Sunday, August 29, 2010

UFC 118: Predictable and then not so much

In what was a highly anticipated fight card, UFC 118 turned out on one hand to be quite predictable, yet on another not so much. The intrigues of the rematch between lightweight champion (155lbs.) Frankie 'The Answer' Edgar (13-1, 2 KO's 3 subs) (pictured at left) and former champ B.J. 'The Prodigy' Penn (15-7-1, 6 KO's 6 subs) proved to be just that, but the outcome was nothing anyone saw coming.

While their first fight was a very close, highly disputed decision win for Edgar, this one was also another decision win for the champ. However, this time there was no disputing the decision. Edgar completely dominated a totally focused Penn right from the start, beating him to the punch, taking him down at will, which no one had ever done so much before at lightweight, and simply outclassed the former champion. Other than Georges St. Pierre @ welterweight (170lbs.), no one had ever defeated Penn so handily.

Edgar silenced the naysayers and solidified his standing as the true champion of the weight class. Up next for the champ, the only fighter to give him a blemish on his record thus far, Gray 'The Bully' Maynard. Maynard (10-0-1, 1 KO) "bullied" (no pun intended) his way to a #1 contender spot, by grinding out a workmanlike unanimous decision over previous two-time #1 contender Kenny 'Ken-Flo' Florian (13-5, 3 KO's 9 subs) who was fighting in his hometown of Boston.

In the co-main event, what was arguably the most predicted outcome of the entire card came to pass as UFC Hall of Famer Randy 'The Natural' Couture (19-10, 7 KO's 4 subs) faced Boxing legend and champion James 'Lights Out' Toney in what was Toney's first Mixed Martial Arts fight. While boxing skills are a significant part of MMA, being solely a boxer would prove no match against an experienced MMA fighter, especially one whose specialty is wrestling.

Couture didn't even take one punch as he shot in on Toney for a single leg takedown and got it within the first 30 seconds. The next two minutes was Toney experiencing his worst nightmare, which was an experienced grappler in mounted position on top of him, raining down punches and working for position. Eventually Couture set up an arm triangle choke, locked it in and Toney immediately waved to the referee to let him out.

To Toney's credit, he weathered the storm a whole lot longer than I expected as I figured he would panic, hyperventilate and tap immediately once Couture got on top of him. He did not and while the outcome was inevitable, he fought back admirably as best as he could. While he did not say that would be his last MMA fight, Dana White said it would be his last in the UFC as he stated he would not experiment with boxers in the cage in the future, regardless of who it is. "I don't care if it's (Floyd) Mayweather or anybody else."

I have a feeling Dana will come to eat those words at some point. While I think he feels content that MMA came out on top and that he has nothing further to prove, he's still a promoter at heart. Thus, first, foremost and ultimately it's always going to be about money. Therefore, if an opportunity to make money with a boxer in the future should present itself, well 'nuff said!

That said, I hope Dana does stays true to his word and never lets another boxer in the cage. I love and respect both sports deeply; thus I don't feel there is any need for either to face each other. Yes, they are both combat sports, but they are two totally different entities. Therefore, this continuing question as to which sport or fighter is more dominant is irrelevant. It is apples and oranges and we should appreciate both for what they are and more importantly for what they bring. To us hardcore fans, that is joy.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Boxing and MMA are still fighting for respect

There is a historical fight taking place @ UFC 118 this Saturday between five-time UFC champion and MMA legend Randy Couture and multiple division boxing champion James Toney (pictured left). Thus, the stage is set for an epic showdown. So why are boxing and MMA still fighting for respect?

Combat sports have probably been around since the dawn of mankind. There are ancient artifacts and historical data that dictate hand to hand combat and certain forms of self-defense have been practiced in one form or another for thousands of years.

Yet, for as long as they've been around, the question has remained, are combat sports an athletic form of competition or nothing more than barbaric brutality? For the sport of boxing, this question has lingered for well over a century, but for the sport of mixed martial arts this debate has only been going on for a little more than a decade and a half. As a fan, proponent and practitioner of both, I'm here to speak on the positive and technical aspects of each. You can call it the beauty behind the brutality.

Now some people might ask, "how can something so violent, be considered beautiful?" To answer this question, one needs to look beyond what they just see and understand the facets of the game. First of all, violence, in terms of sport, is defined as "rough or injurious physical force, action or treatment." Therefore, taking this definition one would have to define a lot of sports as violent.

Some of the most popular sports in this country such as football, hockey, and basketball can be construed as violent. For that matter, not so popular sports such as soccer, field hockey and lacrosse are just as "violent." So why are these accepted forms of competition within our society, but boxing and mixed martial arts are frowned upon by so many?

It goes back to what I stated earlier; it is a lack of knowledge and understanding. On the football field, when a player is gang tackled by a host of players, it is referred to as great team defense. In hockey, when a player is checked hard into the wall or the ice, it is looked upon as exciting. Even in baseball, when a player slides directly into the shortstop or second baseman in an effort to break up a double play, it is understood that this is an accepted part of the game.

Yet, when a fighter throws a jab at another fighter's head, it is considered "barbaric." Many others and I on the other hand look at this as a thing of beauty. It is why boxing has long been referred to as the "sweet science." When heavyweights such as Muhammad Ali can dance gracefully around their opponent's attack or Larry Holmes spitfires a jab through someone's defense with such speed and precision, it is something to behold.

It is a skill and an art form they were able to master after years of long and arduous training. This is to be respected. Granted, back in the days of bare-knuckle fighters there probably wasn't much skill, but that is not the case today. Boxing has had over 100 years to hone its craft and develop a system and standard that should be marveled at.

Yet, after all that time boxing is still fighting (no pun intended) an uphill battle. Like any other sport, it's had its setbacks. The reality that, professional fighters have died or suffered career ending injuries in the ring does exist.

However, I will argue that most of these are due to the ineptitude of referees that are employed by the various states boxing commissions. Independent state commissions are probably the biggest problem; a uniform set of rules and regulations set forth by a national commission needs to and should be implemented.

Mixed martial arts, on the other hand, has only been in existence, as a sport for less than 17 years. It initially developed as a spectacle pitting combatants of various martial art forms against each other to see which self-defense system could be considered the most effective. While I'll admit in the beginning it was nothing short of brutal. Inevitably its initial champions Royce Gracie, Dan Severn and Oleg Taktarov all showed that technique, not brutality, is what eventually would work in a fight.

Their masterful backgrounds in jiu-jitsu, wrestling and Sambo respectively is what worked, yet in time even they realized their skills were limited against someone who knew a little of everything. Thus, cross training in the various forms of self-defense began and "mixed martial arts" was born. Because it takes place in a cage, an eight-sided octagon, versus a ring some observers consider it barbaric and have gone so far as to refer to it as "human cock-fighting." I beg to differ.

I've been training in martial arts for over ten years now. While the base of my training has been in Taekwondo, submission grappling, boxing and Muay Thai, among others, has also been a substantial part of my training. My participation in all these forms of discipline has introduced me to the scientific aspects of each and thus a deep appreciation of what goes on in the cage or the ring.

In respect to MMA, I will say that rules and regulations have been set in place and only two deaths have been documented in its nearly 17 year history. Both of those took place at the lower level of promotion and competition where standards of regulation may have been compromised. Unlike boxing where a fighter depends on the referee to stop a fight, in MMA, besides the ref, a fighter can respectfully and gracefully "tapout," which means they give up, to live and fight another day.

Yet, with all these rules in place along with skill and training involved, many people continue frowning upon these sports as nothing more than simplistic brutal forms of competition. Beyond that, a debate is forming as the media, fans and even the fighters themselves are now beginning to form a divide as they question whether the rapid growth of MMA will supersede boxing in terms of popularity. Some even questions whether MMA will be the death of boxing.

Thus, this weekend's fight between Couture and Toney is not just about two competitors, but rather it has become a fight between the two sports. As a fan of both, I am happy to see each continue to prosper financially because as long as they do, neither of them is going anywhere. Thus, the only battle these two sports will continue to wage is the one against mainstream acceptance of each as such.

Monday, August 16, 2010

People are sleeping on the little guys

When I wrote and conducted my MMA mid-year report card on the four major U.S. promotions, UFC, Strikeforce, WEC and Bellator, there was only one that I graded with an A, albeit it was an A-. That promotion was not the Ultimate Fighting Championship, but rather World Extreme Cagefighting.

The WEC, while not as old as the UFC and not as well known among casual fans, has established itself as a top flight promotion that produces action packed cards featuring world class fighters. Yet, with a major event coming up this Wednesday, #50 in their history, I feel they are not getting the publicity and love they deserve and people are sleeping on the little guys.

The reason I say little is because the WEC focuses on the lighter weight classes only. Their organization currently carries fighters in the lightweight (155lbs.), featherweight (145lbs.) and bantamweight (135lbs.) divisions. However, the fighters they carry on their roster are without a doubt some of the best in the world.

With an exciting line-up of fights on tap, headlined by the WEC bantamweight championship, this week's event is sure to live up to the standard they've developed for themselves. In the main event, you have bantamweight champion Dominic Cruz (15-1, 6 KO's 1 sub) in his first title defense against the very tough Joseph Benavidez (12-1, 3 KO's 7 subs). Ironically, Benavidez's only loss is via decision to none other than Cruz a little over a year ago last summer.

Since then all Benavidez has done is win two fights in a row against top flight Rani Yahya via KO and then submitting former champion and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert Miguel Torres back in March. Cruz meanwhile has steamrolled through all his competition, defeating former champ Brian Bowles to win the belt and sustaining his only loss well over three years ago against former WEC posterboy Urijah Faber in the featherweight division.

If that weren't enough to peak your interest, the co-main event is a #1 contender's match in the lightweight division featuring former 3x wrestling All-American Shane Roller (8-2, 2 KO's 5 subs) against exciting Anthony Pettis (9-1, 5 KO's, 5 subs) hence the nickname 'Showtime'. These two will be fighting to win the right to meet lightweight champion Ben 'Smooth' Henderson for the title.

Featuring ten fights in all, WEC 50 has a couple of other intriguing match-ups on the main card including a featherweight tilt between tough Cub Swanson (14-3 4 KO's 7 subs) and undefeated Chad Mendes (7-0, 2 KO's 2 subs). Also, at bantamweight it's Scott 'Young Guns' Jorgensen (10-3, 1 KO, 4 subs) fighting veteran Brad 'One Punch' Pickett (19-4, 6 KO's, 9 subs) with the winner probably getting the winner of Cruz/Benavidez for the title.

So with this very exciting fight card only a day away, why is it not being talked about? UFC 118 is still 11 days away and all you hear about is the rematch between Frankie Edgar and BJ Penn or the MMA vs. Boxing match-up featuring Randy Couture and James Toney. Granted, those four names hold a lot of weight, but don't sleep on the WEC this week.

This is the organization, under the leadership of its President Reed Harris (pictured above), that has given us "hands down" the fight of the year in Leonard Garcia vs. Chan Sung Jung. It is also the organization that features without question one of the top three pound for pound fighters in the world in featherweight champion Jose Aldo and finally they always deliver.

Ask any MMA fan when was the last time they saw a boring WEC card and I don't know if you'll get an answer other than "honestly, I don't remember." With lightning speed at these weight classes, punches and kicks flying, slick submissions and cardio for days, the WEC is pound for pound on par with any organization in the world. On top of all this, you get to see the fights for free live on the Versus network. People are sleeping on the little guys, but I'm not; don't sleep.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

UFC 117: A tale of many twists and turns

Another exciting night of fights for the UFC as their 117 card featuring the middleweight (185lbs.) championship fight between Anderson 'The Spider' Silva and Chael Sonnen, delivered in more ways than one. Between a last minute surprise ending in the main event, a new "Gracie Hunter" and the fickleness of UFC fans, the card definitely ended up being a tale of many twists and turns.

The show started and ended with a bang, which is much to President Dana White's pleasure as the big boys, literally, heavyweight contenders Roy 'Big Country' Nelson and Junior Dos Santos, began the night with a display of power, skill and pure heart. While Dos Santos ended up pounding out a unanimous decision victory all over Nelson's face and body, 'Big Country' showed that while his body may look soft, he's anything but.

However, it was the way the night ended that captured the essence of the evening. Chael Sonnen, a huge underdog who many felt talked his way into a title fight, I was not one of them, not only talked the talk, but he walked it as well. Doing exactly what he said he would and executing his game plan to almost near perfection, he dominated the champion Silva in a way UFC fans had never seen before previously in 11 fights.

Silva, who had much to prove after his lackluster title defense four months ago against Demian Maia, proved it beyond question; albeit because of Chael Sonnen. Sonnen used his wrestling prowess to continuously take down Silva for four and a half rounds, control him on the ground and pound him unmercifully. Silva to his credit never wavered and showed the heart of a champion as he survived every onslaught round after round and came out swinging at the beginning of each round.

Funny thing though, it was Sonnen who was beating Silva to the punch as he dropped the champion more than once with his strikes as well. It was all but a done deal, as Sonnen was on his way to winning a dominating unanimous decision and fulfilling his dream of becoming a world champion.

Wait a minute, or two as that is exactly how much time was left in the fight, two minutes. Silva, who had been unsuccessful in even attempting a submission off his back all night, quick as a Spider (pun intended) threw his left leg over Sonnen's back and caught him in a triangle choke (pictured above). Squeezing in desperation as he knew this would be his one, last and only chance, Silva grimaced as Sonnen did his best to wrangle himself free. Alas, he could not and while I know it wasn't his intent, lack of blood and oxygen to the brain instinctively told him he had to tap, which he did.

For a brief moment there was a question of whether there was a tap or not, however it was just Sonnen's reality and disbelief in knowing his dream had just slipped from his hands with only two minutes to go. For 23 minutes he was flawless in his approach, but Silva showed why he is a champion. Not because of the way he's dominated his competition up until last night, but because of the way he competed when he was the one being dominated. A truly great fight!

Earlier on the card, former welterweight (170 lbs.) champion and UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes, showed he's far from done as he not only defeated the favored Ricardo 'Big Dog' Almeida, but he did so in surprising fashion. Two minutes into the first round, where Almeida, the Jiu-Jitsu Master and submission grappling wizard, was looking crisp in his boxing against Hughes, got complacent and caught with a counter left from Hughes that dropped him.

Hughes immediately went to follow-up and in the scramble caught Almeida's neck in a north-south position in a variation of a guillotine/D'arce choke. Almeida got to his knees and I figured Almeida's been in this position before, no problem; especially since Hughes was sprawled out, thus he had no leverage to pull and squeeze.

Almeida and I were both wrong as Hughes, who's always been known for freakish farm boy strength at his size, literally put Almeida to sleep, prompting the referee to stop the fight. I think it's safe to say that Hughes, who has now defeated a lineage of Gracie fighters including Royce, Renzo, Matt Serra (although I dispute that one) and Almeida, has now inherited the title of 'Gracie Hunter' from the legendary Kazushi Sakuraba.

Finally, a word on the fickleness of UFC fans. Of course, this is not intended toward the hardcore MMA fans, but the casual fans that just get under my skin and are as fair weather as a sunny sky. At the weigh-ins Friday and at the beginning of the fight last night they booed Chael Sonnen loudly and cheered Anderson Silva proudly. They let it be known whom they were behind, or so I thought.

As the fight began the arena in unison started a chant of Silva, Silva..., yet as it progressed and they saw how Sonnen was dominating Silva, that quickly changed to USA, USA.... It was as though I was watching Rocky IV and Rocky was fighting Ivan Drago in Russia.

These are the same fans that start to boo every time there's a standing clinch or grappling on the ground, all part of the sport and fight mind you, yet begin to ooh and aah as soon as an elbow or submission comes flying out of it. I can't stand it and it gets me angry, but I should understand since I've often listened to Michael Jackson sing, "tell 'em that it's human nature; why, why do they do me this way?"

Monday, August 2, 2010

The next generation of UFC Superstars

In November of this year, the UFC will be celebrating its 17th year in existence. In that short time span, we have witnessed the evolution of MMA along with a second generation of fighters that came into the sport at the beginning of the new millennium. Even that generation has since given way to young stars, such as Forrest Griffin and Rashad Evans that were developed through The Ultimate Fighter TV Show and are now considered seasoned veterans.

Last night on UFC's second live fight card free on the Versus network, we saw arguably the best of the UFC's next generation of young stars when 205lb. Jon 'Bones' Jones (pictured above) made quick work of Vladimir Matyushenko, a veteran from that second generation. In only his 11th fight, but sixth in the UFC, Jones is quickly becoming a sensation in the organization. Therefore, let's take a closer look at him along with four other fighters, one from each weight class that could possibly be the next generation of UFC superstars.

At 155lbs. Evan Dunham has quietly become a name and someone to reckon with inside the lightweight division. A native Oregonian, Dunham began his fighting career in 2007. In that first year alone he had five fights, winning four of the five via submission. An unassuming figure with an Opie Taylor type quality to him, Dunham is a wizard on the ground, recently being awarded a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black belt.

With a professional record of (11-0, 2 KO's 6 subs), Dunham is currently (4-0) in the UFC, with his most recent win being a unanimous decision over fellow rising star Tyson Griffin. His next fight will be in late September @ UFC 119 against former champion Sean Sherk. A win over Sherk could possibly mean a title shot is looming for this young 28-year-old.

In the welterweight division (170lbs.), the name Johny Hendricks not only brings an impressive record of (8-0, 4 KO's 1 sub), but an even more decorated amateur background. A former collegiate wrestler, Hendricks was a two-time national champion @ Oklahoma State University two years in a row in 2005 & 2006 and finished second his senior year in 2007 losing his only match all year in the finals.

Currently training under renowned MMA trainer and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt Marc Laimon, Hendricks has added submissions to his already impressive grappling game to go along with heavy hands. His next fight will be this Saturday @ UFC 117 against fellow up and comer Charlie Brenneman. Only 26 years old, the sky's the limit for this wrestling prodigy.

Next up in the middleweight division (185lbs.) is a true rags to riches story in Gerald 'Hurricane' Harris. The oldest of the next generation being profiled at a full grown 30 years of age, Harris a former school teacher and stand-up comic, was pondering giving up on his MMA career. A former cast member of the Ultimate Fighter series, he lost on the show and was never offered a contract in the UFC. That was until he went on a seven fight win streak, in what he likes to call the Bum-Fight circuit (the lower-tier promotions).

A chance phone call to UFC President Dana White in November while White was a guest on the MMA Junkie radio show, he took a shot, boldly asking for a job and got one. Nine months later Harris (17-2, 8 KO's 6 subs) is currently on a three-fight win streak within the UFC with three KO victories. His last loss was exactly three years ago today. His next fight will be Saturday August 28th @ UFC 118 against Alessio Sakara. What a difference a year makes!

That brings us to the light-heavyweight division where the aforementioned Jones resides. The youngest of the next generation, Jones literally turned 23 two weeks ago. Currently (11-1, 7 KO's 2 subs), his only loss was a disqualification against Matt Hamill for an illegal elbow strike, in a fight he was totally dominating.

Equipped with an unorthodox, yet effective striking style and a body frame @ 6'4" inches, that features an incredible reach of 84 inches, he closely resembles middleweight champion Anderson 'The Spider' Silva in style and stature. With six fights currently in the UFC, the future is shining extremely bright for this young star.

Finally, there's the young Mexican-American heavyweight Cain Velasquez who has a chance to become the next UFC heavyweight champion. A former amateur wrestling star @ Arizona State University, 28-year-old Velasquez was a two-time Division One All-American; he was also a Junior College National Champion. Sporting a record of (8-0, 7 KO's), he has punching power that goes along with his outstanding wrestling pedigree.

Training and fighting out of American Kickboxing Academy in San Jose, CA, one of the top MMA camps in the country, his submission game is also coming together under the tutelage of Guerilla Jiu-Jitsu Master Dave Camarillo. At 6'2" 245 lbs., he will challenge Brock Lesnar for his title on October 23rd @ UFC 121.

Probably the best thing about all of these great young prospects and future champions is each one of these fighters has demonstrated extremely humble demeanor's and have quickly become fan favorites inside and outside of the octagon. With the sport growing at a rapid pace and new fighters coming on the scene everyday, these five are truly the next generation of UFC superstars.

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...