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MMA Analysis: Top 10 Dream Fights Between Stars and Non-Stars

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In 1967, Murray Woroner had an idea for a program, where the greatest heavyweight boxers in history would fight each other to the delight of radio audiences. Considering boxing had been around, in various forms of rule-sets and legality, for a hundred years, this was a colossal undertaking.

With the aid of 250 boxing experts, sixteen of the greatest pugilists in history were selected and given scores in 128 attributes ranging from punching power, to footwork, to confidence. These numbers were then fed into a state-of-the-art computer, very similar to the Spike TV series The Deadliest Warrior, and each fight was virtually simulated. When the dust settled at the end of several weeks of prime time programming, Rocky Marciano defeated Muhammad Ali to become the Greatest Heavyweight Boxer Ever. The problem was, basically no one, including the boxing experts involved in the project, agreed with this.

What does all this have to do with MMA? If you look at any MMA website on the net, be it fantasy games or forums, there will always be discussions of Top Ten, Pound For Pound, Greatest Of All Time, etc and no one can seem to agree on anything. My outlook on this ranking debacle is this: In such a multi-faceted sport, is it possible to make a cookie-cutter chart and put the entire fighting world’s talent in order? If the aforementioned 250 boxing experts decided there were 128 variables to a boxer, how many variables would there be to an MMA fighter? The fact of the matter is, most of the greatest sports upsets have occurred in combat sports because of the ability to instantly and definitively end a fight. With the amount of variables involved in this sport, it’s not impossible to find fighters well outside of the standard Top Ten list that could potentially destroy those on top.

What I’ve done in my years of writing is make a yearly list of fights between “Top Ten” fighters and lesser known or much less regarded fighters. This is a bit of fun match-making to illustrate the fruitless quest for accurate Top Ten lists and to show exactly how much styles play into combat sports.

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This is a special edition of the Nemesis Top Ten as we’ll actually see two of my previous match-ups come to fruition this year, so stay tuned after the list for my recap of the two previous years, where you can marvel at my genius, or laugh at my folly.

Dominick Cruz

Dominick Cruz (#1 Bantamweight, #7 P4P) vs. Ian “The Barn Owl” Loveland:

As we’ve seen more than a few times, it’s going to take a miracle to out-point Cruz, which leads up to the question of “Who can actually stop him?” While guys like Bowles and Torres would be high up on my list, there’s someone lurking well off the top ten in the world who may have what it takes to get it done.  Ian Loveland has had a less than stellar run under the Zuffa banner, but would bring a unique combination of physical attributes and skills into this bout.

Hailing from Team Quest, Loveland has shown a heavy degree of takedown defense, both against shots and in the clinch, and appears to be one of the strongest fighters in this division. His real virtues here are the trifecta of a ridiculous chin, long limbs and uncanny KO power. KO power is something that gets thrown around a lot, but guys like Loveland have that “KO you with anything” quality, where even their jabs pack crippling force. With the ability to stuff takedowns, eat absolutely everything Cruz throws his way, a similar range and pure devastation in his hands, Loveland could be someone to shock the world with a KO of The Dominator.

Marlon Sandro (#6 Featherweight) vs. Jonathan Brookins:

A tumbleweed of MMA, Marlon Sandro has competed at the top-level in Brazil, Japan, and now dances in the mix of the US Featherweight circuit. Possessing expert level BJJ, a build better suited for a lumberjack, and crushing power in his fists, Sandro is an interesting match for just about anyone.  While he’s yet to be tested by the majority of true FW talent, he still sits at #6 due mostly to his reputation for shutting down some opponents and shutting off others. Coming off of injuries and his first loss inside the Octagon, Jonathan Brookins has seen his stock drop dramatically, but remains a horrible match-up for someone like Sandro.

Two of Brookins best qualities are his iron-clad chin, which took three rounds of Jose Aldo’s best shots, and his slick takedown and transition arsenals. This, combined with his speedy shot, would allow him to rapidly close distance on Sandro, overwork Sandro’s muscle-bound frame over the course of rounds, and eventually secure takedowns throughout the bout. With his chin being able to absorb Sandro’s one-off punches, Brookins would find himself winning an uneventful but obvious decision win against the Brazilian bruiser.

Shinya Aoki (#4 Lightweight) vs. Nate Diaz:

Shinya Aoki has made it his mission to dispatch every ounce of American talent he can get his hands on lately, having dispatched Lyle Beerbohm, Rob McCullough, Rich Clementi, and every other former Zuffa fighter free for one-off fights overseas. Aoki prides himself on using nothing but his vicious BJJ arsenal, having wrapped his share of black belts into pretzels in his career, and having the reputation of a fatal guard game. While interesting bouts would await him in the UFC, there is one fighter that would hand him an ass-kicking like no other.

Nate Diaz has just recently returned to the Lightweight division, and while his record is unimpressive as a whole, he brings the worst possible match-up for Aoki to deal with. Having spent his entire life training with his brother Nick Diaz and Welterweight grappler extraordinaire Jake Shields, Nate is no stranger to venomous guard games or ridiculous takedown attacks. This level of comfort on the mat and general BJJ savvy would make this a tough fight for Aoki, but Diaz wall of hand strikes would make this an impossible equation for the Japanese fighter to solve. While most of my picks in this series are 50/50 at best, I’d wager stacks on Diaz completely annihilating Aoki in short order if this fight were ever to take place.

Josh Koscheck

Josh Koscheck (#3 Welterweight) vs. Douglas Lima:

Love him or hate him, Josh Koscheck has carved out a niche in the UFC as a hard-nosed wrestler/boxer, and while his GSP bout proved to be too much for him; he remains one of the most dangerous men in the sport. Having one of the most complete wrestling games in the business, Koscheck focused the majority of his training time on developing a power-first boxing game, which has seen him flat-out KO the majority of his competitors, all while dictating the pace of the bout. While this match-up wouldn’t fit into Koscheck’s “big money fights” plan, it would have huge potential for excitement as Douglas Lima comes to fight.

Lima more or less came out of nowhere, walking through the entire MFC roster’s heavy hitters before entering the Bellator WW tournament, where he finds himself in the finals. While Koscheck started as a wrestler and added an arsenal of kickboxing power strikes, Lima comes from BJJ, and has been working on becoming a proficient boxer with equal parts defense and offense in his standing strikes. This is a formula that has proven to be a problem for Koscheck in the past, with GSP destroying him with a wall of jabs and Paulo Thiago finding the gaps in his game to land a KO shot. Lima has all the skill on the feet to hurt Koscheck consistently, and his bottom game BJJ would make Koscheck think twice about engaging the ATT standout on the mat. It could be a close bout, but Lima would make it a rough night for Koscheck, win or lose.

Chael Sonnen (#2 Middleweight) vs. Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza:

One of the strongest personalities in the sport, Chael Sonnen is sometimes better known for his banter than his fighting ability, but remains an elite level fighter. Perhaps the best pure wrestler the sport has ever seen (sorry Randy), Sonnen has dominated nearly every opponent he’s ever faced, and was minutes away from taking the title from Anderson Silva in his title bout. While his game is far from complete, all game plans must be shaped around the eventuality of being taken down, which is where Jacare can shine.

One of the best BJJ stylists in MMA today, Jacare has done well for himself in Japan and Strikeforce, holding the Strikeforce Middleweight title after Jake Shield’s departure. Not content to coast on his grappling alone, Jacare has added a seriously lethal striking arsenal, making him one of the most multi-faceted fighters in the division. Against Sonnen, Jacare would need to pick his shots standing, but his submission game on the mat is such that Sonnen may not be able to be competitive. Being out-classed in both areas, Sonnen would be stuck working an ultra-conservative clinch and takedown game, but would be lucky to make it to the decision without getting submitted by Jacare.

Yushin Okami (#3 Middleweight) vs. Alexander Shlemenko:

One of the most frustrating opponents in the game, Yushin Okami has worked his way up and down the MW ladder for years. Using a tremendous reach, suffocating top game and impeccable defense on the mat, only the highest-level fighters have been able to stop Okami from imposing his will during fights.  Having come off a loss to Anderson Silva last time out, Okami finds himself at his accustomed #3 spot in the ranks, and with few opponents that could give him a run for his money. Enter Russian machine Alexander Shlemenko, whom has had a similar path as Bellator’s king without a crown.

Shlemenko brings one of the best pure offensive games in the MW division, complete with explosive karate attacks, submissions and knees from clinch and an underrated grappling game. Possessing game-changing power in every limb and an iron jaw, Shlemenko could trade with Okami at will, harm him in the clinch, and do enough off his back to keep this fight fairly even on the score cards. While going to a decision with Okami is rarely good for your career, Shlemenko is one of the few that could end this fight early with some well-placed punches.

Jon Jones (#1 Light Heavyweight, #3 P4P) vs. Alexander Gustafsson:

The youngest division champion in UFC history, Jon Jones has impressed every single time he steps into the cage. Using the longest reach in the sport, an amazing sense of balance and one of the largest offensive arsenals around, Jones has been able to destroy the competition with relative ease thus far and finds himself near the top of the Pound-for-Pound rankings. Another young talent has flown under the radar for a while, but Alexander Gustafsson has many of the same talents as Jones.

Bringing a stellar amateur boxing background into the cage, Gustafsson sprawl and brawled his way into the UFC, and has thus far battered his way deep into the division. His snappy punches and developing wrestling game make him a nightmare to deal with for many fighters, and having dispatched the largest LHW in the division in Cyrille Diabate, Gustafsson has proven he can hang with another lanky fighter.  Jones single weakness is his lack of standing defense, and this is something Gustafsson has the ability to capitalize on with superior hand combinations and power. While Jones is clearly the better wrestler, Gustafsson has shown he’s scrappy enough to stay on top in scrambles and make Jones work for every inch of ground on the mat. Nothing with Jones is certain, but outside of Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson, Gustafsson stands the best chance of handing him his first legitimate loss.

Gegard Mousasi

Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (#2 Light Heavyweight, #9 P4P) vs. Gegard Mousasi:

One of the most hot and cold fighters in the business, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua has been a Pride Tournament champ, a UFC LHW champ and the bane of many fighters in the division. In turns he’s also been on the losing end of decisions and nearly lost to relic Mark Coleman. When he’s on though, Rua’s highly technical striking game, murderous power and underrated grappling have made him one of the most lethal opponents in the division. While it’s easy to pick someone who can beat Rua at his worst, picking someone off the Top Ten who can beat him at his best becomes tricky. Yet, lingering in relative obscurity, we have Gegard Mousasi.

It’s rare in MMA for a fighter to move up a weight class, yet Mousasi chose to depart Middleweight and try his hand at the Light Heavyweight and even Heavyweight divisions of the world. Competing in K-1 and MMA, Mousasi has seldom found himself on the losing end of a fight, and would test anyone in the UFC. Against Rua, Mousasi’s Dutch kickboxing would make Rua’s leg kicks too dangerous to snap off with regularity, lest he end up eating counter punches, and Mousasi’s judo background would make a fine counter point to Rua’s top-heavy BJJ. The real killer would be Mousasi’s crushing ground and pound, which is an area Rua has had trouble dealing with in the past. Even at his best, Rua would be in for a rough fight here, and one he’d likely lose via late stoppage.

Alistair Overeem (#3 Heavyweight) vs. Cole Konrad:

Having moved from stick-thin and glass-jawed to one of the most impressive Heavyweight strikers on the planet, Alistair Overeem hasn’t lost an MMA bout in years, and will look to establish himself in the UFC. Possessing some of the hardest knees and punches in the sport, as well as an underrated BJJ game, Overeem is poised to make big waves on the elite-level stage. While their celebrity is worlds apart, Kole Conrad has the tools to bring this fight, and Overeem’s career, to a grinding halt.

Having cut his teeth on the regional circuit, Konrad entered the Bellator Heavyweight Tournament as a pure wrestler, and despite little time in MMA, walked through the entire tournament with ease. Now having added a serviceable boxing game to his overall skill set, Konrad has the ability to control distance and force the kind of rushing attacks he can take advantage of. Overeem has gone through a lot of trouble to become one of the strongest fighters out there, but packing muscle onto a Light Heavyweight frame to make heavyweight doesn’t compare to someone who cuts down from 300lbs. While Overeem can certainly end a fight with a single blow, Conrad only needs to get his hands on Overeem to draw him onto the mat. From there, Overeem’s lack of cardio would make this fight an easy one for Konrad, who could play blanket for the duration. While it might not be exciting, it would be a win for Konrad and an embarrassing moment for Overeem.

With the 2011 list done, we can look back at previous lists. With hindsight always being 20/20, we have quite a few ridiculous match-ups here, but also a few that could really pan out to be reality. In the next few months, we’ll be treated to two such match-ups, and I’ll reprint my predictions for those picks from the respective years.

2010

Manny Gamburyan vs. Joe Soto

Hatsu Hioki vs. George Roop (UFC 137):

Submission wizard Hatsu Hioki has been a terror in the Japanese MMA scene for many years, notching submission wins with ease, even against expert grapplers. His style does him few favors with the judges, due to his lacking stand-up abilities and willingness to accept poor positions on the mat, yet he remains one of the premier fighters in the stacked Japanese Featherweight scene. George Roop has floated between 155lbs and 135lbs, but has found his home at 145lbs, and just recently found success with a stunning knockout of Chan Sung Jung.

This is one of the few fights where Hioki would find someone towering over him at 145lbs, and would soon regret not developing strong entry skills to use his grappling. Between Roop’s reach and accurate outside striking, Hioki would be eating one-two combinations the entire fight, and with Roop’s build and wrestling background, Hioki would have a serious issue getting this to the mat. While Hioki’s judo throws might do him well here, he’d have to brave the storm, and has never shown the kind of grit necessary to work a daring plan of attack. A disappointing fight by Hioki would leave him with a decision loss to a mid-level American fighter, and throw Japanese MMA on its head.

Gray Maynard vs. Donald Cerrone

Jake Shields vs. Ben Askren

Dan Hardy vs. Edgar Garcia

Anderson Silva vs. Hector Lombard

Yushin Okami vs. Robbie Lawler

Mauricio Rua vs. Brandon Vera

Forrest Griffin vs. Alexander Gustafsson

Frank Mir vs. Brett Rogers

2009

BJ Penn vs. Donald Cerrone

Eddie Alvarez vs. Joe Stevenson

Georges St. Pierre vs. Brock Larson

Thiago Alves vs. Anthony Johnson

Anderson Silva vs. Frank Shamrock

Dan Henderson vs. Yoshihiro Akiyama

Rashad Evans vs. Renato Sobral

Lyoto Machida vs. Jon Jones (UFC 140):

Lyoto Machida is coming off of one of his most dominant performances, knocking out Thiago Silva on the ground, three seconds shy of the end of the first round, and cementing his place as a potential contender for the title. Jon Jones is coming off an impressive victory of his own in a handy greco-roman clinic put on against the rugged Stephen Bonnar, which also highlighted his incredibly unorthodox striking style. While the disparity in experience if vast, in that Machida has cracked the heads of some of the toughest fighters of all time, while Jones has been in MMA for all of a year, this match would be a true test of what Machida is capable of.

Machida’s greatest strength is his epic elusiveness, making him almost impossible to land clean punches on. But, how would his ability to evade damage fare against someone like Jones, who throws the oddest assortment of spinning elbows, jump kicks, and flying knees, and seems to land them with frightening regularity? It would be a stern test to Machida’s ability to read body movements, and would make it very difficult to land counter strikes against Jones. Another thing to consider would be that the only area Machida has ever looked uncomfortable when being clinched against the cage, where he can’t use his footwork, sumo and judo backgrounds to throw or move opponents. Jones has one of the most functional greco-roman games ever seen in MMA in his ability to execute innovative suplexes and throws against very difficult opponents. It would be interesting to see how Machida could handle that if Jones could get inside on his lethal right straight and use his clinch work to take Machida out of his element. In the long run, I feel Machida’s counter punching and raw striking talents would eventually cost Jones the fight, but it would have the potential to be an amazing display.

Fedor Emelianenko vs. Cheick Kongo

Frank Mir vs. Gabriel Gonzaga

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