Is Rashad Evans a viable contender?
Among the UFC's light-heavyweights Evans is, on paper, the most qualified to challenge for Mauricio Rua's belt. Evans is, after all, the only one among the likes of Rogerio Nogueira, Forrest Griffin, and Lyoto Machida to have recently won consecutive bouts over top-ranked opposition. And yet, an examination of those victories-over Thiago Silva and, of course, Quinton Jackson-reveals that a title fight between Rua and Evans may be the UFC merely making the best of a bad title picture.
Consider that Evans' last two performances were near carbon-copies, in terms of both merit and fault. In these bouts, Evans was faced with technically sound but slightly flat-footed strikers, and he addressed each in the same way. He bullied Silva and Jackson against the cage for the better part of two rounds before, in either case, catching a potentially fight-ending punch, only to recover and win a decision. In both fights Evans' speed and wrestling acumen gave him a significant edge. Yet, he also had trouble maintaining top control, requiring that he exhaust his already questionable endurance in efforts to repeatedly plant his opponents on their backs-an approach necessitated by his as-yet raw striking technique and suspect chin. In other words, Evans has exhibited little to no development between his fights with Silva and Jackson. With this glaring problem in mind, another fight for Evans en route to a title shot would probably be best but, as mentioned before, who else is there to challenge for the belt?
Excluding Anderson Silva-an ideal contender, but with a middleweight title defense already scheduled-there isn't really anyone else. Machida inspires little confidence when considering his uninspired first win and subsequent KO loss to Rua. Rogerio Nogueira was an early favorite to challenge for the belt, but after last Saturday's abysmal, narrow split-decision victory over Jason Brilz, he'd need one or two more emphatic victories to restore any of his old luster. The UFC marketing machine could make a case for Randy Couture, should he beat James Toney, but I sincerely hope they would abstain. Griffin, Keith Jardine, Chuck Liddell, and Rich Franklin should all be miles away from a title shot for similarly obvious reasons. And while Ryan Bader, Jon Jones, and UFC newcomer Cyrille Diabate all have their charms, they also lack the breakout wins that would really make them contenders in earnest.
The light-heavyweight division is in need of some aggressive match-making to sort it out quick, lest what was once considered one of the UFC's most talent-rich divisions becomes a muddled and barren field.
What's next for Quinton Jackson?
This is one of the most difficult questions coming out of UFC 114, due largely to the fact that it's so hard to get a bead on Jackson's motivations and rationale. Just what does he want?
Following his stint coaching opposite Rashad Evans on The Ultimate Fighter, Jackson made startling claims that he didn't care about fighting anymore, that he would retire from mixed martial arts in order to pursue a more lucrative acting career, that he hated the UFC, and so on. Since last Saturday's loss to Evans, however, Jackson seems to have a renewed focus on the sport, while the vitriol once reserved for the UFC is now directed at Hollywood and all its associated obligations. Can we expect Jackson to stay dedicated to the fight game, though, or will the grass always be greener on the other side in Jackson's eyes?
Should he stick around, there are a lot of interesting match-ups for Jackson. Depending on how ambitious he is, Machida, Nogueira, Thiago Silva, or Luis Cane could all make for exciting fights. If the UFC wanted to bring him along a little more slowly, Ryan Bader is ready for a step up in competition, and a fight with Brandon Vera-in a contest to see who can look more disinterested and listless-is a fair possibility. In any case, Jackson will have to exhibit greater initiative and a better application of his considerable talents-things that, frankly, I doubt he's learning from working at Wolfslair, where there seems to be a dearth of high-level training partners.
Should Diego Sanchez move back to lightweight?
Sanchez looked as good at lightweight as he ever did at welterweight, and no better. Despite an anticipated power advantage, his fights with Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida, both of which went to decision (split-decision in the case of the Guida fight) revealed no potential that wasn't already apparent at welterweight. At his best, no matter the weight class, Sanchez has always been an eager fighter with excellent top control, strong ground-and-pound, and middling boxing technique. The first move to lightweight did little to alter or amplify that reputation in any serious way, and there doesn't seem to be any reason to think it will happen a second time around.
In pressing for a move back to the 155-pound weight class, Dana White may be misdiagnosing Sanchez's losing performance against John Hathaway. To White, it appeared that Sanchez looked a little soft, unable to put the right kind of pounds back on in his move up from lightweight, and that the extra mass was only dragging him down. These are all fair observations but, while a move to lightweight might lend Sanchez a better-looking physique and a theoretical advantage in size and strength, I'm not sure it will actually restore Sanchez's dominance.
Consider that in fighting John Hathaway Sanchez was attempting to rebound from probably the worst fight of his entire career. The interminable minutes of violence he suffered at the hands of B.J. Penn should not be ignored when considering his disappointing follow-up fight last Saturday. Questions of muscle mass and explosive power are things that can be readily addressed in the gym, but restored confidence and motivation will require a more nuanced bit of coaching. Sanchez could fight at any weight class he wants, but it would do little good if the ghost of that disastrous title fight lingers.
Several Dead, Countless Injured in Exploding Hype Train
Todd Duffee tried to warn us.
Heading into what was considered one of the most lopsided matches on last Saturday's card, Todd Duffee cautioned against the enthusiastic buzz surrounding him, maintaining that audiences might have been putting too much stock in his KO power and superhuman physique, and that Mike Russow was a dangerous and underestimated opponent. Duffee's pleas for sanity proved eerily prescient.
Duffee heaped two rounds of punishment on Russow's head, only to find himself flat on his back in the third. The whole affair leaves us with a lot of doubts. Is Russow just incredibly tough, or is Duffee's perceived power merely the result of his having been a big fish in the small pond of the regional fight circuit? Considering what looked to be kind of a lazy punch on Russow's part, we must also wonder: is Duffee's chin any good? And can he diversify his arsenal? Such answers can be teased out in fights against the likes of Chris Tuscherer and, later, Gabriel Gonzaga or Cheick Kongo. As for Russow, he's earned himself a reprieve from such hellish match-ups, and, for however long he can keep it up, a more measured climb up the ranks.