photos by James Law
Quick, holler if you had Brock Lesnar by arm triangle.
Hearing no one.
The main event of UFC 116, in particular its conclusion, put the exclamation mark on what will go down as perhaps the greatest UFC event to date. As soon as the television camera went on, the action took a page out of Spinal Tap’s playbook and turned things up to 11. Each match was seemed better, more entertaining than the last. Moment’s like Stephan Bonnar‘s post fight comments following a fight of the year contender against Krzysztof Soszynski and Leben‘s inspired submission victory over Yoshihiro Akiyama just two weeks after beating previously unbeaten Aaron Simpson resonated with all those fortunate enough to tune in to the event.
But as special as those moments were, as were the superb matches that made air, nothing made the impact of Brock Lesnar’s victory in his return after nearly a year out of action. The story of Lesnar’s recovery from diverticulitis is well documented, but it’s no less impressive to see the UFC heavyweight champ not only return to action, but to be able to survive the most brutal assault he’s faced in his career – only to force Carwin into the second round for the first time in Carwin’s career where Lesnar was able to earn the stunning submission victory.
It was a historic show and very likely among the most successful in the history of the UFC. On a show like UFC 116, it’s easy to consider all participants as winners on some level. However, only one man in each match had his hand raised. For those men, we present options.
Option 1: Cain Velasquez
Velasquez has been considered the de facto top contender to the winner of Saturday’s title match ever since he so quickly dispatched of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. The UFC put their stamp of approval on the match by allowing Velasquez to enter the cage and call for a title shot. He will be the next in a series of dominant challengers to the UFC’s heavyweight title, offering a bit of a different and perhaps even better set of abilities than either Carwin or Lesnar. Velasquez did not ever win a national championship in wrestling, and he doesn’t have quite the same power as Carwin, but the combination of his wrestling and boxing, and most importantly the cardio he possesses, make him a different sort of danger to the champ. Will Velasquez’s well-rounded abilities and healthy gas tank be enough to overcome the size, takedowns, ground and pound and now jiu-jitsu of Lesnar?
Option 2: The winner of Junior dos Santos v. Roy Nelson (UFC 117, 8/7)
Already planning ahead, UFC officials have indicated that the winner of the UFC 117 match between dos Santos and Nelson will receive the next title shot following Velasquez. However, should Velasquez suffer an injury, the timeline of the dos Santos v. Nelson match is such that the winner could step in to challenge for the title before the end of 2010. If dos Santos can once again earn a knockout victory, he will be a challenger in the vein of Carwin, though with a slightly longer average match time in the Octagon. Dos Santos’ Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu background would be a different sort of ground game than Carwin and Velasquez would offer, but Lesnar dealt with a superior jiu-jitsu player in Mir and managed to render his previous opponent’s ground game null and void. Nelson would offer a very similar look to dos Santos, but with better jiu jitsu along with less power and boxing technique than his Brazilian counterpart. In either case, the winner here will be another in a series of top contenders in UFC’s heavyweight division.
Option 1: Wanderlei Silva
It doesn’t hurt that Leben took the occasion of his post fight interview with Joe Rogan to call for a fight against Silva, but even if he hadn’t, the match is one made in heaven. Silva, of course, was to have fought Akiyama before suffering a rib injury during training. Enter Leben, who on just two weeks notice fought with no shortage of heart en route to earning a third round triangle submission victory. Prior to the submission, Leben let his hands fly and landed as many good shots as he received. That straight ahead, throwing caution to the wind style will make a fight against Silva a must-see fight. The winner will be firmly amongst the contenders in the UFC’s middleweight division.
Option 2: The winner of Nate Marquardt v. Rousimar Palhares (UFC 118, 8/28)
After two fights in a span of two weeks, Leben should be in line for a nice break from the Octagon, though one wonders if he’d even want to take time away given his recent results. Still, he took his share of lumps against Akiyama and can absolutely use a respite to heal up. While Silva fits in well on Leben’s presumed schedule, so to would the winner of Marquardt v. Palhares at UFC 118. While a win over Silva would put Leben into the mix of contenders in the UFC’s middleweight division, a win over Marquardt or Palhares would put him close to the front of the line of contenders. The shame is that while Leben’s chin is tried and true, the one man to knock him out in his career is UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva. Of course, now that Silva prefers to dance and taunt his opponents, perhaps Leben would…nah, Silva would absolutely still knock him out in short order. That being said, who wouldn’t cheer for Leben to get the better of ther UFC middleweight champ at this point?
Option 1: Ricardo Romero
Bonnar, who showed that he is still capable of putting on a great show the way he did against Forrest Griffin once upon a time, earned his place in the UFC by virtue of his victory over Krzysztof Soszynski. Of course, his performance against Griffin back on the original Ultimate Fighter finale and the importance of that match have given Bonnar a lifetime exemption from being cut from the UFC. As such, shouldn’t Bonnar be given opponents whom he has a reasonable opportunity to defeat? Romero seems to be one such opponent, as Romero, despite his submission victory over Seth Petruzelli at UFC 116, did not look like a world beater. The fact that both Bonnar and Romero fought on UFC 116 and, thus, are on the same schedule, barring any injury suspensions for Bonnar, doesn’t hurt the odds for the occurrence of this fight.
Option 2: The winner of James Irvin v. Igor Pokrajac (UFC Live, 8/1)
Sticking with the idea that Bonnar should be given an opponent against whom he can be victorious, either Irvin or Pokrajac would seem to fit the mold. Pokrajac, a training partner of Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, has yet to enjoy victory in the UFC, and even with a victory over Irvin his chances of victory against Bonnar would be fairly low. On the other hand, Irvin has the striking to catch Bonnar if he’s not careful, but more importantly, he’s a fighter against whom Bonnar could put on another entertaining performance along the lines of his fights against Krzysztof Soszynski but with a greater focus on the striking portion of the fight game.