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Grappling with Issues – 10/8/10

Will Jose Aldo ever lose a bout as a WEC competitor? How badly do you want to see Donald Cerrone and Jamie Varner fight for a third time? Are you concerned by the UFC involving themselves financially in a New York official’s election campaign? Does the winner of JZ Cavalcante vs. Josh Thomson deserve a crack at Gilbert Melendez’s Strikeforce championship?

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.

Who is more likely to emerge title-free from this weekend’s Strikeforce event – Nick Diaz or Sarah Kaufman?

Adam Tool: I would say neither, but that makes for a pretty boring article. In the interest of having something to say I’ll take…ummm…Diaz. I feel fairly confident that Kaufman will retain her belt against Marloes Coenen, given Coenen’s nine-month layoff and the fact that it’s her first fight ever at 135 lbs. Kaufman is just too good right now and I fully expect her to batter Coenen on the feet, stuff the takedown attempts, and walk away with a decisive victory.

I’m taking Diaz to win as well, but it’s hard to overlook the abilities of KJ Noons. Their previous bout will probably have little bearing on how this one plays out, given the fact that both fighters have only gotten better since then. Diaz will likely choose to stand and trade with Noons and there’s a high probability that Noons could out-point his opponent over the course of five rounds. He won’t knock Diaz out, and if it goes to the ground the balance swings heavily in Diaz’s favor, but if it lasts 25 minutes that’s plenty of time for Noons to get the edge on at least two judges’ scorecards.

Conlan: I agree with Tool’s assessment as far as their collective victory at this weekend’s event, as well as his inclination Diaz is at greater risk of dropping his belt in comparison to Kaufman regardless of both being favorites entering the night. I think Noons’ boxing-based footwork will prevent him from falling victim to Diaz’s pawing punches and provide him with the necessary technical prowess to successfully stand with the scrappy son of Stockton. Beyond that, “King Karl” has enough power in his hands to land a strike either ending Diaz’s night, or at least setting up the finish, regardless of how durable his opponent’s chin has proven to be in the past. As long as he keeps Diaz from taking/holding him down I’d say he has a decent chance of winning the title, whereas I don’t think Coenen is nearly explosive enough in any single area to provide much of a threat to the well-rounded Kaufman’s reign as promotional champ.

Will featherweight champ Jose Aldo lose a bout while competing under WEC’s banner?

Tool: At this point it’s pretty easy to say no, but naturally this is MMA and you never know when the next big thing is going to rise up the ranks. Aldo’s steady path of destruction through the featherweight division has left many wondering who exactly will be able to beat him, and for many that answer seems to lie within the UFC’s lightweight division. Personally I feel that all this talk about Aldo moving up to the UFC is completely useless. Zuffa has contracts with Spike as well as Versus, and with those deals in place they cannot simply fold the WEC into the UFC. As long as the WEC is going to operate as a separate entity then they’re going to need stars to draw in the crowds. Aldo is gaining popularity with each overwhelming win and he’s certainly poised to become one of the most well-known fighters in the smaller weight classes.

Back to the question though, I think it’s fair to say that there’s nobody under contract with the WEC who can beat Aldo at this point. I’m not sure what kind of fighter will be able to dethrone the champion, but if I was a betting man I’d put my money on Joe Warren. Warren is quickly becoming a premier force in the featherweight division and I am keeping all of my fingers crossed that Zuffa finds a way to bring the former University of Michigan stand-out to the WEC.

Conlan: No, but lightweight contender Jose Aldo might. I don’t see the 24-year old Brazilian losing to anyone at 145-pounds for a long time if ever, Warren included (look at the damage the Bellator champ took against Joe Soto and Patricio “Pitbull” Freire if you need a reason why). I think Aldo’s grappling is too polished, his hands too powerful, and his kicks too quick to fork his belt over to any opponent inside a WEC cage. However, his long-rumored jump to lightweight could eventually result in a loss, as the promotion has a handful of talented 155-pounders under contract and the upgrade in size/skill would likely provide Aldo with a test he has yet to face as a featherweight. After all, if Zuffa toyed with the idea of having Urijah Faber face Miguel Torres when both held divisional titles, is it really so far-fetched to think they might consider a super-fight between Ben Henderson (even Donald Cerrone) and Aldo?

Do you have a problem with the UFC donating money to an election campaign if the intent involves a political favor in return at some point down the road?

Tool: Absolutely not. Everything the UFC is doing is perfectly legal, and as a firm supporter of their cause (regulating MMA in the state of New York) I have no problem whatsoever with their tactics. In fact I say let’s do more. President Obama is reportedly a fan of the UFC, so let’s get something passed on the federal level! I’m sure Dana White can’t give Obama any monetary support, but how about free PPVs for life in the White House?

The battle for legislation in New York is one of the UFC’s primary focal points. They are still fighting outdated beliefs that are held by people in positions of power, so if they have to grease a few wheels to get some fresh thinkers in the government then I say more power to them.

Conlan: For me this a matter of principle and lobbying in general is something I disagree with regardless of its legality. To support the UFC influencing policy with cash is akin to backing any industry who behaves similarly on the political landscape with the only difference being a personal affinity for MMA rather than tobacco, corn, oil, guns, etc.

Yes, I would I love to see a UFC event in Madison Square Garden, but I want the sport to be legalized in New York because it’s the right thing to do and not as the result of having lined the pockets of politicians. I know it’s naïve to imagine American government working in such a way, but the day our country starts focusing on just causes rather than just coffers we’ll be a lot better off than is currently the case.

On a scale from 1-10 (with 10 being the highest) how interested are you in seeing Varner vs. Cerrone 3?

Conlan: While I’ve enjoyed both of their previous match-ups, there is little question in my mind “Cowboy” is the superior Mixed Martial Artist and would emerge victorious again if they faced off. He brings more to the table than his rival in terms of an overall skill-set and made it clear by night’s end at WEC 51 he absolutely has an answer for his Varner’s primary method of attack (striking). If a winner essentially seems pre-determined, as I think is the case even if the fight took place in the Arizona native’s backyard, then that certainly kills a lot of the intrigue for me in terms of watching it go down.

I’d also like to see both men standing across the ring from fresh opposition being that seven of their last ten combined bouts have involved the same three individuals (each other and 155-pound champ Ben Henderson). With the UFC’s lightweight division currently deeper than conversing with a pot-smoking Plato, and WEC’s as deep as the Miami Heat’s bench, why not do a bit of cross-promotion and throw Cerrone/Varner in a WEC ring against a mid-tier name associated with the Octagon like Aaron Riley, Sam Stout, Gabe Ruediger, or Matt Wiman? Or, for that reason, why not give one of the two WEC stand-outs a shot at a “Fight Night” event?

As far as actually rating my interest in a third fight between Varner and Cerrone, I’ll go with a “7.5” since I see the inherent entertainment value involved in a rubber-match but would prefer they went their separate ways for both competitive reasons and the sake of newness.

Tool: While Brendhan’s right on the money saying that the UFC’s lightweight division is deep with talent, the same can’t be said for the WEC lightweights. There’s some great fighters for sure, but Henderson, Cerrone, and Varner have carved out a pretty big chunk of space at the top of the division. Since neither Varner or Cerrone will be earning another shot at Henderson anytime soon I see no reason not to complete a trilogy of fights between these two. Both of their previous bouts have been the best fight of the night and that would likely hold true for a third meeting as well. The score is tied at one apiece and the bad blood is clearly still there, so put me at a solid “9” for seeing “The Worm” and the “Cowboy” hook up one more time.

Should the winner of this weekend’s Josh Thomson/JZ Cavalcante fight be the top contender for the Strikeforce Lightweight Championship?

Conlan: Yes, and the promotion has said as much is the case meaning I definitely agree with their position on the subject. Strikeforce doesn’t have a lot of options where top contendership is concerned and cases can be made for both Thomson and Cavalcante, especially with a win for one over the other.

If “The Punk” beats his ATT-trained opponent tomorrow night he’ll provide the promotion with an opportunity to complete his trilogy of fights against 155-pound title-holder Gilbert Melendez. Melendez is the only individual to have beaten him in four years, and a victory over someone with Cavalcante’s talent/accomplishments can’t be taken likely. Since his previous bouts against “El Nino” were extremely entertaining affairs, and both lightweights have deep roots in California, the match-up would be easy to promote in the Golden State and guaranteed to be ripe with action.

In the case of Cavalcante, the Brazilian isn’t as well-known to American fans as Thomson but has always been well-respected amongst people who are familiar with what he brings with him into the ring. He’s athletic, has a polished attack, and pushes the pace in most situations. If he can beat Thomson, though “JZ” won’t be as deserving of the opportunity as someone like Lyle Beerbohm or even KJ Noons, his record and abilities speak for themselves in terms of making a case for a title shot. Beyond that, I would be lying if I said I haven’t always been interested in seeing Cavalcante and Melendez in the cage together, and I suspect I’m not alone in that opinion when it comes to long-time MMA enthusiasts.

Tool: In a deeper division there might be a problem with a guy earning a title shot after just two wins in a row, but with Strikeforce we need to take what we can get. Thomson obviously has an advantage in earning a third fight with Melendez since his did win their first meeting, so I’d say it’s essentially a lock that we’ll see Melendez/Thomson 3 should “The Punk” earn a victory tomorrow night. As Brendhan said Cavalcante is a tougher sell for American audiences, so he’ll have to work that much harder to impress with a win over Thomson. “JZ” is still highly respected amongst hardcore fans but he’s lost most of the momentum he had a few years ago. That being said, there aren’t enough contenders to go around so look for Cavalcante to rise to the top if he gets by Thomson this weekend.

BUY/SELL – Tomorrow night’s Tyron Woodley/Andre Galvao fight won’t make it past the first round.

Conlan: BUY. Galvao, who is known for his skills on the mat, has gone beyond the first round in 2/3 of his total in-ring appearances (including the last three, two of which were decisions). On the other hand, Woodley’s is a more-explosive competitor but also relies on a ground-based attack cemented in his wrestling ability, and given Galvao’s submission background I can’t see Woodley’s grappling being as effective as it would against someone with a lesser BJJ pedigree. For those reasons I’d say it’s a lot more likely the judges’ scorecards will come into play on Saturday evening when these two face off in comparison to a first-round finish.

Tool: I also have to go with a “buy,” mostly on the basis that I’m picking Woodley for the win. With all due respect to Jason High, I think it’s fair to say that Woodley is the best wrestler Galvao has faced in his career. If Galvao can’t get Woodley down then he’s forced to stand and trade with a much better striker. Even if the fight does hit the mat Woodley is well-versed enough in submissions to be able to defend most anything Galvao can throw his way. I certainly wouldn’t pick Woodley to win in a straight jiu-jitsu competition, but since this is MMA I’ll take “T-Wood” via first-round stoppage.

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