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Grappling with Issues – 9/7/11

How far do you see Yoshihiro Akiyama going in the welterweight division? Will Daniel Cormier pull off the upset this weekend by beating Antonio Silva? Do you want to see a rematch between Frank Mir and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira? Would Hector Lombard be more than a mid-tier middleweight in the UFC?

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.

Make a realistic match-up for UFC on FOX.

Lambert: Considering that there’s only one fight guaranteed to air live on FOX, that means every other fight will be a prelim bout that likely ends up on Facebook.

Because I don’t think UFC is going to add another “big time fight” to the event, I think there are plenty of options for the UFC, but I doubt any of them capture the interest of most fans who don’t usually watch the online prelims. I’ll just throw out a fight like Mike Brown vs. Jim Hettes to be added to the event. Is it a sexy fight? No, but it’s a solid preliminary fight featuring a former featherweight champion who is still working his way back up the ladder against an undefeated grappler who has finished all nine of his opponents.

What I’m getting at is that I believe the rest of the UFC on FOX card will be very underwhelming and I hope nobody gets their hopes up about another major fight being added.

Conlan: I could gloat over the fact Lambert wrote his take before Ben Henderson vs. Clay Guida was added to the card but instead I’ll simply say I understand his reservations about the amount of available airtime. However, I’m pretty sure FOX is prepared for there to be a brief overrun since most of their sports broadcasts are handled that way and showing Bendo/Guida wouldn’t cut into anything more than the local news or a re-run of Fringe even if it and the main event both go the distance.

Since it seems like smaller divisions are taking over the undercard I’ll mention a couple of guys over 155 pounds instead – Erick Silva and Amir Sadollah. It can’t hurt to have an Ultimate Fighter champ on the card from a marketing perspective, plus Sadollah and Silva both like stand-up so it would be an exciting fight with “…of the Night” bonus-winning potential. Each could use the experience against an opponent with similar ring-time while neither is in a position to be a significant part of any future event’s main card. Really, health withstanding, it’s a perfect match-up to make as far as I’m concerned.

With Yoshihiro Akiyama have a significant impact on the welterweight division’s title picture?

Lambert: Probably not. I think he can be a serviceable welterweight along the lines of Chris Lytle, but I don’t think anyone thought Lytle was ever a real title threat, despite all of his exciting fights. Akiyama is a guy who can have exciting fights, but he’s going to lose to the majority of top fights. He hasn’t been the same fighter since getting kicked in the face by Kazuo Misaki, which happened in December 2007. He’s going to be facing a lot of high-level wrestlers and guys with endless gas tanks at welterweight, and until he proves that he has the cardio to compete with guys like Carlos Condit, Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck, ect… then I don’t think he’ll ever make it past the mid-level at 170.

Conlan: I don’t think he’ll cause too many ripples in the contendership pond either though I can definitely see him pulling off a few upsets during his run at 170 pounds. Honestly, I’m not even sure Akiyama feels he will make a real run at the belt considering his desire to be the “apprentice” of welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre.

However, and I like the comparison to Lytle, I do believe he’ll put on some great fights and I look forward to seeing him matched up with some of the division’s biggest names. Matt Hughes in particular would be interesting, especially for the Japanese card in February where fans would have a different level of appreciation for the bout given both men’s accomplishments in MMA.

Yay or Nay: Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira vs. Frank Mir Part Deux?

Lambert: I’m not fully against it, but I do think there are better options. I’ve already stated plenty of times that I want to see Nogueira vs. Alistair Overeem, and although everyone else seems to be against it, I don’t really mind Mir vs. Brock Lesnar 3 either. There’s nothing wrong with Nogueira vs. Mir 2, I just think that there are bigger fights to be made. “Big Nog” vs. “The Reem” is something I really want to see because it’ll pit the mentally toughest fighter in MMA history against one of the mentally weakest and the best grappling heavyweight against the best credentialed striking heavyweight. While Mir and Lesnar is something we’ve also seen, twice, the money is just too good to pass up for UFC on that one.

Really any combination of those four heavyweights would be just fine to me.

Conlan: Again, Tuesday afternoon’s news-bug bit Jeremy since Overeem/Lesnar are now scheduled to face off against each other in late December meaning his answer has become a “yay” by default.

I’ll also go with a “yay” but by my own volition. Most of the UFC’s other heavyweights are already booked and I’d like to see Nogueira potentially even the score with Mir after getting knocked out by him nearly three years ago while coming off a staph infection.

The only other options I can see for “Minotauro” are Ben Rothwell (if he beats Mark Hunt at UFC 135) or the winner of Stefan Struve vs. Pat Barry since any one of those three guys would likely be healthy by February when Nogueira has mentioned wanting to fight again. However, none bring the same appeal or name-value to the match-up that Mir does, so in that regard I’d still prefer the former heavyweight champ as an opponent and think he’s the best choice out there.

Better chance to pull off the upset this weekend: Daniel Cormier or Sergei Kharitonov?

Conlan: He’s less of an underdog because he’s more likely to win but I’ll go with the easy favorite here and say Cormier. The former Olympic wrestler has shown constant improvement in every outing, showing markedly better striking against Jeff Monson for example, and hasn’t had many flaws revealed thus far in his young career. The one area I can see him having trouble with is Antonio Silva’s size since Cormier is a fairly small heavyweight but, given his elite-level grappling and general power, I think he’ll have what it takes to get by “Bigfoot” to secure a spot in the Grand Prix finals.

Lambert: I have to agree with my partner here and say that Cormier has a very good chance at beating Silva. Even though Silva looked very impressive in taking out Fedor Emelianenko in his last bout, a lot of that had to do with his size and Fedor’s complete lack of awareness on the ground. Cormier is going to give “Bigfoot” a lot of trouble with his speed, wrestling, and pace. Lets not forget that Silva got dropped by Mike Kyle and didn’t look all that impressive in beating Andrei Arlovski. Don’t sleep on Cormier, he’s improving every fight and reminds me a lot of Cain Velasquez.

How do you think Hector Lombard would fare in the UFC?

Conlan: I have little doubt Lombard, who is as dynamic a talent as there is right now competing outside of the UFC, would work his way through guys like Chris Leben and Wanderlei Silva – fights I would absolutely love to see – but I’m not sure how he’d deal with larger middleweights like Yushin Okami, Vitor Belfort, Michael Bisping, or champ Anderson Silva. At 5’9” he’s a powerhouse but also better suited for welterweight if he can find a way to shed some of his muscle or cut down. Size means a lot when fighting the best of the best, something he hasn’t done yet in his career while racking up wins over solid but not nearly elite opponents.

Lambert: I think he could be a solid middleweight, but I’m not sold on the guy just yet. His win streak is extremely impressive, but he’s not fighting good competition. Most of his victories have come against guys who couldn’t cut it in the UFC or guys no one has ever heard of. Brian Ebersole is one of his better wins, yet “TWAS” is a natural welterweight. Middleweight is exactly the deepest division in the world but I think he’d get bullied around by the bigger guys at 185 and I don’t think his cardio could hold up to some of the guys who push a heavy pace. I’d like to see Lombard vs. Rousmar Palhares though, just to see who the best fighting fire hydrant in the world is.

Who do you see in the finals of the Bellator welterweight tournament?

Conlan: I’m not sure how the semifinal round stack up after this weekend’s opening round but my two frontrunners are Ben Saunders and Brent Weedman.

I was massively impressed by Weedman’s work in the Season 4 tournament and felt his elimination was fishy, i.e. the judges’ scorecards stunk like week-old tuna. The 18-6 finishes guys left and right, only winning a single decision in his career, while being near impossible to finish himself. His six losses are comprised of a single submission to Dan Hornbuckle in 2006 he’s since avenged, a cut-based TKO in 2007, and four decisions including the horrific Jay Hieron outcome.

Likewise, Saunders is also a leading candidate in my opinion based on his ability to dismantle opponents with impressive Muay Thai skills while also holding his own on the ground, as well as his experience on the sport’s biggest stage and an inherent toughness exhibited in the defeats to Jon Fitch and Dennis Hallman costing the Ultimate Fighter alumnus his spot on the UFC roster. Like Weedman, “Killa B” is also an apt finisher with nine out of his ten wins involving either a TKO (five) or submission (four). At 6’2”, he’s also a large welterweight which certainly can’t hurt either, plus he’s been neck-deep in American Top Team for quite some time so you know his training will be up to par no matter what.

Lambert: I definitely think Saunders will be in the finals, especially now that his first round opponent is no longer Rick Hawn. I’ve always been a fan of Saunders, and even though he let me down in the UFC, he has the skills to be a very good welterweight. I’m sure he’s been working a lot on his wrestling, which has been his biggest area of weakness, and if he can get that corrected then he’s going to be a scary man with his muay-thai skills.

In my quest not to agree with Bren, I’ll say Hornbuckle secures the other final spot. Even though I like Weedman, he has a relatively tough first round fight against Chris Lozano while Hornbuckle has one of the easier first round fights against Luis Santos. My concern with Hornbuckle is that he doesn’t seem to do well with these shorter training camps. I’m sure he’ll look great in the first round, but when he can only train for a month for his second and third round fights, it affects him.

Let’s not write off Douglas Lima either. He’s a young guy but already has a lot of experience and is very talented. I think this field is pretty much wide open and could see any combination of fighters in the finals.


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