Purely by coincidence, most of these MMA Roundtables end up with some overlying theme. This week, it's all about "chances."
Last Saturday night, Nate Marquardt used a second chance in Zuffa to capture the Strikeforce welterweight title, and then promptly proclaimed himself the best 170-pounder in the world. Which made us wonder how he'd do in a hypothetical superfight with Georges St-Pierre. This Saturday night, Urijah Faber has yet another chance to win a major belt after going 0-4 in his last four title fights. Is this his last crack at gold? Finally, Bibiano Fernandes spurned the UFC for One FC, but after learning his first opponent, was it the right decision, and does this mean he'll never again have a chance to fight in the octagon?
Luke Thomas and I gather around the old roundtable to discuss it all.
Urijah Faber is 0-4 in his last 4 title fights, and he fights Renan Barao this weekend for the interim UFC bantamweight title. If he loses, this has to be his last chance at a championship, right?
Thomas: I thought Faber's last bout against Dominick Cruz at UFC 132 was his last chance. Faber was 32 at the time (33 now). He couldn't recapture the title Mike Brown took from him in the WEC, nor was he able to take it from eventual featherweight champ Jose Aldo. When Faber inevitably dropped to bantamweight and lost in his eventual bid for a title against rival Cruz, I found it hard to envision a scenario where he would climb the ranks again.
But bantamweight is thin and the UFC needs all the stars it can get right now. A strong victory over Brian Bowles was all the UFC needed to put Faber and Cruz on The Ultimate Fighter. The reality is the Faber vs. Cruz rivalry is the UFC's best chance at elevating bantamweight's profile. If Dominick Cruz is to remain champion, it's also his best hope for getting over on audiences.
To answer the question, then, I doubt this is Faber's last shot. if this were lightweight or welterweight I'd say Faber's window has closed. But as long as Faber is reasonably healthy, competitive and can string together consecutive victories, he'll get another opportunity. I don't think he'll get an endless supply of opportunities, but is it really outlandish to think two more (Saturday's included) title opportunities are unrealistic? I don't see it.
Chiappetta: This has to be it for Faber. It needs to be. The "California Kid" has served an invaluable role for the UFC, ushering in an era of the super light weight classes, much the same way B.J. Penn did years ago with the 155-pounders. But when is enough, enough?
If Faber loses to Barao, he will be 5-5 in his last 10 fights. Sure, another way of looking at it is he is 5-0 in non-title fights, and 0-5 when it matters the most. That's more opportunities than any one man deserves. I don't care if the weight class is shallow. To keep recycling the same contender under the guise of "who else is there?" is promotional laziness.
I didn't have a problem with Faber getting a bantamweight title shot after moving down a weight class. That is fine. But this will be his second attempt at the bantamweight belt in three fights. If he wins, great. Hopefully he gets his trilogy fight with Cruz, and we can put that rivalry to rest. But if not, it's time to move on with the division.
On Monday's MMA Hour, Nate Marquardt basically admitted he'd fight teammate Georges St-Pierre to determine the world's top welterweight. What are his chances of beating GSP?
Mike Chiappetta: St-Pierre would no doubt be the favorite in a potential champion vs. champion superfight, but I don't think it'd be a lopsided fight by any means. The biggest reason is that St-Pierre doesn't badly outgun Marquardt in any one category.
Anytime you're assessing a prospective St-Pierre opponent, you have to start with his wrestling defense, and Marquardt historically does well in that department, stopping 74 percent of takedown attempts. Clearly, St-Pierre is among the best all-time in that department, but Marquardt's no easy victim. Meanwhile, he himself is a very good offensive wrestler, surprisingly ranked No. 2 just behind St-Pierre all time in takedown accuracy. His ability to wrestle with St-Pierre would change the complexion of any matchup. In a head-to-head fight, Marquardt actually edges GSP in striking accuracy (54 percent to 53 percent), too, which is impressive since GSP lands most of his strikes on the ground, a higher-percentage landing area. Coming down from middleweight, Marquardt is also a bit bigger than St-Pierre and can match his athleticism and stamina.
Given all those attributes, Marquardt is probably better equipped to face the long-reigning champ than most of GSP's recent foes.
All in all, while I know not many out there are clamoring for a St-Pierre vs. Marquardt superfight, he'd clearly be as stern a challenge as some of the UFC's top welterweights. After all, he previously knocked out Martin Kampmann, one of the division's current top contenders.
Luke Thomas: I'm with Mike on this one. I don't think Marquardt would win, but is he a better or more difficult opponent than many in the current UFC welterweight queue? He arguably is.
We need to see more of Marquardt at this weight against a different style of opposition before we can really discern how good he is, but his first showing is impressive. He showed speed, stamina, gameness and something he's historically had throughout his career - a vicious killer instinct. It's hard to watch his win over Woodley and not walk away impressed on a variety of different levels.
But let's also acknowledge what didn't go as planned. Marquardt was tagged and dropped with speedy, well-timed punches from Woodley. Do I think GSP could replicate that sort of performance? Easily. In addition, Woodley reacted poorly at times to punishment and resorted to a much more tactically defensive game. I'm sure GSP wouldn't react like Wanderlei Silva if he were hurt, but a) he's hard to really hurt in his wrestling-heavy offense and b) I get the sense GSP wouldn't be as frozen in time as Woodley. He's got a lot more experience against higher-level competition who have shown him almost every conceivable look a fighter can ever come across. Yes, he lost to Serra in the very famous way he did, but he hasn't looked back since.
The obvious x-factor here is the ACL recovery. Will GSP be the same after surgery? For his sake and that of the sport, I certainly hope so, but there's just no telling. Maybe he loses explosiveness and the zip and pop he's relied on all these years. If so, a change at the top of the UFC welterweight division plus the dissolution of Strikeforce could create for some very interesting times.
After hearing Bibiano Fernandes' first One FC opponent -- Gustavo Falciroli -- did he make the right decision in choosing them over the UFC?
Chiappetta: I actually have great respect for Fernandes' decision because as he explained it, it was first and foremost made with consideration for his family. It's hard to argue with that. Many fans and a lot of us in the media like to talk about "legacy" as though it's some tangible goal that can be easily achieved, but at the end of the day, an athlete must fight for whatever motivates him. For Fernandes, it's the ability to provide for his family in the best possible way. And in his opinion, that means One FC over the UFC.
Certainly, when it comes to an assessment of his professional achievements, his decision will affect him. As with most other divisions, there are a lack of top bantamweights outside of the UFC. His next opponent, Gustavo Falciroli, is not very well known or highly ranked, and a win like that won't help him leap to the top of the divisional rankings. That's the decision he made, and he's OK with it. If he goes around pounding his chest and claiming he's the best 135er in the world, then I'd say he made the wrong call. But if he goes about his business of making fight purses, providing for his family and simply defeating whoever is placed in front of him, then who are we to question his decision? One final thing: let's not close the door on Fernandes to the UFC quite yet. He's still performing well, so he's not out of time.
Thomas: I absolutely think it's the right decision and there are two major reasons for it.
First, I suspect Fernandes would get ultimately get wrecked in the UFC. There are a cadre of clueless MMA fans who desperately cling to the fantasy Fernandes would somehow be some sort of fresh injection into the UFC bantamweight division. Can we please be serious? It's obvious Fernandes has an incredible jiu-jitsu game and I would never suggest he couldn't win in the UFC. I even grant that he could get a decent win over a credible opponent. Anything more than that? I wouldn't bet the remainder of my mortgage on it. Wins over Hiroyuki Takaya, Joe Warren and a Joachim Hansen are nice and don't come easy, but they also don't automatically suggest Fernandes is some sort of world-beater.
Second, Fernandes can likely gain a nice payday even with a smaller organization. He's worth more to the ONE FC than he is UFC, so despite being financially limited relative to the UFC, ONE FC is still likely to offer Fernandes a respectable payday. To be able to earn that kind of money, receive star treatment in a burgeoning market and face very beatable opposition, that's an attractive offer to the right kind of guy. As Mike points out, Fernandes is thinking family first. I completely understand that obligation and begrudge him not even a little for knowingly picking lesser opposition.
Like Mike, I wouldn't rule out Fernandes eventually moving to the UFC. I would just caution everyone to manage their expectations. The cost of fighting in ONE FC and then moving to UFC is a lack of growth from serious challenges. If you think he wouldn't do particularly well in the UFC now (and I do), he'll be in even more trouble down the road.