What To Watch For This Weekend
To me, this weekend is about as good as it gets as far as MMA goes. Sure the big fights are fun, and they have all the anticipation behind them, but how often does that actually translate into a better fight? Give me three stellar cards on consecutive nights and I’m a happy man.
I espouse regional MMA at pretty much every opportunity, and while these cards are a leap above the average regional card, they often bring the same feel of fighters trying to prove themselves rather than playing it safe. Bellator has become known for exciting fights and awe-inspiring finishes. Strikeforce Challengers is a proving ground, and under the gaze of Sean Shelby has become a very intriguing product. And the UFC on Versus tends to give the little guys a bit more play (although the televised card features two Heavyweight bouts), and we know that more often than not 155ers and below bring the fun.
So out of this whirlwind of MMA, what should you actually pay attention to, and what can wait for the inevitable Wimbledon rain delays? Here are the 5 most intriguing fights/storylines I’ll be following this weekend:
1) How will Marlon Sandro fare in North America?
Marlon Sandro is a legitimate top 5 Featherweight, and he is making his debut in a major North American promotion, I don’t know what gets you excited, but that certainly turns my crank. His signing was a major coup for Bellator, and now all that is left to see is how well he performs in his new setting (the cage as well as the country). This tournament is an excellent barometer for Sandro, as there are some really quality Featherweights taking part, and if he can earn a title shot with the winner of Joe Warren/Patricio Freire, it will solidify his standing in the Featherweight division, even to those who question any fighter who comes out of (or has found success in) Japan.
The major concern I have about Sandro is his lack of top level competition. Sure he absolutely melted Masanori Kanehara, and defeated Michihiro Omigawa everywhere except on the judges’ scorecards, but both of those fighters have shown lately that they are not elite Featherweights. The only true top 145er that Sandro has fought was Hatsu Hioki, and he was utterly dominated in that fight, both on the feet and on the ground. Hioki is probably the best Featherweight that Sandro would face (being teammates with Jose Aldo), but the degree to which he was beaten is worrisome. Clearly he lays somewhere in between the truly elite 145ers and the top 20 type guys like Omigawa and Kanehara. Hopefully this tournament can give us a clearer picture of exactly where that is.
2) Will Nate Marquardt’s success at Middleweight carry over to Welterweight?
I have a difficult time backing fighters making a drop in weight class for the first time (or in Marquardt’s case, returning to a weight class he outgrew), and it will be interesting to see if Marquardt can prove me wrong in my pick of Rick Story in this bout.
My concerns about Marquardt’s weight cut notwithstanding, I think Story is a bad matchup for him in that his type of grinding, aggressive style of wrestling has given Nate issues in the past.
As far as the weight actually goes, I think Marquardt will either be making a huge cut in water weight (as he is a lean fighter) or he’ll have to slim down significantly to give himself a manageable cut. The former option effects his cardio, and the later will hinder his overall strength, neither a good thing against a fighter like Story. Let’s see if he can prove me wrong.
3) What kind of results will we see from the bevy of Lightweights continuing to drop down to the increasingly financially viable Featherweight division?
We recently saw Kenny Florian make a transition from 155 down to 145, with mixed results. Given his standing at 155, Florian was expected to dispatch of Diego Nunes with ease, but the bout proved far more competitive than most anticipated, and it ended up being Florian’s wrestling that earned him the victory over an indescribably fatigued Nunes.
The general consensus amongst MMA fans and media has been that the Lightweight division is significantly better than Featherweight, and that a crop of mediocre 155ers dropping weight would spell impending doom for the incumbents at 145. I believe that the Florian/Nunes bout proved that this is not the case at all, as Florian was more highly regarded at Lightweight than Nunes was at Featherweight, and struggled as much as he did before ultimately claiming the victory.
Certainly this should dampen the sentiment that even the most average of Lightweights can run roughshod over the Featherweight division. This weekend we’ll continue to see this story develop, as Tyson Griffin, Pat Curran and Joe Stevenson all make their first cut to 145.
So long as he gets back to what he’s good at (re: not striking), I expect to see Griffin to have moderate success in his new division. Remember that he isn’t too far removed from being a top 10 Lightweight, and remains a skilled fighter who was hampered by his consistent ability to fight to his own detriment.
Curran should also fare well in the Bellator Featherweight tournament, and I expect him to meet up with Marlon Sandro in the finals. That fight will be the true test of where he stands in the division.
To be honest, I’m not looking for much from Stevenson at Featherweight. He peaked as a fighter when he managed to get a UFC title shot, and since then his game has regressed significantly, particularly in his striking. He still remains a decent wrestler with the ability to do some damage from the top, and has a nasty guillotine, but there are too many fighters who are easily capable of negating his strengths, and I don’t think it will be too much longer before the Ultimate Fighter winner is out of a UFC job altogether.
These are the types of mixed results I expect to see moving forward from those transitioning down to 145. Some Lightweights will acquit themselves well, and some will struggle just as they did to prompt their cut in the first place. This isn’t so much a case of one division being superior to the other, simply just some fighters being quality fighters who are able to drop the weight, and others who require much more than a change in their weight to find success again.
4) Will Charles Oliveira and Quinn Mulhern become the next exciting submission artists to be stifled by the top games of wrestlers?
The trend in MMA is that a wrestler who has a solid grasp of positioning and submissions will beat a guard player more often than not, due in large part to the aesthetic of one fighter being on top of another. Oliveira and Mulhern are both the types of grapplers who have found success off of their backs, and have no qualms about fighting from that position. Their opponents, Nik Lentz and Jason High, respectively, have no issues with putting their adversary in that bottom position and working away to win a decision.
Are the submissions of Oliveira and Mulhern good enough to catch Lentz and High from the bottom, or give them pause about taking the fight down? Or will they join the growing ranks of fighters who are hurt by their acceptance of fighting from the guard, looking to submit their opponent?
I find both Oliveira and Mulhern enjoyable to watch, and while changing their styles to become less guard oriented would probably result in them finding more success in terms of wins and losses, they shouldn’t have to resort to such drastic measures, when controlling a fight from the bottom is (or should be) a perfectly legitimate way to win.
5) How will Lorenz Larkin build off of his spectacular Strikeforce debut?
Larkin impressed everyone in the building when he took Scott Lighty to task back in April, on a week’s notice no less. Looking back, Lighty was actually a very favourable fight for his debut, as once it was proven that Lorenz was the superior striker, Lighty was left with no recourse but to shoot from way outside in the hopes of taking the fight to the ground. He failed. Spectacularly.
Larkin’s next challenge is going to test him much more, as Gian Villante presents the threat of a big, strong grappler, something Larkin has historically seen very little of. How Lorenz is able to deal with the strength and takedowns of Villante, and how he reacts if put on his back should tell us much more about this exciting prospect than the display we saw nearly three months ago.
Definitely a number of things to keep an eye on this weekend, and this is only a handful of action on tap. I only touched on one of the fights on the main card of UFC on Versus, and even neglected the main event of Strikeforce Challengers. As I said at the beginning, this weekend is about as good as it gets for MMA, and these are a few of the reasons why.