UFC 217

By: S. Davis

I last wrote about martial arts for UFC 214 so I wanted to do my best to write about the return of Georges St-Pierre to the sport. He’s on my short list of favorite fighters along with Jose Aldo, Jon Jones and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos to name a few. St-Pierre, in my eyes, is as perfect a fighter as there’s ever been in mixed martial arts. He’s returning to action, at middleweight, after being away for 12 days shy of four years.

Yet the world surrounding the sport of mixed martial arts and the UFC, specifically, are crying that he cuts the line at middleweight? He’s the ill of the UFC roster? So St-Pierre returning to an immediate title fight is a threat to the integrity of the sport? Right.

The UFC, itself, has done a fantastic job of subverting their entire roster with the proliferation of interim championships, ignoring the fundamentals of match-making based on meritocracy and a rankings system comprised by some questionable outlets – which makes those numbers listed next to a fighter’s name hollow and plot points for marketing purposes only…among other maladies. The mess that the lightweight and – to a smaller degree – featherweight divisions are currently mired in drive this point home.

There is a pile of crying about Michael Bisping’s title reign. Is it his fault that Luke Rockhold walked into the cage with a smug demeanor, treating a fellow professional fighter like he shouldn’t have dressed to compete and was overconfident? He held a prior win over Bisping, and the Brit had only two weeks to prepare so it was a cake walk, right? I’m sure the majority of media and fans had this thought.

Bisping knocks Rockhold into the clouds and turns around to defend his title against Dan Henderson and championship merit evaporates completely? He’s the sole culprit in this kind of behavior? There are some selective memories around this sport if that’s the case. Bisping is taking a torch to the structure of all of mixed martial arts by trying to get win back? At least that was a title defense – against an opponent that can obliterate anyone with a pulse. Haven’t we seen rematches with far less importance to the sport; to their respective divisions as well? We’ve seen rematches pause entire divisions because ego trumped the responsibility of holding that gold strap with the shiny U-F-C letters.

Bisping’s wrong for looking to get the financial purses only a few fights can net him? St-Pierre is undeserving? With his resume of performances and consistent, spectacular, representation of a company that has been disrespectful, and at times classless – queue up the post-fight press conference at UFC 167 – he should be able to take part in some fantasy booking.

Most of the fans following MMA, or specifically the UFC, are fools. I’m not saying it’s the best fight to make for either man. It’s not – and that’s clear. Yet to look at this bout as a virus in the sport, the bane of competition among all the other fires the UFC has set for itself is a gross exaggeration. I would rather have both athletes compete in their natural weight classes against obvious opponents but I won’t begrudge either of them for taking advantage of a great opportunity from either point of view.

As for the actual fight, I have no clue where it goes. Do you? GSP has been on the shelf for four years. You can complete an undergraduate education in that time. How does his sabbatical go unnoticed here?

Secondly, as the fight coverage intensified over the last three weeks I’ve heard that his fighting style is outdated. Honestly, I don’t see that. He’s (still) probably the best MMA-wrestler with excellent cardio. He’s a good striker – and we all know the piston-like jab. He dominated opponents with top control and efficient ground-and-pound. His takedown defense is/was among the best in the sport. Which of the aforementioned skills are ancient?

Fast forward to present day and I do worry about his gas tank once the cage door closes. The defending champion pushes a torrid pace and doesn’t hit the brakes even if he’s hurt or on the verge of being finished. Bisping’s conditioning paired with St-Pierre’s lack of activity makes this main event such a chore to predict.

Bisping is on the verge of being the only fighter to claim a victory over Anderson Silva and GSP; let that sink in. The guy is overlooked at every turn but he has the most wins in the history of the promotion for a reason; let that sink in. If he can keep the fight standing, St-Pierre will need more than precise footwork and a jab to survive.

An aspect of the fight that intrigues me is the amount of damage GSP can endure. While he’s been a fighter that traditionally checks all the boxes, he’s been alarmingly bruised and bludgeoned in his last handful of fights. I’m not sure if he’s become lazy with head movement or his reaction time has dulled with age but it’s a point to consider. Look to the punishment he absorbed in the Johny Hendricks battle and there’s a tangible reason so many people felt he lost the welterweight crown. Personally I think he managed to win because he took round one and round five when Hendricks coasted to the bell, evidently pleased with his performance. Taking all that into account, my eyes widened when the decision was read.

Size will probably be the biggest factor in the outcome. GSP was resistant to move to 185 during the time the super-fight with Silva was simmering. Why didn’t Dana White – or anyone – pitch that fight at 177, by the way? Although it’s great for marketing, they didn’t have to put the middleweight title on the line if the two supernovas ever passed each other in the universe.

Sorry, I’m back on track now. How will Georges react to the extra weight? Putting on mass is one thing but competing with it against a larger, natural, middleweight is something no amount of sparring can adequately mimic. There’s a reason he’s been training on his grappling with elite submission practitioners; I think he’ll aim to snatch a swift submission victory to avoid five-round tug-of-war.

The rest of the card…

This Team Alpha Male vs. TJ Dillashaw feud is…whatever. So it’s a crime for an athlete to train with other camps/fighters/instructors to ensure he maximizes the short window he has to compete at an elite level? Has everyone forgotten how training and improving works, across ALL sports? Lastly with the intensity of the smear campaign coming out of Sacramento, why would they want him on the team? Isn’t this behavior proof that he made the right decision? If he’s such a traitor, why are they holding on so tightly? They’re treating it like he abandoned them at the altar. It’s tired – and it never should’ve garnered the level of attention that it has. If they truly valued him as a teammate and friend, shouldn’t they be happy for the improvements he’s made in his career? Wouldn’t you be elated for a friend if they’re living their best life?

I’m going to table the feelings I have towards the treatment of Rose Namajunas by Joanna Jedrzejczyk over the challenger’s battle with mental and emotional obstacles in her past. Depending on the event, I stay away from the UFC Embedded series that precedes the pay-per-view. I watched the episodes for UFC 217 and it lived up to some of the quotes I’ve heard and read from some of the journalists I read within the sport. The champion doesn’t come across and someone that’s…personable. She’s a fighter, I get that, and she’s kind and cheerful in a way that a lot of competitors in MMA can’t purchase at a yard sale. However she does not come across well on television when belittling Namajumas.

As for Thug Rose, I just don’t think she’s ready. She’s earned the fight, unquestionably, but I think it’s a byproduct of a dearth of contenders in the division. She’s 25. Two years from now I think this is a completely different title fight.

Enjoy the card!

Picks: Bisping, Dillashaw, Jedrzejczyk, Thompson, Costa and Duffy.

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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?

Welcome to New York City, UFC (205)

By: S. Davis

ufc-205-in-nyc-tee

With all my heart, I love New York City.

No setting the table here, let’s gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!

UFC Strawweight Championship: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (c) vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz

Joanna Jedrzejczyk wins if her volume remains at the levels she’s shown thus far in her ascent to the top of the sport. There’s no doubt that she’s one of the most complete fighters in the entire world and she’s gifted in every facet of mixed martial arts. While she hasn’t shown an inclination to use offensive wrestling as a large part of her attack she does, however, employ impressive footwork, balance, and hip positioning for her takedown defense. Her main objective is to keep the fight upright as there are few fighters as adept, polished, accurate and punishing at pure striking. I’m going to pay close attention to see if elbows come into play if Kowalkiewicz is able to pull the champion into her clinch; knees too.

Jedrzejczyk overwhelms opponents to such a degree that it seems unfair. She stalks opponents to dole out the pain whether the subject of said torture is hurting or not. Her fearlessness in pursuit is noteworthy as well when you consider she will enter close quarters – unafraid of surrendering a takedown – in order to launch a barrage of symphonic violence.

Kowalkiewicz wins if she can find a safe way to engage her underrated, yet ferocious, clinch without eating two hooks, three uppercuts and four stiff jabs. I don’t feel the outcome will be a massacre by any means unless Kowalkiewicz spends ample time with her back pressed against the cage. Her pace is even higher than that of the champion – but she lacks power – and she might need to turbocharge it just to increase her chances of making it a contest, which I feel she will do.

She will need to keep Jedrzejczyk guessing and it can’t hurt if she pulls a rabbit out of the hat and goes for some wrestling. It might prove futile but if she can foster just a kernel of doubt it might open up an opportunity to score points in the clinch. It’s interesting because her best path to victory will be her work in the clinch. To that end, the champion is phenomenal at keeping her opponents exactly where she wants them to be. If they’re tied up in the clinch they can both impose their respective wills, though I slightly favor Kowalkiewicz’s knees if she can hit flesh. She should look to score with head kicks on the right side of the champion’s head. Any head kick might catch her off-guard as she rarely has to defend them. That could be a small little wrinkle to watch for. If she isn’t making forward progress I don’t like her chances if she as to spend 75-85% of the fight backpedaling; compared to her opponents Jedrzejczyk has landed 575 to 195 in significant strikes, take that in for a second. She keeps her foot pressed to the gas and doesn’t yield.

Kowalkiewicz is up for a tall order but she’ll wink at the camera during the fight introductions as if she’s taking a stroll to buy some ice cream. The underdog role is a familiar one for her as she was in the same position – ridiculously – in her previous visit to the cage. Her best bet is to clinch and make sure those knees sap the champion’s gas tank.

UFC Welterweight Championship: Tyron Woodley (c) vs. Stephen Thompson

Stephen Thompson wins if he can maintain the distance. While he’s a threat in tight, boxing range, he’s overwhelmingly more lethal when he forces his opponent to remain in kicking range. The variety of kicks he has to choose from in his arsenal are just about limitless. Fighting in his optimal comfort zone will be advantageous which goes without saying really. At distance he dissects his opponents until they feel the need to rush in to launch some return offense.

If Thompson fails, Woodley will be primed to wrestle him to the ground and/or end the fight with either hand in a flash. The game of when to strike or elect for patience will lie solely on the shoulders of the welterweight champion. Having viewed both fighters extensively, Thompson would be completely fine in his element scoring points, comfortably, from distance until Woodley decided in venture into tighter space. His fighting stance makes him a difficult target to hit as he never squares up with his opponent and he floats on his feet so his defense is sound. One thing: He’s going to have to be cautious when he bounces forward to (possibly) launch an attack and it would be in his best interests to change angles so that he doesn’t give his timing away.

Woodley wins if he’s successful at getting into boxing range where his tremendous punching power and wrestling can be utilized to its fullest extent. As an athlete with a myriad of skills, he can win the fight with any of his tools but if both men stay on their feet for the duration of the bout…I would favor the challenger. Woodley needs to use his powerful kicking to limit Thompson’s movement – and score points where he can. Of the two, he’s going wear the burden of being the one coming forward. Thompson could utilize a very similar style that Rory MacDonald found success with although I believe Woodley is much smarter now. The explosiveness, power and speed are undeniable and Woodley will position himself to make Wonderboy as uncomfortable as he was in his only UFC loss to Matt Brown. What a chess match!

I don’t understand the hate that he receives. He’s intelligent, he interviews well, loves and cherishes his family and doesn’t spew a bunch of nonsense for the camera. He got destroyed by having the nerve to call for a fight against Georges St-Pierre – only the greatest welterweight and maybe the best fighter, ever – and Nick Diaz, who isn’t a gimme fight by any means. The gall of him to ask for a…money fight! He hasn’t even defended his championship, he can’t get away with calling his own bouts. What a jerk! There isn’t a single person that can get away with asking for the fight he wants, oh wait…

UFC Lightweight Championship: Eddie Alvarez (c) vs. Conor McGregor

Alvarez wins if he uses every tool at his disposal, every single one that he has available to him. He has more ways to make a successful title defense than his opponent does to take the gold strap. Alvarez excels when he’s disciplined and dedicated to cage control. Cage control is defined in a few ways but one of the most critical elements to it is cage pressure; it’s controlling the opponent as it pertains to their posture and such. For the uninformed, think of someone wrapping you in an enveloping hug and having all the power in the direction in which your body moves. Hand control, wizards, hip placement and driving and/or distribution of body weight are all included. This is a clear plus for the defending champion and he has to use it to his advantage.

Now Alvarez does have a tendency to engage blindly – and welcome a brawl. That type of fight could cost him greatly this evening. There’s a clear path for title retention: Wrestling. He doesn’t have to resort to lay-and-pray, although if he does, it’s on the challenger to defend it. Keep in mind, a FIGHT is about imposing your will upon your opponent before it’s the other way around; you exploit weaknesses in combat of any type and this is no different. Alvarez can set up a reservoir of possibilities if the Irishman has to fight off the mat. Ultimately, he can decide where the fight will be contested. Will he?

The Underground King can win by TKO/KO, submission or decision – like all MMA contests – but in this main event, of the two, only the champion has all those possibilities at this disposal. He’s fearless, he has no problem getting tagged a few times – and has stated numerous times that he likes to get hit to “feel” the fight. Too many strikes could end it all. What choice will he make? I think he’ll look to threaten with the takedown to stay in his desired boxing range. McGregor has serviceable takedown defense but Alvarez should test it, and if he does, I think he succeeds a few times. Truth be told he can’t elect to grapple for the majority of the contest, he’ll get tired; any fighter would.

What about the trash talk? I’m not an internet psychologist but I think both men are strong there. Will he allow McGregor to goad him into oblivion by fighting reckless and easily presenting the opportunity for a clean shot “Hit Me Here!” sign?

McGregor wins if he manages to make it a striking match. By no means is he safe if it’s a pure striking clinic for however long the fight lasts. Alvarez possesses elite power and speed in his hands; the challenger isn’t the only fighter of the two that’s armed with power. A grappling exhibition puts the challenger head-on with the biggest question of his career when you take an OBJECTIVE view of his resume. He has to keep it standing, he has to avoid biting down on his mouthpiece, tightening his jaw and allowing the opponent to land, cleanly, and shake his head in response as an act of bravado. His striking defense is abhorrent. For all the noise about his movement, he is not a good defensive fighter – and the same can be said for the champion.

Putting the men side-by-side, I judge the striking as even. McGregor is more accurate in his attacks while Alvarez has more speed. McGregor has the straight left while Alvarez has hooks from both hands and uppercuts. They both enter the cage with the ability to end the contest. Wrestling and submissions are squarely in the champion’s favor and it’s not close. The challenger also has a terrible habit of relying on the left hand, primarily, as his first, second and third method of victory. (See UFC 196 and where that strategy led him.)

Cardio? Alvarez is proven in five round fights but has lost steam when he’s used a wrestle-heavy style throughout his career. It’s a plus that he knows how to battle when his body is exhausted. He’s done that and has that key in spades over the challenger. Meanwhile McGregor showed a great deal of heart in adapting in the rematch with Nate Diaz. He pushed hard when his body was feeling heavy and his lungs were spent; he knows how to cope. Can he do that again if the fight goes long?

Alvarez’s pressure style can give McGregor the same trouble that Diaz and Chad Mendes were able to. McGregor wants to counter fight and doesn’t like moving backward but again, as a counter striker, he wants to utilize his footwork to set up the left hand shot. Alvarez will want to wade in close but he’s going to get hit more due to the five-inch reach differential – and like I said earlier, he will accept the heat in a firefight in order to get tight and unleash a barrage of hooks and uppercuts…just ask Rafael dos Anjos.

This is going to be a great night of fights and I’m heartbroken that Donald Cerrone couldn’t compete.

Picks: All champions win; Chris Weidman, Miesha Tate, Frankie Edgar, Nurmagomedov, Rafael Natal, Belal Muhammad, Thiago Alves and Liz Carmouche.

El Cucuy is lurking…