Sat, 02 Feb 2013
Las Vegas, Nevada, USA
It may be their third event in as many weeks, but this is the first proper UFC pay per view of the year and as much as last week’s FOX card was stacked, this event beats it hands down.
The main event is billed as a superfight, and a year ago it would truly have been just that. Twelve months ago, Jose Aldo (20-1) had just retained his Featherweight title with a knockout of the year contender against Chad Mendes and Frankie Edgar was looking ahead to his fourth defence of the Lightweight title having disposed of BJ Penn and Gray Maynard against all the odds.
Now, however the picture is a little different. Injury has kept Aldo inactive since his memorable victory and crowd dive in Brazil and Edgar has suffered back to back decision defeats, no longer owns the Lightweight belt and boasts a record of (15-3-1).
However, that doesn’t mean this isn’t still a compelling fight. Despite labouring to overcome Mark Hominick and Kenny Florian in his first UFC matches, Aldo showed against Mendes exactly why he’s rated as a top 3 pound for pound talent. Incredible speed, precise, powerful and varied kicks, great takedown defence and a formidable jiujitsu game should the bout go to the floor make Aldo a scary proposition for anyone.
Aldo’s only career defeat came by a second round submission back in 2005 and since then he’s been wrecking the careers of wrestlers, kickboxers, submission specialists a d everyone in between.
I’ve complained a lot recently about guys coming off defeats getting a title shot, but I don’t really mind in the case of Frankie Edgar. You see, Edgar literally punched well above his weight in the 155lb division, as a fighter who is of a size more usually associated with the 145lb class and could probably make 135lb without too much difficulty he was competing against guys who naturally weighed between ten and thirty pounds more than him.
In that light, his wins over BJ Penn and Gray Maynard are all the more remarkable and his wafer thin decision losses to Benson Henderson almost carry a feeling that Henderson should have been handicapped somehow.
Relieved of the Lightweight title, Edgar drops to Featherweight and immediately skips to the front of the queue as the most marketable and credible threat to Aldo’s belt.
While Aldo has made a habit of beating up wrestler-boxers, he’s never yet faced one with Edgar’s sheer level of excellence. Edgar’s movement, hand speed and ability to switch levels and land sudden, inescapable takedowns befuddled most at 155lbs and for once, he’ll be fighting a guy who only weighs a wee bit more than him.
I find myself genuinely unable to predict this fight. If Aldo can land his trademark leg kicks early and dictate distance, Edgar could be in for a long (or brief) night, but if Edgar boxes on the outside, evades the leg kicks and finds the timing for his takedowns he could easily decision or knock the champion out.
In the co-main event slot, we have the return of two of the Light Heavyweight division’s old horses looking for a big win to return them to title contention as Rashad Evans (17-2-1) faces Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (20-5).
Evans is the consensus #2 light heavyweight in the world, but having been unable to do much in his title challenge against former teammate Jon Jones last April his chances of a speedy rematch don’t look great. The option of cutting to middleweight seems to be one Rashad isn’t too happy to contemplate so he’d rather earn himself another shot.
Nogueira was billed as the top free agent at 205lbs when he signed for the UFC back in 2009 but a run of stogy performances against wrestlers mean that it’s only his debut against Luis Cane and his most recent win over Tito Ortiz which have really been memorable.
Here we have two well rounded and experienced fighters, with a jiujitsu specialist and Olympic calibre boxer facing off with a wrestler who has some of the sharpest MMA boxing in the division.
Like the main event, I’m loathe to predict this as both of these guys are capable of highlight reel KOs, grinding out decision wins or just having an off day at the office. We’ll need to see which version of ‘Suga’ or ‘Lil Nog’ turn up…
Astonishingly in a lowly mid card slot, we find Alistair Overeem (36-11) returning from his year long drugs ban to re-earn a shot at the UFC title if he can overcome this years designated gatekeeper, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva (17-4)
What can I say about Overeem, a K1 Grand Prix champion who fought in Pride as a light heavyweight before packing on about sixty pounds of muscle mass in a suspiciously short time frame and went on a twelve fight unbeaten streak to stand as arguably the biggest challenge to UFC champ Cain Velasquez.
Silva on the other hand, you can either see as the dominant, heavy handed jiujitsu machine that the UFC are trying to portray him as, or you can see him as the somewhat overmatched fighter with a glass jaw who is still riding his one great moment, his 2011 TKO of Fedor Emelianenko.
I’m not saying for one second that Silva isn’t legit and wouldn’t squash me like a bug, but at the elite level he’s been badly exposed by Daniel Cormier and Cain Velasquez in the past year and a half, and his TKO win over Travis Browne had more to do with Browne pulling a tendon in his leg than it did to Silva’s dominance.
Put it this way, I see this as much as a gimme win for Overeem as he’s gonna get. Like Velasquez, the UFC brass are feeding Silva to him to give him a highlight reel win to carry into his near inevitable title match.
Funny, that’s how WWE used the Big Show for years as well…
… the difference is, that this is MMA and Bigfoot could easily upset the script. If Overeem puts in a tired performance as he did against Fabricio Werdum or Bigfoot gets the fight to the ground, this one could easily be less clear cut than my cynicism expects…
Wait, the awesome fights aren’t over yet! Now we have the interesting-again Jon Fitch (24-4-1-1) fresh from his exciting (yes, I said exciting) win over Erick Silva facing off with arguably the only man at 170bs that Fitch might have second thoughts going to the ground with, Demian Maia (17-4).
Fitch has made a career out of taking fighters down and rubbing his chest and shoulders into their face for fifteen minutes before being awarded a unanimous decision victory. However, following the shock of losing two rounds against BJ Penn (Fitch brutalised Penn in the third to earn a draw) and following that up with KO loss to Johny Hendricks, Fitch appeared to have embraced the desire to finish fights, or at least try to and thus make them fun to watch in his tussle with Silva.
Maia spent a long time as the designated jiujitsu guy at Middleweight, subbing most guys but occasionally getting knocked the hell out or decisioned by quality wrestlers or strikers he couldn’t get close enough to. Since dropping to welterweight, where he adds a strength advantage to his jiujitsu acumen, he’s looked a bit scary and in his last match became the first competitor to finish noted grinder Rick Story with a nasty looking neck crank submission.
Now, does Fitch try and take Maia down, knowing what he’s capable of off his back? Does Maia try and pull guard in Fitch, knowing what he’s capable of on top? Does both or either fighter decide to see how it plays out striking before going to their usual gameplan?
If you’re the kind of MMA ‘fan’ who chants ‘stand them up’ after ten seconds on the ground or boos a fight where guys aren’t throwing haymakers or flying knees, this one might not be for you. However to me, it’s as interesting a styles clash as anything on the card and I’m very interested to see how it plays out.
Rounding off the main card is a bout that could so easily have been for the inaugural Flyweight title if only Ian McCall (11-3-1) had been a bit more focused and put Demtrious Johnson away last March. Instead, the bout was ruled a draw and Johnson went on to win the belt against Joseph Benavidez (16-3) after defeating McCall in the rematch.
McCall is still seeking his first win in the UFC, while Benavidez has still never been stopped and has only lost to guys who ended up going on to win title belts.
Admittedly, two of McCall’s losses are to the same champions (Dominick Cruz and Demetrious Johnson) and he comes into this match as very much the man with more to lose. Like a job. 0-2-1 is not an Octagon record that does much for your hopes of future employment with the UFC.
Sadly, because I’m a huge fan of Uncle Creepy, I see Benavidez winning this as he’s bigger and finishes more of his fights. Of course, I’d be only too happy if McCall took the win back to Team Oyama, because the UFC flyweight division needs characters as much as it needs off the peg Team Alpha Male jocks…
The pick of the preliminary card is easily the FX main event between Evan Dunham (13-3) and Gleison Tibau (26-8), two guys who’ve pretty much spent the last few years just outside the top ten of the Lightweight division, reliably putting on fun fights and generally losing to guys on their way towards title contention.
This is a quite stunning card and I’m very much looking forward to staying up till silly am UK time to watch it. For viewing details wherever you are, please check www.ufc.com
MAIN (Pay-per-view, 10 p.m. ET)
• Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar – for featherweight title
• Rashad Evans vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
• Alistair Overeem vs. Antonio Silva
• Jon Fitch vs. Demian Maia
• Joseph Benavidez vs. Ian McCall
PRELIMINARY (FX, 8 p.m. ET)
• Evan Dunham vs. Gleison Tibau
• Jay Hieron vs. Tyron Woodley
• Bobby Green vs. Jacob Volkmann
• Yves Edwards vs. Isaac Vallie-Flagg
PRELIMINARY (Facebook, 7 p.m. ET)
• Chico Camus vs. Dustin Kimura
• Edwin Figueroa vs. Francisco Rivera