The Ship Be Sinking

Mouth Almighty

Strikeforce/Boxing Predictions: I’m A Lazy Sod (Plus Bonus Rant)

Gonna be short and low on details again, as law school research and choices are again (pleasantly) eating my mind. Plus, honestly, It’s Strikeforce; there’s a 40% discount on how much any of these fights really mean. When you have a “world title fight” between a champion who hasn’t defended the belt in over three years and a challenger who lost to a third man in his last fight, well….

As always with these, I’m skipping the cheap local talent portion of the card; there’s just no way to even research those guys, really.

Boxing

Amir Khan vs. Paulie Malignaggi

I’m really not sure about this one. I have little time for Amir Khan, currently; he’s like a less well-developed Andre Berto with an even bigger deficit in their common problem area, the chin. He’s looked better of late, seems to have more confidence and has started fighting real guys, but it’s certainly not an accident that he’s programmed here with the least powerful puncher in boxing’s Recognizable Names division. Khan should win this- he’s younger, stronger, faster, hits harder, and Paulie has started to look visibly faded of late, a process only somewhat hidden by two straight fights with the even-more-faded Juan Diaz. And good for Khan and his people I suppose, from the promotional perspective this is a fine fight to debut him in America and let him look good (and it says something about Paulie that he’s now a guy your prospect can look good against) and I certainly can’t begrudge them a measure of intelligent matchmaking; but I’m just not going to be thinking of him as a true top-shelf fighter until he proves that he can handle power punchers consistently, one way or another. A bad chin doesn’t have to be a death sentence for a career- observe Wladimir Klitschko- but it can only be covered up by matchmaking for so long. Eventually Khan will have to prove one way or another whether he learned from the Prescott fight, or just learned to forget the Prescott fight. Eventually, however, will not be Saturday. Khan UD12 in a not overly competitive fight.

Nate Campbell vs. Victor Ortiz

I really, really, really want to pick Ortiz, I really do. On paper, and at one time in the ring, he was exactly the kind of exciting young prospect with talent and a crowd-pleasing style which this sport can always use more of, but… he isn’t anymore. Marcos Maidana appears so far to have more or less literally beaten the fight out of him, as since that TKO loss and the questionable way Ortiz behaved during and after it he’s been unable to show any of the fire and confidence in the ring that used to define him. He looks scared, and tentative, and not entirely clear that he wants to be a fighter anymore. There’s nothing wrong with that in and of itself in a moral sense as fighting is not for everyone. But if you find out that it’s not for you and you keep doing it, well, that’s one way in which guys get hurt. Nate Campbell is old, really old, older than old, but he’s still incredibly tough and the kind of fighter who has to be beaten; you can’t expect him to beat himself. Ortiz has been fighting guys who beat themselves of late, and hasn’t looked all that good doing it. Campbell KO 10. Competitive early, then the tide rolls in as Ortiz realizes he’s in a real fight and has to go back to places he doesn’t want to be again. Teddy Atlas really should be calling this one, it’s his kind of fight.

Main Card

Heavyweight Championship bout: Alistair Overeem (c) vs. Brett Rogers

I am really, really tempted to put this down as no pick, or even pick a no contest. The reports are that the fighters for this one may not be drug-tested; even if they are, my confidence in the Missouri commission is not the highest, and drug testing is a major issue in this one for reasons which I hope are too obvious to need spelling out. Fights like this are hard to judge, in part because they happen in Strikeforce: Overeem hasn’t fought consistently against top level MMA competitors in forever, and Rogers is an almost complete unknown- he squashed Andrei Arlovski in a quick fight which told us little other than that Arlovski’s chin is as bad as suspected, and then he did pretty well against Fedor until he fell apart. His best career performance came in a loss and the rest of his record is mostly jobber squashes. In UFC both of these men would likely have more losses then they do now, but they’d also have a consistent track record against the best letting you know where they really stood. Overeem has a bit of that from previous years, but he’s also in many ways not the same fighter he was back then.

As things are, there’s mostly just a ton of questions here. What will fighting in a cage on US soil do to Overeem? How far have Rogers’ skills and conditioning come since the Fedor loss? Does Overeem have a gas tank for MMA against a guy like Rogers who, if nothing else, can take a pounding and has enough power to stay dangerous? Are both men going to be content to kickbox, or will Rogers decide to try to get Overeem down? Is Overeem the guy who’s been smashing fools in K1 recently, or the guy with 9 combined KO losses between K1 and MMA, most at lighter weights than this? And more besides. Frankly, it’s really hard to tell just how good either of these guys are. In that instance, despite my frequent mockery, I default to picking Overeem- he’s got a much, much, MUCH longer track record of competing against top guys in at least one form or another, he’s probably a much better athlete, and from a technical perspective he’s in a different universe from Rogers. Let’s say KO 2 on an accumulation of blows. Keep in mind that Randy Couture is on record picking Rogers here, so it will not be a total shock if Overeem get taken down and delorted with GNP. It has happened before.

Heavyweight bout: Andrei Arlovski vs. Antonio Silva

Skills-wise Arlovski is head and shoulders above the plodding, slow, ordinary version of Silva which has been seen of late; if this fight were amateur-style kickboxing with headgear and big poofy gloves, Arlovski would win every moment of every round. But under MMA rules it’s just tough to pick the man to win a fight these days against anyone with a pulse. It’s not just that he can’t take a good punch; it’s that he also can’t take a mediocre or bad punch, he freezes when someone pressures him, and after his admissions of suicidal gestures in the recent past it’s anyone’s guess where his head is at these days. It’s hard to call him a truly shot fighter since he’s not been without a few decent wins of late and he doesn’t move or react like a shot fighter for the most part, but that chin very much is what you see from a guy who’s done. This fight can really only go two ways, I think: either Arlovski slowly picks apart a lumbering, brontosaurus-like Silva who slowly shambles towards where Arlovski used to be eating shots all the while, or else Arlovski thinks that’s what’s happening, relaxes, and gets drilled with the first good shot. I’m betting on the latter; Silva didn’t look great last time out against Fabricio Werdum, but he did land shots and hurt Werdum at times, and while Arlovski may be harder to hit he’s also much, much easier to finish. I don’t know what Arlovski does after this if things go down that way. He’s not a Kimbo Slice, where people just like him; he has to be good for his name to have any value, and these days he’s not that good.

Middleweight bout: Ronaldo Souza vs. Joey Villaseñor

Jacare is really, really, really good, good enough that he’s likely a class above Villasenor. Decision… maybe an arm triangle in the second.

Light Heavyweight bout: Roger Gracie vs. Kevin Randleman

Oh God, a (light) heavyweight Gracie. I think we, meaning pretty much all MMA fans, would like to forget the Rolles Gracie disaster (a good if obscure band name, that), and hopefully Roger is the guy to help in that regard. His submission grappling record is ridiculous and great, his MMA record is completely respectable for only two fights in, and in Kevin Randleman he has an opponent more or less guaranteed to give him every chance to look good: old (38), slow, coming off two losses (Stanislav Nedkov, Mike Whitehead) in a row, battling health concerns (staph infection), and never noted for his submission defense even in his prime. All of that adds up to Roger armbaring the crap out of Randleman in the first.

Light Heavyweight bout: Rafael Cavalcante vs. Antwain Britt

If Feijao is half as good as his backers claim he really should be able to get over a former YAMMA Pit-Fighter who once lost to Sho Nuff The Master. Let’s say he does by decision.

Undercard

Lightweight bout: Vitor Riberio vs. Lyle Beerbohm

I am really hoping this makes air, as it’s actually one of the more interesting fights here. Shaolin’s best days may be a bit behind him, but it’s far from clear that Fancy Pants, whose best win is a highly questionable version of Duane Ludwig, is better than the current version. I’ve gone back and forth on this one given how little I’ve seen both guys, but I’ll take Beer Bong by decision.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

And a final note, what is this? What a naive and thoughtless article. I’d be surprised, but I’ve already read that one 15 times- it’s just that the first 14 times were 5 years ago or so and the subject was somebody named Barry Bonds. How did that ever end, I wonder?

The reality is this: everyone who knows the game in the MMA media believes that Alistair Overeem is on steroids. As an example Dave Meltzer clearly believes it, and Meltzer is not only one of the most respected media guys in MMA, he was also a body builder for 20+ years who’s spent most of his adult life covering the steroid-infused world of pro wrestling. On this topic perhaps above all, the man knows his stuff. The idea that all of these people should force themselves to not connect the dots with Overeem, to not look at his massive physical changes, to not look at the relation of muscle mass to his frame, to not look at his career choices of mostly fighting in a non-tested environment in recent years, is ridiculous. “Innocent until proven guilty” is a legal policy of great value in a courtroom setting; it is not a binding requirement for volitional obtuseness on the part of the layman.

Here’s where things get complicated though: If Overeem is on steroids, personally, I mostly don’t care- and I don’t think you should either. First off, in Japan it’s well known that there is no testing enforced by any power in any sport. Anyone who fights in that country knows the game and the rules, and effectively consents to fighting people who have a high likelihood of being on everything. If you don’t like it, don’t fight in Japan- after all these years it’s not as though their regulatory structure is a mystery. To my mind, if Overeem used steroids in Japan it’s not even cheating- it’s playing to the letter of the rules as written (or not written). Over here in America it’s a bit more murky legally and morally since there is some testing, but let’s be honest: testing here is for urine not blood unless it’s a Mayweather fight, most of it is timed, and even the stuff that’s random has a known approximate schedule. It’s closer to IQ testing than steroid testing, and anyone who knows what they’re doing (meaning: not Josh Barnett) can beat the testing with a modicum of effort. Many American fighters are on things; it’s hard to be sure of the percentage, but it’s almost certainly above 50%. The idea that “a competitive edge is cheating, period” is naive at best in a sport in which so many athletes are doing similar things, and there’s not much more than a perfunctory, or essentially PR-based, effort to stop them. At this point, given the issues of the testing system and how little it does to discourage determined use, I’m not even sure the use of PEDs constitutes a competitive edge so much as it does a basic attempt to keep up with the evolution of the sport- closer to advanced weight-cutting techniques than anything else.

And you know what? Everyone who watches this sport is essentially fine with that. It would require a major overhaul of the sport, a massive monetary investment, and a huge amount of invasive behavior by the commissions in regard to fighters to put the kind of testing regimen- year round randomized Olympic-style in and out of competition blood testing- in place which would stand a reasonable chance of drastically reducing PED use. And no one wants that: fighters want the help recovering in training and don’t want to be scrutinized to that degree, commissions don’t want to be the needle police every hour of the day, fans don’t want to see big fights drop off due to an increased training injury rate and don’t want to read about drug testing stories dominating coverage of the sport each and every day. I personally think UFC does actually have a zero-tolerance policy given their past behavior (the Chris Leben case is the best evidence for this), but I strongly suspect a lot of that is motivated more by a perception that they have to do testing and an unexamined belief that PED use is cheating than anything else. Even Leland Rolling doesn’t want that, so far as I can tell: when you spend more time complaining about the fact that people have noticed that Alistair Overeem has become the Incredible Hulk than you do over the fact that commission testing is a joke, what that says to me is that your real complaint is with people having different estimations of a situation than you, not with the reality of steroid use in MMA. Perhaps I do the man an injustice and if he’s got an archive of articles arguing for mandatory Olympic-style blood testing than I’ll happily withdraw my statement, but I’ve certainly never seen them.

Personally, my only real interest in testing at this point is as a control mechanism- keep the flies down as it were, and force guys to at least moderate their use so that A) there’s limited PR damage to the sport and more importantly B) so that MMA doesn’t end up with pro wrestling’s long trail of guys dying in their 40’s from heart attacks. Beyond that, I think the effort and invasiveness required to further reduce PED use just isn’t worth it. You can’t un-invent new drugs, you can’t stop athletes who live to be the best from taking every advantage they can get; PEDs are always going to be part of pro sports from here on out, that’s just the nature of the beast. If Alistair Overeem is on steroids, he’s hardly alone and I don’t think it’s either a massive character failing on his part or a massive black mark on his career. It’s just part of the sport in 2010 of which he’s a representative, for better or worse. If the argument is limited to him not being singled out for speculation, I agree; but don’t tell me I’m not allowed to notice the changes he’s gone through, or the choices he’s made about his career. If there’s anything the world of MMA needs on the steroid issue it’s not more testing; it’s more honesty and more open discussion of what this sport actually is in this regard, what people want it to be, and what it can be. Feigning ignorance and pretending not to notice is pointless and counterproductive.

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May 15, 2010 - Posted by | Boxing, MMA

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