UFC Fight Night 50: Jacare Souza vs. Gegard Mousasi Preview
You’re reading this preview on a Wednesday because the UFC scheduled this event for a Friday. Friday night just happens to be the same night as Bellator 123, the first event of the first full season under the Scott Coker regime. (It’s also the last season under the Scott Coker regime as Bellator will transition into a more traditional promotional model in 2015.) The UFC’s event at the Foxwoods Casino in Ledyard, Connecticut, also just happens right over the Thames River from Bellator’s show at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville. What a coincidence!
It’s the first time the UFC has counterprogrammed Bellator, which might be surprising considering the Dana White’s relatively friendly relationship with Scott Coker and his absolutely less-than-friendly relationship with Bjorn “Bjork” Rebney. It likely signals the threat Coker’s new “Spikeforce” (I hope this portmanteau does not catch on) represents to the UFC. Bellator’s contractual hellhole kept quality young talent away, but the intense seasonal format forced them to maintain a certain quantity of fighter. That led to a watered-down product, and if the UFC’s been a watered-down Coca-Cola, Bellator was a watered-down RC.
Coker changes the promotion’s entire complexion. Where Rebney signed fighters to ironclad deals and litigiously enforced the terms, Coker has as good a reputation among fighters, managers, and fans as anyone in the fight business. Where Rebney ran 25 events in 2013, Coker will run 16: 12 regular monthly events, and 4 major shows. Where Rebney took Bellator onto pay-per-view – most likely to satisfy his contract dispute with Eddie Alvarez, Coker will scale back, showing awareness of his promotion’s assets. And where Rebney pushed the tournament format and the “sporting” nature of MMA (and ignored it when convenient), Coker understands that MMA is spectacle entertainment and should be promoted as such.
It’s unlikely Bellator makes anything more than a dent in the UFC’s market share (and it doesn’t necessarily need to make a dent to be considered a success), and any sea change won’t come for another two or three years, anyway. But Coker has a proven track record of success. It took Strikeforce two years to get onto Showtime after promoting their first event with Frank Shamrock and Cesar Gracie. Fedor came a year later. When the UFC bought Strikeforce out, Coker was kept on payroll and then on a noncompete through this past March. He understands the MMA business like few others who have competed with the UFC, and the UFC understands Scott Coker.
SPEAKING OF STRIKEFORCE…
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Gegard Mousasi first met on September 23, 2008, in the finals of Dream’s Middleweight Grand Prix. Both had fought earlier in the night, though it likely had little effect on the finals: Jacare submitted Zelg Galesic and Mousasi submitted Melvin Manhoef at 1:27 and 1:28 of the first rounds, respectively.
If you haven’t seen the fight, Mousasi ended things with an upkick as Jacare dove in with a Shogun-esque overhand right. It was a strange, anticlimactic ending to a highly anticipated fight between two kind-of-but-not-really top prospects.*
* – Jacare was three months shy of his 29th birthday and in his twelfth pro fight, and would win the Strikeforce middleweight title 2 years and four fights later. Mousasi had just turned 23, but was competing in his 27th pro fight. If you want to call them prospects, they were in the “final seasoning” stage.
The stakes are higher now. Instead of a pair of second-tier titles on the line, the winner should have the inside track at the next middleweight title shot. It may be one of the last chances to fight for the UFC title for both. Jacare turns 35 in December, and a loss in his decline phase may forever derail his chances. Mousasi just turned 29, but he just lost to fellow contender Lyoto Machida, and Friday night marks his 42nd professional fight.
Jacare’s a near 3-1 favorite at the offshore books, and the thinking probably revolves around his takedowns and top game versus the perception of Mousasi’s weak takedown defense. The market seems to overlook Mousasi’s bottom game, which likely won’t finish a man of Jacare’s pedigree, but should allow Mousasi to survive, forcing Jacare to control from the top for five rounds. And if Mousasi can stay standing long enough, his volume and defense should allow him to take home a decision of his own.
REMEMBER TRT? THOSE WERE THE DAYS
Ben Rothwell hasn’t fought since August 31st of last year, when he finished Brandon Vera by third-round TKO. He tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone, but Wisconsin’s athletic commission let him off with a warning when they determined he wasn’t attempting to cheat. Rothwell claimed to have applied for a therapeutic-use exemption, but UFC’s regulatory head Marc Ratner countered that Wisconsin had never give out a TUE and had nothing in their statutes to allow for it anyway. So, the UFC’s unilaterally suspended him for nine months.
He returns in what should be a placeholder fight for Alistair Overeem.
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.