Sizing up Rampage, the Prodigy and, ahem, "Mr. Wonderful"
Saturday night UFC 123 lands in metro Detroit -- I stress the "metro" because as a guy who spent six months interning at the Detroit News I can tell you the only thing Auburn Hills has in common with Detroit is that people in both places claim they're from the D.
I loved that the UFC brought their pre-fight events to Detroit's MGM Grand Casino, and staged public workouts at the Detroit Athletic Club. A beautiful show of support to a city that can surely use a boost.
But instead of staging the main event in downtown Detroit, where steam gushes from manhole covers, the People Mover moves next to nobody and where there's a massive statue of Joe Louis' right arm and fist, Saturday's card moves about 20 miles north to Auburn Hills.
A mild disappointment, but I digress.
I'm here to talk about fights -- three of them in particular -- and invite you guys to join the discussion.
1. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson vs. Lyoto Machida
In 2006 or 2007 I would have chosen Jackson over any light heavyweight in the world but right now I don't know who wins this matchup of former 205-pound champs.
Nearly four years after strongarming his way to a UFC title Jackson's aura of menace still sells. More than just about any other fighter in the UFC Jackson looks the part of bad-ass street brawler, and still talks a great game.
But can he still back it up against top fighters?
You can attribute Jackson's lacklustre performance against Rashad Evans in May to the 40-plus pounds he gained while filming the A-team. Losing his gut essentially turned his training camp into a fat camp, so if he looked lost as Evans outworked him to win a dull decision it shouldn't surprise you.
But what if Jackson's problem is more fundamental than a few extra pounds?
Over Jackson's seven-fight run in the UFC we've seen him flatten every fighter who dared trade punches with him but struggle against fighters who refuse to meet force with force, losing to Forrest Griffin in July 2008 and again to Evans in May.
Machida's one-punch destruction of Evans proves he has the firepower to go toe-to-toe with the division's best, but he's far too tactical and technical to meet Jackson on Jackson's terms.
So how does the brawler turn Saturday's main event into a street fight? And if he can't do that how in the world does he win a decision.
I don't know if he can do either.
2. Matt Huges vs. B.J. Penn, Chapter III
Otherwise, why fight?
To move closer to a title shot?
Does Hughes appear any closer to handling Georges St. Pierre now than he did three years ago, when GSP nearly wrenched Hughes' arm out of its socket in a submission win?
Like Hughes, Penn has a pair of losses to St. Pierre, each more decisive than the one before. And since dropping a second decision to GSP Penn has also lost twice to Frankie Edgar, placing him a long way from a title in two weight classes.
What can either man look forward to if he wins?
Another beating from GSP?
A late-career run as a welterweight gatekeeper?
Yet another rematch?
I understand that sometimes great matchups come in threes, and that a third bout should provide us with a winner for the Hughes-Penn series. But not all grudge matches need trilogies and this match holds about as much intrigue for me as Molitor-Ndlovu III.
One big issue with this light-heavyweight showdown.
It's bad enough when MMA fighters co-opt boxing nicknames, as if Rashad Evans really deserves the title "Sugar."
But now MMA fighters are biting wrestlers too.
Memo to Phil "Mr. Wonderful" Davis: You better find a new handle quick, lest you wind up on the wrong end of a piledriver.
Phil Davis, are you really ready to wind up six inches to a foot shorter?
Didn't think so.
So find a new nickname.
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