The best MMA card of the year is on free TV. The UFC is coming back to Fox next month, and they’re bringing their most stacked card of 2012 – at least that’s what FanSided’s resident fight nerd Elton Hobson thinks.
There’s bad luck – and then there’s the kind of luck the UFC has had in 2012.
I’ll spare you another rehash of the tragi-comedy the UFC has had this year. Besides, you already know the sordid story: big fights scrapped due to injury (or whatever else), last-minute fill ins ruining highly-anticipated fights, whole events scratched. Just thinking of all the disappointment makes me want to drink aggressively.
In that case, let’s crack a cold one over UFC 151′s still fresh grave, and offer a toast to anyone excited to see a lightweight title fight without Frankie Edgar. I’m not one of the, the way, but I’ll happily raise my metaphorical glass.
That’s because the upcoming UFC on Fox 5 is the best MMA card of 2012 – and it’s perfectly free.
Now when you throw down a term like “best (free) card of the year”, you have to be ready to back it up. It’s also hard when the year is mostly over, and just about everyone has their favorite event already picked out.
But on paper, this is the strongest card the UFC has put on this year. And it’s also free. So I feel fairly confident in my prediction. Let’s break down the card, shall we?
Mike Swick vs. Matt Brown
I’ve always thought the opening fight of an MMA card should be like a good chili: fun to consume, a little messy, with a strong finish. And yes, “chili” was not my first choice of metaphor here.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Mike Swick vs. Matt Brown.
You’ll be forgiven for not getting excited at seeing Mike Swick’s name on a network featured MMA card. Prior to his comeback this past August, he sat out over two years – prior to which he had lost back-to-back fights. Not exactly moving the hype train in Swick, Joe.
But before all that, Swick was one of the most exciting guys in the welterweight division. He’s perhaps the youngest “old school” guy on the payroll, having fought in the UFC since 2005. He also looked fantastic in his comeback fight, taking a “Knockout of the Night” win over DaMarques Johnson.
Matt Brown hasn’t exactly been a bastion of consistency, either. In fact, he commemorated 2010 by losing three straight fights. He’s 4-1 since then, however, and is slowly crawling his way back into the division’s upper echelon.
What do these guys have in common? They’re exciting, well-rounded, and have a nose for the finish. That should be fine accompaniment for fans settling in with their beers.
BJ Penn vs. Rory MacDonald
When BJ Penn isn’t even the co-main event, you know you’re dealing with a stacked card.
This fight has been getting plenty of attention as the two guys snipe at each other over Twitter. BJ Penn looks as motivated as we’ve seen him in awhile, while Rory is looking every bit the focused, confident “next big thing” that he is. Throw in the history between Penn and Rory Mac’s gym, Tristar, and you’ve got an interesting rivalry in the brewing here.
This fight has exciting written all over it. But better still – there’s literally no way to know who’s taking it. A motivated BJ could shut down Rory’s wrestling, find his chin standing up, or even submit the still young fighter in a scramble. Rory, for his part, could very possibly nullify Penn’s game the same way his mentor Georges St. Pierre did: by using stifling wrestling, constant aggression, and relentless ground and pound.
There’s no way to accurately predict the outcome of this fight. Anyone who knows who takes this one with certainty is lying. And better still, this is a fight with big implications for the future of the welterweight division. If Penn wins, it could be the launching pad for one of the sport’s true legends to take another run at the top. If Rory wins, he’ll finally get his “I’ve arrived” victory – and the calls for MacDonald vs. St. Pierre will begin in earnest.
Unpredictable outcome? Great match up? Genuine rivalry? Check, check, and check. Sounds good to me.
Mauricio Rua vs. Alexander Gustafsson
In the night’s co-main event, we get another clash between a legendary former champion and a red-hot, up and coming prospect. This time, it’s in the light-heavyweight division, and it could more accurately be called the “who gets Jon Jones next” sweepstakes.
Or the who gets Chael Sonnen next sweepstakes, to be fair. Hey, crazier things have happened. We were one more second of a tight armbar away from being back in the Vitor Belfort era at light-heavyweight.
Here’s another fight that’s going to decide a lot of the UFC’s immediate future. In Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, the UFC has a bona fide legend of Japanese MMA who is still fighting to establish a legacy stateside. Sure, he’s won the UFC light-heavyweight championship – which he lost in his first title defense. He’s matched brilliant performances with absolute duds, and has seen nagging knee injuries seriously hinder what already is a remarkable MMA career.
Since losing his title, “Shogun” has looked very good for the most part. He’s picked up stoppage wins over Forrest Griffin and Brandon Vera, and his lone loss came in 2011′s fight of the year against Dan Henderson. He still has all the tools to make another run at the world title, and a win here would probably see him near the top of the list of LHW title contenders.
Alexander Gustafsson, “the Great Swedish Hope” (that’s not his real name, FYI) may be the only guy at LHW who fans would honestly give a shot against Jon Jones. Oh sure, Glover Teixeira is likely in that conversation too, and there’s a section of MMA fandom (myself included) who’d like to see Lyoto Machida take another shot at “Bones”. But aside from that, Gustafsson is pegged to be “the guy” to seriously challenge Jones down the line.
This fight will determine if that’s a long line, or a short won. Like with Rua, a win vaults him into a title picture already filled with rematches for the champion. He’s still a bit of a tough sell and not a “name” to casual MMA fans, but hopefully a good showing on network television could change all that.
Benson Henderson vs. Nate Diaz (Lightweight World Championship)
On pure excitement value alone – on nothing but potential for a barnburner fight – there may not be a more promising main event in 2012 than Ben Henderson vs. Nate Diaz.
And it won’t even cost you $49.99. If you, like me, are one of those folks who shelled out that amount for, say, Rich Franklin vs. Wanderlei Silva II, seeing this as the main event on free TV probably caused your head to explode.
This fight is fantastic because it’s going to put forward the best version of MMA you could possibly want for a network audience – warts and all. We have Ben Henderson, who with two back-to-back (and highly disputed) decision wins over Frankie Edgar ended the Jersey Kid’s rematch tour through the lightweight division.
What no one will dispute is how unbelievably exciting Bendo is to watch. He never gets tired, can’t seem to ever get submitted by anyone, and combines technical proficiency with relentless aggression.
Then we have Diaz, who along with his brother Nick has elevated the “Stockton Slap” style of stand-up into one of the most feared styles in the game. He won’t hit you with power, but he’ll hit you with volume – plenty of it.
And while he’s making it rain fists, he’ll be flipping you off, mean mugging you, and daring you to do something about it. Take him down, and you’ll quickly find yourself in quicksand against the BJJ black belt with a versatile array of submissions.
And these two guys are fighting. It’s literally the unstoppable force against the immovable object. There’s no mathematical way this fight is anything less than an all-out war.
And yes, you can determine fight outcomes with math. It’s a simple formula, really: a Diaz brother + unsubmittable, unstoppable Bendo + 5 rounds on national television = awesomeness.
So after 4 UFC on Fox cards that for various reasons disappointed in some way, the 5th outing looks to finally have gotten the formula right. UFC on Fox 5 is the best (free) card in MMA this year.