(Unless you’re bringing an aggressive woman or loose dog over 60 kilos with you into the Octagon, be very afraid, Mr. Al-Turk.)
With UFC 99 in Cologne, Germany just a day away, we can think of no better way to waste time on a Friday than debate Cro Cop‘s UFC future, what’s to become of the winner and loser in the Wanderlei Silva/Rich Franklin main event, and so much more. You’re welcome.
Does Mirko Cro Cop have a legitimate shot at the heavyweight title this time around, or is he just going to be used a few more times as a draw for the UFC’s European expansion efforts, then discarded after he inevitably loses?
BG: When you’re a veteran fighter and you hit a rough patch in your career, there’s two ways to respond. One is to acknowledge that your mental and physical preparation was lacking in your recent fights, and actively change your habits to produce different results. The other is to say, over and over again, that you just got caught. Luckily, Cro Cop falls into the first category. He says he’s found his motivation again and will make up for his disappointing UFC run in 2007. And I have to give him the benefit of the doubt because you don’t go from being one of the greatest fighters in the world to the worst Octagon washout ever within a year, just because of deteriorating skills. His heart momentarily left the game, simple as that. If it comes back to him, Cro Cop is absolutely a title threat.
He’ll be starting from scratch, though. Mirko’s opponent on Saturday, Mostapha Al-Turk, is as bottom-rung as it gets, and shouldn’t pose any more problems than Eddie Sanchez did. Sure, the UFC wants to tee up an easy knockout for Mirko in front of his European fans, but after UFC 99, he’ll be back to fighting top contenders; he doesn’t have enough time left in his career to do otherwise. Maybe the size and power of guys like Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin would overwhelm Cro Cop at this point. But as long as he can avoid any spirit-sapping knees to the balls, he still has the goods to outstrike anybody who can’t take him to the mat. It’s time for redemption, and I believe he’ll rise to the occasion.
BF: As pleased as I am at the thought of a refocused Cro Cop coming into the UFC’s heavyweight division and kicking some of these wrestlers all upside they heads, he’s not a legitimate title contender now, nor will he ever be.
MMA’s heavyweight class is a different place now than it was when Cro Cop was in Pride. Back then a 6’2”, 230 pound striker could do some damage (until he inevitably had to fight Fedor). Now it’s a bunch of dudes who cut weight to make 265, who have to special order their enormous gloves, and who all sit around and compare their college wrestling credentials. Maybe – just maybe – a young, explosive Cro Cop could have negated those advantages with his striking. But now? No way.
He’s going to beat up Al-Turk easy enough, then maybe it’s on to a fight with Junior Dos Santos and maybe even Frank Mir if he loses at UFC 100, but as soon as he has to fight a Velasquez or a Carwin or, God forbid, a Lesnar, he’s in big trouble. He’ll get planted on his back and the size and strength difference will become painfully apparent. Still, it’s good to have him back.
What becomes of the loser of the Rich Franklin/Wanderlei Silva main event? Does it matter who it is or how badly he gets beaten?
BF: I can hardly think of a recent UFC main event where it mattered more who the loser was and especially how he lost. But I’m always drunk by the time the main event comes on so I suppose me not remembering them is really no surprise. If Wanderlei gets knocked out by Franklin his future in the UFC becomes tenuous. If he gets knocked out in the first round, and I mean really knocked out, like waking up in the middle of the Octagon and telling Joe Silva and Dana White about the crazy dream he just had (“and you were there, and you were there…”) then his future becomes straight-up bleak. As in, The Road kind of bleak.
Whatever happens though, we all know that Silva is going to get at least one chance to prove himself as a middleweight, probably against a middle-of-the-pack fighter (what’s Chris Leben up to these days?). If he knocks out Franklin or even just outpoints him, the UFC will probably see if they can’t shuffle him straight in to a title fight with Anderson Silva while the rivalry is still warm.
As for Franklin, he’s going to go on as 205-pounder either way. Even a knockout loss to Wandy (which seems improbable) won’t seriously damage his prospects, and a knockout win won’t shoot him straight to the top, either. This fight basically just determines whether he fights Keith Jardine next, or Luiz Cane.
BG: Yeah, that sounds pretty dead-on. The loser of this fight will find himself fighting non-contenders — the proverbial one-way ticket to palookaville — which is a pretty sad state of affairs for any former champion. But I will argue one point, just to be difficult: Wanderlei Silva’s “one chance to prove himself as a middleweight” is by no means guaranteed.
Silva prides himself on being an exciting fighter, win or lose, and the UFC has been keeping him around because he puts on good shows for the fans. His last fight against Quinton Jackson, however, was not a good show. He got knocked dead in the fourth minute of a fight that took a couple minutes to get going. Sure, it was a fantastic knockout, but he didn’t really have much to do with it. If Wandy’s reputation begins to shift from “most intimidating fighter alive” to “most quickly concussed fighter alive,” his value to the UFC won’t be any different than Chuck Liddell’s. Don’t be surprised if Dana White pulls out the dreaded Forced Retirement card again, for the sake of his health.
Dan Hardy and Marcus Davis have been pushing this rivalry pretty hard lately. Is that enough to get you excited for this fight, or does it feel like any other bout between non-top ten welterweights in the UFC?
BG: Are we in Europe? Is my last name O’Donoghue? Racially-based rivalries between Brits and Irishmen only matter when you’re on the east side of the Atlantic. To me, they’re all just white people. And I say that with love — some of my best friends enjoy Frisbee sports.
Yeah, I’m looking forward to a good banger between two usually entertaining sons-of-bitches. But come on, Hardy vs. Davis is only getting this much of a push because Germany is sort of close to the U.K. And to be honest, these "fake Irishman" remarks are a little silly. Davis is half Irish, and proud of his heritage. It’s not like a Scott Hall/ Razor Ramon situation, where’s he’s flinging toothpicks and dropping M-bombs just for the sake of creating a persona.
While the Outlaw vs. the Hand Grenade is a fight for the heart of the U.K. fans, we Americans will be paying closer attention to Mike Swick vs. Ben Saunders — which pits a longtime UFC veteran who’s being groomed for a future title shot against a hot American Top Team prospect with destructive potential. That’s the kind of matchup that doesn’t need extracurricular insults or homoerotic photoshopping to make it interesting.
BF: Swick and Saunders? That’s what you think is really pumping up the American fans? I was willing to look the other way on your ‘all white people are the same to me’ comment but there’s no way I can not point out that a) Swick/Saunders is kind of a mismatch, and b) Swick has been trying desperately to get people to buy the notion of him as a top welterweight for a while now, but no one is even willing to entertain the idea that he could beat a GSP or a Thiago Alves.
But back to the topic at hand. Like you, I think this should be a good fight for stylistic reasons, not personal ones. In fact, the focus on the hatred between them just seems annoying to me at this point. Maybe I’m all grudge matched out after Serra/Hughes, but I just keep wondering who needs this in MMA? The guys are going to try and beat each other up anyway. Money, career status, and respect are on the line. It’s not like they’re really going to try any harder if they hate one another. We’ll all enjoy this more if we ignore the rivalry subtext and focus on the stand-and-bang goodness.
BF: Absolutely, positively not. Unless there’s a tragic plane crash that kills Shane Carwin, Kongo has to win at least one more big fight before getting a glimpse of that belt, and that’s assuming he beats Velasquez, which is far from a sure thing.
Look, nothing against Kongo here, but his three-fight win streak since dropping that decision to Heath Herring has been aided by some friendly matchmaking. He beat Dan Evenson and Mostapha Al-Turk, both of whom made their Octagon debuts against him, and then he bullied perennial non-contender Antoni Hardonk. Sorry, not impressed.
A win over Velasquez would be his biggest victory since that decision over a lackluster Cro Cop, and still that would still only make him one of the top contenders. Honestly, I don’t even see him beating Velasquez. Even if he does, the road to a heavyweight title shot still runs through “Darwin” Carwin.
BG: Darwin is the guy to beat, obviously, but let me play a little matchmaker devil’s advocate: Even though the UFC’s heavyweight division is getting stronger in general, there still aren’t many guys who are ready to challenge for the title, so if Kongo beats Velasquez, and then Carwin beats Kongo, you’ve reduced three possible title contenders to just one, and you wind up screwing yourself in the long run. I mean, especially if Kimbo doesn’t win TUF 10.
Cheick Kongo is big, and impressive-looking, and he has an exciting style — that stuff makes him marketable. So maybe, if you’re Dana White and Joe Silva, you put him and Carwin on parallel title tracks and give Kongo a shot once he’s made it to five straight victories. (See also: Patrick Cote, Thales Leites, and Kenny Florian being dubbed the #1 contender after the Roger Huerta fight.) Sure, the five-straight-wins thing is completely arbitrary, and in the cases of Cote and Leites it only proved how unworthy they were of fighting for the title. But five seems to be the line of demarcation for “readiness” in the UFC.
The winner of Lesnar vs. Mir will need an opponent by the end of the year. If Kongo can run through Velasquez then win another fight in the fall — maybe against the loser of Lesnar/Mir, or a rematch with Cro Cop — he could set himself up as the unified heavyweight champion’s first title defense. And if he loses, you’ve got Carwin waiting right behind him. Okay, devil’s advocate over: Velasquez is going to crush Kongo. But still, aren’t hypotheticals fun?