MMAForReal.com's Matt Bishop and Forrest Lynn sat down Friday evening and answered four burning questions for this Saturday's "UFC 118: Edgar vs. Penn 2," one for each big fight on the show.
For more UFC 118 coverage, check out the MMA For Real's Event Center for the show, where you also can discuss the night's fights as it transforms into the open thread for the show.
Now, without any further ado, here are the burning questions for UFC 118:
What does it mean for the UFC if Frankie Edgar beats BJ Penn?
Matt Bishop: Well, for the fans, it probably means shows with two title fights, as it's hard to envision Edgar getting the top spot on a pay-per-view card, especially considering the division's lack of star power to oppose him (outside of Penn, of course). An Edgar fight against Gray Maynard, Kenny Florian or George Sotiropoulos does almost assuredly no business, as he would undoubtedly the worst-drawing champion in UFC history. If you look at Tim Sylvia's infamous 2006 run, his three fights that year (one as challenger, two as champion) all had another big fight on the card. UFC 59 had Tito Ortiz-Forrest Griffin in Ortiz's UFC return, UFC 61 had Ortiz-Ken Shamrock II and UFC 65 had Matt Hughes-Georges St-Pierre. The UFC would have to find other big fights or another title fight to support Edgar with, unless a second win against Penn catapults him into superstardom. That would be best case scenario, but I can't envision that happening.
Forrest Lynn: It means the UFC has potentially lost one of their top drawing cards for an extended period of time. Penn has been afforded the rare "most talented guy ever" build, as virtually everything you see in promotional material references his ability rather than his win-loss record. If Penn takes another embarrassing loss, I think he will lose a lot of his luster with the casual fan and even the hardcore fan. People will really begin to question how "great" this guy truly is. It could be kind of akin to a high first round draft pick failing in football or basketball: the fans will watch a guy fail for a couple of seasons, but still hold out hope in the player breaking through because they evidently exhibited enough talent to be so highly coveted. But there's always a point where the player just never breaks through and never lives up to his hype. I'm afraid Penn is dangerously close to that point.A James Toney win wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, would it?
Matt Bishop: I know pro-wrestling comparisons to MMA annoy a lot of people, but that's not going to stop me from making one here. If James Toney wins, the UFC has an opportunity to book an "invasion" angle better than pro-wrestling promoters could. That's right. If Toney beats Couture, he's the big invader and it'll be up to someone else to step in and defend MMA's honor in a fight with the trash-talking boxing man. Then that person, in theory, gets over even bigger. The results here is really a no-lose situation unless Toney hurts Couture so bad it ends his career. Then it might be a little different. But a few more months of Toney talking trash on the UFC and his next opponent certainly would not be the worst thing in the world. And I suppose I should add in that it's only not bad if Toney wins by knockout. If he goes out there and submits Couture like he supposedly did to "King Mo Mousasi" then that might be a bit of a problem. But let's be real. I'm not liking those chances.
Forrest Lynn: If you're the UFC, a James Toney win would be great. After the initial sting of UFC losing the first battle of the "UFC vs. Boxing" war, you're left with 2 very lucrative options for James Toney: a fight with a heavyweight contender (perhaps even the champion), or a fight with Jon "Bones" Jones. While we don't know the true extent of James Toney's drawing power as of yet, I do think it's being significantly hampered by the fact that not enough people really think he can win. It's one thing to hate a guy and want to see his ass kicked if you believe he is a proper foil (Chael Sonnen), but if you feel one of the parties has no shot, you're much less apt to fork down 50 dollars to see it. This problem will be largely erased if Toney defeats Couture. And even if it isn't erased, people will now have a much more tangible reason to hate James Toney other than the fact that he said mean things about Captain America and the UFC: he came in and embarrassed a legend. They'll really want to see him lose now, and most likely, Toney will be annoying enough and a legit enough threat for people to pay for it in larger numbers. With a fight against a big name heavyweight like Brock Lesnar, you're practically assured of a major buyrate (and how funny would it be for Brock Lesnar to play the role of MMA's white knight?) and a very high-profile media heat up, likely getting pre-fight coverage to an extent we've yet to see. With a fight against Jon Jones, you would be officially showcasing Jon Jones to the world: this is the future of MMA, and this is the man who is righting the ship for the sport and taking the future of it in his hands. There's no wrong choice in the wake of a Toney win. The only problem may be getting him to commit to it and not using his newly refreshed name and drawing power in his native sport of boxing.
Not many people are giving Gray Maynard a chance in this fight with Kenny Florian. Yet, he's an undefeated fighter. Do you think he's undervalued in this one?
Matt Bishop: Obviously it's well-known where my allegiances lie for this fight. That being said, I obviously do think he is being undervalued to a certain extent in this fight. I have a lot of respect for Florian and the way he's developed his game is something all fighters should aspire for. This fight, though, is the biggest of Maynard's career and, despite being undefeated, he has a lot to prove here and I think that's going to show. I'm pretty confident we're going to see the best Gray Maynard we've ever seen in this fight. He's received so little respect from people that a loss here would be devastating to his career. This is the biggest moment in Maynard's career. Will he respond? I think so.
Forrest Lynn: Maynard is being a little undervalued in terms of his chances of victory against Florian, but in general, I don't personally see anything that outstanding about him. He's a very good wrestler (not a great one), he has acceptable hands (not great ones), and an acceptable top game (not even approaching great). I'm actually really disappointed at the lack of growth we've seen from him. He's been in the sport long enough and been training with a good enough camp to be really advancing his game: he should be more confident in passing guard and going for submissions and he should be far more further along in his boxing than he has displayed up to this point. Maynard has shown a great ability to catch on to the fundamentals of MMA, but not much ability to further his technique and really develop into a dominant, exciting fighter with stoppage ability. The frustrating thing is that he really could be all of those things. We saw Rashad Evans develop from a prosaic top control wrestler into the dynamic, exciting fighter we all know today in a very short period of time. Maybe we're in for that from Gray Maynard on Saturday night, but all signs are pointing to no. Win or lose to Kenny Florian, it may be time for Maynard to change a few things. Especially if he wants to be a star or ever gain entrance into the "main event" club (which is currently home to PPV buy percentage bonuses).
Do you think Nate Diaz's potential at welterweight is higher than it is at lightweight?
Matt Bishop: There's no doubt in my mind Nate Diaz is in a better place right now in his career than he at the start of 2010. It's not very common for a fighter to improve their stock by coming up in weight, but Diaz has managed to do just that. The problem with the lightweight division as it stands right now is that you basically have a ton of fighters that are carbon copies of each other style-wise (with many being in the same range skill-wise and a few outliers on both ends). At welterweight, Diaz, like his brother, is a very unique fighter, and that will be to his great benefit. His submission skills already are near the top of the division (but watch out for Matt Hughes!) and the sheer number of strikes he throws makes him a difficult fight for anybody. I'm very interested to see this progression and if Diaz can eventually compete near the top at 170 pounds.
Forrest Lynn: I think Nate Diaz's potential at welterweight is absolutely higher than it is at lightweight. The main reason? Competition level. Lightweight is chock full of great athletes with quick reflexes and power double legs. Outside of the top of the welterweight division (basically meaning the accepted top 10), especially in the UFC, you won't really find much of that. There aren't many great wrestlers with good submission defense and really tight boxing at 170 pounds. There's plenty of them at 155 pounds. Diaz should flourish for this fight and maybe two or three afterward, but he should also use the extra allowed poundage to his advantage and look to add on to his wiry, Aoki-like frame. Diaz is a tall guy for someone in the lower weight classes, and with some added muscle, could really make those hundreds of punches he throws in every fight that much more annoying and damaging. His sheer volume of strikes is something rarely seen at any weight, let alone 170, and it's hard to imagine the also-rans that he's currently fighting being able to deal with that, and that's not even mentioning his considerable skill on the ground.