Eleven Ways of Looking at UFC 127
From pithy observations to useless trivia to possibly unanswerable questions, there are any number of angles one can observe UFC 127 from. Here are eleven of them.
I. There's more at stake for B.J. Penn than the No. 1 contender spot. For the sake of argument, let's say Penn loses on Saturday, as most experts expect him to. What then? At 32 years old, he's a former champion who got more or less bounced out of his natural weight class by consecutive losses to the same opponent, and if he can't beat Fitch, it probably signals that he has no bright future at welterweight either. He has a loyal enough fan base that he could hang around and fight hand-picked opponents for a little while, but it's been hard enough at times for Penn to get motivated for the big fights. He needs a win if he's to stay relevant in the UFC, and he has to know that. If he gets in the cage mumbling to himself like a madman again, look out. If he shows up looking soft and disinterested, look away.
II. If George Sotiropoulos beats Dennis Siver, he'll have racked up eight straight victories in the UFC. Coincidentally, that's the same number that both Gray Maynard and Jon Fitch had to win before getting their respective title shots. Judging from how the lightweight title picture is shaping up, it looks as though Sotiropoulos might even have to win nine in a row to get his crack at the belt. Kind of unfair when you consider that Sotiropoulos has been far more interesting to watch than his winning streak predecessors.
III. You know what separates a good idea from a bad idea? The results. If Jorge Rivera's YouTube campaign has angered Michael Bisping enough to draw him into a slugfest that ultimately favors Rivera's superior punching power and overall brawlability, come Monday we'll all be praising him as a strategic mastermind. If it doesn't work (or doesn't work the way he hopes), and if all Rivera has to show for his incessant trash talk is a few new bruises and another L on his record, he'll become a new MMA cautionary tale. He's gone about as far as his mouth can possibly get him. Now it's up to the rest of him to back it up.
IV. How many free prelims is too many? If you're a true MMA fan (and if you're reading this, you probably are) you'll most likely spend the hours before UFC 127 on Saturday jumping from the prelim stream on Facebook to the prelim broadcast on ION TV. That means you'll get a couple of hours of MMA action – five total fights – all before the pay-per-view even starts. The UFC's efforts to get more free fights in front of more eyeballs is commendable, but is there a point where it becomes counterproductive to pay-per-view sales? Personally, I want to see as many fights as I can, but I recognize I'm kind of a freak in this regard. I also recognize that there might be some fans who are on the fence about paying for a fight card like this one. If they can get two hours of fights for free on Saturday – and, heaven forbid, if those fights aren't exactly thrilling ones – might they decide to head out and spend their $44.99 elsewhere? But it's like my man William Blake said, 'You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.' Yeah, I'm sure Dana White was thinking of Blake when he booked this thing.
V. The last time Mark Hunt won an MMA fight? 2006. The last time he made it out of the first round in an MMA bout? Also 2006.
VI. No one in the UFC needs a finish more than Jon Fitch. He's won five straight fights by decision, and eight of his last 10 have gone the distance. If Fitch wants the UFC to get behind him in anything more than a begrudging, obligatory manner, he needs to show that he can actually end a fight, or at least produce a three-rounder that fans enjoy watching. Otherwise, a potential Fitch title reign at 170 pounds is going to look an awful lot like a worst-case scenario to the UFC brass.
VII. Spencer Fisher and Ross Pearson seem to run in the same circles. They meet in the cage for the first time on Saturday, but the lightweights share three past opponents: Aaron Riley, Dennis Siver, and Chris Warburton. Fisher beat Warburton, but lost to Siver. Pearson beat Siver, but lost to Warburton. Both men beat Aaron Riley, who's the only one of three not also on the UFC 127 card. What, if anything, does it all mean? I have no idea.
VIII. Can Tiequan Zhang be as good in the third round as he is in the first? "The Mongolian Wolf's" lone career loss came in the first fight that required him to go more than one round, and that's no coincidence. Zhang looked great against Danny Downes in the opening frame, then seemed to lose his confidence and cardio when Downes kept bringing it for the next two rounds. Jason Reinhardt may or may not be good enough to survive the first five minutes with Zhang, but if he is, watch closely. We'll find out a lot about the Wolf if and when he has to get off the stool for round two.
IX. Chris Lytle has gone two straight fights without an end-of-the-night bonus. The last time that happened? 2007. That was back when Lytle was coming off his snoozer of a TUF 4 Finale loss to Matt Serra, after which he vowed to win big or lose big, but never bore again. Since arriving at that decision, he's won seven bonuses. Then came this recent drought. Be warned, Brian Ebersole. Lytle isn't used to going home without a bonus check three times in a row. If you can't help him produce the Fight of the Night, that only leaves two options...
X. Does anybody remember Nick "The Promise" Ring? Aside from having one of the more memorable nicknames in 'Ultimate Fighter' history, he also entered the show with an undefeated record and became that season's first overall pick before a knee injury forced him out of the competition. Ring had surgery on his ACL last April, and didn't start training again until the fall. Now he has to try and jump back into action in his UFC debut against Japanese vet and DEEP middleweight champ Riki Fukuda. That's a tough first fight in the Octagon for anyone, but it's an especially tall order for a guy who's been on the sidelines rehabbing an injury. Whatever hype he may have gained from the reality show has probably evaporated by now, but it wouldn't take more than a few good minutes on ION TV to get some of it back again.
XI. Anthony Perosh is 0-3 in the UFC thus far. If he can't beat Tom Blackledge at UFC 127, he'll tie Tiki Ghosn's mark of four UFC appearances without a single win. Not to disparage Ghosn's career, which has featured several notable wins outside the Octagon and one (let's be kind and say...memorable) appearance on 'Blind Date,' but I doubt that's the kind of company Perosh wants to be in as a fighter.