What do Andrei Arlovski, Brett Rogers and Fabricio Werdum have in common? All three of them saw their stock drop greatly after they gave former Pride Fighting Championships heavyweight titleholder Fedor Emelianenko a much tougher fight than the conventional wisdom expected. Call it the â€śCurse of Fedor,â€ť because it can no longer be dismissed or ignored.
After a bizarre decision win over Werdum in the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix quarter-finals on Saturday at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Alistair Overeem had not looked much like the man who had flattened his last six foes in the first round. However, much of that is probably due to Werdumâ€™s game plan, which resembled a knuckleballer refusing to give a home run hitter anything meaningful to swing at.
In the opening round, Werdum went to the canvas, by my count, 14 times -- 10 from takedown attempts and four from spilling to the mat after failed tie-ups, getting clocked by Overeem or a general loss of footing. It became apparent early on that Werdum was embracing the best strategy available to him, regardless of its aesthetic appeal, and that Overeem was equally uninterested in helping the two-time Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist execute it. The result was a 15-minute match with little entertainment value.
After the bout, my first knee-jerk reaction was this: former EliteXC champion Antonio Silva is going to be quite a handful for Overeem in the semi-finals. The Dutchman got hit a lot with shots down the middle from Werdum, something the huge Silva does pretty well and with more power. Check the counters and jabs with which he whacked Emelianenko in February; those are the exact shots Overeem ate from Werdum. Silva also weighs around 285 pounds come fight time. If he gets on top of Overeem, that size and power does wonders for running the guy on bottom out of gas, and cardio is not something for which Overeem has ever been known.
Then I thought of everyone else that has looked surprisingly good against Emelianenko lately. Rogers went from being a guy with one signature win over former UFC heavyweight champion Arlovski to guy under consideration as a Top 10 contender after his lively tussle with Emelianenko, only to be badly outclassed by Overeem in his next bout. Rogers was outclassed again by Josh Barnett in Dallas, as he submitted to a second-round arm triangle choke.
Werdumâ€™s submission of Emelianenko last summer in San Jose, Calif., was an all-time performance for the Brazilian, but perhaps it was more indicative of the Russian legendâ€™s decline than a renewed push toward greatness for Werdum, who has always been an outstanding jiu-jitsu player.
Silva might also be overrated at this point simply because he beat Emelianenko. Itâ€™s something to consider, at least until heâ€™s on top of you. Hopefully, for Overeemâ€™s sake, he will not have experience that too much in their grand prix semi-final match later this year. All things considered, after this weekend, Iâ€™d definitely make Barnett the favorite of the remaining four.
Masvidal-Noons: Examining 10-8 Rounds
In a textbook opening four and a half minutes against K.J. Noons, Jorge Masvidal was executing his game plan seamlessly. Heâ€™d landed concise, straight shots and mixed in the occasional low kick to knock Noons off-balance, all while taking little damage.
Then, as the first round was ending, he landed a booming shin kick to the head to drop Noons, following up with some hard punches as the Hawaiian flailed on the ground to survive. To his credit, Noonsâ€™ body took over while his consciousness had flat-lined for several moments; he wore the face of a knocked out fighter if there ever was one. Yet he somehow managed to survive the round.
The round clearly should have been scored 10-8. However, the judgesâ€™ cards were read as unanimous, 30-27 for Masvidal, meaning he did not get the 10-8 score for that dominant opening round. For what itâ€™s worth, all three of Sherdogâ€™s play-by-play staffers scored it 10-8 for Masvidal, as did I. Itâ€™s a small footnote at best because the bout was clearly Masvidalâ€™s, but it could have been a much bigger controversy had Noons eked out rounds two and three and taken a decision.
In a way, the bout was an inverted chronology of Jon Fitchâ€™s draw with B.J. Penn at UFC 127. In that fight, Penn and Fitch battled in two intense, closely contested rounds. Penn likely nicked the first, with Fitch breaking the bout wide open in the third, pinning Penn against the cage and hitting him with what seemed like a half-zillion shots for four-plus minutes. Penn did nothing except survive.
Fitch managed to pull a 10-8 round from two of the three judges in that match. Both had given Penn the first two rounds 10-9; judges Barry Foley and Chris Lee understood the relative concept of what implies a 10-8 round, especially in the context of a close fight. They did the right thing. As a result, Fitch, who dominated the fight in the final round, escaped with a draw in a bout where he could have lost if the judges had not grasped this concept.
MMA judging will continue to evolve along with the rest of the sport, but imagine if Noons had won closely contested second and third rounds, doing little to hurt Masvidal yet doing enough to get them on the cards.
On the flip side, itâ€™s perfectly understandable why judges might be reluctant to start giving out 10-8s like candy. Excessively done, it would only further create widespread scorecard angst. However, if it is awarded judiciously and under clearly defined criteria, namely, when a one-sided thrashing has occurred, the 10-8 round stands on its own merits. And Masvidalâ€™s first round performance against Noons was precisely the kind of round that fits the definition.
Jason Probst can be reached at Jason@jasonprobst.com or twitter.com/jasonprobst.