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Grappling with Issues: Dustin James

Grappling with IssuesIs Quinton Jackson really retiring the chain and howl in favor of lights, camera, and choreographed action? Will “Shogun” Rua see the fourth round against Lyoto Machida? Should John McCarthy have been approved as a referee in Nevada regardless of NSAC policy? Herschel Walker? Really? Really?!?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay! Thanks for the click, as you’ve either stumbled across the hottest sensation on the internet not associated with cute, immobile puppies or are a returning customer to “Grappling with Issues”, Five Ounces of Pain’s home for original content in an unoriginal format. As is the case every week, GWI will bring you the take of a guest commentator on six topics plucked from the MMA landscape, as well as my own spin on the subject matter at hand. This edition’s contributor is an interesting fellow who I can only assume is related to a fabulous list of historical figures including great-great-grandpappy Jesse and distant cousin LeBron – it’s Dustin James, b****! Dustin helps keep all you fine folks up to date with his news pieces. Join him, as he steps away from the comfy confines of un-opinionated journalism to the seedy realm of op-ed, won’t you?

Buy/Sell – “Rampage” Jackson has made his last appearance inside the Octagon.

Dustin James: Sell. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson’s current problems with the UFC are the same sort of problems that Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz have had with the UFC in the past. It’s just a matter of the fighter feeling as though the company is somehow disrespecting them. If you read the posts made by “Rampage” on his personal website then you can kind of see where he’s coming from. Jackson’s main problem with Dana White and the UFC is the fact that they refused to back him up after he managed to score his role of a lifetime in the upcoming “A-Team” movie. After busting his ass for the UFC the last few years, Jackson thought the company would be supportive of him in his decision to head to Hollywood. However, Dana White and the UFC were pretty much just the opposite of that. White has gone on record stating that he hates it when his fighters try to branch out and do something different and that made “Rampage” a little mad. I can totally understand where both sides are coming from here. Dana thinks that fighters should “stick to fighting”, but Jackson knows that he’s not going to be fighting much longer (if he wants to stay healthy) and he needs to help expand the “Rampage” franchise as much as he can in case he decides to retire within the next few years. This is just a case of both sides saying “you need me more than I need you”. In the end I think it’s all going to be resolved and I truly believe we will see “Rampage” vs. Rashad Evans in either March or April of 2010.

Brendhan Conlan: I pity the fool who doesn’t think this is a “sell”. Quinton Jackson and Dana White are cut from a similar cloth and their similarity in certain regards contributed to this entire fiasco taking place. Both men wear their emotions on their sleeves and neither is known for possessing a proverbial filter preventing them from translating private thought into public statement. While some people find those to be endearing characteristics, others question why two highly-paid professionals aren’t more careful when it comes to saying unnecessary things that might ultimately have negative consequences. In terms of Jackson’s alleged retirement and the circumstances behind it, I’d say the latter group is a bit more on point as I believe both White and “Rampage” are verbally writing checks neither is willing to cash.

The UFC President knows Jackson is good for business or else he wouldn’t have structured a second Ultimate Fighter around his fight with Rashad Evans. On the other hand, the former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion has fighting in his blood and faces strong odds in terms of breaking into mainstream Hollywood. He has bills to pay and a competitive fire burning inside him. Both Jackson and White need each other, especially given the potential selling power of a future bout featuring “B.A. Baracus”. My prediction is that a meeting or two behind closed doors will take place, perhaps at the urging of a Fertitta brother, and Jackson will be back in the Octagon within nine months (say, June 2010 when the movie comes out).

Should people read anything into Nevada’s decision to deny “Big” John McCarthy’s application or is it in reality a non-story?

James: Yes, people should read something into this story and it actually IS pretty big news. For those of you who don’t remember, McCarthy retired from officiating back in December of 2007 in order to pursue other MMA-related jobs. Once he retired, McCarthy was very critical of MMA officiating and that didn’t sit too well with Keith Kizer, executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. So what happens once McCarthy goes to reapply for a license in Nevada? He gets turned down because Nevada “[does] not anticipate adding any additional referees at this time.” Is that really a legit excuse for not giving “Big” John his license? Is Keith Kizer so upset with McCarthy’s comments regarding MMA officiating that he refuses to license the man in the state of Nevada? McCarthy is widely regarded as one of the best (if not the best) MMA officials of all-time and in my opinion, the commission should suck it up and license the man. Besides, who hasn’t been openly critical about MMA officiating in the past? It’s something people are always going to argue about in life and the NSAC needs to learn how to deal with it.

Conlan: It’s a non-story. Sadly, life in the public sector is a steady dose of policy first, common sense second. If the NSAC is truly not adding additional referees – and I’ve yet to see any evidence to the contrary – then they cannot make an exception for McCarthy no matter how much we’d like to see him “get it on” in Nevada. In fact, if he had received unique treatment, the commission would open themselves up to the possibility of litigation from other applicants who were brushed over in favor of McCarthy’s popularity. Likewise, if the NSAC denied “Big” John his license based on personal reasons while approving others’ submissions, he would be in a position to potentially sue them for discrimination. Government entities can’t afford to play around when it comes to matters like that.

Worst transaction involving Herschel Walker – Strikeforce signing him at age 47 or the Minnesota Vikings trade with the Dallas Cowboys to obtain his rights?

James: Are you kidding me here? This shouldn’t even be a question! While Strikeforce may be doing something entirely stupid by bringing in an untested 50-year old Herschel Walker to fight, it’s nothing compared to what the Minnesota Vikings did back in 1989. I don’t know how many of you are NFL fans, but for those of you who hate football…just bare with me here. NFL trades are rare. It’s not often you see a trade in the NFL, but every now and then you get a blockbuster trade like “Champ Bailey for Clinton Portis” (don’t even get me started on how stupid is to trade a star CB for a star RB). Well, when the Minnesota Vikings traded for Herschel Walker, it may have well been the stupidest trade of all-time. By trading Walker, the Cowboys ended up getting FIVE players and EIGHT draft picks! That’s right….EIGHT DRAFT PICKS! You know what the Cowboys did with those EIGHT draft picks? Well, they used two of them to draft Emmitt Smith and Darren Woodson. Perhaps you have heard of those guys? With this trade, the Vikings pretty much helped the Cowboys become a little “dynasty” in the early 1990’s. Not only that, but Sports Illustrated recently proclaimed this trade as the #1 WORST SPORTS TRADE OF ALL-TIME! I dare you to try and tell me that the “worst sports trade of all-time” is a worst transaction then bringing Walker in to try and compete in an MMA fight. If Walker gets knocked out in 10 seconds, it still gives Strikeforce a little bit of publicity so how is that a bad thing? In my opinion, you can’t even compare the two…..

Brendhan Conlan: Oh, but I can and I will! Strikeforce’s signing will never be viewed with the same infamy as the Vikings/Cowboys trade, but in large part that’s due to the fact football is far more popular than MMA and the NFL is a global brand in comparison to Strikeforce, a company still trying to find firm footing on American soil. That being said, what it boils down to for me is the amount of positive derived from each individual situation (or potential positive since Walker hasn’t even fought yet). Sure, the Cowboys made out like bandits and helped carry the NFL to new heights as they laid claim to the title of “America’s Team” while the Vikings only received a player with average statistics for three seasons. But still, the NFL won, the Cowboys won, and the Vikings…well, at least they made the playoffs in 1989. The only positive I see thus far from his deal with Strikeforce is the mild attention it has receive from the mainstream sports media, much of which has been in the vein of comic amusement rather than legitimate interest in what Walker brings to the table. He’s a 47 year old with no professional fighting experience. Trading away your self-respect for a cheap blurb in news, as Strikeforce has in this situation, will forever remain a worst transaction in my mind than a football team sacrificing any amount of draft picks.

How interested are you in seeing Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva eventually sign with an American promotion?

James: I have to admit, I’m a little interested in seeing if “Bigfoot” finally signs with an American promotion after that huge steroid debacle from last year. I’m very intrigued as to how Silva would do if he were in the UFC. Just admit it, you are intrigued as well! While the UFC continues to say that the heavyweight division is the “best it’s been in years”, by adding someone like Silva it could only help to improve the division. Silva may have tested positive for steroids last year, but everyone deserves a second chance (right Josh Barnett?) and Silva should get one as well. “Bigfoot” is an incredible 13-1 in MMA, was the first (and last) EliteXC heavyweight champion, and hasn’t really been tested in his MMA career. I’d love to see how the man fares against challengers like Cain Velasquez, Shane Carwin, and hell, even Brock Lesnar. My gut feeling tells me that Silva would bomb in the UFC but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to see it. The main problem with getting Silva in the UFC (or even in Strikeforce) would be finding an athletic commission willing to license him. I’m sure Silva angered more than a few people when he decided to fight in Japan after the CSAC decided to suspend him for a year for that failed drug test. One thing you don’t want to do is piss off an athletic commission, just ask “Big” John McCarthy.

Conlan: I’m extremely interested in seeing him compete in the United States, as I also am with every MMA standout currently calling Japan their professional home. Silva, at 13-1, is a great technician for someone with his size and has decent power as well. I don’t think the steroid issue should come into play since his last fight on American soil took place eighteen months ago and the standard suspension for anabolic agents is only a year. It might be harder for him to get licensed in California than other States based on the positive test occurring there, but I seem to recall a guy named Vitor Belfort doing something similar in 2006, then going overseas for a little less than two years before returning to fight Terry Martin at “Affliction: Banned”. How’s “The Phenom” doing at the moment? And oooh….check out that smooth transition into the next topic…

Is Vitor Belfort’s title shot well-deserved or evidence that UFC contendership is based on marketability, not one’s accomplishments inside the Octagon?

James: Vitor Belfort’s shot at the UFC middleweight title is not well deserved and IS based on marketability. Maybe it’s just me, but I thought you had to win at least ONE fight in the UFC’s particular weight division in order to earn a title shot? While Belfort has looked tremendous in his last two fights (defeating both Rich Franklin and Matt Lindland via first round KO’s), does that REALLY mean the man has earned a title shot in the UFC? Are we saying that Belfort earned a UFC middleweight title shot since he defeated Lindland while in another MMA promotion and then came in and beat Franklin at 195lbs? Is that really more impressive than Dan Henderson’s wins over Michael Bisping, Rich Franklin, and Rousimar Palhares? Is it MUCH more impressive than Nate Marquardt’s wins over Martin Kampmann and the previously undefeated Demian Maia? Are is this just a case of the UFC running out of challengers for Anderson Silva so they want to bring in someone who is a “name” that hasn’t fought Silva yet? DING DING! We have a winner folks! The UFC desperately needs to release a set of official rankings so the fans know exactly where the fighters stand in the eyes of the promotion. Otherwise we will continue to remain confused when a guy like Belfort (who will have a hard time making weight….just watch) earns a title shot over the likes of Henderson, Marquardt, and Yushin Okami.

Conlan: Fans need to start admitting to themselves that the business of Mixed Martial Arts is becoming more and more like it’s half-retarded step-cousin, professional wrestling, with every passing day. That’s not a knock on the sport that the people reading this, as well as the one writing it, loves. It’s a statement on what creates interest from the masses and how catering to a broader audience (as opposed to a more-knowledgeable one) is a necessity in terms of a MMA promotion staying afloat. The reason Belfort received a title-shot is the same reason BJ Penn got a crack at St. Pierre’s championship after two consecutive losses in the welterweight division and Brock Lesnar was afforded the opportunity to maul Randy Couture in his fourth professional fight. Regardless of what Henderson and Marquardt have done, a bout between Belfort and Silva is “sexier” to advertisers, as well as “Zuffa Zombies”, than a rematch between “The Spider” and one of two men he’s already beaten with authority. Dana White might tell fans the company’s #1 priority is putting on the best fights possible but that’s a tagline, not an actual policy. The UFC is a business first and foremost and their top priority is turning a profit. Don’t ever forget that…well, except for when you fork out $44.95 to watch UFC 108.

Will Mauricio “Shogun” Rua make it into the championship rounds against Lyoto Machida at UFC 104?

James: As much as I like Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, I have to say the man will be lucky to get out of the third round when he faces Machida. Actually, if you ask the majority of MMA experts, they are actually still bewildered at how the UFC decided to give Rua a shot at the title considering he’s been less-than-impressive since making his UFC debut at UFC 76 in a losing effort to Forrest Griffin. I personally can’t see how Rua will be the one to finally solve the mystery known as “Lyoto Machida” when he struggled with the likes of Mark Coleman back at UFC 93. When I play the fight out in my mind, it goes something like this. Lots of stalling at first, “Shogun” finally gets brave and decides to push the action against Machida (doesn’t everyone?) and ends up getting caught which costs him the fight. It will more than likely play out just like every other Machida fight has played out the last few years….with Machida on top. I just can’t see how “Shogun” picks up the victory here considering Machida has the advantage everywhere. Can we just bribe Machida and Anderson Silva with TONS of cash so that those two will finally square off? It’s the one fight that I’d like to see the most in the UFC, but since the two are “BFF’s”, I doubt we will ever get to see it.

Conlan: The answer to this question lies in which Rua will show up to UFC 104. Will he be the out of shape “Shogun” whose made an appearance or two as of late or will he be the crisp, technical fighter that fans became familiar with during his run in PRIDE? The further away Rua gets from the significant injuries he’s sustained over the past three years, the better the odds are he may return to form (albeit one free of soccer kicks and stomps). Still, Machida has been so ridiculously impressive in his last three fights it’s hard to envision many scenarios where Rua of 2009 lasts more than fifteen minutes against him.

I don’t see “The Dragon” getting submitted regardless of how slick his fellow Brazilian’s jiujitsu is. The Triangle Choke that Tito Ortiz locked on in their 2008 fight was as close as he’s come to tapping out and, according to Machida, the attempt was as surprising to him as it was to fans. He’ll be far more brushed up on BJJ come UFC 104 based on Rua’s skill-set. In terms of striking I think “Shogun” has more potential for landing the one-shot knockout, but he throws a bit wildly and I can see Machida taking advantage with superior footwork and the angles he chooses to attack from. The only “X” factor I see involved is the possibility Machida fights tentatively because of the championship’s involvement, as hoisting up promotional gold can definitely affect the way a Mixed Martial Artist approaches training and in-ring implementation. However, I think Machida will elude any negativity associated with the pressure of being champion, show up as good as he’s ever been, and walk away with the first successful defense of the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship since “Rampage” Jackson beat Dan Henderson more than two years ago.

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