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Grappling with Issues – 1/6/12

What was your reaction to Brock Lesnar‘s retirement? Should any hope remain where Fedor Emelianenko signing with the UFC is concerned? Will “King Mo” fight in Strikeforce again after tomorrow night’s bout against Lorenz Larkin? Is Jake Ellenberger more likely to earn a title-shot in 2012 than Johny Hendricks?

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 will Tyron Woodley face for the Strikeforce welterweight belt if he beats Jordan Mein tomorrow night?

Lambert: Logic says he’ll face the winner of the other welterweight fight on the card; Tarec Saffiedine vs. Tyler Stinson, especially since Stinson has already come out and said he’s going to ask for a title shot if he wins. Then again, you can never count on Strikeforce to be logical, and honestly, does it matter? No offense to any of the 170 pounders in Strikeforce, some of whom could make it in the UFC, but we all know the welterweight title is completely secondary when all the best welterweights are in the UFC.

Conlan: Jon Fitch. Okay, I know it’s a relatively insane prediction but bear with me for a second while I attempt to explain the source of my delusion. For starters, there is zero public interest in seeing Woodley face Saffiedine (again) or Stinson and in fact I’d wager good money that most fans have no idea who either man is. However, as is the case with Keith Jardine, average MMA enthusiasts know who Fitch is and (unlike Jardine) understand he has been a top contender for the past few years. The UFC could easily transfer Fitch’s deal over to Strikeforce as they have in reverse with Nick Diaz, Alistair Overeem, etc. and book him to face Woodley for the belt. Plus, it’s not like Fitch would have to go to Strikeforce for more than a year since the company only has seven events left on its 2012 deal (not counting tomorrow night’s show).

He’s coming off a loss, sure, but quick KOs happen – just ask Georges St. Pierre – and I suspect most of you would agree Fitch is still better than 95% of the Strikeforce welterweight division. Why let the defeat set him back two years in the UFC when he could come in to Strikeforce for a year, possibly pick up a belt along with a few wins, and then return in a year with more momentum? It’s not as though he’s a money-making draw in comparison to some of his peers so harness his dwindling spotlight and direct it at a promotion in desperate need of a respectable, well-known contender.

True/False – Saturday night will mark Muhammed Lawal’s last fight in Strikeforce.

Lambert: I hope so. Once again, Strikeforce is filled with guys who could likely be competitive in the UFC, but we don’t know until we actually see it. There’s no one else for The King of Mo to fight in Strikeforce, and while I think he’d do fine in the UFC, I want to see it before I believe it. No knock on the guy, who I’m a particular fan of, but while he has all the talent in the world, it’s not like he’s beaten a ton of great competition. He out-wrestled Gegard Mousasi, lost to Rafael Cavalcante, and then beat a bunch of mediocre guys. There’s no one else for him to fight in Strikeforce, so let’s see how good he really is in the Octagon.

Conlan: I hope not. Lawal would be lost in the UFC’s light heavyweight division and wouldn’t have nearly the impact on the organization that he could in regards to Strikeforce. The promotion needs to hold on to a few fighters, like Gilbert Melendez, with a solid profile and skills to boot while things unfold over the next year. By staying in Strikeforce and potentially picking up 2-3 more wins in 2012 Lawal could enter the UFC as an immediate contender instead of a guy who was 2-1 in his last three. Again, Strikeforce is almost certainly going to be folded into the UFC after their current contract runs out so Lawal is destined for a date there at some point anyways. It’s all a matter of how he’s used beforehand that matters. A rematch with “Feijao” could be done to erase the lone loss of his career, then maybe a fall date with a well-known UFC castoff, and he could truly debut in the Octagon as more than a paper king.

Fill in the Blank: Brock Lesnar deciding to retire was ______.

Lambert: Unfortunate. Although he’s been through a lot with his illness and he never reacted well to pain or punishment, possibly proving that he wasn’t long for the MMA world, no one can deny that when Lesnar fought, you got excited. I won’t say that the heavyweight division is now boring because Brock is gone, but it definitely loses some “big fight feel” luster without him. It’s also unfortunate for the UFC, because Brock was guaranteed to pop a buyrate, and now they don’t have that.

Conlan: A welcome sight. I respect Lesnar’s accomplishments but I also think they’re overrated by most. To say the division loses some “big fight feel” by watching a 34-year old with a 5-3 record walk is beyond revealing in how successful the UFC’s marketing machine is. As such, the only people who should genuinely be missing Lesnar’s presence are the higher-ups at Zuffa who no longer have his PPV appeal to promote with.

Did he cut a great promo? Yes. Was he a great fighter? No. His decision to retire before the Overeem bout showed at UFC 141 and indicated to me the world had been duped by guy who thought he wanted to be a Mixed Martial Artist just like he thought he wanted to play football or be a professional wrestler. Shane Carwin snapped him into reality, Cain Velasquez sealed the notion, and Overeem put a stamp on it. Lesnar’s retirement was a GOOD thing for him, his family, and the sport of MMA as a whole. There’s no need for a mediocre guy making $400,000 win/lose when some of the sport’s best don’t make 1/10 of that.

BUY/SELL: Fedor Emelianenko will compete in the UFC in 2012.

Conlan: SELL. Dana White wants nothing to do with M-1 or Emelianenko and let’s face it, does anyone actually believe Fedor can contend against the UFC’s brightest based on victories over Jeff Monson and Satoshi Ishii? The Emelianenko Express has departed the station where hopes of seeing him in the Octagon are concerned, and in fact I’m not even sure he’ll ever fight in North America again.

Lambert: BUY. Call me crazy or laugh at me (both would be acceptable responses to what I’m about to write), but I believe that we’re going to see Fedor in the UFC on July 4th weekend fighting Lesnar. Why do I believe this? Well, I have a gut feeling, and we all know how well those usually turn out. Honestly, I realize it’s an outlandish prediction and extremely wishful thinking that Fedor will even fight in the UFC, but if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen in 2012 because this will probably be the last year of his career.

Which former Strikeforce champion had the most impressive debut/re-debut in the UFC this past year?

Conlan: Nick Diaz. Overeem’s win over Lesnar was solid, and Dan Henderson’s dance with Mauricio Rua was a classic, but Diaz came in and beat B.J. Penn soundly (and who has ever done that before other than maybe GSP or Matt Hughes via Crucifix). Lesnar was a bit shaky coming into last weekend’s loss after having been out with illness for a year, while Henderson-Rua was as much a draw as it was a victory for “Hendo”.

Lambert: I’m actually going to go with Overeem, since he actually finished his opponent and did so in very impressive fashion. Say what you will about Lesnar being out for a year and being affected by the illness, and while it’s true, it’s also a bit of revisionist history since all the talk leading up to the fight was that Lesnar was now 100% and the best he’s ever been in his fighting career. Plus, it’s not like Lesnar was a cakewalk opponent for “The Reem” given their styles. Overeem showed an aggressiveness, put Brock on his heels, made him pay for closing the distance with knees, and then finished him quickly.

More likely to get a title shot in 2012: Johny Hendricks, Jake Ellenberger or Mike Pierce?

Conlan: Jake Ellenberger. He’s got a devastating knockout win over Jake Shields, a former top contender and decorated champ in his own right, and a winnable opponent in the form of Diego Sanchez. If he comes away with his hand raised against Sanchez he’ll be a single victory away from a title-shot while Hendricks/Pierce aren’t quite as close (especially Pierce).

Lambert: If Ellenberger gets by Sanchez, I think we’re going to see Ellenberger vs. Hendricks in a #1 contenders bout down the line. There’s no way Ellenberger will sit out most of 2012 after he theoretically beats Sanchez, and that’s what he’ll likely have to do if he waits to challenge the winner of St. Pierre vs. Diaz/Condit. I’ll go with Ellenberger as well since I think he beats Hendricks, but I wouldn’t sleep on Sanchez beating him, setting up Sanchez vs. Hendricks and knowing Jake out of contention for the time being.

PHOTO CREDIT – UFC/STRIKEFORCE