Sunday, March 28, 2010

MMA's Majesty is regal, real and ready to reign

In 1973, the classic martial arts film 'Enter the Dragon' was Hollywood's introduction of Bruce Lee to the world. However, it also featured a young and exciting new martial artist named Jim Kelly, whose character 'Williams' was a confident, smooth talking ladies man with fast hands and lethal skill. 37 years later, meet this generation's Williams, Muhammed 'King Mo' Lawal.

At just 29 years old and only six fights into his professional fight career, this self proclaimed King has taken the MMA world by storm and is about to make his own introduction to the world on network television in less than three weeks. On Saturday April 17, airing live on CBS, King Mo will challenge Gegard Mousasi for the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Championship of the World.

Mousasi, another young rising star in MMA, has had 31 fights in his career, winning 28. Comparing the two records, one would think the odds are against Lawal winning this fight, but take a closer look at his competition career, whether it's been wrestling at the amateur, pro and international level or mixed martial arts, and you'll see King Mo's been beating the odds all along.

Originally born in Tennessee, King Mo was raised in the south, as his family moved from state to state, eventually settling and growing up right outside Dallas, Texas. A happy go lucky personality at heart, who is all about having fun, for some reason King Mo would always find himself in the middle of a scrap growing up. Not one to back down from a challenge, he actually noticed he enjoyed fighting.

Blessed with lightning quick hands and feet, he was a natural athlete, which made his transition into wrestling that much smoother. In a state where normally football, especially at the high school level, is king, no pun intended, King Mo was introduced to the sport of wrestling at the fairly late age of 16. It was an outlet for him to utilize and harness his natural aggression and skill.

Most amateur wrestlers by trade, especially those that excel in high school, have been applying themselves at their craft since the ages of four and five. However, just like Matthew Modine's character in the movie 'Vision Quest', Lawal and wrestling seemed to be made for each other; that God given ability just flourished in the sport as he went on to become a Texas State Champion while wrestling at Plano East High School.

This natural raw talent landed at Division II Central Oklahoma University where he would work his way to a second place National runner-up finish in 2001. He would follow that up by winning the whole thing in 2002 and becoming an NCAA Champion. While at Central Oklahoma, Lawal would commute to Division 1 wrestling powerhouse Oklahoma State in the off-season to work on his wrestling with the likes of All-American wrestlers such as Daniel Cormier and Mark Munoz.

The hard work paid off as King Mo was offered a scholarship and transferred to Oklahoma State where he would go on to become a Big 12 champion and earn a third place overall finish in the 2003 NCAA Championships. The accolades would continue for Lawal as he went on to become one of the most decorated wrestlers in the past decade.

After college he participated in a now defunct organization called 'Real Pro Wrestling', which used rules closely resembling freestyle wrestling. In its only year of existence, King Mo was crowned champion. He then went on to win the U.S. Senior National Championships in 2005, 2006 & 2008, along with a runner-up finish in '07, and just barely missed making the 2008 Olympic team by literally seconds as he was winning his final match up until the very end.

To put into perspective what an accomplishment all this truly is, two-time Olympian Cormier, a current training partner and close friend of King Mo's, was a guest on MMA Junkie Radio earlier this week. When I asked him to explain how remarkable this achievement was, he said, "That is unheard of; wrestlers of that caliber begin training before elementary school and for Mo to accomplish all he has in wrestling after starting in high school is a testament to how hard he is willing to work."

Why does he work so hard? Well, it depends on which Muhammad Lawal you ask. If you ask "King Mo," his alter ego, he's all about 'GDP', "gettin' dat paper," which is slang for making money. However, in my phone interview with him over the weekend, Lawal told me "What I want is to be a legend; I want to go down in history as one of the greatest fighters that ever lived. I want my name to be mentioned the way people refer to names like Ali, Holmes, Robinson, Pep etc."

I asked him how he knew so much about boxing history and he said he would always watch fights growing up with his father and his siblings. Boxing and fighting were part of his childhood, which would explain his foray into MMA. In his first pro fight he was a last minute replacement against MMA and UFC veteran Travis Wiuff.

Fighting far from home in Tokyo, Japan where most first time fighters would probably suffer from jitters and home sickness, Lawal went out and TKO'ed Wiuff in less than three minutes of the first round. More of the same followed in his next five fights as he won four of five by either KO or TKO and the only fight that went to a decision was against Ryo Kawamura, Pancrase Light Heavyweight Champion, and that was only after suffering an ACL tear of the knee in the first round. Of course he went on to fight two more rounds with the damaged knee and earn the victory; unbelievable!

That brings us to April 17 and his approach to the biggest fight in his career. He is currently training in California with an All-Star line-up and virtual who's who of MMA. He told me he has been working with the aforementioned Cormier and Munoz along with, Rashad Evans, Fabricio Werdum, Renato 'Babalu' Sobral, Mike 'Joker' Guymon, Rodrigo Nogueira and that is just to name a few. He's also working his Boxing with Mike Wilson, Jiu-Jitsu with Marc Laimon and his Muay Thai and overall stand up game with Rafael Cordeiro along with his secret training partner Syiar "The Killa from Afghanistan."

I was lucky enough to meet King Mo last summer in Las Vegas while he was a guest host on Junkie Radio. I got to co-host a show with him and then got to know him a little afterwards. Most people that only see the flamboyant "King Mo" image side of him would be surprised to know that, he's incredibly knowledgeable about the sport and extremely cerebral towards his approach to it.

His confidence may lead some to believe he's cocky, but it is just the opposite as he could care less about winning or losing. His philosophy on fighting and life are both the same, "Just go out and have fun," and he's totally serious and very real when he talks about it. I told him that he reminds me of Kelly in 'Enter the Dragon' when his character tells the evil Mr. Han, "I don't even think about losing because when it comes, I'll be too busy looking good." Regardless of which it is, one thing is for sure, MMA's Majesty is about to reign on his empire.

I want to thank King Mo for granting me the time for an interview during his very busy schedule and for always keeping it real.

King Mo thanks his Manager Dr. Ryan Parsons and Percy Crawford of Also, Cage Fighter, Iomega, Future Clothing and EA Sports. He also wants to acknowledge all his training partners, Team Thirsty and finally, "anyone out there that is about pursuing greatness."

UFC 111 draws varying opinions; good and bad

With much anticipation, the Ultimate Fighting Championship made its return back to the east coast Saturday night with UFC 111 @ The Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. Topped with two championship co-main events, one featuring arguably the sports most popular fighter, and stacked heavy with New Jersey born and bred entries, the outlook was promising for an exciting evening of fights.

While some delivered the "knockout punch" UFC brass and its fans were hoping for, others left a bad taste regarding the sport of MMA and some of its fighters. Hard to believe, but this event drew adjectives such as overrated and boring from some of its fans to describe it and more often than not a chorus of boos were heard throughout the night. I did not subscribe to any of these, but then again I am a hardcore fan, which led me to wonder why such an overall negative response?

As I watched the fights unfold in Hi-Def at a friend's house with seven others, I started to notice an underlying tone of disenchantment with the way many of the fights were playing out. This particular fight card was top heavy with fighters who either prefer or come from a grappling background. Rousimar Palhares, Ricardo Almeida, Nate Diaz, Mark Bocek, Jim Miller, Jon Fitch, Kurt Pellegrino, Fabricio Camoes and even Georges St. Pierre are all so proficient at their wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, there was no question that all of their fights were going to start and end up in a clinch.

In one case, the fight between Pellegrino and Camoes, the transitions and submission attempts were so frequent; it made for an exciting bout. However, the others were either so predominately one-sided or void of action due to the nullifying of each other's advancements that the casual fan quickly lost interest. Boos frequently rang out throughout the arena and within the crowd I was with, there were numerous expletives flying, especially at the referees for not separating and standing up the fighters.

Ironically, there were two separate cases where a fighter was being chastised for either being too aggressive in his submission attempt or not aggressive enough. Rousimar Palhares, who is known for his expertise in leg locks, made quick work of Tomasz Drwal when he caught him in a heel hook; unfortunately, his decision to let go of the hold wasn't as quick, causing obvious damage to Drwal's knee and distaste among the hardcore MMA community. So much so, he has since been handed a 90-day suspension for unsportsman like conduct.

On the other hand, Georges St. Pierre, who once again completely dominated his opponent with his superior wrestling and underrated Jiu-Jitsu skills, was actually being booed for not breaking one of Dan Hardy's limbs when he had the opportunity. On two separate occasions he had Hardy in serious trouble with a deep arm-bar (pictured above) and a nasty Kimura respectively and both times, when he could have obviously caused some serious damage because Hardy refused to tap, he inevitably let go of the hold. This did not go well with the audience in attendance at the arena and in the living room. They wanted to see a finish, regardless of the consequence.

On another note, one fight that did excite the fans was the Interim Heavyweight Championship between former champ Frank Mir and Shane Carwin. When these two behemoths entered the cage, you knew it wasn't going to last long and it didn't as Carwin unleashed a flurry of fury on Mir that left the former champ laying flat, face first on the mat. Great performance, at least I thought, but one other hardcore fan saw it differently. Instead of looking at it the way I did, he chose to describe Mir as "overrated". That's right, in reference to a two time former heavyweight champion, he used the 'O' word. His argument, who has Mir beaten?

He used the names Tim Sylvia (a former three-time champion), Wes Sims and Tank Abbott and talked about he had lost to Pe de Pano Cruz and Brandon Vera, a light heavyweight, and how he barely scraped by Dan Christianson. My response was he forgot to mention wins over Brock Lesnar (the current champion), Rodrigo Nogueira and Cheick Kongo; also, as for the losses and poor performance against Christianson, those were right after his return from the motorcycle accident where he was not fully dedicated to his training.

Mind you, I am far from a Frank Mir fan as I have openly stated I think he is cocky. Yet I don't think overrated is a fair word to use in his case. Have we as fans gotten so spoiled with the rapid ascension of the sport and the UFC that it's gotten to the point where anything less than a stunning first round knockout, flashy submission or complete dominance is a letdown?

Joe Rogan, color commentator, openly shares his disappointment when the referee intervenes to separate fighters during either a stand-up clinch or tussle on the ground for dominant positioning. He tries his best to describe the intricacies that are taking place during the chess match that is going on, but he is also quick to point out that American fans are "just not used to or familiar with this type of fighting". In Japan, 70,ooo plus fans will sit quietly while this type of scenario is playing itself out, then they will applaud eloquently, as if at an opera house, when even the slightest maneuver for position is executed.

Here in the states, while the knowledge of the fans continues to grow, the overall majority is still ignorant to the game. Ignorant, meaning a lack of knowledge to fully appreciate the science and not the brutality behind fighting. It undoubtedly helps the appreciation if you have trained and found yourself in these positions once or twice before. Of course, regardless of how much time and understanding passes, you will always have those chosen few that still perceive this as a blood sport, which begs the question, are American fans blood-thirsty or just ignorant?

Some positives to be drawn from UFC 111 have to start with the heavyweights. The aforementioned new interim champ Shane Carwin is just one of the new breed of heavyweights that now dominate the division. Heavyweights that are bigger faster and more skilled than ever before. It wasn't that long ago that the division was stacked with names such as Fabiano Scherner, Cabbage Correira, Eddie Sanchez and Carmelo Marrero. Those names have since been replaced by the likes of Carwin, Lesnar, Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos to name but a few.

This heavyweight generation is the latest evolution in the sport. Also, the UFC has a bona fide superstar in welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. A young fighter in his prime who has clearly set himself apart in his division. He is dedicated to his craft and determined to be the best fighter he can be. Even during his complete reign over the sport, he has a drive to become the greatest pound for pound fighter that has ever lived. He is good looking, well spoken, well liked and most importantly respected by his peers, which makes for the perfect spokesman and ambassador of the sport. However, his overall dominance may ultimately be his undoing. This is just one of many varying opinions, good and bad, that have been drawn from UFC 111.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

These junkies are an addiction worth having (Part 2)

While attending the Arnold's Classic in 2008, George ran into his new friend Chuck Zito, who suggested that he had some friends at Sirius Radio who may be interested in the show the guys were producing. Thus, an eventual meeting was set up in New York, however after the meeting with Sirius; George was once again met with disappointment, as there was no interest on their part. Sirius felt the show needed a bit more polishing, which George totally understood.

Just about ready to give up on the show, a stroke of misfortune proved to be heaven sent. George missed his flight home; thus he was forced to stay in New York one more day. While there he had an epiphany and he decided he would give it one last shot, so he called Dann Stupp who was the editor and founder of a website he had started called MMAJunkie. Originally the site was just a blog called UFCJunkie, but just like the sport it was covering it slowly began to grow into a full-fledged MMA news site.

After the phone call, instead of flying back to the West Coast, George was on a flight bound for Cincinnati. George and Goze already had a relationship with MMAJunkie as they had been paying to post a banner on the site promoting their radio show. By the same token, Junkie was doing daily recaps of TAGG Radio shows on their site and noticed those were the columns that seemed to be drawing the most attention.
After the impromptu business meeting, where George was just hoping to be able to pick Dann's brain on what else he could possibly do to elevate the show, the two up and comers decided to merge and TAGG Radio was absorbed; it would now be known as Junkie Radio.

With the new deal in place, George decided it was now time for him to make the move to Vegas where Trigg and Goze already were. Also there was a woman behind the scenes, literally, as Goze's girlfriend Jenny had been an integral part of the show assisting in all facets of production, handling the phone calls and helping to take the show to the proverbial next level by adding a new wrinkle. Someone suggested the idea of a video stream and Jenny ran with it, learning how to do it and eventually working the camera. This new feature improved the show dramatically because it brought to life these characters we were listening to on a daily basis.

While in Vegas they continued to broadcast the show from their home, until one day an introduction to Rick Rosen gave them the contact they needed to reach out to Mandalay Bay. You see, word had gotten back to them about a seldom used studio that the hotel had inside the Race and Sportsbook and the brothers thought this could be the next step up in their evolution. They pitched the idea of using the studio to broadcast their show and the pitch was a strike; the radio show that started in a home in Southern California now had a new name and a new home.

Soon after the move to Mandalay Bay a new addition was added into the mix. John Morgan, a staff reporter and writer for MMAJunkie, decided to move to Las Vegas from Dallas to become Junkie's West Coast lead reporter. As part of the Junkie family, he was welcomed onto the show and the move was an instant success. The chemistry between the four was perfect; you had a lead host, a pro-fighter for analysis, an MMA insider and an ace producer. However, just as things were taking off, so was Trigg?

Offered an opportunity to continue his fighting career in the UFC, he left the show to dedicate himself 100% to what he needed to do; plus, the show would be considered a conflict of interest under the terms of his contract. Nonetheless, the fearsome threesome forged ahead and so did the show. Its unique style has made it the most popular MMA talk show on-line. The junkies have found a way to bridge a professional insightful show covering the sport of Mixed Martial Arts with a down to earth connection it has with its listeners.

One of the ways they have done this is by making the listeners a crucial part of the show. A long list of regular callers have become a cast of characters that are now anticipated as much by the listening audience as they are the hosts. Other distinct features such as Stun-Gun Monday's, Off-Topic Tuesdays and Goze's infamous 'Five Questions', that he asks all the fighters interviewed, are just part of what makes this show so popular. Those five questions by the way, are a descendant of something Trigg originally introduced when he was a co-host on 'Soundoff' with Ryan Bennett. Goze's unbridled sense of humor though has cultivated them into an art form that has reached legendary status.

Almost three years and over 700 shows later, Junkie radio has become to me and so many others worldwide what 'Soundoff' once was, a part of our everyday lives. So much so, that last year, through their encouragement, George and Goze helped me live out a dream that was unfulfilled. Back in the day, I had hoped to someday attend a UFC event in Las Vegas and finally meet Ryan Bennett and Trigg face to face during one of the remote broadcasts they would do in Vegas while covering the UFC.

Alas, once Ryan passed away, I assumed my dream died with him. However, last year Goze invited me to come to Vegas for UFC 100, even offering to let me stay at his home for part of the trip and sharing a hotel room with me the rest of the time to help me defray the cost. These two guys, just a couple of voices behind microphones, had picked up where Ryan Bennett left off; They became friends and if that's what being a junkie is all about, then this is an addiction well worth having.

George and Goze would like to acknowledge all their co-hosts over the years, guests hosts included, especially Frank Trigg, John Morgan and Marc Laimon. They also would like to thank 'Jenny from the block', Dann Stupp and the entire staff of (Recently voted the #1 MMA News Site @ The World MMA Awards)

I personally want to thank Gorgeous George and Goze for this interview and more importantly, for their continued friendship.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

These junkies are an addiction worth having (Part 1)

According to former baseball manager Leo Durocher, "Nice guys finish last," which I hate to admit seems to be generally true in this dog eat dog society we live in. Also, normally when you hear the words junkie and addiction in the same sentence, it is never about anything positive or good. However, in this supposed violent world of MMA, there are a couple of nice guys who have proven that being addicted and classified a junkie defies all of the negative stereotypes that come along with it.

Ironically, to tell their story, I have to begin with another extremely nice guy who was also addicted to MMA. The late great Ryan Bennett was a well-established sportscaster with an NBC affiliate in San Luis Obispo, California. He was also a huge fan of Mixed Martial Arts, thus prompting him to use his broadcasting skills to host a daily Internet radio show dedicated to the sport. 'Soundoff' was the Godfather of MMA radio and could be heard daily Monday-Friday for one hour from 9-10AM Pacific Time or 12-1PM here on the East Coast.

He would co-host the show with MMA fighter Frank Trigg and I was such an avid listener and fan of the show, I would schedule my lunch break either before noon or after 1PM, just so I could listen to the show live while I worked at my desk. It instantly became a part of my daily routine and something I looked forward to intently. Thus, when Ryan suddenly passed away in an auto accident in May 2006, I felt a void in my life. It was so strong that I was compelled to write a column in tribute to Ryan Bennett in a local newspaper all about how I had lost a friend. Hard to believe, but the show had become a part of my overall being.

Little did I know there were a couple of other guys on the other side of the country who felt the same way I did. Brothers George and Brian Garcia, better known as 'Gorgeous George' and 'Goze', are originally from Santa Ana in Orange County, California or as they like to refer to it, The O.C. At the time that I was religiously listening to 'Soundoff' on the East Coast with my lunch hour routine, they too were listening, only they were just starting their day with a dose of Bennett and MMA. Just like me, it became part of their daily fabric; unfortunately, also like me, they felt the void that was left with Ryan's untimely passing.

Sure the show was ultimately carried on by a couple of Ryan's friends @ MMAWeekly, however it just wasn't the same. The time slot was moved from morning to evening, thus knocking Trigg, a vital part of the show, out of the equation since his schedule would not allow his participation. Also, no slight on the hosts of the show, but they paled in comparison to Ryan's engaging demeanor and quick wit. With the rapid growth of the sport, other MMA radio shows soon popped up, but nothing seemed to fill the void. In all fairness, there were some pretty big shoes left to fill following Ryan Bennett and 'Soundoff'. I assumed it wasn't possible; that was until TAGG Radio.

Born out of a conversation one-day at an IHOP restaurant about this void that was left in their day and how at that same time of the morning they would normally be listening to 'Soundoff', Goze unexpectedly said to George, why don't you do it? In other words, why don't you host your own show. At the time George had stopped working to try his hand, no pun intended, as a professional poker player and Goze decided to go back to school full-time and work on a college degree, so they had some free time on their hands.

Also, through Ryan Bennett prior to his death, George had been given an opportunity to meet Frank Trigg, who at the time was also living in Southern California. So the plan was simple, they would start their own show at the same time 'Soundoff' used to be on 9-10AM Pacific, George would host it along with Trigg and Goze would produce it. Simple, except they didn't have professional broadcasting experience like Bennett and more importantly, they still had to get Trigg to buy into it.

After constant prompting and selling, Trigg finally agreed and in April, 2007, literally days after a fight he had in Hawaii, Trigg got off a plane in LA, was met by George at the airport was taken directly to their homemade studio at their house and TAGG Radio was born. TAGG, an acronym for Trigg and Gorgeous George, did not start without an audience either. Goze, who used to blog regularly on Myspace, a social network to over half a million people, had so many followers, he was accorded top ten status; so the word was already out about the show and it had an instant following.

The question now was what would it be like? By their own admittance, they were extremely nervous at first; so much so they had to take tequila shots before the show to calm their nerves. Also, as was to be expected, the bumps in the road were many, but they forged ahead. Because of their affiliation with Trigg, one thing the show had that others didn't was instant access to professional fighters in the SoCal area. Thus, on only their second day, they already had an in-studio guest when Trigg brought in Mike 'The Joker' Guymon; not bad, for a couple of guys whom nobody knew.

Before long the kinks were ironed out and the show started to take flight. With a "couple of guys sitting around shooting the stuff about MMA approach," people started to embrace the show, even becoming a part by calling in regularly. Surprisingly after about a month, offers actually started coming their way from professional entities such as ProElite and The Fight Network. Never expecting this to happen, the brothers were at a crossroads; do we take one of these offers ultimately selling off on something we started that could get bigger or do we go ahead on our own and see what else may be out there?

They eventually decided on the latter, but to their dismay, the expected offers dried up and now thoughts of having to throw in the towel, due to finances and other circumstances, were seriously being considered. Trigg had moved his base from California to Las Vegas and Goze was accepted as a full-time student @ UNLV, so he too had made the move to Vegas, thus two-thirds of the show were in the desert while the host was still in California.

Amidst all this, they still had a show to do and covering MMA meant they had to do just that. So, when Strikeforce decided to put on a card at The Playboy Mansion, Trigg, George and Goze just understood business is business, so they obtained press passes; it's a tough job, but somebody has to do it! While there, Goze noticed Actor Chuck Zito was also in attendance. Knowing of Zito's tough guy background and his role on the HBO series 'OZ', Goze thought it would be cool if they could get him on the show.

So, with some assistance and name dropping of Trigg, Goze introduced himself and asked if Chuck would be interested in doing the show. One thing led to another and eventually Chuck did the show live at the studio in SoCal with George hosting while Trigg and Goze were in Vegas. A few shared stories later along with a bite to eat afterwards and now George had another friend, who was not only an MMA fan, but also a contact in the entertainment industry.

Part 2 of 'These junkies are an addiction worth having' will follow on Thursday

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Boxing is beating itself to the punch

While this column I write appears on an MMA related site, one of the first things I asked when I started was if I could also write about boxing? The reason was simple; As much as I love MMA, I also love the sport of boxing just as much, if not more. That is why it is with much dismay that I witnessed the latest incident where boxing just continues to shoot itself in the foot, instead of shooting punches at its critics.

With an opportunity to put its best foot forward on a grand stage, with its most popular fighter in the main event and during a rare weekend where there weren't any major MMA cards to compete with, boxing failed miserably. This past Saturday, Manny 'Pacman' Pacquiao, Boxing's biggest star, regardless of what Floyd Mayweather, Jr. thinks, was defending his welterweight championship against formidable contender and former champion himself, Joshua Clottey.

This match of course came about after all the political BS and personal bickering that made the potential Pacquiao/Mayweather fight fall through. While that is the fight everyone wants to see, I was looking forward with much anticipation to this fight because as a fan, while I felt Pacquiao would win, I thought Clottey could and would present some interesting problems. I guess you could say he did, but not in the sense that I had expected.

For 12 rounds, as he always does, Pacquiao threw punches in bunches and did his best to put on a show and take out his opponent. There was one problem though, his opponent didn't throw any punches in return. As a matter of fact, Clottey was content to just hold his hands up the whole time covering his face and body in a peek-a-boo style and what I like to call a 'chicken wing defense'. That is perfectly fine strategy, if it is actually a part of one, but there was none in place.

Clottey, who comes from a country in Ghana that is known for such courageous fighting legends such as Azumah Nelson and Ike Quartey, did his countrymen and himself an injustice. He came to survive and get paid instead of trying to win or at least go out in blaze of glory as Miguel Cotto did when he lost to Pacquiao. Sadly, this fight was just the icing on the cake of a night filled with letdowns.

The preliminary fights leading up to the main event was a brutal thing to watch. Not because of what was happening in the ring, but because of what wasn't happening. Pay-per-view customers paying $54.95 had to be salty when they were forced to sit through three boring fights before the main event. The undercard was filled with names that included former champions way past their prime, such as Jose Luis Castillo and David Diaz, along with up and comers Alfonso Gomez and John Duddy, that have been on the come up so long, they're on their way back down.

The result, as you would expect, two fights going to a lackluster decision and one ending mercifully after five rounds because it took that long for Castillo to finally stay on his stool and realize he is past his prime; Yes, there is a God. The undercard was so bad, that even the broadcast team of Jim Lampley, Max Kellerman and Emanuel Steward openly, critically and frequently chastised it. They even questioned why the promoter, Bob Arum, on such a big stage with a prize fight in the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium, would put together such boring match-ups; I feel for the 50,00 plus fans that were in attendance.

Lampley in particular, who has been such an advocate for boxing while openly being critical in his assessment of MMA, didn't do boxing any favors on this night. Besides constantly bringing up the ineptness of the fights he was calling, instead of trying to do his best to cover it up, he seemed to digress from the Emmy award-winning broadcaster he's been for so many years. During his call of the main event, his fawning over Manny Pacquiao was so over the top, it was borderline obsession.

On top of that, at one point in the fight his call even became comedic and amateurish when to describe Pacquiao's constant barrage of unanswered punches he just went into a tirade of using the phrase, "Bang, bang, bang, bang....." It was kind of funny at first, but it quickly became annoying. I didn't know if I was listening to comedian John Witherspoon doing his "Bang, bang" bit from the movie 'Boomerang' or I was watching an old episode of the '60's TV series 'Batman', where they would write out childish sound effects, like in a comic book, to describe each blow. It was just a bad night overall.

I don't want this column to come off as though I am anti-boxing or blinded by my affinity for MMA. Over the years, MMA has had it share of snoozers as well; does Nate Quarry vs. Kalib Starnes or Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Kevin Jordan ring a bell? However, for the most part, fights such as these are far and few in between in MMA. Sure, part of it has to do with the style of fighting MMA presents, but I think another part has to do with the length of the fights.

In MMA, with most fights only going three rounds, there is no time to waste; you either put it on the line or you lose. I know boxing has been around well over a century, but I think they need to look at this model. During 'The Contender' TV series, even with second rate fighters, five round fights made for action packed bouts. There is no time to "feel your opponent out". Not to mention, this would be a lot safer in terms of repeated punches to a boxer's head and body.

As I stated above, I love boxing, I truly do. I grew up on it, appreciate the science behind it and have even laced up the gloves and made it a part of my training regimen over the years. Boxing has a long and storied tradition and I believe it is not as dead as most MMA purists want to say it is. That said, I have to admit, I found myself comparing the two this past Saturday as I sat through each agonizing round. I noticed the crowd I was in was not paying attention to the undercard, unlike MMA fans that watch every prelim fight with interest. I also heard the cries of many in the crowd echoing my very thoughts of, "man this is boring". I hate to admit it, but boxing is beating itself to the punch.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Gerald Harris: A renaissance man with no limits

In the dictionary, the word renaissance is defined as "a renewal of life, vigor or interest". Synonyms such as 'resurgence' and 'reawakening' are also listed. All of these can be aptly applied to UFC Middleweight Gerald 'Hurricane' Harris.

At just 30 years of age, Harris has had more careers in his adult life than most have in a lifetime. Yet, what separates Gerald from most is that he's been successful at everyone, thus making you wonder just how far can this guy go? According to Gerald Harris, Hollywood is not out of the question.

I had the pleasure of meeting Gerald last summer when I made my way to Las Vegas to visit and hang with the crew of MMA Junkie Radio. Lucky me, right place at the right time, I got to hangout with Gerald while the crew of the show were interviewing Paulo Thiago. Over time, I kept in touch and he's been funny every single time. Little did I know, I was actually communicating with a Professional Comedian; I found this out when I conducted a 30 minute interview with Gerald over the phone recently.

Not your typical MMA fighter, he didn't grow up fighting in the streets or come from a tough background, but he did have a lot of competition growing up; He was one of nine children in his family. With that many brothers and sisters around, along with his parents, Gerald already had an audience at home for his uncanny sense of humor, something he's always possessed. The self-professed 'class clown' is an upbeat spirit that loves to laugh and enjoys making others do as well because his personal view is, "life is too short not to be happy". So, it was only natural that after honing his skills at home and all through high school and college, he would try his act on stage and become a professional stand up comic.

The comedy would eventually take him to the State of Florida where before long he was making a name for himself locally selling out shows in theaters and small arenas. All the while he was doing this while managing, promoting and producing his own shows himself. He was so good at comedy, he eventually got a shot at BET's talent competition 'Coming to the stage', where he would only end up losing his spot to renowned comedian 'Lil Duval'. Though he really enjoyed doing the comedy circuit, he realized it wasn't paying the bills. Thus, he moved on to the next chapter in his life, teaching.

As a high school history teacher, Gerald taught for three years, two in Florida and one in his native Oklahoma. Enjoying the teaching field, he figured this is where his life was headed until, by chance, a friend he met at a local gym while working out convinced him he should try his hand at MMA. Initially, Gerald had no interest, but when a few hundred dollars were promised, a starving teacher went for it.

That was 3 1/2 years ago and in that period Gerald Harris has won 14 out of 16 pro fights, appeared in the seventh season of 'The Ultimate Fighter Show' and personally talked Dana White into giving him a shot in the UFC. All this after biding his time and putting together a seven fight win streak in what he affectionately calls, 'The Bum Fight Circuit'. He's quick to point out that he means no disrespect when he uses this term. It's just his comedic spin on the many small, and sometimes unprofessional, promotions he's had to fight for over the years to finally make it to the big leagues. He jokes that at one weigh-in, instead of a scale they used a "teeter-totter".

Finally in the UFC, Gerald won his first fight by TKO, earning a $30,000 Knockout of the night bonus and more importantly, another fight on March 31 against grappling wizard Mario Miranda. When I asked him if his new found KO artistry will force him to try to keep the fight standing, Gerald said, "there is no plan to a fight; Too much thinking will get you in trouble". He also pointed out that when he fought BJJ practitioner Fabio Leopoldo, it was he that took the fight to the ground and more than held his own.

He also told me that his first two years; he strictly fought on raw skill and determination. It hasn't been until the last year and a half that he's actually learned how to properly train and compete professionally. Most notably he is excited to announce that he is officially a member of the renowned Greg Jackson Fight Team, dividing his training time between New Mexico, Colorado and his native Oklahoma.

With so many diverse careers so far in his life, I asked Gerald if he's given any thought as to what he may want to do when his fight career is over. Without hesitation and with much determination he said, "Acting". He says that he idolizes Jamie Foxx and uses him as an inspiration of someone that has come from a similar background to become a worldwide superstar. He has a high regard for Foxx's talent and demeanor and hopes to someday emulate his career in Hollywood. Considering he's been a success at everything he's tackled thus far, I see no limits as to where this Renaissance man can go.

I want to personally thank Gerald Harris for this interview. Gerald would like to acknowledge his sponsors: Affliction Clothing, Muscle Pharm, Brookside Tattoo and Piercing, and Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar, along with thanking his teammates @ The Grudge Training Center. For more info on Gerald Harris, check out

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Legacy of a 'Little Evil'

For anyone that is unfamiliar with the sport of Mixed Martial Arts, the above listed title may suggest that the following is a short story about Horror or Suspense. The irony is that it is just the opposite. It is the story of a man who overcame the odds of growing up in an environment filled with horror to go on and become a World Champion, when nobody thought he could. More importantly though, is how he did it while capturing the hearts of MMA fans worldwide. This is the story of Jens 'Little Evil' Pulver.

To say that the story of Jens Pulver is a tale of rags to riches would be an understatement. The oldest of four children, Pulver grew up in the State of Washington in what he has personally classified as "a daily hell". While the worst most kids growing up might have to endure is dealing with a local bully at school, Jens had to worry about much more from his alcoholic abusive father; and being the oldest only meant he had to deal with it first and worst.

As stated in his own autobiography, 'Little Evil, One Ultimate Fighter's Rise to the Top', his father once placed a gun in his mouth when he was seven, only to remove it and tell him, "you aren't worth the bullets". Yet, from this environment came the will of a champion. Introduced at an early age to the sport of wrestling by a family friend, Jens learned to control his anger and depression and use it as motivation on the mat where he would go on to become a two-time State Champion.

This would only be the beginning though as his wrestling ability would take him to Junior College, where he would go on to attain JUCO All-American status, eventually earning a scholarship to Boise State. An injury would ultimately end his wrestling career, but not his chance at earning a college degree, which he did in Criminal Justice.

If the story ended here, it would already be considered a success, but it doesn't. While in college in the late '90's, there was a new sport just beginning to finally evolve and take flight and it was just the new competition Jens needed to continue his athletic career. With Mixed Martial Arts slowly starting to boom both nationally and internationally, Jens found a school where he could train and hone the skills necessary to compete in MMA; And compete he did.

In April, 1999 he had his first professional MMA fight and to no one's surprise he won. Only four fights and five months later, he would find himself competing in the UFC, which was slowly establishing itself as the major league of MMA. He did not win his first UFC fight, but he did not lose either as the fight ended in a draw. Nonetheless, the promotion saw enough in Jens to bring him back and what they noticed, he would go on to prove by winning his next five fights in the octagon, along with a few others sprinkled in between.

Along the way, Jens found out something else about himself. He not only could wrestle, but he could punch and with power no less. This made him a force to be reckoned with as can be attested by his (4-0) professional record in boxing. In less than three years of professional competition, Jens Pulver would become a World Champion, yet in his way stood a prodigy.

BJ Penn was the next big thing and as we can see today, he was everything he was billed to be. There was no way, even after all he had accomplished, that Jens Pulver could defeat the multi-talented Penn, especially at lightweight. However, as he had done all his life before, Jens overcame the odds and did defeat Penn @ UFC 35, surviving five grueling rounds to be the only man ever to defeat Penn at the weight class, while retaining his hold as the first ever UFC Lightweight Champion of the World.

Eight years later, Jens Pulver is an elder statesman in the sport he helped to build. The evolution of the sport has proven too much for him to compete anymore with the new generation of fighters, however something has happened along the way. With his humble demeanor and boyish smile, Jens Pulver became a fan favorite and an iconic figure, reaching a status level that only a chosen few have attained in the sport. A level of popularity where even if you lose, it doesn't matter; People want to see you and love you.

I witnessed this first hand last summer as I stood in line at The Beach @ Mandalay Bay waiting to watch UFC 100 and from out of nowhere, Jens Pulver happened to walk by. As he was quickly ushered into a hallway, people cheered his name and gave him an ovation as though he had just won a fight. Jens response, what else? A sheepishly shy grin and wave to the crowd. Only fighters such as Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture, the absolute cream of the crop in this sport, have reached this level of adoration. Ironically, they are both in the Hall of Fame, which is where the legacy of a 'Little Evil' is sure to land one day soon.

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