Sunday, November 28, 2010

Who said boxing was dead?

With a slow weekend of MMA, my focus this week turns to boxing where even when the UFC had a couple of events this month, boxing stood strong and shined brightly. With four weekends in a row of exciting high profile fights, boxing has proven it still has a lot of fight left in it. Who said boxing was dead?

Last night's exciting bout between WBA/WBO lightweight (135 lbs.) champion Juan Manuel Marquez (52-5, 8 KO's) and dangerous Michael Katsidis (27-3, 22 KO's), where Marquez won via a ninth round TKO, was just the latest in a month that has brought us many boxing thrills.

It all started on November 6, when Marquez's younger brother Rafael, he himself a former multi-weight champion, stepped up in weight and competition to challenge WBO featherweight (126 lbs.) champion Juan Manuel Lopez. The result, an action packed eight round war that finally took its toll on the younger Marquez who couldn't answer the bell for the ninth round. That fight was also the latest installment in the famed Mexican-Puerto Rican rivalry in boxing.

The following weekend on November 13, it was the return of arguably the best pound for pound fighter in the world and easily the sports most marketable and recognized figure Manny 'Pacman' Pacquiao. I only say "arguably the best pound or pound" because of the great Floyd 'Money' Mayweather. However, with Mayweather's inactivity, it's becoming increasingly difficult for him to lay any claim to that title.

Regardless, Pacquiao stepped up to the plate once again, taking on a larger opponent in former multi-weight champion Antonio Margarito. Fighting for a record eighth title in a different weight class, albeit both fighters were considerably under the light middleweight limit of 154 lbs., Pacquiao once again showed his dominance as he pummeled Margarito over twelve rounds. At that moment, there was no question that the big money draw in boxing right now is Pacquiao; thus the reason the last couple of weekends were to answer who would or could be next for the Pacman?

Last weekend it was another 'catchweight' fight, this time in the middleweight (160 lbs.) division, between WBC/WBO middleweight champion Sergio 'Maravilla' Martinez and former multi-weight champion Paul 'The Punisher' Williams. Ironically, for Williams, Martinez finished him in devastating fashion with a "punishing" one-punch knockout in the second round. That one punch, not only redeemed Martinez for a questionable split-decision loss to Williams one year earlier, but posed the question, "is he too big to fight Manny Pacquiao?"

While he was not opposed to the idea, even Martinez admitted, it would have to be at a weight probably not commensurate for Pacquiao to even consider; which brings us to last night's Marquez/Katsidis fight. With Marquez's convincing finish, although he was dropped in the third round by a Katsidis punch, it looks like a possible third fight between he and the Pacman may be the next logical step.

The first two fights were legendary, the first ending in a draw and the second in a disputed split decision win for Pacquiao. While those fights were fought at super featherweight (130 lbs.), both men are older and larger now. Marquez went up to welterweight (147 lbs.) to fight Mayweather and was no match for 'Money', especially at that weight. Also, Pacquiao admitted that in his win over Margarito he may have gone as high as he can go as far as challenging himself against larger opponents. Thus, at super lightweight/junior welterweight (140 lbs.) the fight would be a perfect match for both.

While those name fighters jockey for position against the cash cow Pacquiao, there are young stars in boxing such as welterweight champion Andre Berto (27-0, 21 KO's) and junior welterweight champion Amir 'King' Khan (23-1, 17 KO's), who are also trying to make their way towards the pound for pound best. Berto showed himself last night in a first round destruction of a game, but over matched Freddy Hernandez and Khan will display his skills in two weeks when he is featured on HBO against contender Marcos Maidana.

Whatever the case, boxing has come on strong at the end of this year as we head into 2011. My only concern is whether or not it can, or more importantly, will sustain this momentum heading into the New Year. Boxing has shown a propensity in the last few years, especially in the wake of MMA's emergence, to disappear and fall short of the call for meaningful fights. They are finally answering that call and doing it in a big and positive way; let's hope it continues. Who said boxing was dead?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

UFC 123: Guess who's back and stole the show?

Before UFC 123, I said in my preview you can "flip a coin", as that's how evenly matched the card was from top to bottom. No bigger evidence of this came than in the main event where Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson (31-8, 14 KO's 7 subs) won a highly disputed split decision over Lyoto 'The Dragon' Machida (16-2, 5 KO's 2 subs) in their light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) fight.

However, before discussing my views on the main event, I want to jump right to the co-main event, because guess who's back and stole the show? Back at welterweight (170 lbs.) and more importantly, back to his winning ways? 'The Prodigy' B.J. Penn (16-7-1, 7 KO's 6 subs) needed all of just 21 seconds to dispatch of Hall of Famer Matt Hughes (45-8, 17 KO's 18 subs) in their rubber match (pictured above) as he scored a quick, but devastating knockout.

A short right hand that Hughes never saw coming dropped the former champion and Penn followed him to the ground for a couple more before the ref jumped in to stop the assault. There was no question the stoppage was legit, as was the KO. If there was, it was answered when Hughes got up and uttered the words "what happened" to the ref.

Penn, who many people, not myself, were saying was done because of two consecutive losses to Frankie Edgar at lightweight (155 lbs.), looked inspired and motivated going into this bout. At only 31 years old, if he can sustain this enthusiasm for one more run, which he says he wants to do most likely at welterweight, things could get very interesting in an already stacked welterweight division.

How interesting; UFC President Dana White announced after the fight that Penn has already been matched up for his next fight @ UFC 127 against top contender Jon Fitch, winner of his last five in a row. That fight likely will take place in late February in Australia. With welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre set to defend against Fitch's teammate Josh Koscheck in three weeks and the winner set to face Jake Shields, all I have to say is wow!

Hughes meanwhile at 37 years old, who was on a three fight win streak before the loss and appeared to be on one final run of his own, has to now decide what the future holds for him. No fighter ever wants his or her last fight to be a loss, especially one like this, but what does he have left to prove? A two-time welterweight champion and already a UFC Hall of Famer, Hughes legacy is already cemented, whatever he decides.

Now to the main event, which had its moments of excitement, but left a lot to be desired. The fight played out the way I expected and predicted it would. Jackson the aggressor pursuing his opponent looking to deliver that one hitter-quitter power he's known for and Machida the technician, counter punching and evading as he looked for his opening.

Problem is, for Machida that is, when you fight this way and don't finish, you leave it to the judges interpretation and as we have seen many times before that can come back to haunt you. In this case it did, that is, depending on whom you talk to. Dana White thought Jackson won; however Jackson himself, as was evidenced by his reaction to the decision, didn't really echo those sentiments, as he was shocked to hear that he had won a split decision.

However, since this is my column, my opinion is the only one that matters here and I think Machida should've won a close decision. While Jackson was the aggressor during the fight, stalking someone doesn't mean anything if you're not landing anything. That is not to say that Rampage did not hit Machida throughout, but an occasional uppercut or right cross here and there should not be compared to precision striking that Machida was doing with both his hands and feet.

In the second round, Jackson was able to take Machida down, but inflicted minimal damage at best as he was unable to keep him there. Meanwhile, in the third round Machida took Jackson down, after hurting him with a quick and precise combination. Like Jackson, his punishment from the top was minimal. However, unlike Jackson he worked towards a submission, although unsuccessful.

This was MMA's version of Hagler/Leonard, the Superfight from 1987, where Sugar Ray defeated Marvelous Marvin by using quick flurries in and out, while avoiding Hagler's constant pressure throughout. Back then, the majority of judges rewarded the counter puncher; however, this time they rewarded the aggressor. I bet Hagler wishes he had these judges' 23 years ago. BTW, back then, just like last night, I scored for it Leonard as well. Regardless, it was a good night of fights and on this night, guess who came back and stole the show?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

UFC 123 Preview: Flip a Coin

Last weekend, as a combat sports fan, was one of those weekends where you considered yourself lucky to have a high profile fight in boxing along with a UFC event taking place all in the same night. Unfortunately when that happens, you are forced to choose between watching one live and the other on tape delay.

Last weekend boxing one out as the Pacquiao-Margarito fight was just too good to pass up live. Besides, UFC 122 was being shown on tape delay here in the states as a free broadcast since it took place in Germany.

Such is not the case this weekend though as UFC 123 will be on Pay-Per-View and while the rematch in boxing between Paul Williams and Sergio Martinez should be great, this UFC card is to good to pass up live. Sure there are no championship fights headlining this card and three of the four fighters in the co-main events are coming off losses, but the fights themselves are so evenly matched, including the undercard, that when it comes to picking winners at UFC 123, you can literally flip a coin.

The main event features an intriguing clash of styles between two former light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) champions in Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson (30-8, 14 KO's 7 subs) and Lyoto 'The Dragon' Machida (16-1, 5 KO's 2 subs). Rampage, an in your face, swing for the fences type of fighter with KO power in either hand, is facing his complete opposite in Machida, whose Karate based style is much more defensive, counter-punching and technique oriented.

Both coming off losses, Jackson to Rashad Evans and Machida to Shogun Rua, this is a pivotal fight for both men in their careers. Rampage is looking to rebound from that loss where many felt he showed a lot of ring rust after taking a year off to become a movie star in the remake of 'The A-Team'. Meanwhile, 'The Dragon' is looking to regain the form he seemed to have lost in his two previous fights, both against Rua, one a controversial decision win and the latter a KO loss.

An extremely difficult fight to pick, especially because one punch from Jackson can end the fight, I am going with Machida via decision. Why? As strong as Rampage is, I am just a firm believer that more often than not, technique will supersede raw power on a rampage; (pun most certainly intended). Question is, can the same be said for the co-main event?

In that fight, we have the rubber match between two former welterweight (170 lbs.) champions, Matt Hughes (45-7, 17 KO's, 18 subs) and B.J. 'The Prodigy' Penn (15-7-1, 6 KO's 6 subs). The 37-year-old Hughes has seen a resurgence in his career just when most thought it may possibly be over.

He's riding a three-fight win streak, although I wouldn't be ready to line him up for a title shot just yet. His wins include a controversial split-decision over Matt Serra, a fight I felt Serra won, and a third round TKO against an over the hill Renzo Gracie, Gracie's first fight in three years. His last fight was a first round choke out of Renzo Gracie black belt Ricardo Almeida, something I never expected and have got to give him credit for.

Penn meanwhile is coming off two decision losses in a row to his kryptonite Frankie Edgar after looking dominant in his run as lightweight (155 lbs.) champion against Diego Sanchez and Kenny Florian. Some feel Penn may have seen his better days, but that's what makes this fight so interesting.

Both fighters appear to have reached the point in their careers where the game has passed them by, thus as they were in their two previous fights, they are evenly matched. That said, I am picking Penn to come back with something to prove to not only his fans, but also himself and win this fight. I am looking at a submission victory over Hughes and one more run for Penn at a title shot, most likely back at lightweight.

A couple of quick picks on the other two big fights on the main card. First, the lightweight contender tilt between George Sotiropoulos (13-2, 1 KO 7 subs) and Joe Lauzon (19-5, 4 KO's 15 subs). Wow, what a great fight and another pick' em match-up. Both fighters are extremely well rounded and super skilled on the ground. However, Sotiropoulos is riding a seven-fight win streak and one more should most certainly garner him a title shot. Therefore, I am picking the Australian in a tough decision.

Finally, in the middleweight (185 lbs.) division, it is Gerald 'Hurricane' Harris (17-2, 8 KO's 6 subs) vs. UFC newcomer Maiquel 'Big Rig' Falcao (25-3, 21 KO's 3 subs). While Falcao is obviously a big puncher, it is his first foray into the octagon, where many a fighter's first time jitters have shown to be a problem.

Meanwhile, Harris is riding a ten-fight win streak, his last three in the UFC by KO. He was also my pick as the UFC's next generation superstar in the middleweight division in a column I wrote a couple of months ago. Therefore, I am picking Harris and predicting another KO of the night bonus for this rising young star. However, when looking back on all these fights, one thing's for sure, when it comes to UFC 123, I can flip a coin and probably do okay.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

It's just Manny being Manny

When you write a weekly column on both MMA and Boxing, what are you to do when you have a weekend stacked with both? You watch both of course; I taped UFC 122, and then decide which event is worth writing about. While I love MMA and the UFC, this weekend it comes in second after watching arguably the world's greatest boxer Manny 'Pacman' Pacquiao (52-3-2, 38 KO's), doing what no man has done before. However, when you break it down, you end up seeing it's just Manny being Manny.

Pacquiao, the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world, proved it once again, literally, as he won the vacant WBC light middleweight (154 lbs.) title in dominating fashion against the much larger former multi-weight champion Antonio 'The Tijuana Tornado' Margarito (38-7, 27 KO's). The win also made Pacquiao a champion in eight different weight classes; a first and an unbelievable accomplishment when you consider he started his career as a 106 pound flyweight 15 years ago.

What makes it even more impressive is in the fashion that he did it. Officially weighing in @ 144.5 lbs. for the fight, he was five and a half pounds lighter than Margarito. However, that was at the weigh-in on Friday. Stepping into the ring Saturday night, Margarito had re-hydrated to 165lbs., while Pacquiao had only went up to 148; a 17 pound difference. In other words, it was a welterweight fighting a super middleweight. Yet, despite this and other obstacles, Pacquiao decimated Margarito using his speed, angles and punching combinations to punish his foe.

While he was never seriously challenged in the fight, there was one round where he did get caught against the ropes and Margarito was able to deliver some damage to the body, but it was minimal at best. Whenever he felt he was losing momentum, Pacquaio was quick to turn the tables on Margarito, often inviting him to stand and trade. This gesture throughout the fight made me realize something I already knew but was reaffirmed; Pacquaio may not have hands of stone, but he definitely has stones made of stone.

There was some controversy before the fight where Margarito's trainer, Robert Garcia, claimed a representative from his camp witnessed some illegal tampering with Pacquiao's hand wraps. However, it appeared to be more head games, which is the way the athletic commission labeled it, than anything else. Meanwhile, Margarito, who ironically was in only his second fight after serving a one year suspension for the very same reason was himself embroiled in controversy.

Pacquiao's trainer, Freddie Roach, claimed that Garcia's fighter was seen ingesting a form of Ephedrine, which is a banned substance in the State of Texas. Strangely enough, Margarito was seen on camera in his locker room after having his hands wrapped, receiving a cup of what appeared to be coffee. Someone was also seen adding something to the drink, from what appeared to be sugar packets.

Just so we understand, assuming it was nothing illegal, there's nothing wrong with drinking a cup of coffee or any other drink for that matter. I've just never seen a fighter in any capacity ever do it right before they enter battle. Seemed kind of strange to me, but then again I'm not a coffee drinker.

Pacquaio, so completely pummeled his opponent that he purposely pulled back on his attack in the last round instead of going for the finish. It was evident in the fight and he admitted such in his post-fight interview. His reasoning, "I saw how injured Margarito was, his eyes bleeding and swollen, I didn't want to hurt him anymore."

It has since been revealed Pacquiao broke Margarito's orbital bone. Compassion in a prize fighter is probably not a good trait to have for a person who makes a living hurting their opponent. Then again, this not just any fighter, this is Manny Pacquiao. A man from very humble beginnings in his native Philippines, who is dedicated to serving those in need as he's proven by being elected to Congress in his homeland earlier this year. "I just want to make people happy", Pacquiao said last night.

That was his response to the often lingering question as to whether or not he will ever fight undefeated Floyd Mayweather. Pacquiao, who's been the butt of Mayweather's jokes and taunts on numerous occasions, made no reference towards Mayweather. He instead chose to remain humble as he always has throughout his career. Mayweather fans might say it's because he is afraid or wants no part of 'Pretty Boy' Floyd. I say, it's just Manny being Manny.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Pros and Cons of Cross-Promotion

Should they or shouldn't they? That is the question that has been lingering for nearly seven months. It was on national television, after his victory over Dream lightweight champion Shinya Aoki, that Gilbert Melendez, Strikeforce lightweight champion, said in his post-fight interview, "I would like to fight Eddie Alvarez."

Alvarez just happens to be the Bellator lightweight champion and ever since that night, the question's been burning. Also, the fire's been fueled by, comment, call-outs and other possible intriguing match-ups.

Would we as MMA fans love to see this fight? Of course, but at what cost? Fighter's prides aside; too two upstart promotions always having to play second fiddle here in the U.S. to the UFC, it can be a risk full of rewards or consequences. Let's take a look at the pros and cons of cross promoting.

Both Strikeforce and Bellator have rosters full of world class fighters and young talented upstarts. However, there is no question that once you start getting past the champions and contenders, their stables as a whole don't compare to the depth of the UFC.

In other words, UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar could be put in a fight against a fighter in the lower tier of the UFC's lightweight division and the chances of him losing are greater than if Melendez or Alvarez were put in the same position in their respective organizations. It has to do with the parity the UFC offers from top to bottom in their respective weight classes.

It is because of this lack of depth that champions like Melendez and Alvarez, who are universally recognized among the top three lightweights in the world, have to look to each other for competition and fights that will earn them both money and recognition. No disrespect, but how many times can Melendez fight Josh Thompson or Shinya Aoki? As for Alvarez, he's scheduled to fight Pat Curran, who's a young exciting talent, but let's keep it real; he earned his spot by winning an eight man tournament against second and third tier fighters.

No disrespect meant towards Strikeforce or Bellator, but it is the truth. I truly believe their top tier fighters could easily hang, if not win, against the UFC's elite. They just don't have the depth, which means they have to look to each other and while that looks good on paper, I'm not 100% sure if it's such a good idea.

For the winner, there's recognition for the fighter and bragging rights for the promotion, but then what? Where do you go from there? You can't challenge the UFC's champions because they will not even consider cross promoting. In Dana White's eyes why should they and honestly he's right. The UFC doesn't need anybody, its the other way around; Bellator and Strikeforce need the UFC.

As for the loser, sure the fighter remains champion in his respective organization, but how much weight does that hold. Your organization just took a major blow as to how strong it truly is. Regardless of whether it is or not, it will inevitably be looked upon as the weaker of the two. It will be relegated to third place status in the eyes of U.S. MMA fans.

Considering the recent merger between the UFC and WEC, although that was a relatively easy transition considering both promotions were under the same ownership, wouldn't it be great if Strikeforce and Bellator could merge? Now that would be something huge and special. A merger of that magnitude could really be a force and a challenge to the UFC for U.S. MMA Supremacy.

Alas, the chances of something like that happening are probably slim to none. Unlike Zuffa, there is not one Ownership Company at work here; thus money, power and respect would keep something like this from happening. Besides, to this point Scott Coker, Strikeforce CEO and Bjorn Rebney, Bellator CEO, can't see eye to eye on putting together one fight, let alone a merger. Thus, the saga continues regarding the pros and cons of cross-promotion.

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