Hype time for freak show fights aside, this is a strong if shallow card. Once you get past the big names it’s a bit of an anonymous wasteland, but there’s two huge sporting fights and one classic freak show. That’s buys to me.
* Lightweight Championship bout: Frankie Edgar (c) vs. B.J. Penn
Round 6, eh? I have seen a lot of Frankie Edgar and I have enormous respect for him, and I will say that the version of him which fought BJ the first time was easily the best version of him probably ever; but I can’t say that was the best version of BJ I’ve ever seen. I think, as do many if not most people and essentially all of the professional odds makers, that when it comes to pure talent Frankie Edgar is as good as any fighter at 155 other than Penn but that Penn is simply head and shoulders above all others. Here’s the wrinkle though: how does he beat Edgar? Lost sometimes in all the talk about BJ is the fact that other than the Grey Maynard fight in which he was simply out-sized and out-wrestled, there isn’t a blueprint out there on how to beat King Frank despite his being a blown-up featherweight with very limited finishing skills. Edgar is like an entertaining Jon Fitch if such a thing is possible, one of those hardworking relentless grinders who just keeps going and going until the last bell rings- not possessed of enough raw talent to blow through guys but far too tough and too skilled to really be finished. That’s a bad matchup for BJ, who after all these years still by his own admission doesn’t train the way he should and can be out-worked. Likewise Edgar’s quickness, in-and-out style and multi-level attack is a bad matchup for BJ who’s become virtually stationary at times in his fights, fighting downhill almost like a tiny Klitschko in taking advantage of his jab and takedown defense.
I’m still going to pick BJ however, by decision. A lot of the reasons are contextual. I think BJ will train as he should this time, or closer to it, and while his failure to do so in the vast is a historical black mark on his career it doesn’t detract from how deadly he can be when he’s focused. I think the quasi-controversy about the judging from the first fight will play a factor as the judges will, consciously or unconsciously, reevaluate the way they score what is likely to be a second similar fight and probably lean towards the person whose efforts were “underrated” the first time. I also think BJ, who has shown a strong ability to adapt and evolve in his career, will be better prepared for Edgar’s style this time and may integrate takedown attempts back into his gameplan as neither man has a position of advantage stronger than BJ Penn in top position in this fight. Expect another close, competitive fight.
* Heavyweight bout: Randy Couture vs. James Toney
What can you say? If I were a promoter I’d put this on as well, but it’s just not a serious fight in any way shape or form. Leaving aside the boxer vs. wrestler elements of it which we’ll deal with in a bit, James Toney is just all, all, ALL wrong for MMA. His style is based on limited movement, a strong jab, and great defensive movement and technique from the trunk up matched with awesome counter-punching. The entire style operates from the waist up, and there’s simply no way to re-wire it in a few months to take account of everything which happens below that point in an MMA battle from leg kicks to takedowns. The stance required for that makes takedowns impossible to defend and it offers way too many chances for an MMA opponent to clinch and smother the counter in a way that boxers simply aren’t allowed to do, and having those flaws against RANDY COUTURE is pretty much disastrous. Beyond those technical aspects Toney is an old and shot pile of steroids, was never a power puncher of great reputation even in his prime- and in his prime was probably a 168-175 pound fighter when he was in shape. That’s 30 pounds less than Couture at minimum. People say Couture has never been hit the way Toney will hit him; I say he’s been hit by 280 pound Brock Lesnar who is Toney’s match and more for raw power. Randy is old and has his own chin problems so Toney maybe has the ghost of a chance if he can catch him, but Randy would have to be an idiot to even let him try. And when is Randy ever an idiot?
Let me tell you this as a once-upon-a-time bad wrestler: if you do not know what you’re doing as a wrestler, and you face someone who maybe even 5% knows what he’s doing, you’re screwed the overwhelming majority of the time. It’s not like a striking sport where who knows, maybe a lucky shot comes; it’s a sport of technique and the imposition of will. Against someone like Brandon Vera- a decent wrestler- Couture had to use all his tricks and all his technique to compensate for his dwindling athleticism and take the fight. Against James Toney- who doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing- Couture could throw an ankle pick from the dressing room and get the fight down. He could drop and buttscoot over to Toney to grab a single leg and tip him over. He could walk in behind a high guard until he’s close enough to get a body lock on the motionless Toney and heave him over that way. There’s a million safe ways for Couture to get a takedown here which wouldn’t work on a trained wrestler but absolutely will work on what is, let’s face it, the equivalent of a guy who just walked in off of the street in this respect. Toney will have as many chances to hit Randy as Randy wants him to have, which slightly less than none.
Bottom line is, Toney’s doomed. He has a 1% chance maybe and that 1% is based on Randy Couture doing something stupid like standing right in front of Toney and trading with him, which has been a losing bet for a very long time. I think Couture takes him down in the first 15 seconds, passes instantaneously, and wins with either a head and arm triangle or a D’arce choke in under 2 minutes. And what will that mean? It will mean that Couture wins, and nothing more. This result says nothing about boxing, it says nothing about MMA, it says nothing about which sport is stronger or more entertaining or “better” in some vague and general nebulous way. They’re just not the same thing. All this fight can tell us is things we already know: a wider set of rules will always give the advantage to a more well-rounded fighter and a more restricted set will advantage the specialist, and pure strikers always have trouble with pure wrestlers. That’s why Jack Dempsey never fought Strangler Lewis, why Joe Louis never fought Lou Thesz, and why Lennox Lewis pulled out of a nearly-signed match with Brock Lesnar in the early part of the last decade. It’s not a mystery. If anything, maybe this gets a few curious boxing people to watch a UFC which might hook them on the sport; if that happens it’ll be because UFC is good, not because boxing is bad, and certainly not because James Toney loses.
* Middleweight bout: Demian Maia vs. Mario Miranda
This to me is in some respects weirder than the James Toney match. Miranda got KO’d in his UFC debut by Gerald Harris- no great shame there- and got his first UFC win, of sorts, in his next fight by kicking more dirt on the grave of David Loiseau. Great, fine, dandy. How does this get him listed 3rd from the top on a major PPV against a former title challenger, I wonder? The explanation is apparently long and vague and involves like three injuries to other guys and another fight being moved off of this show to an upcoming Fight Night, but whatever- it’s still weird. Anyway, Maia is vastly more talented so far as I can tell so let’s take him by first round choke, assuming that the Anderson Silva fight didn’t do him any lasting physical or psychological damage.
* Lightweight bout: Kenny Florian vs. Gray Maynard
How heavy is Grey Maynard? I know he weighs in at 156 and I know through the miracle of weight cutting he may actually be 300 pounds for all we know, but that’s weight; we’re going to find out how HEAVY he is. Specifically, is he heavy enough to trap Kenny Florian under his bulk for 15 minutes, before Kenny gets up and tears his face off? Maynard has to lay and prey this one- he’s got no other hope. He’s mechanically average and straightforward as a standup fighter with no standout athletic gifts of quickness or power, while Florian is technically superior to nearly everyone at 155. Maynard got more or less out-struck by Nate Diaz; Florian would humiliate him in a kickboxing match, moving off at angles with his jab, working over Maynard’s legs with kicks, generally making him look foolish. Worse still for Maynard, against Clay Guida Florian showed once again his improving ability to create space to get up from the bottom; unless Maynard has dramatically more success than Guida did at holding Florian down and staying chest-to-chest, he’s screwed.
Bottom line is that Maynard has to walk a very, very fine line here, and I’m not betting on him doing it. He’s beaten top-level opposition like Frankie Edgar that way before, but with respect to the champ and his on-paper BJJ credentials, Edgar is a wrestler first and last and no one has ever looked at him and thought “wow, that Frankie Edgar sure does have a dynamic guard- he’s always throwing up submissions and looking to sweep.” People have thought that about Florian, because it’s true, because his first instincts and training and best area of competence is as a grappler, not a wrestler. I have a lot of respect for Maynard’s toughness and I don’t think Florian will be able to stop him, but Kenny is likely to do so much damage while they’re standing that there’s just no way Maynard’s takedowns will be able to balance it. Florian, decision, probably 29-28 in a tense and compelling fight.
* Welterweight bout: Nate Diaz vs. Marcus Davis
Dear God what an unlikeable pair. I mean, the Diazs are the Diazs and are amusing in their awfulness (they’re like MMA’s Hanson Brothers), but Davis is just socially reprehensible, enough so that he’s gonna make me root for Nate. Hard to pick a winner though; Davis is naturally larger, and if he’s slowing down he still has good power and enough skill in avoiding takedowns that he can sit down on his shots and try to take Nate’s head off when he throws that patented Diaz slap-boxing style. Nate can probably eat Davis’ lunch on the ground, but I don’t know if it ever gets there. I’m going to take Nate despite this, partly in hope, partly because at 37 I think Davis is really starting to slow down. I’m thinking Nate gets close enough in one of the exchanges to get Davis down with a throw, then armbars him from the top. 2nd round.
Preliminary card (Spike TV)
* Lightweight bout: Joe Lauzon vs. Gabe Ruediger
Really? I just… really? Lauzon better fuckin’ win, that’s all I have to say. Let’s say he takes a decision, but if he gasses out and loses this he’s dead to me. I worry about him never quite being the same after that knee injury; the way his battery ran down against Sam Stout really made me wonder if he was able to do much cardio training on that wheel.
* Lightweight bout: Andre Winner vs. Nik Lentz
Wrestler vs. British striker is usually a good setup for the wrestler, but TUF finalist vs. Anyone for about the first three fights is usually good for the TUFalumnus. Doesn’t matter much does it? Let’s go with Lentz- Winner has ok wrestling for a Brit but he tends to freeze when guys put it on him, and if Lentz has a decent activity level he should be able to control and grind his way to a boring decision.
* Middleweight bout: Dan Miller vs. John Salter
A pair of very similar guys, with Miller just being that much more talented in all likelihood, more experienced, and desperate as well with three straight losses. Salter should put up a solid fight, but I’m thinking Miller beats him by three rounds of being a bit better.
* Welterweight bout: Nick Osipczak vs. Greg Soto
I have seen Greg Soto and there wasn’t much to see- he’s not a standout athlete, or a standout wrestler, or a standout anything really; he trains with Kurt Pellegrino and fights like a more boring version thereof. Old Ship Shack should just be a lot better in most phases of the game, and if you buy MMAth the Shack mashed up Riddle who beat Soto. Soto could lay n’ pray this one, but the Brit’s good enough off of his back for that to be difficult. Let’s say Osipczak by KO2.
* Welterweight bout: Mike Pierce vs. Amilcar Alves
“Amilcar Alves” is just a fantastic name. I wouldn’t want to fight Amilcar Alves- that’s the name of a great conqueror or dictator or potentate. I know nothing about him beyond what web research can tell, but on a flier I’ll pick him by armbar in the first. A Nova Uniao pedigree plus the semi-unpredictable funkiness of a judo background plus how hard it is to prepare for an unknown plus that name = hey, why not.
Could be the last of these I write, we shall see. Law school is good fun, but ye Gods the time commitment.