Every few weeks I will be debating some of the bigger hot topics in MMA with author Kelly Crigger. Kelly insisted that we jump right in, dispense with the introductions and get to it. So, all I will say is Kelly Crigger is the author of Title Shot: Into the Shark Tank of Mixed Martial Arts. It's a cool book.
Will Rich Franklin make a difference at 205?
Kelly: Yes, but not for another year or more. Switching weight classes is harder when you have to go up instead of down. Why? Cutting weight is cutting weight, whether it's down to 185 or 170. But going up usually means the fighter sacrifices size and strength to the bigger guys in the class and Rich's case is no different. Now that he's shown he can handle a legit 205-er, he'll be given a more radical challenge, like Chuck Liddell, Mauricio Rua, Keith Jardine, or "Rampage" Jackson, all of whom have lost their last fight and need to take on a recognizable name to get back in the title hunt. However, Franklin's not as strong as Rampage, not as fast as Liddell, not as good on the ground as Rua, and not as unpredictable as Jardine, so he has some challenges to overcome first. A Franklin-Lyoto Machida matchup would be good for the fans, but not for Rich since Machida's stomping of him is still fresh in his mind. I think Franklin will shake up the light heavyweight division, but only after he gets more comfortable at the weight, puts on a little more muscle and stops having nightmares of Anderson Silva.
Mark: Yes, I think he will make a considerable difference. The change of scenery will do him good. He needs to gain weight if he's ever going to make a run at the ELITE of the class but I think there's a handful of fighters in the top 10 he could fight right now. Of everyone in that class I think Rampage is the only fighter he wouldn't have a chance with if he fought him today. Machida might give him problems as well but I think he could defeat Jardine, Rashad Evans, "Shogun" [Rua] (because who knows what he's even capable of right now), and Liddell. Another media member thinks he would have the easiest time with Wanderlei Silva, but I'm not that comfortable backing him up that far. I certainly feel he's got more potential at this weight class, which is odd, because this class is the best in the sport. I think what it comes down to is that Anderson Silva is the top fighter in the world right now, he's a terrible matchup style wise for Franklin and after getting destroyed twice, the UFC won't give him a third shot. So, he pretty much has to make a difference if he ever wants to be more than a gatekeeper at middleweight.
What WILL Chuck Liddell do now and what SHOULD he do?
Kelly: He'll continue to fight, but he should change training camps. Liddell was born to scrap. He loves it, he lives it, he won't stop no matter how many times he gets KO'd, which could be a lot with the talent level out there. So if he's going to continue to fight, he should train somewhere that's going to develop him as a fighter, which is clearly not happening in John Hackleman's Pit anymore. Greg Jackson has figured Liddell out and beaten him twice, so it's only a matter of time before everyone else does too. He has to change up his game and evolve or he'll end up like Ken Shamrock. Of course it's not easy to pull up stakes and move away from the people who made him who he is, but the alternative is a bunch of up-and-comers adding him to their highlight reels and none of us wants to see that. Where should he go? To the man who figured him out-Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, N.M.
Mark: I think he'll be in Matt Hughes range sooner rather than later. It would suck to see Liddell become a gatekeeper at 205 -- and he's not there yet -- but after losing three of the last four fights, he could be headed that way before we know it. He can fight as long as he wants to. He's clearly lost a step but he's still a top 10 light heavyweight and a huge draw. There are plenty of big-money fights he can still put together so while he may not consistently fare well with the elite of the class, he still can stick around as long as he wants. I think another run as a champ is out of the question. He may win a title fight down the road, but he's not defending it, especially not for any length of time.
Now that the light heavyweight division has a former "Ultimate Fighter" as its champion, how long before another one nabs a belt?
Kelly: That depends on how brutal the Georges St. Pierre-BJ Penn fight is. Kenny Florian is the most serious contender to Penn's title in the lightweight division and has earned the right to take on BJ after his superbrawl with GSP. However, that fight has the potential to end someone's career! If BJ loses again it will create a mental obstacle that he may never overcome because he's OBSESSED with beating GSP. A loss could open the door for the red-hot Florian and waiting in the wings are Joe Stevenson and Mac Danzig. I think a more likely scenario is Josh Koscheck or Diego Sanchez grabbing the welterweight crown. Both are fierce competitors for GSP and will force him to bring his A game or get KO'd, like Matt Serra did to him.
Mark: I think it will be much sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, I think it will be in the same weight class. I think Rashad Evans can take down Forrest Griffin and he will be the first one to get a title shot so I don't see anyone else filling that void. Although I really do like Florian and before Evans took down Liddell I would've picked Ken-Flo for this. I could see Penn losing interest in the lightweight division, leaving the door open for Florian to have a title reign.
Is Brock Lesnar versus Randy Couture good for the sport?
Mark: It's great for the sport. Great in that it will be a huge fight and one of the biggest in the sport's history in terms of pay-per-view buys. Lesnar is a tremendous draw and unlike Kimbo Slice, Brock has actually defeated another practitioner of mixed martial arts. He's like a Kimbo Slice that can back up the hype because I don't think this will be an easy fight for Couture, especially with the weight difference. We will either get to see Lesnar take down one of the top heavyweights in the world right now or we will get to see another masterful display by Couture. Either way, the hype may be bigger than the fight, but it will still be one of the biggest fights the UFC has ever put together. Anything that raises awareness for the sport and isn't a complete sideshow is a good thing.
Kelly: Sure it's good for the sport, but will hardcore fans like me whine because we don't think Lesnar deserves to be in the Octagon with Couture? Yep. I'm amazed Couture is even back in the game after taking a nearly holy oath to never wear gloves with UFC emblazoned on them again. The fact of the matter is, the UFC's lawyers wore Couture down. He knew he faced a lengthy court battle with only a 50 percent chance of winning and smartly decided not to waste away his last few fights sitting in a chair when he could be sitting on a mountainous payday. Couture's and Lesnar's fans will turn out in record numbers to see this fight, which means the potential for tens of thousands of new MMA fans. Is it a proper heavyweight title fight? Nope. Is it good for MMA? You betcha.
Should the UFC adopt the LPGA rule and force its athletes to learn English?
Mark: I would appreciate this rule as doing interviews through translators and people with thick accents is one of the toughest parts of the job. That being said, I think forcing them to learn English isn't the route to go. It should be strongly encouraged, just because there's tons of money to be made for them if they do. I think that's one of the things that holds MMA back in terms of the national coverage but with the UFC's global initiative, forcing the guys to learn English may not be as important. Also, with morale down among some fighters as it is, it would probably go over just swell with a lot of foreign guys.
Kelly: I agree that interviewing Anderson Silva or Fedor Emelianenko is tough because of the language barrier. Not hat I've ever interviewed either, but I know people who say it sucks and a lot gets lost in translation because of it. MMA has a unique mix of foreign athletes and short-attention span fans (How many of you made it to this last question?). That's a combination that means as soon as a Brazilian or Japanese fighter opens his mouth in his native tongue, the 18-34 male demographic tunes him out. I don't think it should be mandatory for them to learn it, but they need to know how many potential fans they're losing by not learning the language. Most sports fans make snap judgments about an athlete based on a quick interview. In that thirty seconds they decide whether they love him or hate him and by not being able to get your view across, non-English speaking fighters fail to bring more fans into their following. They're doing themselves a disservice by not learning it.