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Grappling with Issues – 7/13/11

What would you do if attempting to book bouts for B.J. Penn, Carlos Condit, and Jon Fitch? Do you see Ben Saunders winning the Bellator Season 5 Welterweight Tournament? Should Bobby Lashley be considered an underdog to Eddie Sanchez at Titan FC 19? What scheduled match-up in the second half of 2011 gives you goosebumps?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!

Welcome to Grappling with Issues, our site’s regular weekly feature highlighting 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.

More likely to make a return to the UFC – John Howard or Andre Winner?

Lambert: I’m going to say Winner because UFC is going to run a show in England sooner or later and when they do, they’ll call upon Winner to help fill out the card. Both guys lost to talented fighters but Howard has the worst loss of the bunch (to Matt Brown) and he should have had an extra loss if not for a very questionable stand up against Dennis Hallman. Both guys need to improve a lot if they’re going to be taken serious in the UFC though.

Conlan: Excellent point by Lambert in regards to Winner’s value in the U.K. as his nationality alone could indeed solidify a second shot in the UFC assuming Zuffa heads back overseas next year.

However, as far as my selection I think “Doomsday” has a slight edge because of his fan-friendly style and relative success in the Octagon. Howard has a fearless approach to fighting, knockout power, and genuine street-based swagger. All three of those qualities are easy to sell to the public and make for a marketable match-up no matter who he faces. In fact, he still has a personal score to settle with Anthony Johnson so the UFC already has a fight worth making if Howard can get back on track outside of the organization. Also working the 28-year old’s favor is a 4-3 record in the UFC, a modest mark to be sure but clearly better than Winner’s 2-4 career showing in the promotion. While I’m not necessarily confident either will actually make it back to the big stage, Howard is definitely the favorite to do so as far as I’m concerned because of who he is as a fighter rather than his popularity in a particular region.

TRUE/FALSE – Bobby Lashley be considered a favorite against Eddie Sanchez at Titan FC 19.

Lambert: FALSE. It should probably be a pick em but I wouldn’t have a problem if Sanchez was the favorite. Unless of course we’re talking about Vegas odds, in which case Lashley being the favorite makes sense. Seriously though, what has Lashley done to prove that he should be favored? He’s struggled against favorable match ups and Sanchez, who might not be a great fighter but has been in the UFC and won there, is on paper his toughest opponent. Lashley just hasn’t proven to me that he’s 100% committed to fighting, i.e. first mistake any fighter can make.

Conlan: My first inclination was to say FALSE but after giving it some thought I actually think Lashley should be a slim favorite in their fight. His conditioning is unquestionably suspect but it also appears to be his one major flaw, and I’m not sure Sanchez’s fitness is good enough to push the pace without suffering from the grind himself. I also think Lashley’s wrestling in coordination with his strength could be more than Sanchez can handle from a takedown standpoint. He’s also been knocked out a few times in his career, including a recent flooring by Neil Grove, plus the 12-5 UFC veteran is coming off back-to-back defeats so from that standpoint alone he appears to be in for an uphill climb. I am in no way saying Lashley is a lock to win, because I can absolutely see Sanchez pulling off an “upset” based on his striking and experience, but in terms of pure odds I think the former WWE superstar is slightly more likely to win than his apt opponent when they lock up at the event.

Who is your early pick to win the Bellator Season 5 Welterweight Tournament?

Lambert: I wanted to pick (Ben) Saunders but then saw he got a very unfavorable first round match up against Rick Hawn. It’s a pretty wide open field but I think that the winner of Saunders vs. Hawn will end up winning the entire tournament because having such a tough first round fight will better prepare them for the rest of the tournament. I’ll end up going with Hawn to win the whole thing though because I think he’ll get by Saunders with his Judo and against the rest of the field he’ll be able to dictate where the fight takes place.

Conlan: On the flipside, couldn’t an all-out battle between Hawn and Saunders make a semi-final fight a month later that much tougher? Food for thought I suppose.

My pick right now is Brent Weedman based on his showing in the Season 4 tournament including an outright robbery by the judges against eventual finalist Jay Hieron at Bellator 40. He’s young, so I suspect he will have improved in the six months since his last fight, and he’s a born finisher with seventeen stoppages in eighteen career victories. Meanwhile, he’s only had his night ended twice in twenty-four total fights – once was due to a cut, the other a 2006 submission to Dan Hornbuckle he avenged earlier this year.

His quarterfinal opponent is no slouch by any means, as Chris Lozano has yet to see the scorecards in his career and picked up a pair of first round wins since fans last saw him at Bellator 35. However, it seems he’s reliant purely on stand-up and I think Weedman will be able to deal with Lozano’s power while finding a way to win in the end based on toughness and a well-rounded arsenal at his disposal.

Play Joe Silva. You have Carlos Condit, Jon Fitch, and B.J. Penn. How would you book them?

Conlan: Though Penn and Condit have already been linked to a likely match-up this October, were I in Silva’s shoes I would replace the fan-favorite with Fitch since the bout could easily determine a legitimate #1 contender to the welterweight strap given both fighters’ recent accomplishments. Fitch has gone 5-0-1 in his last six scraps while Condit has won four straight, yet Penn is 1-3-1 in his last five fights at welterweight wouldn’t be deserving of a title-shot even with a win over Condit.

As far as the former double-divisional champion goes, I’d put Penn in the Octagon against a ranked peer with solid name value like Josh Koscheck, Jake Shields, or Thiago Alves since there’s no reason for Baby Jay to take on up-and-comers like “Rumble” Johnson or Rick Story. Out of the bunch, “Kos” would be my first pick based on his friendship with Fitch (who Penn sincerely wants to fight again), his ability to serve as a “villain” against the popular Hawaiian, and the fact the curly-coiffed competitor’s last in-ring appearance came in a title-fight against GSP after a successful run leading up to the eventual loss.

Lambert: Well Bren not only played Silva, he played Jeremy Lambert as well because I agree with his decisions.

Unfortunately it looks like UFC is leaning towards Condit vs. Penn, which leaves Fitch twiddling his thumbs. I can’t tell you how much I dislike the Condit vs. Penn fight, even though I concede that it will no doubt by a very exciting fight. The problem with it is that if Penn wins, unless Nick Diaz beats St. Pierre, there’s no way they can do Penn vs. GSP 3 after the drubbing the Canadian laid on the Hawaiian at UFC 94 and I’m not sure Penn has done enough since that fight (4-2-1 if I were to include a win over Condit) to earn another fight. Condit vs. Fitch would be a true #1 contenders fight. Condit is a fresh match up for GSP while Fitch would be 6-0-1 (again, including a win over Condit) since losing to the welterweight king at UFC 87.

Penn vs. Koscheck is also the other fight I’d make, although based on his Twitter feed, Koscheck wants to move up to 185 for a fight. If he could get a bout against “The Prodigy” though, I’m sure he would just scrap (see what I did there?) those plans.

Which fight are you most looking forward to in the second half of 2011?

Conlan: Since it’s the first bout that popped into my head I have to go with St. Pierre’s October “superfight” with Diaz at UFC 137. Less than a year ago the possibility of Diaz and GSP facing off in 2011, if ever, seemed unlikely, yet here we are a few months away from seeing the match-up actually take place. Adding to my excitement is the situation in general, as it’s extremely rare to see two dominant champions duel in the primes of their careers (though technically Diaz vacated his Strikeforce title to face St. Pierre). This is not simply a championship fight – it is history in the making.

Lambert: Even though there’s no official date for the fight, I’m beyond pumped for Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos. I’ve been a huge Velasquez fan ever since he entered the UFC and JDS has been on a tear since entering the octagon himself. This fight is just so intriguing because of all the “x factors.” How will Cain respond after the layoff? Will Santos’ takedown defense finally get tested? Will Cain be able to survive the hands of Santos early and have the cardio to take over late? How is Cain’s chin? How does Santos react when things aren’t going his way? ect…. This is a fight between unquestionably the best two heavyweights in the world and I can’t wait to see them throw down.

With MMA going through a dead period right now, how have you spent your weekends?

Conlan: My knitting has improved significantly, leading to one of the finest scarves in American history, while the extra free time has resulted in a restraining order from my family based on all the additional hours I have to spend with them.

But seriously, though the UFC/Strikeforce/Bellator may be taking short breaks, the sport of Mixed Martial Arts surely isn’t. Last Friday night there was a very entertaining M-1 Global event on Showtime, while this weekend you have Shark Fights 17 and a DREAM event to choose from. If anything the “dead period” has allowed me to pay attention to some of the smaller shows out there rather than having them washed out by the Zuffa spotlight.

Lambert What few people know about Bren is that he’s a man who is constantly working and doesn’t really have downtime. I, on the other hand, have plenty of downtime with no major shows because, even though I watch every MMA event that crosses my television, I don’t write extensive previews and reviews of the smaller shows, leaving me more free time during the week.

So I’ve spent my time watching boxing and reading. I’m not a huge boxing fan but the Brandon Rios vs. Urbano Antillion was highly entertaining as both guys just stood in front of each other and punched away and the Paul Williams vs. Erislandy Lara showed that bad judging also applies to boxing. And on the reading front, I’m in the middle of The War for Late Night about Jay Leno screwing over Conan O’Brien, which is a fun read. That said, I can’t wait for MMA to really pick up again on July 30th with Dan Henderson vs. Fedor Emelianenko.


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