Monday Morning Reverie: True Champions

By Mike Sloan Jul 9, 2007
In a weekend filled to the brim with fight action, Zuffa once again showed why it has taken the mantle as the top mixed martial arts promoter in the world.

"Stacked" was the best UFC pay-per-view in quite some time. Not one fight on the televised portion of the card was a stinker, something the vast majority of recent UFC cards can't boast.

I understand that the crowd inside the ARCO Arena in Sacramento booed towards the end of Sean Sherk (Pictures)'s dominant performance against challenger Hermes Franca (Pictures), but my question is what, exactly, were fans upset about?

Not every fight can end in a knockout or submission and when you have a world-class champion facing a top-rated challenger you can easily get a bout that goes the distance. In those five rounds of lightweight action, many questions regarding both men were answered -- more than I expected.

The same can be said about the main event, which featured the UFC middleweight title fight between champ Anderson Silva and challenger Nate Marquardt. What we uncovered after witnessing both title fights was that the world of mixed martial arts should embrace each champion. When Sherk and Silva hang up their gloves for good, we will eventually long for the days when they were in their primes, ripping opponents into smithereens.

It will take much longer for fans to fully grasp and appreciate Sherk and the way he fights than it will for Silva. For the money, Silva is by far the more entertaining, more aesthetically pleasing of the two, what with his outstanding guard play and other-worldly striking ability. When people who follow MMA are prepared to watch Silva in action, chances are they'll witness either a spectacular knockout or some sort of technical brilliance that leads to a stoppage.

When it comes to Sherk, he's the methodical terminator that winds up having fights go deep into their respective allotted distances. He doesn't have the sort of inhuman submission skills as a prime Rumina Sato (Pictures), Dean Lister (Pictures) or Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Pictures), nor the highlight reel concussive knockout power of Mirko Filipovic (Pictures), Chuck Liddell (Pictures) or Silva, be it Anderson or Wanderlei.

Sherk's lack of a finishing prowess might hurt him garner a huge fan base as well as paychecks with many zeros on them. Sure the MMA purists will always love him and appreciate the sort of technical brilliance he brings to the table, but it sickens me to think that such a dominant force as Sherk will probably never receive the sort of respect and fan adoration that he so rightfully deserves.

Franca is a world class lightweight, one of the most deserving contenders to be granted a shot at Sherk's 155-pound title. Sure there are other guys at lightweight who should have locked horns with Sherk instead of Hermes, perhaps Takanori Gomi (Pictures) (remember: he never officially was gogo'd by Nick Diaz (Pictures)). But Franca is right there near the top five in the weight class and Sherk simply manhandled him.

Sherk took Franca down whenever he wanted, ate two vicious knees that would have knocked out an elk and easily escaped every submission the jiu-jitsu expert threw his way. By the time the 25 minutes expired, Sherk looked like he was ready to run a marathon. The champ nullified literally everything Franca tried and he made it look like a seminar. When that happens t a legitimate top contender, it's scary to think who might be good enough to snatch the title away.

To put it bluntly, there isn't anyone currently under contract to Zuffa or anybody else who will beat Sherk at 155. Not Gomi (he'd get smeared). Not Diaz (he already lost to him). Not Marcus Aurelio (he's not well-rounded enough). Not Yves Edwards (Pictures), Jens Pulver (Pictures), Hayato Sakurai (Pictures), Josh Thomson (Pictures) or Joe Stevenson (Pictures). And not even the great B.J. Penn (Pictures).

I am not sure about the rest of the MMA world, but I'm ingesting all of what Sherk brings to the table and I'm enjoying every minute of it. He's only lost to two guys: one currently is a top-rated welterweight, the other is easily the greatest welterweight this sport has seen.

Sherk was incredible Saturday night and for anybody who dismissed his title defense as a bore, you don't know what you're watching.

As for Silva, there are only three people in the sport at 185 who I think can beat him or at least make things very sticky for "Spider." One is obviously Dan Henderson (Pictures), but I am skeptical about him returning to middleweight. There are far too many lucrative battles to wage at 205, so I don't see a Hendo-Silva fight ever happening unless both champions run out of opponents.

The second is Matt Lindland (Pictures), the most underappreciated fighter in the world. As long as "The Law" could avoid being hit cleanly with Silva's grenades, he should be able to bombard him with his pitbull-styled ground-and-pound. Sadly, Lindland is not a terribly marketable fighter and he and Zuffa simply don't get along. The chances of that fighter ever happening are slim.

Lastly, Paulo Filho (Pictures) is the only other fighter campaigning at 185 pounds who I'd lay some clams on to beat Anderson Silva. For those who have never seen him in action, I suggest you stop reading right now and purchase some of his fights on DVD. I give Filho the best chance aside from Henderson to lift that belt from Silva, though since they fight under the same management team and Filho is headed to the WEC, that doesn't seem likely either.

Ortiz and Evans prove their mettle

I'm not quite sure what to make of the Tito Ortiz (Pictures)-Rashad Evans (Pictures) battle other than the fact that it opened my eyes to a few things. For starters, Ortiz looked better than he has in a long time. Save for how he completely gassed in the final few minutes of the fight, his punches were accurate and his strength was as good as ever. This was vintage Tito fighting Evans, but I'm not so sure if that's good or bad.

Ortiz has made a career out of swarming his opponents with a ruthless ground attack. Lesser foes have wilted under the pressure. The only men to beat him over the past decade have been Liddell, Randy Couture (Pictures) and Frank Shamrock (Pictures). Everybody else has been a victim. With that said, Ortiz should have beaten Evans into a pulp and affixed himself back into title contention.

However, Ortiz didn't beat Evans into a pulp and he wound up with a lousy draw. Evans didn't look as good as I thought he would and it certainly wasn't the coming out party I envisioned he'd enjoy. But Evans looked much better than many have been giving him credit for by taking everything Tito had to offer and keep coming.

The problem with how Evans fought, though, is that he waited a little too long to get things going and when Ortiz could barely keep himself upright due to failed cardio, Rashad didn't capitalize.

An intriguing aspect of that particular fight is that two important aspects of their careers were revealed: Ortiz is still a viable contender with a strong career ahead and Evans proved that he has what it takes to be a future world champion.

Even though Evans didn't win the fight, he never folded under the pressure. A lesser fighter easily would have been stopped by Ortiz or at least lost every round resoundingly. Evans did neither and, all things considered, he might have stopped Ortiz had the fight been a five rounder.

Evans is still a work in progress and passed his greatest test. It wasn't with flying colors and even though his hand wasn't raised in victory, I firmly believe more positives came from his performance than anything else. He needs more time and as long as Zuffa doesn't squander his talents by rushing him in with elite fighters, there is no telling what he will accomplish.

As far as Tito is concerned, the only thing he should hang his head over is the amount of times he grabbed the fence. Those infractions literally cost him the fight. Ortiz should rest easy knowing that Evans didn't beat him -- his grabbing of the fence one too many times did.

But if that was the best Tito, the vintage Tito, does that mean that he fought someone who will be an all-time great or did that just reveal that Tito never was an all-time great? How good or bad was that draw?

Misc. Debris

Even though Franca lost big-time to Sherk, he should hold his head up high. Franca became the first person ever to sweep Sherk in a professional fight. Sherk ranted to me last week how insulted he was at the thought of Franca sweeping him easily (Franca said on the Sherdog Radio Network that he would sweep Sherk) because he had never been swept before. So Sherk's performance wasn't prefect after all …

Couture knows more about MMA than almost anybody in the sport. But he said during the Ortiz-Evans fight that Ortiz had finally stopped overtraining. I'm not a professional fighter by any means, but I've never bought into the whole excuse of "overtraining." I'm sorry, but that just can't happen. A fighter might train a bit too hard and suffer an injury, but overtrain? That's like saying a legendary guitar player practiced his fretboard warm-ups too much and forgot how to play his songs …

I wonder how many times Heath Herring (Pictures) has kicked himself for allowing Nogueira to get back up to his feet. Herring desperately needed a huge win to maintain his credibility. Not only did Nog clear his head, he wound up winning the fight rather handily because of that. Nog is without question one of the greatest fighters in MMA but his many wars are finally catching up to him. Herring blew an absolutely golden opportunity by letting a knocked-senseless Nog survive …

And speaking of true champions, like the title of this column suggests, get ready to embrace another fighter who will be a dominant force in the UFC for a long time: Gabriel Gonzaga (Pictures). I see him toppling Couture and holding onto the belt for quite some time unless someone else gets signed to the UFC. You know, some Russian guy who only has one dubious loss on his record. What's his name again? …

Am I the only one who thought former UFC middleweight king Rich Franklin (Pictures) looked a bit shocked and uneasy after Silva obliterated Marquardt? I'm not suggesting that he's scared by any means, but he didn't look overly eager to fight the man who snatched his title away. Maybe it's just me.

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