Brian Bowles sports nine finishes among his 10 career wins. | Photo: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com
Honest confession: the UFC 160 “Velasquez vs. Silva 2” main card rules -- hard. The prelims have one serious task in front of them if they hope to live up to what I figure will be one of the best pay-per-view offerings of the year.
With that said, there is still plenty to like about the undercard beyond the fact that all seven bouts will air free and live on Facebook and Fuel TV. Here are five reasons to catch the preliminary proceedings, which, like the main draw, take place on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas:
Sherdog Fantasy MMA: UFC 160 Free Fan Pick’Em
Where does Brian Bowles stand in the Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweight division?
A powerful and skilled 135-pound talent, Bowles has been plagued by injuries on multiple occasions, breaking his left hand in a World Extreme Cagefighting title-winning performance against Miguel Torres before fracturing his right appendage in his first title defense against Dominick Cruz the following year.
More recently, serious back issues have kept the Georgian sidelined for 18 months. Now returning to the cage apparently healthy, Bowles has stated that mixed martial arts has once again become fun. Will the time off and his refreshed mental state pay dividends against fellow WEC veteran George Roop?
Roop proved all of us wrong.
I distinctly remember a panel of “experts,” which I may or may not have been a member of, summarily dismissing Roop in his 135-pound return against Reuben Duran at UFC 158. He was desperate, we said. It was not healthy for a 6-foot-1 man to cut down to bantamweight. Duran was too powerful and too skilled a wrestler, while Roop often struggled to effectively use his enormous reach.
Never mind about all that, I guess.
If Roop truly has his weight figured out and fights as aggressively and energetically as he did against Duran, he could prove to be a serious problem for a lot of people at bantamweight. Of course, it would be disingenuous to gloss over Roop’s noted consistency issues, but I think a win over a former champion like Bowles would go a long way in silencing those still skeptical of his chances at 135 pounds.
‘Wonderboy’ on the Rebound
Let me tell you why I love Stephen Thompson.
Early on in my MMA fan experience, I realized something important, as we all did. It was a difficult, painful reality check, but it was something I needed to accept: my karate black belt meant absolutely nothing, and I had no prayer of defending myself against a physically superior opponent. This was gospel. Fact. Undisputed truth.
That is, until recently. With the emergence of men like Thompson, Lyoto Machida, John Makdessi and Michael Page, we are being confronted with the idea that perhaps karatekas and tae kwon do practitioners are no longer the running joke that they used to be. Yes, of course everyone at this stage is technically a mixed martial artist, and these men certainly spend plenty of time working on takedown defense and offense from their backs, but it is hard not to feel excited about MMA producing more talent with varying skill sets instead of every fighter adhering to the homogenous mold of wrestling, muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. I say the more karate, sambo, capoeira, judo and pencak silat we see in the Octagon, the better.
I also love the fact that Thompson’s upcoming clash with Nah-Shon Burrell would fit right in as a plot device in a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, with Thompson winging high kicks as Burrell bobs and weaves with that slick boxing style. With Thompson entering the Octagon on the heels of the first loss of his entire combat sports career, there is a decent bet that this one could turn into a donnybrook once those competitive juices start flowing, and that is more than enough reason for you to tune in.
You know something? I think they are right. After all, who am I to argue with a man like Javier Mendez, who has trained some of the sport’s finest talents. The American Kickboxing Academy founder recently mentioned Nurmagomedov as a potential title contender, along with two of his best athletes: Gray Maynard and Josh Thomson.
“Khabib is 19-0, and he’s a contender. We’ve got three top lightweights,” Mendez recently told Jack Encarnacao on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Rewind” program. “As long as he stays injury free, I could easily see Josh Thomson being the UFC lightweight champion; and Gray Maynard; and Khabib, maybe. He has a few more fights to go, but I see him as a contender also.”
Frankly, Nurmagomedov appears to possess a type of in-cage determination rarely seen. My only questions surrounding the lightweight are about his cardio and his wide-open style. I, for one, am excited to see how he looks against Abel Trujillo.
Rick Story still presents a problem for me, in that I have absolutely no idea how good that guy really is.
I know it is easy enough these days to sit back in the Monday morning quarterback chair and try to impress your friends by saying things like, “I knew that guy wasn’t as good as advertised.”
My problem with that is that it simply is not true. Everyone thought that Story was on a collision course with 170-pound royalty after posting six straight wins and capping that run with victories over Johny Hendricks and Thiago Alves. Following losses to Charlie Brenneman, Martin Kampmann and Demian Maia, however, the Washingtonian found himself on the figurative ropes. While a decision win over Brock Jardine prevented “The Horror” from losing four straight, it did little to assuage the concerns of the always vocal MMA peanut gallery.
Story’s March 16 technical knockout of former King of the Cage titlist Quinn Mulhern was undoubtedly his best performance in the last two years. Will it prove to be a sign of things to come for Story, who now has another winnable but dangerous fight in front of him against Mike Pyle?