Wednesday, July 27, 2011

4 things to watch for Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Henderson

This Saturday's Strikeforce event is the biggest, most important event for the "younger brother promotion". Since being acquired by Zuffa, many people have questioned how long will Strikeforce stay in existance considering the fates of other MMA organizations taken over by Zuffa (parent company of the UFC). What happens at this event will determine where Strikeforce goes considering the loss of star power in the Striekforce Heavyweight Grand Prix and the questions about several fighters with expiring fight contracts.

1. Which Fedor will we see Saturday Night?
Before 2010, Fedor Emelianenko had not lost a fight since 2000. But a string of loss has put a fighter who is considered one of the greatest MMA fighters of all time in a position to contemplate retirement. Unlike some of his comtemporaries, Fedor is only 34 years old and still could be a force in MMA. The problem is that he has looked disinterested in his last few fights while not being in the best physical shape. If Fedor is motivated to end this two fight losing streak and not lose to a fighter who weighs about 24 pounds less then him, then we should see a great fight. A win for Fedor signals he is still relevant, especially considering his is "expected" to win. But a loss could signal a depressing end to the career for a fighter who at one time was considered the greatest Heavyweight MMA fighter of all time.

2. The Future of Women's MMA
Although it is sad, the reality is that the future of Women's MMA is leaning on what happens when 135 lb. Champion Marloes Connen takes on 11-2 Miesha Tate. It was only a few years ago that Women's MMA was banking on the potential success of Gina Carrano. But when Carrano got dominated by "Cyborg" Santos many thought that would be the beginning of the end. But now that there appears to be a group of talented and attractive women who fight at weights lighter then Carrano's 145 lbs. division, there is potential and still hope. Women's MMA has two major obsticles standing in the way of it becoming a mainstay with casual and hardcore MMA watchers:
The First Obsticle is depth. How many top level women's fighters are really out there? Will there be many more beyond this current generation? Both are valid questions, considering what has happened to other women's professional sports endevours. Professional Women's Hockey and Soccer leagues started out as hot commodities but over time audiences lost interest for various reasons and the talent pool never grew beyond the base that they started with. The WNBA has proved that you can market yourself on quality of product alone in order to maintain the ability to make money off of women's professional sports. Yet part of that is because Women's basketball (Pro and Collegiate) has grown in poluarity across the board. Women's MMA needs the talent to keep coming or all of its stars will get old and the sport will retire with them.
Second obsticle is marketability. In order for any sport to grow and make money is for it to find a way to appeal to people beyond the hardcore, loyal fan base. It is hard to market a sport when their champions (Cyborg and Coenen) are not very interactive with the fans or very visable. How are you suppose to gain the attention of casual watchers if your champions are as engaging as watching Olympic Curling? Also, whether right or not, fighting is a sport that appeals to a casual audience that looks at women's sports and says "Where's the cute girl?" or what may refer to as "The Anna Kournikova Effect". While this may be sexiest, its a reality that all women's sports have to deal with, especially since men watch sports more then women. Fighters such as Miesha Tate and Sarah Kauffman have shown they are comfortable with showing their feminine side and have been ok with being seen as "attractive". This is an element that other women's fighers (for example, Cyborg and Coenen) have shunned for various reasons. There's a reason boxing and MMA have ring girls in sexy outfits walking around and they just happen to be beautiful, attractive ladies. That same way of thinking is applied by many men (again, it is sexist in some ways) towards women in other sports. I know many women who like MMA because they like fighting but REALLY like looking at the guys. That is a major catilyst in marketing to women, so it isn't a foreign concept to do the same with Women's MMA. Women's Tennis grew in popularity when Anna Kournikova hit the scene so Women's MMA shouldn't ignore such realities.
So ultimately what needs to happen Saturday Night is there to be an interesting fight with some solid MMA action and then the winner flash a real nice, cute smile a few times during the post fight interviews and to act/talk like a woman (not like any other male athlete after a big win).

3. Will Paul Daley vs. Tyron Woodley entertain viewers?
Paul Daley is an exciting fighter who has great standup skills. But he has had problems in the past against strong wrestlers (see his fights with Josh Koscheck and Jake Shields). Meanwhile for Woodley, he is considered a upcoming star with great wrestling skills and athleticism. But 2 of his last 3 fights were not exactly exciting according to some and I am not sure his all around game is good enough to handle fighters who could stop his takedowns. Considering the history of both these fighters, this could be a fight in which Woodley finds out he isn't good enough to stand and trade with Daley so he takes him down and basically lays on him for most of the fight. To be fair, Woodley is still young in the sport but he has not shown that he is very active from the top when he does take a guy down. If Woodley does beat Daley in a "boring" fashion then many people will be uninterrested in him getting a chance to fight for the vacant Strikeforce Welterweight Belt.

4. Will there be any mommentum gained from this event for Striekforce?
The increase of UFC events this year has pushed them further into the public eye as a must see sporting event. Being the "little brother" or "Triple A" version of the UFC (not my labels, just what I have read) has put Strikeforce is a perilous position. Yes they have a contract through the end of 2012 with Showtime, but what about after that? Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz has already left for the greener pastures of the UFC and its fair to say that other top level fighters will eventually want to go to the UFC sooner or later as well. Strikeforce Champions Gilbert Melendez (Lightweight), Allistair Overeem (Heavyweight), and Dan Henderson (Light Heavyweight) are definately talented enough to contend in the UFC. When Strikeforce signed Fedor Emelianenko, the idea was that he would be a major marketing tool to gain them popularity. Instead Strikeforce's biggest money making stars (Nick Diaz and Jake Shields) left the organization while their dynamic Heavyweight Champ (Overeem) has been removed from the Heavyweight Tournament because the event was scheduled a month earlier then Overeem wanted to fight coming off an injury. So if Fedor losses, the Women's Championship fight turns out to be a bore, and upcoming star Woodley is unimpressive against Daley, where does that leave Strikeforce marketing wise? Of course the hardcore MMA fans will watch, but the casual viewers or those who only care about the UFC will not tune in. At that point the only hope for Strikeforce is that the charismatic Josh Barnett wins the Heavyweight Grand Prix Tournament, setting up a very marketable matchup against Overeem. Outside of that, there is little else. Melendez is running out of major name or talent competition at lightweight, the 185 pound division seems to be a rotating circuit of 3 talented guys fighting each other, and Dan Henderson is a 40 years old Light Heavyweight Champion whose last fight in his contract was against a fighter who weighs about 24 pounds more then him and is on a two fight losing streak heading into the fight. Also, the future is not exactly promising for an MMA organization that is broadcast on a network that many people don't even have available as part of their Dish or Cable package. All Strikeforce fans, employees, and fighters can do is hope for the best come Saturday night.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

UFC 132 Aftermath

The UFC every July 4th weekend looks to put on a big show and this past weekend was no exception. Lets take a look back at Saturday night's big fights:

UFC Bantamweight Championship: Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber
Result: Cruz via Unanimous Decision

This fight was fast-paced and for all five round both guys put on a show. The difference was Faber's inability to takedown Cruz and Cruz outstriking Faber in every round.
Next for Cruz: There is some debate about who the next real number one contender is right now in the UFC 135 pound division. Demetrious Johnson is on a four fight win streak and his last fight was a action-packed win over former WEC bantamweight champ Miguel Torres. Meanwhile, Brian Bowles has won two straight fights since he lost the belt to Cruz back in early 2010. It will be interesting to see which fighter the UFC brass picks to take on Cruz next. My choice is Johnson because his overall skills along with his speed present the biggest threat to Cruz at 135 right now.
Next for Faber: Since Faber put on a good fight for five rounds typically the UFC will not drop him too far down the ladder in terms of rankings. Scott Jorgenson, another former number one contender at 135 pounds, would be an interesting fight for Faber and would keep him in the running to get another shot at the belt sooner then later.

Wanderlei Silva vs. Chris Leben
Result: Leben via Knockout

Chris Leben said before this matchup that both men were going to throw until someone falls. Fortunately for Leben it was Silva who fell and Leben walked away with a KO win after nailing "The Axe Murder" with a couple hard upper cuts.
Next for Leben: "The Crippler" seems to always be in an exciting fight. He has won four of his last five fights and the last three wins have all been via stoppage. Problem for Leben is that he has been in the UFC so long he has faced many of the fighters at 185 pounds who would be considered top 15 competition. The only fighter currently on a winning streak who seems ready to face a guy like Leben would be Chris Weidman.
Next for Silva: The fact that Silva got knocked out Saturday night is not as much about him "losing his chin" but the issue that he had not faught in almost 17 months. Since he was brutally knockedout by Quinton Jackson in December of 2008 he has only had three fights and he has one win. Wanderlei may be coming to the end of his career yet I'm not sure he is ready to walk away from MMA just yet. If Yoshihiro Akiyama losses at UFC 133 then a "Axe Murderer" vs. "Sexyama" fight would make sense for both men at this stage of their careers.

Dennis Siver vs. Matt Wiman
Result: Siver via Unanimous Decision

This was the fight that I considered the most bizarre of the night. Wiman spent more time trying to takedown Siver then anything else in the fight. Siver was successful in stopping the takedowns but that didn't deter Wiman from trying still. Most people had Siver winning the 1st round and Wiman taking the 2nd round. The 3rd was about perspective since neither fighter really dominated the final round. So when you leave it up to the judges score cards, anything can happen.
Next for Siver: Siver has now won four straight fights and since January of 2009 he is 7-1 in the UFC. His all-round MMA game has improved while his opponents are running out of ways to beat him. A fight with either Anthony Pettis or Gleison Tibau would be an interesting test for Siver.
Next for Wiman: Wiman clearly thought he had won the fight on Saturday night and went as far as throwing his hat down and storming out of the octagon after the judges decision was announced. Three of Wiman's four UFC losses have been by decision so one would think he would understand the conscequences of not finishing a fight. Either way, Wiman's winning streak is gone and has to take a step back in the crowded UFC lightweight division ranks. A fight with another guy who lost on the UFC 132 card would be right for Wiman right now: Shane Roller.

Tito Ortiz vs. Ryan Bader
Result: Ortiz via Submission (Guillotine Choke)

Supposedly Ryan Bader was a 8-1 favorite in his matchup with Tito Ortiz. Ortiz had lost three straight fights and the "experts" thought that Ortiz was done. But people forget Tito is a former UFC champion and Saturday night he showed that he is not ready to retire anytime soon. He looked better then Bader in the striking department and after Ortiz nailed Bader with a straight right the former champ jumped on his favored opponent and sunk in a deep choke to finish the fight.
Next for Ortiz: A big win like this for Ortiz gives him many options for his next matchup. Tito has said in the past he likes to take on top level competition yet most of that competition in the UFC at 205 pounds is booked over the next few UFC events. Maybe he could get the loser of Evans-Davis, Franklin-Nogueria, or Griffin-Rua. Or maybe someone from Strikeforce will get their contract re-written like Nick Diaz did and come over to have their first fight of the new UFC contract against Tito Ortiz (who knows).
Next for Bader: Before 2011 Ryan Bader had never lost a fight in his MMA career. Now he has lost to the current UFC Light Heavyweight Champ (Jon Jones) and a former UFC champion (Tito Ortiz). Bader went from being top 10 at 205 in the UFC to middle of the pack. Maybe its time to match him up Krzysztof Soszynski to see if Bader can get back on track against someone who has won three of his last five fights.

Carlos Condit vs. Dong Hyun Kim
Result: Condit via Knockout (Flying Knee)

After his win over Nate Diaz, Dong Hyun Kim called out UFC Welterweight Champion George St. Pierre. Instead he got to face the former WEC Welterweight Champ Carlos Condit. Kim said before the fight that Condit was "overrated" and that when he wins he wanted next shot at GSP. After a fast first round knockout, I think Kim just got knocked back to reality.
Next for Condit: After two close Split Decisions to start his UFC career, Condit has reeled off three straight wins in which he finished his opponents. People seem to forget that Condit defended the WEC Welterweight belt three times and while in the WEC he stopped all of his opponents either by submission or knockout. While Condit has a case to be next in line for a shot at the belt, it is unlikely he will sit around and wait until the winner of St. Pierre-Diaz is ready to fight again. If Diego Sanchez beats Matt Hughes in September then a Condit-Sanchez fight would make sense for Condit if he doesn't want to wait around for a title shot.
Next for Kim: The loss to Condit is the first official loss of Kim's MMA career. Often criticed for his style of taking guys down but not doing much else while in a dominant position, Kim still has some evolving to do if he intends on making a run to become a number one contender in the UFC. Maybe a fight with someone who is hard to takedown (like Josh Koscheck) would force him to learn some other techniques aside from same old he has been using lately.

Quick thoughts on some Preliminary Card Fights

Melvin Guillard vs. Shane Roller: With his knockout of Shane Roller, Guillard has now won five straight fights and gotten his hand raised in eight of his last nine fights. Guillard is quickly setting himself apart from the rest of the 155 pount division. Guillard has said in the past that he wants to fight Jim Miller, yet Miller is booked to fight in August against Ben Henderson. Guillard also said Saturday night he wants to fight at the UFC 136 event in Houston. There are only two guys high in the lightweight ranks in the UFC who would be available to fight in October: Clay Guida (who is a teammate of Guillard's at Jackson MMA) and former UFC Lightweight Champ Sean Sherk (who has stated on Twitter he would like to come back to the UFC this fall after recovering from injury issues).

George Sotiropoulos vs. Rafael dos Anjos: Before 2011, George Sotiropoulos was the winner of nine straight fights and was considered to be in the mix as a contender at 155 pounds. Now after two straight losses George has lost all mommentum and all of the praise about his "great boxing skills" evaporated with a wild first round KO at the hands of Dos Anjos. Ironically, its the first knockout victory of Dos Anjos' career.