Mailbag: Heavyweights in limelight; Carwin-Dos Santos thoughts; more
Big guys bring big excitement. That's not to say a heavyweight bout is necessarily more entertaining than one in a lighter-weight division. In fact, the opposite is more often the case -- the smaller fighters tend to be the fitter fighters, the quicker and more mobile fighters, the more skilled fighters with a more versatile array of those skills.
But fans get most wound up when a couple of man mountains face off. This is the case not just in mixed martial arts but in boxing as well. Think there's a buzz surrounding a yes-no-maybe Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. clash? It's nothing compared to what we'd be experiencing if the top two guys in the sport were heavyweights. Maybe that's because we watch men fight to see who's the toughest of the tough, not just the so-called pound-for-pound best. No matter whether you favor "Pacman" or "Money," you know deep down that neither would emerge as boxing's alpha male if he were to step in the ring with one of the how-do-you-say-
In MMA, most P4P lists are topped by either UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva or welterweight titlist Georges St-Pierre. But could you imagine what would happen to either of them if locked in a cage with heavyweight belt holder Cain Velasquez?
It is against this backdrop that I submit that fight fans are immersed in a charmed week. On Saturday, Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem fights for the first time in the Heavyweight Grand Prix, an ambitious multi-event tournament that has brought together the promotion's top eight heavies. The tourney favorite, Fedor Emelianenko, is already out, having been eliminated back in February by, yup, a bigger guy. That puts the spotlight even more squarely on Overeem and his shot at redemption against Fabricio Werdum, who won their first matchup back in 2006 -- when Alistair was, you got it, not as big as he is now.
I'm not saying it's all about size. The other Grand Prix matchup this weekend pits 250-pound Josh Barnett against Brett Rodgers, a 265-pounder. Barnett will give up not just a little size but probably some strength as well. But he's favored to advance.
The charmed week for fans of heavy hitting actually began last Saturday at UFC 131, where we saw Junior dos Santos and Shane Carwin fight for the right to challenge Velasquez for his title. We even got to see Cain step into the Octagon and stand face to face with the evening's dominant winner, dos Santos, although just for a moment.
It was enough of a moment for us to start getting hot under the collar in anticipation of their fall showdown.
I'm sure I'll be hearing from readers about that bout as it gets closer, and I'll get to weigh in with my own big thoughts. But let's begin this mailbag with a question about last weekend's main event, which many had predicted would be shorter than the fighter introductions. I was among those who gave the bout no chance to last a full round, much less go the distance. (Oops.) On top of that, I also picked Carwin. (Did I say "Oops" already?) But reader Eric wrote me to zero in on a particular aspect of the fight not ending in the first round ...
I agree that Carwin did appear defenseless during the barrage, Eric, but clearly he had not had enough. He lasted two more rounds. You can argue that the first-round pounding took so much out of Shane that he had nothing left, but Junior sure didn't fight like he thought that was the case. He continued to keep his distance, never allowing Carwin to close within range of landing a big shot that could change the balance of power in an instant. Dos Santos simply was too quick, too precise with his punches, too disciplined for Carwin to contend with.
And dos Santos acknowledged afterward that the look he shot at referee Herb Dean late in the first round, as he paused between unloading big left hands on a seemingly vulnerable Carwin, was not so much about fearing for his opponent as it was fearing for his own stamina. He was tired, his overworked arms especially. And sure enough, a few moments after Dean just stared back at him, dos Santos backed away and shook out his beefy forearms. That allowed Carwin to survive to the horn. It also ensured dos Santos of not punching himself out.
Dean is as judgmentally sound a ref as there is in MMA. He was right on top of the fighters. He could see things that those watching at cageside could not, things that those watching on big-screen high-definition sets missed. I once heard either Dean or the sport's other top ref, "Big" John McCarthy, say that when a fighter appears to be defenseless, he looks into the guy's eyes to see if he can -- and wants to -- continue. Dean must have seen something in Carwin's eyes. I trust him on that.
Hey, don't mess with Guida's hair. It's one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the MMA World. But I think there more to Clay than what meets the comb. I didn't see his strategy against Pettis as "totally defensive." He was the aggressor in a bout against a guy who typically takes it to his opponents. And Clay's tireless attack succeeded putting Pettis on his back, something past opponents -- some of them accomplished wrestlers -- have been unable to do.
Once on top of "Showtime," Guida didn't try anything flashy but simply continued to work busily, just like you'd expect from a guy nicknamed "The Carpenter." Some of what you called humping, Russ, was Guida driving a shoulder into his opponent's face, which was a form of ground-and-pound that's safer than rearing back with a big punch, opening yourself for all sorts of submission attempts.
OK, the "most exciting lightweight" label is a stretch, but Guida is not the first fighter to use a little hyperbole in his self-promotion. And if I were a fighter, you know what would most excite me? Winning. The Mavericks didn't have as many fancy dunks as the South Beach Talents in the NBA Finals, but no one in Dallas is complaining. I see fighters like Guida much the same way. Entertainment has its place, but that's not how I measure success.
I've got to ask you, Larry, are you Jim's next-door neighbor there in Whippany? Did you sit behind him in homeroom for four years of high school? Are you his barber, his butcher, his best friend? I'm not questioning your objectivity -- well, I guess I am. What I should say is I'm not questioning your judgment. I hold Jim Miller in the highest regard as a fighter, too. And it's not just because I'm a Jersey boy, either.
It's no disrespect to Miller that he hasn't broken into the SI.com lightweight rankings, which have room only for three: the two fighters who have beaten him, the undefeated Maynard and UFC champion (and fellow Garden State guy) Frankie Edgar, as well as Melendez, the Strikeforce champ. If we listed a No. 4, Miller would be the one. It's fair to debate Jim vs. Gilbert for No. 3, though, and you could even toss Eddie Alvarez into the mix, even though Bellator is a step down in competition.
Jim's time will come. If he beats former WEC champ Ben Henderson in August, UFC president Dana White has declared, Miller will be first in line to face the survivor of Edgar-Maynard III, whenever that injury-delayed bout finally happens. So Larry, tell the people of Whippany to be patient.
Everything you say sounds perfectly logical, Trevor, but there's one factor you didn't account for: What Fedor will show up next month? After a decade of invulnerability, he's lost his last two bouts. At 34, with 35 professional fights under his belt, has age caught up to Emelianenko? Or was he, like Curly Howard, a victim of circumstances in his most recent fights? In the first loss, a year ago to Fabricio Werdum, Fedor fell prey to superior jiu-jitsu. Then, in February in a first-round bout in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, he was overwhelmed by a bigger man, Antonio Silva.
Against Henderson, Emelianenko will be the bigger man. He won't have to worry about being choked out. And he'll be the younger man, at least when measured purely by years. Hendo, however, has shown he has something left at age 40. Will it be enough to hand Fedor a third straight loss? I suspect not, but I'll sure be watching to see for myself.
Dana is like one of those Camels your uncle used to smoke back in the day: a little coarse and totally unfiltered. The UFC president says what he means, but when he thinks about it a little, he often says something else. That was the case with his reaction to Mir's performance at UFC 130. Initially, White expressed dissatisfaction with both Mir and Nelson for a lackluster bout, but later he amended his assessment, shifting most of the blame onto Roy, deservedly so.
But as for your comparison of Mir and dos Santos, Tony, you can't be seriously suggesting they deserve to be viewed as equals. Dos Santos has ripped through everyone he's met in the UFC, with the exception of Nelson, who was in better shape for that bout than he was for the Mir fight. Frank, on the other hand, is a former champ but has been destroyed twice within the last two years, by Carwin and Brock Lesnar. His win over Mirko CroCop was a snoozer. At this point, he's way down the food chain from dos Santos.
Normally, Tim, I'd dismiss an e-mail like this as a cheap shot. I mean, questioning the guy's sanity? But you might very well be on to something. Sonnen's actions have seemed to go beyond simple rule breaking. However, is it the commission's role to take care of fighters, or simply to license them? It seems to me this falls on Chael's employer, and the UFC has stood behind the guy, giving him the space to get his life together. Here's hoping he gets the help he needs.