Verbal Sparring: B/R Featured Columnists Discuss UFC Fight Night 25
A fallen star looks to get back on track after suffering the biggest loss of his long career, while a young up-and-comer looks to shine for the first time.
UFC Fight Night 25 is just hours away and, although it is nowhere near the promotion's most stacked card, the fights will be available for free on TV.
The main event of the evening will feature Jake Shields vs. Jake Ellenberger in a fight that will seriously influence the welterweight title picture.
Shields just fought for the title, losing decisively to current champion Georges St-Pierre and is looking to make his way back towards a title shot. Ellenberger is hoping to break into the upper echelon of his division by defeating the former title contender.
Also on the card, two Ultimate Fighter winners will be featured, as Court McGee and Jonathan Brookins make their returns to the Octagon.
Leading up to this event, Bleacher Report Featured Columnists Vince Carey, Matthew Saccaro and myself took some time to sit down and discuss various topics surrounding the event.
Will Jonathan Brookins Accomplish Anything at Featherweight?
Matthew: Jonathan Brookins will definitely put on some exciting fights at featherweight but he won’t accomplish much in terms of accolades. His wrestling is too deficient and his striking is too full of holes to be a contender. Fighters like Chad Mendes would either prevent Brookins from going to the ground to use his jiu-jitsu or just smother Brookins with superior top control. Strikers like Jose Aldo and Kenny Florian would constantly pepper him with strikes.
His skillset is too limited to make a real impact at featherweight. It’s like Dave Herman said, jiu-jitsu just doesn’t work anymore.
Vince: Anyone who can get on top of an opponent and stay there can go far in MMA, and Brookins has shown that he has the ability to do that.
I honestly think he can be a future contender in the UFC’s weakest division, and while he may not beat guys like Aldo or Mendes, he could easily find himself in a title eliminator bout in the next 2-3 years.
That being said, I’ll be surprised if he beats Koch on Saturday, and he won’t ever hold a UFC title unless the entire division ends up having no takedown defense.
Andrew: Brookins is still a young fighter, so I think his potential in the featherweight division will be determined by what changes we see in his game this evening, compared to what we saw in his last fight with Michael Johnson.
His grappling abilities are solid, but not good enough so he can count on being able to take everyone in his division down.
Last time we saw Brookins, his striking looked awful and he was making a lot of mistakes that bordered on amateurish.
I believe Jonathan has a lot of heart and if he works hard he could remain relevant in the featherweight division for a few years, but he'll never be champion and might never even reach title contention.
Brookins has already had the chance to prove he is capable of competing with the best when he fought Jose Aldo back at WEC 36. Aldo dominated the fight and eventually won by TKO in the third round.
Could Court McGee Be the Most Successful TUF Winner We've Seen in a Long Time?
Photo Courtesy of MMA junkie
Matthew: Not likely.
While McGee is 13-1, he hasn’t beaten anyone great and a win over Dong Yi Yang won’t change that.
The truth is, the higher level guys at middleweight such as Mark Munoz, Chris Leben, Chael Sonnen, Brian Stann and Rousimar Palhares (as well as soon to be middleweight Josh Koshceck), are all a level or several levels above him.
He’ll probably make it to some title eliminator fights once Anderson Silva retires and the middleweight division is turned on its head, but not likely much further.
Middleweight prospect Chris Weidman will have a far brighter future than McGee.
Vince: I just don’t see it.
McGee is a pretty good fighter with an awesome story, but that’s all he has going for him.
He won’t beat anyone near the top 10 of the division and he’ll probably end up taking CB Dollaway’s job as the gatekeeper for contenders sometime in the next few years.
Still, I think Court will win enough to keep his job for five years or so, but he won’t do much more than that.
Andrew: I think both of you might be underestimating McGee a little bit.
Does he look great right now? No.
But how many competitors have looked all that impressive right after leaving TUF? Not many.
The guy is only 26 years old and has a lot of time to improve.
He reminds me a bit of Forrest Griffin in that he doesn't appear to be particularly talented, but he does what he needs to in order to win fights and that seems to work for him.
If McGee keeps his head on straight and works hard for the next few years, he has a good chance of reaching title contention, which is more than most TUF winners accomplish these days.
Will Alan Belcher Ever Reach the Upper Echelon of the Middleweight Division?
Matthew: Yes, but only if he stays healthy. He is returning from a detached retina which required two surgeries, if that injury comes back it may well end his career.
However, barring that unfortunate circumstance, Belcher has a bright future at middleweight. He was becoming a quite well-rounded fighter before his injury and was building up a head of steam. Even if he loses to Jason MacDonald, he is young enough at 27 years old to set things straight.
In addition, Anderson Silva is likely nearing the end of his career. Once Silva retires, all of the middleweight contenders will be very close in skill and Belcher’s odds of taking home gold will increase tenfold.
Vince: No chance, and I’m such a Belcher fan that I don’t even make fun of
his god awful tattoo.
The middleweight division seems weak, but that’s only because Anderson Silva has destroyed everyone with ease.
It’s hard for me to imagine Belcher beating Okami, Sonnen, Belfort or even Bisping, which tells me he’ll never quite get into contending territory.
I see Belcher having a Dan Miller like run in the next few years, beating some low level guys but losing to the top ten every time he gets a shot to take that next step.
Andrew: I like Alan Belcher a lot, but I don't think he's good enough in any one area to become a top middleweight.
The guy is a hard worker and he's good in all areas, but not really good.
The best strikers in the division would knock him out, the best wrestlers would dominate him, and the best submission guys would catch him with something.
Not only has he failed to beat any of the top competition the UFC has matched him against, he's also lost to lower level guys like Kendall Grove and Jason Day.
Belcher is an exciting fighter, so the UFC will probably keep him around for as long as possible, but I don't like he'll even crack the top ten of the division.
Is Jake Ellenberger a Legit Contender at 170?
Matthew: Not as long as Georges St-Pierre is at the top of the division. Ellenberger is a fringe top echelon competitor. Even if he makes it past Jake Shields, is there anything that Ellenberger can do that St-Pierre can’t do better?
Furthermore, look at Ellenberger’s wins and losses. His biggest wins were over mid-level fighters and he lost every step up in competition he’s ever had, losing fights to Carlos Condit, Rick Story and Jay Heiron. Ellenberger is talented, but the guys at the top are gifted.
Vince: Assuming he beats Shields, who else is there? Georges St-Pierre has beaten pretty much everyone out there, and if the UFC is looking to give GSP a new opponent they’ll have two
2. Nick Diaz
Yeah, I don’t see Diaz getting another shot anytime soon, and I doubt that Joe Silva and Dana White are looking to book Penn or Fitch rematches.
Is he a top 5 guy at 170? Maybe not, but he might be the best option the UFC has left.
Andrew: At 26 years old, time is on Jake Ellenberger's side.
Right now, I don't think he could be a title contender. He doesn't have the tools to beat GSP and he probably couldn't beat most of welterweight's top competition right now.
Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch, BJ Penn and Jake Shields all have good enough grappling that they could take Ellenberger down and good enough chins that they could eat a couple of his punches in order to do so.
In a few years, when Ellenberger has improved and most of welterweight's current top talent is out of their primes, he has a pretty good chance of being a top contender and maybe even champion.
That said, I believe Ellenberger has some work to do before he's ready for the best and I think he'll lose to Jake Shields tonight.
Is Jake Shields Overrated?
Matthew: At one point Jake Shields was overrated, but he isn’t now. When Shields was beating guys like Paul Daley and Robbie Lawler and people were saying that he was one of the best in the world at welterweight, they were jumping the gun. Shields was definitely overrated then.
When Shields beat Dan Henderson, things started to change. Shields managed to keep an Olympic caliber wrestler on his back for the majority of the fight in his most prestigious win to date. However, even then his striking was a bit poor, as Henderson’s patented “H-bomb” demonstrated in the first round.
Since then, Shields has managed to increase his striking abilities. While he lost to Georges St-Pierre, he did much better in the standup game than anyone thought. Shields knows that striking is his biggest weakness and he will improve on it. His wrestling and his jiu-jitsu are already phenomenal. Once he gets some fluidity in his striking and his defense improves, he will be a champion.
Vince: Six months ago this is a stupid thing to ask, but now it’s a legitimate question.
Shields was a force when he was in Strikeforce and Elite XC, but since making the jump to the UFC he’s been woefully average. I’d even argue that he got lucky to beat Martin Kampmann in his UFC debut last year.
When he has control on the ground he’s a monster, but I think his takedowns are a bit overrated since the Henderson fight and his standup is just abysmal.
He looked pretty bad against GSP back in April, but I’m still not willing to call him overrated, if only because I don’t feel like he is all that hyped. If he loses to Ellenberger he definitely falls to the lower half of the top 10, but really, he might deserve to be there anyway.
Andrew: With a record of 26-5 and wins over opponents like Dan Henderson, Yushin Okami, Jason Miller, Paul Daley, Carlos Condit and Martin Kampmann, it is hard to believe that Jake Shields could be overrated.
But he is—a little bit, anyways.
For a while, you could find Shields within the top ten of most pound-for-pound lists and many still have him ranked in the top 20.
While he does have an impressive record, I don't think Shields belongs that high up in the rankings anymore. He's one of those guys who looked really good outside the UFC and now that he's in it, his game is being exposed.
Since joining the UFC, Shields has looked unimpressive, barely beating Martin Kampmann—who is not even considered a top ten fighter—and then losing decisively to GSP.
Based on his most recent performances, Shields doesn't deserve to be ranked as high as most people have him.
Tonight, Shields has the chance to get back on track and look impressive for the first time in the UFC. Can he do it? Tune in and find out.