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Grappling with Issues – 3/16/2011

What changes do you see the UFC making to Strikeforce over the next few months? What Strikeforce champ do you most want to see in action against one of the UFC‘s title-holders? Will the UFC ever encounter another legitimate competitor? What fight other than the headlining tilt between Jon Jones and 205-pound champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 128 are you especially excited about?

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 resident workhorse Jeremy Lambert whose “Walk Down” and “After Party” event-breakdowns can be regularly found on Five Ounces. In the spirit of this past weekend’s historic news regarding UFC’s acquisition of Strikeforce long-time contributor Adam Tool has returned for a special appearance and six bonus takes on the topics.

Now let’s get on to creamy center of things, and, always, just because we staffers get the fancy set-up, please don’t hesitate to offer your own take on the topics in the “Comments” section below.

BUY/SELL – Jon Jones will finish Mauricio “Shogun” Rua this weekend en route to winning the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship.

Lambert: SELL. Not only will Jones not finish Rua but he won’t even beat Rua. Jones looks unstoppable and Rua is coming off another knee surgery but I’m rolling with the old tiger and experienced veteran against the young lion and hungry rookie. This is a very close fight with a lot of x-factors involved and while I’d love to go into them right now but I’ll defer to Adam and Bren and save all the details for The Walk Out which can be read here at 5OZ this coming Friday. YEAH!

Tool: I hate to feel like I’m selling the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion short here but I’m BUYing in to the hype behind “Bones.” I believe we still have yet to see the best from Jones and this fight will be proof of that. Sure “Shogun” is on a completely different level than all of Jones’ previous opponents, but who’s to say that the truth doesn’t go both ways? Jones has 25 minutes to put a serious hurting on Rua and I think that’s more than enough time to secure a finish and the top prize in the division.

Conlan: I guess this makes me the tiebreaker, eh? I’m also selling the subject. I don’t share Lambert’s conviction in “Shogun” retaining the title per say but I can see the fight going five rounds based on Rua’s reputation for toughness. He’s been finished twice in a total of twenty-three bouts, both by way of submission, while facing some of the toughest opponents out there including multiple UFC/Strikeforce champions. I can see Jones tapping him out late in the fight but only if Rua’s conditioning has suffered, and I don’t think a knockout is likely period given the Brazilian’s familiarity with stand-up and overall durability where consciousness is concerned.

Are the days of direct competition with the UFC over now that Zuffa has purchased Strikeforce?

Lambert: Yes, although the question implies that there was ever direct competition with Zuffa. Not to take anything away from Strikeforce because they made some major moves to go from a local promotion in San Jose to a national promotion all across the US but they were a distant number two to UFC. If anything the brand name “Strikeforce” might actually be more competition to UFC with Zuffa behind them because Zuffa knows how to take a company to new heights and do a lot of little things right. With Strikeforce out of the way though, the number two promotion becomes Bellator, and even though I love their weekly product and tournament format, being on MTV2 and moving start times so you don’t have to directly compete with UFC isn’t going to cut it.

Tool: I‘ve got to say yes. The Styrofoam tombstone Dana White keeps in his office (the one that lists all the failed promotions that lie in his wake) will see the addition of Strikeforce within a few years, and at that point there’s not much room left for more names. Japanese MMA is on its last legs, and companies like Bellator and MFC are still quite a ways off from competing with on the UFC’s level. These companies will likely become safe havens for fighters that still refuse to play by Dana’s rules, but those exceptions will become fewer and further apart as the lack of viable options dry up. I’ll never say never (except for those two times when I just said it) but for now it’s safe to say that the UFC is going to be the only promotion that matters for quite some time.

Conlan: I like Tool’s take as far as questioning whether or not Strikeforce was much of a threat to begin with. Other than that there’s not a lot else I can add other than to say I’m excited to see where MMA goes from here. I don’t know that there needs to be another primary promotion to provide the UFC’s foil anymore than there needs to be another football league trying to compete with the NFL. Similar to that sport, there are still smaller outlets for talented athletes to sign with and bigger opportunities ahead if successful in their endeavors. Buying Strikeforce brings MMA one step closer to the legitimacy in the mainstream sense because the top fighters, in general, will have a chance to face off at some point in the near future rather than blurring the divisional lines based on contractual status.

If UFC and Strikeforce were to merge today, what title vs. title fight interests you the most?

Tool: Call me crazy but I think Nick Diaz has the potential to give Georges St. Pierre problems. Diaz could certainly keep things interesting in a stand-up war and his outstanding ground game keeps him competitive if GSP takes the fight to the ground. I certainly won’t sell St. Pierre short as I still feel he would win a fight with Diaz, but in terms of interesting fights for the welterweight kingpin I think Diaz is the best choice.

Conlan: Though a fight pitting Diaz against St. Pierre is inherently interesting given the participants it doesn’t carry the same divisional weight as a match-up between Gilbert Melendez and Frank Edgar (or Gray Maynard) would. Diaz hasn’t fought a highly relevant peer in five years while Melendez has recent wins over Shinya Aoki, Mitsuhiro Ishida, and Josh Thomson.

Beyond that, “El Nino” is widely seen as being one of the MMA’s top three lightweights with Edgar regularly coming in at #1 on most rankings. Having Melendez fight Edgar or a similarly slotted Maynard (if he’s able to beat “The Answer” at UFC 130) would serve as means of helping determine who the top 155-pounder on the planet actually is. Comparably, even if Diaz got by GSP it would still be somewhat hard to label him as the best of the bunch based on a lack of other wins over world class welterweights.

Lambert: I just want to start by saying that Adam Tool is indeed crazy because St. Pierre beats Diaz in a MMA fight worse than Brittney Palmer beats Arianny Celeste in a bikini contest.

While I think every title vs. title fight is interesting, the one I find myself gravitating towards is newly crowned Strikeforce 205-pound champ Dan Henderson against the UFC’s current light heavyweight title-holder “Shogun” Rua. It doesn’t matter that Henderson is 40 years old because he’s cut from a rare cloth where he can still compete at a high level despite his age. He seems very comfortable at light heavyweight, he appears to be wising up in his fights, and his right hand is as deadly as they come. And of course “Shogun” is the top light heavyweight in the world for a reason. It’s a very intriguing match up. Even if Rua loses this weekend, I’d still like to see Jones vs. Henderson more than any other title vs. title fight as well.

TRUE/FALSE – Paul Daley will never fight under the Zuffa banner.

Tool: I’ve got to go with TRUE. Dana was clearly unhappy with Daley’s actions following the Josh Koscheck fight (despite the fact that Koscheck is the one guy I don’t mind seeing get some extra punishment). We know that White is willing to eat his words from time to time so he can bring some guys back, but Daley doesn’t have the same sort of credibility of a Tito Ortiz or a Karo Parisyan. Those guys were longtime UFC vets who got a second chance, but Daley only had three fights in the Octagon (including the infamous Koscheck bout). He’s shown no interest in rebuilding the burnt bridges that carried him out of Zuffaland so I won’t be holding out hope of seeing “Semtex” in UFC gloves ever again.

Conlan: The Zuffa banner includes Strikeforce now, does it not? He is scheduled to face Diaz in a few weeks, is he not? If he truly backs out of the fight as he’s mildly hinted at he will not only have killed his career on the major circuit but will no doubt face litigation as well since contracts have been signed. Daley is hot-headed but he isn’t stupid meaning he’s going to blast away at Diaz until the champ falls or takes him down for the tap on April 9. So “false” – the nasty knockout artist from England will indeed fight for Zuffa.

Lambert: This really depends on whether or not Daley backs out of his fight against Diaz. Obviously if he doesn’t then he’ll fight under the Zuffa banner on April 9 but if he does then for the 1% of Daley fans in the US, I hope your internet connection is good because the only way you’re seeing “Semtex” is via BAMMA online streams. Daley might not be the most professional or smartest guy in the world but I don’t think he’s dumb enough to drop out of the Diaz fight, and if he is, he might as well fire his management team because they shouldn’t be dumb enough to allow him to drop out of the Diaz fight. So I’ll go with FALSE although my confidence in that answer is about as high as Daley’s ability to make weight.

Dana White is insistent that Strikeforce will continue to operate as normal, but what’s one change you can see taking place in the immediate future?

Conlan: If White is to be believed then there aren’t a lot of options for change. As such, I envision a number of fighters who have made a name for themselves in the Octagon but are also in divisional limbo and are coming off losses will cross over to Strikeforce based on the way the UFC’s contracts are structured. For example, Zuffa will take someone like Joe Stevenson, Chris Lytle, Chris Leben, Brandon Vera, or Mirko Filipovic, sign them to Strikeforce, and then allow them to inject life into one of the company’s title-hunts while helping build career momentum along the way for either themselves or their opponents. Scott Coker may make the ultimate call on who they ink but I would be surprised if he doesn’t have higher-ups in his ear as well.

On a side note, I’m curious to know when Frank Shamrock’s broadcasting deal runs out as his rivalry with White is well-documented as are the criticisms of MMA fans in regards to his work on the Strikeforce team.

Tool: I doubt the Strikeforce broadcast will change much since that stuff is still going to fall under Showtime’s jurisdiction. One change I can see Zuffa implementing immediately is a change in the way Strikeforce handles their preliminary fights. As of today a Strikeforce pre-lim lineup is essentially a stacked card of local talent. Bookings are handled outside of Strikeforce with the exception of one or two fights with contracted talent. I expect Zuffa to start filling those pre-lim slots with fighters under contract and possibly even broadcasting some of those fights through an online streams (as they’ve recently become quite fond of doing for UFC cards). I’m not sure if Strikeforce contracts allow them to cut a fighter after a loss in the same way that the UFC’s contracts do, but if nothing else a few more fights between lower-level talent could give the Dana White and his match-makers a better idea on who they want in the UFC once the presumed merger takes place.

Lambert: I could definitely see the Strikeforce commentary team being replaced the second the contracts of Shamrock and Mauro Ranallo are up, if not sooner as long as Showtime has no objection. The one thing I think that will immediately change though is that Strikeforce will now allow elbows on the ground*. Coker isn’t a fan of elbows on the ground, I believe because he doesn’t want fights stopped due to cuts, so they’ve been illegal in Strikeforce this entire time. Now that Zuffa controls the company, Dana will want the same rules across the board, and that means fighters will now be able to unleash elbows when they’re on top of and under their opponent.

Also, for the love of God I hope Strikeforce weigh ins run smoother now. If you’ve ever been to a Strikeforce weigh in, you’ll know that it’s a complete cluster and takes far too long. You wouldn’t think that stripping down to your underwear, stepping on a scale, stepping off, and facing off would be so hard but in Strikeforce they manage to take a simple task and turn it into a Rube Goldberg machine.

* – Whether miraculous or incredibly insightful, Lambert’s response was actually submitted before White’s recent announcement regarding elbows no matter what Tool might tell you.

Other than the main event what UFC 128 bout are you most excited for?

Conlan: Though it may not have the pending knockout “Cro Cop” vs. Brendan Schaub should produce I’m intrigued by Jim Miller’s match-up with Kamal Shalorus for a few reasons. Shalorus is an incredible wrestler willing to stand in the pocket and exchange while Miller has some of his division’s best BJJ to work with off his back if he ends up with “The Prince of Persia” in his guard. He’ll also be fighting in front of his hometown fans and with underrated boxing, not to mention Shalorus’ takedown defense, he may just stand for the first round to please the crowd and show he’s not as one-dimensional as his record might portray.

Also interesting to me is the notion Shalorus hasn’t lost yet in his career meaning a victory for the 20-2 Miller would be huge where contendership is concerned, especially with George Sotiropoulos having recently lost and the fact it would be the 27-year old’s seventh in a row. I suppose it could turn into a ground-based stalemate but for some reason I’m confident both lightweights will show up ready to entertain and I’m definitely looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

Tool: I can echo both of my colleagues’ choices here but I’m going to go ahead and take the co-main event of the evening between Urijah Faber and Eddie Wineland. This is the most important bantamweight fight in the division’s extremely brief history with the UFC, and it’s a fight that could very well determine the first defense for newly crowned UFC champion Dominick Cruz. Obviously the solid money is on Faber here, and for good reason. He looked outstanding in his debut at 135 lbs. where he made short work of the double-tough Takeya Mizugaki. He’s clearly the best option for Cruz’s octagon debut (especially since he already holds a win over the young champion), but we cannot overlook the challenge that Wineland presents. He’s coming off of back-to-back “Knockout of the Night” performances in his final two WEC fights, and while his WEC Bantamweight Championship reign was a long time ago, he’s still just 26 years old. He could very well still be ready to hit his peak and there would be no better place to hit it than the co-main event of your very first UFC fight card.

Lambert: You know a card is stacked when Joseph Benavidez can’t even get on the Facebook prelims, which is a complete joke by the way. I’m honestly looking forward to every fight on the card but the one I’m most excited for is Edson Barbonza vs. Anthony Njokuani, one of the SpikeTV prelims. Barboza is undefeated in his young career, looked very impressive in his UFC debut, and has already draw comparisons to Jose Aldo. Njokuani has hit a rough patch since KO’ing Chris Horodecki in highlight reel fashion, losing two of his last three bouts, but he’s a guy who will bring it on the feet and challenge Barboza with his striking. I can’t see this fight being anything but a great stand up battle with both men throwing a variety of strikes and all of them with bad intentions.

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