Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
As I write this, it's late Monday night West Coast time. The Weather Channel is on in the background and the scenes from around the Northeast showing the effects of Hurricane Sandy are on my TV screen.
There are obviously more important things going on at the moment than, say, whether or not a fighter signs a contract or where a fight card might end up. So, from the West Coast team at MMAFighting, best wishes to everyone back East. Stay safe, amigos.
With that, the show goes on. My colleague Luke Thomas joins me for this week's MMA Roundtable, where we discuss a potential Nick Diaz-Josh Koscheck bout, which fight remaining on the 2012 schedule we're most anticipating, and a whole lot more.
1. Nick Diaz and Josh Koscheck seem to be willing and eager to fight one another. Is this the right fight for both competitors and the UFC?
Thomas: I hate this fight. Well, I don't hate it. I actually think it'd be a fun, technical fight to watch between an acerbic wrestle-boxer and aloof boxer-guard player. The possibilities for how crazy that could end up being are admittedly endless.
But the fight is a terrible idea. Koscheck is an incredible talent, but has already lost twice badly against Georges St. Pierre. He also turns 35 years old next month. Why on earth would you have a fighter in that position fight someone who is a viable contender one win away from a potentially lucrative bout with GSP? That's promotional malpractice.
I know some will suggest that if you're a contender, you should be able to fight and beat any other contender on the way to earning a title shot. In theory, that sounds great. And it's not as if Diaz is destined to lose. But the practice of that rule is inconsistent. More importantly, Koscheck isn't a top contender anymore. He's not far away, but he's not very close either. Diaz has little to gain by beating him other than bragging rights. Perhaps most importantly, in a time when the UFC needs all the fighter star power they can muster, sacrificing a potential GSP vs. Diaz bout for a meaningless and potentially deleterious Diaz vs. Koscheck is senseless.
The only way that fight becomes salvageable as an idea is if Carlos Condit beats St. Pierre at UFC 154. That would restructure the division enough to make various contender fight permutations feasible. Even then, though, one would have to think a champ as decorate and important to the UFC as GSP would get a rematch.
In short, don't do it. Have Diaz fight the loser of Martin Kampmann vs. Johny Hendricks. Or maybe Jake Ellenberger. But Diaz fighting someone where the best outcome is Diaz not advancing his contendership. The worst outcome would be moving forward a fighter who can't really fight for a title anymore. What is the point of that?
Doyle: I get where Luke is coming from here. But at the same time, I can also see why it might make sense to give Diaz something of a tune-up fight when he returns from his suspension.
Remember when Diaz flaked on his grappling match with Braulio Estima in May, leaving a capacity crowd in Long Beach and internet viewers in the lurch? You'd think when Diaz was under suspension, he'd make an extra effort to show he can be relied upon. That came on the heels of the suspension itself, his missed press conference, etc. Can he be trusted with a main-event level fight right out of the gate? And that's before we even begin to consider factors inside the cage. He's been out of action for a year and is coming off a loss in his most recent fight. Can we just assume he can step right back in and be the fighter he was before his loss to Carlos Condit?
If you're Koscheck, this fight's a no-brainer if offered. He's dangerously close to hitting the downside of his career and a fight with Diaz is his best chance to prove he's still relevant at welterweight. So considering the big picture, I actually don't think this is a bad bout.
2. We're coming down to the final two months of 2012. Which bout are you most looking forward to over the rest of the year?
Whether he admits it or not, Henderson sounds like someone who has something to prove after so many people thought he got a gift decision against Frankie Edgar at UFC 150. He claims he sees the holes in Diaz's game and knows the blueprint for stopping him. Diaz, meanwhile, is at the peak of his career. His losses earlier in his UFC career really don't matter at this point, not with the performances his put on against the likes of Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone and particularly Jim Miller.
This fight features two guys with endless gas tanks and well-rounded skill sets. Diaz likes to brawl more then Henderson, but Henderson won't back down from a firefight. And that's not even taking into account what should be an entertaining fight buildup between the cerebral Henderson and the brash-talking Diaz. What's not to love about this fight?
Thomas: This is a tough one to call. I'm with Dave in that Junior dos Santos vs. Cain Velasquez is going to be pretty intense. And who could argue against Ben Henderson vs. Nate Diaz? That's got instant classic written all over it.
But I'll make the case for something else: Chris Weidman vs. Tim Boetsch. This bout is different than the two aforementioned largely because a) those two previous fights are for a UFC title and b) all four fighters are notable figures who are either stars or on a star's path. Weidman is on the path (or seems to be), but isn't there yet. Boetsch could arguably be on that path, too, but is basically unknown beyond the hardcore community. And after his fight with Weidman, I don't expect that dynamic to change. We can't put the cart before the horse, but Weidman appears to be the next big thing in the UFC. The way he acclimates to the game and has this incredibly proactive, high-powered offense has my imagination captured. I really want to see how far he can go and beating Boetsch gives us a good idea of how that may end up being.
3. With RFA 4, Bellator 79, WSOF and other MMA events taking place this weekend, which one is the best?
Thomas: I vote for RFA 4 and without the slightest bit of hesitation.
This RFA card is the best regional-level show that I can remember. There are innumerable reasons to like it, but the most important one is this: it features a nice variety of surging talent alongside veteran talent in meaningful bouts. That's a lot easier said than done, but RFA has done it. Rising talents like Sergio Pettis, Chidi Njokuani and Lance Palmer all get the chance to take a step up the career ladder. Olympian Steve Mocco will also be making his professional debut. And Brazilian prospect Guilherme Trindade will fight for the first time on U.S. soil. That's reason enough to like this card. But in case that's not enough, the main event features two one-time promising UFC talents who've fallen on hard times and need a victory over the other to recapture lost glory: Tyson Griffin vs. Efrain Escudero.
This is how regional-level MMA is supposed to look. It's supposed to be a place where those new to the game but with promise come to fine tune their skills and gain experience. It's also a place where those who are looking to punch their ticket back to the big show can do so with the right kind of performance against the right kind of opponent. I cannot say enough good things about this card.
Doyle: I found myself pretty much nodding my head to Luke's analysis of RFA 4. The main event features fighters with names familiar even to non-hardcore fans. It's not a stretch to say the victor could punch their ticket back to the big-time with an impressive win. And the flip side of Luke's point on fighters like Pettis, Njokuani, and Palmer also holds -- their opponents can make a statement by knocking off a highly touted prospect. Solid main event, good matchmaking up and down the card, and debuting imported talent: If we had more independent fight promoters putting on shows like this, the sport would be in much better shape.
At the same time, let's not overlook the World Series of Fighting debut, either. WSOF's first event has enough star power to make channel surfers stop when they reach NBC Sports Network and give the event a look. If guys like Andrei Arlovski and Miguel Torres deliver in their respective bouts, they can get the upstart promotion off to a solid start. And there's enough on the card to appeal to the more hardcore fan, from Tyrone Spong's MMA debut to an appealing lightweight fight between Ronys Torres and Brian Cobb.
All in all, just because there's no Strikeforce event this weekend doesn't mean there isn't plenty worth watching.
4. In a recent interview, Junior dos Santos said it makes more sense for a champion to pull out of a fight if injured than a challenger. Is he right?
Doyle: First off, give dos Santos points for honesty here. In his position as a champion, it would have been easy for him to dodge the question. But dos Santos is as honest as the day is long, and in the case of this question, he's also right. When you have the belt, you've got more leverage to pull out of a fight if need be. The UFC isn't going to strip someone of a title if they're hurt. If you pull out of the fight, you'll still have a main event title defense waiting for you when you're healthy.
Challenger? That's a whole different story. Just look at everything that went down at featherweight over the past few months. When Erik Koch was injured, he was removed from his title shot against champion Jose Aldo and replaced with Edgar. When Aldo was then hurt? Title fight canceled. Aldo will likely still fight Edgar when he's ready. Not only is Koch taking a back seat behind Edgar, but Clay Guida has dropped down to featherweight, and Chan Sung Jung will be closer to his return after shoulder surgery, which puts new hurdles in his path back to a title shot. Koch, meanwhile, will fight Ricardo Lamas at UFC 155. Is all this fair to Koch, who had a legitimate injury? No. But it just goes to demonstrate dos Santos' point about what can happen when a challenger pulls out of a title fight.
Thomas: I'm with Dave here. How on earth does an injured champion benefit from competing under hobbled health? Short of extenuating circumstances that are ultra rare, he or she has every right to refuse to fight when they cannot reasonably compete.
And as Dave notes, just because that's the case for the champion doesn't mean it's the case for challengers. Dave notes the case of Koch, but this is a longstanding policy. Karo Parisyan was supposed to face Matt Hughes for the UFC welterweight title at UFC 56, but was forced to withdraw at the eleventh hour. And when he healed, did he jump right back into the title picture? Nope. He roughed up Nick Thompson, but then lost to Diego Sanchez and that was it for 'The Heat'.
The moral of the story isn't that title challengers shouldn't pull out of fights. If you're injured, you not only risk exacerbating the injury, but also looking foolish in a poor performance. Fighting at all costs can and will backfire. But if the injury is manageable, title challengers have a strong incentive to find a way to make it all work.
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