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Grappling with Issues – 9/21/2011

How do you see the UFC handling the light heavyweight contendership with Dan Henderson‘s recent return to the promotion? Will UFC 135 be Matt Hughes‘ final appearance in the Octagon? How many rounds do you see this weekend’s title-fight between Jon Jones and Quinton Jackson lasting? Was Jake Shields‘ loss to Jake Ellenberger at UFN 25 a byproduct of his father’s recent passing?

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 Dan Henderson set to fight “Shogun” Rua at UFC 139, how do you see the UFC handling the title-picture considering Rashad Evans’ claim to a crack at the belt?

Lambert: There’s too much money to be made in Evans vs. the winner of Jackson vs. Jones, so there’s no way UFC scraps that fight. I think the logical scenario is that the winner of “Shogun” vs. “Hendo” takes on the winner of the rumored Lyoto Machida vs. Phil Davis fight, with the winner getting a title shot. Now if Rua and Machida win, it would be a third fight between the two and maybe many people wouldn’t be too interested in that fight, but it would still be the fight to make.If either Machida or Rua loses though, we’d great a fresh match up and a legitimate top contender to the light heavyweight title. UFC is in a pretty good position with the 205 division right now as there are plenty of good match ups at the top of the card.

Conlan: I agree 100% with Lambert. Regardless of who wins this weekend the UFC has a guaranteed money-maker match with Evans waiting in the wings. In fact I wouldn’t even be surprised to see them used as TUF coaches on FX to capitalize on the rivalry and build the bout, especially in the case of Jones/Evans’ unfinished business. Though I think Henderson deserves a title-shot sooner than later he won the belt by beating guys that wouldn’t crack the “Top 5″ contenders in the UFC so even if he beats “Shogun” another fight against Machida, Davis, or even Tito Ortiz if he beats Antonio Rogerio Nogueira makes sense.

Do you think Jake Shields’ showing at UFN 25 was affected by the death of his father?

Lambert: I’m sure it was affected, but it’s not an excuse. Shields took the fight, that’s all that matters. If he wasn’t 100% confident in his abilities, then he wouldn’t have taken the bout. Even if he entered the Octagon with a clear mind, there’s no way his mind was clear the day of his fathers passing or the couple of days after it. I’m sure he missed a couple of training sessions or had some bad training sessions, and that could have been the difference in this fight. But he stepped him there, so he was ready to fight, and if he thought that he was ready, then I don’t question his decision to fight.

Conlan: I don’t think there’s any question his performance was affected by his father’s death. Granted, that doesn’t mean the outcome would have been different, but before being a fighter Shields is a human being first. He had an extremely tight bond with his Dad and to think the absence of his presence wasn’t on Shields’ mind, even in the moments leading up to showtime, is expecting too much. However, Ellenberger still deserves full credit because, like Lambert said, Shields felt confident enough in his abilities to stick with his commitment to the UFC and fight.

Remove Jones/Jackson, Hughes/Koscheck, and Diaz/Gomi from UFC 135 and tell fans why they should be excited about the event…

Lambert: I’m looking forward to Cole Escovedo vs. Takeya Mizugaki. Both guys are in need of a victory and both guys usually come to fight. I know Mizugaki is coming off a pretty lackluster fighter against Brian Bowles, but prior that he was in a bunch of exciting fights. And Escovedo brings it as well. Both guys are active in all positions and this bout has the potential to take “Fight of the Night” honors on Saturday.

Conlan: Other than the presence of Rob “It’s Already Been” Broughton, my favorite made-up nickname of all time, there are plenty of other things to be interested in on the card including a guaranteed slugfest between Mark Hunt and Ben Rothwell. However, the bout I’ll focus on for this topic is Tony Ferguson vs. Aaron Riley. Ferguson was extremely impressive on TUF 13 including in his finale win against Ramsey Nijem, while Riley is a seasoned veteran with a great camp (Greg Jackson‘s crew) and the grappling to give “El Cuycuy” a real run for his money. It’s also on the Spike prelims meaning I can watch it in HD, another bonus to be sure.

How many rounds do you see Jon Jones vs. Quinton Jackson going?

Conlan: If Jackson hadn’t held his camp in Denver I would feel differently about this but I think their headlining bout at UFC 135 is going the distance. Jones’ speed and precision should allow him to pick Jackson apart when standing, plus his takedowns and top-control are of enough quality to steal ugly rounds or test the former champ’s cardio by making him constantly work. However, though I clearly think Jones will win, “Rampage” hasn’t been finished in five years and I don’t see Jones having enough power to snap that streak.

Lambert: I think the fight will go three rounds, with Jones stopped Jackson during the middle frame. Jones might not have that one punch power, but he definitely has that overwhelming power, which is just as useful. Jones put a beating on “Shogun” Rua, who is known for his ability to take damage, and even we was stopped in the 3rd because of the way Jones just kept attacking and hitting him with everything in the book. Jackson has been through a lot of wars in his career, and while I’m sure he’s in great shape, I don’t think he’s ready for the kind of attacks that Jones will throw at him.

True or False: This Saturday will be the last time we see Matt Hughes in the Octagon.

Conlan: False. While I can see Josh Koscheck pulling out a win, even of the knockout variety, I think Hughes’ ego is far too big to let him walk away from MMA on a losing note, especially to a late replacement, or without at least announcing his intent to retire beforehand to maximize the attention it would merit. And, if Hughes does pull out the win, since the “Country Boy” will have won four of his last five fights including against a recent title-contender like Koscheck, his ego won’t let him give up the sport for good with a crack at the championship so close at hand.

When Hughes hangs up his gloves he’ll let the world know first rather than be wishy-washy about it. However, as it stands right now, he says he still loves the competition (and the paychecks probably don’t hurt either), so why would he want to call it a career?

Lambert: True. Hughes has nothing left to prove, I think he’d be fine just living on his farm and helping out younger fighters, and most importantly, his wife wants him to retire. If he goes out there and gets KO’d for the second straight time, I believe he’ll call it a career. Hughes has stated many times that he doesn’t want to be part of someone’s highlight reel, but that’s exactly what he risks every time he takes a fight with a younger fighter who is faster and stronger than he is.

What is the most intriguing fight not on the UFC card this weekend?

Conlan: Tatsuya Kawajiri vs. Joachim Hansen at DREAM 17. Hansen and Kawajiri have been two of my favorite staples on the Japanese scene for a long time, a sentiment I suspect a lot of other people would agree with. Both men always come to fight and, win or lose, are incredibly respectful of their opponents and the sport in general. I also like that it re-matches them after their 2006 fight never really got started when “Hellboy” was disqualified for a kick to Kawajiri’s nether-regions eight seconds into the opening round. It’s the kind of bout that, if the general public knew their MMA history, would be at home on the main card of any UFC event (or certainly Strikeforce) based on the quality of competitors involved, yet fans are fortunate enough to have an opportunity to see them throw down for free this weekend.

Lambert: Obviously Bren read my column on Tuesday and stole my answer, so I’ll throw out another fight from the same card and that’s Shinya Aoki vs. Rob McCullough.

Granted this fight looks like an easy victory for Aoki, but is that really a bad thing? Even if his easy victories, Aoki has a habit of pulling off some crazy submission that gets the fans talking. I like watching greatness when I’m watching sports and when I watch Aoki, I know I’m watching the best submission grappler in the entire sport. I don’t want to sell McCulough short either, because he’s a very good technical striker with power, and if he connects on Aoki’s suspect chin, the Baka Survivor might not survive.


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