FIGHT PICKS – UFC 172: Barao VS. Dillashaw

Who are these guys?

Remember when UFC 173 was earmarked for a Chris Weidman Vitor Belfort showdown?  Then, remember when Nevada put an end to TRT and the clock started for when the UFC would have to find a replacement for Vitor who everyone knew would bow out due to the NSAC’s ruling? Then, do you remember this:

Chris Weidman versus Lyoto Machida became the main event fight fans needed, but not the one the MMA gods thought they deserved, as Weidman also bowed out of the fight electing to get knee surgery.  Then, the mad dash for who could fill the PPV’s shoes started. With the majority of the UFC’s champs out due to injury, who could shoulder the expectations of a PPV in a year where PPV buys have seen a dip?  Joe Silva looked down the line at the UFC roster, pointed a wee finder in the direction of Renan Barao and said, “You’re up.”  Barao’s response:

Make no mistake, this is a challenge for Renan Barao on two fronts.  First, he takes on a salty competitor in TJ Dillashaw who has the wrestling base and pace to make a long night for the champ (who lately doesn’t like to see his fights go past the first few rounds).  More than that, however, Barao is being given the keys to a PPV main event (this time, without a brand name competitor a la Urijah Faber) and is responsible for delivering the goods and bringing in the buys.

Barao is a beast  at 135. Despite the fact he was referred to as the interim champ for almost a year before the term “interim” was rightfully excised, Barao has put on some pretty quality finishes in a division that, while thin, is made up of legit threats.  He’s also put on some quality celebratory dances. His record at 32-1-1 is undeniable, and his skills have been called ruthless, calculating, and vicious.

Yet, he is likely the least known of the UFC’s pantheon of champions.  The chatter leading up to fight week has centered mostly on the UFC’s inability to market Barao on the basis of his record and skills, that they simply don’t translate to the casual MMA fan.  The promotion believes that Barao’s bonafides speak for themselves, and in theory, they should, especially in sports.  Unfortunately, talent doesn’t always equal popularity, and popularity doesn’t guarantee talent. I can’t name you one Katy Perry song, but I know who she is thanks in part to her team of publicists, agents, and marketing coordinators.  How is it then that Barao, who is clearly talented, doesn’t have the notoriety of his fellow champions, especially considering how long it’s been since he last lost a fight?

The fact is, Barao is a killer in the cage.  He’s not a superstar.  And, he shouldn’t have to be. He just needs to keep winning.  The fans will find him.  Because of the way he’s been ending fights his last few outings, I think after this weekend, he’ll be easy to spot. He’ll be the guy with the raised hand… and, probably, doing that dance.

Also Starring…

Aside from an intriguing main, the co-main has a come-hither feel with Daniel Cormier getting the competition he finally deserves at 205 in Dan Henderson.  Make no mistake: this is the fallback to the main for a reason.  Hendo is a legend.  He could have stopped fighting in 2011 after his war with Shogun, and his place in the MMA books would have been more than secured.  But Hendo loves the competition, even if it’s clear the competition is getting away from him.  I don’t want to count Hendo out.  I’ve said as much before.

Unfortunately, Daniel Cormier is simply the present and future of this sport.  He’s good on his feet, he has phenomenal defense, and his ground work is obviously exceptional.  So many people balked at the notion of DC getting an immediate title shot at 205 simply because he had never fought at 205 (completely oblivious to his maulings of Josh Barnett, Frank Mir, Roy Nelson, and Bigfoot Silva at 265).  Well, DC critics, after Saturday, there won’t be much of an argument left to stand on.

Whenever two Olympic-caliber wrestlers get together, rest assured they will do anything but wrestle and look  try to out-strike each other.  I see DC being too fast for Hendo and too smart to get lured into a brawl.  DC should be able to dismantle Hendo’s H-Bomb; however, he should be wary of the same spinning back fist that sent Wanderlei to the canvas in Pride.

It’s Clobbering Time!

As if the main and co-mains weren’t enough to get fight fans bobbing in their seats, the Robbie Lawler/Jake Ellenberger matchup is simply a fight fan’s dream and nightmare wrapped up in one.  Lawler and Ellenberger are battle-tested, tough, crowd pleasing, and more than anything else, extremely likeable.  It’s so hard to route against either man. It’s like watching The Thing battle The Hulk.

Lawler is coming in with a quick turnaround after losing to welterweight champ Johny Hendricks in March.  That short layoff and the fact that Lawler was so close to winning the title could give him the edge he needs. It could influence his pacing, and if he can keep Ellenberger at the end of his jab and turn this into a 15-minute fight, he has a chance, as Ellenberger has shown that when the fights go the distance, he has a tougher time getting the win

All things being equal, however, I see Ellenberger as a small step faster than Lawler and dictating the pace early.  The faster Ellenberger fights, the more dangerous he is.  Also, the fact that he’s used to taking on bigger opponents at 170, like Nate Marquardt and Jake Shields, shows he has the power to brawl with bigger guys like Lawler.

What I predict is that Lawler/Ellenberger will win Fight of the Night honors, hands down.  However because of the competitors involved, I wouldn’t be surprised to see one of these guys pocket a performance of the night bonus as well.

As always, feel free to come back to ridicule my picks as I am proven wrong.

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WAR OF THE WORDS: BEST MMA QUOTES – DAY 6

“I spent the night at the bar; he spent the night at the hospital.”—BJ Penn

BJ Penn

MMA legend BJ Penn; photo via Adam S

Back in 2006 before “superfight” was a buzzword, BJ Penn was in the middle of carving out his fighting legacy as a pioneer and legend of the sport, and Georges St-Pierre was still in the infancy of his legacy. At the time, Penn was the first fighter in the UFC to have won two different belts in two different weight divisions—lightweight and welterweight. He was considered one of the pound-for-pound best, given his proclivity for taking on any opponent at any weight class. GSP was still working his way up, but fans knew there was something special about him, and the thought of GSP and BJ Penn fighting each other had most fight fans eager with antici… pation.

At UFC 58, Penn and GSP were set to face off in a number one-contender matchup, with the winner receiving the opportunity to face off against then welterweight champion Matt Hughes. Penn had already beaten Hughes once as a lightweight moving up a weight class and taking the title from Hughes.  The three-round welterweight fight saw GSP apply what would become his signature style—keeping opponents at the end of his jab and kicks, racking up points with takedowns and ground attacks, and clinching against the cage to tire his opponents. Penn, however, was able to counter and do some damage on the inside and, early on, broke GSP’s face, bloodying up his nose, and swelling his eye.

Despite the obvious damage, GSP did enough to control the fight’s pace, control the location of the fight, and control BJ and was awarded the split decision.  Later, Penn, who was disappointed with the judges’ verdict, alluded to the fact that the damage he had done to GSP’s face was more than enough to earn him the win. Penn was quoted as saying, “I spent the night at the bar; he spent the night at the hospital.”

It’s a common misconception among MMA fans (and quite a few fighters and MMA writers) that somehow physical damage counts or is evidence of a win.  It’s not hard to see why that perception exists. The physical proof is hard to argue against. It’s hard to look at a fighter that appears as if he/she has come out of a wood chipper, let a lone imagine he/she was the victor in a fight.  The natural assumption is that the opponent who inflicted said damage (especially if the opponent appears unscathed) must have won.  If you were to look at both Penn and GSP after their fight, you’d think that the damage would speak to the real winner.  You’d also be dead wrong. Damage is not a criterion by which a fight is judged in the UFC.  When BJ Penn let his feelings about the damage he inflicted on GSP known, it inadvertently helped to perpetuate the assumption that somehow damage counts.

While this was the thought in 2006—that damage wins fights—things haven’t really changed over the last eight years. Recently, welterweight champion Johny Hendricks used damage as a measuring stick to argue that he deserved a win over—you guessed it—Georges St-Pierre. At UFC 167, Hendricks battered GSP and turned his face into a broken and bumpy mess, yet GSP did enough in the judges eyes to squeak out a controversial decision win.

GSP at the UFC 167 post-fight presser.

In a post-fight interview with UFC.com’s Megan Olivi, Hendricks was adamant that the damage he inflicted on GSP, and the fact that he himself had nary a scratch, was proof enough he won the fight. “Do I look like I got into a fight?” Hendricks said. It also didn’t help matters that the UFC’s president also used damage as the benchmark for what he believed was a Hendricks win. “It’s about damage; this is a fight; it’s whoever inflicts the most damage,” said Dana White in the UFC 167 post-fight press conference, demonstrating his own lack of knowledge about the sport he promotes.

Of course damage cuts both ways, and at UFC 171 when Hendricks fought Robbie Lawler in another controversial win, this time for the vacant welterweight championship, Hendricks came out of the fight doing his own GSP-damaged impression.

Hendricks at the UFC 171 post-fight presser; photo via Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

That night, the cries of damage as a standard for winning were being hurled back at Hendricks, who looked every bit the part of a man who had been molly-wopped (even if he wasn’t feeling that way), by the same fans who believed the damage he wreaked against GSP should have been used against him. The worm had turned.  Even GSP, talking to Arel Helwani on the MMA Hour, weighed in with his own thoughts about damage as it related to the Hendricks and Lawler fight:

I believe Lawler, the rounds that he won, it was more decisively, and he did more damage on the face, but sometimes that doesn’t mean anything. Lawler had a lot of damage too, but you couldn’t see the damage on the legs. Damage on the face sometimes is superficial, so that’s one of the reasons I think Hendricks won the fight. 

In 2006, BJ vocalized what many fight fans (and some fighters) still believe—damage counts or at least, it should count. It’s not surprising this rallying cry came from BJ Penn considering the amount of damage he inflicted on his opponents through the years (hello Diego Sanchez and Joe Stevenson); however, it simply doesn’t matter insofar as the judging of a fight goes. Damage can be an ugly thing in the cage, but like all blemishes, it’s subjective.  Some fighters simply wear damage better than others.

UFC Fight Night 40 – Brown/Silva: The Afterglow

Among all of the words and praise being tossed about regarding The Immortal Matt Brown and his incomparable performance this weekend at UFC Fight Night 40, there’s very little to be said that hasn’t already been said.  Still, I keep returning to the words of The Stranger, the narrator in The Big Lebowski.

“Sometimes, there’s a man… Well, he’s the man for his time and place.”

Matt Brown is the man. Time and place.

The smart money going into the main event on Saturday was that Matt Brown and Erick Silva would likely take home Fight of the Night honors. They delivered just that to an audience that waited well into the wee hours of the morning for the clash at the top of the card.

Brown demonstrated that dwelling inside of his liver is a tiny Cabbage Correira. So many times in the past in hundreds of fights, the UFC has proven that a liver shot means one thing: game over.  The mighty of the UFC have fallen to it. From Brock Lesnar to Donald Cerrone to Sara McMann, few things outside of a well-placed kick to the groin can fall a fighter faster than a liver shot.  So, it’s no surprise that early in the first as Silva dropped Brown with a liver shot and then worked to secure a rear-naked choke, it seemed like the fight was a wrap. And then Brown stood back up and began to land big shots, backing Silva up and cutting off his escape.

In the second, Brown was again hit in the liver and stumbled. Silva again attempted to capitalize with offense, but Brown did not fold. Instead, he uncorked a series of knees and standing elbows that left Silva stunned, with the ref looking closely at stopping the fight.  In the third, Silva again popped Brown’s liver but could not create any offense with the brief bad position in which Silva placed The Immortal. Instead, Brown secured the takedown, put Silva against the cage, and unloaded on him from inside of the guard with stiff elbows until Silva had to turn away to Herb Dean.  Despite being hit thrice in a spot that all fighters dread being hit, Matt Brown continued to push forward, and each time he did, pieces of Silva’s will to win began to erode like ice sheeting off a glacier.

A glacier is actually more connotative of the label Brown’s performance should be given: glacial.  There is so much more happening under the surface with Matt Brown that other fighters lack and that many don’t see.  That drive, that absolute refusal to give in is what’s pushed him to now seven straight wins with six of those wins ending by way of finish.

His critics will argue that he hasn’t beaten enough ranked fighters to warrant a title shot.  However, what do the rankings really mean anyway?  Rattling off seven wins in the UFC should get you more than just noticed or in the mix. To beat seven opponents in a row, in the manner and frequency in which Brown has, should get you a title shot.

Is Matt Brown ready for a title shot?  Tyron Woodley, Rory MacDonald, Robbie Lawler, and Dong Hyun Kim may like to believe otherwise, but name the metric and compare, and Matt Brown still stands apart, even from the champion, Johny Hendricks. Just take a look over the last seven fights of the top fighters in the welterweight division.

  Wins Losses Finishing Wins Decision Wins
Matt Brown 7 0 6 1
Johny Hendricks 6 1 2 4
Rory MacDonald 6 1 2 4
Tryon Woodley 5 2 3* 2
Dong Hyun Kim 5 2* 2 3
Robbie Lawler 4 3 3 1
*result of an injury sustained

For right now, at this time and this place, no one in the welterweight division has done more to set himself apart from the murder’s row at 170 pounds the way Matt Brown has.  In a division that’s still looking for an identity in the post-GSP world, Matt Brown just tagged his name over everyone else’s name.  If coffee is for closers, give Matt Brown the Glengarry leads. Whether it’s now or six months from now, Matt Brown will continue to be the glacier the rest of the division breaks itself upon because competitors cannot see what’s happening under the surface.

When the Opening Act Eclipses the Headliner – UFC 173’s New Additions

Late to the game this weekend because it’s soccer season, but with the kids watching Frozen…again…and the WSOF on live, I’m taking a minute to weigh in on the new bouts announced for UFC 173.

Murder on the dancefloor

Murder on the dance floor

Two BIG announcements yesterday afternoon saw two BIG fights added to UFC 173’s card including Renan Barao versus TJ Dillashaw as the Weidman/Machida replacement and a welterweight scrap between Jake Ellenberger and Robbie Lawler.

So, yes, I was completely wrong about Rich Franklin coming to save the day and rescuing the UFC once again.  Apparently Rich is content making juice for now.  The bantamweight bout between Barao and Dillashaw makes sense.  It’s a title fight, and those are easier to sell.  Dana White has mentioned quite often how much he thinks Barao deserves to be the p4p king.  Barao is also really being pushed by the UFC marketing machine as a p4p candidate, and rightfully so.  Barao is undefeated since 2005 and has only seen one of his fights outside a single loss NOT end in victory (a 2007 NC).  Barao is simply a stud, but why doesn’t his title reign feel, for lack of a better word, right?  He became the official champion and loss his interim label when Dominick Cruz had to pull out of their last fight due to injury.  He’s defended the belt, interim or not, against top flight competition. He even has a great celebratory dance.

Still, his dominance has left some fans with a case of the Aldos in that there is little drama about the outcome when he steps into the cage.  Enter TJ Dillashaw.  TJ has the wrestling pedigree and has developed a decent set of hands since entering the UFC.  Whether or not that is enough to stop the dancing machine remains to be seen.  While I would never call a title fight in any class a lackluster affair, there seems to be something missing about the main event.  It lacks a certain sex appeal, a certain narrative, a certain battle cry for fans to rally around.  Dillashaw and Barao aren’t as well known to outside of MMA circles, and maybe that’s part of it, but the mere fact that it’s a title fight could help to bolster the expectations that a main event normally carries.

To help bolster the card itself the other announcement made yesterday was that Ruthless Robbie Lawler will make a quick rerun to the octagon and take on welterweight contender Jake the Juggernaut Ellenberger.  Yes. Sir.

This is an atypical case where one of the undercard fights has more significant implications than the title fight in the main event simply because of the new life that has been breathed into the welterweight division since GSP stepped away.

After a phenomenal showing against Johny Hendricks at UFC 171, Lawler will have the opportunity to make his case why he deserves a rematch with Hendricks by making a quick return to the cage.  This is a brilliant move by Lawler.  It gives him first crack while the other contenders have to follow his act, which lately has been a hard thing to do. It also gives him an opportunity for a quick encore, especially after earning a lot of good will from the fans in his barn burner with Hendricks.  If real estate is all about location, the fight game is all about timing, and with Hendricks out and Condit out and with Lombard, Woodley, and MacDonald without opponents, Robbie Lawler is proving that he has great timing.  All it takes is a well-placed shot to Ellenberger to prove he deserves to leapfrog the glut of 170-pound contenders.

Of course it won’t be as easy as just showing up for Lawler as Ellenberger always seems to step up when the competition is at its toughest.  Also, Ellenberger has a habit of TKOing and KOing bigger welterweights.  He made short work of former 185-pound Strikeforce champion, Jake Shields.  He also ran though perennial 185-pound contender turned 170-pound contender Nate Marquardt.  Lawler, who used to fight at 185, definitely has his work cut out for him.  A win over Lawler, especially a win with a brilliant finish could allow Ellenberger to pass the logjam at the top of the 170-pound class.

With the addition of Barao/Dillashaw and Lawler/Ellenberger to a card that also includes a heavyweight tilt between Dos Santos/Miocic, the Weidman/Machida sized hole in UFC 173 seems to be filled.

FIGHT SONGS: AN ALTERNATIVE PLAYLIST FOR FIGHTERS

Jeff Monson enters the cage at Strikeforce: Overreem/Werdum

Jeff Monson runs to the cage at Strikeforce: Overreem/Werdum

When Jeff the Snowman Monson fought Tim Sylvia for the UFC Heavyweight championship at UFC 65 in 2006, Monson entered the cage to John Lennon’s “Imagine.”  I was watching the event at a bar, and everyone sat in silence, mostly because the majority of patrons were craning their necks to hear what the song was.  Hilarity ensured.  To know Monson and his political slant (and general take on life) is to know the song choice isn’t necessarily out of his wheelhouse.  It was a pretty bold choice, actually. It said everything about him even if it wasn’t the most obvious kinetic musical choice conducive to punching an opponent in the face.

For some fighters their musical choice for entrance is their calling card.  Before Jim Miller switched to The Hollies, you could set your clock to the cold open of “Bad Moon Rising” as he came out of the dressing room (he should go back to it, really).  For others, the selection is picked for them if the promotion deems the choice not “bad ass” or “hardcore” enough to capture, psychologically, the toughness it takes to get into the Octagon (sidebar: I think I’d be more intimidated by a friendlier song choice, i.e. Homer Simpson’s entrance to face Drederick Tatum in The Simpsons).  This predilection to be so on the nose about a musical choice that embodies the toughness it takes to get into the cage, leads to some really stale or obvious choices by fighters and the promotion.

To that end, I’m including a list of musical gems that should be adopted, as well as a list of UFC fighters who could benefit from a new playlist, to break up the monotony in entrance jingles, and to make Burt Watson do a small double take as he leads the fighter and his/her camp out to the check in point.

Frank Mir

Previous walkout song: “Amazing” – Kanye West

Recommended walkout song: “Bad MF” – Pharaohe Monch

A newer selection, but it takes a heavyweight with some pretty violent wins to carry the claim the song exemplifies. Plus, to call yourself amazing sets the bar pretty high and sets the expectation to mean flawless.  Calling yourself a Bad MF doesn’t mean you are perfect just someone with whom to be reckoned.

 

Gunnar Nelson

Previous walkout song:  “Leiðin okkar allra” – Hjálmar

Recommended walkout song:  “Stress” – Organized Konfusion

I actually wouldn’t change Gunnar’s walkout music at all.  There’s something calmingly creepy about this choice of song.  It fits his demeanor perfectly.  However, for the sake of juxtaposition, I’d love to see someone who always looks like he just rolled out of bed and without a care in the world come out to a song that’s about stress.

 

Demetrious Johnson

Previous walkout song: “Go Get It” – T.I.

Recommended walkout song:  “Feel Good Hit of the Summer” – Queens of the Stone Age

This song goes hard, sure.  But because of the hypothetical posed by Jordan Breen on the last episode of “Press Row” with guest Jeremy Botter in which Breen suggested DJ could be a cocaine kingpin and still be allowed to fight in the UFC, I couldn’t resist.

 

Khabib Nurmagomedov

Previous walkout music: “You Can’t Stop Me Now” by Bobby Digital

Recommended walkout music: “Bucktown” – Smif-N-Wessun

First of all, I can’t front on Khabib’s previous selection.  However, it seems more like a choice to ride to than fight to.  In order to compliment the head-bobbing feel of the Rza/Bobby Digital choice, I recommend something just as calculating, though a little darker, that could work in his ride or in his walk.

 

Robbie Lawler

Previous walkout music: “Beautiful” – Eminem

Recommended walkout music: “Mr. Saturday Night Special” – Lynard Skynard

Eminem is a go-to choice for a ton of fighters, and it makes sense.  The guy seems to always have the perfect complement of beat, lyrics, and delivery—the kind of balance fighters look for in the cage.  “Beautiful” seems like something you’d listen to for the sake of self-affirmation, and the lyrics really delve into reflection and a journey.  After his showing at UFC 171 and his previous 3 performances, Robbie should not be reflective.  He should be resolute.   He belongs.  As a guy who shows up to fight on PPV Saturday, he deserves a song that punctuates as much as his left hook.

Finally, I’m including a list of general recommendations to make an entrance to, be it the ring, the classroom, or office place.  Though on the next PPV, turn down the volume and play one of the following to see if they work better than what’s being echoed in the area.  I may not bash a fighter’s abilities, but his/her taste in music is fair game.

“Nowhere to Run” – Gravediggaz

 

“Headbanger” – EPMD

 

“War Pigs” – Black Sabbath

 

“Damage” – Blues Explosion

 

“Release Yo Delf” – Method Man

 

“Painkiller” – Judas Priest

 

“Last Caress” – The Misfits

 

“Know Your Rights” – The Clash