Wednesday, August 24, 2011

UFC 134/Rio Preview: What To Know

UFC 134 (also known as UFC: Rio) marks the first time the UFC has hosted an event in Brazil since 1998. So it was logical to have big time Brazilian MMA stars such as Anderson Silva, Maurico “Shogun” Rua, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira on the main card. Here are my “things to know” heading into this Saturday’s UFC 134:

1. Anderson Silva looks to avenge blemish from his fighting record again Yushin Okami

Anderson Silva has been one of the most dominant fighters in UFC history. He has never lost a fight while in the UFC and has one blemish on his fighting record since 2005: a Disqualification loss to Yushin Okami at Rumble on The Rock in January of 2006. He was disqualified when he landed a controversal upkick from the bottom position on the ground. While Okami looked able to continue the fight the referee decided to end the fight and allow Okami to move on in the tournament.

Since then Silva has not lost a fight while Okami has lost to Jake Shields, Rich Franklin, and Chael Sonnen. Now the two finally have the opportunity to rematch, Silva will be very motivated to avenge this “loss”. Both fighters have improved since their 2006 fight, but it has been Silva who has become one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time while Okami has been “good enough” to stay relevant at 185 pounds. Despite the fact that Okami has been training with Chael Sonnen for this rematch, it is hard to see Okami duplicating the performance Sonnen had for the first four rounds of his fight with the UFC Champion Silva. Defeating Okami this Saturday night would be a major victory for Silva’s personally and career wise: to redeem himself and beat the last man to walk away from fight with him not a loser.

2. Can Forrest Griffin stay relevent in the UFC Light Heavyweight Division?

Forrest Griffin is 10-4 in his UFC career; he is the former UFC Light Heavyweight champion and won the first season of the Ultimate Fighter. A good career by many people’s standards. Griffin is a very popular fighter in the UFC but he needs a win over “Shogun” Rua to stay in the top-tier of the 205 pound division. Since beating “Rampage” Jackson for the 205 pound belt back in 2008, Forrest lost back to back fights, took some time off, then came back and has won two straight. He has never won more than three fights in a row during his time in the UFC so he needs to show he can build significant momentum and the type of winning streak to earn him not just another shot at fighting for the belt but also show he can still be a perennial contender in the UFC. Forrest has accomplished so much in his career that he could retire in the next couple years and most fans would not hold it against him. Coming into his rematch with Maurico “Shogun” Rua at UFC 134, Griffin has admitted he will be cutting a lot of weight to get down to 205 by the day of weigh ins. The question has never been is Griffin talented, strong, or tough enough to fight in the UFC, the real question is how bad does he want to be champion again? Does the fire still burn in him that will drive him to be the best? This Saturday night will show us where Forrest is at in his MMA career.

3. Brendan Schaub wants to take out big names on his way to the top

Since losing to Roy Nelson in The Ultimate Fighter Heavyweight Finale, Schaub has won four straight fights. In his last two fights he has beaten Gabriel Gonzaga (former UFC number one contender) and Mirko “Cro Cop” Fillipovic (2006 PRIDE Open Weight Tournament Champion). Next he faces Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, the former PRIDE Heavyweight and Interm UFC Heavyweight Champion. Also, Schaub has said he wants to fight Frank Mir soon, another former UFC champion. But Schaub has been criticized by some “experts” because he has beaten both Gonzaga and “Crop Cop” when they are on the downside of their fighting careers. Nogueira is coming off surgeries on both of his knees and a hip while not fighting since February of 2010 so we are unsure how good he will be in his return to action.

So is it really that big a deal if Schaub is beating these big name heavyweights when they are not at their best on fight night? I understand the old saying “In order to be ‘the man’ you have to beat ‘the man’” but to use big name fighters to build your career when those fighters are not what they once were? Some people say this is wrong and “doesn’t seem right”. Yet Schaub has said in interviews he wants to fight guys who “scare him” because it brings out the best in him. So to him it is not disrespectful or him picking on old competition to beat these MMA stars. If we go by what Schaub says, he is fighting guys who in his mind are dangerous and beating them means a lot to him. Either way, building a win streak that has names such as Gonzaga, “Cro Cop”, and Nogueira on it is definitely a sure way to get into the top-tier of UFC heavyweight fighters.

4. Different career paths have brought Ross Pearson and Edson Barbosa to face each other

This matchup of two young and talented lightweight fighters has potential to be Fight of the Night at UFC 134. But their paths to this fight are very different. Pearson won The Ultimate Fighter Season 9 Final and has gone 4-1 during his time in the UFC. Going through TUF is a major promotional platform for young fighters and typically guys who win TUF get more chances from the UFC to show they can be successful. On the other hand, Barbosa is 8-0 in his MMA career and has won his first two UFC fights. He is the former Ring of Combat Lightweight Champion and 7 of his 8 MMA wins have been finishes via knockout or submission. A showdown of two dynamic, young fighters is always sure to be a good fight and the winner of this fight is likely to elevate themselves in the UFC’s 155 pound division. Should be interesting to see whose fighting style will be more successful standing: Pearson’s sharp boxing or Barbosa’s technical Muay Thai. Also, Barbosa has a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-Jitsu and Pearson has a brown belt in Judo.

Friday, August 19, 2011

UFC/FOX TV Deal Analysis

The UFC and FOX had a major press conference yesterday to announce their new television contract. According to Sports Business Daily and ESPN the deal is for seven years and 90 million dollars. Dana White announced that the first "UFC on FOX" live event is scheduled for November 12, 2011. The deal calls for four major UFC events on FOX network television a year, a long with six "UFC Fight Night" events on FX cable television. Also, "The Ultimate Fighter" reality TV series will be on FX on Friday nights starting in 2012 and will be live instead of Spike's condensed six weeks of filming. Included is the agreement to have some Prelim fights and other UFC related broadcasts ("UFC Countdown", "UFC Primetime", "UFC Unleashed", "Best of Pride" etc.) on FX and Fuel TV.

Now that I have given you the contractual basics, I want to look at why this deal happened and its affect not just on Mixed Martial Arts but on the Professional Sports landscape. As someone who has worked in different areas of media (broadcast and print) I want to break this down for everyone in a unique way.

FOX has been looking to boost their ratings for the last few years. Popular shows such as "24" and "The Shield" are no longer on the air and even "Rescue Me" is coming to an end on FX. Loosing such staple programming has been weakness for FOX because they have not been able to introduce much program to replace these popular programs. Also, the loss of traction by programs in the ratings such as "Bones" and "House" has put FOX in the odd position of trying to keep up in many head to head matchups with the seasonal programming on CBS and ABC. In fact, there have been weeks in which some of the popular USA network shows have beat out FOX and FX programming in the ratings. In recent years networks have leaned on their sports programming not just for revenue and ratings but for promotion of their regular television programming. This is something CBS has been very successful with during NFL and college basketball seasons. FOX usually gets some boost from NFL season promotions but there has been mixed reviews from MLB and NASCAR broadcasts. Part of the problem with those two sports is that with baseball there is no consistency for the viewer in broadcast times (some weeks its 1pm ET, other weeks it 3 or 4pm ET) while NASCAR is considered a "niche" mainstream sport whose viewing demographics are limited in terms of age, gender, and financial class.

When FOX lost to NBC in recent bids for Olympic coverage, they knew they needed to gain a new televised sports franchise to grab ahold of. UFC expiring contracts with Spike TV and Versus the perfect opportunity for FOX to gain access to the 18-36 year old male demographic was there for the taking. Average age of viewership for other sports programming is at least ten years older in age and those viewing customers are more set in their ways in terms of products they buy and the kinds of programming they will watch on TV. The younger, the better in the media world since many young people are still flexible in terms of what is new whether the product is a television show or beverage FOX had a history already in place with the UFC: UFC 37.5 was broadcast on FOX Sports' "Best Damn Sports Show Period" and was the first mixed martial arts event broadcast on cable television. During the Early 2000's, FSN's "Best Damn Sports Show Period" frequently covered MMA fighters from PRIDE, UFC, and IFL. But since the early to mid 2000's UFC average viewership has almost tripled and in 2011 the time was now for FOX to get ahold of viewership that was being under served.

Consider this: in 2011 UFC Prelim live broadcasts on Spike TV averaged 1,467,000 viewers per showing and on ION Television the average viewership was 771,000. Now that may sound small, but it is actually very significant because both Spike and ION did little promoting of these Prelim broadcasts and neither channel had the big name parent company to help promote any of their daily or special programming. The UFC was generating viewership for programs such the Prelim Live fights, "Best of Pride", "UFC Countdown" and others shows basically through Twitter, Facebook, their website, and email newsletters. By broadcast media standards that is very weak promotion and to get those kinds of numbers means that there is vast unlocked potential in viewership on cable and network television for UFC programming. Also realize that "UFC on Versus 5" gained an average viewership of 779,000 and the peak was near a million during the Hardy versus Lytle main event fight. They got this number on a traditionally poor television viewing night (Sunday) in the middle of the second worst time of year for ratings (Summer time) on a channel that is available in about 30 percent FEWER homes in North American than FX or Spike TV.

So this deal is a major win programming wise and viewership wise for FOX. For the UFC this is their big time step into competing with the other major professional sports organizations on Network Television. Unlike the CBS ventures with Elite XC and Strikeforce, the UFC has a very deep roster of excellent MMA talent and mainstream recognizable fighters. Also, Joe Rogan outside of MMA is still well-known for his stints on the TV comedy series "Friends" and his time hosting the reality show "Fear Factor". Being the top organization in a sports field also has the perks of being able to say that your champions and top-level athletes are the very best in the world.

The UFC though will suffer the same network television growing pains of other "non-team sport" organizations such as NASCAR and PGA because their potential is only as good as the stars who shine on the big stage. Golf has suffered tremendously in the ratings without Tiger Woods and with seven straight Major Championships won by first time Major winners the casual fans have no clue who is who and have no incentive to watch. NASCAR's two biggest names, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon, have not been big winners over the last few years and the same guy has won the last five straight overall Championships and Jimmie Johnson has typically done so in undramatic fashion. What the UFC has going for them that these other sports do not is they have more than a couple major big names and have numerous other rising stars that can be promoted and built up.

Also, the timing of this announcement was perfect because FOX played UFC promos (commercials that promote programming) a few times during the Eagles-Steelers Preseason showdown and they can spend the rest of the Pre season leading into the NFL regular season promoting the November 12th UFC on FOX event. This is significant because the NFL is the top sport with crossover viewership for MMA. Surveys show that NFL viewers are the most likely to watch MMA than any other Professional Sports fan and according to a Twitter study 61 percent of UFC fans also follow NFL players and reporters on twitter also.

Lastly, this is big for Mixed Martial Arts financially. Once Spike TV and Versus no longer have rights to UFC or WEC programming then those channels are free to pursue other MMA organizations. Bellator could easily move from MTV2 to Spike TV or Versus and fill the slots where the UFC had been without the networks skipping a beat. TJ Tompson of ProElite MMA has talked about making a deal with a TV network once the organization gets more events set up. The UFC being broadcast on the big stage opens broadcasting opportunities for other orgnanizations just like the NFL's popularity has opened up financial and television opportunities for other football organizations such as AFL (Arena Football League), CFL (Canadian Football League), LFL (Lingerie Football League), and the upstart USFL (United States Football League) that had limited success in the 1980's. And with more television exposure there are more marketing and promotional opportunities for MMA fighters. Remember the old days when was a major fighter sponsor? Now we have Budweiser and Bud Light commercials with Anderson Silva and Jon Jones. The next step is for Verizon or AT&T to sponsor the UFC instead of Boost Mobile or have Nike expand their clothing lines to MMA.

The future is now for all of MMA. The mainstream media cannot just ignore it anymore as a rogue activity and it's not like the movie "Bloodsport" with fights occurring in underground tournaments with "go for the kill" calls. These are athletes who have real training backgrounds and compete to make a living. They are no less athletes than the pros who compete in the NFL, NBA, MLB, or NHL. The UFC has done promotion and broadcasting by themselves for years, now they have a major network standing by their side. Like the Bud Light commercial says, "Here we go!"

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What to watch For: Bellator 48

Bellator has been establishing their organization as the top "Not Zuffa owned" Mixed Martial Arts organization in North America. CEO Bjorn Rebney has done a good job of amasing talent while not signing every Zuffa washout to come into the free agent market. It was also a smart move for Bellator to make the move to MTV2 so they can ensure all events are free for anyone with more then a basic cable or dish television package can watch. Bellator 48 is more then just the Featherweight Tournament Finals but is also an event hosting two solid Heavyweight fights on the Main card that showcases Bellator's growth as an organization in overall talent and name recognition. When the fans can tune in and recognize most of the names on the fight card without having to do Google research, that is always a positive.

1. Can Pat Curran win two different weight class Bellator tournaments in a period of 14 months?
The 23 year old Pat Curran is building a name for himself by reaching two Bellator Tournament finals. What makes this even more impressive is he has done it at 155 pounds AND 145 pounds. He has looked faster and sharper on the feet at Featherweight while not losing his wrestling strength.
But he is facing a much different opponent in this tournament finals in comparison to last year. In June 2010 Curran faced a veteran fighter in Toby Imada who has really good grappling skills. This Saturday night Curran faces Marlon Sandro: a dynamic fighter with a 19-2, one of those losses was by controversal Split Decision to current UFC fighter Michihiro Omigawa. Both Sandro and Curran have gotten 47 percent of their career wins via decision so expect this to be a three round war.
If Curran can win this matchup it will boost his MMA resume. Expect him to get some serious interest from the UFC when his Bellator contract runs out.

2. How will Bellator Heavyweight Champ Cole Konrad handle a step up in competition?
Cole Konrad is a young Heavyweight MMA prospect who will be facing a fighter Saturday Night in Paul Buentello who has been in 6 times as many fights (42) than Konrad (7). Konrad was a great collegiate and international wrestler before coming to MMA and he trains with former UFC Heavyweight Champ Brock Lesnar. Yet training at Lesnar's camp can only do so much to prepare a young fighter to face a man who has fought for Heavyweight titles in four different MMA organizations.
Buentello's MMA record is comprised of a "Who's Who" of upper level MMA heavyweights who have fought over the last ten years. He has faced 11 fighters who have fought in the UFC, compilling a record of 3-8. This matchup with Buentello is a good fight to measure where Konrad is at in his MMA career. Despite the paradox of Konrad not defending his belt in his fight this Saturday (a "tradition" Bellator does with many of their belt holders, reserving championship fights for winners of their tournaments) defeating a veteran like Buentello would be a good sign that Konrad has made the big step from MMA prospect to serious MMA Heavyweight fighter. Also he would avoid the comparisons to guys like Todd Duffee and Brandon Vera who were hyped Heavyweight prospects that came up short of the hype and expectations.

3. What does the future hold for Ricco Rodriguez if he keeps winning?
Former UFC Heavyweight Champion Ricco Rodriguez is on an unique winning streak: he has won 12 straight fights while fighting for 12 different MMA organizations. Since returning from his suspension by the California Athletic Commission in 2007 Rodriguez has amassed a fighting record of 21-5. Although he has not beaten any big names during that stretch winning can do a lot for a fighters confidence. Hopefully Rodriguez has finally found a fighting home with Bellator after his MMA world tour for the last four years. He faces another former UFC fighter, Seth Petruzelli, who is best known for his fast knockout of Kimbo Slice in 2008. If Rodriguez wins his fight this Saturday night he will have beaten two Ultimate Fighter Alums in two of his last three fights while extending his winning streak to 13 fights. Having a fighter with Rodriguez's name recognition and winning streak is a nice perk for Bellator as they continue to grow in popularity.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

What To Watch For: UFC on Versus 5

After experiencing UFC 133 in person, I must admit that it has left me wanting to see more MMA fights! Maybe someone slipped something in my drink over the weekend or the event was so electric that it left me wanting more. Either way, I am looking forward to UFC on Versus 5 this Sunday night and here's some reasons why you should be watching too:

1. Will UFC on Versus 5 be the "Swan Song" for Dan Hardy or Chris Lytle?
This should be an exciting and dynamic main event with two fighters who are coming off losses in which they did not get to entertain the fans the way they like to. Both are known for their stand up game so this could end up being Fight of The Night. But both fighters are in very different places in their careers. Hardy is on a three fight losing streak since earning the opportunity to fight for the UFC Welterweight Championship. The three straight losses have caused some people question if Dan Hardy was really good enough to have ever faught for the title or if he has just been unlucky lately. Contrary to his public gimmick image with his mohawk and sometimes goofy attitude, Hardy is actually a hard worker who has serious Muay Thai skills so he is out to prove he has what it takes to hang in the UFC.
On the other hand, Chris Lytle has been in the fight game since 1999 and has 53 career MMA fights along with 15 Professional Boxing matches. The loss to Brian Ebersole earlier this year broke a four fight winning streak, the longest of his MMA career. Lytle has opened an exploritory committee for a possible political run for Indiana state office in 2012. A second straight loss could possibly convince Lytle to turn his interests full time to politics instead of fighting. Lytle is a fan favorite earning 8 Award of The Night Honors (Tied with Anderson Silva for most in UFC history) so it would be disapointing to see him go.
After Sunday nights Main Event is over, it is possible that the loser will not be seen in a UFC Octagon again for some time.

2. Jim Miller versus Ben Henderson is an unofficial number one contender fight
Thanks to the absorbtion of WEC fighters into the UFC and the draw between Frank Edgar and Gray Maynard in January, there is a serious log jam in the UFC 155 pound division of top tier fighters. Jim Miller is currently on a seven fight winning streak and his only two career losses have been to the two fighters who are facing off in October for the Lightweight Belt: Edgar and Maynard. His next opponent is the former WEC Lightweight Champ Ben Henderson. Henderson is also a talented fighter who has lost only once in his last 12 fights. When he lost to Anthony Pettis in December many people forget that he put up a good fight againt Pettis before that wild kick was landed in the 5th round. During his time in the WEC Henderson finished four of his six opponents so this will be no easy fight for Miller. The winner of this fight will likely fill the void for who gets next after Edgar and Maynard take care of business at UFC 136.

3. Can Donald Cerrone sustain his mommentum?
Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone was a very popular fighter in the WEC and was involved in 10 fights, receiving four "Fight of the Night" awards. But for all of Cerrone's popularity and talent his overall record in the WEC was 7-3-1 and he never officially won more then 2 fights in a row during his time there. Since coming to the UFC "Cowboy" has won two straight fights and has looked excellent. Sunday night he has a showdown with Charles Olivera, a fighter who has similar skills to Cerrone. If Cerrone gets past Olivera then he will have won five straight fights overall (three in the UFC) and usually gaining such mommentum will get the attention of the UFC brass. Cerrone's popularity combined with a solid winning streak would open the opportunity for him to face off against one of the UFC's top tier 155 pound fighters. One thing we know for sure is that Cerrone never backs down from a fight and never disapoints.

4. When will Joseph Benevidez get the respect he deserves?
Joseph Benevidez is the Rodney Danerfield of MMA because no matter what he does he "gets no respect, no respect at all!" Benevidez has two losses in 16 MMA fights and both were against one of the top fighters in the world: UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz. Since 2008 Benevidez is 9-2 with six finishes. Yet most of his career he has been overlooked and even at UFC on Versus 5 fight card he is stuck on the Preliminary Card behind a matchup between C.B. Dollaway and Jared Hamman. Now nothing against Dollaway or Hamman but their fight is ahead of a matchup between a former Bantamweight Champion (Eddie Wineland) and a two time former number one contender (Benevidez). With the UFC opening its doors in 2012 to a Flyweight division (125 pound fighters) this may be one of the last fights for Benevidez at 135 pounds and his matchup with Wineland should be a great fight. So take the time to pull up Facebook for the Prelim fights this Sunday beause you do not want to miss a chance to watch one of the most underrated fighters in MMA before he moves down to his natural weight class and becomes a champion.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Rashad Evans 2.0

I have seen Rashad Evans fight since his time on the Ultimate Fighter. I remember cheering for him because I knew he was talented and had a bright future. I was rooting for him to beat a legend in Chuck Liddell because I knew a win over "The Iceman" would be a big stepping stone in his career.

But going into the title fights with Forrest Griffin and Lyoto Machida I felt that Evans' was acting too confident and cocky in front of the cameras. The over the top bravado and disrespect that Mohammed Ali had towards his opponents is something I will always hold against Ali and those same attitudes I saw coming out in interviews and promotions done with Evans. I was almost hurt because I knew deep down Rashad Evans is NOT a self-promoting, egotistical, flamboyant jerk; yet in interviews and in promotional clips that is how he came off to me. I know Rashad Evans can be great in MMA like Ali was in boxing but I dislike when athletes try to emulate Ali's public persona.

One of the great elements of Mixed Martial Arts is that historically and culturally it is different from other sports because the way of the Martial Artist is to respect one's opponent and look to win in the most technically superior fashion. I myself have taken Martial Arts classes and instruction over the years so I look at the mind games that someone like Mohammed Ali used with his opponents as disrespectful and smokescreen to cover up for Ali's flaws.

Rashad Evans is an MMA fighter, not a boxer. There is a difference between promoting and hyping a fight in contrast to disrespecting one's opponent and using psychological manipulation more often then letting your performance do the talking. That is why I cheered for Griffin, Machida and Quinton Jackson when they faught against Evans. Not because I hate or despite Evans, but because I disliked what he was portraying himself as: an athletic diva.

Something happened between May of 2010 and now to Rashad Evans. Whether it was an epiphany, gaining wisdom and maturity, someone he respected sitting him down or just getting out of the familiar surroundings of Jackson MMA; whatever triggered the change in Evans' overall demeanor and evolution in MMA skills it was all on full display this past Saturday night. Evans came into the rematch with Tito Ortiz stronger, sharper, more focused, and maybe even faster then I have ever seen him. It was as if over the last 14 months Evans got an upgrade in every area of his game and mentally he is in a great place. His performance against Ortiz was excellent in every way and I couldn't help but stand and cheer for him at the end of the fight out of respect.

But then Evans took it even further. He went out of his way after the fight during interviews and the post-fight press conference to show respect and grattitude towards Ortiz for taking the fight on short notice and for how Ortiz faught. Evans didn't gloat with the spotlight on him, instead he credited his team training him well and the hard work he put into getting better and back into the Octagon. This is a fighter who was ready to walk the walk instead of running his mouth or loving himself.

The two best things that have happened to Rashad Evans in my opinion are losing to Lyoto Machida and Jon Jones training at Jackson MMA. Machida humbled Evans and showed that no fighter is invicible or too talented to loose a fight. Jones showed Evans the reflection that many people saw when they looked at Rashad: talented, cocky, proud, and immature. Evans knows he is better then that. Jackson MMA is one of the top MMA gyms in the world but Evans had no way to grow and get better there anymore. Evans took the path less traveled and that path will lead him to reclaim the title that was once his: UFC Light Heavyweight Champion.

Evans has the chance to go down as one of the best MMA fighters of all time. Seriously. Some people may laugh at that but lets look at the facts:

*Evans is 16-1-1 so far in his career
*He has beaten 3 superstars/legends in MMA (Liddell, "Rampage", Ortiz)
*He has some of the best standup skills in all of MMA, a notch below guys like Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort
*He has a great wrestling base, coming from a NCAA Division 1 wrestling program (Michigan State)
*He is one of the more intellegent, quick thinking fighters in the MMA game

But yet some people will still hold the past against him. I am not one of them. I know greatness when I see it and the sky is the limit for Evans. At UFC 133 Evans put all fighters at 205 pounds on notice: He is back and better then ever. I cannot wait to see him fight again and I hope some day i get to meet Rashad Evans, shake his hand, and tell him to his face how much I respect and admire him.

Rashad Evans 2.0 is more then just a great fighter, it is a model to show other young athletes of how to become great in their athletic profession and in life.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

4 things to watch for with UFC 133

Despite the fact that injuries have altered this fight card numerous times over the last couple months, UFC 133 is still a solid fight card. So lets proceed with a preview of the event that goes down this saturday:

1. Which will be more of a disadvantage: Rashad Evans' long layoff or Tito Ortiz fighting within 34 days of his last fight?
Both fighters in Saturday's main event have taken different roads that brought them to this fight. Rashad Evans was promised a title shot after his last fight when he beat Quinton "Rampage" Jackson by decision at UFC 114. But since May of 2010, Rashad made the choice to first wait to for then Champ Maurico "Shogun" Rua to recover from knee injury and then Evans injured his own knee before getting to fight Rua. Then he was suppose to face current 205 pound Champ Jon Jones but he pulled out with a hand injury. When Evans enters the Octagon this Saturday night he will be coming off a hiatus that spans almost 15 months. During the time Evans was not fighting, Ortiz has fought 3 times and he looked excellent in a dominating finish at UFC 132 against Ryan Bader. So now the question is which is more of a disadvantage: Evans long layoff or Ortiz fighting on such short notice. More often then not fighters who have long layoffs usually loose their first fight back. Whether it is nerves or not being use to the speed of the fight game, having a long time away from fighting has hurt numerous fighters in recent years. On the other hand, fighting 34 days after a big win is a major wild card. Ultimately the real question come Saturday night will be which fighter will feel the most pressure to perform and that will be the man walking away with the loss.

2. Vitor Belfort's response to a loss
Belfort is one of my favorite MMA fighters of all time. But it has been shown that Belfort's biggest opponent in his career has been himself. After losing to Randy Couture back in 2004 Belfort went on to loose 4 of his next 6 fights. In many of those fights Belfort looked lost in himself and lacked confidence. Then from 2007 through 2009 Belfort won five straight fights and four of them were via Knockout or Technical Knockout victories. Then he was out of action for 16 months due to injuries and lost to Anderson Silva this past February. With people doubting him again, Belfort has the opportunity to get back to winning against a tough opponent in Yoshihiro Akiyama. A win this Saturday night would not just silence those who think Belfort is "overrated" but also would signal that he is ready to come back better then ever after losing to one of the best MMA fighters in UFC history.

3. What if Mike Pyle again overcomes the underdog label and beats Rory McDonald?
Mike Pyle is 4-2 in the UFC since 2009 and has won 3 straight fights. He has won back to back fights in which he was considered an underdog and with another win Saturday night Pyle can make the argument that he is ready to move into the next level of competition in the UFC. Pyle has been around the MMA game for awhile and in fact is the only fighter to ever finish Jon Fitch (in 2002). For a guy who has been around the fight game so long and is such a balanced fighter its a great opportunity for him to move up the ranks in the 170 pound division. Better late then never right? And beating a rising MMA prospect in McDonald would be another solid win for Pyle's resume.

4. MMA in Philadelphia
With tickets still available to purchase for Saturday's UFC 133 event some are questioning if UFC is marketable in a city like Philadelphia. But as Bernard Hopkins said at Wednesday's workouts, MMA is "unique" and is still "growing in popularity". The last time the UFC was in Philly the main event was Anderson Silva fighting at Light Heavyweight against Forrest Griffin. I am sure if the UFC brought a title fight to the city that the tickets would sell out faster as compared to a fight card that has had numerous injuries and matchup changes. Losing a big name like Rich Franklin and a local favorite Phil Davis will definate hurt them when they look at the oveall pay per view buys and gate sales. Last time the UFC was in Philly they broke opening gate records for Pennsylvania and this year will be down in comparison for sure. But this does not mean UFC 133 is a bad fight card because there are many good matchups. But ticket and PPV sales are driven harder by casual fans and if the casual fan doesn't take serious interest in the event then the hardcore fans can only spread their money around so much. Casual fans recognize the big names like Brock Lesnar, George St. Pierre, and "Rampage" Jackson while younger stars such as Frank Edgar, Jon Jones, and Dominick Cruz are known names. No offense but it is hard to sell a fight card on which the main card has a matchup between Dennis Hallman and Brian Ebersole (Im still unsure why the matchup between Mendes and Yaya wasn't moved onto the main card). Hopefully the UFC stops putting big time events in Newark, NJ and instead bring such high profile fight cards to a city with a rich tradition in the fight game. Philly fans like winners, period. That's how to sell any sport in this city.