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Grappling with Issues – 9/9/10

Does Karo Parisyan deserve a return to the Octagon only a year removed from his banishment from the organization? How do you feel about the format of Shine Fights’ upcoming event? What is MMA’s “Comeback of the Year” now that we’re three-quarters of the way through 2010? Are you excited about the Ultimate Fighter Season 12?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!

Welcome to “Grappling with Issues”, our site’s regular weekly 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 is your opinion of single-night, eight-man tournaments such as the one occurring at tomorrow night’s Shine Fights show?

Tool: It’s interesting that this sort of thing is so rare in MMA nowadays given the fact that these sorts of tournaments are exactly how the sport started out. Those single digit UFC and early PRIDE events featured competitions like these but they eventually went away once the sport started being sanctioned. Not surprisingly this Shine Fights event had to be moved for that very reason, as Virginia refused to sanction the card and the show had to be moved to Oklahoma.

I find these types of tournaments to be mostly useless in the present day and age. For one, it’s hard to find fighters willing to endure an evening like this one (since the winner of Shine Fights’ tournament could be in the cage for up to 41 minutes total). If the UFC did such a tournament for one of their titles I suppose guys would be lining up but for Shine Fights it seems as though the winner simply gets bragging rights. There’s also the fact that most of these tournaments end up with at least one fighter getting screwed by taking too much damage in the early rounds and having to be replaced later on in the tournament. It’s also worth pointing out that all of the fighters competing for Shine Fights tomorrow night will potentially be hurting their careers, as it appears all eight men will face suspension for participating in an unsanctioned event. All things considered I have to ask; what’s the point?

Conlan: I’m not necessarily surprised by the scarcity of similar tournaments based on the evolution of the sport since its early days. Fighters have grown into polished athletes and the education of today’s fan/government official has greatly improved since John McCain famously labeled MMA as “human cockfighting”. As Tool pondered, “What’s the point?”…at least beyond satisfying the public’s inner-yearnings to see a movie like “The Karate Kid” or “Bloodsport” played out in real life that is.

Though I appreciate the raw nature of the eight-man “grand prix” concept in MMA, I think it’s outdated and has more potential for bad than good. It goes without saying participants are more likely to sustain some form of injury after enduring multiple fights in an evening rather than the standard single bout. Whether the damage is minimal or stomach-turning, those who advance will no longer be competing on a level playing field as they would be when facing off at a standard event. In a sense that cheats not only the involved fighters but the fans as well.

Additionally, the negative publicity attached to the controversy surrounding the format adds to the misinformed perception of many that Mixed Martial Arts is a sport of bloodlust rather than athleticism. Rather than opting for a regulated event, Shine Fights has chosen to push their product over the betterment of the sport by running their show without State approval at a tribal casino. The nation’s media is such that a single story can form America’s view of a topic depending on how often it plays on the 24-hour cable news cycle, and I fear what sort of reaction might be had by talking heads if one of the fighters in a later round of the tournament was significantly injured. It’s important to recognize the tightrope MMA is rapidly walking towards mainstream acceptance and an unlicensed card where two men will fight three times in a single night could easily shift its balance if not knock it off altogether were something terrible to happen. Fortunately, that’s also a very unlikely scenario, but still an angle that should have been given serious consideration by the Shine Fights staff before going ahead with the single-night grand prix.

Who stands the most to gain with a win at next week’s UFC “Fight Night” event?

Tool: There’s a few ways to look at this question. There are guys who are simply looking to gain continued employment within the UFC and for them it could be the most important fight of their career. There’s no real do-or-die situations on the main card but the evening’s preliminary card features a few fighters who could find themselves back on smaller shows with a loss on Wednesday. Tomasz Drwal would push his current losing streak to 2 if he drops his fight with David Branch, and that would make his UFC record 3-3. Forrest Petz and Brian Foster could be in a “loser leaves town” situation as both fighters are coming off of a loss. It’s also worth noting that Petz would move to 0-2 in the UFC while Foster would have 3 losses in the Octagon (with his lone win being an impressive one over Brock Larson).

Looking at this question in more of a broad sense I think we are trying to figure out who would stand to gain the most ground within their division with a win over their scheduled opponent. Rousimar Palhares would be a good answer but I’m going to look outside of the main event (more on Palhares in a bit). Within this card I think it’s Ultimate Fighter champion Ross Pearson who could get the biggest boost to his career with a win over Cole Miller. By now it’s become clear that Pearson is a far better fighter than people wanted to originally give him credit for, and a win on Wednesday moves his post-TUF career to 3-0 over some quality lightweight fighters. He should get a step up in competition and could move into contention sooner than later given the recent upheaval within the division.

Conlan: My apologies if this seems like a cop-out, but I think it stands to reason Nate Marquardt has the most to gain if he’s able to get by his powerful, submission-savvy opponent at the event. He was on the cusp of contending for the UFC middleweight title before running into the takedowns and top control of Chael Sonnen at UFC 109 last February, and a case could even be made he offered Sonnen a stiffer test in three rounds than Anderson Silva did through five before procuring one of the most memorable triangle-chokes in MMA history.

Prior to the decision loss, Marquardt had won four of his previous five bouts with the lone exception being a split decision defeat to Thales Leites based primarily on having points deducted during the fight rather than getting outworked. Beating Palhares at next week’s “Fight Night 22” would launch Nate “The Great” back into the title mix, and that’s a distinction no one else on the card can claim (except maybe his opponent at the event).

“Toquinho” has won three consecutive bouts since losing a decision to Dan Henderson two years ago and is 11-2 overall. He’s small for a middleweight but makes up for his size disadvantage with a great deal of upper-body strength and the willingness to implement his BJJ in devastating fashion if necessary. Defeating Marquardt would certainly be the most significant victory of his career and earn him bigger match-ups in the future, but, again, the bump up in reputation is secondary to a championship opportunity as far as I’m concerned. If Marquardt escapes Austin with his hands raised he’ll be no more than two wins away from a shot at the belt and such a situation deserves serious consideration when asking who will benefit most with a dubya on September 15th.

Do you agree/disagree with the UFC’s decision to bring Karo Parisyan back into the Octagon after a single fight outside of the organization?

Tool: I have to disagree and I can give three reasons why:

1. Karo is all out of relevance in the UFC’s welterweight picture. Believe me, I feel for the guy after he lost out on his title shot due to injury but what has he done since then? After the loss to Diego Sanchez he came back with three wins in a row over guys who aren’t with the UFC anymore. He was on the receiving end of Thiago Alves’ flying knee and it was all downhill from there.

2. He’s given no indication that his personal problems are taken care of. I don’t want to rehash the last few years of Parisyan’s UFC career but we all know they were not pleasant. In a recent interview he said his failed UFC 94 drug test was simply a case of him being dumb enough to take painkillers the morning of the fight. He doesn’t make any statements that would lead you to believe that he’s not taking the pills anymore, he simply makes it sound like he’s not going to be dumb enough to get caught again.

3. He brings out the worst qualities in Joe Rogan. It takes away from a fight when the announcers calling the action have a clear favoritism towards one fighter over the other. Rogan has made no secret of the fact that he and Karo are pals, and the result is some of the worst color commentary of the night. Rogan turns into Parisyan’s biggest cheerleader and it just bugs the crap out of me.

Conlan: I’m with Adam on this one and am surprised the simple fact UFC President Dana White stated Parisyan was finished in the UFC also didn’t play into his answer. Though White’s words have been empty numerous times before, in this instance it seemed as though he was attempting to make an example out of Parisyan for his inconsistent, unprofessional behavior and was going to stand firm rather than cave less than a year later.

Tool has outlined a number of worthwhile points, though I personally haven’t ever noticed Rogan foaming at the mouth for “The Heat” to the point it took away from my enjoyment of a fight, and I think he’s still a solid fighter when on his game.

Beyond that, I agree Parisyan hasn’t done enough to publically prove his personal issues have been resolved as might have been the case had he fought more than once (in Australia no less) since being released by the UFC. While he may not have punched Josh Koscheck in the grill after a fight ended, as Paul Daley did prior to earning a now-questionable lifetime ban from the promotion, but he definitely slapped the UFC in the face after a series withdrawing at the last minute from a few events and also submitting a positive test for the use of illegal painkillers ultimately causing his last appearance in the Octagon to be ruled a “No Contest”. I’ve always enjoyed watching Parisyan fight, and I have a great deal of respect for his judo ability, but at this point in time he should be paying his dues outside of the UFC rather than being welcomed back a single year and single fight later.

BUY/SELL – Rousimar Palhares is the most dangerous grappler Nate Marquardt has ever faced in the UFC.

Conlan: All due respect to Genki Sudo, but this is definitely a “buy” for me. Though Marquardt has faced as or more accomplished submission-grapplers than Palhares, the key word in the phrasing here is “dangerous”. Unlike Ricardo Almeida or Demian Maia per say, Palhares has a history of attacking opponents’ legs/feet. Of his eleven wins, four have come by way of “heel hook” and another using an “ankle lock”. He’s also coming off a three-month suspension for extending a submission on Tomasz Drwal at UFC 111 last March. Since he’s not only injured previous opponents, but also employs a submission-strategy associated with more involved risk than the standard one, I think it’s fair to say Palhares is the “most dangerous” grappler Marquardt has faced in his 41-fight career.

Tool: I’m with Brendhan in picking “buy” as well. Palhares may not have the credentials of Maia (and so very few people do) but he’s arguably one of the strongest fighters in the middleweight division. That strength allows him to score often on his takedown attempts, and it also gives him the advantage of some great top-control. The biggest advantage of all that muscle is that when Palhares grabs a hold of a limb he’s not going to let go. I’d be very surprised if Marquardt allows this fight to go to the ground because if it does he’s going to be in for a world of trouble.

Do you plan to watch every single episode of this season of The Ultimate Fighter?

Conlan: Absolutely. I’ve been an avid watcher of the Ultimate Fighter since the first season and credit it, like many other people, for opening my eyes to the struggles of Mixed Martial Artists and the intricacies of the sport. Though the show’s quality has suffered at times, especially when it comes to focusing on entertainment over athletic endeavor, the core remains both what occurs in the ring and revealing fighters to be far more human than the savages so many people still perceive them to be. Last season’s champion, Court McGee, is a perfect example of what’s “right” about TUF.

As far as the upcoming offering, I’m also interested beyond simply being a habitual watcher based on the choice of coaches. I have grown to respect Josh Koscheck a lot over the past year or so and truly believe he plays up the villain role he’s been labeled with since debuting in the UFC. For all his faults he still seems like a hard-working, insightful person. He has experience as a wrestling coach on high school and collegiate levels, plus works with a tight-knit group at American Kickboxing Academy where he’s also known for his training ethic and willingness to assist teammates.

His opposing coach on the show, Georges St. Pierre, is also associated with being an extremely dedicated individual in the gym who believes in sharing his knowledge with others. The UFC Welterweight Champion is as humble as superstars come and, as a generally private person, it should be insightful and entertaining to see how he conducts himself in front of the cameras. I don’t care about the involved title-defense angle, as plenty of TUF-based bouts have fallen apart, but the idea of Koscheck and GSP (who don’t necessarily like each other) as coaches is extremely appealing, as is the idea of learning about another new crop of potential UFC rookies. For those reasons, like I said before, I’ll definitely be tuning in from season’s start to finale’s finish.

Tool: I’ll also be watching every episode of this season for a couple of reasons. Obviously as someone who writes about the sport in a somewhat professional manner it stands to reason that I would want to soak up everything the UFC has to offer. The other reason I’ll be watching the entire season is because my girlfriend will want to watch it too. I don’t know if anybody else has managed to get their significant others into MMA via this particular reality show, but it’s worked out fine for me.

This is one of those times when I ask a particular question during the column because I’m actually more curious to see how the readers respond to it. Brendhan and I are both in for the long haul, but what about you? Does this show still grab your interest after 12 seasons? Are you at all curious to see the budding rivalry between Georges St. Pierre and Josh Koscheck? Or will you simply find something better to do on Wednesday nights and only catch the replay if you hear about a particularly good fight?

On the heels of Joe Warren’s amazing KO of Joe Soto at last week’s Bellator event, what is your early pick for Comeback of the Year?

Conlan: As incredible as Warren’s win was, I have a hard time picking anything other than Anderson Silva’s timely submission of Chael Sonnen as the current “Comeback of the Year”. Bellator’s newest champion took a good amount of damage in the opening round, but I don’t feel he ever came as close to defeat as “The Spider” did at UFC 117 based on the heart and instinct to survive he’s shown in previous performances.

Silva, on the other hand, had been dominated for more than twenty minutes and found himself on his back in Sonnen’s clutches again during the bout’s fifth frame before initiating the final sequence of events. To have maintained focus in that position, especially against someone with Sonnen’s top control, stands out more to me than Warren landing a few finishing strikes after being marked up in a single round.

Additionally, the UFC middleweight champ’s victory also occurred on a huge stage with the added pressure of both an enormous amount of pre-fight hype and the Brazilian’s remarkable win streak at risk. I’m sure there are a lot of other deserving contenders in the “comeback” category who haven’t received as much mainstream attention as Silva’s recent title defense did, like Ricardo Romero’s submission of Seth Petruzelli at UFC 116 for example, but for me the only “10” out of a bunch of “9.5”s remains the UFC 117 main event based on all the involved factors.

Tool: 2010 has featured some of the best MMA comebacks of all time, and each one was the best kind of reminder of exactly how great this sport is. I’m sure the Silva/Sonnen finish will claim this award from most sites at the end of the year, and it’s certainly right up there with the best comeback wins in history.

For the sake of our readers though, I’ll make a different pick for the Todd Duffee/Mike Russow fight from UFC 114. When they posed off the day before the fight these two looked more like the before & after pictures from a weight-loss ad. Once the fight started Duffee was constantly moving forward and attacking as Russow absorbed the constant offense while offering none of his own. Duffee couldn’t put his opponent away but he was clearly on his way to winning a decision once the fight entered the third round. Midway through the third Russow landed a right hand out of nowhere and Duffee was completely separated from consciousness. It was that rare combination of a stunning knockout and an unbelievable comeback.

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