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MMA Roundtable: Does an Eight-Man Tournament Trump UFC Castoffs?

Even if the UFC and Strikeforce are sitting this weekend out, that doesn't mean there's no MMA for us to overanalyze. In fact, there are at least three notable events in the next two days, leaving some of us with difficult choices to make.

With that in mind, I pulled MMA Fighting's Ray Hui away from more serious work in order to make him answer some questions I had running through my mind. Join us as we break down the weekend's action, debate which pay-per-view to buy in a perfect world, and try to calculate the odds that Antonio McKee will wrestle his way into retirement.

Shine Fights is holding a one-night, eight-man unsanctioned tournament at an Indian casino on Friday night. That means the eventual winner will have to win three (unsanctioned) fights in one night. Awesome idea or horrible idea?

Hui: Tournament, awesome idea, every now and then. Unsanctioned event, horrible idea all the time. One-night tournaments are fine with me as long they don't feature top ranked fighters. In Shine's case, it's a bunch of up-and-comers and veterans looking for a chance to make a name for themselves or revitalize their career, respectively; so I see no problem in utilizing a tournament format to help someone not on the radar showcase his talent. My problem with tournaments is when they feature the upper elite fighters. We all want to know who's the best in the world and it can potentially be unclear how one-night tournament results should be factored.

For example, during the 2008 Dream Lightweight Grand Prix Finals, do you rank Joachim Hansen higher than Shinya Aoki even though Hansen spent less than three minutes in his last fight, compared to Aoki who went the full 15-minute distance? The problem with unsanctioned events is simple: fighters possibly not getting paid and safety concerns with available doctors and no medical suspensions. It's not the case here, but is a problem with smaller shows when promoters also manage fighters and officials are close to one of the fighters.

Fowlkes: I actually think this is one of those rare ideas that is both awesome and horrible. You might call it awesomely horrible, or horribly awesome. On one hand, three fights in a night? That was fine for Royce Gracie or Dan Severn back when you were almost guaranteed to get at least one easy fight against some karate instructor from Tulsa, but those days are gone. Beating any one of these dudes is a full night's work. Beating three of them ought to earn you the next six months off, which makes it seem even more insane that Marcus Aurelio was going to do this tournament and then fight Aoki two weeks later. That elbow injury might have saved his life.

At the same time, it's so insane that I can't help but admit that I'm dying to see how it plays out. It seems perfectly possible that the last fight will be an exhausted mess, but that only increases my anticipation somehow. I just hope that Shine doesn't allow something terrible to happen, what with this being unsanctioned. I'd like to think they'd pull the plug if safety is an issue by the time the finals roll around, and I'd also like to think that there won't be any doubt about the fighters getting their money on time. If there is, especially after what happened with the ill-fated Shine Fights III in North Carolina, you can go ahead and dig Shine's grave. They've got to know that though, so they wouldn't do anything dumb and jeopardize their operation. Right? Guys?

Antonio McKee says he'll retire if his fight with Luciano Azevedo goes to a decision, which is kind of ironic since McKee is known for winning by little else but decision. Is McKee just playing us here, or do you think he's serious? What's your prediction for this fight?

Hui: I give McKee props for at least putting an effort to sell the fight on a card that isn't being talked about. Do I think he's serious? Let's put it this way, before his last MFC fight he told me he didn't train his ground game nor did he train takedowns, and what does he end up doing 30 seconds into the fight? Yup, takedown. On the other hand, stylistically if McKee really wanted to test his standup, Azevedo would be a good person to do it against, but I don't think McKee will.

For us to see a different side of McKee, he needs to face an opponent that can stop his takedowns and Azevedo is not the person to do it. I see this fight ending one of two ways: Azevedo catching McKee off his back with a submission, or McKee grinding out another decision. In these scenarios, the guy on top usually has a better chance at winning. McKee's top control is too effective and I see this headed towards McKee's 16th decision of his last 19 fights.

Fowlkes: You're right, McKee has done more than anyone else to sell this fight, which is to say that he has done something. I'm even willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe he genuinely believes that this is a real retirement threat. Since he's the world's greatest lightweight, at least in his own mind, he probably thinks it won't be that difficult to smash Azevedo. But if he gets cracked in his mouth, you know he's taking this fight to the floor.

That said, I think McKee can finish this fight if he commits himself to it. I don't think it will be terribly interesting to watch. I suspect we're looking at a late TKO via ground-and-pound, but then at least he can keep forcing his style upon Canadian crowds in MFC and he'll have kept his promise (nominally, anyway). But even if it's more of the same from McKee, he won't go away for good that easily. The guy still has too much competitive fire in him. Maybe I could believe that he'd consider "retiring" for a little while, but like a boring, angry Brett Favre, he'll be back.

Take a look at the lineups for Shine Fights, Shark Fights, and MFC. Now say you can only watch one (for our purposes, pretend your cable operator is offering all three, which it almost certainly isn't). Which one do you choose, and why?

Hui: My cable provider, Comcast, offers all three, but to play along, I'll pretend they air Bellator live. To answer your question, Shark Fights by a landslide. Call it the guilty pleasure card of the month. You have some of the more exciting UFC castaways. Most of the main card fights on paper look designed for either a knockout (Sokoudjou-Alexander, Daley-Masvidal) or a back-and-forth action-packed decision (Jardine-Prangley, Villasenor-Villafort). And honestly, their undercard looks just as if not more interesting to me than the main cards of Shine Fights and MFC.

Fowlkes: Well, look at the big man with his Comcast service, sitting at home and choosing from a rich buffet of MMA options. Me, I've got Dish Network. When I called to ask if there was any chance of getting the Shine Fights pay-per-view, they kept asking if I was sure I didn't mean Shark Fights, since that's the only one they're offering. And maybe it's just because we always want what we can't have, or maybe it's because of that insane, unsanctioned tournament, but God help me, I'd choose Shine.

Shark Fights obviously has the best lineup, but all those guys are either in career holding patterns or on downward slopes. I look at that card and see interesting fights, but no one who's really on the way up. When I contrast that with the novelty of the eight-man tournament, sorry, it's no contest. Too bad I won't get the chance to act on that impulse.