Sunday, March 6, 2011

There is no substitute for experience

After a weekend chock full of world class MMA action from the UFC to Bellator and Strikeforce, there's one thing we know for sure. When it comes to Mixed Martial Arts, there is no substitute for experience. That truly came to fruition on Saturday night in both the Bellator welterweight (170 lbs.) tournament and also at Strikeforce. There the oldest fighter of the weekend, 40 year old Dan 'Hendo' Henderson, now (27-2, 12 KO's 2 subs), garnered his fifth world championship by finishing former light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) champ Rafael 'Feijao' Calvacante (10-3, 9 KO's 1 sub).

After a back and forth first round that saw both fighters wobble each other, Henderson used his vast experience and superiority in wrestling to take control of the bout and slow down the champ's onslaught. The second round proved more of the same where Henderson worked from the clinch, then the top, as he was able to take Calvacante down to the ground and maul him. However, it was in the third round that his patented right hand ended the day.

The "rocket" right hand as I described it in my preview, appeared to just graze the champs chin, but it was enough to send him to the canvas where Henderson quickly pounced on him unleashing no less than six more right hands before the referee jumped in to stop it. This sport and its legend's never cease to amaze me. Just when you think their best days are behind them they find a way to keep you guessing. Such is the case with Henderson who continues to defy the odds and still doesn't rule out a run at middleweight (185 lbs.). Much respect to the new champ.

Experience was also a factor in the Strikeforce women's (135 lbs.) championship as last minute challenger Liz 'Girl-Rilla' Carmouche, only (5-1, 3 KO's 1 sub), gave champion Marloes 'Rumina' Coenen (19-4, 3 KO's 14 subs) all she could handle before losing via fourth round submission. Carmouche appeared to be winning by taking the fight to Coenen and overwhelming the Dutch fighter before her inexperience gave way and Coenen caught her in a Triangle Choke that ended her night. Up next for Coenen, she wants Meisha Tate, her original opponent, who had to pull out due to injury.

Meanwhile, Bellator Fighting Championship kicked off their fourth season with the quarterfinals of their welterweight tourney. In all but one of the four fights everything went according to plan, if you consider the favorites going in. The one fight that didn't was the first of the night where tourney finalist from last year Dan 'The Handler' Hornbuckle (22-4, 9 KO's 11 subs) lost a unanimous decision to Brent Weedman (18-5-1, 10 KO's 7 subs). A very close fight throughout, Weedman surprised Hornbuckle with his prowess on the ground, nullifying all submission attempts and aggressively pursing his own.

In the next fight, a match-up of two Judo players, we got a surprising stand up affair that went all three rounds as former Olympian Rick Hawn (10-0, 7 KO's) outgunned 'Judo' Jim Wallhead (21-6, 6 KO's 9 subs) to win a lackluster unanimous decision. We got pretty much what is to be expected when two grapplers decide to stand and trade, not much of anything; although to his credit, Hawn did show an improving stand-up game of which he had none when he started in the sport. For him to advance in this tournament, he's going to have to get back to his roots if he's to have any chance against the other three semifinalists who are experienced and proficient strikers.

That brings us to the third fight of the night, which had the most convincing win, yet the most controversial. Jay 'The Thoroughbred' Hieron (20-4, 6 KO's 6 subs), an early favorite in this tourney, won his eighth fight in a row by technically submitting his opponent Anthony 'The Recipe' Lapsley (19-5, 3 KO's 13 subs) via rear naked choke; or did he? This is where the controversy steps in as the ref did just that and stopped the fight claiming he got no response when he grabbed Lapsley's arm. Only problem is Lapsley was not out as he immediately jumped up and questioned the ref when he pulled Hieron off him.

This is a shame because it was obvious the referee made a mistake, but as Jay Hieron (pictured above) said in his post-fight interview, "it was going to happen nevertheless." I truly believe that would've been the case, as Hieron looked very sharp in his three plus minutes of work. As for Lapsley, he can only hope that someone has to drop out of this tournament due to injury and that Bellator does the right thing and brings him back as the first alternate as he pretty much was unscathed outside of his loss. This precedent was set in a previous season tournament in Bellator, so only time will tell what happens.

In the last quarterfinal fight, an expected stand-up war between former champion Lymon 'Cyborg' Good (11-1, 5 KO's 1 sub) and heavy hitting up and comer Chris 'The Cleveland Assassin' Lozano (6-1, 6 KO's) turned out to be pretty one-sided. Once again, experience set the two apart as Good worked a nice combination of both boxing and wrestling to completely outclass Lozano, damaging his left eye in the process. Good's stiff left jab and straight right hand throughout can be blamed for Lozano's eye.

The former champ looks like he's on a mission to regain his belt and, depending on how Bellator matches up these final four, a potential final between Hieron and Good would be pure dynamite. Let's hope Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney sees it that way and that the stars align properly as either one of those two would be a great match-up for the champion Ben Askren. While Askren's the champ, he's still only had seven pro fights and as we've seen above, there is no substitute for experience.

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