26 June 2011
Longtime readers of the blog will remember that I last attended a UFC show for UFC 121, headlined by Brock Lesnar losing his Heavyweight Championship to Cain Velasquez. My wife and I are taking a trip to Las Vegas to coincide with our fourth anniversary, and our big Vegas show that we will grace with our presence is UFC 132, her second and my sixth Ultimate Fighting Championship event.
This is a card that has a lot to offer in terms of star power despite a main event that will probably fail to resonate too much with mainstream viewers. While the undercard is stacked in terms of good fights, there are few big names or huge prospects fighting outside of Brian Bowles taking on Takeya Mizugaki and Melvin Guillard fighting Shane Roller. I expect the former of both fights to win, and Bowles should really be on the fast track to fighting the winner of the Faber/Cruz title fight on this show. Bowles spent a year on the shelf after breaking his hand and throwing in the towel in between the first and second round to current champ Dominick Cruz. He's won one fight since then and, as a former champ, deserves a shot to reclaim the gold.
Dennis Siver vs. Matt Wiman - This is a classic striker versus wrestler match up. Siver showed good takedown defense against George Sotiropoulos, but Sotiropoulos isn't known for his wrestling, while Wiman is a grinder who doesn't mind making fights ugly, ironic since his nickname is "Handsome." Matt Wiman should take this one by decision as long as his chin holds up and he avoids the spinning body kick that's become Siver's specialty.
Carlos Condit vs. Dong Hyun Kim - Speaking of grinding, this match presents two different types of fighters who specialize in it. The difference between them is that Condit rarely has a boring fight and Kim almost always has a boring fight. Suffice to say, regardless of who wins, I hope Condit's habit overrules Kim's. Condit has superior and exciting stand up, but Kim has the wrestling and grappling edge, which determines the direction of a fight more often than not. This doesn't look good for Condit unless he has a really solid game plan for Kim's skill set, and I don't suspect that even a Greg Jackson strategy will save him. This will go to a decision and Kim will take it.
Tito Ortiz vs. Ryan Bader - Darth Bader's sole loss in his career is to current Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones while Tito Ortiz hasn't won a fight since 2006. This goes a long way to show how valuable it is to be a star as opposed to a guy that just wins. Ortiz's last win came five years ago against a washed-up Ken Shamrock, a dude who headlined the very FIRST UFC back in 1993 (*).
(*) As an interesting sidenote/humblebrag, this will be the fifth Tito Ortiz fight I attend live. The first was against Ken Shamrock in 2002, then his first loss to Chuck Liddell, followed by his split decision win over Forrest Griffin, and the recent loss to Matt Hamill.
Any other guy with this many losses in a row normally would have been released from his contract, but because Tito Ortiz is a star (albeit a falling one) and gets people to talk about him, he remains employed. Each one of his recent fights has been accompanied by rumors that it's his last in the UFC should he lose because he can no longer hang at the top level in the sport due to a litany of injuries and the game passing him by. His stand up has always been mediocre and his archaic game plan is to take a guy down and pound them out from their guard. Fighters are so well-rounded now that it's a strategy most can see through, and more and more people with better wrestling are taking up MMA. In fact, Ortiz has become the go-to guy for up and coming fighters to challenge because they figure it's an easy win, and the best way to become a star is to beat one. The privilege has fallen to Ryan Bader, a guy who is reminiscent of a young Tito Ortiz for how he incorporates wrestling but also has the knockout power that Ortiz has never possessed. This fight is the nail in the coffin of Tito Ortiz's long UFC career and Ryan Bader is the hammer. Bader will beat Ortiz by TKO in the second round, and hopefully Tito will announce his retirement because otherwise it'll just be sad. However, this is Tito Ortiz we're talking about, and smart decisions are not his strong suit.
Wanderlei Silva vs. Chris Leben - Think of every fighting cliche available and they will all be employed here. It's got "barroom brawl," "slugfest," "slobberknocker," "dream match," and "fight of the night" written all over it. Both of these guys throw wild, swing-for-the-fences punches looking for the knockout and have the ability to get knocked out cold. Either guy has the ability to win this fight, which is another really stupid and obvious cliche but also one that applies. Leben is coming off a devastating first round TKO loss by Brian Stann back in January, while Silva has taken a long time to recover from knee surgery and broken ribs, last fighting in February of 2010. Leben is best when he's fighting regularly because he tends to get into trouble when given time to himself, whereas Silva is well past his prime. Perhaps finally fixing his knee will be the missing component that has prevented Silva from stringing together more than two wins in a row, but I doubt it'll show in this fight due to the seventeen month layoff and subsequent ring rust that will accompany it. Leben will knockout Silva in the second round.
Urijah Faber vs. Dominick Cruz (c) for the UFC Bantamweight Championship - The story behind the animosity between Urijah Faber and Dominick Cruz is one of my favorite of the many rivalries that exist in MMA. Four years ago, on the second WEC card under the Zuffa umbrella, Dominick Cruz challenged Urijah Faber for the Featherweight Championship. Cruz felt slighted that the promotional poster only showcased Faber, as opposed to both fighters. As retribution, Cruz decided to sign any and all autographs for the show on said promo poster directly over Faber's face, thinking that it would totally show Urijah who was boss and not make Dominick look like a whiny little baby. Faber retaliated by choking Cruz out with a guillotine inside of two minutes into the first round. The two have continued to hate each other ever since (**).
(**) Of course, Urijah Faber's version of hating someone is a lot different than most people because he's the happiest, most upbeat fighter in MMA. For him, hating someone just means that he says he doesn't think the person in question is "cool."
That was in 2007. Today, circumstances have changed. Faber defended his title, lost his title, lost his attempts at winning the title back, and has moved down to bantamweight. Faber is the most marketable fighter out of the two new weight classes UFC introduced earlier this year, but this is realistically his last chance at a belt for a very long time. He's lost two attempts to reclaim the Featherweight Championship, and this is his third championship fight in two years. It's rare to get one championship fight in that span of time, let alone three, making this do or die for the challenger in terms of title contention and capitalizing on his marketability in making these lighter weight classes matter.
Meanwhile, Cruz moved down to 135 lbs. since their initial outing, employing a stick and move style that has become his trademark and went on a winning streak that involved earning the Bantamweight Championship. He has yet to finish a fight as a bantamweight, unless you count the aforementioned Brian Bowles breaking his hand and giving up the title, but that was more Bowles taking himself out of the equation than Cruz finishing him. The fact is that Dominick Cruz is a boring fighter, but one that is incredibly difficult to fight and beat. He's quick, constantly moving, and approaches his stand up from weird angles, making it tough to land a takedown or a counter. What he lacks in power, he makes up for in technique, so, while he may not knock someone out or even knock them down, he'll consistently land and make sure that his opponent doesn't.
Faber is everything Cruz isn't as a fighter: entertaining, uses flashy moves, isn't afraid to engage, and works towards a finish. As a bantamweight, Faber is finally fighting from the position of being the more powerful guy, something he's rarely been able to do in the past. His two previous fights at bantamweight show that he hasn't given up his speed in the weight cut, nor does it seem like he's lost any of his cardio. Faber has great grappling and submissions along with power in his hands that can knock out most folks.
Recently, Dominick Cruz wrote a blog for Sportsnet in Canada discussing how he finally understood that working towards being a star in the eyes of the public is as much a part of his job as training is for an upcoming fight. He then went on to complain yet again about the perceived slight he felt from four years ago, and what he fails to understand is how much he comes off like a jerkbag by constantly complaining about being left off a poster in lieu of the then champion FOUR YEARS AGO. In pro wrestling, the greatest heels (the bad guys) are always the dudes that feel like they're righteous in doing dastardly things. Dominick Cruz thinks he's right, and yet he's the biggest heel in the bantamweight division. In my heart, I want Urijah Faber to win and not just because my wife thinks he's cute. He's just more fun and, seemingly, just a better person by not being so boring. It is entirely possible that Cruz will win by a frustrating decision wherein he constantly avoids contact and sneaks in a punch here or there, I'm going with my heart on this one and calling it for Urijah Faber by guillotine in the first round. Because sometimes justice can be poetic.