Mailbag: Does Lesnar 'deserve' title?

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Brock Lesnar's win over Randy Couture on Saturday at UFC 91 in their match for the heavyweight title created a lot of interest, both pro and con.

I'll answer questions about Lesnar's win and his future, as well as other UFC 91 topics, in this edition of the weekly mixed martial arts mailbag.

My answers, as always, are in italics after the questions.

Lesnar won't dominate

How can you say that Brock Lesnar is going to dominate this era? As you know, mixed martial arts is a game of matchups. While I think Randy Couture still can beat a lot of fighters out there, I don't see him matching up well with Lesnar. That leads me to believe that there are match ups (a lot of them) that are not in Lesnar's favor. I'm glad you mentioned Gabriel Gonzaga because he is one who I think can beat Lesnar. I also see Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Frank Mir as other fighters who could beat him in the UFC. Outside the UFC, Alistair Overeem, Josh Barnett and even Cro Cop come to mind. The only people I see Lesnar beating are brawlers (Heath Herring) and wrestlers (Couture, and I realize that Barnett has a wrestling background but his ground game is pretty amazing), purely based off the fact that Lesnar is too big. If he fights technically skilled fighters, I think that Lesnar is at a huge disadvantage. Your thoughts?

Justin Kessler
Costa Mesa, Calif.

Justin, I never said he would dominate this era and, in fact, I said the belt would probably get bounced back and forth among a lot of fighters. However, there is no question that while I agree with much of what you say and believe Lesnar is going to have difficulty with certain types of fighters now, it's only fair to point out that they'll have trouble with him, too. He's going to get better, as well. He's not nearly as technically proficient as many of the fighters you mention, most notably Nogueira. You have to give Lesnar credit for vast improvement. He was much better against Couture than he was against Herring. And my guess is, his improvement will continue. That's not to suggest he's unbeatable, because he's far from that, but he's a tough match for anyone because of the size, power, athleticism and desire he possesses.

Jumping the gun

While I like Brock Lesnar, I think the MMA world is jumping the gun in embracing this guy as the world champ. No question that he is a fantastic athlete and that he beat Couture fair and square. However, let's look at it objectively: He beat a 45-year-old Randy Couture who hadn't fought in 15 months (and forget about the fact that what beat Couture was an unintended punch to the back of Couture's ear; before that, it was anybody's match). The bottom line is that he has only faced one world-class fighter in his true prime (Frank Mir) and lost in what, a minute? Had he faced Randy Couture from say, five or 10 years ago, or today's Fedor Emelianenko, stick a fork in him. And no matter how much training Lesnar puts in, Fedor beats him 95 out of 100 times. Ultimately, I think his bulk will be his undoing. Although I must admit that I enjoy his WWE-like antics and the huge personality that he brings to the UFC, I fear that Brock Lesnar may not pass any of the true tests he faces in the future. Thoughts?

George T.
Wilmington, Del.

I get your point, George, and there is some merit in it. Of course, I believe that he is far from the best heavyweight in the world at this point and there is a good chance he may never become the best. I do believe, though, he deserves credit. The general consensus before the fight seemed to be that Couture was too smart and too experienced for Lesnar. While it was anybody's fight at the point of the knockout, doesn't Lesnar deserve credit for that, for fighting one of the greatest stars in the history of the sport to a standstill for a round-and-a-half in only his fourth fight?

Undeserved shot

Questions that should be asked and responded to: When in the history of the sport of MMA have we seen an unproven fighter like Brock Lesnar (2-1) fight for the title? It begs the question whether the UFC and president Dana White have abandoned common sense and the ranking system to set and promote pay-per-view fights within their organization? When has a champion vacated his title, and then after naming a interim champ (Nogueira) and setting a title defense for him (against Mir), has the belt been handed back to the original champ? Worse yet, then the champion was sent to defend it against an unproven fighter who lost in the first round to one of the fighters competing for the interim title (Mir.) Do you believe that with Fedor out there toppling every fighter he has faced, while demonstrating the heart and skills of a complete champion, that the UFC heavyweight belt is less prestigious? Do you think the reason that the UFC organization fought so hard to keep a Randy-Fedor fight from happening is because they could foresee the legitimacy of their belt coming under the same scrutiny as Liddell's belt did when a then-Pride fighter Quinton "Rampage" Jackson iced the "Ice Man?" Is the UFC trying to exclude fighters who would dominate the ranks in an Anderson Silva fashion?

Rick Conroy
Cape Coral, Fla.

I think we saw it in the history of the sport when Randy Couture, who was 2-1 in 1997, was given a chance to fight Maurice Smith for the UFC heavyweight title in Japan. I don't believe Lesnar "earned" a title shot in the sense like Kenny Florian has at lightweight; however, it was a unique set of circumstances that occurred to bring it about. I think the UFC handled the mess with the titles and Couture's return well, frankly. Think about it: When Couture walked away last year, the UFC believed him to have a valid contract. They may have weakened their legal position by taking his belt away, so they continued to recognize him as champion and offered him fights. But to allow fighters to compete for a belt during that time, they created an interim title, which Nogueira won by submitting Tim Sylvia. Now, after Nogueira and Mir had signed to fight on Dec. 27, Couture came back. So the UFC couldn't withdraw recognition of the Nogueira-Mir fight as a title bout, because it was in their contracts and they'd begun to promote it. So it made sense to have Couture defend his belt and create a four-man tournament, with the winners meeting for the outright title. Lesnar clearly got the shot for his pay-per-view and ticket-selling appeal as much as his skill, but he deserves credit for improving enough that he was able to defeat one of the greatest champions in UFC history. Lastly, Liddell wasn't champion when he lost to Rampage, so that had no bearing on the UFC belt

.

Couture's future

There are a number of interesting fights out there for Couture at both heavyweight and light heavyweight. While I think he will fight Shane Carwin next, is a fight with either Dan Henderson, Anderson Silva or Rich Franklin at 205 an option?

Yusef
Glen Ellyn, Ill.

I don't believe Couture will fight Shane Carwin next, but I do believe he'll continue to fight. He proved he's competitive and had he not gotten caught, he could have won that bout against Lesnar. I would love to see a fight with Silva at 205, if he chooses to go back to light heavyweight, but I have a suspicion that Couture will fight the remainder of his bouts as a heavyweight.

Signing Fedor

Kevin, I loved the article on Lesnar's win at UFC 91, yet there is not one mention of Fedor, the best heavyweight in MMA. Does this victory mean that Dana will be willing to spend the money and bring Fedor to the UFC? If he doesn't, then the UFC heavyweight belt is no more then a second-place consolation prize.

Dave D.
Rock Island, Ill.

There was no mention of Fedor because I was writing a column on UFC heavyweights and Fedor is not in the UFC. Frankly, I don't think he'll ever fight in the UFC. The UFC made him a huge offer when he was a free agent, and his managers said it represented the most money he was offered, but he declined. It takes two to make a deal and just because Dana (or many fans) want to see Fedor in the UFC, it doesn't mean that that's what Fedor wants. He chose not to sign with the UFC when he could have. He has a great fight against Andrei Arlovski coming up on Jan. 24 in Anaheim, Calif., in the main event of Affliction Entertainment's second card. If he comes free, I'm sure the UFC will make a play for him, but he's shown little interest throughout his career in fighting for the UFC.

How about Barnett?

I agree that Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos and Gabriel Gonzaga are rising stars in the heavyweight division. What are your thoughts on the UFC trying to bring Josh Barnett back? I think with his skill, experience and ability, he could be a real threat for Brock Lesnar and the rest of the division. Josh possesses great standup as well as a solid ground game. He is only 31, so he still a young fighter. He also possesses the size to take on the current bigger heavyweights. What are your thoughts?

Faisal Rajput
Los Angeles

Barnett is a terrific heavyweight who would probably be the top contender if he signed with the UFC. But he's also signed with Affliction and given the bad blood between he and Dana White, I doubt he'll ever return.

Maia's future

Hey Kevin I'm a fan of Demian Maia and I'm wondering if you think down the road he might be in line for a shot at UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva's title? Do you think he'd have to beat Michael Bisping, or maybe Yushin Okami before being considered a contender?

Rob Williams
Toronto

I'm very impressed with Maia and have been for a while. And Wanderlei Silva raves about him. White said Maia is at least two fights away from a title fight, so if he gets one, it's likely to be sometime late next year. Guys like Bisping and Okami would be good tests for him, though the UFC hasn't thought nearly that far ahead yet.