From predictions to aimless questions to mild concerns, here's some food for thought with UFC 128 just around the corner.
I. The best thing Mauricio "Shogun" Rua has going for him in his first fight back after a long injury layoff? Practice. He already found out the hard way what happens when you try to push it too far, too fast after surgery. He barely had enough gas in the tank to put away an aged Mark Coleman, who showed up to the fight with his own tank already on E. If Rua makes the same mistake again, and against a much better fighter in Jones, he deserves to wake up without the title on Sunday morning.
II. Let's hope Urijah Faber is taking Eddie Wineland seriously, because oddsmakers sure aren't. At the time of this writing, Faber is as high as a 5-1 favorite against a guy who's won four straight, the last of which was about as brutal a slam KO as you'll ever see. I agree Faber is more well-rounded, but if he goes into this expecting an easy night – or, perhaps more likely, looking past Wineland all the way to Dominick Cruz – he's just asking for an upset.
III. It's win or go home for Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic. Or at least it ought to be. In a recent interview Filipovic reportedly said that if he can't beat Brendan Schaub at UFC 128, "it would not be fair to continue." Regardless of whether he means fair to the fans, his legacy, or his body, he's right. Filipovic is 36 years old and his stay in the UFC has been unremarkable, to say the least. His last truly significant, unqualified win was over Josh Barnett in the Pride Grand Prix back in 2006. Since then he's scraped by with wins in the easy fights and losses in most of the tough ones (the Pat Barry fight being the lone exception). If Schaub hands him his second straight loss – and that seems very likely – the smart thing would be to call it quits. Then again, few pro fighters possess the kind of wisdom that allows them to walk away when it's time.
IV. Mike Pyle beats one of the UFC's undefeated up-and-comers at UFC 120, and his reward is a Facebook prelim fight with Ricardo Almeida? I guess a Facebook stream is better than no stream at all, but still. One hates to think what would have happened if he'd lost the fight with John Hathaway.
V. Nate Marquardt's test will be more mental than physical. On paper, Nate the Great ought to overpower and overwhelm Dan Miller, which probably explains why he's a 3-1 favorite. But after he had trouble pulling the trigger against Yushin Okami in a fight he (and he alone) still seems to think he won, you have to wonder whether he's in the right state of mind to get back into middleweight title contention. He told me earlier this week that he's having fun again as a fighter for the first time in years, but we have to wait and see whether he still feels that way on fight night. If he opens up like he did against Wilson Gouveia, Miller could be in trouble. If he hangs back as he did against Okami, the trouble will be all Marquardt's.
VI. Can we lighten up on all the tired parallels between Jon Jones in 2011 and "Shogun" Rua in 2005? I get it: Rua was 23 when he won the Pride Grand Prix, just like Jones is 23 now. That's called a coincidence. They're still completely different fighters with completely different backgrounds and their big respective breaks have come in completely different situations. I know how much we all love the whole 'old lion vs. young lion' storyline in this sport, but this is not one of those fights. And you know what else? It doesn't need to be. You've got a 29-year-old champ coming off an injury layoff to fight a phenom with a full head of steam. Isn't that interesting enough without some overly simplistic narrative forced in there?
VII. Jon Jones is not the champ yet. I realize that's a statement of fact, and an obvious one at that, but it seems like a lot have people have overlooked it lately. I like his chances against Rua, but let's hold off on the coronation for now. Beating Rua will require more than simply showing up on Saturday night.
VIII. Did Brendan Schaub leave his best stuff in the gym? Not surprisingly, this former pro football player has always been a bit of a gym rat. But after putting himself through a three-month training camp that even his coaches thought was overkill, you have to wonder whether he'll be fresh and ready on fight night. Aside from the ever-present threat of a head kick, the biggest danger to Schaub in this fight might be his own zeal in the gym. He's bigger, younger, faster, and more athletic than Filipovic. As long as he didn't wear himself out trying to compensate for the experience gap between himself and the Croatian, he should take this.
IX. Has Eliot Marshall earned himself any goodwill with the UFC brass? They were so unimpressed with his first stint in the Octagon that they cut him after his first loss, which came after he won three straight. He practically jumped up and down shouting, 'Pick me!' when Luiz Cane was in need of a replacement opponent for this event, and that is the attitude Dana White says he loves. The question is, does he love it enough to give "The Fire" another shot if he doesn't win this very tough, late-notice fight? That's one query Marshall would probably rather not have to find out the answer to.
Very interesting article.