Bobby Lashley can probably thank Brock Lesnar, the Ultimate Fighting Championship's heavyweight champion, for the many fans who somehow consider him a failure.
Lashley has fought four times in seven months as a pro, winning all four and ending three in the first round.
But because he hasn't beaten Randy Couture or Fedor Emelianenko or Josh Barnett or Frank Mir or Lesnar yet, many are ready to relegate him to freak show status.
Lashley, though, is the victim of exceptionally unrealistic expectations, fueled in large part by the seamless transition Lesnar made from the World Wrestling Entertainment to mixed martial arts.
As was Lesnar, Lashley is a one-time professional wrestler who made his name in the WWE. Because Lesnar won the UFC's heavyweight belt in only his fourth MMA fight and his third UFC match after leaving the WWE, there are many who expected Lashley to similarly rise to the top since both have extensive amateur backgrounds and each man is powerfully built.
While Lesnar won the UFC's heavyweight title in his fourth fight, Lashley remains a long way from being a legitimate contender after his fourth pro outing.
That doesn't mean, however, that Lashley is a bust.
Indeed, he shows all the signs of someday becoming a top-flight mixed martial artist and being able to compete on even terms with the best in the world.
Lesnar is the rare athlete who could make the transition from pro wrestling to MMA as easily as he did. This is a guy, though, who nearly made the NFL after leaving the WWE despite the fact it had been years since he'd put on a pair of shoulder pads.
Lashley is a terrific athlete, but he's not in Lesnar's class. And while he's developing more slowly, Lashley showed in his win over Sapp at the "Ultimate Chaos" pay-per-view that he has plenty of potential.
He easily took the 322-pound Sapp down, controlled him on the floor and used a powerful ground-and-pound to force Sapp to cry uncle.
Yet, Lashley is far from polished. He isn't a particularly powerful puncher despite his massive frame. He's got good wrestling ability, but he frequently doesn't do much with the advantages that he gets on the ground. His submission defense looks suspect, though Sapp didn't come close to doing a thing Saturday.
But give Lashley three or four additional fights, stepping up the competition slightly each time, and he'll be ready to compete in one of the major promotions.
He's clearly destined to be a major player in MMA's heavyweight division. I'd guess that by the end of 2009 or early 2010, several of the major promoters are going to be bidding for his services. And those who laughed him off as a sideshow are going to look pretty silly.
Before I get to your questions and comments in the mailbag this week, a couple of quick notes. I invite you to follow me on Twitter and ask me questions there.
Also, please note there will be no MMA mailbag July 7 as we will be devoting all of our resources to UFC 100 coverage.
With that, let's see what's on your mind as we open the mailbag and talk mixed martial arts.
Do you consider Diego Sanchez to be the top lightweight contender in the UFC? I've been hearing that his win over Clay Guida on June 20 in Las Vegas has earned him a title shot, but did everyone forget about Gray Maynard (5-0, 1 NC)? I would think Diego would have to defeat Gray in order to become the top contender. Your thoughts?
Diego will get the next title shot against the winner of the B.J. Penn-Kenny Florian fight at UFC 101 on Aug. 8 in Philadelphia. While I agree with you that Maynard is deserving, Sanchez is a former "Ultimate Fighter" winner and is 10-2 in the UFC, not counting his wins on TUF 1. While I wouldn't be opposed to having Maynard and Sanchez fight and seeing that winner get the title shot, I believe Sanchez has won enough fights and waited a long enough time to deserve the next chance.
After watching Clay and Diego's epic battle, I decided there should be an option for a deciding round. Only in non-title fights, of course. I thought the fight should have been a draw. I had it 28-28. I started thinking maybe the judges would have scored it differently if they knew there was the option for another round. I think if a three-round fight ends in a draw, then we go to a fourth and final round.
I'll disagree with you about the extra round, Rob. The judges have to score the rounds as they see them and not worry about if there's an extra one. And if there is a draw, that's fine. Boxing has taken a lot of the luster away from title fights by allowing non-championship bouts to be the same 12-round distance. I think it differentiates the title fights. So I think the rounds should remain the same, three rounds for non-title and five rounds for championship fights. If it comes out a draw, that's fine. Would anyone object to a rematch? I had it 28-28 and would love to see them fight again. Nobody got screwed in this and the rules don't have to be changed because of the fight.
If Chuck keeps going …
If Chuck Liddell does decide to continue fighting, and considering he's probably no longer part of the top tier of the light heavyweight division, what would be a good fight for him? Would he be a "gatekeeper" in the division and fight the likes of Matt Hamill or Brandon Vera? Or, would a legends-type fight against someone like Mark Coleman be intriguing?
I really do expect Liddell to retire, though UFC president Dana White has waffled on the subject a little. He's at least opened the door for a return, if ever so slightly. However, if Liddell fights, I think they'd pick the best matches they feel he'd be competitive in. I think fights against Hamill and Vera would be good for him. He's still a very good fighter, but there are a lot of elite guys in that division and he's no longer able to take a good enough shot to stay at the elite level. But if he fights at a notch down, he'll be competitive. And if he's seen as a gatekeeper, so be it. Having said that, if I were a betting man, I'd bet that Liddell retires and is announced as part of the UFC's Hall of Fame class during the festivities at the UFC Fan Expo that will precede UFC 100.
Kevin, your article on Jon Jones was excellent and near the end I began to think of the style of fighters. So many MMA fans have this notion that there is only one way to train in mixed martial arts and that nothing will change. But with Lyoto Machida as the UFC's light heavyweight champ and the potential of fighters like Jones, I feel the next evolution will be with fighters' styles and where they are drawing technique. Because every fighter now has to be great in wrestling, jiu-jitsu, dirty boxing, etc., to be champ they will have to have something unorthodox. What are your thoughts on the future of MMA training?
Grand Rapids, Mich.
I would agree with your assessment, Chris. I think Georges St. Pierre is an example of the next generation of MMA fighters, which I wrote after his win over Jon Fitch at UFC 87. But fighters like Machida and Jones, who are unorthodox, will also continue to pop up as new athletes are attracted to the sport and experiment with what does and does not work. As the athletes improve, the techniques they're able to do will improve also.
Two years from now, Jones will beat Machida.
I'm not going to argue with you about it, Brian, but I think Jon has a long way to go. He's wonderfully talented, but he's just a baby in the sport. If he continues to develop, he'll have a chance. But that's far from a sure thing. I would bet on more certain things, like emailers calling me an idiot, a moron, an imbecile, etc.
Reasons for TUF's ratings' decline
I read your article about the UFC and the declining ratings for "The Ultimate Fighter" franchise and just wanted to let you know about one factor that must have affected the show's ratings that has nothing to do with a decline in fan interest. Right as TUF 9 began, featuring the U.S. vs. the U.K., a contract dispute with Time Warner Cable left many of us without Spike TV. We now have to pay if we want this channel. I love the UFC, and my wife does as well thanks to TUF, but on principle we won't pay for this channel just to see UFC programming. That is the only reason we have missed this season, and I'm sure there are many others in the same boat. Anyway, just wanted to add that in. It got very little press, and I wish something could be done about it, as we will still be fans of the UFC, but Spike TV isn't worth the extra money.
Hope the situation gets resolved in time for Kimbo Slice and TUF 10, Nicholas. I hate dealing with cable and satellite companies.