MMA Rundown #5: Aldo’s Back, McGregor’s Here, And Siver’s Effed

Joseph Waldorf and Chip Melendez (© Greg Savage & Jordan Breen) put on a fantastic fight. But before I get into all of that, here are a few other tidbits I took away from UFC 179.

Can we get some sort of petition going to find Gilbert Burns a more Brazilian sounding name?

Maybe it’s the fault of my subconscious cultural expectations, but I hear “Gilbert Burns” and picture a guy in my head that looks like a young Ving Rhames. For some reason, I don’t think this when I hear “John Lineker”, even though that name sounds just as non-Brazilian. The fact that John Lineker has a non-Brazilian sounding name somehow fits with his other quirks. Gilbert Burns just confuses me. It’s like finding out that Marcus Giles is white all over again. Can we call him Gilberto Burneiro?

Naoyuki Kotani has officially wormed his way onto the prestigious “We need to put a prospect over, let’s drunk dial someone” list.

He’s right up there with Efrain Escudero, Ryan Jensen, Paulo Thiago … it’s a great list. At least those guys had moments in the UFC where they didn’t look completely helpless and overmatched, though. Hell, Ryan Jensen was taking Court McGee to the cleaners before he predictably fell apart. Paulo Thiago has Josh Koscheck making the “Uh oh, dad just came home, and he’s drunk” face.

Naoyuki Kotani? Nope. Nothing. Four fights chock full of him being emasculated, pounded on, tapped, and being removed from his consciousness. If he gets another UFC look, I’m firing off an angry letter to Kotani’s gym.

Phil Davis won, answered a few important questions … and it still wasn’t that great.

On the bright side, the first round of Davis-Teixeira was almost a career saving revelation for Phil. He showed that when he actually commits to throwing punches and staying in the pocket, he can render an opponent inert. I thought he did a great job of keeping constant punching pressure on Teixeira in the first frame, and that served as a great appetizer to the takedown parade that followed. He had never done anything like that before. Before this fight, Phil Davis’s striking game could be boiled down to “Kick the legs and body to set up takedowns, and hope like hell that I can score them, because if not, I’m going to be reduced to a skittish catastrophe that seems terrified of his opponent”. It was an important win for Phil, who needed one in the worst way.

And yet … it wasn’t fun to watch. At all. His punches kept Teixeira on the defensive, but you wouldn’t exactly call them effective offense. They were more akin to a house fly that won’t leave you alone. What I’m trying to say is this: It was a good win for Davis, but it also left you realizing that his ceiling is a notch or two below the top fighters in the division. He can climb and climb, but he won’t reach the mountaintop.

The featherweight division is fast becoming one of the UFC’s most compelling, and it isn’t just because of the Irishman.

A common belief amongst Conor McGregor backers seems to be that because Jose Aldo ditched his conservative style and really opened up against Mendes, that somehow leaves him more vulnerable against a superb offensive striker like McGregor. While I can see the logic behind this argument, I definitely don’t agree with it.

Aldo has a great chin. That has to factor in. Those uppercuts and left hooks Mendes was hitting him with would have KO’d at least half the featherweight division seven days a week and twice on Sunday. Secondly, and I know this is a trite argument, but a motivated Aldo is a more dangerous Aldo. You think 4 months of listening to Conor McGregor talk about how pathetic of a fighter he is isn’t going to fire up an already semi-prickly Aldo? He certainly seemed stoked about fighting Mendes, and the fact that his fifth round was one of his strongest was incredibly telling for a guy who usually hangs on for dear life as the fight gets deeper. Lastly, throwing yourself into the fire is always going to carry with it a certain degree of risk, but Aldo has phenomenal hand speed, counters like a champ, and always has those A+ leg kicks to fall back on if he doesn’t like the way things are going with McGregor in the pocket.

Of course, Conor McGregor has to get past one Dennis Siver in Boston on January 18th. Dennis Siver is a good fighter. I think it’s reasonable to say he’s exceeded expectations when it comes to discussing his UFC career trajectory. This was a guy that was quickly knocked out by Melvin Guillard and quickly armbarred by the immortal Jess Liaudin.

He started winning. A lot. Using his physical power and compact frame, he developed an excellent volume based striking game. One of the things you always notice about a Dennis Siver fight is that he never stops throwing meaningful strikes. His wrestling has evolved over the years, too.

But Conor McGregor is a ghoulish matchup for him, and this, of course, is by design. Conor will use his length to fight Siver’s hands and set up a fight ending strike. Actually, that isn’t specific enough; what’s really going to happen is that Siver is going to walk (or bounce) directly into something terrible. After struggling against a still-green-as-shit Charles Rosa (that’s not a knock on him, by the way … Rosa might be good), I’m supposed to believe that Siver can take McGregor’s precision on the jaw and keep fighting meaningfully? Get lucid. This is a lamb being led to the slaughter.

At least we know Siver won’t be as openly rattled fighting Conor as poor Dustin Poirier was. We know that Conor McGregor won’t be confused with Floyd Mayweather when it comes to defending strikes. We also know that Siver will give it his best go. He won’t back down. And that’s the problem.

Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor, Memorial Day weekend. Book ‘em, Dano.

A Lucid Man’s Thoughts On Michael Bisping

In Michael Bisping’s latest outing, he did things. Impressive things. Un-Michael-Bisping-ian things. Before I tell you what those things are, I need to explain to you how momentous and crazy it is that I’m about to say positive things about Michael Bisping. I’ve never been a big Bisping supporter.

The guy just never seemed to care about how he was perceived by fans. Before every single Michael Bisping fight, 3 things are guaranteed to happen:

1. Bisping will boldly predict a knockout victory for himself, despite the fact that he doesn’t have knockout power. When making this prediction, he will say something intended to belittle or besmirch his opponents’ character, most likely having to do with his opponents sexual preference or manhood quotient.

2. Bisping will act shocked and appalled that his upcoming opponent fired back in response to his grouchy predictions. He will throw his hands up in the air, exasperated, and cry foul. He will then whine about how opponents always go out of their way to trash talk him, despite the fact that he opens himself up for this treatment. He will play the victim, right up until the point that he goes into attack mode again, seemingly unaware that he was just playing the victim. He is a man of contradictions.

3. During all of this, spit will fly out of Bisping’s mouth.

(I don’t know this for a fact, but the nasally, biting tone of his voice and cadence goes hand in hand with the kind of guy who unintentionally spits all over every microphone he gets within 50 feet of. Say it, don’t spray it.)

Then he goes out, moves around, pecks away, doesn’t sit down on his punches, defends takedowns well, and wins a decision that usually leaves you thinking “… What’s the next fight?”

His highlight reel is laden with TKO stoppages and ho-hum decision wins over has-beens, UFC color commentators, guys who quit at the first sign of trouble, guys who broke into churches naked … I mean, almost every UFC stoppage this guy has had ended with someone capitulating. Denis Kang, Jason Day, Jorge Rivera, Jason Miller, Charles McCarthy … it’s just a murderers row of guys who always seem to find different ways to lose.

(Over 200 words later, I’m about to say nice things about Bisping. In fact, I didn’t even mean to go down this road. I guess I’m a reflexive Bisping non-believer.)

And yet, he’s only lost to good fighters. A lot of people thought he deserved to beat Chael Sonnen. He went the distance with a still potent Wanderlei Silva. Henderson KO loss aside, he had never gone out and been dominated from start to finish. He’s a gritty competitor and an excellent takedown defender.

Then he fought Tim Kennedy after a long layoff due to scary eye problems. Kennedy took him down repeatedly, grinded away at him on top, and won an easy decision. It seemed to be the end of the “Michael Bisping, perennial top middleweight” discussion. Bisping looked helpless against Kennedy, and did next to nothing in the way of offense.

So when he fought striker Cung Le, I expected Bisping to either play a fools game on the feet and get kicked by kicks (© Ken Shamrock), or use his underrated wrestling and try to win on points. Cung isn’t a great MMA fighter or anything, but he’s still got a dynamic striking game, the kinds of techniques that could stop Bisping in his tracks. You know … spinny shit.

Bisping BEAT THE SHIT out of Cung Le. He charged forward, roasted his ribs and dome repeatedly with combinations, and had his face looking like Harvey Dent by the time the fight was over.

(Hang on, here’s a few more metaphors. He made Cung Le’s face look like a giant, weathered vagina. It looked like it needed some Tampax and a gentle rubbing. He looked like John Merrick’s vaguely Asian cousin.)

He had never shown a willingness to bite down on his mouthpiece and engage in bloody battle. He just isn’t that kind of fighter. Michael Bisping was always really good at hiding what was usually an athletic disadvantage against his opponents, making the fight ugly and avoiding hanging around in the pocket, lest he catch one on the jaw from his (probably) much stronger foe.

So to see him walk right at a gifted striker and beat him like he owed him money was crazy. It’s not like Cung Le fought a bad fight, either. He didn’t wave the white flag at all. He landed several hard strikes on Bisping, and fought back the entire time he was getting taken to the woodshed. And it just didn’t matter. Who was this man that I was watching? It sure didn’t seem like Michael Bisping, a guy who had spent his last 20 fights in a holding pattern of doing just enough to beat decent fighters and making subpar ones fall on their own swords. But it was.

What to expect next from Michael is anyone’s guess. If you ask him, he still believes he can win the middleweight title someday, a proclamation a bit too preposterous to be taken seriously. The middleweight division has emerged as one of the UFC’s best in recent years, and I don’t see Michael competing meaningfully against the Jacare’s and Weidman’s of the world. But he’s fighting Luke Rockhold next, a guy I would have picked to dominate Bisping as little as 2 months ago. Now, I’m not so sure.

Whatever happens with the rest of his career doesn’t matter to me. What matters is that he always has that Le performance to point to as the moment where I was begrudgingly impressed with him. I used to scream about how Bisping ran away like Carl Lewis and had all the athletic gifts of a box of Tide. But you had your finest hour, Michael Bisping, and I needed to take the time to acknowledge it. Hat tip to you. Enjoy getting predictably pissed at Luke Rockhold. I’ll try to ignore it this time.

UFC 178 Preview: Notorious Ones And Big Questions

UFC 178 is particularly strong (with the usual disclaimer: “On paper!”), so why not bang out a preview? These fights matter. I’ll skip the Fight Pass portion, which will be won by Jon Tuck and Cody Gibson, maybe.

Brian Ebersole vs. John Howard

To give you an idea of how stacked this card is, this fight could have co-headlined that Bader-St. Preux card a few weeks ago. It’s your standard ho-hum undercard fodder here. Brian Ebersole and his manscaping have a bad habit of blowing winnable fights, so look for Howard to continue his improbable second stint in the UFC with a blah decision victory.

Patrick Cote vs. Stephen Thompson

It’s no secret that I’m a bit of a Cote fanboy. This has been true ever since he walked straight through Drew McFedries (one of the hardest hitting human beings who ever lived) hardest shots, knocked him out, and said in his postfight interview, shaking his head “He thought I didn’t hit hard enough.” Tough dude, tough chin, big hitter, big heart. I was in.

The problem is that he’s getting a bit long in the tooth, so to beat Thompson he might want to mix things up by sprinkling in some takedown attempts. Remember, he’d have a TKO loss on his record to the immortal Alessio Sakara if silly old Alessio hadn’t decided to hit him on the back of the head.

I always root for Cote, but Thompson is the better, more versatile striker here. Thompson knocks Cote out in the first round.

James Krause vs. Jorge Masvidal

Whoever wins this fight will catapult himself into a bigger fight, the coveted “Yeah, he’s a top 15-20 lightweight” tier. Fun fact about James Krause: He just beat a man who fought for three minutes on one leg. Fun fact about Jorge Masvidal: He was once floating inverted triangle choked by a man named Toby Imada.

Both guys are well rounded on the feet, and this will most likely be contested there. Masvidal can get a little lax, and Krause’s length and volume kicking game should push him to either wilt or succeed with counter attacks. Give me James Krause in a 29-28 squeaker.

Dominick Cruz vs. Takeya Mizugaki

Well, holy freaking smokes. Look who decided to make it all the way to fight week without tearing his groin or blowing an Achilles tendon mowing the lawn. Dom’s going to make it to fight night, right? I sincerely hope he doesn’t get knocked out by some errant baggage that falls from the overhead bin. The last time Dominick Cruz fought, people were still hyping up Mitt Romney as the Next Big Thing.

Jokes aside, all the questions that have been asked a million times apply here in spades. Will a long layoff, coupled with several devastating lower body injuries impede Cruz’s ability to, well, fight like himself? Will he be able to plant his feet comfortably and move laterally? These are huge questions.

Before Dom makes his triumphant UFC return, lets all tip our caps to the always serviceable Takeya Mizugaki for his impressive streak. Even when he loses, he always puts on an entertaining fight. His aggression in recent fights suggests that it’s definitely possible that he could land a big straight right and knock Cruz senseless.

Cruz will probably take a decision here, and then he’ll go on to fight TJ Dillashaw in a fight that might set the record for total steps taken inside the octagon. But realistically, who the hell knows? Who really knows? I’m pumped to find out.

Amanda Nunes vs. Cat Zingano

I enjoy Cat Zingano. Her stoppage of the always underwhelming Meisha Tate was particularly cold and brutal. However, that was eons ago. Since then, Cat has lost her husband to suicide, and had to deal with multiple injuries as well.

She takes on Amanda Nunes, who never met a gas pedal she couldn’t throw a brick on top of. I see this as a struggle between two strong women, real cloud-of-dust, holy-shit-this-is-a lot-of-action-to-call type stuff. I select Zingano to come out on top by TKO.

Tim Kennedy vs. Yoel Romero

God, this card is awesome. The hits just keep on coming. Anyway, Timmy Kennedy takes on chronic pants-shitter Yoel Romero, in a fight that is truly a clash of styles.

Kennedy will look to put Romero on his back, and I see him being able to do that, at least some of the time. The problem will come when he tries to hold the springy, athletic Romero down. Romero could always have a brainfart and get tapped, but I see him being able to keep it on the feet often.

From there, I like Romero. Kennedy is a solid, if uninspiring, striker. He can absolutely put your lights out if you fight stupid and circle into his power hand, but he’s pretty nuts and bolts on the feet. Romero, on the other hand, is a wild, jumpy dynamo. He’s good at leaping in and out with big punches, and is always a threat to uncork a picturesque flying knee. More than that, he always seems so relaxed on the feet, like there’s no place on the planet he’d rather be.

This is a tough one to call, and it has “29-28 split decision that pisses a lot of people off” written all over it. My gut says Kennedy ends up on top enough to convince two judges that he’s the victor. Kennedy by decision.

Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier

You know, even though Conor was trying to be edgy and snarky by saying that Poirier “isn’t a step up in competition” for him, he was sort of accidentally right. Poirier is a perennial top ten featherweight, a guy always eager to put on a barnburner.

The thing is, Conor McGregor is a terrible matchup for him. Awful. Nightmarish. If you said “We have this guy we want to promote until giving him a title shot is justified, and we want to find a good fighter to essentially put him over by going down in flames while fighting his ass off the entire time” … I mean, Dustin Poirier is that guy, right?

Poirier just gets hit too much. He lives by the sword, and he dies by the sword. McGregor should really be able to open up on the feet with his acrobatic karate techniques and above average boxing combos, and if the fight hits the floor (where McGregor is no slouch, by the way. McGregor detractors like to scream “Just put him on his back, where he hasn’t been tested!” like he’s Lavar Johnson on the ground or something. He’s solid on the floor.), I see Conor being able to handle himself. He’s got to watch out for Poirier’s A+ brabo choke, and if Poirier finds some momentum, he could really get rolling. It seems far more likely that McGregor hands Poirier his first TKO loss, though. McGregor by TKO, followed by a title shot sometime next spring. If you don’t think he’s fighting for the title if he wins this, you are insane, and a danger to yourself and others. Get lucid.

Eddie Alvarez vs. Donald Cerrone

Jesus! This card. I’m about to pass out. I know that praising a card for being stacked on paper can be dangerous, but look at these matchups. Is there any way Alvarez and Cerrone put on a snoozer? Seriously, is there any way? I’d love to hear theories.

At long last, Edward Alvarez makes his UFC debut, against the “I really need money, can I just fight every week?” vibes of one Donald Cerrone. Both guys get dropped a lot, both guys are aggressive, dynamic strikers, and I could see either guy getting TKO’d by the other.

Alvarez is a tougher wrestler, though Cerrone has improved tons in that department. I know I’m predicting grandiose things for what seems like every fight on this card, but I see a tit-for-tat striking war here, where both guys might have to “dig deep” and “show tremendous heart”. Dudes are gonna get connected on here. The kicks and punches will be flying, Eddie and Donald will make some faces, someone will get hit with a big killshot, and someone will follow up with punches on the floor and get a TKO stoppage. That someone will be Donald Cerrone. By TKO, round three.

Demetrious Johnson vs. Chris Cariaso

Wait, is that a misprint? Huh? Why are all of these reputable MMA media sites reporting that Chris Cariaso is fighting for the flyweight title? There must be some mistake. That simply can’t be true.

It’s true? This thing is gonna happen? Huh. Strange world. Um, instead of complaining about this being one of the lamest title shots in MMA history, I’m just going to hype this as an opportunity to watch Mighty Mouse do his thing. People feel cheated when a movie is great but the ending sucks, and that’s not entirely fair.

Mighty Mouse does whatever he wants to Cariaso. I just hope he comes out aggressive and finishes him, because to see him give Cariaso the “Sakuraba doesn’t know how to beat Gilles Arsene while still seeming like a nice guy” treatment would be disappointing. In a way, there’s a lot of pressure on DJ here, at least in my eyes. He needs to finish Cariaso, or he’ll be perceived as a boring champion. Cariaso isn’t a terrible fighter or anything, and he won’t be a pushover. But DJ’s waaaaaay too much for him. DJ by submission, round four.

Enjoy the fights. It’d be hard not to.