How long should Georges St. Pierre wait before trying out his skills as a middleweight? Would you prefer to see Dan Henderson take on Strikeforce light heavyweight champ Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante or 185-pound champ Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza? Who would you like to Jonathan Brookins face now that he’s been crowned an Ultimate Fighter seasonal champ? What division is the most likely to crown a new champion next week at WEC 53?
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.
Do you think questionable decisions are as potentially damaging to Mixed Martial Arts as many would claim or is controversial officiating to be expected regardless of the athletic endeavor based on its prevalence in every other sport?
Tool: In any competitive sport you’re going to have athletes performing the sport and officials that are there to enforce the rules. No sport is immune from officials that make mistakes in their chosen field, just like no human being is completely perfect. Referees will make questionable calls, judges will rule in favor of the wrong person, and life will go on.
That being said, the current rise of questionable decisions is undoubtedly damaging the sport of MMA and the athletes that practice it. That phrase about not letting it go to the judges is one of the most commonly heard expressions around whenever this sort of thing happens, but why should the fighters not be able to trust the judges to do their job correctly? The fighters should be allowed to fight while knowing that if their bout goes to the end of their allotted time the judges will be fully prepared to hand down the correct verdict.
I don’t agree with Joe Rogan when he said that some house-cleaning is in order. Rather, I believe that some simple changes to the current scoring system would undoubtedly show an immediate improvement in the quality of judging. The most obvious step that needs to be taken (at least in my opinion) is to give the judges some damn monitors. I don’t think that Rogan and Mike Goldberg would be willing to call a fight without the use of monitors, yet their job isn’t anywhere near as important as that of the judges. I’m sure these former boxing judges are used to slower paced fights taking place in a ring where things are more clearly visible, but with the frantic action of an MMA bout and the fact that the cage makes things harder to see, there is no reason why the judges shouldn’t have monitors.
Conlan: Similar to what Tool stated, there will always be sketchy officiating regardless of the game being played. Staying on the same page, I also agree with him as far as the negative hit MMA’s reputation takes when decisions like the one in Leonard Garcia’s fight with Nam Phan are rendered. Mixed Martial Arts doesn’t have as established a reputation as football, basketball, or even boxing, and it can’t afford the same proverbial black-eyes as a result. Where my opinion parts from Adam’s in is regards to the necessity for major athletic commissions to review their representatives and make changes to personnel if there is just cause to do so. If you have judges who have consistently scored fights in an eyebrow-raising fashion, and therefore aren’t fulfilling their duties at the highest level possible, why shouldn’t those individuals be subject to investigation on the part of their superiors?
However, simply because there are obvious flaws with the system doesn’t mean fans should expect changes anytime soon. In general, government entities aren’t known for admitting internal problems or mistakes they’ve made. On top of that, it’s often difficult to fire employees from government jobs unless there is overwhelming documentation to support the termination based on fear of potential litigation. Even if an executive like Keith Kizer truly wanted to make major changes, which he doesn’t according to statements in response to Rogan’s rant, he would almost certainly struggle to do so because of the red-tape surrounding the situation. As much as we all might like to believe it’s as simple as doing the obvious, the actual solution to changing the way fights are scored (and who jots those numbers down) is far more complex because of the wide array of involved factors. Even switching to half-point scoring would require change across the board since every athletic commission would have to sign off on the deal in order to avoid State-by-State differences.
Who is more likely to lose his title at WEC 52 – Ben Henderson or Dominick Cruz?
Tool: While I do believe that Anthony Pettis is a great fighter that’s going to give Henderson a tough test, I have to go with Cruz as my answer here. I’ve been a fan of Scott Jorgensen for a few years now and in that time I’ve seen plenty of improvement in his game. Cruz is no pushover, as his quickness combined with a well-rounded skillset gives him plenty of tools to win. Jorgensen will need to somehow push a higher pace than Cruz does while landing consistently in the many exchanges that are bound to take place. Jorgensen has shown some tremendous takedown defense in the past and that will also serve him well next week, and the fact that he’s nearly impossible to put away means that he’ll likely have plenty of time to work with. I’ve underestimated Cruz before and I may be doing so again here, but I’m taking Jorgensen to be the first UFC Bantamweight Champion.
Conlan: I like both Henderson and Cruz to win this weekend but between the two I agree the 145-pound champ is more likely to drop his title than “Bendo”. Tool makes a good case as to why, and on top of the various aspects he listed I’ll add another.
Cruz recently mentioned the need for overdue surgery to fix a hand injury occurring prior to his bout against Joseph Benavidez last August and expects to be out up to six months as a result. While I admire his guts as far as not only toughing it out against someone of Benavidez’s quality but wanting to defend his belt one more time before going under the knife, I can’t help but think it’s a factor that could influence the outcome of his bout with Jorgensen. If he can’t get full power behind his strikes, or worsens it during the fight, the result obviously works in the favor of Jorgensen. It could also be a situation where Cruz keeps the thought of his hand in the back of his mind rather than completely letting go in the match-up. I don’t know that any of those things will happen, but the potential is certainly there and is a disadvantage Henderson won’t be entering the ring with.
If Georges St. Pierre gets by Josh Koscheck this weekend would you prefer to see him face Jake Shields in the cage or instead try his hand at a middleweight bout?
Tool: I’ll assume that by “a middleweight bout” we’re referring to the often-rumored super fight between GSP and Anderson Silva. While I’m a supporter of making that fight happen, I can’t honestly say that the time is right at the moment. Both champions still have challengers waiting in the wings, and it will probably be late 2011 until each man has cleaned out his division to the point where this showdown makes more sense. Silva already has Vitor Belfort to worry about in February, with Yushin Okami lined up to face the winner of that fight. At this point it appears Jake Shields will get the next shot at the welterweight strap, and if St. Pierre is victorious this weekend (as he should be) then that fight should be next. Shields may not have won over too many fans in his UFC debut but his credentials are such that he’s the most logical opponent for the best fighter in the world at 170 lbs.
Conlan: Actually, when I set the topic up I wasn’t necessarily referring to Silva. If St. Pierre does indeed win, then decide to give 185-pounds a go, I would hope he doesn’t jump directly into the lion’s den…or spider’s web as the case may be with due respect to the UFC’s middleweight champion. Rather, I’d prefer to see him face a smaller opponent like Yoshihiro Akiyama or Rousimar Palhares to acclimate to the weight and prove he can be successful at a high-level in the process.
That being said, I don’t think the time is right for GSP to bulk up beyond where he’s currently at. As Adam mentioned, assuming again “Rush” makes it 2-0 against Koscheck this weekend, Shields is a very game opponent on the horizon who I personally have wanted to see in the cage with St. Pierre for a number of years. Under the premise he retains his belt in that fight as well, which is far from a certainty, then perhaps middleweight would be worth exploring after letting the top of the welterweight division sort out one final 170-pound opponent for him (Jon Fitch, Carlos Condit, etc.) to face before testing his skills against larger adversaries.
Make your pick for Jonathan Brookins’ first post-TUF opponent.
Conlan: With Brookins potentially sidelined for six months due to having injured his foot against Michael Johnson on the Ultimate Fighter 12 Finale it seems there are a ton of possibilities since the period provides a stretch of time permitting the availability of any number of potential opponents to open up. Based on a few of the shots Brookins took in the bout to his chin, I think the UFC would be wise to schedule him against a grappling-centric adversary in order to avoid having their newest TUF champ put to sleep a fight removed from winning the season. He also shouldn’t be paired with a fighter whose Octagon experience is vastly greater than his own.
Including the afore-mentioned criteria, the recent addition of WEC lightweights into the UFC mix offer some interesting possibilities including any number of the individuals competing next week at WEC 53. I even think the loser of Henderson’s title-defense against Pettis could work, especially from a marketability standpoint.
Tool: I’m also thinking of a fighter who used to be in the WEC, but I’m also wondering whether or not Brookins will drop back down to featherweight (where he’s competed for a majority of his career) when he’s ready for his first real test inside the octagon. Should he choose to cut back down to 145 lbs. I like the idea of Cub Swanson as his first opponent. It’s a name that hardcore fans know and a good test for where Brookins’ skills are at now. It’s also bound to be a great fight as Swanson was involved in three “Fight of the Night” winners during his run in the WEC, and Brookins was part of some of the best fights during this past season of TUF.
Dan Henderson has reportedly earned a title shot with his win on Saturday. Would you rather see him stay at light heavyweight to fight Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante or should he drop back down to middleweight to face Ronald “Jacare” Souza?
Conlan: Without question I’d prefer to see Henderson remain at 205-pounds where he’s most comfortable. At 40 there’s no reason for him to strain his body to compete unless he absolutely has to, plus it seems that a happy “Hendo” generally turns in the best performances. I’m also slightly concerned about Souza’s style in terms of providing an entertaining match-up, as I could see a repeat of the Jake Shields fight based on the Brazilian’s tendency to be less interested in striking than Cavalcante and more likely to use his high-level grappling to neutralize/control foes.
Tool: While I believe that Brendhan’s choice makes plenty of sense from a fan’s viewpoint, I have to believe that a drop back down to 185 lbs. is the best thing for Henderson’s career. Essentially I see a Henderson/”Jacare” bout unfolding much like Hendo’s fight with Palhares. While Souza may have one of the finest double leg takedowns amongst pure BJJ fighters, he’s still not someone I’d expect to see taking Henderson down at will. In a stand-up battle the balance of power obviously swings towards Henderson and I definitely like his chances to knock “Jacare” out in a 25 minute fight.
On the other hand we’ve got “Feijao,” who’s quickly emerging as one of the predominant strikers in all of Strikeforce. We all know that Henderson has never been knocked out, but there’s a part of me that believes Cavalcante may be the man to break that streak. “Feijao” showed excellent takedown defense in his title win over “King Mo” Lawal and in a pure striking contest this fight essentially becomes a pick ‘em.
Which of this weekend’s bouts at UFC 124 are you most excited to see?
Conlan: Call me a sucker for hype if you must, but I’m genuinely pumped about the main event between Koscheck and St. Pierre and see it as edge-of-your-seat material no matter how one-sided it may ultimately be.
For starters, both are consensus “Top 5” welterweights and provide a match-up of ranked competitors unlike any other on the card. In addition to the skill-side of things, their personalities couldn’t be much more different and the mini-rivalry that’s formed as a result seems more genuine than manufactured purely for the fight. I’m also stoked about seeing the crowd’s reaction from start to finish. With an audience hanging on every second of action while collectively praying St. Pierre isn’t somehow beaten by “Kos”, there’s absolutely no way UFC 124 (and the headlining fight) doesn’t result in one of the most-memorable environments in MMA history.
Tool: This is absolutely a card that’s being sold solely on the strength of its main event so I can’t fault anyone for saying that the title fight is their most anticipated bout of the weekend. Even with a lack of star power, there’s still plenty of interesting fights up and down the card. The opening bout between Thiago Alves and John Howard is a great match-up to kick off the PPV and it was almost my pick for this question, but instead I’m going with one of the two lightweight showdowns on the main card.
I think that the bout between Jim Miller and Charles Oliveira is not only a great stylistic clash, it’s also the most relevant lightweight bout of the weekend. Miller will likely look to repeatedly take Oliveira down, but I’m not sure if he’ll have much luck should he choose to put the lanky Brazilian on his back. Oliveira will probably have the edge in the stand-up but even then Miller is all but impossible to put away. While Oliveira has a good amount of hype behind him, we can’t forget that the only losses of Miller’s career came to the two men fighting for the lightweight title next month. The winner of this fight could quickly emerge as a contender within the division, especially given the fact that the weight class is in the midst of a major upheaval. If I was going to lay money down on any fight to win “Fight of the Night” it would be this one.