First, it was supposed to be all about Georges St. Pierre defending his crown against perhaps one of the best Strikeforce champions to ever flee that fading organization. But then challenger Nick Diaz bailed on a press conference, so it was going to be about St. Pierre taking on Carlos Condit, while BJ Penn faced Diaz. An injury to the UFC welterweight champ waylaid those plans, which put Condit on ice and turned the spotlight back on Diaz, who will now headline with the legendary Hawaiian. Afraid that this incarnation of UFC 137 is going to fall apart, or – Heaven forbid – suck? Don’t be scared, homie. Given St. Pierre’s penchant for not finishing anymore, and Diaz and Penn’s capacity for delivering excitement, this permutation is the best possible outcome in terms of match-ups. After all, what would you rather watch: the Canadian lying on top of Diaz or Condit for five rounds, or Diaz and Penn hurting each other with such ferocity their corner men die? I’ll take some of the latter, thank you very much (sorry Nate Diaz and Reagan Penn). So let’s break down Saturday night’s UFC installment, and discuss how the main event, as well as the rest of the somewhat interesting bouts on the card, will go.
-Nick Diaz vs. BJ Penn – Whatever qualities epitomizes the best spokesperson for the sport, Diaz doesn’t possess them. Sure, he can fight at an elite level – his boxing (both offensive and defensive) is way beyond anything his peers can muster, his jiu-jitsu is of the black belt variety, and his cardio is endless. But if you need someone to work a press junket or give decent interviews, forget about it. Diaz is not your man in that regard. Conversely, Penn is very capable and willing when it comes to dealing with reporters and having cameras stuck in his face, and we all know his boxing is stellar, his jiu-jitsu is aces, and at times the former UFC lightweight- and welterweight champ can be explosive as hell. Okay, that’s their stats laid out in Dungeons & Dragons character sheet form; now for the harsh truth of reality. Penn is going to get killed. Just as we’ve seen with pretty much everyone he’s faced in the last three years, Diaz is going to taunt him, step in close, and hit Penn with no less than a thousand punches of varying wattage. And the accumulation is going to make the Hawaiian keel over. It’s as simple as that.
-Matt Mitrione vs. Cheick Kongo – How’s your physics? Good? Okay, then write this down: The trajectory of a TUF veteran on his way up, sporting striking skills that improve dramatically every time we see him, divided by the trajectory of a heavyweight who’s won only two of his last fights in the Octagon (and the last one, just barely). Now calculate how fast Mitrione is going to knock Kongo out. The correct answer is “Geez, I just got up to get a beer. Why is that man dead?” You know, once upon a time Kongo was a monster when it came to kickboxing. But somewhere along the way he focused too much on wrestling (which was for sure a weak spot), and his dangerousness left him. Mitrione has been given fights against incrementally tougher competition and he’s dispatched just about all of them. Kongo is doomed.
-Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic vs. Roy Nelson – It’s no fun watching CroCop fight anymore. You want him to show at least just a little bit of that superstar that ruled the roost in PRIDE, and when he gets clobbered, it’s just all sadness and disappointment and more talk from him about retirement. TUF 10 winner Nelson doesn’t evoke those same kinds of emotions when he loses, but maybe that’s because we don’t expect as much from him. Yes, he’s got good hands and a black belt in jiu-jitsu. However, he’s got a gut that makes it appear as if he spent his training camp on the couch, and how can anyone be anything other than pleasantly surprised when he smokes the likes of Brendan Schaub and Stefan Struve? Anyway, Nelson is coming off convincing losses to Frank Mir and Junior dos Santos, while CroCop fell to Schaub and Mir. Expect Nelson to bonk the Croatian fighter on the head hard enough to make him sleep, and then there will be sadness mixed with “Oh, hey, look what that chubby guy did.”
-Scott Jorgensen vs. Jeff Curran – Jorgensen is one of the best bantamweights in the world. Too bad champ Dominic Cruz exists in that world, too, as that means Jorgensen – who lost to Cruz in incontrovertible fashion back at WEC 53 – will never get the belt. But he can still hit hard and wrestle even harder, which will make for a rough night for opponent Curran. Curran is a complete old schooler who saw action at UFC 46, and his jiu-jitsu is solid. It won’t save him. Jorgensen is going to get him down, get on top, and pound away.
-George Roop vs. Hatsu Hioki – There was a time when being a champ in Japan meant you’d be a killer when you came to the States. Now, not so much. Which isn’t to say that Shooto and Sengoku champ Hioki is going to be a pushover for opponent Roop. With his skillful grappling and competent stand-up, he could very well trounce the TUF castoff. But given how bad his Japanese brethren have performed in the Octagon, you just never know how Hioki will do. Can he dance in and out of Roop’s excessive reach to pick him apart, and tie the American in knots on the ground? Yes, he can. He can also totally bomb. For Japanese MMA’s sake, let’s hope he doesn’t.