Time for some MMA chat on Wrestling Rambles. Championship Rounds is back. Last week I was off as my brother and his two year old son were visiting me for an early Christmas. So while most of you were toiling away at work or school, I was getting drunk on a Monday afternoon, watching The Avengers and then munching on a full Christmas dinner! That’s my definition of bliss. Although looking after my nephew who is basically a mini Ryback (needs fed regularly and likes to smash things) was exhausting!

Still, a lot of fun was had and there’s noting better for the soul than spending time with those closest to you. Now it’s back to the world of MMA and what a newsworthy week it’s been with huge announcements being made on what felt like an hourly basis. Then there’s the small matter of UFC on Fox 5 which takes place tomorrow night. On paper the show has the potential to be one the best fight cards ever on free TV. So without further delay let’s touch gloves and do this!

Round 1 – Ronda Rousey’s first fight in UFC announced.

When Dana White said a few weeks back that if he could he’d would have Ronda Rousey debut in the UFC ‘next Saturday’ he wasn’t kidding. It’s common knowledge that White was never a fan of female MMA and his statements that there would never be a female division in the UFC were aired as regularly as he says ‘fuck’ (which is a lot).

That all changed this week as history was made. White presented Rousey with her new UFC Female Bantamweight Championship before announcing her first fight in the Octagon against Liz Carmouche (7-2) on 23rd February, in the main event of UFC 157, from the Honda Centre in Anaheim, California.

With the emergence of Rousey as the face of female MMA she is now the hottest commodity in the sport today. Outside of the uber stars of Silva, Jones, Sonnen and GSP, Rousey is one of the most well known fighters on the planet. With a history making first female fight in the UFC on the horizon, the change in Dana White’s attitude towards a female division in the UFC has been amazing to watch. The perfect example of a promoter recognising when he has a money drawing star on his hands and reacting accordingly.

Of course there’s going to be some fans bitching that Carmouche isn’t Cyborg Santos and THAT should be Rousey’s first fight in the UFC. To those bitches I’ve got a simple message – settle down bitches. White, Rousey and even Cyborg have all stated this week that Rousey vs. Cyborg will eventually happen in the UFC. Not surprisingly Cyborg (now that it’s been confirmed there will be no female 145lbs division in the UFC) has now said she is willing to cut to 135lbs to fight Rousey. If Ronda is successful against Carmouche, expect White to move heaven and earth to get Cyborg vs. Rousey as his second female PPV main event.

The big question now is whether or not Rousey will be a draw on PPV. While she has drawn well on TV for Strikeforce, PPV is a whole different animal. Given this will be a historic first female fight in the UFC it should draw healthy number on PPV. The intrigue factor alone should be worth a few hundred thousand buys. Add to that Rousey’s natural charisma, incredible look and undefeated streak (all by first round armbar) and the UFC should have no trouble getting publicity for the fight and selling it to the masses.

I would expect the undercard of UFC 157 to be stacked with great fights (including Dan Henderson vs. Lyoto Machida) but let’s be honest here – we’ll all be watching for Ronda Rousey and the birth of a new era in female MMA in the UFC. In an ever evolving sport we are now moving into a new age where a female fight can be in a PPV main event. If you had told Dana White that five years ago he’d have laughed in your face. The times they are a-changing and with Ronda Rousey as the driving force behind that change, along with the emergence of the all female promotion Invictus, the next few years will be looked back on as the defining time in female MMA.

Round 2 – GSP’s next opponent announced and it’s not Jonny Hendrix…or Anderson Silva.

MMA purists are going to shit a brick with this. To say this is a controversial move by the UFC would be the understatement of the year. Dana White has confirmed that GSP’s next opponent will be none other than Nick Diaz.

Diaz is one of the most controversial characters in MMA and given he’s still serving a suspension for a positive drugs test (dude loves pot like Homer Simpson loves doughnuts) and lost his last fight to Carlos Condit, there are many fans and journalists who are up in arms about this announcement. Given the fact that Jonny Hendrix is the man many consider the rightful number one contender to GSP’s Welterweight Title is one thing. The fact this means we won’t be seeing GSP vs. Anderson Silva in their highly anticipated super fight for the ages has equally pissed people off.

Interestingly though this decision wasn’t White’s, at least according to the UFC head honcho. When announcing the fight he revealed that GSP himself had requested the fight with Diaz. The two men have unfinished business following the cancellation of their fight last year due to Diaz being an unprofessional idiot and blowing off a number of important media obligations. GSP did not take kindly to the harsh words Diaz threw in his direction, including the bizarre claim that GSP was faking his knee injury to get out of fighting Diaz…yeah…did I mention the guy really loves his pot?

Don’t mistake my sarcasm for irritation, I’m a fan of Nick Diaz. I love his warrior spirit. I love his fighting style and his aura of an old school tough guy who doesn’t want to play the game of being an entertainer, or even a sportsman. The personality clash between Diaz and GSP is the perfect heel vs. babyface match up that both MMA and wrestling live and die on. The clash of styles in the Octagon will also been extremely interesting to watch and could result in a great fight. It’s just tough to accept that Diaz should be the next man to get a big money fight against GSP and a shot at his Title.

At the end of the day this comes down to two things – the want of the Champion and money. Diaz vs. GSP will draw significantly more on PPV than GSP vs. Hendrix. Even though Hendrix has earned the Title shot, he has been told he will need to fight and win again before he will be in Title contention.

It’s a tough decision for the insanely powerful punching Hendrix to swallow and he’s already been complaining bitterly on Twitter. That won’t do him any good in the eyes of White but if Hendrix can add a little bit of fire and personality to his already impressive skill set and resume of spectacular knock outs, he could do what Diaz has done so successfully and talk himself into a big money fight with GSP.

Hendrix might not be the most interesting personality in the UFC, but he’s done his talking with that frigging WMD left hand and at the end of the day winning fights is what this sport is all about, right? Maybe not anymore. It’s one thing for Chael Sonnen to talk his way into a fight with Jon Jones but Diaz isn’t even able to fight until February and with such a worthy challenger to GSP being shoved to the side in favour of a big PPV pay day, many fans have been left wondering if the sport of MMA is being sidetracked by the need to bring in big money on PPV.

Round 3 – UFC returns to the UK with Title fight main event.

First off the bad news. UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz’s return from injury has been delayed for at least another twelve months. Cruz was recovering from major knee reconstruction surgery and in a gruesome turn of events his body has rejected the original cadaver (dead body) anterior cruciate ligament placed in his left knee. This has meant Cruz has had to undergo further surgery and could be out of action for another year.

It’s an incredibly tough break for the very talented Cruz who hasn’t been able to fight in the UFC since defending the Title against Demetrious Johnson in October 2011. With Cruz out injured the UFC created an interim Bantamweight Championship which was won by the highly skilled and always smiling Brazilian Renan Barao.

Now for the good news. The UFC have announced their return to the UK with a show at Wembley Arena in London on Saturday 16th February 2013. The event will be headlined by Barao defending the interim Title against one of the fastest rising stars in the UFC, Michael MacDonald. The event will no doubt be a sell out and with a big Title fight in the offing it’s a real must attend event for UK UFC fans. The rest of the card will no doubt be filled with UK fighters and if the atmosphere and quality of the fights is anything close to the UFC’s last trip to the UK when Dan Hardy headlined in Nottingham, UK fans are in for another great night of action.

Round 4 – Forrest Griffin out of UFC 155.

In keeping with what has been one of the worst years on record for injuries in the UFC, the semi main event of the huge end of year UFC 155 has been cancelled. Forrest Griffin has sustained a MCL tear and ACL strain in his right knee and is out of his scheduled fight with Phil Davis. Davis has been pulled from the card and will fight in early 2013. It’s a blow for Griffin who is coming towards the end of his fighting career. I had my doubts he would have stood much of a chance against the young, powerful and dominant wrestler that is Phil Davis but it’s still a blow to lose a big name like Griffin from the card. Here’s hoping for a swift recovery for Forrest.

Round 5 – UFC on Fox 5 Preview.

The Key Arena in Seattle, Washington is the site for UFC on Fox 5 on Saturday 8th December, which is headlined by a potential fight of the year as Benson Henderson defends the Lightweight Title against Nate Diaz. This is a fight I’ve been looking forward to ever since the younger Diaz brother became the number one contender by demolishing Jim Miller earlier this year. While Nick Diaz is the kind of fighter it’s difficult to like, Nate has a quiet charisma that makes him one of the most popular and most understated fighters in the UFC.

For me this is a fight that Diaz needs to keep standing. While Henderson is competent on the feet and relies on an array of kicks, Nate, like his brother, employs what has become known as The Stockton Slap – a boxing style that relies on finding his range and using his superior reach to land a high volume of pitter-patter punches that chip away at his opponent before unleashing full power shots late in the fight. Henderson will not look to stand with Diaz for long, so expect clinches, knees and takedowns from the Champion.

On the ground Diaz is lethal from his back and has submitted numerous opponents from his dangerous guard. He will look for triangles at all times, while Henderson will rely on his superior strength and wrestling skills to grind Diaz down with elbows and strikes. Henderson is also a great BJJ practitioner who has never been submitted in his career.

Both men have incredible conditioning and this is a fight that could easily go the full five rounds. I’m expecting a back and forth war, with both men showcasing their high level of skills. If I was forced to make a prediction I’d go with Henderson by decision…but I’d love to see Nate Diaz finally claim some gold in the UFC. Either way this is going to be a great fight.

UFC on Fox 5 also has two fights where up and coming youngsters take on legends of the sport. In the semi main event veteran former Light Heavyweight Champion Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua takes on young Swedish sensation Alexander Gustafsson.

This fight will go a long way to determining where both guys stand in the LHW division. Most pundits and fans are salivating over the prospect of a future Gustafsson vs. Jon Jones fight. Personally I need to see Gustafsson fighting a higher level of competition before I can jump aboard this latest hype train. A win and a dominant performance against one of my favourite fighters of all time will go a long way to convincing me to buy that train ticket.

If we see anything other than an all out stand up war in this fight I’ll be wearing an expression similar to Macaulay Culkin on the Home Alone poster. Rua has the better all round skills but a decade of brutal wars has slowed him down and he has been known to gas in fights. Gustafsson will push the pace in this fight and look to wear the more experienced man down over the three rounds. I’m not convinced he’ll finish Shogun (but that’s more down to personal bias) but I do expect the Swede will win thanks to superior conditioning and workrate.

In the other young gun versus old lion fight BJ Penn returns from retirement to fight the next model on the Canadian production line of top MMA fighters, Rory MacDonald. There’s a shit ton of hype around MacDonald. He’s one of the next generation of MMA fighters who has been training in every aspect of MMA since the age of 14. At 23 he is now looking to make the next step on his career and a win over a legend like Penn will springboard him into the upper echelons of the Welterweight Division.

There’s some personal history here as MacDonald trains with GSP who famously destroyed Penn a few years ago – a fight that Penn’s career has never really recovered from. On paper this one is a major mismatch. Penn is slower, much older and hasn’t looked great in his last few performances. While he’s keen to cement legacy as one of the best of all time and wants to prove he can still compete with the new generation of UFC fighters, he could be in real trouble here.

MacDonald is huge, has a vast array of skills and is also dominant from the top position. While Penn is known for his incredible BJJ skills, I just can’t see anything other than MacDonald taking him down and beating him to a bloody pulp in a tribute to his training partner GSP.

Rounding out the card is Mike Swick vs. Matt Brown. While this fight doesn’t have the story of the other fights on the card, it should still be a great battle. Swick has come back from a serious illness which nearly ended his career and looked great in his last fight. Brown is a fighter who is always dangerous and a win against Swick will move him up the card. This one will kick off the show and should be tremendous as both guys will look to make a statement on national TV. Expect fireworks.

As you can probably tell I’m psyched as hell for UFC on Fox 5 and I hope for a change the focus after the show is on the great fights and not what rating the show drew. The sooner the MMA media realise that the integration of MMA on national TV is a slow process which will not result in immediate monster ratings the better. The deal with UFC on Fox is only in its infancy and it will take a few years before UFC can begin to draw the kind of TV ratings that other big sports currently do. That said, with a Title fight and two legends of the sport on the card, UFC on Fox 5 does have enough ammunition to hopefully silence the rating nerds and also deliver one of the best four fight cards of the year.

That’ll do for this week folks. Thanks for reading and be sure to join me again next week for more big news in the world of MMA.

If you’re so inclined, you can follow me on Twitter which is @MFXDuckman. You can also hear me and my partner in crime Sir Ian Trumps every week on the Marks for Xcellence podcast, where we take an alternative look at the week in WWE and TNA. You can find all the details for the show on the Wrestling Rambles podcast page or over at http://www.mfxpodcast.com. It’s funnier than Big Show trying to break a chair but less creepy than Hulk Hogan towards his daughter Brick.

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