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Grappling with Issues – 8/24/11

What will it take for Yushin Okami to legitimately beat Anderson Silva? Will Mauricio Rua even the score with Forrest Griffin at UFC Rio? Do you see Pat Curran ever challenging for the UFC‘s featherweight title? Is Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira‘s stance on training with gay fighters an issue fans should be concerned about?

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.

With the “Summer Series” in his rear-view mirror, how far do you see Pat Curran going as a featherweight?

Lambert: I see him challenging for the Bellator featherweight title in the future.

Alright, with my snarky answer out the of the way, I actually think he’ll fight again before he challenges for the belt because if he decides to wait for the winner of Joe Warren vs. ‘Pitbull’ Freire, he’s going to sit out the entire fall and part of the winter. Given Curran’s age and his clear desire to fight (he’s fought 7 times in 16 months in Bellator), I’m just not sure he’ll sit out the entire portion of Bellator Season 5. When it comes to challenging for the 145 title, I’d favor him against Warren but not against ‘Pitbull’. Even if he doesn’t win the belt though, he’s only 23 (He’ll be 24 in a week), so there’s plenty of time for him to improve and grow as a fighter. By the time he’s 26, he’ll be in the UFC.

Conlan: I see him challenging for a UFC title in the next three years unless Bellator’s contractual hold is that strong. Though I have no idea how many fights he’s still obligated to Bjorn Rebney and crew for, there’s little doubt in my mind Curran is a special talent after watching him cruise through the “Summer Series” while racking up wins over three widely respected opponents. He also holds a victory over Roger Huerta and looked better than Gray Maynard did doing it, plus he went twenty-five hard minutes against Eddie Alvarez who is a “Top 5” lightweight. The sky seems to be the limit for Curran, whose cousin and training partner Jeff Curran has ties to Zuffa, and given that the UFC is still trying to strengthen their 145-pound group I can’t see them passing up on any opportunities to sign the young rising star.

What was your reaction to “Minotauro” Nogueira’s recent statements regarding an aversion to training with homosexuals?

Lambert: Honestly, I didn’t really give them a second thought. I read them, said, “Well, that’s his choice,” and went back to listening to my Taylor Swift CD. A couple of days later, that’s still my stance. It’s his choice. He said he wouldn’t mind having a gay student at his academy but would rather not roll with them. Fine. I don’t think it makes Nogueira a homophobe and I didn’t take the comment as a gay slur or anything. I just look at it as a decision that Nogueira has made.

Conlan: I think his stance is fairly ignorant, but I respect the fact he was willing to speak his mind on the subject, and I’m pretty certain a lot of other fighters feel the same way but are afraid to say it out of fear of the public criticism it would undoubtedly elicit. He also made it clear he felt the same way in regards to grappling with females so I agree with Lambert in the sense that Nogueira isn’t homophobic – he’s just not enlightened.

Other than the big three at the top of the card, what bout at UFC Rio are you most looking forward to?

Lambert: I was working on my preview column for this event and when going through the fights, I realized that this card as a whole isn’t all that special. It’s a lot of Brazilians and most of them seem to be making their UFC debut. It could turn out to be great, and I actually think it will turn out to be great, but on paper I can’t say I’m pumped for anything on the Facebook card and even the Spike TV/undercard leaves something to be desired.

That being said, I’m pretty excited for Dan Miller vs. Rousimar Palhares. I know Miller is on a slide, but I’ve always been a fan of his because he’s a guy that just comes to fight. He’s not flashy, he’s not great at anything, but you know that he’ll stay in your face and won’t go away once the bell rings. Then there’s Palhares, who is one of the best submission grapplers in the sport. Palhares is still looking for that big UFC win, and finishing Miller would be huge, while Miller just needs to win.

Conlan: I think Edson Barboza vs. Ross Pearson has the makings of a terrific fight. Both lightweights are in their mid-twenties, love to strike, and have finished the bulk of the opponents they’ve beaten. Barboza is also undefeated, while Pearson is an Ultimate Fighter winner, so both of those outside factors add another layer of intrigue to the pairing.

What fight would you have headline the first UFC on FOX event?

Conlan: Obviously a lot of it will come down to who is healthy/available, but I’d love to see Vitor Belfort at the top of the card as a tribute to his presence on the UFC’s original offering on a FOX network. For those who don’t remember, “The Phenom” was featured in a headlining bout against Chuck Liddell at UFC 37.5 – a card tied in heavily with “The Best Damn Sports Show Period” on FoxSports. Possible opponents for Belfort could include the loser of this weekend’s match-up between Anderson Silva and Yushin Okami, Wanderlei Silva, or even Tim Kennedy (who is attached to Strikeforce but has publicly lobbied for a shot in the UFC on more than one occasion in the recent past).

Lambert: As my dozens (and dozens) Twitter followers can attest to, I’ve been pushing hard for a Lyoto Machida vs. Dan Henderson and Clay Guida vs. Ben Henderson two fight FOX card. Lorenzo Fertitta stated that, even if there aren’t title fights on the FOX events, the will be very important to the divisions. With the exception of title fights, it doesn’t get anymore important than a #1 contender fight. With my Machida vs. Hendo and Guida vs. Bendo idea, we’d get two #1 contender fights, a chance for 2 new stars to be made in front of millions, and both have the potential to be pretty exciting contests. Let’s make it happen UFC. Hendo/Machida and Bendo/Guida. This discussion is Endo/See ya.

Will “Shogun” Rua avenge his loss to Forrest Griffin this Saturday?

Conlan: I’m not sure I can make a definitive pick until I see which Rua shows up on the scale later this week. When he’s able to put in a full, injury-free camp the explosive Brazilian has been nearly unbeatable. However, the opposite seems to be true in instances where health-related factors have gotten in the way of his training (i.e. the first Griffin fight, his lackluster performance against Mark Coleman, and his title-loss to Jon Jones). If Rua looks fit on Friday then I think the answer to the question is “yes”. If not, I expect Griffin to win his third straight bout and leave the MMA world wondering if “Shogun” – who is only 29– will ever return to the form earning him the distinction of one of MMA’s best light heavyweights.

Lambert: As Bren said, it’s really tough to get a read of Rua nowadays because of his knees. That said, I get paid the big bucks to make picks around here, so I’m going to say that “Shogun” will not avenge his loss to Griffin. The reason is pretty simple: I can’t count on Rua. When he’s on his game, he’s as dangerous as they come in the 205 division with his explosiveness, his technical striking, his power, and his grappling. But when he’s off his game, he’s as beatable as they come in the 205 division with his lethargic approach and wild striking. At least with Griffin, I know he’s going to show up to fight. He might not be great at any one aspects of the game, but he’s a guy who will stay in your face the entire time, even if things aren’t going his way. If Rua can handle that pressure, then could he win. But if he’s not in shape to handle it, he’ll definitely lose.

Fill in the Blank – Yushin Okami will beat Anderson Silva if he can _____.

Conlan: Channel his inner-Chael Sonnen. Okami is a solid wrestler who has the size/takedowns to control Silva on the ground but tends to stand a lot of the time rather than rely on his grappling. He’s never been submitted, a good sign in regards to Sonnen’s stumble against Silva, and has only been finished once in a 31-fight career (approximately eight years ago). If he avoids the temptation to throw caution to the wind in hopes of an exciting conclusion and focuses on purely becoming the one to dethrone Silva no matter how ugly it may look then I think Okami has an above-average chance of becoming middleweight champ.

Lambert: Slow things down. Okami is at his best when things are slow and kind of boring. He’s a grinder in the cage, and Silva hasn’t faced many grinders in his UFC career. Silva is at his best when guys are constantly attacking and fighting at a high pace, because he’s a guy who fights at a high pace. When he gets that “Silva Bounce” going, that’s when he’s ready to attack and he really turn up the pace. Okami can’t allow him to dance around and find his rhythm. He needs to try and put Silva against the cage to take away his hips and movement, and then put him on the ground to take away his striking and power.


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