"Belfort or Bisping?" a regular reader of mine tweeted at me, referring to the main event of Saturday night's UFC on FX fight card in São Paolo, Brazil. I get these questions all the time from fans who clearly don't follow my MMA fight predictions for SI.com too closely. Or maybe they do keep tabs on my prognosticative batting average and want my pick so they can race to a sports book and lay down their money on the opposite bet. Whatever.
It wasn't the request for my Michael Bisping vs. Vitor Belfort prediction that got me thinking, though. It was what followed. "I want Belfort to win," tweeted @_keyser_soze, "but part of me wants Bisping to win, so Anderson can pick the Brit apart."
"Anderson" is, of course, Anderson Silva. Bisping has been promised a shot at the UFC middleweight champ if he can get by Belfort. And it would be no surprise if "The Spider" did indeed "pick the Brit apart" if they were to meet. But it was the delight that oozed from the tweet that jumped out at me.
This would not have been out of the ordinary even as recently as a couple of years ago. Ever since he emerged on the scene back in 2006 as a member of the Season 3 cast of
Why all the hate? Bisping brought it on himself with his cocky swagger. And he seemed to embrace it, really bask in it. But as time has passed, smugness has morphed into straightforward genuineness. The shift was imperceptible -- at least by me.
As recently as last September, in a preview of Bisping's last fight, I predicted that his opponent, Brian Stann, "will get a war hero's welcome, while Bisping likely will be treated like an insurgent." Then I showed up in Toronto, and everywhere Bisping went -- a press conference, the weigh-ins, the fight -- the fans greeted him with a lot of love. So much for another of my predictions.
Now, Bisping will be no fan favorite on Saturday night, but that's only because the fight is in Belfort's homeland. If "The Count" perseveres and earns his title shot, he might well walk into a cage opposite Anderson Silva and be more popular than ever.
Now, on to other matters in the mailbag ...
I'm not going to call you crazy, Brian. (You want crazy? You should see the e-mails that don't make it into the mailbag.) But I do think you're reading too much into some of what unfolded two and a half weeks ago in Las Vegas, when Velasquez regained the heavyweight belt with a dominant decision victory.
Before Cain landed that big right hand, you'll remember, he'd taken Dos Santos to the mat a couple of times. That had to be in the head of the champ, who came into the fight with an astounding 88 percent efficiency at defending takedown attempts. Even after Junior stuffed a few shots, Velasquez kept going for them. That, and an overall aggressiveness that Dos Santos had seen from no previous opponent, contributed to him dropping his hands and opening himself to that thunderous Velasquez right hand.
Dos Santos was badly hurt by the big punch and the assault that followed, and for most of the rest of the fight he did little more than play defense. You're right, Brian, that was not the Junior dos Santos we've become accustomed to seeing. But we'd never seen him in the cage with a ravenous beast like the Cain Velasquez who showed up that night.
Lastly, I don't follow your reasoning for why the UFC would go all WWE on us and try to script a result. There have been big bouts hanging in the balance before, and the behemoth fight promotion has always just let the cards fall where they may. If Dos Santos had won, an Overeem fight would have had plenty of appeal, especially with the buildup focusing on the fighters' mutual disdain. And Cormier would have been waiting for the winner. Those are some pretty hefty fights.
You're referring to my predictions for 2013, Ga'ash, where I did acknowledge that the heavyweight champion is in a more precarious position than any other belt holder. But I didn't necessarily doom Velasquez' title reign. In fact, I wrote, "So while history tells us that Cain is in the wrong weight class if he has his heart set on a long reign, the makeup of this fighter tempts us to believe otherwise. The 30-year-old Velasquez might very well be the man who remains The Man."
I believe Velasquez is the kind of fighter -- aggressive, fast, strong and versatile -- who could remain on top for a while. It's going to take a steady focus, though, for him to avoid the one big shot that changes everything.
That's an interesting proposal, Cameron. Maybe it would be a boost to the UFC's marketing effort. I have to admit, though, that I'm not too interested in any of that stuff. The amount of money the fight promotion generates is obviously important, and some fans derive as much fulfillment from breaking down the marketing wins and losses as they do the fights. But that's not me. I'm just interested in the fights and what they mean for the pecking order among competitors.
So from my perspective, an interim belt by any other name is still an interim belt. Among the bantams, Renan Barão owns the faux belt, but he won't be top dog in the division until he beats Cruz. I understand the appeal of calling a fight a championship bout, but if there's no true supremacy behind that billing, it feels like an empty promise.