Prospect Phantasmagoria Wednesday, Apr 11 2007 

A trick that I find fascinating is the way an idea can surface today and by tomorrow the media is running with it until it becomes an intuitive fact. A good example of this phenomenon took place during the Pittsburgh coaching quest. The local media was naturally going to be covering the search heavily, and the in-house options were labeled and discussed as the prime candidates early on.

But there was never any actual evidence that either had the inside track to the job. Really it made just as much sense then as it does now that the organization would want to snuff out the country club atmosphere and get a fresh start with a passionate young coach. Just like last time. Furthermore, both Whis and Grimm had been considered and passed over more than once by other teams, while Tomlin was considered a star on the rise by anyone you asked around the league. The Steelers brain trust is a thoughtful group, able to block out the noise and the pressure to analyze situations and make favorable decisions. They base their analyses on the properties of reality, not the media-conceived alter-universe where the sky can become green if the notion passes over the airwaves enough times. And, in reality, would you rather seize the next big thing a year too early, or pick at discarded leftovers after a year growing staler?

Despite the writing on the wall the media had already decided that it was a two-horse race. The thought did have some sense to it, a crucial element for the trick to work, and once you’d heard it fifty times it’s utter correctness became obvious and second-nature.

I bring this up because the same thing happens every year around draft time. Early in the season if you asked anyone what they thought about Jamarcus Russell at pick one they’d have laughed. Certainly big games and big plays have had plenty to do with his rise, but have the essentials really changed that much? Big arm, big presence, big project? But once Mel Kiper floated the angle that Brady Quinn, while surely looking like the top pick, might be in for a fight if big Jamarcus came out, well the race was on. Because maybe he’s right. And as a scrapper in the ultra-competitive arena of sports reporting you’re not about to give pause either way. You don’t have the seconds to spare, and frankly you really don’t know how to evaluate the comment with any degree of scout’s sophistication anyway.

This isn’t to suggest that Russell isn’t a fine prospect or that his rise to the status of the elite was based entirely on madness and hype. I’ve simply chosen to use him as an example because I think his evolving public perception is representative of seeing what you think you’re supposed to see when you look at the tape. If all you read about on the web were his warts then I think that’s what you’d see when he’s shown on TV. If Kiper decides to drop him out of the top 10 we’ll all find ourselves agreeing rather quickly. “Too many overthrows,” we’ll write. “Not enough touch.” 

We’ve gone through this already with Brady Quinn after all. Timing is everything for a prospect, and Quinn was on the market and under the microscope for entirely too long. We started to hear all about his faults when the media machine simply ran out of positive things to share with us. After all, the folks at ESPN can’t simply report that nothing has changed each week and expect to collect a pay check.

So think about the prospects that have been taken and discussed in this mock draft so far. If you had to pick a player to bump up a spot or two who would it be? I’m not real big on citing another man’s opinion as if it proves anything, but Todd McShay made some interesting changes to his mock today. Did any of you think of Gaines Adams a second ago? Because McShay has him going to Detroit at #2. My guess is that pick will just kind of feel right to everyone by this time next week. “Sure, Gaines at two, can’t pass on the next Peppers.”

The ability to block out all the noise is what separates the best decision-makers from the also-rans. Watching, listening and learning without prejudice is the only way to find and add value to any situation. Great organizations have the guts to take the road less traveled and the conviction not to flinch when criticized for it. So that last coaching hire, player signing, or draft pick is a mockery in your book? Maybe you’re just under the spell that someone else has broken. 

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Fight Night Preview Friday, Apr 6 2007 

Just a reminder that the action kicks off tonight at 6pm with Unleashed, followed by Fight Night and TUF 5. The lightweight division should get a big boost tonight, and I see it growing to be as exciting as welterweight has become over the last couple years.

The division itself is fairly new but tonight’s fighters are anything but- they are a combined 70-13-3. Headliner Joe Stevenson has been a lot of people’s pick to unseat Sean Sherk but this matchup against Melvin Guillard is not simply a chance to showcase his skills. Kenny Florian is one of my favorite guys to watch and will also be seen on tonight’s undercard. For those of you who haven’t seen the lightweights in action, you are in for a treat. The power is still there, along with more speed, agility, and explosiveness.

On Saturday we’ll get to see Roger Huerta vs. Leonard Garcia, each with double-digit victories and a single loss. Another guy to keep an eye on who won’t be fighting this week is Hermes Franca. He’s got surprising knockout power for a 155, and although I think he might be a little too free-swinging to be considered a favorite for the belt, he certainly has a puncher’s chance against anyone in the division. There is a handful of others like him we’ll be talking about in the next few months.

TUF 5 is sure to produce a couple fan favorites, and early reviews point to the most exciting season yet, inside the octogon and out. Don’t forget about Pulver and Penn either. Who knows how the UFC is planning to use them to bring credibility to the division.

The credibility may be needed but the stable of exciting fighters is already in place. This weight-class won’t be the re-headed stepchild for long.

All this is just an appetizer for Saturday’s card- the best in recent memory. If there’s a fighter besides Liddell that can carry a PPV without an competetive opponent its St. Pierre. If Serra brings it even better. We know that the fighters on the main undercards will, including Mike Swick, the most explosive under-the-radar fighter in UFC.

Interestingly GSP mentioned in an interview that aired last night that he has the higher weight classes on his mind. We’ve all hoped at times for Hughes-Franklin, Franklin-Liddell, or Liddell-Arlovski. Hopefully Randy opened the door for these matchups. If you think about it, the fifteen pound difference between weight classes is about what every fighter sheds the week of the fight anyway. While some will handle the jump better than others I think we’ll see some of these dream fights in the next couple years- after of course the champs hold off new challengers from within, Pride, and elsewhere.

Enjoy.

UFC 69 and Beyond Monday, Apr 2 2007 

The business side of sports is of as much interest to me as the competitions themselves. UFC’s development into a major player in the battle for the deep pool of sports entertainment revenue in the United States has been particularly intriguing for me.

Any sports league needs to balance it’s need for exposure and revenue with the risk of oversaturation. There exists an invisible tipping point where the sport is available to the public a bit too much; the point at which profits shrink despite increased earnings opportunities. 

With that in mind it was interesting to see the UFC begin to offer main events, complete with full fight cards, every month on pay-per-view. This was in keeping with the organization’s and president Dana White’s aggressive assault on the global combat sports marketplace. The decision to structure each event around only one major fight, usually a title defense, was prudent. The company’s four-division platform has been able to support such an approach- but not with many credible matchups to spare.  The undercards have bordered on being a bit too watered down for the mainstream audiences the UFC covets.

The recent acquisition of Pride eases any concerns over a dilluted product. Not only does the UFC have a developing pool of in-house contenders, as well as storylines and grudges to promote. Now if a division appears dry, as some would argue is the case in middle, light heavy, and heavy, there are epic “unification bouts” ready for the making.

I have been impressed by the planning done by White and his staff over the last couple of years. Rather than simply making the most obvious or lucrative fight for the exact moment in time they found themsleves in, they seems to have a knack for seeing the flow of each division several dominos ahead. The Pride acquisition will enhance that strength.

Conventional fight-promotion thinking might lead to some tiresome buildup for a Liddell-Rampage fight in the late summer. Meanwhile legend and headliner Randy Coture could carry a pay-per-view or two on his own with bouts against a couple also-rans. Instead the UFC is going to keep their foot on the gas. Chuck will fight Rampage May 26, freeing him up for “new challenges,” as he put it, as soon as this summer. The next step will likely depend on Randy’s career objectives, but the important thing is that the organization has options- exciting, profitable, fan-base-building options. This insane pay-per-view pace looks like it may be sustainable.

As I see it the biggest fight flow for the UFC looks like this: Liddell-Couture (at heavy), Liddell-Arlovski and Liddell-Cro Cop. Meanwhile I think they can get some more mileage out of Franklin and Silva at middleweight before looking at Dan Henderson from Pride. Another option in the higher classes is to allow Randy to run his course, which will likely lead the belt to Cro Cop at some point, while Chuck faces off against both internal (Evans) and external (Shogun, Silva) contenders. The lightweight division will generate some momentum starting with Fight Night and the new season of TUF, both this Thursday. Lots of possibilities here, and it will be exciting to see who parlays their opportunity into a big time UFC legacy. The prediction here is that the Pulver-Penn winner will have an established and accomplshed lightweight champ to challenge at season’s end. As for the welterweights, well the plot really starts to clean itslef up this Saturday…….

The predictions:

-I think Mike Swick is better than the more-hyped Kendall Grove. I’m expecting an impressive breakout-type performance in his home town in a very entertaining fight against a game opponent. Look for a possible highlight reel knockout.

-I think Grove is vulnerable. One thing I love about the UFC is the diversity in both styles and body types, and Da Spyder (appropriate nickname, inappropriately lame spelling) is a good example of this. While I expect him to go down to a professional opponent-type before he gets to the championship level, I think he’ll get by Belcher.

-Matt Serra is a tough guy and I’ve probably underappreciated him heading into this fight. But St. Pierre just makes guys look pathetic and Serra didn’t exactly light it up versus Lytle.  Expect the usual wide array of GSP puches and kicks along with some slams, some blood, and a merciful stoppage. GSP is -750, which is just plain scary.

-Sanchez-Koscheck is the fight I’ve anticipated more than any non-title fight ever. Sanchez has never lost and has not lost in style. Koscheck doesn’t really lose either- he dominated college wrestling before deciding to take a shot at MMA, where his only loss was of course the split-decision he dropped to Sanchez in TUF seemingly minutes after he learned the rules. These guys both just crush people.

The consensus is that Sanchez is more well-rounded and has more polish, which explains his -185 edge at the books. Both men’s standup would be considered works-in-progress, and that’s what makes this fight so epic- you don’t usually see two of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world meet before one has a belt. The beauty of this battle is that there will be so much to build on once it is over. This isn’t like Liddell sending Couture into retirement (ok bad example). The public will likely demand rematch after rematch as these guys continue to evolve- although this may be the last meeting without a belt at stake. And don’t forget that the winner may be watching his next opponent from his dressing room. Now THAT will be a PPV headliner! What a great time to be a UFC fan!

Stylistically both guys ground and pound the average 170 punder with ease, although Koscheck is widely considered the best wrestler in the UFC. Yes, better than Hughes, and don’t forget that the belt is still on his mind as well. Diego has steamrolled a few more guys and is simply one of the most vicious and relentless attackers around. He truely is a nightmare to fight and is another of the few in the UFC to carry a nickname with any logic behind it. His knees and punches are to the point and he takes the straightest path between point A and B (his opponent’s face). Kos on the other hand throws wider, more looping haymakers which have been effective against inferior competition. If Sanchez ends this one abruptly my guess is that he does it with a counter-attack. Similarly if Kos gets the upper hand it may very well be due to his precision in takedowns and their defense. I think fundamentals and conditioning will decide this one. Both guys will need to keep their cool as early adreneline could lead to fatigue.

How far have both guys come skillwise? Will the drama of the moment cause either to slack on their technique? Who is really the more explosive athlete? What’s my pick? I’m going with the upset that won’t seem like an upset when it’s over. Look for Koscheck to get after him, pick him up, and put him down in a fight that will have fans begging for a fourth and fifth round if it lasts that long. And then we get to find out if he can do the same to GSP!

What a great time to be a UFC fan!

   

State of the Light Heavyweights Sunday, Mar 4 2007 

It’s Pretty Simple

Chuck Liddell is the best.

Tito Ortiz is in an awkward spot. He is obviously inferior to Chuck and there’s no interest in a third meeting. However, he’s still the most recognizable of the second tier and would seem to be the logical ‘last stop’ before another fighter’s title shot. But what if he wins that fight? His opponent is discredited as a legit contender, and the pecking order remains in tact. This is bad for the UFC.

Keith Jardine turns every match into a war, and is a questionable decision away from being undefeated. In hindsight, that decision hurt the division, though at the time Bonnar seemed the more likely star. Jardine is probably well-rounded enough to handle Ortiz or Evans, and a win over either would set up a credible title shot.

Rampage gave Liddell the only beating he has yet to avenge. He reportedly hasn’t been impressive in his last couple years of fighting, and his only UFC win was over a complete scrub. The organization is the master of hyping their stepping stones, but the truth is that Rampage will enter his title shot (this summer at the latest) without a quality UFC win. At his best his strength, balance and use of leverage will be much closer to Chuck’s level the Jeremy Horns of the world. Chuck is used to easily defending every take-down and firing away with no regard for counter-strikes. It will be worth tuning in just to see if Rampage can throw a wrench in the strategy. We’re all waiting to see how Chuck will respond if he’s ever in trouble again. The last time it happened he ran out of gas and Rampage beat him like his stepson.  

Rashad Evans is one of those ex-wrestlers who can beat 80% of the division on strength, athleticism and grappling technique alone. Dana White has said that he’d like to legalize knees to the head of a grounded fighter, and if you’ve ever watched Evans fight you can understand why. Most fighters have no answer for world-class take-downs. (By the way the states won’t sanction the knees and stomps. It’s not the UFC.) Regardless, I personally think Evans will get be in trouble against the versatile kicks and strikes of a fighter like Jardine or Liddell. The truth is that he probably needs to take a beating for the good of his career. For now he’s content to ground and pound, as he should be since it works every time. Unless they can find a nemesis for Liddell who can either defeat him or earn a rematch, White will need to have a rising star ready to step up. A successful TUF champion makes sense for obvious reasons, and Evans is the most decorated option right now.

Michael Bisping is the other Ultimate Fighter being groomed as Chuck’s Next Victim. In fact they should rename the show CNV. The Brit’s arrival comes at a great time for the UFC, with a show coming up in England. He dominated the reality show and seems well rounded. In a world without Pay-Per-View a fight with Bonnar would make sense to see where the bloke is at, but more likely he’ll just TKO 2-3 fat losers over the next year.

Forrest Griffin & Stephan Bonnar are battle-tested warriors from the first season of TUF. Griffin has established his ceiling with losses to Jardine and Ortiz. Bonnar lost to Griffin twice and Evans once, but also hung with Jardine and actually got the win. These guys are the Evan Tanners of the 205s- tough, skilled fighters who will slaughter the amateur and lose to the elite. Their cardio and toughness make them entertaining opponents for anyone.

Lyoto Machida is a Japanese Karate champ from Brazil. His only UFC fight was a unanimous decision win over Sam Hoger, who busted up Evans in a close loss. He also TKO’d Bonner and Rich Franklin in Japan in ’03, and scored a decision victory over BJ Penn. He is 8-0 in MMA competition.

Renato Sobral is a submission expert, but also an afterthought. At age 31 he has a lot of experience and has beaten Shogun Rua, among others. But he’s been put to sleep twice by Liddell. In that way he’s simply a lower-profile Tito Ortiz. That’s not a bad thing in this division.

The organization has some tough decisions to make regarding the future of this division. Their thinking probably begins like this:

1. Get Liddell-Rampage 2 on as soon as possible. A second warm up fight is what Rampage wants, but putting him in there with a legit fighter is boom or bust: if he wins decisively against Bonnar, Griffin, or better then the fight gets bigger, but if not his mystiqueis gone, and they can’t even justify the title fight. At best Rampage will fight another Marvin Eastman before his shot. 

2. Be prepare for a one-sided Liddell victory. A Rampage win would fix everything. Unfortunately for the UFC the ready-made Rampage fight is a one-shot deal. There aren’t any other 205s within the organization that can team up with Chuck to headline a PPV. These events are watered down as it is, and Liddell’s two fights a year won’t be wasted on undercards either.

Although it can’t be ruled out, handing one of the rising contenders a title shot without another signature win would be very weak. An elimination match on the Liddell-Rampage card would make a lot of sense. (This is basicallywhat Sanchez-Koscheck is expected to be in April, although some would prefer the winner face Hughes for the title shot.) Rashad Evans would probably be a front-runner for such a fight because he’s undefeated and has gained popularity on TUF. The dilema is what to do about Tito Ortiz. An Evans-Ortiz fight would be a great draw, and if victorious Evans would be well-positioned for a showdown with Liddell. A Tito win essentially wastes the momentum Evans has built up. Evans-Jardine would be safer, at least for the winner, and would provide an acceptable challenger for the belt. The lamest option is to allow both Evans and Jardine to coast for a while before eventually getting shots in ’08.

April’s Machida-Griffin fight will be interesting. A 9-0 Machida would be make Evans-Jardine a safer fight to make. Bisping will be fighting on the same card, and the summer/fall fights made by the organization will tell us how they feel about his progress.

The wild cards as always are the light heavyweight stars in other organizations. The possibility of a Liddell-Wanderlei Silva fight,which seemed immenent at times, was weakened by Silva’s February loss to Dan Henderson. Henderson now holds belts at 205 and 185 in Pride, and would be a strong addition to the UFC. So would Shogun Rua, who is ranked above Liddell by several sources. Dana White is committed to bringing every star in MMA to the UFC. 

In the meantime warriors like Bonnar, Griffin and Jardine will keep the division entertaining. The UFC are waiting for a clear contender or two to emerge internally. If it doesn’t happen (even if it does, really) Liddel-Cro Cop will be discussed if (when) Cro Cop beats Silvia.

The Rankings:

1. Chuck Liddell

2. Keith Jardine

3. Tito Ortiz

4. Rampage

5.  Rashad Evans

6. Kyoto Machida

7. Forrest Griffin

8. Michael Bisping

9. Stephan Bonnar

Fights I’d like to see:

1. Any combination of Rampage, Evans, Ortiz, and Jardine

2. Machida vs. Jardine

3. Griffin vs. Bisping

4. Evans vs. Bisping

5. Liddell vs. Sherk

Comments are welcome.

The National Basketball Plague: Why do people cheer when some dickhead blocks a shot 30 feet out of bounds? It’s as good as a turnover. Saturday, Mar 3 2007 

“PERHAPS the sentiments contained in the following pages, are not yet sufficiently fashionable to procure them general favor; a long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right, and raises at first a formidable outcry in defence of custom. But the tumult soon subsides. Time makes more converts than reason.”– Thomas Paine, Common Sense, January, 1776In the early weeks of 1776, Thomas Paine addressed the inhabitants of America in his now famous pamphlet advocating complete independence from the oppression of British rule. Rather than beginning with a questioning of the British constitution and its flaws, his first chapter studies the origin and design of government in general. To avoid bias toward the status quo, the problems of a given institution are best solved by revisiting its beginnings, in the absence of the customs and norms that cloud its purpose for existence.  After examining the genesis of society and the inevitable emergence of government, Paine outlines the reasons, rooted in logic, for the colonies to self-govern. The burden of proof was shifted to the loyalist defenders of the status quo. Change was initiated.

Inertia is the universal enemy of progress. In the face of oppression any compromise short of complete independence is intolerable. The game of basketball faces oppression at the hands of the NBA. Illegal defense. Guaranteed contracts. Incompetent management. Our grievances are plenty.  Like the American Revolution, the basketball renaissance needs to be swift and sweeping.

“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.”-Paine’s The Crisis, December, 1776 The NBA is basketball Hell. But no peace comes from focusing on why fire pains the skin, tyranny needles the spirit, or shit rankles the nostril. As such ask not why NBA basketball maddens the intellect and offends the soul. Solution is not born of a focus on the negative. Conjure instead the elements that made the game great. Patience. Spacing. Vision. Discipline. Why was the game born? How has it evolved? Why was the hoop ten feet high? Why was the floor 94’ by 50’? Has the NBA player achieved an unintended mastery of his enviornment? Has this contributed to his arrogance? At the time of the game’s inception the bouncing of the ball was prohibited with the exception of the bounce pass. Even when the single dribble was grudgingly endorsed in 1901, players could not shoot after doing so. In 1909 limitations on the dribble were removed, though its use was still limited due to the mis-shapen ball. This preserved the natural reliance on teamwork until the symetrical redesign of the early 1950s.

 In 1954 the 24-second clock was introduced to discourage stalling. It also made excusable the occasional low-percentage shot attempt. Along with unchecked dribbling, the zero pass possession beacame possible, tolerable, and commonplace. Illegal defense restrictions made things even more dull and predictable.As time has gone by athletes have gotten bigger, faster, stronger, and more agile. The thug culture that is endorsed and glamorized by the league has made the one-man offense socially and professionally acceptable.

The players’ enhanced abilities, along with a rule book that discourages ball movement and patience, have made the strategy productive. The proliferation of the plague that is selfish basketball at times seems to be the objective of the league. At the very least, the powers that be lack the fortitude to rectify the cultural and professional dilapidation, and their cowardly stench rises to the heavens.

The floor needs to be expanded in both length and width. The three-point line needs to be pulled back. The hoop should be raised. The shot clock needs lengthened. Defensive three seconds needs abolished.

The next step is to force players to play several years of college ball.  Learn to press, run offenses and shoot. Not fair? Fair is irrelevant. The players are employees of the teams. Employers utilize their employees how they see fit.The D-League culture is to far gone to allow players to join out of high school. Why can’t NCAA players be paid? They work for the university in an area designed to make a profit. Obviously the salaries would have to be the same across the board, but if a million dollar investment in the head coach makes financial sense why wouldn’t $50k per player. And who cares if they have an agent. The NHL can draft a player once he turns 18, whether he enters the draft or not. They own his rights even when he decides to go to college to play. Why not force the NBA to give these guys $250k per year to retain their rights, whith the school relieved of their $50k obligation. Now your NCAA stars are rich AND still in college learning to play, making the product better, and developing into a real person rather than another obscene caricture of the mindless 21st century showboat-thug.

State of the Welterweights Friday, Mar 2 2007 

Notes on the Division

This is probably the most interesting weight class in the UFC. Matching any two of the fighters listed here would be worthy of a top undercard at least. Histories and style contrasts make the future of the division facsinating.

One subplot invovles Penn and Hughes who have beaten and hate one another. Penn moved up from 155 and won by a 1st round submission in ’04, considered one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. Hughes broke Penn’s rib and scored a TKO in ’06, although he was saved from a second submission by an early round bell. Hughes has won and lost to GSP, most recently getting out-struck and put to bed. Penn inflicted plenty of damage but lost a split decision to GSP in a bout that was very even and too short at only three rounds. Another fight between the two contenders would vault the victor to top contender status and put the loser’s future in question. Penn would likely drop back to 155, which may happen anyway after he coaches against Jens Pulver in the upcoming TUF season.

Sanchez and Koscheck have steamrolled almost every test to this point, but have yet to be tested by the elite. The TUF participants fought to a split decision during the show, which the still-undefeated Sanchez won. Koscheck is newer to MMA but his potential is impossible not to notice and he has best-in-class wrestling skills to fall back on. The question with Josh is a recurring theme in MMA- how far have the other areas of his game come and how will they hold up against a top fighter’s attack. While Koscheck will probably have the edge in grapling when the bell rings, Diego’s relentless ambush tends to knock opponents out of their element. Neither has been out-wrestled or shaken by strikes to date in the UFC- one or both will quickly be fighting in unfamiliar territory. The winner seems to be in line for a title shot, as the champ will defend his title minutes after their fight. The loser has plenty of upside and is likely to remain near the top this list.

Parysian is a bit of a wild card at 170. Quite experienced for a 24-year old, he has fought and lost to both GSP and Diego Sanchez, but has also been flawless against the 2nd tier of fighters- Drew Fickett, Nick Diaz, Chris Lytle, and Matt Serra. His offense, particularly judo throws, were successful against the usually well-defended Sanchez, and he survived a nice beating. He has proven he has the poise and chin to stand and throw with anyone to go along with his natural strength, heavy hands, and judo skill. He may get lost in the shuffle, but strikes me as someone who will always be in the mix like BJ Penn. He won’t go quickly or quietly and has a chance to win anytime he enters the octagon. He will likely earn a title shot a some point.

As for St. Pierre, he is clearly the best right now at 170. He uses a wider array of leg, body, and head kicks than his competition along with a diverse boxing repotoire to stun and finish opponents. His takedown defense is sufficient to keep the fight on foot if it suits him. If not, his takedowns are only a shade below Hughes and Koscheck, and his elbows and fists are deadly on the ground. Submissions are a viable option at all times. His only loss was due to a Hughes armbar in a fight he came in to tenatively. He explained his mistakes and promised to regroup and enter his rematch with more confidence. He did and he dominated. Anyone can be beaten, particularly in a 25 minute championship bout. Submissions and cuts are always a risk from the crowd GSP will be dealing with over the next couple years. A Sanchez win could set up a title shot, which I expect be the most anticipated fight of the year. Hughes and Penn could both be in the mix for highly anticipated rematches as well. Although I consider Matt Serra to be a favorable matchup for GSP, he is experienced and will look to sink something in from the bell. Equaling Matt Hughes’ recent run of six successful defenses will be difficult.

The rankings:

1. Georges St. Pierre, 25

  • Trains in BJJ, Muay Thai, Boxing, Wrestling
  • Excellent conditioning, strength, speed, agility and overall athleticism. Precise kicks, punches, knees, elbows, takedowns, submissions and takedown and ground defense.
  • Holds wins over Hughes and Penn

2. Diego Sanchez, 25

  • Gaidojutsu Black belt, former state HS wrestling champ
  • Raw strength and quickness. Relentless ground and pound and vicious rear chokes.
  • Undefeated in UFC.

3. B.J. Penn, 28

  • BJJ black belt, only non-Brazilian BJJ champion.
  • Probably the most agile and flexible fighter in the UFC. Great stand up and better submissions. Accused of poor conditioning.
  • Former champ has submitted Hughes and beaten current challenge Matt Serra. His split decision loss to
    St. Pierre was probably determined by a couple late takedowns by a bloodied, battered GSP. Injured rib in loss to Hughes in fall of ’06 cost him the belt and months of recovery time.
  • “I want to smash his face so bad,” says Penn. “I don’t think about anything else except smashing Hughes’ face. I don’t like him at all.”

4. Matt Hughes, 33

  • Four time collegiate All-American wrestler.
  •  No stronger fighter in the division, top notch takedowns, great ground and pound as well as submissions. Stand up proven to be inferior to the elite of the division. At his best when he is bouncing opponents off the ground.
  • Wins and losses versus GSP and Penn, steam-rolled the division pre-GSP.

5. Karo Parysian, 24

  • Judo Black belt, excels at grappling/judo throws, arm bars.
  • Good natural strength, heavy hands, work habits have been questioned, but a battle-tested warrior.
  • Has gone the distance with St. Pierre and Sanchez, also holds wins over Lytle, Serra, Diaz and Fickett.

6. Josh Koscheck, 29

  • National Champion Wrestler
  • Considered the best wrestler in UFC. Great takedowns, ground and pound, and defense.
  • Lost split decision to Sanchez during TUF. Has only been in the sport for a year and a half.
  • “I just don’t see how he could beat me now. Honestly, I think Diego would be an easy win.”

The Others: A mix of solid pros and up-and-comers, but there’s a fine line between both species and of the ‘professional opponent’. Fickett, Lytle, Serra, Riggs, Diaz, Fitch…….they all kind of run together for me. You’ve heard of them………..you might hear of them again…………you don’t really care.

In Conclusion: I don’t expect GSP to go 5-0 if he faces the rest of this list over the next few years. It also wouldn’t be a huge surprise if he lost to Koscheck or Sanchez, only to turn around and dominate the rematch. GSP loses to Sanchez, who loses to Penn, who loses to Hughes, who loses to GSP wouldn’t surprise me either. MMA is a sport of strategy and adjustment. Styles make fights. There are many different ways to achieve victory even when an opponent is superior on the given day. 5 fights I would like to see:

1. Hughes vs. Koscheck: Top-shelf wrestling.

2. Parysian vs. Penn: a technical battle between black belts.

3. GSP vs. Serra: Nobody actually wants to see this. Why is this happening?

4. Sanchez vs. Anderson Silva: Why not?

5. GSP vs. Sanchez: Probably going to happen eventually.

Joey Porter & the Steeler Way Friday, Mar 2 2007 

Joey Porter has been cut. Former Steelers assistant and new Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt is on record stating that Joey has hit a wall. The Cardinals have no interest despite a weak core of linebackers, inadequate defensive leadership, and plenty of cap room. While another team will eventual come calling, he is surely entering the twilight. 

Porter has carved out a place in Steelers history. He was the de facto leader of a defense that was among the best in the league throughout his tenure. He is a fixture in the group including Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene. Levon Kirkland, Chad Brown, Jason Gildon and Earl Holmes that has established Pittsburgh’s 3-4 linebackers as an NFL institution. Today he holds the distinction shared by many of the greats who wore the uniform before him- he’s a good cut.     

A sign of a good cut is a fairly even split between the fans who love and hate the move. Earl Holmes’ walk year of 2001-02 happened to be the third straight season he finished as the team’s top tackler. He was the ideal 3-4 run-stuffer on the league’s #1 defense. And the Steelers let him walk. In the market for precisely what Holmes had delivered Cleveland locked him up for $17.5 million over 5 years less than a month before his 30th birthday. The hole he left in  

Pittsburgh was filled by 27-year old pro-bowler James Farrior, who signed a deal worth $5.4 million over three years with another $1.35 in potential incentives. Some fans were angry. Others were not. Farrior has since been one of the best at his position. Holmes seemed to fade by his first game as a Brown.  

In a business devoid of emotion such moves would be both obvious and easy to make. Machine A is newer than Machine B. Rent in Building X is less expensive than Building Y. At the end of the day, Project 1 makes more sense for the business than Project 2. A line is drawn to keep separate what’s real. Everything else is illusory. The line can begin to blur when buildings and machines are replaced by people. The illusion can become real when the customers are fans.  In sports the ability to look at people and see commodities is as necessary as it is cold. It is rare in industry for competition to give way to cooperation. It is pure irony in a business whose product is competition on display. Nevertheless the NFL is built on cooperation among franchises.  The appearance of equal footing is crucial to the prosperity of the league. Rosters, payrolls, and revenue streams have been standardized and little remains to determine winners and losers. On-field success under such circumstances is driven largely by decision-making in the company of logic and the absence of bias. Often a dilemma can be as onerous it is elementary. The capacity to cut through the clutter and the courage to face only the concrete is a distinguishing trait of the effective executive. It’s a trait that’s among the collection of values at the core of the Steelers organization. 

The elements in the equation are usually pretty simple. Player A is 27 and Player B is 30. Rent costs $2.25M for Building A and $3.5M Building B. At the end of the day, Player A makes more sense for the business than Player B.  The Steelers front office has the savvy and, equally important, the confidence to view data in this way. The illusion stays an illusion, and decisions are based only on what’s real. Easy and obvious moves stay easy and obvious. Trite PR moves are left for the Browns. 

Joey Porter was a great leader and linebacker for the Steelers. He played on great teams because of the organization’s commitment to cold calculation.                           

Coaches, Contracts & Talking Heads Friday, Mar 2 2007 

The Bears finally rewarded Lovie Smith with a nice contract extension. The media will be relieved. Everyone can finally relax. We can all ease up on the Bears a little bit since they woke up and did what was obviously right.

As the media repeatedly pointed out ad nauseum, Smith was making less than some coordinators. Does this mean that perhaps there is a coordinator out there that is more valuable than Smith? Obviously not. Do owners ever overpay their assistants? Obviously not.

The Bears had a good season. They had a great defense filled with pro-bowl caliber players. Same thing with the line. The special teams were consistent. The offense wasn’t. In the playoffs they beat two average teams at home to win the weak NFC. In the Super Bowl their simplistic gameplan was thwarted early and they never adjusted. Even the Colts were bored by the end.

So what was the obvious reason that Smith’s current contract needed to be revised?  His team did exactly what it was supposed to do? Congratulations, you’re not fired. What’s sickening about the whole thing is not that some people feel that he’s a good coach, and that the Bears would be wise to lock him up. It’s the trend among the sheep in the media to simply assume a cause-and-effect relationship exists between certain coaches and their team’s performance everytime things go well. What is further infuriating is that this line of reasoning is totally abandoned when the performance goes to hell. In Cincy it was the ownership at first, and now it’s the bad apples. Except when they blow someone out of course- then it’s amazing what Marvin Lewis has done with the team. They fall all over themselves to gush about Mangini now, but if the Jets regress to 6-10 next year it’ll probably be Chad Pennington’s fault. If the Bears stink I wonder if the press will ask Lovie to restructure his deal. More likely it will be on the GM for not replacing Grossman.

Most coaches are probably reasonably decent at their jobs. Every so often a change is needed and a guy moves on. Occasionally they really elevate the play of their team, and sometimes the team does well despite them. The smarmy smart asses at ESPN never know the difference, and that’s the only thing that’s ever obvious.