(A face only Greg Jackson could love. Courtesy of Combat Lifestyle’s UFC 96 press conference gallery.)
It’s debatin’ time again. With one day to go before UFC 96 rocks Columbus, Ohio, we’re talking title shots, Hall of Fame inductees, and more in this edition of Ben vs. Ben.
Given Jardine’s track record for spoiling the UFC’s best-laid plans, what are his chances to upset Rampage Jackson and force a Machida-Evans title fight?
BG: Unless Greg Jackson’s gameplan for Keith Jardine is “change everything about your standup game,” the Dean of Mean is in deep shit. Sure, Jardine has been a notable spoiler for Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell, but he’s just as well-known for being eaten alive by the heavy-handed onslaughts of Houston Alexander and Wanderlei Silva, thanks in large part to his often-shaky striking defense. Jardine may be able to outmaneuver a measured counter-puncher, but if Jackson comes out slugging, he’s done for.
Not to say that Rampage is going to be a wild man from the opening bell. Against Wanderlei Silva in December, he took the first half of the first round at a slow pace, settling in and finding his range. (And then he found it, and boom went the dynamite.) But there’s a difference between the patient knockout artist that Jackson was at UFC 94, and the tentative, off-peak, troubled Rampage we saw against Forrest Griffin at UFC 86. Jardine could have probably won a decision over that Rampage via leg kicks. Unfortunately, a 100% healthy and focused Quinton Jackson would likely outbox Jardine into unconsciousness, sometime after the first round. QJ wins this one four out of five times. Machida’s title shot will come at the end of this year, at the earliest.
BF: First of all, QJ? Man walks around with a perfectly good nickname like “Rampage” and here you are calling him QJ? There’s just no excuse for that.
Second, you’re probably right. Jardine’s known for being a spoiler, but he’s also known for wilting under heavy pressure. On a technical level, I don’t think there’s that much difference between Jardine and Rampage in the striking game. The real difference is that Rampage hits much, much harder. He only needs one opening, and sooner or later Jardine is going to give it to him, good game plan or not. Rampage gets the title shot while Machida sits. If Evans and Greg Jackson are smart, they’ll use the Rampage/Jardine fight as a scouting opportunity.
Aside from the top two bouts on the card, what’s worth getting excited about at UFC 96? Anything?
BF: Hell yes there is, you just have to look a little bit. For instance, Gray Maynard vs. Jim Miller is a fight I am genuinely looking forward to, but have a hard time predicting a winner for. Maynard’s ability to take people down and hold them there for three rounds is established, though not a lot of fun to watch. But Miller has the kind of submissions ability and all-around game to really force him to do something else, if he’s capable of it.
I also think Pete Sell vs. Matt Brown could turn out to be a brutal affair in the very best sense. Neither guy is at or near the top of the division, but they’re both tough bastards who like to mix it up. Brown looked much improved in his last fight, and Sell will have Matt Serra screaming obnoxiously in his corner. What’s not to like there?
BG: I’ll definitely be watching the Maynard/Miller bout with great interest, hoping that Miller will be able to stop the Bully’s string of miserable lay-and-pray decision victories. Lately I’ve become a passionate hater of the Guida/Maynard school of winning fights without coming anywhere near finishing them — it’s like they’re waiting for a referee to slide in and slap the mat three times. So yes, I’ll be having a good time rooting against Gray Maynard, that fucker.
I’ll also be crossing my fingers that there’s time in the broadcast to show the Kendall Grove/Jason Day scrap from the undercard (could be a slugfest), as well as the Brandon Vera/Michael Patt pink-slip match. On paper, Vera should have no problem taking out Patt, or at the very least squeezing out a sad decision. But if he does lose — always a possibility with the Truth — it would be his fourth loss in five fights, and the conclusion of the most dramatic flame-out of a formerly hot prospect in recent memory. So yes, that fight is interesting to me. Not in a “talented fighter vs. talented fighter, with title implications” sort of way, but we have to take our excitement where we can get it with this card.
Last time the UFC went to Columbus, Mark Coleman was inducted into the Hall of Fame. If the UFC were to add another legendary fighter to the HoF, who would be the best choice?
BG: Out of sentiment, the first guy that comes to mind is the late Evan Tanner. Though he wasn’t able to successfully defend his title, Tanner became the UFC’s middleweight champion at UFC 51 after defeating David Terrell, and his 17 Octagon appearances put him only behind Tito Ortiz (21), Chuck Liddell (21), Matt Hughes (20), Randy Couture (19), and Tank Abbott (18). More importantly, Evan was an incredible human being, revered by fans and fellow fighters for his kindness and generous spirit.
But in terms of dominance inside the Octagon and legacy outside of it, the logical choice for the next Hall of Fame inductee has to be Pat Miletich. “The Croatian Sensation” was the UFC’s first-ever welterweight champion, his reign spanning two-and-a-half years and four title defenses. Of course, he’s even more well-known as a coach. His Miletich Fighting Systems camp in Bettendorf, Iowa, has produced an army of champions and top contenders, including Matt Hughes, Jens Pulver, Tim Sylvia, and Robbie Lawler. Miletich last competed (and won) in December ‘08, but as soon as he officially retires from MMA, the plaque needs to be waiting for him.
BF: I know this is going to make me sound like a heartless jerk, but I don’t see inducting a guy into the Hall of Fame just because he died. Yes, it was tragic and Tanner was a fan favorite and a unique individual, but if he hadn’t died on that camping trip, if he had come home safely there’s no way we’d be talking about him as a potential Hall of Fame inductee right now. Dying young doesn’t make your career more important.
But Miletich, there I agree with you. His career was a distinguished one, he did more to help the advance of the sport than any other single person, and he’s still one of the best ambassadors we have.
The thing that bothers me about the UFC Hall of Fame is that it’s so tied up with how the organization feels about a guy. I’d like to see some general pioneers of the sport inducted into it, guys like Bas Rutten, who only fought twice in the UFC but was still incredibly important to the early days of MMA. But since the UFC feels no special kinship toward him and can’t figure out a way to make money off him, it probably won’t happen. That’s a shame, I think. But that’s life.
Is the winner of Gonzaga-Carwin immediately in line for a shot at the heavyweight title once the UFC finally figures out who their real champ is? Who will that winner be, by the way?
BF: Absolutely the winner of this fight deserves a title shot. Not necessarily because this is the kind of epic number one contender match that my dream fight between middleweights Nate Marquardt and Demian Maia would be, but more because there’s really no one else more deserving in the heavyweight division.
Think about it: aside from these two you’ve got Randy Couture and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who both just lost and will now take their time getting back into action, thanks largely to Couture’s bullshit acting career. You’ve also got Cheick Kongo, who needs to beat someone with a legitimate UFC record first, and Cain Velasquez, who still only has a handful of fights and won’t get his next shot until this summer. The Carwin/Gonzaga winner is more deserving than any of those guys right now.
As for who that winner will be, I can’t go against Carwin. Dude’s a monster. He’s bigger and stronger, and has the wrestling chops to exploit Gonzaga’s weaknesses in that area. I think he’ll be forced to go more than one round for a change, but Carwin will grind out a late TKO in the end.
BG: I agree that Shane Carwin will use his superior takedowns and ground-and-pound to end this fight. We may not know for sure what happens when Carwin is faced with a good opponent, but we do already know what happens to Gonzaga — he gets his ass kicked. (Cro Cop doesn’t count. His head wasn’t in the game. Moving on now.)
Still, you can’t say “screw it, give Carwin a shot” just because nobody else is ready. I think matchmaking based on that attitude diminishes the importance of the UFC’s heavyweight title, which should kind of be a big deal. If Carwin gets by Gonzaga, he’ll be 1-0 against opponents who aren’t complete cans. Sure, that was enough to earn Brock Lesnar a title shot, but that at least made sense from a business perspective. Carwin should have to beat another non-can like Kongo, or someone high-profile like the loser of Couture/Nogueira. The best-case scenario would probably be an elimination match against Cain Velasquez, because at least then the UFC could market the winner as the best up-and-coming heavyweight in the world. If that means the heavyweight belt is tied up until a true #1 contender emerges, so be it. As much as I love Shane Carwin, there’s really no reason to throw him into a title fight until he’s fully developed and put over with the fans.