Thursday, March 31, 2011

Whats next for the fighters from UFC 128 and UFN 24

Exciting last few weeks in the world of Mixed Martial Arts: UFC parent company Zuffa purchases Strikeforce, Jon Jones becomes new UFC Light Heavyweight Champ, and the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter debuts this week. So whats next for the fighters of recent UFC events?

Jon "Bones" Jones (Defeated Rua to win UFC LHW Belt)
Jon Jones will face Rashad Evans in his first defense of the Belt he just won. His performace against "Shogun" Rua was impressive, especially since this guy is only 23 years old. The sky is the limit for Jones. While I think Jones will defeat Evans, no one should under estimate "Suga" Rashad. Evans is an excellent wrestler himself who has great speed and athleticism. Before he lost the UFC belt to Lyoto Machida, Evans had not lost a fight in his UFC career. The question is can Evans overcomer Jones strength, reach, and athleticism. I do not believe he can. As long as Jones continues to improve and work hard, he will hold the belt for a long time. Very few fighters in the UFC Light Heavyweight division can match him in size, strength or athleticism.

Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (Lost to Jon Jones)
There was a time that Rua was the superstar in the making when he was in his early 20's. Seems like he indirectly passed that torch to Jones in a fight in which he looked rusty and not in the best shape. Jones ran through Shogun, but that says more about how great Jones is. Rua is still one of the most dangerous fighters at 205 lbs. This guy has beaten great fighters such as Alistair Overeem (twice), Chuck Liddell, Quinton Jackson, Antonio "Little Nog" Nogueria, and he has avenged most of his losses. Also, Rua is only 29 years old so I doubt he is washed up. A good three fight winning streak puts him back into the title picture. I think a fight with the loser of the Quinton Jackson/Matt Hamill fight makes sense for Shogun at this point. Both fighters will test Rua's durability and could be the kind of fight to help Rua regain his confidence.

Urijah Faber (defeated Eddie Wineland via Unanimous Decision)
Faber is scheduled to face UFC Bantamweight Champ Dominick Cruz in July at UFC 132. These fighters are not on friendly terms. Faber defeated Cruz back in 2007 when Faber was the WEC Featherweight Champion. But since 2008, Cruz has moved down to Bantamweight and dominiated that division. Faber will not be facing the same Cruz he submitted in 2007. Cruz's standup game and takedown defense has become some of the best in MMA. It should also be noted that since Faber has dropped to Bantamweight he seems to still be adjusting to the weight cut along with the speed of his opponents. While I give Faber the edge against Cruz because of his wrestling and veteran saavy, I cannot discount Cruz's speed and excellent boxing skills. Should be a great fight.

Eddie Wineland (lost to Urijah Faber at UFC 128)
Most people agree that Wineland won the first round of his fight with Faber. Wineland is one of the most underrated fighters in 135 pound weight class. He has good takedown defense and solid standup skills. Problem for him is that he tends to want to knockout everyone with his powerful right hand instead of using combinations and fakes to wear guys down. His lack of patience hurts him. He needs to become more of a complete fighter before he is able to work his way back into title contention. A fight with Edwin Figueroa would be a good next opponent for Wineland unless he wants to wait around for the loser of the Miguel Torres/Brad Pickett showdown.

Jim Miller (defeated Kamal Shalorus via TKO)
Jim Miller is the best lightweight MMA fighter that most people don't know about. He has two losses in his entire career: to Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. Miller looks like he is getting better with each fight. Some people think he should be next in line for the lightweight title. But since Anthony Pettis was originally promised a shot at the belt, I think Miller should face the winner of the Pettis/Clay Guida fight to decide who gets the next shot at the belt. Miller is one of the most well round fighters at 155 lbs and is a handful for anyone.

Kamal Shalorus (lost to Jim Miller)
Shalorus is one of the toughest fighters to come to the UFC from WEC. This was the first loss of his career. Losing to a guy like Jim Miller is nothing to be ashamed of considering how good Miller is. Shalorus is a durable fighter who can put on exciting fights. A matchup with Edson Barboza potentially would be an exciting fight and would test Shalorus in his ability to rebound from a loss.

Nate Marquardt (Defeated Dan Miller via Unanimous Decision)
It was expected that Marquardt would be last minute fill in Dan Miller. It was a good, interesting fight. Nate "The Great" is at a career crossroads because he has fought most of the top level middleweights out there. Marquardt has said he is interested in trying to drop down to welterweight, which I think is hard to believe because how muscular he is. Many MMA fans still want to see Marquardt vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama and that fight still may happen. There is talk about a matchup between Nate and Michael Bisping for later this summer. If Marquardt is serious about dropping down to Welterweight, a logical first fight for him would against Anthony Johnson.

Dan Miller (Lost to Nate Marquardt)
Considering he had to fight a top ten middleweight on one week's notice, Miller put up a good fight. Miller is a game fighter against anyone in the UFC. At this point in his career, Miller is viewed as a "gatekeeper" to determine if a fighter is ready to face the elites of the UFC Middleweight division. A matchup with Mario Miranda would be interesting for both fighters since they are coming off losses.

Brendan Schaub (TKO victory against Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic)
Schaub is working his way up the Heavyweight ranks while showing solid striking and good wrestling skills. But beating Cro Cop at this point in Mirko's career is not as big a deal as it would have been 3 years ago. Schaub is good and has alot of potential, but he is not ready for the winner of Frank Mir/Roy Nelson fight. A fight with the winner of Stefan Struve/Travis Browne fight would really test Schaub against durable, tough, young fighters like him.

Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (lost to Brendan Schaub in 3rd round)
Mirko is not the same fighter who plowed through Pride on his way to winning the Pride 2006 Open-Weight Grand Prix tournament. He is 3-3 since 2009 in the UFC. He is still a very popular fighter and while he may be close to the end of his run in the UFC, he still has a future as a MMA fighter around Europe where he is still very popular. If he wants to stay in the UFC, he has two options: 1) Work on dropping to Light Heavyweight; he walks around at 230 lbs and many 205 lbs fighters have to cut 15-25 lbs to meet the 205 limit. Cro Cop is too small for days age of Heavyweight fighters, so if he is willing to cut the weight and continue fighting, this is a viable option. 2) A Rematch with Minotauro Nogueria at the upcoming rumored UFC event in Brazil; Mirko is no where near making a run at the UFC Heavyweight title so novelty fights make sense for him at this point. "Big Nog" wants to be on the upcoming UFC in Brazil event and why not fight another Pride legend?

Phil Davis (Defeated Antonio "Little Nog" Nogueria via Unanimous Decision)
Im not sure what was more impressive from this fight: Little Nog's takedown defense or how much Phil Davis' standup game has improved. Not enough fighters use changing level kicks efficiently enough and Davis used those kicks. Davis improves with every fight and he has immense potential. In beating a veteran like Nogueria, Davis had proven he is ready for top 10 level competition. A matchup with the winner of the Tito Ortiz/Ryan Bader fight makes alot of sense for Davis at this stage in his career.

Antonio "Little Nog" Nogueria (Lost to Phil Davis)
Against a less determined fighter, Nogueria would have won. Against a less skilled wrestler, Nogueria would have won. But since Phil Davis is neither of those descriptions, thats why Little Nog lost. I dont think Nogueria is past his prime but I do think his fight style he has used the last three fights has not helped him. Against three wrestlers he has not been agressive enough and seems comfortable picking his spots. Its about time the UFC give him a match up against someone who will stand and bang with Little Nog. How about a fight with either Stephan Bonnar or Rich Franklin? Either one would be interesting fights.

Anthony Johnson (Defeated Dan Hardy via Unanimous Decision)
After a long layoff, Johnson showed that a good wrestler is never rusty when he sticks to what he is good at. Johnson had said he would stand and bang with Hardy but in the end he took him down again and again. Problem is, Johnson didnt inflict much damage to Hardy and didn't seem interested in finishing the fight. Being content to hold a guy down on the ground for three rounds doesn't win you fans or satisfaction from the UFC brass (just ask Jon Fitch how that has worked out for him). Johnson needs to fight someone who he cant take down easily who will seriously push him so we can see if his stamina is any better. A matchup with Johnny Hendricks would be a good fight to test both fighters for who is ready to move up to the next level.

Amir Sadollah (Defeated DaMarques Johnson via submission due to strikes)
After four straight fights that went the distance, Sadollah finally finished a fight for the first time since The Ultimate Fighter 7 Finale. Amir looked better then ever against Johnson. Hopefully this fight is a turning point for Sadollah because there are not enough great strikers in the UFC anymore. A fight with Paulo Thiago would test Sadollah is every area of his game.

DaMarques Johnson (Lost to Amir Sadollah)
Johnson is always involved in interesting fights. In fact, during his time in the UFC his fights have never gone the distance. But in his last fight with Sadollah, Johnson showed he still needs to improve his standup game. How about matching him up with another fighter who puts on interesting fights: John Howard.

Chan Sung Jung (Defeated Leonard Garcia via submission)
With a nickname like "Korean Zombie" most people wouldn't expect Jung to have 7 of his 11 career wins via submission. Jung showed excellent ground skills submitting Garcia with a Twister. Jung is an interesting fighter who was 10-1 before arriving in the WEC. At age 24, Jung still has alot of time to develop as an MMA fighter. A fight with Cub Swanson would definately test Jung in how much his all-around game has developed.

Leonard Garcia (Lost to Chan Sung Jung)
The last time a fight in which Leonard Garcia was involved in that didn't go the distance, he was submitted in 2009 by then WEC Featherweight Champ Mike Brown. Since then Garcia has faught six fights that all went the distance. Garcia showed nice striking in this fight but in the end the excellent execution of a submission by Jung was too much for Garcia. He needs to give Nam Phan that rematch ASAP.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The chaos known as the UFC Welterweight Division

Thanks to the Majority Draw between B.J. Penn and Jon Fitch at UFC 127, the UFC has to honestly deal with the state of their welterweight division. The UFC has been fortunate that Champion George St. Pierre has dominated the division for close to four years and is one of the biggest superstars in all of Mixed Martial Arts. But now that St. Pierre is looking to close out his Welterweight reign (if he beats Jake Shields in April) the UFC has the potential for chaos.

UFC President Dana White has said if St. Pierre wins in April that he would move up to Middleweight and have a "Super fight" type matchup with Anderson Silva. Since I do not want to discount St. Pierre's next opponent Jake Shields (who has not lost a fight since December 2004) I will not project a victory. But lets theorize the ultimate "What If" question: What if St. Pierre beats Shields, moves up to Middleweight, and vacates the Welterweight Belt? Now What?

Looking at the Welterweight division as is now there is no clear cut next in line type of contender for the belt. The Penn-Fitch matchup was suppose to lay out a clear cut next in line contender for the championship. But they fought to a draw according to the judges. Penn had two serious chances to finish the fight with a rear naked choke on Fitch and this is a technique Penn has used to finish five previous fights! The logical next step would be to have Penn and Fitch rematch to resolve the stalemate.

Even if Shields looses to St. Pierre, one can rationalize he should get another shot to fight for the belt because Shields only loss in over 5 years was to St. Pierre. Looking at who Shields has beaten in the last couple years, its a list of top level competition: Paul Daley, Robbie Lawler, Jason Miller, Dan Henderson, and a close Split Decision win over Martin Kampmann. The only other fighter in the division with such an impressive resume is Jon Fitch. The major difference is that Shields has finished two of his previous five fights while Fitch hasn't been able to finish a fight since 2007. Being a grinder does not give Fitch much leverage in the long run without a signature win over a top five talent fighter (like B.J. Penn).

So if Fitch needs to beat Penn before he gets a shot at fighting for the belt, who else is left? Well here are some names and how close (or far depending on their current streak of wins) each logically is:

Martin Kampmann: There are many people who thought Kampmann should have won that fight with Shields last year. Kampmann looked good against Shields and his only loss since moving down to Welterweight division was to Paul Daley (September 2009). Kampmann's next fight is against Diego Sanchez this week and he needs to beat Sanchez along with atleast one more top ten welterweight fighter in order to make a solid argument of him fighting for the belt.

Thiago Alves: Since November of 2005 there are only two men who have beaten Thiago Alves: George St. Pierre and Jon Fitch. Fitch has been Alves' kryptonite in the UFC and George St. Pierre finds a way to beat everyone in the UFC, so Alves' losses are nothing to be ashamed of. His next fight is in May against Rick Story. If Alves can string together about three wins in a row he should definately get another shot at the welterweight championship because he is one of the most talented Welterweights in the UFC.

Carlos Condit: Before the WEC liquidated its Welterweight Division, Carlos Condit defended the WEC Welterweight Belt three straight times and each title defense never went the distance. Condit has now won three straight fights in the UFC, including a knockout of former number one contender and Tae Kwon Do Black Belt Dan Hardy. Condit was suppose to fight Chris Lytle before he had to withdraw with a knee injury. If Condit can come back soon and get two more quality wins he should get his shot at the division title. Condit is the most underrated and overlooked fighter in the UFC Welterweight division. Before Condit was brought into the UFC he had won eight straight fights.

Josh Koscheck: Previous to being beaten by George St. Pierre's excellent jab, Koscheck had beaten three tough welterweights and he totally shut down all three of them. Koscheck also was able to stop most of St. Pierre's takedown attemps which shows how strong and technically skilled Koscheck is. He typically does not get enough credit for his excellent wrestling skills and athelticism because his "villian" reputation is what most people know him for. Koscheck will be back as soon as he recovers from the damage that St. Pierre's jab did to break his eye socket (Koscheck has also said he suffered some minor nerve damage in his face and he will not be able to run or train hard until possibly May). If Koscheck can string together another three strong wins he will be right back in title contention.

And remember, all of this analysis is conjuecture based on the "What If" of George St. Pierre beating Jake Shields in April. If Shields takes down St. Pierre then who knows what is next! St. Pierre has only lost twice in his entire MMA career and he avenged both of those losses so it is not far fetched to think a loss to Shields would drive him to come back and beat Shields to get the title back. For now, we can only wait and see what will happen April 30, 2011.