Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Ronda Rousey, Jon Fitch, and UFC Rankings

By Brad Oremland

Five Quick Hits

* The UFC cut 16 fighters last week, including Jon Fitch, Jacob Volkmann, Vladimir Matyushenko, Terry Etim, and Ulysses Gomez. If you follow MMA at all, you've read about this already and you probably have strong feelings about it. I won't miss most of the guys who got cut, but I don't agree with dropping Fitch and Gomez in particular. Fitch lends significant credibility wherever he signs, and the UFC shouldn't be cutting flyweights right now.

* If you missed Bellator 90 last Thursday on Spike, well, you need to find a way to see it. Sensational card. This season of Bellator has been very strong. The influx of Russian fighters has served the promotion well.

* You know what would be great? Eddie Alvarez vs. Gilbert Melendez. I like Bellator, but this contract dispute and lawsuit with Alvarez is not good for the company. In retrospect, I also wish the UFC, rather than offering Alvarez a standard contract with pay-per-view bonuses and such, had just blown him away with a cash offer Bellator wouldn't match.

* I am not as impressed with Melendez as most MMA journalists seem to be. He got very lucky in his questionable decision win over Josh Thomson last May, and he's been ducking fights ever since waiting for Strikeforce to fold. His quality of competition hasn't been the same caliber as the UFC's top 10, and I would have liked to see him win a fight against someone like Jim Miller before he battles for UFC gold.

* Toughest remaining test for Ronda Rousey at 135 pounds? Maybe Marloes Coenen, who has a nifty grappling game of her own.

Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche

Ronda Rousey brought women's mixed martial arts to the UFC, and on Saturday night, she won the first women's bout in UFC history. Rousey is a judo Olympian with the nastiest armbars in MMA. She's 7-0 in MMA, and all seven wins were first-round armbars. Giva Santana is nicknamed "The Arm Collector", and 13 of his 18 wins are by armbar, but I give Rousey the edge. She's kind of a one-trick pony, actually: judo throw, armbar, tap tap tap. So far, no one can stop her.

Carmouche actually came closest, taking Rousey's back and locking on a rear naked choke that turned into a nasty neck crank. Even when Rousey locked on her famous armbar, Carmouche held on and nearly made it out of the first round. It was a game effort, and a great advertisement for women in the UFC. Rousey is very attractive, and that's a huge part of her appeal, but she can fight.

Elsewhere on the UFC 157 card, Lyoto Machida edged Dan Henderson in an uneventful top contender match at 205, and Urijah Faber showed again why he keeps getting title shots. Robbie Lawler won with a mildly controversial knockout of Josh Koscheck, Court McGee looked good in a decision over Josh Neer, and Dennis Bermudez vs. Matt Grice won Fight of the Night, largely on the strength of a third round that looks like the early favorite for Round of the Year. It was a solid night of fights, but it will be remembered for Rousey's win and the Bermudez/Grice battle.

February 2013 UFC Rankings

The rankings below are exclusively for the UFC, so you won't see names like Michael Chandler or Alexander Shlemenko on these lists. These rankings do not count as part of the UFC's official rankings.

Heavyweight (206-265 lbs)

1. Cain Velasquez
2. Junior Dos Santos
3. Fabricio Werdum
4. Daniel Cormier
5. Frank Mir
6. Antonio Silva
7. Alistair Overeem
8. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
9. Roy Nelson
10. Stefan Struve

Make It Happen: Josh Barnett in the UFC

Barnett has been coy about the details that are holding up his deal with Zuffa, and Dana White has yet to go on a profanity-laced tirade about Barnett's demands. But it's hard to understand how this isn't the best direction for both parties. The UFC wants the best fighters in the world, and Barnett presumably wants to prove he's still one of them.

Thank You, UFC, For: Dos Santos vs. Overeem

The two best heavyweight strikers in MMA. The UFC originally wanted to do JDS and Barnett, but I like this even better.

Light Heavyweight (186-205)

1. Jon Jones
2. Lyoto Machida
3. Dan Henderson
4. Alexander Gustafsson
5. Mauricio Rua
6. Chael Sonnen
7. Glover Texeira
8. Rashad Evans
9. Phil Davis
10. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

Make It Happen: winner of Jones-Sonnen vs. Machida

Sonnen's title shot has royally screwed up the matchmaking in this weight class, with a backlog of qualified contenders. Title shots have been promised to both Machida and to Gustaffson, the latter on the condition that he beats Gegard Mousasi this April. But then again, the UFC had guaranteed Henderson and Machida title fights already, and they were both passed over in favor of a middleweight on a losing streak. Machida scored a devastating knockout against Ryan Bader, beat the top-ranked contender in Henderson, and gave Jon Jones more trouble than anyone else he's faced in the UFC. Machida's next fight should be for the belt.

I'd also like to see Henderson or Rua vs. Evans.

Thank You, UFC, For: Davis vs. Vinny Magalhaes

Magalhaes is really nowhere near the top 10, but the jiu-jitsu champion is an interesting matchup for a wrestler like Davis. My one fear is that Davis doesn't want to take Magalhaes down, and Vinny can't get Davis to the floor, so this ends up as a dull striking contest between two grapplers.

Middleweight (171-185)

1. Anderson Silva
2. Chris Weidman
3. Vitor Belfort
4. Michael Bisping
5. Yushin Okami
6. Luke Rockhold
7. Alan Belcher
8. Hector Lombard
9. Jacare Souza
10. Brian Stann

In last week's official UFC rankings, Costa Philippou placed as the #5 contender and Mark Muñoz as #6, the equivalents of 6th and 7th on my list. I have no problem ranking either fighter in the top 10, but here's why I didn't: neither has beaten anyone in the top 10. Philippou knocked out Tim Boetsch, and Muñoz won a decision over current welterweight Demian Maia, but those are their best wins.

The same criticism (no top-10 wins) applies to Belcher, Stann, Lombard, and Souza. If you wanted to flip one or two of them with Muñoz and/or Philippou, I'd have no problem with that. But Belcher and Souza have shown me more, and Lombard's all-around game gives him greater potential. Stann, I admit, is more or less a coin flip over the other two.

Thank You, UFC, For: Philippou vs. Jacare

This fight has been announced for May 18. It's an interesting striker-vs-grappler matchup, and Philippou is one of several middleweights on the periphery of the top 10. He could easily be on the list, and in this fight, he can prove it.

Welterweight (156-170)

1. Georges St-Pierre
2. Carlos Condit
3. Johny Hendricks
4. Nick Diaz
5. Rory MacDonald
6. Demian Maia
7. Martin Kampmann
8. Jake Ellenberger
9. * pours one out for Jon Fitch*
10. Tarec Saffiedine

Make It Happen: Mike Pierce vs. Tyron Woodley

Both are around that 10-15 range, and this fight should push one into the top 10.

Thank You, UFC, For: Hendricks vs. Condit

I don't understand why the UFC refuses to put Hendricks in a title fight, but if he beats Condit, they kind of have to. The downside is that if Condit wins and GSP defends the belt against Diaz, we might get St-Pierre vs. Maia, which is less exciting.

Lightweight (146-155)

1. Ben Henderson
2. Anthony Pettis
3. Gray Maynard
4. Gilbert Melendez
5. Nate Diaz
6. Jim Miller
7. Donald Cerrone
8. Joe Lauzon
9. T.J. Grant
10. Jamie Varner

I know Pettis is dropping to 145 to fight Jose Aldo, but I already have enough lightweights ranked at 145, and it's not clear where Pettis' future is.

Make It Happen: Varner vs. Rafael Dos Anjos

I couldn't decide whether to rank Varner or Dos Anjos 10th. This fight would clear things up.

Thank You, UFC, For: Diego Sanchez vs. Takanori Gomi

This probably won't have much impact on the title picture, but it's a matchup of two veterans who can bring it. And honestly, the rest of the match-making in this division leaves something to be desired.

Featherweight (136-145)

1. Jose Aldo
2. Frankie Edgar
3. Ricardo Lamas
4. Chan Sung Jung
5. Chad Mendes
6. Cub Swanson
7. Erik Koch
8. Dustin Poirier
9. Dennis Siver
10. Clay Guida

Make It Happen: Lamas vs. Jung

Obvious title-eliminator. Any other booking, for either fighter, is just bad match-making. I also like Edgar-Swanson, which Frankie has suggested.

Thank You, UFC, For: Aldo vs. Anthony Pettis

This matchup may not be as secure as it seemed a week or two ago: Aldo's camp reportedly doesn't want the fight, but Dana White insists the fight will happen. "[Aldo] is gonna fight Pettis. That fight's on. He's going to fight Pettis, or he's not going to like how this is going to turn out."

I know a lot of fans are upset about lightweights cutting in line and getting title shots in this division, but this is an exciting matchup, and the Lamas-Jung winner gets contender credibility that neither one has really established yet.

Bantamweight (126-135)

1. Renan Barão
2. Michael McDonald
3. Urijah Faber
4. Eddie Wineland
5. Brad Pickett
6. Raphael Assunçao
7. Mike Easton
8. Scott Jorgensen
9. Ivan Menjivar
10. T.J. Dillashaw

Dominick Cruz hasn't fought in almost a year and a half, and he's not yet scheduled to return. When he does, he'll obviously be at or near the top of this list. I just hope he doesn't rush his recovery. Brian Bowles, also inactive for over a year, is unlisted for the same reason.

Make It Happen: Barão vs. Wineland

I don't think this is likely to be a very competitive fight, but Barao has to fight someone, and I think it will be a while before Cruz is ready. I understand why the UFC wants Cruz vs. Barao as soon as possible. It's a more intriguing fight, it's a title unifier, and it gives the rest of the division time to produce another contender. Wineland or Assunçao could really solidify their cases with another win over a top-10 opponent. But if Dana White likes Cruz as much as he says, he'll make sure the champ has time to fully recover and put in a complete training camp. This makes the best of a bad situation in the meantime.

Thank You, UFC, For: Pickett vs. Easton

Both lost their last fights, but they're both top-10, and this matchup makes sense.

Flyweight (116-125) and Women's Bantamweight (126-135)

I'm not ranking these divisions until they have more fighters. The flyweight division is awfully thin (no pun intended!) so far.

UFC 158: St-Pierre vs. Diaz

Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann, at Saitama Super Arena in Japan, comes first — next weekend — but let's start with the big one. Georges St. Pierre hasn't lost in about six years. Not only that, he's only lost two rounds in six years. He's won 11 in a row, against top contenders like Matt Hughes, Jon Fitch, B.J. Penn, and Carlos Condit. He hasn't been seriously challenged in any of those fights.

Nick Diaz went four years without a loss, including his own 11-0 win streak, before a controversial decision against Condit. He's a fascinating matchup for GSP, because he's got top-notch striking and a dangerous guard game, one of the best in MMA. He can threaten St. Pierre on the feet, and he can threaten off his back if Georges takes him down. Diaz hasn't fought in over a year, and even claimed to be retired from MMA, but GSP has never faced anyone with his combination of skills, except for maybe B.J. Penn.

St. Pierre is a substantial betting favorite, about 4 to 1. I like GSP straight up, but if I were betting, I might lay some small action on Diaz and roll the dice. There is a small chance that this fight will be scrapped because Diaz continues to miss his press obligations, reportedly costing the UFC over $50,000. It's happened before, but only three weeks out, I'd bet against it at this point.

That card also features Condit vs. Johny Hendricks, potentially with a title shot on the line. The matchup was shuffled last week when Condit's original opponent, Rory MacDonald, pulled out with an injury, and odds for the new fight aren't posted yet, but I'd say it's close to a pick 'em. Hendricks has won five in a row, including decisions over Mike Pierce and Josh Koscheck, as well as impressive first-round knockouts of Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann. His only career loss came on a questionable judges' decision. Condit beat five straight high-level opponents before his loss to St. Pierre, and he looked good even in defeat. Both are dangerous strikers, with Hendricks a far better wrestler and Condit getting the submissions edge. I lean slightly toward Hendricks.

The only other big fight on the card, also at welterweight, features Hendricks' original opponent, Jake Ellenberger, against injury replacement Nate Marquardt. I think Ellenberger's hype has gotten ahead of his résumé. His most impressive wins came against Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez. Shields has not performed well in the UFC, and that fight was the week his dad died; most fans assume distraction played some role in the outcome. The decision over Sanchez was widely viewed as wrong.

I suppose I lean towards Ellenberger, but when the lines come out, I bet Marquardt will be in the neighborhood of +250, and I'll take a shot on the underdog at that price.

Insane but lucrative parlay: the UFC's nightmare, Nick Diaz + Carlos Condit + Nate Marquardt. If the odds come out the way I expect, a $100 bet would win over $3000. If company man GSP loses to the flaky Diaz, Condit defeats top contender Hendricks, and TRT posterboy Marquardt upsets Ellenberger, Dana White will probably have an aneurysm. I guess the UFC would book a rematch between Diaz and either St. Pierre or Condit, with the other getting a title eliminator against Rory MacDonald or Demian Maia.

Silva vs. Stann

For a Fuel card, this is pretty stacked. The headliner is just a striker's brawl for the fans, and Wandy is still a very big name in Japan. But we also get an important heavyweight match between Stefan Struve and Mark Hunt, Diego Sanchez's return to lightweight, and a top-10 contenders' bout at 185, with Yushin Okami against Hector Lombard.

I love Wanderlei (we all do, right?), and it's a best-case opportunity for him to prove he's still relevant: fighting in Japan and facing another striker. But he's a substantial underdog (about +200), and I'm picking Stann. I also like fellow favorites Struve, Sanchez, and Okami. Hunt hasn't fought in over a year, Takanori Gomi can't grapple with Sanchez, and Okami should use his size and wrestling to neutralize Lombard in what is not likely to be a real interesting fight.

Entertainment-purposes only parlay: Stann + Struve + Okami. You never know when Sanchez might flake out, and he's a really heavy favorite (roughly -325, depending on where you look), not worth the risk. I might actually skip the parlay and just bet on Stann.

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