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Grappling with Issues – 5/28/10

Who poses the bigger threat to the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship: “Rampage” Jackson or Rashad Evans? Which Ultimate Fighter champ will have the best showing at UFC 114? Which underdog fighter do you think will pull off the upset this weekend? Which fight at DREAM.14 are you most excited for?

There were two MMA events last weekend and we‘ve got two more coming up this weekend. On the eve of UFC 114 and DREAM.14 it‘s time once again for me, Adam Tool, to do battle with my esteemed colleague Brendhan Conlan as we go around the world of mixed-martial arts in a back-and-forth battle to the finish. Once we’ve had our say you can make your voice heard in the comment box below.

And now, in the words of Cecil Peoples…LET’S DANCE!

From top to bottom, was Moosin MMA better, worse, or on par with what you originally expected it to be?

Adam Tool: This will be a particularly hard question to answer, seeing as how I (probably like you) didn’t watch the event. I did catch the bout between Roxanne Modafferi and Tara LaRosa over the weekend, as it was the only reason I would have made any effort to watch the show. That bout was highly entertaining, but I just couldn’t get interested in tracking down the rest of the card. From what I read on Twitter it sounds as if the event suffered from some extremely annoying commentary (including the usually entertaining Bas Rutten) and odd production choices. I remember reading something about them showing a backstage interview with Yves Edwards while he was fighting. It sounds as though event co-promoter Eric “Butterbean” Esch was trying to insert some humor into the proceedings, and by all accounts that effort failed. I saw the results afterwards and they offered little surprise: Tim Sylvia beat a guy in his third professional fight, Travis Lutter gassed before the first round was over (SHOCKING!), and Travis Wiuff took the co-main event spot to destroy some guy you’ve never heard of.

I didn’t expect much from Moosin, so I guess they met those expectations. I’ll just defer to my colleague here since he actually watched the event, so perhaps he will enlighten us all as to what a stellar card we missed.

Brendhan Conlan: I’d say it was slightly “better” than expected. I enjoyed the in-ring action for the most part. The preliminary bouts featured a gritty, three-round scrap between Forrest Petz and Ralph Johnson and highlight-worthy knockout from Lukasz Jurkowski two minutes into his fight against Ho Jin Kim. The main card lived up to its billing as well. Modafferi and LaRosa went back and forth for fifteen minutes with Roxanne, a huge underdog in terms of the betting odds, winning the biggest fight of her career while appearing to also be having the best time of her life. If you watched that bout and weren’t smiling at some point, especially given Modafferi’s infectious grin, then I believe there’s a job opening on a cliff overlooking the town of Dr. Suess’ Who-ville you may want to look into. Local competitor Mike Campbell also pulled off an upset by beating Edwards and weathering a number of slick attacks from the MMA veteran in the process. Lutter’s loss was the result of being smacked around like a pinata, not a lack of conditioning, and Rafael Natal deserves credit in the sense he again showed he’s not wholly reliant on his jiujitsu to beat opponents. As far as Wiuff, I don’t see the harm in a thirty-four second knockout, and even Sylvia vs. Pudzianowski had its moments including an exceptionally excited audience, a Polish rapper, and “Pudz” absorbing a few brutal knees to his face without flinching once.

There were definitely some questionable production choices throughout the event but I would be lying if I said they didn’t also add a level of unintentional comedic, entertainment value to Moosin’s offering. The backstage interviews were plentiful to be sure and included classic moments like the ring girls awkwardly making conversation with the camera in their dressing room, as well as Rutten exiting the restroom. “El Guapo” delivered his unique brand of Bas’isms, and his play-by-play guy was…well…frankly, he was terrible but in a way that lived up to the cliche of being “so bad” it was “good”. Fortunately for me, I caught a large portion of the Polish broadcast instead of the American one, and I have to say it was nice focusing on the action instead of the commentary. I also have to offer my praise to a nation of Polish advertising executives for creating some of the best beer commercials known to mankind.

My standards entering the show, as they are with every event, was that the evening’s proceedings would result in a product more entertaining than not. As such, I’d say Moosin definitely exceeded my expectations. Was it stellar? No. Was it entertaining? Yes (though not always for the “right” reasons).

Based on last Friday’s Strikeforce event, would you rather see Tyron Woodley or Roger Bowling get the call up to round out a future non-Challengers event?

Tool: Just going by their performances on Friday, it’s hard not hop on the Bowling bandwagon. That being said though, I still feel that Woodley deserves to move on from the Challengers series first. His win over Nathan Coy wasn’t the most impressive performance we’ve seen thus far, but it’s hard to discount his previous fights and the domination he’s shown in them. Woodley is still undefeated and is arguably the biggest star created by the Challengers series, so I say put him on the main card of an upcoming regular Strikeforce event and see what happens. He needs more exposure and some better competition before we can truly see where he stacks up, so why not toss him in against somebody like Joe Riggs?

Conlan: Woodley may be more deserving of the honor but there’s no question Bowling should get the call up in favor of “T-Wood” based purely on what each individual displayed at the Challengers event. Bowling’s fight with Voelker was akin to seeing a lighter version of Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar duking it out. It was fast-paced, full of “oohs” and “ahhs”, and a bout MMA fans owe it to themselves to watch regardless of either man’s name value. On the other hand, Woodley barely got by Coy and was fortunate to have avoided the first loss of his career. Bowling is a striker (somewhere Mauro Ranallo is smiling), so his style is more fan-friendly than Woodley’s wrestling and ground-based attack, and in that sense it also makes sense to feature him on a bigger card. Then again, both men are welterweights and remain undefeated, so why not kill two birds with one stone and have them fight each other alongside a few of Strikeforce’s premier names to open up a future CBS card? I for one, to paraphrase NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens, would have my “popcorn ready” for that particular pairing.

Which underdog on the UFC 114 card do you feel has the best chance of pulling off an “upset” in his respective bout?

Tool: Looking at the current betting lines for the showdown there’s a pretty clear choice as to who my favored underdog is on this card, as Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is currently a slight dog against Rashad Evans. The line (at +105 as of this writing) represents the 14 month layoff Jackson has had since he beat Keith Jardine at UFC 96, although recent pictures show that Jackson has clearly gotten himself back into fighting shape since filming wrapped on The A-Team. Still, we can’t forget the sluggish version of “Rampage” that lost a decision to Forrest Griffin, and Jackson himself said that the long stretch of downtime filming “The Ultimate Fighter” hurt his performance that night. I’m picking “Rampage” to win on Saturday, but I can certainly understand why Evans might be a small favorite right now.

If we’re talking about true underdogs on the card, then I would have to advise people not to sleep on Dan Miller in his bout with Michael Bisping. Miller represents one of the toughest grapplers that “The Count” has had to face in his UFC career. While the elder Miller brother may be on a two-fight skid, those losses came against the last guy to fight for the title and the next guy to fight for the title. Against everyone else he’s faced in the UFC, Miller has looked outstanding. Bisping has been favoring the takedown/ground control element of MMA more and more lately, but if he chooses to take this fight to the ground he may end up receiving the first submission loss of his career.

Conlan: I don’t view Jackson as an underdog so he’s out of the running. After all, I don’t want him EVER hitting a punching bag while screaming “he’s dead” and thinking about me. Moving on, while I think John Hathaway has an above-average chance of beating Diego Sanchez, like Tool I’m going to show some love to Miller by saying I think he’s likely to beat Bisping assuming he doesn’t get caught on the chin while standing. Miller’s boxing is good enough to exchange with the Brit, though he doesn’t possess Bisping’s power or diversity of strikes. However, his grappling is of enough quality to control “The Count” in most positions, and if you look at Bisping’s record he’s traditionally struggled against opponents who excel on the mat.

I also feel there’s an intangible quality involved on Saturday that favors Miller because New Jersey native is fighting with a special sense of motivation. ESPN journalist Franklin McNeil did a far better job documenting the particulars than I will in this paragraph, but essentially Miller’s young son has dealt with health problems since conception that have recently, fortunately, taken a turn for the better as of late. He competed against Sonnen shortly after losing a daughter during birth and against Maia weeks after his boy’s (not to mention he fought with a dislocated thumb). I will never underestimate the power of the human will or mankind’s ability to achieve the incredible when such personal stakes are involved.

In my mind, the sum of the circumstances, as well as how the two match-up, favors Miller to pull of the upset in comparison to the other respective bouts on the card. I don’t know that he’ll submit Bisping but I can definitely see a decision win going his way.

UFC 114 features 5 former “Ultimate Fighter” champions on the card. Make your pick for the “TUF” champ who you think will have the best performance of the evening.

Conlan: Efrain Escudero, though he arguably has the easiest fight of the night in the bunch, and that’s not a knock on Dan Lauzon but rather a compliment to the other competitors the former Ultimate Fighter champs will be facing (Quinton Jackson, Dan Miller, Dong Hyun Kim, and rising star John Hathaway). Escudero has shown flashes of possessing exceptional talent in a string of solid performances. Though he suffered damaged tendons in his arm after refusing to tap against Evan Dunham at Fight Night 20 last January, I don’t suspect he’ll show any ill effects come showtime on Saturday night as the injuries weren’t particularly severe and the limb in question carries different weight both literally and figuratively than would be the case had he shredded his knee/ankle.

Escudero has the grappling ability to win most of the takedown and positioning battles plus the kind of heart willing to take a fight into deeper waters than most. It’s one thing to go out on your shield when it comes to being choked but to accept the possibility of a broken bone or snapped ligament, as he did against Dunham, is an entirely different level of ballsy foolishness. Lauzon appears to have the better striking based on the number of TKOs he’s earned over a career comparable to the Ultimate Fighter Season 8 champion, but I get the sense he’s more of a brawler than technically proficient on his feet, and I can see Efrain committing to movement/jabs to set up his ground game rather than engaging in a slugfest that could favor “The Upgrade”.

Also, though I have no insight into the matter, based on statements from all involved it has to be noted that the Massachusetts native is dealing with some personal issues involving his camp and brother/fellow UFC fighter Joe Lauzon. Regardless of which side is telling the truth there remains a definite divide between the two, and I would be shocked if it didn’t wear on Dan to some degree given the importance of one’s mental state in the cage. In my mind, all the factors add up for Escudero to look sharp and Lauzon to potentially seek employment elsewhere on the heels of a loss, and as such he’s my pick for being most likely to have the “best performance” out of the all event’s TUF alumni.

Tool: It’s hard to argue against picking Escudero here, as his previous performances combined with his opponent’s questionable training regiment should make this a relatively easy win. The rest of the “TUF” champions have some much bigger challenges ahead of them. Amir Sadollah gets to face the first high-level judoka of his career, Michael Bisping has to contend with the aggressive grappling skills of Dan Miller, and Rashad Evans will have to deal with the knockout power of “Rampage” Jackson.

Aside from Efrain, my money would be on Diego Sanchez to pull out the best performance of the “TUF” champs. He’s facing the highly-touted British prospect John Hathaway, who will be looking to maintain his perfect record and move to 4-0 in the octagon. There’s always plenty of question marks when an up-and-comer faces one of the UFC’s veterans. We don’t yet know how Hathaway will perform in this, the biggest test of his career. He could stun the crowd by dominating Sanchez early, but that’s probably the least likely result.

The loss to BJ Penn has undoubtedly put a big hit on Sanchez’s momentum, but we should all remember that he can be one of the most aggressive fighters in the UFC. His striking isn’t always technically impressive but he throws with plenty of power, especially when demonstrating his own brand of brutal ground-and-pound. Sanchez will also have a clear advantage if the fight goes to the ground, so he may very well look for the takedown early and often. The loss to Penn will give Diego plenty of motivation, and the fact that he doesn’t have to cut down to lightweight should allow him to come into the octagon in tremendous shape. Add in a dash of self-realization (YES!) and it should be a good night for the “Nightmare.”

Which of the main event participants do you think has a better chance of dethroning Mauricio “Shogun” Rua for the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship?

Conlan: I think Quinton is a pretty clear favorite between the two in terms of potentially snatching “Shogun” Rua’s title, and I’ll be very interested to see the case for “Sugar” ‘Shad if Tool or any of GWI’s readers choose to make it. He has the power to flatten any opponent when standing or ground-and-pounding, as well as the ability to absorb a good amount of damage, and I honestly don’t think the same can be said about Evans.

Jackson’s jaw appears to be made out of the same material as the chain he wears en route to the ring and has only been unlocked three out of thirty-seven times. Those knockouts were each the result of a series of vicious knees/stomps and came 5-7 years ago. Yes, Rua was one of two opponents to accomplish the feat against “Rampage”, and the method in which Jackson avenged his losses to the other isn’t relevant because the current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion is most certainly not Wanderlei Silva. However, Jackson has improved since his days in PRIDE, and competing in the Octagon, as well as under a set of rules allowing elbows and preventing the type of kicks to a downed opponent which assisted in his defeat to “Shogun”, could result in a very different fight than their original clash in April 2005. I’m confident the “A-Team” star would be as motivated to erase the taste of Rua’s knees from his mouth as he’d ever been for any bout in his career, and as has been evident in his career, an amped Jackson can be a very dangerous foe to deal with.

Tool: I can’t argue with Brendhan’s reasoning for leaning towards “Rampage,” but just for the sake of comparison I think perhaps I should make the case for Rashad.

Since winning the second season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” Rashad Evans has been nearly flawless in the octagon. Other than the knockout loss to Machida he’s been the clear winner in every contest he’s entered. There have been moments of weakness, such as the first round against Forrest Griffin or the last round against Thiago Silva, but overall Evans has shown a tremendous ability to force opponents into fighting his fight. Despite all the trash-talking and high emotion heading into Saturday night, I’m fairly confident that Evans will utilize the most logical gameplan: get “Rampage” on the ground and keep him there for 15 minutes. If Evans can score the win then he’ll get a second shot at the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship, but can he beat “Shogun?”

I believe that he can. Evans has made great strides in his striking and while he may not be able to match the attack of Rua, he’s shown several times that he’s got knockout power. Nobody figured that Evans would be able to hold his own on the feet against Chuck Liddell, but we all know how that turned out. “Shogun” had trouble avoiding the takedowns of Mark Coleman, and I can guarantee that Evans will come into the fight in better shape than “The Hammer” did. If the fight happens then I’d probably pick “Shogun” to win, but I also wouldn’t count Evans out as he’d be more than capable of pulling off the victory.

Which fight at DREAM.14 are you most interested in seeing?

Conlan: Though the same stakes aren’t involved as in the past, “Sakuraba vs. Gracie” still rolls off my tongue and is Coltraine to my ears. It conjures up memories of a MMA rivalry dating back more than a decade; of the Japanese superstar’s run against the family earning him one of the sport’s classic nicknames – “The Gracie Hunter”; of his hour-plus test of endurance against Royce in 2000.

Come DREAM 14, Ralek will mark the fifth member of the Gracie clan Sakuraba has stepped into the ring against. That in itself is an amazing accomplishment on both sides of the equation. However, the 24-year old Brazilian bearer-of-the-flame is more than just a name. He’s 2-0 with the kind of submission skills fans of Mixed Martial Arts expect of a Gracie. His lack of fights is based more on choice than circumstance, as he apparently prefers teaching jiujitsu to getting punched in the face (go figure), but it isn’t as though he’ll be stepping into the ring with a pound-for-pound great or even the “Saku” of ten years ago.

Sakuraba is pushing 42 and has been through a number of in-ring wars in his career. He’s not in any way a threat on his feet, but then again neither is Gracie so it’s a push where stand-up is concerned. That leaves what should be one HELLUVA competitive grappling match between the two! Even if you think the iconic catch-wrestler is “over the hill” or “used up”, there is no denying his 9-3 record over the past five years or the fact he’s coming off a first-round submission of Zelg Galesic. I think it makes for an intriguing match-up regardless of their difference in experience, unranked status, or the nostalgic value of the last names involved, and without a doubt it’s the one I’m most anticipating at the event.

Tool: I’m going to take the easy route and pick the evening’s main event: Nick Diaz vs. Hayato “Mach” Sakurai. Diaz has all but abandoned his jiu-jitsu game in favor of his boxing, and we know Sakurai will be more than happy to oblige him in a stand-up war. I don’t think there’s too much question about the outcome, especially given Sakurai’s recent slide, but in terms of sheer entertainment value this bout promises to give fans their money’s worth.

When it comes right down to it I’m a fan of Nick Diaz. That’s getting harder and harder to say with each passing in-cage brawl that he’s been a part of, but I find the guy to be fun as hell to watch in the cage. The peppering punches, relentless taunting, and endless aggression all ensure that a Nick Diaz fight will not be boring. In the end that’s really all I’m asking for.

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