August 1st, the UFC makes their second appearance on the Versus network with a great card featuring stalwart veterans and fast rising up and comers. Sadly, this card doesn’t seem to be getting much buzz, save for fans looking forward to seeing Jon Jones in action. Let’s look at some of the talking points that might be getting over looked going into Sunday’s card.
Gomi’s Swan Song?
One fight that is really being overlooked by fans and media alike is a lightweight bout between former Pride lightweight champion Takanori Gomi and perennial UFC lightweight contender Tyson Griffin. Gomi was the #1 lightweight in the world and a top pound for pound fighter 5 years ago. These days, he’s but a shell of his former self. Is it problems in training? Are his best days just behind him? A little of both? Fans certainly didn’t see the Gomi they were used to seeing in Pride when he made his UFC debut against Kenny Florian. Gomi stood around for two and a half rounds and ate jab after jab until finally being taken down and submitted.
This fight against Tyson Griffin is do or die for Gomi. If he loses, that will be his second straight loss, and he will be 2-4 in his last 6 fights. He can’t afford to let that happen. Tyson Griffin is about as stern of a test as any lightweight can face in the UFC. Unfortunately for Gomi, the weakness in Griffin’s game isn’t really something Gomi is apt to exploit. Griffin usually loses to good grapplers who can take advantage of the fact that he will give up positions in scrambles. While Gomi is a capable grappler, he is not at the level to put Griffin in any sort of danger- if anything, Griffin is most likely to be the one to put Gomi in danger on the mat. Gomi will most likely look to make this a boxing match, where Griffin will be the faster, more agile fighter. This is just a bad fight for Gomi no matter where it goes. More than likely, we will see Gomi lose a decision or possibly fall to a submission late in the fight. After that, he will be cut by the UFC, and any hopes of Takanori Gomi ever being a relevant lightweight again will be gone forever.
An Exciting New Welterweight Emerges
In a battle of two of the welterweight division’s most overlooked prospects, John Howard and Jake Ellenberger will meet up to see who take another step forward in the wide open welterweight division. After the Jake Shields vs. Martin Kampmann fight in October, there is no clear path for anyone in the welterweight division to get a title shot. Zuffa has made it clear that they don’t want Jon Fitch or Thiago Alves to fight GSP again any time soon. So you will have the winner of Fitch vs. Alves out there, plus the winner of Dan Hardy vs. Carlos Condit as well as the winner of Chris Lytle vs. Matt Serra. The winner of the Ellenberger vs. Howard fight is going to be right in the mix with any of those guys. I would expect the winner of this fight to most likely face either the winner or loser of Fitch vs. Alves, or the winner of Lytle vs. Serra. Either of those fights puts the winner closer to a title fight.
As for the Ellenberger vs. Howard fight itself- I favor Ellenberger quite a bit here. John Howard should have lost to Chris Wilson and Tamdan McCrory, and he was well on his way to losing to Dennis Hallman until he was stood up in the last 20 seconds and knocked out a completely spent Hallman. Ellenberger is a much better wrestler than Howard, and has sick power in his hands. If he wants to put Howard on his back, he can. If he wants to box and rough Howard up, he can do that too. Expect Ellenberger to look good here and to move on to bigger and better things in the division.
The Dark Horse Gets a Coming Out Party
Yushin Okami has always been the dark horse of the middleweight division. He’s always been the guy who’s been fighting in the background, while everyone whispered about how great he was. Out of Okami’s ten past UFC appearances, he was only placed on the main card three times- when he was matched against stars like Rich Franklin, Mike Swick and Evan Tanner. For the rest of his UFC tenure, Okami has toiled in the prelims.
But after his last fight, things are going to be different. Okami was once again fighting on the prelims, this time against Lucio Linhares. Okami showed a new found aggressiveness in this fight, along with a brutal boxing game. He absolutely tore Linhares to shreds with beautiful combinations and crisp, clean jabs. You could literally see UFC match maker Joe Silva at cage side freaking out while Okami landed bomb after bomb on Linhares. He loved it.
So now Okami is going to fight Mark Munoz in the co-main event of a free TV card that is going to be seen by millions of people. This was some wise match making by Joe Silva on several levels. One, Munoz being a strong wrestler has led a lot of fans into believing that he has a really good chance of beating Okami. They base this on the fact that Okami lost to another strong wrestler in Chael Sonnen last fall. This makes it seem like a competitive matchup in the eyes of the fans. Two, this fight is going to make Okami look like an absolute killer. Munoz landed Matt Hamill on highlight reels forever, and he nearly had the same fate against Kendall Grove. Considering neither of those men are particularly good or powerful strikers, and how badly Munoz got beat up against them, this fight is pretty much tailor made to make Okami look like some sort of KO artist. Three, Okami is going to beat up a guy people thought was going to be a tough matchup for him in front of millions of eyes on national TV. Joe Rogan will probably mention the Anderson Silva DQ win at least a couple times during the fight. Interest in Okami will skyrocket due to this fight, and he will most likely find himself in some sort of #1 contender fight after this, most likely against the winner of Marquardt vs. Palhares or Bisping vs. Akiyama.
Development of a Star
And finally, we get to see the UFC taking a note from boxing, and bringing along a prospect slowly. A lot of fans wanted to see Jon Jones in a title fight 6 months ago, never mind that he’s hardly been training for two years now. People were actually livid when he wasn’t used to replace Forrest Griffin against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 114.
By bringing Jones along slowly, the UFC is allowing him to develop his skills at his own pace, and get the appropriate amount of cage time. Fighters thrown in over their heads too soon often sink fast in MMA. Sokoudjou had all the potential in the world- sadly, he was thrown to the lions immediately in his career, and was never given a chance to develop as a fighter. He soon went on a huge losing streak, since you can’t really develop your skills when you fight nothing but elite competition while still learning the game. The UFC is being smart by not letting Jones get swept up in the same sort of trap that fighters like Sokoudjou and Brandon Vera got caught in. They are going to let him develop slowly against good, but not great fighters.
Vladimir Matyushenkenko is the perfect opponent for Jones at this stage in his career. He’s a tough, durable veteran who’s going to be able to stick in there with him for awhile. He’ll be able to push him in certain aspects of the fight, but he’s not a big danger to knock anyone out or latch on a submission. This would be a great fight for Jones to go in there and work on his stand up. Just go out there and engage in a 15 minute kickboxing match. This is the kind of fight for Jones to work on his skills and get that cage time in. What he needs to do is go out there and work on stuff. Go out there and trade hands with Vladimir. Take him down and work for submissions. Sharpen those skills so when Jones does eventually go against an elite level fighter, those skills are battle proven and ready.
If Jon Jones simply goes out there and gets a trip takedown on Vladimir, and then beats him up from inside of his guard until he gets a stoppage, what good did this fight do? He gained nothing from the fight, and he will be no more well prepared for when he fights someone like a Nogueira, a Jackson, a Machida, or a Shogun.
Go out there and work on your skills Jon. Get some time in the cage. We want to you as well prepared and as complete as possible for when you take on the elite of the division. I know we’ll all be looking forward to that, and I for one will be tuned in on August 1st.