Matches to Make After UFC 120

By Jason Probst Oct 18, 2010
Michael Bisping (right) and Wanderlei Silva:

In the fallout of UFC 120 “Bisping vs. Akiyama” at the O2 Arena in London, we take a spin of the matchmaker wheel at the emerging storylines from Saturday’s event in the United Kingdom.

Michael Bisping vs. Wanderlei Silva 2

What to do with a Bisping on the rise (again)? A workmanlike performance in the main event against Yoshihiro Akiyama showed why Bisping has become a staple in U.K. shows, as he overcame a shaky opening to find his spots and take a clear-cut decision.

The middleweight division is mighty busy these days. The Yushin Okami-Nate Marquardt title eliminator is at UFC 122 on Nov. 13; mid- and upper-level foes that might make good matches for Bisping are readily booked against one another, from the Alessio Sakara-Jorge Rivera duel at UFC 122 and the Mark Munoz-Aaron Simpson tilt at the following week’s UFC 123 to Demian Maia’s matchup with Kendall Grove at the “The Ultimate Fighter 12” Finale on Dec. 4. A Chris Leben rematch is not an option, as “The Crippler,” fresh off upset wins over Akiyama and Simpson, is tentatively scheduled to take on Brian Stann at January’s UFC 125.

The UFC is in a curious position with Bisping, as his marketability affords him a bit more latitude with opponent selection. He can fill seats without necessarily having to risk another Dan Henderson-like disaster, though at some point he’s going to have to be thrown in deeper. That’s why a rematch with Wanderlei Silva early next year would be perfect.

Silva, recovering from knee surgery, took a close decision over Bisping in their first match, closing hard at the end with a series of punches that made it look like “The Axe Murderer” had recaptured his prime, if only for a brief few moments. Depending on how the top of the division shakes out, an impressive win could put him a big victory away from a title shot.

Plus, a rematch with Silva is likely to be another pins-and-needles affair, with Bisping sticking and moving as Wanderlei stalks. The jury remains out on how effective Silva can be at this point in his career and, perhaps more importantly, at 185 pounds, where he seems to be cutting too much weight. It’s promotable and fan-friendly and offers Bisping his best risk-reward for a big victory that will catapult him higher in what is a stacked division.

Carlos Condit vs. Chris Lytle
File Photo: M. Fridley

Lytle (pictured) is durable.

Though Condit stated after his picturesque knockout win over Dan Hardy that he wanted the winner of Saturday’s Jake Shields-Martin Kampmann match at UFC 121, it doesn’t make promotional sense for the organization, particularly if Shields wins, because he’s a badly needed opponent for champion Georges St. Pierre. Naturally, Condit, the former WEC boss, wants some get-back against either guy since he’s lost decisions to both, including a razor-thin one against Shields at a Rumble on the Rock show in 2006.

Putting on our matchmaker cap, why not put Condit in against the always-exciting Chris Lytle? The Hoosier is one of the most durable fighters in the sport, and he comes to bang. Plus, both would likely prefer a standing match, as each would respect the other guy’s ground game. You can counter with the argument that Lytle may not be highly ranked enough of a contender, especially after Condit crushed Hardy the way he did, but that’s something Condit will have in his back pocket that nobody else in the UFC does.

This would be one of those matches that’s a can’t-miss “Fight of the Night.” In addition, it would put Condit in an exciting brawl to raise his marketability while GSP deals with Josh Koscheck and the winner of that fight takes on the Shields-Kampmann victor in early 2011. With his boxing and toughness, Lytle would have a great shot at winning.

Mike Pyle vs. Dan Hardy

Pyle’s performance against the previously unbeaten John Hathaway was inspiring, as he put together the blend of takedowns and grappling sequences that make the ground game fun to watch. Pyle’s always had a boatload of talent; he hasn’t always had the lead time to put it together on the sport’s biggest stage. Hathway’s performance, particularly in the second round when he was caught in a reverse triangle and ate a ton of punches without ceding, shows that he’s a young fighter with major upside and heart.

With a classic veteran-over-upstart upset now cleanly notched under his belt, a Pyle tussle with the dangerous Anthony Johnson would be guaranteed dynamite. While Johnson cuts a harrowing amount of weight to make 170 (he walks around at a solid 210-plus pounds), he brings a sense of danger and imposing size to any welterweight match. Pyle typically depends on his hard-nosed wrestling to dictate the pace of a bout, which plays, literally, right into Johnson’s strengths. And the talented “Rumble” can bang with the best of them.

If Johnson isn’t available, Hardy would be a solid welterweight contender’s matchup for Pyle, as well. Bill him as “The Brit Killer” and put it in the U.K. as a co-main event on a Spike show. Hardy did not look bad at all against Condit, and he’d be coming in with his back against the wall against a resurgent veteran.
File Photo: D. Mandel

Kongo (above) remains marketable.

Cheick Kongo vs. Patrick Barry

In what is becoming a regrettable trend in MMA, a point deduction created a draw in the Kongo-Travis Browne bout, as the Frenchman grabbed Brown’s shorts in the final round. Neither guy ended up getting the duke in what was an entertaining heavyweight bout, even if it will never be confused with a K-1 match.

The point deduction aside, Kongo is still a marketable heavyweight with a reliable barometer of performances. Heavyweight bouts in MMA are like the steak on the menu in a restaurant, designed to fill the hungry eaters and send them away with full bellies and warm hearts. A Kongo-Barry fight would almost certainly provide big standing exchanges, with the kind of kickboxing oeuvre on display that most heavyweights do not supply. Both guys are explosive, can kick and work effectively with textbook muay Thai in the clinch.

It’s the kind of steak on which you gorge yourself and then take the other half home in a leftover container. As for Browne, he performed fairly well in a debut against a notable veteran, and chances are, he will be better acclimated with this one behind him. At 6-foot-7, 250 pounds, and with good takedowns -- he tossed Kongo around at will, when he remembered to -- he will have to tighten up his stand-up game but has size you cannot teach.

Paul Sass vs. Cole Miller

The old-school MMA style of diving in to pull guard is about as common as a karateka entering the Octagon, but it’s still fascinating to see it at work; it’s like an NFL team running the option. Now 11-0 with 10 submissions, Sass’ slick triangle submission of Mark Holst was a lot of fun to watch, namely because he has a lot of work to do on his stand-up, yet has a great submission game.

Enter Miller, who would be a high-level jump for a guy like Sass in his second UFC fight and a compelling one because his submission game is pretty slick, too. He’s also proven a reliable commodity in providing exciting fights and has shown marked improvement in his stand-up over the past few years.

Jason Probst can be reached at
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