UFC 139 Preview
One week after their network television debut, UFC is back on pay-per-view this Saturday night in San Jose, CA as Dan Henderson (28-8) faces Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (20-5) in the main event of UFC 139.
Henderson is making his return to the UFC after a 2-year absence during which he fought for then-rival promotion Strikeforce (now owned by UFC parent company Zuffa). At age 41, Henderson has defied the odds and is still a dangerous competitor. He is coming off of a victory over famed Heavyweight Fedor Emelianenko, a fight in which Henderson was fighting a weight class higher than usual, yet still stopped the famed Russian.
Rua is a former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, but has not proven to be a consistently good fighter. He he holds a 4-3 record in UFC, though one of those losses is widely considered to have been the result of horrible judging in a fight that went the distance.
Although just 29, it appears at times that Rua's best days are already behind him. He fought a remarkable 18 times over a 52-month span from 2003 to 2007. 13 of those 18 fights came in Japan's famed Pride organization, where the rules left far more room for violence than today's UFC.
Rua is a good striker and a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Henderson is a 2-time Olympic wrestler and also possesses knockout power in his hands. The bout should be entertaining but is difficult to handicap. A quick glance at 3 different sportsbooks reveals 3 wildly different sets of odds. Is Henderson too old? Has Rua taken too much damage to fight at the highest level? My gut says that Henderson will likely be able to take Rua down and may grind out a victory by decision.
Also on the card, fan favorite Urijah Faber will take on Brian Bowles in a Bantamweight bout that will most likely determine the number one contender for champ Dominick Cruz's title. Faber is just 4-4 in his last 8 fights, but his charisma and exciting fighting style have made him a company darling of sorts. His cornrows and media savvy help him to stand out and the company would no doubt love to see him win. He will be the favorite heading into the octagon.
Second from the top will be Cung Le taking on Wanderlei Silva in what should be a wild stand-up battle featuring 2 fighters well past their prime.
Although not well known to casual fans, Le, 39, is something of a legend in San Jose having headlined a number of kickboxing shows there between 1999 and 2001, and because all 8 of his MMA fights have taken place in the city. Before expanding nationally, Strikeforce operated really as a local promotion, and Le was their big drawing card. He has fought only once in the last 23 months, having essentially retired in order to pursue a career as an actor/stuntman.
Silva, 35, is also a veteran of the Pride organization and shows all the signs of a fighter whose chin has gone. He has lost 6 of 8, 4 of those coming via knockout. Still, his aggressive striking style, coupled with the age and relative inactivity of his opponent leaves open the possibility that he could walk out of San Jose victorious.
Preliminary fights will air both on Spike TV and on Facebook.
The question remains, who will be watching this show?
Although the card is not terrible, my read is that only the most loyal of loyal fans will be paying to see this card. Last week's UFC on Fox main event of Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos was originally scheduled to take place on this show, but when the Fox deal arose, UFC made the call to put that fight on free television. My belief is that will likely cut in half the number of buys.
It also happens to fall on the same weekend that The Rock will be wrestling his first match in WWE in 7 and a half years, also on PPV. There is a significant crossover between the fanbases of WWE and UFC. UFC gained traction in 2005 after The Ultimate Fighter aired immediately after WWE's Raw on Monday nights. WWE sees a marked drop in their PPV buys when they run a show the same weekend as a UFC event. Could this be a case where the reverse will actually happen? I think there is a significant chance of that.
Running an event only 7 days after their last show, on a weekend with PPV competition, and with the card not featuring any megastars, I would expect this to be the least-purchased UFC PPV of the year. Yet for those who do watch, the card should deliver solid action.