UFC 160 primer: Return of the heavyweights
May, 22, 2013
By Chuck Mindenhall
Josh Hedges/Getty ImagesWill history repeat itself when heavyweights Cain Velasquez and Antonio Silva meet a second time?Heavyweights are now a staple of Memorial Day weekend. Last year, UFC 146 was to be a heavyweight extravaganza like none we'd ever seen. The whole main card was heavyweights, so the word "unprecedented" was being thrown around pretty dramatically. And why not? The Octagon was going to be littered with dinosaur bones at the end of the night.
You remember the fallout before the fallout, though.
Junior dos Santos was scheduled to face Alistair Overeem -- the one man who could turn that gentle giant's smile into a look of constipation -- for the belt. Then the first domino fell: Overeem's test from his previous fight with Brock Lesnar came back with -- to put it gently -- spiked testosterone levels, which meant dos Santos was re-saddled with Frank Mir.
Cain Velasquez, who was supposed to fight Mir that night, was then given Antonio Silva. That meant Roy Nelson, who was supposed to take on "Bigfoot," ended up fighting Dave Herman. Mark Hunt, still for the most part a journeyman at this point, was supposed to fight Stefan Struve, yet didn't end up fighting at all because he got injured. So Struve fought Lavar Johnson -- if we're being generous enough to call what happened that night a "fight."
The players are (basically) the same a year later for UFC 160, yet perceptions are slightly different. Overeem again was supposed to appear on the heavyweight showcase, yet again against dos Santos. And once again, he was scotched from the card, this time due to an injury. That means Hunt, and his visa issues, rides an unlikely four-fight winning streak into a confrontation with dos Santos. The winner (likely) will get a shot at the heavyweight belt next.
As for the belt, it's back in the possession of Velasquez, who defends his title on Saturday night against a familiar name: Silva. The stakes are different this go-round, but the memory of Silva's blood covering the canvas floor at UFC 146 is still fresh. One might say too fresh.
And that's your mystery heading into UFC 160: Will history repeat itself? Which, when you think about it, opens up the broader query: Why is history repeating itself?
(Answers: Probably; and because history has a wicked sense of humor.)
What was a bottleneck situation at the top of the lightweight division is now a mile of open highway. The winner of Gray Maynard and TJ Grant will get the next shot at Benson Henderson's belt. We've seen Maynard in that penultimate spot before. But Grant? Talk about a quiet approach.
Hunt as Cinderella
Because you've heard about Hunt's improbable rise from the ashes a million times doesn't make it less amazing. To sum things up: He was inherited in the PRIDE deal, lost to Sean McCorkle in his UFC debut, was left for the scrap heap at 5-7 in MMA, and now is a fight away from a title shot. Hollywood couldn't dream up something this unrealistic.
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesMark Hunt's recent rise from journeyman to heavyweight title contender is something even Hollywood couldn't dream up.
Woodwork contenders II
With a relative dearth of 205-pound contenders to challenge Jon Jones, Glover Teixeira's name could go from being whispered in polite company to shouted from the mountaintops with an emphatic win over James Te-Huna. But let's take it a step further: Can you imagine if Te-Huna wins? Suddenly a second New Zealander is on your radar from UFC 160.
Return of Brian Bowles
"Where's Brian Bowles?" became MMA's game of "Where's Waldo?" in 2012. So where was he? Finding that drive, baby. Citing apathy as the reason he took some time away from the fight game, the one-time WEC bantamweight champion returns to face all 6-foot-1 and 135 pounds of George Roop.
Woodwork contenders III
Right now Khabib Nurmagomedov has one more victory in professional MMA than he does letters in his name (19 wins, 18 letters). If he beats Abel Trujillo, he'll be a sparkling 20-0. Nurmagomedov is tomorrow's bottleneck at the top of the 155-pound division.
Can things be different for Silva this time?
The more basic question: Can Silva compete this time against the relentlessly aggressive, forward-moving wrestler Velasquez who has cardio for days and a chin made of cinder block? It feels as if we're answering our own question.
Can Hunt KO dos Santos?
Dos Santos has never been knocked out. Knocking people out is what Hunt does. In a fight where the ground is designated for slips and one-way trips, a single punch from either guy ends the co-main. Can it be Hunt on the delivering end? (Smiles and shakes head approvingly.)
Is there still wonder to "Wonderboy"?
Rod Mar for ESPN.comThe jury is still out as to whether we will see more of the Stephen Thompson who ended Dan Stittgen's night with one kick.
Remember when Stephen Thompson had that hot roulette player's moment after knocking out Dan Stittgen in his UFC debut with a head kick? Matt Brown brought him down to earth in a hurry in April 2012 with a one-sided decision. This bout with Nah-Shon Burrell will tell us if it's back to "Wonderboy" or if he's a "one-hit wonder."
Is Cain the greatest heavyweight champ ever?
Take away that glancing moment in the ballyhooed first bout with dos Santos -- a bout that Velasquez should never have been fighting in the first place (knee) -- and the answer is "yup." But what are we talking about? This is the ultimate proving ground, so we'll ask him for more proof. More proof!
Does KJ Noons belong in a fight with Donald Cerrone?
The short answer is no. The correct answer is LOL. Even if you omit the Ryan Couture fight (a loss that he actually won), Noons still lost three of his previous four fights. Cerrone is coming off of that Anthony Pettis incident where his liver got rearranged. In other words: Cerrone's the proverbial hornet's nest that Noons is walking into.
WHO'S ON THE HOT SEAT?
He did beat Brad Scott in his UFC debut, but a loss to Colton Smith, just as the UFC is tightening its belt rosterwise, makes young shakers expendable. (However, if Robert Whittaker knocks out Smith like he did Luke Newman on "TUF: The Smashes"? Then it's "Watch out for the Aussie!").
Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesThe future of Jeremy Stephens' employment with the UFC likely comes down to whether he can snap a current three-fight losing streak on Saturday.
If the fact that he's opening the prelims portion of the card doesn't tip you off, the three-fight losing streak will. This move to 145 pounds is Stephens' "all-in" moment. Another loss and it's adios, "Lil' Heathen."
It would feel a little merciless of the UFC to cut him, particularly because it'd be on the heels of a likely loss to Cerrone, but Noons needs a good showing to remind everyone of the guy who beat Nick Diaz in 2007. A fifth loss in six fights, though, is either a red flag or a white one, depending on how you squint.
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Velasquez might as well dig his hooves in the mat before he charges at Silva as if Silva were a red cape ... because "Bigfoot" has fists the size of pet carriers, yet his gloves weigh 4 ounces, just like everybody else's ... because if you put dos Santos' and Hunt's combined knockouts on a highlight reel, it'd run longer than the average romantic comedy ... because Grant versus Maynard is dog-eared for fight of the night ... because "Cowboy" Cerrone is mad, and Noons, by stepping in with him, is saying "come hither" ... because Grant fights like Ulysses S. Grant ... because Te-Huna and Teixeira will require smelling salts ... because Dennis Bermudez was already in one fight of the year candidate (against Matt Grice) and Max Holloway is a gamer ... because Mike Pyle can make it four in a row against Rick Story ... because what could be more fun than watching Hunt try to stuff his foot into a glass slipper?