Just My Thoughts: A Slew of Intrigue

By Mike Sloan Aug 24, 2007
If current UFC heavyweight champion Randy Couture (Pictures) happens to triumph this Saturday night against challenger Gabriel Gonzaga (Pictures) and in turn retain his title, where would he go from there and who would he face at heavyweight?

Zuffa's moderately stacked UFC 74 card is filled with intrigue and you can start with the main event between Couture and Gonzaga. Some of the other fights on the bill are compelling as well, but nothing on the card holds as much allure as the heavyweight title fight that will close out the show.

Below, I'll try my best to break down three fights off the UFC 74 card with scenarios for each possible outcome, as well as a bold prediction. Feel free to fill my inbox with tons of messages -- both friendly and angry -- but above all else, enjoy.

Gabriel Gonzaga (Pictures) vs. Randy Couture (Pictures)

The Couture Wins Scenario: Provided Couture walks out of the octagon with his title still wrapped snug around his waist, will one of the sport's great warriors walk off into the sunset (again) or will he stick around to compete against the best heavyweights in the world?

It'd be logical to think that Couture would remain active and lay his title on the line against former PRIDE heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures), or participate in a showdown with Mirko Filipovic (Pictures), or wait in vain in hopes to landing a chance to compete against the world's top heavyweight, Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures).

No one can say for sure whether or not Fedor will sign with Zuffa, but battles against Minotauro and Cro Cop are a shoo-in, especially if Couture has his hand raised on Saturday night inside the Mandalay Bay Events Center.

That, of course, is if Couture opts to stay at heavyweight. Heck, knowing "The Natural," it's not out of question to believe that he might dip back down to 205 and try to regain his lost light heavyweight title and hold world titles simultaneously. Can you imagine how splendid a fight between Couture and current 205-pound champion Quinton Jackson (Pictures) would be? What about a super-fight against former training partner Dan Henderson (Pictures) or even the explosive Mauricio Rua (Pictures)?

The Gonzaga Wins Scenario: There are so many options for Couture should he triumph this weekend. His tussle with Gonzaga is no gimme and it's not out of the realm of possibility that Couture's current reign atop the UFC heavyweight heap will be short lived.

Gonzaga has lost only once and he has turned himself into one of the toughest men on the planet. After feasting on mid-level opposition, Gonzaga stepped up to the plate to face one of the deadliest strikers this sport has ever seen and turned the world of mixed martial arts upside down, flattening Mirko Filipovic (Pictures) with a crippling head kick that immediately placed him in line for a shot at the title.

Gonzaga has a terrific chance of toppling Couture and if he does, my guess is that Couture retires again. Gonzaga will be then on top of the world in the eyes of casual UFC fans. From there, the floodgates will open and it's a lock that Gonzaga will be fighting guys like Minotauro, Sylvia, Arlovski and others.

Gonzaga is already the darling of many a keyboard warrior based almost solely on his hilarious thwarting of Zuffa's plans to build Cro Cop into the second coming of Alexander. What would happen with Gonzaga after a win over Couture is anybody's guess, but if it's an explosive finish, I wouldn't be surprised to see Dana White step over a downed Couture on his way to congratulate Gonzaga a la Don King over George Foreman while he made a beeline for Muhammad Ali in Zaire.

The Bold Prediction: I've made the mistake of betting against Couture one too many times, believe me. After witnessing how he thrashed Tim Sylvia (Pictures) en route to snatching the title, I'd be a fool to bet against him again.

But I am.

Gonzaga will prevail and become the new UFC heavyweight champion much to the chagrin of many a UFC fan. Zuffa has huge plans for Couture as he is already a cash cow and marketer's dream; Gonzaga is not (yet). Either way, Couture will get beaten to the punch, to the takedown and probably to the kick. It'll be close and hard-fought but Gonzaga will win by late stoppage.

Koscheck vs. St. Pierre

The co-main event features former UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre (Pictures) against the surging Josh Koscheck (Pictures), a battle that could dictate future success for both men. The question going into this fight will be which fighter will show up: will it be the determined world killer GSP who dominated Matt Hughes (Pictures) and Sean Sherk (Pictures), the tentative one who fought B.J. Penn (Pictures) or the seemingly too confident "Rush" who was trounced by Matt Serra (Pictures)?

The GSP Wins Scenario: The outcome of this contest rests heavily on which St. Pierre shows up. When it comes to Koscheck, he's pretty much the same guy each time out. Sure, he has gotten better all around, but it's never a question as to which Kos will arrive inside the octagon as much as it is for GSP.

If the fully-trained and confident St. Pierre the world fell in love with shows up, I honestly don't see Koscheck doing enough to thwart his return to glory. However, if any other St. Pierre faces off against The Ultimate Fighter 1 veteran, the question becomes how hard will Kos press the issue? Will he turn the fight into an unwatchable snorefest like his "fight" against Diego Sanchez (Pictures), or will Kos turn up the heat and swarm GSP like he did against Jonathan Goulet (Pictures)?

A loss will be detrimental to his quest in regaining the title. He looked awful in his hotly disputed win over Penn and even though he destroyed Hughes in their rematch, "Rush" dropped the ball against Serra. if the French-Canadian gets smoked by Koscheck like he did at the hands of "The Terror," it'll be a long journey back to title contention.

If GSP prevails, especially if it is similar to how he manhandled Hughes in their rematch, his status as one of the world's best fighters will remain intact and his loss to Serra will pass as nothing more than a fluke. He'll likely get the winner of Serra-Hughes in his next outing, provided he doesn't get injured again in training.

St. Pierre probably wouldn't lose to Serra again and he seems to have Hughes figured out. The only other step for GSP to take would be to face someone like Diego Sanchez (Pictures), provided Sanchez remembers how to try to win a fight. He could also face great fighters like Karo Parisyan (Pictures), Jon Fitch (Pictures), Jake Shields (Pictures) or even WEC champ Carlos Condit (Pictures). Either way, a win for GSP sets up so many compelling battles that it'd be difficult to match him against a lousy opponent.

The Koscheck Wins Scenario: If Koscheck stinks up the entire arena and loses, he can bank on the notion that it'll be a long time before Zuffa tosses him into such a precious scenario again. For a myriad of reasons Koscheck is a polarizing figure in the UFC and his detractors have been waiting for him to screw up, especially after his dreadful victory over the highly touted Sanchez.

The only way Koscheck can afford to lose is if his contest with GSP is the fight of the year. Anything less will constitute his plummet to the bottom rung of the proverbial ladder.

Now, if Koscheck triumphs, there are plenty of possibilities ahead for the former NCAA wrestling champ. He would assuredly deserve a title shot against the winner of Serra-Hughes, but it's in the best interests of Zuffa for Koscheck not to win based on the reasoning that, well, GSP is a more exciting fighter. Kos is a live opponent, so a win is certainly not out of question.

My guess is that if Koscheck does win, he probably wouldn't be granted an immediate title shot. Serra won his chance by default really, and for the most part "The Terror" is more aesthetically pleasing to watch than Koscheck. If he continues to win, then he'll obviously get a shot at the 170-pound belt, but he'll have to beat more than just than St. Pierre to get it.

My Bold Prediction: St. Pierre will win because he'll show up ready for war. It should be a terrific performance, but it won't be easy. Kos will hang tough and make GSP earn his win and it could possibly be the fight of the night. Either way, St. Pierre is just the better all-around fighter and he should be starving for another shot at the belt. St. Pierre by decision. Unlike his last fight where everybody booed, cussed and hissed at his win, the fans with cheer Koscheck for being part of a splendid fight.

Frank Mir (Pictures) vs. Antoni Hardonk (Pictures)

Aside from the main event, the most intriguing fight on the UFC 74 bill is without question the heavyweight match-up between Frank Mir (Pictures) and Antoni Hardonk (Pictures).

Mir, a former UFC heavyweight champion, absolutely must score a win if he is ever to be considered a legitimate contender again, a position the Las Vegan probably doesn't want to be in. Mir began his MMA career as a promising and supremely talented heavyweight with a submission skillset of a top lightweight. He hit a bump in the road when he faced Ian Freeman (Pictures) at UFC 38, but quickly regained control of his fighting career and eventually became the champion after breaking Tim Sylvia (Pictures)'s arm.

Mir struggled mightily in two dramatic victories over infamous opponent Wes Sims (Pictures) but silenced some critics after he subbed Sylvia to capture the title. From there, though, it has been a downward spiral ever since Mir wrecked his motorcycle on a Las Vegas road, an accident in which Mir suffered a broken femur bone.

After a lengthy rehabilitation process and the stripping of his title, Mir has not even been close to the same fighter he was when he was on top of the UFC heavyweight division.

He floundered in his first comeback bout against Marcio Cruz (Pictures) and was stopped in the opening round. Mir bounced back with a deflating performance against Dan Christison (Pictures), but even though Mir was awarded the decision, many who watched the fight felt Christison should have won.

In his most recent bout, Mir was bombarded by promising contender Brandon Vera (Pictures) and stopped just 69 seconds into the contest. Mir also lost on points to the smaller Renato "Babalu" Sobral in an exhibition grappling match on a recent Tuff-N-Uff card and in that six-minute contest, Mir looked out of shape.

The Mir Wins Scenario: It's easy to target Mir as a wasted talent but he is still young enough and filled with enough raw talent to make a run at a comeback. The question remains as to whether Mir has it in him to willingly reach his still-untapped potential. My guess, and this is based on recent history, is that Mir won't. If Mir actually trains hard for this fight and comes in as prepared as he should, there is no reason for him not to win.

If Mir does score the victory, he'll have to do it in memorable fashion and it'll have to be of highlight reel proportions. If that does occur, then he can easily bounce right back into the credibility bucket and Zuffa can expertly match him against opposition he can look good against.

From there, if he continues to stay focused, there is no reason why he can't land a rematch with Sylvia and try to break his other arm. If that happens, then we can talk about a chance at regaining his heavyweight title, a belt he never actually lost in the cage.

Any way it's sliced, though, Mir has a long way to go before he reaches the pinnacle of his division. It's actually up to him.

The Hardonk Wins Scenario: It's hard to say for sure but it seems like Hardonk has been brought in to be another fighter who can possibly make Mir look good. He's coming off a loss at the hands of Justin McCully (Pictures), but that doesn't mean he is a slouch. A win over a former champion is always pretty on a fighter's résumé and said victory could project Hardonk into potential contender status. However, he'll have to beat more than just Mir if he is to be taken seriously as a contender but he's young enough to possibly achieve that.

Hardonk also can't walk into the octagon with the mindset that he is a steppingstone for Mir. As long as he can stay fresh, he should eventually be able to weather a storm or two and stop Mir. My guess is that a win over Mir will allow him to fight better guys in the division.

My Bold Prediction: I learned a lesson many moons ago when talking about Mir: bet against him every time and chances are you'll fill your pockets with gold. As long as Hardonk isn't caught in a submission early (like, I don't know, 60 seconds), he'll be able to wear Mir out until he's crippled from exhaustion. Mir will stumble into the second round, bleeding from his eyebrows and gasping for air before Hardonk stops the former champion.

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