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Grappling with Issues: Caleb Newby

Grappling with IssuesHow many wins does Anthony “Rumble” Johnson need before getting a crack at the UFC Welterweight Championship? Would top WEC lightweights only be mediocre UFC lightweights? Should Okami vs. Sonnen be on the main card at UFC 104? Is the main event between Fedor Emelianenko and Brett Rogers the best fight on the November 7th Strikeforce card?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay! Thanks for taking some time away from coordinating the next great balloon hoax to click on the latest edition of “Grappling with Issues”. As always, within these pages you’ll find 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 week’s guest is no stranger to these parts, as he was at one time a regular 5 Oz. contributor who still pops in every now and then between other commitments. He’s dipped his toes in the Sherdog pool and been to a PRIDE event. He’s written feature articles for respected gaming magazines, including a number of pieces related to original launch “UFC Undisputed”. He doesn’t always drink beer, but when he does he drinks Dos Equis. Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Caleb Newby to the hallowed halls of GWI!

For better or worse, which of the following four people has your opinion most-changed of since the newest Ultimate Fighter season debuted and why – Kimbo Slice, “Rampage” Jackson, Rashad Evans, or Roy Nelson?

Caleb Newby: Tough question. There is a case to be made for each, but for my money I’ll go with Rampage Jackson. To those that paid attention to the man behind the hype, Kimbo was already known to be humbly working on improving his game. A far cry from the murderous street thug promotion he was given. Rashad rubs many the wrong way with his in-cage antics but is a great diplomat for the sport outside. And I’ve been more indifferent to Roy Nelson than anything before this season of TUF, and while his standing in my eyes isn’t all that great, he was pretty much off the radar before.

Jackson has long been a favorite, and I still do like the guy. Unfortunately several things have come about that have hurt his image. Take his “retirement” from the sport due to Dana’s unwillingness to curb his public taunts of Quinton’s desire to star in the A-Team movie. Fans are split over whose side they take on this one and while neither is without fault I tend to come down more on the side of Rampage having the freedom to do what he wishes (which I got more in depth about a few weeks back in an article here on 5oz). Still, even siding with Rampage doesn’t leave him without fault. Take his poor ability as a coach and drafting strategy that seemed more focused on having airtime with Kimbo than trying to win and help his fighters and the myth of who Rampage is (or who we want him to be) has been broken.

Not to say he’s a bad guy. It’s just before TUF he was a funny dude with loads of charisma and one of the best 205ers in the world. He’s still all those things but the reality of his humanity has evened the score. Jackson has strengths and weaknesses like the rest of us and is more than a bigger-than-life caricature. Who knew?

Brendhan Conlan: Whew, talk about a tough act to follow! As Newby said, a case can be made for each man, and I suppose that is in part what has made the Ultimate Fighter such a successful franchise for Spike and the UFC. The airtime it affords Mixed Martial Artists fans are familiar with already, as well as those the show introduces to the world, allow viewers to become invested in the people they’re watching for both positive and negative reasons.

I can see why some would select Kimbo, as his tough exterior and YouTube fame afforded him as many marketing deals as they did preconceived notions from followers about who he truly was as an individual. However, my understanding of his character before TUF was based on interviews I’d seen him in and general feedback from those who’d met him, so I wasn’t surprised to see a humble, insightful guy who wanted to improve his skills in hopes of supporting his family. I can see why some would say “Sugar” ‘Shad, as he’s pulled a bit of a “Tito Ortiz” if you will in terms of reducing the number of people who dislike him based on the personality and honest investment in his team that he’s shown thus far. And of course Newby outlined why his opinion of “Rampage” has changed, though I personally think Jackson’s behavior is the least surprising knowing how he performed as coach opposite Forrest Griffin.

I’m actually going to pick Roy Nelson because I didn’t have much of an opinion of him before this season aired other than I appreciated his talent and knew he was somewhat of a jokester. Based on the Kimbo fight and some of the other scenes that have been shown I can definitely say my view on “Big Country” has soured. He no longer seems like an affable guy from the South but somewhat pompous and hard-headed. Nelson had a chance to impress Dana White and the rest of the world by highlight-reeling Slice and instead turned in a performance that was only memorable in how bad it was. While his strategy might have been a smart one, facing Kimbo on Spike was an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and not only did Nelson blow it, he celebrated blowing it.

Fact/Fiction – The main event bout between Fedor Emelianenko and Brett Rogers is the best fight on the November 7th Strikeforce/CBS card.

Newby: Fact. Although I admit my take of “best fight” translates to “most interested in”. The rest of the main card has bouts I’m definitely interested in with known fighters the MMA community care about. But for my money, the Fedor/Rogers fight is the best and most intriguing if only for the same question as always: Is this the fight Fedor finally loses? Rogers easily has the knockout power to get the job done and Fedor isn’t shy about standing to trade. In fact, he’s made beating opponents at their strong suits part of his M.O. He beat Cro Cop on the feet. He beat Big Nog on the ground. Arlovski and Sylvia were finished for all intents and purposes on the feet. Not that Fedor always fights this way (He didn’t want to stand up with Hong-Man Choi after all) but it won’t be surprising if the stoic Russian tries to end this on the feet… a dangerous proposition against a heavy hitter like Rogers. Any fight that has Fedor against an opponent who has a way to beat him automatically overshadows anything else going on that night, at least in my humble opinion.

Conlan: Fact. Another “fact” is that I was originally going with “fiction” until considering Newby’s logic. I think the bout featuring “Mayhem” Miller and Jake Shields has the potential to be the best technical fight on the card, and I think Antonio Silva vs. Fabricio Werdum is also intriguing for various reasons, but in truth the match-up I’m most excited about is definitely the headliner. There are too many ooh-inducing factors at play, including the mere fact the fight is on network television, to not consider it the prime draw on the card regardless of the difference in experience or overall skill level. Will “The Grim” land a solid shot and if so how will Emelianenko respond? Can the Russian deliver yet another legendary performance en route to handing Rogers his first professional defeat? Will the world stop spinning if Fedor actually loses, and if so, will Dana White’s maniacal laughter be audible outside of the State of Nevada? The truth is, while Emelianenko vs. Rogers may not be the best pairing from a competitive perspective, it will absolutely have the most people sitting on the edge of the couches while it unfolds, and because of that I have a hard time saying it is anything other than the “best” fight on the card.

Has Junie Browning entered the Octagon for the last time his career?

Newby: No. Of course this is just pure conjecture but at only 24 he’s got a lot of time to fix his wrongs. Here’s my guess. Browning gets help after hitting rock bottom from people that rally around him. I have no idea how the legalities will go with his assault case but Dana, while obviously not happy with Junie’s behavior, doesn’t strike me as a guy who will blacklist a guy who has worked on turning his life around if he’s earned his way back and, more importantly, has changed his life for the better. So that’s the question, does Browning rise above this or does this incident define him? Call me an optimist, but I think (hope) that Junie gets the help he needs from those that care for him and will one day return to the Octagon.

Conlan: I think Junie has drawn his last assignment in the Octagon and my reasoning isn’t solely related to his arrest, termination from the UFC, or history of personal problems. I simply don’t believe Browning is a good enough fighter to make his way back onto the roster. He got his crack because of his actions on the Ultimate Fighter, not because he was necessarily a blue-chip prospect that couldn’t be risked to another promotion. His recent actions are another testament to his apparent mental instability and most fighters will tell you how important a strong mind is to success inside the ring. Junie will pick up some decent paychecks fighting up-and-coming talent and tomato cans on local shows as so many other TUF castoffs have done, and similar to them, he’ll drop a few bouts along the way that show him to ultimately be an entertaining, albeit slightly above-average, Mixed Martial Artist.

Buy/Sell – Top WEC lightweights like Donald Cerrone, Jamie Varner, and Ben Henderson would only fair averagely if competing in the UFC.

Conlan: Buy. I equate the trio to Clay Guida – highly competitive, well-rounded, go full speed from start to finish but have a hard time finishing comparable opponents. Out of the three I could see Varner fairing a bit better since he’s got heavier hands, but then again he split two Octagon appearances earlier in his career so it’s hard to know whether or not he’s improved enough since then to make that much of a difference during a second go-round in the UFC. Also, I think “average’ in a division as deep as the lightweight pool is not that bad of a thing either. Very few men do better when it comes to consistently beating the UFC’s top shelf of 155-pound talent.

Newby: I think you hit the nail on the head there, particularly with being “average” in the UFC 155 pound division (or any division for that matter) isn’t really a bad thing. The only other point I would like to raise is Carlos Condit. At 170 he was on a tear in the WEC and consistently ranked in the top ten at welterweight. Anywhere from ten to as high as five, depending who you asked. After seeing him split a pair of tough fights I can’t think that the previously mentioned trio would fair any better at 155 than Condit at 170. Still, it would be even more depth to an already brimming division, and all it takes is a good couple fights to make the contender short list.

Sticking with a recent 5 Oz. Poll, should Yushin Okami vs. Chael Sonnen be on the main card of UFC 104?

Conlan: While the match-up certainly has the potential to be a plodding affair that goes the distance, the UFC desperately needs to establish new middleweight contenders and Sonnen vs. Okami is a perfect opportunity for them to do so. Okami has won nine of his last ten bouts (7-1 in the UFC) with the only loss coming via decision against former champion Rich Franklin. He was on the cusp of a crack at Anderson Silva’s belt a year ago before injuries left him on the outside looking in. Sonnen is coming off a dominant win against tough 185-pounder Dan Miller and is 8-2 in his last ten fights. Putting their fight on the main portion of the UFC 104 card, or at least on the televised portion of the undercard being shown on Spike, would give fans an opportunity to re-familiarize themselves with Okami while getting a feel for who might challenge for Silva’s shiny oversized beltbuckle once things are sorted out between Nate Marquardt, Dan Henderson, and Vitor Belfort. Instead viewers are being treated to a clash between Josh Neer and Gleison Tibau, who are both more-than talented but neither of which factors into the immediate title picture of their division. The same can also be said about Ryan Bader and Eric Schafer, though I at least understand the appeal of putting an Ultimate Fighter seasonal champion on Spike.

Newby: You make a good point, but let’s for arguments sake look at the other side of the coin. Okami and Sonnen both win the majority of their fights by decision and aren’t exactly looking to be poised for a barn burner. I cannot imagine Sonnen being anywhere near the line for a title shot so this really only applies to Okami, and that’s in doubt too as Zuffa hasn’t seemed too eager to throw him out there. But if this does turn out as boring as it could be, if it is untelevised the damage is kept to a minimum. Say Okami wins based in a dull affair. Should Dana and Joe Silva decide at some point that Anderson Silva’s next challenger will be Okami they can just pick and use the more exciting highlights for a video package and use that to sell the fight with Okami’s DQ victory over Silva. Sure, it’s a strictly business decision but this hedges their bets a bit more than gambling with these two on live PPV. That’s my “other side of the coin” take for contrarian sake.

Fill in the blank – Anthony Johnson is ____ wins away from a shot at the UFC Welterweight Championship.

Conlan: Three, maybe four. Though beating Yoshiyuki Yoshida at UFC 104 would only give Johnson a modest 5-2 record in the Octagon, it’s important to remember his loss to Rich Clementi came in a fight he took on extremely late notice and cut a ridiculous amount of weight for, while the TKO win Kevin Burns has over him was more a result of repeatedly being poked in the eye than anything legitimate on Burns’ part. I think a dubya over Yoshida would elevate “Rumble” to the same level as probable future title contenders such as Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, and Thiago Alves. Considering Mike Swick, with only four wins in the UFC’s welterweight division, and Dan Hardy with only three, are fighting at UFC 105 for the right to challenge St. Pierre, it seems like two additional wins over notable welterweights including the afore mentioned folks or Swick, Hardy, Karo Parisyan, Marcus Davis, Matt Hughes, or Matt Serra should be more than enough reason to match someone as exciting and skilled as Johnson against whoever the champ may be at the time. Let’s not forget that thrill-factor is definitely something UFC President Dana White takes into account when making matches alongside Joe Silva and Johnson certainly brings the goods when it comes delivering jaw-dropping moments.

Newby: I have to say it could potentially be as low as two, counting after the upcoming Yoshida fight. As you said, if he wins, and looks good in doing it, he’ll be toward more of the forefront of the welterweight conversation and set to fight a Marcus Davis, Chris Lytle, or even Karo Parisyan. Win there and he could be looking at a bout with title implications against whoever else is on a role and towards the top of the welterweight food chain at the time. This is on the presumption that the UFC is still in need of new and exciting matches for GSP that gets the fans more interested than the Swick/Kampmann announcement did. If that’s the case, Johnson could be on the fast track. For his sake I hope that number is closer to four more wins instead of two. GSP is a whole different animal from anyone else in the division and it wouldn’t hurt Johnson to fight a couple more of the guys along the way should he keep his winning streak. A path to a title shot consisting of Lytle, Parisyan, Condit, and Fitch/Alves would do wonders.

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