Saturday, April 30, 2011

UFC 129: Hype as a whole becomes reality

Toronto, Canada was the location of the largest crowd in UFC history, 55,000+, and they were not disappointed as one of the greatest cards ever assembled on paper delivered in person. All the way from the first fight on the prelims to the main event of the evening, this card lived up to the hype that was expected. Canadian fighters, born or based, won six of ten fights on the card, including, most importantly, Georges St. Pierre's defense of his welterweight (170 lbs.) title.

St. Pierre (22-2, 8 KO's 5 subs), in typical GSP fashion, went the distance and won a unanimous decision over Jake Shields (26-5-1, 3 KO's 10 subs), but may have garnered more criticism in the process. Constantly berated for not being a finisher, although I call it fighting smart, St. Pierre didn't do anything to disprove those claims. GSP looked crisp early with his striking, but became more reserved as the fight progressed after his left eye began to bother him in the third round. After the fight he said, "I can't see out of my left eye; all I see is a blur."

Meanwhile, Shields, whose only real chance was to take GSP to the ground, made no attempts to do such other than catching his left leg a few times when St. Pierre threw round kicks. Surprisingly, Shields did bust up St. Pierre's face a bit, but GSP was never in trouble throughout the fight. It looked as though Shields was content just to be fighting for the championship, instead of winning it. It was Shields first loss in seven years, while it was St. Pierre's ninth win in a row in the last four years.

In the co-main event of the evening, the featherweight (145 lbs.) championship, champion Jose Aldo (19-1, 12 KO's 2 subs) won a unanimous decision, but got all he could he handle from challenger Mark Hominick (20-9, 8 KO's, 8 subs). While Aldo won the first four rounds pretty clearly, he was exposed somewhat by Hominick's boxing; especially getting caught regularly with straight left jabs. I don't want to say ring rust was a factor, but it was obvious Aldo was exhausted by the end as in the last round Hominick took him down with four minutes left and pretty much beat on him.

I guess no one will ever joke again that The Karate Kid's Crane technique doesn't work; just ask former five-time UFC champion Randy Couture (19-11, 7 KO's 4 subs). Couture, the 47 year old marvel of MMA and freak of nature got KO'ed by said Crane technique as former light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) champion Lyoto Machida (17-2, 6 KO's 2 subs) caught him with a perfect jump front kick to the chin in the second round. Machida ends a two-fight skid while Couture officially announced "this was it," when asked if he was finally retiring by Joe Rogan. Thanks for the memories Randy; you are truly a living legend.

In the first fight of the pay-per-view, former WEC lightweight (155 lbs.) champion Ben Henderson (13-2, 2 KO's, 8 subs) went into Toronto and won a unanimous decision over hometown boy Mark Bocek (9-4, 1 KO, 7 subs). Displaying a perfect all-around game of punches, kicks and knees along with an excellent ground game, Henderson nullified any attempts Bocek had in his great submission game. Henderson at only 27 years old looks to be a factor in the lightweight division.

Finally, for those that didn't catch the prelims that were shown on Facebook, you missed some exciting action. Four of the five fights all finished within the first and second round via two knockouts and two submissions. These were highlighted by a sweet spinning back fist KO from Canadian John Makdessi over Kyle Watson; also, fellow Canadian Jason McDonald's beautiful first round triangle choke submission on Ryan Jensen.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

UFC 129: St. Pierre vs. Shields Preview

One whole week before UFC 129 may be a bit early for a preview, but as the event draws nearer, one can feel the magnitude of this upcoming card. Not only is it taking place in Toronto, Canada, which is the home country of welterweight (170 lbs.) champion Georges St. Pierre, but it may very well be the last time we see MMA legend Randy Couture compete in the cage. All this, plus the debut of featherweight (145 lbs.) champion Jose Aldo and it's understood why UFC 129 may be the biggest card of the year so far in the UFC and possibly all of MMA.

The main event alone is an exciting one that is being looked forward to with much anticipation. That is because it features arguably the most popular fighter in the sport today, St. Pierre (21-2, 8 KO's 5 subs) defending his title against quite possibly his toughest test to date Jake Shields. Shields (26-4-1, 3 KO's 10 subs), is a former 5x World Champion in every major organization outside the UFC, including both Strikeforce and EliteXC. He's also a decorated jiu-jitsu black belt under renowned trainer Cesar Gracie. That is why I find it so difficult to believe that Shields is such a huge underdog.

If St. Pierre has one advantage on Shields it's in the stand-up game where GSP's Kyokushin Karate and boxing background make him far superior than Shields with both his hands and feet. However, when it comes to the ground game, as proficient as St. Pierre is in both wrestling and jiu-jitsu, where he is also a black belt under Bruno Fernandes, I have to give the advantage to Shields. A former college All-American wrestler from Cuesta College in California and highly decorated jiu-jitsu practitioner, Shields has fused wrestling into his jiu-jitsu game, thus describing his style as 'American Jiu-Jitsu'.

Yet, as evenly matched as they are, I predict St. Pierre will be the victor here in a late round TKO via ground and pound. Why? As experienced as Shields is, this is only his second fight in the UFC and first in the main event. He has recently stated he did not realize all the media demands that a fight of this stature in the UFC requires and I think inevitably GSP's experience in the octagon, 17 fights in seven years, will prove the difference. I think Shields will wear out by the fourth or fifth round under the pressure and get caught under a barrage of punishment from St. Pierre that will force the referee to stop the fight. Bold prediction considering GSP has not won a fight via stoppage in over two years.

As for Couture (19-10, 7 KO's 4 subs), the 47 year old marvel looks like he's finally decided this will be his last hurrah. He's been hinting at retirement after his last couple of fights after coming out of his first retirement four years ago to win back the UFC heavyweight championship for a second time against Tim Sylvia. A former two-time light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) champion as well, that is where he will fight his last fight against another former champ Lyoto 'The Dragon' Machida.

Machida (16-2, 5 KO's 2 subs) is coming off two straight defeats in 2010, the only two of his career and suddenly finds himself at a crossroads for the first time in his career. As great as Couture is at game planning and figuring out fighter's that possess unique styles, such as Machida's Karate/counter-striking style, I think he will end his career with a loss as he did the first time. I think Machida will see the faults in his laid back approach, implement a much more aggressive demeanor and win a close decision against one of the all-time greats of the sport.

Hard to believe that the exciting and flashy Aldo (18-1, 12 KO's, 2 subs) isn't getting much attention on this card, but that's what tends to happen when you're out of sight, out of mind. However, if he holds true to form after coming back from a neck injury, the UFC fans are in for a special treat. The UFC's first and only featherweight champion is the number one featherweight and consensus number three pound-for-pound fighter in the world for good reason. This 24 year old kid has decimated the competition in his weight class.

Step up Mark 'The Machine' Hominick (20-8, 9 KO's 7 subs), winner of his last five fights in a row. At 29 years of age, Hominick is a true veteran of this sport fighting his first fight before his 20th birthday. A well-rounded fighter who is part of highly recognized 'Team Tompkins', Hominick would be favored against just about any other featherweight in the world. However, against Aldo I don't see it happening.

Unless the injury has caused Aldo to suffer some ring rust or his first fight ever in the UFC can cause the champ to have the well known first time octagon jitters, I see Aldo finishing Hominick within the first two rounds. His devastating Muay Thai style has caused fighters to fold under kicks, knees, elbows and anything else he can throw. Also, a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu from famed Nova Uniao and a member of the great 'Blackhouse' team, there's just too much here for Hominick to overcome. Don't blink as this fight along UFC 129 should live up to the hype and be fast and furious.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Living up to legacy of welterweight royalty

With a relatively light weekend of MMA, my focus shifts to boxing this weekend where an intriguing welterweight championship fight turned out to be so much more. Former WBC welterweight champion Andre Berto (27-1, 21 KO's) lost his title last night to a hungry and much more determined Victor Ortiz (29-2-2, 22 KO's), in what is an early candidate for fight of the year. Little did they know it at the time, but Berto and Ortiz were living up to a legacy of welterweight royalty that goes back thirty years.

One of the great pastimes of boxing has always been the debates that take place when people argue about fighters from different generations. In the Eddie Murphy movie 'Coming to America', this long standing tradition was hilariously featured in the barbershop scenes. However, I don't know if anyone ever has debated about an entire weight class of fighters from one generation to the next.

Downstairs in my "man cave", one of the various Ring magazine covers I have adorning the wall is a personal favorite which features the class of the welterweight division of the 90's. The cover photo includes former champions Felix Trinidad, Oscar De La Hoya, Ike Quartey and Pernell Whitaker. All sure fire Hall of Famers although some may disagree about Quartey, but I'd argue that with a 37-4 record over an 18 year career, look who the man lost too. De La Hoya, Fernando Vargas, Vernon Forrest and Ronald 'Winky' Wright; all champions he went the distance with and the last two in the last year of his storied career.

Yet as great as this class of welterweights were, I don't think even they come close to the legendary foursome we had in the early '80's. You want to talk Hall of Fame, how about 'Sugar' Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Roberto Duran and Wilfred Benitez. These four waged their own personal wars against each other throughout the '80's, beginning with Leonard vs. Benitez in late November 1979. The rivalries amongst one another continued as they eventually moved up and out of the welterweight division.

However, welterweights are what we're talking and I've only mentioned the absolute cream of the crop from the '80's and 90's. I didn't even throw out the next tier of names from both those decades, which included the likes of Pipino Cuevas, Mark Breland and Marlon Starling of the '80's; and in the '90's where you had James 'Buddy' McGirt and Wilfredo Rivera. Yet, just looking at the absolute best from both those decades, how well does this generation's welterweight class stack up?

Taking a look at the top you have Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, who I don't think anyone would argue could not hold their own in any era. Sprinkle in a little sugar with 'Sugar' Shane Mosely, a future Hall of Famer who has fought Mayweather and will fight Pacquiao next month. Finally, add the young stars Ortiz and Berto, who put on an exciting show last night and you, have quite a group. However, until Mayweather and Pacquiao step up and face each other the way Leonard and Hearns did in '81 (pictured above) and the way Trinidad and De la Hoya did in 1999 when they were both undefeated, this class will have difficulty living up to the legacy of welterweight royalty.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Top Ten in MMA; who and why?

For years in boxing, the argument of who is the sport "pound for pound" best has always been waged. With the fast ascent of Mixed Martial Arts the last few years and the addition of more weight classes, that same argument is now waged in MMA. While this is strictly an opinionated matter and everyone has differing views, let me give you my take as to whom and more importantly why, I currently consider my top ten pound for pound best in MMA.

Across every one's list, there is little argument as to who is at the top; the only dispute you will find is who should be number one Anderson Silva or Georges St. Pierre (pictured above)? My choice is:

1.) Georges St. Pierre - UFC Welterweight (170 lbs.) Champion (21-2, 8 KO's 5 subs)

Arguably the sports most popular fighter, 'GSP' or Rush', as he is called, is at the top of his game. His last loss came exactly four years ago during his first title reign. Since that time he's reeled off eight straight wins against some of the sports best, including a title winning revenge victory against Matt Serra. His current streak is against a who's who within the division. If there is one argument against him, it's that he's only had three finishes in those eight victories. People construe it as being gun shy; I argue that he just fights smart. Not quite 30 years old yet, he is just hitting his prime.

2.) Anderson Silva - UFC Middleweight (185 lbs.) Champion (28-4, 16 KO's 5 subs)

Hard to imagine a fighter who has not lost in over five years and is currently riding a 14 fight win streak could be second in anything, but that is where I place 'The Spider'. A total package of dynamite, whether it is standing or on the ground, Silva has dominated the last five years, including a couple of non-title fights @ 205 lbs. However, his competition level, as a whole, over that time doesn't add up to St. Pierre's. Add to that, the fight against Sonnen where he lost 23 of 25 minutes, along with his very lackluster performance against Demian Maia and that is why he is second here.

3.) Jose Aldo - UFC Featherweight (145 lbs.) Champion (18-1, 12 KO's 2 subs)

Only 24 years old, this kid is a machine that destroys the competition. His last loss was in 2005; since then, 11 straight wins including seven finishes in his last eight fights. His only decision in that run was a complete decimation of renowned Urijah Faber. The last WEC featherweight champ, he's been hampered by injury lately, thus delaying his UFC debut. However, that will come in three weeks against Mark Hominick where the world should see what I'm talking about.

4.) Eddie Alvarez - Bellator Lightweight (155 lbs.) Champion (22-2, 12 KO's 7 subs)

I know I'll get some flack for this one, but in my opinion I rate him this high because I think he's currently the best lightweight in the world. Sure, people will argue he hasn't fought the greatest competition in Bellator, but that doesn't mean he's not better than his peers at this weight. With seven straight victories the last two plus years, he's had finishes in six of those fights, including dominating wins against former UFC cover boy Roger Huerta and highly respected Josh Neer. Extremely fast hands and feet well versed on the ground and built like a truck for this weight, my only hope is that someday he can prove what I already believe to be so.

5.) Jon Jones - UFC Light-Heavyweight (205 lbs.) Champion (13-1, 8 KO's 3 subs)

Nicknamed 'Bones', Jones should be nicknamed 'Freak', because at a legit 6'4" and a UFC historic 84" wingspan, he is a freak of nature for this weight class. Granted, he just became champion, but he did so in convincing fashion over one of the unquestioned best in the world. With only 14 fights, over half have been in the UFC, where he's dominated the competition, and his only loss was a disqualification in a fight he was easily winning. It won't be long before he's challenging for number one on this list.

6.) Nick Diaz - Strikeforce Welterweight Champion (24-7, 12 KO's 8 subs)

The first of three Cesar Gracie fighters in this list, Diaz may be the only legit challenger outside the UFC to St. Pierre at 170 lbs. and with the recent purchase of Strikeforce by Zuffa, we may actually see it happen somewhere down the line. A former UFC stalwart, Diaz has grown immensely as a fighter since his days in the Octagon. Currently on a nine fight win streak over three years, it should grow to ten before the nights over.

7.) Dominic Cruz UFC Bantamweight (135 lbs.) Champion (17-1, 6 KO's 1 sub)

He may be small in weight, but at 5'8", he is tall for this weight class. 'The Dominator' has been dominant over the best in the world in this division, suffering his only loss four years and nine wins ago against Urijah Faber at featherweight. Only 25 years old and getting better every fight, an eventual rematch with Faber may be imminent now that 'The California Kid' has dropped down to 135lbs.

8.) Frankie Edgar - UFC Lightweight Champion (13-1-1, 2 KO's 3 subs)

Much respect to Edgar, who is clearly a featherweight fighting @155lbs. He's handled everyone the UFC has thrown at him, including two wins over the legendary B.J. Penn. However, his only loss and draw are to the same man, Gray Maynard; some even argue he lost the second fight with Maynard. The two will settle the score in a third go round this summer. Alvarez's size and strength is why I rate him above Edgar at lightweight.

9.) Gilbert Melendez - Strikeforce Lightweight Champion (18-2, 10 KO's 1 sub)

The guy everyone would love to see Alvarez fight, 'El Nino' is a top flight grappler from the renowned Cesar Gracie camp. However, I don't think his stand-up game compares to Alvarez's and his competition level overall isn't much better either. Ironically, tonight he's defending his title against tough Tatsuya Kawajiri, but it will be his first fight in a year when he looked great against Dream lightweight champ Shinya Aoki. Thus, for these reasons is why I rate him the third best lightweight on this list.

10.) Jake Shields - UFC #1 Welterweight Contender (26-4-1, 3 KO's 10 subs)

The only non-champion on this list, that is only because he is a recent entry to the UFC. Shields has held world titles in five different organizations, most recently in Strikeforce. He is the third Cesar Gracie fighter on this list, which says something about their camp. Before you marvel at Silva's current win streak, Shields is riding 15 consecutive victories over six years. He will challenge St. Pierre in three weeks at UFC 129.

Before you ask how a top ten pound for pound list would not include at least one heavyweight, hear me out. UFC Champion Cain Velasquez, while great, still has had only nine pro fights. Strikeforce champ Alistair Overeem has not been active enough in MMA lately to merit consideration and Fedor Emelianenko who topped this list for years, has lost his last two fights in a row.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The Continuous Evolution of MMA

When you have a sport that is barely over 17 years old, it's safe to assume that the ascension and evolution of that sport will grow at a rapid pace. However, when the sport is mixed martial arts, with so many different facets involved, it's even safer to assume that growth will be even faster. Yet, when you take a look at the continuous evolution of MMA, I don't think even the most hardcore fans could have imagined what we've witnessed in the last few months alone.

In November, 1993 when we first saw a tall lanky Brazilian named Royce Gracie disable and wrap up much larger opponents with an art form we were unfamiliar with, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, we were amazed. At the time, everyone figured after 65 years of the Gracie family practicing and perfecting their art, it could not get much better. Well, last weekend's MMA action, which produced two different submission of the year candidates in one night, proved that even now over 80 years old, BJJ is ever-evolving; such is the case with MMA.

After those early days of the UFC, when the sport was much more referred to as NHB or 'No Holds Barred', we knew changes were inevitable if the sport was going to survive. There was no way open hand tournaments with at least three fights in one night was going to last. So, just eight years later in 2001, Zuffa Entertainment takes over a fledgling sport and legitimizes it with rules and regulations recognized by the New Jersey State Athletic Commission.

Now equipped with weight classes, gloves and governing bodies across the U.S., MMA as we know it had finally reached its potential; or so we thought. Just four years later, the sport hits mainstream television with its own reality show, 'The Ultimate Fighter'. However, no one could have expected that the finalists of that first season, Forrest Griffin and Stephen Bonner, would put on arguably the greatest fight in the sports history and change the face of the sport. After this, there's no way things can get any better, or could they?

Forget the last five plus years, the last few months alone have shown that MMA and its athletes are far from reaching their full potential. Take the last World Extreme Cagefighting Lightweight (155 lbs.) champion, Anthony 'Showtime' Pettis. Just three and a half months ago, in the final fight in WEC history, 'Showtime' lived up to his name by pulling off a move in the fifth and final round of his championship winning fight against former champ Ben Henderson.

(Pictured above) Pettis, right in line with the heat of the action, in one fell swoop, jumped off the cage and threw a round kick with the same leg he used to jump off the cage with. His target, Henderson's face, was reached with precise accuracy; Henderson was dropped, while Pettis with the grace of a Ballerina pounced on his opponent. We as fans were left screaming because we had never seen anything like it. There's no way another kick could be as astounding; or could it?

Less than two months later, Anderson 'The Spider' Silva throws and knocks out Vitor Belfort with the front kick heard round the world. After a lackluster and cautious first three minutes of their fight, Silva surprised Belfort, who was weary of 'the Spider's hands', with a pinpoint front kick delivered directly to Belfort's Jaw. The result, a KO and our unified reaction of wow! Front kicks in MMA aren't necessarily a weapon of choice, unless you're a 'Spider' of course.

However, as mentioned above, the advancements have not been made in striking alone. Jiu-Jitsu is a science unto itself and its seemingly limitless potential was superbly displayed last week in both Bellator and the UFC respectively. 205 lb. Rich Hale pulled off the second inverted triangle choke we've seen in the last two years and 'The Korean Zombie' Chang Sung Jung won his fight with the first ever 'twister' submission in MMA competition. These fantastic finishes are all just part of the continuous evolution of MMA.

Junkie Gathering 2017... this time it was personal

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