Saturday, November 15, 2008

Couture-Lesnar preview

By Rick Morris

Tonight's UFC 91 card is headlined by what might be the biggest MMA bout of all time: heavyweight champion Randy Couture defending against former NCAA (and WWE) champion Brock Lesnar. At a projected 1.2 million buys, this card would set a record for the already-exploding UFC circuit.

Lesnar's unique background presents a rare opportunity for the UFC because this league has thus far mirrored the way that the boxing circuit has developed over the decades with superior, more exciting athletes in the lighter weight divisions but a public who will pay the most money to see big-time heavyweight fights. Couture, Chuck Liddell and a few others have crossed over into the mainstream to a small extent, but nowhere near as much as Lesnar would.

With only a 2-1 record at this level, it's clear that Lesnar's title shot is marketing-oriented at this point -- and in that regard, it's been clearly successful. He is an awesome athlete, very fluid and powerful and an outstanding (amateur) wrestler. But the guess here is that even with the immense physical advantages he will have over the champ (who is 45 years old), he will not be able to compete successfully in what is, after all, MIXED martial arts. The most successful fighters have been able to draw from a number of different disciplines and I look for the experience advantage to work for Couture.

It's worth noting also that, despite the humility Lesnar has shown since moving to UFC, that he is still looked down upon by many fight fans who scorn his pro wrestling background and resent his (brief) history there. Inasmuch as Lesnar's UFC career is based on his AMATEUR wrestling background, it's pretty silly to look down on Lesnar as a fraud and anybody who does is still way too sensitive about the uneducated people who conflate "sports entertainment" and mixed martial arts. But this also proves that Lesnar could do huge business as a "heat magnet" as he would be known in his old line of work: somebody who is huge box office because people are paying in the hopes of seeing him get throttled. If memory serves, that was the same role he played for Vince McMahon for most of his two years there -- so tell me, how are the personality aspects of the two genres different again?

For those of you who can't watch this live on PPV from Vegas tonight, the AOL Fanhouse is always a good place to check out the liveblogging. Enjoy the fight and also the anticipation about how it will (or may) change the UFC going forward.

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