Eight Questions for UFC 121
RJ Clifford and Mike Trevino, hosts of MMA Worldwide LIVE, give answers
Who has improved more since their last fight, Brock Lesnar or Cain Velasquez?
Mike - Both guys improve rapidly on a fight-to-fight basis but probably Lesnar. Velasquez was once a liability in the striking department, as Cheick Kongo showed us, but now he's much better with his hands and feet and he is better at using footwork and head movement to avoid the face-crunching blows that Lesnar could bring to the table. Lesnar has improved a ton as well. He is a much better puncher than before and it was incredibly impressive to see him overcome adversity to beat Shane Carwin by submission. The fight with Carwin answered a lot of questions about not only his evolution as a mixed martial artist but his heart as well.
UFC 121: Lesnar vs. Velasquez
Get ESPN.com's full coverage of Saturday's UFC 121 event.
RJ - Tough question considering both these fighters only have fourteen fights TOTAL between the two of them. Velasquez's kickboxing looks better and better every time out and he has put in considerable time with freestyle wrestling Olympian Daniel Cormier at American Kickboxing Academy in preparation for Lesnar's wrestling. With all that said, I would have to go Lesnar. From fight to fight he has shown a new aspect of his fighting whether it was the KO of Randy Couture, staying out of submission trouble against Frank Mir in their second fight or the heart he showed against Shane Carwin. Also, he came off a one year layoff against Carwin and still got the victory. How good can Lesnar get without diverticulitis slowing him down?
Who has the cardio edge to go five rounds and will it even be necessary, Lesnar or Velasquez?
RJ - Both fighters are known for their work ethic which is in no small part why they are fighting for the heavyweight strap. Both fighters have gone the distance only once but have been able to maintain a relatively high pace regardless. But Velasquez keeps a faster pace. While Lesnar works for the takedown and settles down on top, Velasquez is constantly moving with his striking, takedowns and transitions. That is a pace Lesnar is not as familiar with and it may tax the 265-pound man. Velasquez and his trainer Javier Mendez both told me they expect a five round war. That is highly unlikely.
Mike - That would have to be Cain Velasquez. Even though he has never gone five rounds in the Octagon, he's been in plenty of high-paced, taxing wars and come out on top. Velasquez has always been ready to go the distance if he needs to. On the other hand, Lesnar's conditioning is what most people are pointing to when evaluating this matchup. While being one of the most agile heavyweights in the world, Lesnar has become notorious for slowing down. He was able to survive and outlast Shane Carwin but Cain Velasquez is a different animal.
Will Lesnar or Velasquez have the bigger impact on the UFC if he wins?
Mike - Velasquez would make the bigger impact if he wins. Lesnar is unquestionably the main attraction of the UFC and he will be whether he wins or loses. Nobody sells pay-per-views like Lesnar. Velasquez on the other hand could become an instant superstar should he defeat Lesnar. He would be the first Mexican-American heavyweight champ of the UFC and it could draw more Latino fans to the sport.
RJ - While it is true Velasquez could be the key that opens the door for the UFC to finally make its move to Mexico with a live event, Lesnar is king of the UFC win, lose or draw. Lesnar's larger than life personality and following from the WWE have helped Lesnar average a million pay-per-view buys every time he fights in the UFC. Those are things Velasquez just can not replicate. However, Velasquez is an extremely talented, undefeated heavyweight with a good head on his shoulders and a long list of contenders waiting for him should he defeat Lesnar. That is what should really matter here.
Who is the more experienced fighter, Lesnar or Velasquez?
RJ - Velasquez has more fights and has been more active but Lesnar has the valuable championship experience and has always been the main or co-main event. However both these fighters have so little cage time it may not matter. Both are familiar with big fights, both have solid training partners around them and neither have gone five rounds before.
Mike - Probably Lesnar. Velasquez only has eight fights, two more than Lesnar, so I do not think experience will be much of a factor. Lesnar has more high-profile fights though in his fourth title fight. Cain on the other hand, will be fighting for gold for the very first time.
Who walks out of the Honda Center on October 23rd with the championship belt?
Mike - Cain Velasquez. He should enjoy a sizeable advantage in the standup and has the wrestling to keep himself out of trouble. He should also be able to outlast Lesnar and I see him taking a third-round TKO victory. Lesnar's best chance at winning this fight is landing a big shot on Velasquez early, getting top position and flurrying to get the stoppage.
RJ - The challenger. Similar to how a power puncher always has a chance of landing a big shot and finishing at any given moment, Lesnar has the ability to take down anyone and never letting them up. However, Velasquez has more options. He will come in the better kickboxer and is no slouch by any means in the wrestling department being a two-time All-American at Arizona State. Velasquez by TKO in round two.
It was announced by UFC president Dana White that should Jake Shields defeat Martin Kampmann, he would be next in line for a title shot. Should Kampmann get the same opportunity if he wins?
Mike - Not just yet. While Kampmann holds victories over some of the best (Carlos Condit and Paulo Thiago), it just doesn't compare to the fourteen fight killing spree that Shields has been on. Kampmann comes into the fight off of two straight wins; Shields has not lost in five years. Jake would also breathe a little new life into the welterweight division and provides a fresh, new challenge for GSP, should he retain his title against Josh Koscheck).
RJ - Lots of fans were left scratching their heads when Shields signed with the UFC as a welterweight and not a middleweight considering he just beat an all-time great in Dan Henderson with Anderson Silva needing new challengers. Georges St. Pierre needs challengers more though having wiped the division clean except for three; Paulo Thiago, Martin Kampann and Jake Shields. With this fight, the UFC has given themselves options; Shields wins and fights for the title, Kampmann gets a mediocre win and Jon Fitch gets the fight he was originally promised when he beat Thiago Alves and fights for the title or Kampmann wins in a stellar fashion and he gets the title shot. Plus, Shields can always go back up to 185.
Is Jake Shields vs. Martin Kampmann as simple a fight as striker vs. grappler?
RJ - Yes. While Shields has the rare combination of great takedowns and even better top-control grappling, he has some of the worst striking you will see at welterweight. His handicap on the feet has not slowed him down, currently on a fourteen fight win streak, and there is little reason for him to change his strategy now. Unless Kampmann comes out trying to make a point that he can grapple with the black belt, he will try to keep the fight where he knows he has the advantage.
Mike - I may be underestimating Shields' striking, but I think it is. Shields is probably the most dominant top-position grappler in the whole sport and is a fantastic Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt, but his striking can be hard to watch sometimes. Somewhat hittable and lacking much power, Shields would likely be outgunned on the feet if he chose to stand with the Dutch kickboxer. Kampmann is a highly competent striker who is also well versed in submissions, but his real advantage here would be in the striking. Not that either fighter is a one-trick pony, but they should both definitely stick with their respective strengths if they expect to win.
Will the winner of Tito Ortiz vs. Matt Hamill be the one that wrestles better?
Mike - Not necessarily. When two fighters have the same strengths, the outcome of a fight often comes down to the more well-rounded fighter in other areas of mixed martial arts. Ortiz pioneered the ground-and-pound style, but Matt Hamill is the better striker. Both fighters are great wrestlers, but the one who flows more smoothly between the different aspects of mixed martial arts will win this fight.
RJ - The one who wins the wrestling battle will have a huge leg up in this fight and will likely win but fights are seldom that cut and dry. I asked Hamill who has the wrestling advantage and he simply grinned and said that we would find out Saturday. Ortiz's striking has improved over the years but he is still likely facing the more dangerous boxer. However, the most overlooked aspect of Ortiz's game is his submission ability off his back. We will almost certainly see that Saturday night.
L.A. SPORTS LEADER
Check out the 710 ESPN page at ESPNLA.com for podcasts from your favorite shows and more. 710 ESPN »
What does Tito Ortiz do if he loses to Matt Hamill?
RJ - Losing to Hamill makes Ortiz's record a dismal 0-4-1 in his last five fights which puts him in a peculiar situation. His last four fights have been against the cream of the crop at 205 (Chuck Liddell, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida and Forrest Griffin, all former champions) and all except the Liddell fight were competitive with Ortiz not taking an exorbitant amount of damage. It would be a hard sell to put him on the main card but he is too expensive to put on the undercard. He is also too popular a fighter to cut and let another promotion pick him up. If he loses he will likely have one more fight in the UFC. If he loses that, the UFC will have a delicate situation on their hands if Ortiz wishes to continue fighting.
Mike - That would put Tito in a really tough spot. Once the most dominant light heavyweight champion in the UFC, he hasn't won a fight since 2006 and injuries only allow him into the cage once a year. The inactivity will not help him as he ages and he just can not seem to come into fights healthy and clear of injury. Not that there is any shame in losing to Matt Hamill, but a loss here means that Tito's days at the top are well behind him and should start thinking about retirement.
Make sure to catch a special edition of MMA Worldwide LIVE: UFC 121 Showcase on Saturday, October 23rd at 10am/pt.
Along with Mike Trevino, RJ Clifford is the host of MMA Worldwide LIVE on 710 ESPN Fridays at 10PM/PT. Follow RJ on twitter at twitter.com/rjcliffordmma.
More from RJ: