The recent introduction of the flyweight division demonstrated the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s ever-growing appreciation for the little guy, but make no mistake, size does still matter in the world’s largest MMA promotion.
When Junior dos Santos defends his title against No. 1 contender Alistair Overeem on May 26, it will be the last of five heavyweight main card bouts at UFC 146. The phrase “Go big or go home” has never been more relevant.
Given the relative dearth of quality heavyweights in MMA as a whole, this recent development -- which became official when Mark Hunt-Stefan Struve was added to the card last week -- elicited more than a few groans from the diehards, especially once it became apparent that the lightweight clash between Edson Barboza and Evan Dunham would be relegated to preliminary status. However, that reaction is far from the consensus. Plenty of people will be thrilled to usher in the summer with barbecue, booze and behemoths engaging in caged violence.
It is unreasonable to expect the back-and-forth brilliance that bouts like Benson Henderson-Frankie Edgar and Ian McCall-Demetrious Johnson recently supplied, but what UFC 146 lacks in aesthetic beauty it will more than make up for in terms of sheer brute force. It has become cliché to say that nothing captivates the masses like a pair of heavyweights doing battle in a cage or ring, but such a trite statement is rooted in truth. The possibility of a quick finish is mesmerizing, and nobody is better equipped to deliver than a 260-pound man with ill intentions in his fists.
It is a fight card that is perfectly in step with the beginning of the summer movie season. Nobody felt like a third installment of “Men in Black” was absolutely necessary, but that does not mean it will not be fun spending two more hours in a theater with Agent Jay and Agent Kay. The same idea holds true for this super-sized event, but with a bonus: the UFC’s own “Clash of the Titans” has more substance than your typical big-budget summer flick.
While the Memorial Day weekend card is not defined as a tournament, the main and co-main events make for a nice unofficial mini-bracket, with the dos Santos-Overeem winner defending his crown against the victor of the Cain Velasquez-Frank Mir showdown at a later date. Four of the world’s best big men fighting back-to-back is worth the price of admission alone.
Other promotions have attempted more ambitious heavyweight endeavors in the past. Over the course of three events from April 25, 2004 to Dec. 31, 2004, Pride Fighting Championships held its heavyweight grand prix. It began with 16 men -- including such notables as Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko Filipovic, Kevin Randleman, Heath Herring and Mark Coleman -- and ended with “The Last Emperor” and “Minotauro” squaring off on New Year’s Eve in Saitama, Japan. More recently, Strikeforce launched its own eight-man grand prix, which began in February 2011 and will, barring injury, reach its drawn-out conclusion in San Jose, Calif., one week before UFC 146 takes place.
Pride’s offering stands out as the better of the two, in part because injuries and fighter movement has hampered Strikeforce’s tournament. Whether it is Josh Barnett or Daniel Cormier that comes out on top on May 19, both know the main purpose of their scrap is better positioning in the UFC title picture once the Strikeforce heavyweight division dissolves. In a perfect world, these two would be part of the May 26 extravaganza, but it is no secret that Strikeforce needs quality matches to help fulfill its Showtime contract.
At any rate, the expansive brackets that make March Madness such a hit can be problematic in the fight game, which is why you probably will not see a grand prix in the UFC anytime soon. A heavyweight-laden card offers similar intrigue without the headaches, as matchmaking becomes much easier with so many fighters from the same division on the same card. Moreover, if any weight class-exclusive pay-per-view is going to draw casual interest, it is the heavyweights. A main card consisting entirely of lightweights would be entertaining, but it would struggle financially. However, if UFC 146 is a huge success, perhaps the promotion would entertain thoughts of stockpiling a future event with a different weight class. It all depends on how a night with the heavyweights is received.
Those who are not as excited about the card will point to the oxygen-starved heavyweight contests at UFC 135 or the limited fight time that dos Santos and Velasquez provided at UFC on Fox 1 when criticizing the potential entertainment value of UFC 146. That is part of the beauty of this event. First-round knockouts are exhilarating, and there is plenty of intrigue outside of the evening’s main attractions.
Hunt and Struve are hovering outside of the Top 10, and their contrast in appearance will make for interesting viewing as they go for broke in the cage. Strikeforce crossovers Antonio Silva and Shane del Rosario will have plenty to prove in their Octagon debuts. So, too, will UFC stalwarts Roy Nelson and Gabriel Gonzaga, who have fallen on tough times of late. It could very well be a short night for some of these men, but that only increases the chances that a replay of Barboza-Dunham, as well as other bouts, makes it onto the main card.
I do not recall longing for closure after seeing “Men in Black 2” a decade ago, but now that a third movie is headed to theaters, I will go see it. Likewise, the thought of some 2,500 pounds of fighter going at it on pay-per-view never previously crossed my mind, but now that it is going to happen, I am definitely looking forward to it. In all likelihood, you are, too.