November 16, 2009

From Randy Couture's controversial win over Brandon Vera, to Dan Hardy's chances against the dominant Georges St. Pierre,'s Josh Gross and MMA FanHouse's Michael David Smith had a lot to talk about. Here's what the experts had to say about the UFC's recent card in the Manchester.

This was the third consecutive Zuffa main event that ends with all three judges seeing it differently than the majority of fans and media members seemed to see it. Is that bad for the sport?

Josh Gross: Yes. Nothing will impede MMA's growth faster than fans feeling jilted after investing time, money and energy in watching a fight ruined by poor judging. Need proof? Listen to complaints from boxing fans over the years. The explanation for boxing's poor decisions has often been tied to the idea of corruption, which seems to be romanticized some in boxing lore, but it occurred to me as an observer of MMA's troubles that perhaps boxing judges are simply as incompetent, or, at least, victim of the similar foibles. I mean, many of the same people are doing the critiquing these days.

This was an important enough topic 18 months ago that I decided to focus on it for it my first feature on The situation has worsened, but not by much. It's always been bad. Though, now, there's a much brighter light on the outcomes, and much higher stakes for everyone involved. I'll be interested to see in 2010 how effective the Association of Boxing Commissions, the state-government run agencies in charge of combat spots, are in trying to educate their members. They could start by e-mailing around Mike Chiappetta's breakdown of the Randy Couture-Brandon Vera decision. For what it's worth, I had it 29-28 Vera. Couture earned the first, Vera the second and third.

Michael David Smith: I think you're right: The worst thing that can happen to MMA is for everyone to be talking about the judges, not the fighters, after big events. It makes it a lot less fun to be a fan if you think fights are being decided by incompetent judges, rather than by the fighters themselves. I get e-mails from fans who are convinced that judges are influenced by promoters, or even from fans who adamantly believe that fights are fixed. I don't think it's a matter of corruption, though; I just think judging is a tough task and a lot of judges aren't up to the task.

What's next for Randy Couture? Could he face the winner of Tito Ortiz-Forrest Griffin, or of Rashad Evans-Thiago Silva? Is it realistic to think he would ever be a serious contender for the light heavyweight belt?

Smith: Couture said that for the rest of his career he wants "interesting" fights. My feeling is that, at age 46, he's just not good enough to beat the opponents he's going to find interesting. Couture has suggested that he wants opponents like Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Lyoto Machida or Anderson Silva, and I don't think he's on that level.

Couture and the UFC can make plenty of money with Couture stepping into the Octagon against opponents like Ortiz, Mark Coleman or Chuck Liddell, and I think we'll see him fight at least one of those three in 2010. But I don't think it's realistic to think he can contend for a title again. Every athlete gets old eventually, and it's finally happening to the ageless Randy Couture.

Gross: Couture looked substantially better at 205 than I imagined, considering three years had passed since he had to make the weight. The win, as controversial as it was, means we'll probably have an answer to the contender question soon enough. Do I make him a favorite over Shogun, Lyoto or Anderson? No. Do I think he's out of his league against those guys? Almost, but not quite. Couture showed just enough on Saturday to indicate to me he still has some spirit in reserves.

Since I doubt he would agree to fight Forrest unless a title was on the line, a rematch with Ortiz (presuming he wins at UFC 106) makes the most sense. If not, there's a whole catalog of qualified, "interesting" light heavyweights JoeSilva can choose from.

Is Dan Hardy worthy of being the No. 1 contender at 170 pounds in the UFC? What kind of shot does he have against Georges St. Pierre?

Gross: In the UFC, yeah, probably. After Paul Daley squashed MartinKampmann, it's hard to say otherwise. Jon Fitch deserves another shot, and I'm sure he'll get it. But for now, Hardy is the guy, and mainly because GeorgesSt. Pierre says so. He's told us when he found a challenger lacking, right?

Does the 27-year-old Brit have a shot? As much as anyone else it seems. He's an accurate power puncher who can counter. That makes him slightly dangerous. Of course, with St. Pierre, it comes down to wrestling. Top-shelf guys have no shot of staying off their back. It's difficult to imagine Hardy is the guy that shuts down G.S.P.

Smith: Hardy certainly has a gift for throwing punches, and I suppose he has a shot at landing the right punch at the right time, but I envision a fight between Hardy and G.S.P. going a lot like G.S.P.'s last three fights: He'll negate what his challenger does best and win every round of a very one-sided fight.

That's not to say Hardy doesn't deserve the shot, though. There really isn't a better option in the UFC right now, as all the other top welterweights have already had their chance and lost to the champion. Hardy is as deserving as anyone else at the moment in a division where the champion has distanced himself from all the challengers.

Do you see Michael Bisping as a fighter who could work his way up to title contention, or is he mostly just a guy who draws well for the UFC in the UK?

Smith: I was impressed with Bisping's showing against Denis Kang. I thought he might come into the fight still feeling the psychological effects of his brutal knockout loss to Dan Henderson, and that he might look tentative and overly cautious. But after Kang beat him up in the first round, I liked the way Bisping came alive in the second and won the fight.

Having said that, I do think Bisping's real value to the UFC is an ability to draw in England, not an ability to compete at a high level. He's not on my list of the top 10 middleweights in MMA, and I wouldn't give him a very good chance of beating anyone who is on the list. I think the UFC will continue to market him in the UK and carefully pick opponents he has a good chance of beating, but I don't think he'll be a middleweight title contender.

Gross: Bisping won in Manchester because a mentally weak Denis Kang lost his wind. If Kang was in any kind of shape, he would have eventually beat Bisping's guard. But that didn't happen. Bisping deserves some credit. The Brit refused to cede position, and he neatly placed Kang back in his guard several times.

There is a lot to like about Bisping's game, but attitude and aggression won't carry the day versus the best middleweights in the world. I don't see it as impossible that one day he'll fight his way into a title shot. For the most part, though, I'm with you, MDS. I think he sells a lot of tickets in the UK, and therein lies his real value as a mixed martial artist.

Which recent lightweight winner from The Ultimate Fighter is the better prospect: Efrain Escudero or Ross Pearson?

Gross: Two serious, young, interesting prospects. Pearson was impressive in Manchester against Aaron Riley -- he needed to be considering the long in the tooth opponent.

Of the two, I prefer Escudero. He's two years younger, undefeated (12-0), and has that wrestling base which seems to support so many great fighters. I'm quite interested in Escudero's upcoming bout against the unblemished Evan Dunham.

Smith: I'd take Pearson over Escudero. I was extremely impressed with Pearson's striking on Saturday, and I was also impressed with his confidence: The UFC didn't hand Pearson an easy opponent, but he approached that fight like he had ever expectation of dominating. I like Escudero a lot (and I agree with you that Escudero-Dunham is a big fight that should establish the winner as one of the real up-and-comers in the lightweight division). But, overall, I consider Pearson the superior fighter.


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