Monday, June 28, 2010

A Stitch in time is all you need

In the sports of MMA and boxing, there are some interesting and popular figures to say the least. Fighters such as Georges St. Pierre and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. are celebrities at the highest level. The same can be said for notables such as Dana White and Don King, whose personalities have made them as big as the fighters they promote. Then there is 'Stitch' Duran; he doesn't fight and he doesn't promote yet he's known and beloved worldwide by sports fans everywhere. What does this humble man do that makes him so popular? He preps fighters before they go into battle and more importantly, he patches them up and keeps them going when a Stitch in time is all they need.

Jacob Duran, or 'Stitch' as he is more commonly known, is easily the most recognizable and popular cutman in the world of MMA and boxing. An expert in his chosen field of endeavor, he has successfully turned cotton swabs and Vaseline into an art form that has transcended outside the cage and ring. There's so much to this success story; his life is being chronicled in a book to be released in the fall. I was lucky enough to talk to the man recently about this and so much more.

A son of Mexican immigrants, Stitch was born and grew up in Central Valley, California. Oddly enough, his original love of sport was not in the combat arts, but rather another passion within the Hispanic community, baseball. It was his dream to play baseball for a living, but when he got older and realized the dream wouldn't become reality, he joined the Air Force, which took him to Thailand in 1974. Little did he know the cultural exchange he was about to experience would change his life forever?

While stationed there he discovered kickboxing and was so fascinated, he decided he had to learn for himself. He studied a combination of Taekwondo and Thai Boxing for the duration of his stay and when he returned to the states he continued his training while a student @ Oakland-Alameda Community College and then his own school. Inevitably he trained and worked with such fighters as former legendary World Champion Dennis Alexio and another fighter named Dave Rooney. It was Rooney who gave Stitch his nickname. According to Stitch, Rooney had a small cut above his eye and working with just a piece of tape, he closed it up so nicely Rooney took one look and said "you're so good I don't need any stitches."

Stitch was now on a new path, but he yearned to know more. So he started researching and reading everything he could about the human anatomy, first aid and most importantly coagulation; that is the process by which blood forms clots. This knowledge along with techniques he's picked up over the year's proved the difference between being just another working cutman to working with boxing world champions and becoming one of the official cutmen for the UFC.

With the growth of the sport of MMA and the UFC, Stitch's popularity has grown as well. So much so, he's made wrapping hands and working cuts something people aspire to do. There is one problem though, while most athletic commissions require a license, they do not require formal training or certification. When asked about this Stitch said, "this is a problem, which is why I have begun to initiate programs to educate commissions including a video presentation I have produced."

He's also produced a documentary entitled 'Boxer's Nightmare', which focuses on the many pitfalls, including finances, that befalls fighters once their careers are over. Unfortunately, to this point it has fallen on deaf ears because "the powers that be, which are the one's making money on the fighters don't want it to interfere with their business."

Not settling for working in the biggest MMA organization in the world or with boxing champions such as the Klitschko brothers and Andre Ward, Stitch also has other business ventures. He has his own signature clothing line, has starred in movies and TV shows and is sponsored by another major clothing line and energy drink. He is creating his own line of cutman equipment and has a biography entitled 'From the Fields to the Garden: The Life of Stitch Duran' set for release in late September. Stitch said, "part of the book signing tour will take place around UFC events where I will have appearances at the local sports bars after the Friday weigh-ins."

To truly understand how popular this humble giant has become is summed up in the following story. The wife of a U.S. Marine stationed in Afghanistan bought the Signature Stitch Duran Tapout shirt for her husband. She contacted Stitch to tell him how much her husband and his fellow Marines loved the shirt and it's saying, 'Listo Para La Guerra', which is Spanish meaning 'Ready for War'. Stitch was so moved by this, he decided he wanted to send shirts for the entire unit. When he brought it to the attention of the guys at Tapout, they volunteered to ship the shirts, thus 50 shirts were immediately sent out. Here is a photo Stitch received from the Marine Sargent that he is extremely proud of; it is our nations finest all wearing their signature Stitch Duran shirts:


A devoted family man, when I asked Stitch how his family feels about his chosen profession he said, "They love it; they all know the ins and outs of being a cutman." When asked if his wife follows boxing or MMA his response was, "she watches the fights more closely than I do. She tells me when the cutmen are doing something wrong."

For a fighter, the cutman doing something wrong in their corner can mean the difference between a win and a loss. That's why more often than not, whether it's stateside or overseas, if either the UFC or a major boxing event is taking place, chances are Stitch Duran is working a fighter's corner. Why? Because when it comes to closing a cut, slowing down swelling or keeping a fighter calm in moments of desperation, a Stitch in time is all you need.

I want to thank Jacob 'Stitch' Duran for granting me this interview; it was a personal honor.

Stitch would like to thank his sponsors Tapout and Xyience

Sunday, June 27, 2010

One must fall to ultimately stand again

Wow, where do I begin? After easily the biggest upset in MMA so far this year, one could argue of all-time, and one of the most exciting fight cards, Strikeforce put on quite a show this past Saturday night. I guess their main event featuring Fabricio Werdum's stunning first round defeat of previously invincible Fedor Emelianenko is where I should start.

The world's greatest mixed martial artist and number one pound for pound fighter Fedor Emelianenko (31-2, 8 KO's 16 subs) was headlining against formidable Fabricio Werdum (pictured above) (14-4-1, 4 KO's 8 subs). In the first 30 seconds it looked like business as usual for the man known as 'The Last Emperor'. With his deceptively quick hands, Fedor threw a four-punch combination that didn't land flush, but just enough to knock Werdum backward to the ground. Unfortunately, this would prove to be the best thing for Werdum and Fedor's downfall.

A Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt, who is a submission wizard on the ground, it was no secret this is where Werdum's best chance to win the fight lied. Thus, in hindsight one must wonder why Fedor decided to follow him there instead of letting his downed opponent get back up? I'm sure he is asking himself the same question, although he did pounce on him in attack mode and was trying to finish with smashing punches. However, Werdum weathered the storm, grabbed Fedor's left arm and in a scramble caught Emelianenko in a tight triangle choke. The Russian phenom fought frantically to escape, but it was to no avail and with the heavyweight Werdum cranking an arm bar while choking his opponent, even the great Fedor Emelianenko was forced to tap. In total, it lasted barely over a minute.

The post fight interviews proved just as interesting and entertaining. Humble in victory, Werdum was ecstatic about his win and when asked about a potential fight with heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem next, Werdum responded by saying, "Fedor, I want to rematch Fedor; he is the best in the world."

As for Fedor, while you could clearly see the disappointment etched in his face, his demeanor was as laid back in defeat as it has always been in victory. His reaction to losing in such a surprising fashion, he said, "One must fall to stand again."

I'm sure that with one fight currently left on his Strikeforce contract Emelianenko is itching to get back in the cage right away to erase the memory of losing to Werdum. It's going to be interesting to see how Scott Coker handles satisfying, his champion Overeem, his number one contender Werdum and his biggest drawing card Emelianenko. One person he won't have to worry about is his Women's 145lbs. Champion Cristiane 'Cyborg' Santos (10-1, 8 KO's 2 subs).

Santos looked dominant in her two round destruction of Jan Finney (8-8, 4 KO's 1 sub), which she won via KO after a vicious onslaught that was completed with a brutal knee to the body. All respects to the game Finney, as she tried to go toe to toe with Santos and when Cyborg got the best of her in both rounds, which was a lot, she never quit. As a matter of fact, I believe this was a case where the referee should have come to the fighter's defense and step in, which she ultimately did, but I feel was way too late.

Referee Kim Winslow, who I personally don't remember seeing before last night's fight, I feel did a poor job overall. On more than one occasion when Cyborg dropped Finney who immediately went into guard mode, Winslow turned to Cyborg and asked her if she wanted the fight standing. That is not the fighter's discretion, but rather the referee's. If you leave it to Cyborg, or any other striker for that matter, of course she's going to want the fight standing. Maybe Fedor needed Winslow to referee his bout.

Second, she penalized Cyborg a point in the first round for an illegal strike to the back of the head, which clearly did happen, but I never heard her give Santos a warning before that. No big deal since the inevitable finish was clearly going to happen, which brings me to the most important point. Finney was clearly outmatched and taking a tremendous beating. Granted this is a judgement call, but in this case it was obvious numerous times there was no reason for the referee to let this beat down continue. Why she did not step in sooner and stop this fight is not only in question, but I felt was getting seriously close to dangerous.

In the other big feature bout, hometown hero San Jose's own Cung Le (7-1, 7 KO's) exacted revenge on Scott Smith (17-7, 14 KO's 3 subs) for his only loss. Le looked sharp with his boxing and take down defense, but it was his patented lightning quick back kick that was ultimately the finisher. Next up for Le, "I got a box of chocolate chip cookies waiting for me; I'm going to eat the whole box."

Finally, sandwiched in between all the exciting fights, the legendary Frank Shamrock announced his retirement as a fighter in the sport. Now working as a color analyst for Strikeforce, Shamrock was eloquent and respectful in his retirement speech, very similar to his fighting style. Unlike most fighters who hang on too long wanting to leave on one last high note, Shamrock, who lost his final two fights, walked away on his own terms. How poignant that two of the sports all-time great fighters, Frank Shamrock and Fedor Emelianenko, both realize that one must fall to ultimately stand again.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Ken flows through all channels of MMA

Often I talk about how far the sport of Mixed Martial Arts has come in the last five years, from a virtual underground society to mainstream acceptance. Obviously a lot of that has to do with the success of 'The Ultimate Fighter' reality television show that has just completed it's 11th season and is already on tap to debut it's 12th season this fall. Go back five years to its first season and many of the fighters on the show that first year have gone on to have successful fight careers, including a couple of world championships, and become household names. However, the one person that has surpassed all of the fighters that season in terms of success, mainstream notoriety and popularity is probably the one least likely expected to do so. As a matter of fact, during and after that first season of 'The Ultimate Fighter', many were openly criticizing and questioning if Kenny Florian was even a legit MMA fighter, let alone UFC material. No one is questioning anymore.

A shining example of what hard work, determination and belief in one's self can accomplish, Kenny 'KenFlo' Florian has made the most of his opportunities. He is not just a perennial world class top ten fighter in his weight class, but also a successful business owner, MMA analyst, color commentator, TV co-host and author. He also has challenged, not once, but twice for the UFC Lightweight Championship of the World and is on the verge of getting there again. To get an understanding of what a success story this truly is, just take a look at how much Florian has accomplished in the relative short period of time that is his life.

Growing up in the Boston area, Kenny Florian, who is of Peruvian descent, always loved sports and was a natural athlete. Excelling at various sports, including training in the martial arts, there was one in particular that caught his interest more than all the others. Surprisingly it was not martial arts as one might assume, but rather soccer. Kenny loved the sport, quite possibly being influenced by his South American heritage, and was so good at it that it garnered him a scholarship to prestigious Boston College. There he excelled in both the field and the classroom, ultimately receiving Big East honors, including Academic All-America, and his Bachelor's Degree in Communications. (I knew there was a reason I liked this kid other than his fighting, as I too am a Communications major.)

School and his soccer career over and more mature, Kenny started devoting more time to his interest and training in the martial arts. He began training @ Gracie Barra in Watertown, Massachussetts under the tutelage of Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt Roberto Maia, where Kenny would eventually work his way up and attain a black belt ranking of his own. As if this weren't challenging enough, the former college athlete always craving competition decided to compete; not just in grappling tournaments, but in MMA as well. While he earned success early on by winning his first couple of fights, he also was smart enough to realize that BJJ alone would only take him so far as his competition level grew. Thus, began his quest to study different disciplines under some of the best in the world.

A virtual who's who list of names became part of Kenny's resume regarding his training. This included Greco-Roman wrestling star and former UFC competitor Darryl Gholar, Coach of the Cuban National Wrestling Team Alejo Morales, Muay Thai expert and renowned MMA Trainer Mark Dellagrotte and a pilgrimage to the Gracie Barra Academy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The training @ Gracie Barra under some of the most talented BJJ practitioners in the world raised Kenny's Jiu-Jitsu game to another level; it now became world class. All this and a decision to leave his job and pursue his fight career full-time lead him to his third pro fight in 2004 and a life altering experience.

Forced to fight vastly experienced and talented Drew Fickett, due to a last minute dropout of his original opponent on a fight card in Boston, Kenny not only held his own, but put on a great performance in a split decision loss. In the audience that night just happened to be Dana White, who was scouting Fickett for the first season of 'the Ultimate Fighter'. He was so impressed with what he saw from Florian, as you know he inevitably offered him a spot on the show and not Fickett. Once again making the most of an opportunity, he quietly made it all the way to the finals of the 185lb. Tournament and while he ended up losing, let's understand he went to the finale of a weight class 30lbs. above his normal fighting weight.

Impressed again, White offered Florian a contract anyway and all he's done since then is go 11-2 in the octagon, losing only to Sean Sherk and BJ Penn in two fights for the World Championship @ 155lbs. Always the true martial artist, Florian realizes that defeat only means there is something wrong in his doing, which he needs to correct to overcome his obstacle. Thus, he has looked for other avenues in his training to continue his quest towards another title shot. This has included training with UFC welterweight champion Georges St Pierre.

Along the way, another avenue has opened up for Florian, one he was prepared for and he has taken by the horns. The Communications major was thrust into an analyst role during UFC 83 when Joe Rogan was unavailable and the rest is history. Since that time he has done color commentary for both the UFC and WEC, including this weekend where he worked both shows. He also has earned a co-host slot alongside John Anik for 'MMA Live', a weekly MMA wrap-up show currently seen on ESPN 2. Finally, he writes a blog for ESPN Deportes, their Spanish speaking station. In the middle of all this, he has also found the time to open up his own school as well in Massachusetts; a state of the art academy called Florian Martial Arts that he runs with his brother Keith.

To show you how far Kenny Florian has come in the last five years, three weeks ago while I was in Las Vegas for UFC 114, I was lucky enough to meet Kenny as he did a guest stint with my friends over @ MMAJunkie Radio in Mandalay Bay. When he was done, hotel security had been assigned to escort him back to the convention center where the UFC fan expo was going on, because there was no way he'd make it back to the MMA Live booth without getting mobbed by fans. Five years ago, nobody knew who Kenny Florian was and if they did, they didn't think much of him as a fighter or anything else. Since then, he has shown why he is so aptly nicknamed KenFlo because as you can see, Ken flows through all channels of MMA.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

MMA continues to make history as it grows

While it's less than 17 years old, the sport of Mixed Martial Arts has already had quite an extensive list of accomplishments and historical moments within its short history. You can now add the date Wednesday June 16, 2010 to that list for not just one, but two reasons. First, it marks the first time ever all four major U.S. MMA promotions will hold live shows within the same week, four shows in five nights. Second, it will go down in history as the day MMA legislation in New York State was passed by the State Senate, though it must go through a couple of more steps before being officially legal and recognized within the state by Governor David Patterson.

It wasn't that long ago that the only time we had to look forward to watching live MMA action was on a pay-per-view telecast every three months or so. Now it's on practically every weekend and with The Bellator Fighting Championships holding their cards live on Thursdays, that makes it twice a week sometimes. Besides the aforementioned Bellator, Strikeforce, the UFC and WEC will all have live important cards this week and weekend.

Leading the way on Wednesday night is the UFC's chief rival promotion Strikeforce. Based out of Northern California, they make their way to the southern part of the state for a fight card in Los Angeles headlined by middleweight (185lbs.) contenders 'Ruthless' Robbie Lawler (17-5 14KO's 1 sub) and Renato 'Babalu' Sobral (35-8 5KO's 18 subs). Although the two will be fighting at a catch weight (195lbs.), this fight should have serious implications within the middleweight division where current champ Jake Shields is currently a free agent testing the open market.

On Thursday night, The Fighting Native American himself Dan 'The Handler' Hornbuckle (21-2 9KO's, 9 subs) goes into the welterweight (170lbs.) finale of Bellator's second season tournament against decorated amateur wrestler Ben 'Funky' Askren (5-0 1KO 3 subs). Two of Bellator's brightest young stars will fight for this year's tourney championship and the right to face-off against current welterweight champion Lyman Good; last season's tournament winner. If this season of Bellator's fights is any indication, this fight could be one of the best of the year.

A break on Friday brings us to Saturday where the industry standard and big boy on the block, the UFC, will hold their own tournament championship as the finale to their reality television show 'The Ultimate Fighter' will take place live from their home base in Las Vegas, Nevada. The finale features two of the more promising fighters on the show with Court 'The Crusher' McGee (8-1 2 KO's 3 subs), representing Team Liddell, taking on Kris 'Savage' McCray (5-0 1KO 3 subs) of Team Ortiz/Franklin. I see bright futures for both of these fighters within the UFC.

Capping off this monumental week is WEC, which holds a historic card of their own as they travel outside of the United States for the first time ever in the history of their organization for WEC 49 in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Always exciting and never disappointing the WEC headlines on Sunday with former lightweight (155lbs.) champion Jamie 'C-4' Varner (16-3 5KO's 9 subs) as he looks to get back in the title hunt against 'The Prince of Persia' Kamal Shalorus (6-0-1 4KO's 1 sub).

That brings us to New York and Bill No. S2165B, designed to legalize MMA within the State. With over 40 states already in the U.S. where MMA is legal, it has been long overdue that New York not only follows suit, but also leads the way. While eastern cities such as Atlantic City, NJ and Philadelphia, PA have already hosted such events as the UFC, it is paramount that New York City get on board to help MMA in the east be looked upon on parallel ground with its West Coast counterpart. Currently holding a 9 billion-dollar deficit, Governor Patterson realizes the potential revenue the sport can bring as he proposed it earlier in the year. With the State Senate giving it's backing today, we are just a couple of steps away from hearing Bruce Buffer and his famed "we are live from the world's most greatest arena Madison Square Garden" (pictured above). To think just a few short years ago, questions abound everywhere as to whether or not this sport would survive and now we are getting four shows in five nights and are one step closer to MMA in the world's greatest city. MMA continues to make history as it grows.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

One legend dies, while another lives on

At UFC 115 in British Columbia, Canada there was a definite mixture of named veterans of the sport along with the next generation of Mixed Martial Arts fighters involved? However, when it was all said and done, it was two living legends of MMA and a potential future legend that stole the show; sadly for one, it was for the wrong reason. Chuck 'The Iceman' Liddell (21-8, 13 KO's), arguably the most recognizable MMA fighter in the world and a UFC Hall of Famer, took it on the chin, literally, again for the 4th time in his last six fights and hopefully the last time ever.

While I had predicted openly before the fight that I thought Rich Franklin (26-5, 14 KO's & 9 subs) would defeat Liddell in a decision, a surprising turn of events occurred in an exciting first round. Liddell, as seems to happen all the time now, got caught coming in by a counter short right that melted the Iceman like The Wicked Witch of the West. Liddell, who UFC President Dana White was trying to get to retire after his last loss 14 months ago, came into this fight energized, focused and easily in the best shape of his long and stellar career. Known to enjoy the nightlife in his past, Liddell showed up ripped with shredded abs, which he's never had before and early in the fight, it looked as though the long layoff would prove good for him.

Stalking his opponent in his patented counter punching style, he was definitely quicker then he's been recently even shooting in on Franklin for an early takedown and combining his punches with devastating leg kicks. How devastating, it was later found out that he broke Rich Franklin's left arm in that first round with a vicious round kick. Franklin however weathered the storm and throughout all that Liddell gave him in that first round, he had moments of his own where he connected with quick jabs and combinations. Then with just about 10 seconds left in the first round, Liddell characteristically came after Franklin with arms wide open after thinking he had him in trouble and got hit with a short counter right that knocked him down. A follow-up left to the head by Franklin with his broken arm and a second right hand to the face forced the ref to stop it as Liddell was clearly out.

So it appears quite clear that Chuck Liddell's storied career as a fighter is finally over, however shed no tears for this warrior. Dana White made it known in the post-fight press conference that he'll always have a home with the UFC in some capacity as he continues to be an ambassador for the sport. As for Franklin, the former middleweight champion (185lbs.), he seemed quite strong at light heavyweight (205lbs.) and with two wins in his last three fights over legends Liddell and Wanderlei Silva, he appears to be on his way to carving out his own legendary Hall of Fame career. When asked at the post-fight press conference if he would go back to 185lbs, he said "I would like to make a run at the 205lbs. Title".

While one legend leaves and another one continues to grow, the third legend in this equation, Mirko 'Cro-Cop' Filipovic, came back with a new found enthusiasm he hasn't shown in a long time, if ever. With only the fourth submission win in his career, Cro-Cop (27-7, 20 KO's) finished a young hungry Pat Barry with a rear naked choke late in the 3rd round of their co-main event bout. Early on it looked as though Barry (5-2, 5 KO's) may have Cro-Cop's number as he twice dropped the Croatian sensation with quick right hands. However, both times he failed to follow-up and capitalize on any damage he may have inflicted on the legendary striker, who Barry had admitted before the fight he idolized. It was quite evident as the fight continued and the momentum swayed, Barry showed way too much respect for his idol and was content just to be in the same cage with him. Next up for Cro-Cop, who knows as his UFC career currently stands at (4-3), however a more relaxed and even joking Filipovic seemed not only amiable towards the fans and his opponent, but his employer as well. Dana White said at the post-fight press conference, "I like the new Cro-Cop".

Amidst this trio of legends, there were a couple of young fighters who looked very impressive in their respective fights, one doing so in defeat. First, Evan Dunham (11-0, 2 KO's & 6 subs) looked really good as he totally dominated a tough Tyson Griffin (14-3, 6 KO's & 3 subs) by smothering him with his slick jiu-jitsu game for a split decision win. How one judge even gave a round to Griffin, let alone the fight, should be investigated. Also, Rory McDonald (10-1, 4 KO's & 6 subs), although he got finished with mere seconds left in the 3rd round of his fight with Carlos Condit, looked extremely impressive in the first two rounds. The youngest fighter currently on the UFC roster, only 20 years old, he looked seasoned well past his age. In the end Condit (25-5, 11 KO's & 13 subs), the former WEC welterweight champion (170lbs.), proved too much for the young stallion. Expect to see big things for both these young stars down the road as their talent just continues to grow with their experience.

So as a new wave of fighters continue to make their way into this generation of MMA, it's only right that we acknowledge the career and achievements of an actual pioneer of this sport. Chuck Liddell, who was headlining UFC 115 last night, made his initial appearance in the octagon twelve years ago in 1998 @ UFC 17. That's over 100 shows ago, counting Ultimate Fight Night cards. That night he won a decision over Noe Hernandez; I know Noe who? It doesn't matter because since then he's fought the who's who of MMA and up until recently, was the best of the best. However, no one is immune to Father Time and when that time comes, as we've seen so many times before, if you hang on too long the legend dies. Thanks for the memories Chuck!

Friday, June 11, 2010

A real life Vision Quest

In the 1986 movie 'Vision Quest' Louden Swayne's best friend Kuch said that the "Everywhere Spirit", a supposed Cherokee Indian God of some sort, described Louden's desire to go down in weight to wrestle the unbeatable Chute as a "Vision Quest." He defined it as "finding his place in the circle." Well, there's a real life Louden Swayne named Jimmy Spicuzza and he has his own Vision Quest, only it's not as a wrestler, but as an MMA fighter.

Based out of Las Vegas, Nevada, this young up and coming star is an amateur that is ready to turn pro and realize his true calling. I had the pleasure of not only meeting Jimmy (pictured to my left above), but watching him fight as the headliner of the most recent Tuff-N-Uff event @ The Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas Memorial Day Weekend. Tuff-N-Uff is arguably the most reputable promotion focusing on amateur MMA in the country.

Based in Vegas as well, it has been the springboard for many well-known MMA fighters and it appears Jimmy Spicuzza may be the next in this lineage it has developed. What I saw that night was a multi-faceted fighter with fast hands and a more than capable ground game. However, what impressed me most was his heart and dedication. Hear his story and you'll see what I mean.

Originally from Illinois, right outside of Chicago, Jimmy Spicuzza has been a natural athlete his whole life. As a kid he trained in Karate and during his middle and high school years he ran track, which probably explains his fast and capable hands. However, his first love and primary sport was always basketball. It was his passion and when his family moved to Las Vegas in 1991, it remained such; there was only one problem.

No matter how good he was, he wasn't very big. He told me that throughout high school he was primarily 5' 1" until right before his senior year when had a sudden growth spurt of about 5 more inches. That means unless you're as gifted as little man basketball legends Mugsy Bogues or Spud Webb your basketball playing days are pretty much over after high school. There was another problem, a lot more serious than his height that surfaced during high school.

Before his senior year of high school in 2002 tragedy struck. Jimmy's father, a huge influence on his life, suddenly passed away. This had a profound affect on Jimmy as he was not only saddened and hurt by this loss, but it angered him as well. He tried to combat the anger by focusing his energy in a more positive direction, so he attended junior college for awhile and then started his own power washing business.

It actually began to flourish for a moment, until the economy went bad, thus taking it's toll on the business. This was just more fuel added to the anger that already raged inside of him. As he told me, he was "angry at life" and like most young men with that much anger and pain inside of them, those emotions started taking him down the wrong path. He was hanging with the wrong people and began getting into trouble, which resulted in him getting into a lot of street fights.

It seemed he was fighting somebody all the time, so a friend suggested he accompany him to a gym to let go of some of that anger. From his first introduction to MMA training, he was hooked. It was as though a light switch was suddenly turned on inside of him. He said, "It was like I finally found my calling in life."

The natural athlete, who loved competition his whole life before, found another sport he could finally put his energy and focus into and that's what he has done for the last four years. How committed is he about his passion for this sport? He gets up @ 4:30AM everyday to go to work as a manager in the family cleaning business for about 30 hours a week. Why so early? Because after work he goes straight to train the rest of the day at one of three gyms he is currently training at.

He works his Muay Thai and stand-up with Master Chan @ J-Sect He trains his ground game at the gym of renowned Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt Robert Drysdale and he works his wrestling with the guys over at Roy Nelson's Country Club. He's also dedicated himself nutrition wise as well, being very strict with his diet and working with strength and conditioning Coach Korey Goodwin.

The night I saw him fight two weeks ago, he had a tough fight against a talented fighter out of Eddie Bravo's camp in California. Jimmy was very slick with his boxing throwing crisp fast combinations. He worked those hands and used them to set-up takedowns, however as you can imagine fighting an Eddie Bravo student he got caught in a tight guillotine choke. He was in it for a long minute and it looked as though that was going to be it for Spicuzza, but he weathered the storm and even gestured to the ref and his fans with the thumbs up sign that he was not tapping out.

After a tough three rounds he grinded out a hard fought, well earned split decision. How hard was it? When I interviewed him this past Monday, he just had surgery on his hand a couple of day's prior, which he had broken during the fight. I told you this kid had heart. For an amateur, this young 25-year-old has developed quite a loyal following as well.

That night there was a legion of Jimmy Spicuzza faithful, led by his two sisters, all wearing Jimmy Spicuzza shirts. Fighting @ 155lbs. after seven amateur fights he has an overall record of (5-2) and he says he's ready to make it happen and turn pro. He hopes to make a jump into a recognized respected promotion such as Tachi Palace Fighting Championship or Ring of Fire before finally making his dream come true in one of the major promotions. Once the sponsors start coming he can stop working and focus 100 percent on just being a fighter and fulfilling his 'Vision Quest'.

I want to thank Jimmy Spicuzza for granting me this interview.

Jimmy would like to thank and acknowledge the following people and businesses for their support. First and foremost his family, his training partners and his strength and conditioning Coach Korey Goodwin. Also, Clean Pro, Best of Show Contruction, The Barth Family, Sports P.T. and OTM Fight Shop.

To check out more on Jimmy go to

Sunday, June 6, 2010

National Pride, is it innate or inherited?

As I just finished watching Miguel Cotto (pictured) stop Yuri Foreman to win his fourth world title, I can't help but feel good as I type this column. Not only did one of my favorite fighters win, but a native son of Puerto Rico won as well. A conversation I had earlier in the day and the feeling of pride I feel every time a Puerto Rican fighter steps into the ring or cage has made me wonder, is this feeling innate or inherited? More importantly, is it wrong?

Earlier today someone had asked me whom I had in tonight's fight and I stated that I had Cotto. Before I could give my educated reasons as to why I felt this way, the person quickly responded by asking, "is it because he's Puerto Rican"? My response was, being Puerto Rican isn't why he will win the fight, but it is a huge reason why I will cheer for him. They stated they did not understand why I felt I had to cheer for him just because he's Puerto Rican. They went on to say I am an American first and my allegiance should be to USA. Of course, I went on to have this deep conversation about patriotism, during which I explained that unless you are of Native American descent, we are all Americans that have descended from another culture. I then went on to explain my allegiance to Puerto Rican fighters.

As long as I can remember, the sport of boxing has always had somewhat of a cultural divide to it. Go all the way back to the beginning of the 20th century when Jack Johnson, the first great black heavyweight had to not only battle opponents, but also racial barriers. In the '30's when Joe Louis fought Max Schmeling it was the U.S.A. vs. Germany and for many it was still black vs. white. In the 40's and 50's Italian Americans cheered proudly for champions named Graziano, Marciano and LaMotta. In the '70's when I was growing up I remember watching fighters with names such as Irish Jerry Quarry and Danny 'Little Red' Lopez, proudly displaying their heritage as they represented not only themselves, but also their native homelands. At the same time, while growing up in Brooklyn, N.Y. then in Bethlehem, PA, I remember my uncle and his friends in the neighborhood proudly backing Puerto Rican fighters such as Alfredo Escalera, Wilfredo Gomez and my personal favorite Wilfred Benitez.

Puerto Rican pride was embedded in me from an early age, not for boxing but because it was important to know where your ancestors and heritage came from. However sports, especially boxing, just help accentuate that feeling. This week sports fans from around the world are anticipating The World Cup of Soccer. Just like the Olympics it comes every four years and is all about international competition. Thus, it's only right that cultural and national pride will come to the forefront in terms of fan support. Yet, there is something different when a fighter is the representative. An over the top sense of pride tends to swell within a person. It is more than just the feeling of being the best; it seems to be a twisted sense of superiority for some reason. Not only that, emotions tend to get deeper when it comes to a fighter of your same background.

In 1978 @ 15 years of age, I cried when Wilfredo Gomez got knocked out by Salvador Sanchez. In 1999 when I was 36, I fell to my knees overjoyed when Felix Trinidad defeated Oscar De La Hoya. Just this past November I was saddened as I watched Manny Pacquiao slowly but surely decimate Miguel Cotto in front of my eyes. It's hard to explain, but it's no different than the same feelings Mexicans, Italians, Filipinos, Canadians etc. all feel when their native sons step up to do battle. It is pride through and through and you can only understand it if you have lived it and have knowledge of self and where you came from.

This same nationalism is crossing over into the world of MMA. Canadian and British fans have traveled far and wide in support of fighters such as Georges St. Pierre and Michael Bisping. Last week @ UFC 114, I heard a tremendous roar for Diego Sanchez from a large contingent of Mexican fans in the audience. I myself root for MMA fighters Jorge Rivera and Eddie Alvarez largely in part because they are Puerto Rican. Even fighters like Rashad Evans and Rampage Jackson have helped to increase the number of African American fans who turn out to root on their own. It's nationalistic and cultural pride at its finest and there is nothing wrong with it.

Understand though, all because you are Puerto Rican, doesn't mean I'm automatically a fan. John Ruiz was a heavyweight champion and I never once cheered or supported him in any of his fights. A connection has to be made between the fighter and his people; one Ruiz never seemed able to make. Last week while in Vegas I met some fans from the U.K. and when I asked if they were there to support Bisping they all said they didn't like him. For whatever the reason, he didn't connect with them on that level. I guess pride isn't innate after all, but rather inherited and there's nothing wrong with that.

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