Athletic "trades" of talent from one squad to another are nothing
new in the world of professional sports. Baseball general managers,
for example, can palm off three mediocre players in exchange for
one fleet-footed prospect. And so on.
Zuffa's tentacles in the talent pool grew when it was announced
last week that the Fertittas had procured the wheezing PRIDE
organization. Casual talk from Dana White was that the two
promotions would have an inter-league show on an annual basis to
help sort out the divisive rankings.
That's swell, but it's hardly indicative of the potential inherent
in lording over two of the most prestigious knuckle-ups in the
world. The buyout opens up several other possibilities, the most
intriguing of which is the adoption of the talent exchange.
Consider: in both groups, elite-class athletes toil with no direct
avenue to the title. Either they've been permanently derailed due
to consecutive losses, or they've dropped the multiple
opportunities afforded to them when it was their time to vie for
In the previously segregated climate of MMA, athletes usually
responded to highly adversarial roads by changing paths. Randy Couture (Pictures), frustrated with the frames he
was forced to try and manipulate at heavyweight, found new life at
205 pounds; Sean Sherk
(Pictures), having gotten his face
tenderized by Georges St.
Pierre (Pictures), decided lightweight was a better
The alternative in 2007 is lateral movement. In swapping struggling
talent, both promotions would benefit by A) removing combatants
simply treading water, and B) providing fresh opposition that could
conceivably re-ignite a stale division.
As an appreciable bonus, fighters would likely welcome the
opportunity to start with a clean slate. Phil Baroni (Pictures) struggled in the UFC -- in PRIDE
he recorded consecutive knockouts. Anderson Silva dropped a bout to
spaz Ryo Chonan (Pictures) -- in the UFC he's a mauler.
(Maybe it's the exotic food. Or the exotic women.)
Some fair trades:
Say what you will about Tim
Sylvia (Pictures), but the man has an iron will.
Dropping a bout to Randy
Couture (Pictures) likely lit a forest fire under
his ass, and it's a safe bet he'll be wearing the UFC strap again
within the year. (Yes, I declare his chances against Mirko "Cro
Cop" to be better than expected.)
That leaves Andrei
Arlovski (Pictures) in flux. Dropping two consecutive
bouts to Sylvia means it's very unlikely he'll get a fourth shot,
and he seems lost in the shuffle of contenders lining up for a
piece of Couture. In PRIDE, his ferocious and dynamic stand-up
would make for good exchanges opposite Mark Hunt (Pictures) and champion Fedor Emelianenko
Gold Medal winner Nastula's bid into MMA has been a trial by fire:
though his record isn't stunning, the talent level of his
adversaries has been. The UFC has yet to see elite-level judo in
the big man's division, a discipline that -- as Karo Parisyan (Pictures) has proved -- can be the most
exciting expression of martial arts in the game. He'd inject a very
needed dose of athleticism in the class.
So I recently declared Mir a washout after a series of sub-par
performances. The vitriolic responses did little to change my mind,
but I do think he could benefit from a change of scenery. Mir in
PRIDE would allow him to test the waters of heavyweights that have
typically had little answer for the submission acumen of a ground
Emelianenko is a rough-hewn striker, but has the kind of
aggressiveness and size that could present problems for a majority
of UFC combatants; a bout with Tim Sylvia (Pictures) would be brutal while it
Besides, remaining in a promotion where your brother is seen as an
insuperable champion doesn't bode well for your advancement
opportunities. Fedor probably gave him noogies as a kid, and he'd
do the same thing today.
If there's one thing standing in the way of Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) returning to the heyday of his
face-smashing glory, it's the methodical game of Brazilian Top Team
standout Arona. In both of their fights, Silva's primal offense was
suffocated; a stifled Axe Murderer is a boring Axe Murderer.
With Arona out of the picture, Silva could likely boost his profile
and maul a path to a crossover fight with Chuck Liddell (Pictures). In the UFC, it would be
fascinating to see if Arona's ground game would be enough to
contain the human jack-in-the-box that is Liddell, or if he could
avenge an earlier loss to Quinton Jackson (Pictures).
"Babalu" is a force at 205. Unfortunately, his run-ins with the
"Iceman" have been more car wrecks than fender-benders. In PRIDE,
he's open to a world of competitive bouts with the likes of Silva
and Rogerio Nogueira.
Granted, Ortiz remains a box office draw for Zuffa. But his title
prospects at 205 are about as encouraging as his finding a hat that
Against Chuck Liddell
(Pictures), he's gun-shy and virtually
unable to get the fight to the ground. Against possible Liddell
Jackson (Pictures), he's expressed a strong desire
not to fight a friend. That leaves precious little opportunity to
advance. Slot him overseas, where we can see if his cage-centric
ground control can be adapted to the ring.
Rua is clearly the Chute Boxe savior of the new generation, but
fighting in the same bracket as teammate and mentor Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) makes little sense. In the UFC,
he'd be a sensational match-up for Chuck Liddell (Pictures), and a likely title holder if he
happens to run into Quinton
Jackson (Pictures) again.
Plus, he'd probably score a sweet GAP endorsement deal.
Distancing himself from others on the list, Stevenson has neither
lagged nor dropped title opportunities. But I do fear his chances
against fellow wrestling standout Sean Sherk (Pictures) are modest at best. Both men do
one thing very well, which is control their opponent. Sherk just
happens to be better at it.
Assuming Stevenson can't figure out the Sherk puzzle, he'd be a
powerhouse in PRIDE's lightweight division, which doesn't currently
host anyone with the wrestling ability these two possess.
Hansen is a beast: equal parts striker, grappler, and son of a
bitch. I have yet to see him stop to take a breath in a bout, and
there's virtually no bad match for him in the Ultimate. Slot him in
against Melvin Guillard
(Pictures) and it'd be like stuffing
two wolverines in a burlap sack.
Lutter, as the kids like to say, "pwned" himself royally during the
weigh-ins for UFC 67 when he came in above the weight limit for his
well-earned shot at middleweight champ Anderson Silva. Despite the
lackadaisical performance, he had Silva in trouble several
If his infraction warrants a banishing, it may as well be to Japan,
where he can prove himself a valuable addition to the 185 class
from scratch. If his mental game catches up, Lutter is a Top 10
athlete in the division.
Filho has essentially run though the middleweight class overseas,
racking up an undefeated record against the likes of Kazuo Misaki (Pictures) and Murilo Rua (Pictures). How he'd fare against the more
threatening strikes of Anderson Silva and Rich Franklin (Pictures) would be compelling.
In spite of all the pomp and circumstance surrounding the numerous
power plays in MMA, fans have yet to experience much of a
difference in the product itself. Sunday's Pride card pitted
Jeff Monson (Pictures) against Kazuyuki Fujita (Pictures) in a labored example of a
cross-promotional bout. Not exactly the stuff of legend.
All the pieces are on the board. Why not put them in play?
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