Brutality in Birmingham
Author Kelly Crigger is a worthy adversary and since I strive to provide you with only the best, I figured it was time for our UFC 89 debate.
Does Chris Leben have a chance against Michael Bisping?
Kelly: No. This fight will not go to the ground because neither man is proficient on his back or comfortable there. Leben used to be a buzzsaw of punches, but seems to have developed a little maturity in his game and taken things a little slower. His striking is still very good, but he's facing a man who seems to show new skills with every fight. Leben couldn't get out of Anderson Silva's clinch or avoid his knees and he's fighting a guy who threw 18 million of them against Charles McCarthy. Bisping's last two fights (Jason Day and McCarthy) weren't on the same striking level as Leben, but his questionable win against Matt Hamill showed he can stand in there and bang as well as take a punch. Add to that this fight is going down in Bisping's back yard and I don't see "The Crippler" having much of a chance.
Mark: See, you glossed over the most important factor in this fight. It's in Bisping's back yard. I hate to sound jaded, but that Hamill fight left a bad taste in the mouths of many when it comes to Bisping. I think Leben will have to KO Bisping to have any chance here. That being said, I think he is capable of it. I agree that the fight won't go to the ground but I'm not nearly as confident as you are in Bisping's stand-up game. Leben couldn't escape the clinch of Anderson Silva, who happens to be the best pound-for-pound fighter n the world. Bisping is no Anderson Silva and hey, maybe he's tired after throwing 18 million knees. That can wear anyone out. I covered Leben's last fight and he looked better than I remembered so I would be inclined to say he had a chance if this fight was in the U.S. It's not, but I still give Leben a chance here. The Hamill thing was so awful that I think we'll never see anything like that again because it would be dancing dangerously close to the line of dubious decisions we've seen in other promotions (and in the UFC, but not on the same level).
Is the Keith Jardine-Brandon Vera fight a "must-win" situation for both?
Kelly: Yes, but more so for Brandon Vera than Jardine. After proclaiming he would win UFC title in two divisions, Vera has dropped two straight, although the Fabricio Werdum fight was most definitely a questionable stoppage. He needs a win to stay in the Octagon and in the good graces of UFC president Dana White. Remember that his old manager, Mark Dion, got himself in White's doghouse before Vera fired him (Dion is also the manager of the man who made the worst career decision in MMA -- KJ Noons). Vera's on thin ice and a win over the man who beat Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell could get him back in the game, while another loss may send him packing. Jardine also needs a win, but his situation is forgivable. Losing to Wanderlei Silva is nothing to scoff at, so Jardine isn't in the "must-win" category just yet.
Mark: No. I think Vera could still make a switch back to heavyweight if the light heavyweight thing doesn't work out for him. I don't think there is any question of Vera's future with the UFC. Vera took a step in the right direction with the win over Reese Andy but this will be his first fight at this level, where he's comfortable. The first one at a new weight is always a wash. So, not only would he have another shot at making it at light heavyweight, with the heavyweight scene looking like it does, I think he would have another shot up there. And, even if he continues to look less than impressive, his future should be safe with the UFC. Vera is Filipino and with the UFC booming in the Philippines and aims to have a show there. Vera would be a big part of that and you won't see him cut from the UFC until that happens. I still think Vera has a bright future but because he may be able to help the UFC in its quest for global dominance, he still can serve a role with the UFC even if he loses a few more. Jardine, meanwhile, needs to win to stay relevant. The way he was KO against Silva has him clamoring for respect and if he really wants to become a player again at light heavyweight, a win over Vera is a must.
Should Chris Lytle still be on a UFC main card?
Kelly: Yes, but his time is nearing an end. The Indianapolis firefighter is an exciting fighter, but he's been brutalized in two of his last three fights and has 16 losses overall. Sixteen losses! That's more than Ken Shamrock, who hasn't won a fight in four years! Lytle is on the main card not because of his prowess as a fighter, but because he's fun to watch. He comes out swinging and doesn't stop until someone drops, but lately it's been more him than his opponent. Lytle has fought some of the best fighters in the world -- Matt Hughes, Matt Serra, Josh Koscheck and Thiago Alves, to name a few. For that reason his record may be forgivable, but I think he's doomed to be a gatekeeper for the welterweight division. He'll be that guy that the UFC uses as a trial by fire to see if newcomers have what it takes to be in the octagon.
Mark: He may be doomed to be a gatekeeper, but there are worse ways to make a paycheck. Of course he should still be on UFC main cards. They give those slots mainly to guys who are a draw and guys who are up-and-comers, but you need some Lytle's there too just to keep things interesting. Dana White always tells fighters their futures are safe if they put on an entertaining show, so I would have to think Lytle qualifies at this point. If he had lost to a lot of nobodies, then that's one thing. But you make a good point in that he's fought some top-caliber guys. He's certainly not in a position to be climbing the ranks, but he's still a serviceable fighter, especially as a gatekeeper.
How much have injuries hurt the UFC 90 card?
Mark: I think the injuries have been devastating. Goran Reljic against Thales Leites was going to be a fantastic showdown and Diego Sanchez vs. Thiago Alves had major implications to the future of the welterweight division. To casual fans, the UFC 90 card may have been lacking some pop and the flare that many shows have, but those were two very intriguing and entertaining fights that have been lost. Alves vs. Josh Koscheck will still be decent, but because we've seen Koscheck lose to Georges St. Pierre, this fight loses some luster. It hurts even more because the main event, Anderson Silva vs. Patrick Cote, isn't that great. I really don't think Cote will be much of a challenge for Silva, which means the card relies on Silva's star power (means little to casual fans unfortunately) and three solid undercard bouts. Two are changed now. Fortunately, we still have Sean Sherk vs. Tyson Griffin, but this card wasn't nearly as intriguing as it would have been.
Kelly: Alves and Sanchez was going to be a throwdown that would have had soccer moms texting each other behind their husbands' backs. Squeamish MMA haters would have been traumatized by the blood and brutality for months as they wet their beds at night remembering that fight. I seriously thought it had fight of the year potential, so I loudly proclaimed, [expletive deleted] in the middle of my office when I learned it was scrapped, which scared half of my co-workers. Nothing the UFC does can make up for that one being taken off the card since the main event won't go past the second round (I actually believe Cote will get through the first round -- call me crazy). Alves faces a more dangerous opponent in Koscheck because "The Pitbull" is not a great wrestler and Kos will certainly want to take this one to the ground. What does that spell? B-O-R-I-N-G. The fight, or grappling match I should say, to watch is Matt Horwich versus Ricardo Almeida. That will be a display of top-level ground work and should deliver the submission of the night.
What is October's best fight?
Mark: Thanks to the injuries that ravaged UFC 90, it has to be Anderson Silva vs. Patrick Cote. I think the Bisping-Leben and Vera-Jardine fights from this weekend's UFC 89 could be better fights, but Silva is currently the world's best pound-for-pound fighter. With the rumors that he may be retiring in a year or so floating around lately, who knows how much longer Silva will be in the limelight. Because he doesn't speak English fluently he's not nearly as big of a star as he should be. It's like watching Tiger Woods but not knowing who he is. Silva is at the top of his game and any chance to watch him dismantle another opponent has to be the top fight of the month. Newer fans can have a washed-up Chuck Liddell. I'll take Anderson Silva any day of the week.
Kelly: I'm thinking Vera and Jardine will be the best fight because there's an air of desperation in each corner. But let's talk about what really has people (and by people, I mean me) amped -- WEC 36 on November 5th! Wow! This whole card looks very intriguing, especially Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone vs. former lightweight champion "Razor" Rob McCullough. For some reason I feel a disturbance in the MMA force between these two. I feel Yoda channeling through me ... Want to stand and bang, Razor Rob will, yes. His ninth straight submission Cowboy will look for. But the takedown defense is strong with Razor Rob and never been submitted has he. Tested on his feet will the Cowboy be. Balanced will be restored in the force after this clash it will. There is no try, only do. These great warriors will do. Just saying, I am.
Kelly Crigger is an MMA writer and the author of Title Shot: Into the Shark Tank of Mixed Martial Arts.
Mark Chalifoux is the man behind the curtain at MMA Stomping Grounds and was recently voted one of the greatest 10 men in the history of planet Earth by the Mark Chalifoux foundation.