If it does end up as Hughes, now you’ve got him in a strong fight, Tito’s big return, and BROCK! in a title fight against a great contender who’s playing the game well to add heat to the match. This is an easy million buys show with that lineup, given the big man’s individual drawing power as well as the history of multiple main event shows outdrawing what any one of those fights would be expected to draw on their own. On the one hand the injury sucks for Almeida, but he probably would have been a substantial dog to Fitch and this potentially gives him a chance to get his 170-campaign off on a better foot in the future. This may end up as a win all around.
Another fine decision from the man who led a police chase through the streets in a truck with his own face painted on the side which landed him in jail because in his “dehydrated state” he thought God was telling him to exorcise demons on the other side of town. Look: Rampage is a grown-ass man and can do anything he likes, and it’s his life; he owes no explanation to anyone but UFC- privately- and that only because he has business dealings with them. He’s chosen despite that to give his reasons publicly, and well, they’re goofy; if he thinks he’s going to win many plaudits outside of the Dana-White-is-Satan brigade with his rationale he should probably go rehydrate. If he’s doing this as a negotiating tactic, fine, best of luck to him and I hope he gets paid; if it’s anger over previous bout negotiations, this is a queer way of handling it, but whatever; if he’s having an emotional outburst, fine, everyone does silly things from time to time as the career of, say, Dana White illustrates; but if he seriously thinks he’s going to make the money in films that he’ll make against Rashad, well… look for him looking haggard on the equivalent of World of Warcraft commercials in about 20 years’ time if he’s lucky, or back in the UFC in a year claiming he never meant any of this, Tito-style. Or more to the point, Roger Huerta-style.
I’m sure when you get right down into the nitty-gritty of it both he and Dana White have reasonable points to make about respect and fair dealings, but at the end of the day both parties need the other to make the most money they can. If this isn’t resolved soon and the fight rescheduled then at least one and possibly several people are making a very foolish professional choice. When you consider that a substantial part of Jackson’s appeal as an actor is wrapped up in his possession of a previously existing audience of target-demographic fans afforded to him by UFC exposure, I’d expect his agent and a variety of producers to be leaning on him to patch things up as well. If multiple felony counts don’t scupper Jackson’s UFC career, this likely won’t either.
EDIT: and incidentally, the funny part of this situation is that Dana White running off at the yap doesn’t make Quinton Jackson look bad, it makes Dana White look like a guy who’s both missing the big picture and has the emotional control of a colicky newborn. What makes Jackson look bad is the stuff he’s writing of his own volition on his own website for his own reasons! Both guys need to be pulled aside by adults and told to work this shit out privately, for their own good.
Every UFC there’s a fight with a definitive finish, and afterwards there’s God knows how many people lining up to get off some variation of the phrase: This Guy Sucks. It’s depressing stuff to read and if I’ve been hard on boxing of late I can always say this: one thing boxing fans right now have over MMA fans on average is the ability to analyze fights and fighters along multiple axes. There’s something to be said for 100 years of the influence of the idea that styles make fights. Let me describe what I mean using a specific example: Mirko Crocop.
Does Crocop suck now? Depends how you mean it. If, say, I went into MMA and you saw me fight, you’d say I sucked. I’m decently strong but have no cardio and move like an anesthetized rhino, and I barely know what I’m doing at all. If someone asked you why I sucked and you said I just did, you’d be right- I’d be so awful everywhere that it would be impossible and pointless to analyze in any depth. If you say Crocop sucks and someone asks you why, and your answer is “he just does”, that by contrast is a bit silly: when a hall of fame caliber fighter who was clearly one of the three best heavyweights of his era and maybe of all time becomes a guy who can’t really compete with top-ten contenders, fans who are serious about understanding what they’re watching should be able to say in some detail why this has happened. “He sucks now” tells us nothing beyond his most recent results; it’s got no predictive value as to whether a comeback is possible or if a fighter is simply done, or if he needs new training, or if he needs to stay away from a certain style of opponent, etc. If we want to break this down there’s several areas the basic question needs to be divided into, and I’d propose these three as the best broad areas: skills, athleticism, and other.
I’ve heard it proposed (the Tough Talk podcast post-UFC 103 wrapup show as an example) that the issue with Crocop is one primarily of skills- that he’s still essentially the same guy he was at the start of his career, a kickboxer who’s learned just about enough takedown defense and ground skills to let him use his major skill against most opponents. This, in Mirko’s case, is half-true; he’s clearly still the same basic sort of fighter he used to be, as opposed to a Georges St. Pierre who’s radically changed and improved his skill set as his career has progressed. But for this to explain Crocop’s relative decline several things also have to be true: that he’s as good as he ever was at his major skills (and therefore that those actual disciplines haven’t really evolved), that no other issues are sufficient to explain the decline, and that opponents are starting to take advantage of his relative skills deficits to beat him. There are some fighters for who this is in fact a reasonable explanation: Houston Alexander is as good a boxer-striker as he ever was, boxing has not really evolved, Alexander appears to be athletically similar to the guy he was when he was KO’ing Jardine and Sakara- but he’s never improved his ground skills and fighters have found him out and used that weakness to beat him over and over again. But this does not appear to be the case with Crocop; he was in his prime a terrifying standup striker who liked to keep the fight on the feet, and he’s been the same fighter in terms of skills in all of his recent losses as Junior Dos Santos and Gabrial Gonzaga KO’d him standing and Overeem and Kongo beat him up. People haven’t found a weakness in Crocop’s skills to take advantage of; they’re beating him in those areas in which he’s at his best. He still throws the same viciously hard and accurate head kicks and strong straight punches, he just doesn’t get the same results with them. Why?
For my money a lot of it is the second area of import- athleticism. Crocop is 35 and fighting is a younger man’s game, and for all that people love to cite Randy Couture fighting at 46 as an argument against age being a factor, the reality of the matter is that the reason everyone cites Couture is partly because there’s not a lot of other similar examples and partly for another reason to be noted below. Couture is an outlier, and citing a special case as evidence for a general rule is wholly unconvincing. Crocop is not Couture; people age in the ring at different rates for different reasons, and Crocop at 35 is an old fighter in my opinion. Go back and watch some of Mirko’s PRIDE fights: for the most part he’s the exact same fighter throwing the exact same kicks and punches, except that he’s throwing them all noticeably faster and more often and seemingly with more power behind them. They’re not more technically perfect shots, not straighter or more well-placed on the temple or behind the ear or on the chin- they just get there faster and harder and more often. Despite the advances in training and nutrition and other consideration in all sports world wide it is still the case that most athletes begin their decline athletically in their early 30’s and often still experience a noticeable and dramatic falloff in their mid 30’s. Some manage to make up for this with advances in other skill areas (think Michael Owen’s improved finishing or Michael Jordan’s fallaway jumper) but the majority do not, and it appears that Crocop falls into the latter category. In theory perhaps he could have become a great wrestler or jiujitsu fighter to compensate; realistically the chances of him reinventing himself in his mid-30’s was always slim, and such cases should be looked on as impressive because of their rareness and not expected. Not everyone is gifted with the potential to be world class in all things, and even in boxing- a relatively simpler sport- there’s not an enormous body of fighters who began their career as one thing and ended it as another.
There’s also the third area which has important bearing on the explanation for Crocop’s decline: Other. It’s a catch-all category which for Mirko includes things like transitioning to the cage and to a drug-tested environment, and might for other fighters include dramatic step-ups in quality from smaller promotions or exposure to a new type of opponent or changing camps or all sorts of varied life experiences of the kind that can impact anyone’s job performance. Simple confidence can mean everything. I personally have no doubt that this is a huge part of what’s happened with Mirko- he’s fighting in a cage which allows clinch-fighting of a kind which he clearly has trouble with and which ruined him against Kongo, without accusing him of anything it’s clear that transitioning to commission oversight has affected nearly all the ex-PRIDE fighters, and all of a sudden Crocop is facing in UFC a long string of fighters who have a size advantage on him alongside world-class athleticism for the weight. His last 3 UFC losses were to fighters who were seemingly taller and weighed in heavier than him, and who as his athleticism declined were quicker as well. That’s a horrible combination for anyone to face and it shouldn’t be surprising that Mirko’s struggled against it. All of this doesn’t even take into account factors which have a major impact but are often forgotten, like the difference between PRIDE throwing together cards often late in the promotional cycle vs. UFC’s scheduling of fights months in advance allowing fighters to peak on a certain day, or PRIDE’s habit of giving star fighters easy fights against weak opponents. I don’t expect to see Mirko Crocop vs. Dos Caras Jr. or Yuji Nagata or any other pro wrestler in UFC anytime soon.
In addition there’s the issue of how these factors interrelate. Randy Couture is an extreme outlier; but the closest things to him are fighters like Matt Lindland (39) or Dan Henderson (39), all three of whom share a background as world-class or near world class wrestlers. I firmly believe that of all the various background a fighter can bring to MMA wrestling is the one which will allow a fighter to go the longest for many reasons: because it reduces punishment taken, because it instills truly incredible physical discipline, conditioning and work ethic, and because it’s reliant less on physical quickness than on strength and timing, sense of balance, knowledge of leverage and positioning, etc. than any striking skill. If a wrestler still has the quickness to close with you and the strength to manipulate your posture he can still beat you and potentially look dominant in doing so. Wrestlers rarely have that fall-off-the-cliff moment the way strikers do, the way Chuck Liddell and Mirko and Wanderlei Silva have had several times over each. Cropcop at this point retains a lot of his power and physical strength the way wrestlers do- but because he’s not a wrestler the relative utility of that aspect of athleticism is reduced, as he doesn’t have the skills or size required to impose that strength on opponents. Randy Couture could potentially have taken Dos Santos down, held him there and pummeled him to win rounds using strength- as the boxing truism has it, the last thing to go is power. Indeed, even Crocop was able to hit Dos Santos hard enough to cut him and swell his face up; the power in the hands at least is still there. But because quickness goes first and Crocop’s style of skills depends on quickness he no longer can hit the openings he sees with consistency. His athleticism has declined as is natural; his skills unfortunately require a feature role for the aspects of athleticism which decline first.
So does Mirko suck? No, he doesn’t, but he’s declined from being a top-3 heavyweight to a top-15 or 20 heavyweight and it’s not clear that he has any serious option to reverse that fall-off. Given his size and the stage of his career and relevant athletic decline there’s little chance of his developing the skills required to make the most out of what he retains athletically; and while he’s still a skilled and powerful kickboxer who can do damage, he can’t do enough damage against the suddenly larger, quicker and better trained opposition he faces in UFC to win consistently and compete at the world class level. Moreover his confidence appears shot after coming up short in 3 of his 5 UFC bouts and that combined with size disadvantages has resulted in him being pushed around the cage on his back foot or crushed up against it in the clinch, being bullied and losing rounds. Going backwards he’s more hittable as many strikers are and he appears to be seeing openings he can’t capitalize on anymore which is a sure sign of reduced reaction time and quickness. He still throws the left high kick, but now it whizzes by just short or is checked or takes long enough to get off that by the time it arrives the opponent is already gone. He doesn’t stalk much anymore and seems content to try to be a counter-striker; his legs are slow, his movement labored. He can beat many fighters still because he’s declining from such a height, but because of the specific reasons for his decline it’s very difficult to see a road back for him. As a title contender in UFC, he’s done.
The decline of Crocop isn’t the result of any one factor and the state he finds himself in isn’t subject to summation in one phrase; he deserves better than to be described with a curt and rude dismissal. For my part I’d like to see him retire as he seems like a man with other things going on in life who seems likely to be hurt by the decline of his overall ability, but if he decides to continue we as fans can at least put in the effort to really understand what we’re seeing on some kind of a serious level. And Crocop is but one example; you could write something at least this detailed and in-depth for any world class fighter coming off of a definitive loss, and if I have time I may do just that for Rich Franklin later this week or next. The point is that there’s a lot to dig into in determining just where any fighter stands relative to the competition, and the sorts of concerns laid out above are only the tip of the iceberg. Fighting sports are complicated; if they weren’t they wouldn’t be half as interesting.
EDIT: some telling recent quotes from Crocop after the fight. It certainly sounds like he’s looking at retirement and if so, I and I’m sure every other MMA fan wishes him the best. The two things he focused on really tell the tale I think: a worn out body and a worn down drive.
Joking about Old Vitor is fun because it’s such a great running gag in MMA, but the reality is this: Old Vitor is New Vitor is Yesterday’s Vitor and Tomorrow’s. He’s always had the combination of quickness, power, and accuracy to roll skull crack on dudes in the first minute or two, and by dudes I mean ANYONE. Anyone used to be Terry Martin and Ivan Serati so people didn’t take it too seriously, despite Vitor’s rep being built partially on doing just that to Tank Abbott and Scott Ferrozzo; now anyone is Matt Lindland and Rich Franklin, so it’s big news. And yet what Vitor himself did in most of those fights hasn’t changed all that much, and I don’t really expect to see a very different Vitor next time out either. All the questions about his mental strength and cardio and gameplanning for fights he can’t win with a 2 minute KO are still there, and if any issue has been settled it’s maybe about whether he can show patience against a world class opponent. This is not intended as an attack; I like Vitor, think he’s a fine fighter, and I picked him to win tonight. But realistically we don’t know (though we may strongly suspect) what happens when he goes into the 3rd round, let alone the 5th, with a world class opponent right now. It’s tough to prove too much in one fight, especially when you’ve got Vitor’s track record. I’d still like to see him against Andy or in a rematch with Hendo though.
Contrast this with Floyd Mayweather for a moment. As I’m sure is clear here, I cordially loathe Pretty Boy- but not nearly so much that I can’t be honest about what I see. Floyd was fantastic tonight, amazing for any fighter and superlative for a 32 year old coming out of a year-and-change worth of retirement. His timing and handspeed are all there, and he’s clearly reestablished himself as at the absolute worst a very close #2 P4P in the world. If you have him at #1, I’m really not prepared to argue all that much. Floyd’s horseshit around making weight and picking a smaller opponent are noted, but the bottom line is that he dominated a world class hall of famer and looked like a legend in his prime. That deserves recognition and respect- he’s a wonderful fighter, one of the best of his era. In the broadest possible sense Floyd is what a fully focused and mentally stronger Vitor might be, and the distance between them is the distance the Phenom still has to travel to become a champion once again.
All in all a solid night of fights. A pretty decent week of predictions for me as well: I was 7-3 for the Fight Night, 2-1 for the boxing and 9-4 for UFC 103, so I think I’ve redeemed myself for the UFC 102 debacle.
UFC seems to have staged an accidental theme card with this one, as UFC 103 features the returns of Vitor Belfort, Frank Trigg, Hermes Franca, Vladimir Matyushenko and Mirko Crocop (on a serious full time basis), 4 of the 5 of whom are in featured matches on the televised portion of the card including in both of the top two bouts. It’s an ambitious move by UFC likely motivated partly by when people were ready to fight, but which all the same shows confidence that the name UFC itself will be sufficient to draw a solid buyrate- even opposed by a major boxing show, and despite the probable unfamiliarity of current casual audiences with some of these fighters. Whether or not that contention proves correct will be very interesting; I’m predicting 400,000 buys for this show which I would regard as a solid success though not a home run. I’ve not seen the countdown show which is reportedly excellent, which usually helps and may with luck boost the final number even higher. UFC 102 was reported in the 420,000 range, with what was regarded as a weaker countdown show, but a stronger main event.
* Catchweight (195 lb) bout: Rich Franklin vs. Vitor Belfort
There are many great quests in the world of popular entertainment: Dragon Quest, Team Quest, Quest for Fire, Prime Minister’s Quest-ion Time and so forth; but few can match the Quest For Old Vitor for the passion and persistence involved. They say, in days of yore, that the man stood nearly ten feet tall as a demi-God in stature, that his blows could smite the heavens themselves, and mighty Achilles and brave Heracles fled at the first note of his roaring. Or maybe they just said he knocked a bunch of dudes out quick, I forget. Either way Old Vitor is one of the great myths of modern MMA, a half-remembered creature from another era (and another weight class) whose achievements have grown with time and the telling to such a stature that they’ve even survived years of butt-scoot losses and gassed-out suspicions of quitting. Hope springs eternal as they say, and Current Vitor does just enough of an impression of his predecessor for fans to hang their yearning on. His last fight, a 0:37 second oblastication of Matt Lindland, was just that sort of performance. But (and there’s always a but with Vitor), here’s the rub: 37 seconds tells you very little and often hides more than it reveals, especially in this sport. Vitor’s got heavy hands and quick ones, and always did; it’s one of the things Old and New Vitor share, and when big men throw hands in little gloves anything can happen. Old Vitor once beat Randy Couture in in 49 seconds with a punch. 49 seconds! Randy Couture! It’s less impressive when you remember that fight was a cut stoppage and Randy destroyed Vitor over more than 23 minutes of their other two fights, finishing him twice.
If Vitor is a mystery Rich Franklin is anything but. Where Vitor has fought all over the place, Franklin has fought only in UFC since 2005. Where Vitor has lost to people he never should have and beaten people he never should have, Franklin has been entirely consistent in losing to only 3 people in his whole career (Lyoto Machida, Anderson Silva and Dan Henderson) at least two and probably all three of whom will be the equivalent of first-ballot hall of famers. Where Vitor has bounced around in 3 different weight classes, Franklin has stayed solid at 185 until forced to move up by age and inability to beat Anderson Silva. Where Vitor’s physical gifts are undeniable but his dedication, mental toughness and conditioning (and conditioning… methods….) are suspect, Franklin has taken a solid but not overwhelming amount of natural talent and married it to an unbending and ruthlessly dedicated conditioning and training program. Franklin is the prize in hand; Vitor is what’s behind door number two. With Rich Franklin you know precisely what you’re getting right down to the gameplan, and it’s a fighter who’s good enough to beat all but the very, very, VERY best in the world: solid standup which can be a bit sloppy at times but is varied and powerful, good clinch work, decent wrestling and solid grappling particularly defensively, excellent cardio, and high-level cage awareness and calm during the fight. The last time we saw Rich Franklin in the cage, he calmly and methodically broke down one of the most feared strikers of all time, Wanderlei Silva, over a period of 15 minutes to win a deserved and impressive decision. He fought through some punches which stunned him, didn’t get rattled in hard exchanges, paced himself, and never deviated from his plan. It was a professional performance at the highest level.
Of course, Old Vitor knocked out Wanderlei in 44 seconds.
Some spells are very hard to break, and I’m picking Vitor to win by decision. Franklin is the safe pick and the logical pick but Vitor strikes me as, on his day, the kind of striker with whom Franklin has a lot of trouble, varied and physically superior. If Belfort has 2 rounds of his best work available he should win this, and I’m betting that in his first match back in the UFC, in a main event, he will. Prepare to say you told me so.
* Heavyweight bout: Mirko Filipović vs. Junior dos Santos
And speaking of quick KO wins and who knows what they mean, here’s the guy who made Fabricio Werdum’s ears wiggle in 91 seconds last October. Mike Coughlin mentioned on his 5 Star Radio podcast that unlike the Old Vitor/new vitor dichotomy, Cro Cop’s deal is a more straight forward he’s got it/he’s lost it question, one we really don’t have an answer to right now. He beat Mostapha Al-Turk; great. Lovely! But two fights before that he was getting pounded by Notastar Overeem only to be saved because Overeem was overcome by an insatiable desire to cockpunch poor Cro Cop, and that last time the big man really looked like a killer was just over three years ago in PRIDE at the Openweight Grand Prix. Meanwhile in his two UFC fights so far Dos Santos has looked sensational, and he does represent a first-rate camp; there’s a pedigree there. All the same, he’s fought less than 3 minutes in the Octagon.
I really want to say that Mirko wins this with a decapitating Cro-Kick; it would be wonderful to see him still have enough of it to stage a real UFC run. But I have to go with Dos Santos here, for this reason: Crocop does not like being backed up, does not like it at all; and so far what we’ve seen of Dos Santos has been an aggressive but disciplined striker who goes after opponents and tries to take them out, a fighter who puts physical and mental pressure on the opposition. If Dos Santos can do that I don’t think he’ll give Crocop time to set and get off his most devastating shots, and Dos Santos has excellent handspeed and (so far) the gas to throw many shots in a reasonable defensively responsible manner. If he keeps that up, moves in and pressures CroCop, he can simply outwork a man 10 years older than him who’s a pick-his-spots stalker by inclination. It would be a gameplan not entirely dissimilar to what Cheick Kongo used, although Dos Santos has so far not shown the clinchwork and leg kicks to completely replicate that performance. It should be noted here, I’m a newer MMA fan; I missed a lot of Mirko as the wrath of God in PRIDE, so for me it’s probably easier (though not necessarily more correct) to see Crocop as a fighter whose physical decline prevents him from executing as he once did.
X-factor here: Dos Santos has never fought anyone with the legend and mystique of Cropcop before. He’s only 25; there is a chance that he may simply seize up mentally and go into vapor lock, unable to execute. It happened famously with GSP against Matt Hughes and while I have no idea if Dos Santos is that sort of fighter, it’s always a concern in these kinds of matchups. If he starts the fight out throwing aimless jabs on the outside instead of imposing himself physically, it’s a very bad sign. He’d better gameplan as well because if he circles to his right into the CroKick, that’s trouble.
* Welterweight bout: Martin Kampmann vs. Paul Daley
European kickboxing explosion! As you might expect when one of the fighters is nicknamed “Semtex”. On the feet either man can win; on the ground, well, Semtex has been defused 5 times in the grappling, the same number of Kampmann’s 15 wins which have come by that method. I’ll take Kampmann here in what should be an excellent fight, on the theory that if he gets in trouble standing or needs a breather when hurt he can get it down and control things. Daley’s only KO loss was a medical stoppage due to an injury, so I suspect he’ll hang around to lose a competitive decision. This one could be hard to score with Daley controlling standing exchanges and Kampmann controlling on the ground in even measure.
* Welterweight bout: Josh Koscheck vs. Frank Trigg
Like smashing two mirrors together. Both were top level amateur wrestlers, both are decent strikers who’ve improved noticeably over the course of their careers, both tend to portray themselves as loudmouthed dickheads for promotional purposes, both need to stay the fuck away from Georges St. Pierre. Koscheck is younger, maybe a little stronger, probably has the better submission defense; on the other hand he’s coming off the first legit KO of his career, and there’s times when that messes with a fighter’s psyche. Some decide to go back to basics which for Koscheck will be his wrestling- ordinary a good idea especially since Koscheck has developed some worryingly Wangtastic tendencies of late, but Trigg may still have the skills and athleticism (and size, given his fights at 185) to nullify that. Then what? If Koscheck can pass that mental test however, I think this fight is his- if it turns into a kickboxing match then I think he’s got a power advantage, one of the few things which separates the two men. My hunch is that Koscheck cracks Trigg pretty good in an exchange at some point, follows him down, and gets a RNC for the win. Call it 3rd round. For Trigg to win he has to hope that Koscheck hasn’t been training his wrestling as much of late, and that he can get in and shoot to take the fight down, and control from the top. That, or the inevitable puncher’s chance. The faster the pace, the more it probably favors the younger man.
* Lightweight bout: Tyson Griffin vs. Hermes Franca
Y’know, if Tyson Griffin could finish people at the world class level he’d be a superstar by now. At age 25 he’s won 5 fight of the night awards (and a submission of the night) in 8 UFC fights, and has wins over the likes of Marcus Aurilio, Gleison Tibau, Tiago Tavares, Clay Guida, Duane Ludwig, and Urijah Faber. His only losses are to Frankie Edgar and Sean Sherk, not exactly scrubs, and both of those were close and competitive decisions. Hermes Franca is a very good fighter, but he’s also the kind of guy who Griffin more or less runs right over at this stage of his career as Griffin is younger and likely to be stronger, faster, and have better cardio. As much as Griffin has troubles finishing people at times, he’s also never been finished. Another 3 round decision win looks likely here though Franca might gas and be finished late. Expect a furious pace and a fun fight.
* Lightweight bout: Efrain Escudero vs. Cole Miller
Always tough to pick against an undefeated fighter, but I think Miller’s more advanced at this stage of his career and should be able to get the win here.
* Middleweight bout: Drew McFedries vs. Tomasz Drwal
Never been much of a Drew McFedries fan; he’s good at what he’s good at, but bad at covering up what he’s bad at, and thus easy to exploit. Drwal’s the pick.
* Lightweight bout: Jim Miller vs. Steve Lopez
Miller, in what appears to be a keep busy fight.
* Lightweight bout: Rafaello Oliveira vs. Nik Lentz
Olivera’s got a decent rep and Lentz is a late replacement, so I’ll take the Brazilian.
* Welterweight bout: Rick Story vs. Brian Foster
Story, seems a higher caliber wrestler and a guy with his head screwed on tighter (and yes, this far down the card my research is largely wikipedia-based).
* Light Heavyweight bout: Eliot Marshall vs. Jason Brilz
Not sure Eliot’s solved his big wrestler issue yet. I’ll take Brilz.
* Light Heavyweight bout: Vladimir Matyushenko vs. Igor Pokrajac
Matyushenko is ancient, but historically he’s a class above the level Pokrajac has competed at so far. Matyshenko is the pick.
* Lightweight bout: Rob Emerson vs. Rafael dos Anjos
I like Rob Emerson, and I hope they don’t cut him when Dos Anjos wins a decision.
All in all, I expect this to be one of those little UFC cards where the lack of big names creates low expectations, but the fights themselves leave everyone who does watch happy by the end of the night.
Not to be solipsistic about it, but it’s probably not a good sign that I thought this show was in like two weeks instead of two days. UFC’s putting on a huge number of shows these days, and smaller ones like this (and UFC 103, frankly) stand a serious risk of getting lost in the shuffle. I don’t mind telling you that I’m happy to get another go at predictions after a total failure to call much of anything at UFC 102, though.
* Lightweight bout: Nate Diaz vs. Melvin Guillard
A top-level Cesar Gracie brown belt with 7 submission wins and 0 KOs in 3 years against a vicious striker with 13 KO wins… and 6 submission losses. The basic outlines of this one are obvious. I tend to disregard most other potential factors for this one: the experience level seems to favor Guillard, but he’s got a lot of who-the-fuck-is-you padding out his record; the recent outcomes also seem to favor him but Diaz strikes me as a guy whose confidence is completely unshakable regardless of results while Guillard has always seemed flakey (cocaine use and trying to fight guys after the fight is over will create that impression). Both men have a gameplanning danger- Diaz at times seems to think he’s a better striker than he actually is while Guillard doesn’t always have an actual gameplan. I tend to favor Diaz in this one, fairly strongly actually: he’s willing and able to clinch at first opportunity and skilled at getting the fight down from the position, often using a judo-style throw, and once this one ends up on the ground Guillard is just screwed especially with his back on the mat. He could catch Nate early of course, but he’s not really disciplined enough to avoid the clinch for long and I suspect Nate’s chin is good enough to take a few shots if needed (he’s never been KO’d and rarely hurt). Let’s go with Nate Diaz by RNC in the second.
* Lightweight bout: Gray Maynard vs. Roger Huerta
When one guy is an earless gargoyle of a gigantic wrestler nicknamed “the bully” and the other is a retired fighter who wants to be a Hollywood actor and hasn’t competed in over a year, well, it doesn’t seem that hard a call. Maynard, 30-27, take down and blanket. Only real way Maynard can get himself into trouble is if he decides he needs to be spectacular to secure a title shot and tries to do too much, leaving himself open. I wouldn’t bet on it, though.
* Welterweight bout: Carlos Condit vs. Jake Ellenberger
Condit’s fought much higher levels of opposition, Ellenberger’s a late replacement, and Condit needs a win here badly and probably knows he does. I’d expect him to win, and as he’s never gone the distance in a winning effort I’ll say that trend continues and he taps Ellenberger with an armbar in the first.
* Middleweight bout: Nate Quarry vs. Tim Credeur
I kind of love this fight. Both guys bring it hard in every fight they’re in which doesn’t involve Kalib Starnes, both guys look to finish, both guys are coming off of impressive recent performances, both guys are likable and have solid name recognition from TUF. It’s more or less a perfect show-opener. To me the result of this hinges on how good you think Credeur’s BJJ really is, as Quarry’s had decidedly mixed results against noted jiu jitsu fighters of late: a loss to Demian Maia by RNC, immediately followed by a horrifying beatdown of Jason MacDonald resulting in a first round TKO win. My hunch is that Creduer while excellent is closer to the latter, and I half-suspect it may not matter as Credeur’s standup is not of a quality to let him stay in that position long in this one. He throws with his head motionless and straight up and down, a virtual invitation to be hit, and Quarry throws disciplined straight and accurate punches with a lot of force behind them. Credeur’s current 6 fight winning streak includes no strikers who can bring the heat the way Quarry can, and I almost get the sense that even as good as Credeur is on the mat he’s almost gotten lulled into relying on his standup far more than he should because he’s not been in there with anyone who can really call him on how bad it is defensively. Quarry will, and I think he wins this by 2nd round KO when a knockdown off a hard cross leads to a GnP finish.
* Light Heavyweight bout: Steve Cantwell vs. Brian Stann
Yes. Again. For a third time. Look, sorry, but this isn’t Gatti vs. Ward where two very-good-but-not-world-class fighters can make huge stars of themselves by having an amazing, exciting series. These guys aren’t as good as Gatti and Ward, these fights aren’t that good, Cantwell made himself look like a dick after the Al-Hassan fight, and this rubber match has gotten not a lot of pub (and is taking place as an untelevised undercard). I’ll pick Cantwell as the more versatile guy (decision- they know each other well enough to stalemate), but frankly I don’t want to see either of them.
* Welterweight bout: Chris Wilson vs. Mike Pyle
Odd fact: Pyle has fought both Jon Fitch and Rampage Jackson, 7 and 10 years ago respectively, both of them in his first three career fights. Another fun fact: Pyle was the late replacement for Wilson at UFC 98 against Brock Larson. I’ll take Pyle on a hunch.
* Middleweight bout: C.B. Dollaway vs. Jay Silva
UFC seems to want to call CB’s bluff of late. A great wrestler, strong, decent striker, great dick charisma, TUF exposure…but the fucker keeps getting tapped. This was originally supposed to be CB vs. Dan Miller and his 7 wins by submission, and while Jay Silva the replacement may only have one submission win professionally he also lists as a Renzo Gracie purple belt. I never like to pick a late replacement with no UFC experience so I’m going to take CB, especially since I imagine he’s fairly desperate for this win to stay in the big time, but if he does the retard charge into a guillotine again I’ll be 0% surprised.
* Lightweight bout: Sam Stout vs. Phillipe Nover
Interesting that this goes untelevised even after Chris Lytle had to pull out against Carlos Condit. Nover carries a bag of hype and two straight losses with him, the last by KO (a stoppage mildly questioned at the time); Stout is 2-2 in his most recent UFC stint with all 4 fights going to a decision. Nover’s from BK and I’m rooting for the youth, but I’m just not sure I’m seeing it from him yet- he may be a guy who needs some time away from Zuffaland to develop before he can succeed on the highest level. This fight will probably give it to him- Stout by decision.
* Lightweight bout: Jeremy Stephens vs. Justin Buchholz
* Welterweight bout: Brock Larson vs. Mike Pierce
It’s a good moment in MMA history for big white wrestlers from Minnesota named Brock. I’ll take this one by submission in the second, given his better grappling credentials and experience level.
* Middleweight bout: Ryan Jensen vs. Steve Steinbeiss
Eh, Steinbeiss, decision.
Should be a decent show overall, a nice appetizer for UFC 103. I’ll have a predictions/preview post up for that and for Mayweather/Marquez by Friday.
EDIT: word’s out that Nate Diaz is having trouble making weight and skipped a press conference today. Troubles.
The awards go to:
Anderson Silva for “you’d be like Angelina Jolie”
And Vai Cavallo for “Gummy Berry Juice“, in the Euphemisms Division.
On a side note, the picture of Andy in his article is fantastic- he looks like an art historian or a professor of comparative literature. That article is also a fine example of why I say anyone who takes a promoter’s words at face value is a fool, because it’s fairly obviously the end point of a failed effort by Wanderlei (and possibly Anderson as well) to put hype and steam behind a potential show down between them, a fight which couldn’t be justified on competitive grounds but could have drawn money as a putative grudge match. With Wanderlei’s face healing and Anderson being pushed in a different direction by UFC, the fight’s off the table and everyone can go back to being friends in public. It’s part of how the game is played.
I’m about 10 times more interested in this card than I really should be, I have to say. The main event is a fight about nothing between two guys past their prime, one who may be completely done and the other who may be moving out of the weight class, and yet for historical and human drama purposes it’s immensely compelling all the same. Below that every televised fight has some intriguing aspects to it, and the untelevised stuff has some fun matchups, UFC returnees, comebacking names, etc. Just a solid card.
Format stolen from Wikipedia because open source, fool.
* Heavyweight bout: Randy Couture vs. Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira
Rumors. Like Kelly Pavlik’s possible drinking issues which got blown up by Dan Rafael in his chat last Friday, they will tend to out in time- even the best camps aren’t really airtight, not with an army of reporters and gambling touts sniffing around constantly, and not when camps often have their own reasons for leaking, say, an injury before a fight. There’s rumors that, healthy or not, Big Nog has been getting whacked in training for this one- not reacting well to punches and not getting out of the way of them, looking more like the version which fought Frank Mir than was hoped for. Is that true? I have no clue. But true or not it speaks to the basic question that will be answered in this fight: is Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira a shot fighter?
Despite his advancing age, you essentially know what you’re getting with Randy Couture: solid standup, great wrestling, excellent athleticism for a 46 year old (and probably average for fighters in general), a decent chin and good but not great cardio, and a positive genius for gameplanning. A guy who knows every trick and is prepared for every eventuality. Like his boxing equivalent Bernard Hopkins, Couture has entered a zone where he’s basically proved that he’s just not ever really going to “get old”; year by year he’ll get slightly less effective and eventually be unable to compete with top guys, but it’s highly unlikely that he’ll ever just fall off the table one day. His clinch-based game’s not essentially based on pure athleticism, so time erodes it less than some other styles. None of this is true of Nogueira, sadly, and if nothing else this fight ought to establish to a new generation of MMA fans the truth of the old boxing saying that ring age and chronological age aren’t the same, indeed aren’t much more than loosely linked. As Mike Coughlin put it on his 5 Star Radio podcast, the 13 year age gap between these two means that Randy is technically old enough to be Big Nog’s FATHER, but you’d never know that to watch them fight or look at them these days.
What does “shot” mean? It’s worthwhile to define the term, since it gets thrown around a lot. There’s no hard and fast rule to it, but when I use it I intend to refer to a fighter who, through accumulated abuse, the passage of time, or some unknown reason has had a marked and severe decline in both their general athletic ability and in particular their capacity to handle strikes. Sometimes it’s simply an effect of a fighter getting old and time taking its due; more often it’s an essentially neurological phenomenon with a variety of associated manifestations including slurred speech, odd blinking patterns, stiff and locked legs during fights, etc. To give an example, Forrest Griffin was destroyed in his last fight, but he’s in no way shot; he just got beaten by a vastly superior fighter. Chuck Liddell however, sadly, is shot; his speech patterns are not quite what they were, and most obviously his ability to take a punch isn’t half of what it was three years ago. To further clarify, take someone like Mark Coleman- is he shot? I would say no, not close actually. The evolution of MMA has in many respects passed him by and he’s failed to diversify his game which has hurt his effectiveness, but he can still take a punch and throw a takedown and compete with solid fighters at his weight. “Shot” really has little to do with skills; it’s an essentially physical and athletic phenomenon.
Which brings us back to Nog. The man’s skills are not in question, and I have no doubt that as a trainer or in a BJJ exhibition he retains all his knowledge, skills and guile; the question is, does he have the athletic potential anymore to utilize those skills effectively in a competitive match? Being unable to avoid and thus getting dropped repeatedly with jabs and flicking strikes by Frank Mir suggests not, but the bottom line is that, rumors notwithstanding, we just won’t know until the fight starts. But all of my instincts say that Nog in done, to be honest; there’s too many reports from too many people, some reputable (Oliver Kopp of Tough Talk podcast, for example) who’ve met Nog of late and said that he seems neurologically damaged for me to ignore them. No doubt the infection he was recovering from when he fought Mir slowed him and made him look worse than he actually is (was?), but the reality is that he’s looked progressively worse in each of his three UFC fights and looked far below even low-level UFC quality against Mir. Even if he’s 50% better than he was that night he’s still running on empty at the title contender’s level, and Couture in particular is a bad matchup for him: Randy’s a decent grappler especially defensively, he’s a far superior wrestler and can keep it standing if he wants, and unless Nog looks like a totally different fighter Couture will likely get the better of the standup as well- he’s an accurate puncher and Nog has zero head movement at this point. Nog’s always going to be dangerous on the ground but if he can’t get it there any more I don’t know who he can beat, and even if it gets there for a second Couture is too smart to linger the way Sylvia did.
Couture takes a 3 round decision 30-27, in a fight which ends up being kind of sad. There’s a chance, albeit not a good one, that this could be Big Nog’s last fight- the man’s just taken an awful lot of pounding over the years and at a certain point letting him go out there to receive more, especially if he’s not truly competitive at the top anymore, is just cruel. If Nogueira looks shot against a man 13 years his senior, that’s a powerful statement about the combined effect of all those wars.
* Light Heavyweight bout: Keith Jardine vs. Thiago Silva
Let’s be up front about this: I really, really don’t buy Thiago Silva as a top guy yet. Like at all. He’s only 26 right now and has time to develop to that point, but as of right now that’s a hope for the future and the Jardine fight is at best the first step in that process. Silva’s UFC fights so far have been: a win over James “Remember Him?” Irvin, he of the 4-4 (counting a DQ win) UFC record and drug/injury issues; a win over Tomasz Drwal, a solid guy but not a top fighter; a win over Houston Alexander which started Alexander’s current 3 fight losing streak; a win over Antonio Mendes who is currently mired in a 4 fight losing streak including the Silva fight; and a loss to Lyoto Machida in one-sided fashion in his first real step-up fight. This is, let’s be clear, NOT a record to be ashamed of, or material for a “Thiago Silva sucks” argument; what it is, however, is the record of a guy who’s clearly established himself as better than journeymen, but has not yet established himself as able to compete with top ranked contenders in a deep division.
Keith Jardine, meanwhile, is…Keith Jardine, a random-result generator who’s made a solid career out of metronomically alternating winning and losing, beating people he really shouldn’t beat (Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin) and losing to people he really shouldn’t lose to (Stephan Bonner, late-career Wanderlei Silva, Houston Alexander), having a long series of close fights and close decisions punctuated by a pair of spectacular quick TKO losses. It’s a record as weird as the style of the man it’s attached to, which includes a 2-1 mark against former 205 champions for a fighter who’s never even gotten a title shot.
This one should be a standup contest (on the ground I suspect they negate each other), and there’s a lot of factors at work there. Can Silva come back from a brutal first career KO loss? Can he solve Jardine’s odd style well enough to land a killer shot? Can Jardine’s chin hold up against a guy who can really crack? And here’s another one for you: can Jardine hit hard enough to make Silva flinch? For a guy known as a striker, Jardine’s actually got precisely one KO win in 3 1/2 years and 10 fights in the UFC, and that came 2 1/2 years and 6 fights ago. I have this recurring image in thinking of this fight of Silva coming out at 500 MPH and basically Wanderlei’ing Jardine- it’s the kind of plan Silva would fight to, it’s arguably the logical thing for a guy coming off a bad KO loss to do, and anyone who’s watched Jardine knows that he’s susceptible to the quick blitz but that his survival skills improve as the fight wears on. That said, the longer the fight goes, the better it likely is for Jardine whose assets as a striker tend to tell over time as leg kick damage piles up and frustration takes its toll- and it’s probably worth noting that it’s been over 3 years since Silva saw a third round, so his cardio is a bit of a question mark.
A tough fight to call. This feels like the sort of fight which Jardine loses, but he’s got Greg Jackson helping him gameplan for a fairly predictable fighter, so… Jardine, decision, 29-28ish. Whatever you do please don’t put money on this one, and bear in mind that The Dean is one of my oddball favorite fighters which may be influencing my pick.
* Middleweight bout: Chris Leben vs. Jake Rosholt
Nope, I’m not buying Jake Rosholt just yet. His wrestling base is, obviously, fucking outstanding as a 3 time D1 national champion, but the rest of his game is years behind and it’s almost certainly too soon for him to be in the UFC right now. I understand why he is given financial and contractual considerations and the folding of WEC’s higher weight classes, but having him in now is going to result in him losing to some guys who 3 years from now he’ll tear the heads off of and I suspect Chris Leben is one of them. Rosholt’s submission defense is sketchy as he lost his last fight to a guillotine choke as his coaches audibly screamed at him to “watch the guillotine!”, but perhaps more importantly for this fight is that if you go back to Rosholt vs. Nissen Osterneck, you’ll notice that Rosholt has very, very little in the way of standing strike defense either. In that fight he made a habit of wading through a flurry of strikes from Osterneck (who had little power) to throw one or two back or go for the takedown, and if he tries that against Leben they’ll be picking his teeth out of seats in Row F. Rosholt can win this of course if he’s improved his head movement and uses that movement for no other purpose than to get the takedown, and maybe losing last time out will drive him towards that kind of no-nonsense gameplan.
If so he’ll be a different fighter than the one I’ve seen so far, and for that reason I’ll take Leben. 2nd round KO, big left hand.
* Middleweight bout: Nate Marquardt vs. Demian Maia
Up or down? Demian Maia fights are always easy to analyze because the dynamic is always the same: Maia is better than anyone else in MMA for grappling at 185 pounds, so if they roll he will win eventually. Standing his striking is not nearly as bad as it’s sometimes said to be but he’s no more than average which puts him behind most if not all major middleweight contenders; and let’s be honest, every strike Maia throws is essentially a feint designed to put someone in a position to be taken down. Marquardt will be by far his biggest challenge so far, a gigantic middleweight moose of a man who’s solid in all areas and has only been submitted twice in competition- once a decade ago, and again 5 1/2 years ago. I suspect Marquardt will have a pronounced strength advantage in this one which will probably prove most useful in keeping the fight standing… if Marquardt wants to go that route. He SHOULD win this; but part of me can’t get away from the image of Maia pulling guard, Marquardt lingering a bit too long, and then comes the triangle.
In fact, let’s go with that- Maia, triangle from the bottom, 2nd round.
* Light Heavyweight bout: Brandon Vera vs. Krzysztof Soszynski
Continuing this card’s theme of “guys who aren’t as good as they seem like they should be”, here’s Brandon Vera in another win-or-go-home fight. In theory Vera has greater technical striking skills, a longer reach, probably more ways he can win… but at the end of the day, it’s a fight, and I just think Krzysztof is a stronger guy who wants it more. I watched Vera vs. Keith Jardine last night and was struck by two things: first, it’s not nearly as bad a fight as I remember it being, and second- Vera really is just an incredibly passive guy at times when facing an aggressive opponent. Jardine fought most of that fight with a bum knee and couldn’t throw his usual leg kicks, but he kept the pressure on Vera which seemed to remove all semblance of a game plan for him from the equation. Vera got in some decent counter shots here and there, but for the most part he moved little and waited for Jardine to do something first, and thus ended up actually losing to an essentially one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest through being outworked. I can something very similar happening against Krzysztof- a lot of clinch work, a lot of dirty striking, a lot of the Polish Experiment getting in and out with one lunging shot at a time, picking his spots. I just don’t trust Vera to beat a man who’s really trying to beat him at this point, even though Vera clearly has the better skills and more natural talent of the two. Vera finds ways to lose.
Krzysztof Soszynski (which I learned to spell in the course of writing this!), 3 round decision, 29-28.
* Middleweight bout: Ed Herman vs. Aaron Simpson
Simpson, eh? Let’s go with Herman, a more well-rounded and established fighter.
* Heavyweight bout: Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Chris Tuchscherer
The Brazilian Cave-thing is just much, much better than a guy who’s best known as Brock’s pal and a victim of YAMMA Pit Fighting. GNP, round 2.
* Heavyweight bout: Justin McCully vs. Mike Russow
Coin flip. Let’s go with McCully- more experienced.
* Heavyweight bout: Tim Hague vs. Todd Duffee
Not hugely impressed with Hague, no defense to speak of; let’s take Duffee. KO, early 2nd?
* Middleweight bout: Nick Catone vs. Mark Muñoz
Munoz should be the much better wrestler, and after getting Cro-kicked into oblivion by Matt Hamill last time out I imagine Munoz will probably be in the mood to take this one down. Throw in that he’s probably the larger and stronger man coming down from 205, and Munoz should ride out a fairly easy decision here.
* Lightweight bout: Marcus Aurelio vs. Evan Dunham
Wouldn’t put money on a 36 year old coming in on short notice, so let’s take Dunham.
And there we are. Looking forward to this one- I expect this to be one of those cards where the quality sneaks up on you. Should be newsworthy, at any rate.
If Jamaican dudes doing country and western dances in chaps to the tune of the Benny Hill theme music wasn’t weird enough, Josh Gross is reporting that Anderson Silva wants to fight Frank Mir.
Andy by 1st round KO if it happens. Which, frankly, it should; everyone likes the occasional freak show fight, both guys would get paid a ton for it, and it’ll continue the making-Silva-a-star process. And what the hell else do you do with Mir now, anyway? I say go for it and let Andy unleash his inner Pacquiao for good.
Final numbers aren’t in yet, but apparently UFC 101 did right around a million buys on PPV. A MILLION BUYS. That’s a colossal number for what was expected to be a solid if not amazing second-tier show which got minimal hype in the wake of UFC 100. This was not a huge show that had been built up to for months, not one that drew hype from Ultimate Fighter and months of TV exposure, not one with one of the top 3 stars in the company on it, or so it was thought. Just a show, albeit one with slightly-better-than-average matches on top. A MILLION BUYS. Something is happening here. Meltzer in the Observer ascribes it to four things: Forrest Griffin is a bigger star than we thought, Brock Lesnar appears to draw in new fans every time he fights, the video game is reaching new audiences and drawing them towards the core product, and mainstream media coverage with a positive slant is growing. Certainly a reasonable analysis, and not one I can add to without giving it some thought. I’m mostly stunned by the fact that this is happening so quickly. This is a sport which had two brief and quickly burned out burst of popularity in this country prior to 2006, and which in the subsequent three years has exploded past every reasonable and most unreasonable estimates of its potential popularity. It’s just fucking amazing, frankly.I figured this show for 600,000 buys, tops. Swing and a miss on that one.
I’m house sitting until Sunday, so likely back Monday.