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 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.

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.

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!

UFC 209: Oh No!

By: S. Davis

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I woke up this morning to put the finishing touches on this piece…and then I got on the internet. Should I delete this? No, I’ll post it incomplete as I was excited to dive into the subject.

The two best lightweight fighters in the world step into a cage…for the toy that’s at the bottom of the cereal box. (Do breakfast cereal companies even include toys in their products anymore?) Sorry. I’m torn on how I should feel about the clash this weekend to be honest. On one hand, sign me up! A pure contrast of styles; the exact foundation on which the entire sport of mixed martial arts was created decades ago. I’m giddy, excited, smiling from ear to ear, but then the two words appear that truly have me considering dropping the sport from the dwindling precious hours of leisure time I have: Interim Championship.

I’d rather someone farted on my sandwich right before I bit into it before another division has to deal with ego, muck and disdain from a champion who isn’t injured (and is actively chasing another fight…in a different sport). I have fully convinced myself that Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson are competing for the UFC Lightweight Championship on Saturday night. Period. It just works better for me that way.

UFC Interim Lightweight Championship: Nurmagomedov vs. Ferguson

Nurmagomedov wins if he can glue himself to his opponent and stifle the creativity that allows Ferguson to systematically tear his opposition to pieces (while also taking some dangerous gambles). We all know the blueprint for the Eagle: close the striking range and then chain his brutal and stellar Combat Sambo and wrestling hybrid into the most effective grappling attack in the entire sport…unless your name is Demian Maia.

At that point he can launch an endless array of trips, double-legs, wizards, leg sweeps, knee taps, single legs, traditional throws, suplexes, etc. He blends grappling techniques that don’t necessarily bleed into one another traditionally: setting up a judo throw while closing distance to catch wrestle while mixing in freestyle wrestling and jiu-jitsu which then culminates in lethal ground and pound.

Insert deeper analysis here…

Ferguson wins if he finds a way to curb his instinctual urge to be wild, just enough to avoid finding himself eating punches and elbows while he’s fighting off his back because he was sloppy one too many times and served Nurmagomedov an effortless takedown. For a long time, Jon Jones chose to be labeled as a freestyle fighter during introductions and it’s applicable to Ferguson as well. He studies his opponent during battle and sifts through all the ways he can inflict damage while making it seem like he’s fighting on a completely different level of existence. His talent and plethora of weapons are undeniable.

You want to make the fight a striking showcase? He excels there. Do you want to engage in dirty boxing with some clinch work? He’ll adjust accordingly and carve your flesh with sharp, precise, elbows and knees. You want to test the limits of his ground game? Be careful with any movement because he will snatch your neck with one of the quickest and most technical D’Arce chokes in the world. Another skill worth mentioning: Wrestling is his base; don’t forget that.

El Cucuy has the greatest chance of becoming champion the longer he manages to keep the fight on striking terms. The Eagle isn’t a novice there but his chances of capturing gold favor him the more times he can clasp his hands together around his opponent. Mixed martial arts are about using what you do well to tip the scales in your favor. A slightly measured and committed Ferguson could win the battle on points if he’s composed.

A huge key will be takedown defense. He should take a look at the footage from the Gleison Tibau bout versus Nurmagomedov. Tibau was diligent in using his left arm as a lever whenever the talented grappler tried to secure a double-leg. Nurmagomedov tried, in vain, to shift his own weight forward onto the left side of Tibau to secure the takedown but the arm placement, strength and dedication to keeping this left arm close to his ribs allowed him to use the limb as a counter to make sure he wouldn’t spend the night under a man who wrestles bears as an escape from training.

I’m hesitant to say that Ferguson will stick to a formulated strategy for the duration of the championship contest (however long it should last) but I do feel confident that he won’t be afraid to hit the mat a few times. Personally I do think he has the talent to battle back to his feet but there are so many times one should opt to play around with lighter fluid, right?

Both fighters have been orbiting the throne of the sport and are hours away from making a dream into a reality (one symbolized in gold).

Again, the fight has been cancelled as Nurmagomedov had to visit a hospital as a direct result of his weight cut but he has since been released and is recuperating. Get well and rest up. 

I felt that both men earned the right to fight for the true championship but I gave a slight preference to Ferguson since he’s been active and healthy. He should be slated to challenge the lightweight title holder if said title holder ever gets around to making a defense.

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

I went with Woodley at UFC 205 to retain, and while I was technically correct, I couldn’t forecast a draw. It’s common knowledge in combat sports to favor the fighter who lost the first meeting when a rematch is announced. For whatever reason that fighter enters the rematch having made key adjustments to their skill set while sharpening their flaws – and maybe the determination to even the score aids them the second time around.

There wasn’t a winner in November so which fighter will make the adjustments necessary to walk out of the cage the victor? I can see Woodley going all out if he staggers Thompson to chase the finish. Additionally, I do think he will use his wrestling more than he did in their first chapter. Wonderboy needs to shore up his defense and be diligent about keeping his left hand close to his head. I wonder if he’s been using knee attacks this training camp. If Woodley chooses to grapple more actively, an opening may present itself for a crushing knee that could change the fight.

Mark Hunt vs. Alistair Overeem

With the litigation, presently, transpiring between Hunt and the UFC one has to wonder if he’s sharp, mentally, this weekend. We all know how important it is for a fighter – maybe above other athletes – to be of sound mind. It puzzles me how everyone kicks dirt on the heavy guys for having glass chins – and the disrespect that hovers the entire division at-large. Has anyone stopped to think that humans that strong aren’t meant to punch one another with small gloves?

I can see Overeem winning a point-fighting contest. On volume alone he could secure a victory by staying in kicking range and copying the patient strategy that he ridiculously abandoned when he almost captured UFC gold against Stipe Miocic. The fact that this fight is three rounds leans heavily in his favor but Hunt only needs one shot to connect so the length of the fight may not matter ultimately.

A brief thought about Georges St-Pierre:

So I heard that he’s cutting past every deserving middleweight and will compete for the 185 title? The nerve! I HATTTTE everything! I’m joking, naturally. How is this fight a cause for so much anger? Really, this is Pandora’s Box?

The hypocrisy of MMA fans is hilarious. Do I like the fight? Not really, to be honest but at least GSP has a track record of being a dominant fighter – with title defenses – that bolster his case to bypass the queue. He’s one of the greatest fighters – the best ever, along with Jones, in my opinion – with a resume that speaks for itself. Like him or not, I like Michael Bisping as UFC Middleweight Champion; is it his fault that Luke Rockhold treated him like an unworthy competitor and served his chin nice and high on a platter?

For all the crying about Dan Henderson not “deserving” a championship opportunity: Was that meeting a wipeout? Most of the viewing public was split on whether Hendo should be wearing the belt right now.

“Deserving” as it pertains to MMA is absolutely devoid of all merit and/or logic.

It’s odd how fans crying over this news happen to be the same ones that had no problem with the current lightweight champion jumping the line, talking his way into title fights, while simultaneously avoiding the top contenders in two divisions. This here, though, is wrong?

Maybe GSP missed the adrenaline or the spotlight – although he never seemed to be thirsty for fame – but I would feel infinitely better about this if he was 32 years old and not 36, which he will be at the time he and Bisping meet in the cage.

Picks: Thompson, Hunt, Lando Vannata and Rashad Evans.

UFC 208: Holly Holm’s Spotlight

By: S. Davis
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How will Holly Holm be viewed on Sunday?

Will her UFC 193 victory end up to be a curse after all? A shining moment against an opponent designed, perfectly, for her counter-attacking repertoire. A night that she, ultimately, couldn’t replicate once more? Will she be draped in gold or heckled with scorn?

She’s occupying an odd space within mixed martial arts. Holm could turn in a spirited performance against a tough opponent in Germaine de Randamie, have Dana White wrap her in the shiny new belt showcasing her as the new UFC Featherweight Champion and immediately she’d be labeled a fraud. (Although the same insults will be hurled upon her opposition provided she wins the heavy gold belt, in my opinion, but to a lesser degree when you view Holm’s peaks and valleys in the UFC.)

Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos is the cloud hanging over the entire division being that White created a title in a division, headlining a Brooklyn card this weekend, that doesn’t have a true featherweight on the roster besides her. (Personally, I think Cyborg is the best female fighter to ever compete in mixed martial arts – and that’s no slight to Gina Carano, Ronda Rousey or Joanna Jedrzejczyk.) Holm will sit at the dais and field inquires about Cyborg, losing three straight, not waiting to rematch Rousey or holding a championship that MMA-media are having a hard time trying to quantify. That awaits her…and it’s not entirely fair.

Was it smart business for the UFC to put Rousey in with Amanda Nunes? The UFC might have just killed a star by putting her in competition far too soon…in a title fight, no less. As a pivot, I fully believe someone had an idea to create another nauseating strap out of thin air in the hopes they can manufacture another supernova after this weekend. Imagine if Holm sat on the sidelines – and was the one to beat the version of Rousey that shouldn’t have competed against anyone at UFC 207. I feel a victory there would’ve been discredited in some fashion. I’m going on a tangent here…..

Holm is backed into a career crossroads after losing to Miesha Tate in a desperate scramble that cost her the bantamweight title and being stunningly flummoxed against Valentina Schevchenko – whose style could just turn out to be an unfavorable matchup for her no matter when they share the cage. She’s on a losing streak, yes, but she was controlling the majority of her title defense against Tate. Additionally, her struggles against Schevchenko were on live broadcast for the world to see but she wasn’t dominated.

It’s the fight game and everyone stepping into a cage will be beaten at some point but does the world have to step in to attempt to defeat the woman as well? How many fights does an athlete have to take on? Had she been devastating in the two wins that preceded her title triumph there would be detractors there as well. If the UFC is the pinnacle of the entire sport, shouldn’t any victory in the Octagon be enough on its own? Are style points the added criteria to having one’s hand raised at the end of battle?

I honestly don’t have a favorite in this fight; I think both women are worthy of championship shine. I just hate the narratives that will form around Holm if she should fail to win. They’ve already begun, unfortunately.

Scream hard, Brooklyn!

Picks: Holm, Silva, Jacare, Teixeira, and Poirier.