Every fight on UFC 185’s main card asks an important question about relevant divisions in the organization or the future (and potentially the lack thereof) of fan favorite fighters. Let’s see what we got coming to us on Saturday night:
The last time a heavily favored lightweight champion with devastating finishing power went up against a scrappy, workmanlike underdog BJ Penn lost his title to Frankie Edgar (who went on to become basically the Best Fighter Ever™ according to the Gospel of Andy™). Will that happen here? I mean, going by the odds that exist for a reason, probably not. But let’s not discount RDA’s nasty 8-1 record going into this fight, including a TKO of Benson Henderson (the only one of Bendo’s career) and dominant performances over tough guy/professional mean-mugger Nate Diaz and Donald Cerrone. There’s no doubt that RDA has more than a puncher’s chance in this fight.
And yet, there’s something undeniably special about Anthony Pettis. For fudge’s sake, the man landed a kick that looks like it was a choreographed stunt, and he did it in minute 24 of a 5-round title fight that was razor close. He finished Bendo in their 2nd fight for the UFC strap (simultaneously ending Bendo’s Decision and Winning streaks). He finished Gilbert Melendez for the first time in El Nino’s career. And Pettis just turned 28. There’s still plenty of gas left in the tank, and assuming he can stay healthy between fights, he has the ability to really dominate his division and look exciting as hell doing it.
This main event will show us whether a star continues to rise to dominance at 155, or whether the muddled logjam at the top of the UFC’s most crowded, competitive division stays unclear.
The Women’s Bantamweight Division is extremely exciting. The Top 10 of the division is extremely competitive with each other and produces some absolute barn burners. They all have the same goal: win a shot against Shiva, the God of Death and hope for the best.
The very new Strawweight Division has a lot to live up to. And it’s very strange that the UFC seems to be throwing much of its promotional muscle behind fighters other than Esparza (who is the current champ). Lots of hype went out for the other TUF finalist Rose Namajunas. Paige Vanzant has a special Rebok sponsorship. And yet, Carla “Cookie Monster” Esparza (VERY possibly the best fighter nickname I’ve ever heard) walked out to classic Metallica and did the damn thing to win the first ever UFC Strawweight strap.
This fight is critical to the development of an interesting 115 lb. division. We either need a hotly contested war, or an incredibly dominant and exciting performance in order to keep interest at 115. It’s already shallow at Strawweight; it can’t also be boring.
When I was in 8th grade, my math teacher told my folks at the ol’ Parent/Teacher Conference that she was disappointed in me. I had the smarts to get A’s and was only scoring B’s and C’s because of what she described as “careless errors.”
Johny Hendricks is essentially 8th Grade Math Andy.
He narrowly missed being the 3rd guy to defeat GSP. At the Press Conference after, he said that he was only going 70% in that fight (I don’t know why you would do that against GSP, let alone admit to it, but that’s neither here nor there). In his first title defense against Robbie Lawler, he just ran out of gas because his weight cut was draining and horrible. Make no mistake: Hendricks is an elite 170 pounder. He’s got fantastic wrestling and knockout power. He’s fought and beat the best the division has to offer (and the Welterweight Division is very tough right now). But if he wants to be the Champ again, he needs to get his ducks in a row.
If he doesn’t, then instead of Mrs. Fitz being “not angry, just disappointed”, Matt “the Immortal” Brown will be trying to cause a whole mess of damage. That guy does not mess around.
(Sidenote: Do you know why his nickname is “The Immortal?” It’s because he was legally dead following a heroin overdose and kicked back to life. He started pursuing martial arts shortly thereafter. He was a struggling journeyman in the UFC before going on a 7 fight winning streak, 6 of which were knockouts. His career is as indestructible as his body)
Hendricks is a deserving favorite; he was the Champ this time last year after all. But if he wants to get that strap back, he’s got to stop with the careless errors. Unlike his opponent, he is a mere mortal.
This fight kind of determines which of these two big men still have a shot to get to the top of the Heavyweight Division. The big men of the UFC are quite marketable and popular despite the division being remarkably shallow. So it’s not like a loss means these guys get cut. But still, a loss here would ensure that one of these two is out of the title picture for quite a while, and neither man is particularly young.
They both have very distinctive strengths and weaknesses. Nelson has pretty much one signature punch: an overhand right that will ruin your day if it lands. Overeem is a great kickboxer who’s done very little on the ground and has not made great use of wrestling in his time at the top. Both somewhat one-dimensional (though much more applicable for Big Country) but deadly if they are allowed to execute their game plan.
I think this comes down to one factor: Overeem’s confidence. He has had the tendency in the past to…look past previous opponents while talking trash to/about the current champion. And sometimes that hasn’t been what I would consider “favorable.” Like this fight. Or this one. Or this one. If Overeem is in his element and is focused on what matters (read: the guy in front of him trying to overhand right his head right off), I like his chances. But in an oddly unintuitive twist, I think Nelson’s best odds are that the odds are not currently in his favor.
The Flyweight Division (capped at 125 lbs. in the UFC) is in a bit of a pickle. The champion, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson has a stranglehold on the division. He’s pretty clearly the best fighter in the division and it isn’t close (fun fact: Mighty Mouse went down to 125 after losing for the title at 135 lbs.; he was one of the elite in that division as well). In addition to the “New Division with Unbeatable Champ” problem, there’s a glaring lack of depth in the field. Perennial contender Ian McCall just lost to John Lineker, which would be fine except Lineker has an inability to make weight at 125 and has been forced by the UFC to move up to Bantamweight. Top 125er Joe Benavidez has lost to the champ twice (the 2nd one being a not-close KO). There just aren’t enough guys to make the division compelling when the Champ never loses.
So it’s up to these two to be the tiny heroes we need. Mighty Mouse is a dominant, exciting champion. But he rules over a division that nobody cares to watch. Here’s hoping this fight breathes some life into a division that currently struggles.
I know I’ll be watching this weekend; I hope you will be too. And if you’re planning on tuning in: Who Ya Got?