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Grappling with Issues – 4/30/10

Does Randy Couture’s rumored bout with James Toney rub you the right or wrong way? Is it time for Ben Henderson to leave WEC and give the Octagon a shot? How long will fans have to wait before seeing Leonard Garcia and Chan Sung Jung attempt to repeat their WEC 48 classic? Would Jose Aldo beat Frank Edgar if the two faced off at lightweight?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!

Thank you for stopping by to check out either your first or yet another edition of “Grappling with Issues”, a weekly smorgasbord of insight-and-opinion featuring myself and fellow 5 Ouncer Adam Tool 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…

True/False – WEC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo would beat UFC Lightweight Champion Frank Edgar even at 155-pounds.

Adam Tool: Who can really say at this point? What I mean by that is; how can any of us really say for sure who Frank Edgar can or cannot beat at this point? Nobody figured that he could have beaten BJ Penn, but sure enough that’s just what he did. Will anyone give Edgar the same consideration when he rematches with Penn later this year? Probably not.

My point in this is that at the moment Frank Edgar is still being underrated by a lot of fans and journalists. At the same time it’s hard to say whether or not Jose Aldo is being overrated. He’s looked spectacular thus far in his WEC run, but so did Mike Brown, Miguel Torres, and Brian Bowles. All of those aforementioned fighters had their aura of invincibility shattered, and as a result people are starting to see now just how much there is left to prove within those lower weight classes. They don’t have the benefit of an Anderson Silva or a Georges St. Pierre, where one guy has thoroughly outclassed any and all potential challengers. There is still a need to find those dominant champions at feather and bantamweight and perhaps Jose Aldo is such a fighter, but we won’t know for sure until he’s had a chance to defend his belt several more times.

With all that being said, I suppose I should try to answer the question. If Aldo vs. Edgar were to happen at the next Zuffa PPV, my money would be on Aldo. These two would likely have one hell of a striking contest, but if they went to the ground I’d have to favor the BJJ black belt.

Brendhan Conlan: There’s no magical formula for accurately predicting exactly how a particular bout will unfold meaning questions like this are always going to involve guess-work. My assessments are generally based on how I feel the individuals compare to each other physically and in terms of skill, as well as the opponents each has faced in his career, and occasionally involve outside factors like training camps, probability of nerves, personal problems endured, and what sort of previous performance the fighters are coming off of. Whether I’m overrating or underrating a Mixed Martial Artist is something I’d rather let time decide while instead focusing on what I do actually know.

Like Tool, I’d favor Aldo to beat Edgar if the two were to face off regardless of division. The New Jersey native doesn’t drop down much to make 155-pounds and is actually an inch shorter than WEC’s featherweight phenom so size wouldn’t be an issue. Edgar is obviously a talented wrestler and has a great set of hands, but Aldo’s striking is more dynamic and is on the heels of a pair of one-sided, eye-opening showings against a duo known for their mat-based acumen (Faber/Brown). I don’t think the 23-year old Brazilian would be phased by Edgar’s speed – an important factor in his title win over Penn – anymore than was the case in his recent defense against “The California Kid”. Mix those things in with his ability to finish opponents (13 of 17 wins) in comparison to Edgar (5 of 12 wins) and I think it’s relatively clear Aldo would be considered a slight favorite to emerge victorious in the potential pairing. He hasn’t faced the caliber of competition the UFC Lightweight Champion has in his career, but as far as how they measure up side-by-side I think Aldo has more tools to work with and fewer flaws to exploit.

How would you compare WEC 48 to both “Strikeforce – Nashville” and “UFC 112” in terms of entertainment value – better, worse, or equal?

Tool: This is definitely the easiest question to answer this week. WEC 48 blew away both of those other shows, as well as every other fight card we’ve seen this year. From top-to-bottom there was plenty to love and very little to complain about. We saw a couple of outstanding back-and-forth wars, some slick submissions, a shocking KO upset, and two truly impressive champions. The only gripes that people can make is the awful decision rendered in the best fight of the night (more on that later), and the fact that the show was on PPV. It sucks that fans had to pay for this event after getting so many great WEC fights for free, but I don’t think anybody who ordered the event can say that they didn’t get their money’s worth.

Conlan: Have no fear, Tool, as next week I’ll make sure to include a topic involving a mixture of jiujitsu and quantum physics. I think WEC 48 slightly edges out Strikeforce as the best show of the past month in terms of pure entertainment value. While fans were able to see more, and arguably better, fights on WEC’s offering the attached price tag can’t be dismissed nor can the overall caliber of competitors involved. Beyond that, I’m not sure that the “best fight of the night” being as sloppy and devoid of technique as Garcia vs. Jung is necessarily a good thing, but I won’t argue against how much fun it was to watch because there were plenty of “oohs” and “ahhs” coming from the vicinity of my couch. Like Adam pointed out, in general WEC 48 boasted a slew of enjoyable fights, career defining moments from promotional champs Henderson and Aldo, and a few upsets including the first-round knockout of former featherweight title-holder Mike Brown. What else can a MMA fan really ask for when forking out cash for an event?

Would you prefer Ben Henderson defended his WEC Lightweight Championship or abandoned it and went to the UFC?

Tool: After much deliberation I’ve decided that I am in favor of Henderson moving on to the big stage that is the octagon. He’s already stated that he has no interest in a rematch with any of the WEC lightweights that he’s already beaten (and that include most of the top contenders within the company), so he’s already essentially cleaned out the division. I could see Kamal Shalorus getting a shot if he beats Jamie Varner in June, but at the same time I have no interest in seeing Henderson vs. Varner II if Jamie gets the win at WEC 49.

Some people will undoubtedly bring up other former WEC champions who have had mixed success upon transitioning to the UFC. Former light heavyweight champs Steve Cantwell and Brian Stann have each had their share of defeats in the deep waters of the UFC LHW division, but it’s important to remember that the WEC’s 205 lbs. roster was weaker than a handshake from Clay Aiken. Former WEC Welterweight Champion Carlos Condit is 1-1 in the octagon, but that loss was a very close split decision to the always dangerous Martin Kampmann. Lastly we have the uncrowned WEC Middleweight Champion Chael Sonnen, who lost in his UFC debut but has since rattled off three straight wins to earn a title shot.

Henderson is still essentially a prospect and that’s a double-edged sword. He may not do as well amongst the deep waters of the UFC lightweight division but he’s still getting better every time he fights. I wouldn’t pick him to win against a Kenny Florian or a BJ Penn, but I absolutely believe that he could be a problem for guys like Gray Maynard and Tyson Griffin. If nothing else it’s essentially guaranteed that any time “Bendo” steps into the cage, it’s going to be an exciting fight.

Conlan: After watching “Bendo” grow on a per fight basis, and the ease in which he beat a game opponent like Donald Cerrone, I’d prefer Henderson abandoned his title and tested his skills inside the Octagon (unless the UFC absorbs WEC’s lightweight division in which case the notion of having a choice to do so becomes a moot point). His physical attributes translate into a tough draw for any 155-pound opponent he faces and his style/skill, not to mention the likelihood of his continued progression based on age, make him a threat to beat a good deal of them. It may turn out that he’s not ready for the UFC’s elite, but there’s only one way to find out and having him repeatedly fight the same second-tier lightweights is not it.

How long do you think it will be before the WEC rematches Leonard Garcia and Chan Sung Jung?

Conlan: I firmly believe in striking while the iron is hot and as such I think an immediate rematch makes sense. Their slugfest was far from a master class on stand-up technique but highly entertaining nonetheless, and I have no doubt the two would deliver something similar to their original Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em display if linked up a second time. Both fighters exited the bout with more buzz surrounding them than was the case prior to the event due to the bravado each showed in the cage, and while that momentum can be carried into other match-ups it can also dissipate with a losing performance or two. After all, when was the last time you heard mention of a super-fight between Urijah Faber and Miguel Torres in comparison to a few years ago? I think it would be wise for WEC to capitalize on the public’s present perception of Garcia and Jung instead of letting it potentially go to waste. If the promotion decides to wait and one of the men wins a couple fights while the other drops a pair there won’t be the same interest in a rematch as is currently the case. Throw in the questionable nature of the judges’ decision and you definitely have a bout that can serve as a co-headliner of a Versus card rather than involving either in a televised opener due to the lower marketability they possess as individuals.

Tool: I would have to agree that these two should meet again as soon as their injuries heal from the first bout. I’m mostly interested in a rematch because I firmly believe that Jung should have gotten the decision, so here’s hoping a second chance will correct the matter. Of course there’s a good chance that lightning won’t strike twice, and the rematch could just as easily end in the first 30 seconds with a flash knockout. It’s also likely that even if these two went at it for another 15 minutes, they won’t be able to match the performance of that first bout now that everyone has specific expectations of what to expect.

In any case these two fighters are now easily amongst the most well-known fighters in the promotion, as their fight was witnessed by a peak audience of 1.5 million homes. Given the high visibility of their first bout and the expectations for a second, I see no reason why these two couldn’t be given a headlining spot on an upcoming Versus card. It might make even more sense to hold off until the next WEC PPV, as this rematch would undoubtedly be a nice draw for anybody that saw the first fight.

Given the fact that the WEC brand name was not used at all during Saturday’s broadcast, is there any reason at this point for Zuffa to keep the two promotions separate?

Conlan: I do think it’s time for the UFC to assimilate the company’s 155-pounders and finally eliminate any lingering confusion between Zuffa’s top lightweights, but instead of completely merging promotions I’d rather see WEC be a home for showcasing smaller fighters fans may not be as interested as seeing on larger events and possibly even a feeder system for the UFC. Yes, “Ultimate Fight Night” and “Ultimate Fighter Finale” events already serve that purpose to an extent, but if Zuffa is serious about making WEC successful on PPV they’ll need to do more than stack the card with match-ups featuring fighters whose combined weight is approximately the same as Brock Lesnar’s when he steps into the Octagon.

Mixing in something along the lines like UFC 113’s fight between Alan Belcher and Patrick Cote, or either of Jon Jones’ “UFC on Versus” headliners, with Jose Aldo’s next title defense or Dominick Cruz’s initial one could be a winning situation for all involved parties. The fighters would likely be entitled to additional exposure they wouldn’t normally receive due to the format, the event would almost certainly sell more buys because of the increased star-power, and the fans would get a nice mix of weights and styles due to the involved synergy. The same would be true by letting a fight possibly destined for the cutting room floor, like UFC 114’s Amir Sadollah vs. Dong Hyun Kim or Efrain Escudero vs. Dan Lauzon bouts, serve as a co-headliner on Versus alongside WEC establishing a #1 contender in any given division (though substitute increased “buys” with “ratings”). The bottom line is the WEC has a great deal of worth and I think it would be a mistake for Zuffa to whitewash it from the MMA landscape.

Tool: I’d love to know exactly what kind of worth the WEC brand has, as the only people who are aware of it are the same kinds of fans that read this website (sidenote: hello!). Facts are facts, and the reality of this sport is that there are still plenty of MMA fans who think that the sport is called “ultimate fighting.” Zuffa is in ownership of the strongest brand in the business, so why not put all of their best fighters under that banner?

I’m welcome to the idea of keeping the WEC around as a “minor league” or sorts. The guys in that promotion could be limited to fighters with less than 5 professional fights (or something of that nature) and they would have the chance to move up to the UFC based on their performance in the WEC. That way Zuffa can get a hold of more raw prospects, and help their growth along until they’re ready for the big stage.

Right now Zuffa is trying to market the WEC as “the best fighters in these two divisions, and some pretty good fighters in this other division.” Bring all of your weightclasses under the same roof and let the little guys take the spotlight more often. It can only create bigger stars out of the smaller fighters, and it gives the company a much deeper bench to work with. Each year the UFC is putting on more events than in the previous year, so I fail to see where having more fighters and titles to put on those shows can be a bad thing.

Now that the match-up is becoming a reality, how do you feel about Randy Couture being the one to welcome James Toney to the UFC?

Conlan: I suppose more or less the best word is indifferent. I don’t think the pairing is too far off something you’d find on a card in Japan on New Year’s Eve which is interesting in a way because Dana White has historically scoffed at the appeal of match-ups comparable to the one he’ll supposedly be hyping in August. Toney hasn’t been considered a relevant boxer for years and has tested positive for performance enhancing drugs on more than one occasion. His foray into Mixed Martial Arts reeks of desperation, and I’ll actually be a little surprised if/when an athletic commission sanctions the fight since the 41-year old will be debuting against a man with multiple UFC championships to his credit. I think it’s a waste of Couture’s limited future appearances inside the Octagon but then again it would also be a waste of Toney’s dimming luster if he was scheduled against someone with less name-value so I understand why the bout may be made. Regardless, it does little for me in the interest department from a competitive standpoint, but I’m always down for a good “freak show” fight so I’ll still be watching with a dumb-founded grin on my face even if I don’t necessarily care about the result.

Tool: I love it from the standpoint that Couture is the kind of fighter with enough intelligence to not get drawn into Toney’s game, and enough skill to put the (former?) pro boxer away. We all know Toney hits hard, nobody doubted that before he started stalking Dana White. Couture isn’t going to try and stand with Toney, he’s going to clinch up, take it to the mat, and finish Toney by whatever means he likes.

In case you couldn’t tell, I don’t like the idea of James Toney in the UFC. He has little-to-no drawing power left over from his days in boxing, and he’s way too old to be just starting out in a sport as complex as this. His only appeal in the UFC is for that first fight, when everybody wonders what the boxer will do in MMA. I really have no desire to see Toney try and make a career out of this, so here’s hoping Dana comes to his senses and cuts Toney right around the time the referee is raising Couture’s hand.

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