February 5, 2013

First and Worst: Week of January 28 to February 3, 2013

By Adam Martin

First and Worst is an ongoing series for MMARatings.net, where every week Adam will make his pick for the best and worst newly-announced fight of the past week (Monday to Sunday). If you’d like to see any additions to this series, hit him up on Twitter @MMAdamMartin.

First: Nate Diaz vs. Josh Thomson, UFC on FOX 7

The best fight announced this past week is undoubtedly Nate Diaz vs. Josh Thomson, a battle of perennial lightweight contenders that takes place at UFC on FOX 7. Both Diaz and Thomson are extremely exciting fighters who always leave it all in the cage, so this is exactly the type of fight the UFC needs to open their next big FOX event with.

Diaz is coming off a listless decision loss to Benson Henderson at UFC on FOX 5 where he was taken down and controlled for 25 minutes by the UFC lightweight champion. After earning his chance to fight for gold with wins over Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone, and Jim Miller, Diaz folded when the spotlight was put on him and he wants another crack at the belt to prove he just had an off night.

Conversely, Thomson also wants a crack at the UFC lightweight title. The former Strikeforce lightweight champion Thomson’s last outing came last May when he lost a razor-thin split decision to Gilbert Melendez in a fight that many (including myself) believe he won. Strikeforce folded, of course, so Thomson will never get a chance to fight for that strap anymore, but with a win over Diaz he could potentially be fighting for an even more prestigious title.

Thomson fought in the UFC many moons ago and racked up two wins before fighting Yves Edwards at UFC 49 in a fight to determine the uncrowned champion of the lightweight division (there was no belt at the time). In one of the most memorable moments in UFC history, Thomson, after controlling Edwards in the early going of the bout, was knocked out cold by a flying head kick. That was the last time he fought in the UFC, and there’s no doubt it still leaves a bitter taste in his mouth to this very day.

There’s no way this fight can be bad, and I fully expect Diaz vs. Thomson to be awarded the "Fight of the Night" at UFC on FOX 7.

Worst: Michael Bisping vs. Alan Belcher, UFC 159

I’ve seen a lot of people this past week get very excited over the booking of Michael Bisping vs. Alan Belcher at UFC 159. Both fighters were close to a UFC middleweight title shot only to lose in their last respective appearance, so it was easy matchmaking by Joe Silva to pair them together, especially since the two traded barbs on Twitter and in interviews while both were making a run up the ladder.

On paper, it’s a fun fight between two middleweight contenders, and it should be exciting. But this bout between two fighters coming off losses is not co-main event worthy to UFC 159’s headliner of Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen, and that’s my biggest issue with it.

To me, this feels like UFC 151 all over again, and no, that’s not a good thing.

If you recall, back in August of 2012, Dan Henderson pulled out of a fight with Jones not even two weeks before UFC 151 was set to take place. The UFC tried to get Sonnen to fill in, but when Jones refused to fight him on short notice the entire event was put on thin ice. And when the UFC realized that Josh Koscheck vs. Jake Ellenberger – which had been scheduled as the co-main event—wouldn’t draw flies on pay-per-view as the main event, the promotion decided to cancel the entire show.

Now, imagine if Jones or Sonnen gets hurt before UFC 159. Do you then elevate Bisping vs. Belcher to the main event slot?

It’s a question we have to ask, even though it sucks to even consider the possibility, only because this is something that’s already happened once in the last six months. If the nightmare scenario of UFC 151 was to occur at UFC 159, I think the UFC would go ahead with Bisping vs. Belcher as the main event, and I think a lot of people would be very unhappy if that happened.

My impression is that the UFC wanted to book New Jersey native Jim Miller vs. Eddie Alvarez as the co-main event (the fight takes place in NJ), but when Alvarez’ contract was matched by Bellator and he was put in a holding pattern, the promotion matched Miller up with Pat Healy instead. I think that’s when the decision was made to promote Bisping vs. Belcher as the co-main event, because while it’s an awesome third fight on a card, it’s not a co-main event, especially with Bisping coming off that nasty head kick loss to Vitor Belfort at UFC on FX 7.

I really hope UFC 159 goes down as planned, but if something bad happens, the UFC can’t say they weren’t warned. They’re playing with fire again, and we’ll see if it burns them again just like it did last summer.
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