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Grappling with Issues – 7/9/10

Should referee Josh Rosenthal have stopped UFC 116’s main event in the first round? Can you name an overall card that was more entertaining than last weekend’s show? Is Chris Leben a “Top 10” middleweight? How likely is it that Cain Velasquez will beat Brock Lesnar when they square off later this year?

Keyboard warrrrriors….come out to plaaaay-yay!

If you’re reading these lines you 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…

Was there a more entertaining MMA event than UFC 116 in the past twelve months?

Tool: For my money I would say no. There were plenty of enjoyable events in the last year (UFC 110 and WEC 48 come to mind) but I can’t think of a single thing wrong with the show we saw on Saturday. All the fights were exciting, the main event lived up to the hype, and there was nothing to complain about in regards to the judging and/or officiating. Some events will feature one great back-and-forth battle, and on this card we got four. Simply put, if you didn’t enjoy UFC 116 then you aren’t a fan of MMA.

Some of my favorite moments from the evening took place outside of the actual fights during the moments before and after the individual rounds. I won’t soon forget the dejected look on Kurt Pellegrino’s face before the third round, as he was a man who had clearly already been beaten. I also enjoyed the way Stephan Bonnar refused to touch gloves before his battle with Krzysztof Soszynski, only to change his mind and then touch gloves at the start of the second round. Who can forget Chris Leben raising his arms and feeding off the crowd as he went into the third round with Yoshihiro Akiyama? Then at the end of evening we got Brock Lesnar smiling at the crowd instead of snarling into the camera as he did back at UFC 100. These little moments combined with the stellar action from each fight made this one of the greatest events in mixed-martial arts history.

Conlan: No, and though the sights and sounds of UFC 116 are admittedly still fresh in my mind, I suspect it would take a bit of research to find a more entertaining card in the past three years (if not longer). As Tool said, the event had something for everyone – comeback victories, surprising finishes, brutal knockouts, jiujitsu wizardry, heated exchanges, and a bit of blood to boot. On top of the memorable moments Adam listed I’d also add Gerald Harris’ brain-rattling slam, Ricardo Romero enduring Seth Petruzelli’s power before shredding his arm with a slick submission, Bonnar’s look into the camera after his win and post-fight speech, Leben’s blank-stare brawling, and Lesnar not only escaping Shane Carwin’s early onslaught but also showing his improved ground attack en route to successfully defending his title. UFC 116 was the perfect mixture of entertainment and athletic art, and definitely a show that will stand out from its peers for a long, long time.

Using a percentage, how likely is it Cain Velasquez will knock Brock Lesnar off of his heavyweight throne?

Tool: I’ll go with 75%. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t bet against Lesnar in any fight these days, especially now that he’s answered some very important questions about his heart and his submission skills. Even though Lesnar overcame his greatest challenge to date this past weekend, I still think Velasquez has his number.

One issue Lesnar still has is his striking. He’s got no head movement to speak of, and outside of that straight right hand he hasn’t got any real weapons in his stand-up arsenal. On the opposite end we’ve got Velasquez whose stand-up has looked better with each appearance in the Octagon. He’s got a great stance, and while his power may not match Shane Carwin’s, he’s far more precise when he throws. Go back and check out that laser of a right hook that floored Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and then watch the pinpoint accurate punches Velasquez threw to finish the job.

The other major factor that will come into play is the wrestling, as that’s the skill Lesnar relies most upon to beat his opponents. It’s safe to say that Lesnar and Velasquez represent the highest level of wrestling in the heavyweight division, and I’ll be interested to see if either man can take the other down. Lesnar’s size advantage could play a part, but we can’t sell Velasquez short. Even if Brock can take Cain down, I don’t believe he’ll be able to keep him there. If the fight stays on the feet it’s all the more likely that it will be Cain’s fight to lose.

Conlan: Since I did so good by giving Fabricio Werdum a “1%” chance of beating Fedor Emelianenko I assume my opinion on this particular topic carries a lot of weight in the MMA community. That being said, I think Velasquez has a 47% chance of becoming UFC champ once he and Lesnar eventually lock horns.

Tool has done a nice job breaking down the finer points of each heavyweight’s abilities, and I don’t disagree with any aspect of his assessment beyond his certainty Velasquez will beat Lesnar. Both have shown clear progression from fight to fight, including improved ground-work and an immense amount of heart displayed after enduring early scares. Each is also a threat to score a knockout with a well-placed punch for different reasons (technique/power). Cain’s striking is more precise and diverse than Brock’s, as you might expect from someone who weighs 30-40 pounds less, and he definitely has the tools in his singlet to give the champ a real test when it comes to wrestling. On the flip-side, Lesnar’s combination of size and athleticism is remarkably unique in a division generally featuring men who are typically either fast or big/strong, not both.

Their upcoming title bout should be a close one with each having minimal advantages over the other. However, I think it has to be pointed out the match-up will be Velasquez’s first crack at a belt while half of Lesnar’s career fights have involved gold. As such, I’m giving him a razor-thin nod to beat the American Kickboxing Academy phenom.

Who on the DREAM 15 card would you most like to see inside the Octagon? Include a match-up as well.

Tool: Well if he was actually on the card the easy answer would be Alistair Overeem. DREAM officials announced he would be fighting, Overeem denied it, and yet DREAM is still saying that he’ll be there. I’m inclined to believe the fighter over the promotion, so any “Ubereem” fans hoping to catch a glimpse of their hero may as well just catch up on their sleep Friday night.

As for the fighters that are actually confirmed for the show, my pick would have to be Gegard Mousasi. Obviously this isn’t a hard choice as Mousasi represents one of the best fighters in the world to have never set foot in the Octagon. His stock has certainly fallen a bit since the loss to “King Mo” Lawal but he’s still one of the most exciting fighters in the light heavyweight division. If he were to be signed tomorrow and brought into the UFC I would match him up with Thiago Silva. Silva is a respectable name and a perfect stylistic match-up for Mousasi, and a fight between the two would have a great chance at picking up “Fight of the Night” honors.

Conlan: He may not be the hottest prospect after being dominated by Gilbert Melendez but of the entire DREAM 15 group I’d most like to see Shinya Aoki test his skills in the UFC’s iconic eight-sided cage. I understand the logic behind Tool’s choice of Mousasi, but I’d personally think “The Dreamcatcher” needs a little more experience at 205-pounds before attempting to crack the upper echelon of the UFC’s flagship division. On the other hand, Aoki has competed against a number of top lightweights and come out on the winning end of things more often than not. His jiujitsu is elite, he’s got a colorful personality, and signing him would help Zuffa further reestablish their reputation in the Far East. Sure, his less-than stellar wrestling would cost him a bout or two along the way, as it did against Melendez, but that’s nothing a little clever match-making couldn’t prolong from happening.

As far as an opponent goes, my “dream” choice would be B.J. Penn simply to see what would unfold as soon as both hit the mat and started grappling. However, Aoki would likely need a few wins in the Octagon before earning a shot at “The Prodigy”, so in that regard I’d select Tyson Griffin as his opening foe. Griffin has the name-recognition to earn Aoki the Zuffa Zombies’ respect were he to defeat him, while also having the wrestling prowess and stand-up to provide a significant threat to the spandex-clad superstar in the eyes of hardcore fans. The pairing would almost certainly result in an entertaining display of action making Aoki’s Octagon debut a memorable, if not successful, one.

TRUE/FALSE – Chris Leben is a top 10 middleweight.

Conlan: True or false, you can’t give a wrong answer on this topic because rankings are for the most part subjective. For that reason “Top 10” lists vary from person to person, as every individual has a different way of weighing the numerous circumstances involved in. Where this particular subject is concerned, I’ll say “false”, though “The Crippler” is certainly on the cusp of cracking my collection of top ten middleweights. When you run down the 185-pound pool there are a few clear-cut entries deserving a spot without question, but the water gets a little murky in the 8-10 range leaving room for Leben after two solid performances against a pair of respected opponents in a span of three weeks. If he comes out Zombie-smile in tow after scrapping with Wanderlei Silva, who he called out on the heels of beating Yoshihiro Akiyama and will likely get as long as “The Axe Murderer” doesn’t run into a problem during recovery from his recent surgeries, then he’s absolutely a “Top 10” guy for me. However, as of right now he’s in the 12-14 range.

Tool: Brendhan’s absolutely right in stating that all rankings are subjective, but then again this is an opinion column wherein everything we say is subjective. As for the question itself I’m tempted to go with “true.” Leben’s UFC career has been full of ups and downs, and we certainly can’t ignore the fact that it wasn’t that long ago when he was choked out by Jake Rosholt. While “The Crippler” may not have the most impressive win streak to hang his credentials on, he does have some impressive wins over solid competition. Akiyama has been hanging around the bottom rungs of the top ten rankings for awhile so a win over him certainly has to count for something. Plenty of sites have Jorge Santiago in their top ten list, but we can’t forget that he was on the receiving end of a devastating Leben knockout during his brief stint in the UFC. Alessio Sakara is riding a nice hot streak at the moment but he too was separated from consciousness courtesy of Leben. The point is that while I don’t envision Leben climbing his way towards contendership anytime soon, he certainly deserves to be considered amongst the top level of fighters in the UFC’s middleweight division.

If we assume that the winner of the upcoming Kenny Florian/Gray Maynard fight gets the next shot at the lightweight belt, who would you put George Sotiropoulos against in a potential #1 contender’s bout?

Conlan: Though possibly a dark-horse due to his relative lack of widespread name recognition, I think a deserving candidate for such a slot would be Evan Dunham (assuming he gets by Sean Sherk at UFC 119). Dunham looked extremely sharp against Tyson Griffin, has a well-rounded skill-set to match Sotiropoulos’, and includes the added benefit of a spotless record where promotional purposes are concerned. In fact, I’m not sure there are a lot of other logical choices unless the UFC goes out and somehow signs a top lightweight like Eddie Alvarez or Gilbert Melendez, as the bulk of the company’s notable 155-pounders aren’t too far removed from a losing performance.

Tool: I can certainly get behind a potential match-up with Dunham, although in between Brendhan sending me his answers and me writing mine it was announced that Dunham would instead be welcoming Sean Sherk back to the Octagon. A win over Sherk would certainly put Dunham right into the mix of contenders and a meeting with Sotiropoulos would make even more sense then.

Looking at the rest of the UFC’s lightweight roster it’s clear that the most credible fighters are the four guys fighting at UFC 118. Therefore I’d have no problem with Sotiropoulos meeting up with the loser of the Florian/Maynard bout, or perhaps even the loser of the Frank Edgar/BJ Penn title rematch. The only other opponent I could see propelling Sotiropoulos to a title shot would be perennial gatekeeper Clay Guida (assuming Guida can get by Rafael Dos Anjos next month). In any case it may be a few months before Sotiropoulos finds out who his next opponent is, as pretty much any other match-up would represent a step backwards in competition for the Aussie.

Would you have disagreed with the result of the main event if referee Josh Rosenthal had stopped the fight in the first round?

Conlan: It would have depended on Lesnar’s immediate reaction after the stoppage. If Brock sprung up foaming at the mouth, full of energy and arguing the call I reckon I would have been steamed at an early stoppage. Had he remained on the canvas, curled up and confused, then I would have applauded the bout’s initial action and Rosenthal’s stoppage of it. Since Lesnar was able to recover/defend without absorbing more than a few cinder-blocks to his head before ultimately showing his improved ability on the ground supported by the wrestling technique making him a NCAA champ, it appears clear Rosenthal made the correct call by allowing things to continue after a few tense moments on the mat and he should be applauded for his decision. It’s not as if fans were watching Cris “Cyborg Santos” vs. Jan Finney II or something.

Tool: While watching that first round I was quite literally on the edge of my seat, as Rosenthal was right on top of the action and seemed to be very close to stepping in. Had he done so I don’t believe there would have been a huge outcry of injustice from the MMA community, even if Lesnar had stood right up and argued the decision. I’ll go one step further and make the assumption that if this hadn’t been the main event and a huge title fight, Rosenthal probably would have pulled the trigger and awarded Carwin the win. I certainly have no way to know this for sure. I just know that usually when one fighter delivers 50 or so unanswered punches to his opponent’s head, that fight ends with a stoppage. The end result shows us that Rosenthal made the right call in allowing the fight to continue, but it’s still intriguing to think of how different the MMA landscape would be right now had he made a different decision on Saturday night.

9 COMMENTS
  • Rece Rock says:

    – For me – No. UFC116 and the days/ events leading up were exciting and fun to watch Best card in a while.

    – I give Cain a 35% chance of getting a win but I think Brock got this…

    – I’d like to see Shinya Aoki get owned in the octagon… he knows better though and he ain’t going to Zuffa unless he’s in dire straights.

    – In my eyes…YES, Chris Leben is a top 10 middleweight… maybe not on paper but in my mind I give him the nod. It’s deserved. He always brings it.

    -I like the Dunham idea above…

    – As reported, Josh Rosenthal said he spoke to both fighters in there locker rooms and told them he’d give them 3 opportunites before he’d stop the fight, so I think he was fair and Brock did what he had to do as far as a intelligent reponse and defense… I would have been upset if I saw Brock not doing anything but i think he was smart enough to know he was walking the line… Big ups to Josh he did a great job.

  • MCM says:

    “Was there a more entertaining MMA event that UFC 116?”
    No. Hands down the best show in the passed two years.

    “How likely is Cain to beat Brock?”
    25%. I know most everyone else on this board disagrees with me, but I’m just not sold on Cain yet. I recognize his skills but didn’t see him getting passed Carwin so I don’t know how he’ll deal with Brock. I know he’s got better technical striking but Lesnar showed in this last fight that he can absord punches better than anyone else in the division. Brock will also make him look like a MW when they meet and we have yet to see him off his back. I know he has a purple belt in BJJ under Dave Camarillo, but I get the feeling Lesnar won’t be submitted by anyone currently in title contention.

    “Is Leben a top 10 MW?”
    I’d say in the UFC, yes. Outside the UFC..I’d have him in the top 15. If he gets the win over Wandi then I’d put him in the top 10.

    “Who does George Sotiropolous fight next?”
    I think the only logical choice is the winer of the Dunham/Sherk fight. Like I said in the other thread, Dunham will have some good names under his belt if he wins and should be riding a popularity high. If Sherk wins, he will be coming off a 1-2 record in his last three fights but his two losses will be to the last two LW champs. Either way, a win over one of them should garuntee George a title shot.

    “Would you have disagreed with Rosenthal stopping it in the 1st?”
    Not at all, though I’m not upset about that it wasn’t. I though Brock was out for a second there. I too think the only reason it wasn’t called was that it was a hugely hyped title fight. But that’s one of the issues with refing/rules in this sport. It’s all up to the guy in black when to call it. I don’t think Brock was out any longer than Kos was against Paulo Thiago, but different Refs, different outcomes.

  • MCM says:

    oops……

    “who do you want to see from Dream 15 in the UFC?”

    Tatsuya “Crusher” Kawajiri. I think he’s gonna smash Aoki this weekend. He’s a well rounded fighter that is twice as likely to finish you with a KO as opposed to a sub. Not something you see much in the LW division. I think of all the Japanese stars, he would do best in the UFC.

  • danaloveskimbo says:

    watch mma live on espn. they have an interview with rosenthal and he’s very candid about not stopping the fight and how lesnar was responding to all his instructions about fighting back and defending himself.

  • Dufresne says:

    – UFC 116 was an absolute blast to watch. I have to put that up there as one of my favorite cards of all time, not just of this year.

    -I went and rewatched the last few of both Cain and Carwin’s fights just so I could compare the two. Size-wise Cain is smaller than Carwin and I don’t think he can, or that he wants to, get as big as Carwin. Cain came into the UFC as a small-medium HW, but every time since his first fight he’s looked a little bigger. I think he weighed in around the 240’s for his bout with Nog, so if he keeps at it he could be about the same weight as Brock, but I don’t think he’ll be as burly. As long as he doesn’t add size too quickly I don’t think it will dramatically affect his cardio, and I would bet that’s the route he’s taking.

    For striking I have to give Cain the nod in technique over Carwin (and then obviously over Brock as well). I’m still not sold on his punching power (although it has looked better lately) but where he shines over Carwin is the accuracy, and to be honest when you’re that size accuracy matters most. There have been a few articles already pointing out that HW’s naturally hit harder than other weight classes, so the biggest difference is going to come in accuracy of strikes. Carwin landed some nice shots while standing, but his GnP was kinda sloppy. Most of the shots he was throwing there were landing on the shoulder and arms of Brock, and not his head/face. Watching Cain’s GnP is a different story. Not just his latest example with Nog, but all the way back to his UFC debut with Morris he’s shown nasty accuracy from the guard, half guard, and mount. If Cain manages to get Brock on his back against the cage where he can rain them down, I expect him to be more efficient than Carwin was about it.

    Wrestling I still have to give to Brock. He’s just a freak of nature when it comes to getting people off their feet and onto their backs and then keeping them there. Cain does have some very solid wrestling, but I honestly don’t think he’s faced anyone comparable to Brock in college, training, or MMA. I honestly don’t know who’d you get to train with that could compare to him, except possibly Brock’s own training partner Cole Konrad.

    If Brock tries to stand with Cain I think he’s gonna find himself in trouble again, but if he goes in and goes straight for the takedown I think he gets it. Combining his sheer power with his GnP and his evidently evolving submission game and I can’t imagine anyone faring well off their back with him.

    -I’d like to see either Mousasi or Aoki fight in the UFC, but I don’t honestly know how well either would do. Both have shown a bit of weakness to dominant wrestlers with Mousasi struggling with Sokoudjou until he gassed and then getting laid on by King Mo and Aoki seemingly confounded by Melendez’s wrestling game. The UFC is loaded with dominant wrestlers in both of their weight classes. At LHW you’ve got Rashad, Jon Jones, Couture, Bader, Hamill, and even Rampage. At LW you have Sherk, Maynard, Edgar, Griffin, Dunham, Stevenson, and if you want you can even consider Penn a dominant wrestler since it’s just about impossible to get him to the ground anyways. I don’t think all these guys are better overall martial artists than Mousasi and Aoki, but it seems like they all have the particular skill set necessary to give them a hard time in the Octagon.

    -I’ve been a Leben fan since he showed up on the first season of TUF. I don’t know if he’s a top 10 or not, but he’s at the very least top 15. He’s taken out some of the best in division, lost to some of the best (and a few of the worst) and as we just saw he shows up to every fight ready to GO. With his power and the ability to seemingly fight while completely unconscious, he’s an absolute threat to everyone in the WW division, regardless of skill sets. I would put him in my top 10 at around 9, but I can see why folks wouldn’t.

    -I agree that Sotiropoulos v the winner of Dunham/Sherk would be a great matchup for a title shot, but I have a feeling the UFC might not want it to go that way. Kinda like they did in the HW division in keeping JDS and Cain away from each other, I can see them trying to build up both Sotiropoulos and Dunham so that they can hopefully get multiple young title contenders lined up in a row.

    -If Brock/Carwin had been anything but a title fight and a main event I would have been irritated that the fight was stopped in the 1st, but not overly upset. Carwin had Brock flat out hurt and was throwing heavy shots at a pretty high rate, even if most weren’t landing, and most of the time that’s enough cause to stop a fight. But in title fights I think there should be a little more definitive finishing in a fight.

  • bigbadjohn says:

    in a recent interview with Cain, he said he would not try and put any more weight on for his title shot. This is a smart approach since his biggest advantage, and probably his only, is his hand speed but I can’t help but feel that Brock will win with overbearing power and wrestling.

  • king mah mah says:

    @Rece Rock- I hate to admit it, but I agree son!!!!!

  • LiverPunch says:

    1) It was good but was it the best, I don’t know really.
    2) 20%
    3) How about next time we ask “who from the UFC would you like to see in Dream?”. I mean is the UFC five oz’s org or something? why are we always asking that question?. But yeah Mousasi is good. How about that we just ask who is the our fav?.
    4) No Leben is not a top 10. He is not in the top 10 for ability and his 6-4 record over his last 10 doesn’t make me want to put him their based on a win loss over caliber of opponents faced, way either. Just because he is exciting does not mean he should be there. This is a serious sport based on results right?.
    5) Yeah the winner of sherk Dunham.
    6) Well the result speaks for itself, he recovered, stood, finished the round on good legs, came out and won in the 2nd.. It should not have been stopped. Would I have been pissed if it had been? well yeah.

    P.S. “I’d like to see either Mousasi or Aoki fight in the UFC, but I don’t honestly know how well either would do. Both have shown a bit of weakness to dominant wrestlers”

    Mousasi lost once to a “dominant wrester”. You are a bit quick to judge there. I mean considering he just beat Jake O’Brian who is a wrestler. Just say’n. Oh and Aoki has beaten Alverez, and many other wrestlers too. I suppose Fedor struggles against BJJ now.

  • Dufresne says:

    Wow LP, seems like all you do is attack these days. Lighten up man, MMA is supposed to be fun for fans and disagreements are part of what makes it that way.

    I guess the reason they usually ask which fighter we’d like to see in the UFC instead of the other way around is because the UFC puts on more shows on a more regular basis. We get to see more of their fighters more often and so we can better judge how they might stack up against someone else coming over. Also, even though the UFC doesn’t have all of the top talents in the world, it does have a lot of them so putting a big star from another organization into the UFC would often result in more potential matchups. Not always, but pretty often.

    And just because Leben is one of my favorites: if you also look at those 4 losses, 1 is to the most dominant MW in history another is to one that was looking at a title shot not long ago (yeah the other two more or less suck, but hey, he’s one of my favorites :-) )

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