5 Rounds on MMA in NYC, Rich Franklin’s retirement, Michael Bisping, Sage Northcutt and UFC 192

Updated: October 2, 2015
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A new weekly feature to Sideline Sports Report, each Friday “5 Rounds” will take a look at the biggest storylines and questions in the UFC, Bellator MMA and the rest of the MMA world heading into the weekend. We’ll preview big fights for the weekend shows, talk news and look back at the MMA week that was each and every Friday.

Round 1
UFC schedules 2016 even for Madison Square Garden

The UFC has announced an event for New York City’s historic Madison Square Garden for April 23 of next year. The announcement should have been, in theory, huge. New York is a Mecca of sports and MSG is the Mecca of New York. There is one minor detail though: mixed martial arts are still illegal in the state of New York. The UFC will be seeking an injunction against the state’s ban to allow for the event to move forward, but without that injunction this date is nothing more than pencil on paper.

The longtime ban in New York comes mostly because of the displeasure of the UFC’s business by the culinary union, who has fought hard to slow down the UFC in every state but has stopped them in New York, the only state where MMA is still illegal no matter the sanctioning. The UFC has attempted to get legalization of mixed martial arts pushed through in New York each year but with no wavering in that area, they decided to tackle the issue a different way and only time will tell if MSG will become home to a UFC event in April. If the event takes place, it will be UFC 198, which is interesting because it only leaves one slot for a UFC pay per view during the six weeks between the event and July 9’s planned monumental UFC 200 event.

With UFC 200 right around the corner from the planned MSG event, it is likely that the card would be treated like the b-card to UFC 200’s a-card with semi-stars who aren’t making the UFC 200 card likely to headline. While fights from Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor are expected to headline UFC 200, which could break every UFC monetary record, UFC 198 could easily be left to be co-headlined by a heavyweight title fight between champion Fabricio Werdum and Cain Velasquez if one is to believe the rumored timeline for that rematch. Another title bout or two would likely be added to an MSG card, with almost every title currently lining up in a way that it could be defended at the event, likely with the welterweight or bantamweight titles filing in spots. Another potential fight could be the return of Anderson Silva against whoever the UFC puts him up against (see ‘Round 3.’)

Round 2
The retirement of Rich ‘Ace’ Franklin

Rich Franklin retired this week nearly three years after his last fight. Usually not lumped into the ‘legends’ of the sport for some reason, Franklin was a pivotal member of Zuffa and the UFC’s transition to mainstream television and to becoming a global brand. He defeated then-future middleweight champion Evan Tanner in his UFC debut and in just his fourth UFC fight (his 21st overall), he moved up to light heavyweight and beat legendary Ken Shamrock in the main event of the very first Ultimate Fighter finale. While Diego Sanchez is dubbed the first guy to win an Ultimate Fighter and the Forrest Griffin/Stephan Bonnar fight that night stole the show, it was Franklin who TKO’d the former UFC champion just halfway through the first round of the first fight to become the first ever winner of a main event of a MMA event on cable television.

Franklin went on to defeat Tanner again in his next fight to become the UFC middleweight champion. He defended the title successfully before dropping it to the buzz saw that was Anderson Silva. He went 7-5 after losing his title, but always fought in high-profile contests, defeating Wanderlei Silva twice and knocking out Chuck Liddell. His final fight, a loss to Cung Le, was an unfortunately brutal knockout. In April of 2014, Franklin became Vice President in the ONE Championship organization in Singapore.

Known as ‘Ace,’ due to his resemblance of Jim Carrey and his once popular ‘Ace Ventura: Pet Detective’ character, Franklin helped break the mold of what people thought professional cage fighters were like. As the UFC was breaking into the mainstream with fights on cable’s Spike TV, Franklin wasn’t cartoonish, didn’t have a mohawk or a body of tattoos. Instead, he was a school teacher, a dynamic that blew preconceived notions of muscle-bound psychos in the cage out of the window.

Round 3
The curious case of Michael Bisping’s injury and the shakeup down under

Michael Bisping is the newest fighter to drop out of the UFC 193 event on November 14 in Melbourne, Australia. An elbow injury that requires surgery is the reason that was given by ‘The Count’ on social media. The event, originally to be headlined by a welterweight title fight between Robbie Lawler and Carlos Condit, saw that fight fall apart due to Lawler’s injury. Ronda Rousey versus Holly Holm will now headline that card for the women’s bantamweight title while Joanna Jędrzejczyk will co-headline, as she defends the women’s straw weight title. Those two women’s fights will now have to pick up the slack to a degree after losing the veteran Bisping.

The timing is a curious thing however after Bisping was linked this week to a bout with Anderson Silva in the middleweight legend’s return when his year-long suspension is up January 31, 2016. Bisping has said recently that he doesn’t plan to ever again fight a guy who has been linked to any kind of performance enhancer, but chances are he wouldn’t turn down a fight with Silva, which could line up perfectly with Bisping’s return timetable. Could Bisping have fought injured but got a better offer? Only a handful of people will ever know that.

Bisping/Silva long remained one of the most intriguing title defenses that never happened during Silva’s run at the top of the 185-pound division in the UFC. The British fighter lost in all of his top contender bouts as he rallied for a shot at Silva. The fight could now easily lineup as part of the potential Madison Square Garden card or could be a huge draw for London’s O2 Arena at the end of February. Silva has before been quoted as saying he would enjoy fighting Bisping in England.

Not only would the UFC benefit from Bisping/Silva, also benefiting from Bisping withdrawal from UFC 193, in revenue and ticket sales, but it could give the UFC the push needed to send Bisping to a world title shot with a win. It is no secret that the UFC would have always liked to see Bisping, their longtime lynchpin to Europe, challenge for a world title. If Bisping were to face Silva and win, it would be his third win in a row and the name value to propel him to fight Chris Weidman, who has taken shots at Bisping in the past in interviews.

Outside of Bisping, the big shakeup down under now comes in former opponent Robert Whittaker‘s new opponent: Uriah Hall. Just last weekend, Hall shot up the middleweight rankings from being unranked to the No. 10 challenger in the UFC’s official rankings with an upset TKO of perennial contender Gegard Mousasi. Hall will now take on the 14th ranked Whittaker with the chance to win his own third straight fight. Not only that, but Hall will fight just seven weeks after his win over Mousasi in what will be his third fight in just over three months. A win over Whittaker basically guarantees Hall a top-five opponent in 2016.

Round 4
Is Sage Northcutt the comic book-like future?

At 19 years old, can Sage Northcutt really be the next face of the UFC? Dana White surely has to hope so. This weekend at UFC 192, the model and karate sensation makes his UFC debut against Francisco Trevino.

Northcutt has long been a prodigy on the karate scene and is 5-0 in his professional MMA career, as he makes the huge leap to the UFC a little over a month after his last win came in the Legacy Fighting Championship. But Northcutt has a set of huge draws to his name. Not only is he well known in the overall combat sports community and leading man good looks, the UFC has been well known for pinning blue chip prospects and seeing them become god-like (see Jones, Jon and McGregor, Conor). Northcutt could be that next kid. Not only does he look like a Greek god, a model and a comic book character all rolled into one with his muscle definition, million-dollar smile and blonde spiky hair, but he has the talent to back it up.

While karate is his game, Northcutt is proficient in grappling, can wrestle well and has a pretty slick submission game that he has used in his last two wins. But stand up with him and be weary, he is a consistent and fast striker, usually giving opponents next to no time to breath between having to defend strikes. On a weekend with huge high-profile matchups this Saturday at UFC 192, including a light heavyweight title tilt, it could be Northcutt who is most looked forward to and possibly a show stealer.

That sure would make Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, and White smile.

Round 5
UFC 192 Preview and Predictions

UFC 192 comes your way this weekend from Houston, Texas and the card is loaded on pay per view and the prelim fights live on Fox Sports 1. And really, there are good fights on Fight Pass before Fox Sports 1. Sergio Pettis battles Chris Cariaso and Northcutt makes his UFC debut on Fight Pass. On Fox Sports 1, there will be the long awaited return of Rose Namajunas, the women’s straw weight fighter who fought in the finale of The Ultimate Fighter to crown the first champion of that division. Namajunas, with a year layoff to improve her game, should give Angela Hill fits. Also on Fox Sports 1, former flyweight title challengers Joseph Benavidez and Ali Bagautinov square off in a fight that could give one of the men a final shot down the road at Demetrious Johnson‘s 125-pound title.

And then there is the main card:

Daniel Cormier vs. Alexander Gustafsson for the UFC Light Heavyweight title
Now that we know Jon Jones has avoided jail time, we know that this fight is probably to see how fights him in a rematch. This however is a terrible matchup for Gustafsson stylistically. Cormier’s stocky build and low center of gravity is likely to have him take down the Swede time after time. Gustafsson’s only hope is to keep this fight standing and Cormier, although he has power in his hands, has to have little interest in standing toe-to-toe with a guy who towers over him in height and reach. – Cormier by third-round submission

Johny Hendricks vs. Tyron Woodley
The fight has fireworks all over it. There is a blueprint to beat Woodley and Hendricks is one fighter capable of following that blueprint. But he won’t. Hendricks knows he has repeatedly gotten passed up for a welterweight title rematch because his style is considered boring unless he is swinging for the fences. In order to wow the UFC powers that be, he is going to have to do just that and is capable of scoring a great flash KO. But Woodley is overall more capable on his feet. – Woodley by third-round TKO.

Ryan Bader vs. Rashad Evans
Nobody really knows what Evans has to offer anymore after a long layoff and on the wrong side of 35. With Jones’ pending return to the mix and a bevy of far more interesting rematches in line, Evans isn’t getting a crack at the 205-pound title ever again in his career. So what carries him here? Is there any enthusiasm left in Evans? There sure is in Bader, who arguably should be getting the title shot on this card with four straight wins. He has to know that a fifth straight, let alone against Evans, has to have him right there for a title shot. And if Jones is kept out until UFC 200, which would make a lot of sense, then Bader absolutely challenges for the title early in 2016 first. But Evans is strong. He can out-wrestle, out-strike and outclass most of the division if he’s hungry. Is he? – Bader by decision

Other main card predictions:
Julianna Pena defeats Jessica Eye by decision
Ruslan Magomedov defeats Shawn Jordan by first-round KO

Dan Vance

Dan is a MMA writer for Sideline Sports Report. A basketball enthusiast and coach, Dan is a die-hard Duke basketball fan, who has seen MMA quickly become his second favorite sport. Dan is from Fort Wayne, Indiana, attended IPFW and is a designer for Fort Wayne’s The News-Sentinel.

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