It's almost time for the biggest fight card of the year. Brock Lesnar is in the main event, which means it's going to draw well but the undercard has a few very intriguing fights as well. In we go with 5 questions heading into the show.
- Is Brock Lesnar really "The Baddest Man on the Planet"? This is his chance to prove it. He looked horrible in the first round against Shane Carwin. He took an absolute beating before making his big comeback against the gassed out mammoth. When you're given a moniker like that it's not because you make big comebacks and somehow manage to win. That name is deserving of a fighter who crushes guys and imposes his will. I'm not sure that Lesnar can do that in this fight but I welcome the opportunity to see him prove me wrong. His illness is in order, he's had a full training camp and there will be no ring rust anymore. It's full blown light speed ahead with a very hungry and very proud Cain Velasquez standing across from him. We know he can handle the pressure of the moment but can he handle the technique? Can't wait to find out.
- Is Jake Shields really a UFC caliber fighter? That might be a bit of an unfair question as there are fighters who've been with the company for quite some time who aren't UFC caliber. But the point is, we'll find out how he'll do against one of the sharks in the 170 pound division. They didn't bring him in and match him up with some tomato can. They gave him a legitimately tough fight against a guy with solid submission skills and an extremely underrated boxing game. We know Shields has the takedowns and his top game is smothering but can he overwhelm Kampmann the way he's done to so many before him? You can bet that Kampmann has been working on his sprawl and the exchanges will heavily favor the Dane. A win would likely push Shields into a fight for the title so he's got a ton of pressure on him in what is his first fight with the premier MMA organization in the world. He's in the co-main event of a Brock Lesnar headlined fight card. There will be a lot of eyes on Shields and they won't be changing the channel this time. I'd like to see if he can handle the situation.
- Does Tito Ortiz have anything left to offer as a fighter in the UFC? I covered the epic fall of Ortiz over the past 4 years a couple of days ago. Coming into this fight, he's largely been a non-factor in promotion, which is usually his bread and butter. He's taken a backseat to the main event and proclaimed himself much more humble and just happy to be here. From looking at the numbers, he should be happy to still be in a position to accept fights in the UFC. If he loses this fight, it stands to reason that he doesn't have anything left in the tank. Which means we could be a short time away from Tito being cut. He needs to come out strong and show everyone that he's still got it. For what it's worth, I don't think he does.
- How good is Brendan Schaub? Gabriel Gonzaga has become a sort of gatekeeper in the heavyweight division along with Cheick Kongo. Usually when the UFC matches you up with one of those two, it means they think you can turn into a real threat within the division. He's being given a big stage against a big name opponent to prove his mettle. The last time he was in a situation like this he was knocked out by Roy Nelson. He's improved since then and he needs to avoid falling into old traps. He's a little cocky but confidence can go a long way in the fight game. I'm looking forward to seeing how he does against the wily veteran in Gonzaga.
- As with any card this big, the inevitable question is how many buys will it do on PPV? Lesnar is the heavyweight champion headliner defending his title. That lends many to believe we are looking at, at least a million buys. I've heard people go as high as 1.3 million. The UFC brought back the Primetime series to help promote the main event and did the traditional countdown show, albeit a shortened version. They are depending on Velasquez to bring in a large portion of the Mexican market. He was indeed given a hero's welcome in Anaheim. The undercard is solid but not necessarily filled with guys who have been proven draws. At one time Tito Ortiz could bring in big numbers but those days are gone. Guys like Jake Shields, Martin Kampmann, Matt Hamill, Paulo Thiago, Diego Sanchez, Brendan Schaub and Gabriel Gonzaga aren't going to move the needle very heavy in one way or the other. It's a great fight card but Lesnar is once again carrying the load as far as bringing in the customers. My prediction for the buyrate? I'll go with 1 million buys. The ratings for the Primetime series grew each week and ESPN is giving the show a ton of play. Dana White, Brock Lesnar, Cain Velasquez and Tito Ortiz have been making the rounds on shows like Sportscenter, Sportsnation, Jim Rome is Burning and Colin Cowherd's radio show. The buzz is strong so it may end up a little higher but I'll say they do a million flat.