UFC 99: High Stakes in Cologne
This Saturday, the next chapter in the UFC's continuing global expansion will hold forth, as UFC 99 should provide fight fans with one of the better non-title fight cards in recent memory.
There are at least three main card fights alone that warrant possible "Fight of the Night" consideration and we'll see the Octagon return of two of the more beloved overseas-predominant fighters in MMA.
But as is the case with any MMA card, there is just as much to be won as there is to be lost. Be it a future title shot, to divisional relevance, to just simply trying to keep a job, the stakes are sailing quite high for more than a few of Saturday's combatants.
This question was posed on this week's edition of Fact or Fiction, but in regards to who stands more to lose this weekend, I find myself siding with "The Axe Murderer" on this front. For Rich Franklin, this isn't the same do-or-die situation that it is for Wanderlei Silva.
Granted, Silva is dropping down to 185 pounds, and while some are forecasting nothing but sunshine for Silva at middleweight, is there a more discouraging way to limp into the 185-pound scene than with a loss to the former perpetual No. 2 at middleweight?
The facts are facts: Silva's second go-around in the UFC has been a trainwreck. He's the only fighter to not have their hand raised against Chuck Liddell since 2006 and if he were to fall to Franklin, it would the fifth loss in his last six fights.
While outings against Dan Henderson and Quinton Jackson that left Silva staring face up at the lights and a wall-to-wall 15-minute slugfest with Liddell have turned Silva's chin into a ticking time bomb, he's in luck in that the UFC middleweight picture isn't littered with the same abundance of strikers as there were at light heavyweight.
The problem is, the top striker of the bunch just happens to be the man Silva has been anything but shy about expressing his feelings towards. While a title fight with Anderson Silva would pique the interests of both men, I believe Silva needs some degree of momentum to keep a fight with Anderson fresh.
Sure, you can say he's a fight or two away from a title shot, but I'd hedge to bet they're not going to hold Silva's hand once he officially makes the drop to middleweight. They're not paying him $200,000+ to fight the Alan Belchers of the world.
This point has been brought up numerous times throughout the week, but Franklin isn't afforded the same luxury at light-heavyweight that Silva is at middleweight. At 185 pounds, Silva becomes quite possibly the top draw in all the division and drawing power can go a long ways into leapfrogging your way into a title shot. Just ask Brock Lesnar.
With Franklin, he just happens to be stuck in the UFC's most star-heavy division and is on the verge of getting lost in the shuffle.
A loss to Silva can only exacerbate this dilemma and not even taking the top-tier fighters like Jackson, Rashad Evans, and Mauricio Rua into consideration, Franklin has to be concerned about the rising 205'ers like Luiz Cane and Jon Jones gaining steam. Saturday night is very much a "sink or swim" fight for "Ace."
For Cheick Kongo, this is his chance to show that the last 15 months haven't been all for naught. Right around spring last year, Kongo seemed to be one win away from a title shot in an otherwise deadbeat heavyweight division.
Enter Heath Herring, who despite entering the Kongo fight with a mere 1-2 UFC record, managed to out-wrassle his way to a split decision victory, shunting Kongo to the back of pecking order, while fighters like Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir came in and stole all the Frenchman's fun.
Well, with wins over Dan Evensen, Mustapha al Turk, and Antoni Hardonk, Kongo finds himself right back in the same spot he was in last March at UFC 82. Opposing him just happens to be the proverbial "Next Big Thing" in Cain Velasquez, who is perceived to emerge as the top dog out of the Lesnar-Velasquez-Carwin heavyweight triumvirate.
While Kongo is to Velasquez what Gabriel Gonzaga was to Carwin, Cain possesses very much the same blueprint to besting Kongo as Herring did and should be able to ground the Muay Thai specialist whenever he sees fit.
The unfortunate side for Kongo, should he lose, is that the waters at heavyweight are a bit murkier than they were back in March 2008. With guys like Velasquez, Carwin, and Junior dos Santos on the uprise and with fighters like "Cro Cop" lurking in the background, Kongo can't exactly afford to get shunted to the back of the line again.
It took him over a year to get back into contention, and it likely won't be as easy this time around.
Mike "Quick" Swick has the opportunity of a lifetime this Saturday. He really does. Given the current landscape at welterweight, is it out of the question that a win over Ben Saunders could make Swick the next top contender?
Yeah, after his 170-pound debut against Josh Burkman, it seemed pretty hard to believe, but given the dearth of contenders if George St. Pierre defeats Thiago Alves, it isn't so far-fetched.
Pending a St. Pierre victory, who's out of the question? Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, Matt Hughes, Karo Parisyan, and Matt Serra all seem out of the question, be it due to previous losses to GSP, suspensions, or just general career downward spiral.
That leaves the next two likely candidates as Swick and maybe even Martin Kampmann, although I'd give the edge to Swick (bear in mind, they offered Kampmann T.J. Grant for his next fight...not exactly a shot up the contendership ladder after beating Carlos Condit).
To beat Ben Saunders could do wonders in getting Swick an eventual title shot down the road, pending the right pieces fall into place.
Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic
This one is a no brainer. After a botched 2007 run through the Octagon that wielded only Eddie Sanchez has a victim, it's take two for Mirko "Cro Cop" in the UFC. Just as was the case for his debut against Sanchez, Filipovic is being given another tune-up fight in Mustapha al Turk and by all means, if the "Cro Cop" we all know and love is in fact back, then he wins a fight like this.
Al Turk is a very paint-by-numbers fight and despite being classified by some as a submission wrestler, holds only two submission wins to his credit and both of those were via strikes.
Since al Turk is a bigger fighter than Filipovic, it will be interesting see if decides to use his size to his advantage, especially in the clinch, where Filipovic has shown vulnerability against bigger fighters. "Cro Cop's" lone "achievements" since parting ways with the UFC are wins over Tatsuya Mizuno and Hong Man Choi; hardly a resume worthy of re-entry into the UFC, but I repeat, if "Cro Cop" is in fact "Cro Cop," he beats a fighter like Al Turk.
From that point forward, who knows where he goes. Apparently Filipovic now holds the dubious honor of being the first fighter to ever sign a one-fight contract, which can only explain the degree of faith and confidence the UFC brass has in Filipovic. Needless to say, Filipovic has to impress this Saturday.
Yup, I know, which one of these names doesn't belong? Still, I figure it's only appropriate to pay some homage to the preliminary card. While there are several fighters on the UFC 99 preliminary card whose stakes are similar to Taylor, I find the scrappy Brit to be in a familiar predicament.
Taylor is someone who has spent his entire UFC career flying under the radar and I don't mean that in the sense that the guy is a diamond in the rough with an absolute wealth of unnoticed talent. Simply put: the kid is a shoe-in for an entertaining fight.
Taylor has only competed five times in the UFC and has taken home "Fight of the Night" honors on three occasions. Not too shabby. Unfortunately, he was on the losing of all three fights, and as such, will enter Saturday having dropped three of his past four fights.
Jason MacDonald showed us all that entertaining fighters have a limited shelf life and unfortunately for Taylor, flying under the radar won't do him any favors in being granted some leeway should he lose Saturday night.