Placed right in the middle of an absolutely packed spring season for mixed martial arts events, UFC Fight Night 21 provided enough excitement and intrigue to stand toe-to-toe with the other big events of March and April. Before we move on to April’s events (including offerings from the UFC, WEC and Strikeforce), let’s take a last look at last Wednesday’s card, shall we?
Kenny Florian- The Other Lightweight Champ
I think that it is fairly safe to say that in a fantasy world where BJ Penn doesn’t exist, Kenny Florian has a good shot at being a successful lightweight champion. Depending on what Penn does with his career after the Frankie Edgar fight, this fantasy world could end up looking a lot like real life, but that’s all just a possibility.
The point is that it’s hard not to feel just a little bad for Florian, who has only lost to two men in almost five years of fighting in the competitive lightweight division- Penn and Sean Sherk. This is a guy who has put together a career that could lead him to the UFC Hall of Fame, even though it may not lead him to a championship. One has to suspect that with dominant champions like Penn, Georges St. Pierre, and Anderson Silva not looking to give up their titles anytime soon, Florian won’t be the only talented fighter in that boat, either.
I do think that Florian has to clear one more hurdle, both to earn another title shot or to really be able to be the Best UFC Lightweight Not Named Penn. That is, he needs to face a gifted wrestler and win. Florian has beaten Clay Guida and Joe Stevenson decisively, but I’m thinking more along the lines of Frankie Edgar or Gray Maynard (who, incidentally, Florian thinks he may end up facing next). Even a rematch with Sean Sherk would do. After all, if Penn wasn’t the champ, those are the guys Florian would have to either defeat or hold off to create a legacy for himself.
At this point, I’m almost hoping that Penn will take off to become a full-time welterweight, just to see what Florian can do without Penn around to stifle his momentum. Of course, a permanent commitment to fighting at a higher weight will help Penn succeed more than if he “half-asses” the jump up to 170 pounds, too. For now, I’ll settle for Florian-Maynard.
What’s Next for Gomi?
Takanori Gomi is far from the first superstar from a Japanese organization to finally come stateside and not fare well in his first UFC fight. At this point, I’d say we almost expect that result more than anything, actually. The question is, did Gomi lose because, like Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Wanderlei Silva and so many others, his best days were already enjoyed in the Land of the Rising Sun? Or was last Wednesday just a bad night for him? Perhaps Florian was just a horrible matchup, or Gomi didn’t prepare properly…who knows?
The best way to find out is to provide Gomi with a credible opponent that can test him, but that he should defeat if he’s on top of his game. Florian was a bad matchup because he was clearly going to be able to pick apart Gomi’s style of brawling, barring a perfectly-placed bomb or two. I wouldn’t mind seeing Gomi face someone like Spencer Fisher, as it woud both make for a great fight and also an accurate test to see where Gomi is really at.
Is Roy Nelson Championship Material?
Two UFC fights and two ridiculous knockouts later, Nelson is no longer “the fat guy that smothered Kimbo Slice on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’”. Well, okay, he is still that guy. But he’s also a legitimate heavyweight talent in a very competitive division. Nelson’s combination of competent, powerful striking and a stifling top game on the mat make him a tough matchup for many UFC heavyweights, particularly the best strikers on the roster.
However, I can’t get too excited about Nelson until I see what he can do against the UFC’s trio of freakishly athletic wrestlers. You’re not going to wear any kind of championship belt at heavyweight for the next 5+ years without being able to beat at least a couple of them, and that’s a big challenger for just about anyone. Just ask Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Frank Mir. For now, a fight against one of those two gentlemen would be a great step for Nelson’s career. I think he could make a compelling fight with either man, but I don’t like Nelson’s chances against Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin or Cain Velasquez. I don’t think Nelson’s jiu-jitsu game will be nearly as strong when he’s working from the bottom, and he’s not taking any of those guys down.
–It’s time for the UFC to start letting the fans see Yushin Okami again. From what I know of Anderson Silva, he would love to avenge what was a fluky disqualification loss to Okami, which means we won’t have to worry about another Patrick Cote or Thales Leites fight. Plus, Okami’s grappling gives me the impression that he will be able to challenge Silva more than most of the middleweights in the title picture. Okami’s next fight should be on the main card of a UFC event, and then he should have about one more after that to win for a title shot.
The problem is, Okami recently lost to Chael Sonnen, who is ahead of him in line to face Silva. Furthermore, you know that the UFC will still want Silva to face Vitor Belfort at some point. Add in the always-present possibility that Silva will jump up to light heavyweight or beyond for a fight, and Okami could be waiting for awhile, even if he continues winning. What I would really like to see is Wanderlei Silva vs. Vitor Belfort for a title shot, should Silva beat Yoshihiro Akiyama at UFC 116. That’d be an exciting fight, a great chance for Silva to avenge his quick loss to Belfort years ago, and would give the champ time to either face Sonnen or take on a heavier fighter in the meantime. Like I said, either way, Okami is looking at a year or more before he will get a whiff of the title, which is too bad.
–I was sad to see Caol Uno get absolutely stomped by Gleison Tibau the way that he did. A couple of times, Uno looked like a child in there with Tibau, who is a pretty big lightweight. Here’s hoping that Uno uses a drop in weight to extend his career, at least as it pertains to fighting here in the states. I don’t know the terms of Uno’s contract or how it could all work out, but watching Uno in the WEC would be a much better option.
Tags: Anderson Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, BJ Penn, Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez, Caol Uno, Chael Sonnen, Frank Mir, Frankie Edgar, Gleison Tibau, Gray Maynard, Kenny Florian, Roy Nelson, Sean Sherk, Shane Carwin, Spencer Fisher, Takanori Gomi, UFC, UFC Fight Night 21, Vitor Belfort, Wanderlei Silva, Yushin Okami