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Strikeforce or The Ultimate Fighter? Options abound for MMA viewers


If you have two televisions in the house, set them up side by side for Saturday evening. You're going to need both, and not for the Big 12 and ACC championship games.

Mixed martial arts fans seldom see nights of abundance like this. UFC events mostly are on pay-per-view, but The Ultimate Fighter 12 finale, like the rest of the reality show, is free on Spike (9 p.m. ET), provided you pay the pesky cable bill. What's more, unlike the reality show's other weekly melodramatics, this night of fights is being televised live. Which presents a new challenge for Strikeforce. While in the past UFC counterprogramming has come in the form of canned fights from the MMA behemoth's vast archive, Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu (Showtime, 10 p.m. ET) faces live competition.

And fans without two TVs face a choice.

That's where comes in, offering a little guidance, like a GPS for the MMA viewer.

Basically, your choice comes down to whether, to put it in baseball terms, you'd rather watch the Triple-A All-Star game or the Old Timers' Day game.

The analogy is more apt for the UFC event in Las Vegas, since TUF finalists Jonathan Brookins, 25, and Michael Johnson, 24, both are young guys who have the potential to be tomorrow's stars but have a ways to go before ascending to the next level. Brookins actually has one eyebrow-raising line on his résumé already, having lasted into the third round with Jose Aldo a couple of years ago. The Brazilian buzzsaw has gone on to raise hell in the WEC's featherweight division, steamrolling Mike Thomas Brown for the title, then dominating Urijah Faber and Manny Gamburyan. Johnson hasn't been in with anyone approaching Aldo's caliber (who has?), but he's strong, athletic and relentless, so he and Brookins should put on an entertaining finale, if a bit raw and clumsy. More Dancing With the Stars than the Bolshoi.

Perhaps some day we'll look back at this fight, however, through the rosy lens of it being a formative milestone in the back catalogue of a UFC champion. TheUltimate Fighter hasn't been producing belt-wearing studs like it used to, but these days the sport is big enough to have a multitude of developmental channels feeding into the title mix.

Speaking of the title mix, that's what's at stake in the Strikeforce main event. So is survival. Both Dan Henderson, 40, and Renato "Babalu" Sobral, 35, have managed to rev up their engines in recent fights, but they've also shown tread wear. Henderson was relevant in the UFC mix to the day he left, his KO of Michael Bisping at UFC 100 in July 2009 an enduring clip for the highlight reel. But after he looked like an old man in his Strikeforce debut, a unanimous-decision loss to Jake Shields back in April, Henderson's continued significance as a fighter will be tested on Saturday night in St. Louis.

Likewise, Sobral is hoping to remain a player after a year-plus of ups (decisioning Robbie Lawler in June) and downs (being KO'd at 1:00 by Gegard Mousasi in August 2009). "Babalu" has had 44 fights over the last 17 years. Is he ready for Old Timers' Day yet? Is Henderson?

You might think so when you consider that this is a rematch of a fight from a full 10 years ago, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and UFC main eventers Brookins and Johnson were in junior high. Henderson-Sobral I came in the final of a Rings King of Kings event in Tokyo, back in the days of elimination tournaments in which those who survived would fight multiple times in a night. Henderson had to defeat both Gilbert Yvel and Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira before stepping in with "Babalu." The split decision went Henderson's way. Then both guys took a few very deep breaths.

It'll be interesting to see what these old guys still have to offer, especially with a shot at Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante hanging in the balance. So unless Henderson and Sobral come walking to the cage looking like a gray Yogi waving to the fans at Yankee Stadium as he slowly shuffles out of the dugout, stay tuned to Strikeforce. Go ahead and cheat, though, getting the DVR humming to capture those UFC fights.

Edge: Strikeforce

If you're a name-dropper, you'll want to stick with Strikeforce. If you're more interested in meeting new friends, go with the UFC.

The undercard bout that first jumps out on Saturday's schedule is Lawler vs. Matt Lindland, but that's because both of these Strikeforce fighters have sung along to Bruce Springsteen's Glory Days a time or two. Lawler is a former EliteXC middleweight champ who also made a little noise in the UFC at one point, and Lindland once fought for the UFC middleweight belt. But this bout could take on that Old Timers' Day look. Lawler is not yet 30, but he looked sluggish against Sobral over the summer. Lindland is 40 and hasn't been all that active over the last few years. Factor in that even when he's at his most spry, Lindland has a way of slowing the action to the speed of an oil painting, and you have the potential for a dud here.

The Strikeforce undercard does have more to offer, most strikingly Paul Daley vs. Scott Smith. And I do mean strikingly. Those guys will bang.

But Strikeforce will be missing its big draw, Herschel Walker. The cut the former NFL star suffered in training will severely slash both viewership numbers and interest from the mainstream media. MMA purists don't like to hear that, but it's true.

The UFC undercard, meanwhile, has more subtle appeal, but it's deep. Stephan Bonnar has slipped up every time he's approached the top of the mountain, starting with his epic, though losing, effort against Forrest Griffin in the finale of TUF 1 five years ago, but he always, always brings the excitement. Demian Maia and Kendall Grove should put on a ground clinic that might satisfy even the most ornery "just get up and brawl!" fanboys. And in Rick Story, Johny Hendricks faces a well-rounded threat to his unbeaten record.

So if you're good at clock management (you don't want to miss Henderson-Babalu, after all) or you've got one of those game-changing DVRs, stick with the Dana White Athletic Club at the beginning of the evening. The UFC has the TV all to itself from 9 until 10, at which point Strikeforce kicks in. But keep your hands off the remote for another hour or so of undercard.

Edge:TUF 12

Maia vs. Grove is a must-watch. The Brazilian is perhaps the UFC's most accomplished jiu-jitsu player, while the Hawaiian stands 6-foot-6 -- a flexible 6-6 at that -- and will pose problems both in getting the fight to the ground and in gaining leverage once the fight goes horizontal. Yet Grove, maybe because of his length, seems confident enough to embrace the challenge of competing on the mat with Maia. So we might see some masterful ground maneuvering.

Edge:TUF 12

Daley vs. Smith, hands down, for as long as it lasts. Daley accomplished the improbable by being more of a heel than churlish Josh Koscheck when they met back in May, in what turned out to be Daley's UFC swan song because he attacked the victorious "Kos" after the bell. Can the heavy-handed Brit dent the iron jaw of Smith, or will the KO-or-get-KO'd Californian be the last man standing? Tune in. Don't blink.

Edge: Strikeforce

It's Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva vs. late replacement Mike Kyle.

The Strikeforce giant (6-4, 265) created headlines and sound bites after watching Brock Lesnar lose his UFC heavyweight belt to Cain Velasquez, telling the Brazilian magazine Tatame, "It was ridiculous for us fighters to see Brock Lesnar, with only four or five bouts, being considered the top athlete on earth. It's ridiculous. ... He's a fake fighter."

Silva had been critical of Lesnar before, and Brock certainly opened himself up to fault-finding with his uninspired, unskilled performance against Velasquez in October. But who is Silva to mock Lesnar's WWE past with the "fake fighter" remark? What has "Bigfoot" done to distinguish himself in MMA?

In Silva's 16-fight career, the biggest scalp on his belt is that of Andrei Arlovski, but the former UFC champ's ears were still ringing from a pair of thunderous knockout losses (Fedor Emelianenko, Brett Rodgers) when he dropped a decision to "Bigfoot" back in May. Silva's other conquests? An overinflated Ricco Rodrigiuez. A downsliding Wesley "Cabbage" Correira.

Lesnar, meanwhile, has just seven MMA fights, but he's beaten Randy Couture, Frank Mir, Shane Carwin and Heath Herring. That's clearly a more impressive résumé.

On Saturday night, the pressure will be on Silva to put up or shut up. He originally was scheduled to fight Valentijn Overeem, older brother of the Strikeforce heavyweight champ. But an injury brought in what may be a tougher challenge. While Overeem has been relatively inactive lately and even when fighting is only 28-25, Kyle has been on an upswing. He's won four fights this year, and fighting at light heavyweight last year, he TKO'd Cavalcante before "Feijao" took the title from Mo Lawal. You never know what a guy like Kyle, fighting on short notice, will bring to the table.

Maybe this time Silva has put his bigfoot in his mouth.

Edge: Strikeforce