It’s been written about almost daily. It’s been bandied about ad nauseam by talking heads everywhere. It’s gotten to the point where I’d hop online wondering one thing: “Who pulled out of a fight today?” I was never disappointed. One day it was Jose Aldo. Another day it was Quinton Jackson. How about Dan Henderson, Rousimar Palhares, Evan Dunham, Mark Hunt, or Vladimir Matyushenko? Done, done and done. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Dominick Cruz, and Terry Etim? Sure! On and on it went.
Because of this scourge, it goes without saying that Zuffa has had to scramble something serious to save these cards. However, the over-abundance of UFC cards, coupled with the aforementioned injury bug, have made for some paltry main events. This isn’t to say that they haven’t been good; a fight like Struve-Miocic delivered on every level. It was an entertaining, reasonably technical, back-and-forth battle that featured an exciting finish and catapulted someone into the upper echelon of the division. But still, this thought always lingered: “I can’t believe that Stefan Struve and Stipe Miocic are headlining a UFC card right now.”
However, let there be no doubt: the UFC is trying to remind you how awesome they are with this year-end fight lineup. You had the great Jon Jones crushing Vitor Belfort, followed by the greater Anderson Silva kneeing Stephan Bonnar’s guts out en route to a 1st round stoppage. Next, you have welterweight excellence in champ Georges St-Pierre attempting to shake off a long knee injury layoff by taking on interim champ Carlos Condit, followed by Ben Henderson putting it all on the line against Nate Diaz, FOLLOWED BY (seriously, what a way to end the year) Cain Velasquez seeking to obtain redemption against heavyweight champ Junior dos Santos.
Even though the Jones and Silva fights were thrown together at the last minute, I think the way that they played out worked to everyone’s benefit. These were showcase fights through and through when they were booked, and the way they played out was no different. Granted, it does seem strange to see Zuffa throw their champs in there in non-title fights (They’ve done it three times with Anderson now … remember what happened to Eduardo Dantas?) and shambolic title fights (Vitor Belfort?), but the end result was exactly what Zuffa was hoping for; emphatic, one sided victories for their golden cows without either of them being in any kind of peril (Belfort armbar excluded, of course).
It just keeps getting better from here.
Next month, Georges St-Pierre will step into the Octagon for the first time in a year in a half. Since GSP last fought, Carlos Condit rose to prominence by taking Dong Hyun Kim’s head off with a flying knee and punches, followed by a narrow decision win over Nick Diaz that led him to “retire”. While we’re here, remember when GSP was having his little pissing match with Nick Diaz, saying that he truly wanted to harm him? Doesn’t that seem like eons ago? It wasn’t. But so much has happened since then that it feels like I’m bringing up the dangers of getting anthrax through the mail.
This fight is compelling for several reasons, but the main one is simple: I want to see how Georges looks. His last fight against Jake Shields was abysmal, and that comment is coming from someone who thinks GSP has been somewhat unfairly criticized over the years for his lack of fight finishing prowess. We know what we’re getting with Condit: a multifaceted striking attack with lots of movement, an astute mix of power and technique, and a decent bottom game that will probably look non-existent against someone like GSP.
On December 8th, we’ll see the UFC’s most earnest attempt to wow people on FOX to date as lightweight champ Benson Henderson (who’s barnburner with Clay Guida was famously left off of the 1st FOX broadcast so that Dana White could be really awkward and nervous in front of the camera for too long) takes on possible fighter of the year Nathan Diaz. Of all of these year-end blockbusters, it would suck the most to see this one fall apart. Why? Because it’s hard for me to believe that this won’t, at the very least, be a good fight. Diaz could take Bendo apart with his boxing, Bendo could stay outside and land kicks, Diaz could be the guy to finally tap Ben, and Ben could be the guy to control Diaz on the floor at lightweight. There’s just a ton of variables to this one, and my favorite one might be the clash of attitudes. You’re telling me Bendo wont be affected by Diaz throwing his hands up and calling him a bitch? The “Praise God!” routine will go right out the window. Bendo is a jock. There’s NO WAY he just stands there and takes that without firing back some sort of theater.
Then, the capper: the gigantic rematch between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez. This is a strange one to think about because, in a way, it almost seems like they didn’t even fight yet. I don’t mean this in a “That was bullshit! How could an ultimate fighting match be over so quickly? This cage fighting shit is for the gays!” kind of way. I’m just saying, that fight had a metric ton of buildup. The UFC was making their debut on FOX, it was the first heavyweight title fight in quite some time that most people agreed was the best possible matchup, and it all but guaranteed fireworks. So for Cain to go out with such a whimper was pretty damn anti-climactic, to say the least. On top of that, it was a strange time in my personal life as well: I watched that card holed up in a hotel room in South Dakota, the day after my mom got married (translation: the day after I got unspeakably wasted), so the entire card was a solitary experience that seemed to be taking place solely to help me recover from my hangover. By the time Cain went down, I was ready to hop right back on the wagon.
Look, the UFC could have waited for GSP’s knee to heal a bit more, and they could have pieced together a different main event than the Silva-Bonnar thrashing (It would have hurt PPV buys, obviously, but you’re telling me the Brazilian fans wouldn’t be stoked seeing Rodrigo Nogueira in the main event?), but they didn’t, because they’ve announced that they’re going “all in” these next couple of months. Not only that, but the cards they’ve built around these title fights are much, much better than the ill-fated UFC 151, which should leave them with multiple card saving options if someone gets hurt. Hold off on those “fight of the year”, “KO of the year”, and “story of the year” lists, folks. There’s still alot of fighting to do, and hopefully it involves every guy I just brought up. Knock wood. But not so hard that you injure your fingers and have to pull out of a fight.