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Grappling with Issues – 10/1/10

Who exited UFC 119 most-deserving of a rematch? How does the EA Sports MMA demo stack up against other Mixed Martial Arts games? Should Kazushi Sakuraba call it a career? Is it premature to put Ryan Bader and Jon Jones in the Octagon together?

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.

Is the call for Kazushi Sakuraba’s retirement a premature or pressing concern?

Tool: At this point the sport has several fighters who continue to compete past the age of 40, and with all of them it seems to be merely a matter of time until they hang up their gloves for good. Amongst all these fighters, only Randy Couture can match Sakuraba in terms of popularity in a fighter’s home country. While Couture has managed to remain competitive amongst the younger fighters he faces, Sakuraba has not. Luckily for “The Gracie Killer,” a fighter’s win/loss record counts for much less in Japan than it does here in America. As long as the fans want to come out and see Sakuraba, he’s probably going to keep fighting. There’s really nothing left for him to accomplish in the sport, so I won’t sit here behind my keyboard and try to pass judgment on his career.

Conlan: Premature. His loss to Jason “Mayhem” Miller a week ago wasn’t an indication he needs to hang up his orange trunks. It simply affirmed he shouldn’t be fighting “Top 15” middleweights anymore. Sakuraba is 2-2 in his last four bouts and remains a threat to tap-out any opponent who isn’t well-versed on the ground. He’s also only been knocked out once in the last five years, so it’s not as if he’s risking his health in an extraordinary way by tasting canvas on a regular basis like a number of other known Mixed Martial Artists whose retirements aren’t being called for.

Additionally, as Tool pointed out, Japanese fans aren’t as obsessed with a fighter’s win/loss record, and even if “Saku” maintains a .500 record for the remainder of his career he’ll remain beloved amongst his people (as well as within a large set of followers outside of Japan). Hell, I’d consider pieing Wanderlei Silva in the face for a chance to bear witness to Sakuraba stepping foot in America for a show as I think most people reading this column would. If his supporters still want to see him compete, and he continues to be viable against mid-tier opponents, then it hardly seems like someone with his iconic status should be denied the chance to step into a MMA ring just because a very good fighter in the prime of his career dominated him at DREAM 16.

Who is most deserving of an immediate rematch based on questionable scoring – Jeremy Stephens, Evan Dunham, or Antonio Rogerio Nogueira?

Tool: Truth be told I don’t think I need to see any of these match-ups again but in looking at who most deserves the chance to erase that ‘L’ from his record, I have to go with Evan Dunham.

If there’s any fight that can be used as evidence for a rehaul of the way fights are scored, it’s this one. Sherk undoubtedly won round 1 but his offense in the other rounds was practically non-existent. He scored with a couple of takedowns but did nothing once he got Dunham down, and then when they were on their feet it was literally all Dunham. Takedowns are weighed far too heavily without judges also taking into consideration what happens after the takedown. If a fighter takes his opponent to the mat and keeps him there for a majority of the round, then absolutely give him full credit for the takedown. If the fighter who is taken down gets right back up or does a majority of the offense (whether it’s strikes or submission attempts) then why not give him some credit for that? The current system of MMA judging is giving too much of an advantage to wrestlers, but until that system changes it’s up to the other fighters to work that much harder for their wins.

Conlan: 100% agreed with my fellow conveyor of commentary. Stephens and Nogueira certainly have cases to argue, but they might need the assistance of the late, great Johnny Cochran to win the rematch in comparison to Dunham’s plea for justice. After all, did UFC President Dana White remark, “Robbed! Judging f*cking SUCKS!!!!” at the conclusion of either of their respective bouts?

If I can add one thing to Tool’s statement on judging it’s a little perspective. The NFL and MLB – two billion-dollar athletic entities with a century’s worth of history to them – still have controversial outcomes based on how officials interpret action. If mistakes continue to be made on that level, should we be so surprised when similar things occur in an endeavor as young, and small by comparison, as Mixed Martial Arts? To be honest, I think it will take at least another decade of MMA’s growth before judges and referees are educated/experienced enough in the finer points of the sport to essentially eliminate the aspects so many avid followers find frustrating at the moment. While it might seem simple on the surface, broad change rarely is, and unfortunately there will be a number of fighters who step into the ring and exit a victim of “Grand Theft Victory”.

FACT/FICTION – Even though he ultimately won the bout, Frank Mir has headlined his last PPV after the UFC 119 performance he turned in against Mirko Filipovic.

Tool: Barring another improbable title run, absolute fact. Mir’s recent wins over Brock Lesnar, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and Cheick Kongo have afforded him a fair amount of credibility here in the second half of his career. However the second loss to Lesnar and this year’s loss to Shane Carwin would only seem to prove that Mir’s days as a contender may in fact be over due to the recent upheaval in the division. If Mir isn’t going to be challenging for the belt anytime soon (and I’m fairly sure that will be the case) then what sort of compelling match-ups could the UFC put together that would be main event worthy? I suppose they could take a second crack at booking the rematch with Nogueira, but that wasn’t exactly a must-see headliner when it was first announced anyways. I don’t think the buyrate for UFC 119 will be that strong, so if Mir does get another main event non-title fight it will most likely have to rely on the drawing power of his opponent.

Conlan: FICTION. Mir definitely didn’t win any new fans with his showing against “Cro Cop”. In fact, I can’t ever remember a highlight-reel knockout leaving such a rancid taste in the public’s collective mouth. However, no matter how disappointing the first three-quarters of the fight were, in reality he did still deliver a sweet strike and finished a widely respected opponent in the process.

Mir is only 31 years old, has beaten a number of his division’s biggest names (not to mention the current title-holder), and is a former promotional champion. He knows how to sell bouts to the media and can render stoppages while standing or from any position on the mat. All of those factors indicate to me he’ll definitely serve as a member of a main event at least one more time in his career, likely more. Though his match-up with Mirko was littered with less-than memorable moments, he shouldn’t be banished from the kingdom for the performance nor should we forget about the fact it was his eighth consecutive appearance in the Octagon without the need for scorecards. Win or lose, Mir comes to fight far more often than not, and with an exciting TKO/submission in his next bout I’m positive people – including his bosses – will forget about UFC 119 faster than it takes Randy Couture to dry his hair.

Who would you pick for Chris Lytle’s next fight?

Conlan: Whenever I attempt to pick a future bout I take two things into consideration – availability and the match-up’s relevance. For example, it wouldn’t make sense to pair Lytle against an individual on a three-fight skid or was already scheduled to compete in a few months. As such, I see a couple of realistic options for him.

Similar to “Lights Out”, Nate Diaz is a well-rounded fighter who isn’t afraid to brawl. He beat Marcus Davis a month ago at UFC 118 and is still in need of an official follow-up opponent. Diaz is 2-0 since moving to welterweight so the match-up also makes sense from a divisional perspective. Putting him in the Octagon against Lytle has “____ of the Night” potential written all over it.

Likewise, another 170-pounder I think would make sense for the Indianapolis native is the loser of UFC 120’s upcoming brawl between Dan Hardy and Carlos Condit. I’m not sure Lytle has done enough against ranked welters to merit a shot at the victor, but I’m supremely confident a scrap against either would be entertaining so I’m content with him facing the one who isn’t as fortunate when things are said and done on October 16th in London. If forced to pick between the trio of choices I’ve listed, though I believe all would make for equally entertaining affairs, I suppose I’d go with Hardy because I think he’s got the best stand-up in the group and that’s the sort of fight I love seeing Lytle in.

Tool: Brendhan already picked my favorite choice of the bunch, and that’s Nate Diaz. Both fighters have more than their fair share of submission wins, yet each man has clearly favored the stand-up aspect of the sport in recent outings. Lytle is a good move up the welterweight ladder for Diaz, and I see no reason why this fight couldn’t headline an upcoming Fight Night or “TUF” Finale.

If I was going to make another pick I may very well choose the soon-to-be-returning Anthony Johnson. You guys remember him, right? It’s been almost a year since “Rumble” was choked out by Josh Koscheck, but he’s currently planning to return to the octagon before the end of the year. If Lytle is willing to jump right back into camp he could easily score yet another bonus check in a bout with the heavy-handed Johnson.

Do you believe that Ryan Bader is the best choice for Jon Jones’ next opponent?

Conlan: Honestly, no. The bout makes sense from a rankings perspective, as both are “Top 10” light heavyweights and have certainly earned the right to compete for top contendership in the division based on their recent accomplishments in the ring. However, I don’t think the UFC necessarily needs to put two of their brightest twenty-somethings into the Octagon together considering they have a roster packed with 205-pound talent. I’d like to see Bader and Jones continue to build their names against more-established athletes before letting them mix it up. Considering their current paces, does a match-up in early 2012 not sound more exciting than one in 3-4 months? I certainly think so.

I also believe a lot of fans don’t want to see Bader near the belt, which is where a win over “Bones” would put him, until he shows more ability to TKO or submit opponents. The former ASU Sun Devil has gone to decision in three of his last four fights and was three minutes away from making it the entire quartet before knocking Keith Jardine out at UFC 110 last February. On the other hand, Jones has strung together a career’s worth of highlight reel moments in the last two years, so it makes more sense to give him a championship push (or someone with equal charisma/finishing prowess) in comparison to Bader. From that standpoint, as well as their potential to shine as individual LHW prospects in 2011, I think rushing a fight between Bader and Jones would be a mistake.

Tool: I hate it when the UFC puts two of their rising prospects against one another. With proper grooming there’s no reason why both of these fighters can’t be contenders within the next year or two, but a loss at this stage of the game would be a pretty big setback. As Brendhan said the talent pool is deep enough at 205 that both guys could get respectable opponents that move them closer to contendership. Why knock one man out of the running now?

My first argument against this idea plays very well into my second, and that is that at this stage in their careers Jones and Bader are not at the same level. Jones is flat-out destroying everyone he faces while Bader is just doing enough to win decisions. Bader still needs to improve his cardio as well as his striking before he has a real chance of hanging with the top dogs in the division, but Jones is already clearly ready to step up to the big time. At this point I see no way for Bader to win a potential showdown with Jones, so for his sake I hope Joe Silva has some other ideas in mind for these two light heavyweights’ next bout.

Did you check out the EA Sports MMA demo this week? And if so, what are your thoughts about it?

Conlan: I’ve played the demo and was generally pleased with the experience considering it’s the company’s first go at a MMA title. The graphics look fairly good, the roster is nice, the game-play isn’t overly confusing, and the finished product appears to have a lot of cool online features. However, there is definitely room for improvement, and the demo definitely didn’t blow me away to the point I now have a strong urge to purchase the game when it is released. Then again, in full disclosure, I didn’t buy UFC Undisputed 2010 either.

On the bright side, I like the variety of animations and the introduction packages (minus the usual “canned” Strikeforce music). The game is very aesthetically appealing from an overall standpoint and it seems to have enough depth to be both playable for beginners and hardcore gamers.

As far as flaws, strikes don’t seem to land with much impact and knockouts from top position are fairly anti-climactic in nature. When I thwack Bobby Lashley with a clean head-kick from Alistair Overeem the blow needs to be more meaningful than a glancing jab. It’s also clear learning the entire move-set will take a lot of practice, as it’s relatively deep and requires the use of every instrument on your controller. Additionally, the rendering on the characters’ faces can be a little disturbing at times and is evident from the game’s opening video.

However, while I may not lay down $50-$60 for the game, I still plan on renting it, and when that day comes you can mark these words – Bas Rutten will be champion of the world again!

(EDIT: Normally I don’t do this, but after reading Tool’s synopsis I wanted to add I completely understand what he means about the game’s wrestling-heavy format. Go figure it would be so realistic?!? On a serious note, I’m currently chalking that up to the characters being offered in the demo and believe it won’t be such an issue once there are more to choose from.)

Tool: Unlike Brendhan, I did buy Undisputed. I found that game to be somewhat lacking so I was cautiously optimistic about EA’s first MMA title. After playing the demo though my optimism has flipped to pessimism.

I’ll get the good points out of the way: other than the facial models the whole game looks very nice. The submission system seems to be more balanced than the UFC game, and I’m glad that there’s no button-mashing submission defense to be found here. I also appreciate the wider diversity of fighters & styles in EA’s game, and I’ll have to check out the full version just to play as some of my favorite non-Zuffa employed fighters.

As for the things I don’t like, right off the top we can start with the striking. As Brendhan pointed out the strikes lack any significant impact, and part of that is due to the fact that they’ve been assigned to the right analog stick instead of a button. The game requires you to move the stick in a certain way for strikes, and I have to wonder why they didn’t allow more freedom with how strikes are thrown. If you can only strike by moving the stick one of four ways, why not assign those strikes to buttons?

Of course it’s hard to really get into the striking system when every fight turns into a wrestling match. The advancement of position and ground defense take certain stage in EA Sports MMA. While the systems in place for this aspect of the sport are well-designed, the last thing I want to do is go back and forth on the ground for 15 minutes. I realize that this mirrors the current state of MMA, but that doesn’t mean I have to like watching it on PPV and it certainly doesn’t mean that I want to play it in videogame form either.

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