Isn't it comforting to have a fallback plan?
UFC 151 did not, and look what happened. No matter how loudly Dana White screams the names of Jon Jones and his trainer/mentor/guru, Greg Jackson, when the UFC president assesses blame for his fight organization having to cancel an event for the first time in the 12 years he's been running the company, there's got to be a little whisper inside his head reminding him that he's the one who is, um, running the company. Somewhere in the depths of White's manic psyche he must recognize that by top-loading 151 with an appealing main event but little else that might prompt a TV viewer to plunk down $54.95 for a pay-per-view, he'd put all of his eggs in one basket. And eggs are fragile, you know?
No such fragility troubles UFC 152, which goes down Saturday night in Toronto (10 p.m. ET, PPV) -- and will in fact go down, we're pretty certain. When Jones (16-1) was hastily added to this card in a light heavyweight title defense against Vitor Belfort (21-9), it meant fans will be treated to not one main event but two. And the one that had topped the card before Jones vs. Belfort came along was not only another championship bout but an historic one. When Joseph Benavidez (16-2) and Demetrious Johnson (15-2-1) tangle in what is now the co-main event, they will be vying for the honor of being the first UFC flyweight champ. That milestone plays second fiddle to nothing.
Now, if the UFC were to promote this event in late-night television infomercials, we'd next hear a smiling huckster announce: And there's more! The extra set of Ginsu knives that Dana will toss in the box if you purchase UFC 152 in the next 10 minutes is a showdown of middleweight contenders Michael Bisping (22-4) and Brian Stann (12-4). It's a fight that Bisping boldly has declared to be "the real main event of UFC 152." To be fair to "The Count," he made that proclamation before Jones vs. Belfort was added to the bill. But even so, here's what he boasted at a UFC press conference in July: "Two big, hard-hitting guys. No one cares about little flyweights."
Bisping is a buffoon for saying that, of course, demonstrating that whatever weight advantage he has over the 125-pounders derives more from an abundance of mouth than from anything hefty inside his cranium. Whereas Jones vs. Belfort threatens to be a mismatch -- every "Bones" fight so far has been one, and this time the big 205-pounder is taking on a guy who has fought in a weight class 20 pounds lighter for the past five years -- Benavidez vs. Johnson promises to make the whole rest of the night appear to be happening in super-slo-mo. As for Bisping vs. Stann, it might not be a main course, but it'll be one heck of an appetizer.
It all adds up to a UFC 152 with two main events (three, if you live on Planet Bisping) and two title fights. Not a bad recovery from the fiasco of 151.
2.40: Significant strike differential in his UFC fights -- that is, the difference between the number of telling blows he lands and those that his opponents land. According to Fight Metric statistics, he's sixth best in the UFC.
4: World champions (or ex-champs) he has vanquished in the past 17 months, starting with his March 2011 win over Mauricio Rua for the title.
7*: The asterisk is the most important part here, since the statistic it's attached to cites consecutive wins. Eight bouts ago Jones suffered his only career "loss," when he was disqualified for illegal elbows in a fight with Matt Hamill that he was dominating. So he's 16-1 officially, 17-0 in beatdowns.
14: Knockouts among his 21 victories, including five in his last six fights.
2,955: Days that will have passed since he was UFC light heavyweight champion when he walks into the cage to try to regain the belt. (His reign ended in his first defense back in 2004, when Randy Couture stopped him at the end of the third round.)
0: Losses to anyone not named Anderson Silva since 2006.
What we should expect: We know what oddsmakers expect. They've installed Jones as a heavy favorite, with odds reaching 13-1. That sounds like a sure thing, but we all know there's no such thing as a certainty unless you're Brock Lesnar following a WWE script. In real fights, stuff happens. And Belfort has the kind of explosiveness that can make stuff happen. But Jones has the length to keep him out of harm's way while remaining within his own striking distance, and the champ's strength and wrestling acumen will hold him in good stead if Belfort manages to close in on him. An X factor is that Jones might want to prove something to Dana White and all those UFC fans who've ridiculed him for not taking the Chael Sonnen bout on short notice. All we've heard these past few weeks is that Jon Jones is not a real fighter. Maybe those words roll off of him, as "Bones" says, or maybe he'll use Belfort to prove them wrong.
Why we should care: Even at a time when the UFC appears to hand out title shots to the first guy who answers his phone and says yes, we always care about championship fights. And when the champ who is putting it all on the line is the sport's still-coming-into-his-prime young superstar, that's all the more reason to sit up and take notice. Sure, it could end up being an unwatchable mismatch, but we won't know until we're watching. The last time I thought a fight was too much of a mismatch to bother watching, I almost choked on my cereal the next morning while reading on the sports pages about how Buster Douglas had won the heavyweight championship of the world.
"You know, I was thinking when I was 19 years old winning the [heavyweight] tournament in the UFC, Jon Jones was 9 years old then. So I never thought in my life I would be able to fight a guy like Jon Jones. ... He's the new phenom."-- Vitor Belfort, during a conference call with MMA media last week
"I got to watch him fight the last time he fought, against Anthony Johnson. I was very impressed with the match. I sat right next to his dad and had a great conversation the whole time. ... Before that, my only real recollection of him was his fight against Wanderlei Silva [in 1998], when he got that really fast knockout. And that was kind of one of the iconic moments in our sport."-- Jon Jones, on Belfort during the conference call
"I used to fight on the same card as Dan Severn, Mark Coleman, you know? ... I'm like a young dinosaur. I'm an old lion in the midst of these young lions. So I'm enjoying this jungle, you know what I mean?"-- Belfort
"I learned not to really put anything towards the odds. People who look at odds, they're the people who don't fight. I fight. And I realize the dangers in this sport. ... It's a game where anyone can win at any time, so I don't focus on odds. I really just focus on giving myself the best odds of winning by extreme preparation."-- Jones
0: People not named Dominick Cruz who have defeated him in his 20-fight career.
25: Percent of takedown accuracy, compared to 54 percent for Johnson.
100: Percent of his flyweight bouts that he's won by knockout. OK, so he's just 1-0 at 125 pounds, but last March's second-round KO of Yasuhiro Urushitani was impressive enough that it deserves mention somewhere.
17: Average fight length in the UFC, in minutes, putting him third in the organization's history.
5: Fights he's had since his last finish (submission of Damacio Page in 2010). By contrast, Benavidez knocked out his last opponent and has finishes in four of his last seven fights.
3.3: Takedowns per 15 minutes, over his UFC career. Benavidez averages 1.56.
What we should expect: Speed. And more speed. And dry, tired eyes from not daring to take a moment to blink. Benavidez has been faster than anyone he's faced to this point in his career, but this time he will have no such advantage. How will he adjust? Joseph also will have a less stressful adjustment to make: He's not used to being the stronger fighter. But the advantages should ebb and flow in this fight, with each man exploring all areas -- standup, grappling, whatever works -- in an attempt to be one step ahead in a contest that should play out at hyperspeed.
Why we should care: It's history, man. It's not just a title fight, but it's the first in this weight class. That adds luster, and the fighters' tireless pace should make this a joy to watch.
"I love the fact that I'm getting to fight Demetrious Johnson. We're the two best guys in the world. I've always been impressed by him as a fighter, and he's always someone I looked at and was like, 'That would be an awesome fight, me versus this guy.' I know where I'm better than him and I know where he has the advantages. You have to go into a fight like that."-- Joseph Benavidez, in a UFC video
"He's a great fighter, yeah, he's a killer. He goes out there and he tries to finish opponents. He's very methodical with the way he fights. I know he's going to bring it, and he knows I'm going to bring it, too. The speed aspect, absolutely I'm the fastest guy that he's ever fought. I'm going to test everything about him: his heart, his chin, his cardio. How bad does he want it? I'll find out."-- Demetrious Johnson, in a UFC video
"Now I get to fight in the style I wanted to all along but couldn't, because I was fighting bigger guys. Now I get to walk forward, intimidate, seek and destroy."-- Benavidez, during the UFC 152 media conference call
"Me and Joseph, we get along. When we're together, we have a great time. But we know it's a business. At the end of the day, we're gonna get in there, punch each other in the face, try to make history. And after that I'm pretty sure we'll go out and get a milkshake."-- Johnson, in an interview on the HDNet show Inside MMA
No, I mean "And in the true main event ...": Being that it could determine the next contender for Anderson Silva's middleweight belt -- or, if "The Spider" takes a breather after his detour into the light heavyweight division, could determine the next steppingstone for unbeaten Chris Weidman -- I hereby proclaim the Bisping vs. Stann bout to be the true main event.
No, I don't believe that. I just wanted to experience what it feels like to be Michael Bisping. OK, I'm done. Back to reality.
Now let me try to imagine what it will be like to be Brian Stann, punching Bisping and it seeming like every fist that lands causes the room to be filled with a deafening noise that sounds like fight fans cheering. Even on Canadian soil, Stann will get a war hero's welcome, while Bisping likely will be treated like an insurgent.
But all hype and hoopla aside, this does promise to be an explosive fight if Stann can rectify the deficiencies that allowed Sonnen to smother him. Not bad for the third fight on the bill.