3 Fights That Make Sense for Anderson Silva If Nick Diaz Falls Through

There were few other fights that the UFC could pull together that would excite fans more than Anderson Silva vs. Nick Diaz did when the bout was first announced earlier this year. 

In the blue corner you have the former Strikeforce welterweight champion making his return to the Octagon after what would have been a 22-month hiatus. In the red corner you have the former UFC middleweight champion making his return from a yearlong absence that came as a result of one of the most gruesome injuries most of us have ever seen. 

Both men were poised to take the center of the Octagon and piece together what could have been one of the most fan-friendly striking matches anybody could ask for. 

So when most of us heard that Diaz was arrested under suspicion of DUI, the concerns started to grow—who would Silva fight if the highly anticipated bout with Diaz fell through?

Like it or not, this was a fight that Silva was supposed to win. Diaz was supposed to do what he always does: move forward, throw strikes aplenty and collect his paycheck. Silva, being the counterstriker that he is, was supposed to bob, weave and pounce his way back into relevancy. 

None of the following fighters would make for quite as an exciting fight, especially when you consider the amount of attention Diaz garners when he steps inside of a cage. That doesn’t mean this pay-per-view is already destined to fail, though. 

Here are some alternative options: 

 

Gegard Mousasi

No, he may not have the same rhetorical abilities that Diaz has developed over the years, but he certainly has a similar striking game that could make for an equally exciting fight. Akin to Diaz, Gegard Mousasi doesn’t always throw heavy, but he surely throws often. 

Coming off of a one-sided loss to Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza earlier this month, Mousasi fell to the bottom of the already-crowded middleweight pool of title contenders. A victory against Silva—which could happen—would likely toss him ahead of a lot of the current crop of contenders. 

A win for Silva here would likely provide a little more validation than he would receive in defeating Diaz, further convincing the public that he’s still worthy of the No. 1 spot in the UFC’s middleweight division.

 

Dan Henderson 

Sure, Dan Henderson hasn’t necessarily looked impressive since he took part in a five-round war with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in 2011. He also hasn’t fought at 185 pounds since he challenged for Jake Shields’ Strikeforce middleweight title back in 2010. 

But after getting rag-dolled by Daniel Cormier, knocked out by Vitor Belfort and split-decisioned by faster fighters in Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans, it’s obvious that Hendo needs to make some changes before he’ll start seeing any sort of success inside of the Octagon again. 

Squaring off against Silva—in what would be the sequel to their 2008 title unification bout—could be the sort of motivation that Henderson needs to make the difficult weight cut at 44 years old. 

 

Rashad Evans

With back-to-back victories against Henderson and Chael Sonnen, it’s not as if Rashad Evans needs to make the move down to middleweight. He sits firmly as the light heavyweight division’s No. 3 contender, likely only needing one or two more victories before he’ll find himself in a rematch against Jon Jones. 

But that’s just it—it’ll be a rematch against the man who beat him in every feasible way for five whole rounds. And it’s not as if Jones suddenly plateaued upon defeating Evans—he’s gotten much, much better. 

He’ll be looking to make his return to the Octagon in early 2015 after tearing his ACL in the weeks leading up to his bout against Cormier back in March. He did say he’d be willing to come back as early as February, per The MMA Hour, via Dana Becker of Fightline.com, but who’s to say he’d be opposed to the idea of pushing his ETA a month early to step up and fight the former pound-for-pound king? 

 

Kristian Ibarra is a Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He also serves as the sports editor at San Diego State University’s student-run newspaper, The Daily Aztec. Follow him on Twitter at @Kristian_Ibarra for all things MMA. 

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Demetrious Johnson Focused on Progress, Not Legacy Heading into UFC 178

Demetrious Johnson isn’t one to get hung up on labels.

While in the midst of his dominant reign atop the UFC’s flyweight division, Mighty Mouse has gained solid recognition across the mixed martial arts landscape as being one of the sport’s pound-for-pound best in addition to being heralded as the fastest fighter on the planet. Naturally, that caliber of praise is going to come when a fighter goes on a six-fight winning streak and leaves a collection of top-ranked talent wrecked in his wake, but circumstantial descriptors are not what Johnson chooses to focus on.

The 28-year-old Washington native’s sole focus rests on his personal progress as a mixed martial artist. Granted, being the champion of the 125-pound division is a position he covets, but a title is nothing to rest on in his world. He’s on a constant pursuit of improvement, and his commitment to those endeavors has been especially visible in his past four outings.

Since edging out Joseph Benavidez via split decision to earn the inaugural flyweight title, the Matt Hume-trained fighter has shifted gears and elevated his game in every showing since. He’s stepped into the Octagon on four occasions since winning the title, and with every bout he has put a more dangerous version of himself on display. Whereas some fighters have fallen victim to complacency once they’ve obtained the label of champion, Johnson resides at the opposite end of the spectrum.

The speedy flyweight king is hungrier than ever because he’s not chasing down a pedestal to be placed upon. Rather, Johnson is continuously looking to find new physical limits and push his talents to new levels. 

“My personal progress is huge to me,” Johnson told Bleacher Report. “It means I’m getting better and I’m not wasting my coach’s time in the gym. It makes me happy that people think I keep showing new things because I believe I am as well. I’m always showing that I’m a very versatile champion and I’m not just good at one thing. When people prepare to fight me, they have to figure out how to solve a puzzle. 

“If they come in trying to hold me down, then they have to get in close and deal with my clinch game. If they come in with the game plan to try and knock me out, they have to deal with my wrestling and speed. I like that the puzzle my opponents have to figure out in order to beat me is becoming more difficult to solve with every fight. 

“I look at the one fight in front of me because that is the only thing I can control,” he added. “People talk about legacy and things like that, but my focus is always on what is directly ahead. When I try to look deeper into things, I don’t even know what I’m supposed to leave behind for a legacy, or if I’m even supposed to leave one. For me, I keep my mind focused on the fight in front of me because that is the only one that matters.”

For as dominant as Johnson has been over the past two years, being perched on the divisional throne means there is a constant target on his back. He is the fighter every flyweight on the planet is aiming to derail, and the next eager challenger is rapidly approaching. At UFC 178 on September 27, Chris Cariaso will attempt to do what no man in the 125-pound ranks has been able to accomplishbeat Johnson inside the Octagon.

Doing so is a tall task—and Cariaso‘s heavy underdog status certainly reflects that being so—but Johnson isn’t sleeping for a second on The Kamikaze’s dangers. He knows he will have a scrappy veteran on his hands on Saturday night, and Johnson will be once again looking to get the job done by any means necessary.

“He is a good matchup, and Chris [Cariaso] is a tough guy,” Johnson said. “He always comes to fight and is a very durable guy. He’s able to take a lot of punishment and is always game. He’s always up to fight, and I think it is going to be a good one. My camp and I are prepared, and we are ready to go out there and fight.”

While Johnson’s reign atop the flyweight division has been dominant and several of his performances over that stretch have been near flawless, the 125-pound titleholder has not been able to escape pointed criticism. Larger fighters have always received the lion’s share of the spotlight in combat sports, and that trend has gone unchanged in the current era of mixed martial arts.

Fighters below the 170-pound limit have faced an uphill battle in the days since BJ Penn fell from his post as the greatest lightweight in the world, and it’s a struggle that still remains. Granted, there have been the fortunate few (Jose Aldo, Ronda Rousey, Anthony Pettis) who have earned respect and, perhaps even more noteworthy, the ever-elusive attention of the modern MMA fan, but fans have thus far been coming around slowly to Johnson.

When his impressive skill set and lopsided nature of his current run are taken into account, a lukewarm thermometer with the UFC fanbase may seem crazy, but it doesn’t make it any less true. In his most recent title defense at UFC 174, the champion put a one-sided beating on No. 1 contender Ali Bagautinov with his full array of skills on display, but that didn’t stop fans from exiting the arena in the early stages of the main event. 

Nevertheless, Johnson cannot allow himself to linger on those details. He understands there is a certain amount of effort and self-promotion required of him, but those elements carry zero weight if he isn’t firing on all cylinders come fight night. Johnson understands it is entirely upon him to go out and do his job under the bright lights, and all he can do is hope fans eventually come around.

Yet, fans coming to appreciate how good something was long after it is gone is an unfortunate reality that occurs in the sports world.

“I hope that isn’t the case and people come to appreciate the way I fight, but that could certainly happen,” Johnson said. “That’s happened to me in my own career where I wish I would have spent a lot more time watching K-1 kickboxing when Mirko Cro Cop and Mark Hunt were in there. I wish I was into it a lot more back in the day when I was growing up. Now, I’m trying to play catch-up by watching Glory and Lion Fights just to watch the muay thai and different types of combat sports. 

“I’m only 28 years old. I’m still young, and I’m going to be fighting for a long time. Hopefully, people will eventually jump on the bandwagon or whatever people call it.”

 

Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. All quotes are obtained firsthand unless noted otherwise.  

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UFC Fight Night 52: Matches to Make for the Entire Fight Card

Mark Hunt continues to impress inside the Octagon.

Following a knockout loss to Junior dos Santos in May 2013, many may have figured Hunt wouldn’t be able to get that close to a heavyweight title shot again. However, 16 months later, Hunt is right back in the thick of things as a heavyweight contender.

At UFC Fight Night 52 on Saturday, Hunt became the first fighter to stop Roy Nelson in a UFC bout. The knockout against a fighter known for his chin spoke volumes about Hunt’s punching power and ability to put any heavyweight in the world away.

With another UFC event in the books, here are the matchups that should be made for Hunt, Nelson and the rest of the UFC Fight Night 52 competitors.

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Is New and Improved Thales Leites Contender Material?

Thales Leites has found a way to bring his mixed martial arts career full circle. A little more than five years ago he was jettisoned from the Ultimate Fighting Championship and an afterthought in the middleweight division. Now, not only has he returned to the largest stage in MMA; he’s put himself into a position where he should begin to receive consideration as a potential name to watch in the 185-pound group.

After his split-decision defeat at the hands of Alessio Sakara at UFC 101, Leites found himself outside of the UFC and looking for work. From that point forward, the Rio De Janeiro, Brazil native turned his career around in a way that very few individuals can after receiving a UFC pink slip. Leites has put together a 10-1 record, that includes four straight wins since being brought back into the promotion in 2013. His current run has allowed him to reach the 11th spot on the current UFC rankings.

However, one must wonder if this new and improved Thales Leites is a true contender in a new-look middleweight division. According to his stats provided by Fight Metric, Leites is much of the same fighter that earned a title shot years ago; except for one recent new wrinkle. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt has found the ability to finish opponents by knockout to go along with his high-level grappling. When he knocked out Trevor Smith at UFC Fight Night: Minotauro vs. Nelson, he earned his first KO victory in nearly 10 years. He then followed up that performance months later by becoming the first man to knockout Francis Carmont in a decade.

Quite the resurgence for a fighter that could have faded away to obscurity. Leites recognizes the importance of finishing fighters at this point in his career.

“I will always try to finish the fight before the decision,” Leites said to Guilherme Cruz of MMA Fighting. “We’re fighting in a big promotion, with high-level athletes, and sometimes it won’t happen.”

Leites has taken the opportunity to seize the moment as he’s started calling out bigger-named opponents in the middleweight division. He took to that same interview to reiterate his thoughts about facing Michael Bisping next.

“He’s [Bisping] well ranked, has a big name, and I think it would be great if we fight,” Leites said. “It can be in Brazil or England. I think it would be an interesting fight” (via MMA Fighting).

Since then, Bisping has been paired with Luke Rockhold (via Sherdog) but that still leaves a number of other interesting matchups for the Brazilian competitor. With one or two more victories, Leites can find himself on the short list of men ready to face the champion, or be placed in a title-eliminator in 2015. Not many fighters have found a way to turn around their career in such a dramatic way after being cut by the UFC. Thales Leites has proved that it’s possible and his story is yet to be complete.

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Bellator 125 Results: Melvin Manhoef Earns Title Shot with Knockout Win

Bellator‘s final stretch of weekly shows continues plugging on, this time with Bellator 125. 

The main event featured Doug Marshall and Melvin Manhoef in an intriguing middleweight tilt. Both fighters are renowned for their savage knockout skills and when the two came together, the fight ended as one would expect; shortly after it began and in devastating fashion.

Manhoef stalked Marshall right from the get-go, peppering him with punches and landing his signature devastating leg kicks. A kick to the cup interrupted the action, but shortly after things restarted, Manhoef suckered Marshall with a feint and landed a devastating right hand to the back of his foe’s head. Marshall flopped to the mat face-first from the impact, and the fight was immediately waved off (you can see the finish yourself here).

After the official decision, it was announced that Manhoef had earned a shot at Bellator‘s middleweight title opposite the winner of next week’s championship bout between Alexander Shlemenko and Brandon Halsey. A fight between Manhoef and Shlemenko would be a tantalizing matchup between contrasting strikers, while a match with Halsey could result in an overnight star for the promotion.

Outside the headliner, it was a huge night for Bellator prospects.

In the co-main event, Rafael Carvalho impressed with his win over Bellator favorite Brian Rogers. While Rogers, like Marshall and Manhoef, is notorious for his lethal striking, it was Carvalho who walked away with the knockout victory, rocking the veteran standing before finishing him with punches from behind.

Rounding out the main card, Japanese BJJ hotshot Goiti Yamauchi earned a great first-round submission win over Martin Stapleton while Julio Cesar Neves advanced to 30-0 by knocking out WEC veteran Poppies Martinez. 

The full results are as follows (h/t CagePotato.com):

Main Card

Melvin Manhoef def. Doug Marshall via KO (punch), 1:45 of round 1.
Rafael Carvalho def. Brian Rogers via TKO (punches), 3:06 of round 1.
Javy Ayala def. Raphael Butler via submission (rear naked choke), 1:03 of round 1.
Goiti Yamauchi def. Martin Stapleton via submission (rear naked choke), 4:37 of round 2.

Preliminary Card

Matt Ramirez def. Oscar Ramirez via submission (armbar), 0:42 of round 1. Chris Honeycutt def. Aaron Wilkinson via TKO (punches), 4:45 of round 2.
Julio Cesar Neves def. Poppies Martinez via TKO (strikes), 2:16 of round 1.
Jonny Bonilla-Bowman def. Art Becerra via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28).
Jesse Juarez def. Ron Keslar via unanimous decision(29-28, 29-28, 29-28).
George Zuniga def. Granson Clark via TKO (punches), 0:34 of round 1.

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