Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Last Emperor's last stand?


Usually, when the word last is applied to anything, it implies there will be not another afterward. In Fedor Emelianenko's case, his nickname 'The Last Emperor' implies there will be no other MMA fighter like him after his reign. Well, The Last Emperor's reign is now over; now the question remains was this his last stand?

On Saturday the great Fedor Emelianenko (31-4, 8 KO's 16 subs), appeared to be on his way to victory. After an exciting back and forth start to his super fight against fellow legend Dan Henderson (28-8, 13 KO's, 2 subs), where each had their moments, Emelianenko (pictured @ left) appeared to take control and have 'Hendo' all but finished when he dropped him to his knees with a combination. However, just like a wounded tiger fights back when he is cornered, Henderson did the same.

As Emelianenko came in for the kill, Henderson fired off an uppercut from his knees, which caught the Russian on his jaw and seemed to finally break the mystique behind the legendary Fedor. Though he would say later that he felt the referee stopped the fight prematurely, truth is Emelianenko fell face first on the canvas stiffer than the Saddam Hussein statue fell in Firdos Square, Baghdad back in 2003. Yet, it is that denial that finally makes me believe for the first time that Emelianenko's best days are behind him.

As the Strikeforce card was about to begin, I discussed with Brian 'Goze' Garcia of MMA Junkie Radio, how a mutual friend had predicted Henderson would win by TKO. I said that I felt most people had jumped off the Fedor bandwagon much too quickly considering his previous loss was literally to a giant much bigger than him and that before that he got caught in a submission by one of the world's best heavyweight jiu-jitsu practitioners. I felt he would win last night and win pretty easily considering he was facing the Strikeforce light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) champion in a heavyweight fight. Suffice it to say, I was wrong.

Selfishly, I don't want to see Fedor Emelianenko go out on his shield riding a three fight losing streak after a ten year reign where he technically never lost. However, after seeing how he fell last night, and previously writing about and seeing former legends such as Wanderlei Silva continue to drop easily after absorbing undue punishment, I am also concerned. While he did not say either way what will happen next, he continues to state that in his life religion and family come first. Only time will tell if this was 'The Last Emperor's' last stand.

Probably lost in the shuffle of Strikeforce news this weekend, between Fedor’s third consecutive loss and Heavyweight Champion Alistair Overeem’s cut from the roster, is ESPN.com’s blatant disregard of the co-main event Saturday night. In their recap of Strikeforce’s Emelianenko vs. Henderson card, ESPN.com discussed the main event, and they also recapped the Daley/Woodley and Kennedy/Lawler fights. Nowhere to be found was the result of the women’s championship fight between former champ Marloes Coenen and new champion Meisha Tate.

I understand in the landscape of combat sports, women are still looked upon as a fringe commodity among the majority of fans; but the truth is these two women are extremely skilled in their craft and showed as much during four rounds on Saturday. It was a back and forth battle in which both women showed excellent skills both standing and on the ground, with Tate ultimately winning by submission. Yet, the so-called worldwide leader in sports coverage has treated them no better than the late great Rodney Dangerfield, “women still get no respect.”





Sunday, July 24, 2011

Bellator 47: Surprisingly one-sided


What a difference a year makes? A year ago, Pat Curran (pictured @ left) was a relative unknown when he entered the Bellator season three lightweight (155 lbs.) eight-man tournament and won. Though he lost in his bid against lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, he showed his worth by lasting five rounds with one of the top pound for pound fighters in the world. This year, he appears to be doing the same thing, only this time it's in the featherweight (145 lbs.) division and he's a clear cut favorite.

Curran (15-4, 3 KO's 5 subs) won a unanimous decision last night in the tournament semifinals against highly touted and pre-tourney favorite Ronnie 'Kid Ninja' Mann (20-4-1, 3 KO's 10 subs) in a surprisingly one-sided affair. Always improving on his all-around skills, Curran used his length to keep Mann at bay as he picked him apart with clean and effective striking. A flying knee early on that caught Mann flush, seemed to set the tone for the remainder of the fight.

Mann had some moments in the second and third rounds where he was able to finally attack and reach Curran, eventually getting him to the ground and working some submissions, but in both cases it was within the last seconds of each round. A tight guillotine choke at the end of the second round may have proved to be Curran's undoing had the bell not have saved him, as Mann really had it sunk in deep. Up next for Curran in the tourney final is another stiff test in Brazilian Marlon Sandro.

Sandro (19-2, 7 KO's, 3 subs) won his semifinal against fellow Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Nazareno 'Naza' Malegarie (20-2, 5 KO's 13 subs) via unanimous decision as well. This was a South American Civil War as Malegarie is Argentinean, but the war was fought primarily on the feet for these two renowned grapplers where Sandro clearly had the advantage. While Malegarie took the fight to Sandro, he wasn't able to do much else as Sandro used superior striking and takedown defense to garner the decision.

Curran and Sandro will meet in less than one month, on August 20th, in the tournament finale for the right to meet the winner of the fight between current featherweight champion Joe Warren and last season's tournament winner Patricky 'Pitbull' Freire. Before last night, I had said that I felt the winner of the Mann/Curran semifinal would win the tournament and after last night I feel no different. I am picking Pat Curran to defeat Marlon Sandro next month and this time, eventually winning a world championship when he gets that shot again.

On the undercard, it was a sweet homecoming for London Ontario, Canada native Chris Horodecki (18-3, 7 KO's 3 subs), as he cruised to a unanimous decision victory in his three round affair against game Chris Saunders (9-2, 3 KO's 2 subs). Horodecki a veteran of numerous fights in both the International Fight League (IFL) and World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) used that experience to out wrestle and control Saunders AKA as 'The So-Cal Kid'. Horodecki looks like a great addition to Bellator's growing lightweight (155 lbs.) stable.

The only fireworks of the night came early and quick as huge heavyweights Neil 'Goliath' Grove (11-3-1, 11 KO's) and Zak Jensen (10-7, 6 KO's 4 subs) let it all hangout for exactly two minutes of the first round. While Jensen dropped Grove early with a right hand during an exchange, it was Grove who withstood the storm and eventually got on top of Jensen on the ground. When he got there, he was not going to be denied as he powered shots that included punches, elbows and hammerfists alike, right through Jensen's guard forcing the referee to stop it. Grove is looking towards an eventual rematch against Bellator champion Cole Konrad who defeated him last October in his championship bid.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Live your dream and stay true to it


"Live your dream and stay true to it;” that’s the creed MMA fighter Jimmy Spicuzza lives by everyday. It is part of what sustains him on his quest to become a champion one day. It hasn’t been an easy road so far for this talented lightweight (155 lbs.) fighter from Las Vegas, but that road is also what drives him to make his dream come true.

So you want to be a professional fighter? That’s what you hear Dana White asks prospects every season on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’. Too bad he hasn’t asked Jimmy Spicuzza yet, because he would’ve gotten his answer by now. When I last interviewed Jimmy a year ago, he was an amateur champion in the Tuff ‘N‘ Uff organization who had just won his fifth fight. Everything was looking up as he was about to turn pro and make his dream come true.

One year later, the dream remains and luckily everything is still looking up, but things haven’t progressed as Jimmy Spicuzza expected. He’s had one pro fight so far and it’s one he had to figuratively fight for. In March of this year, he headlined a nine fight MMA card in St. George, Utah for the CFC or Crown Fighting Championships organization.

“They brought me in as a fall guy for the hometown boy Rusty Pearson who was (7-2) at the time I fought him,” Spicuzza said. Apparently the promoter didn’t do his homework or didn’t know what I already knew because it took Jimmy all of two minutes to catch Pearson with an armbar submission. “I had broken my nose two weeks before that fight during sparring, but there was no way I was going to let this fight go that I had worked so hard to get.”

You’d think after a performance like that in your professional debut the offers for future fights would come flying in. However, to date that’s the only fight Spicuzza has had. “I’ve hired a management company, so I can just concentrate on training. They told me they are fielding some offers, but nothing has materialized a/o yet. They are affiliated with Alchemist MMA and they said they may hook me up with them, so I remain optimistic.”

Meanwhile, Jimmy Spicuzza continues to stay committed and show the same sacrifice and dedication he showed a year ago. He still gets up every morning to work in the family business and then trains at various Las Vegas gyms with some of the sports best. “I’m still working my Muay Thai and striking with Master Chen @ J-Sect and my Jiu-Jitsu with Robert Drysdale. I’m also getting in training at Xtreme Couture and Frank Mir’s gym as well.”

As for the immediate future, Spicuzza says, “I’ve been contacted by the CFC about possibly fighting for them in Utah again for their lightweight title. Also, I have potential fights lined up for August and September in Hawaii and Arizona respectively. I am hopeful I can get in at least three more fights before the end of the year.”

As for long term goals, “I am hoping I can get a few fights and then eventually land either on a Strikeforce Challengers Series card or maybe even a Bellator tournament," he said. The diligent way this kid lives his life and the skills he possesses, I anticipate that those goals will be reached a lot sooner than later. However, don’t believe me, believe what Jimmy Spicuzza himself wrote, which is tattooed on his right rib cage:

“The lessons we learn in life come from the mistakes we make. The best thing someone can do is never give up. Life is what you make of it; learn from what you experience, don’t let it break you. You always have your pride and your family. Understand the fact that the sun will rise another day and the world can be yours. Live your dreams and stay true to those that you value most; because they are those that will be there when the sh** hits the fan. LIFE.”

You can follow Jimmy on Facebook at Jimmy Spicuzza or on Twitter @JimmySpicuzza and also on his website www.jimmyspicuzza.com

Friday, July 8, 2011

How many is too many?


It is the age old question when it comes to boxing that a/o late has come into play more and more in the short history of mixed martial arts as well. The question, how many is too many? What are they referring to, knockouts? The answer, well that is up for debate.

After witnessing MMA living legend Wanderlei Silva crumple to the ground after only 27 seconds at the hands of Chris Leben in their fight at UFC 132 last weekend, that question has been debated all week. Should the icon Silva, (pictured @ left after being KO'ed by Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson in 2008), finally retire. Considering what I saw last week I say yes; but don't listen to me, listen to the facts.

The facts are that numerous studies have been conducted over the last few years on the brains of former athletes who have suffered concussions while competing at the highest level of sports such as football, hockey etc. These studies have shown significant damage to the brains of athletes that suffer repeated trauma, such as concussion caused by blows to the head. Former NFL player Dave Duerson, who committed suicide in February of this year at the age of 50, insisted that his brain be examined upon his death. The results were shocking, yet not surprising.

Doctors at Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy determined that Duerson had, "classic" and "moderately advanced" symptoms of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE. Duerson's was the 14th of 15 brains of former NFL players to be examined at the center that was diagnosed with CTE. Thus, you can imagine what a pro fighter's chance of such a disease is. However, that's only the scientific fact. The other fact lies, no pun intended, in the repeated falls of some of boxing and MMA's greatest fighters over the last few years.

Silva (33-11-1) is just the latest example of this dizzying fact. At only 35 years of age, he is just (2-6) in his last eight fights, suffering five of those losses by brutal KO's, four of them in the first round. The one fight he didn't lose by KO, he took a beating at the hands of another fallen legend himself Chuck Liddell. Liddell (21-8), one of the all-time greats in MMA, finished his career going (1-5) in his last six fights with four of those losses ending by vicious one punch knockouts.

What do these two iconic warriors have in common? Once there lights were turned off once, it repeated itself over and over and each time it would happen easier the moment they got tagged. However, it's not just limited to these two and it's not just MMA fighters. A couple of examples in boxing as well will show that the same pattern has repeated itself.

Former multi-division champion and another all-time great in his sport, Roy Jones, Jr. has suffered the same fate over the last few years. Virtually untouchable in his first 50 fights going (49-1) with his only loss a disqualification, he's gone (5-7) in his last 12. Four of those seven losses have come by way of scary knockouts that all started with a second round lights out KO at the hands of Antonio Tarver seven years ago. Since then, once he gets touched, Jones head and body seems to shut down.

One vicious knockout appears to be all that is needed to alter a fighter's chemistry and ultimately his career. The proof is in the pudding in both MMA and boxing. A closer look at some other examples of some high profile names in both sports will show how their careers have "fallen'' by the wayside after one brutal knockout.

Andre Arlovski (15-9), former UFC heavyweight champion is (0-4) in his last four fights with three losses by KO in the first round. Other examples in MMA include, Matt Lindland (22-9), former UFC and Strikeforce veteran; he is (1-4) in his last four fights with two of those losses coming by way of KO in under a minute. Mirko 'Cro-Cop' Filipovic (27-9-2), UFC and Pride veteran is (5-5-1) in his last 11 fights with four losses by way of some of the most sick knockouts in UFC history.

In boxing there is former middleweight champion Jermain Taylor who is just (1-4) in his last five fights with three knockout losses after being unbeatable in his first 28 fights. Sadly, he has been cleared to fight again, which he is scheduled to do next month. Then there is the sad story of former Olympic and two-division champion Meldrick Taylor. Untouchable during his first 25 pro fights, one unfaithful punch from Julio Cesar Chavez with two seconds left in their championship bout in 1990 changed his career forever.

After that TKO loss, Taylor went (14-7) over the next 12 years with three of those losses coming by way of KO from '90-'94. A prodigy at the time of his first knockout loss to Chavez in 1990, he was a mere shell of his former self at the time Chavez knocked him out again four years later. This is why I think the answer to the question, how many is too many, may just be only one. They say one punch is all it takes to change the complexion of a fight. In some cases, it may change a whole lot more.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

UFC 132: Suprises & disappointments, but exciting


With so many first round finishes at UFC 132, it was kind of ironic that the main event turned out to be a five round back and forth battle. However, it ended up as I predicted it would, although that was the only prediction I got right in an otherwise surprising, but exciting night of fights. In the end it was UFC Bantamweight Champion (135 lbs) Dominick Cruz and challenger Urijah Faber who stole the show.

Cruz 'The Dominator' (18-1, 6 KO's 1 sub) and Faber 'The California Kid' (25-5, 7 KO's 13 subs) fought about as close a five rounds as you can get. While the judges didn't see it that way as they awarded Cruz (pictured @ left) a unanimous decision, with one judge scoring all five rounds for Cruz, the scores weren't indicative of how close the fight actually was. Ask anyone who watched it and they'll tell you it was a difficult fight to score.

That is because Cruz and Faber are so extremely fast and quick, that anytime either of them launched an attack, the other was able to counter it just as fast. It was truly an exciting match of speed, but ultimately it was Cruz's awkward, yet effective, style of firing and shooting from all angles that earned him a well deserved victory. Joe Rogan commented after the fight that he'd like to see them go at it for a third time; so would I as they are now (1-1).

Sadly the co-main event, though just as exciting, albeit for 27 seconds, may have marked the end of a true legend. Everyone, including themselves, knew that when middleweights (185 lbs) Wanderlei 'The Axe Murderer' Silva (33-11-1, 23 KO's 3 subs) and Chris 'The Crippler' Leben (26-7, 13 KO's 8 subs) stepped into the octagon, fireworks were going to erupt. These two only know one way to fight and that is going straight ahead firing punches and they did not disappoint. The disappointment came when it looked as though Silva may have Leben reeling with a couple of shots in the pocket, only to be caught with a vicious left uppercut that dropped him to his knees.

Leben followed with more lefts to the head on the ground that left the legend out on his knees until the referee stepped in to save him. Leben, though excited, remarked later on, "Wanderlei is my hero; he's always been my favorite fighter." While respectful, it may not be comforting to this icon of the sport who is now just (2-6) in his last eight fights. Silva, who is beloved around the world by so many fans, including myself, may need to come to the realization that it is time to move on.

With a successful gym in Las Vegas where he trains his own team of young fighters, there is no other reason for him to continue other than for the thrill of it. Although it happens more often that not in combat sports, it is really sad to see a true legend continue to get beat down after a storied career where he once issued the beatings. It happens to the best of them, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture etc, and now it is Silva's time to come to that realization. He may not have a choice as Dana White said in the post-fight press conference, "People love him so much for the way he fights and the type of person he is; but yeah, it's probably the end of the road for Silva."

Ironically, it was another legend that shocked the world last night. Former light-heavyweight (205 lbs) champ Tito Ortiz (16-8-1, 8 KO's 3 subs), who had not won a fight in nearly five years, rekindled glimpses of days gone by as he defeated the young lion Ryan 'Darth' Bader (12-2, 5 KO's 3 subs) via guillotine choke submission in less than two minutes of the first round. During an exchange, 'The Huntington Beach Bad Boy' caught Bader with a short right hand that dropped him in a daze and in the ensuing scramble; Ortiz secured the choke that forced the tap. Fighting for his life, as his job was clearly on the line; Ortiz lives to fight another day.

Finally, in a card full of highlight reel knockouts and submissions, the highlight of the night was clearly produced by welterweight (170 lbs) Carlos Condit (27-5, 13 KO's 13 subs). His perfectly timed flying right knee to the jaw of previously undefeated Dong Hyun Kim (14-1-1, 6 KO's 1 subs) in the first round, obviously stunned the man known as 'Stun Gun' dropping him to the canvas. 'The Natural Born Killer' then unleashed a vicious assault of punches that ended Kim's perfect record and night.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Welterweights beware, there's a new kid in town


Bethlehem, Pennsylvania may not immediately be looked upon as a breeding ground of boxing talent, but located just one hour north of boxing rich Philadelphia and 90 minutes west of New York City, you better recognize. While the boxing public keeps waiting for welterweight superstars Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. to someday settle the debate as to who the best in the world is, there is a little known 147 lb. fighter who's slowly creating a buzz in the northeast.

Ronald Cruz (13-0, 10 KO's), a native of South Bethlehem, put on quite a show in his hometown tonight in the first ever professional fight card held at the Pennsylvania Sands Casino. Headlining for the first time in his career against tough, tried and tested Doel Carrasquillo (15-18-1, 13 KO's), Cruz (pictured above with trainer Lemuel 'Indio' Rodriguez post fight) brought the crowd to a frenzy with a sixth round stoppage of the journeyman; when Carrasquillo signaled to legendary referee Steve Smoger he could no longer continue. Despite the record, Carrasquillo was coming off a KO win in February against a previous (12-0) fighter.

However, any thought he had of doing it again was squashed when he indicated his rib was broken by Cruz and he could no longer continue. Cruz, fighting in his first ever scheduled ten rounder, appeared to be in cruise control the first four rounds. However, when I asked Rodriguez about it he remarked, "On the contrary; he was following the game plan to perfection, which was to touch his body until he could take no more and the ref would be forced to stop it."

Meanwhile, with a hometown crowd in attendance and his first ever main event, I asked Cruz if he felt any pressure to perform. His response, "I felt it early and throughout my training camp, but I did my best to not let it consume me." When asked how he felt when he heard the thunderous ovation he received coming out of the locker room, he said, "It felt good." "I heard it, but I was trying to stay focused at the task at hand and not let myself, get caught up in the moment."

Though names like Pacquiao, Mayweather and even young stars like Ortiz and Berto, dominate the world 147 lb. landscape, welterweights better beware; there's a new kid in town. Now ranked in the top 100 in the world, looking sharper every time out and starting to be called 'Hands of Steel', because of his punching power and the old Bethlehem Steel this town was once known for, Ronald Cruz is that kid.

On the undercard, there were a couple of up and coming prospects that looked very impressive. One was super welterweight Grayson 'The Baby-Faced Assassin' Blake (3-0, 1 KO) out of York, PA. Exhibiting beautiful boxing skills, including punching combinations and nice head and shoulder movement, he easily out pointed his opponent Anthony Abrams (1-7) out of Philadelphia.

As for 'The City of Brotherly Love', Philadelphia's own Rashad 'All Business' Brown (5-0, 2 KO's) provided some early fireworks as he pummeled his opponent Omar 'The Machine' Sims (5-4, 3 KO's) from Baltimore, MD. After six workmen like rounds, including a knockdown in the second from a right hook to the head, Brown won a unanimous decision. At only 22 years of age, this super middleweight from Philly may be yet another name from this great fight city to look out for. Peltz Promotions out of Philadelphia put on a nice show in my hometown; hopefully they'll come back.

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