You may be asking yourself why I’m hosting The Duel this week and not Huckaby. Funny story. Moments before the Affliction PPV started I received a frantic message from him asking me to step in and host this shindig due to his internet having died. Fast forward to midweek and I need a late substitute for one of the participants… and guess whose internet is back up. So that’s how we got here.

Battling head to head this week are two Five Ounces of Pain writers that know each other well. Perhaps even intimately. Yes, this week we have Michael Huckaby taking on the new guy, Brendhan Conlan.

Let’s Duel:

1) Josh Barnett will fair better than Fedor’s recent opponents, either by winning or by lasting into the third round.

Huckaby: TRUE. I was really flip-flopping on this one, going back and forth and making arguments in my head. Initially I was going with false because Barnett has obviously had trouble in the past with big punchers that don’t have a large lack of ground skill. Barnett has to know he’s going to be in a boxing match for a bit and he won’t be getting the best of it. On the other hand, Barnett will train for this fight like no other and will probably have a solid game plan going in. He can avoid submissions and probably stop from catching a looping hook on his way to getting routed in a decision.

Conlan: TRUE. One thing this fight definitely won’t be is an advertisement for washboard abs. That being said, Barnett will still walk into the bout sharing a height/weight advantage similar to ones possessed by Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia, yet he doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses – something that can’t be said about either of Fedor’s victims in Affliction. While I’m not prepared to say he will defeat Fedor if/when they fight, I definitely feel “The Babyface Assassin” has an above-average chance of enduring Emelianenko’s assault for at least ten minutes en route to a probable loss. I think the always-entertaining Barnett’s grappling is certainly elite enough to handle Emelianenko’s submission attempts, and I think his stand-up is solid enough to weather most of what Fedor will throw at him.

My Five Cents: Maybe I’m too swayed by Fedor’s recent outings, but I see him winning and winning in fairly dominating fashion. Points to both Huckaby and Conlan for reminding me how game of an opponent Barnett is. Still, I’ll take Fedor in ten minutes or less.

2) Should Fedor defeat Barnett, Fedor still needs to capture the UFC heavyweight title to cement his legacy.

Huckaby: FALSE. Tuning in your Dana White earpiece this week? Fedor not only doesn’t have to be in the UFC to cement his legacy but he didn’t even need to beat Sylvia or Arlovski to do so. That was simply a bonus. I’m sure people would like to see Fedor/Couture or Fedor/Lesnar just for fun but the outcomes as of now would hardly be in any question. I really wish Fedor would retire after a potential Barnett fight because he’s bound to lose sooner or later. It’s no coincidence that most long time fighters go out losing 5 or their last 6 fights and the last thing I want to see is Fedor lose before he goes away for good.

Conlan: FALSE. I suppose it depends on how you view the word “legacy” as it pertains to Mixed Martial Arts. Does he need to step inside the Octagon and beat Mir, Couture, and/or Lesnar to solidify himself as the best of all time in the eyes of the mainstream media and the many Zuffa Zombies out there? Yes. Does he need to do so to in order to earn the same label from his peers, MMA journalists, and well-informed fans? Absolutely not. Dana White may be running the biggest MMA promotion out there, but the UFC is still a company awarding contendership to fighters with Brock Lesnar’s professional record and BJ Penn’s recent history in the welterweight division. Winning the organization’s heavyweight championship can in no way define the career of a man like Fedor Emelianenko. He is already the finest Mixed Martial Artist the sport has seen to date and chewing up Sylvia/Arlovski in record time was simply affirmation of his greatness. His status is essentially that of Michael Jordan coming out of retirement to win three more NBA titles.

My Five Cents: Great arguments by both. Huckaby with Fedor retiring before age catches up with him and Conlan bringing the point that people who know the sport already give Fedor the respect he deserves. Of course he doesn’t need the UFC title to cement his legacy.

3) Having now lost three of his last four fights, it’s fair to call Sokoudjou’s wins over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira and Ricardo Arona “flukes”.

Huckaby: FALSE. Truth be told I picked Sokoudjou to knock out Babalu simply because he fit the mold of Little Nog and Arona. We all know and see the gaping hole in Sokoudjou’s game now but that doesn’t change the fact he bashed their brains in previously. You could argue they didn’t take him seriously and knowing what they know now they’d change their gameplan up but that doesn’t make the first fight a fluke. Yes, people made too big of a deal over a guy clinching and punching someone to death…. Houston Alexander does that. Sokoudjou is still young in the sport and he’s not on that top tier but those wins were earned and frankly I’d probably pick him over at least Arona again.

Conlan: TRUE. Using the word “fluke” to describe a fighter who trains to land a punch and does so to a victorious result makes me cringe, but for the sake of this topic I’m going to agree with the assessment that Sokoudjou’s wins over Arona/Nogueira were “flukes” in the sense he’s in no way the human dynamo he was made out to be after beating them. Arona has faced superior competition over his career, yet only has one more loss than the Team Quest judoka while owning eight more wins. Nogueira is in the same boat but with less losses and more wins. While it’s hard to say what sort of shape Arona is in after such a long layoff, I’m positive Nogueira would beat Sokoudjou more often than not if the two were to fight ten times, and I think the same could definitely be said of the Ricardo Arona fans came to know in PRIDE. Sokoudjou is certainly talented and is still in his early twenties, meaning that he has a great foundation upon which he can continue to build throughout his career, but he’s presently a Mixed Martial Artist with questionable cardio and confusingly bad grappling/submissions skills. He needs to compete against other fighters with similar records in order to give him the opportunity to increase his abilities, experience, and confidence. Meanwhile, “Little Nog” should be taking on the best 205-pounders available.

My Five Cents: I’m most concerned with Sokoudjou’s consistent lack of cardio. Once round one is over, so is he. Maybe it’s time to leave Team Quest.

4) Georges St. Pierre will finish B.J. Penn at UFC 94.

Conlan: TRUE. If fate plays out as I hope it might, at least based on Penn’s “UFC Primetime” statements regarding GSP’s loss to Matt Serra, not only will St. Pierre finish Penn but he’ll do so by making Baby Jay tap out via strikes. Personal feelings aside, I think Penn is by far one of the most talented fighters to ever call MMA his home. His jiujitsu and boxing skills are among the best in the sport if not the very mountain-top every other Mixed Martial Artist should be climbing towards daily in training. He is an icon in the sport and can easily be labeled an all-time great. That being said, he is often his own worse enemy courtesy of an egocentric approach to life that’s likely been fueled by his upbringing and the natural talent he’s been blessed with. He appears to feel he’s owed things in life; that success is not always something you strive for but that is usually handed to you on a silver platter. Why hit the gym hard and eat right when you’re the best in the world? Why treat opponents seriously when you few them as being inferior to you in every way? That sort of internal dialogue led to Penn showing up in less-than-stellar shape earlier in his career and seemed to be a ship he righted after losing to Matt Hughes. However, at least as it pertains to comments he’s made during the build to UFC 94, as well as what I’ve seen on “UFC Primetime”, the narcissistic BJ Penn is back and with him is a diminished approach to training and a gross underestimation of his forthcoming foe. If “The Prodigy” was to receive credit for his physical appearance as it pertained to having improved conditioning when he stepped onto the scales as a reborn lightweight, he deserves equal criticism for letting his physique slide on the road back to 170 pounds. MMA is by no means a bodybuilding contest but it’s foolish to think fitness counts for absolutely nothing when two individuals lock up in a cage. I don’t get the impression that Penn feels he needs to have added anything to his arsenal to beat St. Pierre in their rematch. I think he believes he can walk into the Octagon, repeat his performance in their first bout, and alter the outcome by attacking a slight bit better and defending a smidge more. What I feel he’ll find out is that Georges St. Pierre HAS been steadily improving over the past few years and is a stronger fighter both mentally and physically than the first time they fought. I see GSP wearing Penn down over the first two rounds and then pounding him out in the third or fourth frame. He may not have been able to finish Jon Fitch, but truth be told I’m pretty sure Penn wouldn’t either if he and Fitch faced off as welterweights.

Huckaby: TRUE. This one is painful because I still don’t believe St. Pierre has a great ground defense and he’s going to be tested by Penn so long as BJ doesn’t decide to get all cocky and exchange again. He’d hold his own but like last time he’d find himself on the bad end of a decision. In fact the only reason I can really go with true on this is due to the fact it’s a five round fight and I still don’t have enough confidence in Penn’s stamina until it’s proven otherwise. St. Pierre is better than he was the last time they fought. Penn is better than he was the last time they fought. A hungry Penn is a scary Penn but people seem to always hop from bandwagon to bandwagon when it comes to Anderson Silva, Fedor and GSP. Whoever happens to have fought last is the best p4p fighter in the world. A win by GSP on Saturday and he’ll go back to the top of the list.

My Five Cents: You’re both crazy. Penn’s going to win. I say this based on purely objective reasoning and without the influence of my mancrush on him. I promise.

5) The winner of St. Pierre and Penn is the rightful pound for pound king.

Conlan: TRUE. The MMA community’s viewpoint on both athletes’ pound for pound status is fairly consensus as ranking them both within the top four alongside Anderson Silva and Fedor Emelianenko. Some people might want to add a dash of Miguel Torres or pinch of Rashad Evans to the mix but for the most part you can always count on St. Pierre and Penn being labeled as two of the elite fighters in Mixed Martial Arts. Be that as it may, it’s only logical to think the winner of their bout at UFC 94 should be considered the cherry on top even though Emelianenko and Silva should be viewed as being in a photo-finish second place to whoever it is that emerges victorious this Saturday night.

Huckaby: FALSE. I’ve always had a problem with “best pound-for-pound” needing to be a small guy. Fedor and Anderson Silva are the two best p4p fighters on the planet right now and have been for a good amount of time. That’s not to say the GSP/Penn winner and Miguel Torres aren’t up there, they certainly are, but I don’t even a think a win on Saturday catapults either one of them to the top of that list after the carnage Anderson Silva and Fedor have left in their paths. Neither GSP nor Penn have the resume that Fedor, Silva or Torres have, nor do they have a fairly recent loss. A loss here is more of an elimination from the top 5 p4p in my opinion.

My Five Cents: Right now I’m inclined to go Fedor, but should GSP or Penn demolish and dominate the other (and not due to a quick KO) it’s going to be all the more difficult to decide. I get both arguments here. I just don’t know which is the right one.

6) You personally find Lyoto Machida fights entertaining and exciting.

Conlan: TRUE. I wouldn’t say I’ve found every single one of his matches to be edge-of-my-seat thrilling, but in large part I’ve enjoyed seeing Machida’s technical wizardry and methodic approach to earning his dubyas. His fights may not be packed with action from start to finish but Lyoto has delivered more than a few highlights in his career. When an undefeated fighter has knocked out Rich Franklin, landed a sick knee to Tito Ortiz’s ribcage that nearly did the same, choked Sokoudjou out, and dropped a couple jumping head-stomps on BJ Penn en route to victory, how can his bouts – at least for the most part – NOT be considered exciting/entertaining to watch?!?

Huckaby: FALSE. Oh wait, I’m an MMA writer so I should be forced at gunpoint to say true. Saying Machida fights are interesting is like the MMA equivalent of saying you like some lame indie band to impress all over your music geek friends. Lyoto is awesome and with a win over Silva he deserves his title shot…. that makes him good, not entertaining. I don’t mind a good majority of your fights being decisions, I just ask that at some point in the fight it looks like you might finish them when you’re completely dominating. He’s stylistic and methodical and that’s entertaining in the same way a well choreographed movie is entertaining. However sometimes instead of Citizen Kane you just want to watch some things blow up.

My Five Cents: Big points for the Citizen Kane line, I think that captures it quite well. I’m in the same boat. Machida’s fights are entertaining in the aspect where you wonder how long it will take someone to figure him out.

That’ll do it. Enjoy the fights this weekend and we’ll be back next week with two more MMA writers from somewhere on the interwebz. I’m sure there will be much UFC 94 fallout to cover… such as what happens now with one man holding two UFC titles at once. Hey-oh!