shogun on Saturday, would the UFC even be able to come up with four more light-heavyweights who can credibly challenge Machida for his title?
BG: No, Machida vs. Lesnar is not a good idea — it’s a goddamned incredible one. Flawless technique vs. devastating power. Respect vs. heelishness. Urine vs. Coors Light. (Okay, that one’s kind of a wash.) Bottom line is, the fans would go nuts for it. Sure, there’s a minor freak-show element to the matchup, but it’s not like Machida would step into the cage any lighter than Randy Couture was when he was fed to Lesnar.last November. And once a champion cleans out a weight class, he deserves the chance to challenge himself against larger opponents. I’m struggling to find a negative in this scenario.
I think Machida can make those five hypothetical belt defenses, but he’s got a sad, ragged-ass group of contenders in front of him. He’ll have to take a rematch with Tito Ortiz or Rashad Evans (or both) at some point. He’ll have to ruin a young contender before they’re quite ready — someone like Jon Jones or Luis Cane. And who’s left? The legends have all faded and Rampage may never return from his little acting adventure. In the end, Machida might enjoy a long title reign, but it won’t be the most impressive one in terms of competition.
BF: The only thing that worries me about Machida vs. Lesnar is a vague sense of foreboding that this will be the one fight the members of New York’s state legislature gather around to watch, probably in Bob Reilly’s basement, and what they’ll see is a big meathead lying on top of a much smaller guy who looks like Ryu from “Street Fighter II” and they’ll decide that this is a spectacle after all. Of course, what they’re more likely to see is Machida dancing around a frustrated Lesnar and taking potshots at his enormous, stationary melon, so maybe it will be okay.
You’re right, it’s a great idea. There’s not a fight fan out there who hasn’t wondered what would happen in this fight, just like there’s not a fourth-grader who hasn’t pondered the question of who would win a fight between a mountain lion and a grizzly bear. As for the scraping up enough challengers for Machida to meet his quota, I say you got Rashad Evans (again), “Rampage” Jackson when he inevitably comes back (I mean, did you see him act?), and Randy Couture after he tears through some of these young punks and gets pushed into a certain doom scenario. I realize that’s only three, but do you really think that Machida would refuse a Lesnar superfight because he’s short a victim? His bigger obstacle might be getting those fights in before Lesnar loses his title and/or decides he’s made enough cash to retire and shoot clays off his back porch full time. Say what you will. Shit is relaxing like a sum bitch.