twitter google

Grappling with Issues – 7/9/10

Should referee Josh Rosenthal have stopped UFC 116’s main event in the first round? Can you name an overall card that was more entertaining than last weekend’s show? Is Chris Leben a “Top 10” middleweight? How likely is it that Cain Velasquez will beat Brock Lesnar when they square off later this year?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!

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…

Was there a more entertaining MMA event than UFC 116 in the past twelve months?

Tool: For my money I would say no. There were plenty of enjoyable events in the last year (UFC 110 and WEC 48 come to mind) but I can’t think of a single thing wrong with the show we saw on Saturday. All the fights were exciting, the main event lived up to the hype, and there was nothing to complain about in regards to the judging and/or officiating. Some events will feature one great back-and-forth battle, and on this card we got four. Simply put, if you didn’t enjoy UFC 116 then you aren’t a fan of MMA.

Some of my favorite moments from the evening took place outside of the actual fights during the moments before and after the individual rounds. I won’t soon forget the dejected look on Kurt Pellegrino’s face before the third round, as he was a man who had clearly already been beaten. I also enjoyed the way Stephan Bonnar refused to touch gloves before his battle with Krzysztof Soszynski, only to change his mind and then touch gloves at the start of the second round. Who can forget Chris Leben raising his arms and feeding off the crowd as he went into the third round with Yoshihiro Akiyama? Then at the end of evening we got Brock Lesnar smiling at the crowd instead of snarling into the camera as he did back at UFC 100. These little moments combined with the stellar action from each fight made this one of the greatest events in mixed-martial arts history.

Conlan: No, and though the sights and sounds of UFC 116 are admittedly still fresh in my mind, I suspect it would take a bit of research to find a more entertaining card in the past three years (if not longer). As Tool said, the event had something for everyone – comeback victories, surprising finishes, brutal knockouts, jiujitsu wizardry, heated exchanges, and a bit of blood to boot. On top of the memorable moments Adam listed I’d also add Gerald Harris’ brain-rattling slam, Ricardo Romero enduring Seth Petruzelli’s power before shredding his arm with a slick submission, Bonnar’s look into the camera after his win and post-fight speech, Leben’s blank-stare brawling, and Lesnar not only escaping Shane Carwin’s early onslaught but also showing his improved ground attack en route to successfully defending his title. UFC 116 was the perfect mixture of entertainment and athletic art, and definitely a show that will stand out from its peers for a long, long time.

Using a percentage, how likely is it Cain Velasquez will knock Brock Lesnar off of his heavyweight throne?

Tool: I’ll go with 75%. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t bet against Lesnar in any fight these days, especially now that he’s answered some very important questions about his heart and his submission skills. Even though Lesnar overcame his greatest challenge to date this past weekend, I still think Velasquez has his number.

One issue Lesnar still has is his striking. He’s got no head movement to speak of, and outside of that straight right hand he hasn’t got any real weapons in his stand-up arsenal. On the opposite end we’ve got Velasquez whose stand-up has looked better with each appearance in the Octagon. He’s got a great stance, and while his power may not match Shane Carwin’s, he’s far more precise when he throws. Go back and check out that laser of a right hook that floored Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and then watch the pinpoint accurate punches Velasquez threw to finish the job.

The other major factor that will come into play is the wrestling, as that’s the skill Lesnar relies most upon to beat his opponents. It’s safe to say that Lesnar and Velasquez represent the highest level of wrestling in the heavyweight division, and I’ll be interested to see if either man can take the other down. Lesnar’s size advantage could play a part, but we can’t sell Velasquez short. Even if Brock can take Cain down, I don’t believe he’ll be able to keep him there. If the fight stays on the feet it’s all the more likely that it will be Cain’s fight to lose.

Conlan: Since I did so good by giving Fabricio Werdum a “1%” chance of beating Fedor Emelianenko I assume my opinion on this particular topic carries a lot of weight in the MMA community. That being said, I think Velasquez has a 47% chance of becoming UFC champ once he and Lesnar eventually lock horns.

Tool has done a nice job breaking down the finer points of each heavyweight’s abilities, and I don’t disagree with any aspect of his assessment beyond his certainty Velasquez will beat Lesnar. Both have shown clear progression from fight to fight, including improved ground-work and an immense amount of heart displayed after enduring early scares. Each is also a threat to score a knockout with a well-placed punch for different reasons (technique/power). Cain’s striking is more precise and diverse than Brock’s, as you might expect from someone who weighs 30-40 pounds less, and he definitely has the tools in his singlet to give the champ a real test when it comes to wrestling. On the flip-side, Lesnar’s combination of size and athleticism is remarkably unique in a division generally featuring men who are typically either fast or big/strong, not both.

Their upcoming title bout should be a close one with each having minimal advantages over the other. However, I think it has to be pointed out the match-up will be Velasquez’s first crack at a belt while half of Lesnar’s career fights have involved gold. As such, I’m giving him a razor-thin nod to beat the American Kickboxing Academy phenom.

Who on the DREAM 15 card would you most like to see inside the Octagon? Include a match-up as well.

Tool: Well if he was actually on the card the easy answer would be Alistair Overeem. DREAM officials announced he would be fighting, Overeem denied it, and yet DREAM is still saying that he’ll be there. I’m inclined to believe the fighter over the promotion, so any “Ubereem” fans hoping to catch a glimpse of their hero may as well just catch up on their sleep Friday night.

As for the fighters that are actually confirmed for the show, my pick would have to be Gegard Mousasi. Obviously this isn’t a hard choice as Mousasi represents one of the best fighters in the world to have never set foot in the Octagon. His stock has certainly fallen a bit since the loss to “King Mo” Lawal but he’s still one of the most exciting fighters in the light heavyweight division. If he were to be signed tomorrow and brought into the UFC I would match him up with Thiago Silva. Silva is a respectable name and a perfect stylistic match-up for Mousasi, and a fight between the two would have a great chance at picking up “Fight of the Night” honors.

Conlan: He may not be the hottest prospect after being dominated by Gilbert Melendez but of the entire DREAM 15 group I’d most like to see Shinya Aoki test his skills in the UFC’s iconic eight-sided cage. I understand the logic behind Tool’s choice of Mousasi, but I’d personally think “The Dreamcatcher” needs a little more experience at 205-pounds before attempting to crack the upper echelon of the UFC’s flagship division. On the other hand, Aoki has competed against a number of top lightweights and come out on the winning end of things more often than not. His jiujitsu is elite, he’s got a colorful personality, and signing him would help Zuffa further reestablish their reputation in the Far East. Sure, his less-than stellar wrestling would cost him a bout or two along the way, as it did against Melendez, but that’s nothing a little clever match-making couldn’t prolong from happening.

As far as an opponent goes, my “dream” choice would be B.J. Penn simply to see what would unfold as soon as both hit the mat and started grappling. However, Aoki would likely need a few wins in the Octagon before earning a shot at “The Prodigy”, so in that regard I’d select Tyson Griffin as his opening foe. Griffin has the name-recognition to earn Aoki the Zuffa Zombies’ respect were he to defeat him, while also having the wrestling prowess and stand-up to provide a significant threat to the spandex-clad superstar in the eyes of hardcore fans. The pairing would almost certainly result in an entertaining display of action making Aoki’s Octagon debut a memorable, if not successful, one.

TRUE/FALSE – Chris Leben is a top 10 middleweight.

Conlan: True or false, you can’t give a wrong answer on this topic because rankings are for the most part subjective. For that reason “Top 10” lists vary from person to person, as every individual has a different way of weighing the numerous circumstances involved in. Where this particular subject is concerned, I’ll say “false”, though “The Crippler” is certainly on the cusp of cracking my collection of top ten middleweights. When you run down the 185-pound pool there are a few clear-cut entries deserving a spot without question, but the water gets a little murky in the 8-10 range leaving room for Leben after two solid performances against a pair of respected opponents in a span of three weeks. If he comes out Zombie-smile in tow after scrapping with Wanderlei Silva, who he called out on the heels of beating Yoshihiro Akiyama and will likely get as long as “The Axe Murderer” doesn’t run into a problem during recovery from his recent surgeries, then he’s absolutely a “Top 10” guy for me. However, as of right now he’s in the 12-14 range.

Tool: Brendhan’s absolutely right in stating that all rankings are subjective, but then again this is an opinion column wherein everything we say is subjective. As for the question itself I’m tempted to go with “true.” Leben’s UFC career has been full of ups and downs, and we certainly can’t ignore the fact that it wasn’t that long ago when he was choked out by Jake Rosholt. While “The Crippler” may not have the most impressive win streak to hang his credentials on, he does have some impressive wins over solid competition. Akiyama has been hanging around the bottom rungs of the top ten rankings for awhile so a win over him certainly has to count for something. Plenty of sites have Jorge Santiago in their top ten list, but we can’t forget that he was on the receiving end of a devastating Leben knockout during his brief stint in the UFC. Alessio Sakara is riding a nice hot streak at the moment but he too was separated from consciousness courtesy of Leben. The point is that while I don’t envision Leben climbing his way towards contendership anytime soon, he certainly deserves to be considered amongst the top level of fighters in the UFC’s middleweight division.

If we assume that the winner of the upcoming Kenny Florian/Gray Maynard fight gets the next shot at the lightweight belt, who would you put George Sotiropoulos against in a potential #1 contender’s bout?

Conlan: Though possibly a dark-horse due to his relative lack of widespread name recognition, I think a deserving candidate for such a slot would be Evan Dunham (assuming he gets by Sean Sherk at UFC 119). Dunham looked extremely sharp against Tyson Griffin, has a well-rounded skill-set to match Sotiropoulos’, and includes the added benefit of a spotless record where promotional purposes are concerned. In fact, I’m not sure there are a lot of other logical choices unless the UFC goes out and somehow signs a top lightweight like Eddie Alvarez or Gilbert Melendez, as the bulk of the company’s notable 155-pounders aren’t too far removed from a losing performance.

Tool: I can certainly get behind a potential match-up with Dunham, although in between Brendhan sending me his answers and me writing mine it was announced that Dunham would instead be welcoming Sean Sherk back to the Octagon. A win over Sherk would certainly put Dunham right into the mix of contenders and a meeting with Sotiropoulos would make even more sense then.

Looking at the rest of the UFC’s lightweight roster it’s clear that the most credible fighters are the four guys fighting at UFC 118. Therefore I’d have no problem with Sotiropoulos meeting up with the loser of the Florian/Maynard bout, or perhaps even the loser of the Frank Edgar/BJ Penn title rematch. The only other opponent I could see propelling Sotiropoulos to a title shot would be perennial gatekeeper Clay Guida (assuming Guida can get by Rafael Dos Anjos next month). In any case it may be a few months before Sotiropoulos finds out who his next opponent is, as pretty much any other match-up would represent a step backwards in competition for the Aussie.

Would you have disagreed with the result of the main event if referee Josh Rosenthal had stopped the fight in the first round?

Conlan: It would have depended on Lesnar’s immediate reaction after the stoppage. If Brock sprung up foaming at the mouth, full of energy and arguing the call I reckon I would have been steamed at an early stoppage. Had he remained on the canvas, curled up and confused, then I would have applauded the bout’s initial action and Rosenthal’s stoppage of it. Since Lesnar was able to recover/defend without absorbing more than a few cinder-blocks to his head before ultimately showing his improved ability on the ground supported by the wrestling technique making him a NCAA champ, it appears clear Rosenthal made the correct call by allowing things to continue after a few tense moments on the mat and he should be applauded for his decision. It’s not as if fans were watching Cris “Cyborg Santos” vs. Jan Finney II or something.

Tool: While watching that first round I was quite literally on the edge of my seat, as Rosenthal was right on top of the action and seemed to be very close to stepping in. Had he done so I don’t believe there would have been a huge outcry of injustice from the MMA community, even if Lesnar had stood right up and argued the decision. I’ll go one step further and make the assumption that if this hadn’t been the main event and a huge title fight, Rosenthal probably would have pulled the trigger and awarded Carwin the win. I certainly have no way to know this for sure. I just know that usually when one fighter delivers 50 or so unanswered punches to his opponent’s head, that fight ends with a stoppage. The end result shows us that Rosenthal made the right call in allowing the fight to continue, but it’s still intriguing to think of how different the MMA landscape would be right now had he made a different decision on Saturday night.

Follow 5OZ