For three decades, the worldwide leader in sports – ESPN – was in fact the only leader. It existed in essentially a field of one when it came to a 24 hours a day sports broadcaster.
But Saturday sees the launch of Fox Sports 1, a new sports network that is throwing its very giant hat into the ring. Central to its plans is using and expanding on the coverage of the UFC. And so on Saturday, the first ever UFC Fight Night (26) will be on the new network and will feature a headline scrap between Chael Sonnen and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua from the TD Bank Center in Dana White’s favorite town - Boston.
Chael Sonnen - Mauricio Rua
If the UFC has ever had a mouthpiece, or at the very least a foghorn then it has to be Chael Sonnen [27-13-1]. Despite never winning, at 205 pounds he managed to shimmy himself into a fight with Jon Jones. He lost, but his profile was as usual has done little harm. And so he faces Mauricio Rua at the light-heavyweight limit even though he has promised to move back down after Saturday.
The interesting thing about both Sonnen and Rua though is that neither have that great a record in the promotion with records of 6-6 and 5-5, respectively.
Rua has not been able to post consecutive victories since 2009, while Sonnen has fallen at the biggest hurdles. Despite this, it’s an unquestionably fascinating match-up.
In the case of Rua, the factor in question is his gas tank and how it runs low when he needs it most. He faded horrifically in his fight against Alexander Gustaffson and lost in three rounds. Sonnen might be a little basic and simple in his style but has pretty decent stamina.
More importantly, he’s relentless and is adept at building up pressure on his opponents. If he chooses to fight smartly with the aim of longevity, then he stands a real chance against “Shogun.”
As for Rua, there is little question he is technically on another plane to Sonnen, but the endless punching and kicking flurries take their toll and lead to the aforementioned burnout. If he catches Sonnen early, then expect fireworks and a Rua strolling victory. But if Sonnen can keep his distance but build pressure in spurts there is every chance the biggest mouth in the UFC can produce the loudest noise on Saturday night.
Alistair Overeem - Travis Browne
On the face of it, this matchup seems evenly poised.
But only one fighter needs this victory that much more than the other – Alistair Overeem [36-12]. Overeem was drilled by Antonio Silva and lost in a frighteningly easy fashion.
Sure, some may have blamed that on the Dutchman’s arrogance, but whichever way you look at it, it was a giant leap backward for a man already held in highly dubious regards by others when it comes to licensing issues and PED use. The fight against Silva could have been one to elevate him to a title shot. Instead, it exposed real deficiencies.
As for Browne [14-1-1], he has a record of 5-1-1 in the UFC. Sure he’s big and hits hard, but his loss, coincidently also at the hands of “Big Foot” was very much owed to a torn hamstring.
He became an easy and stationary target that the Brazilian pummeled. As for his win against Gabriel Gonzaga in April, the fight was too brief to be able to assess him at the highest level.
In essence, Saturday will decide a number of things. If Browne, who took up MMA at 25, loses, then his record will look padded and his skills be deemed too limited.
As for Overeem, he needs this win to stop his spiral into becoming a gatekeeper in the heaviest division. Who wins? A tough one to call. But then again, that’s what makes it interesting.
Urijah Faber - Iuri Alcantara
The problem is none of those victories resulted in a strap being placed around Faber’s waist. Instead, Faber has always been beaten at the highest level when a title was at stake.
So it’s a good job then that Saturday’s matchup against Alcantara [28-4] isn’t for a title either. It’s also a fight that Faber will be expected to win easily.
It’s not that Alcantara is a bum. Far from it. He carries the sort of power that has finished 24 of his 28 vanquished opponents. It’s just that outside of the top tier of an already talented lightweight division, Faber is that highly regarded.
In another era, perhaps he would have been a titleholder but instead he must face and defeat the likes of Alcantara and bide his time.
Faber will likely try to take the fight to mat and land a submission, something Alcantara has shown a weakness for. Add to the fact that despite his power, Alcantara does not throw in high volumes.
So Faber should have plenty of time to land a takedown and enforce his will on the Brazilian.
Igor Guryashkin is a freelance journalist whose extensive work on combat sports has been featured in ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He splits his time between New York and Louisville. Follow him on Twitter @IGuryashkinESPN.