MMA: UFC on FOX 2

Henderson would like to fight, not wait

February, 9, 2012
2/09/12
3:50
PM ET
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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If there was one spectator of the UFC on FOX 2 show in Chicago on Jan. 28 with a heavily vested interest, it was Dan Henderson, the circumstantial No. 1 contender in the light heavyweight division, and a circumstantial top challenger in the middleweight division. Henderson is a renaissance contender. The problem is, he’s a renaissance contender with the most stubborn obstacles.

We saw how things turned out. Rashad Evans beat Phil Davis to finally punch his ticket to Jon Jones, and Chael Sonnen escaped Michael Bisping to set up what might become the biggest event in MMA history with Anderson Silva. For as perfect as those match-ups look for finality to long-fostered acrimony, this left 41-year-old Dan Henderson in the lurch.

At least as far symbolic belts are concerned.

Contrary to popular belief, though, Henderson isn’t necessarily interested in waiting to see how Jones-Evans plays out to firm up his shot. He says if there’s an opponent that makes sense, he’d like to fight sooner rather than later. Waiting isn’t his style.

“That was never what I said or anything,” Henderson told ESPN.com. “I don’t know who said that, but it wasn’t me. My thoughts were I was waiting to see what happened with Rashad [Evans] and Phil Davis. That was the only thing I was going to wait for.”

The person who said that was Dana White himself, who told media that Henderson was in a position where it “looks like he’ll wait for Jon Jones.” That would be fine and good for Henderson, if the UFC could promise a quick turnaround after the Jones-Evans fight in Atlanta on April 21. Problem is, guarantees like that aren’t realistic given the hazards of the fight game.

“Obviously you can’t guarantee that nobody gets hurt,” Henderson says. “I don’t know what the plan is, but I’d fight whoever it is they think would be a good match-up. The problem is there’s really nobody right now who fits the bill for a title contention fight, that would make sense to fight me. I don’t know. Maybe I’d fight at a different weight class. I don’t know if they see anybody at heavyweight that would make sense? But I would prefer to fight someone in April or May.”

That was never what I said or anything. I don't know who said that, but it wasn't me. My thoughts were I was waiting to see what happened with Rashad [Evans] and Phil Davis. That was the only thing I was going to wait for."

-- Dan Henderson

Henderson turned down a title eliminator with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira that would have been the headlining bout for the now-scrapped Montreal card. He did that because he was waiting to see what would happen with Evans-Davis. Now with Evans having won and Nogueira booked to fight Alexander Gustafsson in Sweden on April 14, Henderson is left without a dance partner.

And that opens up a range of possibilities. One of them is fighting at heavyweight. Though he had to drink a gallon of water to make weight in his final Strikeforce bout with Fedor Emelianenko in July, fighting bigger guys has never spooked Henderson. In fact, it can’t help but intrigue him.

“For sure it does,” he says. “Who do the fans want me to fight at heavyweight? I’d have to think about that. I don’t know who at heavyweight would even make sense. The heavyweights that are in title contention right now wouldn’t want to fight me. I don’t know who is out there, but I did let the UFC know I’d be open to that as well.”

There is one fight that could be on the horizon that Henderson would strongly consider, and yet again it’s circumstantial. If Quinton Jackson were to beat Ryan Bader at UFC 144 on Feb. 26, he says that a rematch of their 2007 UFC title tilt would be fun.
[+] EnlargeRampage Jackson and Dan Henderson
Josh Hedges/Getty ImagesIf worse comes to worst, Dan Henderson wouldn't mind laying some leather on Quinton Jackson again.

“I would entertain that fight, sure; it’s a big fight,” he says. “I mean, that’s only one win he’d be coming off of. But again, it depends on the circumstances and I don’t know what they’re talking about in terms of the turnaround after Jones/Evans. Still, the Quinton Jackson/Bader fight is two months before Jones/Evans.”

Whatever the route, as long as it leads to a title shot -- preferably in his natural 205-pound weight class -- Hendo is all for it. If you’ve followed Hendo throughout his career, you know that he loves the idea of conquering indestructible forces. He’s made a career of it. And it’s no different if he gets his wish and finds himself standing across from Jon Jones in 2012.

“I think he’s definitely shown some inexperience,” he says of Jones. “He makes up for it with a lot of athleticism and just unorthodox striking. He definitely -- like anybody -- has holes in his game, and I just think that my style would match up real well with him.”

But first things first: Hendo will have to navigate through the set of circumstances that are right now preventing it.

Evans-Davis a case against 5-round bouts?

January, 31, 2012
1/31/12
3:16
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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For just the second time since the switch became official in November, a UFC nontitle main event needed all five of its scheduled rounds on Saturday.

Unfortunately, unlike Dan Henderson’s thrilling win over Mauricio Rua at UFC 139, Rashad Evans versus Phil Davis was not an instant classic.

No, Evans-Davis isn’t likely to be featured on any “best of” highlight reels in the near future and doesn’t figure to be the kind of fight that fans will be buzzing about next week, or next month -- or ever. Evans won via clear-cut unanimous decision at UFC on Fox 2, but somehow undermined his own status as No. 1 contender to the light heavyweight title by showing precious little urgency, displaying no real desire to finish Davis even after it was clear he had him bested in all categories.

That’s fine. The UFC's main events can’t all be epics. At the same time, though, do they all really have to be 25 minutes long? I mean, really?

When the organization announced the decision to extend its featured bouts from three rounds to five last year, it was easy to be skeptical.

There was something strangely random about it all; determining the length of a fight according to whether matchmakers believed it was best attraction on a particular card. Was Chris Leben versus Mark Munoz somehow more worthy of five rounds than, say, Ben Henderson versus Clay Guida, just because Leben-Munoz was the best fight on a mediocre card, while Henderson-Guida had the misfortune of playing second fiddle on a stacked show? Would Henderson versus Guida have been five rounds if it took place seven days earlier at UFC 138 instead of on the undercard of the company’s first show on Fox?

Still trying to figure out how that makes sense.

In addition, was the problem with the average UFC fight (at least one that went to the judges) really that it wasn't long enough? How often did you watch two guys slog their way to a 15-minute decision and think, “Hey, what that fight needed was 10 more minutes!” Sometimes, sure, but decisions that begged for two more rounds seemed few and far between.

Lastly -- and perhaps most important -- making all main event fights five rounds took away from the uniqueness, the singular feeling you used to get from title bouts, which were previously the only fights deemed special and grueling enough to go five periods.

They didn’t call rounds four and five the “championship rounds” for nothing, right?

Now they don’t call them anything.

Those were the immediate gripes. Then Hendo versus Shogun happened and it blew them all out of the water. Their fight was such a blockbuster and so magical – the kind of magic where both magicians get really, really tired and sloppy at the end – that suddenly five-round main events didn’t just seem like a good idea, but a great one. Frankly, the only thing that was strange was that it took UFC brass this long to think of it.

And if every five-round fight was like Henderson-Rua, that’d still be my opinion. Sadly though, Evans-Davis came along and sent expectations for 25-minute main events crashing back to earth.
[+] EnlargeRashad Evans
Ross Dettman for ESPN.comThe action between Rashad Evans and Phil Davis was few and far between.

In their fight, the outcome appeared inevitable after the first five or six minutes. By the end of the third, Evans had clearly made his point; Davis had nothing for him. The final two rounds were superfluous, perhaps a good learning experience for the inexperienced Davis, but certainly a tedious one for fans. It felt like an unnecessary overtime tacked onto an evening where all three of the main card bouts went the distance.

Suddenly, five round main events appeared to be incredibly arbitrary again, especially when the fight that really needed 25-minutes – Chael Sonnen versus Michael Bisping – was proscribed only three rounds for no other reason than somebody, somewhere decided it wasn’t “the main event.”

Truth is, it’s impossible to tell beforehand which fights will need five rounds and which fights won’t, and that makes this a risky propostion. Bouts like Hendo-Rua -- while great -- are surely the exception to the rule and if Evans-Davis is the extreme opposite, it's at least one that's far more common.

At this point, I can’t help but wonder if great fights like Rua-Henderson will crop up often enough to make five-round main events seem worthwhile, or if Evans-Davis will be closer to the norm.
Jon Jones has ripped into the performance of Phil Davis at UFC on Fox 2, and the light heavyweight champion claims Rashad Evans is in decline. More

In defeat, Bisping was still most impressive

January, 30, 2012
1/30/12
2:57
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Amid all of the fallout this week from the tepid results of the UFC’s second live show on network television -- where many of the criticisms are warranted and many are not -- it’s somehow fitting that the event’s most impressive performance came from a guy who didn’t even win his fight.

Arguably only Michael Bisping emerged from Saturday night’s largely underwhelming UFC on Fox 2 main card looking better than when he entered. By dropping a tight decision loss to top middleweight contender Chael Sonnen, Bisping actually improved his stock while many of the other the marquee names could merely tread water or -- in some cases -- took steps backward in the eyes of hardcore fans and MMA-centric media types.

Naturally, like most everything in the fight game, this had more to do with our own expectations than anything else.

As more than a 3-to-1 underdog headed into the fight, most observers thought Bisping would get crushed by Sonnen. We’d just seen the former Oregon wrestler tear through what seemed like a bigger, perhaps more dangerous version of Bisping in Brian Stann at UFC 136 and, on paper, we didn’t see any way the Brit could ward off Sonnen’s smothering takedowns and top control over three rounds.

In the end, Bisping didn’t pull off an upset, but he sure did a lot better than we anticipated.

While he couldn’t totally prevent Sonnen from taking him to mat, Bisping didn’t look out of his league, either. He proved surprisingly capable at using the fence to quickly get back to his feet and in the standup exchanges, he touched up his hard-charging opponent with crisp, if ultimately ineffectual punches.

Perhaps most shocking was the way Bisping afforded himself in the clinch. He held his own when Sonnen tried to muscle in close to him and even controlled some of the action when they locked up against the chain link -- though not as much as the UFC broadcast team would have you believe, especially in the first round.
[+] EnlargeBisping/Sonnen
Ross Dettman for ESPN.comMichael Bisping, left, proved Saturday he didn't cross the Atlantic solely to pick up a paycheck.

Heck, some observers even thought Bisping won the bout, though a second viewing of the fight confirms that a 29-28 verdict in favor of Sonnen was probably the right one. In the end, the American eked out Rounds 2 and 3, though in total the fight was far closer than his unanimous decision win might otherwise let on. That one judge scored it 30-27 for Sonnen even seems unconscionable, as Bisping clearly controlled the second stanza.

All told, it was a great performance from a guy who has been dogged by skeptics and naysayers ever since winning Season 3 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show back in 2006. Even in defeat, Bisping moved up two slots on the ESPN.com middleweight Power Rankings -- from No. 8 to No. 6 -- and now appears well positioned to take on another high-caliber opponent in his next fight.

Perhaps a returning Mark Munoz (No. 4) might even make sense for him, after the man originally slated to meet Sonnen at this event returns from a minor elbow injury. If not Munoz, then maybe the winner of fifth-ranked Yushin Okami’s upcoming UFC 144 tangle with Tim Boetsch or newly minted Top 10er Chris Weidman, who debuted at No. 9 this week after turning in Saturday night’s second-best showing by defeating Demian Maia on short notice.

We are often told there is no such thing as a good loss, but Bisping puts that adage to the test this week. While he overachieved, Sonnen, Maia, Rashad Evans and Phil Davis -- much like the overall UFC broadcast itself -- didn’t quite live up to our expectations.

Fans won't be clamoring for Jones-Evans

January, 29, 2012
1/29/12
12:15
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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CHICAGO -- The first hurdle has been cleared. Rashad Evans defeated Phil Davis easily Saturday night at United Center.

Evans had no difficulty getting the better of Davis while standing. This came as no surprise, being that Davis is too green in that area at this point in his career. But even on the ground, where Davis was expected to have an edge, Evans overwhelmed the action.

When the final horn sounded, it was clear that Evans had totally dominated a fighter who was far out of his league. The 50-45 scores each judge gave Evans didn’t accurately project the lopsidedness of the fight.

This was a mismatch in every way.

Evans deserved the decision, and in doing so gets his shot at reclaiming the light heavyweight title on April 21 in Atlanta. That’s where he will face current 205-pound champion and friend-turned-foe Jon Jones. The former training partners have had an ongoing feud since Jones claimed the title from Mauricio Rua in March 2011.

It’s their continuous war of words that makes Jones-Evans titillating. The verbal barbs will only continue flying as the fight date nears -- and that's a good thing, because based on the manner in which Evans won on Saturday, not many people will give him much of a shot against Jones.

Evans won easily, but didn’t overwhelm. He took Davis to a place the former Penn State All-American wrestler had never been inside the Octagon.

But Evans didn’t deliver a performance against a talented, but raw, fighter that will make fans clamor to see him against Jones.
[+] EnlargeFedor Emelianenko vs Dan Henderson
Ross Dettman for ESPN.comIs Saturday's biggest winner actually Dan Henderson?

“I’m happy the fight is over. I’m happy I got the win, but I wanted to do better,” Evans said after improving to 17-1-1. “I wanted to put on a more spectacular win for the Chicago fans and the Fox [television] fans.

“I didn’t win the way I envisioned myself doing. But at the same time I got the job done. I can’t be too overly critical, because in the UFC wins are hard to come by.”

Watching Evans hold off Davis for 25 minutes, many onlookers couldn’t help but wonder if Dan Henderson should be next on Jones’ plate. Evans needed to erase any doubt that he offers the stiffest test yet for Jones, and he didn’t do that against Davis.

There is no doubt Evans felt the need to prove he is the true No. 1 contender. And he also felt the urge to not let his title shot slip away with a loss to Davis.

“I felt pressure,” Evans said. “It just sort of crept up on me.

“I woke up this morning and said, 'Man, I can’t lose this fight.' You never want to lose a fight. But that played in my mind a little more than usual.”

This isn’t to say Evans won’t be the toughest fight of Jones’ professional career. There has been word that Evans often got the better of Jones when the two trained at Jackson-Winkeljohn Mixed Martial Arts Academy in Albuquerque, N.M. But Henderson still commands admiration from fight fans. His wrestling and power punching makes him a threat against anyone he faces in the cage.

Henderson doesn’t possess Jones’ athletic skills, nor would he offer the prefight hostility Evans delivers before each of his bouts. But it’s his finishing ability and give-everything fighting style that makes him a major attraction. Jones-Henderson would be a must-see.

Jones-Evans remains a high-profile fight, but after Saturday night’s performance by the former UFC 205-pound champion, it has lost a little of its luster.

Fortunately, Jones and Evans will remind everyone why we wanted to see them get it on. Trash-talking and true dislike will get fans eager again to watch these two settle their grudge.

The sooner Evans’ performance against Davis is forgotten, the better -- and Evans happens to agree.

“There’s so much that’s been said and so much that is going to be said that right now I want to just go back and enjoy this victory and think about the things I need to do to get ready for Jon Jones. I don’t want to put anything out there right now.

“I want to let tonight be tonight. I'll get my mouth going a little bit later on.”

Notes and Nuggets: Evans the shark, more

January, 27, 2012
1/27/12
6:35
AM ET
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
ESPN.com
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CHICAGO -- Based on the less-than-favorable receptions former UFC light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans receives from fans whenever he is introduced, it’s safe to say that most don’t care for him much.

But whether fans like Evans or not, no one can say the man doesn’t speak his mind. Evans can be brutally honest about his feelings toward whoever happens to be his opponent, or potential opponent, for a given event.

Fast-rising Phil Davis is the man who now gets to hear Evans’ personal thoughts about him. And considering the statements Evans has uttered in recent weeks, he doesn’t have a favorable opinion of the man who will oppose him Saturday night in the Octagon at UFC on Fox 2.

But unlike Quinton Jackson and Jon Jones, both of whom Evans dislikes personally, his dislike to Davis isn't personal. It's just business.

“A fight is a fight. And sometimes it’s easier to fight somebody when you don’t like them,” Evans said during a news conference on Friday. “For the most part I’ve really got nothing against Phil, but we have to fight each other so I have a lot against him right now.”

Finding a reason to dislike Davis is difficult. He is one of the kindest guys in the sport and never has a harsh word to say to anyone.

But after digging, Evans fought something negative to pin on Davis: His resume. As far as Evans is concerned, Davis has no business in the cage with him at this time. Evans prides himself on facing the best fighters at 205 pounds, and he doesn't believe Davis fits the criteria.

“Phil is just a nice guy,” Evans said during a recent conference call. “He’s not a fighter. He’s an athlete, a great athlete, but not a fighter. He has no killer instinct for this and he’s got no experience at this level.

“He’s never fought at heavyweight like I had to [on “The Ultimate Fighter” 2] to get into the UFC. He didn’t get punched by Chuck Liddell and Jackson like I did.

“He’s not had to dig deep at all. He’s in deep water, and I’m the shark.”

White not buying Lawal’s denials

Dana WhiteJosh Hedges/Getty ImagesAccording to Dana White, now would be a good time for King Mo to own up to any mistakes.

Former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Muhammed Lawal vehemently denies ever taking an anabolic steroid, despite a recent positive test result administered by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.

Lawal tested positive for Drostanolone.

“I’m very surprised about this,” Lawal told ESPN.com’s Josh Gross earlier this month. “I’m very careful about what I put in my body. I’ve never tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. I’ve gone through, and still welcome, Olympic-style testing.

“I will do whatever is necessary to get to the bottom of this.”

But UFC president Dana White isn’t moved by Lawal’s passionate pleas. White wants Lawal to take a different approach.

“If you get caught doing something, admit you did it,” White told ESPN.com. “This whole, ‘somebody put something in my system that I didn’t know about.’ ... Who here lets somebody put s--- in them that you don’t know about?

“I don’t buy that s---. Own up to what you did. Everybody makes mistakes.”

White went on to say that Lawal or any fighter who tests positive for a performance-enhancing drug and fails to admit the error of his ways risks never again fighting in a Zuffa-promoted event.

So what does the future hold for Lawal or former Strikeforce women’s featherweight titleholder Cristaine Santos, who also recently tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug earlier this month?

“I don’t know,” White said. “It depends on how they handle themselves. We will see.”

Title shot likely for Miller-Diaz winner

Jim Miller Ric Fogel for ESPN.comJim Miller is (again) knocking on the door of a coveted title shot.

It’s too soon to start calling the lightweight showdown between Jim Miller and Nate Diaz a title eliminator, but that is likely to be the case when they step inside the cage May 5 in East Rutherford, N.J.

“Obviously the guy who wins that fight will probably get a shot at the title,” White told ESPN.com.

But White isn’t quite ready to completely remove former WEC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis from the No. 1 title-contender discussion. Pettis will face Joe Lauzon at UFC 144 in Japan on Feb. 25.

When asked about Pettis’ status, White said: “I don’t know. We’ll see.”

While the Miller-Diaz winner has a good chance of fighting for the lightweight title, the fight won’t headline the UFC on Fox 3 card. White said he is still working to put a high-profile main event together for that event.
Chael Sonnen arrived at Thursday's UFC on Fox 2 news conference clutching a UFC belt, and then declared that Anderson Silva should retire because he has become "irrelevant." More »

As Sonnen talks, Silva stays off the grid

January, 26, 2012
1/26/12
2:29
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Anderson Silva Sherdog.com Keeping the peace: Anderson Silva hasn't had much to say about old foe Chael Sonnen as of late.
As usual, Anderson Silva and his middleweight title are a hot topic of conversation this week, as confusion continues to reign regarding Saturday’s alleged No. 1 contender bout.

The UFC itself remains adamant that the scheduled fight between Chael Sonnen and Michael Bisping will determine Silva’s next challenger, but at least one of the principals isn’t buying it.

Sonnen is still casting his own dissenting opinion, asserting that Silva will never grant him a rematch and that he’ll go hunting for a date with Jon Jones or Georges St. Pierre if he defeats Bisping. To underscore his point, Sonnen has most recently started showing up for interviews with a replica UFC championship belt slung over his shoulder.

Gotta say, that's a nice touch.

“If Mike [Bisping] wins, he might get his shot at Anderson Silva, but I’m out of the picture,” Sonnen told the UK Telegraph’s Gareth Davies on Wednesday. “I’ve given him four opportunities and he’s turned them all down. I’m not giving him a fifth chance. Anderson Silva and I will not cross paths again in a fighting arena -- ever.”

At this point, all UFC President Dana White can do is sigh and say he “100 percent guarantees” that Sonnen-Silva II will happen if the former Oregon wrestler (and near 4-to-1 favorite) gets by Bisping this weekend. Without official confirmation from the champ, however, it leaves significant room for rumor.

Unfortunately -- also per usual -- Silva has been nowhere to be found.

Even by his own enigmatic standards, “The Spider” has been keeping a fairly low profile as of late. Since his August 2011 victory over Yushin Okami, Silva has had precious little to say other than to occasionally update fans on his injury status, bristle at the notion he might someday have to fight friend and training partner Mark Munoz, and voice frustrations with his management for being seen clowning around with Sonnen in a hotel lobby.

Silva’s English-language website has been “under construction” since April and when he uses his Twitter account -- almost always in his native Portuguese -- it’s typically just to exchange pleasantries with peers and with his 1.06 million followers. That’s if it’s even really him and not just some handler doing the tweeting.
[+] EnlargeChael Sonnen and Anderson Silva
Josh Hedges/Getty ImagesChael Sonnen is adamant he and Anderson Silva will not cross paths in the Octagon again.

Fact is, we don’t know exactly what is going on with Anderson Silva these days.

Earlier this month, he reportedly told media at home in Brazil that he’s not sure when he’ll return to the cage because he’s still battling a back injury. That’s not to be confused with the shoulder injury we heard made him unavailable to take on Dan Henderson late last year, the rib injury his camp says he had when he fought Sonnen the first time at UFC 117 or the elbow injury that caused his bout with Vitor Belfort to be scheduled and postponed three separate times during 2010.

He and Belfort finally met at UFC 126 in February 2011 and Silva won via mind-bending front kick, proving that -- though he turns 37 two and a half months from now -- he can still be the most unpredictable and dangerous man in the Octagon. It's just that actually getting him in there seems to be a big hurdle.

For now, we’re left to assume the next time Silva decides to do so, it’ll be opposite the Sonnen-Bisping winner this summer, possibly in that 100,000 seat soccer stadium in Sao Paolo we keep hearing about. We’re left to assume Sonnen is just blowing smoke. We’re left to assume that Silva will be healthy and if anybody in the world knows what’s really going on inside his head, it’s UFC brass.

As part of the five hours of live TV the organization has blocked out on Fox and Fuel this Saturday night, though, it would be great to hear from the middleweight champion, wouldn’t it?

You know, just for clarity’s sake.
Phil Davis believes Rashad Evans is completely underestimating his wrestling background ahead of their UFC on Fox 2 main event, insisting Evans cannot hang with him in that area of the game. More

Bisping get his chance to shine, or shrink

January, 25, 2012
1/25/12
4:22
PM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Michael Bisping FansMartin McNeil for ESPN.comFor years, UK fight fans have pinned their hopes for an MMA champion on Michael Bisping.
After 15 fights and five and a half years in the UFC, it’s strange to think that Michael Bisping might finally answer his critics with a single win this weekend.

Yet, if Bisping overcomes the odds, upsets Chael Sonnen at UFC on Fox 2 on Saturday and becomes the organization’s No. 1 middleweight contender, there will be very little left to say about him aside from: Sorry Mike, we’ve been wrong about you.

In an industry so preoccupied with the concept of respect, it’s hard to think of a UFC veteran who is more routinely disrespected, his accomplishments more often dismissed out of hand than Bisping.

Ever since he brought a 10-0 record across the pond to compete on season three of “The Ultimate Fighter” back in 2006, the Brit has been branded as overrated. Oddly, the 12-3 record he’s put up since winning the UFC’s popular reality show has done little to dispel the notion of him as nothing more than a product of the fight company’s powerful hype machine. Rightly or wrongly, a healthy portion of the viewing public still thinks of Bisping as a mediocre fighter, a guy unfairly held up as a main event talent for the express purpose of spearheading the UFC’s push into the European market.

Much of that, of course, is due to the level of competition he’s faced to this point, which hasn't been stellar. The truth is, a glance at Bisping’s career body of work (he’s 22-3 overall) actually tells us precious little about what kind of talent he might ultimately prove to be.

His dozen UFC wins have come against opposition with a combined Octagon record of 42-48. For all of his experience with the company, he has only defeated three opponents with winning UFC records -- Matt Hamill, Chris Leben and Jorge Rivera -- and their victories account for 29 of the 42 mentioned above.

To be fair, two of his three career losses – decisions to Rashad Evans and Wanderlei Silva – are also less than definitive. His KO at the hands of Dan Henderson at UFC 100 sticks out as his only real obvious failing, and it's one critics have not let him forget.

Bisping, naturally, vehemently disagrees with any assessment of himself as anything other than a top contender. It’s easy to see his point. As a fighter, all he can do is beat the men UFC matchmakers put in front of him, and so far he’s done an admirable job at it.

Nonetheless, in Sonnen – at least the most recent incarnation of him -- Bisping faces his first real litmus test since that 2009 loss to Hendo. Their fight will be contested on the sport’s newest and biggest stage and the prize is one both have been very vocal about deserving.

It stands to be a pivotal moment in Bisping’s career. If he wants to prove the critics wrong and stake his claim among the upper echelon of 185-pound fighters, well, here's his chance.

If he can't do it, it'll simply confirm what many have thought about him for a long time.

If he can, if he beats Sonnen, a lot of people -- me included -- probably owe the guy an apology.

Can Evans-Davis steal the spotlight back?

January, 25, 2012
1/25/12
7:02
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs Phil DavisRod Mar for ESPN.comWith Chael Sonnen on the undercard, it will take more than pink short shorts to get people buzzing.
It’s not like Rashad Evans and Phil Davis haven’t done their due diligence leading up to UFC on Fox 2.

On the contrary, Evans and Davis have both been doing their level best to sell their possible light heavyweight title eliminator at the fight company’s second live network television broadcast this Saturday. Case-in-point: The formerly friendly pair embarked on a contentious (and nearly obligatory) war of words during a recent conference call for the event, with Evans reprising his usual role as provocateur and Davis continuing to assert that this fight is little more than a stepping stone on his own march to the title.

"After I beat Rashad on Jan. 28 they won't really have anything else to do with me other than to have me fight [Jon Jones]," Davis said. "Rashad is the true No. 1 contender and after he loses, who else do I fight? The champion."

"You ain't beating me, dog ...," Evans retorted moments later. “I'm going to smash you, dude."

For the record, those are pretty much the exact same rhetorical strategies the two were pursuing prior to UFC 133, before an injury to Davis effectively hit the pause button on their budding feud. Now that they’ve resumed, it feels like they’re having some trouble finding traction; as if their main event is being overshadowed by the drama surrounding the rest of the show.

You had to pay pretty close attention during the last couple of weeks to even know Evans versus Davis was on this card. That’s how most of the coverage has been overtaken by Mark Munoz’s injury and Chael Sonnen’s improvised middleweight clash with Michael Bisping.

To be fair, that’s a lot to compete with for headlines, but at this point it seems as if Evans and Davis -- through no real fault of their own -- are vying for a distant second in terms of prefight excitement.

For starters, the sheer weight of the personalities involved in Sonnen versus Bisping is sort of staggering. Davis and Evans are no slouches in this department -- with Davis one of the more likeable and Evans one of the more unfairly hated-on fighters at 205-pounds -- but Sonnen and Bisping are simply on another level. These are two guys who’ve spent the better part of their UFC careers building themselves into consummate heels. Now they’re going to fight each other? Hard to match that.

Secondly, the stakes are somewhat less clear for Evans and Davis than for their middleweight counterparts. Sonnen and Bisping have already been told that the winner of their bout will fight for the title as soon as champion Anderson Silva is physically able. While we’ve all been assured something sort of similar about Evans-Davis, we’ve learned to take a wait-and-see approach to the light heavyweight title picture in recent months.
[+] EnlargeChael Sonnen
Ed Mulholland for ESPN.comBig surprise: Chael Sonnen has managed to hijack the headlines ahead of Saturday.

Certainly, Evans is still burning to get his shot at Jones and UFC brass say if he beats Davis, he’ll get it. Then again, Jones has recently been making noise about fighting at the company’s upcoming show in Atlanta on April 21 and if for whatever reason Evans is unable to make the turnaround, the organization has Dan Henderson already waiting in the wings.

The same is true for Davis, who’d likely need to do something spectacular against Evans to leapfrog Hendo in the pecking order. As hard as he’s worked to make his case as potential No. 1 contender, the UFC has stopped far short of guaranteeing him that spot, even if he does roll out of this weekend’s show with a win.

You could even argue that Henderson makes more sense as an immediate challenger to Jones than either Evans or Davis, after he capped his momentous 2011 with a win over Mauricio Rua in what many called the best fight in UFC history. Fair warning though, if you try to argue that, get ready for some vehement opposition.

To top it off, both Davis and Evans have been mired in inactivity lately, with each having fought just once during 2011. While this fight marks a significant opportunity for one of the two to get back on track, so far Sonnen and Bisping are making a play to steal the show.

The two light heavyweights are going to have to work pretty hard in the cage on Saturday if they want to steal it back.
Chael Sonnen has remained relatively respectful of Michael Bisping in the buildup to UFC on Fox 2, but six days out from the fight he claimed the Brit "hasn't beaten anybody good." More
Rashad Evans has labelled Phil Davis a "boy" ahead of their UFC on Fox 2 main event this weekend, insisting only one of them was born to fight. More

So far, so good for replacement Weidman

January, 20, 2012
1/20/12
6:39
AM ET
Dundas By Chad Dundas
ESPN.com
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Chris WeidmanJosh Hedges/Zuffa/UFC/Getty ImagesChris Weidman is not-so-quietly making a name for himself as a breakout star.
So far, short notice has been very good to Chris Weidman.

If Weidman seems willing to roll the dice this week -- risking at least some of his stock as one of the middleweight division’s hottest prospects by agreeing to fight Demian Maia eight days from now at UFC on Fox 2 -- it may be because he’s already been so successful as a substitute.

Including the Maia bout, the two-time All-American wrestler from Hofstra University has been a replacement in three of his first four UFC appearances and to date, it’s all come up aces.

Weidman out-pointed Alessio Sakara on just two weeks’ warning in his promotional debut last March, then choked Jesse Bongfeldt at UFC 131 after taking the fight two months out when Court McGee fell to a knee injury. With a full camp under his belt for Tom Lawlor, Weidman took just 2:07 to render him unconscious via slick D’arce choke at UFC 139, pretty thoroughly establishing himself as a handful for anyone in the weight class, and under any time frame.

Now comes Maia, ESPN.com’s No. 7-ranked middleweight and submission specialist who Weidman agreed to fight live on network television next weekend after Michael Bisping unexpectedly got called up to the co-main event.

If it’s a risk, it’s clearly one the undefeated Serra-Longo fight team product thinks is worth it, and maybe he's right.

After all, Weidman is carrying on a fairly grand tradition of last minute replacements in the Octagon. It’s been a good strategic move in the past, considering the organization’s preference for fighters with an “anytime, anywhere” mentality and its photographic memory of the people who have done it favors (and, conversely, the people who have not).
[+] EnlargeChris Weidman
Josh Hedges/Getty ImagesOn call: Chris Weidman has been in the last-minute replacement position before.

A win over Maia would obviously put Weidman’s career on an even faster track, pushing him into contention for a top 10 ranking and future consideration for a fight against a contender on the order of Rousimar Palhares, Yushin Okami (who fights Tim Boetsch next month) or even Mark Munoz, when he returns from his arm injury.

Even if he comes up short, you have to believe Weidman has a fair amount of political capital built up after being so willing to answer the phone whenever UFC matchmakers call. At least within the company -- and barring a disaster -- he’s likely to retain much of his stature.

Then again, the notion that Weidman is in a no-lose situation here isn’t altogether accurate, either. Though he opened as the betting favorite once the card was reshuffled, Maia represents a significant step up in competition for him. With that comes great opportunity, but also clear risks.

Considering the circumstances, most of us will be willing to grant Weidman at least a partial pass if he loses to Maia, but some damage will still be done. As a guy whose coaches trumpeted him as a future champion before he even arrived in the Octagon, any defeat is going to have a cooling effect.

After winning three those aforementioned fights in increasingly impressive fashion during his first year with the UFC, Weidman should be a leading candidate for a breakout fighter of the year award in 2012 and that view of him would likely be dashed if he doesn’t keep winning.

Gone too would be his unblemished record. He’d need a solid performance the next time out to maintain his momentum as an up-and-comer, let alone his status as a guy nobody in the middleweight division wants to fight on short notice.
Michael Bisping believes his key to victory at UFC on Fox 2 will be his submissions arsenal, insisting he will force Chael Sonnen to tap on Jan. 28. More »

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