The UFC Gate Keepers

Last night at UFC Fight Night 28, Ronaldo Souza was able to pick up an impressive win over Yushin Okami in the middleweight division. That victory established Souza as a legit contender in the division, as he was able to beat the “gate keeper” of the division in Okami.

The “gate keeper” is a fighter that is good enough to be one of the top fighters in the division, but not good enough to beat the elite few on top. They will likely never be a champion, but they will never be without an important fight or spot within the UFC. Here are who I see as the gate keepers in the UFC.

Flyweight – Ian McCall: McCall is a great flyweight, but already has proven that he can’t compete with the likes of Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez. He just doesn’t have the skills to break into the top.

Bantamweight – Urijah Faber: Faber is a tremendous talent, but he was clearly outclassed by Renan Barao and lost his last fight with Dominick Cruz. Faber is just a step to slow to earn the title.

Featherweight – Dustin Poirier: “The Diamond” is a great fighter, but he hasn’t been able to get the job done in his toughest fights. He will always be in discussion as a top-5 featherweight, but not able to get any higher.

Lightweight – Jim Miller: Miller has tremendous heart and wrestling ability, but he can’t quite get to the mountain top. If a contender isn’t cut for the elite status, Miller will prove it.

Welterweight – Jake Ellenberger: Ellenberger seemed primed for a title shot with a win over Rory MacDonald, but he failed to take his talents to that next level. He can beat most of the division, but not the very best.

Middleweight – Yushin Okami: As said previously, Okami is a tough guy to get past, but if you can, it puts you in the 185-pound title picture.

Light Heavyweight – Antonio Rogerio Nogueira: Lil Nog is a talented fighter, but doesn’t really show anything to make you feel like he could actually be the 205-pound champion. He has some big wins, but some bad losses. If someone is going to be a champ in this division, they have to get through him.

Heavyweight – Antonio Silva: Silva proved he can’t be the champion of this division, getting hammered by Cain Velasquez on two occasions now. However, he owns wins over guys like Fedor and Alistair Overeem. Silva is no easy victory, but he doesn’t have the total package to be champ.

Ranking the UFC title fights to end 2013

The UFC has made a lot of noise about its schedule to end 2013.

I can’t argue with the organization, because the year is ending (barring injuries) with a tremendous series of title fights. Here is how I rank which title fights I am most looking forward to:

7. Renan Barao vs. Eddie Wineland at UFC 165 (for UFC Interim Bantamweight title) – Barao is really a fighter that deserves more pound-for-pound credit. The guy has been a wrecking machine for quite some time. No disrespect to Eddie Wineland, who is a gritty fighter, but I don’t think he is in the same class as the champion. Wineland has a puncher’s chance, but this should be an easy defense for Barao.

6. Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate at UFC 168 (for the UFC Women’s Bantamweight title) – I have a great deal of respect for Rousey and her skills. She has already established herself as a dominant champion in this division. I just don’t see Tate being able to win this fight. Rousey made quick work of her the first time and I don’t think that will change the second time. Tate would have to overpower Rousey with striking, and that is not her game. I think a fight with Cat Zingano would have been much more entertaining and had a greater possibility for an upset.

5. Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos at UFC 166 (for the UFC Heavyweight title) – This is the trilogy fight for these two, but both fights have been decisive loses for each man. I think the second fight told more about the matchup than the first. Velasquez was able to tire dos Santos in the first round with his aggressive pace. As long as Velasquez can avoid the big punch from the challenger, he should be able to dominate this fight again with his wrestling and ground control.

4. Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 (for the UFC Light Heavyweight title) – Jones has been absolutely dominant in this division, but Gustafsson appears to be a new challenge for Jones. Like the champion, Gustaffson has the ability to use his length to gain a striking advantage. The length edge that Jones always has on his opponents won’t quite be as much of an advantage in this bout. The question coming into this fight is can the challenger handle Jones’ wrestling, and can he go 25 minutes if need be?

3. Georges St. Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks at UFC 167 (for the UFC Welterweight title) – GSP has been the kingpin of this division for a long time, but Hendricks seems to have the right style to finally dethrone the champion. Hendricks has the wrestling background to contend with St. Pierre, but has the powerful hands to knock him out. The question will be if Hendricks can deal with St. Pierre’s jab and technical striking, and if he can go 25 minutes. If the fight ends quickly, Hendricks will be the champ. If the fight goes into the later rounds, you would have to think GSP will retain his title.

2. Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva at UFC 168 (for the UFC Middleweight title) – Was it a fluke when Weidman beat Silva? I think so, but the champion will have a chance to prove me wrong at UFC 168. I am looking forward to see how Silva approaches this fight. I truly believe if he is focused on winning and not putting on a show, he can’t be beat. I feel he could have beaten Weidman whenever he wanted to in the first fight, but was trying to embarrass the opponent instead, and got caught. This time around, will Silva take the fight seriously? Will he try to prove a point again? Weidman will probably have to have the fight of his life to win.

1. Ben Henderson vs. Anthony Pettis at UFC 164 (for the UFC Lightweight title) – Of them all, this fight has me the most excited. The first fight between these two was tremendous and non-stop action. Now, both fighters are greatly improved. Henderson has evolved as a powerful striker with great wrestling and scrambling ability. Pettis is one of the most skilled and dynamic strikers in all of MMA and he is tremendous at fighting off his back. Both men can go 25 minutes and have plenty of motivation to win this fight. I expect this fight to live up to the hype.

The flyweight problem in the UFC

The UFC on FOX 8 takes place this Saturday and the buzz isn’t quite there for this card like it has been for previous UFC on FOX cards.

That’s not to say there aren’t great fights – there are.

But, the UFC seems to have an issue in drawing interest in one of their most exciting divisions.

For the second time on FOX, the card will be headline by the flyweight division (125 pounds).

If you simply watch the UFC for fights, then this is no issue for you. The flyweight division provides plenty of excitement, and while the fights usually go the distance, but push a fast pace the entire time.

But, if you are FOX, or even if you are UFC brass concerned about ratings, the flyweights probably aren’t the ideal.

It would be easier for the UFC to market this card on the co-main event of Rory MacDonald vs. Jake Ellenberger than it is to market it on Johnson for John Moraga. I am going to guess many casual UFC fans don’t even know who Moraga is.

There is a reason that the flyweights have yet to main event a UFC PPV card. It is because the UFC can’t sell tickets on a flyweight bout. It’s not even very often that a flyweight bout has been part of a UFC PPV main card at all.

What the UFC really needs is one of two things. They need a legendary fight to come from Johnson vs. Moraga or they need an amazing highlight-reel finish.

If Johnson and Moraga put on a legendary fight, something along the lines of Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar, it allows the UFC to market the two in a similar way and create some buzz for the division. People will want to see both men fight again, either against each other or against new opponents.

If that can’t happen, the UFC needs someone to emerge as the clear start of the division. To do that, the organization needs an incredible knockout or submission finish in the fight.

The reason Anderson Silva and Jon Jones draw like they do is because they can do some amazing things in the cage and people want to see that. If a flyweight can establish himself as a star, it will give the UFC the ability to market them as a PPV main event.

Weidman the clear underdog in rematch with Silva

It didn’t take long for Anderson Silva to change his mind about his fighting future.

Just moments after being knocked out by Chris Weidman in the main event of UF 162, the long-time middleweight champion said he no longer wanted to fight for the title, and a rematch with Weidman wouldn’t be happening.

A week later, the rematch has already been booked.

Weidman will make his first title defense against Silva as the main event of UFC 168 on Dec. 28 in Las Vegas.

The champion, Weidman, is the clear underdog in the rematch, as many feel Silva can beat Weidman as long as he doesn’t clown around.

It is not often that a champion comes into a fight, especially a rematch against an opponent he already beat, as the clear underdog.

Only a few come to mind when it comes to title fights.

Matt Serra vs. Georges St. Pierre at UFC 83: Serra shocked the world by winning the UFC Middlweight Championship, beating GSP at UFC 69, but most looked at the win as a fluke. Serra did little to fight off those opinions in the rematch, as St. Pierre dominated the bout and finished him off with body shots in under 10 minutes.

Frankie Edgar vs. B.J. Penn at UFC 118: Edgar won a controversial decision over Penn at UFC 112 for the UFC Lightweight Championship, and shocked the MMA world just by lasting 25 minutes with Penn. Many expected a motivated Penn to come out and run through Edgar in the rematch, but the opposite happened. Edgar fought a nearly flawless 25 minutes and earned the decisive decision over Penn. It was a fight that put Edgar on the map and forever dethroned Penn as the king of the lightweights.

Tim Sylvia vs. Andrei Arlovski at UFC 61: It was at UFC 59 that Arlovski looked to be set to successfully defend his UFC Heavyweight Championship against Syliva. He had rocked the challenger with a big hand that sent Sylvia crashing to the mat. However, Sylvia got up, and as Arlovski was in a flurry trying to finish the fight, Sylvia caught Arlovski right on the button and finished him for the shocking comeback win. Months later, the two had the immediate rematch and many expected Arlovski to get the best of Sylvia, but that didn’t happen. In a rather tame fight, Sylvia won a 25-minute decision. Arlovski was too timid and seemed to be afraid of getting knocked out. The former champion never seemed to be the same fighter after losing to Sylvia.

Anderson Silva embarrasses himself in historic loss

Anderson Silva is the greatest fighter in UFC history.

Nothing that happened Saturday night can change that.

But, there is no denying that the way in which he lost the title to Chris Weidman at UFC 162 tarnishes his career, if even just a little bit.

We all think of great champions in any sport and we want to see them going out as a champion, giving a heroic effort, but being bested by someone who is just better than them.

With all due respect to Chris Weidman, Silva lost Saturday’s fight more than Weidman won it.

We have seen it before, Silva with his hands down, challenging his opponent to knock him out. But, unlike some previous times, Silva was making no attempt to actually win the fight.

He did his usual dodges and taunts, but instead of throwing his usual pin-point punches, he preferred to go with some open-hand slaps. He was disrespecting Weidman, as if to say “you are the guy that is supposed to destroy me?” The fight was shaping up to be more like bouts Silva had with Thales Leites or Demian Maia, where he wanted to embarrass them for 25 minutes as opposed to do his job and finish his opponent.

I have no doubt in my mind that Silva could have won that fight. I am not saying he didn’t want to, but he clearly wanted to do it with a message. We have seen fighters pay before for taunting, and Silva finally paid for his taunting.

It would be hard to imagine someone putting on a 16-fight UFC win streak like the one Silva just had. During the run, there were so many impressive knockouts and finishes. His talents are truly once-in-a-lifetime. Unfortunately for Silva, he didn’t go out as a champion. He went out as a clown, and that won’t be forgotten anytime soon.

Injuries becoming a real problem for UFC

We just can’t have nice things.

There is a serious issue going on with the UFC as of late – injuries.

This past week, the scheduled super-fight between Jose Aldo and Anthony Pettis for later this summer was scrapped when it was discovered that Pettis injured his knee.

I can’t tell you how disappointing it was to hear this news. I was looking forward to this fight as much as I have any other fight, ever.

The styles of both men would have made for a tremendous chess match and exciting battle.

But, alas, it is not to be.

I can’t say that I didn’t see it coming. There has been a rash of injuries that have cancelled fights in recent years for the UFC.

Even yesterday’s UFC had to go with a replacement main event when interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao had to back out of his title fight with Eddie Wineland due to an injury.

Prior to that, UFC 160 had its co-main event change to Junior dos Santos vs. Mark Hunter after Alistair Overeem was injured.

It seems like every announced PPV card ultimately gets changed due to injuries.

The UFC implemented an insurance plan for its fighters that cover training injuries a few years back. The plan is a great idea and something the organization needed to do. But, since that plan came into place, more injuries seem to be taking place in training.

I am guessing the amount of injuries isn’t increasing in training, simply the fighters are more willing to pull out of a fight because their medical care will be covered. Prior to that, a fighter needed to compete in order to receive that medical coverage. So, if a fighter was hurt in training, he needed to grit it out and fight in order to get his injury repaired after his bout.

The coverage plan can’t change, but the intensity of training can. Fighters need to be smarter in how they prepare. Their grappling and wrestling practices are causing too many injuries. Fighters need to do what they can to be ready for a fight, but they can’t do it at a risk of injuring themselves and having a fight be cancelled.

There are plenty of exciting fights that could take place in the UFC, including a super-fight like Anderson Silva vs. Jon Jones. But, what are the odds we will ever see it take place where both men will stay injury free in order to fight?

Like it or not, Griffin and Bonnar belong in UFC Hall of Fame

Image ALT text goes here.Lost in the madness of another UFC PPV weekend was Forrest Griffin announcing his retirement from MMA.

Griffin hadn’t fought in over 10 months and was battling injuries. Given that he wasn’t much of a contender in the light heavyweight division, he decided to call it a career.

What was even more lost in all the news was Dana White telling the media after UF 160 that the UFC will be inducting Griffin and Stephan Bonnar into the UFC Hall of Fame together, later this year.

To me, this is a no-brainer. To others, they think either Bonnar, or both, don’t deserve the honor.

Griffin has a strong case in his own right. He was the first winner of The Ultimate Fighter reality series and went on to win the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship. His record, 19-7, isn’t awful and he had a number of memorable fights.

Bonnar is another story. His record was just 15-8 and he lacked a victory against an elite-level opponent during his career. Essentially if you are going to put Bonnar in based on his win-loss record, you would also have to include fighters like Shane Carwin, Frank Trigg and Joe Stevenson.

But, this induction isn’t about overall bodies of work. This induction is about one thing and one thing only, their war in the initial Ultimate Fighter Finale.

That bout was the first time the UFC aired live fighting on Spike TV and its importance cannot be understated.

It wasn’t a technical masterpiece, but it was two men fighting with every ounce of energy they had for 15 minutes. It was everything Dana White and the UFC management wanted to showcase about its sport.

That three-round war, that classic did more for the UFC than any other fight in its history. That fight, along with the enormous audience it drew as it played out, set the stage for the UFC to branch out nationally and has been the foundation for The Ultimate Fighter to continue its operation to this day.

The UFC Hall of Fame wouldn’t be relevant if it weren’t for that fight.

Sometimes a singular moment transcends a sport and those involved are elevated forever in the eyes of the fans and management. This fight is representative of that and Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar should be in the Hall of Fame for this season. You can’t talk about the greatness of the UFC without bringing up that fight.

Velasquez vs. Dos Santos: The trilogy the UFC needed

Image ALT text goes here.There was a time when two men ruled the UFC heavyweight division.

Those men were Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski.

The two had established themselves as the best heavyweights in the UFC at the time, and had a trilogy of fights for the UFC to capitalize on.

At that time, it was also clear that there were better heavyweight fighters out there, mainly in PRIDE, thus the trilogy didn’t have that feel of greatness.

Now, years later, the UFC finds itself with the heavyweight trilogy that it always longed for.

There is no question that heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and top contender Junior dos Santos are the top two heavyweight fighters in the world. They verified as much on Saturday with their knockout wins over Antonio Silva and Mark Hunt, respectively.

Now, the UFC is able to market a rubber match between the two after each one has decisively beat the other.

Velasquez and dos Santos have provided a legitimacy to the heavyweight division that has been lacking for a long time.

Sure, there have been some impressive fighters over the last decade, but none that were as technically skilled as Velasquez and dos Santos.

Brock Lesnar was a draw, and a physical freak, but he proved he wasn’t a fighter when he cowered in a ball at the first body kick he took.

Velasquez and dos Santos would have dominated the UFC in the early 2000s and the winner of this upcoming trilogy fight could rule the roost for quite some time.

The UFC finally has its mega heavyweight fight, and it is Velasquez vs. Dos Santos III.

UFC pound-for-pound rankings

Image ALT text goes here.It has been a while since a pound-for-pound rankings has been done on this site, but there is no time like the present. Here we go:

1. Anderson Silva (33-4) – Silva is still the pound-for-pound king due to his dominance in the middleweight division and his ability to finish his opponents.

2. Jon Jones (18-1) – I put Jones ahead of GSP because Jones really hasn’t lost yet. His one loss was a DQ where he essentially finished his opponent. Jones has shown well-rounded skills, winning with strikers, submissions and wrestling. He has truly dominated a division that was stacked a few years ago, the 205-pound division.

3. Georges St. Pierre (24-2) – St. Pierre has been on top of the 170-pound division for five years now, but his inability to finish opponents has gotten tiresome. St. Pierre has great wrestling and striking, but he doesn’t have the finishing ability of the top two on this list.

4. Jose Aldo (22-1) – Aldo can start making an argument to move up this list if he beats Anthony Pettis later this year. A win there may earn him a lightweight title fight. Aldo has tremendous striking, but he has shown the ability to fatigue over 25 minutes. That could be a problem as he starts fighting elite-level fighters.

5. Cain Velasquez (11-1) – The heavyweight champion is very light on his feet and he pushes a pace that can’t be matched in the division. He may not be the top striker, but that didn’t matter against Junior Dos Santos, as he constantly forced JDS to use energy. Velasquez never tired, but JDS did quickly.

6. Benson Henderson (19-2) – Henderson has some great skills, but he also isn’t overwhelmingly winning his recent fights. He isn’t losing them either, but his razor-thin decisions hurt his ranking on this list.

7. Renan Barao (30-1) – Barao doesn’t get a lot of credit for being as impressive as he has been. He is arguably the bantamweight champion, since Dominick Cruz has been out for so long. Sure the 135-pound division isn’t filled with a lot of big-name talent, but Barao has dominated all of the would-be contenders, including Urijah Faber. Barao hasn’t lost since 2005 and has 20 finishes since that time.

8. Demetrious Johnson (17-2-1) – Johnson is the fastest fighter in the UFC and he has great wrestling and conditioning. The 125-pound division doesn’t have a lot of superstars yet, but Johnson is the king of that hill and has looked impressive on top.

9. Gilbert Melendez (21-3) – Melendez gave a good accounting for himself in his UFC debut, nearly beating Henderson for the lightweight title. After a lengthy run as champion in Strikeforce’s lightweight division, Melendez looks to be a real force in the UFC’s 155-pound division.

10. Johny Hendricks (15-1) – Hendricks doesn’t have the look of a dominant MMA star, but he keeps beating the big names that get thrown before him. A great wrestler already, Hendricks has developed the most powerful hands in the welterweight division and he has now cleared out the division, leaving himself and St. Pierre on top. The two will meet later this year and that should be an epic fight.

After loss to Jon Jones, Chael Sonnen should call it a career

nullChael Sonnen has done a good job running his mouth, but now, his mouth may not be able to support his fighting career.

After losing to Anderson Silva in an underwhelming performance back at UFC 148, Sonnen was stopped in 4:33 against UFC light heavyweight champion, Jon Jones, on Saturday night at UFC 159.

Sonnen didn’t really deserve a title fight in the first place. He hadn’t fought at 205 pounds in the UFC in over six years, yet somehow got an immediate title fight with Jones.

Sonnen can sell a fight, but even his promos are outdated and tiresome. If you really want to know where Chael Sonnen gets his material, watch tapes of pro wrestling from the 90s.

I will give credit to Sonnen for being one of the best at 185 pounds, but he had no business competing against Jones on Saturday night, and with an unimpressive loss in the first round, he finds himself without any direction for his career.

A rematch with Silva isn’t in the cards and he certainly isn’t going to talk his way into a rematch with Jones after failing to put forth much offense on Saturday night.

Sonnen should do what he does best and that is sell fights, but not for himself, for the UFC. He should stick to being a broadcaster and realize that he had a successful career, despite not winning a title.