Action-packed October in store with four UFC title fights on tap
It might be a sacrilege to say this as baseball's postseason gets into full swing (or check swing, in the case of last Friday's soggy Game 1 suspension at Yankee Stadium 2.0), but with all due respect to Reggie Jackson (speaking of New York), the true Mr. October is Dana White.
He and his UFC cronies have put together a grand slam of a lineup for the month, with more than half of their seven weight division champions putting belts on the line.
Dominick Cruz led off with a double -- a double-leg takedown, that is, which the bantamweight employed among other wrestling maneuvers, over and over (10 takedowns on 19 tries), to keep challenger Demetrious Johnson off his fleet feet to secure a unanimous-decision victory at last Saturday night's UFC Live event in Washington, D.C. (Keeping with the loose baseball theme: Imagine what kind of base stealer "Mighty Mouse" would be. And you know he'd be on base a lot with that Eddie Gaedel strike zone.)
This Saturday, at UFC 136 in Houston, there'll be a double header of title bouts. Frankie Edgar will defend lightweight leather once again against Gray Maynard, the slugger whom he fought to a thrilling draw on New Year's night -- a bout that gave 2011 its Fight of the Year before the year was a day old. And featherweight champ Jose Aldo will face perennial challenger Kenny Florian, who twice fought (and lost) in lightweight title bouts and would have been on deck for a third at-bat if only he'd been able to get by Maynard last year. Now he's shed a few pounds, and on Saturday he'll find out if Aldo's belt fits him.
Three weeks later in Las Vegas, welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre will step in against Carlos Condit. "The Natural Born Killer" -- now, there's a nickname even Harmon Killebrew would be proud of -- will be pinch hitting, in a way, for Nick Diaz, who has a major league skill set but an unsound mental game that forced him a little lower in that Oct. 29 lineup for UFC 136.
So that makes four UFC champions fighting in October, after one other made a title defense just six days before the month began (Jon Jones) and with another scheduled to step into the cage 12 days after the month ends (Cain Velasquez). The only belt holder not in action during this stretch is middleweight Anderson Silva, who'll nonetheless be paying attention Saturday night because, just below the pair of title bouts on the card, Chael Sonnen vs. Brian Stann likely will determine the next dance partner for "The Spider."
What does all this mean for the SI.com MMA fighter rankings? Well, there's but only one change from last month -- a significant one, though, if you're one of the many fans who get more excited over a glamorous but hypothetical pecking order (pound-for-pound) than the tangible but less alluring (weight class) ones. But if you favor change, wait a month. After the octagon stops reverberating from all of the title fights, the November Top 3s could be a whole new ballgame.
No, Velasquez and Dos Santos don't fight this month. It just seems that way, judging by all of the hype already being unleashed, especially in the weeks since the bout was made the main event of the UFC's imminent debut on network television. Fox aired a promo for the Nov. 12 title fight almost as often Sunday afternoon as it showed Tony Romo interceptions. We'll have more than a month of the same during weekly NFL game telecasts -- I'm referring to Cain-Junior buildup, although we'll probably see plenty of Romo picks, too -- and when baseball gets to the American League Championship Series and World Series, both on Fox, the network will be pitching us even more fight hype.
It's a shame that Jones already was No. 1, because his dominant performance against Quinton Jackson a little over a week ago deserved to be rewarded with a spike in the rankings. He does get one, though, breaking into the pound-for-pound Top 3 for the first time. Here in the light heavy list, "Bones" will have to settle for finally getting a shot at his former teammate and current nemesis, Evans. Who knows when that bout will take place, with Evans still sporting a cast on his hand and Jones hobbling around after the "Rampage" fight on injured feet? In the meantime, we'll get to see next month whether Henderson truly is No. 3 when he faces Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, the ex-champ whom many readers have told me, in strongly worded e-mails, is more deserving of the spot.
When Sonnen steps into the cage Saturday night, it will have been 14 months almost to the day since he last fought. Need we review the laundry list of problems Chael has had to deal with? I didn't think so. Suffice to say that much of his pain was self-inflicted. Also suffice to say he'd better be over it before he engages with Stann, or the Marine will personally demote him from No. 2 middleweight to buck private. If Stann does prevail, will he take Chael's spot? Is Belfort, who's on the shelf with a knee injury, even safe at No. 3, with contenders Demian Maia (this Saturday) and Mark Muñoz (next month) soon to have their opportunities to impress?
It was looking like we were in for a battle between No. 1 and No. 3 at the end of this month, but then No. 3 failed to take care of business. So Diaz was dropped from the UFC 136 main event, and Carlos Condit was given the shot at St-Pierre's title. Some believe Condit is better than Diaz. GSP has said just that, although it's impossible to know if he really believes it or he's just performing his fight promotion duties. (If you're reading this, Nick, fight promotion duties are what main event competitors are required to do to help drum up interest. Just want to clarify that for you in case you ever get another chance in the spotlight.) I don't agree that Condit is better than Diaz -- if I did, he'd be at No. 3, not Nick -- but I do think he presents a dangerous challenge to St-Pierre because of his heavy hands. So stay tuned.
When you see Edgar and Maynard punching each other in the face Saturday night, it will be because each wants to be UFC champion, of course. But part of the incentive for fisticuffs has to be that each of these men is tired of looking at the other guy's face. They've had eyes for no one but each other ever since Aug. 28, 2010, the night Edgar scored a dominant decision over B.J. Penn to defend the belt he'd won from B.J. four months earlier, and Maynard beat down local favorite Florian (the bout was in Boston) to earn a shot at the title. When Edgar and Maynard met Jan. 1, Gray pummeled and almost finished Frankie in the first round, but the champ survived and took over the fight the rest of the way, earning a draw that I thought should have been an Edgar victory. But who cares what I think? They'll settle matters this Saturday night. For good.
For the last two months in this very space I have written, "October 8 is a big night for little guys." We've been waiting a long time for Saturday night, when in addition to Edgar-Maynard III we'll get to see Aldo defend his belt against a fighter he presumably won't be able to bully. Florian is the naturally bigger man, having campaigned at lightweight for years, even fighting at middleweight on
It's tempting to move Demetrious Johnson into the Top 3, even coming off a loss. After all, a defeat at the hands of Cruz, the UFC champ and top dog in these rankings, shouldn't necessarily push you down. And Cruz seemed to have a harder time with "Mighty Mouse" than he did with either Faber or Benavidez, even though the latter managed a split decision in one of his losses to "The Dominator." But I'm going to leave things as they are for now, with the hope that Johnson's next fight is against one of the two men standing between him and Cruz. Faber and Benavidez aren't about to fight each other, being teammates and good friends, so they should draw straws to determine which one should take on the unenviable task of trying to slow down Mighty Mouse.
What did Velasquez do wrong to warrant being dropped from the Top 3? Nothing. The change came about because of what "Bones" Jones did right. He wasn't as flashy in the Jackson fight as he's been in the past, but he calmly and completely took the rampage right out of his opponent. Cain could reclaim his spot, though, with a dominating win over dos Santos next month ... or with a GSP upset in three weeks.