A lot of people are looking forward to the Jan. 31 superfight at UFC 94 between UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre and UFC lightweight champion B.J. Penn. And who can blame them? The first clash between them was fairly entertaining but the second fight should be even better, with Penn expected to come into the fight in much better shape this time around. It doesn’t get much better than St. Pierre at his best vs. Penn at his best.
The expectation that Penn will be better prepared for St. Pierre this time around has prompted quite a few pundits to predict that it will be the Hilo native who takes the rematch between the two. While I am undecided right now, Penn over St. Pierre at the very least is a prediction that’s hard to discredit. That being said, St. Pierre won the first encounter and has a good chance of improving to 2-0 against Penn.
If St. Pierre is able to get past Penn, the question I have is, will he be able to get past Thiago Alves? I’m not so sure. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if Alves is on the cusp of becoming the number one welterweight in the world.
Alves’ credentials are impossible to overlook. He’s 16-3 overall and is currently on a seven fight win streak. His lifetime record in the UFC is now 9-2 and his last three wins have been against top-ten welterweights in Karo Parisyan, Matt Hughes, and Josh Koscheck.
All fighters in the top five have great credentials, but what separates Alves from the pack is his athleticism. St. Pierre is also an athletic freak but I believe that Alves might just be just as quick, fast, and agile and might actually be stronger. St. Pierre is well-rounded, but so is Alves. His Muay Thai is deadly and his ground game often is overlooked because he’s been finishing his opponents with strikes.
The only significant advantage I believe that St. Pierre has over Alves is when it comes to wrestling. But St. Pierre can only exploit that advantage if he’s able to get Alves to the ground. The problem is, Alves is so flexible and agile that putting him on his back is easier said than done.
If Penn is able to beat St. Pierre, I don’t think that’s a major problem because Penn vs. Alves is also a very marketable fight. And Alves would be just as much of a threat to Penn as he would be for St. Pierre.
Alves is supposedly guaranteed a title shot at 170, however, with GSP and Penn not set to do battle until Jan. 31, it’s likely that Alves will risk his title shot by taking another fight before he can be formally matched up with the winner of St. Pierre vs. Penn II. By not waiting, I don’t see Alves taking much of a risk because outside of GSP and Penn, I don’t think there is a fighter in the UFC’s welterweight division that poses a threat.
— A lot of people have asked that I elaborate on a comment I made during my “Silva’s friends in high places prove to be fair-weather” article in which I referred to the UFC 90 lineup as “paper thin.” I stand by the comment 100 percent. Sorry, but Anderson Silva vs. Patrick Cote is not a suitable headlining match for a pay-per-view telecast. I agree with the UFC’s decision to grant Cote a title shot after Yushin Okami was forced to pull off the card due to injury, however, Silva vs. Cote should have been second down on the bout sheet with a bigger main event signed to anchor the show.
On paper, the only other two PPV quality matchups were Alves vs. Koscheck and Sean Sherk vs. Tyson Griffin. While there’s no doubt that Fabricio Werdum vs. Junior dos Santos was an entertaining fight, dos Santos had just seven fights with no U.S. exposure coming into his Octagon debut and was not a proven commodity. The UFC rolled the dice in making that fight and came up aces but when you’re asking people to pay $44.95 and $54.95 to order your shows, your matchmakers shouldn’t be signing fights with the hope they will be good and instead should be signing fights with the expectation that they’ll be good.
Then you have Gray Maynard vs. Rich Clementi, which was really not an exciting fight to watch and was a matchup that wasn’t even expected to air on the telecast until it was promoted to the main card as a result of an injury. The UFC simply did not put its best foot forward on Saturday.
— Another area of disappointment was the fact that there were only five fights during a PPV with a three-hour window. The pacing of Saturday’s show was terrible, as there was too much preamble between bouts for my liking. I specifically thought most of the entrances were drawn out and it seemed like it took forever for fighters to get prepped and inside the cage. But even once prepped and inside the cage, a lot of camera time was spent on the fighters getting warmed up while we waited for the next fighter to enter. When Cote entered, it seemed like we got to hear his Linkin Park entrance music play in its entirety. Was that really necessary? It seemed like the shows had taken a step in the right direction as far as pacing but UFC 90 was a step backward in that regard.
— I have to agree with Dave Meltzer of Yahoo! Sports that the UFC’s production team might be overworked and lacking creativity due to the busy schedule in recent weeks. While the UFC did spend some time promoting UFC 91 during this past Saturday’s telecast, it seemed to me as if they treated Rachelle Leah’s pictorial in Playboy as a bigger deal. I’m not the first to point this out but you have Randy Couture in the building to corner Griffin against Sherk and don’t bother to interview him?
And would it have killed anyone to have Brock Lesnar there? Having lived in Minneapolis at one time, I can tell you that the trip from the Twin Cities to Chicago is one of the most painless flights you’ll ever experience. As soon as you get up to 10,000 feet, it’s already time to begin your descent. Had the UFC been willing to charter a private jet, Lesnar could have trained at home in the morning and slept in his own bed the same night as the event.
Not to mention, Sherk is trained by Greg Nelson, who also works with Lesnar. So you have two wrestlers from Couture’s camp and Lesnar’s camp facing each other in what is essentially a mini-preview of Couture vs. Lesnar but no words from Couture and Lesnar? That’s a huge mistake because Lesnar is money on the mic and if you saw his interview on ESPN’s E:60, he started to get a little personal towards Couture by questioning his sincerity in regards to his claim that he’s stronger now than he was ten years ago. Lesnar went so far as to call the statement a lie. Why the UFC didn’t fly Lesnar in and stick a mic in his face and ask him a followup is beyond me. He might have said something very inflammatory that could have fueled even more media attention.
— Sherk fans will be happy to hear that when I update my rankings sometime this week, he’ll be in my lightweight top ten. The reason why I didn’t have Sherk ranked in my top ten was due to the fact that in the last three years, he’s had just one legitimate win at 155 (against Kenny Florian at UFC 64) because had his UFC 73 fight vs. Hermes Franca been contested in Nevada, it would have been declared a no contest. All along I’ve felt that Sherk was top-ten caliber but that he lacked the recent credentials needed to garner a top spot. But a win over Tyson Griffin is a meaningful one and enough to allow him to break back in.
— Dos Santos’ knockout against Werdum was no doubt impressive but I will refrain from jumping on his bandwagon just yet. Aside from that monster uppercut, name one other thing that dos Santos did that impressed you? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying he had time to show us more than he showed us, but it is what it is: a quick knockout in which little was learned other than he can take someone’s breath away if they are moving their chin downwards while a massive power shot is coming their way. The fact that both Ed Soares and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was in dos Santos’ corner speaks volumes and I’m sure he’s going to continue to impress, but I still think the jury is out. Trust me, I’ve learned my lessons after Houston Alexander and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou in that you can’t truly evaluate a fighter based on a few minutes of highlight reel-style fighting.
— As for Werdum, I was really surprised to see how heavy he was. Usually he comes into his fights looking much trimmer. Was he trying to bulk up? Or did he take dos Santos too lightly?