Monday, May 31, 2010

UFC 114 was entertaining, but expectations not met

After much anticipation leading up to UFC 114, I came back from Vegas feeling great, yet unfulfilled. On one hand, my personal time with my friends experiencing everything from the UFC Fan Expo, meeting fighters along with MMA notables and taking photos was more than I could have asked for. However, the actual fight card, in my estimation, left me wondering what happened to all the hype. What had all the makings of an exciting night of fights, turned out to be an arena filled with more boos than cheers.

The main event, which featured a lot of bad blood between two superstars of the sport, 'Suga' Rashad Evans and Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, only lived up to the hype for three of the fifteen minutes they fought. This was not due to the fighters as much as it was the old adage; "styles make fights". In this particular case you had Rashad Evans, a superior wrestler by trade, sticking to his strength and using his bread and butter to nullify his opponent. Rampage, whose strength lies standing up and banging, had no answer for Rashad's speed. Evans elusiveness of Rampage's punches and slick quick takedowns proved the difference in the fight.

There was a tense moment in the third and final round with about three minutes to go where it looked like all of Rashad's hard work was all for naught. As he went to shoot in one more time on Rampage, he lost his balance and fell short, thus giving Rampage the break he had been looking for. Finally, able to get his hands on Evans, Jackson pounced on his opponent, trapping him against the cage and began raining down punches. Evans was clearly in trouble and when Referee Herb Dean stepped in to take a closer look, it looked as though he was about to stop it.

Luckily, he did not because Rashad weathered the storm of Rampage's onslaught and not only made it back to his feet, but eventually turned the tide and took Rampage down once again. This time he unleashed his most telling attack of the fight as he had Rampage pinned down and was smashing him flush with right hands to the face. This last three minutes of the fight brought the crowd to its feet and drew the biggest response of the night outside of the split decision win by Antonio Rogerio Nogueira over Jason Brilz.

Brilz, who took this fight with less than three weeks notice due to an injury to Forrest Griffin, was a huge underdog to the decorated MMA veteran Nogueira. No one expected he could compete with the man known as 'Lil' Nog', let alone finish the fight, however he did both while almost defeating the Brazilian at his own game. After standing toe to toe with him in the first round, the wrestler from North Dakota, caught Nogueira in a tight guillotine choke, not once, but twice in the second round. While Nog survived, he was not the same after that and Brilz clearly dominated from that point on in my eyes and in the estimation of 15,000 plus who booed unmercifully after the decision was read. Brilz may have not won the decision, but he won over the fans and more importantly Dana White, which will prove more lucrative in the long run.

In another surprising turn of events, Heavyweight Todd Duffee, who was clearly in control of his fight against Mike Russow for two and a half rounds was shocked, clocked and literally put to sleep by a Russow right hand he never saw coming. Before the fight I had stated that the book was still out on Duffee as all we had seen on him was all of seven seconds in the octagon. One has to wonder now if the giant who has a body that looks like it was sculpted out of a rock, has a jaw made of glass. Only time will tell. One other young fighter to keep an eye on is welterweight John Hathaway, who came into the UFC undefeated and stayed that way as he totally dominated Ultimate Fighter winner Diego 'Nightmare' Sanchez over three rounds for a unanimous decision win. Tall and lanky for a welterweight with fast hands and good takedown defense, he may be a name to remember.

Out of the seven fights on TV, the two on Spike and five on Pay-Per-View, six of them went to a decision. Even the Russow KO win was on its way to being a unanimous decision by Duffee until the unexpected shot heard around the arena. Many of those fights were uneventful, which drew more than a few boos throughout the night that I know ultimately that cannot make Dana White happy. Overall as a fan, my experience between the Expo and the UFC live was an entertaining one, but as far expectations for the fights went, especially the main event, I don't think they were met.

On a personal note, my thanks to all the friends and Junkie Nation I was rolling with throughout the weekend, especially Gorgeous George, Goze and 'Jenny from the Block' of MMA Junkie Radio who always make it happen.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Don't wait to pay tribute to your loved ones & friends

Hard to believe, but coming up next week on May 31st is the fourth anniversary of the passing of the late great Ryan 'The Hitman' Bennett. For those unfamiliar, especially new MMA fans, with who Ryan Bennett was, he was a major contributor and pioneer in the world of MMA. 

A former sports broadcaster, he was a visionary who loved this sport and saw the potential it had long before the growth it has experienced to this point. He was one of the first to have a website and internet radio show devoted strictly to MMA, where now you find them a dime a dozen. He also was an employee of the UFC, working as an interview and backstage reporter from UFC 33-UFC 40. 

The following is a tribute piece I wrote on June 6, 2006, one week after his passing, for an opinion column I used to write in a local newspaper. I'm so happy I now have this worldwide forum to share this tribute to someone I called and considered a friend, even though we actually never met.

How often does it happen? Unfortunately, too much. Tragedies such as accidental death and illness are a sad part of life, but what makes it even worse is waiting till they happen to let someone know how you truly felt about them. In circumstances such as death, it is all too late.

As everyday passes and I continue to get older, my mortality seems to become more prevalent in my thought process. Part of that is realizing now that life is very short, even if you are able to live a long one. Whether we live long enough to witness grandchildren or become an unfortunate victim of the aforementioned tragedy, what is most important is that we make it count while we are here.

This past week I suffered the loss of a friend. Now let me clarify the definition of friend. I did not grow up with this person, nor did we see each other from time to time; truth is, we never formally met in person, yet we spoke often over the telephone numerous times during the week. This person's name was Ryan Bennett. While the vast majority of you may not know who this man was, he was a minor celebrity of sorts.

He was, until recently, a sportscaster for an NBC affiliate in California. He then became the lead broadcaster and head of production for an up and coming cable channel called 'The Fight Network'. However, I came to know him through his daily Internet radio show called 'Soundoff' on MMAWeekly Radio, which mainly covers the sport of Mixed Martial Arts.

For more than two years I listened to Ryan's show religiously from noon to 1PM, Monday-Friday, as I worked at my desk. Over that time span, I became a regular caller to the show exchanging opinions on various topics mostly regarding the sport. What endeared me to his show, along with countless other listeners around the world, was Ryan's knowledge regarding MMA, his quick wit and uncanny ability to make you feel welcome and part of the show whenever he opened up the phone lines. It got to the point that when I would call, I didn't even have to identify myself because once he heard my voice he knew it was "Sam from Pennsylvania."

Last Thursday I sat at my desk ready to listen to the show as I always did at noon, only this time it did not come on. When I went to the website to see if the show was cancelled for the day, I was stunned to find out that Ryan was killed in a tragic car accident as he drove with his wife and four children on an interstate in Utah. He was 35 years old.

Luckily, his wife and children have survived. I wondered why this bothered me so much. I never met this man face to face, yet it hit me hard and personal. Then, I realized it made no difference that we never formally met. A bond and even a friendship had formed over time, one that went beyond radio show host and listener.

As my natural sorrow over his passing continues, I have found solace in knowing one thing. A couple of weeks ago, I e-mailed Ryan as I would do from time to time. Only this time it was to tell him that I appreciated all his efforts regarding his radio show and how happy I was for him on his new opportunity with 'The Fight Network'.

He thanked me and told me how much he appreciated my e-mail. Luckily for me, I did not wait until it was too late to let him know how I felt. So today when you come across someone that is dear to you, maybe you should consider that tomorrow just may be too late.

I want to publicly state that I feel Ryan Bennett should be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame posthumously, for his many contributions to the advancement of MMA, his part in the growth of the UFC and his unwavering support for this sport that he loved so much. RIP my friend. Easy!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

First impressions are not always lasting

There is a Proverb that reads; "The first impressions are the most lasting." This simply means, try to make a positive impression when you first meet or present something to someone, because those first memories of the incident will last a long time. For me, my first impression of MMA Fighter Frank Trigg is generally the same impression most people got when they first heard him during the pre-fight promo for his first fight in the UFC back in 2003, 'who does this guy think he is? He seems like a real *#@%!'.

You can pretty much replace those symbols with any negative noun you'd like and it would fit. However, that impression of Trigg only lasted about a year for me and seven years later I know that he isn't what I thought he was; although he'll be the first one to quickly tell you that he is. That's just Trigg, which just adds to the complexity of who he really is.

Who is Frank Trigg? A professional MMA fighter, pro wrestler, decorated amateur wrestler, entrepreneur, Radio & TV analyst, reality TV star, actor and most importantly, family man; he's been a success story at every level of endeavor so far. Yet, he'd have you believe it's just the opposite; "If I can't be the best at what I do, I'm not going to do it." Those words are what drive Frank Trigg and what ultimately keep him from realizing what a success story his life and career have been so far.

Originally from upstate New York, Trigg, the product of a Bi-racial marriage, grew up in a large family as one of eight boys; well technically it was nine. This is just another example of how difficult he is to gauge. When I tried to confirm how many brothers he actually had, 7 or 8, his response to my question was simply, "yes." Typical Trigg he finally explained that he had 6 brothers and 2 stepbrothers, one of which died in an auto accident; this tragically after being drafted by the Cincinnati Reds.

With such diversity, sibling rivalry and natural athletic talent, it was only a matter of time before he started to make a name for himself, which is what he did with wrestling. Drawn to the martial arts at a young age, wrestling was just another art for him to train in. His agility and speed coupled with the heart he developed being one of nine brothers was a formula for success that would ultimately land him a scholarship to The University of Oklahoma.

While at OU he had a successful collegiate career and eventually earned his Bachelor's Degree in Public Affairs and Administration in 1997. As if wrestling at the Division One collegiate level wasn't difficult enough, while there he began Judo training under legendary instructor Pat Burris; eventually earning his black belt and second degree ranking. He also took a coaching position upon graduation and continued to wrestle, eventually becoming a finalist at the 2000 Olympic Trials. If you think that seems like a full plate, think again because in 1997 he also began his career as an MMA Fighter, which would put him on yet another successful path.

He won his first seven fights and ten of his first eleven, along the way winning the World Fighting Alliance Welterweight Championship. It would eventually bring him to the UFC where he fought twice for the welterweight championship against Matt Hughes in one of the most heated rivalries in the history of the organization. Upon losing to Hughes and current champ Georges St. Pierre, he was released and figured his fighting days were over.

He could now devote more time to his outside business interests, which included part ownership in a gym, his own urban clothing line 'Triggonomics' and most importantly his broadcasting career, which he began as a co-host on the daily Internet radio show MMAWeekly with former host and mentor Ryan Bennett. It is on that show that I started to see a different side of Trigg back in 2004, which expanded even more when he became a co-host on MMAJunkie radio later on.

That experience coupled with his knowledge parlayed into color commentating for the Pride organization as well. Also, at the urging of his then fiancee, now wife Nici, he took part in a VH-1 reality show called 'Kept'. Things couldn't be going better, and then tragedy struck again. Like his stepbrother, Ryan Bennett was tragically killed in an auto accident in 2006. This struck Trigg hard and with no daily show now to get his MMA fix, he felt a void. How would he fill that void?

Doing the one thing he did better than talking about MMA, he got back into it. Once again, he built up his name and ranking, along the way winning another title in Icon Sport. That successful run garnered him a second stint in the UFC. Unfortunately, his first two fights back were losses and he was released a second time. It should be noted his two fights back in the UFC were against a current #1 contender and a former world champion. In others words, as only Trigg would want it he fought the best.

So where is he today? While he no longer has the clothing line or the gym, he is quite busy. He's color commentating again for various organizations here and abroad such as HDNet Fights, Dream and Sengoku. He's also working as a trainer through Randy Couture and a contract he has with the NFL. He recently came back from working with the Atlanta Falcons, where he trained them using MMA tactics they could apply on the field and in their own training.

He's also busier than ever being a devoted husband and father to his three children Frankie, Kiara and Stone. Frankie is a high school wrestler and when I asked Trigg if he aspired to pursue a career in fighting he said, "No, he wants to be a sports agent and get paid to manage athletes. He figures his biggest client will eventually be his little brother, who at nearly two years of age is already showing signs he will be an athlete as well."

Extremely well read, he was nicknamed Triggipedia while co-hosting Junkie Radio because he has opinions and knowledge on just about any subject raised. When I asked him about his long-term goals, he named just one. He would like to be a TV show host ala Ryan Seacrest on American Idol. I think that with his engaging personality, gift of gab and long history of success in everything he's dabbled in so far, he has a pretty good chance. I know I won't bet against it, especially now that I've gotten to know the man and realize first impressions are not always lasting as they say.

I want to personally thank Frank Trigg, not only for granting me this interview, but also for being a friend long before I ever considered writing about MMA.

Breaking News; Trigg has just announced that he and Nici are expecting a baby boy due in October, the 4th for Trigg and the 2nd for Nici. Congrats and God Bless to Frank and Nici!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Bellator & Strikeforce shine while Shine strikes out

Don't look now UFC, but both Bellator and Strikeforce are succeeding and making noise in the world of big-time MMA. While the UFC is still the big boy on the block here in the states, Bellator and Strikeforce are the other two international promotions, which are not owned by Zuffa, that are showing they are not small by any stretch; the WEC is a Zuffa owned promotion. With a rare weekend without any live action from the UFC, although they did counter Strikeforce with a package of previous fights on Spike TV, the two promotions made the most of their opportunity on the big stage and put on two action packed entertaining cards. On the other hand, Shine Fights, a smaller promotion trying to make a name for themselves with some big names of their own, never even got a chance to throw a punch with their Boxing vs. MMA main event.

Bellator, which is currently in its second season, aired live on Thursday, as it does every week during its season. The word season may throw off MMA fans unfamiliar with Bellator, but their niche has been two seasons of running fights that are part of 8-man tournaments in four weight classes. They feature a roster of fighters in the featherweight (145), lightweight (155), welterweight (170) and middleweight (185) classes and hold tournaments in each class to determine who their champion is. With so many questions these days as to who truly deserves title shots in the other promotions, this seems like the right way to do things and thus far for Bellator it has worked. This, along with a TV contract with FOX Sports Net, has made Bellator a household name and has done the same for many of its fighters.

Their first season last year produced many exciting fights, as it seemed like every week there was a buzz about a fight in Bellator, and more importantly it created some worthwhile champions. Eddie Alvarez (pictured above), the current lightweight champion, is ranked in the top five in the world. Featherweight champ Joe Soto and welterweight titleholder Lyman Good are both undefeated through a combined 18 fights. Finally, middleweight champion Hector Lombard showed this past Thursday why he is just that, as it took him all of six seconds to dispatch of Jay Silva in a 'Super Fight' main event on the card.

The 'Super Fight' concept is another formula they have used successfully to showcase their champions while keeping them busy waiting for this year's tournament winners. The week before last, Alvarez looked very impressive in submitting MMA and UFC veteran Josh Neer in a 'Super Fight' at a catch weight of 160. They have created many young stars as well, including Toby Imada who is a veteran of 30 plus fights, but finally put himself on the map in last year's lightweight tourney in one of the more exciting fights of the year against Jorge Masvidal. In that fight he finished Masvidal in the third round with an unbelievable inverted triangle choke that would eventually garner him submission of the year honors at the 'Fighter's Only' MMA Awards. Another prospect on the rise is Pat Curran, who just a couple of weeks ago won a semifinal fight in this year's lightweight tourney against former UFC hotshot Roger Huerta. Ironically, Curran will meet Imada in the finals this year. With word spreading that Alvarez may eventually fight Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez in a cross-promotion event, Bellator seems to be pushing all the right buttons so far.

The same can be said for Strikeforce who rebounded nicely Saturday night from last month's lackluster card on CBS. It may have taken Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem two and a half years to defend his title, but it only took him less than four minutes when he did. The 'Demolition Man' lived up to his name as he demolished Brett 'The Grim' Rogers in devastating fashion. Rogers should've been introduced as The Grim Brett Rogers as that is how he looked against Overeem who was sharp with his striking game whether standing, in the clinch or on the ground. It finally looks as though Overeem may get his wish and fight 'Pound for Pound' King Fedor Emelianenko, assuming Fedor handles his business next month against Fabricio Werdum. Things could not be looking better for Strikeforce who hope to return in the fall with another card on CBS.

Finally, in what some may have been calling a "freak" show match, but others found interesting, including myself, Shine Fights was supposed to have a card this past weekend which would've featured a main event between MMA veteran Din Thomas against former two-time boxing champion Ricardo Mayorga. Unlike the real freak show last year between past his prime UFC Champion Tim Sylvia and over the hill former heavyweight boxing contender Ray Mercer, which lasted all of 12 seconds, this fight at least had some intrigue to it. Unfortunately it never came to pass as legal ramifications over Mayorga's boxing contract with Don King put a halt on the main event, thus prompting the North Carolina Commission to put a halt on the entire card. I guess we'll have to wait till the proposed fight in the UFC between Randy Couture and James Toney before we can get our MMA vs. Boxing question answered. Nonetheless, while Shine Fights may have struck out this weekend, Bellator and Strikeforce shined ever so brightly.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Where does Kimbo go from here?

With UFC 113 finally in the books, I think it's safe to say it was compelling in many ways. First there was the ascension of Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua going on to become Light Heavyweight Champion, especially considering he got choked out in his very first fight in the UFC after being signed with much fanfare. Looking back on it and in all fairness to Rua, it now appears his former knee injury was a factor in his first couple of fights in the UFC.

Then there was the unlikely turn of events in the co-main event between Josh Koscheck and Paul Daley, where Daley, after the fight and on his way to losing a unanimous decision, sucker punched Koscheck. Unfortunately, this one punch was more exciting than anything that happened during the fight, including Koscheck's suspect reaction to an illegal knee strike he supposedly received to the head in the first round; replays seemed to show otherwise, as various angles only showed Koscheck receiving minimal contact at best. It is worth saying that Koscheck has been known for this type of behavior before as he pulled a similar stunt in the first round of his last fight against Anthony 'Rumble' Johnson and had Johnson so upset, he was able to capitalize on his frustrations. Whatever the case, he won the fight although he didn't win any fans, especially in Montreal where he trashed their beloved hockey team with his post-fight comments. With his win however, he did assure himself a coaching spot on the next season of 'The Ultimate Fighter' reality TV series opposite popular welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, which should be money in terms of ratings for the UFC and Spike TV.

However, the most intriguing question that came out of UFC 113, probably surrounds a fighter that would have never been signed by the UFC under normal circumstances. Kevin 'Kimbo Slice' Ferguson is often referred to, and even introduced in the cage, as an "internet sensation". Yet, at this point that may be his one saving grace. Ferguson is a street fighting sensation, which had his fights from backyards and empty lots videotaped and placed on the internet where an underground buzz was created. That buzz led to a foray into the world of Mixed Martial Arts under the now defunct EliteXC promotion banner, where their capitalization of that hype made Ferguson a household name, but inevitably led to their own demise. They banked on 'Kimbo Slice' the street fighter so much they made him the face of their organization and the main event on two nationally televised cards on CBS even though he had a total of two professional fights in his career.

Under those insane types of circumstances and that immense amount of pressure, it was only a matter of time before both Kimbo and EliteXC would crumble. That is exactly what happened when in only his fourth pro fight and on national television, Ferguson got knocked out in 14 seconds by literal last minute replacement and light heavyweight Seth Petruzelli. That one punch was the end of EliteXC and looked like it would be the end of 'Kimbo Slice'. However, Dana White, being the extraordinary promoter that he is, knew that if used properly there was money to be made for both the UFC and Ferguson. He had the perfect vehicle too, his own reality show 'The Ultimate Fighter'.

There he made season 10 all about the heavyweights and all about 'Kimbo Slice'. While Kimbo did not win the show's tournament, he did win over fans with his humble demeanor and willingness to learn and more importantly he gained respect within the MMA community. It garnered him a contract in the UFC and a "safe fight" at a catch weight against a small light heavyweight, Houston Alexander, which he won mainly because Alexander refused to engage. However, his second fight, last night against a legitimate heavyweight Matt Mitrione, would not be so successful. After coming out like a ball of fire in round one, as he always does, his tank started to empty in the second round. His lack of experience, especially in his defense of kicks and groundwork, would ultimately result in the referee coming to his rescue. It should be noted Mitrione was fighting in only his second professional fight.

With his heart in the right place, Ferguson's MMA record now stands at (4-2) against sub-par competition at best. Is he really UFC Material? Definitely not; and now apparently Dana White realizes it as well as he stated in the post-fight press conference he probably would not retain him. So the question is, where does Kimbo go from here? Of course there is Strikeforce, who may be looking to see what if any value the name 'Kimbo Slice' still has left. Personally I've often asked, why did a street fighter, which always talks about just throwing hands and has been unable to grasp the concept of MMA, not try boxing instead? I'm not saying he would have faired any better, but I feel his chances to hone a natural gift of throwing punches and not have to worry about being taken down to the ground may have given him a better opportunity. Alas, at 36 years old it may be too late to try. With so many questions surrounding this enigmatic figure, maybe he should consider changing his moniker from 'Kimbo Slice' to 'The Riddler'?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Money talks it, but he walks it too

With two months straight of non-stop MMA, just about every weekend and in between as well, the spotlight was solely on boxing this weekend and the mega-fight between 'Sugar' Shane Mosley and Floyd 'Money' Mayweather. The question of whether or not the fight would live up to the hype was answered as it did not, but that is only because another question was answered undoubtedly and emphatically. That question was, is Floyd Mayweather as good as he says he is? The answer to that question is yes and then some.

Sure, it would seem understandable that I could easily write a column on this topic, considering everyone else probably is, the difference with me though is, I have to admit it. You see I was one of the select few that actually believed Shane Mosley had more that just a puncher's chance to defeat Mayweather. I thought he had the speed to match Mayweather's, even at his advanced age of 38, and thought his style of combining looping and straight punches would frustrate Floyd. I also thought his trainer Nazeem Richardson would finally come up with the game plan needed to defeat the undefeated champion. Crazy enough, for two rounds all this seemed to be coming to fruition and I was ready to look like I knew what I was talking about to everyone I had preached this to. Sadly though, it was only two rounds and no more as those two rounds just served as a wake up call for the man they call Money, to do what he does best.

Now I'll be the first one to admit I am not the biggest Floyd Mayweather fan, which may have possibly influenced my take on this fight beforehand, however as my friend Richie likes to always say, "what's right is right". In this case, what's right is that Floyd Mayweather, Jr. is unquestionably the most talented boxer on the planet. I did not go so far as to say that he is the best, because until he finally fights Manny Pacquiao, this is nothing more than a subject for debate. However, for the first time ever, I have to say that I think Mayweather will defeat Pacquiao, if and when they ever decide to finally settle the dispute of who's the best in the ring.

I used to say that Pacquiao would defeat Floyd and technically speaking, he might, however I no longer think so because of two reasons. One, Floyd has shown me that his speed is unparalleled in the ring when it comes to both his hands and his feet. Also, his ring generalship is masterful; when he decides to put it on the line and fight the way he knows best, there is no one in the world who can dictate and control where and how a fight is going to go.

In all fairness there are two ways where I could possibly see Pacquiao winning. The first is he is a southpaw. The last time Floyd has fought a left-handed fighter was four years ago when he defended his title against Zab 'Super' Judah. Say what you will, Judah was winning the first half of that fight until Mayweather made the necessary adjustment. This is what I think he will do against Pacquiao. Second is that although he's never been knocked out, Mosley showed early in their fight that if he gets caught, he can get shook. If Pacquiao would catch him with that left flush on the button, it could be lights out; however the operative word in that sentence is "if".

Finally, I have to give Mayweather his just due on one more thing I did not agree upon with him. Initially, with the issue surrounding the blood testing, which is what caused the first opportunity to fight Pacquiao fall through, I felt Mayweather had no right to make such a request. Yet, in his post fight interview when asked if he would finally fight Pacquiao he said, "if all athletes would subject themselves to this kind of testing, then there would be no more doubt as to who's the best". As much as I'm not a fan, you have to give him his just due on this. He is willing to subject himself to what he himself is asking for, so why not as he says, "confirm you're both on an even playing field". For as much smack as Money talks, he walks it too. What more can you ask for in a champion?

Junkie Gathering 2017... this time it was personal

Wow! I feel the only way to properly start this summary of what I just experienced is summed up in that one word. Although there is anothe...