8 for ‘08

8 for '08

By Jake Rossen Jan 7, 2008
Matchmaking, as any good talent relations chair will tell you, involves a great deal more than just coming up with an exciting fight.

Like Kasparov staring down a chessboard, matchmaking involves thinking three or four moves ahead, preparing promotional strategies for all possible outcomes and determining what a match result will mean for business a year or more down the road -- not to mention navigating the myriad of contractual, personal and physical issues that can undermine plans.

It's a thankless job. Credit for a good fight goes to the athletes, and blame for a somnolent mess falls on the beleaguered matchmaker. (Fun fact: Joe Silva began his UFC career at a sturdy 6-foot-2. True story.)

Thankfully, this space doesn't need to concern itself with responsible thinking. To that end, here are eight bouts that would make 2008 a happier new year for fans.

8. Vitor Belfort (Pictures) vs. Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) at Middleweight (185 lbs.)

Like a vegetarian at a pig roast, doubters of Wanderlei Silva (Pictures)'s abilities have long been accused of obnoxious counter-thinking. But while he put up a spectacularly courageous fight against Chuck Liddell (Pictures) in December, the Axe Murderer's prospects as a light heavyweight seem modest at best.

Against Tito Ortiz (Pictures) or Rashad Evans (Pictures), a decision loss seems a likely outcome, the template of which was set by Ortiz in 2000 and Ricardo Arona (Pictures) in 2005; against calculating strikers like Liddell, Silva might find himself perpetually stuck outside the pocket.

An inflated 205er (and you can read as much subtext into that as you wish), Silva's frame seems more naturally suited for 185 pounds. With the recognizable Vitor Belfort (Pictures) considering a similar drop, now seems like a reasonable time for a rematch of their classic 1998 fight, one which saw the mythical "old Vitor" slice through Silva's defenses like a broadsword.

Better: The UFC would have an immediate contender for the winner of Anderson Silva vs. Dan Henderson (Pictures) and a marquee name in a division that's more in need of one than the overstuffed 205-pound class.

If the UFC were ever to consider a return to Brazil, this would be quite the travel package.

7. Robbie Lawler (Pictures) vs. Cung Le (Pictures)

Scientifically formulated to be a war, it's hard to imagine that a match between ICON and EliteXC middleweight champion Lawler and san shou standout Le wouldn't be a leading candidate for 2008 Fight of the Year.

Lawler is incapable of going in reverse; Le's highly stylized standup attack is equally vicious. Lawler would undoubtedly test Le's chin, and possibly his ground game.

After four fights against mid-tier opponents, the 35-year-old Le needs to take the proverbial leap off the cliff if he's going to continue in MMA. The winner would also seem an appropriate candidate to face Frank Shamrock (Pictures) later in the year.

An exciting bout with real stakes -- isn't that at the crux of why we watch?

6. Brock Lesnar (Pictures) vs. Heath Herring (Pictures)

Pseudo-pornographic tattoo aside, Brock Lesnar (Pictures) is quickly emerging as the UFC's hottest heavyweight prospect in years. A bout with Frank Mir (Pictures) in February is going to severely test his submission acumen, and no one should be surprised if Mir is able to tear into a few of his ligaments.

But should Lesnar make it past the former UFC champ, questions will remain. As good as Mir is on the ground, his striking isn't world class, and his cardio is under perennial suspicion. To grade Lesnar's abilities in those tables, he'd need to face someone as aggressive and battle-tested as Herring.

There was a time when Herring was one of the sport's most underrated heavyweights, having solved the wrestler's positional advantages by alternating patience with well-timed explosiveness. (How quickly we forget NCAA-accredited Tom Erikson (Pictures) was once the most feared athlete on the circuit -- and that Herring was the first to beat him.)

Herring is a handful for anyone, having nearly knocked out Antonio Rodgrigo Nogueira in July. He'd give Lesnar a workout.

5. Diego Sanchez (Pictures) vs. Roger Huerta (Pictures) in Mexico

Full disclosure: Someone suggested this somewhere in the Internet wasteland, where it was summarily absorbed by my subconscious. My thanks to the anonymous donor.

With Sanchez's prospects at welterweight looking a little bleak following back-to-back losses against Josh Koscheck (Pictures) and Jon Fitch (Pictures), he may want to consider shedding some bulk and heading for 155, where he and the emerging Roger Huerta (Pictures) would be a sensational main event for the UFC's hypothetical foray into Mexico. Sanchez would probably follow Clay Guida (Pictures)'s strategy of out-muscling and out-hustling Huerta; whether he'd meet the same fate remains to be seen.

Best of all, the promotion is guaranteed a winner to satiate the hometown fans. Viva la synergy.
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