What 'G' means for MMA, Lashley's potential, and much more

Monday March 23rd, 2009

With a break in the major MMA action, it's time we dip into the mailbag.

From Georges St. Pierre's latest marketing endeavor and his ongoing (and, quite frankly, ridiculous) feud with B.J. Penn, to Rashad Evans' chances in his first defense, here are your answers.

What do you think Georges St. Pierre's new Gatorade sponsorship means for him and MMA?-- Joe B., Winnipeg, Canada

In case people missed it, on Friday, Gatorade announced St. Pierre is among six Canadian sports figures, including Gordie Howe, set to appear in commercials as part of a new ad campaign that will run during the NHL playoffs.

St. Pierre, the current UFC welterweight champion and 2008 Canadian Athlete Of The Year, according to SportsNet, is the first mixed martial artist to land a spot in support of the sports drink giant, which is in the midst of trying to freshen up its brand.

You can take the news as one more sign of MMA's growth, especially in fight-crazy Canada. While Gatorade owns North American rights to run the spots, for now the company is scheduled to air them only north of the border. If the ads, which include some of the biggest icons in sport, get shown in the U.S., it'll certainly be a boost to the 27-year-old St. Pierre, the UFC and to MMA, in general.

Looking at the big picture, I take this to mean elite fighters can -- and are beginning to -- transcend the sport (including the UFC) to a place where they'll be recognizable to mainstream audiences. For purposes of negotiation, this can be incredibly powerful, and it will be interesting to see how, and if, sponsorships like this can propel fighter popularity and purses.

That said, St. Pierre won't capitalize any time soon. He signed an eight-fight extension with the UFC prior to stopping B.J. Penn at UFC 94.

What did you make of Bobby Lashley's win over Jason Guida? Lashley may want to be the next Brock Lesnar, but I haven't seen anything to suggest he can be.-- Eric Simmons, Detroit

He's not Lesnar. At least, not yet. But really, no one with two fights should be expected to be one of MMA's best. It's unrealistic and unfair. With time and experience, who's to say how good Lashley will be? He deserves a chance to grow as a fighter, and he can do that right now fighting the Jason Guidas of the world. Give the guy at least half a year before demanding a big step up in competition. It'll come soon enough.

How about you write the definitive piece on "Greasegate" and try to put this issue to bed since the NSAC didn't.-- D.J. Amis, Atlanta, Ga.

I'm as over it as you are. Penn and his camp are claiming "reform" as the reason for continuing down the path they've marched since St. Pierre smashed him at the end of January. During Tuesday's meeting in front of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Penn continued to allege use of not only Vaseline by G.S.P., but also other products that would, in theory, make the UFC welterweight champion slippery and difficult to corral.

Penn asked the NSAC to institute new measures of prevention and detection, such as pre-fight showers and testing fighters' sweat. Inspectors already shadow fighters competing in Nevada. They're patted and wiped down prior to heading into the cage. And their corner is watched during the fight.

It's clear the NSAC doesn't have anything definitive to use against G.S.P., otherwise it would have come down hard on him. Despite what some of the UFC welterweight champion's vanquished foes are saying well after the fact, the NSAC has never had an issue with St. Pierre prior to the Jan. 31 fight. Try as Penn might to pin a history of greasing on St. Pierre, the evidence supporting that claim doesn't seem to exist -- unless the NSAC is just inept and missed it each time he fought in Vegas.

Considering Penn is willing to allow an NSAC-appointed official to apply Vaseline to his face between rounds, the Hawaiian clearly doesn't believe the commission is incompetent or out of touch. (And for the record, I'm not crazy about the idea. This would be like NASCAR hiring and managing pit crews instead of the drivers and their teams.)

Do you honestly think Rashad Evans can beat Rampage?-- GBR, Philadelphia

From my perspective, Evans can beat Rampage, and do so easier than most imagine possible. Lyoto Machida, however, is something else entirely.

I've heard some people suggest the May title fight could be boring. Boy, I don't see it. It'll be tactically brilliant, and in my book, that's often more compelling than two guys standing in front of one another playing rock 'em, sock 'em.

Evans is the best fighter Machida will have faced. Likewise, Machida is the best defensive fighter Evans will have faced. This is my most anticipated fight of the first half of 2009. And if given the choice to watch Evans-Machida or Mir-Lesnar, I'd take the light heavyweight contest every time.

You seem to be trumpeting Gray Maynard pretty hard. What do you see that you like so much? Who do you see presenting him problems?"-- Greg E., Sarasota, Fla.

He's only fought professionally seven times, but with each fight, Maynard gets better and better. He's quiet, goes about his business and, above all, he wins. He reminds me a lot of WEC featherweight champ Mike Thomas Brown, though Maynard's less submission-savvy at this stage of his career.

I'd take someone that can match-up physically with Maynard and wrestle him. While there are fighters in the UFC that fit this bill -- Sean Sherk or TysonGriffin, for example -- one name keeps popping in my head as someone who has the potential to give Maynard a go. Problem is, he'll probably never get a shot. As much as Antonio McKee is maligned for a style that makes drying paint seem exciting, all he's done pretty much is win via wrestling and control. McKee (22-3-2) isn't a world-beater. But he does out-wrestle and out-work nearly everyone he fights. Of his 22 wins, 17 have come by way of decision. I wonder if he could do the same to Maynard.

I'd like to see the Xtreme Couture-trained Maynard fight from his back, or at least be forced into a contest where he can't entirely dictate what happens. It'll happen soon enough, I'm sure. But for now, yes, I think pretty highly of his prospects.

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