Smartest Guy at the Bar: UFC 167 Edition
view Johny Hendricks as a legitimate threat. | Photo: Dave
A 20th birthday is always met with tempered excitement. You have
already been an adult for two years, so buying cigarettes and
voting is no longer cool. You are an excruciating 365 days away
from being able to purchase your own beer. There really is no basis
for celebrating two decades of existence.
Ultimate Fighting Championship is always looking for a reason
to party, and in honor of its 20th anniversary, the promotion has
put together one of the year’s best top-to-bottom cards with
167 on Saturday in Las Vegas, where they always -- wink, wink
-- check IDs.
How We Got Here: The familiar MGM
Grand Garden Arena will house an excellent card complete with five
welterweight bouts, none bigger than Georges St.
Pierre’s defense of the longest current championship reign in
MMA. Two-time NCAA wrestling champion Johny
Hendricks patiently waited while Nick Diaz cut in
line after a loss and failed in his attempt to dethrone St. Pierre.
On the same night as St. Pierre-Diaz at UFC 158, “Bigg Rigg” made
good use of his time with his “Fight of the Night” win against
former title challenger Carlos
Condit. He asked, even begged, for a shot at the crown. The
answer was a no-brainer for UFC President Dana White ... Rashad Evans
Sonnen exist in a career twilight zone at 205 pounds. Both have
lost to champion Jon Jones and
are wandering aimlessly through the division. It makes sense to
have them wander right into each other ... Rory
MacDonald says he will not fight Tristar Gym teammate St.
Pierre, which makes a possible win over the surging Robbie Lawler
all the more intriguing. White hates it when the bonds of
brotherhood cannot be bought off, so this is a gentle push for the
Sonnen talks the talk and walks the walk.
Lawler is dangerous, but is not a top 10 fighter, according to the
latest Sherdog.com divisional rankings. Beating him does little for
MacDonald’s advancement, but a loss would crush any title
The Not So Underdog: GSP is a -225 favorite, the
lightest he has been since his rematch with B.J. Penn almost
five years ago. Hendricks pulls into this title fight as a
legitimate threat to the UFC’s top pay-per-view draw, with his
aforementioned wrestling credentials and coma-inducing paws.
Correctly or incorrectly, the bookies seem to think Hendricks has a
better chance than most to stop St. Pierre’s ability to jab, secure
takedowns and control his opponent. I guess a highlight reel that
includes quick, one-punch KOs against Martin
Kampmann and Jon Fitch would
make anyone a believer.
A Good Start: St. Pierre has
become sick and tired of everyone calling him a cheater. From
greasing and boring fights to accusations over
performance-enhancing drugs, the haters are hating, and he hates
that. He tried to take matters into his own hands by offering
Hendricks an opportunity to participate in more extensive drug
testing. However, multiple moving parts from both camps complicated
the issue enough for Hendricks to throw his dangerous hands up and
say, “Screw it.” The champ did not care and enrolled in the
Voluntary Anti-Doping Association without the challenger’s
participation. He has kept the masses updated with the tests via
Twitter, all of them negative so far. These tests have nothing to
do with the Nevada Athletic Commission, so the consequences of a
failed test remain unclear ... The pantheon of MMA’s best brothers
is a large club with no clear number one. The Shamrocks,
Emelianenkos, Diazes, Ruas, Freires, Nogeuiras, Millers and others
all jumble together. What if two brothers held UFC titles and did
so simultaneously? Anthony
Pettis has filled his end of the bargain by capturing the UFC
lightweight belt; now, the 20-year-old Sergio
Pettis tries to play catch-up.
Pettis follows in his brother’s footsteps.
The 9-0 bantamweight makes his UFC debut against short-notice
Campuzano at UFC 167. Will the Pettis Brothers stake their
claim as the best one-punch family or simply settle for being a
pair of top-level professional ass kickers with the same last
Useless Fact: Though he currently holds a 1-2
record in the UFC at 205 pounds and former champion Rashad Evans
owns a 12-3-1 mark at the same weight, Sonnen is a mere +155
underdog; and yet, it does not seem that weird. Coming off arguably
the best win of his career, a guillotine choke submission against
Rua, Sonnen is back in the spotlight as a credible opponent and
not just a guy who knows how to successfully lobby for the match he
wants. Evans has tiptoed through the tulips in his last four
fights, sleepwalking through decision wins against Phil Davis and
Henderson and decision losses to Jon Jones and
Rogerio Nogueira. The timing is perfect for Sonnen fans to get
excited about his chances.
What It All Means: Regardless of the outcome
against Evans, Sonnen is already booked to face Wanderlei
Silva after he coaches against “The Axe Murderer” on Season 3
of “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil.” The world of combat sports has
always been about building on your last win, as if you are always
in the playoffs. Skirting that scenario gives the impression that
you are outside a tangible path to a title. Since this is Sonnen --
the weight class-jumping, titleholder-challenging master of
manipulation -- we are talking about here, it makes sense. It is
the ultimate hall pass.
Awards Watch: The last free fight
on the UFC 167 bill could easily be the best, as Donald
Cerrone and Evan Dunham
get down on Fox Sports 1. Both men find themselves on the rebound
after losses to Rafael dos
Anjos, and neither is a stranger to the bonus check. Expect
them to grab “Fight of the Night” honors ... Ed Herman has a
bizarre set of skills through which he can submit high-level
fighters and yet struggle to defend submissions at the same time.
Tangling with Thales Leites
on the canvas is a quick way for the Brazilian to score “Submission
of the Night” ... A lot of heavy hitters are on the UFC 167 roster,
from Hendricks and Lawler to Evans, but each of those fighters is
matched with an opponent who game plans perfectly around oncoming
power. It makes my job difficult. Normally when this happens, the
guy you least expect delivers the jaw-dropping, beer-spilling
Woodley fits the bill against Josh
Koscheck. “The Chosen One” walks away with the “Knockout of the
Cerrone embraces barnburners.