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Grappling with Issues – 5/21/10

Would you prefer Alistair Overeem fought Fedor Emelianenko or signed with the UFC before the end of 2010? What would you tell Andrei Arlovski after watching him lose for the third straight time? Is Matt Lindland on his last leg where current relevance in MMA is concerned? Are you more excited about the heavyweight headliners at Moosin MMA or the battle between bad-ass Betties a few fights down on the card?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!

If you’re reading these lines you’ve made it through another work-week and are back in the friendly digital confines of “Grappling with Issues”, our site’s resident Friday feature highlighting insight and opinion from Adam Tool and myself on six subjects plucked from the Mixed Martial Arts landscape. 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…

More appealing match-up at this weekend’s Moosin MMA event – Tim Sylvia vs. Mariusz Pudzianowski or Tara LaRosa vs. Roxanne Modafferi?

Adam Tool: In essence this question is asking which fight I’ll be looking for first when I hit the internet Saturday morning to catch up on some fights, and the answer is LaRosa vs. Modafferi. I could care less about anything Tim Sylvia does anymore; he lost a big chunk of whatever respect I had for him following is 36 second clowning at the hands of Fedor Emelianenko. He could have salvaged his career by coming back with a hard-fought win over a respectable opponent, but instead he got knocked out in less than 10 seconds by a 48 year old boxer making his professional MMA debut. The headlining bout at Moosin seems like it’s designed to give Pudzianowski (who comes up second to Krzysztof Soszynski in the “Fighters Whose Name I Hate Typing” category) a legitimate name to add to his meager record. A win over the former body builder does little to help Sylvia’s reputation, and a loss just sends him further down the heavyweight rankings.

LaRosa and Modafferi are two legitimate fighters in the world of women’s MMA, with LaRosa being one of the top P4P female fighters in the world. We’ve got the always intriguing striker vs. grappler dynamic for this bout, and Modafferi will no doubt be hungry to avenge her loss to LaRosa in their previous meeting. Strikeforce is supposed to be the home for women’s MMA but so far this year they’ve dropped the ball as far as promoting new talent. With a win here Modafferi could easily be pegged as an upcoming contender for Sarah Kaufman’s championship, but it’s tough to see where LaRosa goes from here unless she’s willing to move back up to 135 lbs. In any case this should be an entertaining scrap between two aggressive young ladies, and I’m looking forward to watching it in grainy flash video on Saturday morning.

Brendhan Conlan: Tool essentially squished my opinion into a little ball and smacked it over the fence for a homerun. Though the result of Sylvia’s almost-guaranteed slop-fest with Pudzianowski is fascinating in a sick way I’m far more interested in seeing how the action unfolds in LaRosa vs. Modafferi.

I don’t fault “The Maine-iac” for taking what he felt would be an easy win against an opponent with some name value (Ray Mercer) on the heels of losing 3-of-4 against top shelf competition. It was a calculated risk and a gamble he ultimately paid for by sacrificing his already-wavering reputation in the sport with both the loss and by showing up as though he’d trained at Pillsbury Top Team for the bout. However, embarrassing knockout aside, it has to be noted Sylvia had only finished a single opponent in the four years prior. Looking at his record seems to indicate Tim-meh benefited more from a distinct size advantage coupled with a shallow heavyweight pool, rather than a particular set of skills, to earn his reputation as a two-time UFC champion. His physical dimensions and past praise will always make Sylvia an attraction, but then again the same can also be said about the “World’s Biggest Ball of Yarn”. Fighting a 2-0 former strong-man who once tested positive for performance enhancing drugs has “freak show” appeal but doesn’t compare from a competitive standpoint to the other pairing mentioned in this topic’s subject line.

Modafferi is 7-1 since 2007 with the lone loss coming in a match she took on short notice against Marloes Coenen, a naturally bigger and equally respectable Mixed Martial Artist. LaRosa is currently riding a fifteen-fight win streak and is 18-1 over her eight-year career. They fought to a decision in 2006, so there’s a familiarity there that should breed engagement because both already have a fair idea of what to expect when they lock horns or stand and bang. Their combined skill, heart displayed in previous fights, and styles should make for an entertaining scrap and definitely one I find to be more appealing than that featuring 4X the weight.

What advice would you give Andrei Arlovski on the heels of losing his third consecutive fight?

Tool: Honestly, I have no idea. He’s spent the last two years dedicating a bulk of his training to boxing, yet he was clearly being handled on the feet by Antonio Silva. I don’t know if that owes more to Arlovski’s decline or Silva’s improvement, but there’s little left of the mystique “The Pitbull” once had. He’s still got plenty of name value amongst casual fans so he’ll keep getting fights as long as he wants to but there’s no reason to believe that he’ll have a spot amongst the heavyweight elite any longer.

If I had to mark one area for improvement it might just be cardio. Late in the fight it looked as though Silva had all but punched himself out (at least, that’s the only reason I can think of as to why he insisted on continually clinching against the cage) and Arlovski could have turned things around if he would have had to the gas to really pour it on. He’s got to be feeling better about his chin after taking some of Silva’s best shots, and I still believe that his striking looked awesome against Fedor (right up until the flying knee of course), so I don’t think I’m ready to write Andrei off completely. The long layoff between his last two fights might have played a factor, so I think he should try and get back in the cage as soon as possible if he’s to have any hope of breaking this losing streak.

Conlan: If I was in Arlovski’s ear I would concentrate on the positives stemming from his loss to “Bigfoot” Silva, encourage him to continue training outside of his comfort zone, and get him in touch with Georges St. Pierre (or comparable high-level athlete) to discuss the benefit potentially derived from speaking to a sports psychologist.

As Tool mentioned, “The Pitbull” absorbed a few clean shots from Silva and never went limp in the process. Obviously Arlovski is interested in actual victories, not moral ones, but his retention of consciousness is an important fact to note when owing 3/4 of his career losses to having it taken from him while Silva has an equal ratio of career wins by TKO. The bout as a whole was relatively close and essentially up for grabs. A few tweaks in strategy and perhaps a bit more mental focus between bells would have likely resulted in a Belarusian victor rather than a Brazilian one.

Moving on, my understanding is that Arlovski spent some time training at American Kickboxing Academy and Greg Jackson‘s Submission Fighting rather than working with his regular group of pre-fight handlers. I think it was a wise decision on his part regardless of result, as I truly believe improvement goes hand-in-hand with the type of preparation Mixed Martial Artists receive in camps as deep and experienced as those mentioned (as well as 5-10 others). There’s no doubt in my mind Andrei would get an infinite amount more out of sparring and grappling with actual peers rather than peons, and the type of knowledge found in places featuring guys like Jackson or Dave Camarillo is an asset any fighter is lucky to have in their corner.

Finally, though I have no idea if he’s already sought counsel on the matter, I think it would behoove Arlovski to spend some time speaking with a sports psychologist. There is no underestimating the influence an athlete’s mental state has on his/her performance during “go” time. I would be shocked if the manners in which Emelianenko and Brett Rogers beat him don’t still play his mind at some level, and I suspect his hesitance to fully engage against a lessened Silva in the final round may have actually been evidence of doubt-laced caution rather than questionable conditioning. I don’t think it’s far-fetched to think his self-esteem may have taken another dip with a third consecutive loss nor is it crazy to think Arlovski may enter his next match-up with additional stress/anxiety due to the possibility of going 0-4. Talking to a professional equipped to handle people in similar situations could genuinely help the former UFC Heavyweight Champion regain his mojo and get back to baring his fangs in the cage.

Of the four Brazilian’s to emerge victorious at “Strikeforce – Heavy Artillery”, who were you most impressed by – Rafael Cavalcante, Roger Gracie, “Jacare” Souza, or Antonio Silva?

Tool: Each fighter’s win was impressive for one reason or another, but the fighter whose performance stood out the most to me would have to be “Jacare.” I’ve been watching Souza’s career with interest for a few years now and I’m pleased to see him starting to make waves here in the U.S. While the announcers on Saturday night might have wanted you to think that “Jacare” and Joey Villasenor were having a great back-and-forth battle, the reality is that Souza dominated the fight from bell to bell. His cardio may not have been where he wanted it to be in the third round, but that’s only the second time in his career he’s gone the distance (and he won both times). As Jason High pointed out on Twitter, Souza isn’t like most jiu-jitsu fighters when it comes to taking the fight to the ground. Whereas Demian Maia or Thales Leites might pull guard, Souza has a mean shot that worked almost every time on Saturday. Once he’s on the ground there are few fighters in the world that can match his grappling ability, and I’ll give credit to the toughness of Villasenor for surviving and getting out of some bad situations. I’m sure he would have preferred to get the finish but in the end “Jacare” gave a dominant performance that puts him right at the top of the list of contenders for the Strikeforce Middleweight Championship. Now we just have to wait and see who he’s going to fight for that title (note to Scott Coker: please not “Mayhem” Miller).

Conlan: Credit to all of the names involved, and I can’t argue against Tool’s choice of “Jacare” (though I wouldn’t mind seeing he and Miller give it a third go-round with the Strikeforce title involved), but I was actually most-impressed by Rafael Cavalcante’s performance against Antwain Britt. “The Juggernaut” may not quite be at Villasenor’s level in terms of experience of success in the cage, but he also wasn’t coming off nearly a year’s layoff between bouts and has twice as many fights in the last two-and-half years as “Smokin” Joe does. Britt has heavy hands and put them on “Feijao” a few times to no avail only to end up slumped against the cage, then finished, due to some well-placed strikes from the blackbelt in BJJ. Cavalcante is now 9-for-9 in terms of finishing opponents he’s beaten in the first ten minutes of action and has yet to rely on his submission arsenal to pull out victories. The performance was too impressive as far as I’m concerned to opt for someone who fought to a decision.

Which would you rather see: Alistair Overeem fights Fedor Emelianenko before the year is up, or Overeem goes to the UFC and mixes it up with the new class of top heavyweights?

Conlan: Tough question! I’ll go with Overeem vs. Emelianenko by the width of a thread plucked from the Russian’s favorite sweater. I’m confident “The Demolition Man” will eventually end up in the UFC regardless of when the move actually takes place, while I think the number of Fedor’s future fights – especially against top competition – is a bit more debatable and its limited nature should be capitalized on. Also, assuming Emelianenko emerges victoriously from his San Jose showdown with Fabricio Werdum on June 26th, an added bonus to a bout with the imposing Dutch striker is it serving as a proper Strikeforce Heavyweight Championship match rather than inviting criticism of the title due to the involvement of lesser competition or enormous gaps in the strap being defended.

I’d love to see Overeem slugging it out in the UFC against Junior dos Santos, Cain Velasquez, Shane Carwin, or Brock Lesnar as much as anyone else, but all involved parties are young enough to see those outcomes to fruition within the next couple of years. On the other hand, “The Last Emperor” has recently dealt with a slew of nagging injuries and has little left to prove in his career outside of the Octagon (a possibility seeming less-and-less likely with each passing day). Putting the two together before year’s end would give Emelianenko a chance to further solidify his legacy against a respected, and much larger, heavyweight while also allowing Alistair an opportunity to become the first fighter to legitimately beat Fedor and reap the benefits attached to such a feat.

Tool: At the moment I would also probably have to lean towards Emelianenko vs. Overeem myself, if for no other reason than because Overeem represents the lone interesting opponent for Fedor at the moment. If Fedor can’t fight Alistair then what is there left for him to do? Fight worthless cans in Japan on New Year’s Eve? Take on guys out of their weight class like Dan Henderson and “King Mo” Lawal? I know Fedor doesn’t really care about taking on the best fighters in the world, but it’s something his fans would like to see if they’re going to have any ammunition in the ongoing pound-for-pound debate.

Overeem will have to make his way to the UFC sooner or later if he wants to considered the best in the world, but he does have the luxury of time. The UFC’s heavyweight division has four guys at the top right now, and none of them have faced each other yet. There’s still some work to be done in establishing the pecking order amongst Lesnar, Carwin, Velasquez, and Dos Santos, and by the time things start to sort themselves out the timing should be right for Overeem to come in and establish his place. If he enters the UFC as the man who shattered Fedor’s mystique, then the interest level shoots right up for any potential dream bout he takes in the octagon.

Should the winner of tonight’s Tyron Woodley/Nathan Coy fight become the top contender to Nick Diaz’s Strikeforce Welterweight Championship?

Conlan: I can see Woodley receiving a title shot with a win, especially with Jay Hieron’s Strikeforce future currently in limbo, but in no way should Coy get a crack at Diaz’s belt regardless of how convincing his method of victory might be. The three-fight streak he’s riding was preceded by back-to-back losses and involves competition with a combined record equating to a single win over even. Tonight only marks his second appearance in Strikeforce with the initial bout coming more than two years ago. Beating a rising star like “T-Wood” would be impressive but isn’t enough to thrust him into championship contention.

However, if Woodley walks away winner he’ll move to 7-0 as a professional and 4-0 in Strikeforce. He’s finished five of his six opponents in the first round and the sixth only made it through about ¾ of the second stanza. Another early submission or TKO would further establish the 28-year old as one of the company’s legitimate rising stars, and with a roster of welterweights thinner than Cory Hill trying to cut to 135-pounds it would make sense to give the Mizzou alumnus a shot. Additionally, if Strikeforce wants to capitalize on the recent heat between Jason “Mayhem” Miller and champ Nick Diaz, they can always make a future catch-weight bout for the two rivals while pairing Woodley against either Marius Zaromskis or Evangelista Santos (depending on who walks away winner at June 16th’s Strikeforce event in Los Angeles) to keep him active and erase any leftover doubts about how deserved his contendership is.

Tool: Brendhan’s right on the money here, as Strikeforce has a very real prospect in Tyron Woodley. His run on Strikeforce Challengers has been impressive, but with a win tonight the time will be right for him to take on a bigger role within the company. The welterweight division in Strikeforce is so devoid of talent that Woodley makes as much sense as anyone else. He also represents a great stylistic match-up for Diaz, as his wrestling pedigree could likely allow him to dictate where the bout takes place, and his heavy hands would be a good test for Diaz’s legendary chin and peppering punches. Other than the aforementioned Hieron, I can’t think of anyone else that Strikeforce could get to represent a credible threat to Diaz’s title.

TRUE/FALSE – His headlining spot on tonight’s Strikeforce Challengers card represents Matt Lindland’s last chance at relevancy in the current MMA scene.

Conlan: False, though certainly a loss to any associate of reality television whore Spencer Pratt would destroy the bulk of his remaining credibility as a contender. Lindland may be 3-4 over his last seven bouts but keep in mind the people he’s lost to over that period – Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (a split decision by the way), Vitor Belfort, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, and Fedor Emelianenko. It’s not as if low-level fighters are mopping the mat with the Team Quest founding-father. Yes, he’s 40 and on the downside of his career, but he’s not on the border of crossing over into “Ken Shamrock” territory. It would take a string of consecutive losses to fighters of Casey’s caliber before I’d comfortably state Lindland had lost all relevance in the sport.

Tool: I’ll go with true, as I can’t see Lindland doing anything of note in the near future should he fall to Kevin Casey. Personally I couldn’t look at myself in the mirror anymore if I lost to a guy that uses Spencer Pratt for credibility, but that’s me. Brendhan has a good point about the quality of opposition Lindland has lost to, but it’s also fair to point out that his last win was two years ago against the less-than-impressive Fabio Nascimento. “The Law” has gone 1-3 since then, and the only real interest he’s garnered from the MMA media is centered around his attempt at a political career and the upcoming documentary about his life. He doesn’t have the fan support of somebody like Jens Pulver, so will anybody still want to see Lindland fight if he can’t get a win or two along the way?

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