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Grappling With Issues – 3/5/10

What’s the most exciting match-up in the month of March? Was Frank Mir out of line with his comments about Brock Lesnar? Will Dominick Cruz or Joseph Benavidez pull off the upset at WEC 47? Can Jens Pulver continue fighting if he loses to Javier Vasquez? Which Strikeforce Challengers prospect has the most potential? Does anybody still care about Paulo Filho?

The time has come once again for fresh debate on the hottest topics in mixed-martial arts. After a brief hiatus last week I have returned to face off with Brendhan Conlan, and this week we’re looking ahead to WEC 47 while also looking back at the big stories of the past few weeks. Unfortunately we got all our questions lined up before the news broke (right here at 5 Oz.) about James Toney signing with the UFC, but rest assured we’ll be chatting about that next week. As always you’re welcome to share your thoughts on this week’s topics in the comment box below.

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

Between these two “Strikeforce Challengers” prospects, who has the most potential – Tyron Woodley or Luke Rockhold?

Adam Tool: It’s always tough to judge fighters on potential. There’s no guarantee that either of these men will ever amount to anything in the MMA world, and at the same time they both may very well be world champions someday down the line. For pure athleticism it’s hard not to tip the scales in favor of Woodley. Many of the best fighters in the sport have come from that amateur wrestling background, so having that automatically puts Woodley in a position to succeed. While I won’t take anything away from Rockhold’s impressive win over Paul Bradley or his potential for future success, I am genuinely excited to see where Woodley goes from here.

I can only hope that both of these guys never fight on a Challengers event again. If Strikeforce is going to make any effort towards building new stars, they need to start putting young fighters like Woodley and Rockhold in the cage against more established fighters on their main cards. I can say that I’m honestly excited about the company’s upcoming event with 3 (or maybe 4) title fights, but sooner or later they need to start building their cards better so that the future contenders get some time to shine.

Brendhan Conlan: I’d say it’s currently a photo finish between the two where potential is concerned but give Rockhold a slight edge in the department based on the success he’s found against opponents with a smidge of name value. Beating Paul Bradley, Jesse Taylor, and Corey Devela in his last three fights may not be the stuff of legends but definitely indicates the American Kickboxing Academy product is ready for a significant step up in competition. He’s also exhibited an ability to set up strike-based finishes with his grappling – something Woodley has yet to do. With the depth of Strikeforce’s middleweight pool, like Tool, I think it’s time for Scott Coker to let Rockhold take the full plunge instead of just dipping his toes in the Challengers end.

Woodley, on the other hand, is still a bit less polished than his 6’3 counterpart and would probably benefit from at least one more fight/win against a semi-reputable welterweight before taking the larger stage. His athleticism and success on the mat in college can’t be denied, and he seems to have the raw talent to go a long way in the sport as long as he continues to hone his craft.

After yet another round of controversy, have fans seen the last of Paulo Filho as a relevant Mixed Martial Artist?

Tool: I think it’s fair to say that we saw that a while ago. It’s crazy to think that just a few years ago Filho was widely considered to be the #2 middleweight in the world behind his good friend Anderson Silva. It’s not hard to find the moment when he went off the rails, as the never-ending shenanigans surrounding his rematch with Chael Sonnen took a lot of luster off of Filho’s standing. The fight was made, postponed, and re-made several times, and then when it finally happened Filho missed weight and had nothing to offer in the cage. I’ve barely been able to sustain any interest in Filho’s post-WEC career, and a big part of that is because Filho himself doesn’t seem to be all that interested in his career either. I won’t speculate on his personal problems but I hope he’s able to get things sorted out, if for no other reason than to re-light the competitive spirit within.

Conlan: Yes, his best days are clearly behind him, and in retrospect I’m not sure he was all that great to begin with. I think his previous reputation wasn’t fully earned so much as heaped on him due to the relative infancy of MMA at the time and a degree of ignorance on the part of fans/media because of it (myself included). Blasphemy you say?

Filho, a powerful grappler with elite BJJ, has as many decision wins in his career as submissions. He couldn’t finish Gregory Bouchelaghem while in his PRIDE-prime and more recently went the distance with Alex Schoenauer. He’s been called out by peers for the use of performance enhancing drugs and shown the potential for substance abuse based on his stint in rehab and strange behavior in/out of the ring. His flip-flop-flip maneuvering at last week’s Bitetti Combat event was simply another indicator the fighter, who turns 32 in a May, is at a point in his career where he has to turn his life around or will likely fall into obscurity. Ultimately it’s a sad situation, as Filho clearly has the tools to beat any opponent on any night but has personal issues he needs to grapple with before locking up in the ring.

Who is more likely to score the upset win at this weekend’s WEC event, Dominick Cruz or Joseph Benavidez?

Tool: If I have to pick one of the two, my money is on Benavidez. I like Dominick Cruz a lot but I think he’s too slow of a starter to deal with an aggressive fighter like Brian Bowles. Bowles has been in there with some of the toughest guys in the bantamweight division and he’s come out on top every time, so I’ll be taking him to successfully defend his title on Saturday.

While I do think Miguel Torres should come out victorious this weekend as well, I like Benavidez’s chances of pulling off the upset. It’s been a little while since Torres was in a three-round fight, and all Benavidez has to do is win two of those rounds. Benavidez is a tough fighter with an iron chin, so he should be able to take what Torres dishes out. On top of that he’s got the wrestling skills necessary to dictate where this fight takes place. Like I said I’m putting my (hypothetical) money down on Torres, but I won’t be terribly surprised if Benavidez pulls off the upset.

Conlan: I understand where Tool is coming from but I think he’s underestimating the power of an angry mullet. Torres wasn’t just beaten by Bowles – he was rendered unconscious four minutes into the fight. You’re talking about a man with an incredible sense of pride who hadn’t been beaten in six years let alone finished in his career. If you don’t think Torres is killing himself in the gym and entering the cage with a ready-to-die mindset you’re kidding yourself. Benavidez scored a relatively easy win in his previous fight, and though I am 100% positive he is not underestimating the task in front of him, I think Torres is going to play both unstoppable force and immovable object at WEC 47 thanks, in part, to factors outside of the ring. If Urijah Faber’s protégé takes him down he’ll unleash elbows, work submission attempts, scramble, and tear a hole in the mat if that’s what it takes to get to his feet and work his stand-up. If he absorbs Torres’ punches then Miguel will use the other six points of attack to do as much damage as possible.

Obviously that means I think Dominick Cruz has a better chance of becoming the newest WEC champion than Benavidez does of beating Torres and stepping up to become the next contender to said belt. However, I don’t think Bowles is likely to fall – just more likely. Cruz will have to constantly be wary of being either taken down and avoiding Bowles’ Hendo-like right hand. Still, I like his heart and stand-up enough to say he could very well pull off the upset. He was able to out-point Benavidez in the bout earning him a title shot, so he’s proven he can hang with solid wrestlers, and he’s accustomed to knocking opponents out so striking is something he’s clearly comfortable with. If Cruz favors precision over power by avoiding heated exchanges, paces himself, and either stuffs or lands a couple takedowns he might just find himself with a new item to run through the Columbus airport’s metal detector on his way out of town.

True/False – Jens Pulver must retire from the sport if he loses to Javier Vasquez.

Conlan: False. Though it’s clear Pulver is a little less “evil” in the ring than he used to be, he remains one of MMA’s earliest stars and deserves to hang up his gloves when he wants to, not when the media calls for it. Yes, he’s lost six of his last seven fights but consider the level of competition he’s faced in each defeat. BJ Penn and Urijah Faber account for three of them. Josh Grispi is 13-1 while Leonard Garcia and Joe Lauzon combine for a professional record of 31-10. It’s not as if Pulver is getting dropped, submitted, or out-hustled by low-level opponents. Vasquez may not have a lot of name value, but he does have wins over Rumina Sato and Rob Emerson, so he isn’t some geek off the street simply because most fans haven’t heard of him. *IF* Pulver loses this weekend I think it’s a sign he needs to part ways with WEC but I would have no problem seeing the former UFC Lightweight Champion showcase his remaining skills in a smaller organization until deciding he no longer wants to fight.

Tool: True. I give Pulver tons of respect for the things he’s accomplished but at this point it’s getting harder and harder to take him seriously as a competitor. Brendhan makes a good point about the level of competition he’s had to face, and I’m sure he will be able to find a place to fight for as long as he wants to do so. However if he comes up short tomorrow night I believe he should step aside and let some of the younger guys have his spot.

As a side note I’d just like to say that if Pulver retires he absolutely needs to replace Frank Mir as the full-time color commentator for WEC events. Mir isn’t necessarily bad on the mic but Pulver really impressed me when he filled in last year, and he has the perspective of fighting at the smaller weight classes that the WEC specializes in.

The month of March is stacked with fight cards from the UFC, WEC, Strikeforce, DREAM, and Sengoku. Give your pick for the most anticipated match-up of the month.

Conlan: When the UFC in itself has three events in March, as well as the debut of the newest Ultimate Fighter season, I’d say “stacked” may very well be an under-exaggeration in terms of describing the month’s MMA-related activities. There are a plethora of competitive, interesting match-ups to choose from even if half of DREAM’s card won’t be announced until five minutes before the show, though I think the one I’m most anticipating is Takanori Gomi’s introduction to the Octagon courtesy of tour guide Ken Florian. I’ve wanted to see Gomi inside the famous eight-sided cage for some time now and I’m hopeful his signing helps facilitate a home for future UFC events in Japan. Drawing Florian as his initial opponent is certainly trial by fire for the “Fireball Kid”, but I can see the positive involved in the Fight Night pairing since a win will give him instant credibility amongst Zuffa Zombies and a loss won’t be too damaging since “Ken Flo” is considered one of the top 155-pounders in the sport.

Tool: I would probably have to say Florian/Gomi as well, but since Brendhan already talked about that one I’ll throw out another fight that’s got me excited: Junior Dos Santos vs. Gabriel Gonzaga. The UFC’s heavyweight division has quickly become the most exciting weight class in the company and this fight (along with Frank Mir/Shane Carwin, obviously) will certainly have an impact on the next wave of contenders. Dos Santos has already established himself as a dangerous fighter with TKO wins over Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve, Mirko Cro Cop, and Gilbert Yvel, and I firmly believe that he will challenge for the title within the next 12 months. Of course, that depends on him getting past the always-dangerous Gonzaga. While his time as a contender may have come and gone, he’s still got enough skill in all areas of the game to hand “Cigano” his first UFC loss. While both fighters are well versed in BJJ they each seem to prefer the striking aspect of the sport. As such I’m really not sure what to expect from this one, although I can pretty much guarantee it will be a lot of fun to watch.

What’s your take on the Frank Mir comment controversy? Was he out of line or was it blown out of proportion?

Conlan: A little of both I suppose. I think Mixed Martial Artists occasionally forget the impact their words can have, as the media attention on the sport increases daily, and the line between sports and entertainment is blurred with the roar every lavish entrance and salacious soundbyte produces.

It would be foolish to believe Frank Mir ever had any desire to literally kill Lesnar inside the Octagon. He himself is a husband and father; a successful businessman. Why would he sacrifice those things in hopes of becoming a murderer? He dislikes the UFC Heavyweight Champion on a personal level, is supremely confident in his abilities, and knows how selling a bout to the public can result in an increased payday. It’s as simple as that. Anyone who took or takes him to task beyond the relative ignorance of his trashtalk’s phrasing is either desperate for attention or what Kevin Federline would call a “hater”.

However, as stated, the way Mir approached the discussion on his rivalry with Lesnar was less than intelligent. MMA has been attempting to escape the stigma of an athletic endeavor populated by violent thugs and bloodthirsty bar-room brawlers since its inception. The last thing Mixed Martial Arts needs is Sarah Palin writing the words “human cockfighting” on her hand before making another public appearance.

Tool: Like Brendhan, I’m fairly certain that Mir has no intentions of actually murdering Lesnar. However I think a lot of the uproar the came about as a result of his comments has to do with the way he said it. BJ Penn said he wanted to fight Georges St. Pierre “to the death,” and Kenny Florian said he wanted to “kill that master.” Mir got much more specific when he claimed he wanted to break Lesnar’s neck, and he certainly didn’t do his employer any favors when he stated that he wanted Lesnar to be the first man to die in the octagon. The content of Mir’s remarks made this a much bigger deal than it really needed to be, and hopefully he’ll know better the next time he decides to speak on this subject.

Speaking of which, why the hell was Mir talking about Lesnar anyways? I’m not trying to go off on a rant here, but I’m dumbfounded that he would still be so focused on his “white whale” when he’s got an extremely tough opponent in Shane Carwin to prepare for. I think I’d be able to understand Mir’s comments a bit more if he were promoting the third bout between himself and Lesnar, but with that rubber match nowhere near a certainty Mir just comes off as obsessive and somewhat delusional.

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