Saturday Night's Mania Event: UFC schedule for second half of 2011 is the best stretch in the promotion's history

Saturday Night's Mania Event (SNME) has returned, once again, thanks to the lack of a major fight card offering from a major mixed martial arts promotion.

Happy for the former, not so much for the latter. With that out of the way, let's jump right into this week's topic.

If writing and becoming some form of a "media member" in mixed martial arts has taught me anything, it's that you should always make your biases clear. Impartiality is, after all, impossible, and it's better that your reader knows exactly where you stand instead of hiding behind an invisible wall of "objectiveness."

That said, you never want to sound like a straight up shill when penning a piece on the sport you cover or an organization within said sport, and its various dealings.

I say all that to say this -- the remainder of the 2011 fight campaign just may be the greatest line-up of consecutive fight cards in the history of the UFC.

Again, I don't want it to sound like I'm out-and-out promoting these events and I'm not telling you that you need to make sure you watch each one. However, thanks to the recent abundance of announcements of match-ups over the coming months, I can't help but be overjoyed at the upcoming slate of action we're all about to be beaten over the head with.

Let's break it all down and I'll do my best not to sound like too much of a mark salesman while doing so.

UFC 133: "Evans vs. Ortiz," Sat., Aug. 6, 2011, Wells Fargo Arena, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Main event: Rashad Evans vs. Tito Ortiz - This fight is far more compelling than the previous match-up slotted for the headliner in Evans vs. Phil Davis. It's a rematch of a July 2007 bout that was close and somewhat controversial and the two had an adequately engaging feud that has already begun to carry over into the rematch. It has title implications for both men and when considering Ortiz's career rebirth and all the hype surrounding him after his quick submission win over Ryan Bader on July 2, there's nothing not to like here. 

Co-main event: Rich Franklin vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira - There's a different fight on this card that I believe should occupy this spot but nonetheless, the match-up is solid because of the style of each combatant. Franklin is a striker while Nogueira is a boxer and both men are proficient enough in their mat skills that if the fight hits the floor it won't turn into a complete dud. What it lacks in divisional relevance it makes up for in end result. I don't see a lot of ways this fight could go that doesn't result in fun. This fight was scrapped shortly after I printed this post. Let's hope that doesn't happen often over the remainder of the year.

Other notable fights: Vitor Belfort vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama, Chad Mendes vs. Rani Yahya, Alexander Gustafsson vs. Matt Hamill

UFC on Versus 5: "Hardy vs. Lytle," Sun., Aug. 14, 2011, Bradley Center, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Main event: Dan Hardy vs. Chris Lytle - No one will tell you this fight has any bearing on the welterweight division whatsoever. The only notable thing to occur after it's over is the imminent firing of Hardy if he loses, which would be his fourth in a row. Hell, Lytle is busy putting together a committee to help him with a potential run at an Indiana House bid. However, sometimes fights don't need to mean anything more than two men inside a cage swinging for the fences. Hopefully one of them will connect and we'll get yet another incredible knockout. With the collective track record of both parties, it's a safe bet that we will. Nothing wrong with that ... at all.

Co-main event: Jim Miller vs. Ben Henderson - Interesting that the headliner on this card has no divisional relevance and the co-headliner is wrought with it. In fact, this is essentially a number one contender bout to the lightweight title, which will be fought over just weeks earlier at UFC 136. Besides all that, it's one hell of a match-up. Miller, a tough, durable, workman like killer who hasn't found anyone he couldn't beat up other than Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard against Henderson, a super active, athletic and well-rounded martial artist that seemingly cannot be finished. Sign me up.

Other notable fights: Donald Cerrone vs. Charles Oliveira, Joseph Benavidez vs. Eddie Wineland, Amir Sadollah vs. Duane Ludwig

UFC 134: "Silva vs. Okami," Sat., Aug. 27, 2011, HSBC Arena, Rio de Janiero, Brazil

Main event: Anderson Silva vs. Yushin Okami - I think we're officially at the point that Anderson Silva is the MMA equivalent to boxing's Manny Pacquiao. His excellence exceeds his opposition to the point that any prospective match-up feels unnecessary because the end result is a foregone conclusion. But you still feel compelled to purchase events he fights on because you just have to witness his greatness in action. Yushin Okami has a shot at dethroning him, even if it's just an outside chance. But the real reason this is must-see is that the pound-for-pound king will be plying his trade inside the Octagon once again.

Co-main event: Mauricio Rua vs. Forrest Griffin - Got it all in this one. It's a rematch of a bout that wasn't exactly close but had elements within it that made a second meeting a must. A win by either fighter would give them a strong case to be inserted in a number one contender bout in their next fight. And it's Forrest freaking Griffin against Mauricio freaking Rua. In Brazil, of all places. The live crowd is going to be insane for "Shogun" and anytime Forrest is fighting anyone other than Anderson Silva, there's the potential for a three-round classic. Sold.

Other notable fights: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Brendan Schaub, Rousimar Palhares vs. Dan Miller, Mike Swick vs. Erick Silva

UFC Fight Night 25: "Shields vs. Ellenberger," Sat., Sept. 17, 2011, Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, New Orleans, Louisiana

Main event: Jake Shields vs. Jake Ellenberger - Casual fans may see those two names and react about as much as they would if they were watching grass grow. But here's why this fight is so damn intriguing: it will truly give us an idea of how long Jake Shields will last in the UFC. He looked like a drained hospital patient in his first bout inside the Octagon against Martin Kampmann, despite winning, and was unable to dethrone Georges St. Pierre, despite his operating with only one functioning eyeball. Now his rebound fight comes against one of the toughest fighters in the welterweight division that no one knows. Not only is this a fight he can lose, it's a fight he'll struggle to draw an audience for. A loss would be disastrous for his career. That's enough to keep me glued to the tube.

Other notable fights: Alan Belcher vs. Jason MacDonald, Erik Koch vs. Jonathan Brookins, Court McGee vs. Dongi Yang

(This card is hardly booked and therefore looks lesser than its counterparts. Okay, fine, it's clearly the weak link in the chain but they can't all be monsters.)

UFC 135: "Jones vs. Rampage," Sat., Sept. 24, 2011, Pepsi Center, Denver, Colorado

Main event: Jon Jones vs. Quinton Jackson - I'm going to make a comparison to pro wrestling here, and if you don't like it, sorry to hear it. It's too applicable to ignore. Jones, in his current incarnation, is exactly what The Rock was when he began his WWE career. He was a babyface (a good guy) that got treated like a heel (a bad guy). He did and said everything to make himself liked and appreciated but was always met with nothing but scorn and distaste. The people rejected him because it felt phony and contrived. Is that the case with Jones? That seems to be the consensus opinion among MMA fans. You know what eventually happened with The Rock? He abandoned the good guy gimmick and eventually went full blown heel and became one of the biggest stars in the history of pro wrestling. Jones could do the same if he defeats "Rampage" and tells the fans exactly where they can stick it for hating on him all this time when he was just trying to do the right thing. It isn't likely to play out that way but a guy can dream, can't he?

Co-main event: Matt Hughes vs. Diego Sanchez - Yes, this fight would have been far more intriguing if it took place about four years ago but it still has a certain redeeming value in that it should prove to be an interesting clash of styles and personalities. Hughes is on his last legs as an active competitor and the very fact that he took this fight says a lot about his motivation. He wants this and a motivated Matt Hughes is a dangerous country boy with a ton of power and a wrestling game that can still get him through a few rounds with a cardio machine like Diego Sanchez. However, Diego is still "dreaming" of holding a championship belt one day and if he wants to work his way to a welterweight title shot, he has to win this fight. Has to.

Other notable fights: Takanori Gomi vs. Nate Diaz, Travis Browne vs. Rob Broughton, Mark Hunt vs. Ben Rothwell

UFC 136: "Edgar vs. Maynard 3," Sat., Oct. 8, 2011, Toyota Center, Houston, Texas

Main event: Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard - If you actually bothered to purchase UFC 125, which featured the rematch between these two bland rivals (and according to these numbers, only 270,000 of you did), then you already know exactly why the third and final meeting is a must watch. Despite the fact that it took place on the first day of 2011, the second fight holds up today, more than halfway through the year, as the "Fight of the Year." No, there is no great feud between the two, and neither of them are particularly engaging personalities but this match-up stands on its own. Not to mention, what does a loss do for the loser? He will essentially be out of contention for as long as the winner holds the title. There's a lot on the line in this one.

Co-main event: Jose Aldo vs. Kenny Florian - It only took Kenny Florian one fight at featherweight to earn himself a shot at the division champion. He even struggled in that bout, although the scores didn't reflect as much. What makes his match-up against Jose Aldo so intriguing is there are many levels to the contest not see to the naked eye. Like the fact that there are more than a few folks that believe Aldo is not nearly as good as advertised and Florian is likely the guy to bring that fact to light. Or that "Ken Flo" is still saddled with the reputation of a choke artist thanks in no small part to UFC President Dana White outright calling him one after he blew three separate opportunities at his former home in the lightweight division. Florian can finally redeem himself with a win here. A loss? Utter and complete disaster for his career. We're talking near total systems shut down. At 35-years-old and having had as many chances as he's had, this could be it.

Other notable fights: Chael Sonnen vs. Brian Stann, Melvin Guillard vs. Joe Lauzon, Demian Maia vs. Jorge Santiago

UFC 137: "St. Pierre vs. Diaz," Sat., Oct. 29, 2011, Mandalay Bay Events Center, Las Vegas, Nevada

Main event: Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz - Remember when Dana White questioned Georges St. Pierre's mental toughness a few years back? Yes, it was quite some time ago, but how much has changed since then? "Rush" hasn't lost, for one, but he's become almost a caricature of himself by overloading every interview he participates in with cliches that always include some variation on how his next opponent will be "the toughest I've ever faced" and how he must treat them accordingly. He does this to keep himself in the right mindset for each of his fights because he knows the danger that lies in believing in his own hype. But there is an X-factor that comes into play when you insert Nick Diaz into the equation. He has the ability to win this fight before it ever gets to the Octagon. Sure, there have been plenty of fighters that have tried to talk down to "GSP," like Dan Hardy, Josh Koscheck and B.J. Penn. But there's a big difference between Penn's "to the death, Georges" and Diaz's "Stockton, bitch." We know how incredible St. Pierre is as a marital artist. But if anyone can crack the the French-Canadian's code and steal his focus, it's Diaz. Can't wait for Oct. 29. Hell, I can't wait for the pre-fight press conference. And the staredown, followed by the weigh-ins and that staredown. See what I mean? Get hyped.

Co-main event: B.J. Penn vs. Carlos Condit - Here's what I don't understand about this match-up -- the overwhelming number of folks that are jumping on the Carlos Condit bandwagon and riding it right on through Hawaii without so much as a speed bump to slow it down. It's almost as though B.J. Penn isn't a former two-division champion, one of only two men to do so in the history of the UFC. How easy it is to forget that "The Prodigy" possesses as much talent as anyone in the welterweight division, despite his size and stature. His losses to Frankie Edgar have been given far too much weight and his third round against Jon Fitch has been blown way out of proportion. I'm not saying he didn't get dominated in that final frame by Fitch; just that it's easy to focus on that and not the first two rounds that saw Penn take Fitch down -- repeat, Penn took Fitch down, everyone -- and even take his back, threatening with submissions. When's the last time you saw anyone have that kind of success against Fitch? Only Georges St. Pierre and putting Penn in that company should only strengthen the argument for him. Either way, Penn vs. Condit is a highly intriguing match-up that will undoubtedly go a long way in determining the next contender to the 170-pound strap.

Other notable fights: Cheick Kongo vs. Matt Mitrione, Roy Nelson vs. Mirko Filipovic, George Roop vs. Hatsu Hioki

UFC 138: "Velasquez vs. Dos Santos," Sat., Nov. 19, 2011, HP Pavilion, San Jose, California

Main event: Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos - A heavyweight title fight between two big men that aren't mammoths that will gas out inside the first round. No, these are two athletic and explosive fighters with well-rounded skill sets that present an interesting challenge to one another. There's a clear path to victory for both men but it's ridden with danger and intrigue. They may not have the name value of a guy like Brock Lesnar but they make up for it in ability, technique and overall preparedness. If you aren't salivating over this fight and it doesn't get your blood going, go get checked. Or slapped.

No other fights have been announced for the card as of yet, though it has been rumored that American Kickboxing Academy teammates Josh Koscheck and Jon Fitch, both located in the area, will return on this card. No, not against each other (we wish).

There you have it, Maniacs. And that's not even including the Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 14 Finale that will showcase rival coaches Michael Bisping vs. Jason Miller.

That's one of the greatest stretches of fight cards ever. Easily. The likelihood that they'll all go off without a hitch is slim to none but let's pretend like none of these guys will get hurt and this line-up will remain intact, okay? Good.

Sound off in the comments below on the rest of the 2011 schedule. Favorite upcoming fight? Least favorite? Have at it.

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