Who should be the next to taste Cung Le’s feet? Will Shane Carwin see his first career “second round” against Brock Lesnar this Saturday night? Is Keith Jardine destined for Strikeforce? Is Fedor Emelianenko’s loss to Fabricio Werdum the biggest upset in the history of MMA?
Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!
The weekend is upon us and sure to be filled with explosive action, both in the night sky on July 4th and come Saturday night in Las Vegas when Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin test the Octagon’s durability during a championship clash! If you’re reading these lines you 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…
Also, make sure to have a happy, fun, and safe Fourth of July weekend! Enjoy the BBQ, beers, and brawls!
TRUE/FALSE – Fabricio Werdum tapping out Fedor Emelianenko is the biggest upset in the history of MMA.
Conlan: False, and this is coming from someone who gave Werdum a 1% chance of beating Emelianenko in last week’s GWI. However, as I also explained in that response, the percentage wasn’t based on a lack of talent on the Chute Boxe fighter’s part so much as Fedor’s “aura”, as well as his history of escaping every dangerous position he’d ever found himself in. The reality is that Werdum is an extremely skilled competitor and in a sport like Mixed Martial Arts, as evident in the upset loss last weekend, anything is possible.
I don’t think Werdum’s win is the “biggest upset” in MMA’s history because of the Brazilian’s credentials regardless of how invincible Fedor appeared to be entering the bout. In fact, I’d say Matt Serra‘s TKO of Georges St. Pierre in 2007 has the Brazilian’s submission beat. Serra hadn’t beaten any welterweights of real note prior to the fight, gave up a good deal of size to GSP, and was known for his jiujitsu rather than his hands. In the case of Werdum, not only had he competed against and beaten a number of respected heavyweights, but he finished Emelianenko with a technique associated with his primary discipline (BJJ) and is also taller/heavier than “The Last Emperor”.
Tool: I’m going with “true,” and here’s why: Fedor went nearly 10 years and 29 fights without suffering a loss. His string of victories is a feat that will be all-but-impossible to surpass anytime soon. While St. Pierre was a heavy favorite against Serra, it wasn’t as though he had never suffered a legitimate defeat before then. We can’t say the same for Fedor though, as the lone loss on his record before Saturday was a TKO with a huge asterisk attached to it. Yes, Werdum had a clear path to victory before the bout had even begun, but in the days leading up to the fight it was impossible to find a single fan or journalist who had definitively stated that Werdum would get the win.
In a way I think Fedor’s decade of dominance has helped to soften the impact of Werdum’s win. We all knew that sooner or later somebody would find a way to beat Fedor so even though nobody figured it would be Werdum that would do it, we still knew that it was bound to happen sometime. Couple that with Fedor’s respectful demeanor afterwards and it’s easy to see why some people might not make such a big deal about it. Make no mistake though, it is a big deal. This fight has permanently changed the landscape of the heavyweight division, and destroyed the aura of invincibility surrounding one of the greatest fighters the sport has ever known.
Do you think that Brock Lesnar and Shane Carwin will make it past the first round?
Conlan: I believe it will. Don’t get me wrong. Both behemoths have the power to knock each other out with a single shot. Hell, each could likely turn a cow into a leather sofa with one well-placed fist. However, Lesnar hasn’t shown himself to be a first-frame finisher thus far in his career and should be looking to utilize his wrestling ability rather than exchanging strikes with someone who has made his living thus far by avoiding the opening round’s fourth minute, let alone bout’s second stanza.
I feel Lesnar will rely on his grappling in an attempt to neutralize his adversary’s gift of immediately rendering opponents defenseless, as well as in order to test Carwin’s post-five minute cardio. I also don’t think Carwin is afraid of going a full five-rounds if necessary because he’s intelligent and understands the opportunity at hand, and in that regard I don’t think he’ll risk a year of preparation by rushing in right away only to catch a quick strike that ends his night.
Tool: I’ll say no, but this is an extremely tough question to answer with all the variables in play. We don’t know what kind of punishment Lesnar’s chin can endure, but Carwin is the perfect opponent to test it. We also don’t know if Carwin can be taken down at will, although we do know that if anyone can do it it’s got to be Lesnar. I don’t want to underrate the UFC Heavyweight Champion but he’s got some pretty severe ring rust to overcome against what is arguably his toughest opponent to date. I won’t be surprised to see Lesnar take this fight to the mat in order to employ his vicious brand of ground and pound, but I also can’t say I’ll be surprised to see Carwin add another notch to his string of first round stoppages. All these question marks are what makes this particular title fight so intriguing, and I for one am thrilled that the UFC’s heavyweight division has become wildly exciting for the first time in years.
Aside from the main event, which bout at UFC 116 are you most excited for?
Conlan: I’m definitely looking forward to seeing George Sotiropolous mix it up with Kurt Pellegrino and won’t be surprised if they end up with the event’s “Fight of the Night” honors when everything is said and done in Vegas. Sotiropolous and Pellegrino, who with fellow UFC 116 participant Krzysztof Soszynski account for the greatest gathering of Scrabble-friendly last names on a PPV card in recent history, are similar in their slickness on the mat and fearlessness in the cage. Both go 100% at all times and have shown the kind of heart which makes me believe neither would ever mentally tap out in a bout; that they only quit when physically forced by their body to do so.
Beyond that, their skills match-up well as far as promise for entertainment goes. Sotiropolous has yet to be finished in fourteen fights and Pellegrino is 8-2 in his last ten in-Octagon appearances with losses to the typically-tough Nate Diaz and Joe Stevenson along the way. I can see them trading shots for the first round, then putting on a ground-clinic until the third round ends or one of them is submitted/TKO’d. Their pairing should definitely be a ton of fun to watch and an excellent way to open up the PPV portion of the show.
Tool: I’m extremely excited about the Sotiropolous/Pellegrino match-up as well, but they’ll have some stiff competition for “Fight of the Night” in the form of Matt Brown vs. Chris Lytle. The end of the night bonus for best fight usually goes to the most entertaining slugfest of the evening, and there can be little doubt that that’s exactly what these two will deliver. Both fighters possess an underrated ground game, but it’s only underrated because they’ve each had plenty of success punching guys in the face. These are also two of the toughest fighters in the UFC, as each man has proven to be all but impossible to put away. Add all these element together and you’ve got the perfect recipe for the kind of fight that should have fans on their feet for 15 minutes.
Is it a given freshly released free-agent Keith Jardine will sign with Strikeforce?
Tool: I would think so. Jardine brings two things to the table that any MMA promotion would want: name recognition and an exciting fighting style. Even if Strikeforce didn’t want to say the name of their biggest competitor, I’m sure they’d have no problem promoting Jardine as a man with wins over Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin. His fights are almost always guaranteed to end in a knockout, and I have yet to see anyone label him as “boring.” The light heavyweight division in Strikeforce is one of their weakest weight classes so any added star power would obviously benefit them. There might be some trepidation on signing a guy who’s on a four-fight losing streak, but in this case I think the positives outweigh the negatives.
Conlan: Though I’d say it’s definitely “likely” Jardine will ink a deal with Strikeforce, I wouldn’t say it’s as certain as tomorrow’s sunrise or even Arianny Celeste flirtatiously flicking her tongue out at the camera in-between rounds at UFC 116. Coker’s company could use Jardine’s relative star-power but inserting him into the deep end of their 205-pound pool has little benefit to it other than name-recognition. He’s 34 and lost five of his last six fights, yet also is a game opponent who is a threat to beat anyone who doesn’t land a clean shot to his chin. Stepping in and potentially beating one or two of Strikeforce’s top light heavyweights doesn’t necessarily look good because of his age/recent struggles or give the company an individual with a large enough following or bright enough future to promote their division around (like “King Mo” Lawal, Dan Henderson, or Gegard Mousasi). It also wouldn’t do Jardine a lot of good to bring his losing streak up to five in a row by thrusting him into the ring with highly touted competition. Rather, I could see “The Dean of Mean” seeking out a couple of bouts on smaller shows or in Japan to possibly string a couple of victories together and hopefully end his career in the UFC.
Who would you like to see Cung Le face in his next match-up?
Tool: I’m going to assume that Jake Shields is on his way to the UFC, and as such Strikeforce will be going ahead with their proposed middleweight tournament to crown a new champion. If that is the case then it’s entirely possible we’ll get to see Le face up to three quality opponents, although the lineup and start date for the tournament hasn’t been anywhere close to finalized.
If I had to pick an opponent for Le though I’d go with the best middleweight in Strikeforce not currently wearing gold: Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. It’s your classic striker vs. grappler match-up, only with two guys who are extremely good at what they do. “Jacare” is certainly one of the most aggressive grapplers in the business as he’s more than capable of executing a strong double-leg takedown instead of simply flopping on his butt. Le would be in for a bit of a challenge as well since he may not be quite as eager to throw his signature kicks against the threat of winding up on his back. “Jacare” has been knocked out before so it would be interesting to see how his chin stands up against the Sanshou attack of Le.
Conlan: When I originally prepared this question for Tool it included a limited number of options at the end. However, it quickly dawned on me the one individual I want to see Le face most wasn’t among them (so I changed it to invite a wider range of responses). Though I understand the appeal of matching up contrasting styles I think Le is best served by opponents who engage in stand-up wars. When he’s on his feet, throwing the kind of combinations typically reserved for pre-plotted action-movie sequences, he’s as exciting as any other Mixed Martial Artist in the business. When he’s on his back he becomes any other fighter, i.e. he loses most of his appeal as a competitor. He’s also a 38-year old fighter who strikes 99% of the time so the window of opportunity in terms of putting together legacy-making fights is a limited one.
I think Robbie Lawler is a perfect fit to fill the current vacancy where Le’s next in-ring adversary is concerned. He’s respected by most if not all and has no interest in taking action to the mat unless it involves posturing over a fallen fighter to rain down punches. Putting Le and “Ruthless” Robbie together would surely result in fast-paced fireworks and a TKO victory for someone. Lawler could also use a big fight at 185-pounds after his catch-weight loss to Renato Sobral and the winner of a Le bout could easily be promoted as Strikeforce’s top middleweight contender.
Comparably, risking a situation where someone wet blankets their way to victory (as a high-level grappler like Souza could) would be akin to having ring girls circle the cage dressed in burlap sacks. The sexier the situation, the more eyes watch, and I’ll be damned if the thought of Le vs. Lawler might not result in a 90 second wet dream for most MMA fans.
How concerned should fans/promoters/merchandisers be regarding the recent report the UFC threatened TapOut into dropping their sponsorship of Fedor Emelianenko?
Tool: It’s hard to say. On one hand the UFC is a business, and as such they’re perfectly capable of running that business however they see fit. On the other hand it’s obviously a bad situation for any and all MMA clothing manufacturers as they have no real way of knowing when Zuffa could decide to pull the plug on their sponsorship capabilities. After all, TapOut is arguably the biggest sponsor in UFC history (one of the company’s founders is in the UFC Hall Of Fame), so if the company is willing to severe ties with them then is anyone really safe?
Clearly the ones who stand to lose the most out of this is the fighters themselves. Somebody like Fedor will obviously have no trouble finding another company to make his shirts, but for a lot of lesser-known fighters their sponsorship is crucial to their livelihood. Why should Johnny Noname have to suffer by having his sponsor pulled because that particular company decided to partner up with somebody that the UFC doesn’t care for?
Dana White talks all the time about how much of a fan he is of the sport, and how he’s doing everything he can to make MMA the biggest sport in the world, but the action of banning sponsors from the UFC only serves his petty vendettas at the cost of fighters’ careers.
Conlan: Fans should only be mildly concerned but promoters/merchandisers are in an entirely different boat. Tool is correct in saying the UFC has the right to conduct their business in a way they feel is appropriate as long as it doesn’t violate any established laws/regulations. Hell, he’s correct in all of what he says.
In my eyes, threatening to ban a sponsor as a means of affecting a fighter in a rival promotion is the not-so-distant cousin of racketeering. It takes money out of Mixed Martial Artists’ pockets, as well as the companies who are forking out cash to back them and support their careers. Furthermore, it’s a problem that only exists because the UFC created it. No forward-thinking or informed fan would ever assume M-1 or Strikeforce was superior, nor related, to Zuffa’s product simply because the apparel fighters wear crosses over between the companies. Rather, the UFC apparently felt it was a way to get at Emelianenko’s camp and less directly at Strikeforce, so they exerted their power and did so.