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Grappling with Issues – 1/14/11

Do you consider Junior Dos Santos the favorite over Brock Lesnar? Should Strikeforce have organized their heavyweight tournament differently? Was it a mistake to include Josh Barnett in the Strikeforce World Grand Prix based on his licensing issues? Who would you like to see Tyron Woodley face next?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!

Welcome to Grappling with Issues, our site’s regular weekly feature highlight insight and opinion from myself and Adam Tool. As always, 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 like/dislike the selection of Brock Lesnar and Junior dos Santos as TUF 13 coaches?

Tool: I’m on board with this selection all the way, and I have a hard time understanding anybody who isn’t. From a business standpoint it makes nothing but sense, as Lesnar is easily the company’s top drawing fighter right now. Dos Santos is a potential contender without a lot of name value so it certainly can’t hurt to get him plenty of face time with casual fans before the biggest fight(s) of his life. I don’t know how much money Dana White had to throw at Lesnar to make this happen but it’s going to be worth every penny, guaranteed.

I’m also looking forward to the actual episodes of the show. Obviously the case will play a big part in the season’s quality but I’m already curious to see how Brock reacts to the whole thing. He’s a notoriously reclusive man who’s also well aware of what it takes to play things up for the camera. Will we see more of the dickish Lesnar that snarled into cameras at the end of UFC 100? Will he be constantly pushing cameras out of his way when he gets pissed off? Are the doors at the UFC Gym in for their roughest season yet? We’ll have to wait and see.

Conlan: I don’t share in Tool’s enthusiasm for the selection and actually have mixed emotions about the choice of Season 13’s coaches. I completely agree Lesnar’s presence will likely lead to the highest rated season of the Ultimate Fighter to date and fatten the bank accounts of everyone involved. I’m also interested to see how the generally private Lesnar will react with cameras constantly on him.

However, I question how much he’ll have to offer to the season’s competitors who he’ll outweigh by a hundred pounds. Beyond simply the size differential I’m also concerned about the quality of training they’ll receive when Lesnar’s camp is hand-picked and features a bunch of guys his size. I don’t doubt strength/conditioning will be taken care of but teaching or polishing overall technique might be a different story. Dos Santos is affiliated with Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira and Anderson Silva, Lesnar with Chris Tuchscherer and Cole Konrad. Need I say more?

I’d like to see TUF focus on upcoming fighters trying to break into the industry rather than marketing an eventual PPV match-up featuring two cemented stars already guaranteed to do incredible numbers. I want to see young talent, like Jonathan Brookins, get a chance to be educated by the best available in an environment conducive to their development rather than becoming background decorations in favor of a dude who could still probably learn as much from a few of them as teach in return. So, while I do see the upside to Lesnar/Dos Santos as coaches, in general I’d say I dislike it especially when considering how many other options were out there (Gray Maynard and Frank Edgar, Urijah Faber and Miguel Torres, etc.).

Would you have set up the brackets differently had you been in charge of creating the Strikeforce World Grand Prix?

Tool: If we were setting up a proper tournament you would have to re-arrange the brackets. It makes no sense to put all your top fighters on one side of the bracket if you’re truly trying to figure out who is the best fighter. You should have seeds and you should arrange those seeds with the overall goal of having the #1 and #2 seed meet in the finals. Part of the fun of tournaments is seeing those high-ranking seeds get upset, but there’s still plenty of upset potential in the way Strikeforce has things set up.

Strikeforce President Scott Coker has explained the brackets by saying that it was the easiest way to make sure the company gets to put on the really big fights, and I can’t argue with that. Alistair Overeem should be fighting Fabricio Werdum, and Antonio Silva is as good of a rebound opponent as any for Fedor Emelianenko. It’s also easy to see several enticing fights coming in the semi-finals from the possible winners of both of those fights. If Coker and his crew are serious about getting the later rounds of this tournament on PPV then this approach could very well pay off.

Conlan: I completely disagree with Tool because I think it not only makes sense to structure the brackets as they have, it’s actually somewhat genius. MMA is so unpredictable it’s important to take advantage of money match-ups when they’re available. By putting Overeem and Werdum together, as well as Emelianenko against an underdog like Silva, the company is guaranteed to deliver at least one heavyweight throwdown fans have be lusting after for awhile and likely two. Rather than risk an upset or injury Strikeforce is delivering with immediacy.

Then, on the other side, you have four guys who need the career momentum and spotlight a pair of big wins would provide (let alone a victory in the tournament final). Andrei Arlovski is a former champ with a lot of questions surrounding his future, and chin, while Sergei Kharitonov has only fallen out of “Top 10” contention due to his inactivity and holds past wins over both Overeem and Werdum. It’s also a “super-fight” of sorts when considering their UFC/PRIDE affiliation. Finally, there’s Barnett who has been labeled as one of the three best heavyweights in MMA but also linked to steroid use and Brett Rogers, a 10-0 knockout machine before running into Overeem/Emelianenko. They all have something to prove and a lot to offer. In the end, one of the four is likely to have an opportunity to win the biggest fight of his career, while the opposing side of the Grand Prix should deliver the possibility of Fedor fighting Overeem or attempting to avenge his loss to Werdum.

Seriously, what’s not to like?

Who would you put Tyron Woodley in the cage with next?

Tool: I’m sure there will be somebody out there who wants “T-Wood” to get a title shot in his next fight, but I have to believe that Woodley is still a few fights away from hanging with somebody like Nick Diaz (assuming Diaz is successful in defending his title against Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos later this month). If Joe Riggs was still with the company I’d say he’s pretty much a perfect pick, but since he’s not available anymore I’ve got another battle-tested veteran in mind for this question.

As much as I hate to use him in this fashion, I think Hayato “Mach” Sakurai is a great pick for Woodley’s next opponent. He’s a name amongst hardcore fans and can be easily sold to the casual audience given his time spent in pretty much every major MMA organization (including a UFC Welterweight Championship fight against Matt Hughes). His recent record is nothing to get excited about, and it’s safe to assume that we’re seeing the tail end of his career, but he’s still got some name value for Woodley to build off of. Jason High recently showed that Sakurai has no answers for a strong wrestler, so it’s safe to assume that this would be a great showcase fight for Woodley to continue his rise in the Strikeforce ranks.

Conlan: I have a great deal of appreciation for what Sakurai has accomplished in his career but facing him would be a step backwards for Woodley. “Mach” is a star in Japan but has almost no profile in America with his last bout here taking place almost four years ago, plus he’s been beaten in his last four outings including three by way of a finishing performance. He offers nothing beneficial to someone in the undefeated welterweight’s position. A win would be expected and anything other than pure domination would be questioned. Also, why risk the possibility Sakurai would somehow land a strike and take home the victory? After all, a fight is a fight and the unpredictability of MMA is well-documented.

The time for Woodley to face the promotion’s top welterweights is now. The world needs to know if he is as legit as he appears to be or if he’s simply a product of matchmaking. As such, I think Paul Daley is the way for Strikeforce to go. He’s known by fans, is coming off a huge knockout win, and has beaten a number of respectable foes. The stylistic match-up adds another layer of intrigue as well based on Daley’s striking in comparison to the former Mizzou Tiger’s grappling. In fact, it’s the type of fight Strikeforce could even market as determining a #1 contender for the winner of Diaz/Santos.

BUY/SELL – Strikeforce made a mistake by putting Josh Barnett in the HW tournament when he still isn’t licensed to fight in California.

Conlan: SELL. As long as Strikeforce is confident in their ability to get him approved for competition in other States I don’t think it’s necessary for him to fight in California. Regardless of his past transgressions Barnett remains a talented fighter who has been among the “Top 10” heavyweights in MMA for a long time. The PRIDE veteran is also among the best in the business when it comes to selling his fights to the public through media based on his wit, intellect, and professional wrestling experience. However, I think it is crucial Strikeforce makes sure he is drug tested in Ohio (where he’s believed to be fighting Rogers on March 5). The easiest way to eliminate criticism related to Barnett’s past pops for PED use is by showing he can and will test clean on a regular basis.

Tool: BUY. I hate to be the negative one here but counting on Barnett to pass three drug tests in a row is like counting on Lindsay Lohan to show up on-time for three court appearances in a row. It might happen, but don’t bet on it.

Not only can Barnett not compete in California he’s also going to have a hard time getting licensed in any other state that chooses to abide by the CSAC’s rulings. What’s worse is that California is Strikeforce’s base of operations, so they’re potentially limiting themselves from holding shows where their fan base is the strongest. Coker wants to act like Barnett’s suffered enough but the fact remains that he’s still got a heavy stigma attached to his name. Brendhan’s on point when he says that the only way to move past Barnett’s image is to change it. Until then I reserve the right to treat him like a lousy cheat.

Are you still interested in a potential bout between Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson?

Conlan: I am interested in any heavyweight bout the UFC can put together featuring two of their notable athletes. Though the division features the company’s biggest athletes it is among the least beefy from a talent perspective. There is skill to be sure but not in the same quantity or widespread quality as, say, lightweight or welterweight.

Letting Carwin and Nelson fight would help sort out the relative logjam of heavies who are 1-1 in their last two bouts while capitalizing on a personal rivalry between the two. It would also provide an interesting study in conditioning when comparing their vastly different physiques. And, perhaps most importantly, it would pair two skilled competitors with differing styles and essentially guarantee a finish from one of them.

Tool: I’m still interested as well, although it’s unfortunate that one of these guys will be losing two in a row, especially given the relatively depleted nature of the heavyweight division at the moment. As Brendhan pointed out this match-up still makes plenty of sense in terms of providing an intriguing fight so I say make it official and then follow both guys on Twitter to see what they what have to say in regards to one another in the coming months.

Do you agree with odds-makers’ early assessment that Dos Santos is the favorite over Lesnar?

Conlan: I suppose so since the line is so close. After all, it’s not like Lesnar is a 5:1 underdog to “Cigano”, and I think a case can be made for why the Brazilian behemoth would get a slight nod over the former heavyweight champ. Dos Santos is a powerful striker who trains with submission savant “Minotauro” Nogueira and earned a brown-belt in BJJ from the Brazilian icon. Lesnar has already shown a susceptibility to strikes and, though only in theory based on the lack of need to exhibit it thus far, has to worry about avoiding submissions from the bottom if/when he takes Dos Santos down to the mat. On top of that, Lesnar is coming off a devastating loss to Cain Velasquez and for awhile was rumored to be contemplating his retirement from MMA. If his heart isn’t truly into fighting anymore I think that’s a factor also coming into play when looking at who should be considered the favorite.

Tool: Following his last two fights it’s pretty easy to pinpoint exactly where Lesnar’s weakness is in the cage. The fact that he would take this match-up with (arguably) the division’s best striker speaks volumes about the former champion’s desire to succeed in the sport. I understand why Dos Santos is the favorite and I would have to agree, as I don’t think Lesnar’s wrestling will allow him to completely nullify Dos Santos’ offense. We also still have yet to see the highly-touted ground game of “Cigano,” so I’m interested to see what might happen if Lesnar is able to take Dos Santos down. Lesnar is still way ahead in the “freakish athletic gifts” department so it’s anybody guess as to how this one plays out, but for the time being I like Dos Santos to win this fight and move on to his highly anticipated showdown with Velasquez.

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