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Must-Win Situations

By on February 17, 2010

wanderlei silvaThe term “must-win” has become all-too commonplace in sports in general and mixed martial arts in particular. It’s unfortunate that so many have used the term inappropriately that it has lost much of its meaning, because there are some true must-win situations facing not just Wanderlei Silva, but a few other fighters as well this weekend at UFC 110.

The ever-expanding roster of the UFC has not made it easier to keep a spot on the promotion’s payroll…in fact, it is much the opposite, as even a couple of losses in a row can see you looking for work elsewhere. Mark Coleman, Frank Trigg and Tim Hague are just the latest fighters who can attest to the fact that even as a talented athlete, you are just a couple of bad performances from the chopping block in such a competitive organization. Here are the fighters who, even if they aren’t in danger of losing their jobs just yet, sorely need a win this weekend.

Wanderlei Silva

Sitting right near the top of the card is the most obvious choice for a fighter who badly needs a win, Wanderlei “The Axe Murderer” Silva. In the interest of full disclosure, let me say that I’m a big fan of Silva and always have been. However, even the most awestruck of Silva’s fans have to admit at this point that Silva’s career is in trouble if he can’t get some wins together soon.

Nothing is going to take away what Silva accomplished in Pride, but it would be great to see Silva complement what he did in Japan with at least some measure of success in the UFC to bring his career towards a close. While Silva isn’t old (he turns 34 this July), he has put a lot of wear and tear on his body, while suffering three brutal knockout losses in his last six fights (of which he has won just one).

Even though Dana White seemed to indicate that Silva’s career is not in jeopardy this weekend during the press conference, his legacy and future as a serious contender are. If Silva can turn it around, great matchups abound- an eventual rematch with Vitor Belfort, or maybe even Chuck Liddell back at 205, as well as a possible title match with Anderson Silva at some point- but he absolutely has to take this one.

Keith Jardine

It’s hard not to feel bad for Jardine- that is, unless you just tend not to feel bad for anyone. In the last four years, his “easiest” fights have been against Stephan Bonnar and Houston Alexander, both of whom which he lost to (though the Bonnar decision was suspect, at best). Meanwhile, he’s faced four fighters with Pride or UFC championships on their mantles, as well as two of the more exciting young prospects of recent years in Brandon Vera and Thiago Silva.

Through it all, Jardine has managed to keep a respectable record and even steal some marquee wins with nothing more than hard work and a puzzling-yet-effective fighting style. If GSP represents the Fred Astaire of MMA, Jardine surely is the everyman who is more likely to step on his dance partner’s toes than wow anyone with his moves, yet unashamedly gives 100% every time. It’s hard not to like Jardine as a fight fan, and yet, he may be in danger of fighting outside of the UFC if he loses his bout with Ryan Bader.

Jardine has lost three of his last four bouts, and his last two wins were split decisions, to boot. Whether he’s been fighting top-level competition or not, you won’t stick around in the UFC for long without having more success than that. I’m of the opinion that a guy who has rarely ever lost to anyone but the best fighters should be given a chance to stick around and work his way back up, but that’s not what is happening here. In any case, we may see the last of Jardine for awhile inside the octagon if he isn’t able to frustrate Bader in Australia.

Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic

A few years ago, who would have thought we’d see the mighty Cro Cop on a list like this? Furthermore, who would have thought he’d be so far downthe list? Yet, here we are, discussing Cro Cop’s woeful 2-3 record in the UFC, and wondering how a man who was once the most feared striker on the planet has been not just beaten, but out-struck by Gabriel Gonzaga, Cheick Kongo and Junior dos Santos.

Really, I don’t have as much trouble accepting the Gonzaga loss, or even the Kongo one. Nobody expected a Gonzaga high kick, and anyone would be knocked out by such a shot. Kongo fought a smart fight and won a decision. It’s the dos Santos loss that makes it hard to believe in Cro Cop. In that fight, Cro Cop just appeared to want to be anywhere else in the world except in that cage. He admitted as much post-fight when he aluded to daydreaming about fishing during the bout. Yes, we’re talking about a guy thinking about fishing while trying to avoid being punched in the face by a fearsome young fighter in front of a worldwide audience. When it reaches that point, it’s probably time to hang ’em up.

However, if anyone has earned the benefit of the doubt, it would be a legend like Cro Cop. The question is, has he truly overcome whatever his mental block is? Does he even want to fight anymore? I would guess that the answer must be “yes”, because he signed to fight Ben Rothwell, but it’s hard to watch Cro Cop-dos Santos and see any signs of the trained killer we once loved to watch. Here’s hoping that Cro Cop proves all the doubters wrong.

Stephan Bonnar

Last, but not least, we have one of the participants in what may have been the most important bout in the history of MMA. What’s interesting is the divergent paths that Bonnar and his Ultimate Fighter Season 1 Finale opponent Forrest Griffin have taken since their extremely closely-fought bout. Griffin is a former light heavyweight champion now, who tends to drop a bout here and there but nonetheless has settled in with the top names in the sport. Meanwhile, Bonnar has lost years of his career to injury and a failed drug test. In his only two fights since his last win (in October of 2007 against Eric Schafer), he has lost to Jon Jones and Mark Coleman.

Now, it’s easy to make a case for Bonnar, here. Jones was a tough fight, and the Coleman bout might have been much different if Bonnar had not thrown an ill-advised spinning back kick that helped Coleman win the second round of their bout, but it still doesn’t look good for Bonnar. With an 0-2 record in his last two fights, a steroid use suspension soiling his resume, and a very tough fight against Krszytof Soszynski looming this weekend, Bonnar continues to fight an uphill battle to regain any kind of relevance in the organization.

Dana White has said in the past that Bonnar will be with the UFC for life, and we may see those feelings put to the test if Bonnar loses his third straight at UFC 110. It’s almost certain that any other fighter would be dropped with the same results, but Bonnar has arguably earned the right to get an extra shot or two due to how much his first fight with Griffin helped the organization (and the sport) in North America. At the very least, though, Bonnar will be far from relevancy with a loss to Soszynski, and will have a long way to go to establish himself as a fighter to watch once again.

E-Mail Jon Hartley

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