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Grappling with Issues – 8/12/10

Would you rather see Anderson Silva in a rematch with Chael Sonnen or instead take his talents to the light heavyweight division on a permanent basis? Do you think Junior dos Santos prefers heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar and top contender Cain Velasquez as his next opponent? What’s next for Matt Hughes? Who should Strikeforce Women’s Welterweight Champion Sarah Kaufman keep her eye on at tonight’s four-female tournament?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!

Welcome to the Thursday debut 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. GWI will be moving to Thursdays on a permanent basis for the foreseeable future as a means of keeping my newly-promoted fingers from spontaneously combusting as the result of overuse. 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…

Should Tim Sylvia get another shot in a mainstream promotion if he’s able to beat Paul Buentello at this weekend’s “War on the Mainland” event?

Tool: By mainstream promotion I’ll assume we’re referring to the UFC or Strikeforce, and I suppose my answer would be a solid “maybe.” I don’t think Sylvia has any place in the UFC, as their heavyweight division has clearly passed him by. I wouldn’t give Sylvia a chance against any of the company’s top fighters and it’s not as though he’s popular enough amongst fans to warrant a return to the Octagon. Dana White has not had a single good thing to say about Sylvia since his departure so I’d say that’s three strikes against seeing the big man back in the division he used to rule.

As far as Strikeforce goes there are positives and negatives towards bringing Sylvia in. I don’t really know if he’d be able to hang with the top guys in their heavyweight division, and we certainly don’t need to see him face off with Fedor Emelianenko for a second time. That being said Strikeforce’s heavyweight ranks aren’t nearly as deep as the UFC’s and if he’s serious about his career again I could see Sylvia doing alright for himself. He may not be the most well-liked fighter in the world but he is a name that people know, and that can really only be seen as a positive for a promotion that’s still working on growing its brand recognition. If his price tag is reasonable enough I could see Sylvia in a Strikeforce cage, but of course that doesn’t mean that I want to see it.

Conlan: I think Tool’s point about Sylvia’s asking price is the key ingredient in terms of a potentially victorious “Maine-iac” signing with Strikeforce (The UFC is not a realistic option unless he puts together a significant win-streak and gets his physique back under control). If the financial figures make sense on both sides there’s no reason a deal shouldn’t get done.

Beating “The Headhunter” would be Sylvia’s third consecutive dubya since being knocked out by Ray Mercer a year ago. Though neither of the previous wins came against particularly noteworthy opponents from a talent standpoint, both were finishes, and another strike-based result – especially over someone with Buentello’s name-recognition – would definitely be an angle Strikeforce could market against one of their worthwhile heavyweights. I’m not saying a TKO win over Buentello signifies the transformation of “Tim-meh” back into the semi-feared striker he once was, but it’s enough to pair with the win streak as far as promoting a potential co-headlining fight against Bobby Lashley, Brett Rogers, Antonio Silva, or even Shane del Rosario.

Who should Matt Hughes face in his next fight?

Tool: There’s a few options on the table for sure. Granted, Hughes has already made it clear that he intends to take the rest of the year off for hunting season and return sometime in 2011, so we’ve got some leeway as far as potential opponents go.

If Hughes is at all serious about making another run at the title then it’s about time he took on one of the division’s elite fighters from the American Kickboxing Academy camp. Mike Swick would make an excellent opponent, as would Josh Koscheck when if he loses to Georges St. Pierre. I don’t think Hughes will be able to score a fourth meeting with GSP but if he has any hopes of doing so then he’ll need to beat one of the top five guys in the division first.

If Hughes is simply looking for appealing fights that have no relevance in the division’s rankings, then there’s a perfectly suitable opponent who also scored a big win at UFC 117. For those that don’t know, Dennis Hallman has the unique distinction of owning two submission wins (both in under a minute) over Hughes. Their last meeting was over ten years ago, well before Hughes became the most dominant welterweight champion in UFC history. A third match-up between these two wouldn’t exactly bring in the PPV buys but it would serve as a great main event for an upcoming Fight Night or Versus card. It would give Hughes the chance to finally get that monkey off his back and it would give Hallman (whose experiencing a mild career resurgence after his win over Ben Saunders) a chance to become a serious player in the welterweight division.

Conlan: I like the thought of Hallman, because there’s history between them and he’s a fairly beatable opponent for Hughes in terms of continuing the slow-build towards a final run at the UFC welterweight title. However, as impressive as Hallman’s recent win was, he was knocked out in his previous fight against John Howard and was probably looking at a pink-slip with another loss in the Octagon before out-pointing Saunders at UFC 117. I think Hughes is at a point in his career where he should be showcased against opponents with either significant name-value or potential for properly using the momentum a win over someone with his reputation brings. At 34-years old, minus a significant victory in the last 5+ years, and without any real buzz surrounding him, Hallman doesn’t quite qualify in either regard and as such I question whether or not he’s worth the risk for Hughes.

Rather, I’d prefer to see Hughes fight the winner of Carlos Condit’s upcoming fight with Dan Hardy at UFC 120. With three straight wins Hughes deserves a step up in competition, as well as current relevance, and Condit/Hardy are perfect candidates to provide both. It would be a fresh match-up and notching a win would benefit any of the involved parties. Beating Condit/Hardy would show Hughes is still able to beat a legitimate contender, while emerging victorious against a UFC icon like Hughes still means a lot when considering the self-professed farm-boy’s success as of late.

Which would you rather see – Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen II or Anderson Silva forfeit his middleweight title and take a run at light heavyweight?

Tool: Well we already know that Silva fully intends to remain at middleweight for the rest of his career, since he said as much in the days leading up to UFC 117. So as far as what will happen, it would seem that Silva/Sonnen 2 is the best bet right now.

Personally I’ve always thought that Silva could truly be competitive in the light heavyweight division, and his thorough domination of Forrest Griffin proved exactly that. The UFC has had numerous problems finding credible opponents for Silva’s middleweight belt, while the light heavyweight division is full of guys that would be incredibly intriguing opponents for “The Spider.” If Silva were to drop his belt tomorrow and proclaim his future is at 205 lbs. I would think he’d be worthy of an immediate title shot against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, and that’s a fight that any fan of the sport would love to see.

That being said, Saturday night proved that Silva hasn’t quite cleaned out the middleweight division. Obviously there’s the potential match-up waiting to be made with Vitor Belfort, and just a few weeks ago we saw Yushin Okami make his case for getting back into the mix of potential contenders. Then there’s Sonnen, who did the unthinkable by dominating the world’s best middleweight for 23 minutes. I don’t think that Sonnen deserves an immediate rematch since there was no controversy about the outcome of the fight, but his performance does warrant another shot at Silva down the line (provided he doesn’t lose to anyone else in the meantime).

Conlan: I think a rematch with Sonnen makes sense as long as it’s not immediate in nature. As Adam said, the professor of perplexing prose did enough in his 4 ½ rounds against Silva to make it clear the UFC’s 185-pound champ isn’t quite as unbeatable as previously believed. With Vitor Belfort prepared to make his middleweight mark on the promotion, former Strikeforce champ Jake Shields now part of the Zuffa team, and Sonnen two minutes away from winning the belt, “The Spider” clearly has a few foes to fend off before he can officially claim to have completely cleaned out the division.

However, the question was what scenario I’d prefer, and without a doubt I’d prefer to see Silva slay a slew of respected 205-pounders than mix it up with any of the afore-mentioned middleweights. The prospect of Silva fighting Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Jon Jones, or current champ Rua is far more exciting than seeing Silva face off against someone struggling to be considered a legitimate contender. Sonnen may have pinned the Brazilian phenom down for 23+ minutes but he never did any significant damage. With Jackson, Jones, and Rua I think the potential for danger is much higher, and therefore fighting at light heavyweight is a much more exciting prospect to me than seeing Silva remain at 185.

Knowing that he’ll face the winner of the upcoming Brock Lesnar/Cain Velasquez championship fight, who do you think Junior dos Santos will be rooting for in October?

Conlan: Dos Santos was asked who he preferred on the heels of his contender-solidifying win against Roy Nelson and responded that he didn’t care whose waist the title was around when he got his shot at it. Whether or not the 25-year old Brazilian slugger was being politically correct or genuinely isn’t concerned is something only he and those closest to him can know for sure. However, if I was in his shoes (or his camp’s for that matter) I’d probably fashion a voodoo doll, then write “Brown Pride” on its chest in Sharpie, with the hope poking a needle or two into it might assist Lesnar in retaining his title at UFC 121.

Velasquez’s wrestling is obviously top notch, as is Lesnar’s, and though Dos Santos’ takedown defense is good it’s not at the level it needs to be in order to consistently stuff either UFC 121 headliner. However, and most importantly in the equation, the AKA product’s striking is more technical than Lesnar’s. Though he doesn’t possess the champ’s brute strength, the Mexican-American heavyweight still packs enough power in his punches to even make Montezuma question his job security. Since the test Velasquez offers on his feet is a lot stiffer than it would be were Lesnar teaching class, I think Velasquez poses more of a threat to a brawler like “Cigano”, and as such he’d be the fighter I’d prefer to avoid if I were part of Dos Santos’ inner-circle.

Tool: Regardless of the outcome, we know for certain that Dos Santos in for the toughest test of his career when his title shot ticket comes up. I can’t argue with any of Brendhan’s points for picking Lesnar as the more favorable opponent, but for the sake of argument let’s see why Dos Santos would be better off dealing with Velasquez.

Dos Santos showed great takedown defense against Roy Nelson, but obviously the winner the UFC 121 headliner is going to present a whole new set of problems. In that regard I think Dos Santos would do better against Velasquez seeing as how the two fighters are closer in size. Lesnar will likely outweigh Dos Santos by at least 30 pounds on fight night, and that added muscle means it’ll be that much easier for the current champ to dictate where the fight takes place.

Nobody is going to claim that Lesnar is a better striker than Velasquez, but I do believe he has a better ability to absorb punishment. We saw Velasquez get rocked a few times against Cheick Kongo and while he recovered quickly and won the fight, it’s hard to say how he will fare against the much more aggressive style of “Cigano.” Along those same lines I wouldn’t be surprised to see Velasquez choose to stand and trade with Dos Santos and a shoot-out between those two could easily leave either man unconscious on the mat.

Which of the four competitors in tomorrow night’s Strikeforce women’s 135 lbs. tournament do you feel poses the biggest threat to Sarah Kaufman?

Conlan: Carina Damm and Miesha Tate are both are extremely tough, well-rounded competitors, and if matched-up properly at the weigh-ins, should be the tournament’s finalists. Whoever emerges victorious between the two of them is definitely a threat to Kaufman’s title, though I wouldn’t say I’m overly confident in either lady eventually taking it from her. That being said, Damm has won her last ten fights including five straight stoppages, while “Takedown” Tate has finished three consecutive opponents since losing a gutsy decision to Kaufman a little over a year ago. Both have shown an ability to end things before scorecards come into play and possess a near-even split between submissions/TKOs in terms of how their wins have come about. Between the two I’m going to say Tate should be favored to win because she’s a more-natural 135-pounder and had the experience of being involved in a one-night tournament a few years ago (her professional debut actually). Though she may not have emerged victorious in the final, having gone through the process before should give Tate a mental edge in the ring, and it’s well-documented how important a fighter’s mindset is where success is concerned.

Tool: I’m tempted to go with Maiju Kujala for this one, simply on the basis that she’s the fighter nobody seems to know anything about. She’s certainly the dark horse of the tournament and I’m interested to see what she brings to the table on Friday night.

I can’t take Hitomi Akano for this one since she’s essentially a less-aggressive version of Roxanne Modafferi. She’s got one of the most impressive submission games of the four women in the field but if she did meet up with Kaufman I’d put her chances of scoring a takedown at anywhere from slim to nothing.

That leaves us with Damm and Tate, and there’s a strong case to be made for both ladies. Tate has something of an advantage over the other three ladies in that she’s faced Kaufman before. Tate gave Kaufman the toughest fight of the champion’s career, and things aren’t going to get any easier if these two meet again. While the first fight consisted of three 3-minute rounds, their rematch would be five 5-minute rounds. That could tip things in Tate’s favor since the longer rounds give her that much more time to work for the takedown.

In the end though I’m going with Carina Damm. She’s got a solid arsenal of strikes and knockout power, and if things hit the mat she has some quality jiu-jitsu skills to boot. Kaufman is one of the most technical strikers in women’s MMA, and the aggressive style of Damm could prove to be Kaufman’s kryptonite. As Brendhan already said Damm is fighting outside of her usual weight of 125 lbs., but I don’t think that will be too much a problem for her. If anything it could only increase her power and conditioning since she won’t have to cut much weight (if any at all).

Which bout on WEC 50’s main card are you most excited for?

Conlan: Easily the main event between Dominick Cruz and Joseph Benavidez. Benavidez has looked sharp since losing to Cruz a year ago and is at the age where he’s likely to keep improving on a per-fight basis. The 26-year old teammate of Urijah Faber is an excellent wrestler with good hands who is also a submission threat from most positions. He’s fearless on his feet, throws stinging punches, and has shown himself to have a decent chin as well. However, Cruz is actually a few years younger than Benavidez making his ascension to the top of the division even more impressive than it is on the surface. Like Benavidez, he’s also getting better each time out. His stand-up is superior to Benavidez’s and his ground-game is underrated. All in all, their fight should be hotly contested and cap-off an excellent event.

I’m also interested in seeing the bout between Scott Jorgensen and Brad “One Punch” Pickett. Pickett has won his last nine fights and finished seven of the last nine foes he’s faced. He trains with American Top Team, so he’s got a great group to work with, and is good on his feet as well as when it comes to grappling. Jorgensen has beaten four straight and is on the cusp of a title-shot. He’s clearly a legitimate adversary for Pickett and I expect the end-result of their pairing to be an extremely exciting fight.

Tool: The main event is certainly the most intriguing bout given the history of these two and the improvements we’ve seen from them as of late. Part of me thinks that Benavidez has learned enough in the last year to take the belt, but then again this wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve underestimated Cruz.

Outside of the title fight and the aforementioned Jorgensen/Pickett bout, the fight I’m most looking forward to is the lightweight scrap between Shane Roller and Anthony Pettis. Current WEC Lightweight Champion Ben Henderson is without an opponent for his next defense, and it’s all but certain that the winner of this fight will be next in line. Pettis is already on a roll this year as he’s 2-0 since losing a narrow decision to Bart Palaszewski at WEC 45, and his dramatic head-kick knockout of Danny Castillo was one of many highlights at WEC 47. Roller has already dropped one fight to Henderson but he’s 3-0 since then, including his momentum-halting submission of Anthony Njokauni on the WEC’s first PPV. While this fight basically breaks down as striker vs. grappler, it’s important to note that Pettis is no slouch on the ground.

In any case WEC 50 is liable to be yet another fantastic night of fights from one of the best promotions in the world, and if you haven’t been making a point to watch their shows on Versus then this coming Wednesday is the perfect night to start.

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