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Grappling with Issues – 4/27/11

Will Saturday night mark Georges St. Pierre’s last appearance at welterweight? Should the UFC have held off on replacing an injured Jon Jones with Phil Davis against Rashad Evans? Did Strikeforce make a mistake by letting Jason Miller go without a fight? Can either contender pull off the upset this weekend at UFC 129?

Welcome to Grappling with Issues, our site’s regular weekly feature highlight insight and opinion from myself and resident workhorse Jeremy Lambert whose “Walk Out” and “After Party” event-breakdowns can be regularly found on Five Ounces. As 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.

Was Strikeforce allowing Jason Miller’s contract to expire a good or bad thing?

Lambert: It really depends on whose vantage point I’m looking at. For UFC and Miller it’s a good thing, for Strikeforce it’s a bad thing. Strikeforce really mishandled Miller this past year. Granted “Mayhem” did himself no favors by jumping in the cage after Jake Shields defeated Dan Henderson at “Strikeforce: Nashville” but once his suspension was up, they never gave him a fight. He was supposed to fight Tim Kennedy in March but for unknown reasons that fight fell through, and they could never set up the much anticipated Miller vs. Nick Diaz fight which I think played a huge role in Miller opting not to re-sign with the company even if they presented him with an extension.

Now Miller heads to a company that knows how to promote fighters and has plenty of competition for him to face. While I’m not enamored with his first fight against Aaron Simpson, as I thought he would be given someone a bit more well-known, it’s a tough match up for Miller and it’s a chance for him to get back into the groove after a couple of easy fights (sorry Kazushi Sakuraba fans, but he’s an easy fight nowadays for someone as talented as Miller) and establish his name in the UFC.

Conlan: Jeremy omitted perhaps the most important viewpoint in his response – a MMA fan’s. From that perspective there is little if anything positive about Miller departing Strikeforce. In letting him go the organization sacrificed the opportunity to capitalize on his rivalry with Diaz before it grows stale and to complete a best-of-three series with Kennedy, depriving folks of either fight in favor of less marketable fare in the Octagon.

It also cost Strikeforce one of the limited number of legitimate 185ers signed to their roster meaning even fewer relevant match-ups can be made now than was the case before. Removing Kennedy/Diaz from the equation still gives way to the possibility of using Miller attempting to build Luke Rockhold’s star or giving Robbie Lawler a shot to redeem himself for a 2006 submission loss. Now neither option is on the table.

To further elaborate on that issue, I present you with the actual line-up of middleweights listed on Strikeforce’s website other than title-holder Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza – Diaz (welterweight champ who wasn’t interested in going up in weight to meet Miller without a pay raise), Evangelista Santos (now a welterweight), Kevin Casey (3-2 and hasn’t fought since May), Cory Devela (lost his last three and hasn’t fought since July), Cung Le (has fought twice in the last two years), Melvin Manhoef (lost his last three), Kennedy (no poking holes here as he’s legit), Frank Shamrock (long-retired), Scott Smith (a welterweight coming off back-to-back knockouts), “Mayhem” Miller (still listed out of laziness), Robbie Lawler (legitimate middleweight contender #2), Benji Radach (coming off back-to-back losses and 1-3 in his last four), Raul Castillo (potential at 6-1 but hasn’t fought since February 2010), Trevor Prangley (solid veteran who tends to fight at 205), and Yancy Medeiros (solid prospect who hasn’t fought since last June). Seriously. That’s it.

Even if Miller told Strikeforce point blank he wasn’t going to re-sign with them based on how his career had been handled over the last eighteen months, I have a hard time believing someone upstairs at Zuffa couldn’t have talked him into a deal based on the change in management and necessity of his presence on Strikeforce events as the organization moves forward in 2011. His departure won’t ruin the company, but Miller was an important asset Scott Coker’s team squandered in grand fashion and an embarrassing black mark on Strikeforce’s reputation.

What preliminary pairing are you most looking forward to at UFC 129?

Lambert: The Facebook prelims have some good fighters like Jason MacDonald, Yves Jabouin, and Daniel Roberts, the two Spike TV bouts might be the best the company has ever offered. Sean Pierson had a very entertaining outing at UFC 124 against Matt Riddle and his opponent, Jake Ellenberger, is one of the most underrated welterweights in the sport. However, the fight I’m looking forward to is Nate Diaz vs. Rory MacDonald. Diaz always brings it and MacDonald nearly defeated a very tough Carlos Condit in his last bout before losing in the final seconds.

Plus, I have a Twitter bet on Diaz vs. MacDonald so for everyone that hated my Snookie avatar for the week after UFC 128, pray that Diaz wins.

Conlan: I’m excited about seeing Roberts mix it up with Claude Patrick courtesy of the UFC’s fan-friendly Facebook feed this Saturday night. Both welterweights have been hot as of late with “Ninja” emerging victorious in his previous three fights and Patrick being 12-0 since 2005. Combined they have a 25-2 record with twenty-one finishing performances including eighteen involving a submission, so neither is a clear-cut favorite while both are definitely dangerous. Patrick will also be fighting in front of a hometown crowd at the event adding another layer of intrigue to their pairing.

If Georges St. Pierre beats Jake Shields, would you prefer to see him stay at welterweight or move up to 185 pounds?

Lambert: Seeing as there is pretty much no one left for him to fight at welterweight, unless UFC brings Nick Diaz over, I’d much rather see him move to 185. I don’t even care if he doesn’t fight Anderson Silva right row if he doesn’t think he’ll be comfortable his first time out at 185. He could fight a mid-level middleweight in his first contest and if all goes well and he feels comfortable at the weight, then move on to the superfight against Silva.

By the way Bren, I hope GSP doesn’t read this question or else he’ll nicely scold you for looking past Shields and looking towards a future fight at middleweight.

Conlan: Actually, I hope “Rush” reads this question because it means he’s checking out GWI and our website. Plus, even if he gave me a hard time I’d simply bust out a jam from M.C. Solaar and all would be forgiven.

With a win in Toronto I still don’t think the time is quite right for St. Pierre to make a permanent move to 185 (as he said would be the case if deciding to go up in weight). A fight with Condit is still out there, as is a potential date with Nate Marquardt unless their work together at Greg Jackson’s and TriStar Gym prevents them from signing on the dotted line. I also think Jon Fitch is deserving of another crack at GSP if he can get by B.J. Penn later this year. And, depending on how things pan out in 2011, I think Diaz could be a very real possibility once the UFC feels a bit more comfortable putting together cross-promotional fights. Zuffa has already taken over a number of things behind-the-scenes even after saying it would be business as usual after purchasing Strikeforce so there’s no reason to think the UFC brass might change their opinion on putting together a champion-vs-champion season of the Ultimate Fighter or, on a lesser level, superfight in general between the two divisional representatives. They could even do it at a catchweight of 175 pounds so titles wouldn’t be a factor.

Who has a better chance at pulling the upset this weekend: Mark Hominick or Jake Shields?

Conlan: Without a doubt it’s Shields. In reality he’s only viewed as an underdog due to a lack of education on the part of odds-makers and the general public, not because he’s likely to be overwhelmed by someone with St. Pierre’s talent. The Californian’s winning streak is as impressive as GSP’s and also features a few names I wouldn’t consider “Rush” to be a lock against had he been in Shields’ shoes. When St. Pierre got rocked by Matt Serra he folded from the adversity; when Shields got leveled by power-packing light heavyweight champion Dan Henderson he turned around to outwrestle him for twenty-plus minutes en route to victory.

Hominick has lost three of his last ten fights including a pair of first round submissions under the WEC banner. Shields has lost three times in the last ten years. Nuff said?

Lambert: For some reason over the past week or so, I’ve really warmed up to the idea of Hominick winning. While I don’t think it will happen, I think he was a decent shot since the fight will most likely be in his realm of expertise, that being on the feet. For Shields, he needs to get St. Pierre to the ground to win, which will be extremely hard to do, but for Hominick, Aldo will probably strike with him and even he does, anything can happen on the feet when you’re deal with a guy as good and technical as Hominick.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t see Hominick winning but lets not write him off completely. He’s a very good technical striker, possibly even better than Aldo, his defense on the feet is outstanding, and he has some killer body shots. Plus Aldo is coming off a neck injury, and while he didn’t miss any significant time, you never know how fighters are going to respond from an injury.

Is UFC rushing Phil Davis by putting him against Rashad Evans?

Conlan: No, and I’m not sure there were a lot of other options to begin with if hoping to maintain the bout’s headlining appeal. The only other available name I’ve heard kicked around is Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, and while the title-fight-that-never-was would be fun, it also isn’t lost on me UFC Rio is in August (as is UFC 133) and I suspect he wants to be on that card if at all possible.

Davis is 9-0 and has beaten some game adversaries like Brian Stann, Tim Boestch, and most recently Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Evans certainly has more experience but the playing field will also likely be leveled due to the fact he’ll have been out of action for more than a year when they eventually face off in Philly. “Mr. Wonderful” also has the wrestling to stuff Evans’ suffocating grind in the cage and ever-improving stand-up to fend off “Sugar” ‘Shad’s strikes. Sure, Davis has been extremely active and another month off might give him an opportunity to take a nice break, but the kid is 26 and still has plenty of time to put in a proper camp. The 205-pound division is a sink-or-swim division and the time is now for Davis to prove to the world exactly how buoyant he is.

Also, keep in mind Evans wasn’t in a vastly different position than Davis when he found himself on the cusp of contendership against Chuck Liddell at UFC 88 and it certainly worked out for him (i.e. an undefeated grappler coming off his biggest win to date and facing a former champ).

Lambert: Bren just had to bring up UFC 88, didn’t he? Allow me to sulk for the next five minutes and then text Bren some words that I’m not allowed to use here on the site.

And I’m back. I believe that UFC is rushing Davis. After the Nogueira fight, he stated that he wanted to take some time off to really work on improving his game and now he’s right back in action against one of the top light heavyweight in the world. I think Davis has all the talent in the world but I wasn’t all that impressed with his performance against Nogueira and he could definitely use time off to improve rather than being right back in camp to train. I do agree with Bren that Davis will benefit from the fact that Evans hasn’t stepped foot in the cage since last May but I’m not sure if that will be enough.

As far as who Evans could have fought, I think the answer is Lyoto Machida, pending Machida beats Randy Couture this Saturday. Enough time has passed that Evans vs. Machida 2 is a viable fight and the winner would have a legitimate claim at facing Jon Jones.

Over/Under – 5.5 Canadian wins at UFC 129?

Conlan: I’m going “under” for those calling the Great White North home. Though I’m in no way endorsing the following picks, as I’ve always professed to love MMA based on its unpredictability rather than the ease in selecting winners, but I’m giving nods to St. Pierre, Mark Bocek, Ivan Menjivar, and Jason MacDonald. Even if a few more Canadians win it’s as likely a couple of the ones I’m picking will also lose so things balance out. However, as long as the first name on the list comes away with his hands raised I don’t think anyone in attendance will mind.

Lambert: I have to go under as well. I think a lot of the match ups that involve Canadians are toss ups but I see their American and one Brazilian counterparts coming out on top more off than that. I favor St. Pierre, Menjivar, John Makdessi, and Jabouin and I’d really like J. MacDonald to pull out the victory but he is coming off a broken leg. Even if you want to count MacDonald though, that’s still only five victories for Team Canada.


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