What is UFC’s Superbowl card, and why is it important?
At some point (I actually have a year on this—coming next sentence!), UFC made it an annual tradition to host a larger-than-usual show on the eve of the biggest sports event of the year, the Superbowl. At UFC 46 in 2004, the reigning UFC light heavyweight champion, Randy Couture, rematched former foe, Vitor Belfort (they first faced off at UFC 13).
Also at UFC 46, lightweight BJ Penn shocked the world and won the UFC welterweight championship from the seemingly invincible Matt Hughes, heavyweight prospect Frank Mir and former UFC welterweight champion Carlos Newton were on the undercard, and on the prelims? Matt Serra opened up the card, followed by Josh Thomson, and headlining the prelims, a judo-based prospect named Karo Parisyan faced off against another prospect who was making his UFC debut: Georges St-Pierre.
I guess you could say that on the biggest sports weekend of the year, the UFC has always wanted to make a good impression.
Last year’s Superbowl card may have indicated an important trend, and that’s headlining the Superbowl card with a big marquee non-title fight. Silva vs. Diaz brought in an estimated 650,000 buys (one of the better buyrates of the year), and was largely built on the triumphant return of Anderson Silva—how would he fare after the adversity he faced (in Silva’s case, his gruesome leg break)?
A similar storyline looms on the horizon for another one of the UFC’s biggest stars, albeit under different circumstances. Jon Jones is on his way back, and the foregone conclusion appears to be that he’ll immediately rematch Daniel Cormier in a big undisputed title fight, but is that really the best route going forward?
UFC 196: 205 lbs: Jon Jones (21-1) vs. Alexander Gustafsson (16-4)
I feel that there is a sense of urgency to cash in on this fight, because based on recent statements by Alexander Gustafsson in regards to considering retirement, it’s anybody’s guess on how long Gustafsson has left, and if he will even get to title contention again. The Swede was gifted his last title shot against Daniel Cormier in what appeared to be a contract stipulation or another obligation the UFC had made to Gustafsson, but the knockout loss to Anthony Johnson in the fight prior creates a downward slope for the relatively young Gustafsson, who has recently purchased a nightclub and may be readying himself for life after fighting.
Meanwhile, what has this recent hit-and-run debacle done to Jones? Has he taken it easy? Has he trained harder? Judging by his Instagram videos, Jones is training to come back better than ever, but will ring rust be an issue? How about the mental stress of dealing with litigation involving a felony charge and possible jail time? So many questions, but to pop Jones back in there with Cormier (which was technically Jones’s last fight) is jumping the gun, in my opinion.
Moreover, Cormier isn’t even thinking about fighting until after the holiday season, and is looking at April-July for his comeback. Let Jones answer his critics in a Gustafsson rematch, let Cormier watch the new Jon Jones from the sidelines, and then book them against each other in a summer showdown at UFC 200. If Jones should win that, he potentially has one more fight left against Anthony Johnson before cleaning out the light heavyweight division for good, and possibly moving up to heavyweight.
UFC 196: 170 lbs: Johny Hendricks (17-3) vs. Stephen Thompson (11-1)
A major faux-pas, to say the least, when Hendricks didn’t make weight for his bout against Tyron Woodley in October, citing a kidney stone attack while cutting weight. Immediately afterward, Dana White’s reaction was that Hendricks is now a middleweight—a declaration that seemed to be more of a punishment rather than a reality.
Hendricks, who stands at 5’9”, most certainly is not a middleweight, and unless he puts in a serious bulking effort to remain competitive, would be severely disadvantaged at 185 lbs.
The reality of Hendricks’s situation has more to do with dieting and a less radical weight cut down to 170 lbs, especially with the IV ban coming into effect. Being 26 lbs overweight on the week of the Woodley fight was utterly ridiculous, and with all of the negative backlash, it’s definitely expected that Hendricks will be much more vigilant in making weight.
And much like when Henry Cejudo missed weight at 125 lbs, was summoned up to 135 lbs, and now has been gracefully welcomed back to 125, time seems to be a healer of all wounds. But if nothing else, Hendricks’s failure to make weight for his UFC 192 bout spawned opportunity for the unsuspecting Woodley, who was given a title shot against the winner of Robbie Lawler-Carlos Condit just for showing up on weight (though, we know not to take “promised” title shots at face value…).
Meanwhile, Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson has quickly become the most exciting prospect to watch at welterweight (sorry, Erick Silva!). An exceptional athlete who fuses Kempo karate and American kickboxing into a beautiful-to-watch striking style, “Wonderboy” is pegged to be the next big thing at welterweight, but is rushing him in with arguably the second-best welterweight in the world too soon for the 32-year-old Thompson?
Thompson was originally scheduled to fight Neil Magny on January 2, at UFC 195, however, an injury forced Thiago Alves out of a fight with Kelvin Gastelum on November 21, and Magny ended up replacing the injured Alves and upsetting Gastelum, at the expense of his showdown with Thompson. Thompson still appears to be tentatively scheduled in for January 2, but a major step-up against Hendricks a month later at UFC’s Superbowl event—which could earn him a title shot should he win—might be a more appetizing offer for “Wonderboy.”
Tomorrow, we’ll look at other marquee fights to complete the “Superbowl” card. Miesha Tate is upset that she’s getting used as a gatekeeper, but if she’s not next for a title shot, who should Tate fight in a title eliminator? Also, Renan Barão is moving up to 145l bs, but who should he fight? And to round out the card, how about we book bantamweight’s most impressive prospect against another top 10 fighter? Keep it locked on MMA Manifesto for part 2 of “Let’s Book: UFC 196: Superbowl 2016.”