Traditionally, at least for the Smartest Guy at the Bar, the Super Bowl sets the stage for the drunkest weekend in sports. You can host the Ultimate Fighting Championship pay-per-view at your house and then attempt an all-nighter into Sunday’s football party; or perhaps you would dare to undertake the ultimate experience by enjoying UFC 183 on Saturday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas before braving the 277-mile drive to tailgate at the University of Phoenix Stadium. Whatever you choose, rest assured that Seahawks-Patriots will be more competitive than Anderson Silva-Nick Diaz, and the subsequent hangover will be totally worth it.
Related » UFC 183 ‘Silva vs. Diaz’ Full Preview
HOW WE GOT HERE: I am still trying to figure out how Silva-Diaz is a real thing. It all comes down to Diaz’s shockingly effective negotiating tactics. After Strikeforce folded into Zuffa’s womb, Diaz -- then the Strikeforce welterweight champion -- demanded a big-money title fight with Georges St. Pierre or he would take his prize-fighting skills to the boxing ring. The UFC obliged, but the matchup fell apart when Diaz missed some media obligations. After beating B.J. Penn and losing to Carlos Condit, Diaz was awarded a title shot against GSP at UFC 158, where he lost a one-sided affair. With no interest in fighting his way back into title contention, Diaz “retired.”
On Silva’s side, back-to-back devastating losses to current middleweight champion Chris Weidman put the Brazilian in an odd place -- and in the hospital. It took more than a year for “The Spider” to recover after his shin snapped like a twig against Weidman in their UFC 168 rematch. Upon his return, a bit of creative matchmaking came into play when the former champion needed an opponent to ease back into life inside the Octagon. In hindsight, we should have all seen this coming. Diaz only fights when the purse can be measured in gold bullion, and Silva needs an undersized, non-wrestler he can turn into a human piñata. Everyone wins ... In the co-main event, Kelvin Gastelum continues his shockingly dominant run in the UFC against bridesmaid-but-never-a-bride Tyron Woodley. Consistency is Woodley’s problem. The same Woodley that blasted Josh Koscheck and Dong Hyun Kim sleepwalked against Jake Shields and Rory MacDonald. Gastelum, on the other hand, has been a picture of consistency, going 10-0 as a pro. Woodley is the perfect test for the 23-year-old prospect.
MONEY MAKERS: The Cesar Gracie trio’s Henry Kissinger-level negotiating skills continue to blow our mind. The elder Diaz turned a two-fight losing streak into a headlining pay-per-view slot; Jake Shields saw the writing on the wall and turned his exit from Strikeforce into a title shot before his contract expired; and Gilbert Melendez, with just a loss to Benson Henderson and a win against Diego Sanchez on his Ultimate Fighting Championship resume, leveraged a flirtation with Bellator MMA into reportedly one of the best deals in the UFC. Only Nate Diaz is stuck on the outside looking in. It is no wonder that he continues to vent frustration after watching his jiu-jitsu brethren count their money.
HYPERBOLE VERSUS REALITY: UFC President Dana White’s role as promoter-slash-carnival barker makes him an entertaining sound-bite generator but a frustrating fact creator. It is easy to dismiss statements when White calls every champion the pound-for-pound best fighter the week of his or her latest pay-per-view appearance. However, when he says the winner of Silva-Diaz is next in line for a title shot in their traditional weight classes, you hope he is just spouting more hot air. First, “Fighter X deserves a title shot” is a commonly used, misguided phrase. The only criteria for “deserving” a title shot is being the best available contender at the time and a fighter who satisfies the need for potential box office achievement while owning a recently successful competitive resume in the division. Silva and Diaz are good fighters. They have a track record of high-level fighting, and no one should question their abilities. With that said, there are simply much better options available for middleweight champion Weidman and welterweight titleholder Robbie Lawler. Luke Rockhold clearly becomes the No. 1 contender at 185 pounds if he defeats Lyoto Machida in April.
Even Ronaldo Souza is a suitable challenger, provided he can get over his bout with pneumonia and get past Yoel Romero in their currently delayed middleweight scrap. Meanwhile, Rory MacDonald is more than worthy of a second crack at Lawler if he can defeat Hector Lombard at UFC 186; and former champion Johny Hendricks needs only to defeat Matt Brown at UFC 185 to validate his claim. Hopefully, UFC matchmaker Joe Silva rolled his eyes when he heard White proclaim Silva-Diaz as a No. 1 contender match at two different weight classes. It is after all a fight between two guys coming off back-to-back losses and long layoffs.
USELESS FACT: If you think it is crazy and unheard of that the UFC 183 main event features two fighters on two-fight losing streaks, it is not that unusual. Just six months ago, Nate Marquardt and James Te Huna headlined a UFC Fight Night card in New Zealand. Marquardt was riding a three-fight losing streak, which included two brutal first-round knockout losses, while Te Huna entered the Octagon after suffering consecutive first-round defeats. Such is life with a 45-event annual schedule.
THE FINAL FLYWEIGHTS: Buried on a more-than-enjoyable undercard is the rebooked Ian McCall-John Lineker flyweight clash that was moved from UFC Fight Night “Shogun vs Saint Preux.” The winner comfortably sits just behind John Dodson in the flyweight pecking order to battle champion Demetrious Johnson. The man who emerges from this potential “Fight of the Night” matchup might be the last challenge for “Mighty Mouse” at 125 pounds. Should Johnson beat Dodson again and then the McCall-Lineker winner, he will have defeated almost the entire top 10 at flyweight, including Dodson, McCall and Joseph Benavidez twice.
I may be peering too deeply into the crystal ball, but Johnson is looking at clearing out the division by the end of 2015. I wonder if bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw is busy in 2016.
AWARDS WATCH: Joe Lauzon’s accumulated bonus money rivals the GDP of some African countries. In 17 UFC fights, Lauzon has banked 13 performance bonuses, including six in a row from 2009-11. He is as sure a bet as anyone on the UFC roster. Pair him with an opponent like Al Iaquinta and you are looking at a no-brainer for “Fight of the Night” ... Sara McMann is a brutal matchup for Miesha Tate. The Olympic silver medal-winning wrestler is going to ragdoll the very tough but technically outmatched Tate en route to a lopsided decision win. McMann will look good enough to get people talking about a rematch with women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, and she will score an extra $50,000 for her troubles … A more honest marketing approach for UFC 183 would go something like this: “You know Anderson Silva. You love watching him blast hapless souls into oblivion. Buy UFC 183 and watch him to do that to another fighter you know. It is going to be cool.” Silva gets a performance bonus and the W. Hopefully, the “W” does not stand for Weidman.