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Grappling with Issues – 2/19/10

How long until Gegard Mousasi signs with the UFC? Is there any chance Michael Bisping and Wanderlei Silva go three full rounds? How probable is Mirko Filipovic’s retirement if he loses on Saturday night? Which UFC 110 heavyweight headliner will Brock Lesnar be pulling for?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!

Another Friday on the cusp of a major UFC event, another edition of “Grappling with Issues” ripe with insight and opinion on a number of its participants. As is usually the case in GWI, Adam Tool and I will be discussing six savory subjects plucked from the MMA landscape. 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…

Other than “availability”, why was Demian Maia a good selection to replace the injured Vitor Belfort as top contender to Anderson Silva’s championship?

Adam Tool: Maia is a good fit because he provides an intriguing match-up. The striker vs. grappler paradigm has been brought up time and time again, but in this situation we’ve got the MMA’s greatest striker vs. (arguably) MMA’s greatest BJJ practitioner. People want to bring up the name of Thales Leites whenever Maia’s jiu-jitsu skills are discussed in the context of a bout with Silva, but it’s important to note the vast differences between Leites’ submission game and Maia’s. Maia has excelled at bringing the art of no-gi grappling into the Octagon, and he’s not the type of fighter to simply wait for an opening. He’ll shoot for takedowns, pull guard if he has to, and he always seems to be thinking several steps ahead of his opponent. The one weakness that Silva has shown in the past is his submission defense, and if anybody is going to take advantage of that it’s got to be Maia.

Conlan: I agree with Tool’s assessment of slick Brazilian’s jiujitsu prowess playing significant roles in both the UFC’s decision to select him as the replacement for Belfort and stirring up fans’ interest in the bout. However, I’ll even take it a few steps further.

Consider UFC 112’s location – Abu Dhabi, birthplace and frequent home of the ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championships. There is clearly an appreciation of high level grappling associated with the area, not to mention creator and recent Zuffa stakeholder Sheik Tahnoon is a blackbelt in BJJ under Renzo Gracie. Why would the UFC opt for anything other than a jiujitsu specialist like Maia?

Additionally, the match-up creates an ideal situation in terms of promoting Chael Sonnen’s eventual bid for the gold. If “The Spider” is able to maneuver through the web of Maia’s jiujitsu then little changes in terms of hyping the fight, but if Demian is able to somehow tap Silva out the UFC can then sell the fact Sonnen will be attempting to avenge the first round loss he endured to Maia at UFC 95 in February of last year.

True/False – Gegard Mousasi will be under UFC contract by the end of 2010.

Tool: False. I do believe Mousasi will make his way to the Octagon someday, but from what I have read it’s not likely to happen within the next 12 months. First off there’s some confusion online about the terms of his contract with Strikeforce, with some outlets claiming he has one fight left while Scott Coker is saying that they have Mousasi locked up for another year and a half. Mousasi also has plans this year in Japan, as he’s already expressed an interest in being a part of DREAM’s upcoming light-heavyweight tournament. On top of these MMA commitments Mousasi has also stated that intends to try his hand at boxing soon, and there’s also the possibility that he will look to compete in kickboxing again. These extracurricular activities are just the kind of thing that Zuffa frowns upon, as they won’t have Mousasi in their ranks unless they know they get to keep him there. Once he’s ready to commit full-time to MMA and face the challenges against the best fighters in the world, we will absolutely see Mousasi in the Octagon. Just don’t expect it to be anytime real soon.

Conlan: Agreed that 2010 is extremely unlikely, though I try to avoid the word “never” when it comes to Mixed Martial Arts. Regardless of how many fights Mousasi owes Strikeforce, competing in DREAM’s Light Heavyweight Grand Prix, as he’s stated he intends to do, is a commitment of three events which works out to at least another nine months. In truth it wouldn’t surprise me if the tournament’s final takes place on NYE meaning there’s no chance he’ll step into the Octagon before year’s end. However, I think any date after the event’s conclusion is fair game for the UFC to ink Mousasi unless either Strikeforce produces something substantial in regards to their alleged “year and a half” deal or the Dutch-Armenian encounters a massive losing streak over the next ten months. His interest in boxing and kickboxing don’t concern me, as I think he might be willing to leave both behind if earning the six-figure per fight salary he will likely merit from the UFC. Even at 24 he seems wise enough to understand it’s important to capitalize on his talents now in order to pursue other personal interests later in life.

Using a percentage, how likely is it that Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic will retire if he loses at UFC 110?*

Tool: 99%. I was pretty sure that Cro Cop would be calling it quits after the loss to Dos Santos, but obviously he’s proven us wrong by taking this fight. Therefore I can’t go the full 100%, but at the same time I don’t know how many more chances the guy is going to get. Rothwell is an interesting opponent, as he’s good enough to give Cro Cop trouble but not good enough to simply smash the Croatian superstar in no time flat. If Mirko loses this fight I cannot foresee a future where Dana White wants to keep him around. The only possible reason he would do so would be if the UFC is serious about putting on a show in Japan sooner than later, but those plans are still nowhere near being finalized.

Conlan: I’d like to bid 99% and one dollar (and apparently I need to come up with more polarizing topics based on the love-fest so far). The sliver of remaining percentage is reserved for the possibility Filipovic would have one farewell performance in Japan after getting pink-slipped by the UFC. Mirko is a proud individual and rightfully so based on his accomplishments both in the ring and in life. He doesn’t need to fight from a financial perspective and has other career options once he hangs his checkered shorts up. If he’s unable to defeat MMA’s upper-tier heavyweights, as has been the case for three years, what does “Cro Cop” stand to gain from continuing to compete other than further tarnishing his legacy?

* – This topic was addressed prior to Thursday’s news regarding Rothwell’s withdrawl from the card due to an undisclosed illness but safe to say the points made still stand.

Will the Wanderlei Silva/Michael Bisping bout end in a stoppage or a decision?

Conlan: I always approach topics like this with a bit of trepidation, as I’ve been burned numerous times before when the outcome to a particular match-up seemed pre-determined based on the styles of those involved. Fortunately, last month’s epic clash between Melvin Manhoef and Robbie Lawler helped restore some of my lost faith, so I’m feeling a bit more confident this go-round when saying I am almost certain either Silva or Bisping will be forcibly napping by night’s end. Neither man is known for his ground game while both are aggressive, prefer to strike, have less-than durable chins, and will be looking to impress in hopes of helping onlookers forget about recent losses.

As far as choosing the winner, I’ll leave that task to my peers both in MMA fandom and the written word here at 5 Oz., but I will say I’m very interested to see how “The Axe Murderer” fares. This will be his first fight at 185 pounds, so not only could weight be an issue in his performance, but a loss would be the sixth in his last seven fights (and the fourth by way of knockout if my initial “stoppage” prediction serves true).

Tool: I’m fairly confident in picking Wanderlei to win here, and I see no reason why he can’t put Bisping away at some point before the fifteen minute mark. We know that Silva can be one of the most aggressive strikers in the sport when he turns it on, and that will likely work in his favor if Bisping is slow to start (as he was in his last few bouts). I imagine that Bisping will likely look to work a strategy similar to the one he used against Chris Leben, and I would also expect him to be the one to take this fight to the ground if it goes there. Unless he can nullify Silva’s relentless pace, it will be a short night for “The Count.”

Given the fact that he will likely have to face the winner of the Cain Velasquez/Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira fight sooner or later, who do you think Brock Lesnar will be rooting for on Saturday?

Conlan: Can I say “neither”? I honestly don’t think Lesnar cares who he faces. I believe he is confident in his ability to the point he’d probably face the UFC 110 headliners at the same time if the paycheck was right, and only when the actual moment of defeat had arrived would the thought of losing enter his mind. However, it seems pretty logical he should be hoping for Velasquez’s continued ascension in the heavyweight ranks as a means of avoiding Nogueira’s arsenal of submissions, solid boxing, and proven durability. Cain’s wrestling base should surely be a far more appealing stylistic match-up for those in Lesnar’s camp than the well-rounded set of skills the iconic Brazilian brings with him into the ring.

Tool: I can’t argue with Brendhan, as I’m pretty sure Lesnar will be on Team Cain come this Saturday. Velasquez represents a much more even match-up for the champion, given the similarities in their size, skill, and experience. Nogueira is probably the worst match-up in the UFC for Lesnar, as the submission game is liable to remain the biggest hole in Brock’s skillset for awhile.

I will say this though: between this fight, Carwin vs. Mir, and the summer return of Lesnar, the UFC’s heavyweight division is the most intriguing weight class in the world right now. I am genuinely excited about all of the potential match-ups to be made in 2010, and I believe that the renewed energy of the heavyweight division will carry the UFC to more record numbers in the coming year.

Do you agree with the oddsmakers’ decision to make Ryan Bader the favorite over Keith Jardine?

Conlan: No, though he isn’t heavily favored and Jardine is coming off consecutive losses, so I can’t say the line is terrible either. It should be a close fight between two comparable competitors at different stages in their respective careers. Bader has the wrestling advantage on Jardine, but “The Dean of Mean” trains with some excellent grapplers at Greg Jackson’s training center so he should be prepared for the All-American’s takedowns. He’s also got those wicked leg-kicks to keep “Darth” at bay. On their feet I like Bader’s power, especially when considering the “Off” button apparently hidden underneath Jardine’s goatee, but I think Keith’s speed and awkward stance are going to prevent the ASU product from finding any rhythm or landing a knockout shot. It’s also worth considering that this is Bader’s biggest fight to date while Jardine is coming off a string of bouts against a number of 205-pound stars. The experience factor can mean a lot in terms of the mental aspect each man brings with him into the ring. For that reason, and because I like Jardine’s ability to avoid punishment while dishing a decent amount out of his own, I think he deserves to be a slight favorite over Bader.

Tool: I can’t fault the guys in Vegas for putting Bader in as the favorite, as he’s still undefeated while Jardine has dropped four of his last six. I like Bader to come out ahead in this one, mostly because I can’t really figure out how Jardine would win. We know he loves the leg kicks, but is he really going to be able to throw that many of them before Bader shoots in and takes this fight down? Like Brendhan said Jardine has plenty of guys to train with in order to avoid the takedowns, but in all fairness those are the same guys that Nate Marquardt had to train with. I wouldn’t want to draw too many comparisons between Bader and Chael Sonnen, but anyone that follows the sport knows that these are the guys that are on another level in terms of wrestling ability.

It’s fair to say that Bader will be the one dictating where this fight takes place, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him keep it standing. We all know about the durability of Jardine’s chin and while Bader may not have the most technical striking, he does throw all of his power behind almost every punch. Bader could ride out a decision without too much trouble, but I’m fairly certain that we’ll see “The Dean of Mean” on the wrong end of another spectacular knockout.

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