Event Primer: UFC 138 Edition
By Mike Chiappetta
It's been over a year since the UFC has journeyed to the UFC, and their return, though anticipated, is hardly setting British hearts aflutter. The UFC 138 card has been racked by some bad luck, including a series of injuries that have continued into the week before fight night, and it's also in the middle of an important stretch, making it something of a forgotten show.
On a historical note, it will be the last event broadcast by Spike. The television deal that helped bring MMA to mainstream fans expires at the end of the year. The fighters may end up closing it out on a high note, but there’s no debating that it’s a bit short on firepower.
At least the local fans will have several UK fighters to serenade with their chants and war anthems, including bantamweight Brad Pickett, who may be the Brit with the best chance of moving towards UFC contender status in 2012.
Chris Leben (22-7) vs. Mark Munoz (11-2)
LG Arena - Birmingham, England
Munoz Moving Up
If it wasn’t for a split-decision loss to Yushin Okami in August 2010, Mark Munoz would be riding a seven-fight win streak, and he almost certainly wouldn’t be fighting Chris Leben. No disrespect to the “Crippler,” but a streak that long usually lands you in a title match.
But here’s the tricky part to it all. Munoz is very close to current middleweight champion Anderson Silva. They’ve trained together in the past, and Munoz has never flat out said he would be willing to fight him. If he’s unwilling to, he may simply be clogging the machine. That’s his right of course. No one can force anyone into a specific fight, but here’s hoping that Munoz does not create his own glass ceiling.
Five for Fighting
The Munoz vs. Leben fight will mark the first time in UFC history that a non-title main event is scheduled for five rounds. In the past, only championships fights have had that distinction.The possibility has existed since 2009, but the UFC held off on employing the change until now.
While Munoz is likely closer to a potential title fight opportunity than anyone else on the card, the bantamweight co-main event pitting Brad Pickett and Renan Barao might have more immediate ramifications. Current 135-pound champ Dominick Cruz has essentially mowed through all of the existing top five competition, so a fresh face is needed, and soon. That man could be Pickett, a well-rounded Brit with a 21-4 record who will be making his UFC debut. The UFC certainly did no favors in their matchmaking. His opponent is Renan Barao, who is 26-1 with 1 no contest, and hasn’t lost since 2005. The winner will certainly be fast-tracked into the top five discussion.
A Must-Win for Alves
With his sharp Muay Thai, a strong ground game and underrated wrestling, Thiago Alves seemed like a sure thing to have a long, distinguished career. But since losing to welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre in a 2009 title fight, Alves has gone just 1-2. Just as alarming, after finishing five straight opponents while nearing his title match, he’s now gone to a decision five straight times. His Saturday night opponent Papy Abedi is unbeaten at 8-0, but he’s also a vitual unknown, making his UFC debut after spending the early part of his career primarily in Scandinavian promotions. Abedi is also 33 years old, while Alves is 28. If Alves can’t get it done here, his time in the UFC might well be over.
The card’s lack of depth is best illustrated by the main card bout pitting Terry Etim against Edward Faaloloto. Etim has done well in his UFC career, winning four of his last five, but this is also the sixth time the UFC has put the Brit on a UK card, which doesn’t seem quite fair to other globetrotters. If home-cooking isn’t enough for Etim, he’s involved in the match with the longest odds on the card. He’s a massive favorite over Eddie Faaloloto. While Faaloloto is a hard-nosed fighter, he’s been stopped in both of his bouts under the Zuffa banner, and at just 2-2 in his career, perhaps he’s not quite seasoned enough for the UFC’s higher caliber fighters.
Injury Scuttles Taylor-Njokuani
From a style standpoint, the lightweight fight pitting Paul Taylor against Anthony Njokuani was among the night’s most intriguing bouts. The two both pride themselves on their kickboxing, and it should have made for an explosive showcase. Unfortunately, Taylor was involved in a car accident on November 1, and while his injuries aren’t considered severe, he was forced to withdraw. The UFC couldn’t find Njokuani an opponent on short notice, and now he’s out, too. Promoted into its place on the main card was a light-heavyweight bout with Cyrille Diabate vs. Anthony Perosh, two veterans who though game, are nowhere close to title contention.
Home Sweet Home
The UFC generally does like to stack international cards with local fighters, and this one is no different. Eight Brits are scattered among the night’s 10 fights. Only one fight features two competitors from the home country, a heavyweight tilt with Rob Broughton and debuting Philip De Fries.
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