(Diego will try anything to get to 155. Anything.)
With UFC 95 (which we’ll be liveblogging) just a day away, we took some time to berate one another regarding some of the more pressing issues surrounding the UFC’s trip to London. Okay, so there’s essentially no main event here, but that doesn’t mean we can’t still have some fun with a night of free fights on Spike. Plus, there are Chael Sonnen’s ridiculous claims to discuss, and so much more…
What are Diego Sanchez‘s chances as a lightweight contender? Who has the skills to beat him?
BG: His chances are freakin’ excellent. Sanchez was already the fifth best welterweight in the UFC by my count (after GSP, Alves, Fitch, and Koscheck), and he’s looked incredibly dangerous in his last two wins over David Bielkheden and Luigi Fioravanti. I was particularly surprised to hear that he was dropping to lightweight because it seemed like he was gathering steam for a title shot at welterweight. Think about it: Fitch and Kos have already been dominated by St. Pierre, and if Alves can’t beat the champ this summer, who else is ready?
When he’s on his game, the Nightmare is exactly that. With his size, aggressive striking and ground-and-pound, and new focus on jiu-jitsu, I believe he’ll whip Joe Stevenson tomorrow night; I also think he’d smash the Fisher/Edgar/Griffin/Guidas of the world, and would probably take out Sean Sherk as well. That leaves Kenny Florian (who Sanchez beat at the TUF 1 finale, when Florian was fairly inexperienced and competing two classes over his natural weight) and BJ Penn. Call me crazy, but I think Sanchez would make both of these matchups competitive, to say the least. In fact, if Penn’s crushing, greasy loss to Georges St. Pierre really did break his spirit in some way, we may be looking at a new Stevia-powered lightweight champion a year from now.
BF: Let’s not kid ourselves, this is a big weight cut. Sanchez was in the 190’s fairly recently, and a lot of people would be so gassed by dropping that much weight that come the third round they’d be moving like Phil Baroni on Ketamine. That said, Sanchez’s discipline and conditioning have never been an issue, and that makes cutting weight safely sooooo much easier. As long as he doesn’t suffer from the sudden loss in water and body mass, Joe Stevenson really has nothing for him.
At the same time, I don’t see Sanchez as the lightweight champ any time soon. A motivated B.J. Penn (motivated to train and fight, I mean, not make videos and excuses) beats him easily, and I still think overpowering wrestlers like Sean Sherk and maybe even Gray Maynard would give him fits. It’s a stylistic problem more than a weight issue. He just doesn’t do terribly well against good wrestlers. But if KenFlo can somehow take the belt from Penn, and if Sanchez gets the first crack at him after that, his chances are a lot better.
How will the end of the night bonuses be distributed at UFC 95?
BF: For all the bitching we’re bound to do about a UFC event headlined by the very Fight Night worthy match-up between Diego Sanchez and Joe Stevenson, I think there’s still plenty of potential in this line-up. At the top of my list is the bout that I’m certain will garner Knockout of the Night, and that’s Rory Markham vs. Dan Hardy. It’s hard to even say who will be on the business end of that KO, but if I have to take a shot at it I’ll say Markham lays out Hardy, but not until they’ve both taken a good beating.
As for Submission of the Night, that’s going to the man for whom the bonus should eventually be named: Demian Maia. Chael Sonnen’s a step up in caliber of opponent, but he’s still submit-able and I don’t think it will take more than two rounds for Maia to figure out a way to make him tap.
For Fight of the Night I could be the pragmatist and say it will go to the main event, but predictions that boring are your province, Goldstein, and I’ll leave you to it. Instead I’ll actually go out on a minor limb and say Nate Marquardt vs. Wilson Gouveia. They can both fight all over the place and are both hovering near the top of the division in the UFC, but need a big win to push them over. That’s a recipe for a war, and I think Marquardt takes it via third-round TKO.
BG: Okay, for Fight of the Night I gotta go with Sanchez vs. — HEY WAIT A MINUTE. Alright smartass, you want non-boring predictions? Here goes.
Neil Grove will score the KO bonus in the first round of his fight against Mike Ciesnolevicz after one of his trusty haymakers finds its mark. I know, you thought I was going to say Josh Koscheck would get the bonus, especially considering what he did to Yoshiyuki Yoshida two months ago. Well, Koscheck is actually going to lose his fight against Paulo Thiago in the second round (TKO stoppage due to injury) when his leg snaps in half, Corey Hill-style, while checking a kick. After the fight, Koscheck will test positive for steroids. He will appeal his nine-month suspension, but it will be upheld.
Submission of the Night will go to Stefan "Stretch" Struve, who will make Junior Dos Santos tap like so many other non-English speakers before him. The smart money’s on triangle choke, but my gut tells me gogoplata. Dos Santos got lucky against Werdum, and everybody’s hanging off his nuts now, which I think is a bit premature. I’d also like to take this opportunity to point out that Struve looks like Chris Horodecki with another set of legs attached to his legs.
The Fight of the Night award is really Terry Etim/Brian Cobb’s to lose. After three rounds of intense brawling with some within-a-ball-hair submission attempts thrown in from both sides, Etim will earn a split-decision victory. (Cecil Peoples will judge it for Cobb, but you can’t really blame him since Cobb did control so many of the standup exchanges). The embrace that Etim and Cobb share in the center of the Octagon after the last horn sounds will only be the beginning of their friendship. And in 2012, the two men will open a pub together called Terry Cobb’s — which will be known to locals as "The 29-28" — in Etim’s native Liverpool. Terry Cobb’s will gain brief infamy as the site of Simon Cowell’s suicide in 2017.
Chael Sonnen says his match against Demian Maia will determine the best middleweight in the UFC. Let’s pretend he really meant #1 contender. Is he right?
BG: Oh, heavens no. At this point, a fight between Maia and Yushin Okami would decide who the second-best middleweight in the UFC is. If Sonnen manages to pull out a win tomorrow night, he’d still need to beat either Okami or the winner of Henderson/Bisping before he starts making wild claims like that. Look, I like Sonnen; I think he’s a top-15 middleweight right now. But beating Paulo Filho while the troubled WEC ex-champ was in the grips of opiate-withdrawal-hallucinations isn’t the tremendous accomplishment that Sonnen apparently thinks it is. His wins over the last two-and-a-half years in the WEC and Bodog Fight have certainly been impressive, but besides Filho, he never faced anyone near the top 20. And of course, he went 1-2 in the Octagon his first time around, in 2005-2006, so it’s not like he vacated a title and is coming back to claim it. He couldn’t quite handle the competition in the UFC and left to build his record elsewhere, like many other good fighters before him.
It’s hard to judge how seriously Sonnen is taking his own hype. If he’s saying he’s better than Anderson Silva just so people will pay attention to him, then bravo, sir — your plan worked out perfectly. But the problem with talking shit is that you have to back it up at some point, and the UFC is throwing him in the deep end right away. The only thing that Sonnen’s fight against Maia will likely prove, in my opinion, is that Demian Maia is one of the best 185-pounders in the world. Side note: How are you gonna publicly call yourself one of the two best middleweights in the UFC when Dan Henderson is one of your training partners at Team Quest? What’s Hendo, chopped liver?
BF: First of all, Hendo’s usually down at the Temecula branch of Team Quest while Sonnen’s up in Portland, so it’s not as if they’re bro-ing down over beers at Sassy’s after training sessions (which is their loss, really). Second, don’t underestimate Sonnen’s ability to willfully deceive himself. He is, after all, a pro fighter.
If he beats Maia, I’ll be surprised and impressed. If he actually finishes him I’ll be fucking astonished. And I will be forced to admit – as will you, Goldstein – that either Sonnen is better than we thought or Maia was overrated. More likely though, Maia wins by submission and has one more fight against the winner of Marquardt/Gouveia before he is unquestionably the top middleweight contender.
Henderson/Bisping proves nothing much for the middleweight class either way it turns out, but it fits with the reality TV narrative just a little too perfectly. As for Yushin Okami, I’ve never bought into the lukewarm hype behind him. He looked just aiiight against Dean Lister, and the best middleweight he’s beaten in the past couple years is, who, Jason MacDonald? Naw, man. I don’t see it. But hey, if Thales Leites is deserving of a shot…