Michael David Smith and I take a look at who's under pressure to win, what's the biggest fight in upcoming weeks, whether Dan Hardy has a realistic chance to beat Georges St. Pierre and more.
1. Who's under the most pressure to win in the upcoming cards?
MDS: Josh Barnett. After testing positive for steroids (again) last summer, Barnett ruined the much-hyped fight with Fedor Emelianenko and brought the whole Affliction promotion down with him. Now he's finally returning, for the first time in almost 14 months, at Dream.13. If he somehow loses to Mighty Mo, he's done as someone any MMA fans will ever take seriously again -- that's a mighty big fall for a guy who in 2009 was considered by many to be the No. 2 heavyweight in the world. I don't consider Mighty Mo a credible opponent, but he does have the proverbial puncher's chance, I suppose. Barnett had better not get caught.
Chiappetta: Jon Jones. On March 21, he'll be headlining his first main event, he's coming off a loss (albeit one he was dominating until being disqualified), and he's facing the most complete opponent he's yet been in the cage with. Brandon Vera has good standup, jiu-jitsu and strong wrestling. I think Jones has the tools to beat him, and he's favored to do so, but Vera is coming off a loss of his own against Randy Couture, and has his back against the corner. As we've repeatedly seen, losing two in a row puts your UFC career on shaky ground, and one of these men is going to walk out of the octagon in that situation.
2. What's the biggest fight over the upcoming weeks?
Chiappetta: As I just mentioned, Jon Jones vs. Brandon Vera is a very important fight because Jones has rapidly increased his profile and is on the cusp of stardom, so there's a lot at stake for him in that bout, but the most important fight of the coming weeks is the UFC 111 co-main event of Frank Mir vs. Shane Carwin.
The UFC's heavyweight division has been in a holding pattern since champ Brock Lesnar last fought in July 2009, and we're finally going to be able to get some clarity. The fight is going to be a key to what could be the UFC's biggest show in 2010. If Mir wins, the UFC gets the rubber match of the Lesnar-Mir trilogy, which is rife with bad blood and controversy, elements which will make it a box-office bonanza. Carwin has the presence to make it a top-level gate attraction as well, but fight fans love rivalries, and the Mir-Lesnar feud is already well-established and still riveting.
MDS: It's hard to disagree with you there, but I will. I'm going to go with Kenny Florian vs. Takanori Gomi.
The UFC desperately needs someone to revitalize the lightweight division. There just aren't a lot of interesting lightweight fights going on right now. B.J. Penn has dominated every lightweight he's faced for seven years running, and everyone expects him to dominate Frankie Edgar, too. And the last lightweight main event not including Penn was a disappointment: Gray Maynard vs. Nate Diaz left the fans booing. In combat sports, the smaller fighters often give more entertaining, action-packed fights, and yet the smallest fighters in the UFC aren't getting the fans motivated.
A bout between Gomi, the former Pride lightweight champion, and Florian, one of the promotion's most popular lightweights, might be the bout that can change that. And if Gomi surprises everyone and beats Florian, it might set up a Gomi-Penn rematch that would add some intrigue to the lightweight division. This is a fight that has the potential to mean a lot to the UFC.
3. How much will Roger Huerta's signing help Bellator?
MDS: In Season 2 it helps a little: He'll give a lot of good interviews, both in English and in Spanish, and his presence will remind people to tune in to their first show of the year. But ultimately, I think his signing is really about Season 3: If Huerta wins the Season 2 tournament, a title fight with Eddie Alvarez will be a very big deal in Season 3. I think Huerta vs. Alvarez is the fight Bellator has been coveting since even before Season 1, and they're really hoping to make it their marquee fight of Season 3.
Chiappetta: It's a master stroke for Bellator, because at 26 years old, Huerta is still seen as a fighter who is at or near his prime, and was considered by many to be among the best UFC lightweights. He also draws major media attention, so he's a home run on two fronts. It's up to Bellator to leverage his presence into more eyeballs on the promotion, but its new platform on FoxSports combined with Huerta's arrival gives Bellator legitimacy as a viable promotion to the average fan; now it's just a matter of spreading the word.
4. Will Frank Mir's added size hurt or help him against Shane Carwin?
Chiappetta: The short answer is, early on it will help, but if the fight goes long, it will hurt. It's very difficult to add weight and retain previous levels of cardiovascular fitness, and that's the dangerous game Mir is playing by adding size to his frame (he reportedly bulked up to around 285 pounds).
On one hand, he has no choice; to compete with natural 280-pounders like Carwin and Brock Lesnar, he realized it was necessary to level the playing field. On the other, it's a potential problem; both Carwin and Lesnar have been carrying the weight for years and their bodies are accustomed to the demands, while Mir is asking his to do it for the first time. The increases in size and strength will help with explosion in the early moments, but if we see this fight go to the third round and beyond (remember, it's an interim title fight, so it can go five rounds), Mir may well see the return of the conditioning issues that plagued him earlier in his career.
MDS: Before UFC 100, I asked Mir whether there was any advantage to being smaller than Lesnar, and he acted like it wasn't even a serious question: He said that, of course, Lesnar had the advantage by being bigger than him, and he needed to be more skilled to account for that. As it turned out, the way the fight with Lesnar played out, size was a major advantage for Lesnar. But I think you're right that Mir might regret having those extra pounds on his body if this fight goes long.
Of course, Carwin has never fought even half a round, so we have no idea how he would respond to a longer fight. I have a feeling that both of these guys are going to fight longer than they're accustomed to, and conditioning will be a major factor.
5. What kind of realistic chance does Dan Hardy have against Georges St. Pierre?
MDS: Hardy has punching power, and we've all seen what a well-placed punch from Matt Serra did to GSP. Having said that, I really don't give Hardy much of a chance. GSP is just a lot better than Hardy, in every aspect of the sport. Thiago Alves is a much better striker than Hardy, and GSP didn't have any trouble against Alves. I see GSP taking Hardy down over and over again and dominating Hardy on the ground, just as he did to Alves, and I have to say I'd be incredibly shocked if Hardy actually finds a way to win this fight.
Chiappetta: I completely agree. With all due respect to Hardy, who's put together a strong streak of performances, the leap from facing guys like Marcus Davis and Mike Swick to GSP is cavernous. Hardy does show good striking, but if he can't stay upright, that's not going to do him a bit of good. BJ Penn couldn't stay on his feet, neither could Alves, and I can't see Hardy unlocking that mystery either.
That's not simply a knock against Hardy; St. Pierre is just head and shoulders above everyone in the welterweight division right now. To add to Hardy's degree of difficulty, St. Pierre has added some muscle in the eight months he's been away from the cage, so he'll be bigger and stronger than ever. I expect St. Pierre to stop Hardy somewhere around the third or fourth round.