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Grappling with Issues – 5/14/10

Where should Kimbo Slice go on the heels of his UFC release? Was the punishment Paul Daley received too severe or spot on? Who amongst the big boys has the most to prove at this weekend’s Strikeforce event? How long should fans have to wait for Anderson Silva vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua now that Silva-associate Lyoto Machida is no longer champ?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!

Another Friday has arrived and the Grappling with Issues crew is dressed in full bomb squad gear due to the explosive nature of this week’s topics which of course include “Semtex” and “Heavy Artillery” galore. Hopefully the takes Adam Tool and I offer in this edition don’t blow up in our faces, but it’s a risk we 5 Oz. soldiers are willing to take for the betterment of MMA insight and opinion. And, as always, 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…

Assuming he retains his own belt against Chael Sonnen, should Anderson Silva receive an immediate crack at the UFC Light Heavyweight title now that close friend Lyoto Machida is no longer champ?

Tool: Word on the street is that Dana White wants Silva to defend his middleweight strap two more times (against Sonnen and presumably Vitor Belfort) before moving up to light heavyweight and making a run for the gold there. I haven’t seen any comments from Silva on the situation, but I’m wondering if he’s really all that eager to compete in the same division as his good friends Machida and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. After all, Nogueira is surging towards contention (although the loss of Forrest Griffin as an opponent at UFC 114 does slow things down) and one would have to believe that it won’t take too long for Machida to get back into the mix.

If Silva wants to go to 205 on a more permanent basis, and if he doesn’t lose his belt before then, he should absolutely be rewarded with an immediate title shot. His record setting win streak is unlikely to be matched anytime soon in the UFC, and he’s got enough name value to be a viable contender immediately. I’m a big fan of “The Spider” and would love to see him get some true marquee match-ups in the UFC’s premier division. If “Shogun” Rua can retain his newly-won title against the winner of the upcoming “Rampage” Jackson/Rashad Evans bout, a Rua vs. Silva fight would certainly create vast rivers of drool amongst the sport’s hardcore fans.

Conlan: Giving Silva an immediate title shot sounds nice at first glance, but, as Tool pointed out, there are a number of factors involved beneath the surface making the scenario an unlikely one. Nogueira’s status in the division isn’t necessarily a problem, as he still needs to win a number of marquee match-ups before sniffing the strap, but Machida’s level of contendership could definitely be an issue considering “The Dragon” was champ less than a week ago. As much as it may irk the Zuffa brass, friendship and loyalty aren’t things fighters are as open to risking as big, shiny, oversized belt-buckles. Silva has always indicated he subscribes to the preceding belief, and because of that I doubt he’d be willing to potentially stymie Machida’s attempt at reclaiming the championship or open their relationship up to criticism over promotional positioning.

The only way I could see “The Spider” getting fast-tracked to a title shot is if he enters the bout with a defined timetable on the pending retirement he’s openly discussed in recent years. For example, if Silva stated he was hanging up his trademark yellow-and-black spandex shorts after two more fights (including the winner of Rua vs. Evans/Jackson) it would minimize the Machida fallout while still providing Anderson an opportunity to solidify his legacy in the sport. If he were to add the light heavyweight belt to his trophy cabinet he would retain the ability to defend it a single time against an exciting opponent, while losing at 205-pounds would open him up to a variety of possibilities including even a potential test at heavyweight.

Do you agree with the UFC’s decision to release Paul Daley based on his post-fight actions?

Tool: Absolutely. Dana White needed to send a clear message to any fighters in the company (and those that want to be) that this sort of behavior will not be tolerated. There are still places where mixed martial arts is not legal and actions like this do nothing to help the effort to get the sport regulated in those territories. Let’s not forget the so-called “phantom knee” thrown in the first round. It may not have landed cleanly (or at all) but the intent to deliver that illegal blow was clearly there. In one night Daley proved that he has a lot to learn about sportsmanship, and the UFC is no place for someone like that.

Some people are questioning the logic behind firing Daley while at the same time doing nothing to reprimand UFC fighter Nate Diaz for his actions in the brawl at “Strikeforce: Nashville”. To me the incidents are nothing alike. The Strikeforce brawl came about as a result of improper security measures in the cage, as well as a terrible error in judgment from Jason “Mayhem” Miller. The Diaz brothers, Jake Shields, and Gilbert Melendez reacted to the situation and while their actions shouldn’t be unaccountable, it was not the same as what Daley did. Daley acted of his own volition and he has nobody but himself to blame for the consequences.

Conlan: For me the answer to this is as clear as the message Dana White sent by immediately severing ties with Daley after “Semtex” blew his fuse…which is to say about as murky as a mudslide.

Let’s ignore for a second the ridiculous notion Nate Diaz didn’t act “of his own volition” when laying a series of kicks into a grounded Miller or that the UFC President wasn’t hamming it up with Shields, who was certainly at the center of the Strikeforce melee, at the recent “Faber vs. Aldo” WEC PPV. The UFC currently employs Phil Baroni and Gilbert Yvel. Why is this notable? Yvel has a trio of in-ring offenses in 1998-2004 to his name (biting an opponent, raking an opponent’s eyes, and striking a referee he felt was biased). Baroni got physical with an official in 2003. Neither has done anything similar since as far as I know. If the UFC is willing to accept their past transgressions, let alone illegal drug use or criminal activities associated with other fighters on their roster, why should Daley receive a permanent ban from the promotion?

A severe fine and suspension would have been as appropriate, if not more so, than branding the Brit as a lifetime leper. Why not use the situation as an educational tool rather than the flexing of corporate muscle? Reacting so severely makes it seem as though a warning had to be sent to other Mixed Martial Artists or to the public at large when incidents similar to the one at UFC 113 are in actuality slightly less rare than kind-hearted supermodels who religiously follow Grappling with Issues. Heavily penalizing Daley’s pocketbook, suspending him for a year, and maybe even forcing him to enroll in an anger management program during the twelve-month period his return was contingent on would have sent a stern message while also showing that the UFC actually cares about the individuals whose work their company is built on.

What’s next for Kimbo Slice now that he’s received his walking papers from Zuffa?

Tool: Going into UFC 113 it was believed that these two “TUF” 10 cast members were fairly evenly matched, but there’s no doubt that on Saturday night Kimbo got “Mitriowned.” If he’s not able to beat a fighter with a 1-0 record, is there any reason to think that Kimbo has anything to offer against the rest of the UFC’s heavyweight division? No there is not, and as such there’s really no place for him in the largest MMA organization in the world.

As for what’s next, I suppose that depends on what Kimbo’s career goals are. If he’s going to look for the largest paydays then it makes sense for him to make his way over to Japan. The MMA faithful over there are much less concerned with a fighter’s win/loss record than us fickle Americans. I’m sure at least once Japanese promotion would be willing to fork over the necessary coin to get Kimbo, and there’s no shortage of freak show “super-fights” available for him. Kimbo vs. Bob Sapp, anyone?

If Mr. Slice is still craving some real competition then perhaps he’d be better served by a lateral movement to the world of boxing. There had been talk of Kimbo making the jump to the “sweet science” before he was announced for The Ultimate Fighter, so it seems that it’s a move he’s interested in trying. There’s no way of knowing whether he’d be successful or not, but If he did change sports at least he wouldn’t have to worry about guys kicking the crap out of his legs anymore.

Conlan: Dancing with the Stars. Yes…seriously…bad knees or not – Dancing with the Stars. Slice’s future in the ring is limited no matter how you break it down. He’s on the north side of 35, has more-than questionable cardio, and is still a fish out of water when it comes to the finer points of MMA. His legs are apparently shot and he simply doesn’t have the power or technique to live up to the hype he entered the sport with. He can walk away from it with a winning record and his head hell high. Sure, a Japanese pay-day couldn’t hurt, and for some reason I’d wager he could probably pad his stats in the Far East with a few hand-selected pickled-ginger cans, but outside of cash there’s no reason for the bearded brawler to keep fighting.

Back to my original point, the thought of Kimbo Slice doing the foxtrot, waltz, and whatever other rug-cutting maneuvers are associated with a stint on the show Chuck Liddell once called home is “money” defined. In fact, if you read the previous sentence and didn’t smile at the image involved it’s because you just had a heart-attack and died midway through. My condolences to your family…

Moving on, Slice is an extremely personable fellow with a distinct look. I would like to see his management capitalize on his demeanor, appearance, background, and still-remaining fame in a medium that craves all four qualities – reality television. If not Dancing with the Stars, and yes I will be drinking a fifth of whiskey and eating raw, red meat after writing the name of that show as many times as I have in this piece, then perhaps a show chronicling his every day life in Miami as the single father of six children. Or, speaking of his bachelorhood, maybe “A Slice of Love” dating show on VH-1? My point is there’s no reason Kimbo needs to keep fighting outside of MAYBE a few juicy paychecks from overseas. His camp should focus on his personality and start exploring ways to make money that don’t involve him taking repeated blows to the face.

Make your picks for the next opponents of Matt Mitrione and Jeremy Stephens.

Conlan: Not the sexiest potential match-ups to prognosticate on but I like the challenge provided, as well as giving some attention to fighters who don’t generally get a lot of it from fans or media.

Though neither is in position to headline or even co-headline an event, Stephens is clearly closer to reaching that plateau than Mitrione based on experience/success, and as such I’d like to see his next fight involve a notable lightweight who is in a similar position career-wise. UFC 113 foe Sam Stout fit the bill – young, respectable record, seemingly on the cusp of making a run in the division – and as a result helped in delivering a “Fight of the Night” performance for both men because of the parity involved. Unfortunately a number of potential candidates are already scheduled for upcoming action such as Paul Kelly, Terry Etim, and Joe Lauzon. Stephens could certainly act as a replacement in one of those bouts if injury forces the issue, but I’d rather see “Lil Heathen” get the respect of a full training camp and official opponent. The UFC 114 bout between Efrain Escudero and Dan Lauzon is the perfect situation in that regard, as the winner will likely be available around the same time as Stephens and both possess the afore-mentioned qualities I’d like to see in the Iowan’s next in-ring adversary. Also, Lauzon and Escudero are appealing from a stylistic standpoint, and each match-up even has a backstory on which the UFC hype-machine can build (Stephens lost to Lauzon’s older brother at a “Fight Night” in 2009, Escudero is an Ultimate Fighter seasonal champion).

As far as “Meathead” goes, perspective needs to be kept when plotting his future. Mitrione only has two professional bouts under his belt and, though he emerged victorious in the pair of fights, his opponents were almost equally inexperienced and both were one-dimensional Mixed Martial Artists at that. The former NFL lineman has shown potential, but was also taken down fairly easily by Kimbo Slice and fell via submission to 4-4 TUF 10 cast-mate James McSweeney during the season. Mitrione needs to be given a step up in competition but not a high jump. Height jokes not withstanding, I think Stefan Struve would work in that capacity, as would Todd Duffee assuming he walks away the winner of his UFC 114 scrap with Mike Russow. Struve and Duffee are both recognizable names in the division who aren’t yet considered top shelf heavyweights and, like Mitrione, could use the exposure and experience.

Tool: I’ll echo Brendhan’s booking strategy by looking at opponents that could be ready to fight again around the same time as these two. For Stephens I’d love to see him face off with the winner of the upcoming Mac Danzig/Matt Wiman bout. I think either man would match up well with “Lil’ Heathen” as both fighters are more than willing to stand and bang, and that could create an explosive bout with Stephens. Danzig’s ground skills might spell a problem, but if Stephens was able to handle the far superior grappling skills of Rafael Dos Anjos then he shouldn’t have too much trouble should Danzig take things to the ground. I also like Brendhan’s logic behind a potential showdown with Escudero or Lauzon.

Mitrione obviously presents a bigger challenge from a match-making perspective, given his extremely limited experience. I can’t help but feel that Todd Duffee would murder Mitrione, but I’ve certainly been wrong about “Meathead” before. I do agree that Mitrione needs a step up, and I think he’d match up well with Antoni Hardonk. Hardonk is a kick-boxer that would almost certainly have little interest in taking Mitrione to the ground, and his striking acumen would provide a stern test for Mitrione’s wild punching power. If the UFC is looking to give Mitrione a sterner test then they could match up with the winner of the upcoming bout between his former teammate Brendan Schaub and Chris Tuchscherer.

Out of the four heavyweights fighting at Strikeforce this weekend, which do you feel has the most to prove?

Conlan: Andrei Arlovski by a mile, as the proverbial weight on his shoulders is far heavier than that Brett Rogers, Alistair Overeem, or Antonio Silva will be entering the ring with. Where once stood a man considered the future of MMA’s heavyweight division is now an individual who is 5-5 over his last ten fights and is coming off two consecutive knockout losses. Six of the seven bouts he’s dropped in his career have been by way of TKO leaving a lot of legitimate questions about his chin that will only be answered by absorbing damage and not ending face-down in the process. His opponent at the event, Silva, is a solid grappler for someone with his dimensions but owes the bulk of his professional wins to strikes (9/13). The Brazilian has never faced an opponent with Arlovski’s combination of speed, stand-up, and power, but he’ll only need to land one punch to finish the former UFC Heavyweight Champion’s evening while I’m not sure the same can be said in return. “Bigfoot” clearly has the ability to flatten Arlovski with strikes while only being rendered unable to continue once in fifteen fights. He’s a massive obstacle for “The Pitbull” to climb in hopes of avoiding a three-bout skid and may turn out to be the opponent who finally puts the hopes of a lot of fans to rest where the Belarusian’s future in MMA is concerned.

Though I understand there’s undoubtedly an argument to be made on this topic for Overeem needing to prove he’ll test clean for performance enhancing drugs, the reality is he’s never been caught using illegal substances unlike a number of other fighters out there, so the pressure on him is more imagined by people in the MMA community than a situation based in reality the “Demolition Man” should be concerned about. On the other hand, Arlovski is fighting for his credibility as a whole and on some levels even his future in the sport.

Tool: I would be tempted to say Arlovski as well, but allow me to play devil’s advocate and make the case for Alistair Overeem. Obviously he’s had more than his fair share of criticism regarding his physique and the manner of which he’s acquired it, but there’s more to the story than that. Since moving up to heavyweight three years ago Overeem has yet to defeat a single opponent that could be considered amongst the world’s best. The closest he came was his NC bout with Mirko Cro Cop in 2008, but even then it was a Cro Cop on his way down the mountain. People are clamoring for Overeem to face off with Fedor Emelianenko, but there’s no evidence to make people believe that the bout would be competitive. This weekend Brett Rogers will present Overeem with the toughest fight of his heavyweight career, and the performance given by the Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion will go a long way towards determining the path his career takes from here on out. If he loses in devastating fashion it will likely result in him heading back to Europe & Asia to fight the weakest cans in the world. If Overeem looks impressive against Rogers then he’ll take a big step towards silencing his critics and building towards a potential showdown with the best heavyweight in the world.

Which of the three undercard bouts on the Strikeforce card are you most excited for?

Conlan: It’s a toss-up for me between Antwain Britt vs. Rafael Cavalcante and Lyle Beerbohm vs. “Shaolin” Ribeiro.

It wasn’t long ago Cavalcante was considered to be a blue chip prospect in the light heavyweight division based on his association with Anderson Silva and ability to wipe opponents out rather than out-point them over three rounds (8-for-8 thus far in his career where finishes are concerned). “The Juggernaut” is no joke himself, winning four of his last five fights, and possesses enough to power in his fists to separate most 205-pounders from consciousness. It should be interesting to see how things play out in terms of whether “Feijao” opts to stand with Britt or work his high-level jiujitsu in hopes of avoiding a clean blow to the chin. Additional to my interest in how their styles pair up, it should also be pointed out the winner will probably find himself on a fast track to a title shot based on the relative shallowness of Strikeforce’s light heavyweight pool while the loser will probably be relegated to a future “Challengers” card instead of playing a significant role at a larger event. All those involved factors definitely appear to be a recipe for an entertaining bout.

Similarly, the lightweight bout between Beerbohm and Ribeiro is also fascinating on a number of levels. “Shaolin” is 20-3 but hasn’t lived up to his billing since beating Joachim Hansen, Mitsuhiro Ishida, and Tatsuya Kawajiri a number of years ago. However, he’s still a massive submission threat, and all three of his losses have come against highly respected opponents (Kawajiri, Shinya Aoki, and JZ Calvancante). And, though Beerbohm may be known more for his nickname, “Fancy Pants”, than what he’s accomplished in the ring, he’s actually a skilled, well-rounded fighter who is undefeated and has finished twelve of the thirteen foes he’s faced. Beating Ribeiro would be the biggest win of Beerbohm’s career and firmly plant him on MMA’s radar as a fighter to watch. The outcome will either signify a changing of the guard or a veteran rising up to beat a talented young prospect. How can fans come out losers in that equation?

Tool: The Beerbohm/Ribeiro match-up is one I’m also particularly looking forward to, although given Strikeforce’s track record I have to believe that there’s only the slimmest of chances that we’ll get to see the fight make it onto the Showtime broadcast. If the event ends 20 minutes early and we don’t get to see this fight then there will undoubtedly be some very upset fans out there, and Strikeforce will have missed out on a crucial opportunity to spotlight a potential contender for their lightweight title.

Call me old fashioned, but I still get excited when there’s a fighter on the card with the last name Gracie. Roger Gracie is still green in the world of mixed-martial arts but his grappling abilities cannot be denied. Kevin Randleman may not present the sternest challenge for the young Brazilian but he is a veteran fighter that could easily spoil the Strikeforce debut of Mr. Gracie. Randleman’s wrestling ability could give Gracie all kinds of trouble in terms of taking the fight to the ground and while it’s been a long time since he knocked anybody out, it could be a short night for Gracie if he decides to trade blows with “The Monster.” This fight won’t have the same kind of title implications as the aforementioned Cavalcante/Britt bout, but an impressive performance from Gracie could put him in the mix amongst contenders very quickly (especially given the shallow waters of the Strikeforce light heavyweight division).

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