Occupy The Throne – Edition #28

In this edition of Occupy The Throne, Samer Kadi and I look at UFC 152.

Jeremy Lambert: It’s been over a month since the last UFC event, but there has been no shortage of action outside the cage. That changes this Saturday night when the focus shifts back to the fights.

UFC 152 is headlined by two title fights and a title eliminator in the middleweight division. In the main event, Jon Jones defends his UFC light heavyweight title against Vitor Belfort. The co-headliner features a flyweight scrap to crown the first ever 125 lb champion as Joseph Benavidez battles Demetrious Johnson. Third from the top is Michael Bisping taking on Brian Stann.

The cancellation of UFC 151 cost the company in a big way, but this weekend’s event was one, and possibly the only, benefactor of the whole situation. The addition of Jones and all the publicity he’s received over the past few weeks have already boosted ticket sales and will no doubt boost the buyrate.

Samer Kadi: It is safe to assume that on Sunday morning, regardless of what transpires the night before, UFC executives, management, fighters and fans will all breathe a collective huge sigh of relief, having put one messy ordeal behind them. Recapping all the events that led to Jones and Belfort’s addition to this weekend’s main event would be potentially headache-inducing, and at this point, quite redundant. Accordingly, the focus is better shifted towards the end result: Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort for the UFC light heavyweight title.

To state the brutally glaring obvious: Vitor Belfort, whose last win in the UFC light heavyweight division came in a fluky first round stoppage over Randy Couture in 2004, is not deserving of a UFC title shot. Meanwhile, bringing up his exploits in the Cage Rage light heavyweight division is hardly case-building. However it is equally obvious, that the situation the UFC found themselves in was far from ideal. Quite understandably, none of the top light heavyweight contenders were willing to step up, and why would they? Both Lyoto Machida and “Shogun” Rua were utterly destroyed by the champion, and stepping up on short notice would almost ensure a similar result, thus all but killing off their title aspirations.

Those who stepped up were essentially top middleweight contenders who, admirable though their eagerness was, had very little to lose. Nevertheless, it was the only option the UFC brass was left with, and it was a decision they had to make. Ultimately, it came down to Chael Sonnen, who was willing to step up against Jones on the UFC 151 event that never was, or the aforementioned Belfort. Curiously, with a series of bizarre explanations by Dana White, the UFC opted to go with the Brazilian.

White’s explanation for Sonnen being offered the fight ranged from Chael somehow not being ready in time for UFC 152 – despite his willingness to fight Jones three weeks prior – to not wanting to upset Mandalay Bay by having the fight in Toronto. The former excuse holds little weight, as both White and Sonnen himself confirmed that the former middleweight number one contender is currently in camp getting ready to fill in for Belfort in the event the UFC’s misfortune reaches pantheon levels, while the latter seems like an unconvincing reason to sacrifice a potentially big buy-rate.

Ideally, Jones-Sonnen is a fight that would deserve a bigger build-up and promotion in order to fully exploit its potential from a buy-rate perspective. If the UFC based its decision on that reasoning, then credit to them. However, if any of Dana White’s odd justifications is indeed authentic, then their decision becomes a little more questionable.

Jeremy Lambert: Jones vs. Belfort is a fight for the fans. If you don’t like it, don’t buy the PPV. But if you’re a real UFC fan, you’ll buy the PPV. So please guys, buy the PPV.

In reality, Jones vs. Belfort is a fight that was thrown together to get Jon Jones on PPV as soon as possible so the company didn’t endure a brutal buyrate stretch that would’ve continued had Joseph Benavidez vs. Demetrious Johnson been the headlining fight. Unlike Benavidez vs. Johnson though, Jones vs. Belfort isn’t an evenly matched fight between two of the best fighters in their weight class. Unless karma exists or Vitor has successfully created his own atmosphere, he has nothing more than a puncher’s flurry in this fight. And last I checked, My Name is Earl got cancelled and I’m still being asked to go green in order to save the planet.

No one can debate the boxing skills of Belfort. He hits hard, he hits fast, and if he hits you on the chin (or the back of the head) then you’re going to sleep. But for as immature as Jones might be out of the octagon, he’s extremely mature in it. While it may look like he’s a bit reckless with his spinning elbows and flying knees, everything he does is calculated and purposeful. On psychical attributes alone he’s a dangerous fight, but when you combine his size, strength, and speed with technical ability and willingness to learn and listen, you’re talking about the most dangerous fighter in the sport. If he doesn’t feel like standing with Belfort and risking that chance that Belfort just explodes, he can easily take him down and batter him with elbows. He makes everyone fight his fight and this Saturday against Belfort will be no exception.

Samer Kadi: Had Belfort stood much of a chance, fans may have been a bit more forgiving in their criticism of the main event, and could have perhaps turned a blind eye to his undeserving status as a contender. Unfortunately, beyond landing the best and most brilliant flurry of his inconsistent career, Belfort’s chances verge on the nonexistent. In Belfort’s defense, finding a fighter with a real chance of dethroning Jones is gradually nearing the impossible.

Belfort’s hand spend and power give him the proverbial puncher’s chance, but just how exactly is he supposed to get past Jones’ reach while simultaneously nullifying his wrestling remains a mystery – one that “The Phenom” is unlikely to solve. Among the plethora of things that make Jones such a terror to fight against is his ability to fight every fight on his terms, and completely neutralize his opponent’s game. He is always proactive, and his offense is so overwhelming that he leaves his foes in survival mode, rather than allowing them the time to think about adjustments.

Under Greg Jackson and the underappreciated but brilliant Mike Winkeljohn, Jones’ offense has become even more lethal. While he still takes risks and his creativity hasn’t been limited, there is now more structure to his game. Instead of being flashy for the sake of flashiness, he now sets things up much more sharply, which makes his crazy shenanigans all the more dangerous for his opponents. Despite still not developing a textbook boxing game, his hands have improved to compliment his kicks, which he mainly uses to utilize his frustrating reach.

Jones’ tendency to occasionally backpedal in linear fashion has been the catalyst for the very few vulnerable (if that word can ever be associated with Jones) moments he’s had in his career, notably against Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans. That alone makes it worthwhile for Belfort to try his luck in moving forward in hope of landing a trademark flurry. With that however, comes the risk of being planted on his back, which against Jon Jones, is a death sentence.

Historically, Belfort has wilted against opponents who were able to take him down and pound on him, a feat Jones shouldn’t have too much trouble achieving. Once Jones is on top of Vitor, the fight is all but over. “Bones” will likely show Belfort the respect he showed against Machida in the first round, as like “The Dragon”, Belfort’s speed, power and southpaw stance may force the champion to extend the feeling out process a touch longer than usual. However, like Machida, Belfort will almost assuredly find himself on his back at some point late in the first round or early in the second, where a few elbows should do the trick for the twenty-five year old prodigy, either opening up a submission, or simply enticing a referee-induced stoppage.

The backlash triggered by the choice of the main event may have led president Dana White to a rather peculiar and contradictory marketing campaign that my partner alluded to above (“if you don’t like it, don’t watch it…but please watch it if you’re a real fan”), but that has unfortunately clouded what is on the whole, a very appealing main card – something that has been dearly missed in many recent UFC PPV’s.

Jeremy Lambert: For the first time since UC 146, which was a special card in the sense that it was all heavyweights, this Saturday’s UFC main card actually feels like a PPV card. Ok, so maybe Matt Hamill vs. Roger Hollett doesn’t get you super excited, but at least Hamill is an identifiable fighter who the fans know and love.

That fight and the main event aside, the other three fights on this card are pretty fantastic, starting with the opener between Cub Swanson and Charles Oliveira in a big featherweight showdown. While the 145 lb division is kind of in limbo right now due to Jose Aldo’s worrisome ability of not being able to stay healthy despite his young age, the winner of Oliveira and Swanson could be fighting for the title in 2013. Along with division relevancy, it should be a fantastic fight as “Do Bronx” rarely fails to deliver the goods and Swanson has put together back-to-back exciting knockouts that has people taking notice.

There is also a big middleweight showdown between Michael Bisping and Brian Stann, which is another fight with title implications. According to the always reliable Bisping, if he wins this fight, he’ll be fighting Anderson Silva for the middleweight strap in 2013. Whether you believe that or not is up to you, but there’s no denying that the winner of this fight is one more win at worst away from a title fight. Bisping may not be known as “Mr. Excitement” but fans care about his fights because of his personality. Either you want to see him succeed because you’re British and a fan of his or you want to see him knocked out because you’re not British and find him to be an annoying jerk. The only bad thing about this fight is that Bisping seems far more focused on one of the fighters in the co-main event and not his actual opponent, who hits a lot harder than the entire flyweight division combined.

Speaking of the co-main event, while Joseph Benavidez is getting attention for his verbal shots at Bisping, at least he’s getting some attention leading into this weekend’s event. The best thing to happen to the flyweight title fight between Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson was the addition of Jon Jones to the PPV, because now they’ll get a chance to display their skills in front of a much larger audience. While most fans are only talking about Jones and Dana leading up to UFC 152, the flyweights have a chance to steal the show and have fans talking about them come Sunday morning. The UFC flyweight division was just established this year and given that this is the first title fight in company history between two well-rounded fighters, I think it’s safe to say that Benavidez and Johnson will want to put on a fight of the night performance and prove that the smaller guys are just as worthy of the spotlight as the bigger fellows.

Jones vs. Belfort isn’t a fight for the “real fans” but the UFC 152 PPV card is an event for hardcore fans. This weekend you’re getting two title fights and two title eliminator fights. With all the injuries and over-saturation of the product, what more can you really ask for?

Samer Kadi: Robust main card aside, another reason to buy the event is simply to witness one of the greatest fighters in the world displaying his craft. Yes, as a title fight in the UFC light heavyweight division, Jon Jones against Vitor Belfort is a letdown. While Belfort will ultimately serve as just another guy that Mike Goldberg can bring up when mentioning the former champions Jones has beaten, he remains an accomplished fighter with name value – and most importantly, one that bring the best out of Jon Jones. The best of Jon Jones equals a treat for MMA fans.


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