twitter google

Grappling with Issues – 8/19/10

Can Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante pull off an upset against “King Mo” Lawal at this weekend’s Strikeforce event? Should fans be worried about Shane Carwin’s possible past connection to a steroids distributor? What’s the biggest story coming out of last weekend’s veteran-packed “War on the Mainland” show? Is Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic a superior UFC 119 opponent for Frank Mir than his originally scheduled competition, Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira?

Welcome to “Grappling with Issues”, our site’s resident Thursday 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…

What was the biggest story coming out of last weekend’s “War on the Mainland” event – Pulver’s first-round loss, Horwich submitting Leites, or Sylvia knocking Buentello out?

Adam Tool: The biggest story, at least in terms of what people are talking about, would have to be the continual decline of Jens Pulver. Tim Sylvia didn’t impress me by pushing his win streak over unheralded opponents to three. Wake me up with Big Tim beats somebody of consequence. Matt Horwich becoming the first man to tap Thales Leites is quite a feat, but it’s not as if Horwich is incapable of beating a mid-level fighter like Leites.

What we can’t avoid discussing is the sad state of Pulver’s current career. His six-fight losing streak is approaching Ken Shamrock levels of embarrassment, especially for a man who is rightfully considered a trailblazer in the lighter weight classes of MMA. While fans and analysts can make their pleas for Pulver to hang up the gloves for good, as always we must remember that we aren’t the one paying his bills. He’s still popular enough to get another fight, but if he continues to suffer these devastating defeats it’s hard to imagine any fan wanting to pay money to watch “Lil’ Evil” continue in the sport.

Conlan: I’d like to discuss something positive, as Sylvia deserves a lot of credit for his performance against Paul Buentello, but I agree Pulver’s fifth consecutive loss in the first round (and sixth straight overall) deserves a bit more attention due to his past accomplishments in MMA and the fact his opponent was only 4-1 entering the bout.

It’s hard to fault the 35-year old Pulver for dropping fights to divisional beasts like Urijah Faber, Leonard Garcia, and Josh Grispi, but Diego Garijo hadn’t fought in a year prior to his bout with Pulver with a two year layoff from the sport prior to that. I understand a lot can change in twelve months (let alone three years) where a Mixed Martial Artist’s abilities are concerned, and I recognize he could have been difficult to scout for based on a lack of available footage, but, barring a scenario where “Dos Pistolas” turns out to be a blue-chip prospect who makes waves against a series of legitimate opponents, Pulver needs to be able to beat opponents with Garijo’s overall makeup if he wants to remain relevant in the sport.

It’s his right to retire when he wants to and I have no problem with that. However, as both a fan and journalist, I don’t want to see him continue risking not only his legacy but more importantly his health. Pulver is a tremendous human being outside of being a talented fighter, and I’m confident he could easily transition from the throwing down in the ring to serving as a well-paid full-time trainer or color commentator.

How concerned should fans of Shane Carwin be about his recent alleged connection to the purchase of illegal steroids?

Tool: In my estimation, there’s little cause for alarm. In any professional sport the word steroids can immediately send up red flags throughout the community. The fact that Carwin is connected to a known steroid distributor is certainly going to place him in the spotlight whenever he fights again.

That being said, let’s not lose sight of reality. Carwin’s name appeared on a list of clientele that was dated around 2006-2007, which would have been during his first few years of professional competition. He didn’t make his way to the UFC until 2008 and he has yet to test positive following any of his five fights in the Octagon. Until one of his tests comes back dirty I think we can’t be too hasty in attaching any sort of negative labels to him.

Furthermore, what if he did take steroids a few years ago? The UFC currently has several fighters on their roster who have tested positive in the past and remained with the company (Stephan Bonnar, Chris Leben, Sean Sherk). These types of substances certainly have no place in professional competition, but I for one am not going to feign ignorance and pretend that fighters have never used them. If a fighter tests positive for a banned substance he should have to face the necessary punishment but until then I believe that every man on the Zuffa roster is innocent until proven guilty.

Conlan: I agree it isn’t anything to be concerned about unless you are personally connected to Carwin. His alleged connection to the steroids distributor doesn’t look good by any means, but it also doesn’t damn him to a life-long reputation as a drug-using cheater or discredit the work he’s done in the ring. I also appreciate Tool’s point about Carwin’s peers who have tested positive for PEDs and are still drawing a Zuffa paycheck.

If you look at the specifics in the case I think there’s even an argument for Carwin never having used performance enhancing drugs while competing as a Mixed Martial Artist. The court documents cited in the original report mention Carwin supposedly receiving steroids at some time between April 2004 and August 2006. If you look at his record, Carwin didn’t actually start fighting until October 2005 and took a year off from June 2006 to September 2007. That seems to leave open the possibility they were received either a year before he started fighting and/or a year prior to him stepping back into the cage (i.e. not while he was actually knocking people out en route to the UFC).

It’s important to maintain perspective and not jump to conclusions just because Carwin is a particularly well-sculpted heavyweight. If nothing else, at least let the facts in the case come out before finalizing an opinion on the situation. He’s never submitted a dirty test to this date and should be judged on facts, not speculation.

Did you see anything from Miesha Tate in Strikeforce’s women’s welterweight tournament to make you believe she can beat current champ Sarah Kaufman in a rematch?

Tool: Unfortunately for Tate, nothing in her performances this past Friday led me to believe that she’ll beat Kaufman if/when they meet again. There was no evidence in either of her fights that she’s made dramatic improvements in her striking, and since that’s the area Kaufman will hold a distinct advantage then there’s little reason to think that the second meeting will turn out differently.

There is a silver lining to be had though. When Kaufman and Tate squared off last May they were fighting under the old rules of women’s MMA and their bout was scheduled for three 3-minute rounds. If Kaufman successfully defends her belt against Marloes Coenen then that means that Kaufman/Tate 2 will be five 5-minute rounds. This means that Tate has more than twice the time needed to work for takedowns, and if she can get Kaufman to the mat then that certainly tips the fight in her favor. In the first meeting Tate’s takedowns were stuffed for most of the first round, and when she finally did score with a double there were only about 20 seconds left. That left her with little time to work, but if the round would’ve been two minutes longer she could have taken it on the judges’ scorecards. As long as her cardio holds up, I think a potential 25 minute fight is better for Tate than it is for Kaufman.

Conlan: It’s all love in this week’s GWI, as I not only agree with Tool (once again) as far as Tate’s prospects of beating Kaufman but also appreciate the point he made about the 5X5 format of a potential title bout. She fights with a lot of heart and her conditioning is always top notch.

Tate looked good against newcomer Maiju Kujala and talented grappler Hitomi Akano but was also put in some very precarious positions by her opposition. Outside of her takedowns and ground-control she didn’t offer much of a threat to either. If she’d finished either or mopped the mat with one of them I’d have increased confidence in her ability to beat the undefeated Strikeforce welterweight champ, but as she didn’t do anything to truly stand out against her adversaries I’m still of the opinion she’ll fall to Kaufman if/when they fight again.

Are you more or less excited about UFC 119’s main event now that Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is out and Mirko Cro Cop is in against Frank Mir?

Conlan: As much as I would have enjoyed seeing a healthy Nogueira get a chance to redeem himself against Mir, I’m actually a smidge more excited about the “Cro Cop” fight because it’s fresh, as opposed to a rematch, and the opposing styles both offer makes for an interesting scenario.

Filipovic will be tough for Mir to submit on the ground, having only a single grappling-based submission loss on his record in a thirty-six fight career, and he’s shown his chin is somewhat vulnerable so a well-timed strike or head-kick could end his night. On the other hand, the former UFC heavyweight champ is apt enough on the ground to control “Cro Cop” on the mat (if not submit him), has shown moderate improvement in his striking over the past year or so, and should also enter the bout with a healthy size advantage.

Additionally, like “Minotauro”, Filipovic is a PRIDE icon, and I still get jazzed whenever a pairing pits a poster-boy from the legendary Japanese promotion against an opponent primarily associated with the UFC. Mir vs. Mirko would have been considered a dream fight in 2003-2004, and, though neither is currently at the pinnacle of their respective careers, their past accomplishments in the sport and overall abilities still make for a very intriguing match-up.

Tool: I’m also more intrigued by the fresh match-up being presented next month. I’d still like to see Nogueira/Mir 2 at some point down the road, although I’m not sure how well that fight would do as the main draw for a PPV. Cro Cop vs. Mir could conceivably do better, particularly given the fact that Cro Cop’s stock is rising once again following the win over Pat Barry. Mir will obviously be looking to maintain his relevancy in the current title picture, and I’m sure he’s still dreaming of a third meeting with Brock Lesnar, but in my opinion it’s Cro Cop who has much more to win with a victory in Indiana.

I’m particularly interested to see where this fight takes place, as Mir has shown an increased interest in the stand-up game since the Nogueira fight. He may wish to test his ever-improving boxing game against Cro Cop and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mir’s confidence has him believing that he’s the better striker at this point in time. Should Mir decide to abandon his greatest strength (Brazilian jiujitsu, obviously) then we could be in for an exciting battle on the feet. Knowing that both men possess knockout power and neither one has a chin of granite, it sounds like the perfect recipe for a fight designed to keep UFC fans on the edge of their seats.

On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante’s chances of upsetting Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal for the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Championship?

Conlan: I’d give Cavalcante a healthy “4.25” on such a scale, as I respect his skills and recognize his chance of winning but can’t go above “5” because I think “King Mo” is more likely to retain his title this weekend than drop it. Lawal has shown himself to be an extremely difficult draw in his seven-fight career, while “Feijao” was knocked out a little over a year ago by recently resurgent journeyman Mike Kyle and hasn’t faced, nor beaten, the level of opponents the amateur wrestling champ has. I think Lawal’s power and unique style of stand-up will convince Cavalcante within the first round he wants to take things to the ground whenever possible. Unfortunately for him, the reality is the Oklahoma State All-American’s takedown ability and overall defense are far more likely to dictate the fight’s positioning than the Brazilian’s, and as a result I’m fairly certain most of the submission work “Feijao” will be attempting will come with his shoulders planted firmly on the canvas. He’s talented, and provides a good test for the undefeated Strikeforce champion, but I don’t think he’s going to win so “4.25” it is.

Tool: I’m afraid that I’ve got to go a bit lower and give “Feijao” a 3, as I feel Lawal is destined to be the next great light heavyweight fighter. Cavalcante’s striking could present a stern challenge for “King Mo,” but then again that’s what everybody thought about Gegard Mousasi. Lawal is at the top of the food chain for wrestlers in the light heavyweight division, and as it stands I don’t believe that anybody on the Strikeforce roster will able to stop him from imposing his will. We can give Cavalcante the always popular “puncher’s chance” but it’s far more likely that “King Mo” retains his belt (and his crown) come Saturday night.

How do you think the Strikeforce Middleweight Championship fight between Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Tim Kennedy will end?

Conlan: With my rump teetering on the edge of my folding chair while watching Tim Kennedy’s hand raised in victory after a hard-fought unanimous decision over Souza!

I’m blessed enough to be covering “Strikeforce – Houston” for Five Ounces this weekend and am looking forward to the middleweight title bout more than any other on the card. Both men are exceptionally talented, classy individuals with entertaining backstories and personalities to match. Souza’s inability to finish Joey Villasenor in his previous fight makes me feel the same will be true with Kennedy, who I view as a superior Mixed Martial Artist to the always-game Greg Jackson representative. On the flipside, Kennedy is better on his feet than “Jacare” and is solid enough on the ground to avoid getting caught in easily-obtained submissions. I think the two are going to battle for twenty-five minutes from one side of the cage to the other with Kennedy’s stand-up scoring enough points in the judges’ minds to elect him the new Strikeforce 185-pound champ. And, like I said before, I’ll be wearing a silly grin on my mug, loving every second of it, and reminding myself to keep the play-by-play coming for 5 Oz. readers.

Tool: Brendhan and I will often find ourselves agreeing with one another, and at other times we’ll find ourselves at the opposite ends of an argument. This time we’ve got a little from column A and a little from column B.

I agree with Brendhan that this is the fight to watch on Saturday night. Kennedy and Souza may not be the two best middleweights in the world but stylistically they match up flawlessly. Kennedy is a member of the newest generation of mixed-martial artists, as he’s pretty much good at everything. He can fight on the feet, he can take guys down, and he’s well versed in submissions. Souza, on the other hand, is only really good at one thing. With that in mind though, we can’t overlook just how good “Jacare” is in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. His grappling game is more akin to a wrestler than your average submission specialist, as he’s got great takedowns and some relentless top control.

That’s why I can’t agree completely with what Brendhan said, as I believe “Jacare” will absolutely win this fight with a submission. He may not get the better of Kennedy on the feet but he’s got enough tools in his arsenal to set up a strong double-leg. Once they hit the mat I have no doubt that Kennedy will be able to defend well, but “Jacare” is so well-versed in BJJ that he’ll be able to set up holds that Kennedy won’t see coming until it’s too late. I’m not confident enough (or rich enough for that matter) to put down solid coin on Souza getting the win, especially since this is MMA and anything can (and will) happen. It’s a five-round fight and that’s a lot of time for either man to get the win, but if “Jacare” can spend a majority of that 25 minutes on top then it will only be a matter of time until Kennedy is tapping out for the first time in his career.

Follow 5OZ