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Grappling with Issues – 7/20/11

How likely is it Tito Ortiz will shock the world once again at UFC 133 when he faces Rashad Evans? What’s up with all the recent injuries in the UFC? Is Gray Maynard more likely to become champion at UFC 136 than Ken Florian? Who do you see moving on to the Bellator “Summer Series” Featherweight Tournament finals?

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.

Of the numerous UFC bouts announced over the past week, what particular match-up are you most looking forward to?

Lambert: With the way guys are getting injured, it’s tough to get excited about any fight right now because chances are they’ll end up getting changed. As it stands though, I’m pretty excited for Anthony Pettis vs. Jeremy Stephens. “Showtime” had a better than given credit for performance against Clay Guida and against “Lil Heathen” he won’t be constantly put on his back because that’s not Stephens’ game. Both guys will come to strike, with Stephens having that one punch power and Pettis having his diversity and creativity. It’s also a big fight for Pettis, who needs to prove that he can hang with the guys in the UFC lightweight division and live up to the expectations many set for him after his WEC run.

Conlan: Pettis vs. Stephens is definitely a great selection as they are sure to entertain once the cage door closes. I think it’s fair to say the same is true of my pick, Sam Stout vs. Dennis Siver (and not just because we broke news of it here at Five Ounces). Both lightweights are known for their stand-up meaning fans should be in for a treat at UFC 137 given their preferred style of attack, plus they’ve been on a tear as of late so more is on the line than simply a win/loss. If Siver walks away with what would be his ninth victory in ten fights then he’s arguably on the cusp of contendership, while Stout has had his hands raised in back-to-back bouts and four of his last five meaning success against Siver would likely thrust him into bigger money match-ups with the division’s top names.

More likely to exit UFC 136 as a new champion – Gray Maynard or Ken Florian?

Lambert: I have to go with Maynard here. Not only does he already have a victory over Frankie Edgar (granted Edgar has improved a lot since that fight, but there’s still the mental aspect) but if a Jersey Shore hating referee was in the cage during the UFC 125, Maynard could be the champion right now. Even though I still favor Edgar, at least Maynard has proven that he can beat him.

I don’t have anything against Florian, and he is an intriguing match up for Jose Aldo, but Aldo is a monster at 145 and I don’t think Florian has the tools to beat him. Aldo is just so well-rounded, so quick, and so strong, that Florian is going to have trouble no matter where the fight ends up.

Conlan: I agree for essentially the same reasons Lambert listed. Maynard has beaten Edgar and took him to the brink of defeat early on in their rematch at UFC 125. He’s already shown he can accomplish the task at hand, while the featherweight title-fight has a bit more mystery to it making it a riskier choice.

However, my opinion parts from my peer’s as far as saying Florian doesn’t have the arsenal to take out Aldo. “Ken-Flo” has finished a number of tough lightweights with striking at their core such as Stout, Takanori Gomi, and Roger Huerta, plus other apt adversaries like Joe Lauzon and Clay Guida who possess solid ground-games. To think he might be able to handle Aldo, a smaller fighter, is not far fetched at all. It’s just not quite as easy to commit to because history has already shown Maynard’s ability to outperform Edgar.

What percentage would you assign Tito Ortiz’s chances of beating Rashad Evans at UFC 133?

Lambert: 25%. My worry with “Suga” is that he hasn’t fought in over a year and is coming off shoulder surgery. Of course Ortiz sort of cancels that out because he just fought a few weeks ago, and even though he didn’t suffer any damage, his body may not have time to peak again. All things being equal, Rashad is the better fighter. To Tito’s credit, he’s always competitive in his fights, and he beat Rashad the first time around if not for grabbing the fence, but that was a long time ago. Rashad has improved a ton since that fight while Ortiz might be better, but he’s also older and has had multiple surgeries since then.

Conlan: Some would argue Evans would have beaten Ortiz had “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” been taken down instead of preventing the move by illegally grabbing the cage but I digress since there’s no way to actually know how things would’ve unfolded.

I’ll go with 33%. Tito’s win over Ryan Bader was impressive but should also be viewed as an isolated incident until he strings together more victories. Let’s not forget he was 0-4-1 in the five fights preceding UFC 132 and has been in the Octagon fewer times than “Sugar” ‘Shad since they fought the first time. Evans is faster, more powerful, and a better overall grappler than Ortiz so he should definitely get the win next month, but Ortiz is not a pushover and seems to be in a really good place both mentally and physically right now so he at least has a respectable chance of pulling off a second straight upset.

Who do you have meeting in the Bellator Summer Series Featherweight finals?

Conlan: Not a stretch per say, but I see Marlon Sandro and Pat Curran moving on to next month’s showdown in the finals though I wouldn’t go as far as to say either is a lock to win this weekend based on their opponents’ abilities. In fact, I think both match-ups are about as close to coin-flips as you’ll find.

As far as Sandro, I believe he has the submission defense and grappling to fend off Nazareno Malegarie’s attacks and is good enough to control things regardless of the position more often than not. While he wasn’t that impressive in the quarterfinal round, his striking/power is slightly superior to Malegarie’s and could very well make the moderate difference needed to take home a decision.

Though Ronnie Mann is “da man”, Curran dominated who I felt was the hardest draw in the tournament’s opening round (Luis Palamino), has beaten some of tough lightweights, and went five full rounds against one of the best 155ers in the world (Eddie Alvarez). I think he’ll be able to fend off anything Mann throws at him on and eventually do enough damage to merit a strike-based stoppage at some point after the first frame.

Lambert: Tough to argue against Bren’s picks or reasoning. I do agree with him that both fights are very close and really could go either way.

Like Bren, I like Sandro against Malegarie. Even though the former Sengoku champ didn’t have a great first round performance, I blame that more on his opponent, who was content on just backing up the whole fight and not really engaging. Plus, like many fighters who spend the majority of their careers in Japan, Sandro predictably had a tough time adjusting. Now that he’s got the first fight under his belt, I expect a much better showing. I think Sandro will be able to keep the fight on the feet and pick Malegarie about.

As for Curran vs. Mann, I’d really love to pick Mann in an upset, and if he’s able to keep the fight on the feet and use his speed, he has a chance to win but Curran is a big featherweight with heavy hands. The key factor is that Curran is a wrestler and Mann is British, and nine out of ten times, that battle favors the wrestler.

Pick a winner: Sarah Kaufman vs. Liz Carmouche

Conlan: Carmouche. She’s as fit a fighter as you’ll find in the division and should be able to outmuscle Kaufman on the mat. “Girl-Rilla” has also dominated her fights for the most part including a March match-up against divisional title-holder Marloes Coenen where she crushed the champ for three rounds before eventually getting caught in a Triangle Choke a little over a minute into the fourth. There’s no question Kaufman is extremely talented and could win on Friday night but I was asked to pick and thus I have.

Lambert: Just so this edition of GWI doesn’t turn into a lovefest that rivals LeRoy and Mike from “Real World: Las Vegas”, I’ll go with Kaufman. Even though Carmouche is a monster, lets not forget that Kaufman was being heralded as the next great female fighter before losing to Coenen and I’m not ready to write her off just yet. Kaufman boxing is so technical and her takedown defense is very sound, that I think she’ll be able to keep the fight standing and box up Carmouche on the feet.

If you could blame all the recent injuries on one thing, what would it be?

Conlan: A combination of bad luck and the ever-increasing profile of the UFC. It may seem as though the organization has been forced to dramatically reshuffle every card but I think that’s more perception than reality. Yes, UFC 133 took an inordinate number of hits on the injury front but it is one event, not a never-ending string of shows.

Beyond that, fighters make a lot more money now than they were a few years ago so a higher number can afford to take time off rather than rush back to the ring while still suffering from an undisclosed injury. That means there’s also more to be lost in future earnings. If a mid-tier Mixed Martial Artist is a few wins away from a new contract, why wouldn’t he hold off for an extra month or two to heal up instead of increasing the risk of defeat by competing at 75% when the difference could be in the six-figure range annually?

Another thing worth considering is the notion the UFC now has a ton of options to replace injured fighters so said individuals may feel less pressure from their bosses to tough it out rather than withdraw when necessary. After all, Phil Davis said he still wanted to fight Evans next month but was discouraged to do so by Dana White.

Lambert: I think the obvious answer is UFC’s new health insurance plan. Before, the prelim guys were more likely to take a fight injured because they had bills to pay and could claim they were injured during the fight, which meant UFC had to cover the injury. Now that all these guys are covered though, they can pull out of a fight, not risk losing, and still have their injury covered.

While that might be the obvious answer though, I’m going to go with a less obvious answer. I think more advanced training camps are leading to a lot of injuries. Guys are training harder than ever nowadays because, if you want to improve in this sport, you have to train hard and train often. With fighters working out so often and training hard against other top fighters, things like injuries are just bound to happen. You know why Fedor has never been injured or had to pull out of a fight? Because he trains with middleweights in Russia and not monsters in America. Alright, so I’m only half kidding with the Fedor Emelianenko thing, but my original point still stands.


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