Featuring Ivan Trembow's Self-Important, Random Rants on Mixed Martial Arts, Video Games, Pro Wrestling, Television, Politics, Sports, and High-Quality Wool Socks
Tuesday, June 07, 2005
Mixed Martial Arts--- UFC 53 is now in the books, and it was an exciting event that was only troubled the fact that a few of the fights were a bit too predictable. The basic problem with the event was that when you make matches where you're putting all of your eggs in the basket of one fighter in any given fight who you hope to win so that you can build them up (and you put those "chosen" fighters up against sub-standard competition so that they are less likely to lose), the audience isn't stupid and they can tell what you're doing. Pride has done that for years, and now the UFC seems to be engaging in the same practice.
That was definitely the case at UFC 53 with the "chosen one" Andrei Arlovski being fed Justin Eilers, the chosen one Forrest Griffin being fed Bill Mahood, and the chosen one Paul Buentello being fed Kevin Jordan. In the UFC's defense, it was legitimately the case that they couldn't get any semi-decent heavyweights to fight Andrei Arlovski on this card except for Justin Eilers and Paul Buentello, and they didn't want to throw Buentello to the proverbial wolves by putting him against Arlovski in just his second UFC fight. Also, in the case of Forrest Griffin, the UFC would have to be stupid to NOT feed him opponents who are merely mid-level light-heavyweights due to the circumstances with Griffin being the light-heavyweight winner of the "Ultimate Fighter" reality TV show.
Andrei Arlovski vs. Justin Eilers
The way the card played out, Andrei Arlovski successfully defended his Interim Heavyweight Championship against Justin Eilers. Eilers seemed to recognize that he couldn't engage in a stand-up kickboxing battle with Arlovski if he wanted to win, so he attempted takedowns numerous times. However, Arlovski showed a beautiful sprawl and lightning-quick reflexes in successfully avoiding all of Eilers' takedown attempts. Arlovski landed a lot of good strikes on Eilers, but at the same time Arlovski was leaving himself open for counter-strikes that a more skilled striker than Eilers would have been able to take advantage of.
Eilers suffered an injury to his knee during one of Arlovski's offensive flurries, and the ref stopped the fight as soon as Eilers was no longer able to intelligently defend himself. You would think that Eilers would be a sure bet to get one more shot in the UFC after he recovers from his knee injury, simply because he had the guts to step up to the plate and fight Andrei Arlovski at a time when no one else would.
The great takedown defense that Arlovski showed in the Eilers fight is something that he would also need in a potential match-up down the road against Frank Mir, who is still recovering from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident last summer. The hope is that Mir will be ready to go at UFC 55 in October for a title unification match that would put the champion Mir against the interim champion Arlovski.
As great as Arlovski is, I can't imagine putting him any higher than #4 or #5 on a list of the world's best heavyweight fighters. How could one honestly rank Arlovski higher than Emelianenko Fedor, or Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, or Mirko Cro Cop? We shouldn't forget that Arlovski is still the guy who got knocked out by a half-hearted, going-through-the-motions, just-showing-up-to-collect-a-paycheck Pedro Rizzo, and that was Rizzo's only win in a stretch where he lost four out of five fights. Arlovski has improved a lot since that fight took place in 2002, but so have Fedor, Nogueira, and Cro Cop, so the fact remains that the top three heavyweights in the world are all in Pride.
Evan Tanner vs. Rich Franklin
In the co-main event, Rich Franklin beat Evan Tanner by TKO to become the undisputed 185-pound champion of the world. Pride doesn't even have a title at 185 pounds, so the UFC Middleweight Champion is the #1 middleweight in the world unless someone proves otherwise. Franklin vs. Tanner was a fascinating match-up strategically, as both fighters are very good in both the ground game and the stand-up game. Franklin is probably better at submissions on the ground than Tanner, but Tanner's devastating ground-and-pound could still pose a threat to Franklin. With that presumably in mind, Franklin seemed to have the bold strategy that he was going to try to keep the fight in the stand-up and just bet that his stand-up was significantly better than Tanner's. It turns out Franklin was right.
Evan Tanner has shown in the past that he is a good stand-up fighter who can trade punches and kicks with just about anyone at 185 pounds, but Rich Franklin showed that he is simply in another class above Tanner in the kickboxing department. Tanner tried many times throughout the fight to take the action to the ground, but Franklin wouldn't let him, and that's not an easy task against Evan Tanner. The simple fact that "Rich Franklin hits really, really hard" seemed to sum it all up, just as it did when Franklin's punching power overwhelmed Tanner the first time they fought in 2003, and just as it did when Franklin became the first fighter to knock out Ken Shamrock in Shamrock's 30-fight-plus career.
When standing up trading strikes, Evan Tanner is at his best in the clinch, where he can deliver knees from that position with the best of them. In this fight, it seemed that Tanner wanted no part of the clinch, even though it might have helped lead to a takedown, because being in close quarters like that means that you're going to take some shots in the process, and Franklin simply hits too hard to be able to take those shots. Franklin dominated the stand-up in a mostly uneventful first round until late in the round when Tanner caught Franklin with a perfect punch that knocked Franklin down and nearly out. However, Franklin survived the round and went on to completely dominate rounds two, three, and four in the stand-up before the fight was eventually stopped by the doctor due to cuts on Tanner's face.
It has been a whirlwind year for Franklin that is only going to get more high-profile. First he knocked out Ken Shamrock on the UFC's first ever live fight special on free television back on April 9th, then he won the UFC Middleweight Title, and then he immediately flew out to Las Vegas to begin filming on the second season of The Ultimate Fighter, where he is one of the two coaches along with Matt Hughes. (An agreement was reached before the Tanner-Franklin fight that the winner of the fight would also get to be a coach on the next season of the reality show.)
As for Rich Franklin's first defense of his newly-won Middleweight Title, Matt Lindland is officially the #1 contender for the title, but he is putting that status at risk by fighting Joe Riggs on the UFC's next card in August while Franklin is off filming the reality show. Assuming that Lindland gets past Riggs, the next logical match-up for the Middleweight Title would be Franklin vs. Lindland.
As for Evan Tanner, there's no doubt that he is still one of the top 185-pound fighters in the world, and one loss doesn't change that, but he's in an awkward position. In much the same way that Frank Trigg has now lost twice to the champion of his particular weight class (Matt Hughes), Tanner has now lost twice to the champion of his weight class (Franklin). So, just as it seems unlikely that Trigg will get another title shot as long as Hughes is the Welterweight Champion, it would also have to be considered unlikely that Tanner will get another title shot as long as Franklin is the Middleweight Champion. That doesn't mean that Trigg and Tanner can't continue fighting in the meantime and continue to be among the top fighters in the sport in their respective weight classes.
Forrest Griffin vs. Bill Mahood
Forrest Griffin looked impressive in a completely different way than the general public has come to expect in his fight against Canadian fighter Bill Mahood. While Mahood is not top-flight competition in the 205-pound weight class, the fact is that his record coming into the fight was 12-2, and all twelve of his wins had come by KO or TKO. Having just won a close decision in a Match of the Year-quality stand-up brawl with Stephan Bonnar on the season finale of The Ultimate Fighter, Griffin showed a different side of his skill-set by taking down Mahood, dominating the positioning battle on the ground, and forcing Mahood to tap out to a rear naked choke.
This fight revealed to the general public that Griffin is just as skilled on the ground as he is in the stand-up, as many of his career victories have actually come by submission. It's also interesting to note just how much of a difference The Ultimate Fighter has made to the sport of MMA. Griffin got the biggest reaction of any fighter on the entire show and was treated by the crowd as the biggest star on the show, primarily because more people have seen him fight due to the reality show exposure.
Even more importantly, the education of the general public to how MMA actually works was evident in this fight, as the crowd popped just as big for the submission victory as they would for any knockout victory. Before The Ultimate Fighter, many of the UFC's submission victories caused a large portion of uneducated fans in the audience to simply scratch their hands and wonder what just happened. Now, they know what happened, because they learned about the ground game by watching The Ultimate Fighter.
A big-money PPV rematch with Stephan Bonnar would seem to be the logical next fight. Before that can happen, Bonnar has to beat Sam Hoger in their scheduled UFC bout in August. Assuming that Bonnar gets past Hoger, Griffin vs. Bonnar II has "big money" and "great fight" written all over it.
Paul Buentello vs. Kevin Jordan
Rising heavyweight Paul Buentello got the win against the severely over-matched Kevin Jordan, but it was a bit of an unimpressive win, as opposed to the kind of win that makes you think, "That guy is going to be a huge star!" While Buentello showed that quality in his UFC debut against Justin Eilers in February, he didn't show it against Jordan. Buentello gassed out in literally two and a half minutes, which is not something you can afford to be doing if you want to be one of the top heavyweights in the sport.
Fortunately for Buentello, his opponent gassed out as well, and Buentello finished the fight with a modified neck crank submission that wouldn't be particularly hard for most MMA fighters to escape; Jordan was simply too exhausted to get out of any submission hold at that point. Besides gassing out in two minutes, Buentello left himself open to strikes and actually got rocked on more than one occasion by a fighter who is not known as a heavy hitter. It was another win for Buentello, but he's going to have to do a lot better than that if he wants to be among the top heavyweights in the sport.
Karo Parisyan vs. Matt Serra
Speaking of fights that make you think, "That guy is going to be a huge star!" it seems that 22-year-old welterweight phenom Karo Parisyan gives off that quality just about every time he makes an appearance in the UFC. Parisyan showed once again that he has an incredible grappling game and also great ground-and-pound skills. His only weakness appears to be in the stand-up, and he almost paid dearly for it against UFC veteran Matt Serra. Serra knocked Parisyan down and almost out early in the first round, but Parisyan recovered nicely and ended up putting Serra on the brink of defeat in that same round.
Parisyan also had Serra on the brink of defeat on several other occasions in a fight that he ended up dominating, including a few cleanly-applied submission holds that you've got to believe would have finished the fight if his opponent were anyone other than a ground game wizard like Matt Serra. Parisyan won the fight by unanimous decision and continued to look impressive in doing so.
It's expected that Parisyan's next fight will be for the Welterweight Title against champion Matt Hughes. While he is well deserving of a title shot, one can't help but think that it could be a bad style match-up for Parisyan. Parisyan has only lost three times in his 17-fight career, and two of those three losses were to ground-and-pound specialist Sean Sherk. While it's true that those two losses to Sherk came four years ago when Parisyan was only 18 years old, it's still the case that if you're susceptible to ground-and-pound, the worst possible style match-up for you is probabloy a ground-and-pound machine like Matt Hughes. Then again, Matt Hughes is a "bad style match-up" for just about anyone in the welterweight division, so Parisyan stands just as good of a chance as anyone at dethroning Hughes.
Nate Quarry vs. Shonie Carter
On the undercard, Ultimate Fighter contestant Nate Quarry, who was unable to fight on the reality show due to an ankle injury suffered during filming, made a successful UFC pay-per-view debut by dominating accomplished veteran fighter Shonie Carter in a middleweight fight. Though he's a product of Team Quest, which specializes in ground-and-pound with head trainers Randy Couture and Matt Lindland, Quarry showed that he also has a great striking game, as he picked apart Carter in the stand-up en route to a first-round TKO victory.
What's telling is that even though he was on the undercard, and even though he never actually fought on the reality series, the live crowd treated him to a "superstar" reaction that was second only to the reaction received by Forrest Griffin. Nate Quarry definitely has "potential future star" written all over him, and he re-affirmed that with his victory over Shonie Carter at UFC 53.
David Loiseau vs. Charles McCarthy
David Loiseau reminded everyone that he is still a force to be reckoned with in the middleweight division by dominating UFC newcomer Charles "Chainsaw" McCarthy at UFC 53 and winning by TKO. Prior to this fight, the fight that many people seemed to associate Loiseau with the most was his UFC 44 loss to Jorge Rivera, but since then he has made short work of two up-and-coming fighters by beating Gideon Ray and Charles McCarthy in the UFC.
What's remarkable about Loiseau is not so much that he beat Gideon Ray and Charles McCarthy; it's how he did it. The commentators were correct in their statement during UFC 53 that there is no one with a ground-and-pound style exactly like David Loiseau's. His elbow and forearm strikes on the ground are brutal, and he delivers them with a lightning-quick speed that is scary to watch. Just watching his fights on TV, Loiseau's elbow goes from a neutral position to making contact before you can blink an eye. Can you imagine what it's like for the person on the other end of those strikes who doesn't have a clear view of the action at all times like the TV viewers do?
If Loiseau hadn't gassed out in the final round of his fight against Jorge Rivera, he would probably be 4-0 in the UFC right now and possibly regarded as the undisputed #1 contender for the next title shot. As it is, he's 3-1 in the UFC and has to considered near the top of the list in the UFC's absolutely loaded middleweight division.
Nick Diaz vs. Koji Oishi
Karo Parisyan is regarded as the young sensation of the welterweight division, but make no mistake about it, 21-year-old Nick Diaz is also a young sensation in the division. He's just regarded as one notch below Parisyan because he lost via unanimous decision when he fought Parisyan back at UFC 49. Other than that fight against Parisyan, Diaz is 4-0 in the UFC, and his stock continues to rise with each fight.
The only reason Diaz' stock didn't really rise any further at UFC 53 is because he was in there with an opponent who looked completely unprepared for the fight. The UFC had a deal with the smaller Japanese MMA organization Pancrase in which Pancrase would send someone from their organization to fight in the UFC, and Pancrase chose to send Koji Oishi.
Somehow, Oishi decided that the toughest fight of his career would be the appropriate time to try out a new defensive strategy in which you leave your head wide open to strikes, and you simply try to react with a counter-punch before your opponent can land a strike to your face. I'm not being sarcastic; that was really Oishi's strategy! He was practicing the technique all afternoon in the Octagon prior to the event with his coaches, leaving ringside observers to speculate whether he would be crazy enough to actually try that strategy against Diaz. He did, and the result was a first-round TKO victory for Diaz in about 90 seconds. Oishi's strategy would theoretically work against lesser opposition, but Nick Diaz is not "lesser opposition."
As it stands right now, barring any losses by Diaz, logic would dictate that Diaz would be next in line for a welterweight title shot if Matt Hughes is able to successfully defend the belt against Karo Parisyan. If Parisyan were to beat Hughes for the welterweight title, it would be a completely different set of circumstances, and you'd have to think that Parisyan's first defense would either be a rematch with Hughes, or a fight against the winner of the upcoming bout between Georges St. Pierre and Frank Trigg. Hughes already holds victories over St. Pierre and Trigg while having never fought Parisyan or Diaz, so that's why Parisyan and Diaz have to be considered the next two title contenders as long as Matt Hughes is the champion.