With the return of Randy Couture to the octagon and the continuation of WWE superstar Brock Lesnar’s baptism by fire, this weekend could be one of the biggest UFC events in recent history. Will it break pay-per-view records as some other swami’s are predicting? I don’t think so. The current record for pay-per-views in MMA is 1.05 million buys at UFC 66: Ortiz versus Liddell 2. In boxing the record is 2.15 million buys for the Oscar de la Hoya versus Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight on May 5th, 2007. In wrestling, Wrestlemania 23 on April 1, 2007 set a record of 1.2 million buys. So far this year the UFC has outpaced both boxing and wrestling for pay-per-view buys and Lesnar and Couture are two of the most marketable names in combat sports. But I don’t think it will break records because of the past and the present. Brock Lesnar drew 800,000 buys when he fought Frank Mir and Couture garnered only 543,000 buys when he came out of retirement to fight Tim Sylvia. Dana White upped the ante and increased his expectations from 950,000 buys to 1.2 million, but because of the $49.95 price tag, the unwillingness of many Americans to spend money, and the loss of the charismatic Amir Sadollah from the card, I don’t think it will beat UFC 66’s numbers.
If it breaks any record, it will be the most deafening chorus of boos in history because Brock Lesnar is the man so many people love to hate. With only three professional fights to his credit, many feel he doesn’t deserve a shot at the heavyweight title. For that matter, Randy Couture should have to fight the interim champ to solidify his standing, but the UFC has never shown any concern with whether or not someone is deserving of a title shot when there’s a massive payday at stake. For my money, Big Nog is the true belt holder since he beat the former champ (Tim Sylvia) and has been fighting consistently (and the fact that he went the distance with Fedor TWICE improves his stock too). All throughout Couture’s holdout he kept repeating the mantra, “Me and Fedor is the fight the fans want to see.” Actually I thought Couture and Nog was a better matchup and when he announced he was coming back to the UFC I was excited to see that fight. But there’s no sense crying over missed opportunities. Lesnar and Couture will get it on this weekend and once again, Randy will shock everyone.
I just can’t bring myself to doubt The Natural. When he came out of retirement to take on Tim Sylvia, I cringed because I thought there was nothing good that could come from it. He proved me wrong. When he took on Gabriel Gonzaga I cringed again because at the time, Gonzaga’s style seemed a perfect fit against Randy’s ground and pound. He proved me wrong again. I won’t doubt him this time and have searched deeply for reasons to believe in him, so I came up with a short list-he’s more experienced. I can’t say he’s quicker, stronger, or more agile than Lesnar, but he’s got that old man endurance (that I’m becoming more and more familiar with) and an uncanny ability to pull out an upset. Lesnar showed how green he is during the Heath Herring fight when Herring gave up his back and Lesnar didn’t know how to take it. Instead he stayed in the classic wrestler’s position with one arm around Herring’s back and the other one throwing ineffective punches. That inability to recognize an opportunity combined with Couture’s knack for creating one will be the difference.
The more intriguing fight this weekend is the lightweight battle between Joe Stevenson and Kenny Florian, which will assuredly cement KenFlo’s status as the #1 lightweight contender. That’s right, I’m picking the man whose nickname sounds like an air filter to win. “I’m as ready as I’ve ever been,” Kenny said last weekend. “I really want to fight BJ Penn, but I don’t want to sit around waiting for that fight. I need to stay active and Joe is a great opponent, so I’m really looking forward to this.” You can’t say Kenny isn’t on top of his game right now. Since the season finale of The Ultimate Fighter 1 he’s finished 7 of his last 9 opponents and took Sean Sherk the distance. Although his last fight against Roger Huerta wasn’t as exciting as expected, it was smart. He stayed away from Huerta’s power shots and showed how he can adapt to different opponents. Stevenson is savagely strong for a lightweight, but BJ Penn showed Joe Daddy can be out-techniqued if there is such a thing. I’m a fan of any guy who uses his nickname to give his family props, but KenFlo (it sounds like an air filter doesn’t it?) is maturing and evolving every fight and will submit Stevenson in the third round.
Next prediction-Tamdan McCrory and Dustin Hazelett will be the fight of the night. There’s no real reasoning behind this, except for a hunch. These two guys are exciting fighters who got called up to the main card at the last minute because of Amir Sadollah’s injury. They’ll go at like rabid tasered wolverines to prove they belong. Even though this fight is at Sadollah’s expense and he’s missed a huge marketing opportunity, his future with the UFC is not in question. Sadollah is a charismatic, marketable guy and when he does return to the octagon it won’t matter if he entertains like Forrest Griffin or crumbles under the bright lights and sucks his thumb in a fetal position. I predict he’ll grace the octagon for a few years, especially since the “six figure contract” he won is three years and nine fights long.
The backstory to this UFC has to be the Aaron Riley – Jorge Gurgel fight. Earlier this year Riley trained in Boston with Kenny Florian and Mark DellaGrotte for his fight against Thiago Minu at The Ultimate Warrior Challenge in D.C. Afterward Riley gave Florian and DellaGrotte big thanks for the training and professed how happy he was with the Boston crew. Rumor has it that Riley has been training with Joe Stevenson while his opponent, Jorge Gurgel is training with (wait for it) Mark DellaGrotte and Kenny Florian in Boston. Coincidence? Not sure, but if there’s any grudge match simmering underneath the surface it’s this one. Don’t look for bad words or finger pointing in the octagon-it’s not their style. I’m predicting Riley to emerge victorious in this one because no matter who’s training him, Gurgel has been inconsistent and unimpressive. Since joining the UFC, Gurgel has had six fights, five of which went to decision. He lost three and won three, all of which were against guys with losing records or who are no longer in the UFC. He could deliver the upset of the night, but I can’t see it happening against Riley.
Kelly Crigger is a freelance MMA writer and author of the book “Title Shot: Into the Shark Tank of Mixed Martial Arts” which you can purchase by clicking here. Contact him through his website at IntoTheSharkTank.com