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Grappling with Issues – 9/28/11

Will Jon Jones suffer a loss in 2012? What’s next for Bellator featherweight champ Joe Warren? Is it time for Matt Hughes to be put out to pasture? Who do you want to see fight at the UFC‘s upcoming show in Japan?

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.

True/False – Jon Jones will go undefeated in 2012.

Lambert: True. It kind of depends on how many times he fights in 2012. If he fights twice then he’ll fight Rashad Evans, then the winner of Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Dan Henderson, and I think he can beat all three guys. If he takes that third fight though at the end of the year and it’s against Lyoto Machida, that’s the one guy who can give Jones problems that he hasn’t run into in his UFC career. It’s very possible that he fights three times in 2012 given how the schedule looks like it will play out, although no one can foresee injuries. But it’s not a guarantee that the third fight will be against Machida and, even though Machida is a tough fight for him, I’d still favor Jones in that fight.

Conlan: Also true, though I see Evans being more of a challenge for Jones than Machida. Evans being a past teammate of Jones’ can’t be dismissed because unique insight he has into the champ’s physical abilities/limitations and mental make-up. He’ll have an idea of what things Jones is good at, where he struggles, and how to best avoid/exploit those areas. Sure, “Bones” is at an age where he’s constantly improving and will be a better fighter than the one Evans trained with in New Mexico, but certain tendencies will undoubtedly remain because, after all, it’s only been about six months since their falling out.

Is it time for Matt Hughes to retire or should he keep fighting?

Lambert: I say retire, but after talking with Samer Kadi on the podcast, I can get behind the idea of Hughes going the Chuck Liddell route. After losing to Rua, Liddell was “shelved” for over a year before returning for a scheduled fight against Tito Ortiz, which was the most winnable fight in the world for Liddell. Of course he ended up taking a much tougher fight against Rich Franklin, lost, and retired, but I could see UFC and Hughes doing something similar. Hughes takes a year off to farm, spend time with his family, and do whatever else he does in his free time and then return to fight Dennis Hallman.

Conlan: I’m behind the notion of him carrying on his career, plus I never feel comfortable demanding a fighter retires because, frankly, their decision has no impact on my personal life. I’d rather let Hughes and his family figure it out in comparison to acting as though I know what’s best for them.

Even if I was the kind of media-member who rants against Ken Shamrock and Jens Pulver, it isn’t as though Hughes has lost to chumps or hasn’t been competitive as of late. He was caught early by B.J. Penn and looked good against Josh Koscheck before the final sequence of strikes. He needs to be paired against guys who aren’t “Top 10” but are well-known to fight-fans. Hallman is a solid option because of his upset wins over Hughes a decade ago. Historical significance always creates a level of interest (see: Hughes’ past fights with Renzo Gracie and Royce Gracie) and Hallman would be a winnable fight at least allowing the Illinois native to potentially exit the UFC with some dignity. Another thought could be Dan Hardy for an event in England since it wouldn’t be a bad pairing for Hughes stylistically and would definitely sell some tickets in the UK.

Will Dominick Cruz finish Demetrious Johnson?

Lambert: I think he will but it wouldn’t shock me if he doesn’t. I don’t want to write-off Johnson, because this MMA and Johnson is a top level fighter, but this is a tough match up for him. He’s giving up a lot of size and Cruz can come close to matching the speed of Johnson. Plus there’s a matter of skill and Johnson’s wrestling game will likely be shut down against Cruz, who is a good offensive and defensive wrestler. Then on the feet, Cruz is leagues above Johnson with his movement and diversity. I think Cruz will be able to use his size to slow down Johnson and finish him on the ground. Again, it won’t shock me if Cruz dances around and picks apart Johnson for 25 minutes, but I feel like this is a fight that he should finish.

Conlan: I’ll go the opposite route and say “no”. Johnson reminds me some of Joseph Benavidez and should stay competitive throughout. Yes, I think he’ll ultimately lose the decision because Cruz is THAT good, but I also believe “Mighty Mouse” has the skill to stay in the fight and even put Cruz in a few bad positions along the way. If we’re looking purely at numbers, “The Dominator” hasn’t stopped an opponent in 3 1/2 years while Johnson has only lost a single decision in ten total fights despite facing tough opponents who are typically bigger than him.

Play Joe Silva and book one fight for the UFC in Japan event.

Conlan: Yoshihiro Akiyama vs. Diego Sanchez. Akiyama is poised to make his welterweight debut at the February 26 show and Sanchez, who should be healed up from his broken hand, would be a fantastic fight for the Japanese veteran. Neither man knows how to turn in a boring performance when it comes to their chosen profession and it would put a local hero up against an original Ultimate Fighter winner.

Lambert: Despite his recent performances, Takanori Gomi has to be on this card. Maybe fighting in Japan again will actually motivate him to show up, but that’s no guarantee. So UFC needs to guarantee that a Japanese fighter wins in Japan, and unless they plan paying tribute to early PRIDE and decide to fix the fight, they only way to guarantee a Japanese victory is to match him up against a fellow country man. That man should be Shinya Aoki. There’s no way Aoki vs. Gomi will suck, because it’s either going to end in a great KO for Gomi or a great submission for Aoki. Plus it’d be a match up for the two best lightweights in Japanese history.

Following his KO loss, what should Joe Warren do next?

Conlan: Start playing to his strengths instead of weaknesses. It’s clear Warren’s jaw is not made of adamantium, and while it may not be Ming Dynasty Porcelain either, he needs to stop opting to strike so much when he has world-class wrestling at his disposal. I want to see Warren work for takedowns, then smash people from on top. I also think sticking with bantamweight would be a smart move, even looking at a permanent move to flyweight when the UFC eventually adds the division. Size kills in MMA most of the time and, at 5’5”, he needs to utilize that advantage if possible.

Lambert: Focus on one thing. Rarely do MMA fighters succeed when they’re juggling different things in this life. Whether it’s a second job, a personal problem, or a separate goal, if your head isn’t 100% into training and into the fight, it’s a recipe for disaster. Warren stretched himself too thin heading into this fight. He wanted to defend his 145 lb title, win the 135 lb tournament, and compete in the Olympics. I don’t care how great you are, that’s a tough task to accomplish all of them around the same time. Warren is a talented fighter, but unless he keeps his mind on one goal, he may not accomplish any of them.

Do you expect Bellator to air on Spike TV in 2012?

Conlan: No, as I’m under the impression there is a contractual issue preventing Spike from broadcasting live MMA as long as they own the rights to UFC’s video library (which they do until 2013). Dana White isn’t the type of person to back down when challenged and has no problem trying to out-dick a dickish move from an adversary. I also don’t see the UFC wanting to pay for videos that will not only cost them money but give Bellator better exposure. Let Spike TV sit on their fights for a year or milk whatever ratings they can, then try to get back into the “live MMA” game with the UFC regularly broadcasting live events (including TUF) through FOX/FX.

Lambert: While the UFC contract may prevent Spike from airing any other MMA, it’s always possible that UFC buys back the tape library, thus more or less voiding the contract. And that’s exactly what Spike is trying to do, by countering the first UFC on FOX event with a block of UFC Unleashed featuring Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos bouts. This move has already upset White and things could get uglier if the two sides can’t hash it all out.

While a UFC Unleashed marathon isn’t going to trump the UFC on FOX rating, maybe that’s part of Spike’s plans. They could actually trumpet the fact that the UFC ratings are down, that they’re not as big as they once were, and that they don’t need them anymore. It’d be a pretty dirty move, but if Spike is serious about wanting out of this contract so they can pick up Bellator, they may stoop to such tactics.

All that said, I don’t expect Dana to budge. I think he’ll make Spike finish out the contract, but things could get pretty dirty between the two sides in 2012.

PHOTO CREDIT – UFC/BELLATOR