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Grappling with Issues – 5/7/10

Does Lyoto Machida or “Shogun” Rua need to finish his opponent to be a successful champion? How long will Josh Koscheck wait before trying to take down Paul Daley? What are the chances of Kimbo Slice going 2-0 in the UFC? Is Alan Belcher ready to be a contender with a win over Patrick Cote? Should Ken Shamrock or Mark Coleman call it quits if they lose their upcoming fight?

Adam Tool here, and after a brief respite from high level mixed-martial arts action last week things kick back into full gear with UFC 113 on Saturday. I’m joined as always by my colleague Brendhan Conlan as we look up and down the card for all the issues that need grappling with. Once we’ve had our say you can feel free to leave your own opinions in the comment box below.

Using a percentage, how certain are you that Kimbo Slice will raise his record in the Octagon to 2-0 after this weekend’s clash with Matt Mitrione?

Adam Tool: I’ll go with 50%. We saw Kimbo make improvements to his overall game in the Houston Alexander fight, but he’s still got a long way to go if he wants to hang with the UFC’s elite heavyweights. Fortunately for him, Matt Mitrione is not in that group. Mitrione doesn’t have a lot of weapons in his arsenal but he does have some heavy hands. There’s a good chance these two will decide to trade blows early and often, and at that point it’s basically a coin flip as to who goes down first.

Brendhan Conlan: 35%. “A long way to go” might be the understatement of the year in terms of how far Slice must travel to serve as a competitive opponent for any “Top 10” heavyweight. In reality, the distance is equivalent to Heidi Montag’s trek towards delivering an Academy Award winning performance in a four-star film. Fortunately, as Tool said, Mitrione isn’t close to being an “elite” fighter at this point in his career, and furthermore Kimbo doesn’t need to be a world-beater in order to have a successful career. He simply needs to win more often than not while avoiding a razor blade at all costs.

The reason I’m giving the former NFL defenseman the slight nod in this bout is because I think he has more ways to win than Slice. Granted, some of Mitrione’s flaws have undoubtedly been masked by how little time he’s spent inside the cage, but I think I’ve seen enough of both fighters to have a basic idea of what each currently offers as a Mixed Martial Artist.

Kimbo definitely showed a few things against Houston Alexander (the slam, some ground work, mildly improved cardio) that hadn’t previously appeared in his arsenal but, as good as he looked, I couldn’t help but be concerned about what he didn’t display – knockout power. Alexander’s chin has been shown to possess a relatively loose on/off switch, and similar to his fight against an equally glass-jawed James Thompson, Slice wasn’t able to put him face down on the mat. The Miami native’s YouTube-based reputation as a devastating striker is slowly fading away in my mind, and if Kimbo can’t knock people out then what does he really have to threaten his adversaries with?

On the other hand, Mitrione has decent, albeit punishing, stand-up and is at minimum a comparable grappler to his opposition on Saturday night. I’d favor him in the submission and takedown departments, and I also think his boxing is a little more technical than Slice’s which should afford him the ability to land jabs while avoiding most of the wild blows the bearded brawler is known for throwing. Seth Petruzelli was able to rattle Kimbo’s brain off of his back foot, and I’m confident “Meathead” can do the same if not worse by landing one or two clean shots.

Approximately how many total minutes (or seconds) will Josh Koscheck keep things standing against Paul Daley before shooting in for a takedown?

Tool: If he’s smart it will be less than a minute. I know Koscheck has made some big improvements on his striking, and his ego might tell him to test the waters standing for a little while. Unless Koscheck didn’t watch any tape whatsoever on Daley, he has to know that this is a dangerous proposition.

While Daley has a clear advantage in the striking, there’s a much bigger gap between these two in terms of grappling ability and Koscheck would be a fool to not take advantage of that. We know that Daley has fallen victim to more than his fair share of submissions, and we also know that Koscheck is on another level in terms of wrestling ability. Koscheck recently choked out the heavy-handed Anthony Johnson, so is there any reason to think that he won’t look to do the same on Saturday?

Conlan: 94 seconds (because round numbers are boring). I believe Koscheck’s confidence in his striking will cause him to get a better look at Daley on his feet before committing to a ground war, but I also think he’s intelligent enough to recognize the opportunity in front of him, i.e. a likely title-shot and gig coaching the Ultimate Fighter, and won’t throw it away by playing to Daley’s primary method of attack.

More than just the fact eighteen of Daley’s twenty-three wins have been of the TKO variety, five of his losses have been by submission and two of the other three came in the form of decisions to above-average grapplers. There’s no mistaking “Semtex” is in serious danger of having his fuse snuffed if the Ultimate Fighter O.G. drags the action down to the canvas, while also recognizing Daley can easily straighten Koscheck’s trademark curls by knocking the blond out of them while standing. Based on that equation it would be silly for “Kos” to spend serious time doing anything other than attempting to take Daley down with the goal of finishing things horizontally as opposed to vertically.

Should Alan Belcher be considered the UFC’s top middleweight contender if he beats Patrick Cote?

Tool: It took me a while to answer this question, but only because I had to stop laughing first. Alan Belcher is a good fighter, and he’s able to consistently put on entertaining fights. But a title contender? No way.

We’re talking about a guy who has losses to Kendall Grove and Jason Day. He recorded a narrow split decision win over Ed Herman in a fight that many thought should have gone the other way. He beat Denis Kang, but only after getting his ass kicked for the first nine minutes of the fight. Yes he did score a nice win over Wilson Gouveia recently, but prior to that he came up short against Yoshihiro Akiyama (and despite what Joe Rogan might tell you, Akiyama deserved to get the decision). Personally I feel that the winner of the upcoming Akiyama/Wanderlei Silva fight would have a better claim for contendership.

A win over Cote would undoubtedly move Belcher closer to reaching the higher levels of competition, but I don’t think anybody believes that beating Cote puts a fighter right into the title contenders’ pool. It’s true that Cote is a former title contender himself, but then again so are David Loiseau and Nate Quarry. I’m looking forward to a great fight from these two on Saturday, but I don’t expect the winner to be talked about as a future contender on Sunday morning.

Conlan: Did your fit of laughter come before or after you penned the next topic? But I digress…

Perhaps not THE top contender, but I absolutely think Belcher should be considered among them. No, I don’t actually believe he’ll be given the opportunity based on the minimal push the bout has received from the UFC and the superior marketability of middleweights like the afore-mentioned “Axe Murderer” and Akiyama, as well as Vitor Belfort who the company seems intent on offering a title shot to regardless of how few wins he actually has at 185-pounds, but my case for Belcher is this…

Even if Tool thinks my opinion was influenced by Joe Rogan, or perhaps even by a batch of Rogan’s brownies, I feel Belcher beat Akiyama at UFC 100 based on aggression, ring control, and the actual damage dished out. I wasn’t horribly offended by the split decision but I didn’t agree with it. The win would’ve marked his third in a row instead of being the lone defeat in his last four Octagon appearances and brought his current record to 6-1 in the organization since losing to Grove three years ago. He may have dropped the actual bout to “Sexyama” but the performance still stands. A convincing victory at UFC 113 (in his opponent’s home-base of Montreal no less) would be an impressive achievement and comparable to what any other 185-pounder in the UFC has done in the division as of late. Were Cote, Thales Leites, Demian Maia, or current contender and friend-of-the-scorecards Chael Sonnen so much more qualified for the chance they received to dethrone Anderson Silva than Belcher would be with another win over a respectable opponent like “The Predator”? I don’t think so, and as such I think he and his oddly fascinating Johnny Cash tattoo deserve to be on the cusp of top contendership.

BUY/SELL – If he’s going to have a truly successful reign as champion, the winner of the Lyoto Machida/”Shogun” Rua title fight must finish his opponent.

Conlan: Sell, as I don’t see the relationship between finishing a single opponent and defining a fighter’s tenure as title-holder. The measure of a champion’s success involves the quality of competition faced and number of times the belt is put on the line. It doesn’t hinge on how a particular outcome was achieved so long as it was a victorious one.

While a second win over Rua would actually double the lone positive result found between the last three 205-pounders who entered the Octagon as UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, it would still only be his second defense of the belt and few can forget the first involved a questionable judges’ decision. Soundly beating “Shogun” on Saturday night certainly wouldn’t hurt how Lyoto’s reign is perceived by fans and media, but even memories of a shaky five-round performance will fade away as long as he keeps the strap around his waist for the foreseeable future. Likewise, if he drops his subsequent bout the UFC 113 result means very little no matter how highlight-filled it may be.

As far as the challenger goes, even if Rua wins in the most devastating of fashions he’ll still be a new champion with zero title defenses to his credit. If he loses the following fight, or even the one after that, why would it matter what he did against Machida in terms of labeling his reign a success when it clearly wasn’t?

Tool: I’ll go with buy, because if you think either man’s reign won’t be affected by this fight’s outcome then perhaps you should consider what would happen if this rematch ends the same way as the first fight. Should Saturday night’s main event end in another extremely narrow decision with one fighter getting the nod while everyone and their mother believes it should have gone the other way, the winner of the fight will never hear the end of it.

The success of a champion’s reign is obviously predicated on the quality of opposition he beats, but the methods of victory can play a huge role in the fans’ perception of a champion. Georges St. Pierre is the most dominant welterweight fighter in the world, but he’s currently facing a staggering amount of criticism for his inability to finish his opponents.

This rematch comes under the most auspicious of circumstances, as the results of their first fight gave us more questions than it did answers. I’m hoping that we see this fight stopped by the referee and not the buzzer so we can truly determine who is the better fighter and move on with all our lives.

Which of the six prelim fights at UFC 113 are you hoping to see on the live broadcast?

Conlan: The preliminary action I’m most looking forward to, Tom Lawlor’s entrance not withstanding, is the scheduled bout between Jonathan Goulet and Marcus Davis. Though neither is within a stone’s throw of title contendership or is likely to dramatically improve their standing in the immediate future, both are veteran fighters who prefer to strike and may be in a “loser leaves town” situation. UFC 113 will be Goulet’s first scrap since December 2008, while “The Irish Hand Grenade” is coming off a brutal knockout loss to Ben Saunders sustained at UFC 106 which also marked his second consecutive defeat in the Octagon. It makes me feel as though the pairing definitely has “Fight of the Night” potential based on their styles and the “must win” nature of the match-up. Additionally, Goulet is from Quebec so the energy of his Canadian countrymen in attendance should amp the drama up a notch when the cage door shuts.

Tool: I like the chances of Davis/Goulet making it on the live broadcast, as Davis’ heavy hands combined with Goulet’s paper mache chin should result in a rather brief affair.

I’ll go with the middleweight showdown between Tom Lawlor and Joe Doerkson. Lawlor should be on the main card simply by virtue of his crazy personality, but he’s also got some decent skills as a fighter too. His opponent is the very definition of a journeyman, with more submission wins than most guys have professional fights. Lawlor could look to rely on his wrestling, but I won’t be surprised if these two decide to stand and trade instead. It may not be the most evenly matched fight on the card, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be competitive.

It has been announced that Mark Coleman will face Ken Shamrock on an upcoming Australian card. Given the two men involved, is there any chance that the loser of this fight will retire afterwards?

Conlan: Of course there’s a chance – it’s just a very, very slim one. Other than satisfying any lingering competitive desire still burning inside, I’m sure both icons enjoy the spotlight fighting on the upper-echelon of a Mixed Martial Arts card provides as well as the financial rewards included. I doubt either man is remotely poor but I’m also willing to bet neither is lighting their cigars with crisp hundred-dollar bills either. Fighting is what they know, and, similar to a lot of other athletes in the twilight of their careers, they don’t seem willing to give up the sport they love until forced to do so.

So no, though their combined age is a decade short of a century and between them they’ve won a total of five fights since 2004, I don’t think Shamrock or Coleman will trade in their five-ounce gloves regardless of how their fight unfolds. It’s just too bad this match-up couldn’t have happened 10-12 years ago because both men were fearsome competitors in their respective primes.

Tool: I believe Shamrock will be the one to lose this fight, therefore the question I’m forced to answer is whether or not I believe the former WWF Intercontinental Champion will call it quits afterwards. I’m guessing not, because if Shamrock wanted to retire with some dignity he would have done it three years ago.

While Shamrock’s contributions to the sport are unmatched, his willingness to continue as a competitor long past his prime is profoundly embarrassing. His lone win in the last six years was against a guy that weighed nearly 400 lbs., and Ken needed steroids to get the job done. I won’t pretend that I know for a fact what Shamrock’s motivation is to continue on in the sport, but I’m sure there’s still some decent money to be made for somebody with his kind of name value. That being said, I wonder how much is enough when your legacy is taking a significant hit every time you fight?

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