MMA: Thiago Alves
What does it say when Jon Fitch -- one of the winningest welterweights ever to roll off the assembly line -- gets cut by the UFC? Primarily that the UFC doesn’t necessarily view winning “by any means” as an avenue for sustained success.
Not in 2013, anyway. Not with television deals and an influx of Strikeforce talent and so many cards bursting at the seams with so many bouts.
Success is multifaceted and involved and actually very simple. The idea is this: Entertain us. Success is powerful fists and hospital visits and charisma and whatever it is Cub Swanson does -- all supported with a few wins.
Fitch doesn’t do pageantry, and he doesn’t do brawls. He shows up disheveled and ready to roll. In fact, he became his own verb in his seven years with the UFC. To be “fitched” was a real and particularly unenviable thing for those who signed on to fight him. It was a form of nihilistic wrestling into ground-and-pound. Fitch “fitched” such commodities as Thiago Alves, Ben Saunders and Mike Pierce. He rained ice picks on Paulo Thiago's steel chin, before getting classically “out-fitched” by Demian Maia.
He has always been about endurance, and that’s the problem. Fitch is the dictator with the snarl, the original “grinder.” Chris Wilson, who knew the score heading into his UFC 82 bout with Fitch, once said to me with a certain kind of sly reverence: “What’s he going to do? Summon the wind?” No. Fitch summons something more physical. At his vintage best, he dishes up 15 minutes of utterly hopeless futility.
And that futility, unfortunately, extends to the spectator -- which is why today he’s holding a pink slip with a UFC record of 14-3-1. It’s not that he’s breaking the bank to get $65,000 in show money, or that he had that whole flare-up back in the day with the UFC over video game rights (though these could be factors). It’s that he dominates people in forgettable fashion. He shuts down judo players, slick jiu-jitsu artists, dynamic strikers and kickboxers with industrial cold. Now he’s gone (as you and I know) because of it, and we’re left theorizing if he and Ben Askren are destined to nullify each other for five rounds in Bellator.
Fitch, along with such veterans as Vladimir Matyushenko, Mike Russow, Josh Grispi, Che Mills, Paul Sass and others were cut from the UFC in a roster dump. Jacob Volkmann was on that list, too, despite winning six of his last eight bouts as a lightweight. His problem? He bears a Fitch-like resemblance to you know who.
Other than Fitch, these cuts aren’t so much unexpected as they are declaratory. The message is get busy thrilling, or get busy Bellatoring. Be something that everybody wants to watch, or be someplace else. If you’re not captivating, then you’re a problem elite. You are Jon Fitch, the perennial contender who of late has ironically A) begun to lose while B) fighting more excitingly.
That’s why, all things considered, the timing is a bit strange. Fitch goes 1-2 in his past three fights, and it becomes a good opportunity for the UFC to part ways. But look at those three fights. There was the knockout he received at the hands of Johny Hendricks (which was memorable, particularly as Fitch tried to single-leg referee Steve Mazaggatti as he came to). Then there was the Erick Silva barnburner in Brazil, where he appeared rejuvenated and determined to put on a show. That won "fight of the night" honors. And finally the Maia bout, which was a letdown. He was outclassed by a Velcro version of his former self. But before that he was 13-1-1, which screams out for the Hall of Fame.
Did he deserve to be cut? No. The spirit of mixed martial arts is (presumably) to present a gamut of styles in the cage, to see whose is best. Fitch has been solid for a long time. In fact, he’s been dominant. His style trumps most others. But he’s so good at one-sided full-length fights that we have him dialed in as aggravatingly predictable.
Obviously, the UFC is frustrated with him as well, to the point his name has now taken on a new meaning. “Fitch” in adjective form has become just another word for expendable.
On the surface, Alves had the look of a man assured of winning. It did not matter who the opposition happened to be -- Matt Hughes, Josh Koscheck, UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre or Jon Fitch -- Alves always gave the impression he would leave the Octagon victorious.
But too often that wasn’t actually what he believed.
On many occasions there was doubt in his mind. Alves wasn’t always 100 percent confident he would be the best man inside the cage on fight night.
The lack of confidence had nothing to do with believing in his skill-set -- he's always believed in his physically abilities; it’s what gave him the strength to step in the cage against top 170-pound competitors. The source of Alves’ doubts would creep in during training camp. He wasn’t comfortable with the folks calling the shots -- his coaches.
In the past, Alves and his handlers weren’t on the same page during training camp and it reduced his confidence and performance on fight night.
After an impressive 2008 campaign in which he registered wins over Hughes and Koscheck, Alves suffered unanimous decision losses to St. Pierre and Fitch.
“For you to step in there and give your best, you have to know that the entire team gave its best, that everything was done right,” Alves told ESPN.com on Tuesday. “If you have any doubts in your mind it’s going to show in the fight.
“It was just a matter of getting the right people behind me, and getting my confidence back. I’m still at American Top Team, but like in every camp there are coaches who come and go. Right before my fight with Koscheck, we [the coaches and I] had a falling out. That dragged on until after the [St. Pierre] camp.
“After that fight [against St. Pierre], I found new people. It took me a few fights to get adjusted to the new coaching staff.”
Alves (19-8) has won two of his three most recent fights and his confidence level is at a career high. He will carry that confidence into his welterweight showdown Friday night against Martin Kampmann. The two meet in the main event at UFC on FX 2 in Sydney.
Kampmann (18-2) is as tough as they come, and is looking to maintain the momentum he regained with a unanimous decision over Rick Story in November. That win allowed Kampmann to halt his losing skid at two.
But Kampmann could be facing his stiffest test as a professional in Alves. The Coconut Creek, Fla.-based Alves appears to be in the best shape of his career, both physically and mentally.
Alves, who has struggled in the past to make the 170-pound limit, gives a large chunk of credit for his turnaround to nutritionist Mike Dolce.
“I brought in Mike Dolce after the Fitch fight and that took me to another level in my career,” Alves said. “My old strength and conditioning coach used to pretty much abuse me when it came to the weight cut. It was painful. It would make me think about quitting my job.
“Since I started working with Mike Dolce, I’ve enjoyed the whole process. Three days before the weigh-in and I’m just 11 pounds over the limit. This has never happened before in my career. And I feel great. I’m ready to fight right now.
“When I know I have the right people behind me and I know I did the right training I know I can go out there and perform at my best. That’s what happened in my last fight [a first-round submission victory over Papy Abedi in November] and that’s exactly what’s going to happen Friday night.”
Example: What if Kampmann hadn’t come out on the losing end of a razor thin decision against Jake Shields at UFC 121?
What if the judges had sided with the vocal majority who thought he should’ve gotten the nod over Diego Sanchez in March 2011 in their bloody, hard-fought cable TV main event?
What if Kampmann’s unanimous decision win over Rick Story three months back -- originally announced as a split verdict, like maybe the judges had considered taking that one from him, too -- had been the cherry on top of a five-fight win-streak instead of a two-bout slump buster?
No long meditation on the butterfly effect is needed to know that if any of the above had come to pass, well, Kampmann probably wouldn’t be taking on Thiago Alves on Friday in a fight that feels like a stretch as a main event, even for one of the UFC’s new live shows on FX. On a Friday night, no less.
If Stephen King can crank out 800-plus pages speculating about a couple of guys going back in time to try to stop the Kennedy assassination, we can take a couple of sentences to acknowledge what Kampmann has learned the hard way during the last year and a half: That the line between contender status and just being middle-of-the-pack in the UFC welterweight division is slim, and the margin for error essentially nonexistent.
If Kampmann had defeated Shields and/or Sanchez (some people believe he rightfully did both) maybe he would have been fighting Georges St. Pierre in late spring or early summer of last year. Or maybe he would have met up with Jake Ellenberger in a No. 1 contender bout in late 2011 or early 2012. Heck, given Kampmann’s 2009 win over Carlos Condit, maybe it would have been him in the cage against Nick Diaz fighting for the interim 170-pound title at UFC 143, instead of “The Natural Born Killer.”
Or maybe not. This is all speculative, of course. It's possible things could have gone off the rails for Kampmann in a thousand other ways. Perhaps his UFC 103 loss to Paul Daley -- arguably his only real misstep of the last few years -- would still have been enough to hold him back.
Whatever the case, instead of finding himself considering the intricacies of the welterweight title picture right now, Kampmann’s current reality is Friday's bout with Alves, where the stakes are, at best, uncertain.
Alves is just 2-3 during his last five appearances and his only two wins since October 2008 came as the middle leg of John Howard’s three-fight losing streak and over a debuting unknown in Papy Abedi. He’s already been to the mountain top, fighting St. Pierre at UFC 100, and came out on the wrong end of a terribly lopsided decision loss. A return trip is starting to feel more and more unlikely.
At this point, the book is out on Alves, who starts like a house of fire and then fades late when his opponents can impose their game plans on him. The only real juice in this fight is the stylistic matchup -- both guys like to bang and Kampmann doesn’t fit the blueprint of the wrestle-first fighters like Story, GSP and Jon Fitch who’ve given Alves all sorts of trouble.
What does it all mean when a 1-2 fighter takes on a 2-3 fighter on cable TV on a night the public isn’t used to seeing fights and just 24 hours before a far more hyped-up women’s bantamweight title bout hits the airwaves? Nobody knows. It’s just one both guys know they don’t want to lose, that’s all.
Losses, we all know, are bad. Even losses that maybe should have been wins. Just ask Martin Kampmann.
Because he’s a professional fighter, Kampmann would likely blame himself for his recent rough turns of fate. He’d probably tell you it was his fault for “leaving it in the hands of the judges.”
Really, though, he’s not to blame, and that makes it hard not to wonder "what if."
While we’re engaging in fantasy, perhaps we could also indulge one where the fighters in our sport in 2012 don’t have to fear “leaving it” in the purview of the judges. Maybe there’s an alternate universe out there somewhere where the rules are better and the judges can be counted on to do a decent job.
Now comes Nate Marquardt; the longtime middleweight contender makes his welterweight debut June 26 in Pittsburgh. Marquardt is set to face fast-rising Rick Story, who agreed to fill in for the injured Anthony Johnson.
But unlike Stann and Florian, both of whom thought long and hard before taking the plunge, Marquardt had no reservations about moving down a weight class. It was time to make the move because his body told him so.
“For me it was about how I felt for my last fight,” Marquardt said on Tuesday during a UFC conference call. “For my last fight [a unanimous decision in March over Dan Miller at UFC 128] I was very light, and I felt the best I’d felt in years.
“It [170 pounds] is more of a natural weight for me. My body operates best with less weight on. It’s about performance, and I feel I will perform better at a lighter weight -- regardless if I’m fighting at 185 or 170.”
While the decision to drop down came easy for Marquardt, his goal is no different from that of Florian’s or Stann’s. He wants no shortcuts in his new division but fully expects to catapult to the top of the welterweight rankings. And it starts by putting the brakes on Story, who enters the fight riding a six-bout win streak.
“I guess [a win] would put me at the top,” said Marquardt, who is 31-10-2. “Rick is as very tough guy. He just beat [Thiago] Alves who is a former world title contender. I’m just excited for the opportunity.”
Marquardt is feeling very good about his decision to compete at 170 pounds. And why not? His cardio is as good as ever; he's huge for the division, and he’s had a full training camp to shake any cobwebs that might hinder his effort. Marquardt expects to put on one of his best performances as a pro.
Then there is the issue of his opponent. Story has raised many eyebrows of late.
He handled Alves will little difficulty on May 28 at UFC 131 en route to a unanimous decision victory. Alves is a huge welterweight, who was expected to control Story standing. But Story not only held his own on the feet, he battled Alves strength for strength while grappling against the cage. No matter how big the opponent, and Marquardt will likely have a decided size advantage, Story refuses to get pushed around.
Story (13-3-0) is so confident in his abilities that he didn’t hesitate to take this fight on short notice. A fast turnaround is right up Story’s alley.
“We requested a fight quick, maybe not so quick,” Story said. “But with the opportunity of Anthony Johnson dropping out, I like fighting frequently, so we jumped all over the opportunity to fill in for Anthony Johnson.”
Even after making Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch and Thiago Alves look like they don't belong in MMA, there's still the idea that Georges St. Pierre isn't the best fighter working: He hasn't been finishing, is unable or unwilling to put himself at enough risk to get that hostile, and therefore takes a backseat to fireball-throwing Anderson Silva. (Or, if you're feeling really numb in the head, Jose Aldo.)
Never mind that all three of those opponents are barely ever put away; never mind that Silva had his own run of distance fights with Thales Leites and Demian Maia, or that Silva's celebrated "move" to 205 included a fight with James Irvin. St. Pierre, whether he's finishing or not, has displayed the most complete understanding of MMA to date: He can wrestle at a level that embarrasses NCAA champions and can strike with enough efficiency to harm others without coming to harm himself. There's not much more you can ask of an MMA fighter.
I like definitive endings as much as anyone. It provides closure and it's exciting and it looks terrific on a hype reel, but there comes a point when both fighters and fans realize that value can't be completely wrapped up in violent finishes: walking into Koscheck's right hand and losing status that's taken years to build is not an even trade. (Muhammad Ali winning as many fights by decision as he did by stoppage in the 1970s didn't seem to bother anyone.) St. Pierre is exceptional not only for the skills he brings, but for what he risks -- a profile as an all-time great.
Next for St. Pierre:Jake Shields, which would more or less shut down an entire division for the first time in the history of the sport.
Next for Koscheck: Treading water until St. Pierre folds to the pressure of heading to 185.
New questions: UFC 124
Can St. Pierre excel at 185 pounds?
Win or lose against Silva or Vitor Belfort, St. Pierre stands a far greater chance of taking damage as a middleweight fighter than he ever would at welterweight: the takedowns wouldn't always be there, and the punches would carry force he hasn't experienced.
St. Pierre has discussed the move not in terms of a novelty, one-off fight, but as a "permanent" shift in his career. And while that's wise thinking -- yo-yo fluctuations in weight are rarely good for fighters -- it opens him up to some very unfavorable matchmaking. St. Pierre can probably take down Silva; he would not take down Chael Sonnen. For a fighter who prides himself on clean fights with minimal harm suffered, the weight shift is almost a quality of life issue. No wonder he rarely smiles when talking about it.
What will it take to beat this guy?
Koscheck showed sharper wrestling than in their first fight, stuffing several St. Pierre takedown attempts and nailing one of his own. But a swollen eye and an almost immediate discomfort in the fight warped that game. As St. Pierre is one of the division's best wrestlers, shutting him down that way no longer seems like a valid approach.
The Thiago Alves that showed up against John Howard on Saturday -- fit to fight and technically impressive -- might give St. Pierre problems he couldn't present in their first fight; someone absolutely reckless in his stand-up approach might be able to win a game of Russian roulette. But the nature of St. Pierre's status means that few people who ever get the opportunity to face him will have a club fighter attitude. Maybe someone needs to develop one.
Is it time to pay attention to Struve?
Losses against Junior dos Santos and Roy Nelson helped smother any serious talk of Struve being a title contender. But two sets of numbers are worth considering: he's 6-foot-11, and he's only 22 years old.
Struve has rung up five victories in addition to those two losses, one of which came in his UFC debut (against dos Santos). Learning how to use that long frame isn't something a man barely out of his teens is going to have mastered right away, and it's clear he's not interested in being a reach fighter with no ground comprehension: he swept Sean McCorkle to erase a bad spot of trouble and followed it up with a TKO win. It's not impossible he'll fight dos Santos again in a couple of years, and under more favorable circumstances.
• MMAJunkie.com reported that the expected live-gate record didn't happen: Attendees at Montreal's Bell Centre spent $4.6 million, short of the $5.4 million brought in by a Tito Ortiz/Chuck Liddell grudge match in Nevada in 2006. April's event at the Rogers Centre will probably bust that number, and there's always Cowboys Stadium, but you'll need a lot of fans to run ahead of the $8.8 million Manny Pacquiao's admirers spent on last year's fight with Miguel Cotto.
• Viral marketing went awry after the UFC announced fans could vote on fight of the night, in which athletes would split a $200,000 bonus check based on texts. This system didn't work several years ago, when fans would "score" rounds in a way even Nevada judges found appalling, and it didn't work here: St. Pierre and Koscheck were awarded the bonus when most felt a prelim bout between Matt Riddle and Sean Pierson deserved it. Ignoring the sloppy nature of that bout and the precision of St. Pierre/Koscheck actually being more impressive, this system will forever be warped by name recognition and good prelims being buried on tape delay.
Fighting just twice a year and rarely compromised by opponents, Georges St. Pierre might be the single greatest original product of the modern-era Ultimate Fighting Championship.
Zuffa -- which bought the UFC brand in 2001 -- inherited a number of attractions from previous owners, including Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell; Brock Lesnar's fame was bred in pro wrestling; Kimbo Slice was a product of YouTube. The UFC has discovered and developed many stars, but St. Pierre is special.
St. Pierre had several fights in Canada to begin his career, but it wasn't until he began taking down high-level wrestlers in the UFC that people began to understand what was happening: A capital-A athlete had learned how to fight, and had developed his body for no other purpose.
Wrestlers had physicality, but only as a side effect of their collegiate careers -- worse, they often relied solely on their ability to grapple, their bodies and egos married to certain functions. When St. Pierre made his UFC debut seven years ago, he wasn't trying to adapt. The athleticism and the skill set were built simultaneously.
Before St. Pierre, athletes took turns succeeding with fighters, and good athletes who married good skills (Matt Hughes, Couture) were regular winners. But St. Pierre is a great athlete with a great ability; he has the frame of an Olympian in a sport that hosts a lot of varsity players. The interest -- and there's a lot, with St. Pierre's previous fight against Dan Hardy flirting with Lesnar numbers -- stems from that unlikely coupling. He could probably be a professional in another sport if he had made that decision. Instead, he's operating at that level for the purpose of a new form of prizefight.
A few years from now there will probably be many St. Pierres: groomed athletes who groom great physical gifts with an understanding of violence. For now, he's still the exception that will eventually insist on the rule.
What: UFC 124, an 11-bout card from the Bell Centre in Montreal
When: Saturday, Dec. 11, at 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view
Why you should care: Because St. Pierre is flirting with cleaning out an entire division in a manner no one has managed yet; because Josh Koscheck comes from a camp (AKA) that produces some of the most difficult fighters to figure out; because Sean McCorkle could talk himself into Kimbo Slice levels of Internet infamy, with a good set of skills to go with it; and because Thiago Alves is still a question mark following a tough loss to Jon Fitch (and brain surgery).
Fight of the night: Alves versus John Howard, two talented strikers who are brawlers at heart.
Hype quote of the show: "Everybody in there is pushing you. If you have a bad day in there, let me tell you, you're going to go home and you're going to question yourself because you get your ass kicked in the gym. There's been many days in this training camp that I got beat down in the gym and I'm just like, 'Oh my God.'" -- Koscheck, in accidental humility, to the Montreal Star-Gazette
Questions: UFC 124
Is Freddie Roach a reliable witness?
Roach, the highly regarded trainer for some of boxing's biggest names, has offered instruction to MMA fighters for the past several years; speaking about St. Pierre's fight with Koscheck, Roach suggested that Koscheck's lazy jab might be countered with a St. Pierre left hook.
The problem with using Roach as handicapping fuel is uneven testimony: He once criticized Manny Pacquiao's camp for being underwhelming -- when Pacquiao was his own fighter -- and has often bolstered the credentials of fighters more out of good faith than actual belief. Roach says a lot, but often winds up meaning very little.
Can MMA ever offer a hometown advantage?
Like Matt Serra before him, Koscheck has the unenviable task of trying to keep his focus while a 20,000-plus seat arena wants to see him drawn and quartered; that's the benefit of St. Pierre fighting for his Canadian base. But unlike in ball sports -- often measured attempts to drive in a goal, with time to absorb the crowd's negative energy -- there's not much else to pay attention to in a fight besides attacking and not getting attacked. If Koscheck can ignore the brutal walk to the Octagon, the crowd might not matter.
How will Dustin Hazelett do as a lightweight?
Dustin Hazelett's UFC career at 170 pounds was uneven (he went 5-4) but filled with wonderfully inventive grappling and submission highlights. In his past two bids, he was TKOed, prompting a move to 155 pounds.
Dropping weight is an easy reinvention: if you're losing, it might be because you're getting smothered. But Hazelett's problems came as the result of superior stand-up artists, and there won't be a deficit of those in any division.
Do or die for Danzig?
The UFC's current climate -- win or go home -- has never been more unforgiving, thanks mostly to the saturation point of shows and a choked-up roster from the WEC merger. Mac Danzig has lost four of his past five bouts; another one against Joe Stevenson would be the end of the road. Hardly unusual, but it would make only the third time an "Ultimate Fighter" winner was cut.
Red Ink: St. Pierre versus Koscheck
In most of his recent fights, St. Pierre has not allowed himself to enter situations he cannot control. Several times, he's passed up striking in favor of positional dominance on the ground, where fighters are made to be helpless and forced to defend themselves rather than think of an offense. Chris Leben, Wanderlei Silva -- these are "chips-in" fighters. St. Pierre doesn't bet unless the hand is good.
That approach has had two effects: It's won him fights against dangerous fighters -- which in turn raised his celebrity -- but it's also forced some fans to accept that not all champions bring lighter fluid into the Octagon.
Lately, the question was whether his superior wrestling would be enough to perform against athletes like Fitch or Alves. Taking either one down is like trying to bend a support beam. In both cases, he did, just as he put down Koscheck in 2007. Saturday's issue is whether Koscheck has paid enough attention to polishing his Division 1 credentials enough to stay on his feet, and whether St. Pierre can remove himself from his comfort zone enough to deal with him standing if it becomes necessary.
What it means: For St. Pierre, an opportunity to enjoy a victory against a disliked opponent in front of a partisan crowd; for Koscheck, validation that his projected ego is earned.
Wild card: St. Pierre's decentralized training. It's obviously working for him, but the minute it doesn't, he'll be criticized for not having any continuity in his camp.
Who wins: It's a tough bout for St. Pierre to look good in, but that's typical at this level. Koscheck should be able to scramble up from takedowns, but that will eventually fatigue him more than he'd like. St. Pierre by decision.
In a no-time-limit fight, Jon Fitch somehow would find a way to go to the judges. He hasn't finished a fight in nearly three years. But if you have a problem with that, then by god, he has a problem with you.
"I view them as fair-weather fans," Fitch told BleacherReport.com of his KO-lusting critics. "They aren't mixed martial arts fans. They want to see K-1 kickboxing with small gloves and not MMA. … I'm always working to finish fights. There are two guys in the fight, and if the other guy is looking to just survive, it's hard to finish."
Fitch is only half correct: There are tough, durable guys in the UFC, and finishing before the clock runs out can be trying. But for virtually every opponent he has faced during his recent run, another fighter has been able to manage it. Fitch didn't finish Akihiro Gono, but Dan Hornbuckle did. He couldn't finish Paulo Thiago, but teammate Mike Swick managed. (Consecutive decision No. 7 could have happened Saturday at UFC 111, but Fitch's opponent, Thiago Alves, was removed after a CAT scan revealed brain irregularities.)
If the strategy is to turn a sprint into a marathon, maybe Fitch is on to something. But it doesn't mean fans have to like it.
The UFC announced Tuesday that standout striker Paul Daley will meet Josh Koscheck in a welterweight eliminator at UFC 113 on May 8. The fight will follow a Jon Fitch-Thiago Alves rematch scheduled for UFC 111 on March 27. It's likely that a winner emerging from either fight would face Georges St. Pierre after he defends against Dan Hardy at UFC 111. (I've come to accept that as a statement of fact. Apologies to Hardy fans.)
Yet St. Pierre has already defeated Fitch, Alves and Koscheck, all in somewhat one-sided decision festivals. Daley's striking could certainly present problems, but there may not be much to stop St. Pierre from grinding out an NCAA-style win that quickly has becoming his trademark.
So why are we even looking at such a mundane 2010 for the champion? St. Pierre has put on 10 pounds of mass since altering his diet, and his trainers indicate he can only be pushed in training when paired with larger men such as Rashad Evans. Providing he beats Hardy, the interest in seeing any of those three possible rematches pales in comparison to a bout with Anderson Silva or another quality middleweight.
For St. Pierre, 170 is yesterday's mail.
A prizefight ring offers up a lot of truths, not all of them pretty.
UFC 1, airing to a mostly nauseated pay-per-view audience of 80,000 homes in November 1993, used a lot of cringe-worthy brutality to prove that fighting wasn't what Bruce Lee had led us to believe.
UFC 100, which played to unprecedented media coverage and perhaps more than a million households on Saturday, used a lot of cringe-worthy brutality to prove that fighting wasn't even what Royce Gracie had led us to believe.
Brock Lesnar silenced nearly 18 months of derisive talk about his submission loss to Frank Mir by working Mir's face like he was kneading pizza dough, his monstrous arms battering like pistons.
Lesnar, who is a massive man in a sport that almost humors size, is keeping a promise made by Mark Coleman back in 1996 -- that if you're athletic and you can wrestle, you've got a career for the taking.
Lesnar's growing mystique is a little less subtle than Gracie's: most of us are built like Royce, not Brock, and it's easier to project ourselves in the place of a guy who weighs 170 pounds than someone who looks like a Neanderthal with cantaloupes for biceps. But there is very little doubt that he has positioned himself as the UFC's headlining attraction.
If his destruction of Mir indicates he's getting comfortable in the Octagon, expect the UFC to hire a staff reconstructive facial surgeon. Considering that tickets for Lesnar's appearances sell faster than they can be printed, they can certainly afford it.
Next for Lesnar: The appeal of seeing Lesnar against the winner of Randy Couture-Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira on Aug. 29 just deflated considerably -- both men are not as fresh as Mir and would probably be fitted for a toe tag during their prefight physical. Shane Carwin has the horsepower to make it interesting; fans will scream for a bout with Fedor Emelianenko -- and they should get it, just for history's sake -- but a demure and Russian-speaking opponent is not going to pull the attention the gleefully arrogant Mir did, cult following or not.
Next for Mir: One or two weeks of basement dwelling until the swelling goes down; the loser of the rumored Carwin-Cain Velasquez bout.
Next for Georges St. Pierre: A year off to build the requisite amount of muscle to challenge Anderson Silva -- and wait for a contender to emerge. (I like Mike Swick, but his chances against St. Pierre could not be any worse if he were blindfolded.)
Next for Dan Henderson: Yoshihiro Akiyama if he's lucky, Anderson Silva if he's not -- along with a UFC Hall of Fame slot.
Awkward Sponsorship Collapse of the Night Award: Brock Lesnar, for dunking UFC execs in boiling water over his jab at event sponsor Bud Light for not paying him directly. (Lesnar, looming over a giant Bud Light logo in the cage, said he'd enjoy a Coors Light instead.) Dana White enjoys his anti-corporate renegade image, but you'd better believe he'd wear a tie to that make-up meeting.
Questionable Sportsmanship of the Night Award: Lesnar, for yelling into what was left of Mir's face after caving it in.
Fan Relations of the Night Award: Lesnar, for measuring his response to the crowd's boos after facing off with Mir, realizing that syllables are more trouble than they're worth and flipping them off.
GIF of the Night Award: Lesnar, for addressing the camera with a mouthful of postfight froth and fury that makes Conan the Barbarian look like a Mouseketeer.
Contrition of the Night Award: Lesnar, for showing up to a postfight news conference apologizing for his manic episode -- all while a Bud Light was positioned near his microphone.
Old Soldier of the Night Award: Mark Coleman did the die-hard fans in attendance proud by gutting out a unanimous decision win over a tough Stephan Bonnar in a preliminary fight. The Hammer looked worlds removed from his last, lethargic performance against Mauricio Rua, scooping Bonnar's legs at will and staying out of some aggressive submission attempts. The punches weren't as hard and the intensity wasn't as pitched as they were in Coleman's heyday, but any veteran of UFC 10 that can keep a fight competitive at UFC 100 is worth anyone's respect.
Q: Is St. Pierre big enough to challenge Anderson Silva?
A: St. Pierre's fight shape is typically 185 pounds: Silva's is probably closer to 200. GSP needs a muscle masonry expert to help him add a solid 10 pounds of mass -- he would be well-advised to consult with Mackie Shilstone, who added enough quality beef to both Roy Jones and Michael Spinks that they won boxing titles in heavier weight classes.
If St. Pierre can take down Rashad Evans in training, I like his chances against Anderson. It's a big fight, but the UFC has to cannibalize one of its champions in the process.
Q: Will we see Brock Lesnar versus Fedor Emelianenko?
A: Only if White backpedals on earlier demands that Emelianenko abandon Sambo competition and erases the "championship clause" that would bind the Russian to the promotion until he loses his (theoretical) title. The former should be easily dismissed: Emelianenko lost in Sambo last year. No one really cared. The latter could be more of a problem. Both Jens Pulver and Murilo Bustamante bolted to better-paying gigs overseas in 2002 even though they hadn't dropped their respective belts inside the Octagon. It's a bit embarrassing.
Q: Do Lesnar's circus antics validate fans of professional wrestling?
A: Big mouths sell in sports. It's not endemic to wrestling, even though it started there. Muhammad Ali played the same game in the '70s, Tyson in the '90s. White plays it now. All of these men know exactly what they're doing. The polite Anderson Silva might be the most talented man in the UFC: his last headlining bout sold less than 325,000 buys. It takes all kinds.
Q: Will Bisping's brutal knockout via the right hand of Dan Henderson affect his chances of being knocked out in the future?
A: I'm not often mistaken for a neurologist, but here it is: there's only anecdotal evidence that suffering a knockout increases the odds of having it happen more easily in the future. But studies done on concussion victims have taken note of a drop off in their timing, balance and reaction. Can a fighter be changed by a severe blow? Yes, he can.
UFC 100's estimated $5.1 million live gate is the second-biggest in company history, behind Chuck Liddell-Tito Ortiz 2 in 2006. But, as you know, Ortiz isn't worth discussing in White's history books.
Dan Henderson took a little heat for claiming his follow-up blow to an already unconscious Michael Bisping was personal, but he later recanted, telling journalists that he was "joking." As with Lesnar, nothing an athlete says immediately following a fight should be taken seriously. There is a mass release of all kinds of brain chemicals following a win that fuels some stupid and regrettable actions.
The UFC estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 people showed up for the Fan Expo on July 10 and 11. Considering that ground zero for young-demo pop culture gatherings is the 20-year-old San Diego Comic Convention and its 100,000 attendees, that number is staggering.
Las Vegan Natasha Wicks won the right to be ogled by thousands during a Maxim/UFC Octagon Girl contest on Saturday.
Tom Lawlor, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Alan Belcher, and Dan Henderson each earned performance-incentive bonuses of $100,000.
First reported by the Wrestling Observer, a new rule went into effect Saturday that gives a fouled fighter the option of choosing to restart the fight in the same position on the ground or standing. Dong Hyun Kim took advantage of the revision when he suffered an illegal up-kick from T.J. Grant on Saturday: The fight was broken and then resumed on the feet.
The world's premiere combat blender celebrates its 100th (actually, 133rd) show tonight. If you came around a little too late and didn't feel like taking out a second mortgage for $40,000
seats -- or simply didn't want to chance stepping on David Spade -- then you're likely watching from home.
Look on the bright side: Living room attendance usually means less blood, cheaper snacks and a significantly reduced risk of impulse-buying TapouT socks or a Dana White commemorative plate from the souvenir stand.
Epic notes for an epic event to follow.
12:49 a.m. ET -- On the Octagon Girl Cam, Arianny Celeste displays a deep respect for the physical and emotional commitment of the athletes by texting on her cell; Thiago works an anaconda choke, but Fitch is too slick. He'll win a decision at the end of what could be the UFC's most financially successful event. If Lesnar was not pay-per-view's biggest attraction before tonight, he is now.
12:41 a.m. ET -- Fitch works his wrestling. Backstage on the Burger King Cams, Mark DellaGrotte lightly punts Quinton Jackson in the crotch.
12:35 a.m. ET -- Thiago spends the first two and a half minutes attempting a choke. That hissing sound you hear is the air slowly being let out of the event.
12:32 a.m. ET -- Battle of contenders, I suppose. Fitch was involved in that infamous row with UFC over video game likeness rights. Who's guessing no "Ultimate Fitch" specials are forthcoming? Anyone?
12:26 a.m. ET -- Paulo Thiago enters and tries not to look too upset over fighting for a half-empty arena.
12:22 a.m. ET -- "You don't like promoting fights very much," Rogan tells Lesnar. What guy has he been watching?
12:18 a.m. ET -- Mir smiles through the half of his face still recognizable. At 245 pounds, he tries a flying knee, which earns him a lot of crowd love in exchange for a big takedown. Lesnar finishes with some incredibly solid punches. Lesnar has an adrenaline/manic episode, gets in Mir's face, and prompts security to rush into the cage -- to do what, exactly? He caps an excellent evening by flipping off the crowd.
12:15 a.m. ET -- Lesnar refuses to touch gloves. That's for suckers.
Lesnar appears more tranquilized than in their first fight, taking Mir down after a feeling-out and staying tight. Mir eats several punches as Lesnar cradles his head. If this is a match of who can capitalize on a seamless knot of bodies, Lesnar appears to be getting the better of it.
12:04 a.m. ET -- Lesnar enters wearing Steve Mazzagatti's skin as a walk-in robe. The crowd reacts, possibly unaware they're expected to have some emotional reserve for the Jon Fitch-Paulo Thiago swing fight set to play the arena after the main event.
Midnight ET -- Interim champion Mir enters first looking calm and collected, not quite the typical mood for someone about to be run over by a piece of construction equipment.
11:58 p.m. ET -- Multiple choice. Lesnar looks like:
A). A bunch of rocks stuffed in a sock.
B). Lou Ferrigno after a cycle of horse meat and a Creatine IV
C). An emergency stand-in for the King Kong ride at Universal Studios
There's a lot of fuss made about Lesnar's strength and bulldozer style, but I really have my doubts that A). He's learned enough in three years to avoid a submission from Mir and B). Any one of his limbs are stronger than Mir's entire body. Fighting is a science: Mir holds an advanced degree, and Lesnar is still dissecting frogs.
I'll give him this: Lesnar has no business moving around as quickly as he does. There's no shortage of lumbering heavyweights: he accelerates. It's scary.
11:52 p.m. ET -- Lesnar and Mir are seen in their respective lockerrooms. Lesnar is huge, intimidating, strong and nowhere near the martial artist Mir is.
I might be way, way off, but I see Lesnar's chances as slim and none in this fight. Consider: the same judgment that selected his chest tattoo is the same judgment he uses in a fight.
Mir by rational thinking.
11:50 p.m. ET -- St. Pierre winces as Rogan interviews him: GSP speculates he tore his abductor ligament, which might mean he fought without a working groin.
11:45 p.m. ET -- Alves enjoys roughly two minutes of offense when St. Pierre sacrifices position for an armbar attempt. He makes up for it by nailing three more takedowns. The decision is academic at this point. Is anyone dying to see St. Pierre-Mike Swick at this point?
Unless Jake Shields become a free agent tomorrow, St. Pierre should either head to 185 or wear an arm sling the next time he's in the cage -- just to make it interesting.
11:34 p.m. ET -- If there was any chance judges considered seeing the third round for Alves for being aggressive on the feet, St. Pierre snuffed it by --hey, there's Lyoto Machida-- snuffed it by knocking him down and pouncing as the bell sounded.
11:28 p.m. ET -- As previously mentioned: GSP is a complete fighter, but he's more or less a wrestler at this point, holding and controlling opponents until they break or until time expires. "Whaaat a great round you did, Georges!" Greg Jackson is praising GSP like a collie.
11:23 p.m. ET -- Jason Statham sighting. Lots of celebrities in attendance: Ultiman is seen screaming obscenities. Now he's being escorted out.
11:22 p.m. ET -- St. Pierre erases any doubts that he can take down Alves -- by taking down Alves. Alves pops back up, but a round or three of defending and standing up will suck the fight right out of him. GSP busts out a Kyokoshin spin kick just to remind people that he knows some karate, too.
11:14 p.m. ET -- Instant controversy: St. Pierre looks to have an errant glob of vaseline on his deltoid.
11:06 p.m. ET -- After plugs for UFC 101 and UFC the Magazine, Dana White pushes UFC on Demand, a video service on cable providers. "It's a great time to be a UFC fan," White says.
Follow the direction of the cash flow and it's actually way better to be the UFC.
11:04 p.m. ET -- Royce Gracie smiles for the camera. The UFC doesn't respect its pioneers? What nonsense: Teila Tuli was issued several tickets. And he's been nothing but gracious in escorting people to their seats.
11:00 p.m. ET -- More respect shown by both in the second round -- right up until Henderson lands the right hand that absolutely crushes Bisping. Henderson wound that one up from Oregon. That may have been the most definitive punch in the UFC since Rich Franklin flatlined Nate Quarry.
10:54 p.m. ET -- Bisping dives for a takedown, an attempt so preposterous the crowd actually boos.
10:49 p.m. ET -- Bisping looks to have the weight cut on lockdown: trim to the point of emaciated. He nearly mows down Mario Yamasaki in an attempt to get away from an advancing Henderson. The Big Right Hand" connects. It's predictable: so is a handgun. Doesn't mean it can't work.
10:45 pm. ET -- Henderson, owner of the most distinctive profile since Alfred Hitchcock, enters looking indifferent. Very few people are giving Bisping much of a chance in this one, but how do you ever pick against the guy? It's like trying to submit or knock out a brick.
10:42 p.m. ET -- Dan Henderson and Michael Bisping exchange pleasantries in a video package. Bisping promises that "Ahm gonna knock him out." A bold prediction, considering Henderson has never been KOed and Bisping hasn't done that to anyone in years.
10:38 p.m. ET -- Belcher stands stunned as a split decision victory is awarded to Akiyama: one observer had it 30-27, which is a huge stretch. Are judges tested for recreational drugs?
10:32 p.m. ET -- Akiyama is limping from earlier leg kicks; one eye is clearly bothering him. Belcher tries a high kick on the blind side.
Being nice doesn't pay the electric bill. Then Belcher propels himself off the cage with his foot to land a flush Superman punch. Amazing.
One judge is cheering.
10:28 p.m. ET -- Goldberg reminds us we're watching the biggest UFC event ever -- until UFC 101: Declaration! Aug. 29! Live from the Wachovia Center! Tickets on sale now!
10:27 p.m. ET -- Akiyama is looking good on the ground. There's always something to be said for first-time cage jitters, but Japanese MMA is about two steps away from the Christians and the lions. This has to feel tame in comparison. Belcher can't punt his face like a football if he makes one false step.
10:20 p.m. ET -- Akiyama tosses a burst testicle into the cheering crowd and resumes fighting, cementing the durability of these athletes. He looks considerably smaller than Belcher, but he's more than willing to exchange. Round 1 to Sexyama.
10:19 p.m. ET -- Notable necrophiliac Holly Madison puts her bio-chem textbooks down to take a ceremonial lap around the Octagon; Belcher wastes no time attacking "Sexyama," firing some noisy kicks to his legs and torso. One lands right in the yams.
10: 12 p.m. ET -- Akiyama enters and kneels near the backstage entrance, praying he'll be blessed with the ability to drop Belcher on his head. Forget what I said about Goldberg's tan: Akiyama looks irradiated.
10:08 p.m. ET -- Yoshihiro Akiyama, facing Alan Belcher, is described as having "Chuck Liddell levels" of celebrity overseas. Does he pass out on live television, too?
10:07 p.m. ET -- Joe Rogan, eyes the size of two hard-boiled eggs, says that welterweight challenger Thiago Alves could weigh up to 200 pounds tonight. This has become a game of who can survive three days in a sauna.
10:05 pm. ET -- Mike Goldberg has bronzed himself to new shades of orange for this event. He is now the color of a regulation NBA basketball. Considering he once called an Ultimate Fight Night from Tulsa, Okla., "the Super Bowl of mixed martial arts," you can probably expect his head to explode tonight, pressurized like a free diver by his own hyperbole.
10:03 p.m. ET -- There's a nice pan shot of the excitable crowd, most of them marveling that UFC has produced 100 events since Forrest Griffin-Stephan Bonnar in 2005. One fan is wearing a t-shirt with a Grim Reaper applying a Kimura to Che Guevara.
10 p.m. ET -- Live from Mandalay Bay, site of many a spectacular, sanctioned beating. I really don't wish ill on anyone, but could we get at least one flying tooth, just for old times' sake? I'd even settle for a veneer.
9:41 p.m. ET -- Florian pays his respects to guest Royce Gracie. Some whining I'll get out of the way now: it's a damn shame that Gracie isn't fighting Ken Shamrock in a 205-pound bout for this show. (Technically, he'd only have t
o weigh 186.) It's a minor miracle two of the original tournament entrants are fit to fight 16 years after the fact. Any irony that both are submerged in hot water for performance enhancers and couldn't fight even if the UFC wanted it?
No? OK. Moving on.
9:36 p.m. ET -- ESPN's "MMA Live" is broadcasting live from the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas with Jon Anik, Franklin McNeil and Kenny Florian's eyebrows. Florian has a serious future in broadcasting, yet another indication MMA is kinder to athletes' brains than in boxing. Can you imagine Joe Frazier breaking down a fight? Can you imagine him ordering a pizza?
Roughly eight mixed martial arts events are scheduled for July 11, including bouts in Mexico City, London and Germany. All of them matter -- particularly if you're a fighter looking for international attention, or the mother of a participant -- but only one can be considered an Event with a capital "E."
I'm speaking, of course, of "Gods of War 4: The Reckoning" in Baumholder.
If you cannot be in attendance for Rouven Kurath versus Fred Tusil, you may want to opt in on UFC 100, hosted by the Mandalay Bay in steaming Las Vegas. If it's not be the biggest card the UFC has ever put on, it is certainly the loudest, with an unprecedented amount of media coverage surrounding two big title fights and one "Ultimate Fighter" grudge match.
There's a very tired bit going around about how no one expected a hundredth installment of the UFC. I never found the idea all that impossible, particularly since the event -- and the sport -- stuck around like a fungus even after an attempted live burial by politicians. What surprises me is the level of respect and attention afforded to it. Mike Goldberg's proclamation that the promotion is the Super Bowl of martial arts suddenly doesn't feel so exaggerated. Not this week, at least.
What: UFC 100: Making History
When: Saturday, 10 p.m. ET
Why you should care: Because both Frank Mir and Brock Lesnar are significantly different fighters than they were in February 2008, and because Lesnar won't be able to relax on the ground with the same lax attitude he had against Heath Herring; because Thiago Alves is -- with the exception of Jon Fitch -- the most dangerous, durable and threatening opposition to Georges St. Pierre's welterweight title; because Michael Bisping's place in the middleweight division will be determined by how he looks against the leather-boot constitution of Dan Henderson; and because Stephan Bonnar grew up on a diet of UFC events terrorized by Mark Coleman -- and now he has to fight him. That's got to be weird.
Fight of the night: St. Pierre-Alves, which is probably going to resemble the appearance of pitting two circular saws against one another. Alves doesn't let up, and neither does St. Pierre. These are attrition fighters, and one will get ground down.
Pre-emptive complaint: Coleman looked extremely weathered against Mauricio Rua in January, but nothing justifies slotting a Jon Fitch/Paulo Thiago fight on the main draw and regulating Bonnar-Coleman to "may be not be broadcast" prelim status. You'd think the UFC would give their continued masticating of pioneering talent a break for a show as much about nostalgia as anything. No such luck.
Hype quotes of the show
"He won a make-believe belt from [Antonio Rodrigo] Nogueira."-- Lesnar on Mir
"Most of my partners who are 190 to 210 [pounds] actually hit harder [Lesnar was] kind of like having your baby sister on your back and all over you, and you're just saying, 'Get off me.'" -- Mir on Lesnar
"I'm always nervous. But I think this nervousness is a good thing, because that's what keeps me sharp I learn how to deal with it by control and I know it's normal and I can sleep better at night. I always have butterflies, but the key is -- make the butterflies fly in formation." -- St. Pierre
"I came here to be the best fighter in the world. I came to give a better life to my family in Brazil -- and I came here to make history. Not just for me, but for my teammates, for everybody." -- Alves
" He's not great at any one thing he's not real dangerous on his feet with the decision gifts that [Michael] Bisping has had in the past, I'm not going to leave it to the judges." --Dan Henderson
Red Ink: Lesnar-Mir
Googling "Lesnar Mir" produces about 3.5 million results; entering "St. Pierre Alves" clocks about 10 percent of that.
As scientific study, it's a pretty shaky premise; as a snapshot of the mass interest in UFC 100's two title fights, it may be on to something. Brock Lesnar is everything the UFC has ever hoped for in a competitor: a man built like a side-by-side refrigerator; arrogant, temperamental, and with an existing, powerful brand dragged from another industry. He may be the single biggest box-office draw the company has right now. And he can actually fight.
Things did not look so promising during his UFC debut in February of 2008: against Frank Mir, he showed a rookie's mentality for being too aggressive and sloppy. Facing someone equally green would've been forgiving; facing the experience of the accelerating Mir -- finally back in form after a 2004 motorcycle accident -- meant he got his foot nearly ripped off. (There is debate that, had referee Steve Mazzagatti not interrupted the action to caution Lesnar about punches to the back of the head, he would've overwhelmed Mir. But the same excitability that prompted the illegal shots prompted the slow counter that ended the fight. Mazzagatti did not cost Lesnar the victory: Lesnar cost himself.)
If Lesnar is not the most skilled heavyweight, he is easily the most athletic. Whether that will be enough to overcome Mir's technical ability is why we'll bother watching.
Striking: Mir has evolved over the years from a reluctant and clumsy striker to someone who now appears indifferent to where the fight takes place: he battered Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira by barely going horizontal. Lesnar has nowhere near that ability -- and it'll take him years more to even have a chance -- but his surprising reach (and unsurprising power) complicates things significantly.
Canvas: Lesnar's instinct is to take the fight to the mat -- exactly where Mir has the best chance of ending the night early. Lesnar may be advised to keep things on the feet, enjoy his reach, pressure Mir in the clinch, and then go to work the mat only when both men are slippery enough to make a submission more wishful thinking.
What it means: Windex for the UFC heavyweight title picture -- both Lesnar and Mir own a piece of it.
Third-party investor: Randy Couture, who would do the biggest business out of anyone when it comes to a rematch with Lesnar. (Presuming he can get past Antonio Nogueira on Aug. 29.)
Who wins: Mir. Lesnar will continue to perform well against more plodding heavyweights, but Mir has surprising agility for a man of 250 pounds. Lesnar won't be able to resist the urge to tackle him early. It'll be the beginning of his end.
Red ink: St. Pierre-Alves
Thiago Alves has won seven bouts in a row, the past three against legitimate top-10 competition. Were it not for the traumatic evening against Matt Serra, Georges St. Pierre might now be holding the record for most consecutive wins in the Octagon. The point? That the No.1 and No. 2 men in a division are fighting, both in their primes. And that's not as typical as you'd think.
Unlike most elite mixed martial artists who can do everything well but are legendary at nothing, St. Pierre performs at altitude levels in every facet of the game: he's very good at being very good. Despite that reputation, he is now essentially a wrestler, planting B.J. Penn, Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck on their backs and then pushing in their noses. If St. Pierre wants to take you down, your counterargument had better involve a bat.
This is bad news for Alves, who has shown that he can be controlled on the mat. He's big for the 170-pound class, but so is St. Pierre. And he hasn't seen a fourth or fifth round. That could be a big problem.
Striking: Alves seems to pack either more power or better aim -- he's knocked more people for a loop standing than St. Pierre has.
Canvas: Alves has never had much use for his black belt in jiu-jitsu; his lone submission win was years ago. He has also never had anyone as strong or as agile as St. Pierre take a shot at him -- the effect may prove disillusioning.
What it means: A win for St. Pierre virtually cleans out the welterweight division -- until Jake Shields arrives. While guys like Mike Swick and Martin Kampmann vie for the public's backing, GSP might consider using the rest of 2009 to prepare for a long-rumored catch bout with Anderson Silva in 2010. If the UFC isn't interested in capsizing one champion, then the winner here should probably face Swick -- though in a fight no one is really screaming for.
Third-party investor: The UFC, which could see unbelievable business develop by pitting two of the anointed "pound-for-pound" greats against one another in Silva and St. Pierre.
Who wins: St. Pierre. Alves will tire resisting the takedowns and GSP will capitalize in later rounds.
Red ink: Bisping-Henderson
I'll confess that I haven't re-watched all 31 of Dan Henderson's fights, but if memory serves, I don't think he's had a single one which he didn't make for a competitive bout. There has never been anyone -- not even a heavyweight -- that has controlled him for the entirety of the match. Unless you're from the Nogueira family -- or train closely with them -- you can't submit him. And except for his fight with Anderson Silva, he has never been defeated in what appears to be his "natural" weight class of 185 pounds.
What Michael Bisping may be counting on Saturday is to outhustle Henderson, wear him down, throw combinations while he loads up that predictable -- but effective -- right hand, and hope the judges appreciate the activity. It may look quite a bit like his fight with Matt Hamill, with Bisping powerless to stop the shots and thrown off by the aggression.
Striking: Henderson has exchanged hands with some of the best in the business. He makes it dirty, with lots of clinching and wild rights and a complete lack of apprehension. (Having a cinder block for a face tends to boost one's confidence.) Bisping is better technically, but it might not matter. Henderson can attack without fear of having his legs scooped up; Bisping always has a part of his brain occupied by the possibility.
Canvas: Bisping may be adopting Chuck Liddell levels of scramble ability when planted, but Henderson has been using wrestling in MMA for a lot longer than either Hamill or Rashad Evans.
What it means: For Bisping, a chance to become another "Ultimate Fighter" face with the chops to compete for a world title; for Henderson, the promise of perhaps meeting Anderson Silva for a second time.
Third-party investor: Wanderlei Silva, who would make for an excellent Bisping opponent in a title elimination bout -- but probably wants nothing more to do with Henderson.
Who wins: Henderson via decision. To beat Dan, you need submissions, something unseen from Bisping in years.
Back Against the Mat (BAM): UFC 100 Edition
A fight can be a pressure cooker all by itself, but it's often the reputations, ego, or career that can turn the heat up even further. Four who have more to lose than usual this Saturday:
Mark Coleman. The 44-year-old has posted up just two fights -- both losses -- in the past three years. His stature in the sport is cemented, but future paychecks in the UFC may depend on his performance against a younger, fresher Stephan Bonnar.
Brock Lesnar. Wins against Heath Herring and Randy Couture were impressive, but neither can be considered in the prime of their careers. Lesnar will either avenge a loss to Frank Mir or find that he's not quite ready for the top level of competition. His is an arrogance and swagger that can't really afford another loss to Mir.
Michael Bisping. Has talked a sanitation truck full of s--- leading into his fight with Dan Henderson. Anything less than a knockout -- which would be a first for Henderson -- will feel a little underwhelming.
Mac Danzig. The "Ultimate Fighter 6" lightweight winner is 0-2 in his formal UFC career, having been outhustled by Clay Guida and rendered short of breath against Josh Neer. With the UFC recently cut-happy, a loss to Jim Miller could have him seeking alternative employment.
Five questions for UFC 100
We've got questions: the Octagon should hopefully have answers.
Q: Is three years of training enough to survive 25 minutes with Frank Mir?
A: We know 18 months isn't enough -- that's more or less how long Brock Lesnar had been marinating in the details of submission grappling prior to his UFC debut with Frank Mir. Now that he's got some extra time under his heavyweight belt, he'll find out if knowledge is power.
But even if he knows what's coming, can he stop it? Or could Mir perform the Rickson Gracie trick of counting down to a submission and then catching it at will? And in the barren, desolate landscape of Minnesota, who has been able to emulate the physicality and technique of his opponent?
Q: Is Frank Mir better at evading ground and pound?
A: Look at Mir's most problematic moments in the cage and they'll often center around his inability to maneuver off his back and avoid some crushing shots from up top. Marcio Cruz pummeled him from above; Brandon Vera finished him there; Brock Lesnar was giving him a thorough assault before a stand-up. The same 250 pounds that's so dangerous with submissions doesn't seem to have a lot of answers for being on the bottom. Whether that's attributable to his decreased mobility post-motorcycle accident or a flaw in his programming is TBD.
Q: Is Thiago Alves ready for Round 4 and 5?
A: Georges St. Pierre's list of attributes is at scroll's length, but none of it would matter if he didn't have the conditioning. He does. Whether Alves can match it -- particularly past the 15-minute mark -- or whether his muscular endurance will fall victim to his own significant physical abuse in cutting a radical amount of weight is open to deliberation.
A: Mark Coleman does one thing -- smash people -- and he does it very well. But fighters often have a solution for that single-minded attack and Coleman is usually left holding the bag. Part of his issue has been an island-training mentality: aside from some time spent with Pat Miletich in 2000 -- the same year he won the epic Pride Grand Prix tournament -- Coleman has preferred to prepare on his own.
For Stephan Bonnar, he's opted to gear up at Xtreme Couture, which has quickly become the breeding ground for both new and ailing athletes. (Pretty soon, everyone will train at Xtreme Couture and no one will want to fight a training partner: end of sport.) With a proper camp behind him, it's possible he can enjoy the success of other 40-something grapplers.
Q: Can Jon Jones handle another wrestler?
A: Against Stephan Bonnar, Andre Gusmao and other fighters ill-prepared for his grappling abilities, Jon Jones has looked like the future of the sport. Whether that impressive display will repeat itself against Jake O'Brien is something Jones himself is probably considering: while not as decorated a grappler as other UFC entrants, O'Brien -- a former heavyweight -- will not be giving up tackles as frequently as Jones might be used to.
An additional -- if unnecessary -- sign that MMA is creeping further into public consciousness: the surge of statistics sheets. The UFC offers its own in-house stats for big fights: CompuStrike is CompuBox's MMA equivalent and FightMetric recently launched bout reviews and career-total reports of fighter efficacy. (I used to joke that we'd soon need pie charts to analyze the sport. Now here they are. Go figure.)
All of this is fun to play with, and could possibly be lucrative, if you can figure out what any of it means for wagering purposes. For most fans, though, I suspect the only numbers of real concern are on the obscene cable bills the sport has generated.
Bisping, 3-0 as a middleweight, is a numerical underdog in the Henderson fight, with most handicappers expecting that his opponent's experience and wrestling credentials will be too much to handle.
More important than a win is how exactly Bisping would take it. If he earns a razor-thin, contestable decision, the idea that he could leapfrog over someone like Demian Maia or Nate Marquardt -- who will fight each other Aug. 29 -- is suspect. If he lives up to his mile-a-minute boasts and knocks Henderson out? By all means: Fly Anderson Silva to England.
If such a fight winds up happening there, Silva definitely would be owed a Brazilian bout: He has not only fought Americans in America time and again but also fought Ohio native Rich Franklin in Cincinnati. The man deserves an Octagon assembled in a Curitiba backyard for reporting above and beyond the call of duty. If a skeletal Sports Entertainment Group staff can pull off a Brazil card -- as it did in 1998 -- Zuffa's machine should be able to do it without breaking a sweat.