ESPN Primer: WEC 46 and UFC Fight Night 20
There was a time when 42 fighters would represent an expansive roster that could see a company through a year's worth of shows. In a climate in which cable television feeds on this kind of thing, 42 is just about the number needed to run two events within 24 hours of one another.
Both Sunday's WEC 46 and Monday's UFC Fight Night 20 have obstacles beyond administering physicals to all of them. For the UFC, it will be how they'll fare in their first live head-to-head appearance against the WWE and assisting attraction Mike Tyson, who "guest-hosts" the wrestling event. For the WEC, it'll be a gauge of how dramatic an uptick in business exists when Urijah Faber is in the house. (Dec. 19's WEC 45, with no major stars, sold a bleak 926 tickets.)
These are deep shows, full of talent and rankings significance. Come late Monday night, you might actually be a little sick of MMA. No shame in that.
What: "World Extreme Cagefighting 46: Varner versus Henderson," a 10-bout card from the ARCO Arena in Sacramento, Calif.; UFC Fight Night 20: Maynard versus Diaz, an 11-bout card from the Patriot Center in Fairfax, Va.
When: Sunday at 9 p.m. ET on Versus (WEC 46); Monday at 9 p.m. ET on Spike (UFC Fight Night 20).
Why you should care: Because Jamie Varner and Benson Henderson will be tumbling all over the WEC's cage, Henderson in particular being an utter failure when it comes to disappointing people; because Urijah Faber will be eager to remind fans why he was once the most feared man in the 145-pound division; because Mike Thomas Brown will want to do the same; because Amir Sadollah-Brad Blackburn will be a mess of feet and elbows; and because Gray Maynard will hopefully try like hell to look impressive and cement his claim to B.J. Penn's spring title defense.
Fight of the weekend: Varner-Henderson, even if Varner runs out of steam early.
Hype quote of the shows: "I met the kid They announced him and they called him Anthony 'Cheesecake' Morrison. And he got all pissed. He goes, 'No, man, it's "Cheese Steak. Cheese Steak."'" -- Brown, on the confusion over his opponent's nickname, to Sherdog.com.
Q: Does Maynard need a stoppage to face Penn?
A: Early odds point to Frankie Edgar being B.J. Penn's opponent in an April title defense, but Maynard has racked up six consecutive wins in the promotion. (Diego Sanchez's 155-pound wins before getting Penn? Two.) If he can avenge his only loss -- a 2007 exhibition against Nate Diaz in the "Ultimate Fighter" house -- in more spectacular fashion than the decisions he's accrued, it might be enough to regulate Edgar (a guy he beat) back to the bench.
Q: Is Varner worried about all the wrong things?
A: In delivering quotes for his fight with Henderson on Sunday, Varner has gotten heated over everything from rival Donald Cerrone to the WEC's unwavering advocacy of Faber. Shouldn't his mentality be focused squarely on Henderson, who possesses the dog/pants-leg tenacity to drag him down in later rounds?
Q: Is Sadollah very good, or very lucky?
A: Sadollah gives hope to any athletically challenged 20-something who didn't grow up on a wrestling mat. He won an "Ultimate Fighter" season despite owning no pro bouts prior, and he's bested unlikely victims C.B. Dollaway and Phil Baroni. Against Blackburn, he'll be getting the raw end of a Muay Thai matchup. If he can overcome Blackburn's aggression and experience, Sadollah might recruit a few more believers.
Q: Is George Roop cutting it too close?
A: Roop, a former 155-pound fighter who had one short trip at 145, plans on making 135 pounds for a fight with Eddie Wineland. To do it, he says he's taking in between 500-800 calories a day. That kind of energy intake wouldn't satisfy someone in hospice, let alone a professional athlete. If you need to measure your lettuce consumption to make a weight class, you probably don't belong there.
Q: Is Rory MacDonald worth the hype?
A: Few viewers Monday will have seen Canadian MacDonald fight, but he's been talked up by everyone from Georges St. Pierre to coach David Lea as a crucial entry in the next era of the sport. Possible roadblock: Mike Guymon, a 36-year-old veteran who might be able to suffocate MacDonald's developing 20-year-old frame by using the core power of a middle-aged man for detention.
Red Ink: Varner versus Henderson
The mugging can be a little much, but if you're a fan of fighting, it's impossible not to respect the performances of Henderson. The 10-1 lightweight needed only a year to go from WEC rookie to interim world champion, outpointing Cerrone while an ailing Varner seethed from the seats.
After a year off due to injuries, Varner now has his chance to punctuate his talking by taking back the belt in its entirety. He's the "on paper" favorite -- better wrestling, better striking -- but Henderson seems to delight in surprising people.
Wild card: Varner's time off. In addition to ring rust, any deficit in cardio conditioning will be exploited by Henderson.
Who wins: Varner wins two early, Henderson wins three late; his pace will put demands on Varner's de-conditioned body that he won't be able to meet. Henderson by decision.