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Grappling With Issues – 4/2/10

Are you excited for the new season of The Ultimate Fighter? Is Georges St. Pierre a boring fighter? Do Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck need to fight one another? Who will hold the UFC Heavyweight Championship once Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez fight one another? What’s the value of having Takanori Gomi in the UFC?

Since the last edition of this feature we’ve witnessed two title fights, the UFC debut of a former PRIDE legend, the season premiere of The Ultimate Fighter and much more. I’m joined as always by Brendhan Conlan and we’re ready to look at all the important stories coming out of the past seven days. As always we encourage you to voice your own opinions on any and all of the topics in the comment box below.

Now, in the immortal words of Cecil Peoples…let’s dance!

On a scale of 1 to 10, how excited are you for the 11th season of The Ultimate Fighter?

Adam Tool: I’d put my excitement level at about a 7. There’s still something enjoyable about watching all these guys come into the house with a dream of making it, picking your favorites, and watching as they fail or succeed. Plus I’m curious to see how the tournament plays out with the new “wildcard” aspect, and overall it seems this season’s tournament is set up to find the next true talent in the sport. If nothing else, the fights can’t be any worse than the ones we got last season.

As far as the coaches go, I’m mostly indifferent. I have never in my life been a Tito Ortiz fan so the idea of him getting plenty of screen time to talk about himself (and Punishment Athletics, of course) doesn’t really grab me. On the opposite side you’ve got Chuck Liddell, a fighter who’s so boring outside of the cage that I have to look up a new word to describe his lack of charisma. Simply put, “The Iceman” is platitudinous. I don’t really care about their third match-up coming up later this year, as both guys are well on their way down the ladder in the division they used to rule.

Brendhan Conlan: I’d put my interest level at about a “6.5”. I was familiar with a few of the contestants prior to their affiliation with the show, and I’m always interested in seeing new talent get a chance on a stage as large as The Ultimate Fighter. The rivalry between coaches Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell isn’t as relevant as it would have been a few years ago but should still be fun to watch unfold. I’m also curious to see if Ortiz endears himself to viewers as the superior mentor/leader in the same way he did opposite Ken Shamrock. Beyond all that, I’m ready for the controversy surrounding Ortiz’s short-lived stint as coach, and rumored mid-season replacement by Rich Franklin, to go away. Put that all in a bowl, mix for ten minutes, and you get a “6.5”.

Should Rousimar Palhares be released for his actions at UFC 111?

Tool: Seriously? Released? Absolutely not. There was nothing malicious about Palhares’ actions. As he’s explained in the days following the fight this all stems from an incident involving his trainer, former UFC Middleweight Champion Murilo Bustamante. Back at UFC 37 Bustamante got Matt Lindland to tap out, only to have the fight continue when “Big” John McCarthy didn’t see the tap. After that Murilo taught his fighters to not release the hold until the referee pulls you apart.

I’m not willing to completely absolve Palhares for his actions. He did keep the hold in a few seconds longer than needed, but it’s nothing like the incident that saw Renato “Babalu” Sobral get kicked out of the UFC. “Babalu” held the choke too long, refused to break at first when the referee tried to pull them apart, then claimed in his post-fight interview that he held the choke to teach his opponent a lesson. That was a dickish move and Sobral deserved the punishment he got. Palhares’ 90 day suspension seems fair enough, but to suggest that the UFC should release him is ridiculous.

Conlan: Yes, seriously released, and not necessarily because I think what he did was horribly offensive but rather because I would like to see the UFC enforce consistent policies on fighter behavior. I will not accept the argument “Babalu” deserved his pink-slip because his motivation was “dickish” while Palhares deserves a free pass from his bosses at Zuffa because of Bustamante’s experience in the Octagon eight years ago. And, frankly, if making ignorant comments were grounds for termination from the UFC than Strikeforce’s roster would be twice as deep as it currently is. I agree there are differences between the two incidents but the principle is the same – both Brazilians deliberately held onto a submission longer than needed and unnecessarily risked an opponent’s health in the process. The NJSACB obviously noted something unprofessional about Palhares’ behavior or else he wouldn’t have received a three-month suspension. Similarly, Sobral was fined $25,000 by the NSAC for his actions. If both State athletic commissions felt strongly enough to penalize the involved athletes why shouldn’t UFC brass do the same?

Furthermore, the actual technique used by Palhares was far more dangerous (obviously assuming both are eventually unlatched). Heel-hooks can be devastating to a fighter’s career based on the type of damage inflicted while the aftermath from having your lights choked out is minimal. It’s also a method Palhares is extremely familiar with being that UFC 111 marked his fourth career win using the hold. Someone with his intimate knowledge of jiujitsu had to know Tomasz Drwal was done the instant it was applied properly.

With three of his four title defenses resulting in decision victories, is it fair to say Georges St. Pierre is a “boring” fighter regardless of how dominating his performances have been?

Tool: If GSP was the type of wrestler that was content to take his opponent down, remain in guard, and inflict minimal damage then I would say yes. The fact is though that St. Pierre’s wrestling has always been one part of his outstanding skillset. Yes, it is a rather large part, but he’s not some one-dimensional fighter that has to rely on takedowns and ground control to win. As we saw in the Dan Hardy fight, St. Pierre still wants to get the finish. If he was facing someone that lacked the heart of Hardy that fight would have been over due to the armbar in the first round. In his last fight with Thiago Alves we saw St. Pierre willing to stand and trade with an opponent known primarily for his striking. GSP still went for the takedowns and got them, but he also landed plenty of strikes from the top position.

While I don’t consider him to be a boring fighter, I can understand where people are coming from when they say that. Just about any fan of this sport loves to see the knockouts and submissions that make things so exciting. When a fighter is constantly going to decisions it can decrease that excitement simply on the basis that said fighter has become too predictable. Everyone that picked Jon Fitch to win in his fight picked him to do so by decision (same goes for any Yushin Okami fight). When a fighter doesn’t seem to be looking to finish his fights, that’s when the fans turn on him and label him “boring.” St. Pierre does seem to be heading down that path, as we’ve already started to see some backlash towards his recent string of performances. I have a feeling that St. Pierre will work even harder to finish his next fight, and here’s hoping he gets the job done.

Conlan: I’ll say this – if St. Pierre is “boring” than he’s the most exciting “boring” fighter out there. I understand where the criticism comes from. Fans (me included) love to see fights finished, and it’s hard to not be more impressed by the performance of a Mixed Martial Artist who consistently wipes the mat with his opponent before the judges’ scorecards come into play than one who ever allows Cecil Peoples to affect a bout’s outcome.

It goes without saying GSP has become an incredible wrestler in the past few years. He can consistently take his opponents down and has the strength/technique to control them on the mat. However, contrary to taking a “wet blanket” approach, St. Pierre is at least willing to deliver damage on the ground to the point he’ll occasionally make a mistake and give up superior positioning. I agree 100% with Tool’s assessment that a fighter with lesser intestinal fortitude than Dan Hardy would have tapped out, and I think the also can be same about Jon Fitch if you substitute a finished-by-strikes scenario for the submission-based one. The one thing I take issue with, however, is the notion “Rush” should give a second’s thought to switching up anything he does with the singular motivation of beating adversaries in less than twenty-five minutes. Even though he’s gone the distance more recently than not he’s still finished 2/3 of the opponents he’s stepped into the ring with. There’s nothing wrong with fighting intelligently, as he does, and as the old cliché goes “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” If St. Pierre consciously “tries” to finish opponents it could negatively affect his performance in the same way over-thinking situations can similarly impact athletes of every variety.

After Brock Lesnar faces Shane Carwin, and the winner takes on Cain Velasquez, who will be the UFC Heavyweight Champion?

Conlan: Before further examining this issue I want to make it clear I’m still not convinced Velasquez will get a title-shot without first beating Junior Dos Santos. Carwin and Lesnar are scheduled to test the Octagon’s durability in early July meaning neither will be available to defend the championship until October/November without sacrificing an appropriate period of training for such an important bout. If it is assumed Velasquez’s contendership status is set in stone you’re looking at an 8-9 month period the AKA product would be forced to sit on the sidelines. I think such a scenario is highly unlikely, and with Dos Santos having escaped unscathed against Gabriel Gonzaga a few weeks ago I don’t see why the two blue-chippers can’t scrap this summer to establish a crystal clear challenger to the heavyweight throne.

Back to the actual question at hand, I think the match-up between Lesnar and Carwin is extremely difficult to pick, as it’s essentially like choosing who will win a fight between Hercules and the Incredible Hulk. Both are accomplished grapplers with comparable physical attributes. They’ve each shown the ability to separate opponents from consciousness, yet also been the victims of a well-placed strike or two leaving their proverbial cage moderately rattled. The coin I’ve just flipped tells me the underdog will win, and if such is the case I think it will be in part to Lesnar’s health-related layoff from action and in part Carwin’s uncanny ability to leave his foes crumpled on the canvas faster than Dana White says “f*ck” when he stubs his toe. However, regardless of outcome, in the end I currently think Velasquez beats either behemoth. He’s undersized and lacks either’s brute strength but is also faster, has knockout power of his own, and possesses the wrestling credentials to compete with either in terms of takedowns or mat-based action.

Tool: I was thinking along the same lines as my colleague, as I’ve been holding down a seat on the Cain Train since he made his UFC debut. I’m still not sure who I think will win between Lesnar and Carwin, as there are still too many questions surrounding that one. How will Lesnar do against an actual knockout artist? How will Carwin do if he gets taken past the first round? I can really see things going either way at UFC 116, but in the end I believe it’s Velasquez who stands tall. He’s got the wrestling pedigree to impose his will on just about anyone, he’s got a solid chin and quick recovery, and he’s clearly made big strides to improve his boxing. Of the three athletes in this discussion Velasquez appears to be the most complete mixed-martial artist of the bunch, and I believe he’ll be the one holding UFC gold at the start of 2011.

True/False – If Josh Koscheck can beat Paul Daley, he must fight his teammate Jon Fitch to determine a true #1 contender.

Conlan: I respect both individuals and admire the commitment they’ve shown to not only their friendship but the camaraderie created at AKA as well. However, even though Mixed Martial Arts is a team sport in the sense it takes a village – preferably one with bags, weights, mats, and a ring – to raise a champion, in the end it comes down to how one individual fares against another when the bell sounds and the action begins.

As long as Georges St. Pierre is champion neither Koscheck or Fitch will get a crack at the title, and neither can be considered the true welterweight top contender, until they face each other or the other one loses to a different opponent. It is impossible for either to fully sweep the division clean of challengers because at the end of the day they will remain neck-and-neck in the standings. Additionally, it works against them that both have a decisive loss to GSP in the past so there isn’t exactly a competitive clamoring to see a repeat performance. Dana White is under no obligation to give either an opportunity to win the belt. There is no BCS system in MMA. He and Joe Silva create the match-ups they feel are marketable, and there will always be another Dan Hardy or other comparable fighter (Paulo Thiago, Paul Daley, etc.) who puts together a string of impressive wins and is waiting in the wings.

I don’t know if it means Fitch and Koscheck need to train somewhere other than American Kickboxing Academy, or if they would simply schedule different times to show up to the gym, but the bout needs to happen if the future success and sense of personal accomplishment becoming champion brings with it outweighs the fear of their friendship being tarnished by scrapping in the Octagon. Then again, it’s perfectly possible they’re comfortable waiting for St. Pierre to lose while risking their ranking in the organization with every OTHER fight they take. If that’s the case, regardless of how you or I may personally feel about it, it’s their lives and I certainly won’t criticize them for their loyalty to one another.

Tool: No doubt, this one is True for me. I can understand the reasons why these guys don’t want to fight each other, but at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter. There’s no championship for the best fight camp, so what the hell are Fitch, Koscheck, and Mike Swick competing for? What if one of them won the belt, would the other two simply be satisfied with never going after that title? These guys are trying to put a stranglehold on the UFC’s welterweight division, and frankly I’m just glad that guys like Dan Hardy and Paulo Thiago are around to shake things up and keep the AKA fighters from having too much control.

Simply stated, mixed martial arts is still a sport about individual accomplishments. Unless you’re willing to give up your shot at those accomplishments you can’t say that you’ll never fight someone. If Koscheck beats Daley then he’ll have a legitimate claim to being a top contender, but obviously Fitch has a pretty good claim as well. They don’t get to draw straws and tell Dana who should get the title fight. They fight the guys that their boss says to fight, or they get the hell out of the company and go somewhere where they don’t have to worry about those kinds of things.

So what’s it going to be, Josh and Jon? Do you want to put your friendship aside for 15 minutes for a shot at the ultimate prize, or would you rather go fight in Strikeforce and let your friends have the glory?

What is the benefit of Gomi being in the UFC?

Conlan: After debuting Gomi in the Octagon against an experienced, dangerous opponent a la Kenny Florian, the cynic in me would like to say Zuffa sees him as beneficial in tarnishing PRIDE’s reputation but the realist knows nothing of the sort is the case. Dana White has embraced a number of the long-gone organization’s fighters and, as indicated by the merchandising push and highlight show on Spike TV, clearly sees it as a source of making a little money. The reality is “The Fireball Kid” hasn’t had the same sizzle for awhile and his benefit to the UFC, at least until they’re able to promote a show in Japan, is minimal. He’s a name hardcore fans rightfully respect and creates interest in match-ups from that perspective, but he also hasn’t won a significant fight in years while dropping bouts along the way to opponents perceived as lesser competition.

I think the UFC should do one of two things with Gomi from this point forward – either put him in the ring against fighters with similar status or put him in the ring against a series of strikers in hopes of rekindling his flame. The first scenario capitalizes on fading star-power and could deliver a few pairings long-time followers will appreciate. Though it’s unlikely Gomi will ever earn a rematch with UFC champion/icon BJ Penn, it would still be fun to see him take on other veterans associated with the Octagon like Sean Sherk or Spencer Fisher. The second scenario capitalizes on the Japanese fighter’s skillset and could re-build not only his confidence but name value by allowing him an opportunity to avoid grapplers. Opposition like Sam Stout or even a newly signed striker most folks haven’t heard of might bring out the best in Gomi while a loss or two on his feet would at least show the world his best days are further behind him than originally thought.

Tool: The benefit for having Gomi is pretty obvious: he’s got a name in a place where the UFC would like to go. Think of Gomi as Japan’s version of Chuck Liddell. He’s not the same dominant force that he once was, but he can still draw a crowd when needed. I mean come on, Chuck and Tito are going to headline a PPV when neither one of them has won a fight in the last two years. There aren’t many guys that can do that here in America, and with the dwindling MMA scene in Japan there’s even fewer guys that can do it over there. Gomi represents the UFC putting their foot in Japan’s door, now we’ll have to wait and see if they can make it inside the house.

Aside from his worthiness in the foreign business sense, Gomi is worthy of being on the UFC roster because he’s an exciting fighter. He was competitive in his bout on Wednesday night, and there’s a good chunk of UFC lightweights that I’d pick Gomi to beat. There may not be a second date with BJ Penn in his future but there are plenty of compelling match-ups to be made in the years ahead. Brendhan already touched on this as well, and his ideas for what to do with “The Fireball Kid” fall in line with my own. My pick for his next opponent? I say let’s have the second meeting of Gomi vs. Diaz, only this time with Nate Diaz in place of his older brother. Obviously the storyline is already built in, Gomi fights somebody that will almost certainly be happy to stand and trade with him, and Diaz gets a chance to try and beat a legend.

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