MMA Roundtable: UFC Lightweight Title Picture, Fedor's Future, Sylvia's Last Chance

Josh Hedges, Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

For those that choose to spend their money or their time watching fights in the coming days, all you can hope for is a few entertaining scraps. While most have been critical of the lineups offered, at least there is plenty to choose from. Were you aware that Fedor Emelianenko fights on Thursday? On Friday night alone, there are no less than three cards being televised, from Bellator 71 (on MTV2) to XFC 18 (on HDNet) to UFC on FX 4. And then on Saturday is UFC 147, the pay-per-view that few seem willing to pay to view.

Out of all of that action we're bound to get something good, right? Clay Guida and Gray Maynard, for example, are likely to deliver some action, and Wanderlei Silva and Rich Franklin are rematching in a fight that was pretty fun the first time around. But what exactly are the stakes in those fights? And where does Fedor go after Thursday? In this week's roundtable, Dave Doyle and I look at that, as well as examining MMA's biggest burning question: does Tim Sylvia deserve one more shot in the UFC?

Come on, click it and read. You know you want to.

1. Who has the most to gain in Saturday's UFC 147 main event between Rich Franklin and Wanderlei Silva?

Doyle: I'll have to go with the "Axe Murderer" on this one.

If Franklin wins, it's a feather in his cap simply because he took the fight on short notice after being out for more than a year, and will do so in hostile territory. But it would be a second win over a fighter he's already beaten, and a win wouldn't lead to any sort of next logical fight in his career path.

On the other hand, this is a big, big deal for Silva. Fans and media here in the United States have been so quick to trash UFC 147 that the fact the event is huge in Brazil has gotten lost in translation. Brazil is at the point where the UFC was in the U.S. in 2006-07, in the midst of a popularity explosion. Like other Brazilian legends who spent most of their prime fighting away from the mother country, Silva's more popular in his homeland than ever, especially with the buzz from coaching on "TUF: Brazil."

It's no secret Silva is near the tail end of his career. Another knockout loss probably ends things for Silva as a headliner. But with a win in a big spotlight at home, Silva not only would set himself up for another high-profile main event, but also for some of the endorsement money going to the likes of Anderson Silva and Jose Aldo.

Chiappetta:
In the grand scheme of things, neither guy frankly has much to gain from this fight. First of all, it's a catch weight bout, so it has no significance in any divisional rankings. Second of all, they've already fought before. That makes it a fight that Franklin should win, even if he's coming off a 16-month layoff. On the other hand, what if Silva wins? Well, aside from the glory that comes with winning in front of a partisan home crowd, a victory over Franklin doesn't carry nearly as much weight as one over his originally scheduled opponent Vitor Belfort would.

Because Belfort is an MMA icon in Brazil, and because Silva was thrashed by him in their first meeting 14 years ago, that matchup was quite meaningful, both personally and professionally. Facing Franklin is an opportunity to avenge a previous defeat, but offers little more than a pairing of two of the sport's most respected names. In the end, that's going to have to be enough.

2. Fedor Emelianenko is fighting Pedro Rizzo on Thursday. He's recently entertained retirement, but assuming he continues, where does he go from here?

Chiappetta: If Emelianenko wins, it will be three victories in a row since his losing streak sent him out of Strikeforce and on to the international free agent world tour. Unfortunately, there are few money fights outside of Zuffa-owned UFC and Strikeforce for him. More specifically, there are none, unless the UFC decided to cut Alistair Overeem, a distinct unlikelihood.

I can't see Emelianenko signing with Bellator and going through the tournament grind at this stage of his career, though he would certainly be favored to mow through any field and set up a title match with champ Cole Konrad. More likely, unless Zuffa CEO Lorenzo Fertitta decides to offer Fedor one last chance, he's probably going to be relegated to fighting on overseas cards, destined to a life where if he wins, detractors will say he hasn't fought anybody, and if he loses, they'll say, "I told you so."

Emelianenko's best option might be to sign with the surging One FC promotion, which has money and is looking to spend it. M-1 Global's Evgeni Kogan was recently spotted attending a show, and the organization runs events in locations that could likely capitalize on his name and resume. Hopefully, that's enough for him to continue, because his days as a North American draw are unfortunately, likely over.

Doyle: The short answer: Fedor will go wherever M-1 can wring another dollar out of his name.

Since the folding of PRIDE, the main objective for Fedor’s management has been to milk the gravy train for every short-term buck they can get a hold of. In and of itself, there’s nothing wrong with that, since this is the fight business and every fighter should make it their goal to get paid as much as they can while the ride lasts.

Whether that’s been beneficial for Fedor’s legacy is another matter. Overpaying for Emelianenko has led to a trail of tattered promotions, from BodogFight to Affliction to an independent Strikeforce. But that’s the concern of the promoter stuck with the bill, not M-1.

So the bottom line is the same it’s ever been. M-1 can hold out hope that one last money mark (One FC?) will come along to shower them with riches while simultaneously digging their own promotional grave. In the interim, the company seems to have found itself a niche in luring the Pedro Rizzos of the world to come over to Europe and be hand-fed to "The Last Emperor." Their system isn’t broken, so why fix it?

3. Where should the winner of Friday night's main event between Clay Guida and Gray Maynard stand in the pecking order for a lightweight title shot?

Doyle: Let me put it this way, I'm glad Joe Silva is the one who has to figure this out, and not me. In theory, Nate Diaz gets the winner of August's Benson Henderson-Frankie Edgar title rematch. This assumes, of course, that nothing happens in that bout which necessitates an immediate trilogy fight. Either way, the top spots are currently locked up, especially if Diaz sticks to his guns about waiting for a shot at the belt.

In the most recent MMAFighting.com lightweight rankings, Maynard is slated fifth and Guida sixth. The four fighters ahead of them are Henderson, Gilbert Melendez, Edgar and Diaz. Melendez against the winner would seem a potentially great fight, but we know the politics involved in making that one.

So the best the winner can hope for here is to more or less stand their ground in the division. That's a tough reality for a fighter like Maynard, whose only career loss is to Edgar. But it is what it is. My best guess is that the winner gets Anthony Pettis and the loser gets Jim Miller, with a chance for the winner to redeem themselves. Now let's just hope we get through Bendo-Edgar II without some sort of scoring controversy that puts the division even further on hold.

Chiappetta: The only real answer here is, it doesn't matter. Why? Because Henderson and Edgar are queued up as the title fight, and Diaz is in the on-deck circle. That will probably take us to the end of 2012. I'm thinking the UFC has learned their lesson about naming "No. 1 contender" fights when one already exists. It's the same situation they faced with Johny Hendricks in the welterweight division. He became a "No. 1 contender" after beating Josh Koscheck, even though Carlos Condit is guaranteed a title fight with champ Georges St-Pierre when he returns.

As a result, UFC came to their senses and offered Hendricks a fight with surging Martin Kampmann. That's the same type of scenario that will play out at lightweight. The loser is at least temporarily out of the title picture while the winner is simply treading water. He'll have to fight again and win again, and wait for the logjam in front of him to clear out.

4. Since losing a disastrous knockout to Ray Mercer, Tim Sylvia has won seven of eight. Does he deserve one last chance in the UFC?

Chiappetta: This isn't exactly a ringing endorsement, but I would ask, Why not? And it's not just because I'm tired of Sylvia blowing up my Twitter timeline with his relentless campaign for one more shot in the big show. The UFC's heavyweight division -- and the heavyweight division in general -- isn't exactly full of killers at its shallow end. I have a hard time believing Sylvia couldn't be competitive against guys like Philip DeFries and Oli Thompson, for starters. What's the harm in offering him a fight against one of those guys? After all, the UFC has given a second opportunity to a guy like Joey Beltran on the strength of one unanimous decision outside of the UFC. As Mark Hunt has shown with his unlikely run, some heavyweight careers can have a successful second act.

Sylvia may not be a heavyweight title contender any more, but why not give him a chance to prove it? At worst, he's one and done, while at best, he's a feel-good story. As long as he comes at a reasonable price, give him a chance and let him sink or swim on his own.

Doyle: I can't lie, when I first heard this question, my first thought was "Oh God, please, anyone but Sylvia." Unfortunately, Sylvia's stay at the top, particularly his second title reign, symbolized everything people hated about the UFC's heavyweight division back then: Lack of depth, lack of compelling matchups, lack of exciting fighters. Exacerbating matters was Sylvia's open admission after snoozer title defenses, like the Andrei Arlovski trilogy fight and his win over Jeff Monson, that he didn't care if he put on boring fights as long as he held on to the belt.

But Mike makes a solid enough point: Others with less impressive resumes have gotten multiple chances with the UFC. If they’re insistent on making him jump through hoops, maybe Zuffa can sign him to a short-term Strikeforce deal and see if he can make the 265-pound limit and otherwise not embarrass himself before potentially opening the door to the UFC. But either way, Sylvia seems serious about wanting another chance, so if his contract demands aren't unreasonable there's no good reason to keep him out.

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