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Grappling with Issues – 11/3/11

Is B.J. Penn retired for good or will he fight again? How likely is it Mark Munoz vs. Chris Leben will go a full five rounds? What is your take on this weekend’s lackluster UFC 138 lineup? Should Jay Hieron have to go through another tournament to earn a rematch with Ben Askren?

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.

True/False – B.J. Penn will fight in 2012.

Lambert: True. BJ is an emotional guy and after taking a beating at the hands of Nick Diaz, with his face all busted up, emotion got the better of him and he announced his retirement. He pretty much did the same thing after the Jon Fitch fight. Penn will fight again but it’s obvious that things have to change. It’s obvious that he’s better off at 155, but there’s more to it. He has to switch up his training camp, he has to bring in better sparring partners, and he has to correct his cardio. Unless he does that, it really doesn’t matter if he fights again in 2012 because we’re just going to see the same BJ who is great in the first round and then fades if his opponent remains in his face after that 5 minute period.

Conlan: Agreed on the “true” front. He’s already backed off his original comments about being “done” and plans to keep training. Hopefully the loss to Diaz reminded him that he’s a below average welterweight (1-4 in his last five at 170 pounds) but has unfinished business a division down where he most recently held the belt. He’s only 32 so he’s in his prime, at least from an age perspective, and could easily make a run at 155 highlighted by fights against the likes of Clay Guida, Ben Henderson, Anthony Pettis, Donald Cerrone, or even Gilbert Melendez whenever he joins the UFC roster.

On a scale of 1-10 (bad/good), how would you rate the UFC’s handling of the title-triangle between Georges St. Pierre, Carlos Condit, and Nick Diaz?

Lambert: I guess I’ll go with a 3 because 13 is Taylor Swift‘s lucky number and I just subtracted 10 since UFC has handled this whole situation terribly. They should have never pulled Diaz from the title fight in the first place if they were just going to put him in the co-main event, Dana White should have never promised that Condit would stay as the #1 contender no matter what happened between Diaz and Penn, and St. Pierre should have never allowed himself to be trolled by Diaz. And that’s really just scratching the surface of everything. All that said, even though they’ve handled things very poorly, they’re going to end up making a lot of money in the end when Diaz and GSP eventually fight next year.

Conlan: True story – I spend time every day doing a little work with an after-school program. There is an eight-year old girl who recently went to a Taylor Swift concert and loved it so much she plans to be Swift next year for Halloween. On a side note, if you listen to the Sixth Ounce Podcast you know Jeremy too has dressed up as his favorite wavy-haired, guitar-wielding pop singer. Think on that and when you’re done I’ll be responding to the topic at hand.

I’ll go with an “8” because the UFC’s symphony of errors actually lead to an incredible fight between Diaz/Penn, created more hype for GSP/Diaz than was originally in place, and produced some animosity between GSP/Condit relating to St. Pierre’s decision to ask for Diaz after the “Natural Born Killer” had been promised a shot.

Should fans in the U.K. be offended by how the UFC has treated their market as of late?

Lambert: UFC has been pretty kind to the UK market over the years so they were pretty much due for a down year. But boy did they get screwed over this year. UFC is giving them one show, which is this Saturday for those that don’t know, and not only is it one of the worst cards ever, it happens to be in the middle of a run that features Penn/Diaz, Cain Velasquez/Junior dos Santos, and Mauricio Rua/Dan Henderson. Yet UK fans get Leben vs. Munoz who are two Americans that most of America doesn’t care about and Brad Pickett as their biggest local draw. UK fans should boycott this show.

Conlan: A little harsh on the assessment of Leben/Munoz but other than that Jeremy is spot on. No disrespect to the fighters, all of whom are talented in their own right, but from a marketing/promotional standpoint the card is a dud. It’s a Fight Night at best. The UFC needs to had back across the pond at some point in the first half of 2012 with a major event to make up for this weekend’s mess because if they don’t they’re going to lose some ground in the UK. You can’t neglect fans and expect them to keep paying.

Who looked better in defeat at UFC 137: Jeff Curran or George Roop?

Conlan: Roop, as he was facing perhaps the sport’s #2 featherweight in Hatsu Hioki and arguably won the fight even if his record reflects a Split Decision loss. I never thought Roop would amount to much after watching him on the Ultimate Fighter; that he was just a decent fighter with a good heart and a genuine desire to keep on improving. Turns out he’s done just that, picking up some big wins along the way and now going toe-to-toe with a guy like Hioki.

Lambert: I’ll go with Curran because I sort of expected Hioki to struggle a bit with Roop as he was making his UFC debut after spending his career in Japan, he doesn’t always fight smart, and Roop is a lot better than given credit for. Curran was a victim of the judges favoring takedowns over everything. Curran out-struck Scott Jorgensen and was busier of his back, but because he was on his back the majority of the fight, Jorgensen was given the victory. I thought Curran showed a lot more in that fight then Jorgensen but unfortunately walked away with the “L”.

Should Jay Hieron get an immediate rematch against Ben Askren?

Conlan: No, but I wouldn’t mind seeing him get a one-off against an apt adversary to maintain contendership and face the winner of Askren vs. Ben Saunders/Douglas Lima. I understand Bellator wants to maintain the tournament format when it comes to their contenders but it’s a flawed process forcing champions to compete in non-title fights while deserving challengers have to jump through the same hoops a newcomer does. There’s absolutely no reason Travis Wiuff should have to beat three more people to get a chance at defeating champ Christian M’Pumbu a second time, and, like Wiuff, Hieron should be fast-tracked to another shot at Askren after coming up short in a controversial decision. I’m not saying he shouldn’t have to prove his worth again, because a loss is a loss, but making him walk all the way back to the starting line after getting shafted by the judges.

Then again, he earned his title-shot as the result of poor scoring as well, so perhaps Saturday night was just the MMA gods’ way of course-correcting.

Lambert: No, only because Bellator will have a legit title contender for next season in the winner of Saunders vs. Lima. That said, I don’t think Hieron should have to go through the tournament again. Bellator has a couple of options here. They could do Askren vs. Saunders/Lima at the beginning of season six and then do the winner against Hieron at the end of the season or they could do Askren vs. Saunders/Lima in season six, have Hieron fight newcomer Brian Foster or the loser of Saunders/Lima if the fight ends in a close decision, and then the winners meet for the title in season seven. The latter option eliminates the stupid “non-title super-fight” as well, which is a huge plus.

Hopefully Bellator makes the right decision here and realizes that straying from the tournament format isn’t going to kill the company and could actually benefit them.

Will Chris Leben and Mark Munoz go all five rounds this weekend?

Conlan: That’s rich! Absolutely not. Leben and Munoz will both be looking for a knockout and each has the power to deliver one. I could see the fight going three rounds – maybe – based on Munoz’s wrestling but it’s highly unlikely Leben/Munoz will last an additional ten minutes on top of that.

Lambert: I’m giving it a higher chance than Bren appears to be. While I do believe that Leben will finish Munoz in the first couple of rounds, it wouldn’t shock me to see Munoz use his wrestling in order to try and grind out a decision. I don’t think he’ll be successful, but it’s very possible that he puts Leben against the cage and on his back for 25 minutes. I don’t think Munoz is dumb enough to get into a fire fight with Leben because he’ll lose that battle 10 times out of 10 with his suspect chin against Leben’s chin and power. So if Munoz fights to his strengths and fights a smart fight, this bout could definitely go five rounds.