Sunday, January 6, 2013
Ten fights I'd like to see in 2013
By Brett Okamoto
Bret Okamoto wouldn't argue against a third bout between Benson Henderson, left, and Donald Cerrone.
If 2012 can be summarized by the fights we didn’t see, let’s put our positive thinking to good use and say the opposite will hold true in 2013.
The UFC sent an electronic Christmas card to its employees last month that pretty much summed up the year. An animated Dana White gets a phone call from Santa, to tell him Christmas is canceled. Rudolph has a bad knee.
That’s funny -- and kind of depressing. Nearly every UFC champ spent time on the DL last year. An entire card was canceled for the first time, due to injury. Another event lost its main and co-main on the same day. Lightweight Tim Means withdrew from a bout at the last minute when he slipped in a sauna, for crying out loud.
As we all tend to say about our own lives this time of year, change is coming in the next 365 days. This year will be about the fights we see, and there are a lot of good ones to get to. Here are 10 unannounced fights I’d like to witness in 2013.
No. 10: Lightweights Jim Miller (22-4) vs. Josh Thomson (19-5) Everyone is sleeping on Thomson. Basically ignored in the “Strikeforce to UFC” talk. Hey guys, Thomson is really good. He sticks his foot in his mouth sometimes, and the last time he was in the UFC, this happened, but he performs and he’s underrated heading into 2013. Miller is pure aggression. Thomson isn’t afraid to exchange but he has finesse to his game as well. This would be Fight of the Night material.
Chances we’ll see it: moderate. These guys possess fairly level skill sets, but Thomson might have to catch up in the rankings a little to make the fight.
No. 9: Featherweights Erik Koch (13-1) vs. Cub Swanson (18-5) I’m a big believer in both of these guys and actually remember when it happened. Koch hit his peak in that decision over Jonathan Brookins, which you have to go all the way back to September 2011 to find. UFC officials must have felt similarly because they booked him to a title fight off that performance. For Swanson, I actually got on the bandwagon during a loss. He got into a game of chicken with Ricardo Lamas at the first UFC on Fox card, each of them trying to one-up the other with flashy, unorthodox moves. Swanson is the kind of guy who just looks different when he’s in the zone. Both are finishers.
Chances we’ll see it: high. I think they each start the year with a win. Swanson over Dennis Siver and Koch over Lamas.
No. 8: Welterweights Carlos Condit (28-6) vs. Erick Silva (14-3) Too soon? Maybe, but Silva held his own against Jon Fitch, and this would be a vastly different fight, stylistically. We’ve seen Silva against back-to-back wrestlers now: Fitch and Charlie Brenneman. He didn’t pass both tests, but he didn’t completely fail them, either. He’s the real deal. Book this as a co-main late in the year? You’d watch.
Chances we’ll see it: moderate. Will depend on Silva. He needs to keep winning.
No. 7: Middleweights Chris Weidman (9-0) vs. Luke Rockhold (10-1) Right or wrong, if you’re Luke Rockhold, isn’t this the first fight you want in the UFC if Anderson Silva is off the table? What a frustrating year this guy had. Only two fights, one of them against Keith Jardine. (Keith Jardine!) The only storyline Rockhold could manage at the end of the year was a bit of trash talk with Lorenz Larkin? Man. Meanwhile, Weidman -- same age, nearly same record -- fought on Fox, headlined his first UFC card and accumulated twice as many Twitter followers. Rockhold’s got reason to be bitter heading into this fight, and I’d love to see what happens.
Chances we’ll see it: very high. If Michael Bisping is next for Silva, why not book this one immediately? I could see these two fighting multiple times down the road.
No. 6: Lightweights Ben Henderson (18-2) vs. Donald Cerrone (19-4) I’m still disappointed with how the second fight went, and that was more than two years ago. There I was, all giddy on press row at WEC 48 in Sacramento, fresh off watching Leonard Garcia/Chan Sung Jung I on the undercard and thinking the Henderson/Cerrone rematch was going to be even better. Then Henderson won in 1:57 of the first round with a ho-hum guillotine. I can’t see Cerrone going down that easily in a trilogy fight.
Chances we’ll see it: moderate. Cerrone has to beat Anthony Pettis later this month, because if this fight does happen, it mostly likely has to be for a title.
No. 5: Lightweights BJ Penn (16-9) vs. Joe Lauzon (22-8) This one caught you off-guard, didn’t it? I really do believe Penn can still fight, and if I had to guess, I think he still wants to fight. This absolutely has to be at 155, though. If it’s not at lightweight, I don’t want to see Penn at all. In his return to the division, you can’t get crazy and put him against a top-5 guy. Enter Lauzon, a reliable Fight of the Night machine who won’t spend rounds latched onto a single leg takedown. This fight gets Penn to 155 and gets Lauzon motivated off a loss.
Chances we’ll see it: low, unfortunately. Not sure if Penn is willing to drop to 155, and even if he does, I don’t see him fighting anytime soon.
No. 4: Welterweights Georges St-Pierre (23-2) vs. Johny Hendricks (14-1) About three years ago, I was casually talking with Hendricks at a Las Vegas gym about how he’d go about fighting St-Pierre. I can still remember his exact words. He said he’d strap on a singlet and treat it like a pure wrestling match. Now, clearly a lot has changed since then, but there’s an interesting point to take. Hendricks is so confident in his wrestling that he believed he could beat St-Pierre even back then, before he really developed this striking game we’ve seen. If you were to create a welterweight in the lab to beat St-Pierre, wouldn’t he look like Hendricks? Relatively equal wrestling skills with an iron chin, knockout power and loads of confidence.
Chances we’ll see it: very high. They both win in March then fight in July.
No. 3: Bantamweights Ronda Rousey (6-0) vs. Cristiane Santos (10-1) Respectfully, this is the only fight in women’s MMA that matters until it happens. Let me be clear, I’m not saying it’s the only good fight or the only matchup worthy of our attention. What I’m saying is that like it or not, any female fight that’s not Rousey vs. Santos will only exist in the shadow of Rousey vs. Santos. The UFC knows this and it will do everything it can to make that fight next.
Chances we’ll see it: very high. Has to happen.
No. 2: Heavyweights Cain Velasquez (11-1) vs. Jon Jones (17-1) Not to be a prisoner of the moment here, but isn't it easy to envision Velasquez simply overwhelming Jones right now? I have two images of Velasquez in my head. The first one is pretty specific. After he knocked out Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, he had a line of blood running from the bridge of his nose to his chin. His natural first reaction was to wipe the blood with his fingers, lick it off and spit it out again. Now, we’ve seen that before, but usually it’s for show. Velasquez doing it was more genuine and, quite frankly, a bit frightening. The next image is a broad one, basically him going about carving Antonio Silva’s face up with elbows as though he was baking a cake. This guy is part machine, part animal in the cage. You think Jones is going to be able to circle and keep that inner chi thing he does when he’s locked in the cage with a wild animal? I kind of don’t.
Chances we’ll see it: not good. Jones doesn’t need to go to heavyweight yet. Why would he? There are still title defenses for him, as well as a potential fight with the middleweight champ. Maybe we’ll see this in 2014.
No. 1: Jon Jones (17-1) vs. Anderson Silva (33-4) Pretty simple. They are the No. 1- and No. 2-ranked fighters in the world. The longer it takes to make the fight, the less appealing it gets as Silva gets older and Jones gets better. Funny, in a way, the matchup could produce a miserable fight. What if Jones takes Silva down in the first two minutes and spends the rest of the round slicing him up with those razor blades he calls elbows? Could definitely happen. Silva has fought 14 different opponents in the UFC, though, and figured out how to beat every one of them. The feeling I get, at least right now, is he’d figure Jones out, too.
Chances we’ll see it: high. Makes more sense than Jones moving up in weight, and Silva is close to cleaning out 185 pounds.