Monday, September 27, 2010

UFC 119: Intriguing match-ups, lackluster decisions

As the UFC continues to take their traveling roadshow across the country and the world, their latest foray was to Hoosier country in Indianapolis, Indiana; there a card filled with intriguing match-ups ended up filled with lackluster decisions. UFC 119 wasn't the worst card this year that dubious distinction still belongs to UFC 112, but it was far from the best as well.

To summarize it, one has to look no further than the main event between former heavyweight champion Frank Mir (14-5, 3 KO's 8 subs) and former Pride Grand Prix Champion Mirko 'Cro-Cop' Filipovic (27-8-2, 20 KO's, 4 subs). Although the fight ended up with Mir knocking out Cro-Cop with a standing knee to the jaw, that explosion didn't happen till less than a minute left in a fight that was easily the most boring on the main card. In other words, the only one of the five fights on the main card to end with a finish, the other four were decisions, was actually the worst.

There's not much more to discuss regarding the main event, so let's go to the co-main event where young stud light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) Ryan 'Darth' Bader (12-0, 5 KO's, 3 subs) defeated 'Lil' Nog' Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (19-4 5 KO's, 6 subs) to up his record in the UFC to (5-0).

Bader combined an improved stand-up game with his superior wrestling background and overall speed advantage to keep the more experienced Jiu-Jitsu wizard off balance. While I didn't have one, apparently there was some question as to the decision of the judges. Dana White, President of the UFC, quelled any speculation when asked about it at the press conference. "Believe me, I'll be the first one to tell you who I think won or didn't win a fight; I think Bader won that fight."

Not surprisingly, two of the more interesting fights of the pay-per-view took place at the lighter weights. First, former lightweight (155 lbs.) champion Sean 'The Muscle Shark' Sherk (33-4-1, 8 KO's 13 subs) won a razor thin split decision over up and coming Evan Dunham (11-1, 2 KO's 6 subs). It was so close; it ended up winning one of two fights of the night bonuses. Sherk, using his overall experience, finally went back to his roots in this fight, which is his wrestling, after losing two of his previous three thinking he was a boxer.

Dunham, a black-belt in Jiu-Jitsu who was coming off a four-fight win streak in the Octagon, almost caught Sherk in two very tight guillotine choke holds, but that's where Sherk's experience was able to help pull him through and out of both those positions. Dunham was one of five fighters I featured to look out for in a column I wrote a couple of months ago entitled 'The next generation of UFC Superstars'. Thus, even though he took the loss, it made me feel pretty good when Dana White stated in the post-fight press conference, "I thought Dunham won the fight."

The other fight which was fairly entertaining was the back and forth battle between former welterweight (170 lbs.) champion Matt 'The Terror' Serra (11-7, 2 KO's 5 subs) vs. Chris 'Lights Out' Lytle (30-17-5, 3 KO's, 21 subs). This was a rematch of a fight they had four years ago in 'The Ultimate Fighter' Season Four finale. Serra won a split decision then, but Lytle (pictured above) left no doubt this time as he clearly won a unanimous decision. Using his superior boxing skills, he actually sports a professional boxing record of (13-1), Lytle peppered Serra with combinations over three rounds.

Lytle fighting in his hometown was hoping to put on a good show and surprisingly Serra, a Renzo Gracie renowned Jiu-Jitsu black belt, was willing to oblige him by standing and trading with him. While his record may not look all that impressive, Lytle is currently (9-9) in the UFC, he's won four fights in a row and five out of his last six. When asked where Lytle stands in the pecking order of welterweights, White's response was, "he's in the mix; it was a big fight for him and Serra tonight and Chris fought a great fight as usual."

Lastly, in what was expected to be a fight filled with fireworks, ended up being a dud. Melvin 'The Young Assassin' Guillard (26-8-2, 16 KO's 2 subs) failed to assassinate Jeremy 'Lil' Heathen' Stephens (17-6, 12 KO's 2 subs) in a lightweight fight that failed to live up to the hype. Guillard won a disputed split decision. He even acknowledged his failure to perform as he publicly apologized to Dana White for it at the post-fight press conference.

Up next, UFC 120 on October 16, 2010 from London, England, which will be broadcast for free here in the states on Spike TV. While many have openly criticized the overall content of the upcoming card, UFC 119 has proven that sometimes intriguing match-ups don't necessarily equate to a great night of fights, but rather a bunch of lackluster decisions.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sometimes being good is not good enough

The recent disclosure that Chael Sonnen failed his post-fight drug test after his UFC 117 fight with Anderson Silva has not only thrown a monkey wrench into the UFC's middleweight (185lbs.) title picture, but it has had a tremendous trickle down effect. Sadly, the one that is getting screwed once again is the one that should be benefiting, Yushin 'Thunder' Okami (pictured @ left).

Okami (25-5, 9 KO's 4 subs) is currently 9-2 over 11 fights in the UFC. In that stretch, he's garnered wins over such contenders as Alan Belcher, Mike Swick and former champion the late great Evan Tanner and rising contender Mark Munoz. He's had separate winning streaks of four fights and three fights and his only losses were to former champion Rich Franklin and number one contender, the aforementioned Sonnen. So, why no title fight in that period?

Simple, Okami's good, but sometimes being good is not good enough. He has fallen into the category of a winner, but not a sexy winner. In other words, like Big Daddy Kane, "he gets the job done," but he does it in a workmanlike fashion. In those nine wins, only either KO or submission won four, the other five went to a decision, including his two losses. Step in Vitor Belfort.

Belfort, AKA 'The Phenom', is (19-8, 13 KO's 2 subs) and although he is somewhat of a pioneer in the UFC and a former champion himself, even at his young age of 33, he has had only one fight in his latest run within the organization. That fight, which took place over a year ago against the aforementioned Franklin, wasn't even at middleweight, but at a catch weight of 195lbs. So why is Belfort named the replacement for Sonnen against Silva in Silva's next title defense on New Year's Day instead of Okami?

Let me preface my response by saying I am a huge Vitor Belfort fan and I, like most including UFC President Dana White, feel like a Belfort/Silva match-up could be dynamite. That said, what's right is right. Okami deserves this shot before Belfort and he's deserved it for awhile now.

At the time he fought and defeated Swick for his fourth win in a row, Swick himself was riding a five-fight win streak. It was all but a given that the winner of that fight would get a title shot, at least that's what we thought. I think Dana White and the UFC brass were hoping and assuming Swick would win, which would've set-up, a fight against Silva between two slick strikers. Sadly, they didn't realize Okami was out to win, which he did.

Yet, instead of giving Okami the title shot he deserved, they decided he would have to prove himself yet again, this time against former champion Franklin who had already been decimated once by Silva. This time, to the satisfaction of the UFC, Okami lost. However, the rematch they ended up putting together between Frankin and Silva turned out to be as one-sided as their first fight.

In the meantime Okami pressed on. He'd win three more fights in a row, but instead of giving him the title shot he once again earned, they made him fight Sonnen who was (1-1) at the time in his latest UFC run. Again, Okami would lose a decision, while Sonnen would go on to defeat Nate Marquardt and earn the title shot @ UFC 117.

Now, Okami, riding another two fight win streak, was slated to headline UFC 122 in November against Belfort, while Sonnen was getting an immediate rematch against Silva. However, Sonnen's failed test has forced the UFC's hand. Thus, the Belfort/Silva match in January; meanwhile Okami is left to prove himself, yet again against another title contender in Marquardt.

I know when it comes to selling tickets; it's about putting together exciting fights that fans want to see. However, if you're not going to acknowledge or reward fighters such as Okami, welterweight contender Jon Fitch, winner of his last five fights, or lightweight contender George Sotiropoulos, who has won seven in a row, then why bother to keep them on your roster? The only way they'll ever get title opportunities is to absolutely force the UFC's hand by continuing to win, which Fitch has done once already.

I am far from an Okami homer, but the fact is the guy is a great fighter who just keeps winning. On top of that, lately his game has shown flashes of improvement and excitement in both his stand-up and wrestling along with being the consummate company man. Bottom line, the guy is good and deserves a shot, but sometimes being good is not good enough.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Money can't buy me love

In 1964 in the midst of their recent "British Invasion", The Beatles released the single 'Can't buy me love'. The song featured the popular verse "I don't care too much for money, 'cause money can't buy me love." Imagine the irony then, since most boxing fans, including myself, love Floyd Mayweather, Jr. the boxer, but can't stand his alter ego 'Money' Mayweather.

Also, how ironic that someone who calls himself 'Money' and flaunts it every chance he gets should be arrested for domestic violence against the woman he loves, the mother of his children. I guess someone should have explained to Floyd that the song was talking about prostitution then maybe he wouldn't have taken it so literally.

Mayweather, arguably and most notably the number one pound for pound fighter in the world when it comes to boxing, was arrested recently and charged with eight counts, four felonies and four misdemeanors, including domestic violence and theft. While we all know it would never happen, if convicted of all the charges put up against him, he could face a total of 34 years in prison.

Just the idea and statement alone of 34 years in prison doesn't seem befitting of such a champion, but then again this is all we seem to be getting lately from the so called "first family of boxing." If it isn't Floyd getting in trouble with the law, whether it is this or previous tax evasion charges or producing racially slurred and profanity laced videos on the Internet, then it's his trainer and uncle former world champion Roger Mayweather.

Roger himself is dealing with his own domestic violence issues, stemming from charges he struck and choked a former female boxer he trained, Melissa St. Vil. While everyone is innocent until proven guilty, seems like where there's smoke there's fire or at least a Mayweather. Of course, Floyd, Sr., Junior's father and Roger's older brother, is never far from controversy himself.

Are they a dysfunctional family? Yes, but no one can deny their prowess, knowledge and skill when it comes to the sport of boxing. This is why it's such a shame that when we hear the name Mayweather anymore it is usually associated with something negative outside the ring versus being revered for their accomplishments in it.

If Floyd, Jr. had put more effort and emphasis in getting the fight together between he and Manny Pacquiao, who knows, maybe his focus would've been there versus getting himself into trouble. That said, when it comes to that issue, the pendulum swings both ways and I think Manny Pacquiao and his camp didn't help matters any. As a matter of fact, as much as I like Pacquiao, I chastise him for agreeing to fight Antonio Margarito, a known cheat; but that is a story for another day.

So, where does that leave Floyd Mayweather? At this point, it leaves him fighting to defend himself; unfortunately he's going to be doing it in a courtroom and not a ring. As boxing fans, we were already tired of all the wrangling back and forth on whether or not he and Pacman would ever fight and had begun to move forward.

Now with this latest and possibly serious issue of legal trouble surrounding him, the last thing we're thinking about is Floyd in the ring. It should be noted that seven years ago Josie Harris, the mother of his children who is accusing him now, did the same back then and eventually dropped the charges and changed her story two years later. Although this time this all appears to be part of a love triangle with Harris being the focal point between Mayweather and Chicago Bulls point guard CJ Watson.

It looks as though Floyd 'Money' Mayweather is about to be humbled and learn a valuable lesson; you can only flaunt your wealth but so much. Money can buy you a lot of things, and in his case many luxuries in life. However, there is one thing that still rings true after 46 years, "money can't buy me love."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Reality TV for MMA and Boxing

On the eve of the UFC's next fight night card, which features an intriguing main event between middleweight (185 lbs.) contenders Nate Marquardt (29-9-2, 7 KO's 15 subs) and Rousimar Poulhares (11-2, 1 KO 8 subs), the fight is actually secondary. The live fight night card on Spike TV is actually a lead in to the 12th season premiere episode of 'The Ultimate Fighter' reality TV series.

12 seasons is a successful run for any show, but when you consider this show premiered a mere five years ago, that is quite impressive. Originally created as a way for the UFC to bring in and cultivate young talent, it was the springboard that catapulted the UFC from underground phenomenon to mainstream appeal.

While it got a little stagnant in the middle of those first 11 seasons, that is an adjective that I'm willing to bet will not be used this season. The reason lies in the two fighters who will be coaches this season, Georges St. Pierre (20-2, 8 KO's 5 subs) and Josh Koscheck (15-4, 4 KO's 5 subs). St. Pierre is easily the UFC's most popular champion and arguably the sports best fighter, while Koscheck is his antithesis, arch nemesis and one of the sports most consummate heels. A more TV friendly match-up could not be made.

Besides a great fight at the end of the season between a dominant champion and a clear cut number one contender, I am extremely curious to see if Koscheck can get in St. Pierre's head and under his skin. No one has ever been able to rattle the cool, calm Canadian champion, but Koscheck is another animal. One who doesn't mind being the bad guy and actually relishes it.

In his last fight, ironically in Montreal, Quebec, Canada during hockey play-off season, Koscheck grabbed the microphone in his post fight speech and berated the Montreal Canadians who were in the midst of a play-off series against the Boston Bruins. Now I'm not Canadian, or even a hockey fan, but even I know that is sacrilegious in Canada.

Koscheck and St. Pierre have actually fought before, three years ago at UFC 74. At that time St. Pierre dominated Koscheck, surprisingly at his own game, wrestling, winning a three round unanimous decision. However, Koscheck, coming off a three-fight win streak, boasts he's a different fighter now; unfortunately for him, so is St. Pierre. Should be interesting TV the next couple of months, that's for sure.

On the boxing side, right around the same time 'The Ultimate Fighter' reality series launched five years ago, so did boxing's version called 'The Contender'. With a much larger budget, the Mark Burnett successful production team behind it and Sugar Ray Leonard hosting, it aired on a major national network, NBC, versus cable.

While it had its critics, I for one loved it. Truth is, I enjoyed it much better than 'The Ultimate Fighter' and as a long time boxing fan I was excited for boxing and for myself as it was bringing some new talent to the forefront and boxing back into the mainstream.

Unfortunately, the show was not properly handled by the network. That first season, especially the first few weeks, it aired on different days switching from Sunday to Thursday to Saturday, thus the audience could not follow it properly and regularly. Then, the editing of the fights, showing combined live action with slow-motion, cut down to just show highlights and not the fights in their entirety did not sit well with fans.

Ultimately, the show was canceled by NBC after one season. However, it was picked up by ESPN and had a successful second season, which I enjoyed just as much if not more than the first. ESPN didn't see it that way and let it go as well after just one season. After two more lackluster seasons on the Versus network with a much lower budget and Tony Danza hosting versus Sugar Ray, 'The Contender' lost after only four seasons; the TV show that is.

However, there was some talent to come out of the show including super middleweight Jesse Brinkley (35-5, 22 KO's) who will challenge champion Lucian Bute on October 15 for the IBF title; also, Cornelius 'K9' Bundrage (30-4, 18 KO's) who won the IBF light middleweight title last month with a TKO win over Cory Spinks.

However, probably the biggest star to come out of the series was first season champion Sergio 'The Latin Snake' Mora (22-1, 6 KO's). Mora (pictured above), a good looking, bright and articulate young man, was not only the first 'Contender' champion, he was also the first to garner a major world title. He did so two years ago by winning the WBC light middleweight title against former champion, the late great Vernon Forrest.

He would lose the title back to Forrest in an immediate rematch, but Mora is back in the limelight this weekend as he headlines a PPV against 'Sugar' Shane Mosley. A win against Mosley would put Mora back in title contention and continue to legitimize the great dramatic series 'The Contender' actually was.

While I love both sports dearly and have truly enjoyed both TV shows, if I had to choose what "TV show" I would watch first, it would be 'The Contender'. I know I'm probably in the minority on this one and sadly for me it is no longer on TV, but even sadder than that is, it isn't even available on DVD a/o yet. The UFC on the other hand have the first ten seasons available.

With so much money behind it, you would have thought 'The Contender' would have outlasted 'The Ultimate Fighter', but alas it only contended, while 'The Ultimate Fighter' ultimately lived up to it's name. Such is the way it has gone when it comes to reality TV for MMA and Boxing.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Wrestlers come full circle inside the Octagon

This past Thursday night, Bellator's first and original featherweight (145-lbs.) champion Joe Soto, lost his title via a surprising and devastating KO loss. His opponent was Bellator's season two tournament winner Joe Warren (pictured at left). Warren, a former decorated amateur wrestler, is just the latest to show that wrestlers have come full circle when it comes to Mixed Martial Arts.

While Warren's exceptional wrestling skills never fully came into play in this bout, it was obvious that his wrestling played a major part. It was because of those skills that Soto chose to keep the fight standing, a strategy that seemed to be working to perfection as he was beating Warren to the punch in Round One and looked like he may finish him.

Alas, that was not to be the case as Warren, with that "never say die" wrestler's mentality came back in Round Two and caught Soto with a punch that dropped him. When a dazed Soto valiantly got up to fight back, Warren showed the total evolution of his game as he finished Soto with a devastating knee to the jaw, followed by a fury of punches on the ground before the referee stopped it.

To truly understand the impact of wrestlers in MMA history and how far their evolution has come, just take a look back to the beginning and see where they're at today. Nearly 16 years ago in December 1994, at UFC 4, the first pure wrestler that ever stepped into the Octagon, Dan 'The Beast' Severn, ran through his first two opponents winning by submission in less than three minutes total. He nearly won the title in his first tournament as he took the legend Royce Gracie to the edge with over fifteen minutes of ground and pound before getting caught in a triangle choke.

Severn came back and won the UFC 5 tournament along with the 'Ultimate Ultimate 1995' tournament title, eventually becoming a UFC Hall of Famer. More importantly though, he opened the door for other wrestlers to come in and show they had a place in MMA, which is exactly what they did.

Over time, some of MMA's greatest fighters and champions have come from wrestling backgrounds. Just look at the names and their accomplishments, Randy Couture, five times UFC Champion in two weight classes and a UFC Hall of Famer. Matt Hughes, two-time welterweight champion, a UFC Hall of Famer and arguably the greatest welterweight to date; relax GSP fans, I said to date. Dan Henderson, former Pride middleweight and light heavyweights champion.

Those great former champions walked through the door for wrestlers that Severn had opened and created their own room. Now that room is filled with numerous young fighters and current champions that too have come from that tight inner circle of wrestling, but now they bring with them the understanding that wrestling alone won't get it done in MMA.

When fighters became weary of how to defend and develop strategies against wrestlers in the cage, these young grapplers evolved their games to include striking and submission and have become the dominant force in MMA once again. The proof is in the pudding.

Frankie Edgar, UFC lightweight champion and fresh off two wins against the legend BJ Penn, is a former All-American Wrestler from Clarion University. Brock Lesnar, who inevitably won the UFC heavyweight title from Randy Couture, is a former national champion from Minnesota. Chael Sonnen, former All-American at University of Oregon and Olympic team alternate in Greco-Roman wrestling, just took the previously invincible Anderson Silva to the brink of defeat over five rounds before getting caught in a submission. Even Georges St. Pierre, whose background isn't even wrestling, has become so proficient at it he uses it more than any other skill.

In other promotions as well, wrestling has shown to be a dominant force with its champions and contenders. Muhammed Lawal, the recent former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion, was an All-American from Oklahoma State and a Division II national champion. Jake Shields, the former Strikeforce middleweight champion, was a two-time All-American wrestler at Cuesta College before becoming a Gracie Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt.

In the WEC, Scott Jorgensen, former All-American from Boise State, is the #1 contender for the bantamweight title. As is Ben Askren, former two-time national champion and 2008 Olympic team member, who'll be challenging Lyman Good next month for the Bellator welterweight title.

This brings us back to Warren and his big win. With a total of only seven MMA fights, (6-1, 2 KO's) in a year and a half, Warren not only has won a major world title, but more importantly he has showed that he is much more than a wrestler in the cage. He along with the aforementioned champions above and many others in the various organizations have shown that wrestlers are not only here in MMA, but they've come full circle inside the Octagon.

Junkie Gathering 2017... this time it was personal

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