Shrimp, barbie, kangaroo, mate, knife, oy, and good riddance I’ve gotten all the terrible Australia clichés out of my system before we’ve started. Did I forget any? Ah, right. Hugh Jackman.
These last three cards, since BJ Penn bloodied Diego Sanchez, have represented something of a holding pattern for UFC. We’ve seen some fighters make good strides (notably Rashad Evans and Chael Sonnen) but I’m not convinced that this night is going to give us a ton of answers about top contenders either. What it will give us, though, is a bit more clarity on what has been an extremely muddled heavyweight situation in the promotion.
The UFC’s first fights in Australia are bound to make at least one native happy.
Speaking of holding patterns, that’s exactly what Cain Velasquez has been stuck in. His last fight was at UFC 104 when he stopped (perhaps too early) a clearly outmatched Ben Rothwell. After that, the plan was to have him fight Shane Carwin in what would probably have been a top contender’s match – but then Carwin, Brock Lesnar, and his next opponent Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira were all felled by various injuries and infections. Velasquez has been the odd man out at 265; now, he’ll finally get a chance to prove himself worth of an eventual title shot.
Big Nog, meanwhile, last saw action in August before taking time off to recover from a nasty case of staph. While he was an interim champion as recently as 14 months ago, Nogueira was handled by Frank Mir. While Nog’s fight against Randy Couture was excellent, the fact that he couldn’t finish an aging Couture is troublesome. Nobody is yet sure if that win meant a rebirth for the Brazilian or just a fight that he should have finished earlier (and Couture’s next matchup against a spent Mark Coleman provided no evidence on that charge).
The winner will replace the Carwin/Mir survivor, should either of those two be injured, against Lesnar. That means there’s more than bragging rights on the line here. More important, though, is what we learn about the two fighters. Can Velasquez beat a top-tier talent? Coming off a decision against Cheick Kongo and a quick whistle against Rothwell, does Velasquez have stopping power? Or is he yet another lay-and-pray wrestler in the Sean Sherk/Jake Shields mold when the competition gets tough (and against Nogueira, will he even be able to maintain dominant position?) A stoppage over the super-tough Brazilian would be a huge statement. And what of Big Nog? Matched against a competitor six years his younger, will Minotauro be able to keep up? And can he deal with the brutal ground and pound of the Californian should Nog find himself in a bad position?
Answered all, I hope, on Saturday night. (Sunday afternoon, local).
The undercard isn’t stellar, but there are a few fun tidbits.
I’m growing tired of Michael Bisping. The only time he’s been matched up with a competitor whose skill level matches what the UFC wants us to believe Bisping’s is, Dan Henderson nearly decapitated him. Denis Kang floored him in his last fight; although Bisping won, Kang’s quick cut from the UFC afterwards indicates he was what I like to call an Angus Beef Fighter. Sure, it’s pretty and has a great name, but remember that it only exists to be grilled and eaten.
So I look at Wanderlei Silva and all I can think is “moo.”
Wandy’s got a telegenic nickname and a PRIDE pedigree. He’s also cutting to 185 and is 1-5 in his last six fights with the only win coming over Keith Jardine, who’s not exactly showing up on dorm room posters these days. I think it will be a good fight with lots of striking action, but I’d caution against believing that this is the one that really gets Count Bisping over the hump. And if Bizzy loses, he’s going in the Brandon Vera folder of my file cabinet. It’s lonely in there. Lonely and boring.
Jardine is also in action, but quite possibly as a name to add to the undefeated Ryan Bader’s resume. If Bader can avoid Jardine’s notoriously odd striking, he should be able to finish on the mat. Aussie George Sotiropoulos gets the hometown exhibition against Joe Stevenson. Finally, Mirko Cro Cop will fight Rothwell in what is probably a must-win fight for both competitors; I can’t see what UFC is going to do with the loser there. One last brain-bouncing headkick for old time’s sake, Mr. Filipovic?