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Grappling with Issues – 10/15/10

Will Miesha Tate do better against Strikeforce champ Marloes Coenen when they face off in a few months than Sarah Kaufman did this past Saturday night? What UFC 120 match-up looks like a lock for “Fight of the Night” Should Josh Thomson have to win another fight before getting a crack at Gilbert Melendez for a third time? Is John Hathaway a superior, undefeated welterweight prospect when compared to Tyron Woodley or is it the other way around?

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’s your preference for Nick Diaz’s next fight: a catch-weight bout with “Mayhem” Miller or another defense of the Strikeforce Welterweight Championship?

Conlan: The choice between the options should be a no-brainer for most in terms of creating both an entertaining and competitive fight. Strikeforce’s 170-pound roster isn’t particularly top-heavy and is stacked would-be contenders like Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos, Paul Daley, and Tyron Woodley rather than an established group of highly-touted competitors. While those three, as well as a handful of other Strikeforce welterweights, are unquestionably talented they’re not currently sellable as true adversaries for someone on Diaz’s level. The notion KJ Noons – typically a lightweight with no divisional victories – was given a shot at the Gracie-trained champion’s belt should tell fans all they need to know in terms of Strikeforce’s confidence in their welterweight group.

Matching Stockton’s favorite son with Jason Miller would not only give the afore-mentioned welters an opportunity to further cement their claim to a title-bout, but Strikeforce would also have Miller/Diaz’s name-recognition and personal dislike of one another to use for marketing purposes. It’s one of the few relevant pairings the company can create in terms of attracting mainstream attention, actually making it somewhat crucial that Strikeforce finds a way to make the fight happen as far as their future prospects go. Whether doing so means paying Diaz’s snack-bill for the next five years or hiding some cameras in a backyard, getting the rivals together, and doing things Kimbo-style, Scott Coker’s crew should be trying to intensely negotiate the deal before the opportunity to do so slips away.

Tool: I also have to favor a grudge match with “Mayhem” over a predictable title defense against one of the aforementioned names in the division. Miller is arguably the biggest star on Strikeforce’s roster, but you wouldn’t know that with the way they’ve used him. He should be towards the top of their cards and a fight like this with a built-in storyline is perfect for an upcoming main event. Diaz has made it clear lately that he’s just looking to get paid, so here’s hoping that Coker can fork over the necessary cheddar to make this match happen as each man’s next fight.

BUY/SELL – Josh Thomson should have to win one more fight before earning a third meeting with Gilbert Melendez.

Conlan: This is a “SELL” for me for similar reasons to those mentioned in the above-answer. While Strikeforce has a slightly deeper pool of 155-pounders to work with in comparison to their welterweight division, none have really solidified themselves as being more deserving or must-see than Thomson (who has the rubber-match angle to his advantage as well). For that reason, I have no problem seeing Thomson vs. Melendez III take place in the next few months, but I also don’t think Strikeforce has a lot of say-so in the matter since there aren’t many choices outside of Thomson to work with.

However, I’d have no problem with Thomson facing Lyle Beerbohm or KJ Noons if Melendez was suddenly scheduled to give Shinya Aoki a rematch on Japanese soil or partook in a super-fight with Bellator champ Eddie Alvarez.

In fact, were he healthy, I think a case could be made for Noons getting the nod over “The Punk” in terms of being named top contender to Melendez’s lightweight strap. The well-coiffed Hawaiian-by-way-of-Houston just got done hanging with one of the best welters in the sport for five rounds in a main event and had won six consecutive bouts prior to his hard-fought loss to Diaz, all of which were at a lesser weight. On the other hand, prior to his win over JZ Cavalcante, Thomson had only beaten Pat Healy since last losing to “El Nino” and was close to being finished by the ATT-trained Brazilian in the first round of their epic scrap last weekend.

Tool: I’ve got to go with a “buy” on this one, and my reasons for such have already pretty much been laid out by Brendhan. For one, I’d much rather see Melendez square off with Alvarez before he rematches Aoki or Thomson. There’s also the fact that Noons has a pretty good claim as the number one contender. Granted he did just lose a title fight in a heavier weight class, but that didn’t stop Strikeforce from putting Marloes Coenen into a title bout this past weekend.

I can certainly get behind the idea of Melendez vs. Thomson III, simply on the basis of the outstanding fights these two have given us before. There’s no reason to believe that a third bout wouldn’t follow that tradition, particularly if it’s done at a time when Josh Thomson is 100% healthy. Unfortunately those windows of opportunity seem to be practically microscopic (as “The Punk” was in fact injured going into his fight with Cavalcante), so I guess Strikeforce should probably just put this fight together whenever they have the opportunity to do so.

Give your best guess as to which UFC 120 bout will end up winning “Fight of the Night.”

Conlan: Without a doubt it will be Rob “It’s Already Been” Broughton’s (not his real nickname unfortunately) much-anticipated undercard brawl with Scrabble-friendly opponent Vinicius Kappke de Quieroz…but seriously, I think there’s little question Dan Hardy vs. Carlos Condit has bonus-check written all over it.

Both 170-pounders fight with passion, have a number of tools in the proverbial shed with which to work, and don’t particularly like each other either. Their match-up should also merit an enormous response from the crowd throughout its duration, as Hardy is beloved in his home-country of England and Condit has already stated he’ll be using the USA’s National Anthem as his entrance music. With the audience on its feet and two men who don’t know the meaning of the word quit slugging it out until one crumples, how could Condit vs. Hardy be anything other than fantastic whether five or fifteen minutes long?

Tool: I’m just as pumped for Hardy/Condit as everybody else, but to keep things interesting I’ll take another fight for my pick. We’ve already spoken a bit about John Hathaway, and I’m very excited to see his fight with Mike Pyle. A lot of people seem to be writing off Pyle in this fight (fun fact: Pyle is the only man in history to have submitted Jon Fitch), but even if he loses it should still be a highly-entertaining scrap given each fighters’ style. Hathaway should have the edge on the feet, but Pyle’s aggressive submission-based offense could give the Brit trouble if the fight hits the ground. Both fighters are looking to make a name for themselves in the field of up-and-coming welterweights, and while they may not be contending for gold anytime soon there can be little doubt that this fight is incredibly important for each man’s career.

Do you see Miesha Tate faring any better against Marloes Coenen than Sarah Kaufman did last weekend?

Tool: I do, but then again I figured that Kaufman would retain her belt this past weekend. I don’t want to underestimate Coenen too much as she’s certainly one of the best female fighters in the world, but then again so is Miesha Tate. I didn’t see anything in Coenen’s stand-up that would make me think that she’ll smoke Tate in the striking, but it’s more likely that the outcome of this fight will be determined on the ground. Tate is at the top of the food chain for wrestling in MMA, and unlike Kaufman she’s not likely to get careless from the top position. Tate’s experience will allow her to be more controlled in her ground and pound, and unless Coenen can stuff repeated takedown attempts then I see this one ending with another new champion.

Conlan: I disagree with Adam for a few reasons, and I hope his comment about Tate being one of MMA’s elite wrestlers was more hyperbole than his actual opinion on her grappling ability. She may be talented in comparison to her peers on the somewhat-thin female scene, but she doesn’t dominate opponents with the same ease seen from the true cream of the sport’s wrestling crop.

That point aside, I don’t feel “Takedown” Tate will do any better against Coenen from a results standpoint than Kaufman did, and I actually won’t be surprised if the Dutch champ finishes her with the same technique she used to procure the Strikeforce title. Tate gives up a few inches in height and a bit of reach to “Rumina”, meaning she could be susceptible to damage in the clinch (as Kaufman was), and has no noticeable advantage when purely standing either. If she relies on her takedowns and spends a lot of time throwing strikes in Coenen’s guard her arms will be left relatively vulnerable (as Kaufman’s were). Coenen’s success with armbars is well-documented, and because Tate’s go-to attack is based on ground-and-pounding her way to victory I think it’s very possible she could get caught from the bottom and tapped, especially if she starts to get frustrated on her feet.

Who do you see as the superior welterweight prospect – Jon Hathaway or Tyron Woodley?

Tool: It’s hard not to go with Hathaway after the way he dominated Diego Sanchez, and assuming he gets past Mike Pyle this weekend he’s liable to find a spot in the upper levels of the division in 2011. He’s got great striking and unlike most British fighters he’s more than comfortable with the wrestling aspect of the sport. It’s all but impossible to stand-out in the crowded field of the UFC’s welterweight division, so the fact that Hathaway’s already starting to make a name for himself speaks volumes about his potential.

We certainly can’t discount Woodley either, as he’s quickly climbing the ladder to emerge as a potential contender in Strikeforce. Obviously the pool for contenders in Strikeforce is far more shallow than it is in the UFC, but it’s a credit to Woodley for making his way up to the main cards after a few quality showings on the Challengers events. We still need to see how he performs against a higher quality opponent, and I for one would love to see “T-Wood” matched up with the winner of the upcoming Paul Daley/Scott Smith scrap to determine Nick Diaz’s next contender.

Conlan: I’d also have to say it’s the 14-0 Brit, and to elaborate on Tool’s take, not only did Hathaway beat Sanchez in the manner mentioned but he also took home a pair of unanimous decisions against Paul Taylor and Rick Story, who are tough, talented fighters in their own right, prior to the bout.

He’s 5-6 years younger than Woodley, a fact meriting consideration when examining where both are currently in their careers and how much more time each theoretically has to develop as an overall Mixed Martial Artist. He’s also 6’2″, making him one of the UFC’s tallest 170-pounders meaning he typically enters the ring with a reach advantage over his opponent. Additionally, beyond simply his ability and physical dimensions, Hathaway has the added benefit of being British where “star” potential is concerned. The UFC has already invested a lot of time/money/energy into the European market and as a result created relative icons overseas in the form of Michael Bisping and Dan Hardy simply because of their nationalities and success in the cage. The same could easily be true for Hathaway if he keeps on winning, especially in front of his fellow Englanders.

Woodley is exceptionally skilled and his combination of athleticism, wrestling, and submissions are enough to beat a lot of his in-ring adversaries and take him a long way in MMA. However, until he faces a comparable level of opposition to “The Hitman” or Hathaway falls in a few fights, I don’t think the Strikeforce 170-pound contender can be viewed as the superior prospect when matching the two up from top to bottom on paper.

Has the “UFC Primetime” special featuring Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez influenced your opinion on either individual or on how their upcoming match-up will unfold?

Tool: Not necessarily, but that’s mainly due to the fact that I pegged Velasquez to win this bout as soon as Lesnar beat Shane Carwin. It’s reaffirming to watch Velasquez train the way he does, and to hear the people closest to him talk about the level of talent that he brings to the sport. I’ve had a front-row seat aboard the Cain Velasquez bandwagon since he first came into the UFC, and I’m not about to abandon ship just because he’s facing the top guy in his division.

As for Lesnar, I have to wonder just how well he’s preparing for this fight. It’s obvious by now that Lesnar has a fair amount of confidence in himself, and being surrounded by his friends all day at training certainly can’t hurt his ego. To me it seems as though Lesnar may already be too comfortable in his gym, as his strict policies against outsiders could lead to a situation where he’s not challenging himself enough. His natural gifts make up for a lot of that, but I’ll be interested to see if he’s truly prepared for what Velasquez brings to the table.

Conlan: I can vouch for Tool’s long-standing support of Velasquez, though I personally entered the series with a lot more faith in Lesnar than I exited it with. There’s no question the UFC’s heavyweight title-holder is working his ass off under the DeathClutch roof and will be in prime condition at UFC 121, but at the end of the day I think he is still burdened by his build when it comes to movement. Perhaps it was simply the trickery of post-production editing, but Cain looked very crisp in training while Brock just appeared to be building strength/cardio. I think Velasquez’s wrestling background could very well allow him to hold off Lesnar’s advances, while movement and angles may open up an opportunity to either pepper the champ enough times to win rounds or even rock him as Carwin did a few months back. If that’s the case, rest assured Velasquez won’t fade faster than the average reality television star’s post-series career as was the case with Carwin at UFC 116.

I still feel Lesnar is going to walk away from Anaheim with the big, shiny beltbuckle around his waist, but I can honestly admit the bits of insight provided on “UFC Primetime” definitely have me feeling a little more positive about Velasquez’s chances of maintaining his unbeaten record and becoming champion.

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