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Grappling with Issues 2/5/10

Does Chael Sonnen deserve a title shot if he beats Nate Marquardt? Will the loser of Matt Serra vs. Frank Trigg have drawn his final Zuffa paycheck? Is it time for Robbie Lawler to head back to the UFC? Has Nick Diaz ever looked better than he did in winning the Strikeforce Welterweight Championship?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!

Welcome back to GWI, as we’re once again serving up insight and opinion like “peanut butter” and “jelly” in helping glue together the proverbial sandwich created by back-to-back weekends featuring major MMA events! 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…

List your most favorite and least favorite aspect of “Strikeforce – Miami”?

Adam Tool: My favorite aspect of the show had to be the Robbie Lawler/Melvin Manhoef fight. I had expected to see fireworks early and often so when they started off slowly it only increased my anticipation for the eventual slugfest. I pushed closer to the edge of my seat during each exchange, and I couldn’t help but feel some sympathy pain for the massive damage being delivered to Lawler’s leg. Then the end came, and without Scott Smith being involved, I don’t know if you could come up with a better ending to the fight. It may not have been the most technically proficient display of striking but for pure awesomeness it rates off the charts.

My least favorite aspect of the show is tougher to pick. I still have issues with the production on these Strikeforce events, as I certainly can’t imagine the UFC running a show where two fights end in the first round and none of the pre-lim bouts are shown. What irritated me most though were the three men in the booth. Mauro Ranallo pulled out some incredibly stupid lines during his play-by-play (the nail polish crack in the Cyborg/Coenen fight being the worst), while Shamrock had little to add from an analyst stand-point. Also I think it’s fair to say that Stephen Quadros may be the worst post-fight interviewer ever (we can never forget the days of Bill Goldberg in EliteXC though). I was also dismayed at the shameless way they verbally fellated Herschel Walker during his fight, acting as though his passable performance against an unknown opponent was somehow truly impressive.

Conlan: I’m on board with you in regards to the mini-war waged between Lawler and Manhoef being my favorite part of the broadcast. It was everything a fan could have hoped for going into the bout and even a little more in terms of the “comeback” nature of the eventual highlight reel knockout. Also, Tool’s clever reference to Scott Smith did more than make me chuckle – it made me realize how much I want to see him throw down with Manhoef.

I wasn’t irked by the production, as I’ve come fairly accustomed to the obvious gap between Zuffa and non-Zuffa shows, and I actually appreciated the fact Strikeforce seems to have done away with the ridiculous grappling CGI-skeletons previously used to demonstrate techniques. I also can’t be overly critical of the announcing crew because the simple fact is there are very few sports commentators in general who are articulate, objective, entertaining, and truly understand what is happening in front of them. Rogan and Goldberg may be more bearable than Quadros, Ranallo, and Shamrock but even THEY leave a lot to be desired. As far as the lack of preliminary bouts, I can think of more than one UFC PPV I paid $44.95 for that ended 10-20 minutes early without showing undercard match-ups, so I’ll let Showtime go on that one.

My least favorite aspect to the show was Herschel Walker’s presence in general. By all accounts he is an outstanding individual, a world class athlete, and was been both humble and sponge-like inside the walls of American Kickboxing Academy. However, none of those qualities take away from his age or lack of experience, and to have promoted him as a draw over true Mixed Martial Artists like Joe Riggs and Jay Hieron took away from my overall enjoyment of the show before the curtain even dropped.

Has Nick Diaz ever looked better than he did against Marius Zaromskis?

Tool: I don’t think so. It wasn’t even his most impressive knockout (that came at UFC 47 against Robbie Lawler), and I wouldn’t necessarily say that his boxing looked any better than it has in recent fights with Smith and Shamrock. We should also point out that Zaromskis, despite having a good chunk of hype behind him, was not an elite opponent.

I still point to the Gomi fight as the best Nick Diaz I’ve ever seen. Obviously the ensuing drug test and overturning of the result changes the way we look back at it, but the fact remains that it was the last time Diaz faced an opponent that was ranked in his weight class. Diaz gave as good as he got, came back from adversity, and got the slick submission win. I’d love to see him make it back to the UFC so we can really gauge his growth as a fighter against the best welterweights in the world.

Conlan: While Scott Smith may not be perceived as being on Zaromskis’ level I’d argue he has done at least as much in his career and beaten tougher opponents than “The Whitemare”. In reality, as Tool stated, the Polish striker was riding the momentum of three consecutive high-kick knockouts and was only 10-3 before running through the DREAM Welterweight Grand Prix. Those things being said, I thought Diaz looked better against Smith than in capturing the Strikeforce 170-pound title. He took less damage over a longer period of time and dished out a fair share of his own, even setting a Compustrike record with 125-landed punches in the second round.

Other than Jake Shields I’m not sure Strikeforce has any welterweights who offer much of a threat to Diaz and it’s highly unlikely he’ll fight his “Scrap Pack” teammate. He definitely appears to be coming into his prime, and if the Stockton native can get his act together professionally outside of the cage it won’t be long before he’ll be considered among the top welterweights – maybe even pound-for-pound fighters – in MMA.

True/False – The UFC will release the loser of Serra vs. Trigg.

Tool: True for Trigg, False for Serra. Matt Serra has been with the company a long time and has built up plenty of goodwill with the top brass. He’s got one of those polarizing personalities that make fans love him or hate him (with no middle ground) but as long as the fans know who he is that’s what really matters. There’s still some allure to the fact that he’s the last man to beat GSP, and of course he’s a former welterweight champion. Even though a loss to Trigg would make three in a low he’s dropped, he’s likely to be in the UFC until he decides to retire.

Trigg, on the other hand, has already been shown the door by the UFC once before. While he was out of the company the outspoken Trigg wasn’t always complimentary to his former bosses. The quick loss to Koscheck proves that he can’t hang with top levels of competition in the welterweight division, and he doesn’t have the same amount of name value as Serra (or his arch-enemy Matt Hughes). The man known as “Twinkle Toes” was already hinting at retirement following the Koscheck fight, so if he announces that he’s hanging up the gloves after a loss to Serra I don’t think any us will be too surprised.

If that wasn’t enough, just before I sent these answers off to Brendhan the news broke that Trigg will be added to the EA Sports MMA roster. Dana White’s personal war against the game and the fighters who appear in it has already been well documented, so I’d say the odds have increased for Saturday night to be Trigg’s final appearance in the Octagon.

Conlan: Agreed. Trigg is the only one in jeopardy of receiving a pink slip without coming away with a victory this weekend. I hadn’t heard he would be part of the EA Sports roster, and though that’s not necessarily a kiss of death (see: Randy Couture), it doesn’t bode well for his future in the UFC. Even in defeat Serra retains the cashe of being both an Ultimate Fighter Season Champion and UFC Welterweight Champion while Trigg would drop to 2-5 inside the Octagon.

The one part of Tool’s assessment I differ with is the notion of Trigg’s retirement barring some sort of devastating knockout that has “Twinkle Toes” seeing twinkling stars. He’d had his hand raised in six of his last seven before jumping back to the UFC, including wins over notable opponents Niko Vitale, Jason “Mayhem” Miller, and Kazuo Misaki. He’s got the talent to be a solid addition to any promotion – even the UFC. As long as he is still driven by the feeling of competition and has an interest in collecting a good deal of cash he shouldn’t walk away from MMA regardless of how tings go on Saturday night.

Which would you rather see: Robbie Lawler face the winner of Shields vs. Henderson or Robbie Lawler jumping back to the UFC?

Conlan: Given the options I’d prefer to see Lawler return to the Octagon, as I don’t envision him either out-striking Henderson or fending off Shields’ submissions skills any better than he did in their prior bout. There are definitely a number of interesting match-ups laced with the potential to provide firework-laden finishes waiting for “Ruthless” Robbie in the UFC’s 185-pound division – fighters like Michael Bisping, Alan Belcher, and Wanderlei Silva for example. I also enjoy the dynamic created when Mixed Martial Artists who made a name for themselves in the UFC return to the promotion after a few years of competing elsewhere, and Lawler certainly qualifies as such given his seven previous appearances inside the company’s trademark eight-sided cage.

However, that’s not to say I want to see the hard-hitting Midwesterner to jump ship just yet. Shields and Henderson are only two of the numerous options for Lawler and have their own score to settle in the coming months. Rather than facing either, I’d be content seeing him face a few of the other notable middleweights under Strikeforce’s umbrella before either receiving a title shot or drawing a Zuffa paycheck. I’m particularly intrigued by the possibility of seeing Lawler’s stand-up paired with Cung Le’s, as well as attempts to avenge earlier career losses to Nick Diaz and Jason “Mayhem” Miller.

Tool: I’m pretty much in agreement with everything Brendhan said. I wouldn’t pick Lawler to win over Shields or Henderson, although I wouldn’t necessarily be opposed to seeing either match-up. There are a few more worthy opponents that can be pulled from Strikeforce and DREAM, but the best opponents still call the UFC their home.

Lawler still has some name recognition amongst the UFC faithful, so much so that he could be used in featured bouts right away. I don’t think he’ll be headlining PPVs anytime soon, but with the right opponent there’s no reason why he couldn’t get top billing on a Fight Night event. There’s the three fighters my colleague already named, and I for one wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Lawler square off with guys like Patrick Cote, Nate Quarry, or Chris Leben.

My argument can also be simplified down to this: if the UFC was willing to re-sign Phil Baroni, they have no reason not to re-sign Robbie Lawler.

It has been reported that Nate Marquardt will get a middleweight title shot with a win over Chael Sonnen, but should Chael get the same consideration if he pulls off the upset?

Conlan: Yes, because let’s be real – the 185-pound pickings are pretty slim if considering in-ring consistency over mainstream marketability. The fact Vitor Belfort is fighting Anderson Silva for his championship without a single win in the UFC at middleweight says volumes about the division being spread thin as Vaseline on a fighter’s forehead. The winner of the upcoming brawl between Michael Bisping and Wanderlei Silva at UFC 110 is undoubtedly a more attractive contender in terms of PPV dollars than Sonnen, but it doesn’t discount the fact the victor of their scrap will still only be a single fight removed from a losing performance. A win over Marquardt would be Sonnen’s third in a row against a respected middleweight and should make him the front runner for the likely honor of tasting Anderson Silva’s gloves and kneecaps.

Tool: I really hope not, because the idea of Chael Sonnen headlining against Anderson Silva the winner of Silva/Belfort doesn’t appeal to me in the least. Sonnen has been talking smack about the champion whenever he can, so clearly he’s already trying to sell people on the idea of himself as a contender. As Brendhan said the Belfort title shot is pretty fishy but at least the company can market him as a former champion.

If Sonnen beats Marquardt (which he won’t) then he’ll have gotten his third win in the UFC. Thales Leites and Patrick Cote each had to win five fights before they got a title shot, and Sonnen would be even more of a lame-duck challenger than those two. Desperate times call for desperate measures but surely we can do better than this, can’t we?

Out of the eleven fights scheduled for UFC 109, which one are you anticipating the most?

Conlan: In terms of the fight’s relevance to the title scene and the overall level of ability possessed by each man competing in it I’d have to say I’m most excited about seeing Mike Swick and Paulo Thiago determine who will win two out of three between the Brazilian commando and American Kickboxing Academy’s trio of top welterweights. Each is a high-level grappler with speed, precision, and knockout power so it’s hard to say how the fight will actually unfold but I’m quite certain it will be fast, furious, and damn entertaining!

I should also mention another part of me is greatly interested in seeing how Phillipe Nover fares against Rob Emerson. Nover appeared to be a blue chip prospect at lightweight after exhibiting both talent and charisma en route to being an Ultimate Fighter Season 8 finalist. However, since that TUF Championship loss to Efrain Escudero, the New York nurse has endured a number of hardships including a knockout one minute into his follow-up bout and a frightening moment this past September when experiencing a seizure backstage at Fight Night 19. Nover or Emerson may not be a stone’s throw from BJ Penn’s lightweight title but MMA, like all sports, is as much about the human element involved as it is the gold hoisted up by world champions.

Tool: I’d like to put an asterisk next to Brendhan’s assertion that Paulo Thiago has knockout power, as the record should state that Koscheck got the assist on that KO by way of head-butting Thiago’s fist.

For me the fight to watch will be the middleweight showdown between Demian Maia and Dan Miller. This fight may not have the same sort of real title implications, but I am a big fan of both fighters and as such I want to see how it plays out. Maia proved that striking isn’t his strong suit in the Marquardt fight, but he’s still head-and-shoulders above most everyone else in BJJ. Miller has some strong grappling of his own and he may look to test those skills against the world class abilities of Maia, meaning we could be in for a jiu-jitsu showcase in the middle of our mixed-martial arts event.

If I had to pick one fighter I want to see the most, that would probably be Rolles Gracie. The 3-0 heavyweight will be making his debut in the company his family helped to create, and I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that he’s extremely well-decorated in the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. However it’s clear that Rolles doesn’t plan to simply rely on what worked for Royce back in the day. Check out this quote from UFC Magazine:”I’m not going to walk into this holding on to the things that happened two decades ago. If I had that line of thinking, I’d get crushed…With the training I do, I can show it all. That includes the striking, the footwork, and the wrestling. People can have their doubts, but believe me, they’re in for a big surprise.”

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