MMAForReal.com's Matt Bishop and Forrest Lynn sat down Friday evening and answered four burning questions for this Saturday's "UFC 117: Silva vs. Sonnen," one for each big fight on the show.
For more UFC 117 coverage, check out the MMA For Real's Event Center for the show, where you also can discuss the night's fights as it transforms into the open thread for the show.
Now, without any further ado, here are the burning questions for UFC 117:
Could the world handle Chael Sonnen: UFC middleweight champion?
Matt Bishop: I think the world could deal with it, but it would be a sight to see. Because of the record Anderson Silva's amassed, it's almost a certainty he'd be getting an immediate rematch, so we'd have another four months of Sonnen planning Silva's second retirement party. As bizarre as he's gotten this past week or so, I can't even imagine the promos Sonnen would be cutting (and subsequently denying) as champion. I wonder if he has a list of things to talk about. He's checked Lance Armstrong off the list, so maybe if he wins the title he can move on to UFOs and crop circles. Or political conspiracy theories. Those always get people riled up. I'm sure it'll get everyone riled up when Sonnen accuses Silva of being the second gunman on the Grassy Knoll or something crazy like that. On second thought, maybe the world won't be able to handle it.
Forrest Lynn: Well, the world has dealt with slightly bigger atrocities than Chael Sonnen: World Champion, but it would be somewhat nauseating. That said, if Sonnen did win, he would undoubtedly face Anderson Silva again in his next fight. Two wins against Anderson Silva? In a row? I don't think so.
Who's improved more since their last fight: Jon Fitch or Thiago Alves?
Matt Bishop: It's undoubtedly been Thiago Alves. If nothing else, all you need to do is look at the fights themselves. Alves has been a wrecking machine. In his seven fights between losses to Jon Fitch and Georges St-Pierre, he had five stoppages and two dominant decision wins against an ever-rising level of competition. And really, Fitch has not faced the same level of competition that Alves has in that span. I think it's clear that Alves has matured much more than Fitch has in the last four years and has really found his spot. This isn't to say Fitch is awful. He's a very good fighter. It's just in this span, Alves has been much more impressive and we've seen marked improvements in his game. Fitch is still basically the same Fitch we saw then.
Forrest Lynn: Thiago Alves has improved much more than Jon Fitch in the four years since their first meeting. At the time of their first fight, Alves was a precocious 22-year old that bares only a slight resemblance to the one we see today. His preparation, physique and skill level have all grown by leaps and bounds since then. He usually goes into fights with clear gameplans (example: the Koscheck fight, where he took away Koscheck's explosive doubles with repeated leg kicks) and tight striking, honed by the various coaches he works with at American Top Team. Fitch has absolutely improved as a grappler, but he has yet to master any technique in his arsenal, as he has to fight like hell against everybody he faces to apply any of it in the cage.
What's in the future for Matt Hughes if he beats Ricardo Almeida?
Matt Bishop: This is a very interesting question. A win here would give Hughes three in a row and theoretically would put his name back on the edge of the title picture. Hughes can't compete with the top of the division anymore, that much is clear. He was throughly dominated by St-Pierre and Alves and almost certainly would be by Fitch and Josh Koscheck, as well. Even if he would be on the periphery of the title scene, I don't believe Hughes is delusional like Tito Ortiz in getting "his" world title back. Hughes has never been shy on the retirement talk and his want to live a normal life after fighting, so his time is going to be limited. He won't fight anyone near the top of the division the rest of his career, I'd suspect, but a fight with Jake Shields (if he beats Martin Kampmann) would be most interesting and would set Shields up with a big win from a name perspective, if he were to beat Hughes, heading into a title shot.
Forrest Lynn: If he beats Ricardo Almeida, which I'm not counting on, it's really hard to say what direction Zuffa will send Hughes in. He's very clearly on the downside of his career, as the power and drive in his legs seems to dissipate more and more with each subsequent fight, but he's still practically a Zuffa lifer and he has done a lot for their company and helped truly establish the welterweight class. He'll be on a Randy Couture-esque retirement tour, with several fights that are clearly to his advantage stylistically, but as to who those fights will be against is anyone's guess. There's a lot of young blood running around at 170 right now, and with so much juice off of Hughes' fastball, it's hard to say who he would beat with any confidence.
Junior dos Santos has excited fans with his game. How much better can he become?
Matt Bishop: Right now, I think Junior dos Santos has the ability to potentially hold the world title for a long stretch. His hands are the best in the division right now and I can't see that changing anytime soon. His ground game is certainly untested, but considering who he trains with, I believe in it. If he gets past Roy Nelson and gets his title shot, he will be facing a dominant wrestler, but both have shown to be hittable in the past and likely will continue to be into the future. Wrestling is one thing we have not seen from dos Santos and that has to be considered a liability to a certain extent going forward, but whoever he faces is going to have to eat some shots to get that takedown. That might prove to be difficult. He already has proven to be a special fighter and will continue to be near the top of the division for years to come.
Forrest Lynn: Dos Santos can become as good as he wants to be. He has a luxury that no other heavyweight in MMA has: He has Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida, Jacare Souza, Rodrigo and Rogerio Nogueira all at his immediate training disposal due to his membership as a part of the Team Nogueira/Black House network, as well as tremendous coaching from the fantastic Luiz Dorea in Salvador (who is responsible for the piston-like hands we see dos Santos throw) and all of the rest of the X-Striker Gym crew in Rio, and that's not even including the guys who regularly show up in Los Angeles at the Black House gym. With training partners that good and the practically infinite resources available to him and his relative youth (he's 25 years old), there's not much stopping him from eventually growing into a perennial world title challenger. (Well, besides a dominant wrestling game.)