The MMA News Report 10.24.07
Posted by Morgan Marx on 10.24.2007
M-1 takes shape, both Fedor Emelianenko and Brock Lesnar land new deals, and Strikeforce finalizes a middleweight tournament. Also, thoughts on Anderson Silva (the most exciting fighter in MMA) and UFC 77 (with appearances by Clay Guida and Kenny Florian). All this and more inside!
It seems like the MMA world is picking up pace again. We have live events to cover, new organizations to address, fighters like Fedor and Lesnar finding new homes, etc. That means you get a real column this week, with actually news, commentary, and review. So let's get to it.
A dominant, multifaceted offense. The ability to succeed in all areas of the game. A flair for the dramatic and entertaining. Issues involving respect and criticism. A division devoid of true challengers.
Am I discussing the 2007 New England Patriots, or current UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva? Both have set themselves apart from the pack as the dominant force in their respective sports. Both have done so in remarkable and thrilling fashion. And both will look to establish themselves as all-time greats somewhere in early 2008. The Patriots confirmed their superiority by destroying "America's team" at home in Dallas. Silva confirmed his ranking as one of the pound-for-pound best by demolishing UFC posterboy Rich Franklin at home in Cincinnati. Both endured a brief period where the game/fight looked somewhat even. But in the end, the final score/outcome left no questions over the better team/individual.
Last week I mentioned that Silva, easily the most exciting fighter in the world to me, still seemed underrated in my eyes. Following a decisive victory that many predicted, the pendulum seems to have swung the other way. Just a few days after writing the sentence, "Franklin has the ability to hurt Silva with a kick," Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports opened with a headline of "Silva's skills are nearly unmatched in MMA." Was Saturday night's victory that much of an eye opener?
I don't mean to pick on Iole. It seemed that many weren't convinced that Silva belonged with the MMA elite. Though his record is impressive, you could question the caliber of his opponents, and a few mental lapses that resulted in submission defeats. But Silva's dominance in the UFC, the premiere MMA organization of 2007, ends all that talk. The way he has defeated such a diverse offering of opponents is unbelievable. He's submitted BJJ specialists, out-wrestled someone expected to dominate ground positioning, and put to sleep a man with a granite chin. In each successive fight, Silva has looked better and better. The culmination came this past weekend, when Silva simply outclassed a man thought to be a UFC standard bearer.
There seems to be only one question that remains for Silva: whether he can beat Dan Henderson or Dan Henderson-lite (Matt Lindland). Those that remain stubborn about Silva's accomplishments point to Henderson as the man to take the middleweight belt from the Brazilian. The argument is that Silva will have difficulties dealing with a 205lb Olympic-caliber wrestler with great power in both of his hands. Really? You think that the Pride dual champion might trouble most middleweight contenders? I can't fathom why this is seen as a knock on Silva's talent, and I can't understand why some seem to think Henderson would maul Silva 9 times out of 10.
I think Henderson, should he eventually cave to the wishes of Dana White, would be a real challenge for Silva. But I don't think it would be a cut and dry victory for the American. People knock Silva's takedown defense. Well, show me a recent fight where he suffered any damage once he was put on his back? Silva's guard is properly lauded, and his ability to regain top position or get to his feet seems pretty good. Silva does have a blackbelt, and while he may not win a majority of fights by submission, he has excellent submission defense. It seems the one gameplan that might succeed against Silva would be for a big wrestler to employ a mix of ground and pound and position control (more accurately known as lay and pray). Either Hendo or Lindland might be that wrestler. But that shouldn't devalue Silva in anyone's eyes.
Randy Couture is an MMA legend, but put him against a large, dangerous counter-puncher with excellent takedown defense (Chuck Liddell) and he's in trouble. Josh Barnett is arguably a top 3 heavyweight, but put him against one of the best strikers of all time (Mirko Filipovic) and watch out. Takanori Gomi may be the most talented fighter alive, but put him up against a drug addled Gracie jiu jitsu specialist (Nick Diaz) and all bets are off. We all know that no fighter in MMA is unbeatable. Other than Fedor, everyone has a bad match up, or a specific weakness that can be exploited. And I think most of us are leaning to the fact that Emelianenko will be beaten at some point in the coming months.
Picking and choosing the one or two terrible match-ups that would give Silva fits is not a reflection on his abilities as a fighter. Every team or athlete, regardless of the sport, struggles against a particular opponent. Silva will lose eventually, and it may in fact be to the former light heavyweight champion. But that doesn't diminish Silva's current exploits. Even if you think that considering Silva the top 1 or 2 P-for-P fighter is a bit premature, is there a fighter you'd rather watch? Is there a more graceful striker in the sport? Is there a more gracious champion, who seems to command respect from fellow fighters? Watching Anderson Silva at this point in his career is no different that watching a Michael Jordan or Ronaldinho. Not only is he winning, he's doing so with style, with grace, and delivering dramatic knockouts. Isn't this the reason we watch MMA? Let's just enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts, whether that's one more fight, or until Silva decides to retire.
The Reader's Question: Is Silva the most exciting fighter in MMA? If not, whom would you rather watch in a single fight?
News Quick Hits
M-1: Emelianenko, Cox In, Many Queries Abound
See, I went with "queries" to be different from all the other "unanswered questions" headlines out there. Be sure to check out 411's complete coverage of the M-1 news conference Here and a brief interview with M-1's first signing, Fedor Emelianenko (in case you hadn't heard) Here. Since Fedor's acquisition was already a given, the unveiling of noted MMA manager Monte Cox as president and CEO of the organization emerged as the big news. Cox's appointment legitimizes M-1's connection to MMA. Other organizations have failed to bring in men with MMA experience to steer their ship and have suffered. Should Cox overcome a few questions regarding conflicts of interests between the organization and fighters he manages/has managed, he should be fine. Baseball super agent Jeff Moorad made a similar leap to the position of Arizona Diamondbacks CEO and I don't recall any major controversies there.
From other comments made during the presser, it seems that M-1 is going to be picking up the slack left by the demise of Pride. M-1 will adapt Pride rules until a new set of uniformed rules can be formed, and will emphasis pageantry in production. The company also will be looking at Tokyo as a destination for an event in 2008.
Emelianenko has inked a two-year, 6-fight deal. That begs an obvious question: who is going to fill those 6 fights. Showdowns with former Pride heavyweights Josh Barnett and Mark Hunt look probable. Beyond those two, options look slim. The specter of Randy Couture is out there, but that still leaves 3 opponents M-1 will have to create. Ben Rothwell's name has actually been floated as a possible opponent. That's not the superfight that would lead to M-1 becoming a real rival for the UFC.
Most of the coverage surrounding M-1 has been positive. I think many MMA fans would welcome another leading organization in the vein of Pride. But M-1 has a long way to go. If they can't secure a talented roster, they won't attract mainstream fans. Heavyweight is the weakest division in the sport for no other reason than there isn't a surplus of athletic, 260-pound fighters. If Fedor should lose to an unheralded challenger, M-1 is in trouble. If M-1 can't bring in someone of Couture's stature to face Fedor, he won't become a star in the USA.
I look at Strikeforce as a legitimate second tier MMA organization in the states. But their first heavyweight title fight is going to feature UFC washout Paul Buentello against Pride washout Allistair Overeem. If M-1 ends up with challengers like that for Fedor, their big signing will signify nothing.
With rumors of a confirmed Chuck Liddell v. Wanderlei Silva fight circulating, I was honestly surprised when the announcement of the night at UFC 77 turned out to be Brock Lesnar's addition to the heavyweight division. Though Dana White has frequently mentioned Lesnar as a target for the company, the fact that he got Lesnar so early in his MMA career speaks volumes of Lesnar's perceived value. White couldn't let an organization like M-1 spring up and sign Lesnar. That's one less marketable opponent for Fedor to face.
Coverage on Lesnar seems to vacillate between "he's the Next Big Thing and a future champion" to "he hasn't done anything in this sport." Lesnar's WWE tenure seems to cloud arguments about his MMA abilities. It's funny that so many people sensitive to MMA's dismissal by mainstream media members seem to have such a narrow-minded view of professional wrestling. Considering Japanese MMA was founded by professional wrestlers like Kazushi Sakuraba, I don't think the tie between wrestling and MMA is necessarily negative.
As for Lesnar, I'm cautiously optimistic about his abilities. We all know about his amateur background and athleticism. At just 30 years old, he still has time to develop and succeed. He's not quite as banged up as someone like Kurt Angle, and seems to have dedicated himself to training. One thing I haven't heard many people discuss is Lesnar's heart. If he gets off to a rocky start will he stick with the sport? He walked away from the WWE, and while I think he had legitimate complaints, he has to prove he's in MMA for the long haul. His confidence (bordering on cockiness) is probably good for him. He honestly seems to think he's a top 5 heavyweight after 1 fight. If he goes and loses by decision or flash submission, will he have the fortitude to get back up off the mat? I guess we'll see.
Both Brad Imes and Jake O'Brien have been mentioned in regards as a possible first opponent for Lesnar. I think I'd rather see Lesnar get a lay up in his first fight. Get him over the UFC jitters that affect many first time participants before giving him someone with Imes' size and growing jiu jitsu talent. Give him a Christian Wellisch or Eddie Sanchez and let's see those superior wrestling skills in action. Can Lesnar take a punch? Does he have submission defense? Can he go 15 minutes with all that muscle? Can he even make 265? Lesnar has to answer a lot of questions, but I'm excited to see him in the UFC. At best, he's another title challenger. At worst, he's overrated, but he's no sideshow. If Lesnar were 24, just out of college and with no WWE experience, he'd be the biggest prospect in the sport's history. That doesn't guarantee success (Akili Smith, Tim Couch, Courtney Brown, etc), but it is intriguing.
One other caveat: the size of Lesnar's contract will surely raise eyebrows. If Lesnar is making a considerable amount more than other, more established UFC fighters, will there be any more jealously or discontentment of the Couture variety?
Strikeforce to Reintroduce Tournament Part II I'm all about criticizing Kevin Iole this week, but honestly, it's not personal. Sure, his fight breakdowns are usually ridiculous (he gave Silva a higher score in stamina than Franklin; Silva has never fought in a 4th or 5th round, Franklin won two title fights in the 4th and 5th rounds). And yes, Iole has already backpedaled on a pre-UFC 77 report that the winner of Sylvia v. Vera would face Big Nog for the heavyweight title (which made Sylvia's decision to call out Chiek Kongo somewhat confusing). I usually don't like to jump all over other journalists. But last week, I used Iole's story about the Strikeforce middleweight tournament, and this week I'm blaming him for having to amend the report.
Apparently, Joe Riggs isn't part of the 4-man field. And apparently the tournament is not exactly a carbon copy of the Pride version fans know and love. Instead, we're getting four B level fighters (at best) with a combined 31 losses facing off in two, 2-minute rounds. At first, I thought that was a typo. I understand the concern for safety in any tournament-style event. But what can you decide in a two-minute round? God forbid someone secures a takedown and looks for a rear naked choke. That's the whole round right there.
All four fighters (Trevor Prangley, Yuki Sasaki, Niko Vitale, and Jorge Santiago) have UFC experience, but all lack any sort of drawing power. The winner might get a shot at Frank Shamrock somewhere down the road, but the whole tournament seems to be shadowy at best. That is a let down, folks.
At this point, Sean Salmon's inclusion as an injury replacement seems the most interesting aspect of the event. Santiago is coming off an impressive performance against Jeremy Horn, and could be considered the slight favorite for the night. I wonder if anyone will care?
Like most UFC cards, UFC 77 had its ups and downs. Sure, we had one lackluster decision and one stoppage due to cut, but a tremendous main event made everything worthwhile in my eyes. People are still complaining about the inclusion of Gurgel v. Robinson over Okami v. MacDonald, but most accounts paint the undercard fight as being the snoozefest we anticipated. Here are 9 thoughts about the card, in no particular order.
UFC 77 Thoughts
1) Rich Franklin is stuck Perhaps he should sit down with Tito Ortiz to discuss what a fighter does when the champion has his number. Until Silva is removed from he top of the division, Franklin is stuck in limbo, without many interesting match-ups and without another shot at the title. He would have to win 3 or 4 fights in a row to ear another shot at Silva, and it would be a complete shock if a 3rd go round ended any differently.
Some were shocked that the word "retirement" came up in regards to Franklin, but I wasn't surprised at all. He's well educated, good looking, and he has interests other than fighting. He has accomplished a ton in the UFC and will be a member of their Hall of Fame as soon as we wants. Silva not withstanding, he doesn't have much to prove in the sport and no losses to avenge (unless he's really galled by that Machida KO).
I'd be very surprised if Franklin ever fought outside the UFC. Unless there's some-Couture level resentment going on, Franklin doesn't seem like a fighter willing to test the free agent market. The UFC could bring someone in to fight Franklin, maybe boosting Paulo Filho up from the WEC or dropping Dan Henderson down to middleweight. Franklin could also move back up to light heavyweight, but there isn't a match-up there that fans are desperate to see.
Should Franklin decide to retire, I wouldn't be surprised nor would I begrudge him. If not, a match-up against Henderson or Filho is the only logical choice I can see.
2) Wasn't that a weird fight between Starnes and Belcher? And I'm not even talking about the bizarre conclusion that saw Starnes yelling at his own corner due to a miscommunication. Belcher's pre-fight smacktalk was great. I'm paraphrasing, but "No disrespect, he fights/hits like a girl" is like something out of Superbad. I'm not sure how you can take that without feeling slighted. And it looked like Starnes was pissed. Even though Belcher was the more technical striker, Starnes landed some big shots. If Belcher ends up against Terry Martin, Chris Leben, or, gods forbid, Silva, he might want to keep his hands up. Smiling as your opponent lands a stiff jab doesn't seem like the best defense.
3) Stephan Bonnar could make a run in the light heavyweight division Bonnar came out and got the job done against a game Eric Schafer, displaying the same talent he's always had. I'll never forget Bonnar surviving Mike Swick's rear naked attempt during the first season of TUF. Watching Bonnar turn blue and start a death rattle told everything I needed to know about his heart. While Bonnar's overall record in the UFC isn't too impressive, I think he can give just about any fighter in the division trouble. He's got great size, good striking, good submission defense, and he seems to be in the proverbial "best shape ever." Should he end up against someone like Rua, I wouldn't be surprised if he wins a huge upset like his other TUF peers.
4) Kenny Florian is slightly lucky Where was that Alvin Robinson in his debut UFC fight? Did the first fight jitters really get to him? When Florian easily defeated Robinson with elbows and strikes from the top position, I figured Kid's jiu jitsu wasn't complimented by a striking game. Yet, he comes out against Jorge Gurgel and just takes over the fight, dominating positioning and striking through the latter rounds. Either Gurgel gassed/injured himself, or Robinson is much better than he looked through his first two UFC rounds. That's exactly what the lightweight division needs, another supremely talented young contender.
5) It wasn't Sylvia fault Look, I know people hate Tim Sylvia. I hate him a little bit too. But you have to admire his skill in the octagon and the way he uses his size to his advantage. Those that are criticizing Sylvia for his fight with Brandon Vera seemed to have watched a different fight than I did. I saw Vera initiate the clinch repeatedly, and I saw Vera come up short in the final round, refusing to press what little advantages he had. And once again, I saw Sylvia completely neutralize a grappling expert on the ground. How can not respect that?
At this point, Sylvia will never be the beloved champion he apparently desires to be. But he's still the best heavyweight in the UFC in my opinion. While the KO wasn't there against Vera, Sylvia seemed to regain his punching speed and his ability to move in the cage. The combinations he threw in the 3rd round were great, and his desire to push the pace and finish strong was reminiscent of the old Sylvia.
If anyone can be faulted for not performing up to par, it's Vera. His public apology to his corner man said it all. If you're not going to adapt mid-fight, you're not going to win. And while fans want to harp on Sylvia for being boring, it seemed like he was the one urging Vera to bring it. The knockouts will come back for a healthy, motivated Sylvia. And maybe Chiek Kongo or Nogueira will be the recipient.
6) Demian Maia immediately enhances the middleweight division I'm glad Maia made short work of his debut UFC opponent, if for no other reason than we got to catch the fight on the PPV broadcast. Maia has an impeccable grappling background and a great story to boot. Often, Joe Rogan will promote someone's grappling ability and cite his success in ADCC/Pan America/whatever, but it won't translate to their UFC ability. In Maia, the middleweight division seems to have someone on par with BJ Penn. Now, this doesn't mean Maia can take a punch like Penn, or can survive on his back against someone using ground and pound. But in a division begging for contenders, Maia will have a chance to shine. Other than Thales Leites, Maia seems to be in a class by himself in regards to grappling at middleweight. So long as he's competent in other areas, he could easily move up the rankings in 2008.
7) Where's that Pride video catalogue we heard so much about? Sam Caplan mentioned this, and I totally agree. The jewel of the Pride acquisition was touted to be the video library. We would be seeing Pride highlights on UFC broadcasts. We were going to see Pride fights on UFC Unleashed. Yet, we didn't see any Pride highlights on Saturday, even though Wanderlei Silva and Big Nog were two of the most recognizable fighters in the audience. Why isn't the UFC doing a better job promoting the ex-Pride fighters? If mainstream fans really are as clueless about former Pride standouts as we assume, the UFC needs to do a better job of getting their accomplishments out there.
8) Clay Guida was the most recognizable And it's all about the hair. At pretty much every UFC event, Guida is easy to spot at some point or another. All you need to do is catch a glimpse of that shock of hair. Hopefully his fight with Roger Huerta becomes another instant classic. The sky's the limit for that kid.
9) I liked the UFC 78 ads With much of the criticism over UFC 78 revolving around the lack of a main event, I was thrilled to see how the UFC is marketing the show. Instead of focusing all the promotional material around the uber-disappointing Evans v. Bisping, the ads featured 4 of the 5 fights on the main card (I don't remember seeing anything with David Terrell and Ed Herman). That's a great tactic, and one I'm surprised the UFC doesn't utilize more often.
I mentioned last week that, top to bottom, the 78 card wasn't utterly terrible (which isn't a huge compliment, but still). While it's not a top-heavy card, I'm at least interested in most of the fights on the main card, and several of the undercard bouts. It's also an extremely balanced card with fighters mainstream fans love (Bisping and Evans), hardcore fans support (Chonan, Gono, and McCrory), a tactical superfight (Fisher v. Edgar), and at least one huge KO almost guaranteed (Alexander v. Silva). There really is something for everyone on the card. At least 3 of these fights have to be exciting. You know Fisher, Edgar and Parisyan will bring it. Alexander hasn't disappointed yet. Terrell is an unknown, and Evans v. Bisping could end up in a boring decision, but I think the card will end up being worth your time and money.
The only problem I saw with the advertising, was the fact that no one has seen Thiago Silva fight unless you actually dropped money on UFC.com. Am I mistaken? Did one of his fights air when I wasn't paying attention?
Once again, thanks for reading, and have a good remainder of the week. Any thoughts on M-1, Fedor, Brock Lesnar, or UFC 78, let me know. I'm always interested in how fans are actually thinking about issues, as opposed to how they are perceived to be thinking. Take care.