UFC 150 brings plenty of face-smashing action to Denver this Saturday night. We have plenty of questions and concerns to sort through first, plus some commentary on the state of the Pepsi Center and its delightful employees. Is that sarcastic or sincere? Only one way to find out...
I. Is Frankie Edgar MMA’s best rematch artist? Okay, so maybe ‘rematch artist’ isn’t a real thing, but bear with me. Since taking the lightweight title from B.J. Penn in April of 2010, Edgar has been in a weird little rerun pattern with every opponent he’s faced. First there were the two fights against Penn. Then, after winning the second one even more convincingly than the first, he went on to face Gray Maynard in back to back fights (first a draw, then a KO victory for Edgar). After losing the title to Ben Henderson back in February, now he gets to cash in his own rematch rain check and get another crack at the guy he’s already spent 25 minutes in the cage with. It reminds me of those kids on the playground who, as soon as they got beat in tetherball, demanded to make it a best of three series. The good news for him is that he’s yet to lose one of these immediate rematches. Historically, he seems to fare much better the second time he sees an opponent, as if he’s some kind of freaky supercomputer that is learning your habits and weaknesses at a frightening rate. Is Edgar just that great at making adjustments, or have past opponents been that bad? Henderson surprised some people in the last fight, but if nothing else we know that Edgar is the kind of guy who will force you to prove that the first one was no fluke.
II. With a third fight looking very unlikely, will a loss for Edgar turn him to an instant featherweight? Maybe the better question is, will that be the best thing for him, and for the UFC? I’m going to say yes on both counts. It’s not that he can’t compete at lightweight, obviously. But if he loses in two straight tries against the champ, it’s going to take a while to get back to the top of that division. If it’s big money title fights he wants, he’d stand a much better chance of going down in weight and fighting someone a little closer to his own size. Someone like Jose Aldo, for instance. Clearly, the UFC is running out of contenders at featherweight. As much as Edgar may not like the idea now, he might warm to it in a hurry if his other options include a mid-card bout against Clay Guida. Then again, that’s only if he loses. No one’s going to tell the 155-pound champ that he needs to lose weight.
III. We know what to expect from Donald Cerrone and Melvin Guillard, or at least we think we do. This battle of former teammates has stand-and-bang written all over it. Maybe it’s just the MMA cynic in me talking, but that almost makes me less likely to think it will be as simple as it looks on paper. When I spoke to him earlier this week, Guillard refused to say if he thought this would turn out to be the brawl that he knows people are expecting. Maybe he just doesn’t want to limit his options or promise something he isn’t sure he can (or wants to) deliver. Guillard would have us believe that sparring sessions at Jackson’s MMA have very little bearing on how this fight will go, since he and Cerrone have both changed since then and neither was giving everything he had anyway. Cerrone, on the other hand, seems to think that everybody claims to be a brand new fighter before each bout...right up until they get hit in the face. Who’s right? Do people really change for good, or do they just pretend to? I’m not sure, but I can’t think of a more exciting method of finding out than watching these two go at it.
IV. Jake Shields still has yet to win two in a row in the UFC, but that shouldn’t be his only concern against Ed Herman. Even more than a winning streak, what he needs is a performance that proves he’s somebody fans want to watch. After rough year in and out of the cage in 2011, he rebounded with a decision victory over Yoshihiro Akiyama in February. Trouble is, it was no more exciting than the decision win over Martin Kampmann that kicked off his UFC tenure. You can get by like that for a little while. Sooner or later though (probably sooner, in this case), the ‘boring fighter’ label sticks. At 33 years old and with a UFC run that’s been mostly a disappointment so far, Shields might be running out of time to change the narrative.
V. Buddy Roberts is about to find out what the deep end of the talent pool is like. You have to feel for the guy. He went from a scheduled bout against Chris Camozzi in his second UFC fight to a main card tilt with Yushin Okami. That’s like showing up for your second week of work at NASA and being told that since you did such a good job putting together those spreadsheets, today you’re going to be landing the Mars rover. At 12-2, Roberts has an impressive enough record on paper, but he’s never faced anyone the caliber of Okami. Is there any way he’s ready for this? It’s hard to think so, but who knows, maybe he’ll surprise us. At the very least, maybe it will be a useful learning experience, even if the lesson in the end is: don’t take just any fight the UFC offers you.
VI. What does it mean when Jared Hamman is on the card? For one, it means that there’s instant competition for Fight of the Night. He’s yet to be featured on the main card portion of a UFC event, where the bonuses tend to reside, but he already he has two FotN checks to his credit. He also has two knockout losses and zero boring outings. Hard not to think those are all related somehow. For better or worse, he’s a guy with a knack for finding his way into the highlights. After the shellacking he took at the hands of Constantinos Phillipou in his last fight, he just needs to make sure he adds to his own highlight reel this time rather than Michael Kuiper’s.
VII. Once again, Nik Lentz finds himself jerking the curtain for an already unspectacular prelim card. Even after nine fights in the UFC, “The Carny” still gets no love. He’s 5-2-1 with 1 no contest, and still he’s in the lone Facebook prelim bout while guys like Dustin Pague (1-2 in the UFC) and Ken Stone (2-2 under the Zuffa banner) get TV time on FX. 'Sup with that? Fine, I know 'sup with that. We all do. Stylistically, Lentz hasn’t been the most exciting fighter. But even back when he was riding a three-fight winning streak the UFC had him opening the show on a UFC Fight Night. He won that fight too, by the way, which earned him a spot in the Facebook prelims of a UFC on Versus event. You see where I’m going with this. Lentz has fallen on hard times lately. He lost a decision after being held down by Mark Bocek at UFC 140, and that seemed like karma coming back to bite him, then he had a fight stopped due to a cut against Evan Dunham on the prelims of UFC on FOX 2. But since the powers that be seem so committed to keeping Lentz off TV even when he’s winning, there’s hardly anywhere for him to fall. Whether that’s fair or not, one gets the sense that he’d better avoid the dreaded three-fight losing streak when he takes on Eiji Mitsuoka. After the Facebook prelims, the next stop is often the unemployment line.
VIII. This might be of interest to no one but me, but if you’re looking for a chance to see the UFC live and in person, you could do a lot worse than to grab a ticket for an event at Denver’s Pepsi Center. The last time the UFC visited was in September of 2011, for UFC 135. To those of us in the media who filter in and out of sports arenas all over the globe, it takes a lot to make one venue more memorable than any of the others, but the Pepsi Center actually made an impression. Not only does it have a nice set-up for MMA, it also has the most polite and professional arena staff I’ve ever encountered. Seriously, they even beat out the Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, where everyone is at least 25 percent nicer just by virtue of being Swedish. And if my glowing review of the arena isn’t enough to convince you, I guess I won’t even bother to mention that it’s just a ten-minute drive from Large Marge’s in Wheat Ridge, which offers the best cheesesteaks this side of the Mississippi. Tell ‘em Ben Fowlkes sent you. They will glare at you in silence.