Should a No. 1 contender “wait” if the champion is injured?

October 21st, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

UFC 137 just won’t be the same. The headliner, welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, sprained his knee while training this week and is out of commission for at least a month and probably longer. The main event has been postponed.

But note that I didn’t used the term “cancelled.” Top 170-pound contender, Carlos Condit, will await GSP’s recovery and still challenge him for the belt. Wrestling master Josh Koscheck offered to step in and battle Condit on short notice but Condit declined, stating that he “had nothing to gain” from fighting someone below him on the ladder.

At first glance, the logic seems sound. After all, if Condit only has one guy ahead of him in the divisional rankings, fighting – and losing – to anyone below him can only hurt his career. But I wonder if good things always come to those who wait. Waiting for a shot guarantees that you still get to battle for the belt but it also means you sit on the shelf for a long period of time and can become rusty and/or lose your hunger. Worse yet, a long layoff could hinder your body’s ability to respond under extreme stress. Just ask Rashad Evans.

“Suga” earned a No. 1 contender match against Muay Thai specialist Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in 2010 but decided to wait a full year for his title shot after Shogun blew out his knee. After not fighting for a year, Evans’ rusty body failed him leading up to the winter 2011 fight. He injured himself and lost the title shot; Jon Jones got it instead.

Evans finally returned to the cage after more than a year off to beat Tito Ortiz this summer but he injured himself again, losing another title shot (this time against Jon Jones). I have to wonder: if Evans hadn’t waited for Shogun and instead had maintained his normal fighting schedule, would he have gotten hurt as easily? He waited a year for a title shot and that wait has grown to two years and counting.

If GSP’s layoff turns out to be long and Condit waits many months for the fight, he could suffer from ring rust or increase his risk of injury, as Evans may have done.

Someone in Condit’s position might point to lightweight Melvin Guillard. “The Young Assassin” reportedly had a chance to wait for the winner of Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard, decided to keep fighting and stay fresh, and lost to Joe Lauzon. Bye-bye title shot.

To me, however, that loss just showed that Guillard wasn’t a true No. 1 challenger. If you really think you’re the second-best in your weight class, shouldn’t you have no problem beating anyone below you? If Condit were to, say, risk his title shot to battle someone like Jon Fitch while GSP recovered, the risk would be huge, but the gain would be a lot bigger than he might believe. Beating Fitch would greatly increase Condit’s confidence, put a scare in the champ and keep Condit’s skills sharper heading into a GSP fight.

It’s hard to really blame any contender who wants to wait out a champ – after all, who knows when he or she might get another shot? – but the decision is more complicated than it may seem.

Why losing to Carlos Condit might help Georges St-Pierre’s legacy

October 14th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

Make no mistake: swapping Carlos Condit in for Nick Diaz as Georges St-Pierre’s next challenger for the UFC welterweight title was not a lucky break for the champ.

In fact, I’d argue that Condit may give GSP his toughest test in years – at least since the Thiago Alves fight (on paper, as he ended up dominating Alves).

Condit embodies what mixed martial arts is all about. He’s the total package, displaying knockout power, solid BJJ and submission skills, excellent fitness and, most of all, a true killer instinct. It’s the latter trait that should have the champ sweating. Appropriately nicknamed the Natural Born Killer, Condit (27-5) is as good a finisher as anyone in the sport. Of his 27 victories, 26 have come via stoppage, 13 by knockout and 13 by submission. He has a granite jaw and has battled back to win some real wars.

Though overcoming St-Pierre’s wrestling will still be a challenge for the wiry Condit, he clearly poses a major threat to St-Pierre because he’s truly willing to go for broke and he attacks from any position in the cage, including on his back. That nasty edge is the one skill GSP lacks nowadays and it makes me wonder if losing this fight would be better for St-Pierre’s career.

With a 22-2 record and having avenged his only two losses, GSP has surpassed Matt Hughes as the greatest 170-punder ever to compete in MMA. He’s at worst the No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter in the world. But if he continues to fight the way he has his last few times in the cage, he’ll tarnish his legacy.

St-Pierre has begun fighting not to lose. It was particularly evident in his most recent title defenses against Josh Koscheck and Jake Shields, when he was clearly the superior striker but seemed afraid to fully engage. This conservative style has sent many a fan leaping off the GSP bandwagon.

GSP fights cautiously because he has little to gain and everything to lose when defending his title. If we ever want to see the GSP we fell in love with again, he may be better off losing the belt.

Falling to Condit would mean that GSP would have to change his game the next time out and win more decisively to gain top contender status and challenge for the belt again. He would have to battle in a way that didn’t leave the fight to the judges. He’d have to bust out all the athletic, dynamic strikes and takedowns that he used to, when he was the welterweight version of Jon Jones. Losing the belt would also open up a chance for GSP to challenge Anderson Silva at 185 pounds.

If St-Pierre keeps winning, he’ll forever be viewed as a dominant champion, but also as a boring one who didn’t take chances. He said he wants to be known as the best fighter of all-time. To do that, he may need to be humbled first. If Condit breaks GSP down, the legend may build himself back up better than ever.

UFC 136’s fallen contenders: What’s next?

October 10th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

UFC 136 was a phenomenal mixed martial arts card. In fact, some people are calling last Saturday’s event the best in UFC history. While we saw two champions defend their titles and at least one other fighter earn No. 1 contendership status, several other top contenders saw their hopes dashed. What’s next for the fallen stars of UFC 136? Let’s have a look at four fighters’ whose fates have greatly changed after Saturday.

Gray Maynard (155 pounds)

Gray Maynard had his second shot at the UFC lightweight title against Frankie Edgar and, boy, did he blow it. Their third bout opened exactly like their second, with Maynard hurting Edgar badly and almost finishing him. Maynard looked like an evolved man at first, conserving his energy, but sat back too much, threw nothing but haymakers and let Edgar back into the fight before the little guy knocked him out.

The defeat was Maynard’s first ever as a pro, so his future remains bright. The lightweight division, however, is the most stacked in the sport. It looks like the winner of Ben Henderson and Clay Guida will get Edgar next (unless Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez swoops in), so I’d give Maynard someone hanging around the top five.

Recommended fight: Anthony Pettis

Kenny Florian (145 pounds)

Kenny, Kenny, Kenny. He just can’t win the big one. The perennial bridesmaid at least gave a solid effort against Muay Thai master Jose Aldo but I wonder if he’ll ever be a champ. At bigger weight classes, Florian got pushed around. At featherweight, he has to cut so much weight to fight there that he loses muscle and can’t use his size advantage. Aldo was the stronger man on Saturday.

I honestly wonder if Ken-Flo would be better off retiring and becoming a commentator. If he doesn’t, though, he should consider jumping back into the lightweight fray against a lower-tier top-10 guy.

Recommended fight: Nate Diaz

Brian Stann (185 pounds)

After tearing through his first three middleweight opponents, knockout artist Brian Stann had no answer for his friend Chael Sonnen’s wrestling. With his striking and marketability as a decorated U.S. Marine, Stann will still land another big fight next. Demian Maia would make sense after winning has last bout. So would Yushin Okami. But the idea of Stann battling Vitor Belfort in a striking war is just too fun. Do it, Dana!

Recommended fight: Vitor Belfort

Melvin Guillard (155 pounds)

Like Gray Maynard, Guillard is tremendously talented but, like Gray Maynard, Guillard makes too many mental blunders. He was too confident and fired up against Joe Lauzon on Saturday and got caught with a punch before Lauzon tapped him out. The Young Assassin’s ceiling remains high if he can mature.

Instead of giving Guillard a striker to run through, I’d test him right away and see if he can learn from his mistake. Someone like Jim Miller, a BJJ expert who is a threat to submit him, would make sense.

Recommended fight: Jim Miller

The Top Five Rematches in UFC History

October 6th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

With Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard set to meet for the third time at UFC 136 this Saturday, I have rematches on the mind. Excluding their epic draw, what are the greatest rematches in UFC history?

1. Matt Hughes vs. Frank Trigg II (2005)

Considering some call this bout the best in MMA history, it has to top the list of best rematches. I’ve discussed it on this blog before: Hughes took a low blow from Trigg, the ref didn’t see, it, he got caught in a choke…but he battled back, slammed Trigg and reversed the choke. Absolutely epic.

All time series: 2-0 Hughes

2. Georges St-Pierre vs. Matt Hughes II (2006)

In the second of their three bouts, St-Pierre exploded into superstardom with a spectacular head-kick knockout. Hughes lost the welterweight title and was never the same.

All-time series: 2-1 St-Pierre

3. Tim Sylvia vs. Andrei Arlovski II (2006)

Like No. 1 on this list, Sylvia/Arlovski deserves recognition for being a spectacular fight, let alone a rematch. Arlovski rushed in after he appeared to have Sylvia knocked out but the big fella rebounded with a devastating KO punch of his own.

All-time series: 2-1 Sylvia

4. Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir II ((2009)

In the most watched pay-per-view UFC bout ever, Brock Lesnar made plenty of fans and enemies by pounding Mir into dust. The rematch was special not only because these two hated each other but because of Lesnar’s brash speech after winning the fight, in which he called out Bud Light as an inferior sponsor and talked about going home to get freaky with his wife.

All time series: Tied 1-1

5. Anderson Silva vs. Rich Franklin II (2007)

I struggled to pick this one but I chose Silva’s spectacular Muay Thai display because of its significance. Before his first loss to Silva, Franklin was considered an unstoppable middleweight champion. The second straight devastating defeat against the Spider showed us that Silva’s first win was no fluke – and that he was the world’s best fighter.

All-time series: 2-0 Silva

Honorable mentions: Rampage Jackson vs. Wanderlei Silva III, Randy Couture vs. Chuck Liddell II, BJ Penn vs Jens Pulver II

Has Jon Jones passed Georges St-Pierre in the pound-for-pound debate?

September 27th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

Another high-profile fight, another easy-breezy win for Jon “Bones” Jones.

Last weekend, the UFC’s light heavyweight champion and youngest belt holder in the promotion’s history battled a legend of the sport, Rampage Jackson, and tossed him aside like nothing.

The fight lasted four rounds but wasn’t remotely close. Jones picked Jackson apart with his ridiculous reach and unpredictability in the striking game, softening him up before choking him out. Rampage barely laid a finger on him. Most other high-profile MMA fighters even believe Jones toyed with Rampage and could’ve finished the fight sooner.

The epic performance called to mind the current world pound-for-pound rankings. Jones is almost a consensus top-four pick, with Cain Velasquez arguably deserving the fifth spot. After Jose Aldo got beat up in his last defense, it’s fair to argue that Jones deserves at least the No. 3 spot. But what about the top two spots?

It’s fair to say that Anderson Silva remains untouchable at No. 1. He’s won 15 straight fights and has never lost in the UFC. But what about Georges St-Pierre?

On paper, the welterweight champion has done little to lose the second rung on the ladder, having won nine consecutive fights. But a look at four pound-for-pound factors shows suggests GSP and Jones may be interchangeable.

1. Longevity

Naturally, GSP still has the edge at this stage. He’s 22-2 for his career and has defended his UFC welterweight title six straight times. Jones’ defense streak sits at one and counting.

Edge: St-Pierre

2. Dominance

A few years ago, GSP would’ve gotten plenty of votes, as his wrestling has made him dominant. But Jones has taken dominance to an even higher level. In 15 pro fights, the kid hasn’t sustained a scratch. No opponent has landed a noteworthy strike, takedown or submission attempt. Jones has utterly owned his rivals with unorthodox, accurate striking, powerful wrestling and evasiveness.

The crazy thing about Jones: as his opponents get tougher, he doesn’t become less dominant. He made legends like Rampage and Shogun look just as bad as his early conquests like Stephan Bonnar and Jake O’Brien. He beat an elite wrestler like Ryan Bader with superior wrestling. He beat an amazing Muay Thai striker in Shogun with superior striking. No fighter in MMA history has ever obliterated the competition like Jones through his first 15 bouts.

Edge: Jones

3. Quality of Opponents

GSP still gets the clear edge here. Jones was coddled to start his UFC career and, after breezing through some vets and young pups, arguably has only three victories that matter (Bader, Rua, Jackson).

GSP, meanwhile, has cleaned out the competition at 170 pounds. He’s beaten two of the greatest fighters of all time, BJ Penn and Matt Hughes, twice each. He’s avenged his only two defeats (Hughes and Matt Serra). He has turned aside everyone thrown his way.

Edge: St-Pierre

4. Intimidation factor

St-Pierre was a much more intimidating fighter a few years ago, when he used his Karate to pummel opponents. But his lack of finishing ability in recent years has been well-documented. Dana White has defended GSP, stating that his opponents have gotten tougher and thus made it tougher for him to put guys away. But tough competition hasn’t stopped Silva from burying opponents and it seems no one can go the distance with Jones anymore.

As Pat Barry explained, Jones has reached “Mike Tyson status.” Fighters are afraid of him and have no idea how to solve him.

Edge: Jones

To me, St-Pierre and Jones are on equal footing as co-No. 2s in the pound-for-pound rankings. The way things are trending, Jones may be alone in the second spot before long.

Are MMA fans ready to accept “The Nice Guy”?

September 22nd, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

For mixed martial arts and, more specifically, the UFC, 2011 has been very much about ushering in the mainstream. Adding two new weight classes, enveloping the WEC, buying Strikeforce and signing a huge network TV deal with FOX were all major steps toward making MMA a more widely recognized and accepted sport.

With the increased mainstream popularity, in theory, comes more concern over fighters’ images. In other major pro sports, the bad boy isn’t often the superstar, it’s usually the squeaky-clean guy. Cal Ripken, Peyton Manning pre-scandal Tiger Woods, and Sidney Crosby are the types of personalities that rule sponsorship deals and billboards.

We could only expect, then, that the UFC would work to market its own “nice guys.” In Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones, it has its two flagships. However, I wonder if MMA is an exception to this rule. Are we sure the nice guy is built to be a star in the UFC?

Take The Jimmy Kimmel Show, for example. This week, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and his No. 1 challenger, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, appeared as guests alongside Dr. Phil. Can you guess which fighter drew the audience’s warmth and which one was jeered?

The likeable, good-looking, talented Jones didn’t get the response as he expected. He smiled through his teeth, trying to “take the high road” and answer everything diplomatically. Meanwhile, the street-tough Rampage wasted no time tearing into Jones, insulting him every chance he got and “being real.”

The crowd laughed at everything Rampage said, so much that Jones told the audience “Come on, don’t clap for that.”

Looking at that reaction – not to mention the negative fan backlash against the “safe” St-Pierre over the last year, I wonder if the Nice Guy has a place as an MMA star.

Who are the biggest draws, the most talked about fighters? Chuck Liddell, Former pro wrestling star Brock Lesnar, Nick Diaz. Cocky, taunting Anderson Silva. Mouthy Chael Sonnen.

Maybe we simply must accept that the core of this sport is still combat and a form of violence. It’s possible that nice guys finish last in MMA. There’s something very raw and elemental about fighting and perhaps a polished, eloquent fighter just doesn’t feel right to fans.

The one major contradiction to this theory – and the man who should give us hope about Jon Jones – is Randy Couture. For now, though, Randy is the exception, not the norm.

What to Expect from the Ultimate Fighter 14

September 15th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

The UFC’s Ultimate Fighter reality show returns for its 14th season and final go-round with Spike TV next week. The program has fallen on hard times recently. Ratings were down and the coaches were duds last season; winning the show also seems to “mean” less in MMA these days, as recent victors haven’t accomplished much in the UFC.

However, I expect TUF 14 to be one of the show’s better seasons. Here are a few things to watch for that I believe will make this season plenty of fun.

Charismatic coaches

I expect middleweight contenders Michael Bisping and Jason Miller to be among the most entertaining coaching tandems in the show’s history. We all know how outspoken Bisping is; the Englishman always has something to say and loves the camera.

The BJJ expert Miller is a lesser-known commodity. However, he’s just as brash as Bisping and just as much of an attention hog. He hosted the MTV show Bully Beatdown. It’s too bad Chael Sonnen was barred from coaching this season but Miller should be a more than adequate replacement. The coaches should be more front and center than they have been since Tito Ortiz’s last coaching go-round.

More fights

This season features two weight classes, bantamweight and featherweight, and should treat us to more action than in previous seasons. TUF 14 opens with 32 fighters in total instead of the 16 who started last season; the show has brought back the “fight your way into the house” format. So we’re guaranteed more action this season right from the start.

Wild fights

Despite being perceived as a lacklustre season, TUF 13 deserved more credit for having some excellent bouts. That trend should continue with the bantamweight and featherweight divisions. These guys have insane speed and gas tanks. We don’t have to worry about the huffing and puffing we saw in the heavyweight season.

Better fighters

Secondly, it won’t be amateur hour with these weight classes. Since bantamweights and featherweights are only just starting to break into the UFC, it’s possible Dana White will uncover some highly talented, undiscovered fighters in TUF 14.

The UFC on FOX: What it means

September 5th, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

Well, this should be exciting. As you’ve probably heard in the MMA community over the last week, the UFC and FOX will debut their massive TV partnership on November 12, with Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos battling it out for heavyweight title live. It will mark the first-ever UFC event, let alone title fight, on network television.

Many casual fans out there are wondering: what does the partnership really mean? How will it change the sport and how it’s perceived? Let’s break down a few changes we should notice.

1. More mainstream promotion.

As the top network in America, FOX obviously has a lot of influence, and it’s charged with the task of being the first major network to acknowledge mixed martial arts as a sport and not something barbaric. FOX has already begun its work. It promoted the Velasquez/Dos Santos fight during a baseball game over the weekend.

2. A shift to a cleaner image.

During the initial press conference when the UFC and FOX announced their agreement, I noticed that the accompanying highlight clips were “clean.” Lots of submissions and, when there was striking, we saw no blood. The UFC is also changing its opening title credits, saying goodbye to the gladiator imagery and (probably) the hardcore heavy metal. The transition to mainstream TV is all about trying to show the layman viewer that MMA is not the “dangerous,” violent sport people think it is.

3. More pressure on fighters to sell bouts.

With the UFC’s advent of mandatory Twitter posting for all athletes, it already took a step in this direction before the FOX deal. But fighter personalities will be much more important as millions of new viewers get to know who they are. This could be a challenge for a guy like Cain Velasquez whereas the Forrest Griffins and Rich Franklins of the world will flourish.

4. “Babying” the audience.

When asked about how he intends to fill the hour-long time slot for the heavyweight title fight, Dana White explained that a lot of introductory programming is in order. Many new viewers will have to learn the rules and be taught the basics of the game, such as what BJJ, Muay Thai, the clinch, full mount, and other terms mean. It may be temporarily frustrating for the diehards.

5. A major leg up on boxing.

Sorry, boxing, but unless you put Manny Pacquiao on NBC, ABC or CBS, you’re officially behind in the race to be the world’s top combat sport.
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The Great G.O.A.T. Debate

September 1st, 2011

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

Any time a superstar in a sport gives a signature performance, it’s common for fans to start up a “Greatest of All Time” or “G.O.A.T.” discussion. MMA is no different from any other sport; after Anderson Silva’s decimation of Yushin Okami last Saturday, people are wondering if it’s safe to call him the greatest mixed martial artist of all time.

It especially helps The Spider’s cause that (a) Fedor Emelianenko has destroyed his legacy over the last year to the point where he’s not even in the running and (b) Despite his continued dominance, Georges St-Pierre has lulled us into forgetting how good he is because of his conservative, uninspired efforts of late.

To me, the interesting part of the G.O.A.T. debate in MMA isn’t whether or not it’s Anderson Silva. To me, there’s no question right now. He holds the record for consecutive UFC wins and title defenses and he has never lost in the Octagon.

The more fascinating hot topic I’ve stumbled upon lately is whether or not MMA is old enough to have a G.O.A.T. Some people believe that, because MMA is so young, it can’t have a greatest of all time yet. People of this mindset believe that we haven’t even scratched the surface of how good mixed martial artists can be, and that the next superstars, physical freaks in the Jon Jones/Rory MacDonald mode, will be far superior to guys like Silva when their careers end.

Personally, I think it’s ludicrous to say that a G.O.A.T. can’t exist. It’s implied that the greatest of all time is always the greatest of all time so far. Even if MMA was one year old, it would still have the right of having a “greatest.” Royce Gracie held that honor in the 1990s, and deservedly so. He was an innovator whose Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu changed the sport forever.

Anderson Silva deserves his G.O.A.T status just as much. He, too is a trailblazer because of his amazing grace, evasiveness, accuracy, showmanship and finishing ability. He’s a Muay Thai version of Muhammad Ali.

The best way I can close the debate on whether or not a young sport can have a G.O.A.T: saying that Anderson Silva doesn’t deserve the title yet would be like saying in 80 years ago that Babe Ruth didn’t deserve it in his sport because “baseball was still too young.”

Who’s next? Five possible Anderson Silva opponents

August 29th, 2011


That was the emphatic message Anderson Silva delivered to the MMA world at UFC 134 last Saturday, tossing top contender Yushin Okami aside like he was nothing. As we’ve often wondered after a dominant Silva performance, who deserves the next shot – or the next chance to be the Spider’s personal punching bag?

Here are five intriguing Anderson Silva opponents on my mind.

1. Chael Sonnen

Last week, before Silva locked horns with Okami, I re-watched the Sonnen fight. I’d forgotten just how badly Sonnen beat the champ up before succumbing to a late submission. Sonnen totally overwhelmed Silva with his wrestling and imposed his will for four and a half rounds. No one has done anywhere near as much damage as Sonnen did. If he beats Brian Stann, he should get his rematch. The buzz and trash leading up to the bout would be off the charts.

2. Georges St-Pierre

Sure, the size difference could hurt GSP, but he could have a shot if he deployed a strategy similar to Sonnen’s. As a plus, St-Pierre could hang with Silva in the striking department better than most. It would also be nice to see GSP out of his comfort zone for the first time in years in a new weight class. Historically, GSP’s best performances always came when he was in the underdog role and forced to do something spectacular. He pulled out all the stops the first two times he challenged Matt Hughes for the welterweight title; maybe he’d wow us the same way if he faced Silva?

3. Dan Henderson

Next to Sonnen, Hendo probably came the closest to making Silva sweat when the two legends met in 2008. Since losing to Silva, he’s gone 6-1, scoring wins over Rich Franklin, Michael Bisping and, most recently, Fedor Emelianenko. Rumors recently swirled that the UFC was looking at bringing Henderson back to the UFC as a middleweight challenger. I personally wouldn’t be too excited about this bout. Other than Sonnen, a rematch wouldn’t excite fans – or Silva – too much.

4. Jon Jones

This is a dream – and we may see it someday – but I doubt the UFC will pit its reigning middleweight and light heavyweight champions against each other any time soon. Still, the thought of a Jon Jones fight is amazingly intriguing, simply because Jones may be the only fighter on the planet who can match Silva’s rare athleticism and general “X-factor” unpredictability.

5. Brian Stann

In theory, Stann will become the No. 1 contender at 185 pounds if he beats his friend, Sonnen, this fall. Stann would represent an interesting challenge to Silva in that, like Okami, he’s well-rounded and, unlike Okami, he’s more of a finisher. Stann’s size and power would definitely keep Silva honest. At the same time, I wonder if Stann is ready yet. He’s not the most experienced challenger out there.

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