Hype time for freak show fights aside, this is a strong if shallow card. Once you get past the big names it’s a bit of an anonymous wasteland, but there’s two huge sporting fights and one classic freak show. That’s buys to me.
* Lightweight Championship bout: Frankie Edgar (c) vs. B.J. Penn
Round 6, eh? I have seen a lot of Frankie Edgar and I have enormous respect for him, and I will say that the version of him which fought BJ the first time was easily the best version of him probably ever; but I can’t say that was the best version of BJ I’ve ever seen. I think, as do many if not most people and essentially all of the professional odds makers, that when it comes to pure talent Frankie Edgar is as good as any fighter at 155 other than Penn but that Penn is simply head and shoulders above all others. Here’s the wrinkle though: how does he beat Edgar? Lost sometimes in all the talk about BJ is the fact that other than the Grey Maynard fight in which he was simply out-sized and out-wrestled, there isn’t a blueprint out there on how to beat King Frank despite his being a blown-up featherweight with very limited finishing skills. Edgar is like an entertaining Jon Fitch if such a thing is possible, one of those hardworking relentless grinders who just keeps going and going until the last bell rings- not possessed of enough raw talent to blow through guys but far too tough and too skilled to really be finished. That’s a bad matchup for BJ, who after all these years still by his own admission doesn’t train the way he should and can be out-worked. Likewise Edgar’s quickness, in-and-out style and multi-level attack is a bad matchup for BJ who’s become virtually stationary at times in his fights, fighting downhill almost like a tiny Klitschko in taking advantage of his jab and takedown defense.
I’m still going to pick BJ however, by decision. A lot of the reasons are contextual. I think BJ will train as he should this time, or closer to it, and while his failure to do so in the vast is a historical black mark on his career it doesn’t detract from how deadly he can be when he’s focused. I think the quasi-controversy about the judging from the first fight will play a factor as the judges will, consciously or unconsciously, reevaluate the way they score what is likely to be a second similar fight and probably lean towards the person whose efforts were “underrated” the first time. I also think BJ, who has shown a strong ability to adapt and evolve in his career, will be better prepared for Edgar’s style this time and may integrate takedown attempts back into his gameplan as neither man has a position of advantage stronger than BJ Penn in top position in this fight. Expect another close, competitive fight.
* Heavyweight bout: Randy Couture vs. James Toney
What can you say? If I were a promoter I’d put this on as well, but it’s just not a serious fight in any way shape or form. Leaving aside the boxer vs. wrestler elements of it which we’ll deal with in a bit, James Toney is just all, all, ALL wrong for MMA. His style is based on limited movement, a strong jab, and great defensive movement and technique from the trunk up matched with awesome counter-punching. The entire style operates from the waist up, and there’s simply no way to re-wire it in a few months to take account of everything which happens below that point in an MMA battle from leg kicks to takedowns. The stance required for that makes takedowns impossible to defend and it offers way too many chances for an MMA opponent to clinch and smother the counter in a way that boxers simply aren’t allowed to do, and having those flaws against RANDY COUTURE is pretty much disastrous. Beyond those technical aspects Toney is an old and shot pile of steroids, was never a power puncher of great reputation even in his prime- and in his prime was probably a 168-175 pound fighter when he was in shape. That’s 30 pounds less than Couture at minimum. People say Couture has never been hit the way Toney will hit him; I say he’s been hit by 280 pound Brock Lesnar who is Toney’s match and more for raw power. Randy is old and has his own chin problems so Toney maybe has the ghost of a chance if he can catch him, but Randy would have to be an idiot to even let him try. And when is Randy ever an idiot?
Let me tell you this as a once-upon-a-time bad wrestler: if you do not know what you’re doing as a wrestler, and you face someone who maybe even 5% knows what he’s doing, you’re screwed the overwhelming majority of the time. It’s not like a striking sport where who knows, maybe a lucky shot comes; it’s a sport of technique and the imposition of will. Against someone like Brandon Vera- a decent wrestler- Couture had to use all his tricks and all his technique to compensate for his dwindling athleticism and take the fight. Against James Toney- who doesn’t know what the fuck he’s doing- Couture could throw an ankle pick from the dressing room and get the fight down. He could drop and buttscoot over to Toney to grab a single leg and tip him over. He could walk in behind a high guard until he’s close enough to get a body lock on the motionless Toney and heave him over that way. There’s a million safe ways for Couture to get a takedown here which wouldn’t work on a trained wrestler but absolutely will work on what is, let’s face it, the equivalent of a guy who just walked in off of the street in this respect. Toney will have as many chances to hit Randy as Randy wants him to have, which slightly less than none.
Bottom line is, Toney’s doomed. He has a 1% chance maybe and that 1% is based on Randy Couture doing something stupid like standing right in front of Toney and trading with him, which has been a losing bet for a very long time. I think Couture takes him down in the first 15 seconds, passes instantaneously, and wins with either a head and arm triangle or a D’arce choke in under 2 minutes. And what will that mean? It will mean that Couture wins, and nothing more. This result says nothing about boxing, it says nothing about MMA, it says nothing about which sport is stronger or more entertaining or “better” in some vague and general nebulous way. They’re just not the same thing. All this fight can tell us is things we already know: a wider set of rules will always give the advantage to a more well-rounded fighter and a more restricted set will advantage the specialist, and pure strikers always have trouble with pure wrestlers. That’s why Jack Dempsey never fought Strangler Lewis, why Joe Louis never fought Lou Thesz, and why Lennox Lewis pulled out of a nearly-signed match with Brock Lesnar in the early part of the last decade. It’s not a mystery. If anything, maybe this gets a few curious boxing people to watch a UFC which might hook them on the sport; if that happens it’ll be because UFC is good, not because boxing is bad, and certainly not because James Toney loses.
* Middleweight bout: Demian Maia vs. Mario Miranda
This to me is in some respects weirder than the James Toney match. Miranda got KO’d in his UFC debut by Gerald Harris- no great shame there- and got his first UFC win, of sorts, in his next fight by kicking more dirt on the grave of David Loiseau. Great, fine, dandy. How does this get him listed 3rd from the top on a major PPV against a former title challenger, I wonder? The explanation is apparently long and vague and involves like three injuries to other guys and another fight being moved off of this show to an upcoming Fight Night, but whatever- it’s still weird. Anyway, Maia is vastly more talented so far as I can tell so let’s take him by first round choke, assuming that the Anderson Silva fight didn’t do him any lasting physical or psychological damage.
* Lightweight bout: Kenny Florian vs. Gray Maynard
How heavy is Grey Maynard? I know he weighs in at 156 and I know through the miracle of weight cutting he may actually be 300 pounds for all we know, but that’s weight; we’re going to find out how HEAVY he is. Specifically, is he heavy enough to trap Kenny Florian under his bulk for 15 minutes, before Kenny gets up and tears his face off? Maynard has to lay and prey this one- he’s got no other hope. He’s mechanically average and straightforward as a standup fighter with no standout athletic gifts of quickness or power, while Florian is technically superior to nearly everyone at 155. Maynard got more or less out-struck by Nate Diaz; Florian would humiliate him in a kickboxing match, moving off at angles with his jab, working over Maynard’s legs with kicks, generally making him look foolish. Worse still for Maynard, against Clay Guida Florian showed once again his improving ability to create space to get up from the bottom; unless Maynard has dramatically more success than Guida did at holding Florian down and staying chest-to-chest, he’s screwed.
Bottom line is that Maynard has to walk a very, very fine line here, and I’m not betting on him doing it. He’s beaten top-level opposition like Frankie Edgar that way before, but with respect to the champ and his on-paper BJJ credentials, Edgar is a wrestler first and last and no one has ever looked at him and thought “wow, that Frankie Edgar sure does have a dynamic guard- he’s always throwing up submissions and looking to sweep.” People have thought that about Florian, because it’s true, because his first instincts and training and best area of competence is as a grappler, not a wrestler. I have a lot of respect for Maynard’s toughness and I don’t think Florian will be able to stop him, but Kenny is likely to do so much damage while they’re standing that there’s just no way Maynard’s takedowns will be able to balance it. Florian, decision, probably 29-28 in a tense and compelling fight.
* Welterweight bout: Nate Diaz vs. Marcus Davis
Dear God what an unlikeable pair. I mean, the Diazs are the Diazs and are amusing in their awfulness (they’re like MMA’s Hanson Brothers), but Davis is just socially reprehensible, enough so that he’s gonna make me root for Nate. Hard to pick a winner though; Davis is naturally larger, and if he’s slowing down he still has good power and enough skill in avoiding takedowns that he can sit down on his shots and try to take Nate’s head off when he throws that patented Diaz slap-boxing style. Nate can probably eat Davis’ lunch on the ground, but I don’t know if it ever gets there. I’m going to take Nate despite this, partly in hope, partly because at 37 I think Davis is really starting to slow down. I’m thinking Nate gets close enough in one of the exchanges to get Davis down with a throw, then armbars him from the top. 2nd round.
Preliminary card (Spike TV)
* Lightweight bout: Joe Lauzon vs. Gabe Ruediger
Really? I just… really? Lauzon better fuckin’ win, that’s all I have to say. Let’s say he takes a decision, but if he gasses out and loses this he’s dead to me. I worry about him never quite being the same after that knee injury; the way his battery ran down against Sam Stout really made me wonder if he was able to do much cardio training on that wheel.
* Lightweight bout: Andre Winner vs. Nik Lentz
Wrestler vs. British striker is usually a good setup for the wrestler, but TUF finalist vs. Anyone for about the first three fights is usually good for the TUFalumnus. Doesn’t matter much does it? Let’s go with Lentz- Winner has ok wrestling for a Brit but he tends to freeze when guys put it on him, and if Lentz has a decent activity level he should be able to control and grind his way to a boring decision.
* Middleweight bout: Dan Miller vs. John Salter
A pair of very similar guys, with Miller just being that much more talented in all likelihood, more experienced, and desperate as well with three straight losses. Salter should put up a solid fight, but I’m thinking Miller beats him by three rounds of being a bit better.
* Welterweight bout: Nick Osipczak vs. Greg Soto
I have seen Greg Soto and there wasn’t much to see- he’s not a standout athlete, or a standout wrestler, or a standout anything really; he trains with Kurt Pellegrino and fights like a more boring version thereof. Old Ship Shack should just be a lot better in most phases of the game, and if you buy MMAth the Shack mashed up Riddle who beat Soto. Soto could lay n’ pray this one, but the Brit’s good enough off of his back for that to be difficult. Let’s say Osipczak by KO2.
* Welterweight bout: Mike Pierce vs. Amilcar Alves
“Amilcar Alves” is just a fantastic name. I wouldn’t want to fight Amilcar Alves- that’s the name of a great conqueror or dictator or potentate. I know nothing about him beyond what web research can tell, but on a flier I’ll pick him by armbar in the first. A Nova Uniao pedigree plus the semi-unpredictable funkiness of a judo background plus how hard it is to prepare for an unknown plus that name = hey, why not.
Could be the last of these I write, we shall see. Law school is good fun, but ye Gods the time commitment.
Google returns 78,500 results for the phrase “stand and Wang.” This amuses me far more than it should.
Bad judging, bad refereeing, bad fights, bad commentating, bad hairdos, bad production values, bad ticket sales, bad atmosphere, the ending of two (and defeat of a third) of the very, very, veryvery few semi-stars Strikeforce has by talented but anonymous journeymen- this promotion is double-ding-dong-doomed. Thoughts:
– Griggs vs. Lashley was semi-salvaged only by Griggs coming across as the nicest man in five states. Lashley is just… blah. His skills are still years away (and don’t seem to be improving) and now there’s real questions about his conditioning, AND he’s on the far side of 30. This fight goes a long way towards shuffling him into the “busted prospect” category as a serious fighter, and probably even hurts his value- such as it is- as a non-serious fighter against the Dave Batista’s and Kimbo Slice’s of the world. I doubt the result of this is enough to sway CBS one way or another for giving Strikeforce one last shot at network primetime, but it can’t have helped. Maybe they can do Griggs vs. Arlovski? Maybe a serious promotion shouldn’t be asking questions like that? And yes Lashley did get semi-screwed by the fight being stood up from mount, but let’s be honest: he was blown the fuck up badly by then and was likely going to be toast in the third round regardless. Overall he has the same problem in MMA that he had in pro wrestling: he’s got all the physical tools in the world, but his technical skills lag far behind and he has the square root of zero personality. I feel like I’ve been watching this guy for 5+ years now in one venue or another and I still don’t have a clue who he is as a person; if I don’t know who he is as a person and he’s not that great of a fighter, why should I care? I can’t come up with a reason, so I don’t care, so moving on.
– Noons vs. Gurgel was a joke, booked to be a squash match and yet somehow made everyone involved look worse and less professional than they did before it started. Noons probably should have had a point deducted at the end of the first for a late punch; Gurgel’s corner definitely should not have let him out for the second after he had already been KO’d once (and the broadcasters noted that he didn’t remember having been knocked down in the corner, which is a clear sign of brain trauma); the illegal knee which may or may not have come after the fight was ended should probably merit Noons some kind of suspension for being blatantly illegal, probably after the stoppage and likely to cause injury. And will that happen? Of course not. And the refereeing- it’s hard to know where to start with the catalog of errors here, but let’s pick one basic point: if you’re going to stop a fight, STOP THE FUCKING FIGHT, don’t leap in like it’s over, then back off, then decide it’s over a second time without actually telling anyone. Inexcusable. The fighters should not have to guess whether or not the fight is still happening.
– I would give you my score for Kennedy vs. Jacare, but I don’t have one; I watched 4 rounds and fast-forwarded through the fifth because I could feel things like my hope for the future, faith in humanity and will to live ebbing away with each passionless, motionless, fruitless minute of nothingness. That fight was the concept of “ennui” in performance art form, the kind of low to no action staring contest which gets both guys under. From the standpoint of skill and talent, it’s clear that Jacare is a world-class fighter; from a promotional standpoint, let’s be honest: he’s got little charisma, no name, and can’t do English-language promos. His most natural fight- Mayhem Miller based on their feud- is hard to promote given that all the backstory for it happened years ago in another promotion. Hardcore fans will always be excited to watch De Souza; hardcore fans will never be enough to sustain a serious #2 promotion. Strikeforce better hope their contender’s tournament throws up something special.
– The main event, hey, nice job by Feijao and the 10-20 pounds of muscle he made friends with in the last couple months without outgrowing the weight class. Funny how that works. He seems a nice enough guy and he’s kind of good looking in a not-quite-Vitor-Belfort kind of way so maybe he’ll catch on, but eeeehhhhhhh wouldn’t bet on it. And what’s the next fight for him? Maybe Mousasi, except Mousasi is scheduled for DREAM upcoming and it’s anyone’s guess when or if he’ll next be available. And even if he is you’re back to two charismaless guys who appeal only to hardcores. He could rematch Mike Kyle, but despite the backstory that’s still a matchup of near-unknowns. He could fight Babalu, but that’s an unknown vs. a UFC washout. And in the meantime what do you do with Mo? If Strikeforce had shown the least part of clue one in the months and months they’ve had Mo and done things like give him major interview time and show his entrances- you know, things that might get him over as a star- then this would be bad but not a disaster as a star can survive a loss in MMA, even a KO loss. But they didn’t. So they’re left with what looks like a flash-in-the-pan ex-champ who got knocked the screaming fuck out in his first title defense and whose only televised wins were over the bloated remnants of Mike Whitehead and Gegard Mousasi- which a lot of people, unfairly, are now going to look at as saying more about Mousasi than about Mo. So yeah this was no buys.
– Why was I staring at the referee’s back for half of the evening? Why do they insist on using that crane camera which makes everything look tiny and which makes it harder to follow the action? Why are they giving crowd shots of a crowd where there were patches of empty seats 20 feet from the cage? Why Gus Johnson?
– Mauro Renallo is still a hideous evil clown. Most of Strikeforce’s production staff should just be fired; getting rid of him is probably going to require an exorcism.
In short, this promotion has no idea what they’re doing or where they’re going. They cannot build stars, and now the guys they had who had the best chance of becoming stars are starting to get knocked off and damaged before they’d reached the level they needed to to be insulated from the losses that everyone in this sport eventually picks up. You look up and down the Strikeforce roster now and there’s legitimately probably only one fight they could put on which would have any kind of serious interest to it- Fedor vs. Overeem- and that fight by all accounts isn’t going to happen because Fedor’s people for one reason or another don’t want it. What is the plan for this group? Do they accept just being Showtime’s every-so-often small time MMA promotion which has one, two, maybe three interesting fighters per division and can’t draw independently of their TV contract as many boxing promoters accept, or do they have some sort of desire to build themselves into being a legitimate #2 promotion which can draw revenue from PPV and make more than a pittance from live ticket sales? If it’s #1 then fine, but they can stand to do some major cost-cutting of guys like Fedor; if it’s #2 then they need an entirely new plan of how to go about it. Rinky-dink production showcasing anonymous dudes is not going to draw serious attention. Most of the time I enjoy Strikeforce’s shows (tonight’s being a major exception) but I don’t know what they’re for, exactly; and the more time passes with this the state of affairs the more I bracket them mentally with Shine Fights, Shark Fights, War On The Mainland and King Of The Cage than I do with UFC. Tonight felt minor league- that’s not what you’re looking for.
Lawal KO2 Cavalcante and Kennedy KO4 De Souza tonight, and Noons UDEC Gurgel and Lashley UDEC T. Can. I’d write more, but I still have 200 pages to read for Monday and 3 more miles of running I owe myself tonight. Good times.
Home of GIANT MAN-TITS. I recognize Bellator is run on a frayed shoestring, but I will fucking send them money to get Cole Konrad and that Bennet dude some shirts and some shirts and some more shirts. Those dudes should fight in wetsuits or something- that was heinous.
– Give me Cruz over Benavidez on top. I don’t count Benavidez out at all, but Cruz has such an awkward striking style that he’s hard to deal with hand to hand AND hard to shoot on, and that combined with his major height and reach advantages should allow him to force a repeat of their first fight. Caveat: Cruz’s style requires a ton of movement and a ton of energy, and he’s not a banger or a finisher the way Benavidez is; if it turns out that Cruz can’t go 5 rounds at his best pace then Benavidez- who can be a brutal finisher- may have a chance to get a hold of a tired man late and tear him up. Something to keep an eye on.
– I love Roller vs. Pettis; it’s just a great matchup and could be a strong fight. Roller to me proved against Anthony Njokuani that he’s got the brain for his game: he’s a ground fighter, he knows it, and he’s not going to fuck around doing bad kickboxing anymore against guys who can take his head off. I expect him to go out there, throw a few feints, take Pettis down and control him, probably for all three rounds but with a chance of getting Pettis to give up his back for a tap in the first two.
– Cub Swanson A/K/A Jeep Swenson isn’t really very good, and his fight with Chad Mendes is basically a showcase for the next loathsome, neckless mutant from the Urijah Faber camp. Mendes guillotine 1.
-I’ll take Scott Jorgensen over Brad Pickett. He’s stronger, maybe a bit bigger, a better wrestler and a more fluid striker. There’s no major stylistic clash or technical breakdown really, Jorgensen is likely to just be that little bit better in most areas. Decision, though Jorgensen has that brutal GNP which might end it late.
I don’t give a fuck, that was fight of the year. An amazing, amazing spectacle which proves many things, among them that MMA at its best really can equal boxing for the greatness of an epic fight. Thoughts:
– Thanks to both guys for keeping the fuckery to a minimum. It was one of those deals where they had to go either over the top and create a ridiculous spectacle or else settle down and try to have a real fight, and they ended up going with option 2 and having an all-time classic. No one who bought this will be disappointed I think.
– Both guys are going to be bigger stars after tonight. A rematch is a potential million buy show.
– Anderson Silva answered a lot of questions tonight about his long-term place in the sport. As difficult as it was, in the end he defeated an elite wrestler who really used his wrestling for the first time; he also battled through 4 rounds of ass-kicking to come from behind after being hurt and finish a great challenger. He didn’t gas out totally, he didn’t mentally break, he didn’t quit and go home, he didn’t embarrass himself with histrionics- he was simply great. In many ways this is his best ever victory.
– That said, Andy ain’t what he was. He came thisclose to Roy Jones land in the first and his reactions look markedly slower. Time catches everyone eventually, and tonight the only thing which stopped Silva from being beaten like an old man was Chael Sonnen’s lapses of concentration from the top and Silva possessing the heart of a champion. Both Vitor and Chael in a rematch have a real chance against him, and It makes him a more interesting champion in my book. I cannot fucking wait for his next fight.
– At least Chael admitted he tapped… eventually.
– I feel semi-vindicated on my pick and on my analysis. That ended up being a mix of several listed possibilities: 5 round chess match, Chael falling asleep in top position, Andy looking old and Roy-esque and nearly getting beheaded early…. combine that with being 9-2 overall on my picks for the show and yeah, I’m pleased with myself. Ultimately both guys are in the they-are-who-we-thought-they-were pile: Sonnen is an awesome wrestler and a tough guy who after all this time still has lapses of concentration in top position and panics when threatened, and Silva is a great champion whose biggest- but not insurmountable- weakness is to high-level wrestlers. We’ve learned more about Silva’s mental strength and how much age has affected him, but the general outlines of this are as predicted by most people.
Thoughts on the rest of the show:
– I’ve turned the corner on Jon Fitch. At some point his Jon Fitchness becomes so predictable that it’s actually hilarious, especially against someone like Thiago Alves whose regular failures to make weight tend to paint him as the villain in most of his fights. In short: wrestling, goddammit.
– Speaking of Thiago Alves, what is up with him and weight? He looked to have dropped significant size for this fight and actually has a smaller frame than Fitch, yet he once again couldn’t make it all the way down to welter. He’s at the point where, after two missed weights and a test failure for a banned diuretic, he needs to either completely reevaluate his training and cutting process or else give in and admit that he’s aged out of 170 and into middleweight. Something has to give because it’s simply not fair to his opponents to keep booking him at a weight that he’s hit or miss to actually show up at.
– Matt Hughes is a million, million years old but he sure does keep winning, this time impressively with a rare and difficult submission to pull off. Three options for him now: first, you put him in there with a relatively top guy to try to maybe see if you can get him into a contender’s slot; second, if Matt Serra wins you make that rematch; and third… if he’s going to keep doing the semi-official seniors tour deal, fuck it- Hughes/Hallman III. Who can be opposed to this? All you need for the countdown special is to show the first two fights in their entirety, a short clip of Hughes saying “I’ll beat this man if it’s the last thing I do” and a clip of Hallman saying “nah”.
– I missed the first round of JDS/Nelson, but what I saw looked damn good. JDS continues to show solid takedown defense and he puts his strikes together expertly, but he’s got to work on his cardio if he’s really going to pose a threat to the Brock/Velasquez winner. I think Dos Santos, given his age and development level, is actually more likely to end up as champion in his second shot at the belt; right now I’m seeing him losing a competitive decision fight to superior wrestling next time out.
– Every time I look at Roy Nelson, I think: I wish I could be watching the light heavyweight career this guy should be having. At 260 he’s a fun gimmick performer; at 205, he might be a real contender.
Much more on this later, plus maybe boxing thoughts.
The best thing about this card is that it’s going to be a great, fun series of competitive fights with strong sporting implications leading up to what is likely going to be one of the most memorable fusterclucks in UFC history for the main event. Whether you come for the competition, the violence or the bizarre spectacle you are likely to walk away satisfied, if a little confused.
* Middleweight Championship bout: Anderson Silva (c) vs. Chael Sonnen
Look, the pick is Andy by 2nd round KO, though I’d love to be wrong. That said, if you know what’s going to happen in this one you’re a better man than I at this prediction thing. There’s several ways this could go:
1. Silva just kills him Forrest Griffin-style, using footwork to give Sonnen no angles to shoot off of and smashing him with counters as he comes in. Andy showed up for the pre-fight press conferences with an angry man’s beard, a neon pink sweater and death in his eyes, so this is a real possibility.
2. Sonnen gets a takedown, controls for a while, falls asleep in top position for a second and gets armbarred or triangled from the bottom. He has a habit of panicking when threatened with submissions, and 7 of his 10 career losses have come by that road. Andy’s not known for his work off of his back or a particularly active guard, but he’s hardly awful.
3. Sonnen can get the takedown, and has improved enough to be able to hold Silva down without too much danger. The fight becomes five rounds of chess where Sonnen controls the majority of the action, but after every standup (which Silva often tries to create from the bottom with a triangle bodylock and posture control), sweep or at the start of every round there’s high drama as Sonnen tries to get it down again before Andy punts his head into orbit. There’s also a variation of this where Sonnen uses Greco to hold Silva by the fence, and the drama arises as Andy tries to get the distance to throw knees.
4. A bunch of pawing around early with Andy mostly throwing jabs, then Sonnen drives in for the double and runs headlong into the knee which Andy was baiting him into. Sonnen is sent off at a right angle like a foul ball and lands with a wet smacking sound, never to rise again.
5. Complete unmitigated bullshit. Andy’s habit of total dipshittery and clownishness in every fight over the last 2 years comes up again and is matched by Sonnen’s ongoing decent into being a total pro wrestling caricature of himself, resulting in something as bizarre and unpredictable as round 3 of Kalib Starnes vs. Nate Quarry or, well, Anderson Silva vs. Demian Maia. They may spend 30 seconds at a time just screaming at each other in (possibly) mutually incomprehensible languages, or trading obscene gestures, or playing to the crowd, or possibly doing any number of other things which are impossible to predict. I am actively rooting for this to be honest; as the name of this blog should suggest I love a good epic sporting disaster, and this could absolutely be one for the ages.
6. Some combination of the above. 3 minutes of mutual silliness, then Andy kills him; or three rounds of chess and two rounds of silliness; or something to that effect.
As to which of these possibilities is most likely, well, I would put money on the first two more than the others. I think Sonnen for ego and self-promotional reasons will at least try to make it a fight early, which means if he comes in direct Andy will have a chance to dodge and counter (again, watch the knees) and if he can’t finish the Oregonian quickly Chael is probably good enough to get at least one takedown since Andy’s best takedown defense is his footwork and angles, and he’ll have to plant his feet to use his best counters as Sonnen comes forward and pushes. Whether this ends up as an interesting contrast of styles or a quick KO (assuming no BS) will largely depend on Sonnen’s chin, which is in some ways a good thing especially for fans- if Sonnen fails that test we’ll get a quick and memorable fight, and if he passes it this could end up being the most competitive fight Silva’s been in for years. Instead of fighting people who were dumb enough to kickbox with him or people who wanted to roll but couldn’t force that, he’s hopefully facing a guy who’s either going to get the ground battle he wants or go out on his shield trying. After several guys who wanted to test Silva’s technique but were physically outmatched or who wanted to test Silva physically but weren’t skilled enough to make it happen, Andy faces a guy whose wrestling skill ensures that he’ll be able to pose at least some sort of physical challenge to the champion.
There is one additional intriguing possibility here. Anderson Silva has been linked for years with Roy Jones, either in terms of his desire to fight the man or the similarity of their styles which both depend on quickness, timing, reflexes and that eerie calmness in the ring or cage which only super high-level strikers posses. Roy Jones, like Silva, looked incredibly dominant for years- unbeatably so- with the minor exception of when he suffered what was considered a fluke DQ loss to Montell Griffin, similar to Silva’s loss to Yushin Okami. Jones went up in weight and dominated; so did Silva. Jones returned to his natural weight and looked shaky, beating Antonio Tarver but looking a step off of the pace in doing so; Silva returned from 205 to face Demian Maia at 185 and looked not quite his old self, losing a round late and appearing to many people to misjudge how much clowning he could get away with resulting in his gassing out. Roy Jones stepped into the ring for a second time at age 35 against Antonio Tarver, a mouthy opponent who talked shit at him for months and seemed to get in his head, and suffered a brutal and humiliating KO loss; Silva goes into the cage Saturday against mouthy shit-talker Chael Sonnen at age 35. The parallel isn’t perfect, but it plays up a real issue: Silva’s style is based, as Jones’ was, on pin-point accuracy and perfect reflexes which make up for a host of technical deficiencies; when the reflexes slip just a bit all of a sudden the punch which wizzed by an inch away from the chin a year ago connects unexpectedly and leads to unexpected results. There is a non-zero chance that Sonnen may just hit Silva with that one-in-a-million punch that Silva thinks is out of range, but isn’t. Be surprised but not shocked if that happens, because I think it’s actually Sonnen’s best chance here. Time humbles everyone.
Again, the pick is Andy KO2; but one way or another, this is going to be one of the most fascinating fights of the year.
* Welterweight bout: Jon Fitch vs. Thiago Alves
I previewed this one back in March, and little has changed in the interim other than Alves has suffered a brain injury, had surgery, and spent even more time out of the cage. Fitch, sigh, decision. Sigh. Might be better than most Fitch fights. Might not- you should probably drink your way through it, that’s my advice anyway.
* Lightweight bout: Clay Guida vs. Rafael dos Anjos
I hate Clay Guida and I realize I’m the only one, but boy howdy do I hate that guy. I think his fights are overrated, he’s just not that good, and he only does one thing in the cage which is mind-boggling after all this time. He has his uses however, and primarily they are to separate the real top guys at lightweight from the not-quite-top guys. He has lost to Diego Sanchez, Kenny Florian, Tyson Griffin, Gilbert Melendez and a few others of note; he has beaten Nate Diaz, Mac Danzig, Marcus Aurelio and Josh Thompson among others. Sometimes you get a false positive (does anyone think Roger Huerta is really that good anymore?), but for the most part Guida is a good test of which side of the line a guy is on. Up until his last fight I would never had thought Haffy Two Oranges had a chance to be on the bright side of things, but he took apart Terry Etim- a guy I like and who I picked in that fight- dominating him for two rounds and tapping him with a submission-of-the-night armbar. He’s a dangerous guy, athletic and very skilled on the ground and a good enough striker so that unless Guida has dramatically improved there he’s probably going to have to go to his the-one-thing-he-does-well, wrestling, which will put him in Dos Anjos’s world. Dos Anjos has to finish Guida here since no matter how good he is off of his back it’s simply impossible to get judges to respect guard work these days, but I think he’ll be slick enough to make it work. I’m going to say Dos Anjos SUB2, armbar transitioned off of a triangle. Watch for leg locks as well.
* Welterweight bout: Matt Hughes vs. Ricardo Almeida
Chuck Liddell keeps fighting and people complain and weep and cry about it, worried for his health; Tito Ortiz keeps fighting and people gnash their teeth, excited to see him catch another beating to make up for all his years of talk; Randy Couture keeps fighting and people talk about his getting one last title shot, or fighting for the honor of MMA against evil boxer James Toney; Matt Hughes keeps fighting and… really? Matt Hughes is still fighting? Huh. Didn’t he retire in ’08? He didn’t, you say? The hell, you say. In all seriousness there’s nothing wrong with Hughes fighting and it’s not like he’s shot or anything, but he’s clearly not what he was and he seems to have settled into this semi-retired half-life where he takes on fellow semi-retirees like Matt Serra and Renzo Gracie in fights which are theoretically interesting but not really meaningful- the unofficial seniors’ tour of MMA.
Almeida is something a bit different. Yes he’s old and from another era himself, but he’s looked impressive after a recent drop to 170 and UFC, in need of new welterweight contenders, clearly want him to grow into being a title challenger- and are putting him against Hughes in the hope that a win here will make his name and fame strong enough for that slot in another fight or so. Worst case scenario, Hughes wins and maybe if he keeps winning you can pull him out for a “one more time for the legend” title shot since this would be his third win in a row. I’m almost tempted to put this as no pick, since Hughes is so hard to read these days- his fight with Serra was bizarre and questionable for several different reasons, his fight with Renzo Gracie even more so, before that he was a late replacement against Thiago Alves… it’s been two years really since we saw a serious Matt Hughes in a serious fight. Nevertheless, grumbling all the way, I’m still going to take Hughes here- I think he can take Almeida down anytime and after all these years his top game is good enough that more often than not he’s not going to be badly threatened by Almeida in 3 5 minute increments. These guys met once at ADCC a decade ago with Hughes wining on points; I expect more or less the same fight now just with more of Hughes punching from the top.
* Heavyweight bout: Roy Nelson vs. Junior dos Santos
I was sitting around cooking dinner a few nights ago and watching old fights off of the DVR as is sometimes my wont, and I caught JDS vs. Gabriel Gonzaga for a second time. After the fight, I realized something: not some deep technical insight, or profound revelation about the nature of the sport, just… this guy is really, really fucking good, and I am on his bandwagon, and it’s pretty damn rare that I actually get into the engine room of the hype train for anyone. I like this guy, I like to see him fight, and I think he can be heavyweight champion of the world some day. But to get there he first has to get his shot, and to get it he has to beat Roy Nelson here in a #1 contender’s match, which I don’t think he’ll have much trouble with. JDS is a far superior athlete to Nelson, he hits at least as hard and maybe harder, he’s got a good chin which was tested by both CroCop and Gonzaga, he’s technically superior in his striking with more variety and shorter and more accurate shots, his takedown defense is solid and he has the ability to scramble up quickly, his BJJ is by reputation strong, and he’s facing a guy who once lost to Ben Rothwell and Jeff Monson. He’s 9 years younger than Roy and you can still make a case that he’s actually more experienced, since his three best opponents (Fabricio Werdum, CroCop, Gonzaga) are notably better than Roy’s best three (Andrei Arlovski, Jeff Monson, Ben Rothwell). I think it stays standing and JDS busts him up, shrugging off some takedown attempts as Roy gets desperate and eventually knocking him out with a left hook or an uppercut in the second.
* Welterweight bout: Dustin Hazelett vs. Rick “ipedia” Story
I live in Williamsburg. I’ve seen enough people who look like Dustin Hazlett to last a lifetime. I am rooting for Rick Story, and given Hazlett’s injury layoff and largely under-developed game, I think I’ll come away happy as Story uses his wrestling to keep this standing and smacks Hazlett around on the feet. Decision.
* Light Heavyweight bout: Phil Davis vs. Rodney Wallace
Phil Davis ought to completely Mack truck Wallace, who tries hard but just isn’t that good. Let’s say arm triangle 1.
* Light Heavyweight bout: Tim Boetsch vs. Todd Brown
I never trust a late replacement without good reason, and I can’t come up with one for Brown. Boetsch by KO1.
* Welterweight bout: Johny Hendricks vs. Charlie Brenneman
Brenneman does nothing but wrestle, and Hendricks is a better wrestler who hits REALLY fucking hard and has more experience against UFC level opposition. Hendricks really should win this going away, and hopefully can get his next fight back on TV. Decision.
* Heavyweight bout: Stefan Struve vs. Christian Morecraft
Struve irks me. He has the physical frame to be an unholy terror, and instead of locking himself in a room with Semmy Schilt until he knows how to use what he’s got he prefers to give up his size to do just-ok BJJ. So far this strategy has won him a few fights, but it’s also gotten him blasted and nearly finished by Denis Stojnic, blasted and nearly finished by Paul Buentello, and brutally KO’d by Junior Dos Santos and Roy Nelson each in a combined 93 seconds because he can’t move his damn head out of the way of anything. Yes, people punching him looks like short folks trying to touch the rim at the local basketball court, but so far it’s working for them. I know nothing of Morecraft beyond what the Sherdog fight finder can tell (6’8, 260, 6-0 with 3 KOs and 3 Subs all in the first round). I am going to pick Struve by decision mostly because of experience and because I do like his mental toughness and endurance against a guy with untested cardio, but if he gets caught cold and bomb-dropped in 30 seconds because he still won’t move his head, well, it won’t be a shock.
* Welterweight bout: Ben Saunders vs. Dennis Hallman
Saunders is young and huge and strong; Hallman is old and small and weak. Slow, too. Saunders by whateverwhatever plus knees. KO1.
I am intensely excited for this card. Expect much more on this later.
A few ramblers….
– The Golden Boy PPV ended up being pretty decent all told. JM Marquez looked in some respects the best he has in a while, reclaiming some of the defensive ability which once distinguished him before he began to slow down and move towards a more offensive style. Actually that contrast is instructive: one of the defining features which separates a great fighter from a good fighter is the capacity to adjust and excel in different fashions depending on what is required. Marquez has shown the ability to adjust in fights (getting up off the deck against Pacquiao to out-box Manny for the rest of their first fight once he had the timing) and outside of fights as he’s maintained his edge even as his physical talents have clearly begun to decline in his late 30’s. Juan Diaz has never shown that ability: he’s infamous for crumbling in fights when he’s cut, and on Saturday against Marquez he changed his style from pressure and volume to controlled aggression and a jab, an adjustment which ultimately availed him nothing as he was beaten just as badly the second time out as he was the first only being spared the KO by engaging less. Juan Diaz is a very good fighter; Juan Manuel Marquez is a great one.
– I do not understand the idea that Rocky Juarez is somehow a sad case. He’s gotten 5 bloody title shots all for good money against star fighters and legends, the kind of fights which are damn hard to get, and he’s gone 0-4-1 in those fights only to still end up featured on PPV in an important fight. If anything he’s gotten surprisingly good treatment from boxing over the years and been afforded opportunities which many superior fighters have not been. It would be sad that he’s never won a title if he were the victim of bad decisions or screwjob refereeing; but he’s not. He’s just a solid fighter who’s not good enough to beat a champion. There’s no shame in that, and it’s not as though Rocky hasn’t gotten the chances he deserves to try to prove that there’s more to him.
– That said, Rockey’s complete lack of a second gear or a sense of urgency after all these years still baffles me. He may be the most consistent fighter in the sport, and the easiest to gameplan for. You get what you get with him- no more and no less.
– Look, I’m an asshole for this, but let’s get it out there: I have no problems with humanizing fighters or, frankly, getting them over with human interest stories; but at some point when you keep beating me about the head and shoulders with a single story I’m going to get tired of the attempts to manipulate my feelings no matter how worthy or heart-string-tugging the subject matter may be. I am glad Robert Guerrero’s wife has beaten cancer, I wish her years of long life and no recurrences. But for the love of God, stop flashing to a camera shot of her after every damn round and stop mentioning her every 5 minutes.
– And that is really about all I have to say about Robert Guerrero incidentally. It’s not that he’s awful, it’s just that he fought a version of Joel Casamayor who had the big fork in his back and barely went after him, never tried to finish, got knocked down on a jab in the 10th and then popped up to hug the older man as soon as the final bell went. You know, the bell which signals the end of sparring. It was a fight so utterly blandly nothing that I can’t even be mad at it; I just don’t care. If Guerrero thinks he’s going to do anything at 140 though he’s got another thing coming- the big names there don’t play, and pretty much any of them will work him badly.
– Poor old Danny Jacobs. There’s real questions about his chin after he got crushed by that right, and real questions about the brain living behind it after the interview he cut on HBO post-fight which seems to have irked a lot of people. The recent track record of NYC prospects is really poor; if Jacobs flames out we’re pretty much down to Peter Quillin, and that is deeply no buys. Here’s hoping Jacobs comes back well. And here’s also hoping that Dmitry Pirog is there waiting for him in a rematch in a year or so; that was a darn fun fight while it went, and Pirog has this oddball charisma which makes him memorable enough to want to see again.
– Stoppages. It amazes me that the two on the UFC show are being criticized. Tyson Griffin did the dead man’s fall face-first and was unable to move his hands to a defensive position while being punched in the face on the ground. When he got up to argue the call he slumped backwards and nearly fell down again. He was done; this is not arguable. The Jones/V-mat stoppage was perhaps a bit more arguable, but I think it needs to be remembered that there’s rarely one exact perfect moment to end things- the best you can ask of a referee is to be within a reasonable area with his or her calls. I might have let that one go a bit longer, but given that Matyushenko was trapped, immobile, taking repeated hard shots to the head and unable to escape the position either physically or by letting time run down, it was a reasonable call.
– Incidentally, color me not exactly won over on Gomi yet. He hits really, really hard; but power is the last thing to go. When he beats someone who’s good in a fight that goes more than 2 minutes I’ll buy him as being back. Give him Sotiropoulos.
– Munoz vs. Okami. GUUUUUUUUUHHHHHHH. Anyone who can tell me what Munoz was doing and why he was doing it, please, please do so; I have no idea. It looked like he was trying to feint Okami into making the first move to counter with a shot early, but eventually he gave that up in favor of lunging fruitlessly at Okami’s ankles and holding on for dear life in a losing position. I recognize his style as a wrestler is to get a hold of a guy ASAP and then use subtle changes of weight and leverage to power through and get the guy down, but when you’re in, say, minute 11 of a 15 minute fight which you’re losing and this tactic has failed over and over, don’t you want to try something else? I guess not. And of course Cecil Peoples had Munoz winning this one; is anyone more of a human punchline in this sport than that guy? Is anyone even surprised? And yet he keeps getting used in California and Nevada, which should tell you exactly how much oversight they really offer for judges.
– Jon Jones. What can you say? He’s a goddamn beastlord. More than any MMA fighter he reminds me of Paul Williams the boxer: he’s got an improbable physical frame for his weight- exceptionally long without being frail- his talents are far in excess of his skills in some respects and his striking leaves a ton to be desired, but he’s so damn awkward and unorthodox and quick that he gets away with things that most fighters would be hammered on. What separates the two is that in MMA, Jones has options that Williams doesn’t have. Bones has shown a clear preference in recent fights for using his striking to get close enough to take a guy down and then blast him with elbows from top position, and as a gameplan so far it’s proven unstoppable and very effective- it allows Jones to impose his size on opponents in a way Williams hasn’t learned to do (the boxing equivalent might be for Williams to use a Klitschkoesque jab), it takes advantage of the three things Jones appears most skilled at so far in his development (elbow GnP, takedowns from clinch, guard passing) and it minimizes the risk Jones faces. Greg Jackson knows what he’s doing. Many questions remain about Jones, but he’s proven that at this point none of those are going to be answered until he’s in there with someone who can force him to do different things; guys at the Matyushenko/Vera/Hamill/Bonner/O’Brien level are just not able to hang with him or force him out of his comfort zone.
The real test for Jones now is going to be what happens when he faces a guy who he can’t put down at will and who is going to be coming after him rather than worrying about what Jones is going to do. Jones has an on-paper very impressive string of wins, but what all of his recent victims have in common is that they’re all significantly older than Jones, significantly less athletic, and in many cases significantly smaller. Before I send Jones out for a title shot I want to see him against a big, young, strong dude with real takedown defense. Rashad Evans would be perfect but isn’t in the cards for a million different reasons; Phil Davis would also be perfect but he’ll never take the fight (nor should he- that one needs to cook for a bit); failing those guys, I think Ryan Bader is the best option. Bader has something of a name from TUF, if he wins it’s not a disaster and he’s a promotable guy, and he’s the most likely guy available to show us what Jones has when he can’t get the quick takedown and maybe what he has off of his back. It’s not a prefect fit since Jones has much better standup than Bader so if the wrestling deadlocks Jones may just throw wacky kicks at Bader’s head and dance away for 15 minutes Silva-style, but it’s at least a better option than watching Jones pick off another old legend who everyone knows is doomed from the moment the contract is signed. Better Bader than Tito or Chuck or Rich Franklin or Forrest Griffin. There’s a case for Thiago Silva as well since he’s got standup of a kind (hard hooks inside) which could really bother Jones, a nasty aggressive style which Jones hasn’t seen yet and solid defense off of his back as well as being young, but he’s also had back injuries and isn’t likely to be able to stop the Bones takedown or put Jones on his back, thus limiting how much new we might see from Jones. He’s not a bad option, but I’d still go with Bader especially if he beats miniNog (which he may).