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Grappling with Issues – 1/16/10

Should Urijah Faber get a featherweight title shot before Mike Brown? Where does Ben Henderson stand in the worldwide rankings? Did the judges get another one wrong in the Tom Lawlor/Aaron Simpson match-up? Did Gray Maynard get screwed out of his title shot?

Welcome to Week #2 of the all-new Grappling with Issues. We’ve rebooted the franchise but rather than sending Brendhan Conlan and myself back to high school, we’ll be sticking to questions about the wild world of MMA. We’ve got plenty to talk about this week after back-to-back shows from the WEC and UFC, so let’s not waste any more time.

In the immortal words of Cecil Peoples…LET’S DANCE!

True/False – Mike Brown should have been given a chance to avenge his loss to Jose Aldo before Urijah Faber was offered a crack at the Brazilian phenom’s championship.

Adam Tool: This is a furiously hard question to answer in such black and white terms, because a simple true or false doesn’t take in all the angles that are in place. If I have to pick one or the other then I suppose I’ll take false, but now let’s talk about angles.

I love me some Mike Brown. He’s arguably the most powerful man in the featherweight division, and with his two victories over Faber there should be no doubt as to where these two fighters stack up in their weight class. If the match-making at WEC 46 had been a little more even for these two former champions, I would undoubtedly be calling for Brown to get the shot at Aldo first. That being said, we can’t ignore the fact that Brown got a relatively easy opponent while Faber was competing in a much more competitive bout. Faber got a decisive win over a man widely recognized as a top five fighter in the featherweight division, while Brown was slotted against a guy making his WEC debut. To get back to the top it’s likely that Brown will have to face somebody like Manny Gamburyan or Josh Grispi in a title eliminator bout, but at least he was able to get back in the win column on Sunday.

When I mentioned angles, there’s also the ever-important issue of the dollars and sense. Putting Urijah Faber in the title fight of the first WEC PPV will make dollars, and it just makes sense. He’s the most popular fighter in the company without question. If the WEC is serious about getting their brand on PPV (and they are) then they need the drawing power that Faber brings. There’s also the added intrigued behind the first meeting between Aldo and Faber, while Brown was pretty thoroughly dominated in his first bout with “Junior.” Aldo vs. Faber is the sexier fight, it’s the one I want to see first, and it’s the right fight to make.

Conlan: I can’t disagree with Tool’s assessment on popularity influencing the decision but it doesn’t mean I support the notion of pushing a more-deserving individual to the side in favor of selling a few extra tickets. In that regard my answer here is “false”. To counter Tool’s argument on the level of opposition at WEC 46 I’d like to point out Brown’s loss to Aldo came less than two months ago while “The California Kid” was allowed a full training camp before stepping back into the cage. Also, consider the reality that his Brazilian adversary’s only legitimate chance of beating Faber was via submission and Urijah has never tapped out in his twenty-six fight career. His wrestling and jiujitsu knowledge make him virtually impossible to beat on the mat. Morrison’s name may not carry the same value as Assuncao, but his knockout power and striking make him a threat to finish any opponent he faces. When’s the
last time you heard someone say a fighter has a “grappler’s chance” of winning?

Faber fought Jens Pulver to earn a rematch after initially losing to Brown so it’s not as though there’s a precedent for needing to beat a stellar featherweight to get a second shot at the gold (to mention one in your home town). I understand the Tick’s little brother has the entire promotion on his shoulders and is their most popular athlete. However, showing such obvious favor diminishes the belt’s value and brings Mixed Martial Arts one step closer to Vince McMahon’s idea of “sports entertainment”.

Hermes Franca retired from MMA last week. Did the news make you happy, sad, or indifferent?

Tool: I’m kind of sad about it, but that’s due in part to my own error in judgment. Franca’s last fight actually took place at a show that was going on here in Des Moines at the Val-Air Ballroom, a location that is not even 10 minutes away from my house. As I have been severely domesticated in the last year of my life, I made no effort to see this event (despite the presence of Franca as well as hometown favorite Josh Neer). I could have gone to this show but I didn’t, and so I found out along with the rest of the world the next day that Franca was calling it quits.

As for my feelings on Franca as a fighter, I’m fairly indifferent. Ever since being on the losing end of 2007’s worst title fight (in terms of the fight itself and the “double-whammy” steroid repercussions that came afterward) Franca has had little to offer in any subsequent performances. It was almost sad to see the bloated purple-headed monster that looked completely out of place against Tyson Griffin four months ago. He clearly doesn’t have the drive to be a fighter anymore so why not let him live out his days passing on his wealth of skills to the next generation?

Conlan: Like his hair might have been at one time in his career I’m a bit blue about Franca’s retirement from MMA. Yes, he embarrassed himself against Tyson Griffin, and he deserves to be criticized for using performance enhancing drugs prior to the Sherk bout regardless of his reasoning. That being said, he also has wins over a number of notable foes including Nate Diaz, Marcus Aurelio, Jamie Varner, Spencer Fisher, and Mike Brown. I’m sad to see him go because I believe he still has the ability to be competitive, and though his best days may be behind him, he’s still young enough to be a formidable opponent. I would rather he stepped away from the sport, got his life together, and came back as good or better than he’s ever been.

Then again, I’m being selfish as a fight-fan, and in the sense Franca will now have more time to spend with his family – and as Adam said, to train the next generation – I suppose I should have more of a smile on my face than I do.

Better night of free fights – WEC 45 or Fight Night 20?

Tool: Overall I would have to give the nod to the WEC. I enjoyed the Lawlor/Simpson fight the most out of those bouts seen during that 48 hour period, but the WEC had a more consistent level of quality. There were a few lulls here and there, and the main event couldn’t compete with some of the truly outstanding fights that have headlined recent WEC events, but overall WEC 46 was a solid card. Without a doubt though, both shows certainly gave fans their money’s worth.

Points must be taken away from Fight Night though as a result of the absolutely astounding amount of screen time used to promote that awful college comedy show. Numerous plugs from Goldberg, a completely humorless clip, and a painfully annoying interview with the cast all added up to an overabundance of shilling. I understand the need for Spike to cross-promote their new show with one of their biggest ratings powerhouses, but they need to remember that those 18-34 males they’re so desperate to get also happen to hate when companies give them the hard-sell. There was also plenty of promotion for UFC 109, but that’s the sort of thing you expect on these Fight Night events. I don’t expect 30 minutes of commercials for some show that will be dead within six months anyways, so let’s try to pull it back a bit in the future.

Conlan: I agree WEC 46 was the superior event, though Fight Night 20 could have possibly taken the lead had they aired Tom Lawlor’s Hogan-esque entrance. The “little guys” left it all on the canvas in Sacramento and gave the rabid fans what they wanted while Fight Night 20 offered up seven decisions, three finishes, and a draw. There wasn’t even enough time for Spike producers to show us the night’s only knockout.

I can’t help but chuckle at the Blue Mountain burns! It reminds me of a comment made by a 5 Oz. reader on the salary information for “Fight Night 20” questioning Leben’s absence from the televised broadcast. My thought was, “If he attended Blue Mountain State he would have gotten plenty of air time.”

After his wins over Cerrone and Varner, where would you place Benson Henderson in the worldwide lightweight rankings?

Conlan: Henderson deserves credit for the success he’s had in Mixed Martial Arts thus far, but in terms of his placement amongst the sport’s top lightweights I don’t think he’s even sniffing the “Top 10” at this point in his career. I also think, like most fighters, Benson probably could care less about something as arbitrary as a worldwide ranking. His wins over Varner and Cerrone are impressive in the context of World Extreme Cagefighting but do little for helping him climb up the proverbial 155-pound ladder because neither opponent was that high up it to begin with. Being the best WEC lightweight is akin to being the best backup quarterback on the Indianapolis Colts. Urijah Faber is Peyton Manning. He is the promotion’s captain and most popular athlete. He is a WEC icon. If Henderson wants to truly show the world how good he is he’ll need to sign with a new team (like the UFC). Until then, he’s a guy who was
knocked out by a no-name earlier in his career, was nearly submitted by Cerrone, and was losing to a guy coming off an injury-induced year-long layoff in his last fight before taking advantage of a mistake and scoring a submission. If I was forced to label him with a number it would be in the 14-15 range.

Tool: I feel about the same as my esteemed colleague, as I’d probably rank Henderson towards the bottom of a top twenty listing. He’s got some tremendous heart to go along with all his other skills, but heart only takes you so far. Henderson is well-rounded in other areas besides wrestling, but his striking isn’t on par with a Kenny Florian or an Eddie Alvarez. While he may have been able to avoid the submission attempts from Varner and Cerrone, I doubt “Smooth” would be as lucky against a world class grappler like Shinya Aoki. There are plenty of fighters that would pick to beat the new Undisputed WEC Lightweight Champion, but fortunately he’s only 26 and he’s only getting better. Given some time I see no reason why he couldn’t be a top ten fighter in the future, but he’s going to need some better competition soon if he’s going to get there.

The judges awarded Aaron Simpson a split decision win over Tom Lawlor with scores of 29-28, 29-28, and 28-29. How did you score this one?

Conlan: I would be remiss if I did not make at least one Simpson-related joke in this response based on the show’s 20th Anniversary, so let me start out by saying the judges’ decision did not have me saying, “D’oh!” I would have also been fine with the bout being awarded to Lawlor since it was a hotly contested match throughout and he nearly finished things off in the first round. However, “A-Train” controlled the second and third rounds for the most part and Lawlor was never able to rekindle the sparks that flew during the fight’s first frame. It made me wonder whether or not his cardio could have been affected by dumping adrenaline after the initial surge that nearly rendered Simpson unconscious.

Tool: I’m sorry but there’s one thing I can’t wrap my head around in regards to how this fight was scored. If you believe Lawlor deserved a 10-9 for the first round and Simpson deserved a 10-9 for the second, that means that you think the margin of victory was equal across each round. That’s simply not the case. Lawlor battered Simpson for the first five minutes, dominating the striking, aggression, and octagon control. He had Simpson rocked several times, and if that didn’t constitute a 10-8 round I guess I don’t know what does. The second frame was much closer and you could certainly make the argument that either man deserved to win the round. I believe Lawlor won that fight, and at the very least it should have been scored as a draw.

Do you agree or disagree with the UFC’s decision to pass over Gray Maynard and award the next lightweight title shot to Frankie Edgar?

Conlan: I’m actually neutral on the Edgar/Maynard debate since I don’t view either individual as any real threat to Penn’s title. Don’t misunderstand me, as I think both men are extremely talented, well-rounded fighters with the skill to beat the bulk of their peers. However, what has either ever done to merit any confidence in their ability to hang with Hilo’s favorite son? Baby Jay has demolished all five of the lightweight opponents he’s faced since re-entering the weight class two-and-a-half years ago. In that same span of time, Maynard has one knockout, one No Contest, and six consecutive decisions. Edgar hasn’t fared much better with a TKO, a submission, and four decisions. Am I to believe Penn wouldn’t devour the same people Maynard and Edgar couldn’t finish as though they were freshly made Manna Burgers – – fighters like Dennis Siver, Rich Clementi, or Hermes Franca? In the words of Chad Ochocinco, “Child

It doesn’t matter which of the two Penn faces since he is going to run through either of them. If I was part of the Zuffa braintrust I would have considered talking Penn into facing a mid-tier welterweight, perhaps enticing him with the ability to work his way back into a third bout with Georges St. Pierre, while finding a way to clearly establish a lightweight contender who can convincingly be spun as a dangerous foe for B.J. to face.

Tool: Brendhan can play the role of Sweden and try to remain neutral, but I’ll go ahead and answer the question. I don’t think that Maynard is ready for his title shot, but I do think that at this point he deserves it. It seems silly to me that Edgar gets the shot before Maynard, given the one-sided result of their previous meeting.

I understand the logic behind making Gray wait, since his last two fights have done little to inspire confidence in his abilities. He’s still young and ever-improving, and if he can start to finish his fights he’ll go a long way towards bringing people around.

However I can’t argue with the fact that both fighters are simply waiting in line to get their asses kicked by BJ. The man is dangerously close to cleaning out the lightweight division, which is probably in his best interests since he’s still desperate for another crack at GSP.

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