The Great Divide is a reoccurring feature here at MMA Fighting in which writers debate a topic in the world of MMA — whether it’s news, a fight, a crazy thing somebody did, a crazy thing somebody didn’t do, or some moral dilemma threatening the very foundation of the sport — and try to figure out a resolution. We’d love for you to join in the discussion in the comments section below.
In past editions, Chuck Mindenhall and Shaun Al-Shatti debated UFC 230’s main event, Tyron Woodley’s UFC 228 dilemma, Daniel Cormier’s potential retirement fight, and the winner of the DJ-for-Askren trade. This week, the two take an early look ahead to Jan. 26 and wonder: With the UFC and Bellator putting on major cards in the same market on the very same night, so far which lineup is catching your attention more?
Al-Shatti: Let’s call this a far-too-premature preview, my hatted friend, because the final form of these cards on Jan. 26 is most certainly going to look very different than the embryonic versions we’re debating today. We can revisit the topic in January to see how our thoughts have changed. But even with as premature of a conversation as this may be... my goodness, Chuck, these dueling California events are already looking like a mighty fine way to ring in the new year, no? This is like telling me I can only unwrap one of my Christmas presents and forcing me to pick — I want them all.
But hey, what’s the fun in that? So I will play your little game.
First things first, let’s establish the ground rules we’re playing with here. On the UFC side, bouts already announced for Anaheim include: Dillashaw vs. Cejudo atop the marquee, plus Askren vs. Lawler, Vick vs. Felder, Hernandez vs. Trinaldo, and Calderwood vs. Lipski. A sensational pairing between Dominick Cruz and John “The Maddest of Men” Lineker has also been bandied about for UFC 233, but that has yet to be finalized or even confirmed, so for the sake of our discussion, we’re leaving it off the table.
As for the Bellator side, we’re looking at an already ridiculous big three for Inglewood: Fedor vs. Bader for the vacant heavyweight title, Mousasi vs. Lovato Jr., plus Pico vs. Corrales in a big-time battle of prospects.
Jan. 26 is already looking like one hell of a night.
From here, the easiest way for me to pick a side is to lump those matchups all together as one, then rank them. It’s tough, but so far here is my top five in order of most anticipated: 1) Askren vs. Lawler, 2) Mousasi vs. Lovato Jr., 3) Pico vs. Corrales, 4) Fedor vs. Bader, and 5) Dillashaw vs. Cejudo.
Yes, even with only three major fights announced, Bellator stole three of my top-four slots there — the meat of the violence sandwich that is these rankings, if you will. Any Mousasi fight is must-watch material and the undefeated Lovato is a sneaky-great prospect at 185 pounds. Aaron Pico is the truth, Henry Corrales is a young stud, and Fedor Emelianenko still tugs on my nostalgic heartstrings. Simply put, Bellator 214 is a tremendous offering.
But in this debate, I have to side with UFC 233 — and I do so purely on the wings of the glorious adventure that is Ben Askren’s octagonal debut.
What can I say? The guy got me. He dug his hooks into the reptilian side of my brain and sold the ever-loving shit out of his grand arrival, and now I can’t wait to see if the Funky one can measure up to his own lofty expectations. The fact that he has to do so against the coldest man in the game is just icing on the cake, because you know damn well Ruthless Bob Lawler isn’t suffering any of the shit Askren is planning to throw his way. It’s a matchup between self-righteous ostentation and murderous stoicism — and honestly, just like those Christmas gifts, I want it now. Nay, I need it now. Inject everything about this into my veins.
So although I love both cards, I feel comfortable saying Askren vs. Lawler is enough to tip the scales for me toward UFC 233 so far. Whether that holds firm two months from now... hey, that’s still very much to be seen. But on this fine morning, I ride with the Funk.
Mindenhall: I’m partial to this Bellator card for a couple of reasons: Fedor Emelianenko is a victory away from full reincarnation, and Aaron Pico is a killing machine. As you well know, most of the vital nutrients in the fight game are in improbable comeback stories and in identifying the next big thing. Bellator is offering both on Jan. 26, just 33 miles from where UFC 233 is going down in Anaheim.
Now, I happen to think the UFC card is a damn good one. I love the idea of Ben Askren making his debut against a shark like Robbie Lawler, because it answers so many questions while addressing so many critics. If Askren is able to dominate Lawler the way he has such woodwork figures as Agilan Thani and Zebaztian Kadestam, there’ll be some very real vindication in the air. I also look forward to seeing how Askren and Dana White interact during fight week, as well as after the fight. James Vick versus Paul Felder? A fine, fine fight. I don’t mind T.J. Dillashaw fighting Henry Cejudo, but I’m still shaking off the feeling that it’s a silver lining fight for the one we never got — Demetrious Johnson versus Dillashaw. By fight night, I’m sure I’ll have it corrected.
Still, the Bellator card has the better drama at its core. I can’t help but remember that Fedor was left for dead when Dan Henderson blasted him in Strikeforce, and was then left for dead again when Fabio Maldonado beat him like an old rug out in St. Petersburg (even if Fedor “won”). Bellator put together this heavyweight grand prix with the idea of giving the GOAT from Stary Oskol one last route to glory, and here he is. Is it an ideal fight against Ryan Bader? No. Bader has been resurrected in Bellator, and actually looks like he’s living up to his full potential. But is there a little piece of me that remembers Tito Ortiz dumping imaginary grave dirt on Bader at UFC 132, and that same part of me can see Fedor landing one of those holy right hands that have felled so many.
Imagine if Fedor wins that thing, Shaun. Imagine Fedor on top again. It would be the most poetic happening of 2019.
Pico is at that early stage of reckoning, when you know you’re watching somebody who in a couple years will be a Big Deal. It doesn’t matter so much to me that Henry Corrales is the opponent; that part is incidental. Corrales is a tough, capable fighter, but Pico is in the showcase portion of his career. It’s not whether he’ll beat Corrales, it’s how — and how long. The way he tore through Leandro Higo in his last fight was eye opening. If he does that to Corrales, the Cult of Pico will spike considerably.
I think the Gegard Mousasi middleweight title defense against Rafael Lovato Jr. is the added value for an already fairly stacked card. Lovato is undefeated at 9-0, and has finished eight of his fights. He is an unheralded badass on the cusp of breakthrough, kind of like Mousasi was back when he was upkicking Jacare’s chin into the rafters back in the day. Great thing about Mousasi is that he just goes about his business of winning fights.
I’m ultimately with you on this one, Shaun — it’s awesome to have all those good fights happening in a single night. I’ll have the benefit of paying attention to all of them. But if I was forced to choose? I’m watching Bellator that night.
So far, which Jan. 26 card is catching your interest more?
This poll is closed