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Grappling with Issues – 10/5/11

Will 2012 be the year Dominick Cruz finally stops an opponent under the Zuffa banner? Should Brian Stann get a shot at the middleweight title if he wins this weekend at UFC 136? Is it time for the UFC to part ways with Pat Barry? Does Gilbert Melendez deserve an immediate crack at the championship when he joins 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 general contributions and “Scorecard” 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.

Should Pat Barry be released after dropping to 3-4 inside the Octagon with all the losses involving some form of stoppage?

Lambert: He won’t be, but he probably should be. Barry has a ton of charisma and is involved in exciting fights while they last, but he’s just not ready for the UFC level of competition. I think he could really benefit from taking fights on a smaller stage where he can improve on his other skills, mainly his takedown defense and grappling. Here’s my problem with Barry though: he has too much Brandon Vera in him. He admires his own work too much and he doesn’t seem to feel bad after losses. I’m not saying he should sulk about losing, but don’t go on Twitter and say “THAT WAS A COOL POWERBOMB!” moments after you lost. Having an upbeat attitude is usually a good thing, but in the fight game, I want guys who are pissed off when they lose, because those are the guys who I know will work harder for their next bout.

Conlan: Like Jeremy said, even if Barry isn’t cut he definitely deserves to be. The UFC needs to set a standard when it comes to the fighters they keep on board. Retaining a guy who is 3-4 in the organization with all four losses involving some sort of finish is not near the level of excellence employment in the UFC should require regardless of how many silly pictures he takes in his underwear or how charming he might be at press conferences. It’s time for Dana White to take a hint from his favorite vendor of frozen treats and pink-slip Barry.

Does Brian Stann deserve a title-shot if he beats Chael Sonnen this weekend?

Lambert: I think the winner of this fight will be given a title shot, so I have to say yes. We all know that UFC wants to do Sonnen vs. Anderson Silva 2, as they were going to do the immediate rematch before Sonnen spent more time in the court room than the gym, so one victory should get him another bout with Silva. That being said, if Stann can beat Sonnen, why not give him a title shot too? He already has victories over Chris Leben and Jorge Santiago, throw in a victory over Sonnen, and combine that with his story (did you know that he’s a former Marine?) and that’s a recipe for a title contender.

Conlan: Yes, at least in the context of having accomplished at least as much (if not more) than the previous challengers to Silva’s strap. Yushin Okami – wins over Nate Marquardt, Mark Munoz, and Lucio Linhares. Vitor Belfort – catchweight success over Rich Franklin and recent victories over Matt Lindland and Terry Martin. Demian Maia – outpointing Dan Miller after being knocked out by Marquardt a fight earlier. Keep going down the list and, with the exception of Sonnen, “The Spider” hasn’t faced a contender with as much momentum as Stann would have entering the bout with consecutive wins over Leben, Santiago, and the guy who was less than two minutes away from becoming middleweight champion before slipping up and getting caught in a submission.

Of the two title-fights at UFC 136, how many will feature a finishing performance – both, one of them, or neither?

Lambert: I expect to see a finish in Jose Aldo vs. Kenny Florian. I’ve been told that FLORIAN FINISHES FIGHTS and Aldo usually finishes fights too, unless he’s fighting in his opponent’s hometown and doesn’t want to piss off the crowd too much by murdering the guy that everyone came to see. I think Aldo will finish Florian because I feel like Florian is afraid/doesn’t react well when he’s hit, and Aldo is going to hit him a lot. When Florian feels Aldo’s power he’s going to start making mistakes and Aldo is going to capitalize on those mistakes before putting him away.

I see Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard going to the scorecards just because neither guy have a reputation as a finisher and both guys are extremely tough to finish. Maynard had Edgar dead to rights in their last bout, and still couldn’t put him away and the only time Maynard has been finished (not counting TUF) was when he finished himself.

Conlan: Just to be different I’ll go with neither. Edgar/Maynard is likely to go the distance given both fighters’ general tenacity and skill-sets, plus there’s past history to consider as well (eight rounds, zero finishes).

As far as the featherweights, though I think Aldo will retain his title I’m not sure he’ll do more than beat Florian up. Kenny isn’t stopped easily with the submission to B.J. Penn at UFC 101 the only example of such being the case in more than five years (and only one prior to Diego Sanchez as a middleweight on the Ultimate Fighter 1 Finale). He’s well-rounded enough to take on Aldo in any area, and while he may not have the dynamic Brazilian’s power or precision, he’s certainly battle-tested enough to last 25 minutes with him.

Will Dominick Cruz finish an opponent in 2012?

Conlan: No. As talented as Cruz may be he doesn’t seem to have what it takes to put equally apt adversaries away. He’s only finished a single opponent under the Zuffa banner, Brian Bowles, and the stoppage was the result of a broken hand rather than something brought on by a TKO/submission. “The Dominator” won’t fight again until the first quarter of 2012 since he’s got a mangled mitt of his own that needs healing plus Bowles/Urijah Faber still have to square off in November to determine who gets next crack at Cruz’s championship. With that being the case, Cruz will probably only fight twice next year (three times max), and with the level of competition he’s likely to face I don’t see him doing enough – or even possessing the ability – to end his first fight since March 2008.

Lambert: I want to say yes, but based on his past performances, I don’t think it’ll happen. He’ll likely face the winner of Faber vs. Bowles, and since I believe that “The California Kid” will be victorious in that fight, I don’t see Cruz finishing him this time around either. After that, it’s up in the air as to who he faces but if you just look at Cruz’ style, it’s not a style that finishes fights. He doesn’t seem to have natural punching power, and even though he is a good grappler, it’s not like he’s a grappling ace with an overwhelming submission game.

Besides the two title fights, which UFC 136 fight are you most excited for?

Conlan: Much oblige to Jeremy for lofting a slow-moving pitch right over the center of home plate on this topic. Without hesitation I’ll go with Jeremy Stephens vs. Anthony Pettis. Both lightweights love to strike, though each can grapple as well if necessary, and have a tendency to take opponents out before the judges’ scorecards come into play. Pettis has finished eleven of the thirteen fighters he’s beaten while Stephens is 17/20 in that department. It’s going to be fast, furious, and absolutely fantastic. Unless there is something behind the scenes preventing the switch, the fact this bout is on the Spike TV broadcast and Nam Phan vs. Leonard Garcia is on the PPV portion of UFC 136 still baffles me.

Lambert: There are a lot of great fights on the UFC 136 card that I’m looking forward to. Since Bren already touched on Stephens/Pettis, I’ll show some love to Melvin Guillard vs. Joe Lauzon. “The Young Assassin” has really come into his own under Greg Jackson and he’s shown his full potential in recent outings with KO victories over Evan Dunham and Shane Roller. Lauzon might fade after the first five minutes, but he’s still a great fighter for those five minutes and has the skills to catch Guillard with a strike or jump on a submission if Guillard decides to get lazy. I don’t see this fight getting out of the first round and I expect a tremendous finish either way.

Should Gilbert Melendez get an immediate UFC lightweight title shot?

Conlan: Even with a win over Jorge Masvidal in December my answer would still be “no”. It’s not that “El Nino” doesn’t deserve a shot at the UFC belt, because he’s taken a number of highly-respected peers out convincingly and would have an above-average chance at walking away with the championship were he to fight for it. However, examining the current circumstances, the UFC has a few contenders in line at the top right now that should get a title-shot before Melendez based on what they’ve accomplished inside the Octagon. Once Melvin Guillard and Clay Guida have fought each other, or fail to find success in their next outings, then and only then should Melendez get his opportunity at the strap.

Plus, there’s already precedence in regards to Jake Shields, Dan Henderson, and Alistair Overeem coming over from Strikeforce. Nick Diaz was the exception but mainly because the UFC didn’t have another legitimate welterweight contender lined up for Georges St. Pierre, hence why it will take a similar situation at 155-pounds to earn Melendez an immediate shot at the title.

Lambert: No, only because the winner of Guida vs. Henderson definitely deserves a title shot based on their track record. While Melendez is one of the best lightweights in the world, I don’t think he should jump the winner of that fight and get a title shot.

That said, if Melendez fights and beats Masvidal and doesn’t enter the UFC until after the current champion fights the Henderson/Guida winner, then I’d be fine with Melendez getting a title shot and jumping a guy like Guillard or Dennis Siver, pending they win their next fights. My scenario however is that Melendez jumps to the UFC without fighting Masvidal, faces Guillard (if he beats Lauzon), and then the winner of that fight gets a title shot. UFC has a great problem at lightweight in that they have a lot of talented fighters who need to fight each other in order to get a title