(‘No, it isn’t funny. What happened to the dress I bought you? The one with an actual neckline? It’s like you want people to stare or something. Oh, now I get it.’)
You know what time it is. Time to get serious about the important questions surrounding UFC 97. Questions like, ‘What the hell are we getting for our money here?’ and ‘What’s up with your stupid face, stupid?’ That’s right. It’s Ben vs. Ben time.
What exactly does Chuck Liddell have to do to prove that he’s still got it? Is anything less than a devastating KO going to be enough?
BG: It’ll either have to be a knockout, or an incredibly dominant decision victory where all three judges score it 30-24 and Shogun Rua‘s face looks like hamburger afterwards. Here’s the deal: There’s no way that Shogun could have magically set the clock back to 2005 in the three months since he barely defeated Mark Coleman at UFC 93, and I think we all expect a shabby performance out of him tomorrow night. So Chuck basically has to prove that although he may no longer be able to hang with younger, more complete fighters, his skills haven’t deteriorated as much as Rua’s have.
If both fighters turn in mediocre efforts, the UFC will have a hard time figuring out what to do with them. (You can’t cut the winner and the loser. Can you?) That was probably Dana White’s motivation for calling out Liddell in public and demanding a dazzling performance — if Chuck fails again, there’s no obvious next step with him, promotion-wise. Do you throw him against talented up-and-comers like Luis Cane and Jon Jones, who might smash his old ass? Do you try to build him back up against complete cans? Either way, he won’t be in important fights anymore, and that may not be an option for the UFC, or for Chuck himself.
BF: The only way a decision victory would be enough for Liddell is if a) Rua fights like it’s the 2005 Pride GP all over again, b) Chuck still comes close to finishing him several times, and c) after the fight all we can talk about is what amazing heart and conditioning Rua showed in merely surviving that assault.
This is a tough situation for Liddell, because to some extent even if he wins by KO, what the victory means will largely be determined by how good or bad Shogun looks. If he gasses at the two-minute mark and then gets knocked out with an overhand right at 2:30, that’s not necessarily going to propel Chuck back into the light heavyweight elite. He needs a good, focused, in shape Shogun to show up tomorrow night, and then he needs to beat the hell out of that Shogun. Nothing short of that will silence the retirement talk.
BF: Word has it that once Anderson Silva got someone to translate all those critical opinion pieces written about him after he clowned around on Patrick Cote, he was so livid he wanted to fight again immediately just to shut everyone up. That was about six months ago, so he’s probably cooled down some by now, which means he’s only as eager to hurt someone as he was against, say, James Irvin.
I expect Silva will be all business against Leites, but I don’t think he’s the type to feel like he needs to prove anything to us. Sadly, this means we probably won’t see any Wing Chun demonstrations or weird bowing, and that’s a real shame. But Silva is level-headed enough not to charge in and try to murder Leites just to make a point to all the haters. He’s also got to know that getting careless is one of the only ways he could conceivably lose this fight. Don’t be surprised if he reverts back to his usual sixty-second feeling out process followed by a systemic, calm destruction. Leites ain’t making it out of the first round.
BG: I’d be willing to bet upwards of $5 that Leites makes it at least to round two. I have this theory about the Spider. Basically, I think he’s the biggest Lyoto Machida mark in the world. Hear me out. His strange performance against Cote wasn’t the result of him having an off night, or respecting Cote’s power too much, or blowing off an opponent who wasn’t enough of a challenge for him. I think Silva started watching his friend Lyoto’s inscrutable style and tried to emulate it because he judged it to be more effective or mature (or something) than what he was doing previously.
In a way, it’s kind of like when middle-aged comedians who used to be really funny (your Eddie Murphies, your Robin Williamses, your Jim Carreys) start making garbage-ass children’s movies, and their fans are like "Hey, you suck now, why can’t you be funny like you used to be?" and they’re like "No, I’m old, I’m a parent, and I’m on some whole other shit right now." Does that make sense? Anderson Silva is maturing to a point where he’s becoming less interesting to watch. And against Leites, Silva has even more reason to play it cool and stick to the outside — he doesn’t want to get taken to the mat, where his challenger will have an advantage. Sure, Anderson will destroy Leites if given the chance, but Leites is probably smart enough not to give him that chance in the first round of the fight.
Other than the top two fights on the card, name one fight you’re genuinely looking forward to.
BG: Oh man. I mean, I’m not even "genuinely" looking forward to Silva/Leites, to be honest. If you’re trying to make a point about how uninteresting this card is, then you’ve made it, Mysterious Ben vs. Ben Question Writer.
But okay, I’m genuinely kind of looking forward to Denis Kang vs. Xavier Foupa-Pokam. Kang has had a bad habit of choking in big fights over the last two years, including his UFC debut against Alan Belcher in January; another defeat and the former top-ten middleweight might flame out of the big leagues completely. Meanwhile, Foupa-Pokam is on an upswing, winning 12 of his last 13 matches with 11 of those wins coming by stoppage. He may very well be UFC caliber, and sending him in against Kang will make for an exciting matchup. On paper, Kang takes this one — but paper often fails the Super Korean. I’m curious to see how it plays out.
BF: Oh come on, don’t try to act like there’s nothing interesting about this card. It’s got Chuck Liddell and “Shogun” Rua in a desperate battle for relevance. Those are always fun! But okay, the question did specify other than the top two, so I’ll move on.
Cheick Kongo vs. Antoni Hardonk is a bout I’m actually looking forward to seeing, though not because I expect it to be a competitive (or even very long) fight. I think Kongo’s going to smash him. Check that, what I mean is if Kongo is ever going to fulfill his potential and become the kind of angel of death that he could be in the UFC’s heavyweight class, he needs to smash Hardonk in such a fashion as to make us all lower our voices and look at the floor whenever we mention poor, poor Antoni Hardonk ever again. If Kongo does that, he deserves to be taken seriously. If he struggles with him or even somehow loses, then we can all stop thinking about when Kongo’s going to come into his own and instead refocus our attention on Shane Carwin once again.
As far as fights that should be more competitive, I kind of hope we get to see Jason MacDonald vs. Nate Quarry. That seems like fun.
BF, you’re Dana White, and BG, you’re Scott Coker, and let’s say hypothetically you can trade fighters like pro sports teams can trade players. Make a trade offer that both 1) enhances your league and 2) doesn’t insult the other person.
BF/DW: Look motherfucker, you know I respect the shit out of you. I never talk about what a cocksucker you are in the media and I only barely counterprogrammed your ass last weekend. But the fact of the fucking matter is that your best fighters still wish they were in the UFC. Who can blame them, right? The good news is, you can’t do that much with them anyway, since your success is in no way predicated on having the best fucking fighters in the world. That in mind, here’s what I propose: you send me Jake Shields and Alistair Overeem, and in return I give you Jon Fitch, Rich Franklin, Chris Leben, and a reality show fighter (though not winner) to be named later.
Here’s why this makes serious motherfucking sense for both of us: Shields and Overeem may be objectively the two best fighters you have right now, but it doesn’t matter because you don’t really have anybody serious to put against them. Sure, you got Werdum and Rogers, but then what? Overeem will only do one or two MMA fights a year, which works fine for me but is shit for you. And Shields, the only good fights you have for him are at middleweight. You make a guy like him go up in weight and you’ve diluted his fucking strengths.
What you need is young, recognizable, marketable fighters. I’m offering you a welterweight to put against Nick Diaz, a middleweight/light heavyweight to put against Babalu or that pussy Tito, a shit-talking, fight-hyping middleweight who will bang with Scott Smith and Robbie Lawler or whoever, and a young prospect with good TV exposure. All that for two fighters who are looking to end their contracts and make the jump anyway. Might as well get something for them now, while you still fucking can. Just to sweeten the deal for your ass, I’ll also throw in Edith. And trust me, she’ll do anything you tell her to.
BG/SC: It’s so good to hear from you, Dana. And I really do want to thank you for not completely burying us last weekend by throwing together an impromptu Fight Night show — remember Silva vs. Irvin? LOL, poor Tom! — or calling in a bomb threat to the HP Pavilion, which I actually had a nightmare about last week. (Hope I didn’t give you any ideas for next time!)
I respect you too, Dana, and Strikeforce is thrilled to be the second-best MMA organization in the country. But I’m going to have to sort of, I don’t know, turn down your offer, is what I guess I’m trying to say. Fitch, Franklin, and Leben are great stars, but they’re all kinda famous for getting smashed by the best fighters in their divisions. These are guys who will never be champs in the UFC (or never again, in the case of Franklin), and while I know I should be grateful for your incredibly generous offer, it just sort of feels like you’re trying to offload the fighters who are no longer of any use to you, with all due respect. I’d rather bring on a few smaller names from the UFC who we could develop into our own stars here at Strikeforce — guys who don’t have the stigma of being high-level UFC washouts. So here’s my counter-proposal.
First off, I need Jon "Bones" Jones. This is a guy who would be at least two years away from a title shot in the UFC. But I would slot him as Tito Ortiz‘s "tune-up fight" (LOFL!) right off the bat, and then give him an immediate title shot against Babalu after he’s done kicking Tito’s ass. Second, give me Yushin Okami — I get a top-three middleweight for a future "Asian on Asian Crime" headliner against Cung Le, you never have to hear any more complaints about why this guy never gets a title shot, and everybody’s happy. You probably don’t care much about Nate Diaz at this point anymore, but I’d love to reunite the Diaz brothers and give them both title shots in different divisions, maybe even on the same card. How sweet would that be? And why not give me that Ben Saunders kid, too; I like his style.
In return, you can have your pretty wife and pretty sons back. Oh, you didn’t notice they were gone? Well sure, you’re a busy man. They’re currently hanging out in a basement somewhere near Modesto with some of Uncle Scottie’s good friends, just having a great time. ‘Frack’ actually said he’s sorry for being bad and he wants to go back to school. And then he peed his pants! ROFLMAO! What a crazy world. So what I need from you is signed contract-release forms for Jones/Okami/Diaz/Saunders, faxed to my office by tomorrow morning. After I get them, your family will be dropped off somewhere near the Vegas city limits. I’m sure they’ll be able to find their way back home. Go to the cops and our deal will have to be canceled, torn up, and disposed somewhere in the desert.
Okay fine, I’m just fuckin’ with you! Overeem and Shields are yours. And you can have Gilbert Melendez as well, because that’s what friends do.