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Grappling with Issues – 1/22/10

When will UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre move to middleweight? Is “Strikeforce: Miami” a more intriguing event than UFC 109? Who will Rich Franklin face when returning to the Octagon this spring? Shoul Kimbo Slice’s fans be nervous about the possibility of Matt Mitrione serving as his next opponent?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!

Once again you’ve stumbled upon “Grappling with Issues”, the site’s weekly battle of insight and opinion featuring myself and fellow 5 Oz. contributor Adam Tool. 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…

Upcoming event capturing more of your interest – January 30th Strikeforce or UFC 109?

Adam Tool: Strikeforce. UFC 109 is headlined by a fight that would’ve been awesome thirteen years ago but will almost certainly result in a thoroughly unsatisfying decision today. Strikeforce is crowning a new champion as Marius Zaromskis, who is easily one of the fastest rising stars in the welterweight division, faces off with a red-hot Nick Diaz. Chael Sonnen will be doing his best to drag Nate Marquardt into a boring fight in the co-main event of UFC 109. On the other side you have the baddest woman on the planet Cris Cyborg defending her Strikeforce Women’s Lightweight Championship against submission-savvy Marloes Coenen. I have no idea what sort of gameplan Mike Swick will bring into his fight with Paulo Thiago, but I do know that Robbie Lawler and Melvin Manhoef will be a slugfest of the most epic proportions.

As for the rest of the UFC 109 card, I am looking forward to the Dan Miller/Demian Maia bout but the Matt Serra/Frank Trigg fight is only interesting for the pre-fight smack talk between the competitors. On the Strikeforce side we’ve got the 47 year old MMA rookie Herschel Walker (more on him later), and since I haven’t watched wrestling in years I care very little about Bobby Lashley. UFC 109 takes the edge in undercard but Strikeforce has the headlining bouts I’m most eager to see.

Brendhan Conlan: Though considering only the televised portion of each card makes the race a bit closer I still think the UFC offering noses out Strikeforce in terms of overall quality. Couture is one of the sport’s legitimate icons and compelling to watch against any opponent. Coleman also has a significant place in the evolution of MMA based on the ground-and-pound style he originally brought into the cage. He mauled Stephan Bonnar at UFC 100 and in his prior bout went just shy of three full rounds against “Shogun” Rua (who arguably beat current LHW champ Lyoto Machida at UFC 104). Sure, the match-up may have been ideal when both were in their primes, but the fact the two UFC Hall of Famers are throwing down at all is significant enough to pay close attention to and neither is at the “Ken Shamrock” point of their careers.

The slugfests assumed to be offered in the Lawler/Manhoef and Santos/Coenen will surely be entertaining as long as they unfold as expected, but in the end they will likely be only that – slugfests. I like a good conscious-conquering brawl as much as the next person but I also appreciate technique. A quick knockout is rarely as satisfying to watch as a competitive scrap featuring both grappling and stand-up. I see far more potential in that regard when looking at the line-up for UFC 109.

Zaromskis still has a lot to prove before he sheds the “flavor of the month” label he earned via a trio of high-kicks in DREAM’s Welterweight Grand Prix, while Diaz hasn’t ever shown himself to be a consistent fighter. His improvement over the past few years has been moderate at best. He’s fun to watch and says outlandish things, but as far as an overall Mixed Martial Artist he’s an example of wasted talent. Swick and Thiago may not be as controversial but at least appear eager to maximize their potential and do so in a professional way. They’re comparable in most areas and a win for either boosts him one step closer to the winner of Georges St. Pierre vs. Dan Hardy. Marquardt is one of the most-rounded fighters you’ll find, Sonnen is a high-level grappler with decent hands, Maia is among the top jiujitsu practitioners competing in MMA, and neither Trigg or Serra should be ignored based on their past accomplishments which truly
aren’t too far behind either man. Bobby Lashley’s opponent has been drawn from a hat at this point, and Strikeforce buried one of their better bouts (Hieron/Riggs) in order to show the relative joke that is Herschel Walker’s debut. The undercard is made up of local talent and names most fans have never heard of while UFC 109’s features Mac Danzig, Phillipe Nover, Melvin Guillard, Brian Stann, and perhaps the most intriguing talent premering for either company, 3-0 heavyweight Rolles Gracie.

True/False – Matt Mitrione is a bad match-up for Kimbo Slice.

Tool: False. Does Matt Mitrione have some awesome ground game that we’ve yet to see? Is he hiding some wealth of jiu-jitsu skills that he didn’t show on “The Ultimate Fighter?” I’m assuming the answer to both questions is no, so that leaves us with one conclusion: Mitrione is going to be happy to stand and bang with Kimbo. This fight will hopefully result in a spectacular knockout one way or the other, but mostly I’m just hoping that it doesn’t go past the first round. I certainly don’t need to see either man display their “legendary” cardio.

Conlan: For essentially the same reasons Tool listed as his logic behind Mitrone being a good opponent I’m going to use in explaining why I actually think “Meathead” was a poor selection for Slice’s second UFC foe. Though I don’t suspect the former NFL lineman will be winning any future ADCC tournaments, it’s also been proven that a fighter doesn’t need to give BJ Penn a run for his money on the mat to beat the YouTube sensation, so the level of his jiujitsu isn’t necessarily relevant. The reality is Mitrione is still somewhat of a mystery due to the lack of video on him. With their conditioning likely a push, as well as their grappling ability, it will come down to how each fares on his feet. Mitrione has displayed the ability out-strike opponents using technique rather than hoping for the one-punch knockout while Slice still has a tendency to swing wildly and rely on power. I think there’s a fair chance Mitrione
will be able to connect on Slice’s suspect chin due to the contrasting styles, even with a jab, and give him the second loss of his MMA career. It would have been smarter for the UFC to have either booked Kimbo against someone who was a little easier to break down instead of a relative newcomer or at least capitalized on his name value and had him fight a well-known opponent to minimize the fallout from a potential loss.

What is your immediate take on the UFC’s decision to air fights on Versus?

Tool: On one hand: it’s awesome. The first Versus show is arguably one of the most stacked cards the UFC has ever presented on free TV. With more eyeballs tuning in to see the UFC brand it will hopefully create better awareness of the wealth of free MMA being regularly offered on the channel. Most people probably still associate Versus with bull riding and bike racing, but by embracing the mixed-martial arts boom they’re presenting a clear alternative to every other sports-based cable network.

On the other hand: it sucks. I’m without cable TV at the moment, but normally I’d just go over to my buddy James’ house to watch the Fight Night events. Unfortunately James has DirecTV, so he doesn’t even get Versus right now. There are millions of homes right now that are unable to watch anything on Versus. This has hurt the recent WEC broadcasts and it’s obviously going to hurt this UFC show as well. Thus far Zuffa has done nothing to offer an alternative in the form of an online stream, and in fact they’re currently going after websites offering such a service. I understand their decision to go after these sites pirating UFC PPVs as that directly affects their bottom-line, but they should be pro-active in their efforts as well. They could easily set up their own stream through the UFC or WEC websites, and I for one would be glad to pay a nominal fee for high-quality online broadcasts of their cable events.

Digital distribution is the future of media, and the UFC would be wise to take advantage of this if they really do intend to make MMA the biggest sport in the world.

Conlan: It’s a step in the wrong direction from the standpoint fighters are being spread out even more thinly than before due to the additional shows when said athletes could be utilized to produce stronger PPVs, Fight Nights, and Ultimate Fighter Finales. The list of names being thrown onto a network your average fan can’t immediately locate on their local cable provider – unless of course he/she is an avid follower of Van Damme’s “Bloodsport” – is a shame when considering the price tag attached to some pay-per-view events. It will also cost the fighters a certain level of exposure attached to standard pay-per-views. The only bright side I see other than as a fan who of course appreciates the free nature of the events is that it may lead to an eventual merger between the UFC and WEC or at least joint-promotion from the dual Zuffa entities. Other than that I find the decision baffling.

Georges St. Pierre recently revealed that if/when he moves to middleweight it will be for good. Give your estimation for the UFC numbered event where GSP makes his debut at 185.

Conlan: Students, take your seats please. The answer to this equation lies somewhere between MMAth and Triggonomics. Take the PPV number St. Pierre is next scheduled to compete at (111), add his age (28), multiply the total by the number of Big Macs he eats after a win (2), subtract the weight he’ll be attempting to make (185), and finally divide it by the number of legitimate opponents left for him at welterweight assuming he runs through Dan Hardy (3). The resulting amount tells me GSP will move to middleweight thirty-one events after his title defense in New Jersey meaning fans can expect him to compete at middleweight come UFC 142. The event will be held in early-to-mid 2012.

In reality, St. Pierre could fight at 185 pounds a week from today if he wanted to. He already walks around in the low 190s and his gifts, both those learned in the gym and God-given, make him a threat to be competitive against bigger foes at this very minute. However, from what I understand, “Rush” doesn’t want to test his “riddum” in the Octagon at middleweight until he feels he can bulk up more without sacrificing his health in the process. Also, since the French-Canadian won’t be looking back if he makes the move, I think he’d need to clean out the welterweight division before he’ll feel satisfied enough to leave it behind him. 2-2.5 years seems to be a realistic time frame for both of those factors to have occurred, hence where my early-to-mid 2012 estimate came from.

Tool: I can understand the logic behind your theorem, but I think there’s a problem with your numbers. Specifically, I’m curious as to who these three legitimate opponents are in the UFC’s welterweight division. It’s likely that the winner of the upcoming Josh Koscheck/Paul Daley bout will get the next crack at GSP, but after that things are pretty barren. After UFC 100 last year there were questions about whether or not St. Pierre had cleaned out the division, but a lot of people were throwing around names like Mike Swick, Martin Kampmann, and Anthony Johnson as potential contenders. All three of those men have proven that they’re not ready for the highest levels of competition, and I’m at a loss to come up with any other names to add to the list of future contenders. I’ve seen nothing from Jon Fitch to make me think that he deserves a second chance at the belt, and there’s certainly no reason to throw Matt Hughes or Matt
Serra in there again. Once GSP runs through Hardy and then goes on to beat Koscheck again, that’s pretty much it for him and the welterweight division.

Therefore I’m going with the estimation that St. Pierre will move up to middleweight in about a year, making his 185 lbs. debut at (or around) UFC 124. BJ Penn will then make his middleweight debut at UFC 125.

On a scale of 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest), how excited are you to see Herschel Walker make his MMA debut?

Conlan: I’d rate my excitement level at about a “3”. While my actual interest in seeing a 47-year old with no significant combat background make his professional debut on a televised card ranks lower than a centipede’s toenails, I am excited about the prospect of a message being sent to the mainstream media through a potential first-round finish of Walker – think Johnnie Morton minus the backboard as an ideal situation in my eyes. MMA is a sport to be respected, not a game kids play at recess. I’m disappointed a promotion with Strikeforce’s reputation is doing something so “EliteXC”, and frankly they should be embarrassed to have relegated a clash between veterans like Jay Hieron and Joe Riggs to the undercard in favor of a bout equating to little more than cheap advertising for the event.

Tool: 1, and it’s my own fault for setting the scale that way so I can’t go any lower. I couldn’t care less about Walker’s Heisman Trophy or any of his other sporting accomplishments. We’re talking about a man who’s pushing 50 years old and just starting out in the sport. I am hoping that Walker’s opponent can blow him out of the water, then maybe we can stop getting guys Walker and James Toney trying to make a name for themselves in a sport they have no business competing in.

I’m also terribly upset that promotional efforts for this show have focused mainly on Walker and Lashley, with little-to-no promotion of the evening’s two title fights. Strikeforce has three outstanding fights on tap for this event, but they’ve chosen to chase cheap publicity by showcasing these two men that have achieved notoriety in other forms of competition first. If you’ve never watched football or professional wrestling, why should you care about either man?

Rich Franklin recently underwent hernia surgery and is targeting a spring return. Name his opponent for his return fight.

Conlan: Franklin’s future appearances inside the Octagon are of a limited nature even though he still has the skill to compete with the best in the world. However, time and technique are against him, and he also has the intelligence and charisma to find solid income outside of MMA meaning he’s not in a position where fighting is the only real option for him to make a living. “Ace” needs to be given a match-up at light heavyweight against an opponent with significant name value instead of meeting someone in the middle at 195-pounds. Rashad Evans and “Rampage” Jackson are already set to throw down in a few months, Forrest Griffin is rumored to be fighting Rogerio Nogueira next, and Tito Ortiz will be sharing coaching duties with Chuck Liddell on the next season of the Ultimate Fighter. The one LHW who stands out to me as a perfect foe for Franklin, and who should also be available to fight in April/May, is Randy Couture.
“The Natural” is scheduled to face Mark Coleman in on February 6th and should escape the bout without sustaining any significant damage. The pairing with Franklin sells itself in terms of both their reputations as UFC icons and the fact they’ve never faced off before. It makes too much sense to not be made.

Tool: I can certainly go along with Brendhan’s idea of a match-up with Couture, but I’m going to go in a different direction with my answer. If Franklin is serious about his future in the light heavyweight division he’ll need to face the toughest guys he can get. There was talk of a bout with Luiz Cane last year and I think now would be a good time to do just that. Both guys are coming off of devastating losses and would be hungry for redemption, and Cane has the striking skills to give as good as he gets. To me a Franklin vs. Cane bout has “Fight of the Night” written all over it, so I say make it happen.

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