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Grappling with Issues – 6/11/10

Should fans be thankful Rich Franklin is fighting Chuck Liddell as opposed to Tito Ortiz? If KJ Noons can get by Conor Heun next Wednesday should Strikeforce promote a rematch with rival Nick Diaz or let him focus on the lightweight division? Who will pull off the biggest upset at UFC 115? Will Saturday night mark Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic‘s last appearance in the Octagon if he falls to Pat Barry? Are you interested in seeing “The A-Team” because of Quinton Jackson‘s involvement or are you planning to skip it altogether regardless of “Rampage”?

Seven months ago, a crack commando journalism unit was sent to prison by a court of editors for a typo they didn’t commit. These men promptly escaped from a maximum security stockade to the Underground. Today, still wanted by the FCC, they survive as soldiers of fortune without the actual fortune involved. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire… The GWI-Team!

Please forgive me if this week’s introduction is brief, but I’m fairly certain I saw a Predator drone marked with Sherdog‘s logo circle my current location so time is clearly of the essence. As always, Adam Tool (callsign: B.A. Tool) and myself (callsign: Brend-hannibal) are here to provide insight and opinion on topics plucked from the MMA landscape. However, this week’s edition has SEVEN savory subjects for the two of us to dissect in honor of Quinton Jackson’s potentially star-making role in “The A-Team”. 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…

Fastest finish come June 16th’s “Strikeforce – Los Angeles” card – Robbie Lawler vs. Renato Sobral or Marius Zaromskis vs. Evangelista Santos?

Adam Tool: I’ve got to go with Zaromskis vs. Santos for this one. Both men are highly-touted strikers with plenty of KO wins on their records. Santos is certainly more than capable of using his jiu-jitsu to get the job done, but I believe it’s more likely we’ll see these two come out aggressive right from the opening bell. If this fight makes it past the first round I’ll be somewhat surprised, but of course I have been wrong about this sort of thing before.

As for Lawler and Sobral, there’s certainly a chance this one could end quickly as well. Lawler will certainly be looking to lay into “Babalu” early and often, but at the same time I would hardly expect Sobral to try and get into a slugfest with such a dangerous opponent. Sobral hasn’t been seen since his devastating knockout to Gegard Mousasi and as such I would imagine he’ll be taking a more cautious approach in this fight. Don’t expect “Babalu” to stay in the pocket for too long, as he’ll likely try and keep his distance and pick his shots before looking for the takedown. Sobral has a steep advantage in the grappling department and he knows that Lawler is weak on the ground, so in the end this one will come down to which fighter can best implement their gameplan for victory.

Brendhan Conlan: Tool makes some good points yet I’m still inclined to pick Sobral/Lawler. Zaromskis and Santos are strikers to be sure, though I’m not sure “highly-touted” is the phrasing I’d use unless “touting” them after a few hours with Nick Diaz. “Cyborg” has been out-struck by a handful of relative nobodies in his career and Zaromskis’ biggest win to date is “Mach” Sakurai (who is on the backside of his career and currently riding a three-fight losing streak). They’re aggressive and have knockout power but neither is particularly technical or skilled in terms of overall striking ability. Granted, neither are Lawler or Sobral, but in the case of Zaromskis and Santos I think they’re comparable enough to cancel each other out. I can see their bout going into the second or third round, while in the case of “Babalu” vs. Lawler I think there’s a better chance of Sobral’s lights being turned out in the first round. His last three losses have all been by way of knockout and he’ll have to absorb some damage each time he attempts to drag Lawler to the mat in hopes of attacking with submissions. All “Ruthless” Robbie needs to do is land a single, relatively clean shot to the Brazilian’s chin to win and I don’t think it will take him very long to do so.

If KJ Noons beats Conor Heun next week, should Strikeforce focus on promoting him as a lightweight or instead on putting together a long-anticipated rematch Nick Diaz?

Tool: I see no reason why Strikeforce shouldn’t try to put together the Diaz/Noons rematch, as it’s a fight that people have been wanting to see since both guys were still getting paychecks from EliteXC. Noons has had his profile decrease substantially since moving over to the world of boxing, and if he has any desire to be a star in MMA then he needs to get that pot-smoking monkey off his back. Noons won the first fight, but it was due to a cut and Diaz has been unstoppable ever since. If KJ wants to prove that he’s still a threat in this sport then the best way to do that is to beat Diaz again.

Let’s be fair though, this fight makes more sense for Diaz than it does for Noons. KJ could potentially make an impact in the Strikeforce lightweight division, and there’s some intriguing match-ups to be made (assuming he can get past the unheralded Heun). At the same time Diaz has next-to-no competition left for his Strikeforce Welterweight Championship (except a potentially over-matched Tyron Woodley) and is going to be needing a fight soon. I’m sure Diaz would love to finally get his rematch with Noons, and since he’s one of the biggest stars Strikeforce has it makes sense to give him the most high profile match-ups possible.

If Strikeforce tries to put this fight together, and if Noons turns it down (again), then he can probably look forward to a spot on the next Strikeforce Challengers event. If Noons is willing to take the rematch then it’s a fight that could easily be featured on a regular Strikeforce card, and maybe even CBS (if that ship has not already sailed). Noons went over to boxing because the money was better, and right now he won’t have a better payday than the one he would get for fighting Diaz again. I hope Scott Coker can make it happen.

Conlan: I agree that Diaz is the better option between the two. Strikeforce doesn’t have a wealth of depth in any division so catch-weight attractions are something they should take advantage of when the possibility presents itself. There’s a great deal of personal heat between the two based on the outcome of their first fight and the miniature in-ring riot occurring two years ago after Noons successfully defended his EliteXC title against Yves Edwards. Each also brings an exciting style into every bout so from that standpoint it’s almost guaranteed to entertain as well.

Beyond that, current lightweight champ Gilbert Melendez is out of action until November/December based on the impending birth of his daughter, and likely on a collision course with Bellator title-holder Eddie Alvarez as is, while 155-pound contenders Josh Thomson and Lyle Beerbohm have already been rumored as a future match-up. Other than a few DREAM lightweights and Roger Huerta there aren’t a lot of available fighters who, when paired with Noons, have the potential to draw as much interest from fans as Diaz does. The same rings true in reverse, as Diaz’s best options at 170 pounds are Woodley and a handful of mid-tier free agents. He could definitely give middleweight a go to establish himself as a top contender and maybe even become a two-division champ in the process, but other than Jason “Mayhem” Miller I don’t think there are any 185-pound opponents fans are as interested in seeing Diaz face in comparison to Noons. Strikefoce needs to put them back in the cage together, promote it in the same way “Rampage” Jackson vs. Rashad Evans was hyped, and let fans sit back and enjoy two guys who legitimately dislike each other exchange some leather. Frankly, to not capitalize on their fading rivalry before it’s too late to do so would be an utter blunder on the part of Scott Coker‘s team and maybe even a nail in their coffin.

What UFC 115 bout features the most potential for the biggest upset to occur?

Tool: When trying to figure out the answer to this question I started by looking up and down the card. Upon doing so I realized that it’s kind of tough to figure out who are the underdogs in a lot of these fights. I then looked up the betting odds for the show and soon discovered just how close the lines are on almost every fight this weekend. Seriously, the biggest favorite on the card is Ultimate Fighter season 9 winner James Wilks. Wilks is facing Peter Sobotta, who is 0-1 in the UFC and whose win column is filled with names you’ve never heard of. Rich Franklin is a slight favorite in the main event, but I’m sure that line will get closer now that we’ve all seen what tremendous shape Chuck is in. Mirko Cro Cop is a slight underdog against Pat Barry, but everyone (including Barry himself) knows just how dangerous Cro Cop can still be.

With so many fights being so evenly matched there’s not a lot of options as far as one guy being a “sure thing” to win his fight, so I‘m forced to resort to the betting lines. The underdog fighter I’d pick to pull off a victory would probably be Carlos Condit, although if you didn’t check the lines you probably would think that he’s the favorite to win in his bout with Rory MacDonald. MacDonald is undefeated and has finished every one of his fights, but Condit represents a huge step up in competition for the young man from British Columbia. The former WEC Welterweight Champion is extremely dangerous wherever the fight takes place, plus he’s got a will to win and the drive to never give up.

Conlan: Betting lines are certainly the mark of an “underdog” but definitely not the entire indicator of it. After all, am I to believe fans don’t consider Mario Miranda a huge underdog to David Louiseau or Gilbert Yvel to Ben Rothwell simply because the involved odds may not dictate it?

Moving on, the fight I see with the most potential for a significant upset is Evan Dunham‘s clash with Tyson Griffin. Griffin has struggled to finish opponents in the Octagon, so he leaves a lot of time for his foes to slip in and steal bouts (Sean Sherk and Frank Edgar clearly being the best examples based on their actual success against the Xtreme Couture OG). Dunham is a solid grappler with nice hands and reminds me a bit of a 5’10”, stronger, paler version of the 5’6″ Griffin. It was hard not to be impressed by his submission of Efrain Escudero at Fight Night 20 last January, and he’s undefeated ten fights into his career, so I won’t be surprised if he walks away with a decision win against Griffin. However, I think a lot of fans will be and I don’t just mean the Zuffa Zombies out there.

Are you more excited about Chuck Liddell vs. Rich Franklin than you would have been for Liddell’s third fight with Tito Ortiz?

Conlan: Absolutely. Neither of their original encounters were particularly competitive bouts and the only people clamoring for a third throwdown seemed to be Liddell, Ortiz, and UFC President Dana White. The former 205-pound champions’ mutual dislike of one another made it logical to pair them from the standpoint of producing an entertaining season of the Ultimate Fighter but not from one based on in-ring competition or fulfilling fans’ phantom wishes for a trilogy as necessary as “The Matrix: Revolutions”. Enter Franklin and you have a fresh match-up featuring two former title-holders and fellow icons of the Octagon. Although “Ace” may have dropped two of his last three fights he remains a credible threat against all opponents not named Anderson Silva and has the style to give Liddell a run for his money. He’s got multi-point striking, good power, and solid grappling. Unlike Ortiz, Franklin won’t have to rely on dragging the action down to the mat to procure a win, and similarly he’s a threat to knock Chuck out whereas Ortiz hasn’t TKO’d anyone other than Ken Shamrock in the last nine years. All the involved factors add up to a scenario far superior than the one created by a third helping of Liddell vs. Ortiz.

Tool: Brendhan hit the nail on the head here. Liddell and Ortiz’s rivalry makes for good reality TV, but there’s really nothing left to prove by pitting these two against one another in the octagon. Only the most die-hard Ortiz fan (does such a thing exist?) would be upset by this change in the lineup. Okay, I suppose Chuck’s fans are upset because they thought he had this one in the bag, and now Franklin presents a much bigger challenge.

Personally I wouldn’t be surprised if this main event goes down as the “Fight of the Night” when bonuses are handed out. Liddell and Franklin both know what they do best, and that’s hitting people in the face. Neither one has a “legendary” chin, but I’m pretty sure they can each still take their fair share of punishment. I expect both fighters to be tentative at the start, given their cage rust and the stakes involved, but I can certainly see a nice little slugfest erupting as the time ticks on.

Besides, if the fight had gone down as scheduled it’s safe to assume that Ortiz would have lost in dramatic fashion and blamed his neck injury for his performance. If the parties involved are serious about doing Liddell vs. Ortiz 3, then we may as well do it when Tito can fight without the slightest possibility of an excuse.

TRUE/FALSE – This will be the last time we see Mirko Cro Cop in the UFC if he loses to Pat Barry.

Conlan: I’m not 100% sure how his contract looks but, assuming the paperwork is in place, I think he’ll be around for a few more fights as long as he doesn’t look like a fish out of water against Barry. After all, like Mirko, Barry is a kickboxer by nature and the thought of him mopping the mat with Filipovic would significantly detract from the Croation’s remaining mystique.

That being said, though “Cro Cop” is on the backside of his career, he’s still a viable commodity in terms of his ability to compete against mid-tier opponents and in his standing as a major draw in Europe. Technically he’s 4-1 since losing back-to-back bouts during his first run in the UFC (with a “No Contest” against Alistair Overeem after having his gonads launched into orbit by the Strikeforce heavyweight champ occurring along the way). Were the numbers reversed he likely would have already hung his checkered shorts up and called it a career, but seeing as how they aren’t and the single loss came to rising star Junior Dos Santos I think it’s premature to think Filipovic is finished in the UFC. He’s too valuable a name, and seems to have enough left in his tank, to give walking papers to unless “Cro Cop” comes out of UFC 115 with a horribly one-sided defeat to Barry.

Tool: I’ve got to go with True here. This is the last fight on Cro Cop’s current UFC contract, and a loss to Barry would put him at 3-4 in the octagon. Those three wins all came against meager competition and offered little to be impressed with. His losses just prove that “The Croatian Sensation” can’t hang with the current level of talent in the heavyweight division. The guy got out-wrestled by Cheick Kongo, is there any reason to think that he would hold his own against somebody like Cain Velasquez?

The name value and drawing power Cro Cop brought at the beginning of his UFC run is all but extinguished. Modern day fans have seen nothing in his fights that lives up to the terrifying reputation the hardcore fanbase has given him. His fans will keep tuning in for the hope that they’ll see some of that old Cro Cop magic, but there’s been no sign of the old Cro Cop since PRIDE went quietly into that good night. Unless Pat Barry is on the receiving end of a highlight reel knockout this weekend, I wouldn’t get my hopes up too high about hearing “Wild Boys” on the UFC PA system ever again.

If Paulo Thiago beats Martin Kampmann, should he be the next welterweight contender?

Conlan: No, because he’ll need to fight someone in the period between UFC 115 and George St. Pierre‘s post-TUF title defense against Josh Koscheck. If all goes according to plan the Ultimate Fighter Season 12 coaches will face off in December meaning the eventual welterweight champ won’t be available for at least another 3-4 months after that. Asking Thiago to sit out for close to a year is ridiculous, especially in a class as deep as 170 pounds and with Jake Shields potentially showing up in a few months. A victory over Kampmann would definitely make Thiago more deserving of a shot at St. Pierre’s belt than some who’ve had a crack, so I see how “should” could apply in that instance, but as far as reality goes the timing isn’t right for it to occur. Rather, if the Brazilian police specialist emerges with his hands raised in Vancouver, I think he’ll have to serve as Shields’ debut opponent or fight the winner of Jon Fitch‘s rumored rematch against Thiago Alves before receiving an opportunity at the title.

Tool: It’s a little weird how much Thiago has slipped under the radar in the welterweight. He’s got decisive wins over two of the top ten guys in the world (including the next #1 contender) and the lone loss of his career was against the second best guy in his weight class. Brendhan makes a solid point in that even with a win on Saturday, Thiago would still likely need at least one more fight to solidify potential contender status.

The idea of matching up this weekend’s winner with the almost-certainly-soon-to-be-signed Shields is not bad, particularly since Shields will likely be thrust right into the thick of things at the upper levels of the UFC. I can also support a potential match-up for Thiago with the winner of Fitch/Alves, although that may not be a bad idea for Shields’ debut either. I was certainly intrigued by the Paulo Thiago/Thiago Alves fight when it was initially rumored earlier this year, although a Thiago/Fitch rematch doesn’t excite me quite as much.

One fact that remains to be seen is whether or not Thiago can pull out the win this Saturday. Martin Kampmann may have been knocked around by Paul Daley last year, but in the meantime he managed to Jacob Volkman in a much more convincing fashion than Thiago did. It goes without saying that Thiago has a firm edge on the ground, but there are few strikers in the welterweight division that can stand toe-to-toe with Kampmann. For me this is easily one of the most exciting fights on the card, but it’s also a fight that could determine one of 2011’s welterweight contenders.

Do you have any interest in seeing The A-Team and if so how much of that interest is due to “Rampage” Jackson’s starring role?

Tool: In all honesty, my interest level for this movie begins and ends with “Rampage” Jackson. I don’t have some huge attachment to the original series and overall the movie looks a little bland to me. I’ve seen Jackson’s acting before (there’s my review of direct-to-DVD crapfest Never Surrender somewhere out there on the internet) and it’s not terrible. Of course, at the time I was comparing it to the acting chops of BJ Penn and Heath Herring. I’ll catch this one at home in the future, but don’t look for me in line at the theater this weekend.

Conlan: It was basically a prerequisite to love “The A-Team” if you grew up in the 80s like I did. As such, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the movie and the fact “Rampage” is in it as “B.A. Baracus” makes the pot THAT much sweeter. After all, he apparently read against the likes of Ice Cube and Common so his presence is not only excellent from a MMA enthusiast’s standpoint but also in terms of being appropriately cast for the role. The action sequences I’ve seen look good and the other three actors involved are all entertaining in their own way. I don’t know if I’ll spend $20 to catch it at the theater, as it takes a lot for me to throw that kind of cash down on any movie, but I’m absolutely planning on seeing it at some point in the near future.

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