UFC 214: Cormier vs. Jones 2

By: S. Davis

 

Has everyone made weight?

I’ve been writing about mixed martial arts for a few years and I’ve been a consistent viewer since 2008-ish. As I’ve become more educated about technique, psychology and the skill involved to even step into a cage…for a fight, I’ve always had a great deal of fun picking winners. Everyone does it with any sport that they spend their attention – and dollars – on.

Who doesn’t? I’m not a gambler in any sense – at least not financially – but selecting winners does add a little mini-game to the viewing experience. Since Jon Jones’ UFC debut I’ve watched every one of his fights. I’ve picked him as the victor early in his career just based on athleticism, honestly. I didn’t know much about him so I was just throwing stuff at the wall, so to speak. As he’s grown to become one of the best martial artists to compete in such a young sport – mind you he’s already considered as the best fighter EVER – choosing him to have his hand raised after he competes is easy. It’s chalk selections on an NCAA bracket. Easy work!

However there is one time I picked against him: UFC 128. Close your mouth, relax and don’t revolt. Walk with me for a minute…

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua seemed – at least to me – as if he was about to replicate his Pride FC form as UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. He came off taking the title from Lyoto Machida – after being robbed in their first bout – and looked healthy, strong and sharp. I heard about his Pride run, specifically his 2005 year, and I was blown away by the resume. He defeated Hiromitsu Kanehara, Quinton Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Alistair Overeem and Ricardo Arona; stopping each with the exception of Nogueira in the span of…six months. I thought he was going to defeat Jones. Mind you, I felt Jones would eventually earn a rematch, setting up a trilogy of fights, in which “Bones” would ultimately prevail as the king of the division. I considered the notion that Rua would then feast on the division, possibly getting back to Jones, or dropping to middleweight for a run there. In hindsight you may think I’m crazy and it’s possibly a questionable selection in 2017 but I felt justified – and I stand by it.

Daniel Cormier will enter the cage as prepared for any fight he’s had in his entire career. There’s a chorus of MMA idiots who also happen to hold doctorates in armchair psychology screaming to other idiots – by another name: MMA fans – that Cormier is “scared.” Sure. Hey doctors, I have a prescription that imbues you with the power of Superman for three days. I’m willing to sell you a pill for $100.00 each; how many do you need?

I would agree that this is probably the biggest fight in the current era of the UFC – and possibly the most important in the history of the sport to date. I’m not one for hyperbole, I detest it, but the statement is grounded in reality. Now the magnitude of the main event is in no way related to the possible outcome.

About that outcome….

It would be a splash for the sport if Cormier successfully defends his title. It books a trilogy and heightens their rivalry for another year or so. A Jones victory ridiculously invalidates Cormier’s reign – sadly, it’s easy to connect the dots to reasonably agree with that conclusion – and possibly pushes him to his media career, as his only career. Whether he walks out victorious tomorrow evening he’s firmly in the top five-to-seven fighters ever; if not higher. His resume glows – and he’s legitimately a champion in two divisions. There’s no debate there.

I’ve only picked against Jones once.

So ring rust is easily tossed around when other fighters experience long stretches of inactivity but many are overlooking it as it pertains to him. Rather recently I’ve been reading about how that will be Jones’ automatic excuse if he suffers his first, true, loss of his career. Since UFC 182, Cormier has been far more active; winning four fights while Jones’ terrible decisions have enabled him enter the cage once.

Did I miss something in Jones’ fight with Ovince Saint Preux? Ever since winning he was tagged as having a bad night when I felt going five rounds was something he would be able to benefit from being that he needed to get back into competition. I guess I’m wrong here. I’m not overlooking the lack of activity because it just has to matter here, somewhere, right?

Cormier turned away Anthony Johnson (twice), Alexander Gustafsson and Anderson Silva. He’s been in the cage consistently. I’m sure Jones has been training over the time of his self-induced exile from the UFC but training, sparring, cardio, biking, lifting, etc; is not equivalent to a real fight, with real stakes and enormous pressure. Especially when you consider that he’s been at the top of the sport since dethroning Rua in 2011.

I’ll be watching for pacing in the bout as Jones’ cardio has always been a positive whereas Cormier admitted it was an issue for him in their first meeting. It’s no secret the weight cut to 205 is arduous on him and we all remember the towel trick he pulled back in April. With the amount of time Jones has spent outside of MMA competition, can Cormier press the action to make the challenger wilt? Will he institute a wrestling-dominant approach hoping to break him in the championship rounds? I think it would be wise for Cormier to go there.

As for Jones, he’s proven he can win in any arena of fighting. He’ll wrestle with the decorated grappler, he’ll stand and trade with the dangerous striker, he’ll choose to dirty-box the opponent that excels in tight quarters and he’ll put on a showcase for five rounds if he can’t produce a finish. He takes it upon himself to challenge his opponent in their area of expertise. It’s one of the reasons I find him and Georges St-Pierre so compelling.

With all the real hatred, I guess, coming from them at the slightest mention of the other I think they will both push for a finish…a memorable one; the type of exclamation point that will be added to highlight reels for decades to come. If Jones earns a finish I see it happening from the mounted crucifix position with a barrage of elbows or – for some reason – a standing guillotine choke. As for Cormier, I can see him earning a stoppage after an abundance of suffocating wrestling leads to a rear-naked choke in the later rounds.

I think Jones will look to utilize his patented oblique and body kicks to hamper Cormier’s pursuit. His elbows will also be a large factor in this fight and I think he’ll fire them like jabs, sudden and hidden, as in not telegraphing them at all, like he managed to in his title defense against Rashad Evans. I like Cormier to get in close and fire uppercuts, selectively, as I do think he’ll be watching for Jones’ wrestling. This should be a stellar title bout. This event looks to be the best MMA card of the year.

I’ve only picked against Jones once.

Observations for the rest of the card:

1. Cristiane Justino vs. Tonya Evinger has been ignored, honestly. It’s viewed as a forgone conclusion and I understand that but what’s the future of the UFC Women’s Featherweight division if “Cyborg” ascends to her throne? Why aren’t the owners creating a season of The Ultimate Fighter based solely on women that can compete at 145? It takes time to populate any division and they need to get, at least, 12-20 challengers in a fertile weight class so that Justino has opponents lined up…you know, provided she becomes the champion.

One thing that’s been picking at me for months, no years, is how she draws scorn for testing positive for banned substance use in 2011 – yet it’s easy to forget that she passed every drug screen since then. She was wrong for failing in 2011 and deserves blame but fans are quick to move on when it comes to her male counterparts who have tested for performance enhancing drugs on several occasions and yet find themselves draped in acclaim and love. The internet trolls make me want to vomit when it pertains to her. I know she had a USADA infraction in December of 2016 which was attributed to a substance which aided her in her recovery from a weight cut but even after she was granted a therapeutic use exemption – and had her suspension lifted – she’s a “cheater.”

I wish there was a reality show hosted by Luke Thomas or Joe Rogan that located “Cyborg” trolls – by their IP addresses – and knocked on their doors with complete gear and pads. Rogan or Thomas – hell, both – would put a microphone in their faces, pepper them in regards to their hideous posts about Justino and take them outside of their homes where an Octagon is affixed to a platform towed behind a massive “Cyborg” truck. Inside, she’d be shadowboxing while the host brings the troll to the cage where Herb Dean, John McCarthy or Dan Miragliotta is waiting to start one, five-minute, round. How many of them would soil themselves and apologize? How brave would they attempt to be when Justino is standing across from them ready to knuckle them into ground sirloin? Who doesn’t watch this program? Hey, WME can you grant me an “executive producer” credit, a per diem and a few million dollars in salary for the idea? Let’s get this done!

2. Why are most people ignoring that Donald Cerrone is recovering from a blood infection and is competing so soon after healing? I bet the same jerks that were killing Amanda Nunes for backing out of her title defense against Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 213 are happy that the doctors cleared Cerrone for this. Does it seem safe? Does anyone remember how he was knocked out, twice, by Jorge Masvidal?

What about Robbie Lawler; what will we see from him? Lawler and Carlos Condit took something away from one another at UFC 195 that can’t be recovered. Lawler left that contest and was knocked out by Tyron Woodley in the first round of UFC 201, surrendering the UFC Welterweight Championship. Condit fought Demian Maia, got submitted in the first round, and said he was stunned by a punch Maia fired that didn’t seem to have much steam on it; he hasn’t competed since. The MMA world is pumped for this fight while I’ll be watching with a grimace the entire time.

3. Woodley vs. Maia has flown under the radar as well and I think it speaks to the power of the main event. Woodley is a bad style matchup for Maia as he’s a great defensive wrestler and a knockout artist that can close a fight at any time. However Maia scares everyone because once he closes distance and grabs even a strand of forearm hair, a submission is probably next on the checklist. I want to see the chess match if they’re locked into a grappling exchange. How quickly will Woodley disengage? What traps will Maia set?

Picks: Fili, Ortega, Sterling, Lamas, Oezdemir, Lawler, Justino, Woodley…#AndStill/#AndNew, Jones.

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Visit The Barber?

By: S. Davis

Funny how in the aftermath of the Michael Vick interview with Jason Whitlock people are now jumping behind a guy that was maligned for his play as a quarterback and the decisions he made on and off the field of play. So he’s the one to rally behind as it relates to Colin Kaepernick’s abilities under center? Oh the lines people draw….

Vick had to ingratiate himself to any and all who would listen. Furthermore he needed the vetting of Tony Dungy just to get the ball rolling on his NFL career when he was released from prison. His advice to Kaepernick was genuine and I feel that he was doing it for the greater good of the quarterback’s future – but you have to view it from Vick’s distinct point of view. There were steps to take; he had a list of objectives he needed to meet in order to earn his desired result: employment in the National Football League. His whole existence – as far as the NFL is concerned – is to redeem himself in the eyes of the power brokers. Even now, as a retired player, he’s still on the redemption tour when doing goodwill for his  youth camps and outreach for his commitments related to charities involving animals. These are the lenses in which he’s viewing Kaepernick – and the barriers he’s facing in resuming his career.

It is not even close to being in the same universe.

Football is my favorite sport but I personally may go without my favorite way to kill time – until Kaepernick is signed or he retires. So people who have taken lives, although not through convicted murder, can line up on Sundays. You can beat your wife and assault other human beings, drive drunk and kill animals but someone who happens to be African-American QUIETLY protests and that’s the line? That’s the transgression that the league deems as too extreme?

We can’t have that in our game!

How odd is that? Why don’t white people, by and large, understand that the American experience isn’t the same for everyone? It isn’t.

Hey, white people do you remember that tiny, secret, work-exchange program called slavery. It happened. No matter how much you want to forget it. Listen this isn’t a diatribe against white America but we all view this country based on our experiences. Your worldview is built upon those experiences – and the black experience is not remotely close to those who happen to be in the majority in America.

Why the hell are white people so sensitive about the truth of this country? This ridiculous stance the league is taking against Kaepernick is proof.

Vick needed a fresh start. He was convicted of a crime and went to jail. He needed to make things right and be redeemed. There was a legitimate stigma and baggage that followed him. He had a mandate to be presentable to the 32 owners and general managers in the league.

Kaepernick carries no such baggage and, no, he doesn’t need to visit the barber. He doesn’t need to apologize. He doesn’t need to seek redemption. He didn’t do anything wrong.

On the “Dan Patrick Show” yesterday Vick was thoughtful and apologetic. “I think it was taken out of context in regards to what I was trying to convey, but I only want to help Colin Kaepernick. I’m not a general manager, I’m not the guy who makes the decisions on getting him signed, and I’m truly sorry for what I said. I think I should have used a better choice of words. Obviously we all know his afro has nothing to do with him not being signed.”

Why isn’t he signed to a contract yet? It’s the end of July. There are not 32 quarterbacks in the league fit to start. Kaepernick was a handful of plays away from having a Super Bowl ring on his hand. He had 16 touchdowns against four interceptions last season when possessions/turnovers is the most important facet of football. There’s not a single job for him?

Outside of the game, he’s an activist donating time and money to the causes that inspire him. If Tom Brady led the exact silent protest I wonder how he would be viewed, covered and dissected. I know the answer, he’d have a church erected in his honor and the country would cite him as the coming of a new deity. People already worship him as if he is one.

If whites protest an issue that draws their attention they’re viewed as passionate and true Americans whereas any protest involving African-Americans (and other minorities) get labeled as malcontents, mobs, and breeding a dangerous element. It’s shameful and the media covers things in such a way where it’s normal for them to pass those adjectives out.

This country was started on a rebellion. Americans wanted freedom of expression, clear of tyranny and rule from Great Britain. America protested. America fought. American gained its independence and in that same vein mandated that its citizens do the same. Yet a quarterback staging a quiet and personal protest against the National Anthem – which was penned by a slave owner and anti-abolitionist – is wrong for exercising his right? What he’s doing couldn’t be more American in nature.

He doesn’t need to apologize. He doesn’t need to seek redemption. He didn’t do anything wrong.

Got An NFL Starter Here, Wait…

By: S. Davis

There are 32 starting quarterback jobs in the NFL. There are a few depth charts where the man taking the snaps is completely locked in at his position; New England, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Green Bay, New York (Giants), Carolina, Atlanta, New Orleans, etc. However there are not 32 starting caliber quarterbacks in the league (I’m counting rookies projected to start this upcoming season). I count 11-13 franchises that should take a deep look at the man tasked with being their leader, on the field.

Colin Kaepernick is still unsigned. It’s July.

Is it possible that an injury brings him into a camp in a few weeks? Yes. Possible, yet improbable as I’m sure a new, manufactured, reason would quickly sprout out of the blue to justify keeping him floating in free agency. The NFL – as a whole – has made a decision and it fills me with dread. I care more about the NFL than just about every other sport I consume, maybe combined. I love football. The chess match of offense versus defense, the coaching game plans, how a certain defense will strategize all the ways to limit the best offensive player – and vice versa. It’s such a layered game.

This space, here, covers a multitude of topics, genres, sports, etc. My passion for the NFL is a pillar of my website as I write about it more frequently than anything else. How the league has banded together, in unison, to exclude Kaepernick puts me in a corner – and I may focus more on MMA and the NBA. In the ongoing issue regarding his return to the field, I don’t think I’ll be able to write about football in the same way I’ve grown accustomed to. I may put my pen down for the whole season. This makes me want to stop writing about the game altogether.

I wasn’t a cheerleader of Kaepernick during his glory days but I’ve always respected his abilities. I respect what he felt he needed to do. Let’s not forget that he didn’t seek out cameras during his silent protest. There were two or three weeks where it wasn’t picked up by ANYONE…and then, well, we’re in July and he doesn’t have a job when he should be under center…today.

The stats don’t need to be drawn out here but he threw 16 TD/4 INT while completing 59.2% of his passes. He had the sixth lowest completion percentage of any quarterback in the league – which is nothing to disregard. He did have a record of 1-10 in the games in which he started last season and that means something. What about the coaching changes after Jim Harbaugh left town? Jim Tomsula? Gone. Chip Kelly? There’s the door, sir.

Shouldn’t stability speak for something? What about roster turnover? The San Francisco 49ers’ roster is comprised of spare parts that can be purchased in Spanish Harlem – and has been a revolving door in the last two seasons. Does none of that factor into the equation here? How about the fact that his receiving group led the league in drops; isn’t that substantial? That isn’t something he can control and yet the league is keeping him out.

It only matters that a man of color didn’t stand for the national anthem. Why is the NFL comfortable with a national anthem that was penned by a slave owner and an anti-abolitionist? Why is the country? That’s fine though. Why isn’t that disrespectful?

A starting caliber quarterback will sit on the sidelines – his career probably over – because the powerful NFL felt it was out of line for an African-American to highlight that the American experience isn’t the same for every citizen within its borders. By and large the masses are totally fine with their stance and it’s disgusting but not surprising at all in 2017. There are things about this country that will never change. It’s now being viewed through the lenses of the biggest sport in the United States.

Ronda Rousey

By: S. Davis

The mob mentality of fans never ceases to amaze me or prove my thought about the cult of fandom. Ninety-nine percent of all sports “fanatics” are putrid beings of flesh with the remaining 1% expressing the ability to view athletes as actual humans. Who knew?

We’re a few months removed from Ronda Rousey’s second consecutive defeat, and since this piece has been gestating in my brain from the Friday before the UFC Bantamweight title fight with champion Amanda Nunes…it’s time to type. Let’s just get this out-of-the-way early: Rousey defeated all the fighters that were placed in her path. She prevailed over every woman she was supposed to turn back on her way to becoming the biggest star in mixed martial arts. Now it can’t be ignored how much of the UFC machine aided her upon her rise but she was the one that had to step into the Octagon and deliver. Zuffa couldn’t manufacture that, she was tasked with stacking wins on top of one another. Alone. She entered the cage and had the door slam behind her. She fought. The world watched. She won.

“Overrated!”

“All hype and nothing else!”

“Brat!”

“Entitled!”

“Cocky!”

“One-dimensional!”

A few of the aforementioned labels are apt but not the ones you think. Overrated? No. All hype? No. Brat? Yes. Entitled? Maybe. Cocky? Isn’t that a prerequisite in all sports, especially the individual ones? I think so. One-dimensional? No.

She’s as dominant in judo as any fighter has ever been in their strongest discipline. Demian Maia is an uncanny jiu-jitsu practitioner, Anthony Pettis is a spectacular striker and Jon Jones is well, great everywhere, and I think he’s an alien but you should be able to follow my path. There’s a weird aura surrounding the sport of MMA and its competitors; when a fighter’s dominance is based, primarily, in the grappling realm they are viewed and judged in a harsher manner than the exciting fighter, per se. Peculiar.

Holly Holm excels as a striker, yet – up to the recent present – she struggles with her takedown defense and aggressive striking (she’s a classic counter-fighter; the sole reason I thought Rousey’s forward marching, bullish, style could haunt her the longer the fight went). Additionally the game-plan, apparently was to trade with a decorated standup artist but there’s no need to rehash that evening. Nunes is just as gifted in that aspect of martial arts and yet she’s susceptible to gassing out. Are they one-dimensional as well? What about Maia? Pettis?

Rousey’s problem was born from the fool’s gold in the aftermath of her knockout of Bethe Correia. That evening doomed her. It was the worst result…and she won the bout. She made a successful title defense! It steeled her belief that she was a boxer, a true standup fighter; she had thoughts of being a high-level one. Or at least that was one of the subjects spewing from her trainer’s mouth. Well, then she had to defend the title against Holm.

Holm and then Nunes; the outcomes are well-known at this point. While she made improvements in the striking arena leading up to the title defense against Holm, she clearly regressed in her devastating loss against Nunes. Where was her defense? “Head movement!” She would get tagged in some of her prior fights but she stood as straight as a pole and her head was an easy target in the one round she lasted against Nunes.

Unfortunately every fight begins on the feet. For Rousey that means she has to enter striking range in order to put her expertise to use. Her limited striking features no kicking to speak of and she doesn’t employ traditional takedowns like doubles, singles, knee-taps, etc., so her head movement and creation of angles must be stellar. They aren’t; at least not recently.

As for her legacy and impact: She met every challenge – until her last two outings – and was as dominant during that run as any athlete has ever been in any sport. There is no reasonable debate otherwise. Is she the most complete fighter? No. However, in my opinion, only Jones, Georges St-Pierre, Demetrious Johnson, Cris Cyborg, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Cain Velasquez, Daniel Cormier and Jose Aldo fit that description. Tyron Woodley, Max Holloway, Rory MacDonald, Tony Ferguson and Rafael dos Anjos are worthy of mention as well.

Is she the best female in MMA? No. I never thought she was – even at her apex. That title belongs to Cyborg. Period. It does speak to Rousey’s gable grip on the sport and her excellence that respected members of MMA media picked her to win a long-rumored bout with Cyborg. Those journalists deserve to have their credentials torched. It was lazy then and it’s preposterous now.

Is she great? Yes. That can’t be deleted from her story. Holm and Nunes are the only two women that were able to topple her. (A legitimate argument can be raised that the third woman on that list is Rousey herself; at least mentally and emotionally.) The sports world and all of pop-culture screeched to a halt on those Saturday evenings when she competed and still remains the biggest crossover star under the UFC banner. She honored whatever the hell the ideal is of a champion in this peculiar time in MMA. She burst out to 12 victories – over four years – before her first loss. She won the title and actually defended her crown six times, event after event; didn’t fail at weigh-ins and held up her media obligations to promote (with the exception of UFC 207).

Rankings, belts and champions – as far as MMA is concerned – matter as much as the interim title I recently drew on a piece of paper, crumbled into a ball, and threw for my dog in a game of fetch. She infused substance into those gold “UFC” letters slung around her waist. Her championship had true meaning; it was layered and respected.

Pride comes before the fall. That’s the saying, right? I would add “Immense” to begin the statement as it pertains to the former champion. No, the former title holder. Hubris. In an interview leading up to her defense at UFC 193 where she was onstage with Jedrzejczyk, she answered a question by stating she could defeat the entire female bantamweight division with “one arm tied behind” her back. That was cringe-worthy.

Personally, I hope her last fight wasn’t the final act of her athletic career, so to speak. I don’t want it to end the way it seems like it has, presently. Naturally the mob is out to defecate on her achievements, and, over enough time I see her name drawing snickers. Hasn’t it already?

Predictably, it’s already begun. Its’ unfortunate that she’ll be remembered in a fashion unfit for the stature she earned within all of sport. If she’s taken the cage for the last time, I’m positive that idiot fans will feel pleasure and their own form of personal satisfaction. They already do.

Whether she retires or not, I respect her time in MMA and all she accomplished. I wish her all the happiness and success in the world. She excelled in an arena where consistency is its own martial art.

It was a joy to watch her perform. Damn, I’m going to miss her walk to the cage.

NBA: Express Mail From Texas

By: S. Davis

Has anyone actually bothered to watch the San Antonio Spurs play this season; as in truly paid attention to the action on the floor? I’m not talking about the monumental statistical leap that Kawhi Leonard took this year. No. Which reminds me, I vividly recall the majority of talking heads around the sport questioning the Spurs’ future with him as the offensive fulcrum for the next decade, I do. We all knew his defense was established.

Fast-forward this year and now, everyone, predicted this surge from the best two-way player in the league? (LeBron James remains the best player in the world when he’s tasked with defending the opposition’s best threat.) This piece isn’t about Leonard though – at least not as the primary focus. This is directly in response to all the chatter surrounding LaMarcus Aldridge.

Of all noise surrounding Texas, from fans and analysts, I find it compelling that the Spurs’ “system” has escaped all criticism. Where’s the depth within the sets? Where’s the ball movement? Where are the quick passes and off-ball action that made the Miami Heat crumble in 2014? Has anyone seen the selective and effective post touches to hurt defenders in the frontcourt who have abandoned sound post defense because the league is pulling “bigs” further away from the basket every year? Where’s the style of play that influenced Steve Kerr to cook up a version of his own to feed to his Golden State Warriors?

It doesn’t exist. At least not in the form we’ve been accustomed to seeing.

By the time I publish this, Aldridge may be packing up his home on the way to another franchise that will use his skills as incorrectly as the Spurs have. I’ve liked him since his time at Texas and I’ve always felt he was underrated. When the Spurs signed him I was excited to see the partnership with Leonard, Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Gregg Popovich. As masterful as any head coach, in any sport, why did Popovich fail Aldridge? Why does all the blame fall on the player and not the coach?

Where’s the critique regarding how unbalanced the Spurs have become offensively?

Leonard – who’s great – has the entire game plan within his palms. It’s logical as he’s young, proven and their best player. There is no doubt there. He’s risen from his apprenticeship to take the mantle from Tim Duncan. However the offense has become easy to defend. How many times have the Spurs relied on Leonard play hero-ball, in isolation, when a basket is needed? Too many to count; more often than not he’s successful but the other four players on the court are stationary; as in late 90s, early 2000s, he’s-clearing-it-out-so-I-guess-we’ll-watch-this-from-here kind of motionless.

When’s the last time the Spurs executed their offense in that fashion?

“Trade Aldridge!”

“Get him out of here!”

“He can’t play!”

“He’s soft! It’s over for him!”

These are comments I’ve pulled from paid analysts over the last year and more frequently after the Warriors eliminated them from the playoffs. These are real quotes from the experts.

I don’t agree and it isn’t a terribly difficult argument to defend either. He was the prize of free agency TWO years ago and now he’s trash? Worthy of being express-mailed out of San Antonio? He arrived TWO YEARS ago. This isn’t a case of him failing to perform, the team has devalued him and turned their noses up at the thought of keeping him on the roster.

Popovich barely posts him, for one. Secondly, the offense has him attacking from the perimeter – which habitually leaves him with the choice between a long jumper or a three; shots he can convert – once Leonard dribbles the air out of the ball. But their problems are all tied to No. 12?

I don’t think sports fans are intelligent by any means so I’m not astonished that they are also blaming the former Portland Trailblazer. It’s the reporters, screaming heads and the like that are paid to watch basketball – who should have a deeper understanding of the game – and yet they have their eyes wide shut. It’s their profession. Side point: It’s akin to the issues involving Kevin Love. He’s a power forward with three-point range…but the Cavaliers deploy him chiefly as a stretch-four and he’s a “bum” now?

This is basketball and Aldridge is not utilized properly. This. Is. Obvious.

Is it a coincidence that Leonard’s MVP-level campaign coincided with Aldridge’s worst statistical season since his freshman NBA year? These two events transpired simultaneously. I can’t be the only person that sees that. How is that being ignored? Additionally, wasn’t the analytics movement buoyed by the reasoning that traditional methods of gauging a player’s value; e.g. points, rebounds, assists, etc, are incomplete measurements? Yet when everyone’s head is steaming and/or there’s a live microphone around, the first spotlight is on points per game? Lazy.

If you watch basketball and you understand more than a highlight or a flashy pass then this truly isn’t difficult to comprehend.

Every team can’t try to copy what’s on deck for the Warriors. The galaxy lined up for them so perfectly and now the league is in a frenzy to bottle it. It isn’t alchemy. They drafted their dynamic backcourt and then signed Steph Curry to a below-market extension due to his ankle troubles which gave them the flexibility to focus cash elsewhere (namely Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston). Then they got lucky enough that when their all-star, David Lee, was injured Draymond Green turned into a complete force that NO ONE expected. Oh…and then they win an NBA championship, follow that year with a 73-9 season (but lose in the NBA Finals to the Cleveland Cavaliers after blowing a 3-1 lead) and sign Kevin Durant. He then helps lead them into another dance with the Cavaliers in which they finish the series in five games. The Warriors were built organically and then looked to free agency.

The league is killing itself to replicate their style. I get it. However there’s a reason why the Spurs have been able to beat them. Size. Aldridge gives them trouble for that same reason. When the Spurs defend and the offense is run through both of their top players, they can compete with the Warriors. There isn’t a team that’s going to beat the Warriors playing small – and to their strengths. A roster needs to have a perfect mix of shooting, defense, size and speed in order not to get blown out by 30 – and the Spurs are pointing all the blame at Aldridge without taking a look at their offense. If Popovich did, I’m sure he would reconsider trading his power forward. At least he should.

But again, by the time this is published he’ll probably be in another city.

UFC 211

By: S. Davis

UFC Heavyweight Championship: Stipe Miocic (C) vs. Junior dos Santos

Did you see their first encounter? If not, please do yourself a favor and satiate the fight connoisseur inside and take in that 25 minute classic. It sells the rematch on its own. While they were both impressive in regards to the amount of punishment each could inflict – and receive – it would be wise for both men to avoid rounds 6-10 of that grinder. Since that fight, dos Santos has gone 1-1 while Miocic has risen to the top of the sport. So their paths cross now…

Miocic wins if he’s better defensively. Large, strong athletes winging small gloves at one another usually lends itself to knockouts. While both have proven track records of durability, the ability to “weather the storm” and absorb punishment isn’t a reward, and it isn’t everlasting. Interestingly, Miocic implemented his wrestling during their first dance but was only 1/18 on takedown attempts. While it didn’t set the world ablaze it added an additional element to his attack that dos Anjos had to prepare for. As this bout moves into the later stages – if it makes past the first three rounds – I feel he will mix in some grappling but I find myself increasingly convinced that he’ll want to make this a striking affair.

JDS wins if his footwork reverts to its previous form. One of his early trademarks was his ability to glide around the cage as if he were a light heavyweight or middleweight even. He possessed agility, he was precise and swift on his feet yet rather recently he’s been plodding which has made him stationary – and easier to hit. I’m wary of the damage he took in the latter two battles with Cain Velasquez.

One could argue that all the time off (with surgeries included) could serve to replenish him physically, mentally and emotionally. It’s possible. A counter argument exists that states he left too much of himself in the Octagon after battling Velasquez and this is the diminished model; dos Santos 2.0…with 150,000 hard miles and frequent stops to the mechanic just to get on the road.

I’ll be looking closely at the number he hits on the scale. Personally I think he could do himself a tremendous favor by fighting closer to 240 than 250. The reigning champion is lean for such a massive athlete and I feel JDS should replicate that formula and get to a weight that doesn’t compromise his punching power and stamina.

UFC Strawweight Championship: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (C) vs. Jessica Andrade

Jedrzejczyk wins if she remains aggressive and accurate in her striking, primarily her kickboxing base. Her volume and speed set her apart from many of her contemporaries in the entire sport. I’m interested in whether she’ll move forward or backward because her opponent likes to walk her opponents down. Kicking is going to prove monumental to keep Andrade at safe distance here. If Andrade can bully her way into close quarters, I want to see the champion’s clinch work at display. The stout Brazilian will walk into shots in order to brawl but wading into a dangerous clinch could end her evening.

While Jedrzejczyk has been stellar as the champion, over her last two fights, she has been hurt. That’s no slight to her as she should be pushed – especially since the UFC touts itself as the pinnacle of mixed martial arts – but it’s noteworthy to mention. I was asked recently by someone who knows I write about MMA, if she’s peaked already. I don’t think so. Competition comes her way and she meets the challenge, she fights, she overcomes tough moments…and makes successful title defenses. Even though defending belts is pure nonsense at this point, right?

Andrade wins if she muscles her way into grappling range while also initiating great defense to mitigate Jedrzejczyk’s punching power and accuracy. She reminds me of Claudia Gadelha but she seems to be more powerful. One thing that’s paramount will be her cardio. She has never competed in a five round fight; not once. I want to see how fresh she’ll be in a fight that I think will go the distance. If she’s taking too much damage on the feet will she opt to engage in a grappling match?

Demian Maia vs. Jorge Masvidal

Maia wins if he can stay glued to his opponent. The human boa constrictor sucks the air out of his opponents’ attacks – and their bodies – as long as he can grab an appendage. He has great defense – only absorbing 13 strikes in his last FOUR fights – so the damage he’s taken is minimal. It’s funny considering Maia’s plan of attack because the world knows his playbook. He’s deliberately marching forward, calculating the possibilities depending on cage placement, and luring his opponents into inevitable doom. He will put out a jab or a low kick, more as a defensive technique just to begin the assault on his opponent’s consciousness. The more time the fight’s in the clinch, or grappling where Masvidal can’t put together fluid combinations…it’s only a matter of time before Maia’s hand is raised.

Masvidal wins if he can survive the clinching exchanges and not by simply resorting to hand fighting. Against the cage, his wizard has to be quick and he must shift his base to get his back free of the cage in order to make his way safely to the center of the Octagon. He has the skill to stop Maia and/or win on points but he has to stay clear of the cage. Jabs, uppercuts and knees, especially the latter, could create a massive opportunity for him.

It’s a pure battle of two opposing styles. The striker facing off against the grappler with clear advantages for both respectively. Masvidal’s level of aggression will be a fantastic subplot. Will he chain combinations together? Will he play it safe and throw one strike at a time? His discipline will directly tied to how successful he will – or won’t – be in the crucial middleweight bout.

Picks: Miocic, Jedrzejczyk, Maia, Edgar, Branch and…Alvarez?

UFC 210: Buffalo

By: S. Davis

A few days ago two guys were in line at the grocery store talking (too) loudly about how muddled the UFC Middleweight division is in lieu of the returning Georges St-Pierre. They were passionate, playfully argumentative and definitely had the feel of loyal supporters of mixed martial arts. As my items traveled the conveyor belt behind theirs, one of them accidentally knocked down my chunky blue cheese and apologized. I nodded in response and asked if they were as demonstrative about the chaos that the featherweight and lightweight divisions are engulfed in.

Why are fans – and appallingly, MMA media – outraged at this brief blip on the radar? Why are they griping about what’s fair for deserving contenders? Did I miss the very same outcry when a slew of elite contenders at 145 and 155 had to sit on their hands while others had to feast on each other in the hopes of earning a title shot?

There wasn’t an outcry then – and there shouldn’t be one now.

Neither of them had an answer and agreed with my point of view. Full disclosure: They had two 24 packs of Corona on the checkout counter so that may have played a minor part.

On to UFC 210:

I thought I posted my analysis of the last two televised fight cards for the UFC but I didn’t. I had an incomplete post sitting pretty in my drafts folder and I realized I didn’t publish it. Why? I just didn’t care. The noise and hypocrisy surrounding the sport put me in a comfortable corner where I’ll engage when it calls for it. Daniel Cormier defending his title against Anthony Johnson this Saturday night calls for it.

No matter what your personal preferences happen to be as they pertain to pound-for-pound lists,  Cormier should sit firmly in the top three along with Demetrious Johnson and Jon Jones. If those three names aren’t scribbled on your mythical ranking, your list needs to be doused in lighter fluid and barbecued. As someone who admires all three, Cormier gets slighted as one of the best in the sport. It’s not his fault that Jones disqualified himself from their rematch. Furthermore the fact that he’s the light heavyweight champion – despite not taking the title from Bones – is an element far out of his control.

If not for his friendship with Cain Velasquez, he’d be the heavyweight champion of the UFC. He’s a legit two-weight champion – and he was established as one at a time when that actually was something to take notice of. He didn’t make his name by beating smaller fighters; he was the smaller heavyweight putting larger opponents through the wood chipper, so to speak. He moved down because of friendship – and became a champion without a blemish. What’s his crime exactly?

Now I have to admit that Daniel Cormier, the analyst, is grating and I’m doing my best to be kind. He is sharp behind the desk, he seems like a natural and he’ll have a long career as a broadcaster but some of his observations come across as heavy-handed. That’s not unlike many in the profession who get paid to talk as a television personality. Is he disliked, discredited and derided for that? Maybe.

His only career defeat is to a fighter many deem to be the best fighter that’s been created in MMA history – and he damn well might be already.

Boooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo! Fans make me cringe, I tell you.

As for the man nicknamed Rumble…

I’m torn on how much I need to (or should) take their first meeting into account here. Rather recently Johnson has been labeled as a seven minute fighter – I know Cormier said something close to that – but he’s gone the distance (in three round contests) in six of his 27 career bouts. He’s not just dangerous in the first round of the fight; he’s a menace once he scribbles his name on the contract to confirm one. I would like to see his pace if the fight goes to the championship rounds as he’s never competed in them.

In a rematch where the skill level is close, the fighter that fell short in the first encounter usually emerges with the victory in chapter two. Any obvious reason? The losing fighter has more tape to diagnose their mistakes. They refine their strategy in detailed fashion; going over each engagement, positioning, foot placement, defense, etc. There are times that it seems like the victorious fighter enters a rematch underestimating the opponent they recently defeated. I think mentally they take inventory of the challenge ahead and think to themselves, “So…they look the same, have the same toolkit of skills so why should the outcome be any different this time around?”

My brain tells me that Cormier will ignore every aspect of their initial meeting yet my heart gives me a slight pause because what if the slightest morsel of complacency takes root? We’re all human, right?

Chris Weidman vs. Gegard Mousasi

Let’s jump on this early, ok?

Weidman isn’t a scrub, isn’t washed up and he wasn’t overrated. MMA fans are idiots for the most part, well, sports fans overall are brainless druids and I’ve yet to be convinced otherwise. There is no foundation on which to knock a fighter for facing off against killers at every step along their journey and then spit in their faces the moment they suffer a loss (or two). Especially when it’s conveniently lost on most that he was beating both Luke Rockhold and Yoel Romero before the official stopped the action. Watch the tape, it’s clear! He’s an elite middleweight but strange things transpire when the best martial artists in the world are locked in a cage together: A loss is getting stamped on someone. Period.

Building up a fighter, step by step, is a luxury that happens only for a select few in the UFC. I’m sure the former middleweight champion wanted the challenge of stepping into the cage against another deadly competitor, in a deadly division, but the matchmaking seems questionable. Wouldn’t Weidman be far better served taking on someone ranked in the bottom half of the division? Why court disaster when you don’t have to? Couldn’t someone have thought about finding an opponent to help one of the few marketable athletes on the roster regain his confidence? Interesting.

Well, in their defense the UFC did feed Ronda Rousey to Amanda Nunes for no logical reason so maybe I’m wrong here.

Mousasi is fantastic in most aspects of the sport and his wrestling defense has improved enough that it’s no longer his most glaring weakness – as it once was. I’m intrigued by his prowess on the feet and how he’ll attack Weidman as the former champion is extremely flat-footed for such a seasoned veteran.

Picks: Cormier, Mousasi, Calvillo, Alves and Brooks.

After everyone competes they should all rush to Just Pizza for the best three-cheese steak pizza in the world. New York, New Yoooooooooooooooooork!