Michael Bisping (above, file photo) and Chael Sonnen could make great television together. | Sherdog.com
Saturday night’s fights in Sydney, Australia, had a little bit of everything. From high drama and a gritty closing push by Jon Fitch to earn a draw against B.J. Penn, to Michael Bisping’s postfight antics and more, here are the storylines that emerged from UFC 127.
Five-round title eliminators need to happen
When you think of the UFC lightweight division and what it will require to earn a title shot in the coming months and years, five-round title eliminators are the perfect solution.
Without those extra ten minutes, it’s quite likely that there will be a lot of close and controversial decisions, but the five-round distance really separates the men from the boys.
The big fear of the five-rounder is, of course, twofold. If it’s a bad fight, it’s basically forty percent longer, and it eats up telecast time that could be otherwise dedicated to one or more filler bouts off the undercard, which are key to showing action fights and building new stars. It also potentially bumps another main card bout off the telecast.
But I think it’s worth the tradeoffs. It gives potential title challengers the chance to get experience past three rounds, and it isn’t likely to produce more boredom than excitement.
It’s practically a non-issue with heavyweights, especially the aggressive bunch currently at the top of the division. And I’ve always thought it a bit of an unfair edge for a champion who’s at least trained for a five-round bout versus a challenger who likely hasn’t (although they’re common in small-show title fights, it’s still not the same experience as preparing to do it in the UFC).
I’d be interested to hear your thoughts (reader comments are active below), particularly in the wake of Fitch-Penn and the draw that ensued following 15 minutes.
Bisping needs Sonnen, and vice-versa
Michael Bisping was almost a sympathetic figure in dispatching Jorge Rivera. After a competitive first couple minutes or so, Bisping started scoring takedowns and it became apparent that Rivera was, after all, going to do exactly what he’d been brought to do: give Bisping a fight with all necessary drama and animus of a showdown, then get taken out on account of the weaknesses in his game.
Bisping did just that, eating a few shots before wearing Jorge down. It was all going well, this tale of revenge, until Bisping blatantly kneed Rivera in the head while Jorge was down.
He spit through the cage afterward, allegedly at Rivera’s corner, then confronted a still-woozy Rivera afterward and yelled at him before being separated by the ref and cooler heads.
Bisping needs Chael Sonnen. Now.
Once Sonnen’s back from his hiatus, a Bisping match would be epic. It would also make an awesome season of TUF, if for no other reason than shameless appeals to internet trolls and reality show nonsense.
If Michael thought Rivera’s schtick was rude, wait until Sonnen whips out his bag of tricks, playing everything from the American vs. England angle to whatever else Chael thinks up. Rivera’s Youtube video assault on Bisping was solid work, but one can only imagine how furious Bisping would be once Sonnen goes to work on him.
It would also be a good way to rebuild Sonnen’s image with his fan base. Let him play the heel against Bisping, who’d take the bait in spades. Eventually, the UFC has to match Bisping against someone who’s a legit top middleweight in their prime (the last two attempts, Wanderlei Silva and Dan Henderson, didn’t pan out), and it’s a win-win either way.
If Bisping pulls the upset, he’s probably earned a title shot. If he hasn’t, Sonnen’s right back in the mix, with all the good humor and comic one-liners we remember him so fondly for. I rarely believe fights are a “lock” to predict, but I think this is a perfect matchup for Sonnen.
Yet he lost 29-28 on all three cards. There were no extenuating circumstances with which Ring could have stolen a round, outside of possibly the second stanza. And there’s no way in the world he won two rounds. He never wobbled Fukuda, was soundly outwrestled, and basically looked on the defensive for most of the time.
Despite this, Dana White reportedly paid Fukuda his win money, which was a classy gesture.
Does welterweight parity mean GSP stays put?
After the climactic struggle of Fitch-Penn, where Fitch rallied hard in the final round to salvage a draw, one has to wonder about the welterweight landscape should champ Georges St. Pierre move to 185.
In his second title reign, GSP has made five defenses, dominating opponents so handily that a move to 185 is perceived as the only way to get him a competitive fight (despite the fact that he faces Jake Shields April 30).
It’s to St. Pierre’s credit that he has performed so impressively that this is a plausible scenario, but even in this run of domination, he’s been a pretty exciting guy to watch. St. Pierre’s title defenses have resembled a great artist at work on a canvas more than competitive bouts, much like Manny Pacquiao has been in the boxing ring in recent fights.
In short, it’s a crowded field, and should GSP leave (assuming he defeats Shields, who could happily scuttle this whole scenario and inject life into the division with an upset), who’s left?
Fitch and Shields. Penn’s effort was laudable Saturday night, but over five rounds, it’s doubtful he can overcome the size and strength difference of the bigger welters.
With St. Pierre gone, it’s quite likely that either Fitch or Shields wins the title, or both. And while I love the idea of a Fitch-Shields bout, it’s doubtful the UFC honchos are too crazy about it.
Contenders like Carlos Condit and Jake Ellenberger have more “fan friendly” bouts, and both are readily talented, but the Fitch/Shields style is extremely tough for anyone else to best over five rounds, particularly since both are durable and nearly impossible to stop.
If you think people gave GSP a hard time for going the distance in his last three bouts -- all of which were virtuoso performances -- I can’t imagine the complaining you’d hear if Fitch or Shields were champ doing the same thing. That’s why it’s best for GSP to stay put.
I much prefer seeing Anderson Silva go to light heavyweight eventually than putting him in against St. Pierre. Anderson’s style translates much better to a heavier weight.
At welter, he’s just about perfect. And I for one would like to see if he can keep proving it.
Getting the 10-8 right
As MMA fans and judges continue to explore the wild and wonderful world of the 10-point must system, the vagaries of fight scoring can be something of a mystery.
One of them is what, exactly, constitutes a 10-8 round.
The two judges who scored the third round of Fitch-Penn 10-8 not only made it a draw for Fitch, but they made the right call. Here’s why. In the context of the fight, where the first two rounds were very close and reasonably could have gone either way, the third fight was so much more one-sided that it stood out like a red herring -- hence, earning the 10-8 designation.
There’s easy 10-8 rounds, such as the first five minutes of Frankie Edgar-Gray Maynard two, where Maynard hammered Edgar all over the ring.
But the 10-8 round shouldn’t be reserved merely for one-sided stand-up domination; in the context of MMA, grappling, ground-and-pound and positional dominance are equally important as punches and kicks, and Fitch’s onslaught was exactly that. Check the nifty Fightmetric.com stats to see how one-sided the round was.
Ironically, the advent of 10-8 rounds in both these fights meant a draw. And at the end of the day, I’m fine with the occasional draw. Without that 10-8, Penn would be in line for a title shot off a fight he basically was dominated in down the stretch.
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