Friday, November 11, 2011

More than just a title fight

On a weekend that should be dominated by boxing, due in part to Manny ‘Pac-man’ Pacquiao and his third fight against Juan Manuel Marquez, the UFC is crashing that party and making a splash of its own. In a historic move for the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the UFC will premiere on the Fox network Saturday night with no less than the heavyweight championship of the world.

This move is historic for the UFC, but not for the sport of Mixed Martial Arts which has been featured on major network television before. Both the EliteXC and Strikeforce promotions have appeared live on the CBS network, with pretty fair ratings and reviews. However, this is the UFC; the number one promotion in all of MMA. Therefore, if the UFC makes it, MMA makes it.

Undaunted by the mega-draw that is Pacquiao, Dana White, President of the UFC and Fox will counter program, somewhat, with UFC champion Cain Velasquez (9-0, 8 KO’s) defending his title against the clear number one contender Junior Dos Santos (13-1, 8 KO’s 3 subs). I say somewhat because the Fox telecast will only broadcast this one fight, which will be for one hour between 9 and 10 eastern time. The boxing par-per-view starts at the same time, but the main event will not come on till after the UFC event is over.

Nonetheless, this is a risky and dare I say, ballsy move on the part of White. Universally credited, and deservedly so, with bringing the UFC and MMA from the doldrums of the dark ages and making it the fastest growing sport in the world, White is now determined to bring it to the masses and make it mainstream. All good except first impressions are forever lasting and to attempt this venture against Pacquiao shows White’s commitment and belief in his product.

White has been openly stressing this date all week for numerous reasons such as, will the fight live up to the hype or will it make a big enough splash? However, probably the biggest reason is that more than a few times this year, especially a/o late, the fighters slated for the main event haven’t made it to the finish line of the fight date healthy enough to have a main event; and while both fighters appear strong and healthy with a little over 24 hours to go, White will not relax till show time.

One thing in his favor is the combatants he has chosen for this inaugural fight on Fox. Velasquez and Dos Santos are not just heavyweight sluggers; they are two of the most athletically gifted and skilled heavyweights on the planet. Both capable of finishing the other with one punch, these two are destined to put on a show for the ages; whether it last five minutes or five rounds.

For once, I am truly having difficulty picking a winner in this one. If the fight had taken place earlier this year, I probably would have leaned towards Velasquez, solely because of how dominant he looked against former champion Brock Lesnar. However, that fight was over a year ago in October 2010 and a serious shoulder injury from that fight forced the champion on the shelf. Thus, is ring rust a factor?

Dos Santos on the other hand is primed and ready. Coming off a convincing victory against former title challenger Shane Carwin, where he dismantled Carwin in every facet; Junior looks like the real deal. The determining factor for me lies in the wrestling; can Junior nullify Cain’s takedowns and avoid fighting off his back?

Considering the long layoff, I would normally say yes. However, watching both Chael Sonnen and Rashad Evans, two top fighters in the UFC who are also excellent wrestlers, come back from long layoffs this year and not lose a beat, I’m thinking Cain can do the same. So, though my heart is saying Dos Santos, my mind and logic are saying Velasquez. Thus, I am picking Cain Velasquez to defend his title in a five round epic that should make Dana White look like Kool-Aid because he’ll be smiling from ear to ear.

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