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MMA Roundtable: Superfights, Liz Carmouche, Struve vs. Hunt, and screwball politicians


A new name gets thrown into the superfight speculation mix. Results of last week's events are examined and rehashed. The next fight cards wind their way down the conveyor belt. And a brand-new screwball politician comes screaming out of the woodwork to make ridiculous claims about our fair and noble sport.

Sounds like it's time for another edition of The MMA Roundtable. This time around, the MMAFighting Pacific Division checks in, as my Arizona-based compadre Shaun Al-Shatti teams up with your humble Los Angeles-based scribe to tackle this week's pressing issues.

So without further ado, on to the Roundtable:

1. In light of this week's news, which one of these five hypothetical match-ups do you consider most compelling for the next major UFC championship fight: Henderson-GSP, Henderson-Aldo, Henderson-Pettis II, Melendez-Aldo, Melendez-Pettis?

Al-Shatti: To start, all due respect to Gilbert Melendez, but he doesn't factor into the equation here. If we're already past the point of caring about little things like weight classes and divisional rankings, Benson Henderson versus any of these three men is a goldmine for the UFC. It also says something to Henderson's versatility that we're sitting here discussing him fighting: A.) the former No. 1 lightweight contender, B.) the greatest featherweight ever, and, C.) the greatest welterweight ever. Not too shabby of a list.

Dana White already squashed it, but that Henderson called out St-Pierre in the first place is surprising, though not overly if you've ever heard the man speak. He simply craves challenges, and from a general standpoint, fighting an opponent bigger than you is a much greater challenge than one smaller. Plus there's the whole aspect of St-Pierre being one of the biggest pay-per-view draws in the UFC. I'm sure that didn't hurt. After headlining two straight FOX shows, who could blame Henderson for wanting a piece of that sweet, sweet pay-per-view pie.

But while Henderson-GSP or Henderson-Aldo would be both fascinating stylistic contrasts (and guaranteed ‘Fight of the Year' candidates), I still can't help but lean towards Henderson-Pettis II as my fight of choice -- and not for any idealistic belief about the sanctity of fairness or rankings, because it's obvious those have been thrown out of the window by now. Simply put, I was cageside for WEC 53, and Henderson-Pettis was the single greatest sporting moment I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing live.

Neither man's life has been the same since, and whether they'll admit it or not, each one thinks about the other on a weekly basis. If a 23-year-old Pettis and a 26-year-old Henderson were able to put on such an electric performance three years ago, it's a salivating proposition to consider what sort of fireworks could be on display now.

Doyle: My first thought when I heard about the potential for a Aldo-Pettis fight, right after they announced Henderson vs. Melendez, was that they're in some way positioning themselves for a sort of superfight tournament, with the winners of Aldo-Pettis and Henderson-Melendez squaring off.

I wouldn't be as blithe as Shaun to dismiss Melendez's prospects. If Melendez can knock off a prime Henderson on network television, he becomes a player.

But that said, in terms of which of the listed fights I'd like to see, Henderson-Aldo and Henderson-Pettis really is a coin flip for me. If Henderson and Aldo both win, we'll have the truest superfight we've seen in a long time. The last real title vs. title superfight, GSP vs. B.J. Penn, came at a time when the guy moving up, Penn, hadn't cleaned out lightweight. But in this case, Aldo has been untouchable at 145 pounds and would have defeated both a former UFC lightweight champion in Frankie Edgar and a former WEC champ in Pettis, back-to-back. The timing would never be better for Aldo to challenge the lightweight champ. As for Henderson-Pettis, Shaun already explained the appeal, no need for me to expound further.

I'll have to part ways with Shaun, though, on whether Hendo has earned a superfight with St-Pierre. Not yet, and not if he defeats Melendez, either. If GSP is looking to make a superfight, Anderson Silva is going to mean a lot more money to him at this point than Henderson. If Henderson can defeat Melendez, and then the winner of Aldo-Pettis? Then he's in the picture for a GSP superfight. But simply beating Melendez in a division as deep as lightweight doesn't quite get you there.

2. Ronda Rousey got the bulk of the attention last week, but Liz Carmouche also made herself a star last week, both in the buildup to UFC 157 and by delivering on fight night. What should be next for Carmouche?

Doyle: The Liz Carmouche who shined through in the UFC Primetime series and through the fight is the same Liz I got to know when I spent a couple days at the San Diego Combat Academy over the summer. She's as genuine and authentic a person as you can hope to meet meet. Her earnest, straightforward, no-nonsense demeanor is similar to her fellow Marine, Brian Stann. Add to that a happy-go-lucky streak and her ability to deliver exciting fights in the cage, and you've got a fighter with a bright future.

Now that Rousey has been established as a pay-per-view draw, I say the next step in helping grow the women's side of the sport is to have Carmouche's next fight, whomever her opponent may be, get showcased as a FOX main-card bout. Casual fans, the ones you need to tune in and make FOX shows a ratings success, already know Carmouche as "that chick who almost beat Ronda Rousey." Time to capitalize on that fame. If the winner of Miesha Tate vs. Cat Zingano is getting the next shot at Rousey's title, maybe Carmouche should get the Tate-Zingano loser. Or, if the timing doesn't work out on that one, a fight with Julie Kedzie, who also has a reputation for exciting matches, has the potential to be a ratings winner.

Al-Shatti: UFC 157 was the probably the first glimpse of a Liz Carmouche fight for a majority of non-hardcore MMA fans, and she really couldn't have asked for a better outcome; reviving a fading pay-per-view and nearly derailing an immense Ronda Rousey hype train. Whether that performance resulted in Carmouche becoming a "star" remains to be seen. I have significant doubts she could co-headline a pay-per-view or fight in FUEL TV main event without the UFC hearing some serious grumbles.

That said, aside from Miesha Tate, Carmouche positioned herself as the biggest non-Rousey draw in the UFC's new women's division. That certainly counts for something considering how low her profile was just a few months ago.

A FOX main card bout seems ambitious, but it all boils to how committed the UFC is to actually growing the division outside of Rousey. And while fighting the loser of Tate-Zingano makes sense -- plus emulates the formula Sean Shelby employed with the flyweights -- I'd personally like to see Carmouche battle either Julie Kedzie or Alexis Davis next, maybe as an opener on a pay-per-view. Each of those two match-ups have ‘Fight of the Night' written all over them.

3. Does the winner of this weekend's Stefan Struve vs. Mark Hunt battle deserve consideration for a UFC heavyweight title shot?

Al-Shatti: At first glance the answer seems to be a resounding, ‘no.' But take a gander at the official UFC heavyweight rankings and it suddenly doesn't seem too far-fetched, especially in the case of Stefan Struve. If "Skyscraper" finishes Mark Hunt -- only one of the Dutchman's 25 wins have come via decision, so that's not implausible by any stretch -- it would put him on a five-fight winning streak against middle to upper-middle tier competition, with five finishes and at least three post-fight bonuses. No other heavyweight can make that claim.

Hunt's case would be a little shakier -- four straight wins including Tuchscherer, Rothwell and Kongo -- though you never know when that whole ‘Rally for Mark Hunt' campaign will come soaring back.

Honestly, what helps Struve and Hunt the most is the fact that the heavyweight division is painfully devoid of contenders right now. Daniel Cormier won't fight Cain Velasquez. Alistair Overeem's Mortal Kombat knockout is still fresh in everyone's mind. And it's too soon for a JDS-Velasquez rubber match unless the UFC is planning on making it a best-of-5 series, considering both men are just now approaching their prime and the loser would forever be trapped in the dreaded Rich Franklin Zone, hovering at the top of the division with no chance for advancement.

The only other viable option is Fabricio Werdum, who fights Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira two weeks after Velasquez rematches Silva. The timetables match up and Werdum is certainly a credible opponent, so he'd have a firm case for a title shot if he defeats "Big Nog." But if Werdum stumbles, and chaos ensues, I wouldn't mind seeing Saturday's winner either get the shot, or be one fight away.

Doyle: I don't think either guy qualifies for a title shot based off beating the other. But Struve would be closer to a title shot than Hunt. No doubt Struve's impressed in his recent fights and he looks better and better each time out. But he's yet to beat a top-10 fighter. A win over Hunt wouldn't change that status. Struve could very well be on his way to a title shot, but he's best served with a slow and steady build at this point. He's 24, he's still maturing, there's no huge rush. If he defeats Hunt, which I suspect he will, then he should get a match with a mid-top-10 fighter, and if he passes that test, one more fight with one of the real heavy hitters.

But then, who knows? Maybe everything will sort of fall apart the way things did with the middleweight contenders over the past few months. Maybe Overeem spoils the Velasquez-JDS trilogy fight. Maybe Werdum is upset by Nogueira, and Cormier thrashes Mir and then goes on to fight Jon Jones. That would leave Struve as the Weidman of the bunch. But that's a stretch.

4. A South Dakota state legislator referred to MMA as sports' version of child porn in his attempt to get the MMA banned in the state. Can you believe we're still hearing this sort of thing in 2013?

Doyle: In one way, it's astounding. But in another, it actually shows how far mixed martial arts has progressed.

Fifteen years ago, it was one of the nation's highest-profile Senators, John McCain, who was railing against MMA, and media behemoths like The New York Times following suit. Now the anti-MMA forces have been reduced to unions with obvious agendas and political fruitcakes. Have you seen this Looney Tunes character, Steve Hickey, who is comparing MMA to child porn? On his Twitter page, which has fewer than 450 followers (I won't do him the favor of a link to the page), his head is imposed on a comic-book superhero. If nutjobs like these are the only people still in the way of the sport, then I'd say this battle has more or less been won.

Seriously though ... for the sake of the people of South Dakota, someone get Hickey some help. This is a man who looks at a sporting event engaged between elite, adult athletes of their own free will, and somehow equates this to the sexual victimization of minors. That is deeply disturbing. Rather than banning MMA, perhaps the South Dakota legislature would be better served by passing a law requiring anyone looking to run for public office in the state to submit to a battery of psychological exams before their names are added to the ballot.

Al-Shatti: Preach, Dave. Preach. Before I present Hickey's grand argument, I should probably let you know that this is the same man who responded to CagePotato's Seth Falvo by penning the Shakespearean line: "Let me ask you Seth, who would Jesus elbow in the face?" Italics, his. No joke.

Now let's dive right into this whole "child porn" thing, shall we. (First time I've ever written that sentence. Hopefully the last.) Per Hickey's blog:

"You know how porn progresses... a peek at topless isn't enough, it all has to come off, then a pic is not enough... it goes to video then to virtual and then to the devaluation and mistreatment of women, human trafficking and sex crimes against women. Violence works the same way. Boxing wasn't enough so they allowed kicking, kneeing people in the head, then elbows to the face, then they put a cage around it. The point is to knock the other guy unconscious while pay per view crowds cheer it on. Why not nunchucks [sic]? In Rome they'd gather in colosseums [sic] and bring out prisoners and entertain themselves by making them fight to the death. That wasn't enough so they brought out the helpless and the hated and brought in the hungry lions. Crowds cheered."

As if that ham-fisted, sensationalistic, semi-coherent collection of spelling and grammar errors wasn't enough, Hickey went on to invoke the legalization of meth labs in his argument, because Frankie Edgar is obviously one step away replacing Walter White. Ultimately, ignoring the utter laziness of his comparisons and the very minimal knowledge base with which he's working, it says something about MMA's progress as a sport that professional trolls like Hickey are the worst we have to left to deal with.

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