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By: Rich Hansen, MMATorch Columnist
Have you ever sat down in a reflective moment and asked yourself why exactly you're a fan of mixed martial arts, and the UFC specifically? Between the steroids, wife-beaters, criminals, penny-pinching billionaires, underpaid fighters, unscrupulous and incompetent managers, cards and markets being ruined by injury or poor card construction, homogenization of the fighters and the fights themselves, really, what is there to justify your love of the sport? What is it that you need to see on fight night in order to justify chasing the windmill? Human drama. Comebacks. Elite talent. Diverse styles. Fighters you've spent years following like family. UFC 187 had everything you could possibly ask for to be a card for the ages, and unless you're a blood relative of Anthony Johnson, Vitor Belfort, or Travis Browne, go find a new sport if you disagree. MMA doesn't get better than what we saw on May 23, 2015.
In the main event of the evening, Daniel Cormier beat the piss out of Anthony Johnson, a woman-beater who claims to never have known the definition of "No Contest." If he needs to learn the definition of that phrase, all he needs to do is sit with his coaches and watch the film of rounds two and three of his fight with Cormier. The former Olympian took advantage of all the mistakes people like to forget that Johnson always makes: his recklessness led to him winding up on his backside, he has no weapons off his back, and he has less cardio than any elite fighter in any division of the UFC. And while I won't equate losing a professional fight where he was very well compensated to the loss being karma for his history of domestic violence, I certainly didn't feel bad seeing him get chewed up and spit out like a wad of Skoal.
As to Cormier, no favorite of mine, he had the perfect night. There was no surprise in what he was going to do, and no surprise in what Johnson was going to do. The only suspense was as to whom was going to succeed. And after weathering some heavy artillery in the first, Cormier slaughtered Johnson from pillar to post. And to top it off, Cormier ended the night with the perfect mic drop, telling Jon Jones to "get his shit together." If he's going to be a paper champion - and make no bones about it, he IS a paper champion - at least he's a defiant paper champion.
Moving forward, Cormier might get Ryan Bader for his first paper championship defense. No one wanted to see that fight in New Orleans as a non-title fight (and if you don't believe me, GOOD SEATS ARE STILL AVAILABLE!), so I can't imagine anyone wants to see it now. Depending on their respective health situations, Cormier's first paper defense is likely to be against either Alexander Gustafsson or Rashad Evans. And who knows? Maybe Jon Jones gets his shit together in the form of an out of court settlement and a plea bargain and fights Cormier next. Rumble could have fought Ovince St. Preux or Glover Teixeira next, but they're both booked against one another. Maybe Rampage Jackson is in the cards, depending on how his date with Scott Coker's lawyers goes.
In the co-main event of the evening, Chris Weidman got lit up by Jesus Christ Vitor Belfort before convincing Jesus Christ to turn his back on Belfort, ultimately taking down the Brazilian and taking nine months off the back end of Belfort's life. It was a beautiful, brutal, breathtaking display of controlled aggression and violence, and Chris Weidman has a legitimate claim to the title of best fighter in the world.
I'm interested to see Weidman in a title fight that doesn't involve him fighting a Brazilian, southpaw fighter. After two fights with Anderson Silva, one with Lyoto Machida, and one with Belfort, his likely showdown with Luke Rockhold could wind up being the best fight of the year. Presuming that's the way they go, this will the the first UFC Middleweight Title fight between two Americans since Rich Franklin fought Nate Quarry at UFC 56 in November 2005. Weidman vs. Rockhold is one of the very few fights the UFC can make that could pit two top 15 pound-for-pound fighters against one another. As to Belfort, public scorn outside of Brazil is going to result in this being the end of the road for him as a relevant title contender. I'd like to see him fight Yoel Romero next. And while he's booked against Lyoto Machida, maybe Belfort waits for that fight. If that isn't the way they go, maybe Tim Kennedy?
And since I'm on asides right now, while I have little to no problem with the Johnson vs. Cormier fight becoming a title fight, it should not have been the main event of the evening. Chris Weidman was the only fighter on the card who walked to the cage with a belt (figuratively) around his waist. It makes sense to market two title fights without the taint of the word "interim" being involved, but they needed to reshuffle the order of the top two fights.
Donald Cerrone was featured in the next fight of the card, and while his (literally bottom) jaw dropping performance against John Makdessi has earned him a title shot, the legendary performance of everyone's favorite Belorussian heavyweight fighter Andrei Arlovski is going to be talked about much more than Cowboy's fight with Makdessi. In an attempt to keep the hyperbole to a minimum, I will confidently state that Arlovski vs. Browne was the best one round fight since Nick Diaz fought Paul Daley in Strikeforce. The most reminiscent UFC heavyweight fight would be the fight between Cheick Kongo and Pat Barry, but this fight completely blows the Kongo fight out of the water.
On a more well-balanced card, Arlovski at +375 would have been the biggest betting underdog of the night. Regardless of the number of large underdogs on the UFC 187 card, Arlovski was given little chance against Browne. Everybody, myself most definitely included, figured that the moment Hapa found Arlovski's chin, Arlovski would fall like a stockbroker in November of 1929. Timely references, that's me. But I regress. Digress. Whatever. But not only did Arlovski defy expectations, he went head and shoulders beyond the expectations of even his wildest fans. From the opening moments of the fight Arlovski pounded on Browne like a railroad spike. Arlovski had Browne on rubber legs, queer street, and roller skates for the last three minutes of the fight. And when Browne was able to drop Arlovski near the end of the round, Arlovski was able to survive, due wholly to the amount of damage Browne had absorbed. This was without a doubt the best fight of the year to date.
Has Andrei Arlovski set himself up for a title shot? You might not know this, but after typing that sentence, I had to stop and look at the screen for about five minutes. It's unfathomable that he could be at this place after so many years of being nothing and nowhere. Consider this: From January 2009 through February 2011, Arlovski lost four fights in a row, a streak that included losses to Brett Rogers and Sergei Kharitonov in a combined 3:11. A year and a half after the end of that streak, with his best win in that period being over Travis Fulton (he of the 251–50–10 career record), Arlovski fought Tim Sylvia to a NC for OneFC in a fight that was widely derided as (at best) a joke or (at worst) an affront to all that is good in polite civilization (as are all Tim Sylvia related events, but that's neither here nor there). After going 4-1 in five more fights (with the loss being to Anthony Johnson), Arlovski returned to the UFC. And in said return, Arlovski engaged in the worst fight of 2014, winning a much derided decision victory over Brendan Schaub. After that fight he KO'd the fighter formerly known as Antonio Silva, which leads us to tonight's fight with Travis Browne. A fight in which no one could have expressed surprise had Browne not walked to the cage to Taps.
So, again, has Andrei Arlovski earned a title shot? Let me ask you. Who's more marketable: Stipe Miocic or Andrei Arlovski? I'd say Andrei Arlovski, and his story is the best story of the year;if the UFC decides to stay in the money-printing business, Arlovski's got a date with Cain Velasquez in his future. Mind you, I think Fabricio Werdum has a decent chance to take the title at UFC 188, but I refuse to acknowledge the possibility of having to see a rematch between Arlovski and Werdum. Their first fight was so, so, oh so bad. Travis Browne might be looking at Junior dos Santos next, depending on how the UFC goes with the next title shot.
And look. There was a ton of great stuff last night. Donald Cerrone had a fight with someone who let him do what he does best, and he obliged John Makdessi by breaking Makdessi's jaw. Cerrone's getting a title fight off of that performance. Joseph Benavidez may have lost half a step, but he still had enough to unanimously 30-27 (now a verb) a game John Moraga. John Dodson returned, which is always a good thing, even if his performance against Zach Makovsky was… uninspiring? Yeah, uninspiring. I'm buzzing off of a great card, we'll leave it there.
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