The first major event of an absolutely stacked August is in the books, and it set some new storylines in motion while revitalizing others. Jon Jones continued his ascent toward the top of the light heavyweight ranks, Takanori Gomi gave us a glimpse of what made him great in Pride, and Yushin Okami continued to work his way back towards title contention in the middleweight division. Let’s take a last look at the UFC’s second Versus event before we move ahead towards UFC 117.
How Far Can Gomi Go?
There’s a part of me that is definitely thinking, “Gomi reverted to 2005 mode, if only for one night. Why not leave it alone?” But here’s the thing: I have to write, so that means immediately looking at where Gomi can go from here, and from where I’m sitting, it doesn’t look like very far.
Gomi has always had one thing going for him: rare punching power that is unusual for a lightweight to possess. In his prime, this kept his opponents honest and ensured that he was able to dictate the terms of the fight throughout. However, in the UFC Gomi will face much better wrestlers, particularly near the top of the division. Gray Maynard, Frankie Edgar, and Sean Sherk (if he ever comes back) would all be able to plant Gomi on his back at some point in the fight, and probably pretty often. Tyson Griffin wasn’t able to stay upright long enough to grind Gomi down, and didn’t have the strategy to take advantage of leg kicks and other areas in the standup game where Gomi could be put in trouble. Other fighters will do so, though.
Then, there’s BJ Penn. When Penn left the UFC after beating Matt Hughes for the welterweight title, one of the things he did was fight Gomi at a Rumble on the Rock show in Hawaii. Penn beat Gomi then by a third-round rear naked choke, and he has clearly continued to improve and diversify his skill set far better than Gomi has since that fight. As long as Penn is in the division, there’s a pretty clear ceiling that will keep Gomi from reaching the top. Of course, I’d love for Gomi to continue proving me wrong, like he did Sunday night.
Is James Irvin Done in the UFC?
Three straight losses usually earns you a pink slip in the UFC. Now, one of Irvin’s three losses was against Anderson Silva, but that distinction hasn’t granted fellow Silva victims like Travis Lutter or Thales Leites any additional mercy, so I wouldn’t expect it to here, either. In other words, we could be looking at the exit of yet another talented striker from the middleweight class.
In the past, we’ve seen many of the hardest hitters in the weight class, such as Robbie Lawler, Phil Baroni (who has since come back, but probably not for much longer), Joe Riggs, Scott Smith, and more recently, Drew McFedries eventually wash out of the organization because opponents keep taking advantage of holes in their respective games. Now, I believe that the UFC’s roster should absolutely contain the best fighters in the world at all times. However, I think there’s also a place for fighters who put on great bouts and can provide that one-punch knockout power that is so coveted in combat sports.
There are plenty of fighters on the UFC’s roster who can’t ever be reasonably expected to win a title. So why not keep guys like Irvin, McFedries, and others on the roster? Hell, match them up with one another and watch the sparks fly! In the meantime, let them know that they won’t be able to work up the ladder without rounding out their skills. If they want to keep slugging it out on the undercard though, why not let them? Surely the UFC has room on their payroll for not just the most skilled fighters, but also slightly lesser-skilled fighters who can put on some exciting brawls that the fans will enjoy, too.
Is Riddle on the Right Track?
Matt Riddle has now amassed a 5-1 record (with all six fights having been in the UFC), and has reclaimed his status as a top prospect while putting his TKO loss to Nick Osipczak at UFC 105 a little bit farther behind him in the process. The question is, has Riddle started to finally put it all together?
He was definitely impressive against DaMarques Johnson, particularly when it came to using his wrestling skills effectively to control the fight and put Johnson in bad positions. Now, you may be saying, “Am I supposed to be impressed because a wrestler used good wrestling in an MMA fight?” To this I would respond, “yes”. Did you not see the Mark Munoz fight? Using your wrestling skills properly within the context of an MMA fight is not a given. Riddle has shown that he isn’t going to rest on his laurels, and instead would rather follow a Ryan Bader/Josh Koscheck route towards developing himself as a better all-around fighter. At the same time, he hasn’t shown that Koscheck trait of wanting to toss his best advantages to the wayside in order to be a more exciting fighter or celebrate more highlight-reel knockouts, which is good, also.
–Mark Munoz is nowhere near being done as a UFC fighter, but he is definitely losing the confidence of many onlookers. Sure, he has great power and wonderful wrestling skills, but he seems either unwilling or unable to learn how to use this skills properly by assembling them into a cohesive style that works for mixed martial arts. In the past, any good wrestler could expect to jump into MMA and use their wrestling to grind out a pretty successful career. Nowadays, if you don’t learn to adapt everything that you know to the sport specifically, you can expect an early exit or a career spent fighting on local cards, like Sean Salmon or Tom Speer.
–Count me among those who believe Vladimir Matyushenko should be a UFC mainstay for the rest of his meaningful career. Aside from the devastating loss to Jones, Matyushenko has proven that while he may not be championship material, he’s a tough guy who will fight anyone and be pretty likely to win, also. I’d like to see him continue to fight on UFC cards against top-twenty talent, as well as against the occasional up-and-comer like Jones, as well.