If You’re Going To Do A Meta-Ranking…

It’s no secret that I have a lot of respect for the Bloody Elbow consensus rankings. To me, they have more significance than just one person’s opinion. If one person ranks a fighter in the top 25, that doesn’t say much, but if everybody ranks a fighter in the top 25, that says a lot more.

But recently, the rankings have been overhauled. They now have a grand total of two sources ranking 25 fighters, while all other sources rank just ten. I suppose calling them the “Fight Matrix/MMA Madman top 25 meta-rankings” doesn’t sound as cool.

I would petition to have my ELO rankings included on their list, but I’m having some real trouble getting the ELO system finished. The big problem is that all fights are sorted by date, but there’s no way to sort a fighter competing multiple times in the same day. So the ELO rankings are on ice until I get it figured out. Then I need to fine-tune it a bit.

The point is – at this point, you might as well just rank ten fighters and be done with it, or just provide a link to Fight Matrix, whose rankings are probably the best out there right now anyway.

Let Me Get This Straight

Gregg Popovich told Duncan, Ginobili, Parker, and Green to go home and rest instead of traveling to Miami. David Stern, angry and embarrassed by the Spurs fielding their “B” team in a nationally televised game, has decided they should be punished for this decision.

Obviously Pop’s motivation was that he doesn’t think playing his stars 82 games in the regular season is a good idea. He wants them healthy and rested for the postseason. This is not a new thing – the Spurs rested key players in a number of games last year as well.

Meanwhile, a handful of NBA teams blatantly tank at the end of each season in hopes of a higher draft pick.

If Stern is so outraged about the Spurs decision to send their starters home for a day, why isn’t he irritated when some of the worse teams in the league tank for weeks or months at a time?

And here’s the kicker – with a starting lineup of Boris Diaw, Tiago Splitter, Matt Bonner, Nando de Colo, and Patty Mills, the Spurs almost won in Miami anyway! The Heat barely scraped out a 105-100 win after trailing in the final minute.

If David Stern wants to apologize to NBA fans for a sub-par product, what he should apologize for are the dozens of games in March and April every year contested between teams who both want to lose.

What All Eight UFC Champions Have in Common

I’m a big believer that if you want to look at a fighter’s potential, you should look at his first 12 fights. If a fighter produces a strong record against fairly good competition in this early period of his career, then he has a good chance to achieve greatness in MMA. If a fighter either has a lackluster record in these fights, or doesn’t face very good opponents, he’s probably not going to make it very far. It’s possible for a fighter who stumbles out of the gate to rally and become a good fighter, but true title contention is probably out of reach.

How did the men who are current UFC champions fare in their first 12 fights? Take a look…

  • Junior dos Santos: 11-1
  • Jon Jones: 11-1
  • Anderson Silva: 11-1
  • Georges St-Pierre: 11-1
  • Benson Henderson: 11-1
  • Jose Aldo: 11-1
  • Dominick Cruz: 11-1
  • Demetrious Johnson: 11-1

Sure, Jones’s loss was by disqualification. Call him 12-0 if you want, but I think my point stands. You can compare him to Fedor Emelianenko, who also started his career 11-1, and whose loss was also of a very controversial nature. By the way, Chuck Liddell, Matt Hughes, Dan Henderson, and Mauricio Rua all started 11-1.

What does this mean? First, fighters who eventually become champions almost always produce a very good record early in their careers. Second, almost every all-time great fighter loses at some point in their first 12 fights, and these losses are often to an opponent who doesn’t make sense in retrospect. Does anybody think Jose Aldo would lose to Luciano Azevedo right now? What about Anderson Silva losing to Luiz Azeredo? Would Benson Henderson lose to Rocky Johnson? How about Junior dos Santos and Joaquim Ferreira?

This is a trend that bodes well for aspiring contenders like Johny Hendricks (11-1 in his first 12 fights), Cain Velasquez (10-1), Daniel Cormier (10-0), and Chris Weidman (9-0). Naturally, it’s no guarantee that any of them becomes a UFC champion, but I’ll bet at least one of them does. It also means I’m not yet ready to jump off the relatively empty Matt Mitrione (5-1) bandwagon.

And of course, there are fighters who won a UFC championship despite a record of something like 9-3 (Couture), 9-2-1 (Penn), or 10-2 (Ortiz, Jackson). It’s just food for thought.

Week 12 NFL Picks

Obviously, three of this week’s games are already in the books. I hope I won’t need expert persuasion skills to convince you that my Thanksgiving picks were 1-1-1 against the spread. Houston -3 was a push, Washington +3.5 was a win, and New York Jets +6.5 was an embarrassment.

Fortunately, there are still 13 more games to play this week, and that means it’s time to make some picks.

CINCINNATI (-8.5) vs. Oakland

Last week, I picked the Raiders to cover at home against the Saints, thinking the Raiders could score enough points on a weak Saints defense to keep the game close. Instead, the Raiders got annihilated. This week, the Raiders play a somewhat similar opponent in the Cincinnati Bengals, who have a shaky defense like the Saints, but also have some offensive firepower in the form of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. And with the Bengals at home this time, I have to think the Raiders are in for a long day again.

CLEVELAND (+1.5) vs. Pittsburgh

It’s very difficult to know just how good Charlie Batch is in relation to Byron Leftwich at this point. Both quarterbacks are a blast from the past. But if the Steelers’ offensive performance last week against Baltimore is any indication, this one could be upset city. The Browns do play decent defense, and if they can hold Pittsburgh to something in the neighborhood of 13 points, I think even Brandon Weeden and the Cleveland offense can muster enough points to win the game.

INDIANAPOLIS (-3) vs. Buffalo

After I picked the Colts to cover the spread against the Patriots last week, I had a feeling I’d made the wrong pick. After all, the Colts were on a winning streak, so their stock was up, and they were in New England, a place where teams lose by improbable margins sometimes. Fast forward to this week, and the Colts are just a 3 point favorite at home against Buffalo. As much as I can see the Bills running up the score on the awful Colts defense, I can see Andrew Luck doing the same thing to the Bills defense.

DENVER (-10) at Kansas City

I have an aversion to picking teams that are favorites on the road, especially if the team is favored by double digits. But I just can’t bring myself to take the Chiefs here. On one side, we have Peyton Manning and a blossoming defense in Denver. On the other side, we have a team that can’t decide whether it should play Matt Cassel or Brady Quinn every week, and a team that just lost to the Bengals 28-6. I have to take the Broncos here.

JACKSONVILLE (+3) vs. Tennessee

I get the thinking behind the Jaguars being the underdog here. They have the worst offense in the NFL, and now are forced to turn to their backup quarterback. But that backup quarterback, Chad Henne, is better than Blaine Gabbert in my opinion. And I don’t think the Titans should be a road favorite against anybody.

CHICAGO (OFF) vs. Minnesota

It’s Saturday, and this game is still off, but I’m willing to take the Bears regardless. That’s because, as a Vikings fan, I know better than anybody that bad things happen in Chicago. Since the Bears are likely to be undervalued after their stinker of a performance in San Francisco, that makes this pick even more of a no-brainer for me. And the idea of Christian Ponder taking on Chicago’s defense makes me nervous.

TAMPA BAY (+1) vs. Atlanta

What does it say about the Falcons that they’re only a 1 point favorite on the road despite being 9-1? This is a team that has skated by in a lot of its games, and now they’ll be taking on a quality Buccaneers team. I think Atlanta could be in for a rude awakening in the second half of the season as their record regresses to reflect a team that is good, not great.

SEATTLE (-3) at Miami

Again, I’m sticking my neck out by taking the road favorite, but my logic here is simple. Ryan Tannehill is a rookie who has had a mostly rough season as Miami’s starter so far. In this game, he’ll have to take on one of the tougher defenses in the league in Seattle. And after the Dolphins scored a combined 17 points against the Titans and Bills, both of whom play awful defense, I’m going to need a lot more than 3 points to side with them here.

SAN DIEGO (+1) vs. Baltimore

I can see a lot of people putting money down on the Ravens as only a 1 point favorite in San Diego. But when I think of a flawed east coast team like Baltimore going all the way to San Diego, where the Chargers have a decent defense and some offensive firepower, I see it ending poorly for them. This is a classic “trap” game.

NEW ORLEANS (+1) vs. San Francisco

Finally, I’m picking the Saints to cover the spread! I’m anticipating that Colin Kaepernick will be San Francisco’s quarterback, and my opinion on Kaepernick will be that he’s overrated until proven otherwise. I see the 49ers struggling to keep up with the high-octane Saints offense in this one, and that’s a recipe for a young quarterback like Kaepernick to throw multiple interceptions. So I like the Saints to score the upset here.

ST. LOUIS (+1.5) at Arizona

While I’ve been waiting for the Chiefs to give Ricky Stanzi a shot at quarterback, the Cardinals have decided to give a shot to their third-string QB, Ryan Lindley. Unlike Stanzi, however, I have yet to see a shred of statistical evidence suggesting Lindley has a decent chance to be a good QB in the NFL. Last week’s 64 yards on 20 pass attempts was not inspiring. And the Rams play decent defense. This could easily be a 13-3 type of win for the Rams, but I definitely like them to win, and I’m getting points? Sign me up.

GREEN BAY (+3) at New York Giants

I keep waiting for the Giants’ stock to fall enough for them to be a good value. Surprisingly, it hasn’t happened yet. The 3 point spread is indicative of a public opinion that these two teams are roughly equal in team strength, and I just don’t see it. The Packers have turned their season around after a shaky start, and Aaron Rodgers is still one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Green Bay has to be considered one of the leading contenders to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the Giants are an above-average but sub-elite team, although they seem to have a knack for winning in the playoffs. But this isn’t the playoffs.

PHILADELPHIA (+3) vs. Carolina

I talk about NFL teams like stocks a lot of the time, because I think it’s telling in terms of deciding which teams to pick. As a 3 point underdog at home to the Panthers, the Eagles stock has hit rock bottom. The team is on a long losing streak, and Nick Foles has been, to put it gently, disappointing so far. But just as I’m not going to let Colin Kaepernick’s monday night performance get me too excited about his future, I’m not going to let Nick Foles’s stinker in Washington make me give up on him. I say Foles turns it around this week, and the Eagles beat the Carolina Panthers.

Take It Easy With Colin Kaepernick

I don’t want to take anything away from Colin Kaepernick. His first NFL start on Monday was sensational, and made much more so by the fact that he dominated the Chicago Bears, of all teams. The Bears had yet to give up a decent passing game to a quarterback this year; Kaepernick was the first.

But already, I see people going crazy about Kaepernick, calling for him to be the starter for the 49ers over Alex Smith. I live in Niners country, and have yet to meet a fan who likes Smith, so there’s probably a lot of people longing to see something different. For them, Kaepernick is the answer, now that he put up a spectacular game against a suffocating defense.

I’m not going to say Kaepernick will end up falling on his face, but I do think a healthy dose of caution is warranted. This is the same Colin Kaepernick who struggled to score points the week before against the Rams, and I don’t think getting excited about a single game is a good idea in any circumstance.

You remember Craig Erickson, right? You don’t?!? Well, as a 25 year old quarterback (believe it or not, Kaepernick is 25 already) for the Buccaneers in 1994, Erickson had the following passing line against the Colts: 19/24, 313 yards, 3 touchdowns, and no interceptions. Unfortunately, 1994 was also the last time Erickson was a full-time starter in the NFL.

Well, since you don’t remember Erickson, surely you remember Vince Evans, right? No? Vince Evans had the following passing line as a 25 year old for the Bears in 1980: 18/22, 316 yards, 3 touchdowns, no interceptions. The Bears won 61-7. Unfortunately, Evans ended up with 11 touchdowns and 16 interceptions on the year, followed by an 11 TD/20 INT performance for Chicago in 1981.

Of course, neither the Colts in 1994 nor the Packers in 1980 had a defense nearly as good as this year’s Bears. And again, Kaepernick could turn out to be a superstar for all I know. I’d just be careful before rushing to give him that label.

What Really Happened Between Georges St-Pierre and Carlos Condit at UFC 154

Going into UFC 154, I made the argument that Georges St-Pierre’s fight against Carlos Condit could play out in one of three ways. I acknowledged the possibility that St-Pierre would come back the same as before, and dominate in the fight. I also acknowledged the possibility that St-Pierre would be a “shot” fighter, so athletically diminished that his offense would be largely ineffective and that Condit would pick him apart en route to a shocking victory. But I argued what was most likely to happen was that St-Pierre would win the fight by enough of a margin that there wouldn’t be any controversy about it, but he would struggle more than usual, perhaps lose a round, and something would look “not right.”

I must have been hallucinating on Saturday night, because apparently I saw a different fight take place than everybody else did. If you were to just read the various blogs out there, you would think St-Pierre ran through Condit like a hot knife through butter. I’ve seen the word “dominated” thrown around as much as I ever have, and that’s coming from somebody who thinks that word is badly overused to describe MMA fights. Maybe I was asleep, and just dreamed the fight in my mind? Because I missed this supposed fight where St-Pierre did whatever he wanted, dominated in all phases of the game, won all five rounds, and neutralized almost everything Condit tried to do. Sure, there was that one kick in the third round, but it was no big deal, right?

Don’t get me wrong – St-Pierre won the fight I saw too. He won four of the five rounds, his takedowns were just as quick and explosive as ever, he dictated the striking with very good jabs, and displayed a strong top control game on the ground. He won the fight. But just as I predicted, he didn’t look quite right. St-Pierre took more strikes from Condit than usual, and that’s without mentioning that head kick. His top control game was good, but he had a lot more difficulty passing the guard and taking dominant positions than usual. And while St-Pierre was never seriously threatened by a submission attempt, it seemed that he spent a lot of his time focusing on defending what Condit was trying to do.

Then there’s that head kick. Of course the various MMA blogs and writers have acknowledged this, but I get the impression that it gets in the way of the narrative they want to promote. I’ve been reading a lot of things along the lines of “yeah, that kick was a scary moment, but GSP recovered well… and then dominated the rest of the fight!” In case you missed the fight, let me tell you what happened. Condit hit St-Pierre with a head kick to the temple early in the third round. Condit then jumped on the downed St-Pierre, landing a flurry of punches and elbows. It wasn’t just one kick, it was a series of strikes afterwards that threatened to end the fight and award Condit a TKO victory. St-Pierre managed to hold on and recover, but he was seriously close to being finished. It would be hilarious that two judges gave the round to St-Pierre if it wasn’t so depressing.

Overall, St-Pierre had a good performance, but “dominant” is not a word that should be used to describe it. To illustrate this, let’s look at how Fight Metric scored it. I know, I know, Fight Metric is hardly a definitive judge of how fights played out, but it should serve to back up my argument here. Overall, Fight Metric gave St-Pierre 407 points, to 272 for Condit. Of all the Georges St-Pierre fights scored by Fight Metric, only two were scored more closely: St-Pierre’s first fight against Josh Koscheck (154-47) and his first fight against B.J. Penn (233-234).

Perhaps the fight was more competitive than usual because of “ring rust.” After all, St-Pierre did come off of multiple injuries and an 18-month inactive period, so he’s earned a little bit of slack. And perhaps his last fight was more competitive than usual because he got poked in the eyes. All I will say is this: if St-Pierre’s next fight is really going to be against Anderson Silva, I’m picking Silva to win and not thinking twice about it. And that’s coming from somebody who used to give St-Pierre a great chance of winning that fight. That’s because I think the eye pokes, the injuries, and the ring rust are just masking the true reason St-Pierre’s fights are suddenly more competitive (and why he’s getting injured more in the first place): because he’s in decline as a fighter and his best days are behind him.

Of course, Carlos Condit deserves a truckload of credit for fighting to win, staying aggressive, and doing everything he could to beat Georges St-Pierre. I don’t want to dismiss Condit’s role at all here. And again, St-Pierre did win the fight, and did put together a good performance. But those arguing that St-Pierre dominated the fight and fought like his old self are deluding themselves. St-Pierre’s fights are slowly but surely becoming more competitive, and it’s now only a matter of time before the welterweight division catches up to him.

UFC 154 Preview and Predictions

UFC 154 has arrived, and we’re finally going to get to see Georges St-Pierre in the Octagon once again. But there are some other really good fights on the card as well. Here are my thoughts:

(I’m not posting ELO ratings this time because I’m still working out some kinks with that system.)

MAIN EVENT: 170 LBS – Georges St-Pierre vs. Carlos Condit

I already gave a lot of my thoughts on this fight yesterday. If St-Pierre is the same fighter he was before, he wins, and it probably won’t be very competitive. If St-Pierre is somewhat diminished, as I think he will be, he’ll struggle more than usual, and perhaps lose a round, but ultimately end up victorious. And there is a distinct possibility that St-Pierre will have lost so much athleticism that Condit lights him up and pulls off the upset. All of these scenarios have to be acknowledged.

Where I’ll give St-Pierre credit is that he’s not just a great athlete, he’s a very cerebral fighter. That’s one thing his ACL injury won’t affect. I anticipate that even if St-Pierre has diminished physically, that he’ll have enough mental strength to execute a smart game plan and win this fight. Carlos Condit still has below-average takedown defense, and St-Pierre is likely to take full advantage of that, taking Condit down repeatedly and beating him on the ground.

CO-MAIN EVENT: 170 LBS – Johny Hendricks vs. Martin Kampmann

I’m glad that not only is this fight very likely to determine the next title challenger at 170 pounds, but that it’s being given the exposure it deserves, as the co-main event of this pay-per-view. It’s also a very close match. Kampmann likely has the advantages in striking volume and submissions, while Hendricks has the edge in striking power and takedowns. Hendricks represents one of SILVA’s great triumphs; it had Hendricks rated as an elite welterweight when he was toiling away on the preliminaries. I’m not about to pick against him here; I think Hendricks is the single welterweight fighter with the best chance of beating Georges St-Pierre.

But this one figures to be very competitive, as Kampmann has shown fantastic conditioning and the ability to come back in recent fights against Jake Ellenberger and Thiago Alves. The problem with Kampmann is very simply that he has little head movement, and tends to leave his chin exposed. That got him in trouble early against Ellenberger, but Ellenberger was inexplicably passive after hurting Kampmann, and ended up paying for it later. Hendricks has all of Ellenberger’s power, but when Hendricks hurts an opponent, he swarms them. There’s a great chance that Hendricks wins by TKO here. And if it goes the distance, Hendricks is likely to be helped by mixing in a couple takedowns to go along with his strikes. Again, it’s a close, competitive fight, but I think Hendricks’s combination of wrestling and power will be enough to get his hand raised.

185 LBS – Francis Carmont vs. Tom Lawlor

Carmont is a big middleweight with good striking and submissions. But he’s also a man who entered the UFC at 16-7 overall, and as much as training with Georges St-Pierre may have helped his game, a fighter’s flaws tend not to suddenly go away in the middle of his career. Carmont arguably dropped rounds to both Karlos Vemola and Magnus Cedenblad, which is not something I want to see from an aspiring UFC middleweight contender. I think there’s serious upset potential here, as Tom Lawlor is not the most polished fighter, but is capable of landing takedowns and grinding out a win. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and pick Lawlor to pull off the upset. (And I’ll probably regret it.)

185 LBS – Costa Philippou vs. Nick Ring

Both fighters like to stand and bang, but one of them is better at it than the other. Costa Philippou is a good boxer with decent power, while Nick Ring is a mediocre boxer without much power. I’ll give Ring credit for being active, and just competitive enough to win bad decisions. But while everybody seems to be worried about Ring doing that again, I don’t think Philippou will let this fight be that close. I say Philippou establishes himself as the better striker early, and either wins by easy decision (at least, easy enough) or TKO.

145 LBS – Pablo Garza vs. Mark Hominick

I’ve ranted plenty of times before about how overrated Mark Hominick was. Now that I see people lining up to pick Pablo Garza to beat him, I’m not calling him overrated anymore. Garza basically has two things going for him: knees and submissions. Garza is very tall and lanky, and that works well for him sometimes. He also has a loss to Tiequan Zhang on his record. Hominick is easily the better striker and wrestler, and should be skilled enough to avoid Garza’s submissions. I think Hominick wins by TKO here without being seriously threatened.

Lightning round…

185 lbs – Patrick Cote over Alessio Sakara: If Alessio Sakara is paired off with a striker, I have to pick against him. Sakara is up there with Jonathan Goulet in terms of legendary bad chins. Technically, Cote is worse, but give a guy with KO power 15 minutes against Sakara, especially one with a good chin like Cote, and he’s more likely than not to win by KO at some point.

205 lbs – Cyrille Diabate over Chad Griggs: I have yet to see ANYBODY pick Chad Griggs to win this fight. But the betting lines opened with this as a pick’em fight. Diabate has poor takedown defense and isn’t good off his back, so there’s a real chance Griggs grinds him out. I have a feeling this is one of those “Vegas knows something we don’t” fights. But I’ll take Diabate anyway, due to the huge gap in striking skill between these two.

155 lbs – Rafael dos Anjos over Mark Bocek: The fight that should be on the main card instead of Hominick-Garza. Both guys have good jiu-jitsu, although I think dos Anjos has better pure submissions, and Bocek is a better wrestler. The real difference here is the striking game, where dos Anjos should easily be better. I see a back and forth fight that dos Anjos ends up winning due to that striking advantage.

155 lbs – Sam Stout over John Makdessi: A battle of badly overrated strikers. Stout tends to eat as many strikes as he lands, and the best fighter Makdessi has knocked out is Kyle Watson. The difference here is Stout’s wrestling, which is what he used to beat Spencer Fisher in his last fight (although it says something about Stout that he needed to go to takedowns to beat Fisher). I think Stout gets the job done here.

145 lbs – Antonio Carvalho over Rodrigo Damm: Damm is the kind of fighter who is good enough to fight in the UFC, but not good enough to succeed in the UFC. He has a good submission game, but has lost four of his last six, to Justin Wilcox, Maximo Blanco, Gilbert Melendez, and Eiji Mitsuoka. I see Carvalho as better than at least Blanco and Mitsuoka, and perhaps Wilcox as well. And I think Carvalho will prove to be the better fighter in this one.

170 lbs – Matt Riddle over John Maguire: It’s amazing how far a fighter can get by being a wrestler. Riddle’s striking is horrible, but he has two things going for him: he can control where the fight takes place, and he’s very aggressive. John Maguire barely strikes with his opponents at all, which means Riddle has the advantage there, and Riddle’s wrestling should be good enough to prevent the fight from going to the ground. So I have to pick Riddle.

135 lbs – Ivan Menjivar over Azamat Gashimov: I’m not the only person to notice that Gashimov’s 7-1 record consists of fights against only opponents making their professional debut, but I might have been the first. That’s the extent of what I know about Gashimov, but the fact that he lost one of those makes me want to pick Menjivar by default. So that’s what I’m going to do. Menjivar by TKO.

145 lbs – Steven Siler over Darren Elkins: SILVA favorite Steven Siler is back, and he hasn’t disappointed yet, winning consecutive fights against Josh Clopton, Cole Miller, and Joey Gambino. Then again, the Miller and Gambino wins don’t look as good in retrospect. Meanwhile, Elkins is much like Siler, in that he’s exceeded the expectations most had for him in the UFC. Elkins could grind out a decision here, but I think Siler has better strikes and submissions, so I’m going to pick him to win this.