This is one of those rare times that we find ourselves in between two major MMA events, like a surfer in the trough of a giant wave that just passed staring at an equally gnarly one bearing down on him. Fortunately I have the distinct pleasure of being joined by the editor-in-chief of Real Fighter magazine, Mike Carlson, to help guide us through the foamy wake of UFC 89 and the pressure wave preceding UFC 90.
Was the move to light heavyweight a mistake for Brandon Vera?
Kelly – Vera was small for a heavyweight, but after beating Frank Mir, he looked poised to make a run at the title. Some bad advice from an ambitious agent resulted in an extended vacation from the octagon and now he’s only won one fight at 205 pounds against a non-contender in Reese Andy. I will give him some credit-the loss to Werdum was dubious and the loss last weekend to Jardine was close. But now his value as a ticket draw resembles the Dow Jones Industrial Average and he’s out of everyone’s top ten. Vera needs to beg and plead for a fight with a high-profile name who’s also struggling…say Chuck Liddell. A win against the former champion could put him back in the game while a loss to The Iceman is excusable. It’s that or go back to heavyweight where he’ll get manhandled by bigger and stronger guys.
Mike – At one time Brandon Vera was thought to be the harbinger of a new kind of MMA athlete. Olympic-level wrestling, devastating Muay Thai and world-class submissions all wrapped up in a well-coached package that—best of all—was ravenously hungry to fight. What happened? I haven’t been this disappointed since I clicked on some Tara Reid bikini shots. I feel Vera would do better in the heavyweight division, where he is the faster, more explosive athlete with the bigger gas tank. His two losses at heavyweight can be easily rationalized away: a tough call in the Werdum fight and a bad gameplan in his hug-fest with Sylvia. Prior to that, he has four consecutive stoppages on his UFC heavyweight record, including an annihilation of Frank Mir. At heavyweight, his brilliant clinch game and brutal leg kicks will be more effective on the slow-moving targets, while his quick feet and sheer agility will keep him out of harms way. I agree with you that Vera has seemingly lost something along the way, but it has nothing to do with size.
Should Michael Bisping really be a coach on The Ultimate Fighter?
Kelly – A coach is someone to look up to. He’s usually older, wiser, and knows how to get the best out of his men. He’s like EF Hutton-when he speaks, people shut up and listen. While few of the past TUF coaches have fit that mold, Bisping is less qualified than all of them. He’s 29, only two years removed from his win on season 3, and has never coached anyone. So why did he get the job? Because the next season will be a US vs. UK affair (Remember Bunker Hill!) and he’s easily the most well known brit in MMA. It’s also apparent that he’s being groomed by the UFC for an eventual middleweight title shot at Anderson Silva provided he can get past his opposing coach, either Dan Henderson or Rich Franklin (who’s supposed to be a light heavyweight now). Bisping is marketable and has the talent to be a champion, though he still needs to develop his skills. He’s known in the U.S. and is a bona fide rockstar in England, a market the UFC has been stubbornly hacking away at. As a coach on TUF, he’ll expand his fanbase and get a crack at a true contender. If he has one thing going for him as a coach, it’s the experience of being on the season with one of the least effective coaches ever-Ken Shamrock. They say we learn more from watching failure than success.
Mike – Kelly, you ignorant slut. Bisping is not fit to be a coach? Weeks after he wrapped up the seventh season, coach Quinton Jackson was arrested for driving on a California freeway with only three tires, while going the wrong way. Whatever stringent interview process Zuffa has for their coaches, I am sure that Bisping qualifies. In fact, I really like the casting of Bisping as coach for the ninth season of TUF. While it obviously falls into the UK theme of the season, Bisping has a lot more going for him beyond just being able to understand what his Cockney mates are saying. For lack of a better word, The Count has star power. He has “It.” I am not exactly sure what “It” is, but I can tell you that Matt Hughes, Ken Shamrock, BJ Penn and plenty of former coaches do not have “It.” Bisping is charismatic, enthusiastic and energetic. With only six weeks to work with, his job is to motivate and inspire the fighters, not rework their skillset from the ground up. Bisping has 18 pro MMA fights and a handful of kickboxing matches under his belt, so he has the knowledge and experience to do some fine-tuning on the brigade of pasty Brits who show up to cook under the Las Vegas sun. It is easy to imagine Bisping as the kind of coach who is highly invested in his charges, screaming from cageside and getting emotional about the performance of his athletes. He will be a lot like Forrest Griffin as a coach. And we all know how Team Forrest did.
Will Koscheck and Alves be the fight of the month or did Chris Lytle and Paul Taylor steal their thunder?
Kelly – I can’t see the late replacement of Koscheck being more exciting than Sanchez would have been and in fact, I daresay this might turn into a frustrating thing to watch. I’m actually dreading this fight for two reasons-Alves’ ground skills are not on Kos’ level and Kos needs to win this in order to stay in the title hunt. That spells takedown and caution on his part just like his training partner, Jon Fitch, who wouldn’t take any chances against Chris Wilson just before his title shot with GSP. Koscheck has a lot to lose and won’t be too hip on coming out aggressive against Alves and getting caught like Matt Hughes did. He’ll take this fight to the ground and keep it there. What’s that you say? He’ll show some great ground and pound? I protest. Alves is much stronger and bigger than anyone Kos has tried to hold down before, so he won’t be able to get off big shots like he did against Chris Lytle and Diego Sanchez. So in the end it will be repeated takedowns with no finish. Lytle and Taylor’s donnybrook last weekend is a likely candidate for fight of the year along with Joachim Hansen and Eddie Alvarez’s brawl in Dream. Call me a skeptic, but I don’t envision Kos and The Pitbull matching the intensity of those fights.
Mike – The idea of Koscheck being awarded any “Fight of the …” category seems improbable to me. I think Alves-Sanchez is definitely a more exciting fight, but I am very curious about the current match-up. And I am not quite ready to point the finger and scream “Blanket!” at Koscheck just yet. The former NCAA champ is really rounding out his game with the American Kickboxing Academy. His striking now looks powerful and crisp. Two fights ago he dropped Dustin Hazelett with a high kick. And Koscheck is big for a welterweight, and knows how to cut weight (knows more than Alves, at least.) I don’t see this fight going well for Alves, not only from a stylistic point of view, but for the fact that I feel Alves is a fair-weather fighter. When he is winning he is a house on fire, but let’s see if Alves has what it takes to throw that flying knee at Koscheck after he has been on his back for 12 minutes eating elbows. Randall “Tex” Cobb, who once lost all 15 rounds against Larry Holmes while never backing up one time, said, “Anyone can run fast going downhill.” If Alves thinks he is fighting another Matt Hughes, he is in for surprise.
Mike’s turn to lead:
Should Sokoudjou change camps before he becomes the next Kevin Randleman?
Mike – For one round at UFC 89, light heavyweight Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou looked like an unstoppable force. But then he got tired, his opponent figured out his offense, and subsequently beat him down. What gives? Sokoudjou has been blessed with physical gifts that surpass those of many of his peers. But MMA is a thinking man’s game and history is littered with physically talented fighters who fell short of their potential (Kevin Randleman and Vitor Belfort being the most famous.) Team Quest is known for being a tough gym. These guys feel that iron sharpens iron, but smacking two blunt instruments together isn’t going to sharpen anything. Sokoudjou needs a gameplan coming into these fights. He also needs a Plan B and Plan C. If “punch him in the head” isn’t working, then “punch him in the head harder” isn’t going to work either. He needs to leave the hardheaded confines of Team Quest. Send Sokoudjou to Greg Jackson. Maybe Jackson can actually coax a little judo out of the alleged Olympic-level judoka. Send him to ATT so Liborio can show him some BJJ, or maybe American Kickboxing Academy can straighten out his conditioning. Sokoudjou has more fast-twitch muscle fibers in his body than the whole Jamaican Olympic track team. Either donate them to Nick Diaz or learn how to use them wisely.
Kelly – Leave Team Quest, are you mad? Two or three times a year, Dangerous Dan Henderson takes the African Assassin and his entourage from California to Oregon to gawk at Mount Hood, stock up on flannel, and cross train with Matt Lindland’s posse. He gets a new set of training partners every few months, but apparently the wrestling they’re known for isn’t rubbing off and his cardio stays in Cali. I’ve always been an advocate of a fighter changing camps to get out of a rut and I recently penned an article imploring Chuck Liddell to move camps or get used to uttering the words, “what happened?” But in Sokoudjou’s case I think you hit on the answer back in the Brandon Vera topic. Sokoudjou should move up to heavyweight and use that Faber-like explosiveness against slower and heavier guys who gas out about the same time he does. There are too many talented light heavyweights for him to be a contender while the heavyweight division relies on a retired legend and a WWE star to get fans interested. He’s got the strength and skill to be competitive against some of the bigger guys, but at light heavyweight he’s destined to be inconsistent.
Would a Saturday delivery of flowers to Patrick Cote’s next of kin be a little premature?
Mike – Its easy to think of the Anderson Silva vs. Patrick Cote fight as a predetermined win for the Brazilian. After all, Cote is the guy who went 0-4 in his first several starts in the UFC while Silva’s body count is starting to rival smallpox. But I think Cote is a bit of a dark horse in this match. First of all the guy is tough as a frozen hockey puck. In his first UFC fight he moved up a weight class and fought Tito Ortiz to a decision. In his recent fights he has shown some pretty heavy hands and some good submission defense. Cote is riding a five-fight win streak in the UFC right now. Now Silva is a nightmare and an obvious long favorite in the match. But while Silva is in Rio drinking capirinhas and working on his air-ukelele victory dance, thinking he is fighting a .500 Canuck, Cote is sequestered in Boston with Mark DellaGrotte, training for the fight of his life. It is the classic trap of a champion: After so many title fights it gets hard to get up for each one. And when you think you have a tomato can on your hands, it’s that much easier to goof off while training. A guy like Cote, who looks soft on paper but has rocks in his hands, has the potential to be a spoiler. Don’t send the flowers just yet.
Kelly – Send a gigantic bouquet to Patrick Cote and put on the card, “Congratulations for making it to the second round before becoming another victim.” Cote is looking great and is training hard, but so did Nate Marquardt, Dan Henderson, and Rich Franklin (the second time around). It only takes one momentary lapse in judgment to get caught in The Spider’s web and Cote has shown that lapse in judgment before. I think he’ll make it to the second round because he’s resilient and Silva’s heart might not be in it since he keeps hinting that he’s done with this whole fighting hobby. But once Silva gets punched in the face he’ll snap back to “greatest fighter in the world” mode and pull out a James Irvin-esque finish to add to the highlight reel that makes terrorists everywhere cringe. Doped up on a fish paralyzer and bungee corded to one corner of the octagon he could still whip 99% of the world. Cote will be in Canadian La-La land floating down the fabled river of maple syrup with a LaBatt’s beer before Joe Rogan can say, “Anderson, give us your thoughts on the fight.”
Is Chris Lytle versus Marcus Davis a fight worth making?
Mike – Both Chris Lytle and Marcus Davis came away with impressive wins at UFC 89. In his post-fight speech, Lytle called out Davis for a future match. It is a fact that Davis has long had his eye on Lytle, recognizing not just a similar fighter, but a similar soul. Why not make the fight? Both men bring the heat, and between the two, Dana White has given them more money in “(Insert title) of the Night” bonuses than he gave the IRS last year. The fact is, not every fight is about rankings and titles. Some match-ups are made simply because they will entertain. (I’m looking at you Couture and Lesnar.) I would be happy to see Lytle and Davis slug it out in a match outside of top 10 rankings and free of silly “gatekeeper” theories or “loser leaves town” threats. Forget consequences and win/loss records and let’s enjoy 15 minutes of fisticuffs between two guys who have fighting in their blood. Sorry Joe Silva, MMA matchmaking is not advanced calculus. This is a no-brainer. Get it done.
Kelly – This topic is going to touch a traumatized nerve in my memory. I have no argument that this fight needs to happen. I sat cageside in England last June and felt sicker than Nicole Ritchie after a pizza watching Mike Swick and Marcus Davis disappoint the pissed (that means drunk in English) UK mob who I swear were chanting “off with their heads” and sharpening axes at the Tower of London (I’m already pounding on the keyboard). It’s rare that a fight lives up to its hype, like Wanderlei Silva and Chuck Liddell, but this one could do just that AS LONG AS they don’t play psychological operations on each other like Swick did. I was at the press conference when Swick declared that he had no intention of taking Davis to the ground (heart rate increasing). I was there when the fight happened and Swick took Davis to the ground repeatedly (vision blurring). I was there when Swick declared to the arena that his real gameplan was to avoid trading punches with Davis because he knew he couldn’t win that way (standing on chair shouting). Glory Hallelujah I was there when the hyped up fight of the year went straight to hell and a swarm of boos rained down like a pestilence of locusts and damnation, by God I was there!! (panting and drooling on my desk). Yes, the fight should happen, but if they use hyperbolic taunting to frenzy up the crowd and disappoint us, then I’ll likely drop dead in this sanctum of massive hypertension.
Kelly Crigger is a freelance MMA writer and author of the book “Title Shot: Into the Shark Tank of Mixed Martial Arts” which you can purchase by clicking here. Contact him through his website at IntoTheSharkTank.com
Mike Carlson has a degree in creative writing and is the editor-in-chief of Real Fighter magazine. www.realfightermag.com.