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Grappling with Issues – 11/6/10

Is Urijah Faber in line for a title-shot if he beats Takeya Mizugaki next week at WEC 52? Who would you like to see standing opposite of Brock Lesnar in his next fight? Should WEC‘s 155-pound champion get an immediate opportunity to compete for the UFC‘s lightweight belt? How would you approach Randy Couture‘s future in the ring?

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 Randy Couture best-used in “novelty fights” or does he indeed have a “run at the title” left in him?

Adam Tool: I heard Couture say that his last few fights have been “novelty” fights. Nobody will argue against that classification for the James Toney fight, but if the Brandon Vera bout was a novelty fight then it was a novelty fight that Randy nearly lost. The slim win over Vera just proved that the UFC legend is going to have a hard time hanging with the murderer’s row of light heavyweights towards the top of the division. I’m honestly wondering whether or not any athletic commissions would sanction a bout between Couture and Jon Jones, but I’m sure Randy wants nothing to do with that bout anyways.

If Randy wants mostly novelty fights from here on out, he’s going to have a limited number of options within the UFC. He’d be better off flying to Japan for last-minute bookings against vastly outmatched opposition, as those three-month training camps are going to seriously hamper his acting options. Maybe he can show up in DREAM and (literally) take the novelty fight championship away from Minowaman?

Conlan: I’m not sure if Tool purposely forgot to mention Couture’s win over Mark Coleman or if the bout slipped his mind, but either would be understandable given the less-than memorable nature of the match-up. That being said, I don’t think “The Natural” was referring to Vera in terms of being a “novelty” opponent so much as Coleman and Toney, as the lanky Californian is far from an afterthought in his division and could have arguably been given the win over Couture as Adam alluded to.

In regards to Couture’s assessment of his present and immediate future, my one point of contention relates to the fact he personally asked to be put in the cage with Toney, and it seems petty of him to complain about the nature of the bout since he was directly involved with it being made.

Beyond that, like Couture, I would prefer to see the UFC utilize the final few bouts of his career as a means of showcasing his legend regardless of result or weight-class. Why not provide fans with pairings they’ve hungered for but never seen come to fruition? Though it’s highly unlikely Fedor Emelianenko will set foot in the Octagon before Couture calls it quits (if ever), there are still a number of opponents currently on the organization’s roster with both the name-value and divisional relevance for use in creating a number of competitive fights ready-made to headline a PPV. From a 205-pound perspective, Rich Franklin and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson both fit the bill as being relatively iconic Mixed Martial Artists who still have gas in the tank, while I think the same can be said for Frank Mir or Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic in the heavyweight division. All four of those individuals, not to mention a number of others, would be fresh foes for Couture who would provide a challenge and an above-average buyrate to boot.

What lightweight match-up are you most looking forward to now that the UFC has absorbed WEC?

Tool: I’m not sure if there’s any one potential match-up at 155 that sounds like a “dream fight” to me, and in reality I’m far more interested in seeing which smaller UFC lightweights drop down to featherweight. Up until last week a drop from 155 to 145 meant a cut in pay and exposure, but guys like Leonard Garcia, Manny Gamburyan, and Jens Pulver all managed to parlay their weight cut into a title shot. Now that the featherweight division has a home in the UFC I would expect we’ll see several UFC 155ers start making the cut. Cole Miller made his interest known via Twitter, and guys like Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida seem like they wouldn’t have too much trouble dropping an extra ten pounds at fight time. All three of those examples are guys who have had trouble gaining serious momentum as a UFC lightweight, and who could instantly change their career dynamic at 145 lbs.

We also can’t overlook the current lightweight kingpin, Frank Edgar. It comes up nearly every time Edgar fights. “He’s too small for lightweight.” Yet despite this supposed handicap Edgar has managed to go nearly unbeaten at 155 lbs. and now sits at the top of the division (depending on who you ask). His lack of size very well could cost him his UFC Lightweight Championship in January when he rematches with the only man to ever beat him, and if Gray Maynard repeats his dominant performance against Edgar for a second time then the argument for “The Answer” at featherweight just gets that much stronger. We’ll see what happens on January 1st but for now I think it’s safe to pencil in that Aldo/Edgar match-up for next summer.

Conlan: To be quite honest, I hadn’t thought much about how the merger might inspire UFC lightweights to drop down to 145-pounds, and I think that’s a topic definitely deserving more examination in the future.

As far as the subject at hand, I’m definitely looking forward to Ben Henderson testing himself against any number of his UFC peers assuming he escapes his bout with Anthony Pettis this December without another blemish on his record. Also, there are a slew of match-ups for Donald Cerrone ripe with edge-of-your-seat potential based on his in-ring aggression and well-rounded technique. That being said, two opponents I’d unquestionably pay money to see him face are Nate Diaz and Takanori Gomi. The intensity of a bout with Diaz would be off the charts and no doubt involve some superb grappling and fearless stand-up, while on the other hand I could see him opting to strike with “The Fireball Kid” for fifteen minutes if necessary and that’s a scenario I’d love to see unfold.

Will Urijah Faber – who is debuting at 135-pounds – get an immediate shot at the UFC Bantamweight Championship if he beats Takeya Mizugaki next week at WEC 52?

Tool: I’m going to assume so, and it’s not hard to see why. No matter who wins the last WEC Bantamweight Championship fight in December, the first UFC Bantamweight Champion will be a fighter that most people have never heard of. That’s nothing against Dominick Cruz or Scott Jorgensen as both guys are absolutely phenomenal fighters, it’s simply a statement on the recent history of the 135 lbs. division. For the longest time it looked like Miguel Torres had the entire weight class on lockdown, but then along comes Brian Bowles out of nowhere to take the title, only to lose it in his first defense to the young Cruz. As a result the weight class lacks a true face to stand out in the crowd, especially given the fact that Cruz has yet to truly win over the WEC faithful.

Personally, I’m taking Jorgensen to be the first UFC Bantamweight Champion but we’ll have to wait a little longer to see how that one turns out. Regardless of the winner, the UFC will need a strong opponent to be on the other side of the cage for the first 135 lbs. title defense in the Octagon. Faber is the biggest star of the lower weight classes, and so he’s got an easier path back to the big fights. Mizugaki is no joke and hopefully “The California Kid” isn’t looking past him, but if he wins next week then I don’t think anybody will be surprised to see him slotted into the #1 contender’s position for the first UFC Bantamweight Championship fight.

Conlan: Faber got a crack at WEC’s featherweight title a single win removed from a loss on two separate occasions, so it stands to reason the same would be true in terms of his bantamweight future with a victory over Mizugaki.

Also, to elaborate on the points Tool made, Faber is the only individual drawing a WEC paycheck who can sell out an arena on name-value alone. The opportunity to promote “The California Kid” competing for a UFC championship in Sacramento is one Zuffa can’t pass on from a business perspective, and I’m confident the men upstairs understand the increased risk they take at such a prospect never becoming reality if they hold off on putting it together. Contendership can easily be sold on the heels of a single win but rarely, if ever, does it make sense after a losing performance – especially one in the belt’s related division – and as such it’s important for the UFC to strike while the iron is hot.

Do you agree with Zuffa’s decision to award the WEC Lightweight Champion with an immediate shot at the UFC title?

Conlan: I’m supportive of the unification concept given the individuals involved, though I’d still like to hear the UFC explain why former 170-pound champ Carlos Condit wasn’t afforded the same luxury when the organization absorbed WEC’s welterweights.

As far as the WEC 53 headliners, while Pettis and Henderson may not have experience in the Octagon or wins over “Top 10” competition, each is a talented young fighter who has yet to display their full potential in the ring. Pettis’ lone career loss came by way of split decision against the vastly more-experienced Bart Palaszewski, while current 155-pound champ Henderson has won eleven consecutive bouts since suffering his only defeat. Though neither has an overwhelming chance of winning the UFC title from either Edgar or Maynard, Mixed Martial Arts is a sport where underdogs rise to the occasion and shine with relative frequency. Let’s just hope for the UFC lightweight champion’s sake the bout doesn’t occur in Houston or with Matt Serra in the building.

The crossover match-up would also give the UFC an opportunity to better define its contendership picture in the 155-pound division. Other than a potentially victorious George Sotiropoulos at UFC 123, I can’t think of a clear-cut opponent to give the winner of Edgar’s defense against Maynard on New Year’s Day without Henderson/Pettis being in the picture. Prolonging the process by including WEC’s title-holder lets Sotiropoulos, as well as other on-the-cusp contenders like Evan Dunham, Guida, and even former champion BJ Penn, sort out who is most-deserving of the next crack at winning the promotion’s lightweight belt by notching another win or two over relevant opposition.

Tool: Brendhan’s got a good point, in that this move makes little sense when you consider the fact that Condit never got a shot at the UFC Welterweight Championship upon the dissolution of that division in the WEC. Of course, Paulo Filho and Steve Cantwell didn’t get their shots at gold either (and Filho didn’t even get a chance in the UFC, but that’s a whole ‘nother story). This makes me wonder why Zuffa is taking this course of action upon merging the lightweight divisions, especially since their next #1 contender will be somebody that only a small percentage of the UFC fanbase is familiar with.

I have no doubt that Henderson and Pettis have the skills to hang in the UFC but do they really deserve to leapfrog all the other potential contenders? I can see Brendhan’s point about the division needing a little more time to sort out a definitive top contender, but at the same time it’s important to note that the UFC’s lightweight division is currently wide open following the rise of Edgar. Guys like Sotiropoulos and Dunham could certainly be a win away from contendership, and then there’s fighters like Gomi, Charles Oliveira and Jim Miller who are quickly rising up the ranks as well. While none of these fighters are WEC champions, they all have the benefit of having won at least one fight in the UFC. Unfortunately that’s more than we can say for the next #1 contender to the UFC Lightweight Championship.

Should the winner of next week’s Chad Mendes/Javier Vazquez fight become the #1 contender for the UFC Featherweight Championship?

Conlan: In the case of Mendes I think it would be appropriate given his undefeated record, though I wouldn’t be opposed to either eventual victor having to face Mark Hominick to truly establish a top contender for the belt. Other than that, I think the UFC will have to start making a genuine attempt at signing more top 145-pounders to maintain the division’s viability, as there aren’t a lot of fresh options outside of the three men mentioned in the above lines.

On that front, it would make sense to have an upcoming season of the Ultimate Fighter feature bantamweights and featherweights to help establish a few new fan-favorites. Maybe even have Faber and Miguel Torres serve as coaches while building towards a long-anticipated, eventual match-up between the two? Both are fantastic trainers with larger-than-life personalities who would be perfect for the show, as well as excellent examples of what the weight-classes have to offer based on their own success in the ring.

Tool: I’d just like to say for the record that a season of “TUF” with Faber and Torres coaching was one of the first things that came to my mind when this merger was announced. The UFC can’t put their lighter weight classes on the show fast enough for me, and Faber vs. Torres makes more sense now (assuming each man gets past their next opponent) than it did when they were each champion of their division.

Anyways, back to the topic at hand. Vazquez isn’t quite ready for that next level, and he would have to do something pretty spectacular next week to even begin to warrant contender discussion. Mendes, on the other hand, has looked great in his brief career in the WEC. His undefeated record lacks a big name on it though, and before he can reach that next level he’s going to need to prove himself against a higher quality opponent. If he can get past Vazquez on Thursday (and I believe that he will) then I say match Mendes up with former featherweight champ Mike Brown. I’m willing to believe that the Brown we saw get KO’d by Manny Gamburyan earlier this year was not anywhere near 100%. The man was far too dominant last year to fall this quickly, and I for one would like to see if he still has it in him to get back to the belt. A bout between Brown and Mendes gives each man plenty to gain within the featherweight division, and the winner of that fight could very well be worthy of a shot at the UFC Featherweight Champion

Who’s your pick for Brock Lesnar’s next opponent: Roy Nelson, Frank Mir, or Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira?

Conlan: Out of the three men listed I’d most like to see Lesnar face Nogueira. “Minotauro” is a legend in the sport with solid striking and world-class BJJ to back it up. He would provide a challenging stylistic match-up for Lesnar in terms of stand-up and being a threat on the ground, and since it’s looking less-and-less likely the UFC will ever put the former champ in a cage with Fedor, Nogueira is by far the next best thing where super-fights are concerned given his status as a PRIDE icon.

As far as the other two fighters go, the clamoring to see Lesnar in a tiebreaker with Mir is relatively non-existent after Mir was severely humbled in their previous bout and took a good deal of damage in their first go-round before locking in a submission to earn the dubya. Nelson is an interesting thought, but I don’t think he’s respected enough by average fans to risk Lesnar’s reputation against so shortly after his one-sided loss at UFC 121. Brock’s mystique can sustain a defeat to someone like Nogueira, but losing to an individual many people see as somewhat of a joke (wrongly I might add) could severely tarnish the former heavyweight champ’s standing as a cash-cow.

Tool: Personally I’m all for seeing Brock mix it up with “Big Country.” After all, these two represent (arguably) the most polarizing figures within the UFC. On one hand you’ve got the former UFC & WWE Champion coming off the most decisive loss of his career, and on the other hand there’s an extremely talented fighter hiding underneath the biggest gut in the UFC. Nelson has already proven that he’s a legitimate heavyweight fighter, and I don’t think Lesnar won three championship fights with just his size alone. Both men are still trying to earn the respect of many a UFC fan so let them face off and let’s see which one comes out ahead.

It’s an interesting match-up stylistically, as Nelson has shown some great takedown defense in past bouts. I don’t know if he’d stop the “rampaging bull” style of takedown that Brock brings to the table, but at the very least he’ll have some ideas about what to do off his back. In the striking department Nelson represents a very stiff challenge to the still-developing stand-up of Lesnar. We still haven’t seen Brock get fully knocked out, but by now we’ve seen enough to know that he doesn’t like to get hit. Nelson could certainly win this fight but Lesnar could also come back even stronger following the loss to Velasquez. I have little/no desire to see Lesnar vs. Mir 3 and I’m not even sure how much time Big Nog has left in the sport, so for the future of the heavyweight division I say make this match-up now.

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