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Grappling with Issues – 2/11/11

Is Anderson Silva the best Mixed Martial Artist ever? Can Antonio Silva repeat Fabricio Werdum’s feat and take home a win against Fedor Emelianenko? Was Rashad Evans’ loss of a title-shot at UFC 128 your gain as a fan? Are Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto’s days of dominance a thing of yesteryear?

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

Which of the following former UFC lightweights do you see having more success with a drop down to 145 pounds – Ken Florian or Tyson Griffin?

Tool: It’s tempting to take Florian just because he’s been more successful at 155…so I will. I have great faith that Griffin is going to be tough as hell to beat at featherweight since, up until recently, he was all but impossible to beat at lightweight. Florian’s record is also undoubtedly excellent, but it’s his set of skills that has me most convinced he’ll be one to watch at 145 lbs. If you were to list off Florian’s strengths you would probably mention his stellar Muay Thai, great takedown defense, and underrated submission game. All of those strengths could easily be applied to the UFC Featherweight Champion Jose Aldo as well. No offense to anyone else currently competing at 145 lbs., but Aldo vs. Florian is absolutely the fight I want to see for the featherweight belt. If Aldo is successful against Mark Hominick in April, and assuming Florian wins in his featherweight debut, I say it’s all but guaranteed we’ll get an Aldo/Florian fight before the end of the year. I have no idea who wins but it’s bound to be great.

Conlan: I’ll go with the other side of the coin and say Griffin, though for reasons unrelated to overall ability. While Florian may be the more-complete fighter of the two he is also notably older and taller than the XTreme Couture product (eight years, four inches). Both of those factors make me feel as though the cut to featherweight is going to be tough on him and could cause “Ken Flo” to return to lightweight sooner than later. However, 145 pounds should feel like home to Griffin who already has a knockout win over former divisional ace Urijah Faber from 2005 under his belt.

TRUE/FALSE – “Kid” Yamamoto will win a fight inside the Octagon.

Tool: TRUE. In my eyes the fight between Yamamoto and Demetrious Johnson was less about the decline of “KID” and the more about the arrival of “Mighty Mouse.” I was extremely impressed with Johnson’s performance against the double-tough Damacio Page at WEC 52, and it wasn’t too long after that fight that Johnson was announced as Yamamoto’s first UFC opponent. At the time I thought it was an extremely tough fight for Yamamoto, and those thoughts obviously proved to be correct. Johnson was landing takedowns faster than anybody else I’ve seen fight in the Octagon, and I think most people would agree that Demetrious is undoubtedly heading for big things in the bantamweight division. Of course if the UFC does create a flyweight division I would take “Mighty Mouse” as one of the most likely candidates to dominate at that weight.

Let’s get back to the “KID.” While Yamamoto’s wrestling is pretty good for a Japanese fighter it’s become all to clear that he’s not at the same level as many of his American counterparts. The dominance of wrestling over other MMA disciplines is nothing new in this day and age, but that doesn’t change the fact that Yamamoto is going to have problems with a number of UFC bantamweights. I can’t be alone in thinking that newly crowned UFC champ Dominick Cruz would give Yamamoto fits, and I certainly wouldn’t like his chances against the Team Alpha Male fighters Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez. However I do think “KID” can still present plenty of problems for lots of other fighters. I’d take him to win against somebody like Antonio Banuelos or Takeya Mizugaki and he might even pose a problem for former champion Brian Bowles. As long as he gets a bit of a favor from the matchmakers I feel fairly confident that Yamamoto will win at least once in his UFC career.

Conlan: As much as I hate to say it I’m actually a little torn. I’ve always enjoyed and respected Yamamoto’s in-ring offerings but fear it’s possible the break he took between 2007-2009 may have done irreparable damage to his chances at Stateside glory. He’s been outpointed in three of his last four fights and seemed to be lacking the stand-up, wrestling, and killer instinct he was once known for against Johnson. “Mighty Mouse” is highly capable to be sure but, as Adam alluded to, he’s a bit small for 135 and still worked “Kid” from start to finish. The only way I can confidently say I see Yamamoto, who turns 34 in March, earning a dubya in the Octagon is if Joe Silva and Dana White decide to set him up against a significant underdog. I’m confident they will because of their investment and his marketing potential so I’ll go with “true” on this topic. However, without a “gimme” I really do feel as though it’s a toss up. He’s still really good but the sport has evolved a lot in the least 3-4 years and its athletes may have very well passed him by in a lot of ways.

What percentage would you assign to Antonio Silva’s chances of handing Fedor Emelianenko a second consecutive loss?

Tool: 10%, and even that may be a bit generous. I know it’s easy to hate on Emelianenko these days, but he’s still one of the greatest of all time. Fabricio Werdum fought a great fight, but I’m confident that Fedor has learned from that loss. He tried to get things over with too quickly and he got careless. I don’t expect him to do the same against Silva when they meet tomorrow night.

In terms of the stylistic match-up I have to think that this favors Emelianenko. He’s more than capable of handling Silva in the stand-up, and “Bigfoot” doesn’t present nearly the same kind of problems on the ground as Werdum did. Silva is a better fighter than a lot of people give him credit for, but he’s not the kind of fighter that’s going to beat Fedor. The fact that a light heavyweight fighter like Mike Kyle was able to seriously hurt Silva has me confident that Emelianenko will have no problem recording another win on his amazing record.

Conlan: I believe I posed a similar query in GWI before Emelianenko fought last time and said 1%. In fact, and I quote, I replied, “I don’t see there being any way (Werdum) comes away from the event as the first fighter to legitimately beat Emelianenko.” That’s why they pay me the big bucks, folks!

I’ll be a bit kinder this time around and go with 5% now “The Last Emperor” has been revealed as an actual human being and not some cybernetic organism sent back in time by Scott Coker’s great-great-grandson to drive the UFC brass insane. Again, for what it’s worth, I just don’t see it happening. Similar to Tool’s point, Silva was out-struck by Kyle in the opening of their fight last December before eventually earning the win and wasn’t able to put Andre Arlovski away earlier in the year either. I can’t see Emelianenko losing on his feet or jumping into Silva’s guard as recklessly as he did against Werdum. He has the stand-up to knock “Bigfoot” out and a valuable lesson learned at the hands of defeat to keep him focused on the task at hand.

Is Anderson Silva the greatest MMA fighter of all time?

Conlan: In full disclosure I need to start this out with an admission. I am notoriously bad at labeling anything as the “greatest ever” because I appreciate so many variables in life (and probably have an undiagnosed case of ADHD to boot). Ask me what my favorite flavor of ice cream is and I’ll tell you I like Mint Chocolate Chip but also have a lot of love for straight up Vanilla as well as Strawberry and so on. Ask me for the best movie in history and I’ll list five I can watch countless screenings of.

That being said, for the sake of GWI, I’ll give it a crack and say “no”, Silva is not the greatest fighter of all time, and it has nothing to do with feeling any other individual should receive the title instead of him. Rather, it’s because MMA is still too young a sport to crown anyone as the standard by which all other fighters should be compared against. It would be like saying a really good football player in the 1940s is tops without considering the fact it’s now 2011 and a lot of guys back then wouldn’t even touch a playing field these days.

Also, keep in mind he has legitimately lost three times in his career to opponents most would consider to be vastly inferior (two of which were tap-outs). “The Spider” is one of the all-timers to be sure. He’s just not the greatest ever. Nobody is…yet.

Tool: Unlike my colleague I have no problems labelling things the best of all time, even though all of time has yet to arrive. The best movie ever is Spaceballs, The Simpsons is the greatest TV show of all time, my favorite flavor of ice cream is chocolate, and yes, Anderson Silva is the greatest fighter of all time.

Sure he’s lost a few times. So have some of the other fighters that would be on the short list for the best of all time. I’m far more impressed with the fact that’s remained undefeated for so many years in the UFC. Say what you will, but the highest level of competition in this sport is found in the octagon. Silva has yet to lose in that cage and it might never happen. He’s got records for longest win streak and most consecutive title defenses. He’s also won more UFC bonus money than any other fighter in history. Of course somebody may come along and eclipse Silva’s accomplishments some day, but it’s extremely unlikely. He’s had some truly legendary performances, and he’s showing no sign of stopping so his legend is only going to continue to grow. Maybe we should hold off on calling him the one and only G.O.A.T. until he meets (and beats) Georges St. Pierre, but I’d pick him to win that fight and cement his place as the best in MMA history.

Are you more or less excited for UFC 128 now that Jon Jones has taken Rashad Evans’ place against “Shogun” Rua?

Conlan: More. I like Evans’ style and swagger but rarely enjoy what he delivers inside the cage. He’s skilled to be sure with solid hands and great takedowns but isn’t one to wow with consistency due to a semi-cautious, albeit intelligent, approach to fighting that isn’t necessarily fan-friendly. I also wasn’t particularly impressed by his showings against Quinton Jackson or Thiago Silva though obviously he deserves credit for beating both men.

Regarding Jones, you’re looking at essentially an undefeated fighter with a number of other factors working in his favor as well. He has a high rate of finishes, has dominated every opponent put in front of him including a number of difficult draws, possesses Rua-like creativity when standing, and has displayed extremely good wrestling/submission technique as well. “Bones” also happens to still be five months shy of turning 24 and seems to have the makings of a transcendent athlete in MMA with what unlimited potential in the ring and a remarkably mature, positive attitude full of wisdom and spirituality. A win over “Shogun” would inject an incredible amount of excitement into the division, as well as his future, whereas I don’t see anywhere near the same amount of energy attached to Evans taking Rua down for five rounds and controlling him from the top.

Tool: I’ll agree with all of my colleague’s points, and I have to agree that the UFC 128 main event just got a major upgrade. I’ve never been a Rashad Evans fan so I’m all for him being moved to the side so Zuffa can make way for the new hotness. Jones is a far more exciting fighter and there’s way more intrigue in seeing how he’ll do now that’s been given this huge opportunity. Evans would likely have come out with the same cautious gameplan that brought him to this point, and that’s just not the kind of fight that I want to watch. Jones’ fights have that “don’t blink” quality to them so I’m all for him to make a run at the top of the card. Perhaps you’d like to hear more of my thoughts on this subject?

Who’s your pick to win the Strikeforce Heavyweight Tournament?

Conlan: Shane Del Rosario. But seriously, it’s so insanely difficult to have any idea how the tournament will unfold at this stage in the game for, among other reasons, the possibility of injury let alone the inherently unpredictable nature of fighting.

Assuming everyone stays healthy and licensed to fight, which is perhaps a lot to ask considering the field, I think Josh Barnett is going to upset a lot of folks out there and bring home the belt. He has the easiest road to the final as far as facing fairly one-dimensional opponents on his side of the bracket and possesses the ability to beat whoever emerges from the other half of the group given his size, experience, passable striking, and high-level grappling ability. He’s also extremely tough to finish whereas a number of his Grand Prix peers haven’t shown the same ability to overcome adversity in the ring so I think he could have an edge there as well depending on who he fights at the end.

Tool: If Brendhan’s taking Del Rosario then I’m picking Lavar Johnson. Either him or Fedor. Probably Fedor.

As I said earlier Emelianenko still has be considered one of the best fighters in the world. I think he’ll have no problems making it past “Bigfoot“ Silva, but we’ll know exactly where his career stands if/when he makes it to the semi-final round. He’s either got to beat the man that just beat him in Werdum, or he’s got to beat the odds-on favorite in Alistair Overeem. Like I said before Fedor’s undoubtedly learned his lessons from his last fight, so I’ll take him to beat Werdum if they meet again. Against Overeem it’s harder to say, but I think Emelianenko has the necessary tools to win. I’d also have to take him over anybody on the other side of the brackets, and that includes the aforementioned “Baby-Faced Assassin.” If he loses this weekend we can all start discussing whether or not this is the beginning of the end, but for now I remain optimistically behind “The Last Emperor.”

PHOTO CREDIT – UFC/STRIKEFORCE