Thank you for joining us for a special holiday edition of The Duel. Joining us this week to break down UFC 92 and K-1 NYE is Sherdog’s Jordan Breen. In the other corner we have our friend Dann from MMAjunkie.com. But over in the third corner we have 5 Oz. contributor Mr. Nick Travaglini and to round it out in the forth corner it is yours truly, Michael Huckaby. Double the people, double the fun. Let us Duel:
1. Forrest Griffin will retain his title at UFC 92.
Breen: Probably FALSE. The style match-up favors Rashad Evans, who shines in the stand-up when he is pitted against natural aggressors. Griffin is a go-forward fighter, but despite a good jab and leg kicks, he isn’t a heavy hitter, and when he attempts to throw power combinations, he is liable to be tagged and dropped, just as he was against Jardine and Jackson. In a 25-minute fight, Evans will get more than enough chances to put his mark on the fight with counterpunches.
Junkie: TRUE. However, I don’t think it’ll come easy. I always have reservations when it comes to betting against Team Jackson fighters since they’re always so well-prepared, and Evans is one of the best when it comes to implementing Greg Jackson’s game plans. But I have a whole new appreciation for Griffin after he defeated Quinton Jackson earlier this year. Griffin had a good game plan, great conditioning and stellar focus throughout a heavily promoted and insanely loud main-event fight. That focus is going to be hugely important against Evans, who’s been attacking his opponents at all angles. Just look at Evans’ victory over Chuck Liddell. It was a thing of beauty. He was setting up that knockout punch the whole fight, and the moment Liddell left an opening, he was flat on his back. Still, I think Griffin pulls out the victory in this one, but like I said, it won’t come easy. I fully expect Griffin to be in trouble in at least a few spots. However, I think he has the grit and determination to fend off Evans for a decision victory.
Travaglini: FALSE. This will be a boring point-fest of a fight. That being said, there are just too many physical aspects in Evans’ favor for him to lose this fight. I know, I know, Forrest has heart. Wow. I also heard this crazy rumor we all have them. Not sure if it’s true, too lazy to google it. The point being heart only takes you so far in life. And it sure doesn’t win MMA fights all by itself. Evans is faster, quicker and has technically better striking. The only area I see as a detriment for Evans is in the grappling department, and even that is questionable. It is obvious Evans is the better wrestler, but I have a feeling Griffin’s BJJ is much better than Evans. I don’t believe either of these fighters want this to go to the floor anyway, so the point may be moot. This will be a boring affair where Evans will bob, weave and feint to a unanimous decision.
Huckaby: TRUE. Let’s make it 2-on-2. I really can’t argue with any of the matchup concerns as on paper it certainly looks like Rashad has the advantage. But on Forrest’s end it always looks like he has the disadvantage on paper yet he continues to win. Rashad will probably have more damaging standup and he’s the better wrestler but I just can’t see him leaving with the belt. This is one of those situations where the round number matters. I see Rashad taking the first couple of rounds but with it being a five round fight I think Forrest rallies and takes it late via decision. With wins over Shogun and Rampage it’s hard for me to say Rashad Evans will take the belt from Forrest Griffin.
2. A +250 Vegas odd for Frank Mir against Nogueira is too generous. (note: due to my terrible wording of this sentence the statement was interpreted differently by everyone.)
Breen: Vigourishly FALSE, assuming you mean generous to Mir. Whether it is due to the fact he beat the now-mythological Lesnar in his second bout or the typical mindwarp of a reality series, Mir is being given far too much play in a fight in which his grappling strengths will likely be neutralized. Nogueira will be able to soundly outbox Mir on the feet, and this may be one of the few match-ups where Nogueira is likely the better wrestler, especially from the clinch where Mir does most of his work. On top of that, Mir isn’t exactly known for his staying power, and in a five-round bout against a guy with a history of long and grueling bouts, he’s going to be outlasted.
Junkie: FALSE. It’s not generous enough. Even with Mir at +250, I’d still pile money on Nogueira. Look, I think it’s remarkable what Mir has accomplished since the motorcycle accident in 2004. His entire leg was destroyed and the first person to find him thought he was dead. It takes a very strong person to want to return to MMA after something like that. But nothing I’ve seen during the return or on “The Ultimate Fighter” or have heard from Mir or some of the people around him lead me to believe he’s taking this fight too seriously. I had my reservations about Nogueira after the Heath Herring fight. But Nogueira’s victory over Tim Sylvia took care of my concerns and made me realize he’s still the same dominant guy we saw in PRIDE. At +250, Mir is given approximately a 29 percent chance of winning. At best, I personally give him a 20 to 25 percent chance. My money — and lots of it — is on Nogueira.
Travaglini: TRUE. Mir is a bigger underdog than the line portrays, but this may be because many of the casual fans still don’t know who Big Nog is or what he has accomplished. Personally, other than the obligatory “puncher’s chance”, I don’t see how Mir can win this fight. In any area. Mir’s stand up is atrocious. Mir is a gifted fighter on the floor, but nothing Nog can’t neutralize at the worst. Mir’s cardio is non-existent, I don’t care how many times he says he is re-dedicated to the sport. Twenty-five minutes in a cage with Nogueira is not an option for him. And I am pretty sure Nogueira is a better wrestler than him as well. I have a feeling this line will keep moving and hit around +350 or higher by fight time.
Huckaby: TRUE. Everyone agrees…. in a way. I don’t see how Mir is only at +250 as he really has no chance of winning this outside of a cut or a fluke punch. I can’t argue with a word Breen led with as Nogueira is better at everything and perhaps most importantly he can go 25 minutes while absolutely nothing suggests Mir would be ready for such a fight. Factor in that if it goes longer Nog will no doubt be winning the rounds on top of that endurance question. This is about as interesting as a Nog/Werdum rematch would be as Mir will be completely neutralized at every turn and frankly +500 seems like a better line.
3. Eddie Alvarez will avoid submissions and control Shinya Aoki to a decision victory.
Breen: Methodologically FALSE. Alvarez may very well win, and I even give him a slight edge in the bout, but should he get to the pay window against Aoki, it won’t be by slipping subs and hammerfisting. Alvarez has far too much power, and Aoki’s chin is far too ordinary. If Alvarez starts landing legit leather standing or on the ground, Aoki will get slept.
Junkie: FALSE. (To the second part anyway.) I do think Alvarez avoids the submissions, but I see him ending it via knockout rather than taking the decision victory. A lot of people gave Alvarez a very short shelf life because of his fighting style. However, he’s been one of the best “brawlers” to adapt his game to MMA. He’s still likely to swing for the fences and win a fight via knockout, but he’s made great strides in his submission defense and assuring he doesn’t leave himself in troublesome positions. And while Aoki can end a fight via submission at a drop of a hat, I think he leaves himself in vulnerable positions too often. You saw a perfect example over the summer when Aoki was TKOd by Joachim Hansen at DREAM.5. He spent all the time pulling guard and working for submissions, and all it took was a few well-placed punches from Hansen to earn the knockout. I expect the same when Aoki takes on Alvarez.
Travaglini: FALSE. Alvarez is a talent, don’t get me wrong. And as young as he is, he is only going to continue to get better. But Aoki may be the best submission grappler in the division. Yes, maybe even better than B.J. Penn. When you are done throwing your stones at me, think about it a little harder and then let me know if you still think Penn is better on the floor than Aoki. The bottom line is can Alvarez keep Aoki from taking him down long enough to take his head off. Hansen got it done because he is a much more accomplished and dangerous grappler than Alvarez which gave Aoki something to think about before he went blindly for the takedown. Alvarez will not pose that problem for Aoki. I think in 2 years this fight goes to Alvarez. Right now, it will be a learning experience for him.
Huckaby: FALSE. I’m all over the map here. On one hand I was championing Alvarez for a long time, going so far as to pick him in every round of the lightweight GP earlier this year. On the other hand I can’t believe so many people are jumping on the Alvarez bandwagon and completely dismissing Aoki after one bad fight. Everyone loses, it happens. All of that said I will contradict myself and say all of the style in this fight has to go to Alvarez. Picturing this fight in my head I see him controlling the action wherever he wants it with Aoki scrambling madly for submission attempts. If I have to settle on a final answer I’ll give Aoki the 51% chance of pulling something off in several minutes of action against an aggressive Alvarez.
4. A pick’em fight, the third time will be the charm for Quinton Jackson against Wanderlei Silva.
Breen: Tertiarily TRUE. I picked Jackson in the second fight, and while he got his face split wide, he was in the driver’s seat of his second meeting with Silva through 13 minutes, keeping Silva on the ropes and being able to finish solid takedowns off his punches. Unless there is some wilfully obtuse strategy employed by Jackson and his Wolfslair comrades, he should be able to build on what he did throughout the second affair with his improved boxing, and avoid another highlight reeling at the hands of his personal tormentor.
Junkie: FALSE. (And I really don’t understand this line at all.) This fight may look competitive on paper (even with Jackson’s two previous losses to Silva), but there are some very important real-world issues the oddsmakers seemed to have forgotten. Just five months ago Jackson was in a police chase. Let that sink in: an actual police chase in which he fled from cops, dodged spike strips and allegedly hit other cars before he was apprehended at gunpoint. It’s not exactly a fender-bender we’re talking about. He was also went to a mental-health facility after friends and family were worried about his sanity and well-being. He broke up with a longtime trainer who was also like a best friend, and every indication points to a less-than-amicable split with some very serious allegations about money. And while switching teams has yielded wonderful results for many fighters, Jackson’s was born more out of necessity. He’s obviously cleaning up his life and has a great team with Wolfslair, but that’s a ton of baggage he’s bringing into a fight with an extremely dangerous opponent — one who’s already beaten him twice before in brutal fashion. I still consider Jackson the world’s No. 2 205-pounder, but like the oddsmakers for this event, that ranking requires me to ignore some very relevant real-world concerns. I just think this fight is too much, too soon for Rampage.
Travaglini: FALSE. Silva does the unthinkable and wins three in a row against Rampage. Rampage states he is a better fighter than 4 years ago, and I don’t see it. The guy checked one leg kick in 25 minutes against Griffin. Rampage is what Rampage is, a good wrestler with excellent hands and jaw-dropping power, but no ground game, no kicks and an aversion to knees in the face. Wanderlei has show he still has the power to devastate an opponent, just ask Jardine. We know his cardio is stellar, and Rampage has been known to get tired in the past. I think a moral win for Rampage is if he takes this to a decision, but either way I think Wanderlei Silva wins this matchup. Again.
Huckaby: TRUE. I think we’re making too much of the police chase as Plaxico Burress can shoot himself in the leg and walk around fine a couple of days later. Who hasn’t been in a high speed police chase? Seriously, name anyone in the world. O.J. Simpson? He has. That’s enough, point proven. Jackson’s control and his use of the cage will make a huge difference against Wanderlei. People make too much out of “early standups” in PRIDE, it’s more the difference between the cage and the ring. If this fight was in a ring again I’d take Wandy but with it being in the cage I think Rampage uses it as well as anyone to control his opponent and get great positioning. Does anyone else see Wanderlei being released if he loses this fight? He’s making too much money to lose the big fights when he still doesn’t have a huge UFC name. Who names, maybe only a year or two after PRIDE closes we’ll have Cro Cop, Wanderlei and Shogun all back fighting in Japan. Rampage by decision.
5. Yushin Okami will get his shot for the Middleweight Title against Anderson Silva in the first half of 2009. (note: sent two days before the Silva/Leites announcement.)
Breen: Unfortunately FALSE. The Zuffa brass don’t see Okami as the number-one-in-waiting now, and his performance against Lister will do little to change that in what should be a stylistically atrocious, but easily won fight for Okami. Okami is at a point where he needs an outstanding win to get his already-deserved shot, and Lister is nigh impossible to look great against, especially for a natural counterfighter like Okami. At best, Silva will fight twice in the first half of ’09, and between possibilities at 205 pounds, and Zuffa’s fondness for fighters like Thales Leites and Demian Maia, it will be an uphill battle for Okami.
Junkie: FALSE. Please ignore the shameless plug, but MMAjunkie.com recently posted a story in which we learned Silva is expected to fight Thales Leites at an April event in Montreal. Despite subsequent third-party reports saying the fight is signed, it’s not. Regardless, I’m confident the fight will go on, but if it does and Silva wins, it’s unlikely he’ll be able to return before July 1. So, that makes a fight with Yushin Okami unlikely in the first half of 2009. Additionally, even if both Silva and Okami win their next fights, I’m not sure Okami gets the next fight. Silva is serious about wanting challenges at 205 pounds, and if he gets by the 185-pound Leites, I see Silva wanting to fight at 205 pounds — not 185 — in his following fight.
Travaglini: FALSE. Looks like Okami got passed over, as Silva is scheduled to fight Leites at UFC 97. I actually think Okami may lose to Lister, but that is another story. If Okami wins, he may need one more High profile win before Zuffa is sold on that matchup.
Huckaby: FALSE. Okami may lose to Lister? For shame. Looks like Okami is going to get the Parisyan treatment and lose a title shot due to injury that he’ll never be able to get back. They’ll probably make Okami win three fights in a row before they even consider it again and with the up and down world of MMA fights he probably won’t even win all of those. Super entertaining or not, I’ve always liked Okami as he’s one of the very small handful of Japanese fighters to adapt to American fighting styles. He’s a wrestler, he cuts weight and the cage benefits him. That said he apparently isn’t impressing anyone in the front office and it will stop him from getting a fight he deserves.
6. Feeling it is his best chance for victory, Mirko Cro Cop will attempt to take down Hong Man Choi.
Breen: Strategically FALSE. CroCop has never displayed any semblance of a shot, which means he’d have to take Choi down from the clinch, and while I’ll never give ssireum too much dap for its applicability to MMA, Choi happens to be versed at tussling with guys inside. Combine that with his enormous size, and the fact that he says he plans on taking CroCop down himself, and there’s not too much to believe CroCop is going to exploit Choi’s wrestling. CroCop’s best strategic choice is to get inside and land with combinations, while avoiding Choi’s skills from the Thai clinch. If CroCop continously can get inside and land while not taking knees, he takes away Choi’s punching range, and forces him to go backwards, which typically destroys any offense the South Korea’s favorite MMA mutant can muster.
Junkie: TRUE. And honestly, this fight is so beyond pointless that I feel like I’m only encouraging such stupid matchmaking by going into much detail. Anyway, I’m sure Cro Cop saw Fedor Emelianenko beat Choi with an arm-bar, and you’d have to be stupid to stand and trade with a 7-foot kickboxer. Hopefully, Cro Cop can quickly put this circus match behind him and either get completely healthy or start fighting some legitimate competition. He’s far too accomplished of an MMA fighter to end a stellar career with these types of meaningless fights.
Travaglini: FALSE. I got my Christmas laugh, thank you. Choi may fall over on top of Crocop, but there will be no actual attempts for a takedown. This will be Choi standing in the middle of the ring and Crocop running on his treadmill for dear life, landing the occasional strike. The only thing I am looking forward to in this fight is if Crocop can head kick Choi. The best case scenario here is that one of the lands clean and knocks the other out so we are not subjected to 15 minutes of stick and move.
Huckaby: FALSE. I was actually going to go with true but everything Breen says pretty much convinced me. Plus he made a ssireum reference because he’s him. Cro Cop will probably stick and move and he will pull off better combinations. I also want to make a distinction between a fight like this and a fight with Fedor and Choi. Guys like Choi and Bob Sapp can create fundamental problems for even the best fighters. Do not compare people like that to Giant Silva and Zulu. When people were insulting Fedor for taking the Choi fight I was thinking Tim Sylvia vs Choi would be an interesting fight and it certainly would be no cakewalk. I’d like to see Cro Cop take this down and wear him out to prove a point but a stick-and-move approach does seem more likely.
Thank you for joining us this week. Join us next week when two MMA writers will discuss the results of UFC 92 and perhaps some of the year in review in general. Happy holidays and enjoy the shows.