The MMA News Report 02.27.08
Posted by Morgan Marx on 02.27.2008
When (and who) will Marcus Davis and Sokoudjou be fighting next? Was Fightlinker’s guerilla-email campaign successful? And what are my thoughts on Strikeforce and MFC? Plus, 8 questions to be answered at UFC 82!
It's another full edition of the midweek look at MMA. No time to spare on delightful updates on my life (you should hear the story about how I had to rescue a young cashier from a perturbed Stephen Stills), just MMA analysis, information, and opinion.
I watched both HDNet MMA events this past weekend, and the results were a mixed bag. Friday night's MFC card was certainly the better of the two, but both shows were a big step down from the usual offerings of the UFC and WEC. I thought the fight Jesse Forbes won by miraculous armbar was thrilling. But too many of the fighters were inexperienced; it was a series of fights suited for the opening round of TUF.
I had two real issues with the shows that I haven't seen mentioned in many other places:
1) Rings are terrible I understand the appeal of Pride, and I also understand why fans are investing their hopes in DREAM as a legitimate successor. I just wish more organizations would adopt the cage as a fighting arena. Nothing kills the flow of a fight like two competitors sliding under the ropes, forcing a restart. Multiple fights were stopped and restarted, totally changing the course of the fight.
I was surprised at how frequently fights were restarted in different positions, with the most egregious example coming in the MFC main event, where Pete Spratt and Ryan Ford ended up restarting on their feet as opposed to the floor. That's just not something you would see in the UFC (bad stand-ups, sure, but at least there's a gray area involved with judgement calls)
I understand that the cage can present a slightly more controversial look. But the UFC has shown that it can be marketed, and it actually seems safer. At least we know the fighters won't spill through, taking out a timekeeper and a photographer in the process.
2) Bob Sapp is a sideshow I rarely feel bad about watching MMA. I know the risks, I understand the injuries that can occur, I know that my appreciation of violence taps into something primordial within me. However, watching Bob Sapp run from contact with a look of absolute pain on his face made me pause. When a fighter clearly doesn't want to be inside the cage/ring, it makes me question my appreciation of the sport.
There's been a lot of talk about Kimbo lately, even in this column. One of the biggest positives you can say about the Elite XC figurehead is that he loves to fight. You don't have to worry about whether Kimbo can take a punch, or whether he wants to be center stage, opposite another human that wants to inflict harm.
Sapp represents the opposite. I don't know whether Sapp fights just because of the money, or because of the fame his size and stature bring him. But he clearly doesn't have the heart for fighting. You can add him to a list that includes Giant Silva of fighters lacking the ability to take a punch to the face and persevere.
The Reader's Question: Do you tune in to smaller MMA events on HDNet? Will you be watching the IFL Grand Prix on Friday?
NEWS LEG KICKS
Davis and Swick to Vie for Welterweight Legitimacy
MMAMania is the first to report that Marcus Davis, he of the 11 fight win streak, will finally be presented with a chance to prove he belongs among the top 10 UFC welterweights. Davis is reported to be fighting welterweight newcomer Mike Swick, a fellow TUF veteran coming off a somewhat disappointing decision victory over Josh Burkman. The fight is reported to occur at UFC 85 later this summer.
This is a great test for Davis (and Swick for that matter). While many hoped that Davis would be slotted in against Jon Fitch this weekend, taking a fight against a top 5 welterweight on short notice would have been a huge challenge. Instead, Davis and his team will have a full camp to prepare for Swick, a known competitor without the pedigree of Fitch.
For Swick, this will be another chance to prove that his decision to drop to 170 was the smart call. The vaunted "strength advantage" didn't really come into play against Burkman, and likely won't materialize against Davis, a huge welterweight. Either way, it should make for a tremendous fight, especially if Swick feels he can let his hands go without worrying about the takedown.
"The African Assassin" is set to make his UFC return at UFC 84, according to MMAWeekly.com. Sokoudjou will face off with former Pride competitor and fellow Lyoto Machida victim Kazuhiro Nakamura on the main card of the event headlined by BJ Penn and Sean Sherk's championship bout.
Nakamura's selection suggests that the UFC is looking to ease Sokoudjou into the organization with a victory. Though Nakamura has faced stiff competition before, and lasted all 3 rounds against Machida (something Sokoudjou did not), it shouldn't be a tough test for the Team Quest fighter. Nakamura doesn't have the submission ability or striking prowess to finish Sokoudjou, and I don't like his chances of escaping with a decision.
News is not official until the UFC decrees it to be (no matter how many blogs scoop a story). The UFC has updated their website to reflect that the April 2 Fight Night card will run for a full 3 hours, and will televise at least 5 fights. Should a few of those fights end quickly (and with Houston Alexander and Tim Boetsch on the card, that's a good possibility), a sixth fight might even air.
The swing bout for the event will be the lightweight battle of wrestlers between Frank Edgar and Grey Maynard. All told, several key fights will occur at 155lbs, in the welterweight division, and at light heavyweight. It should be a tremendous event, and required watching for all MMA fans.
1) Will Dan Henderson stick to a gameplan What's the common refrain we've all heard leading up to this Saturday? Come on, say it with me now: "Henderson presents a bad match up of styles for Anderson Silva." Henderson is definitely one of the top fighters in the world, and this could be the beginning of a lengthy run as Middleweight Champion for the Team Quest fighter. But I think people are relying way too much on the perceived notion that Henderson is a dominant "wrestler." Now, I know that sounds silly, what with Henderson being an Olympic caliber wrestler. But he's not a Frankie Edgar or Jake O'Brien, a one-dimensional wrestler. Henderson is a mixed martial artist. And I think that might actually hurt him on Saturday night.
The Henderson quotes that have jumped out to me are about how comfortable he is on his feet, how he isn't afraid to stand with Silva, and how he thinks he's better in the clinch. On Sherdog radio, Henderson explained that other Silva foes were afraid to trade with the Brazilian, making their shot attempts fail. I don't quite agree. Chris Leben tried to stand and trade, and was knocked out. Rich Franklin seemed to make an effort at striking with Silva, and that didn't really work either time.
Henderson isn't the type of fighter to take you down and Lay'n'Pray his way to victory. He likes to brawl, and he's confident in his KO power. I think he might make the mistake of trying for the decisive KO victory as opposed to taking a safer route. Silva is not the kind of striker to test. While Henderson has never been knocked out, he's never fought a striker like Silva. For all of Wanderlei's strengths, he's not nearly as technical with his striking as Anderson. Henderson has every chance of winning this fight, even if it stays standing. But I think his odds of winning are directly tied to his gameplan.
If Silva wins convincingly, how will his legacy stand? Silva is finally getting the respect deserved as one of the top fighters in the world, regardless of weight class. But there are still some niggling criticisms tossed his way. Some have claimed that the hype is a byproduct of the UFC's marketing campaign. Others suggest that until he defeats a wrestler like Henderson, his record isn't perfect.
I am an avowed Silva mark, and I hope this is the last time I have to write this. Should he mow through Henderson, a hardcore favorite and one of the more decorated veterans around, Silva should be regarded as one of the best MMA fighters of all time. He already is among the top rated fighters in regards to striking. I think his other assets are vastly underrated. Against Henderson, his takedown defense and BJJ will be tested. I think Silva will pass.
I think the most ludicrous thing I've heard is that Silva "showed holes in his game against Lutter." While I don't think Travis Lutter is the Second Coming of Marcelo Garcia, he's certainly a talented ground fighter. And, need I remind everyone, Silva had knee surgery on both legs before the fight. You think that might have played a part in Silva's inability to keep the fight standing? And he still won!
After Saturday, Silva will either rise to level his hype suggests, or he'll lose to an extremely talented fighter. But either way, we'll be able to put the questioning aside.
3) Where does the champion go from here? This is an easy answer should Henderson win. Rich Franklin will have the chance to earn another shot, and the various second tier middleweights Silva dispatched will be able to stake another claim. If Silva wins, the options are limited. Yushin Okami might be a credible opponent, and it would allow Silva to revenge the ridiculous DQ loss from Hawaii. Perhaps someone like Ricardo Almeida will make a real push. Or maybe another light heavyweight ex pat will step up, such as Michael Bisping or maybe Wanderlei.
But Silva's most interesting options lay in other divisions. The possibility of Silva taking on Georges St-Pierre at a catch weight is almost to good to come to fruition. While it's just a rumor, and would require both fighters to overcome several steep challenges, the fight would be an instant classic. Talk of Silva moving up to light heavyweight is also intriguing, though I'm not quite as psyched about that. The 205lb division already has enough challengers without the addition of Silva. But it would open up a wealth of new potential match-ups, something I'd certainly love to see.
I think this is where the silly talk of Silva "underestimating" Henderson comes from. I've taken Silva's comments to imply that Silva foresees greater challenges down the road, against other fighters. He's not disrespecting Henderson by claiming past fights have been tougher, but saying he will continue to seek great challenges in the future. Or maybe Silva just knows he's going to KO Hendo…
<4> Does anyone care about Chiek Kongo? There's no doubt that the Frenchman's victory over Mirko Filipovic was surprising. It's also impressive, though I think we can say that Filipovic's mental/physical state had something to do with the outcome. I'm questioning whether UFC fans really view Kongo as a credible title contender.
There's no doubt that Kongo would be eaten alive by Minotauro at this point in his career. But Kongo's shaky ground game suggests he would struggle against at least 3 or 4 of the UFC's top 10 heavyweights. Fabricio Werdum would blow through Kongo should the fight hit the ground. Gabriel Gonzaga and Brandon Vera might be just as dangerous. I'd even like both Brock Lesnar and Jake O'Brien's chances based on their wrestling alone. And because I'm 411Mania's resident Frank Mir mark, I think Mir could even take him.
So that's my opinion, I wonder if the common fan views him differently. I think Kongo could have some great fights, particularly if fighters like Arlovski and Vera stood and traded. But otherwise, I'm not willing to buy Kongo as a top tier fighter, and a victory over Herring isn't really the proof I need.
5) Can Herring change things up this late in his career? Normally, I'm against a fighter making drastic changes to his training routine. But Heath Herring had to do something to resurrect a UFC career that began with such promise. Since Herring is a heavyweight, and an established one at that, there will be a demand for his services even if he washes out of the UFC. But at just 29 years of age, there's no reason he can't turn things around.
If rumors are true that several UFC heavyweights are on their way out of the organization, the UFC will need fighters like Herring to fill out cards. There simply aren't a ton of 230lb men capable of fighting at the top levels of MMA. Herring poses size and natural athletic ability that few others do. So far, he hasn't quite put in the effort to maximize his talents, and he's still hung in there with some of the top fighters of the world.
I do hope that Herring doesn't get caught up with "putting on a good fight" and just takes care of business against Kongo. He keeps talking about how "the smart thing" would be to take Kongo to the ground and submit/pound him out. I hope that means that's what Herring will actually do, as opposed to the dumb thing, which would be trying to win a kickboxing fight against the stronger Kongo.
6) How can you root against Evan Tanner? But how can you pick him to win? Tanner's efforts to turn his life around are commendable. He's an interesting fighter that seems to generate good will in all his endeavors. There will be a ton of fans supporting Tanner in his comeback fight. But I don't get how anyone could say that Tanner has a greater chance at victory than Yushin Okami.
Okami presents a tough fight for Tanner after a lengthy lay off. Okami is big, powerful and stubborn. Tanner won't be able to bully Okami and I doubt that Tanner will be able to pin Okami down for 3 rounds. Tanner's best chance probably comes from off his back, by applying a triangle, something Tanner is extremely proficient at. But Okami has never been submitted in his career, so even that isn't a foregone conclusion.
I hope Tanner shows up in shape and puts on a great fight. The UFC's middleweight division is certainly better for having him back. But if Tanner wins it will be a big upset. If you're picking Tanner it's because you like his story and you like long shots.
7) Will Fitch stumble against an unknown talent? Jon Fitch has finally broken into the mainstream as far as top ranked welterweights. He's made a UFC career out of flying under the radar and beating fighters with bigger profiles. Now that Fitch is the one with the target on his back, will things be different for the former Purdue wrestler?
Fitch seemed fueled by the fact that he was an overlooked fighter at 170lbs. In a recent interview with FiveOuncesofPain.com, Fitch also seemed somewhat jealous of the attention given to less experienced fighters like Brock Lesnar. Perhaps that helped in his motivation for fighting a reality show winner like Diego Sanchez.
Against Chris Wilson, an unheralded Team Quest member, is Fitch primed for an upset? Wilson is known primarily for an IFL run highlighted by a TKO victory over Rory Markham. Wilson is long, well rounded, and comes from a great camp populated by great wrestlers. I haven't decided whether I'm siding with Wilson in this fight, but there's no doubt Wilson has the talent to shake up the welterweight division.
No one will be surprised if Fitch wins on Saturday. But it's an interesting test for the AKA fighter. Fitch has to prove he can win the fights he's favored to, and beat the opponent's he might not be raring to face.
8) Which undercard favorite will lose? Chances are one of Andrei Arlovski, Josh Koscheck, or Diego Sanchez are going home with a loss. Upsets have been the norm over the past year, and all 3 fighters have big question marks in regards to contract status and mental preparedness. Sanchez's opponent, David Bielkheden, certainly has the lowest profile, but that doesn't guarantee a victory for the Nightmare. Bielkheden's claims that he hasn't watched tape on Sanchez and doesn't much about him probably does
Koscheck hasn't yet fought a fighter like Dustin Hazelett. I love that Hazelett has been honest about where he thinks the fight will take place. He's got basically no chance at stopping Koscheck's takedowns, and he thinks he can exploit one of the transitions between takedown and top control and sink in a submission. That's a great gameplan and something Koscheck might slip up against. But GSP didn't submit Koscheck and Hazelett isn't either.
No, I think Arlovski has the biggest risk this weekend. Some may theorize that Arlovski is being buried on the undercard due to his possible free agency. I think it has more to due with the fact that O'Brien might just suck the life out of the fight and hold Arlovski down until a unanimous decision is called. Arlovski hasn't fought a wrestler like O'Brien since Vladimir Matyushenko, and O'Brien is much bigger. Arlovski can't rely on the quick KO, something we haven't seen since the Paul Buentello fight.
Granted, all three men will enter Saturday night as heavy favorites, and all three could certainly coast to victory if things go their way. But if I had to take a guess (and I suppose I do, what with this whole writing gig), Arlovski is the likely loser.
Enjoy the event on Saturday, I hope it outlives expectations. We'll be back next week with thoughts on the show, a look at the middleweight Power Rankings, and more news updates. Till then, take care.