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MMA’S DIVISION OF DEATH

On December 13, 2013, Georges St. Pierre, the greatest UFC welterweight fighter decided to finally walk away from the sport he loved. This was coming after a very controversial win over Johny Hendricks, who punished the champion for five rounds back in UFC 167. Plenty, including myself, thought Hendricks had won but even if he lost the decision, he can settle for a moral victory having hurt the legend enough to force him into early retirement.

Whether you love GSP’s decision or hate it, I think you would agree he stepped out of the sport at the right time. GSP’s last four fights suggest he absorbed more punishment than his other fights combined (240 strikes absorbed, over 50% of his total strikes absorbed). Hendricks, Condit, Diaz and Shields (all on this list) pounded him more than the dozen who came before.

GSP made the sane proper choice to quit now while he’s ahead because as I would outline, here’s the next 15 guys who have struck me as not only contenders but entertaining and violent brawlers and grapplers. Welcome to the new Welterweight Division. A division filled with knockouts and submissions and wars… THE DIVISION OF DEATH.

BIGG RIGG
Johny Hendricks (15-2, 10-2 UFC)

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Knockouts: 8
Submissions: 1
UFC Rank: #1

The aforementioned Johny “Bigg Rigg” Hendricks is fighting for the title in UFC 170 in his hometown of Dallas, Texas. Big Rig is notorious for arguably the most powerful leftie in MMA today, which floored two former title contenders within seconds. Big Rig isn’t only one of the strongest strikers but is a huge NCAA Division I wrestler. With GSP gone, he’s the favourite to take over the division. He’s the to-be-crowned Alpha Dog in the making.

THE NATURAL BORN KILLER
Carlos Condit (29-7, 6-3 UFC)

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Knockouts: 14
Submissions: 13
UFC Rank: #2

Carlos “The Natural Born Killer” Condit isn’t far behind Big Rig as a favourite to win the division. NBK once engaged Hendricks in a Fight of the Year caliber brawl that saw him lose a razor thin decision. But the Killer out-struck Hendricks (number) and also floored GSP and was a few punches away from winning his belt. Condit may not have GSP or Hendricks’s wrestling pedigree but he is arguably the division’s best striker.

RUTHLESS
Robbie Lawler (22-9, 7-3 UFC)

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Knockouts: 18
Submissions: 1
UFC Rank: #3

Ruthless Robbie Lawler is easily 2013’s Comeback Fighter of the Year. On his second go-round with the UFC, he went on to knock out long-time gatekeeper Josh Koscheck, Strikeforce tough guy, Bobby Voelker and put a beating on a contender and GSP teammate, Rory “Ares” Macdonald. He’ll be facing Bigg Rigg for the championship soon. Lawler has always been a deadly striker but his improvement in takedown defense, precision and game planning has made him reach a new elite level.

EL DIABLO
Nick Diaz (26-9, 7-7 UFC)

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Knockouts: 13
Submissions: 8
UFC Rank: n/a

Although he remains “retired”, whenever “El Diablo” Nick Diaz decides to return to the octagon, he will be an immediate championship threat. The division’s best boxer and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert has fought the best and was both a Strikeforce and WEC Welterweight Champion. His colourful nature makes him a polarizing figure but he’ll earn fans’ and haters’ respect alike with his artistic display of boxing destruction whenever he steps in the octagon.

ARES
Rory Macdonald (15-2, 6-2 UFC)

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Knockouts: 6
Submissions: 6
UFC Rank: #4

With GSP retired, Rory “Ares” Macdonald now stands as Tristar Gym’s and Canada’s top fighter. Growing tired of his old name, Macdonald gave himself his own nickname although his tentative fighting style has led to much criticism. Regardless, Ares has all the tools to be a champion – size, topnotch grappling skills and toughness. He recently lost to Ruthless but he’s only one big win away from  being back in the title picture.

THE JUGGERNAUT
Jake Ellenberger (29-7, 8-3 UFC)

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Knockouts: 18
Submissions: 5
UFC Rank: #5

The Juggernaut has been injured as of late and always seems to be overshadowed by the top fighters but he didn’t earn his moniker as an X-Men fan. Juggernaut is a powerful force and has won the majority of his UFC fights by way of knockout. He’s a wrestler by nature but prefers to stand and bang and even the toughest fighters should be weary to go toe-to-toe with The Juggernaut.

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Knockouts: 3
Submissions: 10
UFC Rank: #7

While not as physically imposing or powerful as some of the fighters here, Shields was once the Strikeforce Middleweight Champion and was undefeated for six years. His lack of striking power shouldn’t undersell his prowess as he’s undefeated at welterweight and has wins over four fighters on this list (Condit, Lawler, Woodley, Maia). Shields flies under the radar but he can beat the best at any moment’s notice. PS I gave him the nickname. 😉

THE SUBMISSION DEMON
Demian Maia (18-5, 12-5 UFC)

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Knockouts: 3
Submissions: 9
UFC Rank: #6

I made up his nickname but “Submission Demon” seems apt for the man who’s submitted Chael Sonnen and Rick Story – the latter’s first time being finished. Maia is a large welterweight having fought the best at middleweight before moving down and going on an unbeaten streak before a paper-thin decision loss to Jake Shields. He’s probably the best BJJ grappler in the division.

THE CHOSEN ONE
Tyron Woodley (12-2, 2-1 UFC)

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Knockouts: 3
Submissions: 5
UFC Rank: #11

Tyron “The Chosen One” Woodley is on the fast track to winning the welterweight title as he’ll be going against The Natural Born Killer later this year. A wrestler who combines power with speed and athleticism, he’s a force who despite having only fought since 2009 has already beaten some of the big names in the division including Paul Daley, Josh Koscheck and former champion, Tarec Saffiedine.

LIGHTNING
Hector Lombard (33-4-1-1, 2-2 UFC)

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Knockouts: 19
Submissions: 7
UFC Rank: #13

The Cuban version of Hulk aka Hector “Lightning” Lombard finally made the cut to welterweight and it has paid massive (pun intended) dividends in a first-round demolition of former title contender, Nate Marquardt. Lombard’s imposing muscular frame paired with his Judoka expertise and killer power has led him to win 33 of his 39 official fights with majority of those wins coming by knockout.

SPONGE
Tarec Saffiedine (15-3, 1-0 UFC)

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Knockouts: 1
Submissions: 5
UFC Rank: #9

Former Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Tarec “Sponge” Saffiedine finally made his much-anticipated debut in a five-round victory over Korean standout, Lim Gyun-Hyu. He didn’t finish Lim but dominated the much larger Korean and kicked his legs to oblivion. Saffiedine is one of the more polished and technical fighters in the division. He won’t have many highlight reel knockouts but he’s as much a contender as most of the ones on this list.

THE IMMORTAL
Matt Brown (18-11, 11-5 UFC)

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Knockouts: 11
Submissions: 5
UFC Rank: #8

Before training in MMA, Matt Brown survived a heroin overdose thus prompting his nickname. He would then dedicate himself to martial arts and make his way to the UFC, where he would again survive a life-altering event, losing three in a row and 4 of 5 matches. That usually spells death sentence for most fighters but not the Immortal. Now a winner of six straight, with five of those coming by KO, the Immortal is in prime position to challenge the best in the division.

HORROR STORY
Rick Story (16-7, 9-5 UFC)

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Knockouts: 4
Submissions: 3
UFC Rank: #15

Once upon a time, Rick “Horror” Story was on his way to a title shot with huge wins over former title challenger Thiago “Pitbull” Alves and even Johny Hendricks. Then an upset loss to Charlie Brenneman and he never seemed to get back in rhythm having a spotty record since. But his most recent domination of Brian Ebersole, a result of training with Tristar has the wrestling standout back in the game. A rejuvenated Horror Story could spell terror for the rest of the division.

THE ACE
Lim Hyun-Gyu (12-4, 2-1 UFC)

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Knockouts: 9
Submissions: 2
UFC Rank: n/a

Too early? The Korean standout is relatively new to the UFC but already has two Fight of the Night awards along with two big knockouts. He most recently took Saffiedine to a five-round war that nearly saw him upset the former champion despite having his legs all-but kicked off. Lim is unranked in the division but with more polish, he’s sure to shoot up the rankings.

RUKUS
Brandon Thatch
(11-1 2-0 UFC)

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Knockouts: 8
Submissions: 3
UFC Rank: n/a

Brandon “Rukus” Thatch may be a relative unknown to the casual UFC fanbase but he shouldn’t be for long. Though just having two UFC fights, he’s won both by stoppages. He’s the first to KO Justin “Fast Eddie” Edwards  and just the 2nd to finish Paulo Thiago. Get this: 100% of the Karate master’s victories have all come by round 1 stoppage. Rukus is still new and thus unranked within the UFC but will look to keep his killer ways through 2014.

Watch for these other Killers:

Kim “Stun Gun” Dong-Hyun, Ryan LaFlare, Kelvin Gastelum, John “The Hitman” Hathaway, Mike “Quicksand” Pyle, Erick “Indio” Silva

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One Punch: Dan Henderson’s Most Important Fight

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Tonight’s UFC Fight Night 32 will put two of mixed martial arts’s biggest icons: Vitor “The Phenom” Belfort against Dan “Hendo” Henderson, a rematch from their Pride fight in 2006. Let’s state the obvious that this fight is a must win for both fighters especially since both are still as dangerous as any young gun and are still vying for a title shot. But for Hendo, this is do or die. This is his most important fight. He has to beat Vitor Belfort. His entire career depends on it.

Divergent Paths

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Both Hendo and Belfort have a combined 29 knockout wins in their careers. All of Belfort’s wins in the UFC have come via finish. That’s right. Out of the 12 UFC opponents he has beaten, he has submitted two and knocked out ten. The Phenom has looked phenomenal, excuse the bad pun, as of late. Thank a little TRT exemption – but his last two wins, both spectacular finishes against middleweight contenders, Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold means he’s on a path of destruction back to contendership (listed #2 ranked middleweight by UFC.com).

Hendo in contrast has lost his last two fights by split decision to former light heavyweight champions, Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida. A lot of the naysayers may think Hendo’s on a downtrend and retirement may be in the horizon but Hendo stated he has no plans of and wants to fight for at least two more years. That’s plenty of time to get back into title contention.

Before Hendo lost his last two fights, he was Jon Jones’s next opponent until his injury infamously made history by cancelling the first ever UFC 151. This and being on a two-fight losing streak pretty much has Hendo on the back end of a short line of contenders for another shot. But one punch can change everything. One knockout can change Hendo’s fortunes for good. But he has to be the one pulling it off.

Turning Back Time: 2011

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Hendo is only two years removed from a magnificent 2011, which was arguably his greatest year since his Pride days. In 2011, Hendo knocked out highly-touted Black House prodigy, Rafael “Feijao” Calvacante to win the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship. He followed this up with come-from-behind knockout of the legendary Fedor Emelianenko, the first time the great Russian has been felled mid-fight by strikes.

And as an encore to the year, Hendo engaged Mauricio “Shogun” Rua in what many pundits and fans alike have called one of the greatest fights in MMA history. He would win the war by unanimous decision.

Hendo would go 3-0 for the year, which would earn him the aforementioned title shot against Jones. But it’s worth noting that his wins have come with asterisks. Cavalcante as highly regarded as he was isn’t a top ten light heavyweight at least not in the UFC. Fedor was on the downswing of his career coming off of two losses and several fight metrics had him losing to Rua.

TRT or Retirement?

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Since his injury in 2012 and bowing out of the title fight, Hendo just has not looked the same. He certainly didn’t seem as explosive in both his fights against Rashad and Machida and has looked slower and more sluggish. Being permitted a TRT exemption isn’t good news, it’s more concerning. But should Hendo decide to undergo it, would it make a big difference?

TRT users indeed report “increased alertness and well-being, increase in lean muscle mass and concomitant decrease in body fat” (source: Gan EH, “A UK Epidemic of Testosterone Prescribing 2001-2010) . It has certainly helped the resurgent Vitor Belfort as he has looked like a new man, arguably at his best ever since he’s fought professionally. It’s also helped Chael Sonnen as he submitted Rua within just a round. But it didn’t really help either man against Jon Jones.

A reinvigorated Hendo could definitely end up like Vitor Belfort. There’s no guarantee but should Hendo lose to Belfort, and should he lose badly (as in first T/KO loss), maybe retirement is a better path?

Does Hendo want to fade away like other greats before him: Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Rampage Jackson and the abovementioned Fedor Emelianenko?

Hendo is a man of great pride and he has aged gracefully. I’m sure he as well as any of his fans believe he’s capable of putting on even more fights but what if he isn’t? As a Hendo fan, I would hate to see him get trashed on his way out of MMA.

One Punch

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One punch. Sometimes that’s all it takes to end a fight. And it can happen at any moment against anyone. It happened to Anderson Silva against Chris Weidman, the greatest mixed martial artist of his time flattened by a punch. Hendo and Belfort are both familiar with the power both possess. Whether it is Hendo who uncorks an “H Bomb” and floors Belfort or the Phenom finally accomplishes what over 30 fighters couldn’t and that is to stop Hendo in his tracks with punches (or a kick).

If Belfort loses, he’d be slightly derailed from his hopes of another title shot (since the fight is taking place at light heavyweight, he will still be technically unbeaten at middleweight since losing to Anderson Silva). But if Hendo loses, this could put him on the verge like what Frank Mir is currently facing.

If Hendo wins however and if he does so in spectacular fashion, he’ll be back in the hunt since the only men who have beaten Belfort in the UFC are or will be in the Hall of Fame. One punch could change Hendo’s fortunes: back in title contention or one step closer to retirement or the purgatory of the gatekeeper status.

As such, this would be Hendo’s most important match. It isn’t for a title. It isn’t of the same magnitude as the Fedor or Anderson Silva fight and it likely isn’t Hendo’s last. But it could very well be one that would define his legacy. One punch: Hendo goes back on the road to the title… or the road to the end.

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UFC Fight Night 30: Enter the Dragon

*Betting Odds courtesy of MMA Mania

Lyoto Machida (-360) vs Mark Munoz (+300)

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Former Light Heavyweight Champion and karate master Lyoto “The Dragon” Machida makes his middleweight debut against Mark “The Filipino Wrecking Machin” Munoz. Machida comes in as a late replacement to Michael Bisping who pulled out due to an eye injury. Munoz has won three of his last four with his defeat coming to new Middleweight Champion, Chris Weidman. The winner of this fight will make a strong case for a title shot in the division’s short but growing list of contenders.

Machida Wins: if he stops Munoz’s takedowns and keeps the fight standing; Machida has fought and defeated a lot of wrestlers so Munoz’s skillset isn’t anything new. His biggest challenge may be to finish the fight as his fighting style tends to be iffy with judges as his last two decisions have revealed.

Munoz Wins: if he is able to take Machida down and neutralize him long enough to prevent him from scoring points on strikes; Phil Davis won a disputed split decision against him by simply taking him down enough times to win the judges and Munoz could benefit from the same tactic. It’s a tall task to say the least but the only other option is to Stand and Wang.

My Pick: I liked Munoz’s chances of dragging Bisping to a decision victory but The Dragon presents a steeper challenge. Munoz has never fought a striker of Machida’s caliber while wrestlers are a dime-a-dozen to Machida. I give Munoz plenty of credit in making this a dangerous fight for Machida but it’ll be The Dragon who comes out arms raised: Machida by unanimous decision.

Ross Pearson (+120) vs Melvin Guillard (-140)

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The co-main event pits explosive strikers, Ross “The Real Deal” Pearson against Melvin “The Young Assassin” Guillard. Pearson is on a roll with two TKO wins and Guillard off of a big KO of his own. Both fighters have striking backgrounds:  Pearson in Taekwondo and Guillard in boxing. Whatever happens, this fight will have some fireworks.

Pearson Wins: if he uses his Judo/BJJ background to tap out Guillard or keep the fight on the ground, away from his greatest strength: his punching power. He can also catch Guillard in the right spot and knock him out. Pearson has KO power (5 KO wins) but standing and banging with one of the division’s most lethal strikers doesn’t favour the Brit.

Guillard Wins: if he engages Pearson in an all-out brawl and avoids his submission attempts; Pearson has big knockout power but Guillard may be the strongest puncher in the lightweight division (20 KO wins). A toe-to-toe showdown with the brawling Brit favours the more heavy-handed American.

My Pick: This is a bad stylistic matchup for Pearson who I feel will want to put on a show for his people. He’s tough as nails having only been knocked out twice in 21 fights but Guillard’s power is on another level. Pearson could submit Guillard alternatively but not before Guillard can put his hands on him: Guillard by round 1 TKO.

 

Jimi Manuwa (-170) vs Ryan Jimmo (+150)

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A battle of hard-hitting heavyweights pits the undefeated Jimi “Posterboy” Manuwa against Ryan “Big Deal” Jimmo; Manuwa has won both his UFC fights by way of knockout and may be the next big prospect in a division desperately looking for contenders. Jimmo on the other hand is 2-1 with the UFC with a spectacular seven-second knockout of Anthony Perosh. There’s good chances someone gets flattened and whoever does it could be joining the division’s top ten sooner than later.

Manuwa wins: if he keeps the fight standing and bangs with Jimmo; he runs the risk of getting knocked out by a heavy-handed Jimmo but he’s easily the more explosive of the two. None of his opponents have made it to a decision and 12 of his 13 wins have come via KO. He has a BJJ background but he’d be hard-pressed to use it against the bigger wrestler.

Jimmo wins: if he is able to control Manuwa on the ground or up against the cage like he did in his last fight against Igor Pokrajac. Jimmo is a dangerous striker but if he’s outgunned, he’ll utilize his wrestling and hope to grind his opponent out to a decision win; boring, but effective.

My Pick: I’d like to believe Manuwa keeps his undefeated and stoppage streak going but Jimmo is a hulking wrestler who’ll keep Manuwa down and keep him there lest he tags him with a few good hits for a surprise TKO win: Jimmo by unanimous decision.

BEST OF THE REST

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Norman Parke (-155) vs Jon Tuck (+135)

Stormin’ Norman Parke going up against Jon “Super Saiyan” Tuck; two tough submissionists who are relatively new to the company. Tuck has some power in his fists but Parke looks like a kid raised from stone. This could be a sleeper Fight of the Night contender. Norman Parke via split decision.

Alessio Sakara (-220) vs Nicholas Musoke (+180)

It’s about time “Legionarius” Alessio Sakara got back on the win column. His explosive striking ability will be a rough welcome for UFC newcomer, Nicholas Musoke. The Swede has the looks of a legit fighter but Sakara will come in like a rabid dog fighting for what could be its last meal. Alessio Sakara via round 2 TKO.

Phil Harris (+315) vs John Lineker (-380)

John Lineker wants a title shot should he get by hometown boy, Phil Harris. The Englishman is a crafty BJJ expert but Lineker is one of the bigger flyweights having fought to as heavy as lightweight. His explosive power has yielded him 3 straight wins and he’ll keep rolling this Saturday. John Lineker via round 1 TKO.