Injuries to UFC stars are piling up. The latest report is that middleweight champion Anderson Silva won’t be ready to fight in February, as was hoped. His elbow, from which he had bone chips removed in October, is apparently taking longer than expected to heal.
This means the big fight between one of the most dominant champions in UFC history and newly installed No. 1 contender Vitor Belfort will not headline the organization’s annual Super Bowl weekend show in Las Vegas. This was a fight that actually had some intrigue — Belfort’s been away from the UFC for some time and is new to the 185-pound ranks. But he could very well pose the biggest threat to The Spider’s crown right now, something we haven’t seen in some time.
I’ve got Belfort ranked No. 7 in the middleweight ladder right now, six back of the top spot owned by Silva of course. Three of the guys between him and the belt-holder have already lost in their title shots and another, Demian Maia, was just KO’d by one of the three, Nate Marquardt, in 21 seconds. The remaining guy, Paulo Filho, is perhaps the only other guy who could — at least could at one point — challenge Silva. But since Filho and Silva are teammates and buddies, such a fight will likely never happen; not to mention Filho fights outside the UFC.
So the Silva-Belfort matchup is the best we could hope for and it looked like it would make for a very marketable main event. But with this one off the table it looks like the now confirmed light-heavyweight matchup between Hall of Famers Randy Couture and Mark Coleman, which would become the oldest matchup in UFC history, will headline.
If that turns out to be the case this could be the worst Super Bowl main event in recent memory.
Let’s look at each of the headlining fights since the UFC starting holding events in Las Vegas the Saturday night before the NFL’s championship game:
2004: Belfort defeats champion Couture for LHW belt
2005: Tito Ortiz defeats Belfort*
2006: Liddell-Couture 3: Chuck Liddell defends LHW belt against Couture
2007: Silva defeats Lutter; supposed to be title bout but Lutter missed weight
2008: Nogueira defeats Sylvia for interim HW belt
2009: St. Pierre vs. Penn 2: GSP defends WW belt against B.J. Penn
Five of them scheduled title fights, the other a matchup between recent champions who were still top contenders. (* The 2005 also featured two title fights: Tanner defeats Terrell for MW belt; Arlovski defeats Sylvia for interim HW belt.)
Now, I don’t mean to disrespect Coleman or Couture — they’re both former champions. But not recently. And I can’t honestly say that either is a top contender. I do have Couture at No. 10 in the light-heavyweight rankings, because I still think he’s dangerous and can win a lot of fights. But I don’t think he poses any kind of threat to champion Lyoto Machida. At least not right now, and definitely not by winning fights against the equally aged Coleman.
This figures to be a less-than-exciting wrestling duel, with nothing really on the line, no immediate implications for either fighter and it is certainly not a marketable matchup to young fans or those the UFC wishes to introduce to the sport.
The problem is, the UFC doesn’t have much in the way of alternatives. All its champions are coming off injury, save for Penn who is fighting in two weeks. Silva says he won’t be ready. St. Pierre is recovering from a groin pull and Lyoto Machida recently underwent hand surgery. Finally, its heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar has mono and an intestinal issue which could keep him out a while and perhaps forever, and a guy who could naturally fight for an interim heavyweight title he held before has a staph infection.
It’s rumoured St. Pierre will be defending his welterweight title in March against Dan Hardy, so could it be possible that he’d be ready to fight a month earlier if the UFC needed him? St. Pierre is definitely an amenable guy — he stepped up to fight Matt Hughes on short notice at the end of 2007. But back then he had a belt to gain; now he has the belt to lose and there’s no way he’s putting it on the line unless he’s 100 per cent. He won’t make the same mistake he made against Matt Serra (the first time they met and he lost his championship).
The UFC better hope that one of these injured guys is less injured than advertised and can fight on this show, because the rumoured co-main event isn’t any more inspiring: Matt Serra vs. Frank Trigg in another matchup of guys past their prime.
I’m not of the opinion that every UFC PPV needs to have a championship bout. Not only is that not realistic but, as with other sports, a matchup can still be very compelling even without a title directly on the line.
But certain shows should, and the UFC ought to make every effort to make that happen. And with 2009’s “year-end” show (which will actually be Jan. 2, 2010 this time around) already losing the Silva-Belfort matchup, it would be a real shame if the Feb. 6 one is without one too.
SIDE NOTE: Speaking of stars unavailable to the UFC right now, I can’t wait to see Quinton (Rampage) Jackson show off his acting chops in the A-Team movie in June. If his skills are any bit as good as Couture’s in The Scorpion King 2 (available now on the Super Channel) we’re in for a treat. Sorry, Randy, but you’re no Dwayne (The Rock) Johnson.