twitter google

Grappling with Issues – 1/8/10

Grappling with IssuesWill Rashad Evans challenge for light heavyweight gold in 2010? Is Paul Daley or Dan Hardy the true “sheriff” of Nottingham? Whose face is next in line for an introduction to Junior Dos Santos’ fists? Did Shinya Aoki go from hero to heel overnight?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!

The New Year is often recognized as a symbol for rejuvenating the belief that fresh starts are possible and is a holiday known for inspiring widespread change. Both characteristics ring true in relation to this article, as the format of GWI will be changing from a semi-regular feature with various contributors to a weekly one with a permanent partner whom I’ll be locking proverbial horns with on each of the standard six subjects being presented.

I’m happy to re-introduce Adam Tool to the masses as the hairier, less-feminine Kelly Ripa to my Regis Philbin. Some of you may remember his recent, albeit brief, stint here a few months back before a hiatus took his talents away from Five Ounces. As if raising a baby is more important than writing about Mixed Martial Arts? Pshaw!

Each week Tool and I will be offering up opinion and insight on topics plucked from the MMA landscape and attempting to present them in an entertaining manner. However, just because we staffers get the fancy set-up, please don’t feel precluded from dishing out your own thoughts on each matter in the comments section at the bottom of the column…

How excited should fans be about Gomi signing with the UFC – significantly, moderately, mildly, or not at all?

Adam Tool: Significantly. It’s understandable that some fans are taking the “meh” approach to this news, as Gomi has failed to really be Gomi since the loss to Nick Diaz at PRIDE 33. He’s not considered one of the best lightweights in the world anymore, but he’s got the skills necessary to get right back to that level. The only question as of late has been his motivation, and I have to believe that by stepping up to the toughest lightweight division in the world will be the career move that re-lights that fire under The Fireball Kid’s ass.

Personally, I think Gomi has a chance to really shake things up in the upper levels of the division. He’s got the necessary skills in wrestling to avoid being bullied by the Gray Maynards and Sean Sherks of the world. In terms of his boxing he’s easily one of the best in the division, with a chin that has never been cracked. I don’t like his chances in a potential rematch with BJ Penn, but I do think he can get the job done against most of the lightweights calling the Octagon their home.

What it comes right down to though is the fact that Gomi is an exciting fighter. Too many UFC lightweight match-ups have ended in a decision, but Gomi is the kind of guy that’s always pressing the action and looking for a finish. Fans want to see exciting fights, and that’s what we’ll be getting when Gomi steps into the Octagon.

Brendhan Conlan: Mildly, as I appreciate Gomi’s past accomplishments and the techniques in his arsenal, yet I’m also skeptical about his dedication to improvement and question how he’ll fare without the protection of Japanese promoters. His biggest wins have been collecting dust for 3-5 years while his peers have been progressing at an exponential rate. Am I to believe he is currently a threat to the top level lightweights when he’s 2-2 in his last four bouts and neither loss came against a particularly impressive opponent?

In terms of the former PRIDE champion being a finisher, his last fight was a five-round decision win against 11-6 Tony Hervey (who promptly went on to get submitted in the first round of his subsequent match against a guy who was 1-1 at the time). It’s the third time Gomi has seen the judges’ scorecards in his last five in-ring appearances. Don’t get me wrong – I generally don’t mind decisions as long as the action is good, especially in terms of 155-pounders who don’t possess the power their larger colleagues do, but the fact remains “The Fireball Kid” has been more fizzle than flame as of late. His reputation may have enabled a Zuffa contract but it won’t win fights, especially against a guy like Ken Florian who Gomi’s rumored to be debuting against.

Do you like Shinya Aoki more or less after his display on New Year’s Eve?

Tool: Less, simply because I’m a fan of sportsmanship in sports. I didn’t care for Brock Lesnar’s post-fight antics after his bout with Frank Mir at UFC 100 either, so it’s hard for me to find any positive spin on what Aoki did. I understand the need for personalities of all sorts in the fight game but I fail to see what good can be accomplished by flipping off your opponent after you’ve already given him a very serious injury. It’s not like Aoki didn’t know what he had done, as he’s already stated in interviews that he was willing to break Hirota’s arm when he wouldn’t tap.

When you know you’ve won there’s nothing wrong with a little celebration. Just do the sport a favor and try to maintain some semblance of class once the fight is finished.

Conlan: More. I agree with 99.9% of what Tool wrote. I have no problem with Aoki breaking Hirota’s arm. It was gruesome to be sure, but Mixed Martial Arts is not competitive gymnastics, and when an athlete is locked in a limb-manipulation hold the options are submit or risk serious injury. Tap, yap, or snap.

As far as the brief Exorcist-meets-Spandex-Tights moment after the bout, it wasn’t necessary by any means, but it also wasn’t particularly harmful or remotely close to the worst post-fight behavior ever exhibited in MMA. It was the actions of a 26-year old kid charged with emotion who just demolished a rival promotion’s champion and who might have felt a bit disrespected by Hirota’s refusal to submit. Aoki even apologized for the middle-finger afterwards, though perhaps only half-heartedly given some of his other post-fight statements.

Regardless, as unpopular as this opinion may be, the entire sequence made me like Shinya a bit more than before. It revealed not only his commitment to the warrior mentality of the sport but also shed a little of the vanilla-flavored label attached to his personality. Does anyone out there think BJ Penn would have acted much differently had he been in the same situation as Aoki, or is licking your opponents’ blood off your gloves after a win more civilized than flipping the bird?

Badder Brit – Paul Daley or Dan Hardy?

Tool: Daley still has some time to make his case, but for now I’ve got to go with Dan Hardy. Daley has got some good momentum going right now, but the memory of his submission loss to Jake Shields is still far too fresh in most people’s minds. We didn’t get a chance to see his ground game this past weekend (thanks in part to a somewhat baffling strategy from Dustin Hazelett) so there are still some questions hanging over his head before he can truly stake a spot amongst the 170 lbs. elite.

On the other hand, you’ve got “The Outlaw.” One year ago I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted that his career would lead to where it is now, but here we are. I don’t personally think he’s got much of a chance against Georges St. Pierre, but then again I didn’t give him much of a chance against Mike Swick either. Hardy has racked up some impressive wins in his brief time in the UFC, and nearly all of them have been in fights where he was the underdog heading in.

Conlan: Dan Hardy, but only by a crimson-tinted hair on his Mohawk’d head. What it comes down to for me is how I perceive each man’s level of completeness as a fighter.

“Semtex” clearly has an edge in terms of raw power, as Daley’s explosive fists have afforded him the luxury of living up to his nickname’s characteristics more often than not when he’s stepped into the ring. His strength and improving grappling skills make him difficult to take down without either being an excellent wrestler or setting the attempt up with strikes – a risky proposition to be sure. However, as Tool alluded to in mentioning the loss to Shields, Daley still has quite a bit of improving to do when it comes to jiujitsu if he wants to be polished enough to consider himself among the top welterweights in the world. Not withstanding a TKO for a dislocated thumb earlier in his career, the Brit has lost seven times in his career and the entire lot is related to BJJ or submission-based fighters.

Hardy, on the other hand, excels in all three bases of MMA and has no problem both defending and attacking when action hits the canvas. He may not have Daley’s one-punch knockout ability but I’d give him the advantage in terms of being the more technical, precise striker. “The Outlaw” trains at 10th Planet Jiujitsu alongside Eddie Bravo when he’s at his residence in Los Angeles so his jiujitsu game is probably a bit better than he gets credit for, some of which is likely due to his ability to render opponents unconscious.

An interesting side-note to this discussion is the fact Daley and Hardy are friends and training partners in the U.K. Born seven months apart, both natives of Nottingham, and competing professionally for approximately the same period of time, the two welterweights have never actually faced off inside the ring. I’m sure the bout would do solid numbers in England since both are clearly rising contenders in the 170-pound division and fly the Queen’s colors with pride. It makes me wonder if perhaps another controversy could be brewing in the weight class as far as contenders who refuse to fight each other due to personal relationships with each other a la Koscheck/Swick/Fitch.

TRUE OR FALSE – Rashad Evans will challenge for the UFC LHW belt in 2010.

Conlan: False. To do so requires a streak involving a solid win over Quinton Jackson in March/April, Machida dropping his title to “Shogun” Rua in May, and some sort of “x-factor” coming into play like an injury to or additional win over a contender early enough in the year to allowing Evans to fill a slot opposite the champion towards the end of the year. I’m not convinced any one of those things, let alone all three of them, will take place and so I don’t see “Sugar” ‘Shad challenging for the strap in 2010 (if ever again).

I am still a firm believer Greg Jackson’s top 205-pounder would be better off as a middleweight based on his physical dimensions, especially if he wants to win another UFC belt. He’s obviously got the skill to compete against bigger fighters but in general it’s not a wise strategy to employ over and over where success is concerned. Why not be the one with a size advantage instead of the 5’11” cat standing opposite 6-foot-plussers? Evans’ typically “soft” appearance at weigh-ins certainly says his build makes 185-pounds an obtainable goal. Beyond that, the move would immediately eliminate discussion on his long-standing opposition to fighting Keith Jardine, and though his professional relationship with Nate Marquardt could still possibly be an issue, it clearly wouldn’t be at the same level as the one his close friendship with Jardine creates. Also, within the context of the original question posed, a single win at middleweight
could hot-shot Rashad into championship contention. See “Vitor Belfort” for reference.

Tool: I’m also going with false, but I don’t think that all three of Brendhan’s hypotheticals would need to be satisfied. Obviously he’ll need to get past “Rampage” first, and I’m still not sure how I see that fight going down. After that Evans’ potential title opportunity would rely on whether or not Machida can retain the belt in May. It may be too early for Machida/Evans II, but with the UFC’s current drought of potential 205 lbs. contenders the rematch could happen sooner than later. In any case I don’t believe that things will line up in the right order for Evans to get his second chance at the belt this year, but I do believe that he will be a contender again at some point in his career.

Quick – Name Junior Dos Santos’ next opponent.

Conlan: Gabriel Gonzaga, who appropriately enough was Dos Santos’ original opponent at UFC 108 before “Napao” was ravaged by the event’s health-related gremlins. With Frank Mir set to face Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez trying to take the gauntlet from “Minotauro Nogueira”, the promotion’s other top heavyweight contenders are all currently wrapped up and Dos Santos hasn’t yet earned a title shot even if champ Brock Lesnar was suddenly available to compete three months from now. However, “Cigano” has earned the right to test his skills against someone with both comparable skills and a recognizable name. If not Gonzaga, the only other candidate I see is Cheick Kongo and his devastating loss to Mir might be too fresh in fans’ minds for the matchmakers’ liking. Without a heavyweight free agent on the horizon it has to be Gonzaga, who has the experience, size, and jiujitsu skills to make it a very difficult go for his younger Brazilian counterpart.

Tool: Since Brendhan took the easy answer, I’m going to do a little thinking outside the fantasy match-making box and come up with a different name: Andrei Arlovski. Yes, I’m serious. It’s fair to say that Arlovski’s price tag will have dropped in the two years since his last fight in the Octagon, so the time is right for Dana White to bring the Belarusian back into the fold.

The simple fact of the matter is that Dos Santos’ has the skills and the record to be a contender very soon, but with things pretty well jammed up at the top of the heavyweight ranks he’ll need to stay busy in the mean time. The quickest way for Dos Santos to make his way to the top is to fight (and beat) the top guys. While Arlovski doesn’t have a spot towards the top 10 of the division anymore, he does have some impressive name value (particularly with the UFC faithful). A Dos Santos/Arlovski match-up would give “Cigano” the opportunity to continue building his momentum against a well-respected former UFC champ, and should he win in dramatic fashion I expect the fans will practically be begging for him to get his title shot.

Of the three lightweights that scored impressive wins at UFC 108 (Cole Miller, Jim Miller, Sam Stout) which one do you think has the best chance to be a contender someday?

Conlan: When I first read this question I thought it would be a tough choice but as I broke down all three fighters I found myself at a resounding conclusion – it’s an extremely difficult decision!!! I like Jim Miller’s mix of motor and grappling, Sam Stout’s heart and hands, and Cole Miller’s size, submissions, and swagger. Mix all three and you have one helluva challenge for BJ Penn. Genetic experiments aside, here’s how I see the breakdown…

Stout has the least chance of making a significant impact on the lightweight division. While he’s a threat to render his opponent unconscious at any given moment when things are standing, I recently realized he’s never actually knocked anyone out in the UFC. His record in the Octagon is 4-4 with seven of those fights going to decision and one submission loss to Ken Florian. A contender needs to not only have multiple dimensions but the ability to excite fans with finishing performances and the ability to procure them with some sort of regularity.

The Jersey-based Miller (16-2) should have a clear edge in the competition because he’s never been finished, and decision-losses to wrestlers like Gray Maynard and Frank Edgar are nothing to be ashamed of, but he’s never won a fight via strikes and, as I said in relation to Stout, I’m always a little concerned by a lack of diversity in a Mixed Martial Artist’s record. I have been a fan of Miller’s since watching him submit Chris Liguori at a “Ring of Combat” show a few years back. I think he’s a threat to beat most men he steps into the cage with. I just don’t think he’ll be able to move up the ranks without vast improvement to his striking or a mid-20s growth spurt.

That leaves the Ninja Turtle enthusiast and American Top Team up-and-comer Cole Miller (who interestingly enough was born three days after Stout). His win/loss record appears more concerning than his brother in Millerhood and risk is inherently involved in picking a guy who has been TKO’d twice in his last five fights. They are also the only two knockouts of his career. He has an extremely slick submission game, is improving on his feet, stands 6’1”, and as indicated in both his speech at UFC 108 and those afore-mentioned losses is not afraid to take risks. Those are all excellent characteristics to possess in terms of eventually making a run at the title. If he can tighten his striking up and reel in a bit of his “bushido” he definitely has the best chance of the three options in this particular topic of making an impact on the lightweight division. The only problem is that it simply won’t happen, if it does, for 2-3 more years.

Tool: I think Brendhan did a pretty good job filling up space in the rest of this column, so I’ll keep this brief and say Jim Miller. He’s already hung in there with some of the toughest guys in the division, and by staying active in the UFC he’s only going to get better. I’ll agree that he needs to do some work on his striking, but his grappling skills are already meaty enough to make him a dangerous opponent for anyone else in the lightweight ranks. Once he puts it all together I have a feeling he may just be unstoppable, and if that’s the case then it’s inevitable that we’ll see him get his shot at gold someday down the line.

Follow 5OZ