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Grappling with Issues – 5/18/11

Did Jon Jones rub you the wrong way in the handling of his hand surgery? Are Brock Lesnar‘s days as a divisional king in the rear-view mirror after the return of his health issues? Will Quinton “Rampage” Jackson retire in the next two years? Would you have preferred to see Mirko Filipovic in Brendan Schaub‘s place against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC Rio?

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.

Buy/Sell – Brock Lesnar’s time as a title-contender is over after last week’s news relating to his continued health issues.

Lambert: I unfortunately have to BUY. I really hope that I’m wrong and Lesnar returns as the force that we all know he can be but I just don’t think it’s in the cards. He admitted that he wasn’t 100% heading into the Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez fights and this was after he supposedly had a “miracle recovery.” Now that he’s essentially relapsed and is suffering again, I’m almost convinced that he’ll never be 100% unless he gets the surgery. And lets say that he does get the surgery, that’s going to take at least a year off his fighting career, which would make him 35 by the time he returns to action. At 35 years old with a year away from the sport and coming off a major operation, I just don’t see how he’ll be able to contend.

Lesnar is a freak athlete and if anyone can bounce back from something like this and come back stronger, my money would be on him. But in a solid heavyweight division, that is only going to improve when UFC and Strikeforce eventually merge, he’s fighting an uphill battle.

Conlan: I agree with Jeremy’s take with the exception of his hyperbolic statement regarding Lesnar’s ability to bounce back from his condition as though he’s a 23-year old in prime condition with a bum knee who needs the money or wants to prove himself to the public. There’s no doubting Lesnar’s athletic prowess but his body has experienced a lot of wear-and-tear throughout his varying careers, it’s impossible to know exactly how it will react physically after surgery of that nature, and he has enough financial security to call it a MMA career plus a loving wife and young child at home.

Also, it’s time to face the reality that Lesnar was a contender in the first place because of his drawing power. He got a title shot with a 1-1 record in the UFC (only 2-1 overall). His lone victory before getting a crack at a much smaller Randy Couture came against Heath Herring who hasn’t fought since and was 4-4 in eight fights leading up to the bout. The former champ then had a very solid showing against Frank Mir before Carwin nearly did the job Velasquez finished a few months later. His resume is impressive but not impeccable by any stretch of the imagination.

He didn’t knock off a number of ranked peers to earn his contendership status to begin with and his current health crisis is going to stunt his development even more than it already has been based on age. As such, it’s not too hard to swallow the notion Lesnar’s standing is that of a talented competitor who is no longer a significant threat to the division’s elite and, as you’ve already guessed I’m sure, the situation in general makes this response a “buy” for me.

What fight from the recently announced Strikeforce Challengers 16 show are you most looking forward to?

Lambert: There are a lot of interesting match up for this upcoming Challengers event and it’s definitely the best “B-Show” the company has put on in awhile. As far as the fight I’m most looking forward to though, I’m going to go with Lorenz Larkin vs. Gian Villante in a light heavyweight showdown.

Larkin is an undefeated 24-year old prospect who looked very impressive in taking out Scott Lighty in his last bout. Eight of his ten victories have come by (T)KO and he’s not a guy who is afraid to stand and trade. Now while Villante is coming off a loss, his fight against Chad Griggs was awesome for the two and a half minutes it lasted and he’s another guy who is not afraid to stand and trade. Plus that fight was at heavyweight and Villante is much more suited for 205. Both guys are young, one wants to remain undefeated, the other wants to pick up a victory, and neither like going to decision. I think that fight will be nothing but fireworks.

Conlan: There’s no faulting the pick of Villante vs. Larkin, as I’m sure it will deliver fireworks and Larkin’s performance against Lighty was at least as memorable as his funky hairstyle that evening (which is saying a lot if you remember the pink design dyed into it).

However, I’m going to go with a battle between undefeated prospects in the form of Ryan Couture and Matt Ricehouse. I admittedly know very little about Ricehouse other than what his 4-0 record implies – a flawless 2010 with three finishing performances involving two TKOs and a one submission. Those qualities indicate to me he could pose more of a threat to Couture than most fans will give him credit for entering the bout based on name recognition alone. On the flipside, I’m interested in Couture’s continued development and was impressed by what I saw in February when he fought Lee Higgins. Ricehouse seems like he should be a good test and even if he wins it will introduce a new rising 155er to the scene since “Natural Light” is currently considered to be one of the brightest young stars on the horizon.

Do you like “Minotauro” Nogueira’s match-up with Brendan Schaub more/less than a potential rematch with Mirko Filipovic?

Lambert:Less. Much less. Honestly, I’m not really a big fan of Schaub. I don’t deny that he has talent but there’s just something about him that rubs me the wrong way and he’s not a guy that I get excited to watch fight, even though he’s never had an extremely boring fight or anything.

Ignoring Schaub for a second, I was looking forward to “Cro Cop” vs. “Big Nog” for a number of reasons. First, their first fight was great, and while I know a second fight wouldn’t live up to the first, it would be good to see the two legends battle once again. Second, I like the fight for Mirko because Nog doesn’t have KO power and it likely wouldn’t lead to Mirko falling awkwardly to end the fight. Third, and most importantly, Nog is coming off an extremely long layoff that included major surgery and there is no way he’s going to be 100% to his potential in this fight. I’m actually looking out for Schaub here because I don’t think a win over the version of Nogueira that we’re likely to see at UFC Rio is going to do much for him. At least we know that Mirko can’t compete at a high level anymore and if he beat Nogueira, it would just be a nice redemption story while a loss would just solidify that fact. A win for Schaub is still going to beg the question, “just how good is he?” while a loss will be a big set back for him. Plus the other two big fights at UFC Rio are rematches (Anderson Silva vs. Yushin Okami and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Forrest Griffin) so why not complete the hat trick?

Conlan: I personally like Schaub and not just because of his first name. He’s exciting to watch in the ring and seems like a solid person outside of it based on interviews/comments I’ve seen on his end, so I’m not sure what it is about him that Jeremy doesn’t like but I digress.

I’m also less enthusiastic about his scheduled fight with “Minotauro” than I would have been had Filipovic’s name been listed across from Nogueira’s on the card. Not only would I have loved to see “Cro Cop” in the cage one last time in such an iconic pairing but I think it would have made for a far more competitive match-up. Nogueira is coming off an extremely long layoff involving surgery and will undoubtedly have some level of ring-rust built up when he steps into the Octagon in Brazil. However, rather than give him an opportunity to re-acclimate himself to competition against Filipovic the UFC booked him to face someone like Schaub who has been on fire lately with four straight wins including three TKOs. It doesn’t make sense to me unless potentially putting on a tinfoil hat and calling it a UFC vs. PRIDE conspiracy where Zuffa brass is secretly hoping to build their own stars on the backs of MMA legends like Nogueira.

Has Jon Jones’ popularity taken a hit with you over the past week?

Conlan: Not in the least bit. My understanding is every medical professional he talked to until recently, including those provided by the UFC, told him surgery was the only option to correct a lingering hand issue related to one of his thumbs. He’s since been given an out by one doctor and decided to take it in hopes of returning to the cage sooner than originally expected. It’s not as if he is 100% healthy – he’s just going to wait until after his career if possible to go under the knife. If there’s more to the story, fine, but based on what has been made public I fail to see how that behavior can be seen at all in a negative light.

I also don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing for Rashad Evans to fight Phil Davis at UFC 133 rather than getting a crack at Jones’ belt after sitting out for more than a year. He earned his title-fight with a pair of decisions, both of which left a lot to be desired from a performance standpoint, then decided to wait for “Shogun” Rua to recover from surgery and was unfortunately injured while training for the already overdue shot once it came around. He isn’t the first fighter to see a golden opportunity go down the drain and likely won’t be the last.

The difference is that he chose to let time determine his fate rather than his fists. I refuse to feel bad for “Sugar” ‘Shad when considering Anthony Pettis and Junior dos Santos who opted for competition rather than complacency where a championship was concerned. Had Evans fought in the interim between beating Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Rua’s return to the ring, even with his knee injury and Jones’ ascension to the 205-pound throne, the thought of him waiting a few more months until “Bones” was healthy would have been tolerable. Now it’s not because of how long he’s been out of action. His situation is a byproduct of his decisions, not because Jones had to back out of their budding rivalry when he thought having his hand sliced open was the only path in front of him.

Lambert: A little bit. I have mixed feelings towards Jones in the first place because he’s always described as “humble” but I think we can all agree that that’s not the case. I just wish he would drop the whole “humble” act and embrace the fact that he’s extremely cocky but also extremely talented.

Here’s my problem with Jones’ behavior in the recent week: he continues to trash talk and bad mouth Evans but won’t fight him. I don’t care that Jones wants to hold off and let his hand heal up before returning to action, that’s his choice, but don’t continue to go back and forth on twitter with a guy who you may never fight if Davis beats Evans, Jones remains champion, and Evans never works his way back to the title. I don’t blame Evans for being upset and trying to engage Jones in a war of words (although I do agree with Bren that Rashad brought a lot of this upon himself by not taking any fights since UFC 114) because he has every right to be upset given their rivalry and the current situation. But Jones should just ignore him, tell him to focus on Davis, and resume the trash talk if Evans and Jones ever comes to fruition.

Do you believe that Quinton Jackson will retire at the age of 35?

Conlan: “Rampage” turns 33 in less than a month so 35 seems plausible. It would give him time to make another run at the title and/or further solidify his finances with a number of marquee match-ups while also freeing him up to further explore Hollywood at a young-enough age to have a legitimate shot at stardom. “A-Team” was an entertaining movie and Jackson showed a lot of potential where future roles are concerned. He’ll never be mistaken for Denzel Washington on the acting front but he is naturally funny, understands comedy, is physically intimidating, and has a memorable look/face. All those things bode well for a film career, especially given his success as a fighter, so I see no reason for Jackson to keep competing any longer than he has to. It’s not as if he loves to train or needs to prove anything to the world – he fights to get paid, nothing more and nothing less. If he can make adequate money outside of the cage, why wait until he is the elder Couture’s age to make the same transition into the film world?

Lambert: Would it be wrong of me to say that he’s already retired based on his comments heading into his fight against Hamill?

I think he may retire when he’s 35 but I have a hard time believing that he’ll stay retired. While Jackson may have Hollywood aspirations, how realistic are they? I agree with everything Bren said about his presence but lets not forget that, as of this writing, there are absolutely no talks to do an “A-Team” sequel and for the love of God they do a sequel for every movie in the world nowadays. I’m just not sure how much of a future Jackson has on the silver screen beyond playing, “Generic Bouncer Guy with a couple of funny lines.” If he’s content with that, then more power to him but the guy is a natural fighter. Plus I just have a hard time believing that anyone in MMA every truly retires unless they’re just too old to compete and 35 is not too old to compete.

What percentage do you give Michael Chandler to beat Eddie Alvarez?

Conlan: Alvarez will deservedly be the favorite in their fight but I can’t count Chandler completely out. I’ll go with 35% because both of Alvarez’s losses have come to grapplers and the former All-American is fantastic on the ground. Pat Curran went twenty-five hard minutes in his recent fight against the Bellator lightweight champ and he isn’t nearly the wrestler Chandler is, so I can see the undefeated Season 4 Finalist using his ground-skills to his advantage and trying to win Alvarez’s belt in as ugly a fashion as necessary if things go bad while standing (which is likely). He has very little quit in him as was evident in refusing to tap against Marcin Held while in a deep kneebar attempt at Bellator 36, and is also the type of fighter who goes for a finish rather than playing it safe even though he could easily blanket his way to victory more often than not if he wanted to. His style and skills pose a lot of threats for any opponent and Alvarez is no different in that regard – he just happens to be better equipped from an ability standpoint to handle someone like Chandler than your average Mixed Martial Artist.

Lambert: 35% sounds very reasonable. In an effort to not completely agree with you, I’ll go with 36%, which I realize is just as annoying as those people on the Price is Right who goes $1.00 above the previous highest bid.

I like what I saw from Chandler in his Bellator Season 4 run and he definitely has the skills to give Alvarez his biggest challenge in Bellator to date. Alvarez has solid takedown defense but it’s not world-class and he’s never faced a wrestler on the level of Chandler. Alvarez is on another level when it comes to the striking game but Chandler isn’t a terrible striker and I think he’ll improve with the time off. I actually think a five-round fight benefits Chandler as well because wrestlers just know how to fight through pain and fatigue and they don’t mentally break. All that said, I can’t go against Alvarez at this point in his career against a guy who has faced good but not world-class competition like Chandler. I just feel that Alvarez is more well-rounded and he’s been there before, which is why I have to favor him.


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