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Grappling with Issues – 2/4/11

Will Jon Jones get a shot at the light heavyweight championship if he finishes Ryan Bader tomorrow night at UFC 126? Do you see Nick Diaz dropping his belt at any point in the next twelve months? Are fans destined for a finish in the middleweight title-fight between Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort? What do you think about Melvin Manhoef stepping in to face Tim Kennedy rather than Jason “Mayhem” Miller?

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

BUY/SELL – Nick Diaz will still be the Strikeforce Welterweight Champion in one year’s time.

Conlan: BUY. His contract runs long enough to keep him under the Strikeforce banner for another year, I can’t envision him abandoning the belt for a run at 185 pounds, and there don’t appear to be any significant threats to his title. While Tyron Woodley and Paul Daley are unquestionably skilled contenders neither has exhibited the well-rounded arsenal or elite ability required to bump Diaz off his divisional mountaintop. Daley packs a helluva punch but struggles on the ground, where Diaz excels, and Woodley’s wrestling-based approach would likely lead to the absorption of damage while shooting in and the threat of multiple submissions from the bottom if successful. You’re talking about a guy who has only been legitimately finished a single time in 31 fights while taking on the high-caliber likes of Robbie Lawler, Diego Sanchez, Chris Lytle, Takanori Gomi, and others in comparison to a pair of relatively unproven, style-specific individuals like Woodley/Daley. The only way I see Diaz dropping his belt is based on in-ring injury or the possibility Strikeforce signs away one of the UFC’s top 170-pounders. Neither is likely, so again, this is a “buy” for me.

Tool: This is a ‘buy” for me too, and Brendhan already hit all the necessary bullet points for why this will be the case. The news about Diaz’s contract extension is not that old so he’s undoubtedly going to be locked up for awhile. Since Strikeforce doesn’t exactly have a lot of potential contenders for the title it seems likely to me that Diaz will be taking at least one fight this year that’s not in a Strikeforce ring. We can’t forget that Diaz has been talking a lot about taking a fight in boxing this year, so that would mean at least one more opportunity for him to not lose his title. While a part of me would love to see Diaz back in the UFC I’d say it’s probably not going to happen in the next year.

Name the sub-lightweight fight are you most excited for on the UFC 126 card?

Conlan: Before getting into my answer let me just again express my gratitude towards the UFC for giving bantamweights and featherweights an opportunity to shine in front of PPV crowds/viewers. WEC was wonderful while it lasted but there is enough talent and potential for entertainment at 135/145 the fighters deserved the chance to be treated like their heavier peers.

Moving on, though there are a handful of solid choices, I’m going with “Kid” Yamamoto’s Octagon debut against Demetrious Johnson. For starters, I’ve seen the other contenders fight live a number of times and haven’t had the same honor in regards to the Krazy Bee fighter. It will also be the first time I’ve seen him fight in a cage, and though I’m not 100% sure, I’m fairly certain Saturday night may actually be his professional introduction to a fenced-in environment.

Yamamoto is an exciting fighter with a marketable style and look, as well as a major following overseas, and a win against someone with Johnson’s background would launch him into the realm of saliva-inducing scraps with high-profile opponents like Urijah Faber and Miguel Torres. However, given that Johnson is 7-1 with six finishes, victory is far from a given so the match-up should be interesting from a competitive standpoint as well.

Tool: Yamamoto/Johnson would probably be my top pick as well but I’m still curious to see how Michihiro Omigawa vs. Chad Mendes plays out. Omigawa’s record might not look all that impressive, but it’s important to note that he’s only lost once since dropping to featherweight. He’s one of the top fighters in the world in his division, but he’s been given no favors in his first fight back with the UFC. Mendes is another alpha male from Team Alpha Male, and his smothering style of fighting is going to be tough for anyone to overcome. If Omigawa can keep things standing he’ll have a huge advantage in the striking game but that’s a task that’s far easier said than done. This fight will almost certainly have huge implications in the division as I expect the winner here to be in a title fight before the end of the year.

What round will the UFC Middleweight Championship bout between Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort end in?

Conlan: I’m not sure this is going out on a limb, and if it is the wooden appendage is likely a few feet wide and close to the ground, but I think tomorrow night’s main event is going to end within the opening five minutes of action. Silva feels slighted by Belfort’s desire to fight him after training together while “The Phenom” is only focused on returning to championship glory in the name of his savior. There should be little hesitation on either man’s part to engage after a short feeling out process based on their personal motivations and past performances, and they are both devastating enough while standing to finish an opponent with a single combination of strikes. After all, it’s not as if Vitor is going to butt-scoot in hopes Silva will fall into his guard a la Thales Leites or Demian Maia. He’s got knockout power and speed as exhibited in thirteen of eighteen wins coming by way of TKO. He’s going to attack, Silva is going to respond in kind, and I’m going to “ooh” and “ahh” throughout until one of the two talented 185-pounders takes a nosedive into the mat.

Tool: One thing I think we can all say for certain: this fight will break Silva’s streak of going to the fifth round as a middleweight. Belfort is far too dangerous and Silva knows it, so there can be no room for dancing or posturing. This fight could very easily end in the first but I’m going with a slightly more conservative guess and saying that it will end in the second. I believe Silva will catch Belfort at least once in the first round, but it won’t be until the second when Silva puts him away. (Fun fact: the only person to ever finish Belfort via TKO was Randy Couture, and he did it twice.)

It’s also entirely possible the Belfort will become the first man in history to finish Silva with strikes. When Chael Sonnen stunned Silva in the first round of their now-historic title fight, it raised certain questions regarding the middleweight champion’s age and his time left in the sport. Silva’s floated the word retirement around a few times in the past, and it goes without saying that he more about his current physical condition than we do. If Belfort knocks Silva out in brutal fashion (and at let’s not kid ourselves here, “The Phenom” certainly has the power to do so) then it could mark a turning point in Silva’s career. It’s not what I think is going to happen, but you never know in this crazy sport.

Will Jon Jones get an immediate title shot if he finishes Ryan Bader convincingly tomorrow night?

Tool: I’m going to say no based on two primary factors. The first is that the Light Heavyweight Championship has been held up for the better part of a year with current champ Mauricio “Shogun” Rua out with (another) knee surgery. Things are about to get rolling again with Rashad Evans getting the first crack at Rua in March. Dana White has already stated that Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is likely to get the next shot if he beats Thiago Silva in May, and from a drawing stand-point it’s far easier to put Jackson in a rematch with Rua or Evans. I don’t think Thiago is going to have the necessary tools to beat “Rampage” so I’d count on him getting the next shot in late 2011, meaning Jones would need at least one more win which brings me to my second point.

Jones still needs at least one win over an elite light heavyweight fighter. Apologies to Stephan Bonnar, Vladimir Matyushenko, and Brandon Vera, but Jones win column is filled with middle-of-the-pack fighters. While Bader is arguably the toughest test of Jones’ career thus far, he’s also not yet at that elite level. I’d hate to think that the winner of this weekend’s Forrest Griffin/Rich Franklin bout is going to “win” a fight with Jones, but don’t be surprised if that’s exactly what happens. Griffin and Franklin are each former champions and a win over one of them is the sort of victory that propels a fighter to a title opportunity.

Conlan: Though I’m not necessarily confident Jones will actually dismantle Bader in highlight-reel-heavy performance, if he does I think it’s reasonable to believe the victory very well could earn an opportunity to face the winner of Evans vs. Rua for UFC gold.

I don’t put a lot of stock in what White says when it comes to handing out title fights because I can think of at least three examples where one was promised only to end up falling through in the end. I also don’t buy the argument regarding what Jones has done in the ring as far as meriting a crack at the belt when Belfort is fighting for one this weekend with a single, catch-weight win in the UFC since 2006 (his only a win over a ranked opponent in that span too). UFC history is littered with contenders who didn’t necessarily have the longest or hardest row to hoe for their shot while Jones has actually taken out a number of tough, respected adversaries including, under the premise of this question, a then-undefeated TUF champ Bader in decisive fashion.

“Bones” is also a dynamic competitor riding a streak of TKOs/submissions whereas “Rampage” lost to Evans last May, barely beat Lyoto Machida at UFC 123, and has a single finish in the Octagon since mid-2007. Their career trajectories are seemingly headed in opposite directions, and with Jackson likely receiving more and more offers to make a living outside of MMA after his role in “A-Team”, it would make sense to capitalize on Jones’ youth, availability, and buzz rather than risk having your light heavyweight champ away for six months a year while filming a movie or retiring prematurely from the sport.

Do you like Tim Kennedy’s pairing with Melvin Manhoef more/less than his originally rumored match-up against Jason Miller?

Tool: Call me crazy but in my eyes this is an upgrade. Kennedy vs. Miller 3 is a fight that has to happen someday, and it’s something for Strikeforce to keep in their back pocket for a rainy day. Manhoef is a great test for somebody like Kennedy, especially since he’s the strongest striker the former Army Ranger has faced since his first pro fight with Scott Smith (which he lost). This is certainly a winnable fight for Kennedy as he’s the far superior grappler, and he’ll just need to survive the early onslaught from Manhoef and avoid brawling with the always dangerous Dutch striker.

This is somewhat unrelated, but what is Strikeforce’s problem in promoting “Mayhem”? He’s quite possibly the most well-known fighter on their roster (outside of a Herschel Walker appearance) and yet he’s been treated like some sort of scrub. His last fight was in Strikeforce was almost a year ago, and it was on the unaired portion of the infamous Strikeforce: Nashville card. It’s clear that Scott Coker and Co. aren’t pursuing Miller vs. Diaz, so why can’t they find a single middleweight to slot Miller against? I was fine with the original Miller/Kennedy rematch, but now Kennedy is fighting Manhoef and Miller is…doing what exactly?

Conlan: I disagree with Tool’s assessment of the replacement actually serving as an improvement to the match-up. In the case Luke Rockhold, at least Strikeforce would have put Kennedy in the cage with someone riding a bit of career momentum also viewed as one of the organization’s top prospects. With the 34-year old Manhoef you’re looking at a one-dimensional, albeit entertaining, fighter who has lost three of his last four fights. Kennedy’s first two fights with Miller were highly-competitive scraps featuring two well-rounded men in similar spots on the divisional ladder. A win would have served as contendership-material while a loss would have only minimally hurt their immediate futures. However, a win over Manhoef means very little for the military veteran while a loss will be a significant setback to his 2011 campaign. It’s important to strike while the iron is hot and in the case of completing their trilogy Strikeforce has failed to do so thus far.

Also, to touch on the second part of Adam’s response, Strikeforce is absolutely trying to put Diaz vs. Miller together with Coker recently announcing he is upping his role in the process since his subordinates weren’t successful in facilitating an agreement. Consider this before moving on to the next subject: No reason was ever given for Miller’s removal from the March 5 event while Diaz recently changed his stance on moving up to 185 pounds saying it was a matter of money, not weight, preventing the fight from happening. Read between the lines unless you honestly think that’s a coincidence.

Who should Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza face in his next Strikeforce title defense?

Tool: The Strikeforce middleweight roster isn’t nearly as anemic as some of their other divisions, but there’s still not a lot of options regarding Souza’s next opponent. So, we need a fighter preferably not coming off a loss (although that hasn’t stopped Strikeforce before) who could be ready to fight in 3-4 months. I know somebody who fits at least two of those criteria: Cung Le. He’s a former champion and one of the company’s top draws in their hometown of San Jose, so putting him in a title fight at any given time is a pretty reasonable idea. The only question is: does he want a fight? Le’s iMDb page lists three movies as “filming” (best title: The Man With The Iron Fists) so for the moment it would appear that Hollywood is where his interests lie, but if he wants to come back and fight again he could easily be slotted into a title bout with “Jacare.”

Conlan: “The Man with the Iron Fists” is a Russell Crowe project being directed by Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA so bite your tongue before poking fun!

I think Le is also a good selection based on popularity, style, and lack of alternatives. When examining Strikeforce’s middleweight roster, as Tool mentioned, there aren’t a ton of candidates to work with. The only other realistic option would be Kennedy if he beats Manhoef in March since Lawler just lost to Souza, Rockhold hasn’t had enough big wins, and Miller seems destined for a date with Diaz. Other than that Dan Henderson is the only other person on their roster, or in free agency, with the credentials to serve as a true contender. However, not only has he expressed in the past how much he dislikes cutting weight, he’s currently slated for a fight with light heavyweight champ Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante in a month. If he wins Strikeforce would have to risk a double-divisional champ while a loss would make “Hendo” 1-2 in his last three fights with both defeats occurring in championship affairs.


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