November is never a great month for sports. The World Series is already over, the NBA and NHL's interminable regular seasons are just starting, and the NFL ruins Thanksgiving by subjecting football fans to the Detroit Lions.
But on Saturday night, the heavyweight title will be on the line in the Ultimate Fighting Championship -- perhaps the biggest fight ever in the burgeoning sport of mixed martial arts.
Some sports fans have never heard of MMA, while others are under the impression that its fights are barbaric spectacles. The reality is that the UFC has intricate rules and boasts world class athletes. The sport attracts Olympic wrestlers and black belts, not street fighters and bar brawlers.
But Saturday night's fight will have be a spectacle, and deservedly so. The sport's greatest living legend, the 45-year-old Randy Couture, takeson the enormous Brock Lesnar, a former NCAA heavyweight wrestling champion who made a career in professional wrestling before returning to legitimate sport and giving MMA a try.
John McCarthy, who has worked as a referee in the sport since the second UFC event in 1994, calls the fight "The classic matchup -- probably the most physically impressive man in mixed martial arts (Lesnar) going against the most mentally impressive man (Couture)."
Dana White, the irascible president of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, likes to say that his sport's biggest fights will some day be bigger than the Super Bowl in this country and the World Cup in the rest of the world. Like all great fight promoters, White is prone to hyperbole, but as the sport of mixed martial arts marches toward mainstream acceptance, the Couture-Lesnar fight could be its turning point. The fight will be purchased on pay-per-view by close to 1 million fans, and it is receiving a level of coverage from mainstream news sources that is unprecedented for the sport.
Although Couture is an intelligent, articulate man who is beloved by fans and doing something extraordinary by continuing to compete into his 40s, a victory by Lesnar would probably do more for the sport's long-term prospects. Fans are naturally drawn to the 31-year-old Lesnar, a strikingly impressive athlete with a gift for self-promotion.
Look for Couture to win because of his superior experience and knowledge -- Couture's background is in amateur wrestling, but he has also become a student of Eastern martial arts and Brazilian jiu jitsu. But if Lesnar beats Couture in dominant fashion, it could be a star-making performance similar to Mike Tyson's 1988 knockouts of Larry Holmes and Michael Spinks.
Two decades after the pinnacle of Tyson's career, big fights have virtually disappeared from water-cooler conversations in America. But if there's a fight that can change that, it's Couture vs. Lesnar.