UFC 80: Rapid Fire
Saturday, January 19, 2008
By Stephen Quadros, “The
Joe "Daddy" Stevenson
UFC Lightweight Title
(*Interim “belt” not at
To me Penn is the clear favorite here. I know Stevenson has more
experience ‘on paper’ (28-7 compared to BJ’s 11-4-1). But come on, BJ
Penn submitted Takanori Gomi, Matt Hughes and Jens Pulver and won
decisions over Matt Serra and Renzo Gracie. And even in the rare
occasions that he lost, the opposition always paid a heavy price (and
probably doesn’t look forward to a rematch). Proof of this is in
evidence in the two highest profile losses the Prodigy has had – against
Matt Hughes (in their second fight) and Georges St. Pierre. In both
matches Penn was in complete control early with that brutal,
in-the-pocket standup style that he most likely acquired at birth. Both
matches appeared to be his, but both slipped through his fingers. Why?
Cardio and sustained focus have been the much alluded too weaknesses for
the prodigal Hawaiian (for the record: Penn suffered a rib injury early
in the rematch with Matt Hughes). After upsetting Hughes and winning the
welterweight belt (by rear naked choke in the first round), then almost
immediately relinquishing his position as champion with the UFC by
accepting K-1’s substantial monetary bait, BJ started moving up, up and
further up…in weight. His career expansion remained mainly at his
waistline however, because his course while with K-1 seemed
directionless. After beating Duane Ludwig in his first fight with the
company, then jumping up to middleweight to decision Rodrigo Gracie,
Penn lost a close if not courageous call to Lyoto Machida, who is now on
the rise at light-heavyweight! People thought BJ was crazy for even
taking that last fight.
It’s almost as if Penn needs what borderlines on an insurmountable
challenge, otherwise he seems to lose interest. He’s creative but the
fight game frequently isn’t. Will he feel the fear in his belly to get
‘up’ for this fight?
I have watched Joe “Daddy” Stevenson since he was a teen, competing
around the Los Angeles area as far back as the 1990s. He notoriously has
always been strong on the floor but that may not be where he wants to
take this particular fight, given BJ’s legendary grappling prowess (Penn
was the first non-Brazilian to win the black belt division at the world
championships/mundials in 2000). But Joe may be even more out of his
element on his feet because he isn’t known for his standup. He’s a
wrestler with a power driven submission game.
Stevenson has to use his strength and top control to be effective. It’s
possible for him to win a slow paced match. But that isn’t what I am
predicting. The only way I see Penn losing this is if he has slipped
into the occasional boredom that afflicts him. But after watching him
totally dominate Pulver recently, I just don’t see him taking this
opportunity lightly. I feel Penn will take Joe “Daddy” to school while
standing and then finish the job on the ground: BJ Penn by TKO (or
Gabriel Gonzaga must be getting used to the roller coaster ride in his
chosen profession of MMA. His first fight in the UFC was a lackluster
one in which he finally put Kevin Jordan away with only seconds
remaining. People were critical of him for that fight. Then it was
discovered that prior to the Jordan fight Gonzaga was struggling with a
major personal crisis in which his wife was pregnant but her health was
at risk, and they were in jeopardy of losing the baby. The good news is
that the family was soon safe and healthy, so not surprisingly Gabriel
reeled off three big wins, punctuated by the historic, head-kick KO of
Pride tournament champion Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic (April 2007).
“Napao” now had momentum; he was ready to challenge anyone. A title shot
was next for him but unfortunately champion Randy Couture provided
another loss for the proud and humble Brazilian (Couture prevailed with
a TKO in the third round after a brutal fight). Winning is what all
athletes covet. Losing is something they all know is coming but great
and enduring competitors all put it in perspective (Couture’s name again
comes to mind). I feel Gonzaga was taught a very valuable lesson in his
last fight, just be tougher than your opponent.
Fabricio “Vai Cavalo” Werdum has the luxury of having already beaten
Gonzaga (yes, this is a rematch). But things have changed slightly since
that evening in August of 2003. All three of Fabricio’s losses have
occurred after that. It’s true, they were all decisions and all to some
of the world’s best (Rodrigo Nogueira, Andrei Arlovski and Sergei
Kharitonov). The bottom line is that the stage is set for Werdum and
Gonzaga to be an extremely competitive, and most likely grueling, fight.
Both are coming off losses, both are well rounded, both are strong and
athletic (Gabriel is 6’ 2”, 250 and Fabricio is 6’4 and 240ish). The
winner (and I do not know who that will be) will move one step closer to
the UFC title picture.
||This is going to be a very entertaining clash. Both
fighters are aggressive but have taken opposite paths to arrive at this
juncture. Originally from France, England resident Jess “Joker” (ahem, I
gave him that nickname) Liaudin, 12-8, is a Cage Rage veteran who came
from a strong submission base but learned striking the hard way (5 of
his 8 losses are by TKO).
“The Irish Hand Grenade” Marcus Davis is definitely explosive. Coming
from a boxing background with a stellar 17-1-2, (13 KOs) record in that
sport, Davis was the guy everybody in MMA knew they should probably take
down to avoid getting brain damage. But he has shown vast improvements
in his jiu-jitsu game, as evidenced by 6 wins out of his last 10 fights
being by way of submission. Now that I think about it, Davis would match
up extremely well with EliteXC’s lightweight champion KJ Noons (dream
on, it’ll never happen…).
Momentum is a key factor here and even though Jess has a perceived home
court advantage because he lives in the UK, Davis is no stranger to the
territory, having defeated England’s Paul Taylor at London’s O2 in
August (UFC 75). That plus a 10-fight winning streak is going to make
TIHG (The Irish Hand Grenade) hard to beat. Davis by TKO.
||This match highlights the reality that there are no
more easy fights (in the UFC), at this level anyway. Jason Lambert is a
bad dude. Sure he lost to Rashad Evans, but that’s nothing to be ashamed
of. “The Punisher” (Lambert) is a bruiser who obviously wasn’t quite
ready to fade into the woodwork just yet (after being stopped by Evans).
Jason’s last fight, a crushing KO victory over Renato “Babalu” Sobral,
put him back in the light-heavyweight landscape.
Wilson Gouveia is seemingly another cagey Brazilian being thrown at
Lambert to either 1) further test his resolve or 2) get rid of him
(Lambert is neither flashy nor a smack talker). Technically, Gouveia is
solid in every aspect. He matches up very well with Lambert in most
departments, but I would say that the Yank has the heavier hands, while
the submission game is tilted slightly toward Wilson. Regardless of who
wins, the post-fight interview will not rival Tito or Baroni, but the
fight will deliver. My gut is the tiebreaker, so (under duress) I lean
towards Jason to take it.
||Jorge “El Conquistador” is the guy you want to root
for, but who unfortunately hasn’t been able to take things to the next
level. He’s got sold standup (watch his losing battle with Rich Franklin
a few years back) and can occasionally pull off a surprise (like when he
decisioned Dennis Hallman and Marcelo Azevedo). But most MMA fans will
remember him for his devastating losses (Anderson Silva, Chris Leben,
Terry Martin) and think of him in this contest as a gatekeeper or even a
trial horse for the guy who was on that TV show (opponent Kendall Grove
emerged as a rising star after he was on The Ultimate Fighter series and
won the finale in June of 2006). It’s up to Rivera to prove these
Kendall Grove is the ‘other’ “Spider” lurking in the UFC middleweight
division (champion Anderson Silva shares the same nickname as Grove)
looking for a niche. He has charisma and a lot of talent. But he’s
coming off a rather deflating TKO loss to tough Canadian Patrick Cote.
Everyone loses, so I don’t see it as a reason for concern for the
Hawaiian and I expect Kendall to be in top form here. He’s motivated to
erase that negative memory of the Cote defeat.
There are a lot of factors here that will make this a pitched battle.
One thing is that both are fighting for survival in many ways. Jorge has
overcome more heartbreaking losses on the big stage than Kendall has,
but has that burnt him out? Is he focused? If he isn’t this will be
another night where Rivera is remembered as the ‘opponent’ side of an
exciting fight. My pick? Kendall Grove.
In closing, I vow to check my work for typographical errors more
thoroughly in 2008.
Quadros, "The Fight Professor", has worked as a host and play-by-play
commentator for some of the world's greatest fight organizations including:
PRIDE, K-1 and Inoki Bom Ba Ye. He currently balances
his activities between acting, working as a analyst/color commentator for
ShoXC (Showtime), Cage Rage (UK), the International Fight
League (IFL) on Fox Sports Net and MyNetwork TV, hosting his own radio
show at Sherdog.com (every
Tuesday at 12 noon PST), choreographing fight scenes for feature films and
playing drums for the bands
Snow and Whipped
Cream. Visit Mr. Quadros on the worldwide web at:
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