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Grappling with Issues – 5/11/11

How do you view Nick Diaz‘s decision to box? Do you want to see “Cro Cop” give it one last go against “Minotauro”? What’s next for the Zuffa after this week’s announcement regarding fighter insurance? Is it time to change the structure of rounds?

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 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.

True/False – Hector Lombard would challenge for the UFC middleweight title within a year from signing if inked to the company’s roster.

Lambert: False. Lombard is a hell of a talent with an extremely impressive win streak but he’s never faced talent like he’d face in the UFC. While the UFC 185 division isn’t the strongest in the company, there are guys like Chael Sonnen, Yushin Okami, Demian Maia, Brian Stann, etc… who are tough outs for any fighter. Right now Lombard’s best wins are against guys who couldn’t make it in the UFC and he doesn’t have a victory over a “Top 20” fighter. The talent is clearly there and it wouldn’t shock me if he did run through the division should he sign but I can’t say with certainty that it would happen.

Conlan: I agree with the whole of my peer’s response. It’s impossible not to appreciate Lombard’s abilities but he hasn’t fought elite-enough competition to definitively say he would be anything more than a guy who wins as many as he loses when paired against the names on Lambert’s list or someone else like Michael Bisping, Wanderlei Silva, or Vitor Belfort. Niko Vitale is not slouch and is currently on a three-fight winning streak but hasn’t beaten a highly-respected opponent in more than five years. If Lombard gets by him this weekend he deserves credit for the victory but not a free pass.

With additional insurance now in place for fighters, what step would you like to see the UFC/Zuffa take next in terms of helping legitimize the sport and/or protect its athletes?

Lambert: The next big step has to be becoming public. I don’t think that will happen though because then I don’t think Dana White can be Dana White if he has to answer to investors and stock holders.

So being realistic, I’d say that UFC just needs to continue to acquire the best fighters and put on the best fights. I’m not a huge boxing fan but it’s a shame to watch Manny Pacquiao being wasted against guys like Josh Clottey and Shane Mosley when the only fight everyone wants is Pac vs. Floyd Mayweather. I don’t want the same thing to happen in MMA. Sports work best when all the best guys are in one league going against each other. When UFC and Strikeforce eventually merge, UFC will house most of the top fighters and when new fighters emerge, UFC needs to continue to get them under contract so the best can fight the best.

Conlan: Let me lead by saying I am 100,000,000% positive that in no way will White take the UFC public in the near future if ever. He has said as much in the past and I believe him wholeheartedly based on the control he’d sacrifice.

Anyways, I think talent-sharing is a natural next step for the UFC. I understand the desire to keep Strikeforce its own entity but an avenue needs to be in place for crossovers to occur (and not necessarily of the “super-fight” variety). The occasional catch-weight battle between champions would obviously be fun, but I’m thinking along the lines of giving rising fighters an additional outlet to shine.

For example, if the UFC is unable to find an opening for one of their up-and-comers within a few months of his latest win he could be featured on a Strikeforce card in even a preliminary capacity. Why prevent a fighter from earning income and gaining experience for six months, or longer, if an opportunity under a Zuffa banner arises no matter what actual promotion it takes place in? The scenario could also apply in instances where Strikeforce needs a bit of “oomph” in supplying their own fighters with opponents. Tim Kennedy has only been given a single opportunity to throw down in the last six months and is still in limbo where a future fight is concerned. Again, why waste talent and time when an easy alternative awaits around the corner.

I understand there are contractual issues to deal with, especially in terms of Showtime’s relationship with Strikeforce, but my assumption is the cable network cares more about ratings and advertising than it does the actual fighters taking to the ring (other than Jason Miller), so I fail to see why they would be opposed to the idea of cross-promotion.

Nick Diaz’s apparent decision to indeed box later this year rather than compete as a Mixed Martial Artist is _______ (fill in the blank).

Lambert: Adventurous. I can’t knock Diaz for wanting to box instead of compete in MMA, especially if the fight against Georges St. Pierre isn’t offered to him. I actually admire Diaz for wanting to try something new. That’s why I find his decision adventurous. Sometimes adventures end great and sometimes they end in disaster. For Diaz, I think it would end up in disaster, depending on the level of competition he fights. He has great MMA boxing but I think people forget that his MMA boxing is really helped by the fact that he’s also got a great ground game. It allows him to open up more on the feet and gives opponents something else to worry about/train for. He won’t have that luxury in an actual boxing contest and unless he really tightens up his defense, I think he’ll be in for a big surprise when he steps foot into the squared circle.

Conlan: Posturing. I don’t doubt Diaz’s desire to box because he likes testing himself and he certainly isn’t afraid of a challenge (or a fight). However, when referring to the sweet science his motivation has always been monetary, not a matter of proving anything to himself. He feels he works too hard for what he makes, sees the paychecks top boxers earn, and knows he can draw an audience while being competitive with puffier gloves on. Even with the talk of Diaz signing to fight Jeff Lacy the position from the Stockton native’s camp has been a matter of if the UFC can’t rectify the situation by offering up St. Pierre and probably a PPV percentage as well.

Because it seems clear to me he wants to stick with MMA as long as his bank account is accommodated I think his talk of boxing is contractual posturing and I will continue to believe so until he actually signs on the dotted line to face Lacy.

What fight are you most looking forward to this summer?

Conlan: I suspect the broad nature of this question may very well be means to punish me for submitting my trio of topics a bit late to Lambert but regardless I like it in that there’s really no wrong answer given the multitude of deserving match-ups to choose from. In fact there are likely a number of fights still to be made before mid-August that would qualify if the same questioned was asked a month from now.

I’m going to look outside of the UFC for my pick and say Fabricio Werdum vs. Alistair Overeem on June 18 in Dallas. The bout obviously will have a huge impact on the Strikeforce World Grand Prix but more importantly pits two top heavyweights against each other who have history together and are currently surging in their division. Overeem hasn’t lost as a Mixed Martial Artist in three-and-a-half years but also hasn’t faced the most elite opposition during the span. That will change in Big D when he meets Werdum, a submission specialist with rapidly improving stand-up who tapped Overeem out in 2006 at a PRIDE event. The bout will solidify one of the two as having a legitimate argument for being the biggest dog in the sport, especially with Velasquez’s ongoing recovery from shoulder surgery, so I’m extremely interested in seeing how things unfold at the American Airlines Center (and will hopefully do so in person given the event’s proximity to my residence in Austin).

Lambert: Punishment for submitting the topics late? Of course not. I’m just excited that summer is starting and how much MMA we have to look forward to in the coming months.

I’m going to go with a heavyweight fight in June as well but mine takes place a week prior to Werdum vs. Overeem. I’m of course talking about Joey Beltran vs. Dave Herman. Okay, so that’s a lie (although Beltran vs. Herman should be a fun fight). I’m looking forward to Junior Dos Santos vs. Brock Lesnar. Not because of anything they’ve done of this season of The Ultimate Fighter (because they haven’t done anything on this season of TUF) but because of all the storylines involved. The winner gets a crack at Cain Velasquez, JDS has looked unstoppable in his UFC run, Lesnar is coming off a humbling loss, JDS’ wrestling will finally be tested, Lesnar’s reaction to getting hit will be tested again, etc…. There are so many angles in this fight that it makes for an interesting showdown and I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

Do you want to see Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Mirko “Cro Cop” at “UFC: Rio”?

Conlan: Yes. I have long lobbied for a final fan-friendly fight for Mirko Filipovic rather than letting him end his storied career on the note played at UFC 128 against Brendan Schaub. If Zuffa can’t put him up against Fedor Emelianenko in Strikeforce then “Minotauro” makes complete sense, especially given the nature of the show in question and Nogueira’s need for a feeler fight rather than a top contender after his injury-ridden layoff. Their match-up wouldn’t have to be pretty or even result in a finish – just two icons going to war one last time at a historic event in tribute to their supporters and the sport.

Lambert: While I don’t really have the desire to see Mirko fight again given how far his slipped since UFC 70, I’d be strangely OK with this fight. It’s pretty obvious that Mirko’s chin is shot and he shouldn’t be fighting anyone with KO power. Luckily for him, Nogueira doesn’t have KO power, “Big Nog” would be coming off an extremely long layoff, and Nog’s body is just as battered as Mirko’s. It might be sad to watch two legends who just don’t have “it” anymore but it would be better than watching Mirko fall awkwardly as a fighter in their prime cracks him on the chin.

Good Idea/Bad Idea: Five three-minute rounds in fights with ten three-minute rounds in title fights?

Conlan: I’m not really sure how it would make MMA better if enacted and will live that argument up to Jeremy if he decides to make it. In my estimation the move would involve less action and more down time with only a minimal increase in the likelihood of a finish occurring in a title-fight.

And really, why would it even matter unless judges start scoring fights correctly? Is a 48-47 robbery any better than a 29-28 sham?

(EDIT – I want to add after reading Jeremy’s response my take on Nelson’s assessment of judging is it simply points out officials aren’t doing their jobs and rather than placate their ineptitude I’d rather see them do what they’re paid to do in as proficient a manner as possible.)

Lambert: I’m actually against the idea but thought it was an interesting comment by a current fighter.

Roy Nelson was the man who recently suggested this idea with his point being that, “Judges only remember the last minute so if one fighter dominates for four minutes, the other fighter can steal the round if he has a strong final minute.” It’s a fair point. We’ve seen some instances where fighters can steal the round in a final minute if the first four minutes aren’t a complete blowout. That said, I’m a little shocked that Nelson would be the guy to make these comments. As a Jiu-Jitsu fighter, I would think that “Big Country” would want more time in rounds. This is the same man who complained (and rightfully so) about being stood up from side control against Andrei Arlovski because the referee thought he wasn’t working. Imagine if he had side control early the round and only had two minutes to work instead of four.

I understand where Nelson is coming from but more rounds isn’t the answer if you’re going to shorten them. YAMMA tried that and we saw how well that worked. The champion just ended up being the guy who could hold his opponent down for a shorter amount of time. Plus, and I’ll never understand this about boxing, I’m not in favor of an even number of rounds. It just opens up the judges to score the fight a draw and nobody wants that.

PHOTO CREDIT – STRIKEFORCE (ESTHER LIN) / FEG