(Randy refuses to look Brock in the eyes! BET LESNAR! BET LESNAR! Photo courtesy of Flex Magazine.)
The UFC’s heavyweight grand prix, pay-per-view buys, Tamdan McCrory‘s AFC status — we discuss it all in the latest installment of Ben vs. Ben. FYI, Fowlkes is currently a -170 favorite to win this argument.
How exactly will the main event end, and how will the winner fare in the heavyweight “tournament” as a whole?
Fowlkes: As big and powerful as Brock Lesnar is, his chances to win this fight diminish the longer it goes. He has the classic wrestler-turned-MMA fighter problem. He can get a guy down and hold him there, but aside from some inefficient ground-and-pound, he struggles to put people away.
So you’re all impressed by Lesnar’s win over Heath Herring? Great. You know who else outwrestled Herring for a decision win? Jake O’Brien. My point is, it’s not such an impossible feat. He’s never gone five rounds with someone as savvy and resilient as Couture. While Lesnar’s best hope is a decision, Couture can win several different ways.
Couture might have to take a beating in the first couple rounds. He might get pushed around more than he’s used to. But by the third he’ll turn the tide. He’ll take Lesnar’s back, discover that the man has no discernible neck to choke, then unleash a torrent of punches and satisfy himself with a TKO finish due to ref stoppage at the 4:10 mark. And still…UFC…heavyweight champion…until he’s submitted by Nogueira in the finals of this so-called tournament.
Goldstein: I say Couture takes the UFC 91 main event in a unanimous decision. We’re going to see a very methodical Randy on Saturday night, working his clinch game when he can, and doing his best to stuff takedown attempts and keep out of Brock’s punching range. He’ll go with the low-risk Machida approach, in other words, because one mistake, leading to one unfortunate position, could bring about a painful loss. I’ll agree that Randy will have Brock figured out by round three, but I’m going to give Lesnar the benefit of the doubt and say that Randy won’t be able to finish him — though Lesnar will definitely take more abuse than he ever has in his short real-fighting career.
I’ll also agree that Couture will then be subbed by Nogueira in short order. All this business about Randy being the perennial underdog who manages to beat the odds against stronger opponents through experience and game-planning is, in large part, just an engaging narrative. It’s certainly inspiring that he can perform this well at his age, but Couture was simply a more talented fighter than Tim Sylvia, and he was a far more talented fighter than Gabriel Gonzaga. He shouldn’t have been the underdog in those matches in the first place. Nogueira, on the other hand, has even more talent and experience than Couture. There’s no wearing Big Nog down, or breaking his will. Randy is fucked.
After that, I’d like to see Nog challenged by the winner of a heavyweight up-and-comers tournament, featuring Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos, and maybe Cheick Kongo (or whoever else they can find to get annihilated by Carwin in the first round). Take my advice, Joe Silva, and your once-anemic heavyweight division will be thrilling again.
Who will be taking home UFC 91’s end-of-night bonuses?
Goldstein: I’ve got Gabriel Gonzaga for Knockout of the Night. Napao has performed piss-poorly against top fighters, but he’s been a threshing machine against mediocre ones (and Mirko Filipovic, who was having an off-year at the time). Though Josh Hendricks has been on a killing spree in regional promotions, it’s hard to say if he’s ready for UFC-level competition. My gut says it’s lights-out for the new guy.
For Submission of the Night, you can’t really bet against Demian Maia, who has won the award in all three of his UFC appearances; his triangle-choke-from-the-top-with-punches super-ownage of Ed Herman at UFC 83 was one of the best finishes of the year. Maia will get Nate Quarry to tap for the first time in his career, and in an impressively unconventional way.
As for Fight of the Night, I have high hopes for the top two bouts on the lineup. I know Florian/Stevenson will be fast-paced and exciting, and will probably end via stoppage. (Florian by strikes in round 3, perhaps?) But the main event feels genuinely historic. It’s a true superfight, and as long as Randy and Brock can avoid extended positional stalemates on the ground, they’ll make up for UFC 91’s star-deficient supporting card and pick up a nice bonus in the process.
Fowlkes: Sub of the Night is definitely Maia’s. With his track record, they should just call it the ‘Demian Maia of the Night’ award. That, or pull an EliteXC and give it to him before the fight (no, these digs at EliteXC will not stop just because they’re bankrupt).
Fight of the Night is Couture-Lesnar all the way, even if it’s kind of boring at times. Ask yourself, would you want to deny Couture some bonus money after everything that’s happened? He probably wouldn’t freak out, but it’s a chance you don’t want to take.
But KO of the Night, here I’m going out on a limb and picking Tamdan McCrory to hammer the off switch on Dustin Hazelett’s face. Viva la Barn Cat! At the after-party, he will finally get laid. It will be a quick and mostly confusing experience.
The UFC expects this to be a record-breaking pay-per-view event. Are they on to something, or simply overestimating the appeal of Couture and Lesnar?
Fowlkes: Dana White thinks this will do over one million pay-per-view buys. If that’s true, UFC 92 should do about five million buys, because it is no less than five times better than this card. Obviously the main event is a draw. All the pro wrestling fans who rarely watch real fighting, the ones who would usually rather stay home and watch old Jake “The Snake” Roberts matches, they’ll buy this one.
But with so little in the way of big name action elsewhere on the card there may be plenty of people who go to a bar or a friend’s house or decide to wait for the Couture-Lesnar video to hit the internet on Sunday morning. I have no doubt this pay-per-view will do well, probably somewhere in the 700,000 range, but a million seems like wishful thinking. UFC 92, however, has an excellent chance to hit that mark, provided anyone in America still has a job and disposable income by late December.
Goldstein: If we were following The Price is Right rules, I’d try to win this particular showcase by bidding 1 pay-per-view buy. Dana White is smoking rocks if he honestly thinks UFC 91 will pull in 1.2 million buys, but 700,000 might be too high as well. Yes, the economy is in the shitter and people are ditching luxuries wherever possible; if there’s only one fight on the card that’s truly worth watching, hunting it down online the next day just seems like the fiscally responsible thing to do. Even in a bull market, you’re not really getting your money’s worth with this event. You know it, I know it, and the American people know it.
Here’s the other reason why Brock vs. Randy won’t come close to the record-breaking 1,000,000+ buys of Liddell vs. Ortiz II (UFC 66): They don’t nearly have the rivalry that Chuck and Tito did, and the UFC doesn’t even seem to be pushing the event very hard. Sure, Brock and Randy have gone through the motions in the few media appearances they’ve done, throwing some respectful smack-talk at one another, but most fans realize that this is simply a big-money celebrity superfight, and any heat between the fighters is primarily manufactured.
As for the pro wrestling fans who are supposed to cross over from the WWE — and who haven’t really been following Randy’s career — I don’t think Lesnar vs. Couture is any more must-see than Lesnar’s bouts against Mir or Herring. So temper your expectations, is all I’m saying — I don’t see this one bringing in much more than 600,000 buys.
Fill in the blank: UFC 91 is the worst UFC pay-per-view lineup since ____.
Goldstein: My first instinct is to say UFC 78, with its abysmal main event of Bisping vs. Evans, but at least that card also had Houston Alexander when he was riding his wave of hype, and Karo Parisyan, and guys like Joe Lauzon and Thiago Alves on the undercard. So I’m gonna go all the way back to UFC 72: Victory, which was even worse. Rory Singer was on the main card, for one thing. The main event of Rich Franklin vs. Yushin Okami was as unmemorable as fans feared it would be. The only other big star on the lineup was Forrest Griffin, who went the distance with Hector Ramirez. There were just three undercard matches, featuring Marcus Davis and five guys that nobody cared about. And even though it was held in Northern Ireland and broadcast starting at 3 p.m. ET in the States, the UFC made fans pay for it. So, not too awesome.
UFC 91 looks a little bit better, but without the killer main event it’s a mediocre Fight Night card at best. The Florian/Stevenson match doesn’t have any significance to the lightweight title picture — if Florian wins, he’s still the #1 contender, and if Stevenson wins, he still isn’t — and the rest of the card is pretty garbage-ass. You’ve got Tamdan McCrory and newcomer Josh Hendricks on the main card, and an undercard with zero popular fighters. If Randy vs. Brock doesn’t deliver, #91 will be on “Worst Ever” lists for years to come.
Fowlkes: Wow, I think you’re being a little too hard on UFC 91. Comparing it to 72, which effectively had no main event, is just unfair. I see this as more comparable to UFC 80: Rapid Fire. It also had a mediocre undercard, with Gabriel Gonzaga-Fabricio Werdum as the penultimate bout, and it featured a title fight between B.J. Penn and Joe Stevenson.
Granted, the Couture-Lesnar main event is both more compelling and more competitive than Penn-Stevenson. But the rest of the card is also slightly worse, so it balances out. What you’re left with in both cases is an event with one really interesting fight, one so-so match that lacks major future implications, and a lot of filler elsewhere. If the UFC sells 1.2 million pay-per-views off this, it will only serve to encourage their worst inclinations.