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Grappling With Issues – 3/26/10

Who’s next for Jon Jones now that he’s handled “The Truth”? Will Jon Fitch get a rematch against Georges St. Pierre if both emerge victorious at UFC 111? Can Junior Dos Santos beat Brock Lesnar? Would Brandon Vera be better off exiting the UFC and taking his talents elsewhere?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!

You’ve arrived (hopefully once again) at “Grappling with Issues”, a weekly buffet of insight-and-opinion featuring myself and fellow 5 Ouncer Adam Tool. The Mixed Martial Arts world is buzzing with activity of both the recent past and immediate future so let’s get to it, shall we? As always, Tool and I 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…

Has the time come for Brandon Vera to test his skills outside of the UFC?

Adam Tool: I don’t think so, at least not yet. By now it’s pretty clear that Vera will never crack through to the elite levels of the sport. It’s unfortunate that his career was so badly derailed, and I have to wonder what would have happened had he not sat out for a year while trying to get more money.

That being said, Vera is still better than a good chunk of light heavyweights fighting worldwide. There are some good fights left for Vera in the UFC and his name value hasn’t diminished to the point of a Tim Sylvia, so I see no reason why they can’t keep him around. Sure he’ll be stuck on the prelims fighting guys like Eric Schafer and Stephan Bonnar, but at least he’s still getting paid. I don’t think he’ll get better money fighting in smaller organizations, and he’s likely to get killed by Gegard Mousasi if he tries to make a jump to Strikeforce or DREAM. As long as they’ll have him, he’s best served staying with the UFC.

Conlan: Similar to Tool, I see Vera as an above average 205-pounder who hasn’t lived up to the potential many saw when he first came on the scene as a heavyweight. And yes, the UFC is without question the most financially stable MMA outlet on the face of the planet. However, where my road of opinion forks from Adam’s is in his belief that “The Truth” is better served by a role on the undercard or as a promotional gate-keeper, and I actually think a change of scenery could do the lanky Californian a lot of good in terms of re-establishing him as a legitimate threat.

The importance of a fighter’s mental state related to success/performance in the ring is well-documented. There have been multiple situations in Vera’s career with the potential for negatively impacting his psyche – increased pressure created by the contract dispute, breaking his hand against Tim Sylvia, suffering what he felt was an early stoppage against Fabricio Werdum, and dropping down to LHW to name a few. Brandon has shown flashes of the same brilliance he showed in his first five Octagon appearances but has yet to recapture it with any consistency. He had to rely on leg kicks to beat Michael Patt for Gracie’s sake! To hit an in-ring wall like that, in my opinion, is 100% mental and not a matter of how skilled he is/isn’t.

Leaving the greener pastures of the UFC for the still-emerald fields of Strikeforce might help take some of the weight off Vera’s shoulders and let him get back to simply fighting. Sometimes you need to turn off the brightest lights to find what you’ve lost. The promotion has a number of fresh, exciting match-ups for him, so it’s not as if his motivation in the gym would suffer any, and the move could even allow him an opportunity to compete alongside his wife, training partner, and undefeated 135-pound Strikeforce contender Kerry. A few wins could easily return Vera to prominence and, at worst, a loss to Mousasi or Lawal would looks a lot better than the possibility of dropping one to the afore-mentioned Bonnar or Schafer.

Oh, and as far as money goes, Scott Smith made $55,000 for his December 2009 win over Cung Le and “Jacare” Souza got $65,000 on the same card so it’s not like Vera would have to pick up a job bagging groceries to make ends meet.

Who would you like to see Ikuhisa Minowa defend his “Super Hulk” Championship against next?

Tool: How exactly does one determine the top contenders for the Super Hulk belt? I mean, it’s not like there’s any sort of rankings (or simple logic) behind the thing. Do they match up “Minowaman” with the biggest freakshow fighter they can find? Is Zulu still fighting?

If we’re going to try and find a compelling match-up for Minowa then I think the best option is to rematch him with a previous opponent so he can try and avenge one of his many losses. With the dwindling interest in MMA from the Japanese crowds, it makes the most sense to me for DREAM to put Minowa together with Kazushi Sakuraba. These are two of the biggest (if not thebiggest) names in Japanese MMA and with Sakuraba‘s limited shelf life it makes sense to do it now. In their first meeting these two traded submission attempts back and forth before Sakuraba got the win with just seconds left in the first round. A rematch between them would be one of the biggest fights DREAM could make at this point, and big fights are exactly what they need if they’re going to try and bring some interest back to their product. And hey, now they have the added bonus of making it a title fight.

Conlan: I support Tool’s nomination, as few fighters personify the word “superhero” more than Saku. I also appreciate his lack of venom because I’m pretty sure he hates the entire “Super Hulk” concept (which is a viewpoint I understand). However, I’m a sucker for a little Japanese silliness every now and then, and I encourage everyone to embrace the reality Mixed Martial Arts is as much an entertainment platform as an athletic one.

What my partner in crime fails to recognize is that the championship is all about little vs. big. While Sakuraba is certainly larger than life in a figurative sense his physical proportions aren’t in line with a crack at Minowa’s non-existent belt. As such, I’d like to see Tim Sylvia make his way to Japan and do his best to avoid a last-second submission at the hands of the PRIDE veteran. Tim-meh is large enough to provide a proper foe for Minowa, has little to lose at this point in his career, and loves championships! Winning the Super Hulk title would be ideal for Sylvia because he could constantly wear it without drawing attention to himself (because it’s invisible), and it might even get him a little more much-needed love from hardcore MMA fans in the process.

BUY/SELL – Junior Dos Santos can beat Brock Lesnar.

Conlan: How can my response be anything other than to “buy” the statement? Every respectable heavyweight in the sport “can” beat Brock and Dos Santos is certainly among them. The champ’s chin is relatively untested, and while his wrestling foundation is concrete-strong, his striking and jiujitsu departments are still under construction. He’s only fought five times in his career and was on the brink of retirement earlier this year due to a serious illness. To suggest the young Brazilian, can’t add another notch on his bedpost were the two to face off would be asinine. He has an arguably more impressive roster of fallen foes attached to his name than Lesnar and has looked exceptional in all five of his appearances in the Octagon. He has yet to see a decision in his twelve-fight career with four of his last five scraps ending in first-round TKO. “Cigano” hasn’t faced an opponent with Lesnar’s takedown ability, but has the stand up and knockout power to keep him at bay in addition to what I suspect is a pretty decent submission game off his back given his affiliation with “Minotauro” Nogueira. Would Dos Santos beat Lesnar if they faced off against each other? It’s hard to say. Can he? Absolutely.

Tool: I’ve got to go “buy” as well. We’ve yet to see the current heavyweight champion in the cage with a high-level striker, so there’s still questions left to be answered in that regard. I don’t know if Brock is physically able to be knocked out by anything other than a botched shooting star press, so I’m looking forward to seeing how he deals with the aggressive assault from someone like Dos Santos. It stands to reason that if these two were to face off Brock would likely shoot in right away to work from a more comfortable position, and we’ve yet to see exactly what Dos Santos’ ground game looks like as well. The way I see it, a potential Lesnar vs. Dos Santos match-up would force each fighter to work out of his comfort zone. Until I see Junior planted on his back for more than a few seconds, or I see Brock slugging it out with a real powerhouse, there’s no way to know for sure how the fight would turn out. All things considered though, I have to believe that Dos Santos very well could notch a victory over Lesnar.

Make your pick of Jon Jones’ next opponent from the following available fighters: Thiago Silva, Ryan Bader, or Luiz Cane.

Conlan: I’ve heard Bader’s name thrown around in relation to a future opponent for Jones but I think it would be a mistake to match the two young guns up at this point in their careers. The Ultimate Fighter Season 8 champion is immensely talented and appears to have a bright future but has yet to face the same level of competition as “Bones” or shown himself to be as dominant inside the Octagon. Jones is on the cusp of contendership while Bader still needs an impressive win or two before achieving such status. He would have everything to gain and nothing to lose were the two blue-chippers slotted against each other. Meanwhile, Jones would be risking his current aura of awesomeness against a guy whose biggest victory to date was a third round knockout against an opponent known for having a glass jaw. A win would slightly nudge him closer to a title shot while a loss would bump him down at least a few rungs on the light heavyweight ladder. I think these two are destined to eventually face off but not in “next opponent” terms.

Of the three names listed, I think Thiago Silva is the best candidate if for no other reason name recognition. Similar to Bader, Silva’s most notable dubya came against Keith Jardine, but at least said knockout was produced ninety-five seconds into the bout. He’s been to decision twice in his career while “Darth” has seen the judges’ scorecards in two of his last three fights. Silva is two bouts removed from being the division’s #1 Contender and recently took Rashad Evans, a former champion, the distance while almost sealing the deal in the third round before eventually losing via decision. He’s got excellent jiujitsu, documented knockout power, and a marketable look. Beating the well-rounded Brazilian would further establish Jones as being ready for one of the top 205-pounders (Griffin, Machida, Rua, Jackson, and Evans) while beating Bader in a few months would be a nice feather in his cap but a step backwards in his career.

Tool: I can’t argue with Brendhan’s logic, as I was leaning towards Thiago Silva myself. Silva is arguably the biggest “name” of the three fighters mentioned, so in terms of launching Jones towards the next level I see no reason not to make that fight right away.

I wouldn’t mind the Jones/Cane match-up either, but I feel like Cane is due for an easier opponent so he can try and get some momentum back. Jones vs. Bader is a fight that will have to happen sooner or later, as these two are the most likely candidates to represent the future of the light heavyweight division. For now though, I’d love to see “Bones” test his skills against an elite striker and no, Brandon Vera obviously doesn’t count.

How will the Interim Heavyweight Championship fight at UFC 111 end?

Conlan: It will end with the winner saying the title is meaningless and only by beating Brock Lesnar will he be the true champion. Oh wait, you meant the method of victory used to achieve the opportunity to diss the interim strap? In that case I’ll go with “knockout”.

Carwin should be looking to keep things standing based on his history of rendering opponents unconscious and knowledge of Mir’s jiujitsu, while the former UFC Heavyweight Champion has shown improved striking as of late and shouldn’t be afraid to oblige him for a few reasons. Though Mir has a significant advantage on the mat, I’d be surprised if throughout training he hasn’t thought back to his recent mauling at the hands of Lesnar. Similar to Brock, Carwin is massive human being with Herculean strength, a legitimate wrestling base, and above-average athleticism for someone with his size. The thought of absorbing a few shots from the cinder-blocks attached to first-round phenom’s wrists while attempting a takedown or being outmuscled on the ground has to be in the back of Mir’s mind. I can see it influencing he-who-hates-Brock to focus on outside striking and superior speed to take the fight into later rounds and test Carwin’s unproven conditioning along the way.

Tool: I am also of the belief that this fight ends with the referee stepping in to stop it due to strikes. It’s not hard to imagine Carwin knocking Mir out, as Carwin has brutal power and Mir has certainly been hurt badly before. I’m just wondering if it’s possible we’ll see the reverse? Keep in mind, Shane was rocked (briefly) in his fight with Gabriel Gonzaga. We also can’t forget that Mir has bulked up considerably in the last year, and the improvements in his boxing have been evident in that time as well. Does anybody think that Carwin’s first career loss could come as a result of a brutal KO from the ever-improving former champ?

Is it possible? Most definitely. Is it likely? I don’t think so. Carwin via MurderDeathKill, round 1.

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