The UFC announced two title fights this week, at opposite ends of the weight scale.
Cain Velasquez will defend his heavyweight belt against Antonio Silva at UFC 160 in May, while flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson will be challenged by John Moraga at The Ultimate Fighter 17 finale in April.
The former is a rematch of a non-title bout a year ago, easily won by Velasquez, while the latter is a new matchup made in favour of a rematch between Johnson and Joseph Benavidez.
Two guest bloggers, E. Spencer Kyte and Carlin Bardsley, debate whether these were the right matchups to make.
Cast your votes as to which arguments you like better…
DO YOU LIKE THE VELASQUEZ-SILVA MATCHUP?
Kyte: Rewarding Bigfoot the right thing to do
The UFC’s dream heavyweight scenario crashed in a heap along with Overeem at UFC 156, leaving champion Cain Velasquez without a clear challenger.
Having just recently disposed of Junior dos Santos and with no inclination towards fighting teammate Daniel Cormier (who has a fight of his own on the horizon anyway), the only two real options that remained for the heavyweight champion were waiting to see what happens between Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in June after they coach TUF: Brazil, or stepping into the cage with the man who stopped “The Reem” — Antonio Silva — for a second time.
Fresh off his destruction of dos Santos, there is no reason to put Velasquez on the shelf for six months to see how things play out between Werdum and Nogueira, especially not with a sales pitch at the ready in a rematch with Silva. Do I think much has changed since Velasquez bludgeoned “Bigfoot” last May? I do not, but I also didn’t think Silva would beat Overeem. For that matter, I didn’t think he’d beat Fedor Emelianenko either.
The other part of this — to me — is that you have to reward Silva for what he just did. Putting him into a tough fight with the likes of Cormier, Frank Mir, or another top-of-the-food-chain heavyweight following his stoppage win over Overeem would be a step back. While it wouldn’t be an uncharacteristic move for the UFC, it’s nice to see them rewarding fighters for their performance and making the fight that makes the most sense for once.
Bardsley: A rematch no one was dying to see
The argument for Silva getting the shot is understandable on paper. The UFC poured a lot of its resources into marketing Overeem as the next heavyweight contender; even to the UFC brass it seemed like Overeem would score a perfunctory victory over Silva and ride a tidal wave of hype into his “inevitable” title shot. Silva had other plans that night, sending an overconfident and PED-free Overeem into dreamland with a vicious third-round TKO.
There is a wholly valid point of view that since Silva thumped the guy that was set to receive a title shot, said shot should fall to Silva. But their last bout was one of the most bloody in recent memory as Silva offered up no resistance to Velasquez’s superior wrestling and ground and pound attack in those three and a half minutes, and hasn’t shown anything in subsequent fights that he would fare any better in a rematch. In short, this would not be a fight but rather a televised execution.
The UFC would be better served by waiting for the impending matchup between Minotauro Noguiera and Fabricio Werdum to crown a new challenger for Velasquez’s crown. While Big Nog has been felled by Velasquez before, that was three years ago and the storyline of beloved veteran taking one last run at the title is an easy one to sell.
Meanwhile Werdum has looked fantastic since he improved his striking and has the jiu-jitsu skills to challenge Velasquez’s wrestling attack on the mat. Either option is more interesting than watching Silva be sacrificed to Velasquez for a second time.
Whose case do you like better (do you like the Velasquez-Silva matchup)?
DO YOU LIKE THE JOHNSON-MORAGA MATCHUP?
Bardsley: No traction with “no-name” challenger
Don’t feel bad, I cover the sport for the living and I barely know who Moraga is either.
“Mighty Mouse” recently helped establish the flyweight division among the casual fan base with an exciting thrill ride of a performance over a game challenger in John Dodson. That fight, and the fight the subsequent week between Joseph Benavidez and Ian McCall seemed to be setting the path for the next flyweight title showdown. Benavidez lived up to his end of the bargain, putting on a clinic in an exciting victory over Ian “Uncle Creepy” McCall.
But the UFC, as they are known to do, had a change of heart and decided to run with Moraga as the next title contender over Benavidez. From a business point of view, this is a mistake. The flyweight division is finally starting to gain some traction, after an initial rejection by the casual fanbase. The UFC was spoon-fed the most marketable fight they could make at 125 pounds, a Johnson-Benavidez rematch and has chosen instead to feature a fighter with no name recognition outside those fanatical about the sport.
A Johnson-Benavidez rematch would do more to excite people about the flyweight division and now that there is more acceptance for the 125ers, featuring the two biggest names in the division would be welcomed this time around, as opposed to the skepticism the initial fight in Toronto was met with.
If this is to main event a major TV card or play an integral part in a PPV, UFC will want all the star power they can muster. Given that Benavidez earned his right to another fight in the cage makes the decision even more of a head-scratcher. Nothing against John Moraga as a fighter, but there’s a reason USA Today MMA columnist John Morgan’s Twitter was littered with congratulations on his upcoming title shot.
Kyte: Benavidez can wait
Seriously Bards, how can you argue against a Velasquez-Silva rematch after “Bigfoot” smashes Overeem, but push for a “Mighty Mouse vs. Joe B. Wan Kenobi” do-over seven months after their first fight was soundtracked by a chorus of boos? A rematch between the two flyweight tournament finalists is going to happen, but there is no need to make it happen right now. Each man has only fought once since their initial encounter, and rushing into a second bout between the two doesn’t make sense, especially not from Benavidez’ standpoint.
Benavidez wants to avoid potentially losing to Johnson twice in quick succession like he did against Dominick Cruz during their WEC days. After losing to the UFC bantamweight champion twice in 12 months, Benavidez was stuck in purgatory, far away from title contention, despite being viewed as one of the very best in the division. Why rush into that potential situation if you don’t have to? Benavidez said last week he would prefer to fight again before squaring off with Johnson a second time, so I’m all for letting that happen.
Additionally, let’s not discount what Moraga has done, and once again give the UFC credit for not just making the most name-brand fight available. Moraga is 2-0 in the UFC with a pair of stoppage wins, most recently submitting perceived contender Chris Cariaso. While it sucks that both his fights have been on Facebook, Moraga shouldn’t be held back because of the UFC’s lack of foresight when setting up fight cards.
(BTW, I called for this fight after Johnson beat John Dodson last month in Chicago, so I’m pretty excited to see it come together. Nice to know the UFC is reading my work, even if you’re not, Carlin!)
Whose case do you like better (do you like the Johnson-Moraga matchup)?
E. Spencer Kyte is a regular contributor to ufc.com, UFC Magazine, and Fight Magazine, and writes the MMA blog Keyboard Kimura. Follow him on Twitter @spencerkyte.
Carlin Bardsley is a writer for MMASucka.com and the host of a daily MMA radio show on NextSportStar.com. Follow him on Twitter @CarlinBardsley.