October 31, 2012

Hey, you with the four-ounce gloves on: Cup those leatherbound hands to your ear and listen to Chael. Don't just lend an ear but also give voice to what Sonnen says, repeating it word for word, bluster for bluster. Do that and you'll go places, kid.

The mixed martial arts game is entering a brazen new world. Just as the days when a skinny jiu-jitsu black belt from Brazil could choke "Uncle!" out of musclebound man mountains eventually gave way to an avalanche of multidimensional athletes who can hurt you in more ways than there are sides to an octagon, now we're transitioning to an era that to sports purists like me feels less like an era and more like an error. It's not what you do or what you've done that matters, goes the thinking of today's UFC, it's the way you say what you're going to do. Fighting words aren't just idle chatter anymore. They're the last word.

So during this nearly month-long stretch with no one tussling inside the UFC cage, we're left with nothing but a lot of status climbers picking fights.

OK, we actually have gotten one official fisticuffs announcement: Frankie Edgar will indeed challenge José Aldo for the featherweight title, as expected, although the bout will not take place on the card the UFC reportedly has slated for January in Brazil, as was speculated in the media, including here. No, the former lightweight champion will get his shot at the 145-pound belt in Las Vegas as part of the fight organization's annual Super Bowl weekend card on Feb. 2. The UFC 156 matchup was announced Tuesday evening on UFC Tonight, the promotion's weekly show on Fuel TV.

Other than that, though, all we've heard has been talk, talk, talk. It's as though Chael-ing is the game's new martial art.

The biggest talker has been Junior dos Santos, which is surprising because he's always been the quiet type who lets his thunderous fists do the talking. It's also surprising because Junior would seem to have good reason to keep his mouth shut and his focus on Dec. 29 and his heavyweight title defense against Cain Velasquez. Yet the Brazilian recently found time to bluster a bit about two other large men: Alistair Overeem and Wladimir Klitschko.

Dos Santos, speaking to reporters last week, voiced unabated venom for Overeem. The Dutchman with the cartoon superhero physique took a page out of Sonnen's self-promotional tome a few months ago and nearly talked his way into a title fight, going on and on about how Junior supposedly was scared of him. That's a claim The Reem is in no position to back up, however, being under suspension following a drug test in May that revealed an elevated testosterone level. And Dos Santos used that as a jumping-off point in turning the table, Sonnen-style, calling Overeem a fake who is undeserving of a title shot ... but who is in for a beating should they eventually meet.

As for Klitschko, Junior was more respectful with his words but nonetheless opined that he'd knock out the 58-3 boxer, winner of 16 straight since 2004. It's cool that Dos Santos voices faith in his standup game, but this boldfaced chest thumping makes him sound about as credible as Olympic decathlon gold medalist Ashton Eaton would if he claimed he could beat Usain Bolt in the 100 meters just because that's the discipline in which he excels in his 10-event sport. (Eaton's Olympic decathlon-record 100 time at the 2012 Games: 10.35 seconds; Bolt's Olympic record during that same London fortnight: 9.63. Do the math.)

Talk like this is all good fodder for your combat sports fantasy league. If you're more interested in fights that are feasible, though, a couple of those have entered the conversation, too.

"Don't be scared, homie!" came the challenge the other day on Twitter. No, it was not being issued by the originator of that MMA catchphrase, Nick Diaz. It actually was being directed at him by Josh Koscheck, one of the few UFC fighters who would seem to not need a lesson in trash talking from Chael Sonnen. Then again, maybe Kos can use a refresher course, because he wasn't being his belligerent self in aping Diaz. He seemed to be tossing out the dare in all good humor, judging by the "lol" he snuck in at the end of his tweet.

Koscheck was responding to a challenge of sorts issued at the end of last week by Diaz's trainer, manager and mentor, Cesar Gracie. Speaking to the Brazilian magazine Tatame about what might be in store for his fighter once Nick comes off a marijuana suspension, Gracie said, "Personally, I like the option of him fighting Koscheck." The first volley in a war of words? Not really. Gracie went on to say the reason he wants Kos is that he's "a guy who is very popular here in the United States, has great public recognition, everyone knows who he is."

Is that taking-care-of-business approach the best you've got, Cesar? Sonnen would have at least made fun of the guy's bleach blonde hair. As for Diaz, he's a man of few words, or at least few understandable ones. So it looks like it's going to be up to Koscheck to get a buzz going if, as he says, he wants this fight to be part of the Super Bowl weekend card.

Why would the Diaz camp want this fight? Nick has a whole lot more to lose, being on the precipice of a title shot, than does Kos, who hasn't exactly been a world beater since his unsuccessful challenge of Georges St-Pierre at the end of 2010. Maybe Gracie sees it as an utterly winnable fight against a name opponent. Maybe Cesar figures it's time for frowning Nick to turn face against one of the sport's true heels. Whatever the motivation, bring it on. Now that the possibility is floating out there, in fact, maybe we don't need one of the fighters to go all Chael on the other. Maybe the fans will do the work for them and create the groundswell that makes this fight happen.

That appears to be what has been going on with another potential matchup. Twitter has had its share of 140-character pontification this week about the possibility of Michael Bisping and Vitor Belfort fighting on the UFC's January card in Brazil. The fighters even responded to fan queries on the matter, although their tweets did not confirm anything. Nor did Dana White. When the rumor came up during Tuesday's UFC Tonight, the promotion president was quoted as saying the fight is "not a done deal" but had been offered to one of the fighters for Jan. 13.

If I had to guess, I'd say Belfort is in and Bisping needs some convincing. Michael has Anderson Silva on his mind, and he's even heard his name mentioned by Silva's manager, Ed Soares, who seems to be unable to pronounce the name of another top-of-the-heap guy, Chris Weidman. The unbeaten New Yorker has meritocracy on his side, having smashed top contender Mark Muñoz in his last fight. But Bisping has the most lethal weapon in MMA at his disposal: a mouth. And he's been using it to call for a Silva fight. Is he willing to take a detour in the direction of Belfort?

Both Bisping and Diaz, in fact, have voiced the same desire to step into the cage with "The Spider." But now Nick instead appears to be in line for Josh Koscheck. Michael might be getting Vitor Belfort. The question for them to ask themselves: What would Chael do? Well, let's just say that when Sonnen set his sights on Jon Jones, he got his man, even though that man is the champion of a different weight class. Neither Diaz nor Bisping is in Sonnen's league, in terms of mouthiness.

And you know what? That might not be a good thing for those two fighters' career (and money-making) trajectories, but it's a good thing for the sport. I mean, Jones vs. Sonnen? Meh. You can have it. But I'm down for Diaz vs. Koscheck. And Bisping vs. Belfort? Wrap it up. I'll take it.

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