Posted 01/29/2014 by Mike Fagan in Untethered MMA

UFC 169 Preview

UFC 169 is the UFC’s annual Super Bowl weekend show, and the UFC thought it would be cute to hold the fight in the same market as the game. It’s a nice bit of corporate synergy, what with the game airing through their broadcast partner Fox. They took things a step further when someone from the UFC showed up at Tuesday’s Media Day with a belt and getting players to hold it for photo opportunities.

Unfortunately, NFL Senior Director of On-Field Operations Dennis Kayser didn’t appreciate the stunt. Kayser, believing the belt belonged to that “wrestling stuff,” asked the UFC people to leave. It wasn’t until someone called Jay Glazer to explain the situation and that the UFC is cool that they were allowed to stay, albeit with the restriction of staying away from players at the podium.

And it’s funny. Dana White still believes the UFC is destined to be the biggest sport in the world, but when his company shows up at NFL Media Day, though, it’s treated like an annoying little piss-ant. Granted, this Kayser fella sounds like a white-haired executive who keeps a stockpile of Colt 45 in his garage, but the point stands.

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Dana White felt Rashad Evans made a big mistake waiting ten months for a title shot while then-champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua recovered from knee surgery. An injury prevented Evans from fighting Rua at UFC 128, allowing teammate Jon Jones to step in and begin his title reign.

It makes you wonder why White doesn’t take his own advice. Dominick Cruz was scheduled to defend his bantamweight title against Urijah Faber after coaching stints on the Ultimate Fighter. Two months out from the bout, Cruz tore his ACL and pulled out of the fight. The UFC, understandably at the time, kept the belt on Cruz and scheduled an interim title fight between Faber and Renan Barao at UFC 149.

In December of 2012, however, Cruz was forced to undergo another knee operation. This operation ended up keeping Cruz out for another year, yet the UFC held their faith and refused to strip him of the belt. He was scheduled to fight Barao to unify the belts on Saturday, exactly 2 years and 4 months since his last fight against Demetrious Johnson.

He got hurt again – an injury to his groin. In steps Faber, again, to challenge Barao, except this time it’s for the legitimate belt.

Cruz is the biggest victim here, but Barao’s had to suffer as well. He defended his belt twice in 2013 – first on Fuel TV and then as the co-main event underneath Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson. He hasn’t been pushed as a champion, because, well, he wasn’t THE champion at 135 pounds. Instead of building him up as a marketable, exciting lighter-weight fighter, he became something of an afterthought.

Now he’s officially the guy, and it’s possible he stays that way for a long while. At 26 years old, he’s already 31-1, with 1 no contest, and hasn’t lost since his debut bout in 2005. He’s beaten the number number one, two, and four ranked challengers in his last three fights. And did I mention he’s only 26 years old?

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It’s unlikely Urijah Faber is the man to dethrone Barao, but it’s worth celebrating how he got back into the title picture. In the summer of 2012, people tired of Faber, title contender, after five unsuccessful title fights in just over three-and-a-half years. It was a little unfair, as, while the UFC certainly tried to push their biggest crossover star under 170 pounds, he wasn’t exactly taking a spot over anyone more deserving.

But Faber’s 2013 is his best stretch since he ran through four challengers for the then-WEC featherweight title back in 2007. His four wins (three by submission) came against an increasingly difficult set of bantamweights in Ivan Menjivar, Scott Jorgensen, Iuri Alcantara, and Michael McDonald. With Cruz out, he’s now the clear number-one contender for the belt, and one wonders if this is his last chance at UFC gold.

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Jose Aldo’s talked about moving up to lightweight for some time, and now it looks like that may come to fruition. Dana White appeared on Fox Sports 1 and had this to say:

“I agree with you (Aldo’s done everything at featherweight). It’s tough for him to make that weight. And it wouldn’t be a bad idea that when Pettis comes back, for him and Pettis to fight. We were going to do that fight once at Aldo’s weight, it might not be a bad idea for him, should he win this weekend, to possibly move up.”

It’s interesting and curious. An Aldo victory on Saturday would be his eighth successful defense of his featherweight title. That’s one short of the nine defenses of Georges St-Pierre, for whom White always seemed to find a new challenger.

Of course, there’s a few variables at play here: Aldo’s consistently talked about moving up to lightweight, the UFC almost put together Aldo and Pettis at featherweight last year, and, perhaps most importantly, a scrambled situation at the top of the lightweight division. Benson Henderson put himself back on track last week, but it was a decision many felt he didn’t earn, and Gilbert Melendez is apparently still negotiating a contract with the promotion. With T.J. Grant’s return from a concussion still unknown, that leaves the UFC without a strong contender.

That makes Aldo a great choice. They can promote it as a superfight, as strained as that term might be, and it may be the start of a great rivalry between two young, exciting fighters in Aldo and Pettis.

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Here’s how desperate the situation is at heavyweight: Dana White has had to deny that a heavyweight bout between Alistair Overeem (no. 9) and Frank Mir (no. 10) is a loser-leaves-town affair.

And, yet, it’s not hard to fathom why. Overeem is coming off two embarrassing knockout losses in fights he was winning to Travis Browne and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. A loss for Mir would be his fourth in a row. He’s 4-5 in his last 9 fights, and he’s only looked impressive in two or three of them, depending on your definition of “impressive.”

Despite their recent aversion to winning, their styles and makeups make this an interesting bout. It’s your classic striker vs. grappler affair except the striker is a pretty good grappler and the grappler is a good (if overrated) striker.

They both have a tendency for fading or quitting or however you want to put it, and that’s the real intrigue here. Overeem’s career is defined by fights he was winning that ended with a referee helping him regain consciousness. Mir has more of a tendency to wilt under enough pressure. This fight may come down to who avoids bottoming out mentally first, and given the size and power of each man, could end in an exciting finish.

Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter

Mike Fagan