The Rear Naked Column 06.17.11: Q & A Edition!
Posted by Samer Kadi on 06.17.2011
Will Cain Velasquez be the first current UFC champion to lose the title? Why do fighters choose to move down in weight but not up? What would happen if the UFC champions fought the Strikeforce's? 411’s Samer Kadi answers these questions and more!
Welcome to another "Rear Naked Column" Q & A edition. While I haven't been able to make this a monthly feature as originally planned, I still hope to be able to produce it on a semi-regular basis. Remember, I'll let you guys know a week beforehand, you submit your questions in the comments section, and I answer them the following week. Simple enough, isn't it? Good, now let's get down to business.
To start things off, here are a set of questions that were sent to me back when I did the last Q & A edition but have never gotten around to answering them. Former 411 writer Daniel Bonnizzio brings in the goods:
1. Why do you think guys would rather move down a weight class instead of trying to move up? Nate Diaz, for instance, moved up and was doing rather well for himself until he ran into Kim Dong-Hyun. BJ Penn seems to enjoy success at 170. Why don't more guys try to move up instead of down? Do they really see the size advantage as better then the speed and cardio advantage they get at a higher weight? I mean, I would rather see Marquardt try moving up then down; but that's just me.
This is a great question, and I certainly share your view. While I do think it is sometimes wise for fighters to drop down in weight, it is not an automatic recipe for success. Whenever a fighter drops down, the natural train of thought revolves around him fighting smaller guys than ones he's used to, hence a better chance of winning fights. This can be true in some cases, but for the most part, there are more important factors when determining whether to move up or down in weight.
Recently, we've been hearing cries for the likes of Mirko "Cro Cop", Roy Nelson, and even Fedor Emelianenko to drop down to light heavyweight. Putting aside the ridiculousness of such notion considering where each guy stands at this point in his career, do people really believe that these already struggling fighters would find more success competing in a better, deeper division against more skilled guys? Would Roy Nelson really stand a chance against Lyoto Machida for instance, just because he's bigger?
For years, I've been hearing talks of how impressive it is for Fedor to be beating bigger guys. This is true to an extent, but keep in mind, Fedor actually benefitted from being smaller, as his athleticism, speed and coordination gave him an advantage over the vast majority of heavyweights. After all, there is a reason that Randy Couture was able to get out of retirement and become the heavyweight champion at forty-three years of age. Such a momentous feat would have been near impossible had he decided to go after the light heavyweight title again, and take on say, Quinton Jackson (that is not a knock on Couture, who was a light heavyweight champion himself).
Anthony Johnson has by no means reached his ceiling, but he will always struggle at welterweight where the top fighters are all better wrestlers than he is and present a difficult match-up for him, despite his size advantage. "Rumble" would be better off competing at middleweight, where the division isn't nearly as "wrestler-heavy", and his chances of making an impact increase significantly.
If Georges St-Pierre ever fights Anderson Silva, which is looking less likely by the day, I would personally be opposed to him putting on some muscle mass. It would be wiser for St-Pierre to weigh in at say, 178 pounds (and obviously gain extra weight the night before the fight), so that he can keep his speed, explosiveness, and cardio. The nature of that particular match-up is one where size wouldn't be too much of a factor in my opinion. If St-Pierre can take Silva down, and I suspect he can, he will be able to do so whether he puts on extra muscle weight or not. If Silva's striking is so superior that he will be able to knock him out (another strong possibility), then he will be able to do so whether the Canadian puts on the weight or not.
The reason why so many former lightweights do well at featherweight (Omigawa, Mike Brown, Manny Gamburyan) isn't because they're fighting smaller guys. It's because the division isn't nearly as good.
Regarding your point about Nate Marquardt, it highlights what I always thought: At the end of the day, a fighter is better off in the division where the match-ups suit him more; provided that he feels comfortable competing at that weight of course. If Nate Marquardt can't win his way to a title shot at middleweight, I doubt that he will be able to do it in a better – albeit lighter – division.
Down the road, I suspect Jon Jones will do some serious damage in the heavyweight division, due to his speed, athleticism, and diverse skill set that you seldom see in that particular weight-class.
2. Have we reached the point where we have found champions in the UFC that don't have 'that one key weakness' that some fighters have? I mean, for instance, if you have half-decent takedowns, you can probably beat someone like Dan Hardy. If you have good striking, beating someone like Rousimar Palhares or Demian Maia pre-112 is a piece o cake. However, outside of a single idea for Silva (good takedowns and top game), I can't think of a major kryptonite for the UFC champs. Can you?
I think this applies to the current crop of UFC champions, but it doesn't necessarily mean that from this point forward, every UFC fighter to ever snatch a championship in any weight-class won't have any glaring holes in his game. After all, a few months ago, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua was the light heavyweight champion and his takedown defense has never been anything to write home about.
Nevertheless, your point certainly stands. Of course, each champion has one area of his game that is clearly his bread-and-butter, but outside of Anderson Silva, nobody has that glaring weakness for his opponent to exploit. Making the fact that Silva is arguably the greatest fighter on the planet even more impressive.
Dominick Cruz's wrestling, both defensively and offensively, is one of the most underrated weapons in MMA, and is the biggest reason why I favor him over Urijah Faber in their upcoming bout. To top it off, Cruz has developed a unique yet extremely effective striking style that no one has been able to figure out quite yet. Jose Aldo's striking speaks for itself, and he too has displayed some good wrestling chops, both offensively and defensively (he dropped for a guillotine against Hominick; he wasn't taken down). Frankie Edgar is a wrestler at heart, but his boxing is ever improving, despite almost getting stopped by Gray Maynard. Georges St-Pierre is arguably the most well-rounded fighter in the sport, while Jon Jones and Cain Velasquez have both developed the striking to go along with their tremendous wrestling ability.
Realistically, you can always name a list of skills that a fighter needs to possess in order to dethrone each champion. The problem however, is finding someone who fits the description.
3. Who gets the next shot after Faber?
Demetrious Johnson. I think Miguel Torres would have been the frontrunner had the judges gotten it right in his fight with "Mighty Mouse", but as it stands, I think Johnson has gotten the most impressive wins out of anyone in the division in the past few months or so.
Speaking of size, Johnson is another fighter who is doing well in a division where he's clearly out-sized, although I think this will be a case where his small frame will stop him from becoming the champion, as both Cruz and Faber are very bad match-ups for him and have a significant size advantage to boot.
Should the flyweight division really come to fruition by the end of the year however, I expect Johnson to drop down in weight (along with maybe Joseph Benavidez), and make an immediate impact.
4. What is your opinion on matchmaking after a loss? I understand the appeal and reason for both a 'loss-loss' fight where both fighters are coming off losses (a la Pellegrino/Tibau), and sometimes I see the reasoning behind the win/loss fight setup (Sanchez/Kampmann). However, when is one more appropriate then the other?
Posted By: D. Bonnizzio
I think this is mostly determined on a case-by-case basis. For example, after losing to "Shogun" Rua and Rashad Evans respectively, the UFC made the right call in matching up Quinton Jackson against Lyoto Machida, even if it meant one of the division's top fighters will be riding a two-fight losing streak. Putting aside the fact that fighters who command the kind of money they do will rarely get any "bounce back" fights, I think Joe Silva recognized that a win for one of them over the other would place the victor right back in contention for a title. And while the light heavyweight division is certainly top heavy, there didn't seem to be a clear contender for the winner of Rua-Evans, which was the originally scheduled light heavyweight title bout. Of course, Rashad's injury paved way for Jon Jones, but that was a matter of unforeseen circumstances above anything else. The Machida-Jackson fight proved to be a useful piece of matchmaking, as Jackson now finds himself the number one contender for the light heavyweight title.
The win/loss matchmaking tends to occur when a fighter just came off an impressive win but the UFC is still unsure about where he stands in the division. They tend to match him up with a top 10/top 15 fighter who is coming off a loss, as the division's absolute elite or simply top 10 fighters coming off wins usually have bigger fights lined up.
Again, there is no rule per se, and you can probably find many examples that contradict the above. However, for the most part, this seems to be the pattern.
Longtime reader Last Rider talks some more UFC champions…
For the Q&A: of the current UFC champions, Cruz, Aldo, Edgar, GSP, A. Silva, Jones, and Velasquez, who do you see losing their title first, and to whom?
Posted By: Last_Rider
This is a tough one, because I favor all of them in their upcoming title defenses. However, if I had to pick, it would be between Cain Velasquez and Dominick Cruz.
Not only does Velasquez have a great challenge ahead of him in the form of Junior Dos Santos, but the injury layoff could very well play a significant role. Any signs of early rust could hurt Velasquez big time, especially because striking is the area where fighters tend to struggle with the most after an extended absence from competition. This is mainly because they find it hard to find their rhythm, range, and distance due to ring rust. I still favor Velasquez in the fight, as I don't think Dos Santos will be able to consistently shrug off his takedown attempts and eventually, Velasquez's cardio and furious pace will wear him out.
Keep in mind, Dos Santos showed signs of fatigue in the third round of his fights with Nelson and Carwin, and he was in control the whole time. If Velasquez takes him down and starts landing trademark ground-and-pound, "Cigano" will find it hard to keep up come the championship rounds. This means that Dos Santos will likely have to end the fight within the first two rounds; a feat he's certainly capable of doing especially given his boxing ability. Anything beyond that however, will likely see Velasquez emerge victorious, as I don't see the Brazilian being able to stop Cain's takedowns for the full twenty-five minutes.
For Dominick Cruz, I think he is a rightful favorite over Urijah Faber, but it would be silly to write off a fighter of Faber's caliber. Their first fight will be insignificant given how much Cruz has improved over the years, but it goes to show you just how quickly Faber's ability to find a submission in the scrambles can win him fights. I think Cruz will be the better striker, and his defensive wrestling has gotten really good over the past two years, but Faber doesn't even have to take him down to land a submission. Faber is an expert at spinning and taking the back during scrambles or locking up his trademark guillotine. After all, let's not forget that just under a year ago, Joseph Benavidez was able to take two rounds from "The Dominator."
Former 411 CARDIO FREAK once again ruins my day…
Are you a true mixed martial columnist?
You're Canadian but dislike hockey and like soccer. Have you ever been contacted to be a statue in a Ripley's "Believe it or Not" museum?
Am I a true mixed martial columnist? That is a question best answered by ESPN's Franklin McNeil. Of course, most of my readers have no idea what we're talking about since it is an inside joke between Lambert and I, but that's what you get for not following us on twitter (twitter.com/jeremylambert88).
The answer to your second question is, no. Apparently, loving the most popular sport in the world over a sport where you need a microscope to see the puck does not meet their "believe it or not" criteria, regardless of the individual's nationality.
If I had the power, I would pull a Dana White and revoke your credentials to comment on my columns due to your last question. I would marry Todd Bergman due to the win he gave me in this week's "Fact or Fiction." As far as the other two are concerned, can I kill both?
My fellow "Ground and Pound radio show" host Scott Kuzckowski talks UFC vs. Strikeforce.
Here's a question: If the UFC divisional champions faced off against their counterparts in Strikeforce this weekend, who do you see winning each matchup and how? Imagine they are all healthy and ready to fight just for the sake of this question.
Posted By: Kuch7 (Registered)
I would favor Cain Velasquez over Alistair Overeem, although not by a significant margin. While many questioned Velasquez's chin after the Cheick Kongo fight (more on that later), poor head movement is what stood out to me. Velasquez stood right in front of the Frenchman and got tagged on multiple occasions. Someone with Overeem's technique and power could make him pay big time. Since then however, Velasquez has shown notable improvement in his striking.
The other area where Overeem can be threatening is in the clinch. Velasquez is tremendous in the clinch as his short uppercuts and dirty boxing are some of the most effective aspects of his game. He also possesses a great single leg with which he's almost always on poin. However, Overeem's knees in the clinch – especially to the body – are some of the most brutal strikes in MMA. The Dutchman is one of the few fighters in the heavyweight division who can threaten Velasquez right in the UFC champion's comfort zone.
All that being said, I think people are ignoring Overeem's main weaknesses when praising him so heavily. His cardio has always been poor, and putting on the kind of muscle he did can't help. If Velasquez puts the pressure on him, takes him down, and starts unloading, Overeem will tire quickly. In addition, "The Reem" has never been one to take a solid hit and keep going. On the ground, when punches start raining over him, he wilts. There is no doubt that he's improved tremendously, and I fully expect him to beat Fabricio Werdum and go on to win the Grand Prix, but those kind of weaknesses aren't ones he can get rid of overnight.
Jon Jones would completely run over Dan Henderson. The match-up couldn't be more complicated for "Hendo", whose two main strengths – his wrestling in the clinch and big right hand – are completely negated by Jones. I see no way in which Henderson will be able to get past Jones' reach to land that monster of a right hand, and if he attempts to clinch up with Jones, Henderson will go for a ride. His takedown defense has never been up to par with his tremendous wrestling credentials, and the younger, faster, and more diverse Jones would plant him on his back with little trouble. Moreover, Henderson's work off of his back often leaves a lot to be desired. Against someone with Jones' ground-and-pound, this is bad news for Hendo. His tremendous chin and toughness mean he would be able to survive for the first few rounds, but his poor cardio coupled with Jones landing elbows on top of him all day long will eventually get to him. Think of all the strikes Jake Shields was able to land on Henderson from the top, and imagine if it were Jones landing them instead. If the fight ever materializes, I fully expect Jones would become the first man to stop Henderson with strikes.
I think Anderson Silva against Jacaré Souza can be much trickier than people realize. Unlike Demian Maia, Jacaré has the athleticism and takedown ability to plant Silva on his back. I often found Anderson's bottom game to be a mixed bag. His submissions from the bottom are dangerous, but his defensive guard is shaky. He won't be able to land a submission on a grappler of Souza's caliber, and I would fully expect Jacaré to be able to pass his guard. That said, Souza's takedowns tend to come from the clinch, and trying to close distance on Anderson Silva can be suicidal. On top of that, Jacaré's chin remains his biggest liability. If Silva as much as lands a solid shot, his compatriot will be done. I definitely favor Silva, although Jacaré is one of the few fighters in the division with the tools to polish off Anderson on the ground, rather than try to grind him out for twenty-five minutes.
I honestly don't see a realistic way for Diaz to beat GSP (which is the one fight we are going to see). Diaz's striking is good offensively, but he is very hittable. Of course, GSP won't be finishing Diaz on the feet due to the latter's otherworldly chin and toughness, but the Canadian is one of the few who possess a reach advantage over the Cesar Gracie product. On top of that, St-Pierre's more technical striking is the perfect antidote for Diaz, as his jab and leg kicks will keep the Stockton native at bay. Diaz is most effective when he backs his opponent into a corner and starts peppering him with combinations to the head and body, but if he attempts to do that in this fight, GSP will simply switch levels and put him on his back.
Defensive wrestling has long been Diaz's weakness, and when you put him against the best wrestler in the division, he will be in for a frustrating night. Submitting Takanori Gomi, Hayato Sakurai and Evangilista Cyborg from the bottom hardly implies that Diaz will armbar someone like St-Pierre from his back. I fully expect a 50-45 scorecard, followed by long arguments about St-Pierre being boring and Diaz being overrated.
Gilbert Melendez, for my money, has the best chance against his UFC counterpart. While he is not quite as fast as Edgar, he is close to him in terms of speed. His wrestling in general is very solid and he's hard to hold down. While I think Edgar – who put both BJ Penn and Gray Maynard on their backs – can take Melendez down, I don't expect him to keep him there for long. On the feet, it's too close to call. Melendez's improvement in his boxing technique has in turn led to more power in his strikes. His chin also means that Edgar will find it very hard to do serious damage on the feet, but that didn't stop him from twice defeating BJ Penn. To me, this is the toughest fight to call. I would maybe give a slight edge to Edgar but should the match-up ever materialize, I expect a razor think decision one way or the other.
An e-mailer by the name of "Stephen" took issue with my take on Cain Velasquez's chin.
I was just reading fact or fiction. Why do you insist that Velasquez has a good chin? Did you not see the Kongo fight?
I did. I saw Cain Velasquez take a big right hand, get rocked, and with him completely defenseless, get absolutely clobbered by a monster right cross that only managed to put him on one knee. Two seconds later, Velasquez took Cheick Kongo down.
If taking such a hit from a big heavyweight hitter and not only survive, but not even get knocked down (for those who claim Cain was knocked down, re-watch the fight) doesn't constitute having good chin then I don't know what does. Moreover, Velasquez had the ability to recover a second later and take Kongo down, which speaks volumes in of itself.
In his prime, Minotauro Nogueira got legit knocked down on multiple occasions, and one of them was by Josh Barnett, who despite having good power is hardly a KO artist. Nobody questioned Nogueira's chin then, and with good reason. Taking those kinds of shots and surviving, especially in the heavyweight division is the biggest indicator of a good chin. When said shots fail to put you on your back, you have an excellent chin. Nobody ever questioned Fedor's chin (quite rightly), but people forget that a "Cro Cop" flurry made him do the chicken dance.
Additionally, let's not have double standards. Nick Diaz gets dropped quite often, yet everyone acknowledges his amazing chin. Shane Carwin is rightly praised for his chin and toughness, but was the shot that he took from Dos Santos that knocked him down such a huge haymaker? Hardly. Unless you're Mark Hunt in his prime, you're not going to deflect punches with your face without blinking in the heavyweight division.
REMINDER: Be sure to check out the latest edition of the 411 Ground and Pound radio show. Mark Radulich was doing his usual hosting duties and was joined by Jeffrey Harris, Scott Kuczkowski and yours truly to review UFC 131 and preview Strikeforce: Overeem vs. Wederdum. Join us again this Sunday as we will look back at all the action from the Strikeforce show.