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Grappling with Issues – 6/18/10

Whose performance stood out the most at UFC 115? Is it time for Tyson Griffin to dip down to 145 pounds? What WEC 49 bout has you more pumped than the others? Should Keith Jardine receive his pink-slip this weekend if he loses a fourth straight fight in the UFC?

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…

True/False – Tyson Griffin needs to seriously consider dropping to featherweight.

Adam Tool: False. I find it kind of funny that people are talking about how small Tyson Griffin looks and how he needs to drop down, when he actually looks a bit bigger than current lightweight champion Frank Edgar (although both fighters are 5‘6“). Griffin and Edgar are on the shorter end of the lightweight spectrum, but they’ve each proven that they are more than capable of handling a number of other fighters at 155 lbs. Manny Gamburyan had two tough losses in the UFC before he decided to drop down, so let’s at least give Griffin the benefit of the doubt and see how he does in his next fight before declaring him too small for the lightweight division.

Besides, at this point what does Griffin stand to gain by moving down? He’d likely be accepting a paycut by going to WEC, and he would undoubtedly be fighting with far less exposure in the featherweight division. It’s much easier for a light heavyweight fighter to make the move to middleweight, since they know they’ll still be fighting in the UFC. For a lightweight fighter the move down in weight also means a move down in organizations, and I fail to see how that could be truly beneficial in this case. Griffin holds wins over a number of respected lightweight fighters, he’s well-known amongst the fan base, and he’s been one half of five different “Fight of the Night” match-ups. The loss to Evan Dunham certainly sets him back, but it’s much too soon to think that he can’t hang in the UFC anymore.

Brendhan Conlan: If Griffin’s motivation as a Mixed Martial Artist is to solidify his legacy in the sport as a great champion and pinnacle of his division he absolutely needs to give the move some thought; if his motivation is purely based on fame and fortune then he should sit tight in the UFC. I happen to believe he leans towards the former, as most fighters do, and as such I’ll be answering this topic as “True”.

Tool is right when he says Griffin has proven he can hang at lightweight. After all, the Xtreme Couture OG is 7-3 in the UFC. He’s also gone to the judges in eight of those ten bouts with his only finishes coming against David Lee nearly four years ago and a portlier-than-normal version of Hermes Franca at UFC 103 last September. Fighting smart is one thing; not being able to submit/TKO mid-tier competition is another.

What does Griffin stand to gain from a drop to 145 pounds? For one, a chance at being the best in the world at featherweight when such a goal is almost certainly unobtainable at 155. If Tyson can out-work larger opponents then imagine how he might perform against competition similar, even smaller, in size. For another, an opportunity to headline cards and be featured in marquee match-ups. WEC has already dipped their toes in the PPV market once with plans to do so again in the near future and it seems inevitable the promotion will end up on Spike TV at some point too. Griffin vs. Faber II, Griffin vs. Aldo, Griffin vs. Brown, etc. – the list goes on and on in terms of who he could be paired against, as WEC features the world’s deepest featherweight division. Yes, he would sacrifice some money and exposure in the short term, but there are still plenty of both to be had in UFC’s sister promotion. Also, let’s not forget there has been talk about the UFC absorbing the WEC featherweights, so if that ever happens then the finance/fame stuff becomes a moot point.

Long story short, if Griffin stays at lightweight he’ll win more than he loses but I don’t think it’s likely he’ll ever be champion. You can make comparisons to Edgar if you want but there are lots of people out there who think BJ Penn deserved to retain his belt (enough to where Frank’s first defense will come against the former champ). The title-shot was also a very fortunate opportunity for Edgar and lightning won’t necessarily strike twice with Griffin as the recipient. If he wants to really take a crack at making a significant impact in MMA he HAS to consider featherweight. After all, he’s shown he’s familiar with coming out on the favorable end of “decisions”. This is just one more he needs to deal with.

UFC 115 featured two more incidents where fans got “hands on” with fighters during an entrance. Is that aspect of “fighter safety” something the UFC needs to address or a situation not worth paying attention to?

Tool: While the stealing of hats may not be worthy of Zuffa’s attention, it’s just a short step to fans getting too close to the fighters and potentially doing something far more damaging. Arena security is supposed to be taking care of this sort of thing, but as we saw on Saturday the guys walking with the fighters to the cage aren’t necessarily doing their job. Stronger security measures are needed before something truly bad happens, and this may be a case where Zuffa needs to step in and do something about it themselves.

Conlan: In the words of Diego Sanchez, “Yes, yes, yes!!!” Last November I wrote a piece called “The Exit of the Entrance” based on a few similar incidents at UFC 105. Essentially, my concern is this:

We live in a culture where Average Joes and Janes will do nearly anything for fifteen minutes of fame. People have rushed the ring at WWE events, attacked on-field coaches in MLB, and streaked on countless fields across the world. If the audience at a UFC show is in close enough proximity to take an item of clothing from the fighters’ heads then they are also able to do a multitude of things with the pathetic hope of getting a reaction or making a highlight reel on cable/sports news. Do we need to see a drink poured on an athlete’s head or punch thrown before the issue is truly examined? Do we want to see a main event ruined because one of the participants is distracted by an unnecessary occurrence? The answer is clearly “no”, so why wait for something to happen when the odds dictate its almost guaranteed?

Should Keith Jardine receive his walking papers if he drops a fourth straight bout by losing to Matt Hamill at the Ultimate Fighter 11 Finale?

Tool: I believe so. Keith Jardine is the biggest enigma in the UFC. He’s got wins over respected opponents like Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, and Brandon Vera. He’s also had his share of crushing defeats to Thiago Silva, Wanderlei Silva, and Houston Alexander. He’s more than capable of putting on exciting fights, but at this point his chin has been more exposed than Britney Spears’ private parts. The UFC’s light heavyweight division is one of the most competitive weight classes in the world, and if Jardine can’t hang with most of his opponents than he really has no place in the organization. He’s got a winnable fight on Saturday so we’ll have to wait and see what happens then, but if he ends up unconscious in the octagon again it will probably be for the last time.

Conlan: No, but a fifth straight should merit the proverbial axe swing. With the exception of Alexander his losses have come to highly-touted opponents. Even Hamill is a respected competitor as far as wrestling and power goes. “The Dean of Mean” has lost five of his last seven fights, so he’s definitely on thin ice as is and being released on the heels of a possible loss to “The Hammer” wouldn’t surprise me, but I think he deserves a step down as far as adversaries go before the company makes the decision to cut him. Win or lose, putting him against a lesser-skilled fighter would give Jardine a chance to get a little confidence back or prove he’s a liability the UFC can’t keep around.

Of all the winners at UFC 115, whose performance impressed you the most?

Conlan: Evan Dunham with Rory MacDonland a very close second. I felt confident in Dunham’s ability to beat Griffin based on size and technique but he looked more convincing doing so than I’d expected. He’s definitely shown he deserves to make a lateral, if not vertical, move where competition is concerned. That could possibly mean a date with the loser of Ken Florian vs. Gray Maynard, or more likely the winner of a fight closer to occurring like Kurt Pellegrino vs. George Sotiropolous (UFC 116) or Takanori Gomi vs. Joe Stevenson (UFC on Versus 2). At 11-0, and with three consecutive wins against tough opponents, Dunham is definitely a 155-pounder that has to be watched and is in position for a nice push within the organization.

Tool: This is a tough one, because there were so many awesome performances on the show. Rory MacDonald and Chuck Liddell certainly get the nods for “Best Showing In A Losing Effort,” but as far as the winners go I’m going to have to cheat and pick two.

First up is Martin Kampmann. Like most everyone else I picked Paulo Thiago to emerge victorious on Saturday night, but apparently I had some sort of mental blockage that made me forget just how great Kampmann can be. We all knew he would likely have the edge in a striking battle, but what really impressed me was the way Kampmann continually threatened Thiago on the ground. Most fighters, when matched up with a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, would simply do everything in their power to keep the fight standing while avoiding any ground action at all. Kampmann was not only willing to go with the mat with Thiago, he was the one attempting numerous submissions to try and end the fight. At no point did it look like Thiago was going to tap (seeing as how he’s fought out of these situations far too many times), but kudos to “The Hitman” for showing what a complete mixed-martial artist he is.

Secondly, I’d like to give some much-deserved props to Rich Franklin. In the days following UFC 115 there’s been so much focus on the end of Liddell’s career, with hardly anyone talking about what a dramatic victory this was for “Ace.” While some people will discount the win seeing as it’s coming at the end of Liddell’s career, it’s fair to say that Franklin was facing the best version of the “Iceman” that we’ve seen in years. Franklin took Liddell’s best shots and kept on coming. He broke his arm early in the fight yet powered through the injury and pulled off the win. On top of that he proved the doubters wrong that said he didn’t have KO power, and his $85,000 bonus check was the perfect icing on the cake.

Now that the season is coming to a close, rank the latest edition of The Ultimate Fighter on a scale of 1-10 (with 10 being the highest).

Conlan: “6”, which is actually a full point below where I ranked TUF 11 in a previous GWI written a few weeks after the season started. A handful of episodes featured exciting in-ring action but for the most part there was little to get worked up about. Any momentum the season had after the opening round of qualifying fights was sucked dry by the remaining episodes’ one-sided decisions, disqualifications, injury-based substitutes, and Jamie Yager‘s refusal to answer the bell and come out of his corner in a quarter-final match-up with Josh Bryant. Hell, both finalists lost earlier in the season. The personal rivalry between team-heads Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell flared up once or twice but remained tame for the most part and Ortiz’s eventual replacement as coach on the show came so late in the season it was somewhat anti-climactic. Overall, it was a vanilla season which was supposed to culminate in a fight nobody wanted to see and instead resulted in Liddell getting knocked out, and likely retired, by Rich Franklin. It’s not to say there weren’t a few positives as well, but definitely not enough to deserve a rating any higher than being slightly above average.

Tool: I’ll go with a “7,” as this was a relatively entertaining season overall. Jamie “Fro Cop” Yager was a constant annoyance, but otherwise the stuff at the house was just fine. Obviously the drama makes for more entertaining television, but I for one am glad that we didn’t get inundated with the kind of in-house shenanigans that have characterized past seasons. In terms of the fights we saw plenty of quality match-ups. The number of fighter injuries is proof that the various cast members left everything in the cage each time (unlike a certain rotund “TUF” champ that did the minimal amount of effort to win). The competitiveness of the tournament goes a long way towards making a quality season, and I’m genuinely interested in seeing who wins the various cast member match-ups on Saturday.

The only real knock I can give this season is the coaches. Chuck Liddell is a legend in the sport and one of the greatest light heavyweight fighters of all time. What he is not though, is a good on-camera performer. Chuck looked mildly uncomfortable in nearly every second he was talking on screen, and most of that time was spent pacing back and forth in small steps. Tito Ortiz was clearly much more comfortable on-camera, but that’s because he spent a good portion of the time talking about his favorite subject: Tito Ortiz. Their rivalry was hardly interesting due to two separate factors; we knew Chuck would almost certainly be winning their third fight, and we knew that fight wasn’t going to be happening anyways.

Which fight are you looking forward to the most at WEC 49 this weekend?

Conlan: There are a few solid match-ups on the card but without a doubt I’m looking forward to Josh Grispi vs. L.C. Davis more than the others. Their combined record is 29-3 with Grispi emerging victorious the last nine times he’s stepped in a ring and Davis winning seven of his last eight fights. Both have above-average striking and grappling skills as indicated by the almost 50/50 split between submissions/TKOs in terms of their finishing performances. Grispi, as a matter of fact, has rendered his opponents unable to compete in twelve of his thirteen wins including seven straight. Both are also 3-0 in WEC. Though I think the card’s main event (Jamie Varner vs. Kamal Shalorus) will be highly entertaining, as should Chris Horodecki vs. Ed Ratcliff, I think Grispi vs. Davis should be more competitive than both and involve more than one highlight-worthy moment.

Tool: I’m going with the slightly easy answer and taking the headliner as my pick. Varner vs. Shalorus may not be a fight worthy of the main event status its been given, but it will most likely be a solid contender for “Fight of the Night.” Varner got out-classed by Ben Henderson, but that doesn’t take away the fact that the former lightweight champion is still a serious threat in the WEC. He’s beaten everyone else he’s faced since coming over from the UFC and with his name value he’s likely just a win or two away from another shot at the belt. Meanwhile you’ve got Shalorus taking on the toughest opponent of his brief career, and a definitive victory on Sunday could shoot him right to the top of the list of 155 lbs. contenders. Looking past what’s at stake in this fight, stylistically these two match up real well. Shalorus has a wrestling background but has clearly favored the stand-up in both of his WEC fights, and we all know that Varner will go toe-to-toe with anybody.

In closing I’d just like to remind everyone that while the WEC 49 card may not be all that impressive on paper, it’s oftentimes the weakest looking cards that end up entertaining us the most. We were reminded of that fact again this past Saturday, so do yourself a favor and don’t miss another (potentially) great event this weekend.

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