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Grappling with Issues 6/4/10

Is Michael Bisping destined for a title shot? What side of the love/hate debate are you on in regards to Rashad Evans‘ performance against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson? Should fans write off Joachim Hansen on the heels of three straight losses? Was Diego Sanchez‘s return to welterweight a mistake?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!

If you’re reading these lines you’ve made it through another work-week and are back in the friendly digital confines of “Grappling with Issues”, our site’s resident Friday feature highlighting insight and opinion from Adam Tool and myself on six subjects plucked from the Mixed Martial Arts landscape. However, just because we staffers get the fancy set-up, please don’t feel precluded from dishing out your own thoughts on each matter in the comments section at the bottom of the column…

After picking up his third consecutive loss is it safe to say the ship has sailed on Joachim Hansen as a lightweight/featherweight star?

Adam Tool: Absolutely. Hansen has been on a fairly steady decline since 2005, as almost all of his best wins came prior to that. He had only regained status in the lightweight top 10 after his win over Shinya Aoki, but that was followed by his second loss to Aoki. We also now have the added hindsight to realize that Aoki isn’t quite as good as everybody thought he was, so Hansen’s victory loses even more luster.

Hansen hasn’t won since that upset over Aoki in the DREAM Lightweight GP Finals, and unless he can turn the tide quickly and string together a few wins his days of being ranked are essentially over. He’s still a dangerous veteran of the sport that can provide a stern challenge for up-and-coming fighters, but I’d be surprised to see him holding gold in a major organization ever again.

Brendhan Conlan: I disagree with Tool though acknowledge his argument is based on undeniable facts. Where my opinion parts ways with his lies in the interpretation of the word “star”. Hansen has done enough in MMA to have solidified his spot as a veteran worth watching regardless of card or opponent. His three-fight slide is cause for concern to an extent but it’s also important to maintain perspective.

Examine the losses in question for a second. “Hellboy” was knocked out by an opponent known to successfully throw leather (Hiroyuki Takaya), out-pointed in his featherweight debut by a guy whose only losses are to Urijah Faber and “Kid” Yamamoto (Bibiano Fernandes), and submitted at the last second by one of the sport’s top jiujitsu practitioners (Shinya Aoki). He wasn’t out-classed by vastly inferior competition; he hasn’t been victim to a striker’s submission or BJJer’s brawling. The Norwegian nightmare is freshly 31, so he’s not over the hill by any means, and remains a threat regardless of a fight’s action taking place while standing or on the mat. He’s beaten a number of top lightweights throughout his career, has a unique look separating him from the pack, and brings an exciting style into the ring with him on every occasion. While those characteristics may not serve as the definition of a someone destined for “holding gold in a major organization” they do work for me in terms of summing up Hansen as being a “star” in MMA.

True/False – Diego Sanchez needs to go back to lightweight and stay there.

Tool: I’ve got to go with True, although I hate trying to make judgments about what weight class a fighter should be at. Each person knows their own body better than anyone else. If Diego had troubles cutting in his three bouts at lightweight than maybe it is in his best interest to work on adding mass and sticking around at welterweight. Without knowing him personally there’s no way for me to give a definitive right/wrong answer to the question.

That being said, Sanchez looked positively tiny compared to John Hathaway. Granted, Hathaway is 6’1” but he’s still not the tallest guy in the division. The UFC’s welterweight division is defined by its powerhouse wrestlers, and is there any reason to think that Sanchez could hang with the top guys in the division? I don’t think so.

There are still plenty of intriguing match-ups for Sanchez at 155. First and foremost, Kenny Florian deserves a rematch. Florian is almost unrecognizable compared to the fighter that Sanchez steamrolled to win the first Ultimate Fighter title, and at this point in their careers it makes sense for them to hook up again. On top of that, at the moment BJ Penn is not the division’s champion. If Frank Edgar can successfully defend the UFC Lightweight Championship in a few months then the division will be wide open. A few solid wins in a row could easily land Diego back into the contender’s circle, especially given his name value with the fans.

Conlan: Tool hit the nail on the head with this one. True, Sanchez knows his body’s limitations better than anyone other than the originator of the “YES-cartwheel” ever could, but he looked small at UFC 114 and not just from a height standpoint. He also appeared to be a lot lighter in terms of body mass. If Diego wants to attempt a serious run at the division’s top fighters he’s going to need to bulk back up and that isn’t necessarily easier to do than cut back down to 155 pounds. He beat two solid lightweights en route to facing Penn for the title and, as Adam pointed out, has a ready-made match-up in the form of Florian which could easily be a PPV co-headliner or main event a Spike/Versus show. Meanwhile, at welterweight Sanchez hasn’t beaten anyone of real significance since Karo Parisyan in October 2006, and most recently served as the proverbial rung a relatively unknown young fighter used in lopsided fashion to ascend up the UFC’s internal rankings last weekend. Regardless of how much he may dislike the process, what I see as being best for Diego’s career is a return to 155 pounds and perhaps full-time immersion in one of MMA’s top camps.

Does Rashad Evans deserve to be criticized or praised for his performance against “Rampage” Jackson?

Tool: I’ll say this: if we’re going to criticize the way Evans won then we must also open the floor to criticism for Georges St. Pierre’s recent wins. Evans fought to win, just like GSP does, and while it may not always be exciting it is a smart way to win.

Did anybody really think that Evans was going to decide to stand and trade with Rampage? I’m sure that shot he landed in the first gave him some confidence in his hands, but the near-finish in the third just proved that Evans chose the right way to fight. You can’t get knocked out if you don’t get hit, so by closing the distance and pressuring Jackson in the clinch Evans stayed away from his opponent’s somewhat-legendary power.

The simple fact is this: wrestling will be the dominant avenue of mixed-martial arts until fighters figure out how to stop it. At the moment there’s a relatively small percentage of fighters with impeccable takedown defense, but as the sport goes on and the new guys get better we’ll see that percentage grow. It’s similar to how jiu-jitsu was practically unstoppable in the early days, but once everybody began training submission defense the number of tapout victories started to dwindle. I suspect we’ll see a similar effect towards wrestling, the only question is how long it will take.

Conlan: I think praised for his patience and grappling, though I totally get why a number of people who watched his win over “Rampage” have a desire to go Sugar-free in the future. The success of Mixed Martial Arts as a whole is as dependent on entertainment as it is on athletic endeavor. Without exciting finishes and colorful personalities the sport and its participants would not find themselves in the place they are today or where they hope to be tomorrow and beyond. If every fighter elected to compete as cautiously as possible in hopes of merely out-decisioning an opponent the public’s interest in the sport would take a significant nosedive. The butterfly effect of “Griffin vs. Bonnar” was not a result of the judges’ final influence but the warrior spirit each showed in respectfully slugging it out for fifteen minutes. The performances we remember in life are ones of righteous victory and heartbreaking loss, not of proverbial filibustering or monotone success. Slow and steady might win the race but fast and exciting win the war in an endeavor based on drawing human interest. Had Evans followed up on his success in the first round with a greater willingness to put his chin on the line, especially after weathering Jackson’s storm in the third, he would have come away looking brilliant instead of leaving the flavor of milquetoast on fans’ collective pallets.

However, as Rashad elected to play it safe for the bulk of the action instead of backing up the pre-event hype, he exited the Octagon to boos and will continue to hear them in arena’s for the foreseeable future. Then again, I don’t suspect Evans necessarily cares what people think neither do I fault him for that attitude if such is the case. After all, he’s in line to compete against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua for the UFC Lightweight Championship, is he not?

After everything that happened in their fight, who are you more excited to see fight again: Todd Duffee or Mike Russow?

Conlan: Let’s see…one is a hard-hitting, 24-year old physical specimen who isn’t afraid to speak his mind and the other is a 33-year old, fairly flabby wrestler who was getting hammered until landing a shocking knockout punch midway through the third round…who to pick, who to pick…

Sarcasm aside, obviously Duffee is the more exciting prospect in every way minus his recent stumble against Russow (not to mention he was dominating the bout prior to having his lights turned out). The time he spent in the Octagon against Russow was the first third round he’d ever seen and nearly equivalent to the total amount of time he’d spent in a ring when adding up his six fights preceding his only career loss. He’s relatively inexperienced and his skills are still raw in nature, but he’s exciting to watch and appears to have a bright future ahead of him as long as he keeps training at a high level. “Duff Man” remains a name to watch in the heavyweight division no matter where he fights while Russow’s star, even with nine straight wins, is more likely to fade simply based on age, style, and appearance. One surprise knockout does not a must-see-fighter make.

Tool: Looking at this question, I’m inclined to go the other way. I can agree with Brendhan’s points regarding Duffee, and he’s definitely a fighter to watch. Within a few years time we could be looking at the next big thing in the heavyweight division, but it’s clear now that he’s got some things to work on in the gym before he’s climbing up the ranks of contenders.

In terms of each man’s very next fight, I have to admit that I’m a bit more curious to see what Russow can do. Other than the Duffee fight he’s shown some solid skills, particularly in terms of his grappling. We now know he can take a punch, and if the situation arises he can land one two. I wouldn’t put him in there against the top guys in the division, but there’s some interesting match-ups to be made with the former Chicago cop. Until somebody in the UFC beats him we won’t have a real solid idea of just how far Russow can go, and I’m curious to see how his next few fights play out.

Do you think Michael Bisping will ever fight for the UFC Middleweight Championship?

Conlan: I think it’s definitely more likely than not. He’s lost three times in his career – Wanderlei Silva, Dan Henderson, and Rashad Evans – and only been finished once in 22 professional bouts. He has middleweight wins over Chris Leben, Denis Kang, and most recently Dan Miller, and though they may not be as impressive in stature as the trio who have claimed victory over Bisping, all three are still solid 185-pounders with respectable accomplishments in the sport. In my mind, another comparable win (certainly two) would elevate “The Count” high enough from a statistical standpoint to merit a title-shot. If Vitor Belfort can earn one without a single fight in the UFC at middleweight then why shouldn’t Bisping get a go at the belt with a number of them over worthwhile competition?

Also, keep in mind contendership is not wholly established by numbers. Beyond being a high-quality Mixed Martial Artist, the Brit also possesses a polarizing personality and serves as the UFC’s poster-boy in the UK. Love him or hate him, the reality is he puts asses in the seats and opponents on the floor. The Ultimate Fighter Season 3 champion is somewhat of a celebrity in England, yet also has a large contingent of MMA followers who want nothing more than to see someone knock the accent off his tongue with a solid series of strikes. He’s finished sixteen of the nineteen foes he’s faced and sells a match-up to media/fans like few of his peers can.

All of the above things add up to a crack at the UFC middleweight strap as soon as an opportunity, even one that needs nudging, presents itself.

Tool: It’s clear that the UFC wants Bisping to be a contender, as they would have given him that shot if he had beaten Dan Henderson. As we all know though, Bisping did not even come close to accomplishing that task. Thus we arrive at the crux of the problem.

As Brendhan pointed out, all three of Bisping’s losses have come against some of the top names in the sport. Unfortunately there are no such names in Bisping’s win column. The man is clearly capable of beating the middle-tier of talent in the UFC, but he’s consistently come up short against the best competition. He has yet to put forth that kind of stand-out performance that makes the fans and front office stand up and demand that he get a title shot.

In this sport you can never say never, so maybe in the next year or two we’ll see “The Count” string together some quality wins over big-name opponents. The middleweight division will be opening up again soon once Chael Sonnen and Vitor Belfort get their shots, so now would be the time for a hungry young middleweight to make his cause.

Would you be in favor of a Jason Brilz/Antonio Rogerio Nogueira rematch with both fighters getting a full camp to prepare?

Conlan: Eventually, yes. Immediately, no. Like a lot of other people who watched the fight I felt Brilz did enough to emerge ahead on the judges’ scorecards, but I’ve also come to grips with the reality ringside officials don’t always see things as I do and know there’s an ever present risk a questionable decision might be rendered when a bout goes the distance. Also, though I personally felt Brilz won the first round, I recognized a little wiggle room at the time based on Nogueira’s defense and boxing. I may not have agreed with the bout’s result but I wasn’t infuriated by it either.

In terms of a rematch, the reason I favor the possibility of one taking place down the road as opposed to being the next stop on their professional paths is fairly simple. Brilz exceeded nearly everyone’s expectations by coming in on late notice to take on the toughest opponent he’s ever locked horns with while also competing on the biggest stage of his career. Throwing him back into the fire with the memory of his performance fresh in fans’ minds would create unnecessary and unfair pressure to perform at least as well as he did at UFC 114.

Rather, Zuffa should build on the momentum he created by giving him a few fairly winnable match-ups while utilizing Nogueira as originally intended. Establishing a positive streak in the W/L column for Brilz would make the rematch THAT much more interesting, as would putting Nogueira and the value of his name/record/skills against top 205-pounders like Forrest Griffin or Thiago Silva. Comparably, hot-shotting the bout would do little good for either man, especially when the actual decision wasn’t horribly controversial to begin with. Let them move forward in their careers and then remind fans of how close their first fight actually was.

Tool: I was leaning towards a yes answer, but I can’t argue with Brendhan’s…argument. Nogueira did get the win, so his career trajectory will likely continue unabated. It’s entirely possible that “Lil’ Nog” could rebound with an impressive win over a top-ranked opponent (Griffin or perhaps the winner of the upcoming Rich Franklin/Chuck Liddell bout) and work his way into title contention within the next year. Now that his good friend Lyoto Machida is no longer the champion the path is clear for Nogueira to make his run at the belt.

Meanwhile Jason Brilz scores a career-making loss, in a fight that nobody expected him to win. He had less than a month to prepare for the biggest fight of his life and he very nearly pulled it off. Count me amongst the fans that thought Brilz would have his hand raised after the scores were read, and I think the narrowness of the decision is the main factor that warrants a rematch. I wouldn’t make it immediately but I would make it within the next two years. In the meantime I think the UFC has found a new potential star within the light heavyweight division.

9 COMMENTS
  • fanoftna33 says:

    Bisping will eventually get a shot at the 185 lb title. The guy is a very talented fighter with very good striking and great takedown defense, regardless if he finishes fights he puts on a exciting match with just about anybody, and his hand speed is probably in the top 5 in the division. I would love to see the count matched up with Belfort in the future.
    I also thought Brillz won his fight but like you two would like to see him in a fight he AND hid opponent were giving plenty of time to perpair. A lot is being made of the fact that he came in on short notice and almost beat Nog, but Nog isnt getting any credit for taking on a virtual unknown on 3 weeks notice and getting out of some pretty rough spots.

  • Dufresne says:

    I think I’m gonna have to go with Bredhan’s definition of “star” here. Unless Hellboy takes a few one sided beatings to even middle tier fighters, I’m gonna enjoy watching him. He brings it every time, fights up to his name, and win or lose is a damn entertaining fighter. Until he starts a Chuck Liddell-esque slide, I’m gonna watch.

    Diego Sanchez should probably jump back down to 155 and try and figure things out there. Even if the cut was hard for him, he only made it 3 times. It’ll get easier with practice. Plus, at LW he’s got the size advantage to go with his non-stop cardio and pretty decent speed. Hopefully he’ll also remember that he came up as a wrestler and use that to his advantage. I can see him being like a tiny Tito without all the bitching.

    Rashad’s win was exactly what everyone knew would happen, even if most (including myself) were hoping it wouldn’t. No one in their right mind would want to trade shots with Rampage, especially if they had another method of winning that minimized the chance of injury. What’s the point of being promised a title shot if you go out there, win, but end up suspended for 9 months due to a facial fracture or hand injury?

    I enjoy watching Duffee. Pretty simple reasoning: he’s big, fast, powerful, finishes fights, and he has a decade or more to make himself better. I don’t think he’ll be the next big thing as Tool suggested, but hell, I’ve been wrong before.

    I do think Bisping will fight for the MW sometime. The odds are just in favor of it. He’s a pretty decent fighter, fun to watch regardless of whether you’re hoping he gets the KO or gets KO’d, and has a name that will sell tickets. Throw in the fact that the MW division is all but decimated due to the Spider’s reign and they’ve almost certainly got to make the matchup sometime.

  • Angry Mike says:

    Nogueira got the decision, but in the long run that was a loss for him. Lots of fans thought Brilz should’ve won, and he was a virtual unknown coming into that fight. A close call doesn’t enhance Nogueira’s standing. The real question is how Brilz fights next time. If he fights as well as he did against ‘Nog, he’s a prospect.

    Bisping isn’t ready for a title shot and won’t be for a while. If he can’t beat opponents at the top of the division, how can you expect him to compete for the belt? A beat down by the champ or one of the top contenders does nothing for him or the UFC brand in the UK.

    Rashad implemented his game plan and deserved the win. Rampage needs to get with a new camp. Power punches alone are not enough. Ask Liddell.

    I’m surprised by Diego’s waffling about his weight class. The movement up and down has to be a disruption and a distraction. At some point you have to make a choice and stick with it. He looked too small for welter weight, so that choice seems to be a bad one. I don’t think he can beat BJ, but because of his style he’d match up pretty well with Edgar, imo.

  • GIKE MOLDBERG says:

    Diego versus Kenny 2 or Clay Guida 2-Brilz won fair and square-Rashad is fighting much smarter-Bisping versus Vitor for next title shot-Duffee will only get better-sky’s the limit-and it’s time we realize that most of the lightweights outside of the UFC are highly overrated

  • Rece Rock says:

    -As far as Hansen goes, he is still exciting to watch win or lose he just needs to put on a good performance and I think fans will continue to want to see him… In my eyes you can be a star and not win every fight as long as you look good in defeat (too a point… you gotta win some).

    -Diego as a LW for me as a fan is more interesting and more lucrative for him professionally in my opinion- but ulitmately thats his choice.

    -Rashad Evans doesn’t deserve to be criticized but it’s easy to say wins like that seem uneventful, regardless of which fighter it is… gsp , shields, etc etc…..

    -If Hendo didn’t deserve the shot with out having to get an act of congress then how does Michael Bisping get one unless he defeats the bigger names and truly earns it? He doesn’t deserve it at this moment… maybe in the future. DW/Zuffa just want a match with the belt on the line w/ Bisping involved for a UK card…

  • stone says:

    Stopped reading the article after the Bisping crap! BISPING? U guys can’t be serious? Can’t stand that guy! “Decision” fighter, thru n thru! If he fights a scrub he comes out guns blazing, give him a quality opponent and he tries to inch out a decision (wand, leben, hendo, evans, hamill etc etc). Let him Finish a quality opponent or two before title talks… Bet we never have that conversation!

  • Jak says:

    “We also now have the added hindsight to realize that Aoki isn’t quite as good as everybody thought he was”

    Speak for yourself. A lot of people continuously questioned him being so highly ranked. Even with the Alvarez win. It’s just that the people who overrate every fighter were the only ones being listened to.

  • BigDave says:

    I have a question for everyone….What is Rampage jackson skill set in MMA? I’ll wait…………Punching power that right, anything else?……..nope can’t think of anything. Rampage is a sub par wrestler, he has seven sub wins the last one he was given a submission in was 2003 by knee to the stomach(yes I don’t see why that was a submission victory either) and the last one before that was in 2001 by rnc. My point being, He hasn’t got much of a submission game either. Rashad on the other hand has great wrestling, good takedowns, and the ability to take the fight where he wants it to go more often then not. This fight was exactly what I expected to see and the outcome was predictable. Rampage needs opponents that want to just stand in front of him to be effective and in those kinds of fights I would give him the nod more often then not but a guy with a well balanced skill set and gameplan Quinton will be outclassed more often then not.

    Will Bisping ever get a title shot? Anyone that says no needs to stop drinking the nyquil. Bisping has 3 losses a KO to hendo a decision to the axe murderer and split decision to the number one contender at 205 rashad evans. He may not be the best skilled in the division but as far as heart and competitive spirit go he is up there with any fighter. will he be able to beat Silva or belfort I don’t see that as being very likely but do I think he deserves the shot, you bet he does.

    Hmmm do I want to see a young stud in the HW division with huge upside or a fat dude that just landed a lucky punch in a fight he had no business winning. Ya, That is a bit to easy and I don’t need to explain anything then the reasons i gave above. Duffee is the easy choice here, I could care less if I see Russow fight again.

    Hansen is a guy I love to watch fight and he is by no means at the end of his career,with that being said I’m not sure he is at the top level with guys in the division Rather the gate keeper and a strong test to see if a fighter has what it takes to move into the divisions elite. Never the less I will continue to enjoy watchig him fight anytime anywhere.

    I love deigo’s style and watching his war with guida was insane. That is the nightmare I want to see fight in and fight out.As for the 155 or 170 issue, if he is having trouble making weight at 155 and it affects his ability to be at the top of his game then of course he needs to be at 170 it’s really that simple. I’m sure his next fight will be at 170 and he will be more filled out then he was his last fight.

    Brilz won that fight in my opinion but he made the kardnal sin in mma which is leaving it in the judges hands. I would love to see this kid get another shot with a full camp to prepare for it. He looked well skilled and was very humble after the fight was done and was just happy to have been given the shot. Brilz is the type of fighter that is good for the sport humble and willing to fight at the drop of a hat, I’ll be keeping my eye on him from now on.

  • edub says:

    Ah Big Dave always good to come back and see ur rants. Miss ya buddy. Randleman, Lindland, and Henderson would all completely disagree with you that Rampage has sub par wrestling. Thats an Olympian, a silver medalist, and one of the greatest collegiate wrestlers in history that Rampage “outwrestled”. If Rampage had taken a tune up fight against someone like Diabate, or a fighter of lesser caliber I think the situation in the third round would’ve happened a lot sooner and rampage actually would have finished it.

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