As is sometimes the case in life, I’ve been incredibly busy with work this week and this weekend is a huge holiday, so I did not have enough time this week to break down every fight on the UFC 132 card like I had hoped to. So far I’ve asked questions about Guillard vs. Roller, Sotiropoulos vs. Dos Anjos, Kim vs. Condit, and Cruz vs. Faber. I don’t have time for a full breakdown of the remaining fights on the main card, but I’d like to do a brief breakdown with my questions.
Tito Ortiz does not have it easy- in the fan’s eyes, in the cage, or with the media. Some may say that his trash talk and "excuses" have brought the litany of negativity on himself, but I think that Tito is just the same confident, brash personality he’s always been- and he hates to admit when he’s been defeated. And when Tito uses the "excuse" that he’s fought the best of the best, always coming off injuries, do people really not see that it’s the truth? Let’s examine the murderers row that Tito has fought in his winless streak in the past five years: a loss to Chuck Liddell in a title fight when Chuck was still "The Iceman" that we know and love, a draw against Rashad Evans in a fight that Ortiz may have won if he didn’t try avoid getting slammed by holding the cage, a scrap that saw him nearly submit Lyoto Machida via triangle, a razor thin split decision loss to Forrest Griffin, and most recently a loss that saw Ortiz get dominated by a hungry wrestler in Matt Hamill. Take a second look at those names, and you’ll see four out of five that have been champions of the light heavyweight division in the last 4 years, and an Olympic credentialed wrestler that Ortiz fought still in rehab for his spine- something incredibly debilitating for any athlete, let alone a mixed martial artist who’s greatest weapon is his wrestling (yeah, wrestling with an unhealthy back is probably not so easy). Why is the media so quick to give a fighter his walking papers? 0-4-1 is definitely not an impressive streak, but against the level of competition Tito has faced, having to consistently face year layoffs, and constantly having to rehab from injuries has probably been devastating to someone that’s name and feud as the "villain" against fan favorite Chuck Liddell helped build the UFC’s brand. Tito is not the easiest personality to endure- but how often do we see the same attitude from any elite athlete who faces decline from the pinnacle of the division?
Even if Tito loses to Bader tonight, his mixed martial arts career should not meet an end- and it’s a shame that the conclusion is, in a way, being forced on Ortiz. I think that his name, face, and fearsome "Bad Boy" personality helped take the sport to new heights (at least in the United States). The situation is completely different from Chuck Liddell’s decline- Chuck had taken too much punishment in his career, and he was on the receiving end of four devastating knockouts over three years. Liddell’s reflexes had diminished, and his brain was continually getting scrambled as a result. Contrast that with someone who’s been finished by strikes only two times in the last SEVEN years in Ortiz, facing the caliber of fighters that he has? I think my point has been made- Ortiz is being bull-rushed away from competition- and whether you like him or not, I think he deserves more than the treatment he has gotten from the UFC, from the media, and from fans. I’ll end my soliloquy on that note.
Ryan Bader is a force. He has an unbelievable wrestling pedigree and devastating power in his hooks- something that often takes much longer for wrestlers to develop as they transition into the Mixed Sweet Science. In his last outing against Jon Jones, it was clear that Ryan’s will was broken some time in the first round against the current LHW champ- probably because he relinquished an ankle pick takedown so early in the fight. Ryan held his own- and even though people think Bader mounted little offense against "Bones," the fact is that he landed a massive overhand/hook flush on Jones’ temple/orbital area- it’s just that Jon was barely stunned. I’d go so far to say that "Darth" looked more impressive in standing with Jones than Mauricio Rua- at the very least, he landed more solid strikes.
Bader has beaten strong competition in his nascent career, and at 28 he will most likely be a contender in the UFC for quite some time. The one thing that I think Bader needs to do to progress is lose some of the muscle mass he carries around- while it may look aesthetically pleasing, it has made his cardio suffer time and again. Should he ever get in a position to fight Jones again, he will need to improve his jiu-jitsu, aerobic, and anaerobic capacity- so he will be the same force of nature (complete with Ninja Turtle abs) from the opening bell to the end of the fight.
Questions: Does Bader try to follow a similar gameplan to Matt Hamill, testing Ortiz’s wrestling and skills from his back, or does he look to test the aging Ortiz’s chin? Know that he has historically had the better cardio, will Ortiz look to wear Ryan out in the first round and then keep the pace as high as he can, hoping to break Bader? Can Tito use footwork and range to keep away from Bader’s powerful double leg? Finally, can "Darth" rebound from his first career setback to get back on the winning track, or does he look tentative to engage and in doing so leave openings in the Octagon?
Well, I know what most people think about this fight. Siver is coming off a drubbing of George Sotiropoulos in Australia that completely derailed what was almost assuredly a title shot for George. While Siver looked very impressive in that fight, I don’t think we should completely dismiss the quiet 3 fight win streak that Wiman is bringing into this fight. Matt is 7-2 in his last 9- his two losses coming in FOTN performances against the #1 contender at lightweight in Jim Miller and another well-rounded UFC vet in Sam Stout. While Wiman carries the moniker "Handsome," I think a better adjective for him would be gritty- though his striking is nothing fancy, he is a tough, durable scrapper with a good grappling repetoire. Most think that Siver easily has the advantage on the feet- and if this were a straight kickboxing matchup I’d be inclined to agree- but Wiman has been in the cage against good kickboxers and always managed to at least hold his own.
Questions: After seeing Dennis Siver stuff George Sotiropoulos’s attempts to bring the fight at UFC 127, will he be able to continue the trend and shuck off Wiman’s attempts to put the fight on the mat? What tactics do Wiman employ to deal with the rangy kickboxing of Siver, and does he continually step away from Siver’s powerful spinning kicks? Does the domination of Miller and Sotiropoulos seem to have any hangover effects for either fighter, or do they look hungry to tack on a fourth victory to their winning streak?
BARNBURNER. Slobberknocker. Slugfest. How many different adjectives can we use to describe what we believe this fight between two fan favorites turns into? But how can we be sure that we’re in for fireworks when we see these two veterans face off in the Octagon against each other?
What has surprised me the most in the lead up to this fight has been Chris Leben’s "fear" talk. Not only has he confessed that he is afraid of "The Axe Murderer’s" ability to put him into a "coma," but he has also communicated that after all this time, he does not actually like to step foot in the cage? I’m not sure how serious Chris is with this pre-fight dialogue, but I think if he’s telling the truth- first of all, we’ve seen multiple times when a fighter faces someone he has idolized in the sport, a performance anxiety seems to take over; Georges St-Pierre vs. Matt Hughes and Pat Barry against Mirko Filopovic are probably the best known examples of mentally defeating oneself before every stepping in the cage with their opponent. In both situations, the younger fighter was beating their legendary counterpart, only to have a mental lapse that ended in their submission. So the talk of fear mixed with Leben’s confessed idolatry of Silva’s legacy leads me to believe that he is on the cusp of the same mental disconnect the aforementioned fighters faced. It is my opinion that mentality is a crucial and integral part of performance- whether we’re talking about pole vaulting in the Olympics, hitting a walk off homerun, performing a personal record deadlift, and ESPECIALLY when we’re talking about a combat sport. In a non-combat sport, if you miss a game winning three pointer, you aren’t going to be knocked out by your opposition. In MMA, if you do not fully commit to your abilities and have penultimate confidence, you are going to over-think and leave openings. If you are fighting Wanderlei Silva, you REALLY don’t want to leave openings.
Silva is a day away from his 35th birthday ; combining that with a layoff and knee injury is the type of math that normally doesn’t add up to a positive in mixed martial arts. But Wanderlei is a different beast- and I believe that it is fully because he has the exact opposite mentality that Leben has confessed to in their prefight talk. No matter who you are- Tyson, Rampage, the Klitschko brothers, Junior Dos Santos- Wanderlei is coming right for you, swinging from his hips and looking to separate your head from your neck. Confidence has never been something the former Pride champion has lacked, and I’m not sure that fear is part of his lexicon. Yes, he is coming off a knee injury, but I don’t think Silva would even know how to gas out, and I don’t believe that Leben tests Wandy’s sprawl or defensive wrestling enough for the knee injury to be a major factor in the fight. The one thing that is worrisome is that no matter how hurt Leben is, until you see him disconnected from reality, he can-and will- throw the one punch spoiler that makes him the most dangerous "wounded animal" you will ever see. I’ve made mention of this in my predictions- but isn’t Rampage’s knockout of Wanderlei something very reminiscent of a punch we’d see "The Crippler" throw when he’s in danger? I’ll let that thought marinate.
Questions: Combining Leben’s knockout loss to Brian Stann and his pre-fight "fear" talk- how hesitant will he be to stand and trade with Wanderlei, and will he perhaps try to use his limited offensive wrestling repertoire to grind out a victory? Is Wanderlei coming out guns blazing, or will he use his definitive advantage in kicks and speed to keep Leben out of range? How does Silva’s normal frenetic pace and caution-to-the-wind strategy suffer from his injury and rehabilitation? Can Leben rebound from his second career KO loss (his only other being to Anderson Silva), or does his chin finally looked weathered from the punishment he’s taken throughout his career? Finally- does Leben look like he has mentally taken himself out of the fight, or were his pre-fight words a ruse to make Silva over confident?