Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Dream Fight

In the MMA world, the major dream fight being talked about right now is Anderson Silva versus Georges St. Pierre.  I was completely on board with this fight happening...three years ago.  But some things have happened since then that has made me change my mind.  The first was that it was pointed out that the risk-reward for each fighter is disproportionate.  GSP has more to gain than to lose and Silva has more to lose than to gain.  What shame does GSP have in losing to Silva?  On the other hand, what is there to gain from Silva beating a smaller fighter?  Silva beating GSP wouldn't be that impressive.  The same even goes for GSP beating Silva, after what happened at UFC 117 (where Chael Sonnen took, and held down, Silva at will).  Yes, there were questionable circumstances surrounding the fight (Silva being injured, Sonnen on PEDs etc.), but the fact remains that the novelty of seeing Silva dominated through wrestling is gone.  That's the problem with this fight.  The outcome will almost certainly resemble either GSP-Serra I (albeit more legitimately) or Silva-Sonnen I (albeit more legitimately).  It doesn't have the unpredictable nature that a dream fight should have.

The next thing that happened was UFC 128 and the beginning of Jon Jones' ascension up the P4P rankings.  Jones' victory over Shogun was the most dominant title win I'd seen since that of one Anderson Silva.  It was this precise moment that the prospect of a Jones-Silva fight surpassed Silva-GSP.  Silva and Jones are two of the, if not the, best and most creative strikers in the sport.  This fight is not predictable.  Technically Jones could employ a Sonnen-like gameplan, but there's also the possibility that something happens that's never been done before (Jones getting picked apart or vice versa); something that's not possible with GSP.  Not to mention that, unlike GSP-Silva, the loser doesn't take a big hit.  If Jones were to lose, then it would be to the greatest fighter of all-time.  And if Silva were to lose, it would be to a younger fighter just entering his prime (and could be on his way to being the greatest of all-time).  It's a win-win.  Both fighters would be helped by a win and not that hurt by a loss.

Not only is Silva-Jones a more exciting, even, and unpredictable matchup, but both fighters are in similar situations of not really having imminent contenders.  Other than postponing a potential Dan Henderson-Jon Jones fight (which could've been avoided had the UFC just rescheduled Henderson-Jones, instead of irrationally plugging in a completely undeserving Chael Sonnen), neither division would be held up by a super fight. That's not the case with the Welterweight division.  GSP has both Nick Diaz and Johnny Hendricks waiting in the wings (not to mention Rory MacDonald closing in on a title shot).  In fact, I'd much rather see GSP fight Diaz over Silva.  Diaz's boxing and Jiu-Jitsu make for a good stylistic matchup with GSP.  Even if he couldn't beat GSP, he should at least be able to get a great fight out of him (much like Condit just did).

Thankfully, GSP-Diaz is exactly the direction the UFC is going in.   The next step is moving on from the idea of GSP fighting Silva and switching to the true dream fight: Silva versus Jon Jones.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Who's up first?

When I broke down the AL MVP race, one of the things I mentioned was how RBIs are somewhat circumstantial.  Being a good hitter doesn't automatically get you RBIs; you do need runners on base (obviously).  In the same way, having runners on base could lead to RBIs, even if a player isn't hitting great.  For a perfect example of this, look no further than Hunter Pence.  Pence finished 14th in baseball with 104 RBIs, even though he only hit .253 (106th in the league).  But that doesn't tell the full story.  Because Pence was on two different teams, you can see the difference in production.

In Philly, Pence hit 59 RBIs in 398 at-bats.  In San Francisco, he had 45 RBIs in 219 at-bats.  In order to give a clearer comparison, let's look at how many RBIs he would have had if he had played a full year in each location.  Pence was on pace for 630 at-bats in Philly and 594 at-bats in San Francisco.  We'll just average the two and set the hypothetical number at 612 at-bats.  Assuming he had 612 ABs, Pence was on pace for 91 RBIs in Philly and 126 RBIs in San Francisco.  What's even crazier?  Pence was hitting .271 in Philly and only .219 with the Giants.  Using the same 612 ABs, that's the difference between finishing with 166 hits and 134.  Pence would have 35 more RBIs, despite getting 32 less hits!  If you can hit worse, yet drive in more runs, something tells me that who bats in front of you does make a pretty big difference.

Monday, December 10, 2012

UFC on Fox 5 review

On paper, the UFC's latest Fox event offered easily the best card to date.  It didn't quite live up to my lofty expectations, but it was still a good show.  Part of the problem was the inclusion of Shogun and BJ Penn.  This isn't to criticize the matchmaking.  As I said, these were all great fights (on paper).  The problem is that Shogun and Penn aren't the same fighters anymore, which makes them a gamble.  There's no way of knowing how the fighters are going to show up.  Is it going to be the Shogun from the Dan Henderson/Machida fights or the Shogun from the Vera fight?  Because Shogun is so hit or miss, it makes it hard to judge Gustafsson's performance.  Did he pick him apart because he's just better or because the underwhelming Shogun showed up?  It was still an impressive performance from Gustafsson, but not as much as it could've been, if we could tell for sure that it was the good Shogun that he dominated.

Penn's case is more extreme than Shogun's.  Obviously questions of his preparedness and endurance have surrounded him virtually his whole career.  But as the fight was going on, I started thinking less about how those questions pertained to this fight and more about how they pertained to his career; which led me to this question: has any athlete ever achieved so much while simultaneously leaving so much on the table?  He's the greatest Lightweight fighter of all-time and only the second person in UFC history to hold a title in multiple weight classes, yet it still feels like he greatly underachieved.  If only he had trained with a real trainer and was in shape for every fight, he probably would have beaten GSP the first time, Hughes the second time, Edgar both times, and Fitch.  Could you imagine if BJ had the stamina that Ben Henderson has?  He would've been virtually unbeatable.  Instead, he might be the most accomplished underachiever ever.

In my review of UFC's last Fox event, I mentioned how the UFC is in a tough place because all of their previous superstars are fading.  That continued with this show, as the doors closed more and more for Shogun and Penn.  However, I had also mentioned some new fighters that were becoming must-see (Jon Jones, Junior Dos Santos, Cain Velasquez, and Jose Aldo).  The big positive from this event?  Add Benson Henderson to that list.  On the heels of his fights with Clay Guida and Frankie Edgar, Henderson put together another stellar performance on Saturday night.  He's now what I would call the most entertaining "decision fighter" in the sport.  He's so active and aggressive; it doesn't feel like he's just trying to outpoint his opponent or play it safe.  Great showing from the champ.

In total, the show was a mixed bag.  Swick-Brown was pretty good and Henderson-Diaz was great, but Shogun-Gustafsson and Penn-MacDonald felt more like two stars falling than it did two stars rising; which is a shame.  Hopefully their next fights will be against more consistent fighters (like Machida and Condit, respectively), where potentially dominant performances would say more about them than it would their opponents.  And thankfully there's a quick turnaround to the next Fox event, where two of the three fights (Johnson-Dodson and Pettis-Cerrone) won't be subject to "declining superstar sabotage".  Should be good.