On Sunday morning the MMA universe will have some solid answers to some big questions concerning where guys stack up in their respective divisions. Looking down the card there are multiple bouts that have one if not both of the participants needing a win. Along with those “need to win” situations comes a question. From the bottom of the card to top, it is hard to remember a card that will provide this many answers upon its conclusion.
There are four that you need to ask before watching the event.
1. Can Tyson Griffin rebound from the first back to back losses of his career?
Griffin has long been on the positive end of the “push” from the UFC. He would often find himself on the other side of high praise from commentators Joe Rogan or Mike Goldberg. The high praise he received was warranted. Griffin jumped to solid start in the UFC by winning seven of nine and gaining four “Fight of the Night” checks as well as a “Submission of the Night” along the way. Griffin seemed to be right at the fringe of the top tier of lightweights until a split decision loss to Evan Dunham followed by a KO loss to Takanori Gomi left him stopped in his tracks.
They say a true champion is defined by how they react to a loss. In this case Griffin will look to overcome a two fight losing streak. In his way is Nik Lentz. A win here for Griffin would showcase his ability to regain focus and overcome the mental aspects of suffering back to back losses. A defeat at the hands of Lentz and Griffin could be getting a pink slip.
2. Who deserves a spot in the top tier of the lightweight division, George Sotiroupolus or Joe Lauzon?
Few guys have flown under the radar like George Sotiroupolus, and few guys floated right below the top of a division longer then Joe Lauzon. The Sotiroupolus band wagon is quickly filling up but could have the wheels shot right off of it by Lauzon on Saturday. Both men need this win but for different reasons.
Lauzon needs to string some wins together to finally chase down that title shot that has eluded him his entire UFC career. George needs to shut down Lauzon just like he did Joe Stevenson and Kurt Pellegrino to let the cat of the bag that he is for real. The winner of this fight will get their name in the title hunt and rightfully so.
3. Who wants it more, BJ or Matt?
In the “what more do you have to prove?” category, BJ Penn and Matt Hughes will fight for a third time to complete the trilogy. We know the back story. Penn won the first meeting by submission and Hughes pounded BJ to a TKO win in the second bout.
Now, over four years later these two warriors are in different places in their lives. Hughes is possibly the greatest champion in UFC history, though GSP and Anderson Silva would contest. BJ Penn is one of two men to hold a UFC championship in two different weight classes. Their legacies are written in stone. Penn is coming off of two very disappointing losses to Frankie Edgar. Hughes is riding a three fight win streak. Hughes says he is fighting for the fun of it. BJ says it is about legacy.
Simply put, who wants it more?
4. Where does Rampage stand in today’s lineup of light heavyweights?
Quinton Jackson has made a name for himself with his big knockouts of Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva, and Ricardo Arona among others. Anyone who has ever seen a Rampage fight cannot accuse him of being a boring fighter. He is the type of guy that can stand in the pocket and put you to sleep. He was a star in Pride and is a huge star in the UFC. However, as MMA continues to progress Jackson could be in danger of suffering from the same issue that so many other guys that have been long time stars have suffered from, the failure to evolve.
There is no doubt Jackson can knock you out in a second. But in this day and age of MMA can he out point an opponent? Can his stand in front of you style consistently claim victories over fighters that will dance around, stick and move, or try and out wrestle you? It did not work against Rashad Evans or Forrest Griffin. Both are skilled fighters. It did work against Liddell, Jardine, Silva, and Henderson. But time may have revealed that those guys were not as “great” as they seemed to be on paper.
No disrespect to any of those guys, three of the four are legends in the sport. Looking back they just do not seem as dangerous as they did at that time.
In fact both Silva an Liddell could be criticized the same way. It seems they have struggled to evolve. If Jackson thinks that Lyoto Machida is going to stand in front of him and trade it is going to be a long and frustrating fifteen minutes. Machida has shown that he is not afraid to get booed and out point his opponents. With Jackson’s strength being his power, there is no doubt Machida will work angles and float around working a counter striking game plan to protect against a flash KO.
Jackson will have to prove that he is able to evolve as a fighter and not bring the same strategy in the cage over and over. While that strategy is exciting, it does not always equate to a win. Can Jackson put Machida down, yes. Can Jackson out point Machida, probably not. That is where the importance of a solid strategy and execution of that strategy comes in.
Jackson’s status as an all-time top light heavyweight is unquestioned, but his status as a top tier light heavyweight in 2010 is a question that will be answered Saturday night.