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Grappling with Issues – 8/3/11

Is Yoshihiro Akiyama in a “must win” situation at UFC 133? Did Herb Dean make the right call in stopping Fedor Emelianenko vs. Dan Henderson? How much credit can Miesha Tate be given in comparison to her division’s depth? Will the UFC sign Alistair Overeem before Henderson or Emelianenko?

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.

Was Miesha Tate’s win over Marloes Coenen more indicative of her talent or of a relatively thin division?

Lambert: Definitely talent. Even though the women’s bantamweight division is really a three braid race, Tate is an obviously talented fighter. Heading into the fight, I believed that Coenen was the most talented fighter in all of women’s MMA because of her technical striking ability and submissions, and while she’s still a great fighter, Tate showed that strong wrestling and a great top game goes a long way.

This division reminds me a lot of the WEC lightweight division when Jamie Varner, Ben Henderson, and Donald Cerrone seemed to fight each other on every card. Coenen and Tate, along with Sarah Kaufman, are the class of the division and they’ll probably spend the next year or so continuing to fight each other. It doesn’t mean the division is thin though, it just goes to show just how talented those three ladies are compared to everyone else. Unfortunately for them, there is no “higher level” of competition for them to jump to like the WEC threesome had.

Conlan: In terms of the win there’s no question Tate’s talent brought home the title. However, a division where there are only a handful of fighters available for competitive match-ups isn’t one I’d dive head-first into when it comes to singing praises, only dip my toes in. There are less than ten 135-pound females listed on Strikeforce’s website and even the most knowledgeable fan would have a hard time naming 5-10 others outside of the promotion. Parity brings clarity, and in the case of women’s bantamweights there aren’t enough around to provide the true test the sport needs to sort out the absolute best versus all the rest.

More at risk of being cut with a loss at UFC 133 – Yoshihiro Akiyama or Mike Brown?

Lambert: I think if either man loses, they’ll probably be cut but since I favor Brown to beat Nam Phan while I see Vitor Belfort beating Akiyama, I have to go with Akiyama. Never mind the fact that a loss would be Akiyama’s third straight, what it really comes down to is money. Akiyama is making $45,000 to show, which is a lot for a guy who can’t headline a PPV and isn’t a proven draw. Now Brown is making a lot of his status as well ($23,000 to show) but according to my sources, 45,000 is more than 23,000 and at least Brown’s money was justified at the time considering that he’s actually won a major title, unlike the man from Japan.

Conlan: I’ve spoken to Brown a few times and think very highly of him. That being said (yes, the kiss of death statement), if he loses this weekend I can absolutely see him released from the roster in comparison to the likelihood of Akiyama getting axed. Brown is a former featherweight champ and had competitive decision showings against two of his division’s best, including one on short notice and another while suffering from fatigue, but he’s not the same commodity Akiyama is. If both were given “free agent” status tomorrow Brown would be in Bellator’s next 145-pound tournament while the 13-3 Judoka would be fighting towards the top of a card in front of 10,000+ Japanese fans with a concert the next weekend, a magazine spread the following, and maybe a “Faces of Sexyama” calendar in spring to boot. The Asian market is one the UFC desperately wants to crack into and as long as he keeps putting on entertaining fights there’s no reason to shed him from the roster. $45,000 in salary is nothing compared to the marketing value he brings in the right situations.

Other than the main event, what fight at UFC 133 are you most looking forward to?

Lambert: I have to say, this whole card is pretty underwhelming. However, I am moderately excited for Rory MacDonald vs. Mike Pyle because MacDonald has all the tools to be a future champion while Pyle is a tough veteran and a strong test for the Canadian at this point in his career. A win over Pyle might not seem like a big deal to a lot of fans but Pyle is no joke in the grappling department and if MacDonald can survive 15 minutes with him, it’ll show that he’s the real deal. Lets not forget that everyone was ready to crown John Hathaway as the “next big thing at welterweight” before Pyle schooled him for three rounds. The same thing could easily happen on Saturday if MacDonald isn’t on his game.

Conlan: I would have gone with Pyle vs. MacDonald too but since Lambert decided to read my mind I’ll pick Brian Ebersole vs. Dennis Hallman. Though Chris Lytle was on a gimpy leg when he fought Ebersole at UFC 127 it was still an extremely entertaining fight both in part to the master manscaper’s ability and showmanship. He’s won twelve of his last thirteen fights including eight straight. On the other hand, Hallman is a veteran who made his UFC debut more than a decade ago and hasn’t stopped winning since. He’s 50-13-2 with 39 submissions and is coming off back-to-back victories over Ben Saunders and Karo Parisyan. It’s not only an intriguing pairing but one ripe with storylines.

Who will we see in the UFC first: Dan Henderson, Fedor Emelianenko, or Alistair Overeem?

Conlan: Overeem, as he has the fewest hang-ups involved and the UFC needs all the “name” heavyweights they can get. Emelianenko comes with M-1 Global attached at his hip and requirements for a huge payday, plus he’s on a three-fight skid so it’s not as though fans are as hungry to see him fight in 2011 as they were when he nearly signed with the organization a few years back. Henderson, on the other hand, would be a great fit but was passed over when his previous UFC contract expired based on salary demands, has an additional issue to work out in regards to Clinch Gear’s promotional ban, and would enter the promotion with a relative log-jam at the top of the 205-pound division.

On the other hand, Overeem is a free agent for health-related reasons more than anything and has been rumored for a stint in the Octagon for quite some time. He would add instant credibility to a weight-class that doesn’t have a clear-cut contender other than Junior dos Santos and inject some excitement into it as well from a fan’s perspective.

Lambert: I’m going with Henderson. I think Zuffa has something against the Golden Glory camp and the way they do business, namely taking on fights in other promotions when they have contracts with bigger promotions. I think that, more than Overeem’s injuries, had more to do with his removal from Strikeforce. If he had not taken a fight in Holland in October and just bided his time until Zuffa called, he would still be employed.

There are the obvious hold ups with Fedor. He’ll have to be willing to take a huge pay cut and even if he is willing, there’s still the M-1 co-promotion snag. UFC isn’t going to put up M-1 Global banners all of the arena or have Bruce Buffer shill M-1 during breaks between fights. If Fedor’s management is willing to just take a regular UFC contract, like almost everyone else has, maybe he’ll get signed but I don’t think they’re willing to balk on the co-promotion angle.

That just leaves Henderson. At nearly 41, I think it’s safe to say that he doesn’t have much time left in his career. So because of that, I think “Hendo” just wants big fights and he’s only going to get big fights in the UFC. He can say that he wants to defend the Strikeforce 205 title but do you really think he wants to defend the belt against Roger Gracie instead of fighting Lyoto Machida, even if it means taking less money? Henderson knows how valuable he is right now and he’s going to be looking to ride that momentum onto bigger things.

Who do you favor in the rematch between Tarec Saffiedine vs. Tyron Woodley?

Conlan: My money is still on Woodley since they aren’t too far removed from their original fight and I don’t see Saffiedine doing anything vastly different if/when they meet again. Woodley is not necessarily the most exciting fighter to watch but his wrestling is a dangerous weapon and not one I’m confident in Saffiedine stopping. If “T-Wood” could survive Paul Daley’s striking and improved grappling defense then I have little doubt he can come away with the same result against the 24-year old Belgian.

Lambert: Saffiedine all the way. I’m extremely high on this kid and I think with good reason. In the first fight against Woodley, I thought he actually had the more impressive performance, he was just a victim of how the judging system works. Here’s my biggest factor though: 25 minutes. Woodley’s gas tank is extremely suspect. He gases in the second round of almost every fight because he wastes so much energy going for takedowns. If he’s done after 10 minutes, there’s no way he’s surviving another 15 minutes against a very well-rounded Saffiedine. And trust me, Saffiedine is going to make Woodley work for those takedowns, even more so than he did in their first contest.

Herb Dean’s stoppage in the Fedor vs. Henderson fight was _____________.

Conlan: Disappointing, though not because it was the wrong call per say. Emelianenko definitely appeared to be done at the point Dean called for the fight’s end and that’s from the perspective of a person watching on TV as opposed to inches away from the action like a referee. Rather, the stoppage was disappointing because the bout was incredibly entertaining up until that point and it was unfortunate to see Emelianenko pounded out in the first round. The selfish fan in me wanted more, hence my choice of words.

Lambert: Safe. Herb was protecting Fedor. I’d much rather see a fight stopped early than stopped late, and on first glance, it actually looked late because Fedor went out cold and was woken up by more punches from Henderson, and after being awake, then he started to roll and try to defend. I know people want to say, “Oh he’s Fedor, look at his history of comebacks, you have to give him more time” and that’s a fair point to fans but referees can’t be thinking about that. Their job is to protect the fighter, no matter who it is, and that’s what Herb was doing.


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