By Zach Arnold
UFC was rocked last week by the departure of Heavyweight champion Randy Couture from the company. It's still the main topic of conversation heading into this Saturday night's event at US Bank Arena in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Because of Couture's sudden exit from the organization, UFC President Dana White is in need of some lucky breaks. Ultimately, however, he is powerless as to the outcomes of the top matches for this weekend's suddenly-important event.
The top two matches on the show feature hometown hero Rich Franklin facing off against UFC Middleweight champion Anderson Silva and upstart star Brandon Vera facing former UFC Heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia. If there was ever a time that White could pre-determine the outcomes of his marquee fights, this would be that moment.
The Vera vs. Sylvia fight has now taken on a life of its own. With Couture likely to be stripped of his UFC Heavyweight title, the winner of the Vera/Sylvia fight likely will become the #1 contender for the title. The other scenario features the Vera/Sylvia winner facing off against the winner of a future contest between Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Cheick Kongo. For White, the best of all outcomes would be for Vera to beat Sylvia in impressive fashion and then go on to win the heavyweight title. Vera is starting on a brand new multi-fight deal with UFC, so the promotion does not have to worry about him running away to a rival organization. As for Tim Sylvia, beating Brandon Vera would immediately place him right back to where we started before Couture initially came out of retirement. It would also place UFC in a dire predicament as far as fresh heavyweight match-ups in the company's future matchmaking plans.
The desired outcome for the Franklin vs. Silva fight is more complex, however. The safe money is on Silva winning again and remaining the Middleweight champion. If Silva is able to beat Franklin for a second time, it will place enormous pressure on Dana White to insert new faces into the Middleweight division. So far, White has failed to convince Dan Henderson to drop down to 185 pounds. Michael Bisping, who should have lost to Matt Hamill in early September, is now fighting Rashad Evans at 205 pounds on 11/17 in New Jersey. Bisping dropping down to 185 pounds would have been a good business decision. Instead, White will be facing one of two options -- either importing WEC champion Paulo Filho into the UFC Middleweight title mix or reaching out to former UFC star Matt Lindland and making amends with one of MMA's most notable freelancers.
If Franklin is able to defeat Silva in his hometown of Cincinnati, it will not only help him out at the negotiating table but it will also generally help out the UFC. A Franklin title win will allow the promotion to book several fresh match-ups and will give the Middleweight title a champion that actually speaks English.
Whoever wins in the main event of this Saturday's night Middleweight title fight, it appears that the next challenger will be the winner of the Yushin Okami vs. Jason MacDonald fight. Both men lost to Franklin earlier this year, yet find themselves fighting in an important match that will mysteriously not be aired on PPV. It is being put in a dark match slot. A bizarre move.
However, the word bizarre seems to be fitting of some of the recent tumultuous happenings in the world of UFC lately.