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Grappling with Issues – 11/12/10

Does Nate Marquardt have a better chance than Yushin Okami of beating Anderson Silva in a rematch? What’s your take on the Ultimate Fighter season thus far now that it’s starting to wind down? Could Amir Sadollah be the latest TUF champion cut from the promotion? Likewise, is Vlad Matyushenko at risk of losing his job without coming away from UFC 122 with a win?

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 overall assessment of the current season of the Ultimate Fighter?

Tool: This season gets a solid “meh” from me. There hasn’t been anything truly awful (well, aside from Josh Koscheck’s utterly lame attempts to get under Georges St. Pierre’s skin) and at the same time we haven’t seen anything to blow us away. While this season’s crop of fighters have provided some interesting match-ups throughout the tournament, I haven’t seen anybody give the kind of performance that makes me believe that they’ll stand out in the shark tank that is the UFC’s lightweight division. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cody McKenzie catches a few veteran fighters in his signature guillotine choke, and Alex “Bruce Leeroy” Caceres could be something special some day, but otherwise this group of new recruits have done little to impress. What’s more irritating about this season is that the only fighter who truly deserves a UFC contract isn’t in the competition – he’s one of Koscheck’s assistant coaches (Daniel Cormier).

The format of this show is beyond stale at this point. The addition of the “wild card” spot has provided a few interesting wrinkles in the last few seasons, but otherwise it’s the same show we’ve seen for the last six years. As always we have one likable coach and one coach who feels the need to create conflict, Dana White shows up from time to time to drop a few “f-bombs,” and the cast members nearly get into a fight back at the house. I’m looking forward to seeing the featherweights and bantamweights get their day in the reality TV sun, but that doesn’t change the fact that the show needs something new to shake it up.

Conlan: TUF 12 has met my expectations thus far, perhaps even exceeded them to a minor degree, in terms of introducing fans to a handful of potential-laced prospects while also promoting the season-ending bout between coaches.

In addition to McKenzie and Caceres, Jonathan Brookins looks to have a bright future based on the skills and attitude he’s displayed thus far, and I’ve recently been reminded about him having UFC 145-pound champ Jose Aldo in a compromising position or two, before eventually being TKO’d in the third round, when they faced off at WEC 36. With three consecutive wins since, and a couple impressive performances on the Ultimate Fighter, it stands to reason the 25-year old Brookins could be a solid addition to the UFC roster regardless of his final standing on the show. Michael Johnson and Aaron Wilkinson also appear to have something to offer beyond the season finale, and Nam Phan is an experienced, intelligent competitor who would fit in great in the UFC’s newly-added featherweight division.

Beyond the speculatory nature of guessing how contestants will fare in the future, this season has also done an excellent job of selling St. Pierre’s forthcoming title-defense against Koscheck. Fans left yawning when the match-up was originally announced are likely more interested in seeing them fight now based purely on how each coach has portrayed himself on the show. Koscheck has played the heel to perfection, while GSP has behaved in a fashion truly befitting a champion. On the most basic level, humans love to see the battle between “good” and “evil” unfold, and the Ultimate Fighter 12 has set such a scenario up between GSP/Koscheck which will undoubtedly pay off on December 11th.

Is Vladimir Matyushenko in a must-win position this weekend against Alexandre Ferreira as far as maintaining his employment with the UFC?

Tool: I don’t think so despite the fact that a loss on Saturday would be two in a row for “The Janitor.” His style of fighting doesn’t exactly wow the crowds, which is probably why he’s only had one bout on the main card since returning to the UFC. He hasn’t beaten anybody of consequence in a long time, so I don’t believe he’ll be breaking through to the upper levels of the light heavyweight division, but he is a solid challenge for anybody that draws him for their next fight. He’ll be in good shape if he can spoil Ferreira’s UFC debut, but even if he loses I think Matyushenko is a nice enough guy to earn another shot in the Octagon.

Conlan: I’m going to disagree with Tool on this one. Though I’m definitely a fan of Matyushenko, and I have an appreciation for both his abilities and personality, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter how nice a person is when maintaining a professional standard. You can show up to your job every day with a song in your heart and bluebird on your shoulder, but if you aren’t performing up to your employer’s standards in a work-related sense, your status in the organization is justifiably in jeopardy. After all, if Patrick Cote was pink-slipped two fights removed from a title-bout, why wouldn’t Matyushenko be cut with a loss on Saturday night?

If “The Janitor” loses to the debuting Brazilian, and especially if he’s finished in their bout, I can’t honestly say he will have lived up to the expectations of a UFC light heavyweight thus far in his organizational stint. Not only was he decimated at the limbs of Jon Jones this past August, but, in his previous fight, Matyushenko merely earned a split-decision against Eliot Marshall (who is no longer employed by Zuffa). For that matter, the 24-5 Belarusian has only finished a single opponent in the last three years. The UFC’s 205-pound pool is far too deep to keep a 39-year old around who can’t TKO/submit mid-tier opposition with consistency, and in my opinion his spot and salary would be far better used on bringing in a younger, more-marketable fighter with a greater potential for future success.

Sell fans on why they should tune in for UFC 122 without using the headlining bout as a reason…

Tool: Truth be told, if you need a reason to watch a free UFC event this weekend then you may not really be an MMA fan. I can understand if some people have some hesitation to watch this event as the card isn’t exactly star-studded, but look closer and you’ll see a lineup of fights designed to entertain practically any type of fan. These fights may not have any real impact on their divisional standings, but they should provide solid action for three hours (minus commercials of course).

If there’s any one fight on the card that illustrates my point it would be Dennis Siver vs. Andre Winner. Both fighters have had their share of wins and losses inside the Octagon, and I don’t believe that we’ll see either man challenge for the UFC Lightweight Championship anytime soon, but this match-up is easily one of the most appealing fights on the card. Neither man has ever shown any interest in taking part in the ground game of MMA and both fighters possess a wide array of dazzling strikes. If this one makes it to round three it will almost certainly be a lock for “Fight of the Night,” and an even safer bet is that we’ll see at least one spinning back kick from Siver at some point.

Conlan: As WEC 52 reminded the world on Thursday night, it doesn’t take a star-studded card to produce a highly entertaining event. In fact, from what I understand, some of the best action took place on the undercard and that says a lot considering what fans did get to see.

UFC 122 may not feature a line-up for the ages, but the sport of MMA has revealed itself time and time again as an endeavor where the biggest fights are often flops and a local headliner between two no-names is an instant classic. Not only is the card ripe with potential for jaw-dropping action, but, as Tool pointed out, it’s being offered for free and beyond that it comes with the promise of a fairly stacked live event and Spike-based prelims the following weekend. Skeptics should relax, throw on their favorite lederhosen, and give the event a chance…and, if even that’s too much to ask, the card is tape-delayed so live results will be available (on Five Ounces of Pain no less) meaning it’s even possible to condition yourself for what action is must-see and when it’s a good time to refill your beer stein.

Between Nate Marquardt and Yushin Okami, who do you think will fare better in a potential rematch with Anderson Silva?

Conlan: I think Okami has a slight edge where potential for success is concerned. In ten more professional fights than “Thunder, Marquardt has either drawn or lost a total of seven times, so from that standpoint it seems logical to think he might be more susceptible to defeat. Beyond that, I think it’s a push, as I don’t see either man as having a significant chance of beating Silva. Their records are indicative of wins over grapplers, not opponents with anything resembling the timing, precision, and power of “The Spider”.

Tool: The memories of both men getting flattened by Silva are still pretty fresh in my mind, and on that note it’s hard to give either man much of a chance should they rematch with the current middleweight king. Marquardt will probably bring a stronger gameplan into his second fight than what he did in the first (thanks to the tutelage of Greg Jackson), but that won’t change the facts. Marquardt is a well-rounded fighter but he’s still best at striking, and that happens to be the very thing that Anderson Silva is better than him at. Even if Marquardt spends all of his time between now and the rematch drilling takedowns and top control, I still wouldn’t give him much of a chance at beating Silva.

Okami will probably lose to Silva as well, which would be good because then the universe could finally balance back out and we could stop pretending that Okami’s DQ win over Silva actually means something. If you’ve never seen their fight, Okami beat Silva in much the same way that Matt Hamill beat Jon Jones. Okami would have the added benefit of possibly training with Chael Sonnen, especially since Chael reportedly has a room at his house all set up for when Yushin comes to Oregon to train. Sonnen essentially created the blueprint for beating Silva, so if Okami has some good triangle defense he could potentially finish the job that Chael started. I’d still take Silva over Okami any day of the week, but I like Okami’s chances of shocking the world more than I do Marquardt’s.

BUY/SELL – If he loses this weekend Amir Sadollah will be the next “TUF” Champion to be cut from the UFC.

Conlan: SELL. It would only be Sadollah’s second consecutive loss, so dropping his bout against Peter Sobotta wouldn’t necessarily be indicative of an absolute lack of ability to compete, and he’s also entrenched in the promotion as being one of their more-marketable personalities. Given that his TUF-title win over CB Dollaway was his first professional victory, I’m under the impression the master of “Baboo Baby” technique has a bit of leeway within the promotion. While a loss to someone like Sobotta would certainly hurt his future prospects in the UFC, I don’t think he’s in a position where he needs to worry about getting axed simply because he doesn’t emerge with his hands raised against someone with twice his experience.

Tool: I’m also going “sell” on this one, and for mostly the same reasons Brendhan pointed out. Sadollah and Efrain Escudero don’t have much in common, except for the fact that each man took an unusually long time to make their post-“TUF” UFC debut. While Escudero made few friends amongst the UFC brass and seemed unconcerned about missing weight in his last octagon appearance, Sadollah has been the model image of a company man. His demeanor has won him over plenty of fans, and his progress in the octagon has proven that he’s got a bright future in the sport.

Sadollah’s five appearances in the octagon have shown a man constantly working to improve his game. His two losses came to the highly-regarded judoka Dong Hyun Kim and the undefeated Johnny Hendricks (who is quickly emerging as one of the top prospects in the welterweight division). Other than James Toney, I can’t remember a single other fighter in the last decade who made their pro debut in the UFC. Given the fact that he’s remained competitive in one of the toughest divisions in the world, I think we can cut Amir a bit more slack than usual in regards to his win/loss record.

Do you agree with the UFC’s decision to return to Germany even though the sport has been banned from television there?

Conlan: Since I don’t know how things look from a financial perspective it’s hard for me to say whether or not it’s a mistake for the UFC to promote another event in Germany. If the company can turn a profit in Deutschland, so be it. If they’re looking at a loss, even given the lackluster line-up of fighters slated for UFC 122, then clearly the promotion should have avoided returning there.

However, just because MMA may be banned from the airwaves doesn’t mean the UFC shouldn’t attempt to kindle a fire of interest there. The best way to get it approved is to draw public support and I can’t think of a better method than giving citizens a chance to see what the sport is all about. It wasn’t so long ago Mixed Martial Arts was considered a black-sheep of the athletic world here in America, not to mention its struggles in New York, so I don’t think it’s fair to fault Germany simply because their government may not be as hip to the game as people who avidly follow it.

Tool: MMA continues to fight an uphill battle for legitimacy, and in that war it’s important to take risks. The German government’s actions have almost certainly made the UFC more popular in their country given the natural phenomenon for people to constantly want something they can’t have. UFC fans in Germany won’t be able to watch the show live on TV so now demand will only go up for tickets. Angry fans who can’t watch the show will probably become more proactive in their support for the sport, which could in turn force the government’s hand to overturn their legislation.

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