Can the tiniest weight class in the UFC carry a pay-per-view event? Back when BJ Penn was challenging Jens Pulver for his lightweight belt (UFC 35 for you youngsters out there), the answer was a resounding “no”. No, the little guys cannot drive a pay-per-view. People will only shell out the dough to see the bigger guys slugging it out, because although there may be somewhat appealing nuances in grappling, the entertainment value of a knockout is universal. Times have changed since then, however. Nowadays, you can buy TapOut shirts in bodegas, and everyone you meet either “trains UFC” or knows “someone who fought for the title”. So why not have a headliner featuring a seemingly unbeatable bantamweight champ take on a former featherweight superstar? It’s 2011. The general public for sure knows enough about the sport to understand and appreciate the lightning-like technique the 135 pounders are laying down. Well, that’s the theory behind Saturday night’s UFC 132 at least, which has Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber as its marquee bout, plus a card featuring a pair of soon-to-be-retirees and a pretty sweet welterweight contest. Let’s examine the roster, shall we?
Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber – Cruz has turned into some kind of whirling dervish that moves too fast for opponents to get a handle on, and that trait has enabled him to secure the WEC bantamweight strap (now UFC belt) and keep a firm hold on it. The only blemish on his record, though, is a 2007 loss via guillotine to Faber – and given Faber’s slow but steady decline in recent years, Cruz might actually get his revenge. Yes, yes, Faber is still a badass, as evidenced by his near-murder of Takeya Mizugaki at WEC 52. But Cruz is the best right now; Faber was the best two years ago. That’s a big difference.
Wanderlei Silva vs. Chris Leben – The clock is ticking on the beloved Brazilian striker Silva and his fighting career. Gone is his speed (speed that once enabled him to snatch away Quinton Jackson’s consciousness), gone is his fury (fury that once enabled him to smash Kazushi Sakuraba), and gone is his meanness (seriously, he’s practically lovable now). How much does he have left in him? Leben – whose chin is usually granite (Brian Stann and Anderson Silva notwithstanding) and whose fists are usually deadly – is sure to tell us how much time the “Axe Murderer” has left. And fans of Silva (myself included) might not like the answer.
Ryan Bader vs. Tito Ortiz – The clock may be ticking on Silva, but time ran out for Ortiz a while ago. After all, his last win in the Octagon was against Ken Shamrock back in 2006. Since then… ugh. Bader does everything Ortiz used to do, such as wrestle and bully folks around the cage, only he does it better and with more youthful vitality, so expect the TUF winner to clobber the ex-champ in what will be Ortiz’s UFC swan song.
Carlos Condit vs. Dong Hyun Kim – Guess who’s had six fights in the UFC and has yet to lose? Guess who’s been quietly creeping up the ranks, out-working opponents along the way? If you answered “South Korean judo black belt Dong Hyun Kim”, you just earned yourself a Scooby Snack. But before you eat it in one voracious gulp, consider this: at UFC 132, Kim is facing former WEC champ Condit, who has been kicking ass and taking names himself, and there’s a very good chance the South Korean’s win streak will come to an end. Condit can strike (just ask Dan Hardy) and he can employ some solid jiu-jitsu – two modes of attack that can spell doom for Kim if Kim can’t initiate his positional dominance game. I guess the big question mark here is who can impose their will first. My money is on Condit.
Dennis Siver vs. Matt Wiman – It’s taken a while for Siver to get the hang of this whole MMA thing, but if his drubbing of former rising star George Sotiropoulos is of any indication, he seems to have gotten it. Wiman should be a good test to further gauge his progress. Competent on the feet and on the ground, Wiman is tough – and the fact that he can’t seem to beat the upper-echelon of the weight class means that if Siver smokes him, Siver has earned himself a shot at the lightweight elite. I suspect the German fighter can TKO himself a win.