A week in MMA where the only major event is ONE Championship’s Visions of Victory generally means a week where we can reflect. On what was, and what’s to come.
It’s been an interesting start to 2018 thus far: Stipe Miocic proved himself the most dominant UFC heavyweight champion in history. Cyborg Santos showed she was willing and able to save a card on short notice. And Brian Ortega shocked the world with a crushing knockout of Frankie Edgar.
Over in Bellator, the UFC’s top competitor is making some waves of its own. After starting the year strong with Bellator 192, they kept the World Heavyweight Grand Prix rolling, as Matt Mitrone defeated Roy Nelson at Bellator 194 in Connecticut in February. Bellator 195 flew mostly under the radar, despite homegrown product Darrion Caldwell successfully defending his bantamweight title. Yet the big news in the past couple weeks was the signing of UFC and Pride legend Mirko Cro-Cop, who has been booked into a rematch with the aforementioned Nelson. The promotion is also working on a fourth fight between Wanderlei Silva and Rampage Jackson, likely to headline the promotion’s debut in Brazil.
Of course, the question on that one is whether there is any sporting merit whatsoever in a contest at this stage of their respective careers.
Our panel of experts tackles that, answers the question currently posed by Frankie Edgar, and even tackles Brock Lesnar (not literally!) in this week’s round table discussion.
Should Brock Lesnar return for another UFC fight?
Dana White seems to think it’s very likely that WWE star and former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar steps back in the octagon this year. P.T. Barnum/sucker comments aside, should Lesnar even consider the move?
Jay Anderson: Should is probably the more interesting question than “will” in this case. We know how the game works by now: Lesnar’s WWE contract comes up, he chants some magic incantations involving the initials U, F, and C, and eventually gets a deal done for a shiny new part-time contract that someone still allows him to be a champion in the wrestling promotion. Of course, he did come back once before, at UFC 200, but that was during his WWE run. It was a one-off. And that’s what is likely to happen again, if Lesnar decides he wants to fight.
Should he? It depends on what his goals are. Brock Lesnar has oodles of money at this point, but he has always seemed like a guy who wants more. If the right match-up comes along, as the Hunt fight did, which was stylistically a favorable pairing for Brock, then sure. That, of course, would be after he spends six months in the USADA pool serving out the remainder of his suspension.
Heath Harshman: I’d love for Brock to return to the UFC. His run this year in WWE hasn’t been anything special, and while his performance at UFC 200 against Mark Hunt wasn’t exactly exciting, it seems to make sense for all parties involved. Except WWE, who need to move on anyway. The easy opponent is Jon Jones, but with both parties’ USADA issues, it may not be very likely. A rematch with Cain Velasquez or Alistair Overeem would be interesting, but really Lesnar versus anyone in the UFC’s heavyweight division would be a nice injection of excitement for a mostly struggling division.
As Paul Heyman told TMZ, “I think Brock Lesnar does whatever Brock Lesnar wants to do. If Brock Lesnar wants to fight in UFC, Brock Lesnar will fight in UFC. If Brock Lesnar wants to fight in WWE, he will fight in WWE.”
“Brock Lesnar does what Brock Lesnar wants to do.”
The reigning, defending, undisputed, heavyweight champion of the world may have to sit out six months when he makes his decision to return to the UFC, though as Jeff Novitsky has said Lesnar would need to re-enter the USADA testing pool for another few months to regain eligible status as a competitor, as his current 1-year USADA suspension out of UFC 200 for clomiphene is still in effect – but who the hell knows. Ahead of UFC 200 he bent the rules and until it’s announced that he’s entered the UFC testing pool to complete his suspension, it can’t even be completely ruled out that another ‘Brock Lesnar’ rule is found.
Lesnar should return to the UFC if he wants to fight, because as of July 2017 he’s still got ‘it.’ Mark Hunt is currently ranked #6, and clomiphene Lesnar defeated him. He should stay away from #4 Cain Velazquez, #3 Fabricio Werdum, and #2 Alistair Overeem in his return fight if his aim is to regain the UFC Heavyweight title, but any other top 15 ranked heavyweight makes sense. Derrick Lewis would be a fun fight that makes sense from a stylistic standpoint – but we all want the Jon Jones fight, that’s where the money is.
I’m all for a Jon Jones vs. Brock Lesnar bout, but it doesn’t seem all that likely at this point unless the UFC ends the USADA era and sends Novitzky packing.That being said, Francis Ngannou vs. Brock Lesnar is the fight to make as a win for either fighter would mean a shot at the UFC Heavyweight Championship. Should Lesnar lose, the company successfully got Ngannou ‘over the hump’ so to speak after he was exposed against Stipe Miocic back at UFC 220, and if Lesnar wins – the UFC has a license to print money and Brock will be a bigger draw than ever.
Gabriel Gonzalez: I think not. As much fun as it is having a star and personality like him in the MMA world, I don’t think the grind of training and “real” competition is something he truly wants to go through. Also, we know the media and politics of the sport are not his cup of tea. I believe he is using the UFC option to help negotiate more money on his next WWE contract.
Dan Doherty: No. His health was already on the decline during his first stint in the UFC, and he needed some extra help to look as good as he did against Mark Hunt. With the physically demanding job of WWE occupying his time, a UFC return would not be wise. Especially with only big and dangerous fights waiting for him.
Jason Payne: Brock coming back to the UFC is weird since the only people in the top 10 he can beat are Hunt and Francis.
Nelson vs. Cro-Cop 2: Who wins, and why?
Once upon a time, Mirko Cro-Cop was sent packing from the UFC by Roy Nelson, by way of Big Country’s dangerous crucifix, and a whole lot of ground & pound. Now, Bellator has signed the Croatian fighter, whose left leg has been busy finishing opponents in Japan while his right leg retires, comes back, and has to shake off pesky USADA issues. Who wins this rematch, and why?
Jason Payne: I’m trying to care about this one. Bellator is trying to find the balance of trying to be legit, but also turning themselves into an old man circuit.
Dan Doherty: If juiced-up Japan Cro Cop shows up, Cro Cop. If slowly fading old man from the end of his first UFC run shows up, Nelson. Heck, Nelson already beat that second one. But I’m hoping we can see some of that Japan Cro Cop at Bellator London. Imagine he wins the Bellator Grand Prix (as an alternate) and the Rizin Grand Prix to end his career. Amazing.
Gabriel Gonzalez: Nelson. Cro Cop has had a nice resurgence in Rizin, one that I don’t think he gets enough credit for. That being said, his most notable victory over King Mo does not change the fact that Cro Cop has faced less than stellar competition in Japan. Coupled with Nelson’s ground game, I think this one is straight forward.
Jesse Gillette: Upon re-watching Nelson vs. Cro Cop at UFC 137, I believe Roy Nelson wins this fight in a similar fashion. Even though Mirko Cro Cop has looked amazing in Japan, logic says it’s because he’s fighting against less stiff competition in Rizin.
Cro Cop’s takedown defense is good, but not good enough to stay off his back against Roy Nelson, and when Nelson finds himself on top in the mounted crucifix position at Bellator 200, the end will be near for Filipovic.
I hope I’m wrong and Cro Cop decimates Nelson.
Heath Harshman: It’s hard to pick against Cro Cop considering his run of late (and his physique). Since it’s in London, and under the Bellator banner, I’ll take Cro Cop. Nelson looked alright in his last fight against Matt Mitrione, but his better days are obviously behind him. The same is likely true for Cro Cop, but he’s much more the in-form fighter of the two.
Jay Anderson: This is a fight I never thought would happen. It checks all the boxes: Heavyweight legends. Not entirely shot in the sport. A rematch, which Roy Nelson has been clamoring about for a while, though mainly against fighters he has lost to. This, however, will be his second in a row against a fighter he has already defeated.
Even when talk of Cro-Cop to Bellator popped up over the years, I never expected this fight to happen. Cro-Cop against Fedor, sure. Yet there’s something unquestionably fun about this. Nelson has been trading wins and losses for a bit now. He’s 3-3 in his last six, but when you consider that both the Derrick Lewis and Matt Mitrione fights were close, and that Alexander Volkov is now a contender in the UFC, his stock takes a little bump. Cro-Cop has won a mind-boggling eight straight, including winning RIZIN’s Openweight Grand Prix. Before anyone complains about Tsuyoshi Kohsaka being 47, lets remember that Cro-Cop himself is 43, and knocked out King Mo a little over a year ago. He also took revenge on Gabriel Gonzaga in the UFC during this eight fight streak.
Yet as good as Cro-Cop has been in the last few years on paper, and even sometimes in practice, you have to favor Roy Nelson in this.
Rampage vs. Silva 4: Will you watch this, and is this a freakshow given where these two are at in their careers?
Rampage Jackson vs. Wanderlei Silva 4 is being targeted for Bellator’s debut in Brazil later this year. Is it a fun fight? A freakshow fight? Will you even watch it?
Jay Anderson: Yes, I will watch, but mostly because I have to. And because it’s Bellator’s debut in Brazil. Look, I enjoy Bellator. Quite a bit actually. I’ve watched them rise up from the Bjorn Rebney tournament days, and I’ve been a fan of their various incarnations because they’ve always managed to do a lot with relatively little in terms of roster depth. As they’ve grown into a true free agent destination, it’s been fun to see their goals expand. Yet at the same time, I’ve shied away from their freakshow fights. The late Kimbo Slice vs. Dada 5000 was a low point, obviously, but Slice vs. Shamrock and Shamrock vs. Gracie 3 were equally unnecessary.
While Nelson vs. Cro-Cop gets a pass for being a fun fight, there’s a big question mark in this one. Jackson was last seen being put on his back by Chael Sonnen and hasn’t looked particularly great of late. Worse, Silva looked downright awful against Chael. Why are we booking this fight? To try and get one legend to rebound after both lost to the ‘Bad Guy?’
So yes, this is pretty much a freakshow. It feels like at any given moment, Rampage could turn things around and put on a legitimately good performance or two, but this isn’t the fight for that.
Heath Harshman: I love Rampage, despite the incredibly boring performances he’s become known for in recent years. Anytime Rampage and Silva wanna get in a cage and fight, I will watch. I don’t know if I’d consider it a freakshow, but it’s certainly not necessary or overly interesting. Yet, I will watch.
Jesse Gillette: Yes. Yes.
Thank you Scott Coker for having the balls to book Japanese freakshow fights under the Bellator banner. Anyone who wouldn’t watch these isn’t a fan of MMA – like come on, it’s not Shamrock vs. Gracie 4 levels of bad.
Watch it – most definitely, just maybe not as it live on TV, or tape delay, or whatever Viacom does now.
Gabriel Gonzalez: Of course it is a freak show. But I think everyone watching is realistic about their expectations. You’re not (or shouldn’t be) going into this expecting the highest level of MMA or a prime Silva & Rampage. But both men signed up for this, and are able to fight and will promote it well against each other. So why not?
Dan Doherty: Gross. It’s a freakshow considering how they’ve looked in recent fights. Which is bad.
Jason Payne: Rampage Jackson vs. Silva 4 being outside of Japan doesn’t feel right.
Where does Frankie Edgar go from here?
The MMA world was stunned when Brian Ortega finished off Frankie Edgar at UFC 222. The loss cost Edgar his featherweight title shot against Max Holloway. Now what?
Jason Payne: He’s in a weird place. Has survived about 3 or 4 generations, has only been finished once in his career, but he’s obviously up there in years. And up until UFC 222, his post LW champ losses have only been to people ranked #1 or the current champ.
Dan Doherty: Back to square one. Beat everyone that’s put in front of him that’s not named Aldo. Edgar got caught against a really legit fighter in Ortega. But it’s not like Edgar looked any slower or worse for the wear. It was a well-timed counter elbow. Edgar still has a run left in him.
Gabriel Gonzalez: I think that Frankie has plenty left in the tank, but it’s honestly about match-ups and opportunities. If Max defeats Brian, who’s to say Frankie isn’t one win away from getting back in a title fight? Or, if that fails to materialize, perhaps it is time for the long discussed move to 135. Stylistically, that may suit him best. But if he’s still winning, the weight class doesn’t matter for someone who’s proven he can compete with anyone.
Jesse Gillette: What’s BJ Penn up to? Just f***ing kidding.
I believe the only viable option for Frankie Edgar for now is to cut to Bantamweight. He’s not getting another crack at a title unless he goes on a streak at 145, and he doesn’t have time for that now.
It is pretty amazing that Edgar looks small at featherweight now after he was the lightweight king all those years ago, but maybe he can earn a crack at the UFC Bantamweight Championship with a win over a Dominick Cruz or Cody Garbrandt.
That’s really the only viable option if he wants to fight for a title again.
Heath Harshman: Frankie is in a bind. Featherweight isn’t getting any easier, and it’s hard to envision a road back to the title for him anytime soon. Time is undoubtedly running out on his seemingly endless run as a top-tier fighter. If Edgar can afford to be patient, win a fight or two, and hope to be a late fill-in for a title-fight in the near future, I think that’s his best shot at achieving two-division UFC championship glory.
He’s obviously still got some gas in the tank, and I’d like to see him stay in the UFC and continue to challenge atop the 145-pound division. How long Edgar can do that, and live up to his (and our) very high standards, remains to be seen. If that doesn’t pan out, there’s some interesting matchups at lightweight and featherweight over in Bellator that I wouldn’t mind watching. Frankie is far from done, but his future UFC title-chances are as unlikely as they have been in years.
Jay Anderson: I don’t think things are as bad for ‘The Answer’ as people are making them out to be. He got caught by a surging fighter, but that’s his first knockout loss. He didn’t lose to the champ. He didn’t look bad. He took the opponent on short notice and did the UFC a favor in doing so.
One big win, or an injury to Ortega, and he’s back in another title shot against Max Holloway. And should Ortega beat Holloway, and Edgar pick up a statement win against another top 145’er, there’s a rematch for the UFC to sell in Ortega vs. Edgar 2.
Frankie’s all heart. He’ll be back.