Premature Thoughts on UFC 73

By Jake Rossen Jul 2, 2007
From Sherdog's Ceaseless Bitching Dept: Thanks to the diluted offerings of the UFC's frenetic television schedule, a card that promises three marquee fights is no longer the norm, but worthy of the subtitle "Stacked."

The gesture is a slight jab at the brain trust behind the Oscar De La Hoya-Floyd Mayweather Jr. showdown in May, which prompted Dana White (and countless others) to harangue promoters for cheating fans out of a more substantial fight card. Now comes an MMA telecast with two title fights, one manufactured "grudge" match, and the debut of a legendary heavyweight with the PRIDE mystique behind him.

Of the five bouts on the card that have a compelling narrative -- including the return of exiled Stephan Bonnar (Pictures) -- it seems a little skewed that one didn't pop up on the name-bankrupt UFC Fight Night card from 6/12, or the skeletal UFC 72 from Ireland.

A look at some of Saturday's more intriguing stories:

Ortiz-Evans

Unless I miss David Stern's manifesto against Kobe Bryant, I can think of no sports bureaucrat who has wasted 90 minutes of airtime simultaneously self-flagellating while attacking the character of one of his top draws.

The "Bad Blood" SpikeTV special, ostensibly filmed to document the preparation behind an inane Dana White-Tito Ortiz (Pictures) boxing match, was instead a propaganda piece on Ortiz's alleged cowardice in not showing up.

The conceit was rock-stupid from the get-go; perhaps Ortiz finally realized that he had nothing to gain and everything to lose in the kind of stunt even Vince McMahon would've found silly.

But it's worth noting that the piece, which drew a respectable rating for essentially being a White infomercial, is clearly going to skew perceptions of Ortiz as he heads into Saturday's showdown with upstart Rashad Evans (Pictures). Can a public already polarized on the performer be expected to take his career seriously after that kind of public smear campaign?

I'm not a particular fan of Ortiz -- he hasn't finished a fight with anyone under the age of 42 in years -- but he's an undeniable attraction, and Zuffa's only real star during their lean years. The Ortiz-helmed events against Griffin, Liddell, and Shamrock pepper their live gate records. The guy probably deserves more respect than televised character assassination.

Ortiz can get a lot of image rehab in with a victory over Evans, one of the UFC's reality show discoveries. With a 15-0 record and an accomplished wrestling pedigree, "Sugar" is hardly a pushover.

The problem with being a better wrestler, as Vladimir Matyushenko (Pictures) found out, is that it's not necessarily going to help you against the strength of Ortiz, who can muscle his way into a clinch and sacrifice finesse for pure horsepower. Evans has been able to outwrestle all of his opponents to date, but unless he can score standing, he's likely to drop a decision.

If he does manage to rattle Tito, opportunities for the former champion are going to get scarce. I still subscribe to the notion of letting Ortiz lead a charge into the WEC. If Zuffa is serious about their sister promotion becoming a contender, they'll need the established names -- and their corresponding paychecks.

Marquardt-Silva

As tough and as proficient a striker as Anderson Silva is, the depth of the UFC's middleweight roster is going to make it incredibly difficult for him to set any kind of title defense record.

Travis Lutter (Pictures) proved that even a gasping, dehydrated athlete with sloppy takedowns is going to put Silva on his back. Expect the same from Nathan Marquardt (Pictures), who has been able to smother his UFC opposition en route to a 3-0 mark in the promotion.

Marquardt's skills may be a detriment to the UFC; with his tactician's style, he has the potential to be a perennial, plodding champion. And with only one televised bout to his name, fan apathy is going to be strong. He'll need a dominating performance against Silva to sway expectations of the jaded "lay ‘n pray" contingent.

The winner seems likely to face Rich Franklin (Pictures); if Silva happens to drop the bout, he'd make for terrific (if belated) fireworks against Drew McFedries.

Sherk-Franca

With B.J. Penn (Pictures)'s seeming reluctance to remain at 155 pounds, Sean Sherk (Pictures) is the champion most likely to retain his belt for the foreseeable future.

Hermes Franca (Pictures)'s unorthodox striking can confound virtually anyone, but Sherk has a tight, economical striking game that doesn't seem to leave many openings. Where Franca can shine is being active enough on the mat to force an opening and go for a choke. (You can forget about armbarring Sherk, who's built like a fireplug.)

Franca, undefeated in his last eight fights, is an undervalued talent in the division. Unless Franca has no answers at all for the inevitable -- getting slammed on his back -- this could be the fight of the evening.

Nogueira-Herring

The PRIDE exodus that began with Mirko Filipovic (Pictures) continues with fellow standout heavyweight Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira. (Good luck finding poster dimensions to accommodate that.)

Nogueira's constitution is ridiculously resilient: legend has it he was once run over by a truck. Looking at his fights, you almost feel sorry for the vehicle. With a highly aggressive jiu-jitsu game, he's been too much for every heavyweight to date -- save Fedor Emelianenko (Pictures). He also has yet to be stopped inside the distance.

That's not likely to change against Heath Herring (Pictures) in a bout that takes the decidedly Japanese tact of offering a rubber match to a two-time loser. Nogueira and Herring have met twice before, with Nogueira scoring a decision and submission, respectively. Either UFC brass expects proven action, or they're looking to oust Herring without ceremony. Either way, it's a guaranteed method of smothering excitement over Nogueira's UFC debut, the stench of summer rerun soiling anticipation.

Why not Antoni Hardonk (Pictures), a kickboxer who could at least bruise Nogueira's thighs? Why not Tim Sylvia (Pictures) in an expedited meeting of promotional rivals?

Armchair matchmaking aside, "Stacked" should perform as advertised: namely, making the ignorant, top-heavy boxing promotions look vacant in comparison.

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