MMA: Yoshihiro Akiyama

Akiyama returns, still wants Wanderlei Silva

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
Yoshihiro Akiyama turned 39 years old this summer. It’s been more than two years since he’s fought professionally -- and more than five since he’s won a fight.

He’s not really in a position to ask for anything. But if he were, he says he’d aim high.

“If I could have chosen anyone to fight [this weekend], it would be the champion,” Akiyama told through a translator. “That would be great.”

Akiyama (13-5) returns to the Octagon on Saturday, for the first time since February 2012. He will meet Amir Sadollah on a UFC Fight Night card in Saitama, Japan. The event will air in the U.S. on Fight Pass, the UFC’s Internet subscription service.

With no disrespect to Sadollah (6-4), one might have thought it would have taken a bigger name opponent to lure Akiyama out of a 31-month layoff. Akiyama, however, says he never considered retirement and just accepted the first bout he was offered.

“It was always the expectation that I would participate in the UFC again,” Akiyama said. “I never say 'no' to any decision made by the UFC. I respect any path the UFC has chosen for me.

"Regarding Amir, he is powerful and I’m quite looking forward to it.”

To the U.S. fan base, it might seem that Akiyama disappeared after he dropped out of a fight against Thiago Alves at UFC 149 in July 2012. A knee injury forced him from the card and eventually snowballed into a long layoff.

In Japan, where Akiyama resides, it’s far different. The former judoka turned model and mixed martial artist is never far from the spotlight. He models regularly and appears on several television shows -- mostly of the reality genre and not linked to fighting.

Akiyama says he trained regularly during his layoff, and other than the knee, he affirms his health has been fine. He visited Las Vegas late last year to train at Xtreme Couture, mostly to be near UFC headquarters. He attended UFC 167 in November.

In his last fight, the UFC persuaded Akiyama to drop from middleweight (185 pounds max) to welterweight (170) after suffering three losses in a row at middleweight. Now two years older, it would not have been a shock to see him back at middleweight for this fight, but he’s committed to 170.

“This feels like it’s actually the best weight for me,” said Akiyama, who said he got up to 198 pounds during the break. "I've consulted a trainer, and the weight loss really hasn't been too difficult."

One opponent who might change his mind and send him back to 185 pounds is former Pride middleweight champion and UFC veteran Wanderlei Silva, who is facing a possible suspension in Nevada for skipping a random drug test.

Akiyama, who UFC president Dana White once said turned down another fight offer because he wanted to fight only Silva, was not aware of the commission issues Silva is facing but said it doesn’t change his desire to fight him at some point.

“Yes, I still want to fight Wanderlei Silva,” Akiyama said. “I’ve been very fond of him in terms of his skills and everything about his fights. We’re on the same stage, so yes, I want to fight him. Nothing changes my mind about that.”

Of course, first comes Sadollah on Saturday -- the matchup the UFC wanted. If Akiyama looks good, perhaps he will be in a position to make requests for his next fight.

“I’m definitely still aiming to be a champion,” Akiyama said.

Maia out of frying pan at 185, into fire at 170

March, 15, 2012
Dundas By Chad Dundas
Demian Maia, Chael SonnenAP Photo/Tom HeveziDemian Maia's last big win came against Chael Sonnen, left, in 2009.
The path from middleweight to welterweight has been a treacherous one as of late.

In recent months, a number of highly regarded fighters -- Jake Shields, Yoshihiro Akiyama and Nate Marquardt all spring immediately to mind -- have attempted the cut from 185 to 170 pounds and for very disparate reasons, none have hit the jackpot like we assumed they might.

At this point, any one of those guys could probably tell Demian Maia a few cautionary tales.

While the individual experiences of Shields, Akiyama and Marquardt don’t pertain specifically to Maia, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu specialist should be warned after announcing on Twitter this week he’ll move from middle to welter: No matter who you are -- a champion in his prime, a high-dollar international free agent or a former top five stalwart -- this particular jump is far from a sure thing.
[+] EnlargeDemian Maia
Martin McNeil for ESPN.comDemian Maia's standup has improved over the years, but he's still not seeing the results on his ledger.

Not that Maia really has any other choice. He’s essentially found himself chased out of the 185-pound division after going 1-2 in his last three fights. His recent loss to Chris Weidman knocked him out of the middleweight power rankings and, though he once challenged Anderson Silva for the title, he hasn’t beaten a top-tier opponent since his submission victory over Chael Sonnen at UFC 95 back in 2009.

Oddly, Maia’s mediocre 4-4 mark during the last three years has coincided with a noticeable professional evolution. He’s received near unilateral praise for the obvious improvements he’s made in his standup game. He’s certainly more dangerous now than when he dropped fights to Silva at UFC 112 and to Marquardt at UFC 102, but so far, the proof hasn’t shown up where it counts the most: his win-loss record.

Now, eight months shy of turning 35, Maia seeks the instant coat of paint and spit shine that dropping a weight division can provide. It's true, when a former top contender steps down a class we have a tendency to look at him with fresh eyes.

The trouble is, he’ll enter a welterweight division that has never been more competitive and which boasts a current crop of contenders to rival even the shark tank of the lightweight ranks. Does the prospect of running up against guys like Jake Ellenberger, Nick Diaz or Johny Hendricks make 170 pounds seem preferable to 185?
[+] EnlargeGeorges St. Pierre vs Jake Shields
Ric Fogel for ESPN.comMoving down to welterweight doesn't guarantee results. Just ask Jake Shields.

Probably not. In fact, it might even be worse for him. The whole division is effectively on hold until Georges St. Pierre returns from knee surgery and with Carlos Condit, Diaz and Ellenberger already in the pole position, it’ll be a long wait in very dangerous territory before Maia even has a chance to earn himself a shot at welterweight gold.

If anything, this is probably a lateral move, and one he pretty much had to make. Moving down is just what you do when you feel like you’ve warn out your welcome in the place where you started. For most guys, like Akiyama, it’s just way of buying yourself a couple more fights.

Win one or two, then lose one, mumble something about how the weight cut takes too much out of you and move back up. Such is the cycle of life in MMA.

Word to the wise, though: Be careful. Lately, the move from welterweight to middleweight hasn't been a safe bet, either. Just ask Anthony Johnson.

Shields: 'Akiyama won't submit me'

February, 21, 2012
By Ben Blackmore
Jake Shields is willing to put his reputation on the line at UFC 144 this weekend, predicting Yoshihiro Akiyama is unlikely to have the necessary talent to submit him. More

Bisping in unusual terrain as underdog

January, 24, 2012
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
Michael BispingEd Mulholland for ESPN.comWill Michael Bisping's Octagon experience kick into high gear come fight time?
It’s been a long while since Michael Bisping was an underdog heading into a fight. In fact, the last time was back in 2009 when he fought Dan Henderson at UFC 100. On that occasion, with all the tensions of the “Ultimate Fighter 9” still playing in the shallows of public perception, the Brit showed up as a 2-to-1 dog. And even then there were a lot of people that thought Vegas was sleeping on Bisping a little bit. (By the time Henderson’s right hand sent Bisping into the twitches, the line was long forgotten).

Since then the “Count” has been the “Bully” in Joe Silva’s matchmaking. Jason Miller, Jorge Rivera, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Dan Miller and Denis Kang were all long shots to beat Bisping. Ditto Wanderlei Silva, who managed to spring the upset. For the last three years, Bisping has grown used to being the mark, not the marksman. He’s been batting down the grabbing hands of opportunists on his climb, rather than clutching at the ankles of the guys above him.

That changes in Chicago. Against Chael Sonnen -- who fell to Bisping when Mark Munoz had to pull out of his scheduled fight with bone spurs in his elbow -- he is a 4-to-1 underdog.

This is unusual terrain for Bisping. And it’s an incredible line for a guy who has won four in a row (finishing his last two). In fact, it’s the kind of line that says two things: 1) For the last three years Bisping has had a cushy schedule for a guy who considers himself “title ready,” and B) we now view Sonnen as a tyrant. In the time it’s taken Bisping to make his way up the rungs enough for a bigger challenge, Sonnen has transformed from a journeyman to a contender, from an afterthought to a showman, and from cusp prelimer to PPV headliner. He contradicts himself ruthlessly in the media, but he keeps beating guys (coldly, methodically) and came close to cashing in Silva, too. The Sonnen case is one for 18th century exorcists.

Or maybe Malcolm Gladwell.

But Bisping has always been Bisping. And to become something other than Bisping he’ll need to beat Sonnen, who also happens to be the guy he can take his cues from. Sonnen stood as a lofty underdog against Yushin Okami at UFC 104 and Nate Marquardt at UFC 109. Heading into that stretch he scored a workman-like decision over Dan Miller, and before then had lost to Demian Maia (triangle choke). So what did he do? The only thing he could. He laid the pestle down on top-ranked Okami in a fight many thought he didn’t deserve, then ransacked Marquardt for three straight rounds to the point that he suddenly looked like a real impediment for Anderson Silva.

Out of nowhere, Sonnen beat two top-end guys who were trying their damndest to get back to Silva. This time it’s Sonnen who is trying to get back to Silva (even if he says otherwise), and it’s Bisping’s chance to spoil that return trip. In other words, here’s Bisping’s chance to become Sonnen. Win it, and he’ll assuredly be an underdog in his next fight, too. That’s the goal -- Sao Paulo against longer odds still.

Yet lose, and it could be another three years before Bisping’s an underdog again, and that’s no kind of consolation.

Belfort, Silva named TUF: Brazil coaches

December, 13, 2011
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
Silva/BelfortMarcelo AlonsoVitor Belfort, left, and Wanderlei Silva will meet again -- this time, as TUF: Brazil coaches.
Middleweights Vitor Belfort and Wanderlei Silva have been named coaches for "The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil," UFC president Dana White announced on Tuesday.

White made the announcement during a news conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to promote UFC 142, which is set for Jan. 12, 2012 at HSBC Arena.

Belfort and Silva will meet at the conclusion of the 12-week series, scheduled to begin March 25. The finale of TUF: Brazil is expected to be held in June, but White could not confirm a date at this time.

TUF: Brazil will air on Globo, a Brazilian-based network that has a deal with UFC. White did not announce which network will air the series in the United States.

Belfort and Silva fought in October 1998. Belfort won that bout by first-round TKO, but expects the fight to look a lot different this time around.

“Many things have changed,” Belfort said. “We’ve become more experienced more mature. A difference is that one was back in 1998, this one will be in 2012.”

Both Belfort and Silva are coming off impressive knockout wins.

Belfort (20-9) stopped Yoshihiro Akiyama in the first round on Aug. 6 at UFC 133. Silva (34-11-1, 1 no contest) finished Cung Le in the second-round of their highly anticipated showdown Nov. 19 at UFC 139.

Featherweight champion Jose Aldo will defend his title against Chad Mendez in the main event at UFC 142. Belfort faces welterweight contender Anthony Johnson in the co-feature bout.

Belfort and Johnson will compete at the middleweight limit of 185 pounds.

UFC set for return to Japan in 2012

September, 6, 2011
By Tony Loiseleur

TOKYO -- Nearly 14 years after its debut in the country, the Ultimate Fighting Championship will finally return to Japan.

In a Tuesday news conference at Shinjuku Wald 9 Theater -- the same locale used to screen UFC Live and Fight Night events on the big screen -- the UFC formally announced their plans to bring the Octagon back to the Land of the Rising Sun on Feb. 26, 2012.

While a November timeframe was announced for card finalization, all of the Japanese fighters currently on Zuffa roster -- presently, Yushin Okami, Yoshihiro Akiyama, Norifumi Yamamoto, Hatsu Hioki, Michihiro Omigawa, Takanori Gomi, Riki Fukuda, and Takeya Mizugaki -- were mentioned as likely participants for the event. The UFC will also be aiming for the heart of major-scale MMA in the country by staging the event at the Saitama Super Arena, frequent home to Dream and the defunct Pride Fighting Championships, which will be scaled to accommodate 20,000 seats.

News of the Japan return was delivered via a recorded video message from UFC President Dana White, who expounded on Japan's role in developing the sport and contributing some of its biggest names in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Dan Henderson, and Mirko Filipovic.

Following White’s address, Zuffa LLC Asia Executive Vice President and Managing Director Mark Fischer addressed those in attendance.

“We want to let everyone know that we will be bringing the same high level of UFC competition, the same world class show and presentation, and great fights and the greatest athletes in the world to Japan.”

A 12-year veteran in spearheading the NBA's expansion in Asia, Fischer noted the economic potential for a UFC Japan show.

“To give another idea of the scope of this event, it will literally be witnessed by millions of fans all over the world,” said Fischer. “Moreover, this event will be a boon for Japan's economy. For example, UFC 100 in Las Vegas generated more than $51 million for the local economy. In Sydney, Australia, our two events generated over $30 million for the local economy. We're pleased to bring the similarly anticipated event to Saitama and the greater Tokyo area.”

Fischer also stated that UFC events in Japan and the Asia region would become regular destinations for the promotion.

“Let me also say that while UFC Japan in 2012 will be the first event for Zuffa in Asia, it certainly won't be the last. We hope to make UFC Japan an annual fixture on our calendar and we also have plans to follow-up with a series of high quality events across Asia,” assured Fischer.

While there were no announcement as to whether the event would be a numbered or “Fight Night” event, it is planned to start in the same Saturday night time slot for Western viewers. Preliminaries are scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Japan time, with the main card running from noon to 3 p.m. No details were given as to the event's local broadcast plans.

The UFC’s debut in the country was on December 21, 1997 for the “Ultimate Japan” heavyweight tournament, which saw the UFC debut of Pride legend Kazushi Sakuraba and former UFC light heavyweight champion Frank Shamrock. The SEG-era UFC saw two more events in Japan with UFC 23 and UFC 25, in November 1999 and April 2000 respectively.

Vitor Belfort has warned fight fans not to blink at UFC 133, predicting a quick knockout of Yoshihiro Akiyama in the co-main event. More

Fight for top middleweight spot underway

July, 8, 2011
McNeil By Franklin McNeil
Chris LebanRic Fogel for In arm's reach: Chris Leben is punching his way to the front of the title contender's line.
With Yushin Okami set to take his chances against UFC middleweight champ Anderson Silva on Aug. 27 in Brazil, the maneuvering has begun for top-contender status at 185 pounds.

The common belief is that Chael Sonnen is next in line if Silva exacts revenge on Okami. But that might be jumping the gun a bit.

Sonnen, who hasn’t fought since coming within an eyelash of upending Silva in August 2010, has agreed to face fast-rising Brian Stann in October. And it’s not hard to imagine Stann’s hand being raised at the conclusion of that bout.

A win over Sonnen would put Stann front and center of any title conversation. But Stann wants no part of that discussion.

“I’m not concerned about [getting a title shot] right now,” Stann told “With the person the caliber of Chael Sonnen, I need to focus on one thing, one thing only, and that’s Chael Sonnen.”

While Stann prefers to stay away from thoughts of a title shot, other middleweights are scrambling to position themselves for the top spot.

Before Stann’s next fight was made public, Mark Munoz had his eye on the former WEC light heavyweight champion. But Stann isn’t the only high-profile middleweight Munoz would like to test his skills against.
[+] EnlargeDemian Maia vs Mark Munoz
Rod Mar/ESPN.comMark Munoz has more to gain in a fight with Chris Leben.

“At this point we’ve talked about a few people and Chris Leben’s name came up, coming off a big win,” Munoz’s manager Mike Roberts told “That is definitely a fight Mark would be interested in.

“There are a lot of good fights for Mark at 185. But we would definitely be interested in Chris Leben.

“He’s not calling him out or anything. Mark just wants to fight the next guy who will get him closer to a title shot.”

Munoz wants a date with Leben, but the feeling isn’t mutual. Leben’s handlers just don’t view Munoz as attractive enough at this time.

“Let’s say Vitor Belfort beats [Yoshihiro] Akiyama, that fight [with Belfort] makes sense to me,” Leben’s manager Malki Kawa told “Vitor is somebody near the top of the division.

“He’s a guy who has accomplished a little more than Mark at this point.

“Mark has everything to gain by beating Chris Leben or a Brian Stann at this point, but it’s not necessarily the same thing in the opposite way.”

Kawa refuses to completely slam the door on a possible Leben-Munoz showdown, but he’d like assurances from UFC officials that a title shot isn’t too far down the road if his guy wins.

“I’m looking for fights that will put Chris Leben in position to be the top contender,” Kawa said. “If that’s Mark Munoz, so be it.”

A phenomenal recovery for Belfort

April, 30, 2011
Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
Vitor BelfortJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesSimply phenomenal: In his most recent bout, Vitor Belfort KO'd hepatitis A in one week.
It was only last Friday that Vitor Belfort came homesick after a workout in Las Vegas. Since then, he had been bedridden with what doctors believed to be hepatitis A -- an aggressive liver infection that, if treated, normally takes two to six weeks to recover from, and sometimes can linger for months.

Turns out there’s more to the “Phenom” handle than meets the eye. Belfort woke up yesterday, one week after the diagnosis, feeling better. When the doctors ran confirmation tests yesterday, they found no trace of hepatitis A, B or C.

As a man of faith, Belfort suspects the graceful hand of higher intervention.

“It was just a miracle,” Belfort said from his home in Vegas. “My liver infection was very high. The doctor, when I went to the hospital last week, said the condition was hepatitis A. Yesterday, I still had a headache. Today, I feel much better. I believe God just healed me.”

Belfort, coming off his loss to Anderson Silva for the middleweight title at UFC 126, is scheduled to fight Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 133 in Philadelphia, which is still over three months out. He never believed his fight would be in jeopardy, but then again he thought he’d be out of commission for the next few weeks, making the transition that much harder to get into fighting shape.

“I was like crap, it was like a truck ran over me,” Belfort said. “Last Friday was when everything started. I was sick, got home, threw up. From Saturday until yesterday I’ve been in bed, only getting up to go the bathroom. Though I have been drinking a lot of fluid, I didn’t take any drugs except some Tylenol yesterday. For sure it was an infection. No cause for it.

“Life is made by circumstance, and in those times you don’t negotiate your faith. Today I feel energetic. My body fought through it.”

Brocktober ends with a thud, Shields, more

October, 24, 2010
Rossen By Jake Rossen

Brock Lesnar's fame before entering the UFC brought him a considerable amount of money and opportunity. It also brought some unrealistic expectations for a man with only six professional fights to his name.

Lesnar, 4-1 since his 2008 UFC debut, looked uncomfortable from the outset against contender Cain Velasquez on Saturday, getting into desperate punching exchanges and eventually suffering damage to the point that referee Herb Dean stopped the bout. His sole trump card -- takedown to position to landing molar-rattling punches -- was canceled the minute Velasquez popped up within seconds of being grounded. Taking the fight as sole proof, Lesnar's is a reputation in search of a complete skill set.

Inexperience isn't the only explanation; Velasquez only had eight fights himself. But there's a world of difference between hosting a camp catered exclusively to you (Lesnar) and having the in-and-out daily camaraderie of a high-level gym (like Velasquez's AKA) offering constant emotional and physical support. Lesnar has insulated himself from the sport and most of the world in his Minnesota compound. Being a misanthrope may seem like a good base for a career that involves harming people, but not when it also requires team energy and direction.

There was tremendous crowd reaction to Velasquez, but whether that was directed at his win or at the sheer adrenaline dump of seeing someone of Lesnar's proportions beaten down is an open issue. Maybe they were simply rabid at the sight of a sport fight turning into a fight-fight -- Lesnar and Velasquez dug into each other like they were in a parking lot.

Lesnar will be fine; there are plenty of fighters that can't stop his takedown in the division, and he'll win more than he loses. Velasquez, who is every bit as good as his coaches say, is a poor standard to hold yourself to. He'll make a great champion for the UFC.

Next for Velasquez: Junior dos Santos, and another serious test of his chin.

Next for Lesnar: Tuning up his striking with a slightly less mobile threat in Gabriel Gonzaga; continuing a rivalry with Frank Mir.

Next for Jake Shields: Doing more to prove he belongs in the cage with Georges St. Pierre.

Next for Matt Hamill: Stephan Bonnar.

New questions: UFC 121

Jake Shields and Martin KampmannEd Mulholland for ESPN.comJake Shields made his UFC debut a successful one by defeating Martin Kampmann.

Does Shields deserve a title shot?

If he does, it won't be because of what happened Saturday. Shields, who has spent virtually his entire career outside of the UFC, hasn't lost in six years and has an impressive record against talented competition. But against Martin Kampmann, he looked sluggish from a reportedly tough weight cut and went from violent to just getting the job done inside of a round. Shields' overall accomplishments probably warrant a meeting with Georges St. Pierre, but fans unfamiliar with that history will wonder what they're missing.

Is Tito Ortiz expendable?

Tito Ortiz, 35 but probably a few years older in terms of ring wear, looked better than he had in years against Matt Hamill -- but it wasn't enough to prevent Hamill from taking him down and landing grinding elbows en route to a decision. (In fight irony terms, that's just a level below Gabriel Gonzaga's high kick on Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic.)

Ortiz hasn't won since 2006, a stretch of time that becomes less tragic only when you consider his inactivity: He's had only five fights in four years. He wasn't mauled or stopped in any of them, but if the UFC is really about results, he's seen enough.

Can Lesnar still draw?

There's no question that a huge part of Lesnar's appeal is the marriage between his ego and his will. When a guy boasts about going out and dominating and then does exactly that, it's impressive. When he appears to be a genetic experiment and then loses 10 of the past 12 minutes he's spent in the cage, audiences begin to see the strings.

Lesnar is not the type to enjoy being the nail, and if another fight ends in a loss, he will probably consider his MMA career concluded. But UFC fans have been coached to understand that when the best consistently fight one another, no one's record is going to be perfect.

Will the heavyweight title continue to get germs?

Get this: In the same span of time during which Anderson Silva won and has continued to retain his middleweight title, the heavyweight belt has changed hands three times -- more, if you count the confusing interim title scenario created by Randy Couture's exit. If it's the most prestigious title in combat sports, it's because it's one of the hardest to maintain a hold on.

Velasquez is undefeated and has proven skills across a variety of situations: He outwrestled the mammoth Lesnar, stood up to a very credible kickboxer in Cheick Kongo, and has a reputation for tireless output. While that makes him harder to beat, it doesn't make him unbeatable. Dos Santos is arguably the better striker; Shane Carwin could down anyone on any given day with those ham fists; Alistair Overeem is hovering around as a scary (but largely unproven) threat. If Velasquez can put together any kind of run, it'll be one of the bigger accomplishments in MMA.


Tito Ortiz vs Matt HamillEd Mulholland for ESPN.comIs Tito Ortiz, bottom, done as a fighter in the Octagon?

• In a bizarre two-minute video clip Ariel Helwani shot for, WWE wrestler Mark Calloway ("the Undertaker") was seen antagonizing Brock Lesnar as Lesnar walked past them following his second MMA loss. "You wanna do it?" Calloway said. (Lesnar just continued walking.) When wrestlers beef in locker rooms, it's probably real. When they do it in front a conveniently present camera, it&#39
;s a platter of crap. If Lesnar would like to return to pro wrestling, by all means, but please leave the bad acting to the Baldwins.

• Paulo Thiago and Diego Sanchez split $140,000 for the fight of the night, a deserved bonus and a nice return to form for Sanchez, who looked bad in his previous fight, a loss to John Hathaway. Velasquez got knockout of the night.

• Brendan Schaub, who defeated Gabriel Gonzaga, volunteered himself for a match with Frank Mir. Good fight, but Mir's immediate future is probably a rematch with Lesnar, which makes sense only because both of them can talk casual fans into buying expensive tickets.

• Dana White indicated Ortiz might be gone after his loss to Hamill, the fourth since 2006. If that happens, he'll have a heck of a time getting his salary matched anywhere else.

ESPN Primer: UFC 121

October, 20, 2010
Rossen By Jake Rossen

There are audiences that are happy to watch movies, and then there are people who get hung up on box office grosses. For them, "Avatar" measuring only a 15 percent drop in its third weekend is a titillating statistic. I don't understand this, but then again, "Jackass 3-D" making over $50 million in three days has to do something to your psyche.

The same is true for mixed martial arts: Most fans care only about the result, but some are heavily invested in how much fighters are paid, how many pay-per-views they can pull and whether their promoter has seen the best possible result.

The UFC has two roads leading out of Saturday's fight between Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez: either Lesnar will win and maintain his status as the sport's biggest draw, or Velasquez will offer an entirely new set of business opportunities as the promotion's first Mexican heavyweight champion.

The key word is "opportunities." Lesnar is a real-time attraction and virtually the only athlete in the sport of MMA who can make a substantial difference in box office business. He possesses only a fraction of the volatility that made Mike Tyson the fighter of his era, but produces the same uneasiness in spectators: the idea that something very bad could happen. It's an impossible reputation to duplicate, and it survives only as long as Lesnar keeps winning.

Velasquez is a hypothetical. A Mexican champion should bring a stronger interest from an untapped demographic, and it should be the kind of result that gives the sport a wider berth in culture, but previous attempts to exploit those emotions haven't been successful. Diego Sanchez drew only modest interest during his title runs; Tito Ortiz stretched credibility in appealing to the market. Maybe those passionate fans are less interested in a sport involving wrestling; maybe Velasquez is too reserved a personality.

Still, Velasquez is getting plenty of support, including a Los Angeles rally this week that had a healthy turnout. But practically speaking, most fighters should root for a Lesnar win Saturday. His popularity has a trickle-down effect: sponsors figure to pay more to appear on his undercards (considering their visibility), which puts more money in athletes' pockets.

Not that Velasquez particularly cares. Happy Brocktober. It might be the last.

What: UFC 121, an 11-bout card from the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif.

When: Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view, with a live prelim special at 9 p.m. ET on Spike.

Why you should care: Because Lesnar remains the most interesting, violent and charismatic heavyweight in the sport's entire history; because Velasquez brings better striking and wrestling ability than all of Lesnar's previous opponents put together; and because hearing a Tito Ortiz excuse for a loss is usually the night's best entertainment.

Fight of the night: Sam Stout versus Paul Taylor: a five-time fight of the night recipient (Stout) versus a guy who has earned the same bonus for all three of his losses (Taylor).

Hype quote of the show: "After I beat your ass, I'm gonna drink a Corona and eat a burrito." -- Lesnar, outlining his politically tragic postfight plans, on "UFC Countdown."

Questions: UFC 121

For Velasquez-Lesnar, is bigger necessarily better?

Even after losing 15 or 20 pounds of junk weight thanks to a more diverticula-friendly diet, Lesnar is still going to be the biggest man in the Octagon on Saturday. Although you'd think weighing 30 pounds more than your opponent is a significant advantage, that all depends on how well he can use it against a faster Velasquez.

On the feet, power might be more or less a wash: Lesnar has more weight behind his strikes, but Velasquez has light years of technique on him and may not even be the weaker puncher because of it. (Speed determines power as much as mass: If you're lighter but faster, you can still hit damn hard.) On the ground and on his back against Shane Carwin, Lesnar showed precious little ability to scramble or find an escape hatch; he essentially covered up and hoped for the best. If Velasquez can put him there, he might not ever get back up.

Does Jake Shields need an exciting win to advance?

Jake ShieldsValerie Macon/Getty ImagesUFC 121 won't be Jake Shields' first rodeo, but he might want to pretend that it is.

A promised welterweight title shot for the winner of this past summer's Jon Fitch-Thiago Alves fight was immediately downgraded to "maybe" when Fitch put on a wrestling clinic -- for most fans, the complete antithesis of what an "ultimate fighting" brand promises.

Jake Shields is significantly more armed than Fitch -- better jiu-jitsu -- but he has also been known to slow cards to a crawl with conservative effort; Martin Kampmann is not necessarily the kind of opponent who will force him out of his comfort zone. If Shields expects a fight with Georges St. Pierre in 2011, he should put on the performance of a guy looking to impress in his career debut. Because in the eyes of the majority of the UFC's audience, that's exactly the case.

Is Tom Lawlor-Patrick Cote a loser-leaves-town match?

Both Tom Lawlor and Patrick Cote are riding consecutive losses with several asterisks: Lawlor lost a close decision to Aaron Simpson, while Cote spent nearly two years laid up because of knee problems. But unless you're responsible for significant ticket sales, results are the ultimate. (The good news: one of them is guaranteed a win.)

Is Matt Hamill the better MMA wrestler than Tito Ortiz?

Mark Munoz vs. Matt HamillRic Fogel fro ESPN.comIs Matt Hamill a better wrestler than Tito Ortiz? At this point, he may be the better fighter, period.

Ortiz, winless in his past several fights, told the L.A. Times that opponent (and former training partner) Matt Hamill is the better wrestler. "[But] It's a fight," he said. "I'm going to punch him … in the face."

strategy. Unfortunately for Ortiz, Hamill is allowed to punch, too -- and seems to be doing it on a higher level than Ortiz has in recent bouts. He outstruck Michael Bisping, Keith Jardine and Mark Munoz in the same frame of time in which Ortiz struggled with Forrest Griffin and Lyoto Machida. But if Hamill turns out to be the better MMA wrestler, it might not be such a bad thing: Ortiz is underrated from off his back.

Is Shields putting too much weight on for this fight?

Coincidence or not, Roy Jones, Jr. was never quite the same fighter after gaining -- and then rapidly losing -- 20 pounds of muscle mass in order to beat John Ruiz in a landmark heavyweight fight. He was knocked out back in his own natural weight class by Antonio Tarver and Glen Johnson, never taking the time to lose the extra weight slowly and safely.

Shields fought Dan Henderson at 185 pounds last April, but appeared to be oscillating between staying in that class and moving back to 170 -- until he and the UFC agreed he would be a welterweight fighter. He went all-out to lose weight, according to his father, Jack Shields, and suffered a back injury in the process. Fighting is already a significant emotional and physical drain. Trying to chop 15 percent of your body weight in a hurry isn't going to help.

Red Ink: Lesnar versus Velasquez

Cain VelasquezEd Mulholland for ESPN.comCain Velasquez's stand-up could make all the difference against Brock Lesnar.

It's getting tougher and tougher to argue against Lesnar's chances in a prize fight. Size, athleticism and the ability to turn it into an NCAA wrestling match make him possibly the least attractive option for potential foes in the heavyweight division. There are car accidents that come with less risk of injury.

Still, every fighter has a flaw that can be exploited. Although Lesnar is a lead blanket on the ground, his stand-up is awkward and self-conscious: Shane Carwin had him backpedaling in seconds. Velasquez doesn't possess the power of Carwin, but it could be argued that he's the more disciplined and determined striker. Lesnar had to survive only a single Carwin offensive -- by the second round, the challenger was cooked. Velasquez has the fuel to make it a long night.

He also has the wrestling to remove himself from bad spots on the ground -- take another look at how a middle-aged, 220-pound Randy Couture escaped from underneath Lesnar -- and the mobility that comes from not having to carry 265 pounds around the ring. Lesnar's job is to force that on him: to lean on, suffocate and make Velasquez wish for an easier way to make a living.

At stake: For Lesnar, the opportunity to continue dominance in the UFC's deepest heavyweight division to date; for Velasquez, opening another door for the sport in the Latino market.

Wild card: Lesnar has cardio, but there's no telling what a back-and-forth fight will do to his brick-and-mortar body in rounds four or five.

Who wins: Velasquez has the ability to defend himself in Lesnar's world, but the reverse may not be true -- the Carwin fight did Lesnar's stand-up reputation no favors. Velasquez by TKO.

Bisping accelerates, Hardy parked, more

October, 17, 2010
Rossen By Jake Rossen

Michael BispingMartin McNeil for ESPN.comBright spot: Michael Bisping gave U.K. fight fans something to cheer about Saturday.

The most brutal part of Saturday's UFC broadcast on Spike? Unless your television had a TiVo filter, you were in for nearly an hour of commercials during a three-hour time slot.

Thirty-three percent of the time, your brain was being beaten into oatmeal and under duress from advertisements. I got two nosebleeds from "Blue Mountain State" spots alone.

The filler -- that pesky actual ring footage -- was ostensibly an ad for British fight talent, but not everyone wanted to follow the script: Mike Pyle had a terrific night as the foreign interloper, stopping the momentum of 14-0 John Hathaway and pulling off the neat trick of choking and punching someone at the same time. (Hint: it takes all four limbs to pull off.) Following Pyle's embarrassing loss to Andrei Arlovski in "Universal Soldier 4," this is a nice return to form.

Hathaway is a burgeoning British talent, and since an undefeated record is virtually impossible to pull off, he should probably enjoy the depressurized environment. Intentionally or not, his presence was one of three distinct stages in foreign-favored talent: the middle man, Dan Hardy, got his first stern test against Georges St. Pierre but didn't get obliterated until he met Carlos Condit, who put him to sleep; the highest-level -- and highest-paid -- platform belongs to Michael Bisping, who did what most expected in defeating a gassed and undisciplined Yoshihiro Akiyama.

That the U.K. scene hasn't grown to the point where we can see a waning fighter is both good and bad: good in that no one likes to see a favorite get beat up, bad in that the country might still be playing catch-up when it comes to skills across the board. (Condit, the night's biggest American villain, isn't known as a KO artist.) Hathaway needs more wrestling time; Hardy needs to get opponents thinking about takedowns; Bisping needs a big win over a top-10 middleweight to prove his actions have caught up with his words.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have a strong urge to purchase tickets for "Saw 3D" on a night that won't conflict with the Spike Scream Awards or purchasing a new flavor of Mountain Dew. Or a TiVo.

Next for Bisping: Demian Maia, if Maia beats Kendall Grove on Dec. 4 at "The Ultimate Fighter 12" finale.

Next for Akiyama: An Aerodyne on every floor of his house, taking the stairs every time he thinks of taking the elevator and lots of vacations in Colorado.

Next for Condit: The winner of November's B.J. Penn/Matt Hughes bout.

Next for Hardy: Anthony Johnson or the loser of Saturday's Jake Shields/Martin Kampmann fight (more specifically, Martin Kampmann).


Kongo-BrowneMartin McNeil for ESPN.comCheick Kongo, right, remains unbeaten on U.K. soil.

Strikeforcing it award: EA Sports, for grabbing some of the UFC's ad space to push its "EA Sports MMA" video game that features mythical creatures like Fedor Emelianenko and Nick Diaz.

Splitting semantics award: The UFC, for describing Cheick Kongo as "unbeaten in the U.K. as a UFC fighter"; in case you're curious, Hardy remains unbeaten in London on Tuesdays following rain of more than 3 inches -- and never, ever following the rerun of a "Doctor Who" Christmas special. Except on even days.

Missed opportunity award: The UFC, for never once mentioning Octagon girl Arianny Celeste being November's Playboy cover subject ... yet bothering to plug a month-old UFC Magazine.

Building a better catchphrase award: Mike Goldberg, for working in "slip and rip" twice to describe a fighter dodging a strike and then countering. His verbal precision remains precise.

New questions: UFC 120

Bisping_AkiyamaMartin McNeil for ESPN.comFight fans can appreciate Yoshihiro Akiyama, right, leaving it all in the cage.

Is there such a thing as a perfect body type for MMA?

Watching the built-for-basketball Cyrille Diabate get thrown around by Alexander Gustafsson on Saturday -- eventually tapping to a choke -- doesn't encourage long, lanky fighters to pursue careers involving wrestling. It's a common problem among athletes with stretched-out builds, who don't possess a center of gravity friendly to defending tackles and instead offer long legs that collapse easily; fireplug fighters (Sean Sherk) might overcome that, but don't possess the reach or physical real estate to tie fighters up on the ground.

Brock Lesnar got a genetic gift by being built like a brick wall with mobility and a sizable reach. He's also a one-in-a-million type. The prototype build might belong to St. Pierre; he isn't weighed down by muscle, and he has functional mass, a powerful lower body and enough fast-twitch fibers to switch levels before other fighters can react. If he's one of the best fighters in the world, his parents are partially responsible.

Should more fighters emulate Akiyama?

Akiyama had the presence of mind to realize he was down two rounds to Bisping entering the third. And instead of doing what so many fighters do -- behave as though it were a competitive contest and act conservatively -- he used what little energy he had left to try to drop an anvil on The Count's head. At the bell, he more or less collapsed from fatigue and effort. Why more athletes don't turn on the pressure when it's clear they're far behind is one of MMA's bigger mysteries. At least Akiyama wasn't ready to settle.

Do Saturday's results hurt the U.K. MMA industry?

If three or four American fighters dropped bouts to international talent, few fans would fret over the "death" of U.S. MMA. But because two of Britain's more promising fighters lost Saturday, some are wondering whether the U.K. scene will ever be at parity with the rest of the world.

It's a fair question -- the U.K. lacks any real interest in wrestling at the educational level, which means fewer dominant grapplers -- but one night doesn't mean much over the long haul. Bisping is an impressive 20-3 in his career, with only one KO loss; Hardy went five hard rounds with GSP in a fight most expected him to get devoured in. Both men may benefit from a greater variety of training, but the U.K. is still one of the richer sources of talent available.


• Bisping told the media following his bout Saturday that he considered himself only one victory away from a title shot, which would put him on a three-fight win streak. He's due a lot of credit for an impressive career, but the only way I see him challenging for a title is as a fill-in for an injured contender. He has yet to put away a single top-10 opponent.

• Some 17,133 fans set a new attendance record at the 02 Arena in London, swayed in part by the long wait between events in the U.K. -- it's been nearly a year -- and the presence of both Bisping and Hardy.

• Bisping and Akiyama split $100,000 in Fight of the Night bonus money, which was Akiyama's third in as many fights. You have to figure a guy with that many wars to his credit isn't going to be a poster boy for longevity.

• Lost in the UFC weekend coverage: Ken Shamrock, who picked up a win over Johnathan Ivey in Louisiana. The untelevised win puts him at 2-6 in his last eight, a record I'm not sure even Shannon Ritch would want any part of.

• During a Q&A session, Zuffa co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta indicated his company had plans to put on a big show in Toronto in spring 2011, with an aim on setting a new UFC attendance record of 40,000-plus. If you think that would be the perfect time to settle the pound-for-pound debate by having St. Pierre face Anderson Silva, you'd be on to something.

ESPN Primer: UFC 120

October, 13, 2010
Rossen By Jake Rossen

Jingoism -- that is, rooting for a fighter's head to get bashed in solely because he's not American -- is not something MMA has ever brought out from the viewing public. Just the opposite: If you can fight and the crowd likes you, it'll root for you over the apple pie-fed athlete.

Georges St. Pierre is a huge star; so is Anderson Silva. They've both been cheered over U.S.-born farmers and math teachers.

Michael Bisping is the exception. Roughly half of his 12 UFC fights have come outside of the U.S., where he's welcomed by British fans who enjoy his status as a middleweight contender. But for reasons owing either to his attitude -- indignant, contentious -- or his revisionist thinking (some losses can be explained away by poor judging, or so he says), he remains one of the UFC's few true villains in the States.

Maybe it's Hollywood, where on-screen antagonists often have British accents, that has conditioned audiences into thinking Brits are chilly and attitudinal; maybe it's the self-confidence -- possessed by all fighters but something that takes on a twinge of arrogance when it's coming from Bisping; or maybe he really is that abrasive. But he clearly provokes a response, which is probably why he has become one of "The Ultimate Fighter's" highest-paid alumni athletes.

Like all good bad guys, Bisping doesn't perceive himself as the heel; it's everyone else who has the problem. When he fights in London Saturday, it would be hard to convince the crowd otherwise.

What: UFC 120, an 11-bout card from the O2 Arena in London

When: A tape-delayed broadcast Saturday, Oct. 16 at 8 p.m. ET on Spike

Why you should care: Because Bisping, like him or not, usually delivers an honest effort in fights; because opponent Yoshihiro Akiyama is good enough to bring it out of him; because John Hathaway's development at 170 pounds is going to be one of 2011's more interesting stories; and because Dan Hardy's post-St. Pierre confidence (or lack of) will be something to see.

Fight of the night: Hardy versus Carlos Condit, two highly active offensive players who seem to have developed a dislike for one another.

Hype quote of the show: "It will look like me working out on the heavy bag. I will hit him at will and I want to hit him a lot. He's not done anything in his career which is spectacular. What he's done is grind out and tough-guy his way to a lot of wins over a lot of very good opponents." -- a very modest Hardy on Condit, to the Telegraph

Questions: UFC 120

Michael Bisping, Dan HendersonMartin McNeil for ESPN.comMichael Bisping's last run at the middleweight title didn't go over so well.

Will Bisping ever close in on a title shot?

If Bisping had defeated Dan Henderson in a July 2009 bout, he probably would have been only a few months out from facing Anderson Silva somewhere in a UK arena. Instead, Henderson leveled him.

Since then, Bisping has beaten Dan Miller and Denis Kang while dropping a close fight to Wanderlei Silva. If he defeats Yoshihiro Akiyama Saturday, he will return to a more exclusive circle of middleweights idling around Anderson, who is rapidly running out of first-run competition to face in the division. Chael Sonnen could be out for a year over steroid allegations; Yushin Okami has next to no support despite an impressive record; Nate Marquardt has to beat Okami in order to be in the equation.

Bisping is a dark horse, but all it really takes is some opportunistic scheduling and for a contender to stub his toe during training. The result wouldn't matter: Bisping -- and by extension, the United Kingdom -- in a position to contest for a world title is enough to bring MMA to another platform in that market.

Will Yoshihiro Akiyama enter with an actual strategy?

Japanese fighters have a poor reputation for winging it in fights, responding to how their opponent dictates the action rather than initiating it on their own.

Akiyama was chaotic in bouts with Alan Belcher and Chris Leben, slugging it out rather than displaying some of the beautiful judo technique he spent a lifetime learning.

Now Akiyama seems to be overcompensating: He spent a few weeks in Albuquerque, N.M., with master planner Greg Jackson, who sometimes so burdens his athletes with minutiae that they do just enough to win. That's one extreme to the other. Hopefully Akiyama finds a happy medium.

Is Vinicius Queiroz one to watch?

Years ago, a Renzo Gracie student named Ricardo Morais captured attention for being a mash-up of big power (he was 6-foot-8) and jiu-jitsu technique. Putting Royce Gracie's skill set in Mark Kerr's body should've been something special.

Unfortunately, Morais only looked the part of a killer. He wasn't aggressive enough, and his career stalled out. A little bit of that wow factor is returning with Vinicius Kappke de Quieroz, who stands 6-foot-7 and comes from Brazil's Chute Boxe academy, birthplace of Wanderlei Silva and Mauricio Rua. Marrying credible Thai boxing with a frame that could force-feed a knee down anyone's throat is an intriguing concept.

Is Hardy's confidence well-supported?

Few fights go by without Hardy, 4-1 in the UFC, boasting of his credentials, his skills and his sheer amusement at athletes who believe they can be competitive with him. Yet three of his four UFC wins have come via decision -- two of them split. Hardy's fights often come down to a handful of strikes and razor-thin competition. This is not the stuff of a dominant athlete.

Obviously, part of Hardy's gimmick is to be a braggart. It worked beautifully against Marcus Davis, who allowed himself to be annoyed by the talk and lost. But eventually, Hardy will need to deliver more than just promises of violence. Empty threats don't win fans.

Red Ink: Bisping versus Akiyama

Yoshihiro AkiyamaMartin McNeil for ESPN.comChances are, Yoshihiro Akiyama won't be able to stick to a game plan against Michael Bisping.

If you happen to be softening your position on Bisping, it could be a subliminal reaction to his new haircut: previously a militant buzz cut, it is now school-photo length with a sharp part. He seems more human that way. Maybe success has afforded him an image consultant.

That could be Bisping's only real concern. His actual fight game doesn't need a lot of revision. He's a competitive striker with an underrated guard and defensive clinch game, able to get up from takedowns and never in danger of tiring. That's all problematic for Akiyama, who has shown poor cardio pace in the past, windmilling punches, and a general distaste for a game plan. All bad for Akiyama the fighter, but good for you, the spectator; both of his UFC appearances have won fight-of-the-night bonuses.

What it means: For Bisping, a chance to move one step closer to a title bid; for Akiyama, strengthening his position as a potential draw for the UFC's inevitable move into the Far East.

Wild card: Akiyama's U.S. vacation with Greg Jackson. Is it going to sharpen him, or freeze him?

Who wins: Akiyama is strong, coordinated and has a bag full of judo tricks to confuse opponents with … but never seems able to assemble it into a coherent attack. Bisping by decision.

Lesnar's rank secured; Leben hits a double

July, 4, 2010
Rossen By Jake Rossen

Calling a bout between two super heavyweights fight-of-the-year material used to be the setup to a punch line. Being big and athletic meant heading for the NFL; never moving past varsity football and lacking self-preservation meant a stint in Japan or in one of the minor leagues, where promoters expected a solid 30 seconds of action before your lungs shut down. If they got 40, maybe you'd get a bonus.

In terms of an overall MMA game, no one is going to confuse Brock Lesnar or Shane Carwin for B.J. Penn. But part of fighting is tailoring your abilities to what your body does best. For Carwin, it was smashing; for Lesnar, it's being a Division I wrestler with a gas tank, tremendous power and a mean streak.

Was their meeting Saturday a 101 in the game? No. But Lesnar's unbelievable attrition and the emotional element -- so many people are invested in Lesnar's results -- made it the most compelling fight of the year.

It was an education. Lesnar, always the hammer, could be the nail without giving up: He doesn't suffer from demoralization after adversity, which is rare in an athlete who usually enjoys the advantage. He's developing a submission game that's tailored to the positional control he forces. And it may take a baseball bat soaked in concrete to knock him out.

Carwin's scorecard was less flattering. Despite constant claims from his camp that he could go five hard rounds with no problem, he was the walking dead going into Round 2. (Carwin might be hitting 15 rounds in training, but it's irrelevant: Nothing prepares you for the emotional vacuum of a live fight.) He was unable to conserve either his attack on Lesnar or his energy. He came within seconds of stopping him, but it's Lesnar who will get the credit for surviving. "Came close" isn't a notation on a fight record.

Lesnar's comeback was a fitting end to a night that seemed to be all about will and heart over technique and playing for points. Stephan Bonnar, in danger of dropping four straight, had a palpable desperation he used to finish off Krzysztof Soszynski; Chris Leben, only two weeks removed from a big win, took out a guy above his pay grade in Yoshihiro Akiyama. Everyone bled, and everyone was smiling. If that doesn't sum up the sport of mixed martial arts, I don't know what would.

The winners were all pleased, obviously -- but it was Lesnar who seemed downright content. Much has been made of his seemingly short attention span, how he jumped from pro wrestling to pro football tryouts to fighting, and whether he'll soon get bored with his latest interest. But you've never seen a man more at peace with getting beaten up.

"If it was legal and I wouldn't get in trouble, I'd pick a fight on every street," he told in 2004, three years before his debut. "If I wouldn't lose any money or nothing, I would fight. I'd fight every day."

It's legal, he's not losing any money, and he's getting into it every day in the gym. No wonder the guy is smiling.


LebenRick Fogel for ESPN.comChris Leben, right, has earned his shot at an upper-tier middleweight.

Next for Lesnar: Cain Velasquez, who is going to bring more technical hands than Carwin's with the cardio to back them up.

Next for Carwin: Todd Duffee, with an under/over of 30 seconds.

Next for Leben: An earned shot against one of the upper-tier middleweights.

Next for Akiyama: Patrick Cote.


PetruzelliRick Fogel for ESPN.comBad hair, poor choice of entourage: There was no way Seth Petruzelli was leaving the cage a winner.

The avoiding good taste award: Seth Petruzelli, for plotting to appear at both the weigh-ins and the fight sporting a little person in his entourage. In addition to being lame in a way only Larry the Cable Guy could imagine, it's a foot too far into circus territory. Whoever killed the idea should get a bonus.

The Bas Rutten award: Leben, for landing more from the bottom than Akiyama did from the top during their guard play.

The Mark Coleman award: Akiyama, for attempting a can-opener submission on Leben, a move that has only worked when you're a 240-pound wrestler who can bench a Honda fighting a kickboxer.

The "wait, what?" award: Lesnar, "submission of the night" recipient.

New questions: UFC 116

Brock LesnarRic Fogel for ESPN.comThe biggest surprise of the night might have been Brock Lesnar's new submission skills.

Q: How big can Lesnar get?

A: Good fighters are not necessarily good draws, and good draws aren't necessarily good fighters. When you find an athlete who can manage both, it's the next best thing to a winning lotto ticket.

Lesnar invited record business from the start, but his stellar comeback performance at UFC 116 -- rebounding from a violent beating in Round 1 to squeeze the fight out of Shane Carwin in Round 2 -- is the kind of footage that sells seats, DVDs and protein powder. Lesnar has moved beyond a novelty act: Instead of drumming attention for being an ornery celebrity, he's establishing a shot at a real heavyweight legacy, which is the kind of sports story that captures attention beyond the norm. Bud Light sponsored Carwin as a jab; a year from now, they might be casting Lesnar.

Q: Is Carwin going to rebound?

A: Carwin might be the second-toughest man in the division, but he'll have to prove it in a return bid. With Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos (or, less likely, Roy Nelson) on tap for Lesnar, Carwin will have to win at least two bouts to get back into contention. In the pro column: Lesnar might be the only fighter with the skull density to handle his attack. The con: if opponents can figure out a way to survive, they know Carwin becomes a coin flip after the five-minute mark. If both men continue to win, Lesnar-Carwin II has a shot at being the biggest fight in the sport to date -- providing Carwin gets over his doctor-with-bad-news disposition in front of cameras.

Q: Is there any question Lesnar is the No. 1 heavyweight?

A: This one's rhetorical. There isn't.

Lesnar, only 5-1 to date, doesn't have the years of ring experience of the longstanding names in the division. But rankings, frequently frustrating to compile and debate, depend largely on your results in a contemporary setting: Lesnar has battered two ex-champions and erased the undefeated streak of a third in just over two years. While Fedor Emelianenko still has the more accomplished career, his recent victories -- over fading punchers Andrei Arlovski, Tim Sylvia and Brett Rogers -- don't stack up to Randy Couture, Frank Mir and Carwin. Lesnar's all-time place is still unfolding, but as of July 2010, he's on top.

Q: Should the Nevada commission have hosted Leben?

A: Lost in the shuffle of Leben's impressive two-week stretch of competition: a fighter who absorbed 56 strikes (according to Compustrike) against Aaron Simpson might not be the best candidate to fight again only 14 days later.

Sequential fighting was a staple of 1990s MMA, which had some athletes fighting four times in an evening. Fortunately for them, prelim bouts were frequently shark/fish matches, and some elite fighters weren't as dangerous as today's. A few will find fault with Leben's quick turnaround; no one would find fault in letting him rest.


CarwinRick Fogel for ESPN.comShane Carwin might have had Brock Lesnar hurt, but out? Not likely.

Not that it makes much difference for an athlete earning seven figures, but Lesnar took home an additional $75,000 for "submission of the night" over Carwin on Saturday. There was some talk that the bonus should have gone to Chris Lytle, but Lesnar's opening up his game was the bigger shock. Leben, Akiyama, Krzysztof Soszynski and Stephan Bonnar got the same check cut for "fights of the night."

• Carwin told that he "felt" Lesnar go out "a few times" during his drill-press pounding in the first round. Unless rigor mortis set in to keep his arms up, that seems unlikely.

• UFC president Dana White said George Sotiropoulos has propelled himself into the title hunt with a win over Kurt Pellegrino. Sotiropoulos hasn't lost in four years: If B.J. Penn recaptures his title in August, he's going to need Sotiropoulos to keep it up. There's no one left for Penn to fight.

• Spike, the basic-cable home of the UFC, has put a series titled "Knockout World" in heavy rotation featuring cheap fight footage. Forrest Griffin's getting KOed by Jeremy Horn from years back might not fit the UFC's promotional plans. Someone's phone is ringing.

UFC 116 primer

June, 30, 2010
Rossen By Jake Rossen

Have any two men been regarded as the elite of their division with the limited playing time of Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin?

Lesnar, with a blip of a career at 4-1, is a monstrous man with a peculiar body type -- long arms, barrel chest, explosive lower body. He deformed and inflated Frank Mir's face with the rapid onset of an allergic reaction. He's a terrifying human being. Worse, he knows it.

Carwin, 12-0 but with only a handful of fights against relevant names, shares Lesnar's big-man athleticism but prefers the controlled demolition of the stand-up game. The four minutes Carwin spent against Mir represent the longest fight of his career: Despite competing for five years to Lesnar's three, Carwin has logged only half as much time in the cage.

You can be one of two minds on this kind of limited exposure: Either Lesnar and Carwin are so destructive and devastating that we've seen all we need to see, or neither man has been in the cage long enough for observers to really understand what they're able to offer.

Lesnar has gone three rounds; Carwin hasn't. Carwin has overcome adversity, recovering from a knockdown by Gabriel Gonzaga; Lesnar hasn't been in any real trouble since his loss to Mir. It's Mir who could be considered the biggest win for both, and he has traditionally shown horrific defense from off his back.

The assumption is that both men are simply too big for the division, and that their size and power automatically make them a favorite in any bout they're in. But as Heath Herring showed, when Lesnar gets you to the ground, it isn't an automatic trip to the hospital; Gonzaga hinted that Carwin's chin can be cracked. What else don't we know?

Saturday's winner will be declared the best in the class. After Fedor Emelianenko's implosion Saturday, that's probably accurate. But unlike the elite in other divisions, we really have very little idea of their all-around skills. Odds are that Saturday's fight won't last long enough to change that.

What: UFC 116: Lesnar versus Carwin, an 11-bout card from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas

When: Saturday at 10 p.m. ET on pay-per-view, with a live prelim show at 9 p.m. ET on Spike

Why you should care: Because Lesnar-Carwin, for all the question marks surrounding both men, is still the most intriguing heavyweight fight in the promotion's history; because Chris Leben could make a small history note by becoming the first fighter to come off a two-week layoff and take a win over a very respectable opponent in Yoshihiro Akiyama; and because the mid-tier names of the undercard -- including Stephan Bonnar, Chris Lytle and Matt Brown -- can fight without worrying about protecting reputations.

Fight of the night: Lesnar-Carwin threatens to be quick and violent, and possibly anticlimactic as a result; George Sotiropoulos is so busy on the ground that he and Kurt Pellegrino could have the most exciting 15 minutes of the night.

Hype quote of the show: "I got a few cheap beers, was stopping to get something to eat and some crackhead was selling videotapes. He said, 'I'll sell you five tapes for two, three dollars.' I took [one] tape home and I watched it and I saw Royce Gracie messing people up." -- Debuting David Branch on his early inspiration, to

Five questions: UFC 116

Yoshihiro AkiyamaTaro Irei /Sherdog.comYoshihiro Akiyama could find himself on his back if he underestimates Chris Leben.

Q: Is Lesnar ready for Carwin?

A: Lesnar, who cancelled a November fight with Carwin because of a stomach illness, has spent a total of 12 months out of action. While there's always an exception to every rule, most fighters traditionally suffer from inactivity -- and Lesnar doesn't have experience to fall back on.

Q: Can Carwin survive on his back?

A: Carwin, a solid Division II wrestler, hasn't been forced to scramble too often in his career: While he got up from Gonzaga's top position, Gonzaga's pressure compared to Lesnar's is like a mechanic's jack failing on a Miata compared to an eighteen-wheeler. But if Carwin can tie up Lesnar and draw out the ground game, he'll have multiple chances to connect on the feet.

Q: Is Akiyama psyching himself out of a win?

A: Akiyama expressed disgruntlement at original opponent Wanderlei Silva being traded for Leben, a lesser name though no less dangerous a threat. If Akiyama's lack of enthusiasm infects his performance, Leben could brawl his way to a win. Unfortunately for the UFC, Leben is far less of a draw in Korea.

Q: Can UFC 116 exceed one million buys?

A: The last time Lesnar stepped into a cage fight, UFC 100 exceeded 1.5 million purchases. While a chunk of that was attributable to co-main attraction Georges St. Pierre and a heavily promoted milestone angle, it's obvious Lesnar brings with him fans from a stint in professional wrestling and the casual fascination that comes with being an enormous and violent man.

If Lesnar can deliver similar business Saturday, it would mark the first time the UFC hosted two consecutive shows that broke the million mark: On the strength of Rashad Evans' and Quinton Jackson's rivalry, UFC 114 reportedly did a seven-figure household number.

Q: Is Bonnar's tenure about to run out?

A: Bonnar, who rematches Krzysztof Soszynski on Saturday, has dropped his last three fights and hasn't had his hand raised in nearly three years. While both Bonnar and Forrest Griffin have been regarded as fireproof because of the 2005 war that brought the UFC into profitability for the first time in a decade, there's something conspicuous about scheduling regular beatings. If he can't hang, he can't hang.

Red Ink: Lesnar versus Carwin

Shane CarwinMartin McNeil for Shane Carwin is no cakewalk for a prime opponent, let alone one on the comeback trail.

Lesnar can look forward to an extremely tense two to five minutes on Saturday: The UFC heavyweight champion has been out of commission for nearly a year after suffering from diverticulitis, an intestinal ailment that produces pockets in the colon. (Despite my falling short of a medical degree, I can safely say colons are not supposed to have pockets.) When he re-acclimates himself to the stress of a real fighter trying to really take his head off for real money, he'll be doing it in front of Carwin, a proven spoiler who doesn't bother with a warm-up lap.

If Lesnar has to take his time adjusting, Carwin will probably smash him senseless. If he botches a takedown attempt, Carwin will probably make him pay. If he can get past Carwin's violent assault and ease himself into a fight, he stands a good chance of winning. But those first five minutes might as well be five years when you have a 280-pound man in front of you wearing the same five-ounce gloves that punish the 155-pound fighters.

What it means: For Lesnar, a chance to prove his illness didn't turn him into less of a fighter; for Carwin, an opportunity to pick off the only man in the division who can match his power and sun-blocking presence.

Might look like: A National Geographic special.

Who wins: A year away from competition and then immediately meeting the most dangerous man possible is not the ideal. Unless Carwin panics from off his back, he should have the ability to avoid getting stamped out and create opportunities to box Lesnar into a very depressing postfight party. Carwin by KO.