Tuesday, May 31, 2011

UFC 130: Fireworks end in a dud

UFC 130 may have started out with fireworks, but when and where it really counted, it ended with a dud. I guess that’s what happens when you lose your scheduled main event weeks before the event. Originally going to be headlined by the third fight between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard for the lightweight championship, injuries forced the cancellation of that fight. That left light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) contenders Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson (32-8, 14 KO’s 7 subs) and Matt ‘The Hammer’ Hamill (10-3, 6 KO’s) to pick up the slack and they didn’t.

I originally predicted Hamill could and would defeat Jackson (pictured at left), based solely on the blueprint Rashad Evans laid out for wrestlers, which he used one year prior, on how to beat the former champion. However, Hamill, a former division three national champion wrestler, was unable to do the same. As a matter of fact, Jackson was never in danger at all throughout the fight of being taken down.

That left the fight standing, where Jackson had a decisive advantage, and he used it effectively. Yet, Hamill was never in any serious trouble throughout, thus causing Jackson to win a lackluster unanimous decision. The 12,000+ in attendance, which is another issue, voiced their displeasure and apparently UFC President Dana White did not disagree. Part of that emotion came from what he was already feeling after the co-main event.

Heavyweights Frank Mir (15-5, 3 KO’s 8 subs), a former two-time champion, and Roy ‘Big Country’ Nelson (15-6, 8 KO’s 5 subs), both fighting in their hometown, did not do much to win their hometown fans over. Nelson especially, who weighed in @ 260 lbs, looked out of shape, more than normal, and unmotivated throughout. Mir meanwhile, did take the fight to Nelson, but didn’t do much to try and finish it. This resulted in another lopsided unanimous decision win for Mir.

To say Dana White was initially displeased with the way this fight played out is an understatement. In his post fight press conference on Saturday night he berated Mir by saying, “Frank Mir has been a two-time world champion. He’s been around a long time. He’s a super talented guy and I expect more from him.” However, he softened his stance a bit on the former champion 24 hours later when he said, “I was a little harsh on Mir. He came into that fight with the perfect gameplan, and he nailed Roy with some big shots. Mir dominated that fight from start to finish, and he deserves some credit for that."

As for the undercard, there was some excitement as All-American light-heavyweight Brian Stann (11-3, 8 KO’s, 1 sub) continued his winning ways by destroying Jorge Santiago (23-9, 9 KO’s, 12 subs) via TKO from punches in bunches in the second round. Also, in the battle of the twin towers, heavyweight contender 6’7” Travis ‘Hapa’ Browne (11-0-1, 9 KO’s 1 subs) garnered the KO of the night bonus for his highlight reel “Superman Punch” knockout over 6’11” Stefan ‘Skyscraper’ Struve (21-5, 5 KO’s 14 subs) in the first round.

The other bout on the undercard featured a welterweight (170 lbs.) tilt between contenders Rick ‘Horror’ Story (13-3, 3 KO’s 3 subs) and Thiago ‘Pitbull’ Alves (18-8, 11 KO’s 1 sub). What had the potential to be a dynamite fight, turned out to be another dud as Story dominated Alves with his wrestling and gutted out a unanimous three round decision victory. The win now propels Story though, riding a six-fight win streak, to the top tier of the division and a potential match-up with fellow wrestler and number one contender Jon Fitch.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Bellator review/UFC preview

One ends and another begins; it's not just the cycle of life, but the cycle of MMA as well. With the completion of Bellator's fourth season we are also on the cusp of UFC 130 in Las Vegas, where I'll be in just a few days taking in all the festivities. However, before then, I'll take a quick look back on this season's Bellator highlights and preview next weekend's big fights.

Bellator Fighting Championships mantra, "where title shots are earned, not given," was never more evident than this past Saturday night when their first ever light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) champion was crowned. Known for creating new MMA stars by giving relative unknowns an opportunity in their tournaments, Bellator appears to have found just that in Christian M'Pumbu (18-3-1, 7 KO's 8 subs). The French fighter, by way of the Democratic Republic of Congo, became the first African born champion in any major MMA organization Saturday night the same way he got to the finals, by TKO.

M'Pumbu (pictured above), AKA known as 'Tonton', hits like a "ton" of bricks as he knocked out all three of his opponents in Bellator's first ever light-heavyweight tournament to become champion; pretty impressive considering he literally walks around no higher than 200 lbs. Other tournament winners this season who've earned title shots in their respective divisions include Patricio 'Pitbull' Freire who will get a chance to avenge his only loss next season when he faces off against featherweight (145 lbs.) champ Joe Warren.

Another future star in the making, former All-American wrestler Michael Chandler, punched his ticket, (no pun intended), to the lightweight (155 lbs.) championship against one of the sports best in champion Eddie Alvarez. Finally, in the welterweight (170 lbs.) tournament, it was an early "thoroughbred" veteran favorite, Jay Hieron, who came out on top with an opportunity at a world title against current champ Ben Askren. With season four, the first on MTV2, another successful one and with the above listed title fights on tap along with more tournaments in store, season five in Bellator looks like it will be even bigger and better.

Looking towards next weekend, the UFC comes back to its home base in Vegas, with UFC 130 and another big card, literally. Oddly enough, it would've been even bigger had it not been for the loss of two little guys. The original main event, the lightweight championship and third fight between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard had to be scratched because of injuries to both during training. That bumps a light-heavyweight contender bout to the main event and a huge, in more ways than one, heavyweight fight to co-main status.

Former light-heavyweight champ Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson (31-8, 14 KO's 7 subs) steps back into the octagon for the first time in six months since his split decision win against Lyoto Machida, to take on former 'Ultimate Fighter' alum, Matt' The Hammer' Hamill (10-2, 6 KO's). Hamill, the former three-time division-three national wrestling champion, is riding a five-fight winning streak and while it may not be the popular opinion, I expect him to do the same here. Rampage, who packs the power to put anyone to sleep with one punch, has not shown a willingness to expand his game and that will be his downfall here.

Rashad Evans, also a former collegiate wrestler, showed the formula exactly one year ago, on how to use wrestling to defeat Jackson and I believe Hamill will employ more of the same. Unless Rampage has worked on his wrestling and takedown defense, I see Hamill with an improved stand-up game, avoiding the big shot and taking one of his own, literally, over and over again to grind out a decision. If that happens, Hamill will be right on course to eventually meet up with current champ Jon 'Bones' Jones, who Jones was handling quite easily before losing via disqualification for illegal elbow strikes.

In the co-main event, it's a "huge" Vegas showdown when former heavyweight champion Frank Mir (14-5, 3 KO's 8 subs) takes on the man known as 'Big Country', Roy Nelson (15-5, 8 KO's, 5 subs). While both are big men, usually coming in right under the 265 lbs. limit, they are both agile and mobile in their fighting styles. Mir, who stands 6'4", looks more proportionate for the weight class, while Nelson at 6 foot even, looks like someone who you'd typically see at the end of the bar on a Friday afternoon. However, don't let that fool you; Nelson is a skilled fighter who knows exactly how to use his weight.

Mir knows this all too well as he lost to Nelson in a Jiu-Jitsu tournament a few years back. Both are high-level Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belts with very heavy hands, thus making this a very intriguing match-up that can go either way. Therefore, my decision is being made solely on the one factor I see separating the two, heart. While Mir has stepped in to the cage 19 times and has faced the best the division has to offer, for some reason, I've always felt he's lacked something emotionally. Not sure what it is, but it's there and it's something I know Nelson has, which is why I'll pick him to defeat Mir via TKO.

One punch by Mir can end this whole discussion and make me look bad, but that is what makes this sport so great. It is also why I'll be in Vegas this week to catch all the action live when it goes down. Hopefully, it will live up to the hype I've predicted, but if not I'll be in Sin City, so I'll have fun regardless. What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but I'll be back next week to tell you all about it; the fights that is.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Silva's biggest threat may not be in the UFC

With a (28-4, 16 KO's, 5 subs) record, UFC middleweight champion Anderson 'The Spider' Silva is arguably the number one fighter in the world right now. Therefore, it's safe to say he's without question the best middleweight in the world; or is he? Step in Bellator middleweight champion Hector 'Lightning' Lombard (29-2-1, 16 KO's 6 subs), quite possibly Silva's biggest threat at 185 pounds who is not in the UFC.

Standing at only 5'9", the five inches in height he gives up to Anderson Silva may just be the only disadvantage the man AKA Shango would have against 'The Spider'. Lombard, a 2000 Judo Olympian, won his 22nd in 23 fights, with the only blemish being a draw, including 18 in a row, with a third round crushing knockout over Falaniko Vitale (29-10, 9 KO's 16 subs) in a non-title fight Saturday night. That is compared to 14 wins in a row for Silva in just about the same time period. So, what's the difference; level of competition?

Silva's compiled that record over five years with the majority of those fights taking place in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which boasts the best talent laden middleweight roster in the world. Meanwhile, Lombard, in nearly five years, besides Bellator has fought in the Cage Fighting Championships promotion out of Australia, where he is also the middleweight champion, and Warrior's Realm. Yet, what Lombard may lack in the form of competition, he more than makes up for in every other facet.

Besides being an Olympic Judoka and multi-world Judo champion, Lombard is also a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu Black Belt under Marcus 'Conan' Silviera of American Top Team, whose direct black belt lineage goes to the late great Carlson Gracie, Sr. himself. Also, as can be seen in the photo above, Lombard is powerfully built and knows exactly how to use that power when it comes to striking as can be noted by his 16 KO's. It took only one perfectly placed short right hand to the jaw to put Vitale on Queer Street Saturday night. He fell not once, but twice from the same punch; this to a guy who's only been KO'ed five times in 39 fights.

Silva meanwhile is also a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt under the renowned Nogueira brothers and his striking ability is unparalleled. A beautiful technical boxer with precise fast hands and leg kicks that are just as lethal, along with a devastating Muay Thai game, 'The Spider' has the perfect build for his style. With his wiry frame and long limbs, he is equally adept standing as he is on the ground. This is the reason why I think a fight between these two would be a great match-up.

Too bad we'll never get to see it though. As long as the UFC refuses to co-promote, and let's face it they don't need to, Lombard will have to settle for fights with very good, but not great opponents. Thus, he'll continue to toil in relative obscurity to the casual MMA community and will never be considered on Silva's level. That's a shame and a loss for MMA hard cores because Silva's biggest threat may not be in the UFC.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

"You are the true pound for pound King"

"You are the true pound for pound King." Note, that quote is not mine, although I concur 100%, but that quote came from Shane Mosley directly to Manny Pacquiao immediately after their fight Saturday night. With a swollen face and looking all of his 39 years of age in the ring, Mosley had nothing but praise for the best fighter in the world who wears boxing gloves; which is a whole other issue I will get too momentarily. Meanwhile, Pacquiao remains his always humble, but infinitely supreme self in the ring.

Although I did not write a formal preview for this fight, I did predict publicly via social media that I thought Pacquiao (53-3-2, 38 KO's) would win this fight via late round TKO, after beating down Mosley (46-7-1, 39 KO's) and would force him into retirement. The TKO never came, but the beat down was evident and although Mosley did not announce he was retiring, he went from being 'Sugar Shane' to 'Sweet 'n' Low Shane' three fights ago. Pacquiao meanwhile, responded to Jim Gray in his post-fight interview when asked, why he could not finish Shane after an early round knockdown; "my legs started to stiffen up on me. I don't know why, but this happened to me once before during the Marquez fight."

Of course everyone wants to finally see Pacquiao fight Floyd Mayweather, Jr., but personally I don't care at this point and I believe Manny doesn't either. Mayweather has not fought since he defeated Mosley over a year ago. Also, when Gray asked Pacquiao how he feels about it, his response was simply, "I only want the fight to happen because that is what the people want. I am here to make the people happy." In other words, he could care less at this point.

On the undercard, the Mexico vs. Puerto Rico rivalry is alive and well as Mexican Jorge 'Travieso' Arce (57-6-2, 44 KO's) upset former WBO super bantamweight champion Wilfredo Vasquez, Jr. (20-1-1, 17 KO's). Vasquez from Bayamon, Puerto Rico lost via TKO in the 12th and final round. However, this was a TKO solely because Arce appeared to have Vasquez in trouble against the ropes. After taking many shots, but throwing back as well, Vasquez's trainer, his father, a three-division former world champion, threw in the towel with two minutes left in the fight. A fight that was close in many people's eyes, including the judges.

I argue that this was a mistake for one reason. While I agree Vasquez, Jr. was clearly in trouble, at that point I felt that Vasquez, Sr. was not acting as a trainer, but rather as a father. I have no problem with a father protecting his son, but if that is the case, then your decision is not professional, but personal and I don't feel both can mesh in this game of boxing. Junior was clearly upset with his father in the corner for stopping the fight and it would not surprise me to see a change of trainer's from here on out.

In the fight prior to this, former middleweight champion Kelly 'The Ghost' Pavlik (37-2, 32 KO's) successfully came back from a stint in rehabilitation for alcoholism, although I do not agree with the decision. In a fight against previously undefeated super-middleweight prospect Alfonso Lopez (21-1, 16 KO's), Pavlik scored a majority decision victory. However, in a fight that was very close, I will point out that Lopez defeated Pavlik in every punch statistical category featured after the fight. Yet, one judge scored it 95-95, which shows how close it was, but the other two scores were 98-92 and 99-91 in a fight I and many others had Lopez winning.

This judging fiasco along with one other issue really ruined an otherwise entertaining night of fights for me. In all three fights mentioned above, I noticed a trend that's been going on quite a while now; in each fight, the competitors wore different brand gloves. I have an issue with this and I'll explain why. Whether they are made by Everlast, Grant, Reyes etc., every glove weighs the same and are sanctioned by the athletic commission, but that doesn't mean the playing field is the same. If each manufacturer makes their product differently than the other, then who is to say that one glove doesn't have some form of advantage over the other.

Though they may weigh the same, the padding may be slightly different. One may be more prone to cause thumb injuries to the eye, than the other. One brand may actually allow a fighter to scientifically have a speed advantage over the other. There was a time when both fighters were required to wear the same glove in a fight, when did that suddenly change? A friend of mine said to me Saturday night, "a glove is a glove isn't it?" My response was simply, "that's like saying Nike's are the same as Reject's/Bobo's; need I say more?"

Junkie Gathering 2017... this time it was personal

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