In Sports Commentary

George St-Pierre, here preparing for a training session, returns to UFC 217 on Saturday to fight Michael Bisping. (PHOTO: George St-Pierre Facebook)

Knees to the Grounded: Combat sports, not guns, a positive outlet for violence

"I think if more people would hit a bag and more people would train martial arts the right away, I think there would be less tragedies in the world and less f*cked up things that would happen." – Rose Namajunas to MMAFighting.com in October 2017

I bet Stephen Paddock never got into a fistfight.

Or Adam Lanza.

Or James Holmes.

Or Jared Loughner.

Or Seung-Hui Cho.

Or Eric Harris.

Or Dylan Klebold.

I like guns. I enjoy shooting. I'm a pretty decent shot, with both a handgun and a rifle. Not great, but good. There's a rush to it, no doubt. Denying the surge of adrenaline that courses though one's brain when pulling the trigger would be disingenuous.

It would also be disingenuous to deny that every time the trigger is pulled there isn't a tiny part of that reptilian brain of ours that's fantasizing about killing something. I'm quite sure there are biathletes that would beg to differ, but I'm much more cynical about the human race in general. And besides, our consumption of gun-based violence in entertainment bears the truth. It's not like we're on our 24th version of "Nintendo Skeet" … but "Call of Duty?" No reason to stop now.

Again. I like guns. I enjoy shooting. I have no desire to have your weapons removed from your possession.

But they are killing machines. And killing is all that they do. They aren't designed for travel. We can't use them to build a dwelling. They don't play a part in the maintenance of a combustible engine.

Guns have one purpose: killing. Let's just be consistent. And transparent.

I wasn't raised around guns. I picked them up later in life with rudimentary training from friends. They were nice enough to impart their wisdom upon me. And I was smart and mentally balanced enough to heed their advice. I'm aware of the power and responsibility that comes with that killing machine in my hand and I don't take it for granted.

My time shooting is undoubtedly social – similar to how many use golf, or car shows, or dart leagues, or book clubs. Pick your poison. We all have one. And more times than not, since work sucks for the vast majority of Americans, we tend to create identities around our social passions.

I worry about the people who base identities around their firearms – people who define themselves by guns. Fetishizing an extermination device is about as unhealthy as it gets.

Any God-fearing, Jesus-loving, soul-saving, red-blooded American has to find common ground with me on that.

Consistency. Transparency.

But it's the men (almost always men) that constantly fantasize about their firepower that gives me reason to pause. They sexualize the weapon. It becomes their lover. Their fantasy of carnage is driven by an alternative libido of sorts.

It's twisted. Selfish. Anti-social. And everything responsible and lawful gun owners need to qualify and abhor.

Gun rights, gun laws, who gets to do what, what's legal, what isn't?

That ship has sailed friends. We live in America. The gun built this country, and firearms are here to stay.

As someone who enjoys violence, albeit to a certain degree, I find it more productive to focus on what makes that reptilian part of our brain desire the kill so much – why it exists and what we can do to feed it with something positive. Something clean. Healthy.

Like, oh, I don't know … maybe making wrestling, Jiu Jitsu and boxing mandatory K-12? Just a thought.

(Side note: Mass shootings from gun-humping lunatics aside, pistols in poverty-stricken neighborhoods is a far greater concern when it comes to gun violence in America. That said, the NRA and the GOP don't give a shit about poor people of color when it comes to weaponized neighborhoods. Lobbyists, politicians and manufacturers are only too happy to provide a roadmap for every single 14-year-old drug dealer with a hand cannon. Thus, killing each other and putting that badge they claim to "back" in horrific circumstances. Different column for a different day, I suppose.)

News and notes

The circus has left town and, like a cruel on-again off-again fling, the summer has once again deserted us. The harvest season brings the cold reality of certain death. But we know that from death comes life. Fall's destruction is unceremonious, it's gradual. We are often lulled here and there by a warm day, crunchy leaves or the settling of a brisk wind.

But it's certain death nonetheless.

UFC 217 marks the return of George St-Pierre, whose career and fights often have mimicked the certainties of autumn's whim. Never a flashy fighter in or out of the cage (13 of his 25 wins have come by stoppage, with the last in 2008), the compelling reason to consistently watch GSP was that he was always so damn good at what he did. His ability to force opponents into the fight that best suited him at that moment was nothing short of brilliant.

Strength of schedule combined with overall record and skillset make a strong case that he was the best to ever walk into the cage. Certainly, the best under 205 pounds (I may put both Jon Jones and Fedor Emelianenko above him), with all due respect to Anderson Silva, who never showed the wrestling acumen that GSP did over his career.

So very much has changed since GSP left. There are new owners, somewhat comprehensive drug testing, the Reebok deal, Conor McGregor. All no doubt a factor in the when and where of a GSP comeback.

His opponent and current middleweight champ (185 pounds), Michael Bisping has hit the veritable late-career, money-fight-winning lottery ticket.

Always functionally sound, Bisping took a late-notice title fight against then-champ Luke Rockhold in June of 2016 and made the most of it. Assuredly looking passed the scrappy Brit, Rockhold got dismissed early by a few punishing Bisping left hooks. Since then, he has retained his belt with a sharp tongue and well-timed retirement fight (gift) for Dan Henderson.

Bisping has done his best to avoid the absolute killers that appear below him at 185, stalling and waiting for the cash grab that is a GSP return. And fair play to the champ. He has almost 15 years in the sport, built up the company in the UK and allowed for the likes of Conor McGregor and Darren Till to make a name for themselves in mixed martial arts.

It should also be noted that GSP decided to forgo a chance at reclaiming his native welterweight belt (170 pounds), thus avoiding the current champ at that weight class, Tyron Woodley – at least appearing at this point to favor the matchup against Michael Bisping.

And for that, he will be punished.

Not that I believe GSP would have an easier time with Woodley, quite the opposite. But the grinding, offensive wrestling that GSP so effectively put forth against guys his size will get stifled against the larger and savvier Bisping.

People forget how difficult it is to get Bisping down. Once on the ground, Bisping isn't much of a threat, but without threat of KO power, something that GSP lacks, I find it hard to envision a scenario where Bisping's takedown defense is overcome. The game has changed since GSP last fought; the cage is used differently. Angles have been updated, hips improved. At his weight class and against an inferior wrestler, I'll grant him takedowns all day, every day. But I don't think that happens here.

Unless GSP can get Bisping on his back early in the fight and work toward a submission with minimal sweat or blood in play, I see Bisping fighting off the takedown threat early and keeping his range. If GSP gets in close, Bisping's knees will be delivered. Once backed off, Bisping will pick and stick the former champ with crisp boxing and reliable footwork in a fairly one-sided affair with Bisping winning a decision.

Dominick Cruz is the godfather of 135-pound mixed martial arts. Current Bantamweight Champion Cody Garbrandt and adversary TJ Dillishaw have the opportunity to build off of Cruz's legacy come Saturday night.

Both seems to have taken bits and pieces of Cruz's game and built the test model for future bantamweights to dissect and copy. They blend boxing and wrestling into one fluid discipline, setting a true gold standard for the "mixed" in MMA.

For Saturday night's commitments, this should be a hell of an affair with Garbrandt and Dillishaw at the very top of their respective games. Each in his career prime, a win will be snatched by the thinnest of margins. I spent some considerable time watching tapes of both this week and its really difficult to discern between the two. They're strikingly similar in approach.

I do think Dillishaw may have an edge in the wrestling department and am quite convinced that Garbrandt holds the power advantage. But not by much in either accord.

There will be no openings of any consequence, no quarters given from either fighter. And I really wouldn't be going out on a limb to predict a draw here. It's entirely possible.

But I like Garbrandt to retain by decision. It will be split. People will argue. The scorecards will differ. But at the end of the day, I believe that Garbrandt's power will back Dillishaw off just enough to score some style points with the judges. I don't see Dillishaw being rocked in any measurable way, but the slightest bit of crowd reaction will tilt this in the champ's favor.

There was a time, way back in May of 2017 when I lamented fights that would inevitably result in one contestant losing. It was the heavyweight contest between Champ Stipe Miocic and Junior Dos Santos. Fights like this don't come around often, but when they do, I feel compelled to talk about them. And the women's straw-weight (115 pounds) title fight between champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Milwaukee High School of the Arts graduate Rose Namajunas is one of those fights.

Two women that all of us should be proud to hold up as torch-bearers for females across the world. It's like "Damn, why do you guys have to fight each other? Can't you both go on like a joint speaking tour together? Hell, just take my daughters on a mission of sorts and provide them with the fortitude and leadership that this world needs from modern women!"

But these women are warriors first and foremost, and through the activity of combat is assuredly how they acquired said traits.

I've opined about Jedrzejczyk to you people before. High, high-level kickboxing. A violent princess of Polish decent, she has decimated everyone she's faced in the UFC with a brutality that a good portion of male fighters are unable to achieve. She's riding an eight-fight winning streak, and although only two of those are stoppages, her opponents usually walk out of the cage disfigured and crimson. Her stand up is incredible and truly a sight to behold.

Namajunas does everything with a tenacity that I have yet to see matched in female mixed martial arts. And I would argue she's a more well-rounded fighter than the champion Jedrzejczyk. But just because you are well-rounded and more complete does not mean victory is guaranteed, and Namajunas' path to gold is on a much tighter margin.

If Namajunas can get the champ on the ground early in the fight, she snatches the advantage. I don't know if there is a better scrambler at 115 pounds than Namajunas. She forces mistakes and capitalizes in seconds. She can bait and attack on the ground like few others in the sport, and once she has someone's back it's a wrap, y'all.

But I don't see Jedrzejczyk being taken down. The champion's ability to stay on her feet has been stellar in her UFC career, and when upright there is no one better in her weight class.

Namajunas is an incredibly tough out, though, and there is zero reason to believe that anything short of a KO or her corner throwing in the towel will stop her from continuing. Neither of which I see taking place.

Another decision here. A beautifully violent decision with the champion retaining.

You guys, there are so many good things about this card. Thompson vs Masdival, the topsy-turvy Hendricks vs Brazil's-next-big-thing Paulo Costa, Vick vs Duffy, St. Preux vs Anderson, Olinik vs Blaydes!

It's as good as it's been in a while. So turn on some Tribe Called Quest (The Tribe fits perfectly with the post-Halloween hangover), spend a good portion of Saturday making your best chili and enjoy the damn fights!

As someone who enjoys guns and shooting, albeit to a certain degree, I find it productive to focus on what makes that reptilian part of our brain desire violence so much – why it exists and how we can feed it with something positive. Something clean. Healthy. Like, oh, I don't know, combat sports.

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