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Grappling with Issues – 10/12/11

Was Frankie Edgar‘s win over Gray Maynard at UFC 136 the best performance by a UFC champion so far this year? Do Chael Sonnen‘s antics rub you the wrong way? Will Rashad Evans get his elusive title-shot in 2012? What’s next for Kenny Florian?

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.

Who do you have advancing this weekend in Bellator’s ongoing middleweight tournament?

Lambert: Bryan Baker and Brian Rogers. I think Baker has a very favorable match up against Vitor Vianna, who wasn’t all that impressive in his first round victory. Baker on the other hand was very impressive against Jared Hess, who is a tough guy Baker not only beat, but finished in the third round. The Rogers vs. Alexander Shlemenko fight is very intriguing. Rogers is a heavy hitter with explosive power while Shlemenko is more of a technical fighter known for his spinning strikes. I favor Rogers though just because of his power and Shlemenko is a very hittable fighter who leaves himself open with all his spinning attacks.

Conlan: I also have Baker going to the final, as I think he’s more polished than Vianna and has proven himself against better competition. However, I’d put my money on Shlemenko when it comes to filling the other slot. Rogers might have power but Shlemenko can take a punch as evident by the fact he’s only been stopped via strikes a single time in his 48-fight career. Whether or not the same is true in the case of Rogers remains to be seen and I’m pretty sure his chin will be put to the test by the 27-year old Russian who has 3X as many TKOs in his career as “The Predator”. Even if he can’t land a solid punch and put Rogers away I think his overall technique is good enough to pull out a decision and set up a rematch of the Season 2 Middleweight Tournament final (which he won by finishing Baker off with strikes less than three minutes into the opening round).

Fill in the Blank: Chael Sonnen’s professional wrestling schtick is _____.

Lambert: Overrated. He’s a great talker and has great delivery, but it’s not like he’s the greatest promo in the history of MMA like so many want to claim. Brock Lesnar‘s promo at UFC 100 was much better than most of the things Sonnen has said, mainly because what Lesnar said was real. We all know what Sonnen is doing is a schtick and it’s refreshing in the world of MMA when most fighters come off generic and boring, but the fact that what he’s doing isn’t exactly ground breaking and that what he says in his promos are a bunch of lies doesn’t make him the greatest promo-artist of all time.

Conlan: A sign of things to come. It’s only a matter of time before other fighters start catching on to the benefit of playing a character in front of cameras rather than responding to questions with the same cookie-cutter answers the public has heard a hundred times. Sonnen is not the first Mixed Martial Artist to market himself through soundbytes in hopes of becoming a bigger draw than he would by resting on the laurels of a mediocre record in the ring. However, he’s done it better than most as of late, and to be able to garner so much attention through ridiculous statements without any foundation in reality will absolutely inspire more fighters to behave in the same silly way.

And sorry Lambert, but Lesnar would be the first to tell you he was playing up a caricature of his true personality after his rematch with Mir. In fact, from the man himself – “People spend money and want to be entertained. If you don’t feel from UFC 100 that you got your money’s worth, you’re probably not gonna tune into something (with me). It’s good entertainment.”

What will Kenny Florian’s next move be?

Lambert: Back to lightweight. I don’t really know why he left in the first place, aside from the fact that he failed on two title shots, but he was a very good lightweight fighter. He beat top fighters and he only lost to top fighters. I think the weight cut is a little too draining for Florian and Frankie Edgar has proven that you can get by being a small lightweight as long as you have the tools to do so. Florian is a very good fighter, he has his flaws, but he’s a hard worker and has talent.

Conlan: Going back up a division works for me. He’s a little old to be cutting significant weight as is and, like Jeremy said, he had solid success before dropping down to 145 pounds. Florian’s only losses at lightweight were to B.J. Penn and Gray Maynard, yet he had wins over a number of reputable opponents like Roger Huerta, Joe Lauzon, and current contender Clay Guida. He needs to accept he’s not going to win a UFC title and take a few more big fights to cement his legacy in the UFC – three more and he’ll have 20 total bouts inside the Octagon – before trading in his gloves for an analyst’s microphone.

Does Ryan Jimmo deserve at least one fight in the UFC?

Conlan: Absolutely. Though watching his fight last weekend against Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou may have felt at times like doing laps in a pool filled with chloroform, and he appeared to have earned little more than a “hometown” decision, Jimmo has still won sixteen straight fights including a handful over guys with UFC credentials. He’s a significant draw in Canada and would be perfectly suited for a show like UFC 140. In the best case scenario his name sells a few extra tickets, he wins, and the UFC has a new competitor at light heavyweight with an amazing run behind him for marketing purposes; in the worst his name sells a few extra tickets, he loses, and the MFC’s biggest star goes back to the promotion with his streak broken. Either way the UFC benefits in the short and long term.

And let’s not act like his decisions matter THAT much. He’s stopped as many adversaries as outpointed, a stat a number of UFC fighters can’t lay claim to.

Lambert: Give him the Antonio McKee treatment. McKee has an extremely long winning streak filled with lackluster performances, got one chance in the UFC, lost, and was cut. Jimmo is a lot like McKee. He’s beating less than stellar competition, not putting on exciting performances, but he’s winning. As Bren said, you could give him a fight in Canada against a guy like Luiz Cane, see what he’s really made of, and go from there. If he wins, then great. If he loses, then it’ll just prove that he’s not ready for the UFC and needs to spend more time in MFC or elsewhere.

That said, I’m not sure I’d bring him in after his performance against Sokoudjou. At least McKee was coming off a finishing performance against a solid Luciano Azevedo. Jimmo’s performance against a mediocre Sokoudjou did not help his UFC chances and could have actually hurt him.

Will Rashad Evans fight for the light heavyweight title in 2012?

Conlan: I’m pretty sure Jeremy will go opposite from me here no matter what I say since a solid case can be made for both sides. Regardless, I’m going with “yes”.

Health withstanding, Evans will fight three times in 2012. With Mauricio Rua, Dan Henderson, and Lyoto Machida already tied up the only options out there right now are Phil Davis and a rematch with Quinton Jackson. I’m fairly certain he’ll beat either of them as long as he’s in the same shape he was at UFC 133. That victory alone should cement him a title-shot and buy him a little more time on the sidelines if necessary (which he can’t afford right now after sitting on the sidelines earlier this year while waiting for a crack at the championship).

Even if he somehow loses, as long as he’s competitive, Evans could easily be back in the picture for an opportunity at winning gold by year’s end with success in a follow-up fight. It worked for Machida so why wouldn’t the same apply to a guy who was closer to contendership than “The Dragon” was when handed the UFC 140 bout with Jon Jones?

Lambert: I’m going to go the other way, just for fun.

I’m pretty convinced that the MMA Gods, like most MMA fans, don’t like Evans. His fight against Jackson got pushed back, he won that fight but didn’t get a title shot because he chose to sit out. While sitting out, he got injured and his title shot went to Jones. He was supposed to fight Jones, but Jones “faked an injury” and fought Jackson while Evans beat Ortiz. In beating Ortiz, Evans got injured and his title shot was handed to Machida. This guy was supposed to fight for the title in late 2010, possibly earlier if the Jackson fight happened in December 2009 like originally planned, and still hasn’t received his title shot.

I just think he’s cursed. Remember when Karo Parisyan had the chance to fight for the title against Matt Hughes, got injured, and never sniffed a title shot after that? I feel like the same thing could happen to Evans. The 205 division is very competitive at the top and it only takes one bad night for Evans to be put on the back burner.

Was Frankie Edgar’s UFC 136 performance the best championship performance of the year?

Conlan: I suppose it depends on one’s definition of “performance”. If the question is a matter of the bout’s entertainment value then I would say absolutely. He finished his rivalry with Maynard off in style after nearly seeing it slip away early. If it’s relating to a champion’s actual outing then I’d say it’s not even close since, after all, Edgar did get rocked in the first round and was close to being finished. When compared to Jones’ dominance against Silva or “Rampage”, or Anderson Silva’s mastery against Yushin Okami and Vitor Belfort, “The Answer” getting pummeled doesn’t measure up on that front.

Best or not, one thing I will say is that Edgar did a helluva job in Houston and I won’t ever doubt his ability to win again…until he fights Gilbert Melendez, that is.

Lambert: I know this is an overreaction on my part and concede that both of Silva’s performances were better, because he made it look so easy against really good fighters, but I’m siding with Edgar here.

When I think of a champion, I think of a guy who never quits and who has a ton of heart. That’s Edgar. He not only got blasted in the first round, but he survived, made adjustments between rounds, and came back to finish Maynard to leave it out of the hands of the judges. Making it look as easy as Jones, Silva, and Georges St. Pierre made it look in their title fights this year is a very tough task, but a true champion shows his colors when his back is against the wall. Edgar’s back was not only against the wall, he was getting punched in the face as well. Instead of dropping down and covering up though, Edgar pushed back, and showed why he’s a champion.