By Josh Gross
August 24, 2009

With a little more than a week remaining in what has been a wild month in mixed martial arts -- both in and out of the cage -- readers aren't short on opinions or questions. From the heavyweight legends and 185-pound contenders on the UFC's upcoming card in Portland, Ore., to the thought of Anderson Silva moving up two weight divisions has readers curious, perplexed and somewhat annoyed. After Cris "Cyborg" Santos demolished Gina Carano at Strikeforce, several loyalists were left wondering whether the new champ deserved to be ranked among the 10 best fighters in the world, regardless of weight -- and gender.

You asked. I answered.

Randy Couture and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira should have fought years ago. But at least we're getting to see them now before they retire. How do you see it going down Saturday in Portland?-- Jack P., Boise

Five weeks prior to losing to Frank Mir last December, Nogueira was forced into a hospital bed with staph infection. After the fight, he underwent a long-overdue knee surgery. Were these the reasons he appeared so sluggish and slow against Mir? Or had all those wars in the ring finally caught up to him? Nine months ago, Couture was pummeled by Brock Lesnar. At the age of 46, has "The Natural" finally turned mortal?

So many questions surround these fighters, but what we do know is that the 33-year-old Brazilian has been a serviceable striker throughout his career. He likes to box. He's slow, but he can throw a decent combination. Same with Couture. I don't see a distinct advantage for either guy on the feet.

My hope is it turns into a ground war because both men are at their best on the canvas -- though their approaches are totally different.

Pay attention to a couple of things if it hits the floor: Should Nogueira take Couture down and hold him there, the Brazilian will greatly increase his chances of winning. However, if Nogueira is forced to fight from the bottom, even with that world famous guard of his, I can't imagine the aging former Pride champion having much success without getting mashed into a bloody pulp.

My gut says Nogueira. My head says Couture.

Demian Maia or Nate Marquardt? Who wins and why?-- Felix, Colorado Springs

Love this middleweight fight at UFC 102.

I'm picking Marquardt, who's a huge step up in competition for Maia. Nate's physical presence, well-roundedness and, most importantly, his submission-fighting experience should be enough to diffuse Maia's otherworldly Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

If not, Maia will have made a huge statement in the division, setting up a major fight against Dan Henderson or possibly a title shot versus Silva.

What does Brock Lesnar need to do to shut people up? I mean the guy has gotten better in every fight and he gets booed cause he uses his "size and strength" to his advantage. Isn't that the idea, to use your strengths to your advantage? People need to realize he's one of the best and get off his back. Though something tells me he doesn't really care what everyone thinks, and that's a good thing.-- Frank, Erie, Pa.

Handling Shane Carwin in November will go a long way in quieting critics.

Before Anderson Silva leaves 185, shouldn't he first exhaust all efforts for a superfight with G.S.P.? I realize that the weight difference may be too great -- Silva not being able to go below 185 and G.S.P. not walking around much heavier than 185 -- but it would be the biggest blockbuster fight in MMA. Or are heavyweights that much greater of a main stream draw to dwarf any potential payout from a St. Pierre-Silva fight?-- Dan, Kansas City

That would be ideal, but Georges St. Pierre hasn't expressed much interest in moving up in weight. And I'm not sure Anderson could make a catchweight of 180 anymore, presuming that's what the fight called for.

G.S.P.-Silva is a special bout that would do huge business. Same with Lesnar-Silva, so long as Anderson lays down the framework with one or two wins at heavyweight.

Which draw is better?

Tight call, but if Anderson proves he can hang at heavyweight, a fight with Lesnar is the box-office smash. That said, a highly unscientific poll on my Twitter page (@SI_JoshGross) indicated most fans were more interested in seeing Silva fight G.S.P. than the UFC heavyweight champ.

Anderson Silva's not going to light heavyweight because of his friend Machida? This is the pros we're talking about. I thought the best fight the best.-- Ali E., Orlando

Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't. That's an ongoing discussion in the sport. If MMA really is about determining the best fighters, then everyone should be fair game. But the way things are structured inside most gyms, fighters form teams to rely upon in training. It shouldn't come as a shock that as friendships develop the idea of fighting a buddy -- which, let's be real, isn't the equivalent of playing your sister in a tennis match -- is tough to swallow. I'm with wrestlers Matt Lindland and Dan Henderson, who believe it's only competition. But then again, I'm not in there training and fighting.

Hendo and Lindland appear to be in the minority. Greg Jackson came down hard recently against fighters in his camp competing against each other, which goes against UFC president Dana White's position that friendships and relationships shouldn't matter. I agree with pretty much everything White has said on the topic except making guys fight even when they're dead set against it.

In the end, you'd think professional pride and the desire to be the best is enough for most fighters to look beyond personal/professional relationships. But that's obviously not always the case.

Miguel Torres and Forrest Griffin used the same yet flawed game plan of rushing forward and taking punches unnecessarily in the hopes that their opponents would get frustrated. Obviously, their opponents were no slouches in Brian Bowles and Anderson Silva. You watch enough MMA and notice that, at the undercard level fights, a similar game plan is used. Penn, G.S.P., Silva, Machida -- all fight intelligently and don't get into unnecessary brawls and they win. Just wanted to get your thought on the need to trade punches, vs. stand and brawl unnecessarily.-- JJ Kim, Chicago

Chalk it up to a general lack of defense in the sport. MMA is an aggressive, attacking discipline, which is why, when someone's capable of effective defense -- movement, creating angles to counter attack, blocking and checking kicks, parrying punches, fending off takedowns and submissions -- they're far more dangerous. Anderson Silva and Lyoto Machida create offense off their defense. It's an art within an art. As the sport evolves, hopefully kids are taught the principles of defense alongside offensive tactics. Good trainers will definitely make it a focus in the gym.

Question regarding your pound-for-pound ratings: Were those rankings done before or after the Cyborg victory over Carano? Is Cyborg eligible to appear on P4P rankings? Would you consider doing it? Personally, I think she deserves to be recognized as at least No. 8 or 9.-- Mel B., Orange, Calif.

My rankings were completed after Cyborg's win over Carano.

But you bring up an interesting point. Soon we'll include women's divisions in the rankings. Should there be separate P4P lists for men and women? Probably. Would I consider putting a woman on a list that includes men? Absolutely. But if I had to put a female on the list right now, it wouldn't be Cyborg. I'd go with Japan's Megumi Fujii (18-0). She fights at 115 pounds and, unfortunately, hasn't had any exposure in the states. In terms of skill and results though, she definitely has an edge on Cyborg.

You have consistently ranked Josh Barnett among the top three heavyweights. With his recent doping allegations, how do you rank him now? An argument can be made (rightly or wrongly) that he has not fought clean since 2002.-- Tom, Cincinnati

He tested clean for fights in Nevada and California, so, at the very least, he's been steroid-free for a handful of bouts since 2002. As to your question, which rings with the same tone as many e-mails I've received about Barnett, the answer boils down to confusion. Barnett's not suspended anywhere. While I don't like having him in my top 10 under the circumstances, he's in there at No. 3 because of his record -- not his morals or ethics. Best answer I have for you is I punted on this one. His reputation is widely known. People can make up their own minds as to whether or not he's deserving of a ranking. We know where you stand.

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