Let the Debate Begin: Two Wild Weeks

Fedor. Silva. Hansen. Shields.

Those are the four names that should be most remembered from the final two weeks of July, two weeks that saw four different MMA promotions put on big shows with noteworthy results throughout.

First up was the debut of Affliction that saw more of the same in the form of Fedor Emelianenko making someone his bitch. Considering Fedor hadn’t fought a top-10 heavyweight since Cro Cop in August ’05 and his last “tough” test in the ring came against Mark Hunt on New Years Eve ’06, there was the notion that Tim Sylvia could be the guy to knock Fedor off his perch; thirty-six seconds later and the Russian is still king.

Fedor wasn’t the only thing that came out of Affliction, however. If Affliction proved anything, it’s that they have a great heavyweight division in the works. Fedor, Sylvia, Josh Barnett, Andrei Arlovski, Pedro Rizzo, and Paul Buentello all fought on the show. Fedor’s brother, Aleksander, was supposed to fight Buentello, but the CSAC put the kibosh on that and because of that, his debut (should it happen) would add another element to the division as plenty of potential matches could be made with him. Not only that, but with Barnett/Arlovski being confirmed for Affliction’s first Vegas show, I think they’ve already passed UFC in terms of providing great heavyweight match-ups. Think about it: Fedor/Sylvia, Rothwell/Arlovski, Barnett/Rizzo II, and Barnett/Arlovski on the first two shows with plenty of other talent likely to be put on the second card as well with Rizzo already stating that he’ll be on the October card as well.

In UFC’s case, Cro Cop bombed, Gonzaga hasn’t been the same since he beat Cro Cop, they couldn’t get Fedor, they lost Randy, Congo still hasn’t proven whether he’s ready for the big stage, Herring is past his prime, and Lesnar is still unproven. And then there’s Frank Mir; he is the best candidate for Nogueira at the moment, but when you’re most noteworthy win since the motorcycle accident is to a debuting (in UFC) Brock Lesnar, you know that division is in shambles. UFC does have the charismatic Brandon Vera, but he’s lost his last two of his last three fights since beating Mir in ’06, and Verdum is probably the real top candidate for Nogueira, but he’s not even close to the draw that Mir is, so he’s out for the moment.

The other noteworthy news item to come out of the Affliction was that Sylvia made half a million dollars more than Fedor in a losing effort. It’s noteworthy not because he made more, but because Fedor apparently didn’t put up a big fuss about it. Why? Because Fedor has the European rights to all of his fights and thus if Affliction ever ventures to Europe they’d have to pay Fedor to use any footage of his fights for promotion of the event. Does Fedor know something we don’t? UFC has ventured into Europe in recent years and thus Affliction going to Europe isn’t the same risk-wise as it would be if UFC had never gone. Plus, Fedor does have something of a reputation and with that an aura of invincibility making him more likely to be a big draw internationally than in the U.S. In other words, if Affliction were to plan a show in Europe in 2009, you heard it here in August of 2008.

At around the time Fedor was downing Sylvia, Anderson Silva was knocking out James Irvin at the one-minute mark of his light-heavyweight debut giving even more reason to consider him the world’s #1 pound-for-pound. Silva looking like he indeed packed on the weight he added was just as ferocious and awe-inspiring as ever in knocking out the man who knocked Houston Alexander out in record time. The venture was to be a quick one as Silva is already slated for a middleweight title defense against Patrick Cote in October. I was vindicated in saying that Okami was Silva’s best challenger, but an injury during training has delayed his shot and Cote has won five of his last six fights with his last three coming against more noteworthy opponents in the form of Kendall Grove, Drew McFedries, and Ricardo Almeida. Of course, most people would like to see Anderson Silva stay in the LHW division since he had such an easy time with Irvin along with the news of Irvin’s testing positive for steroids. However, if you look at Irvin’s UFC tenure, it’s been less than consistent and while Silva would add another top-level fighter to the light-heavyweight division, what if he loses his next fight in that division? And what about what he wants to do. Since he’s going right back to middleweight to defend his belt, he must like being a dominant champ, and it’s not like there aren’t options for him at middleweight.

Anderson Silva has been so dominant as UFC middleweight champion that he had to do the Irvin fight simply because there isn’t anyone for him to fight at middleweight; that statement was true after the Henderson defense. But with the passage of time comes new people and that is what has happened with Cote earning his shot, Okami also having earned his when he heals up, and what about Bisping dropping down? What about St. Pierre moving up? GSP/Silva has been a potential fight that general fight fans have been talking about for the last year and with a win this weekend, St. Pierre may have to give it some thought—of course the thought of B.J. Penn moving up for a rematch may delay that.

The following Monday (July 21), DREAM held it’s fifth show and crowned its first Lightweight champion in the form of Joachim Hansen, a man who had been eliminated from the tournament in the second round at the hands of Eddie Alvarez at DREAM 3. It is ironic that Hansen replaced Alvarez after his eye had swollen shut after defeating Tatsuya Kawajiri in the semi-finals of the tournament. Hansen having won the reserve bout came in and avenged a loss at Shockwave 2006 to Shinya Aoki by TKO’ing him for the title. Hansen’s win is proof that reserve fights are not only necessary, but also mandatory when doing any type of one-night tournament. And for those of you commenting that Alvarez’s injury is proof that a one-night tourney is a bad idea, would you still be making the comment if Alvarez had not gotten injured and went on to win the title? No. Alvarez’s injury is an exception, not the norm as Strikeforce’s one-night tourney last year went off without a hitch and holding the semi-finals and finals of a tourney in one-night is not nearly as risky as K-1 having the final three rounds of their World Grand Prix tourney in one night. A little nuance, please. Besides, Hansen had to win two times in one night just like everybody else, and the fact that he was already eliminated from the tourney by the guy he replaced should set up his first title match nicely.

The other noteworthy item to come out of DREAM 5 was Alistair Overeem’s quick submission win over Mark Hunt and another challenge at Mirko Cro Cop. What makes this noteworthy—to fight fans at least—is that Cro Cop has accepted Overeem’s challenge in principle (not giving a definite date for his return). Plus, Overeem is more than worthy of having a heavyweight (as opposed to openweight with Overeem as a LHW) fight with Cro Cop as his moving to heavyweight may have been the best thing he’s done in a while. After losing in a rematch with Sergei Kharitonov, Overeem has racked up three impressive wins including one against Buentello giving him Strikeforce’s heavyweight title. A win over Cro Cop would make him a most legitimate heavyweight in any promotion and either way it would be an interesting fight.

And finally, there was EliteXC’s second offering on CBS. I will say that this time around EliteXC did much, much better with less bullshit (the dancers, the rappers, the fireworks, etc.), better time management, no bullshit finishes, and an overall better night of fights than they had last time. Robbie Lawler got a definitive victory over Scott Smith erasing the controversy of their first meeting, but Jake Shields shined the brightest with an impressive 1 ½ minute win that saw him show off a great ground game mixed with potent striking, and while the ladies put on a hell of a show once again, Shields was easily the night’s MVP in my opinion. His boasting of a match with St. Pierre may seem like all talk, but remember he does have wins over Hayato Sakurai, Yushin Okami, and Carlos Condit, so he may be talking shit, but he does have a resume that allows him to at least talk about wanting to fight GSP without sounding too brash.

Despite the great night of fights (especially compared to their first offering), this show was another example of why Gary Shaw and EliteXC are still minor league compared to Dana and UFC.

Nick Diaz’s involvement with the show at all is proof of that last statement as EliteXC either doesn’t see the bigger picture or is just too impatient to ever break through and become legit competition for Dana and company. Diaz was supposed to fight Sakurai to crown DREAM’s first Welterweight champion at DREAM 5, but Shaw pulled the plug on that to put Diaz on their second CBS broadcast. Diaz won, but it didn’t help the attendance or ratings for the show in a meaningful way and since the Sakurai fight is now scheduled for DREAM 6 in September, the inevitable rematch with K.J. Noons—EliteXC’s Lightweight champion—has been pushed back and can’t happen on their October 4 CBS broadcast if the Sakurai fight actually happens. Follow this scenario with me: had Diaz fought and beaten Sakurai at DREAM 5 for the belt, he could’ve went on CBS July 26 and bragged about his title win and they could’ve shown the “fight” between his entourage and Noons’—that just seemed to fake to be real—and had the two of them announce their fight for October 4 (my birthday by the way) already hyping their next show—one with Gina and Kimbo penciled in already—with the champion versus champion twist with Shaw able to hype the shit out of Diaz trying to become a champion in two different promotions at once (remember nothing would be being unified with this match). And while this scenario could still pan out, the fight itself won’t happen on October 4 and EliteXC missed out on a shot to have a big time title match on national TV.

Do you think Dana would’ve fucked this opportunity up? I don’t think so. I do bash Dana a lot for things he does wrong, but—like anyone, even if I have problems with them—I praise them when they do things right and Dana does know how to make the fans want to see a big fight and has been real good about timing it just right and getting the most out of the hype and anticipation leading to the match.

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