On the day of the biggest UFC card of the year, it’s time for some debate with MMA author Kelly Crigger.
All the hoopla surrounding Mike Brown’s knockout of Urijah Faber is premature.
Kelly Crigger: This is one of those painful moments when a journalist has to ignore his relationships and face facts. Brown is a good dude, someone I've hung out with, and I was happy to see him get a moment in the sun. But the agonizing and inescapable fact is that Faber didn’t take the fight with him seriously, and a rematch will probably be a different story. Brown is legit and can clean out the remainder of the featherweight division in the WEC, so his current role as the marshal of the parade of exultation is earned. But I don’t think Faber took Brown seriously, and now that he’s lost his belt and has to climb a short ladder back up to a title shot, he’ll be more focused and determined than ever. That’s a scary thought. Faber is like a democracy -- the world should beware of him when he’s mad. I don’t want to take anything away from Brown, who has the tools to remain champion and earned his belt with wins over Yves Edwards, Jeff Curran, Mark Hominick, and a very tough Renato Tavares before beating Faber. But Faber won’t treat a rematch the same way and will come out with guns blazing. That will be the true test of Mike Thomas Brown and, friends on Facebook or not, I give him a 50-50 chance of winning that fight.
Mark Chalifoux: Kelly, you may want to go check on Mike Brown’s name to see if it’s OK because you dropped it pretty hard. Your best friend really is a great fighter, but Faber is in a class of his own at that weight, and I think the odds are even less in his favor. Faber is going to be a force, again, but should be even tougher after the loss. Look at Georges St. Pierre and his loss to Matt Serra. Obviously, Brown is no Serra, but GSP has been very strong since that loss and he’s picked his game up another level, which is why he’s been controlling the welterweight scene.
Mike Swick is poised to make a run at St. Pierre.
Kelly Crigger: True. I wasn’t a fan of Swick moving down to 170 pounds and, in fact, I said it was a huge mistake when he danced around Josh Burkman in his first welterweight fight. But after defeating Marcus Davis, I think Swick is on the verge of a run at the title. Of course, now comes the hard part. To get a shot at GSP, he still has to beat a high-profile guy, like Matt Hughes (who is still around), Thiago Alves, or Diego Sanchez. If UFC brings Jake Shields into the organization, he could provide a real test for Swick, who hasn’t been challenged by a true grappler at 170 pounds yet. The other "Oh, crap!" factor here is his own camp. Swick trains with Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch, both of whom have had their shot at St. Pierre and lost, but still remain among the top 10 welterweights in the UFC. Given Dana White’s disdain for the AKA camp lately, it wouldn't surprise me to see Swick facing one of these two fighters to earn his title shot. The question is, can he put aside his friendship with them to advance his career goals?
Mark Chalifoux: Wrong. Swick is a very talented fighter, but there’s just too much talent at the top at 170. He could fight Matt Hughes, although that’s not going to get him a title shot. I know UFC is pushing hard for a Swick vs. Alves fight while Alves waits around for his title shot. It would make sense for Thiago to take that fight just to make some cash in the interim, and he can do this because Swick won’t be able to beat him. Alves is the best challenger to St. Pierre at this weight level (B.J. Penn is still a lightweight) and has the more complete game at this point. Alves taking this fight is the equivalent of a grade-school kid picking up a paper route to help buy a new bike -- an easy way to make some quick cash. Can Swick make a run at GSP? Sure. He’s not doing it now, unless this "run" is a multi-year process, in which case, I’d argue every welterweight is "making a run" at St. Pierre.
Is Carlos Newton’s comeback going to end in a Rocky-style run at the top or will he crash and burn?
Kelly Crigger: That’s a simple question -- crash and burn. MMA has bypassed Carlos Newton. The once impressive Canuck has only won once in his last seven fights going back to 2004, and he simply hasn’t evolved with the sport. The former UFC welterweight champion’s bid to return to MMA competition is ill-advised at best. The bigger question here is why do guys like Newton, Kazushi Sakuraba, Ken Shamrock, and Royce Gracie think they can come back to the game that they once dominated and expect it to be the same as when they left? That’s either arrogance or ignorance and no matter which one it is, it’s not a quality consistent with MMA champions. Is it the Randy Couture factor that’s motivating these guys to keep fighting, or is the paycheck too sweet to pass up? I’ll give credit where it’s due -- MMA legend Pat Miletich came back from neck surgery and beat Thomas Denny this week. But that’s one success story within several dismal failures. Newton and his generation should follow the example set by Ivan Salaverry and bow out gracefully when the time is right. MMA is like technology -- it evolves very rapidly and, if he doesn’t keep up, a champion of the old school can be tossed aside as a relic within a year.
Mark Chalifoux: Woo-hoo, crash and burn! I agree with Kelly on this one, why do the old guys try to come back? They only illustrate how ill-equipped they would be to handle today’s fighters. The sport is evolving and the dinosaurs can’t compete, unless they are willing to evolve as well (Couture obviously gets an exemption). I think there is an obvious reason they return -- cash. MMA is a much bigger game than it was when they were on top, so they are coming back for quick paydays. Try as they might, washed-up fighters can’t buy groceries with their legacies. I’m OK with it because everyone enjoys a good train wreck here and there.
UFC 92 is the best card of the year.
Mark Chalifoux: How can you not be fired up about this card? Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira against Frank Mir is intriguing, but it isn’t enough to sell a pay-per-view. I wouldn’t pay if that fight was the main event. But UFC has given us two more main-event-caliber fights and it’s impossible not to be looking forward to it. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson has his first fight since going crazy, and it’s against a guy -- Wanderlei Silva -- that has always been a thorn in his side. It will be a very entertaining bout. And the Forrest Griffin vs. Rashad Evans title fight may be the most entertaining match of the year. The UFC is working hard to make Griffin a star, and this is the first time in awhile he’s going to be the favorite coming into a fight. I’m ambivalent on the fights involving CB Dollaway and Cheick Kongo, but hopefully we’ll get to see Yushin Okami and Matt Hamill’s matches. It's hard to beat this card with the star power at the top.
Kelly Crigger: You wouldn’t buy Nogueira against Mir as a main event? Okay Ebenezer Scrooge, I sure would. I think Big Nog is the best heavyweight on the planet next to Fedor Emelianenko, and Mir has a tendency to start a submission in Florida and finish it in Wisconsin. I’m fired up for that match, but you are correct -- the rest of UFC 92 makes this the best card of the year. I’m going out on a limb here and say Rashad Evans will beat Forrest Griffin mainly because of his trainer, Greg Jackson. Jackson coached Keith Jardine to beat Griffin handily, and he’ll do the same for Evans. I admit I’m a little biased since I’m co-writing a book on Jackson’s fighting style with him, but you can’t deny history. Jackson knows how to beat Griffin, and he will do so again. Start cueing up the Evans’ haters who will undoubtedly say he’s not championship material.
Chuck Liddell vs. Keith Jardine II in March in Columbus makes sense.
Mark Chalifoux: This has been a rumor flying around since Liddell basically called out Jardine and said he wanted him in Columbus. This fight is a home run for a Columbus show. With Rich Franklin fighting in January, UFC loses a major Midwest draw. Chuck Liddell is the type of fighter that will bring them all back. He’s fought outside of Las Vegas only twice since 2003, losses to Jardine and Evans. Liddell is enough of a name to sell out an arena, but not a show, so he needs a hook. He’s not getting back into the title picture anytime soon, so avenging a loss to Jardine is a great call. It’s a fight Liddell will win in a part of the country that will worship him as MMA’s all-time greatest fighter.
Kelly Crigger: It makes sense for Liddell, but not Jardine because he has nothing to gain. If he wins again, people will say, "So what." If he loses, those same people will call the first win a fluke. I’ve been saying for a while that Liddell needs to fight Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, and I still think he should. That fight would have major drawing power and is a must win for both. By the way, has anyone seen Mr. Shogun lately? He never seems to be seen cageside, so it make me wonder if he’s staying out of the public eye on purpose, or is he on the outs with UFC? They spent an awful lot of money on him, so why aren’t they using him more? Apparently he doesn’t have a fight coming up anytime soon, or UFC would be raising his profile more. Your question was about Liddell and Jardine. It sounds good, but I think Liddell-Rua is better for each man.
Can Affliction really compete with UFC?
Mark Chalifoux: Of course not. To compete with UFC means you’re going to lose a lot of money. These aren’t great economic times to invest millions and millions into really developing an MMA promotion, and I don’t think Affliction has a sound enough plan to provide long-term competition for UFC. One thing they have to their advantage is UFC trimming its roster. One thing they have going against them is putting together quality cards that attract casual fans when Fedor Emelianenko isn’t fighting. Fedor is the Kimbo Slice of Affliction. Obviously, Kimbo was a joke while Fedor is a legend. Still, both promotions falter without the big draw. The true test for Affliction will be to put on a successful card without Fedor. The UFC needs competition, but I don’t see it coming from Affliction.
Kelly Crigger: Hold on a second (Kelly turns, puts his hands on his ribs and lets out a belly laugh like Santa -- Ho! Ho! Ho!) Affliction compete with the UFC? Ho! Ho! Ho! As if the demise of EliteXC wasn’t a painful enough reminder of how badly Dana White can trash the best-laid plans, Affliction comes out and directly challenges him from the start. The rumors of internal strife within Affliction’s ranks are already bubbling up and grabbing headlines, and the deal they made with Golden Boy Promotions suddenly seems like a lump of coal in their stocking. Look, I’m all for open competition, but Affliction’s business model seems as solid as Brandon Vera’s prediction of being the UFC heavyweight and light heavyweight champion. It’s too late for Affliction to back down now, and the last thing I want is to see them go out of business and leave fighters out in the cold with unpaid contracts, but their days are simply numbered. The smartest plan for a new MMA promotion is to follow the path of the Ultimate Warrior Challenge, which I wrote an article about a few weeks ago on Fightline. Unless Affliction adopts some better business practices, they won’t be around to talk about next Christmas.
Speaking of which, everyone have a safe and happy holidays!
Enjoy UFC 92 tonight. It may be the best show of the year.