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Grappling with Issues – 2/26

Should Brock Lesnar be more concerned about Cain Velasquez than Frank Mir or Shane Carwin? Is “The Dean of Mean” on the UFC’s chopping block after losing another fight? How excited should Wanderlei Silva’s fans be after his performance against Michael Bisping? Will Joe Stevenson ever earn another opportunity at UFC gold?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!

If you’re reading these lines you’ve made it through another work-week and are back in the friendly confines of “Grappling with Issues”, our site’s resident feature highlighting insight and opinion from around the Mixed Martial Arts landscape. My regular foil, Adam Tool, was too busy rebuilding Haiti, counseling Tiger Woods, and playing PS3 to contribute to this edition of GWI but rest assured his stylings will be back next week. Sorry, Elin, but that’s how we roll at Five Ounces.

Filling in for Tool is another familiar face, Dustin Zuch, whose items you may have seen ‘round these digital parts. As always, we will be offering our thoughts on six subjects related to MMA. 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…

With five losses in his last seven bouts, is Keith Jardine at risk of being released without an impressive win in his next fight?

Zuch:My first instinct says no. A win would certainly help, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be impressive. Despite the “The Dean of Mean’s” recent lacking track record, he still remains a solid challenger to any light heavyweight looking to make a step up in competition. Jardine may have a suspect chin but I think his wins over two former UFC champions in the recent years (Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin) stay in the minds of the UFC brass. That’s not to say he’ll get the Stephan Bonnar treatment though…

Conlan: Though I agree Jardine is a “solid challenger” for any 205-pounder I don’t think that necessarily means his contract is safe by any means. Yes, he beat Liddell and Griffin, but you’re talking about wins coming 2 ½ – 3 years ago and sandwiched between them was a devastating knockout loss to Houston Alexander. Do you know what else I suspect is also in the minds of UFC executives? The fact Jardine is 1-4 in his last five bouts, hasn’t finished an opponent other than Griffin since December 2005, and refuses to compete against Rashad Evans. Though Jardine may be a tough draw he also has quite a bit working against him in terms of drawing future checks from Zuffa without an immediate turnaround in the ring. A decision win in his next fight will likely buy him a stay of execution while an exciting finish certainly will. However, another loss – especially by knockout – and I think “The Dean” is definitely at risk of relegation to a Division II-level MMA promotion.

True/False – Joe Stevenson will never again fight for the UFC Lightweight Championship.

Zuch: True. I don’t foresee any more title shots for Joe Daddy. He will, however, remain as one of the most well rounded gatekeepers at lightweight. You can’t take away that vicious guillotine from him either.

Conlan: I’m hesitant to say “never”, especially since Stevenson is only 27, but in a division as deep as lightweight my confidence is equally lacking in terms of saying the Ultimate Fighter Season 2 champion will almost certainly fight for UFC gold again. He’s extremely talented, yet can’t seem to find consistent success against high level opponents. To that end I wonder if perhaps a sports psychologist would help him a la GSP, and with St. Pierre being one of his training partners at Greg Jackson’s camp in New Mexico it might behoove Stevenson to seek out his opinion on the matter. Stevenson has been dealing with more pressure than your average “Joe” for a long time. You’re talking about a guy who, amongst other things in his life, watched his father die of cancer while still a child, dealt with his mother being incarcerated, fought Jens Pulver professionally two weeks shy of his seventeenth birthday, and had both 35 fights and four children before the age of 25. If he’s a human being how can those things not have added some additional weight on his soul?

Which former Ultimate Fighter coach should be more concerned after losing last weekend – “Minotauro” Nogueira or Michael Bisping?

Zuch: As much as I hate to admit, Big Nog aka “Minotauro”, needs to start thinking about his future in the heavyweight division. His days of being able to absorb mass amounts of punishment and still chug on are wearing thin. He still is a top guy in the division, no doubt, but the Cains and Mirs will always give him trouble.

Conlan: I suppose I’ll say Nogueira due to age and the amount of punishment he’s absorbed over his career, but I also think Bisping is at a very interesting crossroads. “The Count” has been primarily known as a striker but looked apprehensive to engage Silva and ultimately came closer to la-la land than “The Axe Murderer” did at any point in the bout. He scored a number of takedowns and did absolutely nothing with him. Those things should concern him, even to the point of finding a new training camp, and if they don’t then I suspect his future in the UFC will consist of gate-keeping and acting as a draw in the UK.

Back to “Minotauro”, the PRIDE icon has been knocked out twice in the past three fights and hasn’t even come close to unleashing his BJJ mastery at any point in either bout. It’s also important to remember that not only was Tim Sylvia beating him up before pulling a “Tim-Meh”, but Heath Herring also left Nogueira on the cusp of consciousness in Rodrigo’s UFC debut. However, I am not going to jump the gun and say the affable Brazilian is finished or should be overly concerned about continuing to compete. He may have passed the proverbial torch to other younger fighters with less brain-rattling to their credit, but he’s absolutely good enough to be a part of the UFC’s heavyweight picture.

Facial differences not withstanding, is it safe to say the old Wanderlei Silva is back?

Zuch: Ok, let’s not get carried away here. The old Wanderlei is not back, but he is definitely rejuvenated and seems highly focused. I’m impressed with his decision to go back to his roots at Chute Boxe and improve upon them. His standup against Bisping was much more technical than normal and he wasn’t just looping wild punches. I don’t think we’ll ever see the Wanderlei from the PRIDE days again, but at least the new focused Wanderlei will have a good chance of succeeding in this middleweight division.

Conlan: It’s safe to say he was back for about thirty seconds of the Bisping fight but other than that, as Zuch referred to, Silva will never be the same fighter he was in PRIDE due to MMA’s unified rules and the UFC’s unwillingness to showcase him against tomato cans. However, though he may not be “The Axe Murderer”, he’s at least “The Hatchet Murderer” and a threat to separate any opponent from consciousness. I’m not quite ready to give him my endorsement in terms of finding a lot of future success at 185 pounds, because Bisping took him down at will and isn’t considered much of a grappler. Had “The Count” been Chael Sonnen or Nate Marquardt it might have been a much shorter night for Silva.

Does Cain Velasquez pose a bigger threat to Brock Lesnar than both Shane Carwin and Frank Mir?

Zuch: Cain proved against Big Nog that his standup game is scary good. Big Nog is arguably the most difficult guy to finish across any division and Cain made it look easy. Lesnar’s sheer size, strength, and power are also scary good. I’d really like to see how Lesnar would do against a guy most comparable to his size and strength, such as Shane Carwin. Ask me this question again after we see Mir vs Carwin on March 27 and I’ll have a better answer as to who is the biggest threat to Lesnar’s strap. Either way, I hope somewhere down the line we get to see Cain vs. Carwin. Jeez, I tackled most of that spectrum.

Conlan: Going into UFC 110 you wouldn’t have been able to bribe me into believing Velasquez was a superior threat to someone with Mir’s jiujitsu or Carwin’s size/strength but currently I’m taking offers. Velasquez has the grappling background to fend Lesnar off and exhibited precise, powerful striking against Nogueira. Randy Couture was able to put a few dents in Brock’s armor with a similar approach minus Cain’s intangibles (youth, knockout ability, progressive development in the gym, etc.). Why shouldn’t Velasquez be able to capitalize on the same flaws?

Out of the following “small” fights scheduled for this weekend, which are you most interested in – Yves Edwards vs. Derrick Noble (MFC), Glover Teixeira vs. Jeff Monson (Bitetti Combat), Trevor Prangley vs. Karl Amoussou (Strikeforce Challengers), Paul Bradley vs. Luke Rockhold (Strikeforce Challengers), or Sarah Kaufman vs. Takayo Hashi (Strikeforce Challengers)?

Zuch: Without even hesitating I can say that I am most intrigued by Rockhold vs. Bradley. Rockhold is a great grappler with solid standup skills and Bradley is known for his dominating wrestling skills. It seems as if Rockhold will be comfortable wherever the fight goes, but I think Bradley will definitely be looking for the takedown and sticking to what he does best.

Conlan: Call me a sucker for any pairing featuring veterans who are still competitive fighters if you must but I’m looking forward to the Canadian clash between Edwards and Noble moreso than the other bouts on the list. Though neither will be challenging for a slot in the “Top 5” at any point in the future, both will be looking for a third straight victory at the event and have emerged a winner in their careers more than twice as often as the opposite. They are also well-rounded competitors in the sense they’re each as likely to submit an opponent as knock him out. Though Strikeforce offers a number of intriguing match-ups, and Bitetti is interesting for a variety of reasons (some positive, some not so much), I suppose the long-time MMA fan in me has a certain level of investment in Edwards and Noble exceeding that of the other fighters listed. Add in the fact the winner is likely to have an opportunity to silence Antonio McKee on a future MMA card and it’s a wrap.

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