Occupy The Throne – Edition #48

In this edition of Occupy The Throne, Samer Kadi and I preview UFC 156

Jeremy Lambert: It feels like forever since we’ve been treated to a PPV card that has been filled with relevant fights from the opening bout to the main event. That changes this weekend at UFC 155, pending no one gets hurt in the coming days of course.

The card is headlined by the only super fight we’re likely to see this year as Jose Aldo defends his featherweight title for the first time in over a year against former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar. Plus Alistair Overeem looks to earn a heavyweight title shot with a victory against Antonio Silva, Rashad Evans and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira square off in a light heavyweight bout, Demian Maia will try to stay perfect at welterweight against former title contender Jon Fitch, and top flyweights Joseph Benavidez and Ian McCall battle for a potential rematch against champion Demetrious Johnson.

While most recent PPVs have been headlined by a good main event and a solid co-main event, this weekend’s show proves that the UFC can fill out a main card with elite talent when they want to and guys aren’t constantly dropping out of fights. Brothers may not be squaring off against each other and a legend may not cry 500 times before anything happens, but, on the eve of the Super Bowl, UFC 156 deserves the attention of sports fans.

Samer Kadi: Forget about proper build-up, heated feuds or meritocracy, as Jose Aldo’s upcoming title defense against Frankie Edgar lacks all three elements. As is the case with most sub 170 pound title fights, the bout is not treated to a heavy promotional campaign, nor is Jose Aldo tirelessly hailed as the dominant champion he is. Meanwhile, the fight, which was first scheduled to take place in fall of last year, was rushed in light of Erik Koch’s injury. For his part, Frankie Edgar is coming off a loss in a different division – albeit an unmerited one – and is making his UFC featherweight debut.

In reality however, none of this matters. When Aldo and Edgar finally lock horns on Saturday night, we will be treated to a legitimate “Super-fight.” It may not have the value or appeal as a mega bout featuring Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva, or Jon Jones, but in no way is that indicative of both athletes’ exceptional skills.

The match-up is so appealing that Edgar receiving a shot following two losses at lightweight matters very little. In a world where Chael Sonnen will be squaring off against Jon Jones in a few months’ time, MMA fans should thank their lucky stars for Aldo vs. Edgar: two evenly matched competitors with stellar resumes, who stylistically, offer a mouthwatering clash.

Jeremy Lambert: It’s actually a shame that the UFC hasn’t treated Aldo vs. Edgar as a bigger deal, giving it the same generic hype treatment that a fight like Urijah Faber vs. Renan Barao received. And while it’d be nice if the UFC production department showed a little creativity in building up the fight, it’d be even better if the president of the company knew how to pronounce his featherweight champion’s name when trying to hype him up as a “killer.”

Promotional tactics aside, to hardcore MMA fans, Aldo vs. Edgar sells itself on the basis of nothing more than each fighter’s individual skills. For years Edgar thrived in a division, in which he was undersized, because of his technical ability. He dethroned BJ Penn when everyone was declaring Penn unbeatable at 155, he avenged his only loss (at the time) in emphatic fashion by stopping Gray Maynard and handing him his first professional defeat, and he went toe to toe with the current champion twice, winning the second bout in the minds of most viewers. At featherweight, he’ll now be facing guys more his size and we all know that size is everything in MMA.

Edgar’s skills won’t diminish when he drops 10 pounds, but he’s facing a guy who is highly regarded as one of the most well-rounded fighters in any weight class. Besides Anderson Silva, there might not be a more feared striker in MMA than Jose Aldo. His explosiveness, power, technical ability, and diversity make him a unique blend of striker that is rare in MMA. Against Edgar though, he’ll be facing by far his toughest challenger to date. Edgar has the talent to expose the weaknesses of Aldo, relishes the underdog role and won’t be overwhelmed by the moment, and has the heart of a champion.

Samer Kadi: Speed kills. As clichéd as it sounds, it has been instrumental in Frankie Edgar’s success. The eye opening outing Edgar put on to produce a monumental upset against BJ Penn may have been overshadowed by the dubious nature of the decision, but the masterpiece performance in the rematch that saw him dance circles around “The Prodigy” will never cease to astound. It was Edgar’s speed that made him in the eyes of many, quite literally punch above his weight as dazzled his way to the UFC lightweight title, and subsequently overcome his personal tormenting obstacle, Gray Maynard.

However, when Frankie Edgar steps into the cage to take on the destructive Brazilian, he will be sacrificing some of what made him the fighter he is. That is not to say that Edgar’s speed will be completely negated at 145, as “The Answer” quickness is absolute, rather than relative. Nevertheless, he will be competing against fighters who are more accustomed to dealing with this sort of speed, as opposed to larger men like BJ Penn and Gray Maynard, who found themselves flustered and dumbfounded.

Conversely, in Edgar, Jose Aldo is squaring off against a foe that is more than capable of putting him on his back, and over the course of five rounds, will likely prove to possess the superior cardio. Both elements could prove decisive, as Aldo’s only moment of vulnerability in his Zuffa career saw him spend the final round of his bout with Mark Hominick stuck on the bottom, gasping for air, and getting trounced with ground and pound. Incidentally, Aldo was also coming off a year long layoff for that fight, and it showed.

Provided Aldo is in shape however, he will be a menace as long as both fighters are upright. Edgar has proven to be hittable in the past, and despite continuous movement and good footwork, is not above getting lazy. The champion is probably the most dynamic striker in MMA whose nickname is not associated with an insect. A mistake against Jose Aldo means Frankie Edgar will, quite shockingly, find himself riding an unlikely three-fight losing streak.

It is the kind of fight that doesn’t come along every day. Two evenly matched competitors at the top of their game, both possessing the perfect skill set to play into each other’s weaknesses. If that wasn’t enough, history is on the line, as Edgar bids to become only the third man to capture UFC gold in two different weight classes and cement himself as an all-time great. For Aldo, it is the chance for a sixth consecutive title defense, a feat that earns him the right to be mentioned in the same breath with the most dominant champions in MMA history.

Jeremy Lambert: While we’ve praised the striking acumen of the featherweight champion, he’s not the most decorated striker on the card. That honor belongs to Alistair Overeem, who is a K-1 champion and will look to put his striking skills on display against Antonio Silva in a Strikeforce Grand Prix fight that never was.

Like Aldo, Overeem has been sitting on the sidelines for over a year, but not because he’s been busy riding his motorcycle, but because he’s been busy eating horsemeat. Scheduled to receive a title shot last May, Overeem was pulled from the fight due to elevated testosterone levels and must now get through Silva to face Cain Velasquez. Given how hittable and how bad the chin of “Bigfoot” is, it seems like a foregone conclusion that Overeem will impressively finish him and make a statement heading into a showdown with the champ. But let’s not forget that this is Alistair Overeem we’re talking about.

His chin isn’t bulletproof either and he has a history of wilting when pressured. After his bout against Fabricio Werdum, which was one of the most dreadful fights between two elite heavyweights of all-time, a number of people thought that Silva matched up well against Overeem in the 2nd round of the tournament. Mind you this was just after Silva mauled Fedor Emelianenko, leading people to believe that he could pressure and takedown Overeem in a similar fashion. But after a quick KO loss to Daniel Cormier and being left in a pool of his own blood by Velsasquez, many are writing off the Brazilian heading into Saturday.

An Overeem victory is essential for the heavyweight division though as Velsasquez needs a fresh challenger following his recent destruction of Junior dos Santos. A Silva victory puts a huge dent in those plans and leads the heavyweight division in a further state of flux below the most recent two champions.

Samer Kadi: The attention Alistair Overeem commands may exceed his actual accomplishments in MMA, but that only speaks to the potential many see in the Dutchman. While respectable, his light heavyweight stint was hardly earth-shattering, and despite a 12-fight unbeaten streak at heavyweight, it wasn’t until victories over Werdum and Lesnar (the first win was dreadful, the second was overturned) that Overeem finally toppled elite competition. A K-1 Grand Prix win confirmed his immense talent, but relative inactivity in MMA means “The Reem” has yet to truly cement himself as a dominant figure in the sport.

Whether that changes or not is in large part up to him and his reliability. As long as he submits a clean urine sample before and after his upcoming fight, Alistair Overeem should be well on his way to a title shot. Stylistically, Antonio Silva is someone the former “Demolition Man” should dispatch. Overeem’s cardio and chin mean a victory is not exactly guaranteed, but his power, superior striking, phenomenal clinch work, coupled with the Brazilian’s defensive deficiencies, even worse chin, and overall poor striking make Overeem a firm favorite.

Meanwhile, the stakes are not quite as high for Rashad Evans’ bout with the less successful Nogueira twin. Following his one-sided loss to Jon Jones, Evans finds himself in the “odd man out” position, where, at least for the time being, racking up a couple of victories will not get him far as long as Jones remains on top. The idea of having Evans dropping down in weight has been toyed with for in the past, but for now, “Sugar” needs to get this bout out of the way, emerge victorious and injury free.

Jeremy Lambert: Rashad Evans may very well be the second or third best light heavyweight in the world, but that means little when the best light heavyweight has already dominated you over the course of a 25-minute fight. Because he’s so good though, he can’t be matched up against fresh contenders like Alexander Gustafsson or Glover Texeira. So instead he’s facing Rogerio Nogueira, who hasn’t fought in over a year and whose UFC run has been less than impressive. This is a fight that Evans should win with his superior wrestling and athleticism, but he can’t overlook Nogueira and an impressive performance would go a long way in catching the eye of middleweight champion Anderson Silva.

Jon Fitch knows what it’s like to be in Rashad’s position. For years he was considered the second best welterweight in the world, but due to the beating put on him by Georges St. Pierre, couldn’t earn a rematch. After suffering a setback against Johny Hendricks, Fitch turned in an outstanding performance against the highly touted Erick Silva. Now Fitch faces jiu-jitsu ace Demian Maia in an intriguing welterweight showdown. Since dropping to 170, Maia has made short work of Dong Hyun Kim and Rick Story, going back to his grappling roots and looking like the submission killer that we all fell in love with.

In the opener, Joseph Benavidez and Ian McCall look to carry the flyweight momentum that Demetrious Johnson and John Dodson started this past weekend on FOX. Even though both fighters already have losses to Johnson, given the shallow nature of the division, a victory could earn them a rematch.

Samer Kadi: Top to bottom, this could well be the best main card the UFC has offered in a year. Every single fight is worth watching, and has potential ramifications on its division to boot. The co-main event will likely officially design the next challenger to the heavyweight crown if Alistair Overeem doesn’t suffer a major hiccup, and the main event is headlined by what is, on paper, one of the best title fights of all time – and it isn’t often we get to use such a statement without hyperbole.


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