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UFC 124 Musings

The dust has settled from UFC 124 Saturday night...Michael DiSanto breaks things down and what the results mean for 2011...
I’M NOT PICKING AGAINST THIS GUY AGAIN

Watching Georges St-Pierre basically toss a perfect game against Josh Koscheck, a guy who without a doubt is among the five best welterweights in the world, highlights that he may indeed be the most complete fighter in the game, across all weight classes.  His virtuoso striking performance eliminated any argument that the champion has largely become a one-dimensional fighter over the last couple of years.  

Anyone who read my breakdown of the matchup knows that I viewed Kos as the perfect foil for GSP’s game.  I was convinced that if GSP chose to stand and trade with the challenger, he would leave Montreal with a massive headache and a suitcase that is about 20 pounds lighter thanks to the disappearance of his championship belt.

Whoops.

GSP proved me wrong yet again.  I’ll bet that I’ve picked against this guy more than anyone else in the business.  I’m not sure why I continually underestimate him.  It is what it is.  The only thing I know for sure is that I’m not doing it again.  I’ll go so far as to say that I’m not picking against him in his next fight, no matter who he faces—Jon Fitch, Thiago Alves, Anderson Silva, King Kong or the Loch Ness Monster

Ok, those last few names are a bit ridiculous, but I’m standing by my word.  I’ll pick GSP against anyone in his next bout.

Of course, that raises the question of who he should fight next.  Jake Shields is next in line.  Much like Kos, Shields has the right tools to unseat the champion because he possesses a world-class blend of wrestling, ground control and submissions from the top position.  If someone asked me prior to UFC 124 who would win between GSP and Shields, I would have said that I liked Shields in that matchup.  Remember my edict.  I’m picking GSP if they fight next.

The winner of the late February matchup between Jon Fitch and BJ Penn is another possibility, if something were to happen to Shields in training.  Been there, done that.  GSP dispatched with Fitch in a spirited affair back in August 2008 and then stopped Penn in four rounds five months later.  Just for the record, I picked GSP to suffer an upset loss in both bouts.  I would pick differently if either man faced the champion again.

Thiago Alves looked like a more complete fighter at UFC 124 than he has at any point in his career.  Like Shields and Kos, Alves has a blend of skills and athleticism that should give GSP problems, though his skills are based in Muay Thai, not wrestling.  GSP handled him immediately after stopping BJ Penn in their rematch.  Yep, I picked Alves to win that fight.  I do think that Alves would present more problems for the champion today than he did last year.  But I will not pick Alves to win, if he happens to be next up.  I won’t do it.

Other than those names, there is nobody who I view as a legitimate threat to GSP’s 170 pound reign.   Considering the fact that he already has wins over every top contender in the division, maybe it is time for GSP to begin preparation for a fight of fights against fellow pound-for-pound kingpin, Anderson Silva.

Again, had someone asked me about that matchup prior to UFC 124, I would have laughed off GSP’s chances at winning.  Silva is far superior on the feet, has long enough legs to control the action with a body triangle, if he were to suffer a takedown, and, simply put, just do darn big.  The Brazilian is probably 30 to 40 pounds bigger than GSP on an average weekday when both are in shape but not focused on cutting weight for a fight.   Those are massive mountains to overcome.  I’m not picking against GSP, though.  Ok, I’ll admit it.  I probably will pick against GSP if that fight ever comes to light.  But I’ll try not to.  

Vitor Belfort may destroy any interest in a GSP-Silva fight by stopping the middleweight king during Super Bowl weekend.  I’ll break down that matchup in detail as it approaches, but I really like Belfort’s chances.   I just don’t see anything that Silva does better than Belfort, other than fighting up to his ability just about every time out, something Belfort has struggled with over the years.  

But even if Belfort defeats Silva, I think that GSP’s next fight (or possibly the one after facing Shields) should be against the reigning middleweight champion.  He should insist upon a 179-pound or 180-pound maximum contract weight, just to make things a bit tougher on his larger foe.  But even if he cannot get that term into the bout agreement, I think that a record-setting fight where he tries to simultaneously rule two UFC weight classes presents him with the sort of challenge that will keep him keenly focused and fully engaged.

GSP can certainly remain at welterweight and attempt to put together a Bernard Hopkins-like rule over the division where he racks up 20-plus consecutive successful defenses.  There is a reason that no UFC champion has ever successfully defended his title even half that number of times.  Fights can end in literally hundreds of ways, and all it takes is one mistake to forever alter the course of history.  Thus, the odds would be stacked heavily against GSP accomplishing a goal like that.

Moreover, there is a very real chance that he may lose focus if he remains at welterweight because he won’t view anyone, other than maybe Shields, as a legitimate threat to his reign.  One doesn’t have to look far to see the realities of such a mistake.  Remember Matt Serra?

GSP has mentioned retirement on a couple of occasions over the last year or so.  Retirement?  This guy hasn’t yet turned 30 years old, which means he isn’t even entered his fighting prime.  Such talk suggests that his focus could be waning.  Kos did him a tremendous favor by trash talking him into a state of heightened focus and determination.  Few other opponents will likely have the same impact on GSP.

What is next for the champ?  Probably Shields.  Maybe the winner of Silva-Belfort.  Whatever the case, I’m picking GSP.

KOS FOUGHT BRAVELY, BUT SOMETHING WASN’T RIGHT

Is it just me or did Kos seem more focused on adjusting his shorts and wiping sweat off of his hands than defending the jab in the first round of his inaugural title challenge?  This guy continually pulled up his shorts while standing within striking range.  He repeatedly wiped his hands on his thighs while standing in the pocket.  GSP thanked him for those mistakes by peppering him with jabs each time he lowered his hands and, well, at just about all other moments of the fight.  

What was the problem?

I have no clue.  All I know is that Kos didn’t seem like himself in the opening round.  He was far from the calm, focused welterweight contender who dominated Paul Daley, Anthony Johnson and Frank Trigg in his prior three bouts.  He lunged with his punches, rather than sitting down and firing.  He completely ignored his biggest advantage in the fight—his wrestling—aside from a lone takedown at the end of the first.  And he generally seemed fidgety throughout the fight.  In other words, he just didn’t seem like himself.

I’m sure GSP’s jackhammer jab had something to do with his performance.  I’m also sure the pressure of a first-time title challenge, particularly in GSP’s native land, had something to do with it. But now it’s back to the drawing board for the talented contender.

ALVES PUTS ON CAREER-BEST PERFORMANCE

Thiago Alves is one bad man.  Nobody has ever denied that fact.  With 10 wins in 14 UFC bouts, his success speaks for itself.  Nonetheless, coming off back-to-back losses for the first time in his career, Alves knew that he had to make some changes in his game if he wanted to return to the top of the division and earn a second shot at welterweight gold.

The Brazilian striking phenom displayed those changes at the expense of a very game, extremely talented John Howard.  Alves not only completely outclassed his foe on the feet, he scored two dramatic takedowns, something few expected from the “Pit Bull.”  I think those takedowns were the most significant moments of the fight because they will forever raise the question of a takedown in the collective consciousness of Alves’ future opponents, and that will make his striking that much more effective.

Speaking of striking, is there any welterweight in the world who throws more damaging leg kicks than Alves?  I dare say no.  Watching him hammer away with his right leg is a thing of pure beauty.  The athletic move reminds me a lot of Tiger Woods hitting a driver.  Woods uses his legs to clear his hips long before his hands square up the club face to the ball.  The movement creates a tremendous amount of lag in his swing, which, in turn, generates an insane amount of speed and explosive power.  Guys who clear their hips first in golf hit the ball further than those who don’t.  That is an incontrovertible fact.  

Alves does the same thing with his leg kicks.  His hips clear long before his shin finds the meat of his opponent’s thigh.  He creates the same torque with his hips that Woods does when hitting a driver.  As a result, Alves’ shin arrives at the target with much more speed and explosive power than shins thrown by anyone else in the division, bar none.

Alves’ win over Howard was a deafening message to the rest of the division that he is not resting on his laurels.  The 27-year-old fighter still has an unquenchable thirst to improve his game, and that is exactly what he has been doing since his last fight.  

Note to the division:  Anyone who dares stand and trade with Alves is going to come out on the short end of the stick, absent catching lightning in a bottle.  Future opponents had better spend 90% of their training camps figuring out how to put this guy on his back and keep him there.  Otherwise, he will be back fighting for a title before long—maybe before the end of 2011.

STRUVE MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE


Stefan Struve more closely resembles an NBA center than a UFC heavyweight fighter.  Standing 6’11, he towers over every other heavyweight in the promotion.  His long arms and legs beg to be submitted.  His slight frame for his height suggests that he can be overpowered by bruising heavyweights, particularly those with a wrestling background.

Yet, this guy just keeps on winning.  Seven trips to the Octagon.  Five wins.  Two by knockout.  Two by submission.   Not bad for a tall, lanky kickboxer from the Netherlands.

Struve continues to impress with his come-from-behind wins.   Sean McCorkle had him in very deep waters in the first half of the opening round.  Struve merely bided his time and capitalized fully when the opportunity presented itself.

It was another in a long line of impressive outings for a guy nicknamed “Skyscraper.”

I still think Struve, who is only 23 years old, needs to add weight if he wants to compete with the heavyweight Preferiti.  At 253 pounds, I think he can easily hold another 30 pounds on his frame, which would require him to cut a decent amount of weight the day before he fights, but I think that will help him offset some of the strength advantages held by guys like Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir and others.  If he gains weight, he needs to do it while maintaining his flexibility and speed.  This guy has a tremendous offensive guard, and that is a very useful weapon in a division largely dominated by wrestlers.

I’d like to see him face Mir next.  I think that is the perfect next opponent to really gauge where Struve stands in the division.  After back-to-back wins, both in very impressive fashion, he has certainly earned that type of marquee matchup.

DANZIG RESURRECTS HIS CAREER WITH A SPECTACULAR ONE-PUNCH KNOCKOUT


Mac Danzig might be a former winner of the UFC’s hit reality show, “The Ultimate Fighter.”  But the fact remains that this guy was fighting for his professional life when he entered the Octagon to face fellow TUF winner Joe Stevenson.  To think otherwise would be a bit naïve, since Danzig came up short in four of his last five fights.

He certainly didn’t come up short against Stevenson.  His one punch knockout, courtesy of a perfectly thrown left hook, was more than the Knockout of the Night (which resulted in an extra $100,000 for Danzig).  It was career altering.

Danzig now places himself on the cusp of contender status.  That is what happens when a guy annihilates a former title challenger who many still consider to be among, or very near, the division’s top 10.  

STEVENSON JUST DIDN’T LISTEN


Stevenson was the rightful favorite entering his matchup with Danzig.  He is a more accomplished UFC lightweight.  He is the physically stronger of the two.  And he has a very real edge in takedowns and ground dominance.  

It was clear from the start of the fight that “Joe Daddy” wanted to stand and box with Danzig.  It was equally clear that such an approach was a significant deviation from the game plan devised by his head trainer, Greg Jackson.  Jackson repeatedly yelled for his charge to follow the game plan in the opening moments of the fight.  Stevenson refused and kept pressing forward with punches.

Literally seconds before the fateful left hook landed on Stevenson’s chin, Jackson emphatically called for a takedown.  Stevenson ignored those words and suffered a highlight-reel knockout as a result.  

I don’t know if a takedown would have changed the result.  Nobody knows.  Nobody will ever know.  Yet, I have a sneaking suspicion that Stevenson would have lasted longer than 114 seconds had he changed levels when instructed by his coach.

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