Monday, January 24, 2011

There's a new kid on the block

Anderson Silva, Jose Aldo, Junior Dos Santos, Lyoto Machida, and Justin Lawrence; if you're wondering why the name Justin Lawrence doesn't seem to register with the names of four of the greatest MMA fighters on the planet, wonder no more. That's because Justin 'The American Kid' Lawrence is the latest addition and rage of the coveted 'Blackhouse' family. Only 20 years old with one professional fight under his belt, this kid is about to take the MMA world by storm.

It's okay if you're skeptical that I may be over hyping a kid with just one pro fight. However, when you impress both the management and fighters, especially UFC Middleweight champion Anderson Silva, of such a high level selective team like 'Blackhouse', one need to stop and take notice. This is exactly what I and everyone else is starting to do. Yet, when you realize his background, you begin to understand he's been preparing for this practically his whole young life.

Raised in Pacific, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, Justin's been training as long as he can remember. His father Benny Voyles, a former professional boxer and kickboxer with a background in Kempo Karate, owns a gym called 21st Century Self Defense. At just six years of age, Justin began training in his father's gym, first in Kempo, then eventually kickboxing. "If it weren't for him, I wouldn't be where I'm at today. I'd probably be looking for some dead end job in Pacific," Lawrence said.

A natural athlete, Justin also has wrestled since the third grade and played high school football. He excelled so much in both, that he placed in states multiple years in wrestling and in football; he helped snap a six year winless streak, 0-60, that is a national record for consecutive losses. With a 4.4 seconds time in the 40 yard dash, his junior year he ran for 275 yards and three touchdowns against St. James High School to help end Pacific's losing streak. They went on to win three games that year and three the following year. Besides himself, he credits the coach hired his junior year George Hinkle. "He inspired me so much; he didn't just coach me, but taught me that discipline, just like in the fight game, translates to everyday life."

However, it was boxing and kickboxing that Justin lived for and he excelled there as well. He's a six-time national kickboxing champion and also a two-time St. Louis Golden Gloves champion. When I asked him why he chose to pursue MMA versus boxing he said, "When I was 12, 13, 14 years old, all I dreamed about was being the next great boxer; at that time MMA wasn't as big yet. However, all of sudden MMA exploded in this country and seeing that I was also a wrestler I thought it was a natural fit for me."

It's been so natural that a family friend who also happened to know Ed Soares and Anderson Silva took it upon himself to suggest to Soares that he needed take a look at Lawrence as a prospect. So, on that word Justin was flown to Blackhouse for an opportunity to train and assist Silva for his fight against Chael Sonnen. "When I flew out there, I wasn't expecting anything. I was just going to get that experience of training with the greatest fighter in the world."

Noticing Soares and the Blackhouse fighters weren't going to give him any respect he didn't earn, he was thrown to the wolves as he was put to spar with arguably the best pound for pound fighter in the world in Silva. "It's the hardest I've ever been hit, but I held my own," he said. Also holding his own on the ground, he not only earned respect from Blackhouse, but something else.

He was offered a contract to sign with Blackhouse management and to be a part of one of the most revered fight teams in the world. After discussing it with his parents, there was nothing further to think about. Since then, he had his pro debut on the undercard of the December, 2010 'Strikeforce: Henderson vs. Babalu 2' event. In a fight where he was listed as a 3-1 underdog, he won a unanimous technical decision, totally dominating his opponent.

Not officially signed with any promotion at this time, Justin and his team are currently fielding offers for his next fight. When asked where he would like to be 10 years from now, his response was simply, "I just want to be known as the best, most well-rounded fighter in the world. What Georges St. Pierre is now, I want to take to the next level."

A strong believer in "I believe everything happens for a reason," Justin goes into every fight with '2 Corinthians 2:14' tattooed on his chest and 'Jesus Saves' embroidered on his shorts. "If it weren't for him to give me the talent, to give me the discipline to do what I do, I wouldn't be here." Look out world, there's a new kid on the block; an 'American Kid'.

Justin Lawrence would like to thank first and foremost, his parents, especially his dad, for giving him the opportunity to do what he loves and for pushing him when he needed to be pushed. He also wants to thank Ed Soares and the entire Blackhouse family. 21st Century Self-Defense Academy along with Pat Benson, his first Jiu-Jitsu coach and Nick Bellon for stepping up on short notice when it was needed.

I want to thank Justin Lawrence for his time during this interview and also Mike Ramirez from Blackhouse for helping to arrange it.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

UFC Fight Night Review/Strikeforce Preview

While there is no way any of us could ever repay those who serve this country and protect our freedom on a daily basis, the UFC did their small part. For the second time, the UFC held a live fight card on a military base to honor our soldiers and to raise money for the 'Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund'. This organization supports our troops who are injured in battle, especially traumatic brain injuries, and the families of those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.

Fighting at Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, the UFC put on a nice show headlined by lightweights (155 lbs.) Evan Dunham (11-2, 2 KO's, 6 subs) and Melvin 'The Young Assassin' Guillard (27-8-2, 17 KO's 2 subs). In the main event, Guillard, a replacement for injured Kenny Florian, who was Dunham's original opponent, made the most of his opportunity as he devastatingly pummeled Dunham for a first round referee stoppage.

Always possessing all the tools and God given gifts, the 27 year old Guillard appears to finally be putting it all together under the tutelage of MMA trainer extraordinaire Greg Jackson. A package of superior hand speed, power and athleticism are the reason why Guillard has won his last four in a row and seven out of his last eight. In his post-fight interview he said, "You keep lining them up and I'll keep knocking them down on my way to a title shot by the end of the year or early 2012; I promise you that."

The co-main event didn't last very long as former NFL player and heavyweight up and comer Matt 'Meathead' Mitrione upped his record to (4-0, 3 KO's) as he smashed, or should I say thrashed, Tim 'The Thrashing Machine' Hague (12-5, 7 KO's 3 subs) with a TKO in the first round. Using a stiff left jab, while extremely light on his feet, and finishing with a powerful right hand, Mitrione is starting to make some noise in the big boy division of the UFC.

The main card featured a fight in the featherweight (145 lbs.) division between Mark 'The Machine' Hominick (20-8, 9 KO's 7 subs) and George Roop (11-7-1, 2 KO's 4 subs). Hominick lived up to his nickname as he was a machine in knocking out Roop in a little over a minute via ref stoppage. The win, Hominick's fifth in a row, guarantees him a title shot against champion Jose Aldo in what should be a dynamite fight. Also, in another heavyweight tilt, tough Joey 'The Mexecutioner' Beltran (12-5, 10 KO's, 1 sub) was chopped down, literally, by kickboxer Pat 'HD' Barry (6-2, 5 KO's). Barry won a unanimous decision using a nice combination of precision punches and vicious round kicks to Beltran's left leg.

In the first fight on the main card, lightweight Cole Miller (17-5, 3 KO's 12 subs) underestimated 'Handsome' Matt Wiman (13-5, 4 KO's 4 subs) as he got beat ugly and was completely dominated for three rounds. Thanks to the troops for their unwavering service and thanks to the UFC for an entertaining free night of fights.

Looking ahead to next Saturday, the Strikeforce promotion returns with not just one, but two championship fights in San Jose, CA. The main event of the evening features welterweight (170 lbs.) champion Nick Diaz (23-7, 12 KO's 7 subs) defending his title against number one challenger Evangelista 'Cyborg' Santos (18-13, 11 KO's 5 subs). Also, the middleweight (185 lbs.) championship is at stake when Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza (13-2, 10 subs) defends against heavy hitting 'Ruthless' Robbie Lawler (18-6, 15 KO's, 1 sub).

While Santos may be best be known for being the husband of the number one female fighter in the world, Cristiana 'Cyborg' Santos, he is a dangerous fighter in his own right. However, of his 13 losses, 8 have been via KO, which may prove to be a problem against the slick punching Diaz who possesses underrated knockout power. A Cesar Gracie black belt in jiu-jitsu as well, the champion has no weaknesses, is just stepping into his prime and should have no problem retaining his title.

The other bout is a classic grappler vs. striker match-up that will be a battle of which fighter can impose their will on the other. Souza, very slick on the ground, has fought some good fighters, but no one with the punching power that Lawler possesses. A former 'ICON Sport' middleweight champion, Lawler, the former UFC veteran, is (7-2-1) in his last 10 fights and coming off a 50 second knockout of Matt Lindland. Only 28 years old with a wealth of world class experience, I think this is Robbie Lawler's time and he will make the most of it with a KO victory over 'Jacare'.

If you are interested in donating to the 'Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund', you can call 1-877-747-HERO (4376) or go to FIGHTFORTHETROOPS.COM

Thursday, January 13, 2011

UFC is full of crock; I mean Brock

2011 is barely two weeks old, yet it's making "big" waves as far as MMA news is concerned. One of the biggest, (no pun intended), news stories so far has been the upcoming/impending Strikeforce Heavyweight Tournament. This tourney features eight of the world's best heavyweight fighters, including two of the top five in champion Alistair Overeem and former number one pound for pound fighter Fedor Emelianenko.

To counter this heavyweight bonanza, the Ultimate Fighting Championship dropped a gargantuan bombshell themselves this past week. They announced that the coaches for the upcoming season of 'The Ultimate Fighter' reality series would be number one heavyweight contender Junior Dos Santos and former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. Not only that, but they also stated the two will fight at the season finale and that the winner will get the next title shot against current champion Cain Velasquez.

While this move may make sense for a couple of reasons, business wise that is, it doesn't make sense as far as the heavyweight title picture is concerned. Then again, when has common sense ever been a factor where dollars and cents are involved? The fact that Dos Santos (12-1, 8 KO's, 3 subs) is riding a seven fight win streak, the last six in the UFC, and Lesnar (5-2, 2 KO's, 2 subs) just lost his last fight against Velasquez means nothing when it comes to money; not to mention that Dos Santos has won as many fights in a row that Lesnar has total in his career.

While UFC President Dana White may publicly say he covets his titles and "doesn't want them to become watered down and meaningless as in boxing," the truth is mixed martial arts, like any other professional sport is driven by the almighty dollar. This is why the UFC is full of crock; I mean Brock. Brock Lesnar. Like him or not, means ratings and Pay-Per-View buys, which in turn equals money. That means that a long as his heart is in it and he's under contract, Brock it is.

Yet, this may be a problem in the long run. Rumors, unconfirmed, have been circulating that Lesnar has no real desire to keep fighting as he's realized he doesn't like to get hit. Geez, what a surprise? Now I'm no genius, but I would think that fear of getting hit is not a good thing to possess if you fight for a living. This has been substantiated with reports that in his last camp he even refused to spar because he didn't like the contact. While the rumors and reports may be unconfirmed, his reaction to contact in his last two fights is not.

Upon getting punched in the face by both Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez, Lesnar's response in both instances were to crumble and run away instead of standing and trading. Granted, he is a wrestler by trade, not a boxer, but even the most novices of fighters instinctively would fight back upon getting punched in the face. It is a natural instinct, for those that have it in them to fight and I'm not sure Brock Lesnar has that.

I'm not saying he doesn't have heart, because any man who is willing to step into a cage and fight, let alone seven times, has to have some heart. However, desire is something else. Does he have the desire to continue to step into the cage, this is the question? Lesnar has shown a track record of quitting in past careers such as professional wrestling and football; though he never really got started in the latter. Yet, with millions of dollars already made, overcoming a near career ending illness, a rumored one more fight left on his current contract and Vince McMahon dangling even more millions to return to pro wrestling, one has to wonder where Lesnar's heart truly is.

Dana White is banking, literally, that Lesnar's heart is in MMA. Regardless, he has him through his next fight and he's going to ride him as long as he can. Thus, the reason he got the coaching stint on 'The Ultimate Fighter'. This will mean coaching and taping for at least six weeks, then at least three months of television ratings. Ultimately the fight with Dos Santos and with Velasquez currently on the shelf for six-eight months with a torn shoulder, the timing is perfect. Not to mention that I think Brock will eventually lose to Dos Santos, thus setting up the showdown we were supposed to get anyway.

However, what if Brock wins? This could end up being quite a dilemma if he decides he no longer has it in him to continue fighting. It's not like he hasn't done it before; he left the WWE while he was their champion and on top of the wrestling world. While this move will be fruitful for the UFC in the short term, in the long run it has the potential to be quite disastrous and embarrassing for Dana White. Only time will tell if a Dos Santos right hand will resolve that problem.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Heart of a Samurai Warrior

The word 'Samurai' is the term for the military nobility of pre-industrial Japan. The term was meant to describe those who serve in close attendance to the nobility. However, in the 12th century the word became synonymous with and was closely associated to the middle and upper echelons of the warrior class.

Move forward to the 21st century and legendary Mixed Martial Arts fighter Kazushi Sakuraba still embodies that true heart of a samurai warrior. Lost in all the pageantry of the New Years celebration and all the MMA action-taking place, here in the states with the UFC and in Japan with both 'Dream' and 'Sengoku', was the fact that Sakuraba lost both a fight and an ear in the process.

It may be because this was a meaningless fight at the end of a long illustrious career for a true legend of the game. However, there was a time not too long ago when the man, known as 'The Gracie Hunter', was arguably the most popular fighter in the world.

Sakuraba (26-14-1, 3 KO's 19 subs), is a wrestler by origin, who began his amateur-wrestling career at the relatively late age of 15, He enjoyed immediate success in both high school and college, eventually finishing fourth in the All-Japan tourney his senior year. Considering coaching after college, he inevitably pursued professional wrestling to fulfill a childhood dream of emulating his idol, the legendary 'Tiger Mask'.

During the early through mid '90's Sakuraba enjoyed a stellar pro wrestling career, working his way up from a relative jobber for his first full year, to a nationally renowned star. During his tenure as a pro wrestler he worked for promotions such as New Japan Pro Wrestling, UWFi and Kingdom Pro Wrestling. It was while with Kingdom, a promotion founded by fellow pro wrestling legend and MMA fighter Nobuhiko Takada, that Sakuraba would eventually find his way into MMA.

When the UFC made its way to Japan in December, 1997, for 'Ultimate Japan', it of course was looking to have some local Japanese fighters involved in their heavyweight tournament. Kingdom Pro Wrestling, looking to gain notoriety for their own fledgling promotion decided to enter two of there own wrestlers in Yoji Anjoh and Hirmitsu Kanehara. However, right before the tournament Kanehara sustained an injury in training, thus forcing the inexperienced Sakuraba as a last minute replacement.

Weighing a meager 183 lbs., they had to list him as 20 lbs. heavier just to get him over the 200 pound limit needed to enter the "heavyweight" tournament back then. His first ever opponent in MMA, the 243 lbs. Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black belt and former Extreme Battlecade Champion Marcus 'Conan' Silveira. After a wrongful premature stoppage that awarded Silveira a TKO, the UFC and referee John McCarthy, realized their mistake, declared the fight a no-contest and brought Sakuraba back later in the night.

With Tank Abbott winning his side of the bracket, but having to withdraw because of injury, Sakuraba was pitted once again against Silveira for the tournament title. Being outweighed by 60 lbs., this time he defeated Silveira via armbar submission in less than four minutes. The wrestler proved he could hang with the big boys of MMA and he would do so time and time again over the next 13 years.

In that time he's fought and defeated the likes of Vitor Belfort, Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, Kevin Randleman and Ken Shamrock; all former UFC champions much larger than he is, which he defeated while fighting in the now defunct Pride Fighting Championships. Many of his losses, also were to former champions much larger than he, including Wanderlei Silva (three times) and heavyweights Mirko 'Cro-Cop and Igor Vovchanchyn.

Yet, it was his run against the renowned Gracie family, during their prime that has made him a legend in Japan. Royler, Renzo and the late Ryan all lost to the 'Gracie Hunter'. However, those fights all paled in comparison to his win in the epic six-round 90 minute marathon against three time UFC champion Royce Gracie (pictured above) during the Pride Grand Prix 2000 finals. Easily the longest fight in modern MMA history, Sakuraba outlasted Gracie, eventually forcing his corner to throw in the towel.

Now 41 and possessing some of the worst cauliflower ears in the game, the MMA legend has lost his last three fights. Not only have his skills eroded, but also so have his ears as his right ear literally shredded in his last fight when he attempted to shoot in on his opponent. Obviously, past his prime and unable to compete any longer, I can only hope that like his US counterpart Chuck Liddell, Saku will finally retire and Japan will find a way to take care of their native son who has clearly displayed the heart of a samurai warrior.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

UFC 125: No Resolution

In a fight card original billed as "Resolution," partly because of the New Year, but mainly because of the main event, a solid UFC 125 started 2011 off on the right foot. That is depending on how you feel about a main event that had no resolution after all. In a fight that I quoted in my preview as, “is about as evenly matched as you can get in a title fight,” lightweight (155 lbs.) champion Frankie Edgar (13-1-1, 2 KO's 3 subs) and Gray Maynard (10-1-1, 2 KO's) fought five rounds to a draw.

The two big questions here are, how was the first and last round scored? In round one, Maynard dropped Edgar twice with solid punches that had the champion in serious trouble and clearly on Wobble Street throughout. Question number one, did that round deserve to be scored 10-8? Unlike boxing, the rules are not so clear cut in MMA as to what constitutes such scoring. This is also not taking into consideration whether the referee should have stopped the fight, which is a judgement call. In this case it appeared to be the right call not to as Edgar somehow came back strong in round two.

The second question is who won the last round? That seemed to be the determining factor seeing that Maynard clearly won rounds one and three, while Edgar did the same in rounds two and four. A difficult round to score, as both had their moments, I have to be impartial, going against my prediction before the fight, and say I felt Maynard won the last round, thus winning the fight. That said, I can see how Edgar was given the last round and how this fight was a called a draw.

Regardless of the outcome, it was a back and forth fight, one which garnered 'Fight of the Night' honors and giving both fighters a $60,000 bonus each. While both fighters, especially Maynard, both expressed their desire to do it again, Dana White, President of the UFC, immediately announced in the post fight press conference that Anthony 'Showtime' Pettis, the last WEC lightweight champion, will be Edgar's next opponent. (Please note, the UFC has since announced that Dana White has had a change of heart and Edgar/Maynard III will actually be the next title defense after all).

In the co-main event, middleweight (185 lbs.) and former Marine, Brian 'All-American' Stann (10-3, 7 KO's 1 sub) left no doubt in the first round as he stopped Chris Leben (25-7, 13 KO's 6 subs). He did it with a combination of power punches that started with a left hook and ended with a right cross. Leben, who's been known to have a granite chin, made the mistake of testing it while trying to stand and trade with the much heavier punching Stann. In the post fight press conference when asked, Stann respectfully said, "I would like to fight legendary Wanderlei Silva next."

In other action, light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) Thiago Silva (15-2, 11 KO's 2 subs) won a dominant unanimous decision against Brandon Vera (11-6, 7 KO's 1 sub), thus making 'The Truth' out to be a liar. Beating Vera with wrestling and a vicious ground and pound game, Silva left Vera not only with a loss, but a clearly fractured nose that was grotesquely disfigured after the fight.

Welterweight (170 lbs.) Dong Hyun Kim (14-0-1, 6 KO's 1 sub) did the same against Nate Diaz (13-6, 3 KO's 9 subs), wrestling and controlling the jiu-jitsu wizard on the ground. In his post-fight interview, the Korean speaking in his native language clearly stated, "GSP", meaning he wants his crack at the reigning welterweight champion. Time will tell if he gets it.

In the opening fight of the pay-per-view, lightweight Clay Guida (28-11, 4 KO's 15 subs) finished Takanori Gomi (32-7, 12 KO's 6 subs) in the second round with a slick guillotine choke submission. Guida said afterwards, "my goal is to be in title contention by the end of 2011." As stated above, a solid night of fights and while I went 2-2-1 in my pre-fight predictions, UFC 125: Resolution ended up offering no resolution after all.

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...