Ben Fowlkes
Thursday September 23rd, 2010

UFC president Dana White probably doesn't spend much time wishing it were still 2004. Back then his company was millions in the hole and desperate for a TV deal. These days, Zuffa sits atop a pile of money and has a pair of cable channels at its beck and call.

Still, when White looks at a main event like the one on tap for UFC 119, which pits former UFC heavyweight champ Frank Mir (13-5) against former Pride star Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (27-2-2), a part of him must wish he could have made that fight six years ago, back when both men were still closer to the primes of their careers than the end.

Not that it's a bad fight now. Filipovic is 36 and Mir is 31, so it won't exactly be old-timers night at the Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Saturday night.

At the same time, this main event has the unmistakable feel of a Plan B, and that's because it is.

Originally the idea was for Mir to rematch Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira -- another legend in repose, and one who Mir beat soundly at UFC 92 in 2008 -- but an injury to Big Nog prompted the UFC to call in a favor with "Cro Cop," so here we are. It's not exactly a fight that fans have been clamoring to see, but it's still an interesting clash of styles.

You might call it a "why not?" fight. Like a pepperoni pizza, even if it wouldn't have been your first choice, as soon as someone else suggests it you realize that it sounds like a pretty decent idea. Might as well have a slice.

Of course, this leaves us wondering, what does this fight mean for the winner and the loser? If they're just killing time, punching each other in the face for a lack of better ideas, what's the point?

Filipovic has spent the last year publicly debating the merits of retirement, while Mir can't seem to decide whether he wants to change weight classes and start over again or continue his campaign at heavyweight. Clearly, these are two men in a kind of career limbo, which might explain why their main event tilt isn't setting the MMA world aflame with anticipation.

This is a trend we're bound to see more of in MMA as smarter training practices (and, ideally, better lifestyles) lead to longer careers.

Maybe Cro Cop isn't quite the terrifying monster he was when he was 30, but so what? He can still beat up a good chunk of the hard-charging youngsters in the MMA world, and the same could be said of the likes of Nogueira, Randy Couture and Rich Franklin.

Maybe they're not champions anymore, and maybe they never will be again, but it doesn't necessarily mean the next stop is the rocking chair. As long as they can still compete -- and obviously they can -- why shouldn't they?

And yet, does two formerly big names necessarily a main event make? When there's no title at stake and no top contender spot on the horizon, it's tough to convince fans in Indiana -- where unemployment is above 10 percent -- to shell out for tickets.

The problem for the UFC is, ex-champions don't come cheap. If they aren't main event material, how do you continue to justify their cost? When you're not moving up and not plummeting down, where do you rate based on name value alone?

Depending on how many fans decide to sit this pay-per-view out, we may get our answer.

Meanwhile, two of the men who have been at this business since before it was a lucrative career choice will climb in the cage together, touch gloves, and try to show that their blood and sweat is still worth the price of admission.

And why not? Even if, from the outside, the stakes are a little hazy, that's the kind of thing that tends to melt away as soon as the leather starts flying. They're no such thing as a meaningless fight when you're one of the people in it.

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