Time To Take A Stand Against PEDS

20130307-171434.jpg

There is something very wrong with our sport.

We’ve all known it for a while but by and large we’ve taken each failed PED test as an isolated incident, shaken our heads about cheats and tried not to think too hard about it.

We can’t do that anymore. With Jon Fitch, Hector Lombard and most shockingly of all… Anderson Silva, the Greatest of All Time failing drug tests, it’s clear that cheating is endemic in MMA and the sport as a whole has to do something drastic about it now, or else risk it’s very future.

It’s clear that we can’t rely on all the promotions to do it because drug testing is expensive and can cost you your star attraction, both of which can sink a lesser company. We can’t rely on the many governing bodies to do it, because as we’ve seen so often, they are directly beholden to the promotions for their funding and you don’t bite the hand that feeds.

So, is an international governing body the answer?

No. For one thing, such a body would be almost impossible to create in a meaningful fashion. For another, it’s been shown that international governing bodies tend to be far from corruption and bias free (yes FIFA and the IOC, I’m looking at you.)

In a sport which is dominated by one brand, it falls to the UFC to put their money where their mouth is and take a stand. They need to institute a broad ranging, transparent, out-of-competition testing regime, probably using one of the major independent anti-doping organisations like VADA or WADA where their fighters can be tested at any time.

These test results would be released to UFC officials and the public simultaneously, with set punishments for each drug infraction. A failure for PEDS should result in a ban of no less than a year and immediate stripping of any titles, while a failure for other drugs like painkillers or recreational drugs should receive a lesser, if still considerable penalty which includes mandatory rehabilitation treatment.

If the UFC – as the highest paying, most prestigious organization in the world – makes a stand against cheating, that you will be caught and your career will suffer considerable harm, then the use of performance enhancing drugs in the sport will diminish and at the very least, the sport will be seen to at least be trying to self police and keep itself clean.

Fighters with aspirations of UFC careers will be discouraged from juicing and promotion seeking to emulate the banner-brand’s sheen of respectability will follow suit insofar as they can.

If the UFC’s announcement today is anything less than something this far reaching, then the prospects for the sport as a whole are not pleasant.

MMA needs to be seen to be a clean, fair sport in order to maintain (let alone increase) it’s tenuous hold on mainstream acceptance. Any shirking from the contest ahead, against the sport’s inner demons could spell the end for MMA as a legitimate sport.

Advertisements

Seven Claimants To The Crown

20130705-210413.jpg

There has been a lot of debate about who’s next to challenge for John Hendricks’ shiny new Welterweight title.  Let’s have a look at the options…

#1 Robbie Lawler

As one half of the most compelling title fight in some time, ‘Ruthless’ is still right in the mix for another title shot.  With a lot of folks (especially those who watched live or didn’t have the commentary turned on) scoring the fight in his favour and everyone agreeing that the it was an epic and close fight

With the lack of a clear cut number one contender and a solid story built in, a rematch would be competitively credible and do good business.

#2 Tyron Woodley 

Saturday’s co-main event was all but billed as a title eliminator and while ‘The Chosen One’s victory over Carlos Condit is tainted for many due to the nature of Condit’s injury, it’s worth remembering that Woodley was winning the fight and Condit was injured while defending offensive moves (a takedown followed by a low kick) so it’s not like Carlos just crumpled with Tyron unable to take credit for it.

Having Woodley as challenger would be interesting as he is one of the few at 170lbs who can come close to matching Hendrick’s wrestling ability and sheer power, which could promise a surprisingly even and hard hitting contest.

#3 Hector Lombard

While his win over Jake Shields on Saturday might have lacked sparkle and highlights, we have to remember that nobody beats Shields in impressive fashion (his KO to Jake Ellenberger being the exception, and arguably down to extenuating circumstances) and you can’t argue that Lombard has looked to be an utter beast since his drop to welterweight.

A deadly striker with an impressive grappling pedigree, there are far worse choices than Lombard, even if I think he could do with one more (preferably impressive) win to really put him over as a challenger.

#4 Rory MacDonald

For so long the heir apparent to the division, MacDonald’s loss to Robbie Lawler blunted his ambitions just as it seemed the way had cleared with his mentor, Georges St-Pierre going on hiatus.  Rehabilitated with a commanding (if not exactly fun filled) victory over Demian Maia, Rory is a clear and present threat to anyone in the division and a built-in Hendricks vs. Tristar storyline would surely help sell some pay per views.

#5 Nick Diaz

He’s on a 0-2 streak, hasn’t fought in a year and hasn’t beaten a top ten ranked welterweight in forever (no, BJ Penn and Paul Daley do not count) but Nick’s peculiar charisma remains a draw and his persistent snipes at other fighter’s style or lack of professionalism, combined with his ‘champion of the outsiders’ schtick keep him in the frame.

From a purely sports point of view, Diaz shouldn’t be any closer than a brace of wins from a title shot, but he makes tremendous if unconventional copy for the media, has a committed (as in ‘the men from asylum are here to take you home now’) fan base and does his damnedest to fight in an entertaining way (which just so happens to suit his high output, cardio machine boxing and slick jiu-jitsu.)

Nick has tremendous skills both in the cage and in promotional terms so it could happen even if he REALLY should, y’know win a few fights first…

#6 Dong Hyun Kim

Almost totally overlooked in most articles on this subject, ‘Stun Gun’ has rebounded from his losses to Carlos Condit and Demian Maia in 2011-12 with a four fight win streak and his two most recent of those coming by the kind of epic knockout that doesn’t just become a fixture on highlight reels, it makes seasoned fight fans wince and consider watching a less brutal sport like fox hunting.

Of course, Kim lacks the box office appeal and top 5 wins of the other runners here but his high level grappling and newfound knockout power are a threat to anyone and with the UFC looking to expand its Asian operations, he could be pushed forward in the mix.

#7 Georges St-Pierre

The undefeated former champion continues to haunt the division and as long as he’s fresh in the memory, never mind continuing to attend events and give interviews speaking about the UFC he’ll be one decision and a fight camp away from a rematch.  A Hendricks-GSP rematch would do huge business (but in Dallas or Montreal?) and they do say it’s hard to walk away…

If I Had The Book…

…and we were booking an immediate bout for say June or July, I’d give it to Robbie Lawler, who has earned at least one more big payday and I don’t think anyone would grumble overmuch about seeing a rematch of Saturday’s main event.

That would give the rest of the division some time to sort themselves out and one fighter to break ahead of the pack with an impressive victory.

However, Johny Hendricks has intimated he’s prefer an autumn return rather than a summer title match (fair enough giving that Lawler dished out a fair beating and he’s done 2 x 5 round matches in four months) so the rest of the division might be best served trying to find a definite no.1 contender.

With that in mind, I’d book Robbie Lawler against Nick Diaz, as there is an in built storyline (Nick handed Robbie the loss that saw him released from the UFC back in 2004), the fight would be an almost guaranteed classic and the winner would be well placed for another crack at the belt.

As for the other contenders, I’d book Woodley vs. Kim in a battle of the grapplers with knockout power, with Hector Lombard facing Rory MacDonald in the spare match.

Surely one of those bouts would produce either an epic fight or truly memorable finish and we’d have our unquestionable no.1 contender.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly: UFC 171 – Hendricks vs. Lawler Edition

77535_740857195936264_1734617880_o

Full results at the bottom of the article, but let’s break it down..

The Good:

I might be a tiny bit biased but seeing Robert Whiteford become the first Scot to earn a UFC win was a very special moment.

Mixing some excellent striking with effective judo takedowns and a measured ground game (understandable against a noted submission artist like Pineda, and coming off a submission loss) Rab showed flair and composure in equal measure to earn his (and our) first UFC victory.

The rest of the prelims totally outshone most of the featured bouts with standout performances from Sean Strickland, Justin Scoggins, Frank Trevino and Dennis Bermudez alongside fun brawls from Alex Garcia & Sean Spencer, Jessica Andrade & Racquel Pennington and Kelvin Gastelum & Rick Story.

Ovince St-Preux becoming the first fighter I’ve ever seen secure a Von Flue choke (basically countering a guillotine by linking hands behind your opponents back, stepping over their opposite arm and choking them with your shoulder) was just awesome to see. Also worth noting good reffing from Dan Miragliotta to call Kyrlov being out with a lag of only a second or so.

Lastly, the main event was a fine back and forth brawl, rightly won by Johny Hendricks (taking the first, second and fifth rounds on my card) but with Robbie Lawler taking his share of the credit.

The Bad:

The clutch of matches which seemingly held the key to who gets to challenge the new champion for the 170lb title fell a bit flat, as neither Hector Lombard or Tyron Woodley won their fights in the most entertaining or convincing fashion with Lombard being more conservative than we’re used to and almost getting choked by Jake Shields at the end, while Woodley’s win came via a freak ACL tear to Carlos Condit*.

At this point, I’d actually say Dong Hyun Kim would be the best choice for no.1 contender…

*Also, as big fans of the Natural Born Killer, it’s pretty bad to see him injured, especially with something as nasty as an ACL tear.  Here’s hoping Carlos’ recovery goes well and he’s back soon.

The Ugly:

This might come across as a little bit biased, but Joe Rogan‘s commentary was awful last night – especially when he criticised Robert Whiteford for a conservative ground game (coming off a sub loss and fighting a guy known for his submissions) and saying he was running away (when he was winning the striking battle at distance and his corner were telling him to avoid getting drawn into a brawl.)

Also laughable was Rogan’s decision to praise Daniel Pineda’s butterfly guard as Whiteford took him down (six times).

There were a fair few other incidents

This wouldn’t bother me if it was consistent, but some fighters are lauded for exactly the same tactics and it seems a clear case of Rogan picking favourites or simply not doing his research on the relative newcomer and choosing to build up the guy he was more familiar with despite the fact he was clearly losing the fight.

This leads to commentary that is a detriment rather than asset to a broadcast and it is harmful to both fighters involved (as the commentator’s praise becomes meaningless) and ultimately the promotion as a whole.

Usually, I quite like Rogan and his enthusiasm and usual insightful calling of the ground game are fantastic, but this growing tendency to pick favourites and ignore the objective truth of a match is a serious issue. Joe could take lessons from Julie Kedzie, Frank Trigg and Josh Palmer on how to do excellent colour commentary without bias.

BONUSES

The UFC gave bonuses to Hendricks & Lawler, Ovince St-Preux and Dennis Bermudez but we’d give the cash to…

FIGHT OF THE NIGHT – Alex Garcia vs. Sean Spencer – if you want to reward fighters (especially undercard fighters) who come to throw down, this was the one to back. The main eventers don’t need another $50k and this was the fight that had easily the most edge of seat action all night.

PERFORMANCE OF THE NIGHT #1 – Justin Scoggins

Scoggins was on fire last night, outclassing the veteran Will Campuzano in every area, constantly going for a finish and displaying ultimate confidence and charisma. While he didn’t get the finish that was exactly the kind of all-action performance the UFC should be rewarding.

PERFORMANCE OF THE NIGHT #2 – Dennis Bermudez

While I feel a bit bad about denying OSP an official bonus for his stunning submission, nowadays it’s about performances and Bermudez completely swarmed the very good Jimy Hettes en route to a TKO earned via sheer dominance rather than one Hail Mary punch.

HONOURABLE MENTION (locker room bonuses) – Ovince St-Preux, Kelvin Gastelum, Rick Story, Jessica Andrade, Racquel Pennington, Frank Trevino & Sean Strickland.

MAIN CARD
Johny Hendricks def. Robbie Lawler to win vacant welterweight title unanimous decision (48-47, 48-47, 48-47) – Round 5, 25:00
Tyron Woodley def. Carlos Condit via TKO (injury) – Round 2, 2:00
Myles Jury def. Diego Sanchez via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) – Round 3
Hector Lombard def. Jake Shields via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) – Round 3
Ovince St. Preux def. Nikita Krylov via submission (Von Flue choke) – Round 1, 1:29
PRELIMINARY CARD
FOX Sports 2, 8 p.m. ET
Kelvin Gastelum def. Rick Story via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 30-27) – Round 3
Jessica Andrade def. Raquel Pennington via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) – Round 3
Dennis Bermudez def. Jimy Hettes via TKO (knee) – Round 3, 2:57
Alex Garcia def. Sean Spencer via split decision (29-28, 29-28, 28-29) – Round 3

PRELIMINARY CARD
Frank Trevino def. Renee Forte via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28) – Round 3
Justin Scoggins def. Will Campuzano via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) – Round 3
Sean Strickland def. Robert McDaniel via submission (rear-naked choke) – Round 1, 4:33
Robert Whiteford def. Daniel Pineda via unanimous decision (30-27, 29-28, 29-28) – Round 3

UFC 171 – The Welterweight Renaissance Preview

Image

This Saturday in Dallas is the first day of the rest of Welterweight history, zero day in the post-GSP era. The four months since the Canadian’s controversial have been like a wake for the division, even if standout performances by the likes of Dong Hyun Kim and Tarec Saffiedine has reminded us that there is still life in 170lbs.

As of right now, the division explodes back into full life with a title match, no.1 contender’s bout and two more bouts between four accomplished fighters with their eye on the fluid peak of the division.

Topping the bill, Johny Hendricks (15-2) faces off with Robbie Lawler (22-9) in a match between reliably entertaining and heavy handed fighters for the biggest prize in the game.

Hendricks has only ever been defeated by grinding, tactical displays and Lawler’s losses have tended to come at higher weight classes and his lone KO loss is almost 10 years old…

Both men prefer to swing for the fences and even when they win by decision, it tends to be because they were the more aggressive fighter, rather than a canny game plan.

If the fighter’s records and pre-fight talk are any indication this should be a balls-out war that either ends in a highlight reel knockout or an epic, close fought five round decision.

I’d give Hendricks the edge on account of his chin, apparently heavier hands and his wrestling ability but Lawler is no slouch on any of those counts…

In the co-main event Carlos Condit (29-7) and Tyron Woodley (12-2) are set to duke it out for the dubious honour of being Hendricks or Lawler’s first defence of the title.

Condit has become a star in the UFC despite ‘only’ a 6-3 record in the Octagon thanks to his explosive performances and tendency to only lose to the very elite in highly competitive matches.

A striker by preference but with a capable ground game, Condit’s weakness has come against high level grapplers who can steal rounds against him with takedowns – although Condit’s ability for a flash KO has rendered the grinding of Rory MacDonald and Dong Hyun Kim obsolete in the past.

Grinding may be Woodley’s best tactic here as Condit is by far the more cultured striker and Woodley’s most consistent run of victories came via his wrestling. His recent form has been spotty, going 2-2 in his last four (which is also true of Condit, but against better opposition) with big KOs of the fading Josh Koscheck and Jay Hieron and losses to the canny Jake Shields and Nate Marquardt.

Woodley COULD knock Condit out but. I think Carlos stands the better chance of winning a gunfight.

Next up we have almost a classic grappler vs. striker match as Jake Shields (29-6-1) takes on Hector Lombard (33-4-1).

Both these fighters came into the UFC on epic winning streaks and as the highly regarded Middleweight champions of their former organisations but have found success harder to come by in the UFC.

Shields dropped his second and third outings but has gone undefeated in four fights since even if he’s not found a finish. Lombard sits on a 2-2 run in the UFC but looks a killer since his recent drop to 170lbs.

While Shields tendency for decision and submission wins shows his ‘American juijitsu’ style and Lombard’s 19 KO victories pay testament to his reputation as a striker, it’s worth remembering that Shields trains with the Diaz brothers and uses solid striking to set up his takedowns and trips, while Lombard is a Olympic level judoka who also has considerable submission and grappling skills.

This is a very significant fight, with the winner joining Dong Hyun Kim and Rory McDonald in the pool of fighters just outside immediate title contention, and as much as I want to see a Lombard KO win, I’ve learned not to bet against Jake Shields. Close one.

Once upon a time, Rick Story (16-7) was on a six fight winning streak and probably one win away from a title shot. Back to back losses followed by a period of win one, lose one has seen Story mired in the midcard and in order to put together his first back to back wins in three and a half years he has to stop the rise of TUF winner Kelvin Gastelum (7-0.)

Gastelum was the quiet man in his season of TUF, coming in from the dark to confidently dispose of more vocal and celebrated fighters like Bubba McDaniel, Josh Samman and Uriah Hall. He looked an absolute beast in his second UFC bout against Brian Melancon and then actively asked for a fight against the notoriously difficult story.

So, does the comeback continue for the veteran or does the new star continue to rise? I guess we’ll find out on Saturday.

Full Card

MAIN CARD
Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler for vacant welterweight title
Carlos Condit vs. Tyron Woodley
Myles Jury vs. Diego Sanchez
Hector Lombard vs. Jake Shields
Nikita Krylov vs. Ovince St. Preux

PRELIMINARY CARD
Kelvin Gastelum vs. Rick Story
Jessica Andrade vs. Raquel Pennington
Dennis Bermudez vs. Jimy Hettes
Alex Garcia vs. Sean Spencer

FIGHT PASS CARD
Renee Forte vs. Frank Trevino
Will Campuzano vs. Justin Scoggins
Robert McDaniel vs. Sean Strickland
Daniel Pineda vs. Robert Whiteford

UFC on FUEL TV 8: Silva vs. Stann Results – PRIDE veterans reign in Japan

20130303-110722.jpg
UFC on FUEL TV 8: Silva vs. Stann Results
Sat, 02 Mar
Saitama, Japan

On paper it looked like one of the best FUEL TV cards to date, but for several hours of lacklustre action and dodgy judging with eight successive bouts going to decision, it looked like UFC Japan was going to be a let down.

One of the highlights of the undercard (I am being a bit sarcastic referring to a grinding decision win as a highlight) was a dominant performance by Dong Hyun Kim over Blackzillian Siyar ‘the Great’ which served to u decline Kim’s true standing in the welterweight division and yet again highlight the apparent game planning and cardio deficiencies in the Jaco Hybrid camp…

Elsewhere Pride veteran Takanori Gomi comprehensively out struck Diego Sanchez and while Sanchez got a few takedowns, he couldn’t keep Gomi on his back for more than a few seconds. This of course led to a split decision win for Sanchez, which is one of the biggest robberies I’ve seen this year.

Another home fighter, Yushin Okami used his reach and grappling to evade and frustrate Hector Lombard, who appeared to have no plan other than swinging for the fences, although he did have some success in the final round. Okami took home a spot decision win to leave Lombard with a 1-2 record in the UFC following his 24-0-1 streak in the lower leagues.

In any case, we reached the co-main event desperately trying to stay awake (this was about 5:20 am UK time) and praying for some action or finishes. Both were provided, first by Stefan Struve and Mark Hunt who produced a compelling, if bizarre looking contest with Hunt managing to regularly tag the significantly larger Struve, while Struve responded with takedowns, ground & pound and submission attempts.

Hunt showed more nous on the ground than we’ve ever seen from him, regularly scrambling free of bad positions and getting on top, but we had the bout all tied up at 19-19 going into the third round.

In the end, Hunt’s awesome striking made the difference as he backed Struve up with a right and then sent him to the mat with a thunderous left before walking away, sure the bout was won. It took referee Herb Dean a few seconds to agree, but when Struve confessed to a broken jaw, the bout as all over.

Hunt rises to a 4-0 streak, with three of them by highlight reel knockout and while his post match eloquence might not earn him any big fights, there is a considerable groundswell of support for Hunt to be seriously included in the title consideration. I think he should fight the winner of Daniel Cormier vs. Frank Mir next…

The main event felt special. It’s always fun watching Brian Stann compete, with his stand & bang attitude combined with the amount of sheer class he exudes. However, tonight was all about Wanderlei Silva and hearing ‘Sandstorm’ play through the Saitama Super Arena again and seeing a faraway, almost tearful look in Wandy’s eyes as he came out, you got the feeling this could be the last time we hear it.

These two locked up and I will not make any attempt to play by play that first round, other than to say it was periods of shadow boxing interspersed with furious bursts of rock ’em, sock ’em brawling that led to both men being knocked down and bloodied and I scored it a 10-7 win for the FANS.

We got more of the same in the second, right up until the point where Wanderlei caught Stann on the button with a right, which I’m sure knocked him out and sent him straight down, before Silva’s classic left hook follow up sent him falling backwards. Wandy swarmed with more shots, but they weren’t needed, Stann was out and Marc Goddard jumped in to save him.

The arena went MENTAL and Wanderlei celebrated atop the cage, with everyone watching sure they had witnessed something truly special, like a glimpse into a former age of MMA, a historic, impassioned moment. Fight of the Year so far, no question.

The half expected retirement announcement never came, but this will surely rank among the finest nights of Silva’s career. An underdog win against a younger, larger opponent in the arena where he made his name.

Stann was all class afterwards, as you’d expect from him but the enduring image is Wanderlei celebrating after the KO.

Now those last two fights… THAT was worth staying up till 6am for.

This was the night that PRIDE reared its head and the warriors of old showed they still have something to teach the young generation. Thank you Wanderlei and thank you Mark, with fair credit going to their game, younger opposition.

Twitter hash tags of the night – a return for #RallyforMarkHunt and the immense #WanderleiforPope.

Full Results

MAIN (FUEL TV, 10 p.m. ET)
• Wanderlei Silva def. Brian Stann via KO (punches) – Round 2, 4:08
• Mark Hunt def. Stefan Struve via TKO (punches) – Round 3, 1:44
• Diego Sanchez def. Takanori Gomi via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
• Yushin Okami def. Hector Lombard via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
• Rani Yahya def. Mizuto Hirota via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)
• Dong Hyun Kim def. Siyar Bahadurzada via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)

PRELIMINARY (Facebook, 7:40 p.m. ET)
• Brad Tavares def. Riki Fukuda via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27
• Takeya Mizugaki def. Bryan Caraway via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
• Kazuki Tokudome def. Cristiano Marcello via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27)
• Alex Caceres def. Kyung Ho Kang via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)
• Hyun Gyu Lim def. Marcelo Guimaraes via KO (knee) – Round 2, 4:00

UFC on FUEL TV 8: Silva vs. Stann Preview

20130224-222137.jpg
Sat, 02 Mar 2013
Saitama, Japan

I almost can’t keep up with this. Seriously, it’s the first weekend in March, not even a quarter way through 2013 and we’re on our sixth UFC card, in the fourth host nation (indeed continent) of the year.

In fact, they really should retitle UFC on FUEL TV as the UFC on TOUR as this is the fourth Fuel card in succession to emanate from outside of North America, with the next one schedule for Sweden in April.

Building on the success of last year’s UFC 144 and the Fuel card in Macau, the promotion continues its attempt to break the Asian market with a return to the home of PRIDE, the Saitama Super Arena.

In keeping with that theme, we have PRIDE legends topping the card against younger contenders looking to build their own legend with the rest of the card filled out with a Japanese fighter in every bout. That’s how you draw the locals, folks…

Our main event is as close to a guaranteed knockout as I can imagine, as the most dominant Light Heavyweight in history and former PRIDE champion, Wanderlei ‘the Axe Murderer’ Silva (34-12-1, 1NC) headlines in the arena that hosted his greatest moments against “All American Hero” Brian Stann (12-5).

With a combined 33 knockouts and the feeling that this fight is more ‘just for fun’ than either guy making a genuine run at a title all the ingredients are in place for a bout with an explosive ending.

Despite both fighters spending the bulk of their recent career at Middleweight, this bout takes place at a more comfortable 205lbs largely because Wanderlei doesn’t enjoy cutting anymore as his career winds down. Fair enough, unlikely we’ll run into cardio issues then…

Despite his legend status, Silva’s UFC record is a disappointing 3-5 with his 18-0 run between 2000 and 2004 increasingly a thing of myth and legend. Wandy has proven quite knockoutable in recent years, although his win over Cung Le showed he’s still got the scary Muay Thai that earned him his nickname.

By contrast, Stann has been mostly defeated by tactics in recent years with guys who elect to stand and trade (Chris Leben, Jorge Santiago, Alessio Sakara) getting knocked out and guys who take him down (Chael Sonnen, Phil Davis) or adopt a more measured striking game (Michael Bisping) getting the better of him.

Of course, Wandy is Wandy and only knows the gameplan of moving forward, looking to land hooks and unleash his brutal knees, which almost turns this into a question of who lands a big shot first. I can’t wait…

Our co-main event sees another PRIDE legend, but this time it’s one on his best run of form since the mid 00s.

Former K1 Grand Prix champion Mark Hunt (8-7) went on a 5-0 run in PRIDE after losing his debut in 2004, but a 0-5 run of first round stoppage losses left him with a lowly 5-6 record. Then he ended up in the UFC, as a holdover from the deal by which the UFC had purchased PRIDE, making him perhaps the only fighter with a losing record to compete in the Octagon.

Among much sniggering from the keyboard warriors, Hunt lost his UFC debut to Sean McCorkle via first round submission (his SIXTH such loss) and wasn’t expected to grace the Octagon for long. However,in his sophomore effort, Hut showed he wasn’t going out into the night with a losing record and knocked out Chris Tuchscherer in emphatic fashion, showing that his striking skills were still something to be respected.

Following up with a decision over capable veteran Ben Rothwell and another memorable KO against fellow kickboxing alumnus Cheick Kongo, Hunt found himself on a 3-0 streak in the UFC and an outside contender to replace Alistair Overeem when his title shot at Junior dos Santos fell through because of a failed drugs test.

Instead, the UFC went with Frank Mir and given that Hunt hasn’t fought in a year, it could well have been due to injury – he’s never been the most prolific fighter, clocking only fifteen fights in a ten year career.

In any case, Hunt finds himself facing one of the UFC’s perennial outside prospects with the potential of a 4-0 streak and renewed impetus for a title shot…

That prospect is the relatively youthful Stefan Struve (25-5) who is himself riding a four fight win streak. Struve is an imposing prospect at seven feet tall and has increasingly shown an ability to use the height and reach advantage he holds over pretty much everyone as a winning mechanism to secure both TKO and submission finishes. A win for Struve would place him on a 5-0 run and right in title contention.

As a rule, Hunt wins via knock-out and loses by submission. Struve has shown in the past that he has a good ability to take advantage of shorter, stockier strikers lacking submission game and has submitted the likes of Pat Barry and Lavar Johnson in recent years.

However, there is also a suggestion of a glass jaw, as Struve has been knocked clean out four times.

All the stats favour Struve, but Hunt only needs to catch him once…

Next up, we have former PRIDE Lightweight champion and living legend, ‘the Fireball Kid’ Takanori Gomi (34-8) welcoming former title challenger Diego Sanchez (23-5) back to the 155lb division.

Gomi is looking to improve a 3-3 record in the UFC but is tellingly on a 2-0 streak since the promotion started staging cards in Asia and the home crowd and his ever potent fists make ‘the Fireball Kid’ a force to be reckoned with.

Sanchez is returning to 155lbs following a so-so run at welterweight where he was well beaten by John Hathaway and Jake Ellenberger but squeaked out excitingly narrow victories over Martin Kampmann and Paulo Thiago. Utterly unafraid of engaging in a brawl, Sanchez’ ability to withstand damage and keep coming forward, throwing a daunting volume of punches means that while his recent record is full of decisions, his matches are rarely boring.

Tellingly, Gomi’s kryptonite is submissions and Sanchez hasn’t secured a win by tap out since 2004. Given that Diego has only ever been knocked out by the best ever version f BJ Penn, I’m thinking this is going to a decision, but will be a real contender or fight of the night.

Another homegrown hero, Yushin Okami (28-7) is regaining some momentum, looking for his third win in a row following losses to Anderson Silva and Tim Boetsch. One of the toughest competitors at middleweight with heavy hands and a grinding combination of judo and wrestling he remains a serious test for anyone in the division.

That includes the imposing Hector Lombard (32-3-1) who is also looking to to regain momentum following a loss to Boetsch. An impressive TKO1 win over Rousimar Palhares back in January righted Lombard’s ship and with his entertaining style he knows he’s only a win or two from a title shot. Okami is playing gatekeeper here.

Lombard is the definition of heavy handed but showed that he can be out worked by Boetsch. On the other hand, Okami is hard to finish but two of his three TKO losses have come in the last few years. This one could go either way…

The next fight sees Korean Dong Hyun Kim (16-2-1) with as close to a home fight as he’s had in years. ‘Stun Gun’ is a dominant grappler, grinding out TKO and decision victories against almost all whom he has faced. His two losses are by TKO, with one a shock first round loss to a Carlos Condit jumping knee and a freak injury before his bout with Demian Maia really got going.

An apparent (if deceptive) weakness to KOs will be music to the ears of Siyar Bahadurzada (21-4-1) who boats six TKO finishes in his current 7-0 run. Of course, skim isn’t actually an easy man to finish and if Siyar shows the recent Blackzillian trend to assume victory then gas in the later rounds when it doesn’t materialise, we could see him get bossed about by Kim.

Rounding out the main card is a Strikeforce import looking to bounce back from a depressing loss to Pat Healy by dropping to Featherweight for his UFC debut. That fighter is the heavy handed Mizuto Hirota (14-5-1) being welcomed to the Octagon by submission specialist Rani Yahya (17-7) in a classic striker vs. grappler contest.

It’s a cracking card, with some nice matchups on the Facebook prelims but I won’t preview them in depth, because I invariably end up struggling with Bruce Buffering issues. I’d love to see Cristiano Marcello and Takeya Mizugaki compete but I’m not going to rely on it.

In the wake of some events of frankly massive significance, this card is more about fun. Some old warhorses coming out to fight in bouts that practically guarantee entertainment while simultaneously trying to expand the brand in an important market.

Things like titles, the creation of new divisions, the culmination of prolonged feuds and cards that might set pay per view records are all well and good but sometimes, it’s nice to just have a night of fun fights. That’s what it’s all about at the end of the day…

MAIN (FUEL TV, 10 p.m. ET)
• Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann
• Mark Hunt vs. Stefan Struve
• Takanori Gomi vs. Diego Sanchez
• Hector Lombard vs. Yushin Okami
• Mizuto Hirota vs. Rani Yahya
• Siyar Bahadurzada vs. Dong Hyun Kim

PRELIMINARY (Facebook, 7:30 p.m. ET)
• Riki Fukuda vs. Brad Tavares
• Bryan Caraway vs. Takeya Mizugaki
• Cristiano Marcello vs. Kazuki Tokudome
• Alex Caceres vs. Kyung Ho Kang
• Marcelo Guimaraes vs. Hyun Gyu Lim