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Grappling with Issues – 12/24/10

Did Anthony Pettis‘ performance against Ben Henderson change your mind in regards to potentially beating Frank Edgar or Gray Maynard? Will Donald Cerrone, Kamal Shalorus, or Shane Roller find the most success now that the trio of WEC 155ers has joined the UFC’s ranks?What was your favorite moment in WEC history? If Royce Gracie fights for the UFC again when the company ventures to Brazil in 2011, who would you like to see him face?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!

Twas the morn before Christmas and all through the site, not a creature was stirring except two dudes who write. Welcome to Grappling with Issues, Five Ounces’ regular weekly feature highlight insight and opinion from myself and Adam Tool. 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.

Also, from the GWI crew, make sure to have a safe and wonderful Holiday weekend regardless of whether or not you’re celebrating!

What would you like Santa Dana to leave under your tree this Christmas?

Tool: I know what I don’t want to see in the UFC, and that’s peace on Earth and goodwill towards men. If I had to pick one thing I want from the UFC that would be an entire year free of stinky main events on pay-per-view events. Between UFC 108, UFC 109, and UFC 119 we had three full priced events with sub-par headlining fights. Throw in a couple of less-than-impressive featured bouts for the European shows and you’ve got a year dotted with forgettable fights at the top of the card. Fortunately this is a problem that the company has taken steps to fix, as the addition of two more divisions means more meaningful match-ups in the main events.

Conlan: An openness to co-promoting fights in 2011 in hopes of furthering the growth of Mixed Martial Arts as a whole. Granted, I understand it’s not a realistic wish, but then again we’re talking about Santa here so I’m going to roll with it anyways. Though the bulk of the sport’s finest athletes already reside in the UFC there are a number of world-class competitors currently drawing paychecks from organizations like Strikeforce, Bellator, DREAM, and Sengoku. I’m confident most, if not all, of them would gladly accept the additional exposure created by occasional association with the UFC, just as I’m certain Zuffa executives don’t see the need to risk their employees’ marketability while providing a rub for a rival’s fighter in return.

However, for White to worry about losing his stronghold on the industry because of talent-sharing is like MLB being concerned that the rare instance when a Japanese baseball team wins during an exhibition series MIGHT turn the support of Detroit towards the Hanshin Tigers rather than their home squad. If Gilbert Melendez were to beat Edgar, it would give Strikeforce a temporary boost until the UFC signed “El Nino” away from them as they did Jake Shields. In the long run, letting the best in the world fight each other regardless of what banner they’re flying helps out MMA as a whole, and in return benefits the UFC because a rise in popularity equates to money at the box office and in merchadising. With a bit of ego-checking Santa Dana could easily work towards facilitating a fair deal allowing for cross-promotion, and thus that’s the White Christmas I’m dreaming of this year.

After witnessing Anthony Pettis’ brilliance last week at WEC 53, how do you feel he’ll fare against the UFC lightweight champ regardless of who holds the belt (Edgar/Maynard)?

Tool: I’m still not ready to take Pettis for the win but his performance last week made the upcoming unification bout a lot more intriguing. We already knew that Pettis had some stellar takedown defense along with an active guard, but there were plenty of question marks surrounding his cardio. Pettis showed that he can go hard for 25 minutes and he even managed to have his best round of the fight in the fifth frame. All of these skills, combined with his impressive arsenal of strikes, should serve him well regardless of who his next opponent is. I’m still not sure if he’ll be able to out-strike Edgar, and he’ll probably have a tough time dealing with Maynard’s power, but I certainly like his chances more than I did before WEC 53.

Conlan: Suffice to say I feel a lot more confident in his success against either than I did before last week. Though I don’t know if Pettis’ wrestling can hold up to the takedowns and ground-control of Edgar or Maynard, I do believe he’s quick enough to make it difficult for them to grind out a victory without at least absorbing some decent damage in return. His boxing may not be as tight whoever emerges lightweight champ on January 1, but “Showtime” has a wider variety of strikes in his arsenal (obviously) and can attack from more angles. Either way, whereas I felt he didn’t have much of a chance prior to WEC 53, Pettis’ showing against Ben Henderson was enough to convince me he can’t be taken lightly again until proven otherwise.

With Royce Gracie mentioning his interest in a final return to the Octagon when the UFC ventures back to Brazil, do you think Zuffa should entertain the thought and if so who would you put him in the cage against?

Tool: It’s hard to say. By the time UFC: Rio rolls around it will have been over four years since Gracie last competed in MMA. The fact that he tested positive for performance enhancers after that fight has little bearing on any potential comeback as Gracie has more than enough goodwill with the fans to have it be any sort of an issue. If he feels physically capable of competing then I say let him do it, especially since it will likely be the last chance he gets to perform inside the octagon.

As for who his opponent should be, that’s certainly a tough one. There’s no reason to put him against an up-and-coming star as he already did the torch passing fight with Matt Hughes. At the same time there aren’t too many people hanging around the UFC these days who have the same kind of name value as Gracie. For kicks and giggles I say match up Gracie with none other than Demian Maia. Gracie brought Brazilian jiu-jitsu to the forefront of the sport and Maia carries that torch today. While I’m sure it would essentially be a BJJ bout masquerading as an MMA fight, I can’t help but feel that this is the best possible choice if you’re going to bring Royce back in 2011.

Conlan: I don’t think Gracie has any business competing in a sanctioned MMA bout on a UFC card, so rather than seeing him further tarnish his legacy in the ring I’d prefer to see a special grappling match put together featuring either Maia or B.J. Penn. Similar to Tool, I would love to see how things unfolded on the ground against a top-level submission artist, but I don’t think Gracie can strike with any “Top 15” fighter in a weight-class relative to wherever he wants to compete at and I don’t think a bout against someone who is relatively nameless does the event any good. Renzo Gracie has also expressed interest in the show so that could be fun too based on their relationship as cousins.

Are there any bantamweights in the UFC that you think could beat Dominick Cruz?

Conlan: Yes, without a doubt in my mind someone like Urijah Faber, Miguel Torres, or Brian Bowles – even Joseph Benavidez – could walk away champion after an in-ring encounter with Cruz. As impressive as “The Dominator” was against Scott Jorgensen he’s not quite the overwhelming force associated with title-wearing promotional peers like Georges St. Pierre, Jose Aldo, or Anderson Silva. In eight WEC appearances, seven of which were wins, Cruz has zero finishes with the only non-decision involving Bowles’ broken hand. The fact he hasn’t knocked out or submitted an opponent since March 2008 isn’t an indictment of Cruz’s talent, because there’s no arguing he’s got it in droves, but the statistic can certainly be seen as a measuring stick in terms of how “dominating” (or unbeatable) he actually is. After all, Benavidez was only a point away from taking the belt home when the two of them fought at WEC 50.

Tool: I understand his inclusion on that list, but I have a hard time giving Benavidez much of a chance to beat Cruz if he’s been unsuccessful in two previous attempts. Faber stands out as the most likely answer given the fact that he’s beaten Cruz once and I’m sure he’ll be the favorite if/when the two meet up again. I’d like to give Bowles a shot again although he’s yet to make his return from the aforementioned hand injury so who knows what his standing is in the division he briefly ruled.

Of the names mentioned I think Torres offers the biggest challenge to Cruz. Nobody is going to match Cruz in speed but I believe Torres can overwhelm the new UFC Bantamweight Champion with power. Torres’ lanky frame is deceptive because he doesn’t look like he should hurt guys, but I’d put Torres’ punching power as second only to Bowles in the UFC bantamweight division. Since Torres is bound to get a crack at the belt sooner I’ll take him as the fighter most likely to dethrone Cruz.

Lightweights Donald Cerrone, Kamal Shalorus, and Shane Roller all scored big victories at WEC 53. Which of these three fighters do you think will be the most successful in the UFC’s lightweight division?

Conlan: This decision is as easy for me as Josh Koscheck’s was to wear sunglasses the day after UFC 124. Cerrone is the most-marketable, and well-rounded, of the group and has the type of fearlessness in the ring that could raise his fan-favorite status to a whole new level with exposure in the Octagon. When I think of potentially exciting match-ups created by the addition of WEC’s lightweights neither Roller or Shalorus spring to mind, yet my salivary glands start up at the notion of Cerrone fighting Nate Diaz, George Sotiropoulos, or any number of the UFC’s talented 155ers. Though it’s easier to see Roller and Shalorus compiling a slightly better record than Cerrone based simply on their wrestling, I’m looking at “success” as being in an overall sense rather than simply wins/losses (longevity, drawing power, etc.), and in that regard I’ve got to go “Cowboy” all the way.

Tool: Cerrone has the advantage of being the most popular fighter on that list, but in terms of his skillset I’m not sure if he’s going to be able to make it very far up the ranks of the UFC’s lightweight ladder. Cole Miller will be a good test as to where Cerrone is sitting right now, and I fully endorse that match-making if it comes to pass. I enjoy watching “Cowboy” fight as much as anybody else but I’m not sure yet if he can really hang inside the octagon.

My pick for this one would be Roller. While in the WEC his only two losses came to the two guys that just met in the last ever WEC fight. He’s got that wrestling background coupled with an ever-expanding submission game, and with another year or two of seasoning he could very well be a strong force in the UFC. This is an age of wrestlers and Roller brings some of the strongest amateur credentials of anyone under a Zuffa contract. He’s got some holes in the striking game but there aren’t too many wrestlers who don’t, and with only three years of professional fighting experience he’s got plenty of room to grow.

Now that it’s officially gone, what was your favorite moment in WEC history?

Conlan: This is probably an opportune time for a joke about Britney Palmer but instead I’ll do my best to maintain professionalism and focus purely on MMA-related offerings from WEC over the past few years. In truth, it’s hard to choose a single moment from such a large library of worthy contenders, especially in the wake of Anthony Pettis’ cage-assisted kick, so rather than picking a fight or finish I’m going to go with WEC 34 as a whole.

The 2008 event marked WEC’s debut in Sacramento with Faber in tow and was successful on a number of levels. More than 12,000 people showed up to watch a headlining fight featuring 145-pounders, not to mention a non-UFC card using lighter weight-classes in general, and walked away satisfied based on the action unfolding in front of them. Faber’s battle with contender Jens Pulver was tremendously entertaining, as was the preceding scrap between Torres and Takeya Mizugaki. Cerrone and Mike Brown also saw action, not to mention future/current champs Cruz and Aldo. A landmark event peppered with world-class talent played out to a packed arena says a lot about the quality of WEC as a whole, and as such WEC 34 is my choice for the stand-out moment in its history.

Tool: If we’re picking favorite WEC events I’d have to go with the WEC 48 Aldo vs. Faber event from earlier this year. Some of the best fights of the year were on that card and I’m having trouble remembering a single bad thing about the event. Of course the WEC was in the business of putting on fantastic cards on the reg, so your results may vary.

My favorite moment during my time with the WEC would probably have to be the now infamous Interim WEC Lightweight Championship bout between Cerrone and Henderson. What made that bout so memorable was the fact that it was a relatively weak headliner on paper, yet it turned out to be one of the best main events of all time. It’s also a bout that could only have happened in the WEC, as those two would never have had a chance to go five rounds with each other if they had been signed to the UFC.

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