Is it time for “Cro Cop” to grow out the flat-top and call it a career? How close is Gray Maynard to a championship bout? Should Vitor Belfort get a shot at Anderson Silva’s belt after his “Phenom”-enal performance against Rich Franklin? Will the remaining puns in this article be as bad as Quinton Jackson’s stint as a TUF coach or stink to “Wagner vs. Madsen” proportions? Read ahead to find out!
After the positive response from last week’s column, and a crisp twenty-dollar bill to 5 Oz. Editor Cory Brady, “Grappling with Issues” is back for another run at op-ed dominance! As always, we’ll be discussing six savory subjects from the MMA landscape ranging from silly to serious. Joining me this week to spice up things is Five Ounces of Pain’s very own John Curry. Curry can be found submitting the occasional interview, event review, or general opinion on any given topic in the wild world of Mixed Martial Arts.
1. Fact or Fiction – Gray Maynard is one win away from a shot at the UFC Lightweight Championship.
John Curry: Fiction. While Maynard is on a roll, reeling off six straight wins since his No Contest with Rob Emerson at the Ultimate Fighter 5 finale, none of his wins have been jaw dropping impressive. It has been two years since Maynard actually finished a fight. I am still a purist in terms of accepting decisions as an acceptable means of winning and dictating fighter quality. However, I do want to see a guy who can finish a fight. I was completely against Machida until I saw him KO Rashad Evans. That right there proved to me that Machida was championship caliber. I think Maynard is still one or two fights away from proving to me that he can handle a champion, be it Diego Sanchez, BJ Penn, Kenny Florian or whoever. I wouldn’t mind seeing Gray Maynard vs. Kenny Florian. If Maynard could finish Florian, I would give him props and stump for his chance at the Lightweight title.
Brendhan Conlan: Fact. While he may not be the most exciting option for contendership once Diego Sanchez gets his crack at Penn’s belt, it’s almost impossible to argue against Gray Maynard’s production in the Octagon. He’s won six of his seven appearances inside the eight-sided cage and would be batting 1.000 if he hadn’t knocked himself out in the process of finishing Rob Emerson off with a slam. His last four opponents have a combined record of 78-21 and three of them are widely considered amongst the top twenty lightweights in Mixed Martial Arts. The UFC doesn’t currently have any other 155-pounder under contract who can boast similar accomplishments while also laying claim to an undefeated record. If Maynard can score another win over one of his ranked peers, and assuming the UFC doesn’t sign someone like Eddie Alvarez or Shinya Aoki in the next six months, I think “The Bully” is a lock for a title-shot. The winner of Florian/Guida, XTreme Couture teammate Tyson Griffin, or former UFC Lightweight Champion Sean Sherk would all be suitable opponents.
2. Is Tim Sylvia once again a relevant heavyweight after taking home a first-round TKO win over Jason Riley at Adrenaline IV?
Curry: No. No. No. Sylvia is not relevant whatsoever in the Heavyweight Division. I am sorry to say it considering “The Maine-iac” was one of my favorite fighters during the late 90’s to early 2000’s. The truth is Tim’s loss to Fedor was not a blemish on his record because it was against Fedor. Even the speed in which he lost was not hurt that bad. It was the fact that Ray Mercer beat Tim faster that Fedor that destroyed his relevancy. Not only did Tim get beat he was knocked unconscious at a local house show against an overage former boxer who is new to the sport. Combine this with Tim’s obvious nonchalant approach to fighting anymore, namely his weight gain and lack of conditioning, and you have a guy who has no plans to ever fight for a major heavyweight title. I hope that I am just being too hard on Tim and the rough patch that has plagued him for the past two years or so has passed and Tim is going to set his sights higher than fighting at Fairs with the occasional Adrenaline paycheck thrown in.
Conlan: No, but only because he never stopped being a relevant heavyweight. Beyond the difference in our reasoning I can’t disagree with anything else Curry is saying. Yes, Ray Mercer snatched victory from him faster than a coyote nabbing Jessica Simpson’s Maltipoo. Yes, his conditioning since losing to Fedor Emelianenko should have his fans as concerned about his future as Rascal Scooter executives are thrilled about the marketing possibilities. But facts are facts and “The Maine-iac” is still a two-time UFC Heavyweight Champion with the ability to render his opponents unconscious in highlight reel fashion. Sylvia is also a polarizing figure, meaning that whether MMA fans want to bask in his past accomplishments or would rather see him fall flat on his face instead, they’ll still buy tickets to see him compete. I’d wager you could put Tim-meh in a lineup that included Fedor Emelianenko, Cain Velasquez, Shane Carwin, Junior Dos Santos, and “Minotauro” Nogueira the first person an average schmo would recognize is Sylvia. That in itself says all you need to know when considering whether or not he is a “relevant” heavyweight (or ever ceased to be one).
3. Should the UFC be more concerned about Strikeforce’s November 7th event than they have been about any other MMA event to date?
Curry: This is a tricky question because the question is should the UFC be concerned about the November 7th event not what about the November 7th Strikeforce event should the UFC be concerned about. Should the UFC be concerned about the November 7th event, no. The card is being built around Fedor vs. Brett Rogers. Ask any casual MMA fan who either of those guys are and you will probably get a very cold response. If the UFC decides to air a “special” TUF with a red herring about Kimbo fighting at the same time as the Strikeforce event, I guarantee that the UFC will pull in almost a majority of the fans who might have tuned in to see the Strikeforce event on CBS. The biggest problem that Strikeforce has selling the public on primetime is going to the failure of EliteXC to put on a decent show on CBS and the kinks that needed worked out of the Showtime shows. If Strikeforce runs 40 minutes early, CBS will cut them immediately. The marketing is bare to nonexistent and what little marketing there is not geared to bringing in the casual fans who know UFC but not Strikeforce. Until Strikeforce learns to capture the attitude that the UFC has or even what the WWE used to have, they are always going to play second fiddle to the UFC.
Conlan: Yes, they should. Does that mean Dana White should put protective booties over his thousand-dollar loafers on November 7th to avoid soiling them when the card airs? Absolutely not. If by “casual MMA fan” Curry is referring to a “Zuffa Zombie”, i.e. an individual whose knowledge of the sport is limited to what they’ve seen on Spike TV, then of course their interest in two men who have never fought in the Octagon might be lacking (even though Fedor has been shown nearly unanimous respect by UFC fighters/announcers in interviews and on broadcasts). However, most people I know that follow Mixed Martial Arts to a lesser extent than I do are definitely aware of Emelianenko’s accomplishments and if they don’t know who Brett Rogers is they do know who the “big black dude with the Mohawk that knocks people out” is.
Let’s also not forget MTV’s Jason “Mayhem” Miller will be taking on Jake Shields, Cris “Cyborg” Santos is rumored to be in action, and there are a ton of other marketable, highly-skilled fighters Strikeforce can pull from to round out the card (Robbie Lawler, Gegard Mousasi, Kazuo Misaki, Gilbert Melendez, Josh Thomson, etc.), not to mention their cross-promotional relationship with DREAM. As long as they’re able to avoid the same injury bug that nearly decimated their last event I think Strikeforce could make a significant impression on anyone who tunes in to the broadcast. Getting rid of the poorly constructed CGI-skeletons would also be a positive thing where viewer buy-in is concerned but I digress. While the November show won’t be grounds to put Frank Fertitta on a Palace Station ledge it should still be of great concern to the UFC that a real MMA promotion – not the $kala-infested EliteXC – is showcasing genuine talent on network television instead of attempting to build a business around Kimbo Slice.
4. Over/Under/Push – Mirko Filipovic will beat one more “Top 10” opponent before calling it a career.
Conlan: Under. Most fighters will tell you that a battle can be lost before a single punch has been thrown depending on what an individual’s mental state is. It appears clear Mirko is at a point in his career where he has doubts about his ability as a top-level fighter. And frankly, when you’re an athlete who has accomplished what “Cro Cop” has, you don’t necessarily want to keep competing when you’ve become an afterthought in the sport. “Pride” isn’t just the name of a Japanese MMA promotion he used to fight for if you know what I’m sayin.
I believe Filipovic has stated he wants to fight one more time before retiring and mentioned Japan in the same breath, but I’d actually like to see him step into the Octagon with Randy Couture before heading overseas and hanging up his checkered shorts. I know “The Natural” is set to fight Vera at UFC 105 in November but there’s no reason the bout couldn’t come together in early 2010. Couture vs. “Cro Cop” is a fight that fans have wanted to see for a long time and delivering a battle between the PRIDE vs. UFC icons could be a nice farewell from Filipovic to his followers. As far as a win over “Top 10” competition I don’t see it happening, though that isn’t to say that’s a bad thing since there are plenty of interesting heavyweights outside of the UFC (Andrei Arlovski, Bobby Lashley, “King” Mo Lawal, etc.), plus a rematch with Fedor Emelianenko on New Year’s Eve wouldn’t be too shabby either.
Curry: Under. Cro-Cop is done. The guy is having difficulty just finding the will to fight anyone these days. I watch him fight and am reminded of Mickey Rourke’s character in The Wrestler. A guy who at one time had the glory of being considered one of the best heavyweight fighters in the world, often just after Fedor, who millions of fans looked up to and adored. The truth is Cro-Cop is essentially an outdated fighter in the cage. No longer do his opponents fear his kicks because they know that he is not as well rounded of a fighter as many of the “modern” heavyweights. I think that, given his post-loss conversation, Cro-cop knows that he is too old and not dedicated enough anymore to go back to the drawing board and start picking up new skills.
5. In lieu of his three-minute, TKO victory over Rich Franklin at UFC 103, should Vitor Belfort leapfrog Dan Henderson and Nate Marquardt in terms of contendership for Anderson Silva’s middleweight championship?
Conlan: Absolutely not. In fact, he hasn’t even fought at 185-pounds in the UFC as far as I know. Why not have Marquardt or Henderson face Belfort to help clarify the situation first? Sure, that would leave one of the two an odd man out, but I’d have no problem seeing the third wheel face someone like Yoshishiro Akiyama or Yushin Okami in the interim.
I also want to add that while I’m not necessarily a Franklin homer, there is little doubt in my mind that Belfort’s win over him was influenced by at least one brutal shot to the back of his head. “Ace” may have been done before that and perhaps it had little effect on the outcome but the strike was clear on the replay and definitely of a nature that could do more damage than a regular punch.
Curry: No. While many people will say that both Henderson and Marquardt both lost to Silva before while Belfort has not which makes him more deserving than either of those guys, I think Henderson is the guy who is most deserving of the fight if he can beat Marquardt and vice-versa. From a PPV perspective, the money is in the Silva vs. Belfort fight. There is nothing better than a fight between friends that are familiar with each other’s fighting style. The question is how to pick a winner between these three when Marquardt vs. Henderson was supposed to dictate the next championship challenger. Would it be fair for Zuffa and the UFC to bump the winner into a fight against Belfort to determine number 1 contender status?? No.
6. More embarrassing element of the Ultimate Fighter Season 10 debut – Abe Wagner’s lackluster display in the cage or Quinton Jackson’s comical attempt at coaching?
Conlan: I’ve got to go with Wagner’s deer-in-headlights beatdown. While I understand “Rampage” may not have been the most articulate coach, and certainly never told Abe anything as profound as “hit him with your groin” or “breeeeeeeeeeeeeathe Drago, breeeeeeeeeathe”, I don’t expect much from Quinton in that department. He’s there to be a talented fighter with an extremely charismatic personality, not Greg Jackson, Matt Serra, Mark Dellagrotte, or anyone who manages his own high-level training center. Wagner was there to be a fighter and fight he did not. Massive respect to him for continuing with the canyon Madsen cut into his forehead though.
Curry: Easily Abe Wagner’s lackluster display in the cage. I have never seen a guy lay there and take that kind of ass whooping without any intentions of turning the fight around. Wagner just stayed in open guard and let himself be destroyed, earning easily one of the sickest lacerations MMA has ever seen. I really don’t see what the problem is with Rampage’s coaching that many others are talking about. He sat there and told him that he needed to get up, to turn in, to throw elbows and punches from the bottom. Between the rounds he told him exactly what would happen. He is going to try to take you down immediately, keep your distance. Did Abe listen to any of this, not one thing. I can’t blame Rampage for walking off. The Ultimate Fighter was supposed to be about the best unseen or unsigned talent fighter for that one position, and while it has drifted away from that, Abe Wagner showed he was nowhere near ready for this level of competition.