Occupy The Throne – Edition #31

In this weeks Occupy The Throne, Samer Kadi and I preview UFC 153.

Jeremy Lambert: Jose Aldo was supposed to fight Frankie Edgar this Saturday. Let that sink in for a moment. As unfortunate that it is that Aldo and Edgar won’t clash to determine the best featherweight in the world, the consolation prize that we’re left with isn’t so bad. Anderson Silva is fighting this Saturday. So maybe we won’t get to see two of the best fighters in the world clash in a five round fight, but at least we get to see the absolute greatest of all-time compete in his home country. In a year marred by injuries and out of octagon issues, we fans need to take victories like this when we can get them.

We’ll just ignore that he’s fighting Stephan Bonnar, in an odd piece of match making to say the least, and celebrate the fact that we’re getting to see Silva for the second time this year, when all signs pointed to him taking the rest of 2012 off after he defeated Chael Sonnen.

The rest of the UFC 153 card isn’t too shabby. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira fighting in Brazil always feels special, there are two light heavyweight bouts featuring four guys who are really trying to establish themselves, and two welterweight clashes with four guys trying to separate themselves from the pack.

Samer Kadi: These haven’t been the easiest of times in the world of MMA. The year has been marred by outside-the-cage drama and a relentless string of injuries that resulted in fights falling through at a baffling rate. However, unlike some of the preceding unfortunate situations, UFC 153 doesn’t force you to look too hard to find a measure of consolation.

It is a special day whenever the world’s greatest fighter is in action, and seeing Anderson “The Spider” Silva displaying his craft will never cease to be a treat. Few things in MMA are absolute, and any notion of “best” or “greatest” will always remain debatable, but one would struggle mightily to formulate a convincing case against Anderson Silva being the greatest fighter in this sport’s young history.

However, the fact that he is fighting Stephan Bonnar hasn’t been lost on anyone, and with good reason. The consensus reaction is understandable, as even the most ardent supporter of “The American Psycho” would find it hard to deny that these two, on paper, and based on their history and current status, do not belong in the same cage together. And while my initial thoughts on the fight echoed those sentiments, the fight managed to grow on me as the weeks went by.

It is important to keep in mind that nothing about this situation was ideal, and the UFC had to act quickly. Whether this was the best fight they could have come up with is definitely questionable, but there is an almost inexplicable sense of charm about this fight. No, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, and the stakes aren’t nearly as high as they normally would be when Anderson Silva is fighting, but that only makes the “relaxing” nature of the bout oddly appealing. In some ways, this fight feels like a needless-yet-exciting exhibition, fittingly taking place in Silva’s home country.

Most charming however, is the unexpected yet somehow deserved culmination of Stephan Bonnar’s eventful UFC career. The very definition of a journeyman, Bonnar was never the most talented fighter, nor did he manage to reach the overachieving heights of his friend/rival Forrest Griffin. And yet, Bonnar’s role in putting the UFC on the map through his battle with Griffin on The Ultimate Fighter finale can never be taken away from him. His career had its fair shares of ups and downs, and he had seemingly hit rock bottom following a disappointing loss to Mark Coleman at UFC 100. However, he rewarded the UFC’s faith in him by recently amassing three consecutive wins before calling it a career. That, in many ways, makes Anderson Silva his retirement gift — a gift that will likely carve holes in his face, but then again, Bonnar was never one to have it any other way.

Jeremy Lambert: Before every UFC event, the organization tries to tell us why the main event is such a great fight and how the two fighters are evenly matched or how the underdog is the perfect opponent to beat the favorite. That hasn’t really been the case this time out. Sure the promos have tried telling you that, “Bonnar is as tough as they come” and that it’ll be a historic upset if Bonnar wins, but no one in the company, or anywhere else for that matter, has outright said, “You know, Stephan Bonnar can win this fight, and here’s how…” because they would be lying to themselves and whoever might be listening.

Instead the UFC has rightly focused on Anderson Silva, giving him a 30 second promo set to Frank Mir’s walk out song, and the comedy of Bonnar even stepping into the cage against Silva. The commercials featuring Forrest Griffin and Bonnar are amazingly original and a nice break from the typical highlight packages with “push button” sayings from Mike Goldberg or Joe Rogan. The UFC doesn’t break from their formula often, but when they do, they usually produce memorable promos.

It’s a credit to Bonnar that he’s willing to go along with these commercials, as even he seems to realize that he has no chance and is just taking this fight because, well, why the hell not? He went from beating “Big Fight Stepping Stone” Kyle Kingsbury in a rather lackluster affair to having a chance to beat the top guy in the sport today. If he loses, so what? Better men than him have tried and failed. But if he wins, we’ll just forget about him always playing second fiddle to Forrest, we’ll forget about that loss to a 44-year old Mark Coleman, we’ll forget about him taking horse steroids, and we’ll remember him as the guy who walked into Brazil with nothing to lose and walked out with arguably the biggest win in MMA history.

Samer Kadi: The UFC deserves full praise for the way they have promoted this bout. They have done well to drive across the idea that this is a “fun fight” above anything else, and aren’t trying to sell it as anything it really isn’t. There are very few mentions of the stakes at hand, and even less disingenuous talk of Bonnar’s chances, stopping just short of rightly labeling them as inexistent. Not only are Bonnar’s bits with Forrest Griffin original, they also perfectly highlight Bonnar’s attitude and general personality, which in turn could really help the audience invest in him, thus potentially providing the buy-rate with a much-needed boost.

Having the champion fight in a non-title contest is always a risk, especially one as dominant as Anderson Silva. In reality however, the UFC have done their best to minimize the chances of a monumental upset, all the while keeping the bout, at least on some levels, somewhat compelling. No, the fight is nowhere near intriguing from a stylistic perspective, nor is the result realistically in doubt, but Stephan Bonnar getting an unlikely crack at the world’s greatest fighter is a feel-good story that isn’t really hinging on its inevitable outcome. And that is what makes the bout so oddly fascinating: if and when Stephan Bonnar loses, it wouldn’t really turn this into a sad tale. In fact, it is something he can probably later look back on and smile – something that isn’t normally associated with a butt-kicking.

And while all the talk leading up to UFC 153 has been about its bizarre yet interesting main event, the PPV is far from being a one-fight card. With Brazilian legend Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira looking to make magic happen in his home country once again, a bout featuring one of the light heavyweight division’s most promising fighters, and two highly interesting welterweight battles, the show is looking like one of the UFC’s better PPV offerings in recent memory, picking up where UFC 152 left off.

Jeremy Lambert: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira isn’t what he once was. But I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. Even though he’s no longer a top heavyweight in the world, he’s a fighter who no one roots against. It’s nearly impossible to be a MMA fan and not be a Nogueira fan as well. So it’s still special when he steps into the cage and it’s even more special given that he is fighting in Brazil again.

The last time “Big Nog” was in Brazil, he turned back the clock and scored a KO victory over Brendan Schaub. His opponent isn’t much better this time, giving Nogueira another chance to send the Brazilian crowd into a frenzy and bring tears to the eyes of Anderson Silva.

Quite possibly the most intriguing fighter on the card is Glover Texeira. No one wants to fight this man. “Shogun” Rua turned him down, “Rampage” Jackson injured himself to get out of the fight, and Rashad Evans wasn’t willing to step up on short notice to fight him. When you destroy such strong competition as Kyle Kingsbury, it’s pretty easy to see why everyone in the light heavyweight division would be running scared. Instead of a big name and a chance to move way up the ladder, Texeira now faces Fabio Maldonado, who is much better than his last two fight results indicate. A win for Texeira moves him into “Elite Killer” status while a loss makes him no better than Che Mills.

The other light heavyweight bout has kind of flown under the radar as people have really soured on Phil Davis following his lackluster performance against Rashad Evans and his following fight, where he intentionally poked Wagner Prado in the eye and then showed little remorse for doing so. Davis rematches Prado this weekend and desperately needs an impressive victory if he wants to get back into the “this is the guy who can really test Jon Jones” conversation, even if it’s not true.

Samer Kadi: In perhaps the most interesting fight on the undercard, former top welterweight contender Jon Fitch returns from a crushing knockout loss at the hands of Johny Hendricks to take on one of the division’s brightest rising prospects, Erick Silva. As big of a test as this is for Silva – who despite his impressive showings, has yet to fight someone of Fitch’s caliber – it is an equally big test for Fitch, as the American has only spent 10 seconds inside the cage since his battle with BJ Penn in February of 2011, and is bound to be rusty.

Even with a win, Fitch is unlikely to return to serious title contention as long as the belt is held by Georges St-Pierre, but a loss would have even worse ramifications. Fitch’s entire MO was that, however lackluster, he was winning fights. Two consecutive losses, while not job-threatening, will be a major blow for the AKA standout.

Meanwhile, Demian Maia’s bout with Rick Story, while not quite as intriguing, will have real consequences regarding their respective relevance in the division. Maia hasn’t looked impressive in a long time, while Story failed to build on his win over Thiago Alves last year, and has become somewhat of an afterthought. In a such a stacked division, both men need an impressive showing to in order to have any sort of impact on UFC match-making in the near future.

Jeremy Lambert: There’s no doubt that injuries suck. While we were robbed of a fantastic featherweight fight featuring two the sport’s most talented fighters and the supposed final UFC fight of Quinton Jackson, the UFC did the best they could on short notice and salvaged a bad situation, especially in the Brazilian market.

In fact, UFC 153 might end up being an even bigger financial success stateside as Anderson Silva is a bigger draw than either Jose Aldo or Frankie Edgar. And even though no one views Bonnar as a threat, much in the same way they didn’t view Yushin Okami, Thales Leites, or Patrick Cote as a threat, at least Bonnar is a very recognizable name and figure and the UFC isn’t trying to trick you into believing that Bonnar is the perfect guy to beat “The Spider” and end his dominance.

This card is a throwback. Not to the PRIDE days or the early UFC days, but to the 1600’s on hanging days. There will be a big party filled with possibly entertaining, but definitely relevant, festivities all leading up to the grand finale, which is a live execution.


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