Sunday, August 28, 2011

UFC 134: Silva comes home better then ever

After it was all over, UFC's pilgrimage back to the motherland of MMA proved a huge success as a raucous Brazilian crowd was treated to an exciting night of fights. Of course, the culmination of this Brazilian heavy card was Anderson Silva's destruction of middleweight (185 lbs.) title challenger Yushin Okami in the main event. It took Silva (31-4, 18 KO's 6 subs) less than two rounds to dispatch of the number one contender in the division and leave everyone wondering, who can possibly present a challenge to arguably the greatest fighter in the world?

Using the first round to measure his opponent, one could argue Okami (26-6, 9 KO's 4 subs) won that round. Using the clinch game to keep Silva up against the cage he worked the patented Team Quest "dirty boxing" style. However, that was only until Silva broke away before the end of the round and dropped Okami with one of his own patented moves, an unorthodox quick right jab. The bell may have saved Okami, but only temporarily as the man known as 'The Spider' could smell blood.

In the second, Silva (pictured above) seemed supremely relaxed as he changed speeds and angles while confusing Okami with his approach. Eventually he caught Okami again and this time there was no bell in sight to stop the onslaught. The Spider swarmed on his opponent and threw punches to the face, elbows to the body in abundance forcing the referee to stop it at (2:04) of the second round. After the fight when asked by Kenny Florian whose next, Silva jokingly replied, "my clone."

In the co-main event, it took less time than that for former light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) champion Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua (20-5, 17 KO's 1 sub) to avenge his loss to fellow former champion Forrest Griffin (18-7, 3 KO's 7 subs). Actually, it took less than two minutes for Rua to drop Griffin with a right hand to the jaw that staggered the much larger challenger. From that point forward, Rua pounced on Griffin unloading hammer fists, while his opponent tried unsuccessfully to defend. Eventually a couple of those shots connected and left Griffin helpless forcing referee Mario Yamasaki to step in at (1:53) of the first round.

Shogun who was coming off a crushing defeat to Jon Jones where he lost his title was ecstatic as he screamed, "I'm back" in his post fight celebration. Those two fights went pretty much as I had predicted in my preview, but I could not pull off the trifecta as a living legend reminded me and others, he's still far from done. So goes the legacy of former heavyweight champion Antonio Rodrigo 'Minotauro' Nogueira (33-6-1, 3 KO's 20 subs).

Nogueira, coming back after a loss to current heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez and a subsequent 18 month layoff due to injury and multiple surgeries, refused to lose in his first fight ever in his hometown. Brendan Schaub (8-2, 7 KO's), who said before the fight, "I'll match up my boxing with anyone in the heavyweight division," was in for a rude awakening as Nogueira gave him a lesson. Schaub had his moments early, but as I stated, you could see in his eyes that on this night Nogueira was not going to be denied.

Matching everything his young challenger threw at him, 'Big Nog', the jiu-jitsu specialist, moved forward in his attack showing extreme confidence in his own boxing game. Schaub appeared surprised that Nogueira withstood his punches and inevitably it was Nog who caught the eager Schaub up against the cage, dropping him with a beautiful right-left combination. Nogueira unleashed a fury of punches that knocked out Schaub cold and down flat on his face. It took a little over three minutes and on this night, no one was happier than Nogueira.

After addressing the crowd with a huge smile on his face in his native Portuguese, he then translated and said he rushed his recovery for one reason. "I had three and a half months to train for this fight; I had surgeries in both my hips and my knee. I sacrificed though because I had never fought at home before." Up next for the former champion? Well, according to UFC President Dana White, who originally was thinking retirement, he now says, a possible title run. "It's not a matter of how many victories, it's who he fights," White said.

With the return to Brazil such a huge success, White is looking to return in 2012; this time not to fill an arena, but rather a stadium. "Trust me, people aren't going to have trouble getting tickets to the next one, I guarantee you that. We're going big next time; we're not playing around next time," White said. Could a mega-fight between Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre be the main event? Only time will tell.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Back in Brazil UFC 134: Silva vs. Okami Preview

It's been nearly 13 years at an event called 'Ultimate Brazil', since the UFC has been in the uncrowned birthplace of what we now know as Mixed Martial Arts. At that time the city was Sao Paolo, but this time the UFC is pulling out all the stops and are going to Rio de Janeiro. A card laden heavy with Brazilian fighters, probably the greatest of them all Anderson 'The Spider' Silva tops the bill.

Silva (30-4, 17 KO's, 6 subs), the current UFC middleweight (185 lbs.) champion, will defend that title against number one contender Yushin 'Thunder' Okami (26-5, 9 KO's 4 subs) in a rematch of a fight that took place over five years ago in another organization. In that fight, Okami won a technical disqualification due to what was deemed to be an illegal kick by Silva. I doubt the same will happen here as I anticipate Silva will dominate his formidable challenger.

This is not to say that Okami doesn't have a chance; he is a strong wrestler, which many believe is the formula needed to defeat Silva, ala Chael Sonnen's near flawless performance last year. He also has a very strong chin as of his five losses, only one has come via KO and that was early in his career back in 2003. However, in Silva he's fighting arguably the number one fighter in the world. As a matter of fact, that DQ loss to Okami was Silva's last.

Winner of 14 fights in a row, including 11 title defenses, Anderson Silva is the epitome of well rounded. A superior striker with fast hands, crisp boxing skills and legs like a spider that throw kicks from anywhere, he is also quite adept on the ground as a jiu-jitsu black belt under the renowned Nogueira brothers. Thus, with all this and fighting in his home country, I anticipate Silva winning in dominant fashion by KO, quite possibly in the first round. Don't blink is all else I'll say.

The co-main event is also a rematch and this one features two former UFC light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) champions in Forrest Griffin (18-6, 3 KO's 7 subs) and Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua (19-5, 16 KO's 1 sub). Their first fight which took place nearly four years ago at UFC 76, ended with Griffin pulling off a submission victory over Rua via rear naked choke late in the third round. In Rua's defense, it was his first fight ever in the octagon, versus the ring they used in the Pride Fighting Championships, and he was actually fighting injured with a torn ligament in his knee.

Thus, those factors, plus Griffin did not look all that impressive in his return from injury decision victory over Rich Franklin in February. 'Shogun' is looking to come back strong after losing his belt in his last fight; revenge and the fight taking place in Brazil all lead me to believe Rua will win by decision in a tough three round war. That said I am not picking all the Brazilians to win on this card.

In the other "big" fight of the night, heavyweight Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (32-6-1, 2 KO's 20 subs) takes on fast rising up and comer Brendan 'The Hybrid' Schaub (8-1, 7 KO's). Nogueira, a former UFC interim champion and former Pride champion, is a legend in this sport. Fighting professionally since 1999, the man known as 'Minotauro' has fought the who's who of the heavyweight division in MMA. Meanwhile Schaub has come a long way since his stint on 'The Ultimate Fighter' show less than two years ago.

In the last two years, the careers of these two have taken different paths. Nogueira hasn't fought since February 2010 when he got blasted in the first round by current champ Cain Velasquez. Since then he's had surgeries on both his hips and knees to repair nagging injuries. Meanwhile, since losing in the Ultimate Fighter Finale, Schaub is on a four fight win streak, winning three of four by knockout. Sadly, I expect that to happen here as I see Schaub finishing Nogueira via KO and possibly a passing of the torch from a legend to a future star. Enjoy the fights!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Only the good die young

Legendary singer/songwriter Billy Joel once sang "Only the good die young." However, that phrase was around long before Billy Joel, so you know it's definitely been around longer than the sport of Mixed Martial Arts; which will celebrate it's 18th birthday in November. However, in that short 18 year span MMA has lost its share of notables within the sport and sadly all of them were all still very young.

MMA fighters Evan Tanner (age 37) & Gilbert Aldana (29), former UFC broadcaster Ryan Bennett (35), the Godfather of MMA Radio, and Charles 'Mask' Lewis (46), co-founder of 'Tapout' Clothing, are just a few examples of all really good people dying tragically long before their time. Shockingly, last weekend another name was added to this list as renowned MMA trainer Shawn Tompkins (37) died of an apparent heart attack in his sleep. I won't profess to have known Shawn on a personal level, because I didn't. However, I can attest on a personal level that he was one of the truly good guys in MMA that I did get to know.

I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Shawn on more than one occasion, whether in passing while in Las Vegas, at his gym at the Tapout training facility or on the radio. Each and every time, he would take a few minutes to talk, listen and most importantly engage in conversation with me, whether it was two minutes or ten. It wasn't an obligation nor was it his duty; it was his personality because that's who Shawn Tompkins was. An engaging outgoing person, who loved his sport, loved what he was doing and loved the fans of the sport.

A week ago I was watching the UFC on Versus card when Mike Goldberg announced on the air the news regarding Shawn Tompkins passing; it hit me like a punch to the chest. I was shocked and saddened instantly. I remember having this same reaction when I heard the news that my friend Ryan Bennett was killed tragically in an auto accident. I considered Ryan a friend, since we spoke numerous times over a couple of years through his radio show 'Soundoff', though we never formally got a chance to meet face to face. Shawn Tompkins on the other hand, as you can see by the photo above, I actually ran into more than once.

A former professional fighter in the early days of the sport, Tompkins may have only had four pro fights, but he had a wealth of knowledge and experience. Between his fight career and then as an assistant trainer under legendary Bas Rutten in the International Fight League, Shawn honed his craft until his time as a full-time trainer came calling. It was in this realm that Shawn Tompkins excelled and made a name for himself. Some of his prized pupils included successful MMA fighters Sam Stout, Mark Hominick, Vitor Belfort and Chris Horodecki to name but a few.

A stint as a striking coach at Xtreme Couture and then finally branching off on his own and forming Team Tompkins at Tapout, Shawn Tompkins AKA 'The Coach', had finally reached the top of his profession. He was widely regarded as one of the best MMA trainers in the world. Sure, we never hung out or shared a beer together, but within this sport, unlike others, things are quite different. The hardcore MMA community is truly like a family and that includes athletes, notables and fans alike. Shawn Tompkins always made me feel that way when we spoke, which is why I can attest "only the good die young." Rest in Peace Coach.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

UFC on Versus 5: Lytle goes out a winner

On Sunday night for the first time in its nearly 18 year history, the UFC made its way to the land of bratwurst and brew, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. While the city delivered the eats, the UFC delivered the treats, as the night was filled with entertaining fights from top to bottom. However, the star of the night was simply Chris 'Lights Out' Lytle.

Lytle (41-18-4, 3 KO's 22 subs), fighting in his record tying 20th and last fight in the octagon, officially announced the day before he was retiring after a 13 year career in MMA. That does not count a career in the squared circle as a professional boxer as well where he amassed a record of (13-1, 7 KO's). His opponent in his last fight was the always dangerous Dan 'The Outlaw' Hardy (23-10, 11 KO's 4 subs)

In typical Chris Lytle fashion, he went out swinging for the fences only to end up adding to his submission total as he won via guillotine choke late in the third round. Ironically, it was Hardy who made the mistake of taking Lytle down at the end after they traded shots for the first 14 minutes. A five-time fight of the night winner and one of the most popular fighters in UFC history, it was fitting and classy that the Milwaukee crowd gave him a standing ovation during his post fight interview. "Thank you Chris Lytle for all the great fights and memories."

The co-main event of the evening featured two of the top contenders in the lightweight (155 lbs.) division. Jim Miller (20-3, 3 KO's 11 subs), riding a seven-fight win streak, was dominated over three rounds by Benson 'Smooth' Henderson (14-2, 2 KO's 8 subs). In the process, Miller not only lost the fight, but his chance at a title shot as he was clearly the number one contender going in. Meanwhile, Henderson a former World Extreme Cagefighting champion is now (2-0) since coming to the UFC.

In one of the most anticipated fights of the night, Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone (16-3, 1 KO 12 subs) used a perfectly thrown upper cut to the solar plexus (mid-section) to drop highly touted Charles Oliveira (14-2, 6 KO's, 7 subs). That proved the beginning of the end for the young Brazilian lightweight standout as Cerrone wasted no time in jumping on him with punches in bunches. At three minutes of the first round the referee had seen enough and stopped the fight giving Cerrone his first TKO victory.

The first fight of the main card featured welterweights (170 lbs.) Amir Sadollah (6-3, 2 subs) and Duane 'Bang' Ludwig (29-11, 10 KO's 6 subs) in a very pleasing Muay Thai styled affair, which saw Ludwig come away the victor. Using his superior experience, especially as a former Muay Thai world champion, Ludwig put on a clinic in striking and take down defense winning a unanimous decision.

In closing, the fight card was overshadowed by the shocking news that renowned MMA trainer Shawn Tompkins passed away earlier in the day at the much too young age of 37. While specifics haven't come out a/o yet, according to sources close to Tompkins, he apparently was in his native Canada when he didn't awaken from his sleep. I had the pleasure of meeting and talking to Shawn Tompkins on multiple occasions and am saddened not only by the news, but because he was always a class act and joy to talk to. May God bless his family during this difficult time and he rest in peace.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

UFC 133: Slow start, fast finish

Literally 30 minutes before the first fight and you can feel the electricity in the air here at The Wells Fargo Center in the City of Brotherly Love. Whether in Philadelphia, Las Vegas or Rio de Janeiro, where they'll be in three weeks, the UFC delivers excitement like no other sporting event.

That of course was before the fights actually started, so the question is did it actually deliver? Early on during the prelims, it looked as though the answer was going to be no as fight after fight kept ending in lackluster decisions. However, as the night progressed, so did the action and by the time we got to the main card, the action was full throttle. Now the big question was, did the main event deliver?

After fighting to the extremely rare unanimous draw four years ago, light-heavyweights (205 lbs.) Rashad 'Suga' Evans (15-1-1, 5 KO's, 2 subs) and Tito 'The Huntington Beach Bad Boy' Ortiz (16-8-1, 8 KO's 3 subs) put on a different show this time. Feeding off the electricity of the raucous Philly crowd, both fighters seemed energized and went at it right from the start. In the end, which came at 4:48 of the second round, it was Evans who was the victor ironically using Ortiz's forte, ground and pound.

Ortiz appeared liked the Tito of old, confident coming off his victory last month against Ryan Bader, but while he initiated the fight early, it was Evans who finished the first round with a takedown late that resulted in a pulverizing attack. More of the same came in the second round, although for a few seconds it looked as though the takedown may prove problematic as Ortiz secured a tight guillotine choke on Evans. However, Rashad was able to wrestle his way free and punish Ortiz with strikes from every angle, including a knee to the solar plexus area, which proved to be the finishing blow. Up next for Evans, a showdown with the winner of the Jon Jones/Rampage Jackson fight.

In the co-main event, in a battle of middleweight (185 lbs.) contenders, Vitor 'The Phenom' Belfort (20-9, 14 KO's 2 subs) finally went back to what made him a phenom in the first place, his fast hands. Using superior speed and boxing skills, Belfort caught Yoshihiro 'Sexyama' Akiyama (13-4, 5 KO's 7 subs) flush on the jaw with his patented left hand. That stopped the judoka in his tracks, Then, in an attack eerily similar to when he defeated Wanderlei Silva in 44 seconds back at Ultimate Brazil, Belfort threw punches in bunches on the ground with blazing speed, knocking out Akiyama in the process. In his post fight interview Belfort summed up his performance in two words, "I'm back."

In a clash of two true middleweight veterans of mixed martial arts it was Brian 'Bad Boy' Ebersole (48-14-1, 14 KO's 20 subs) who turned out to be Dennis 'Superman' Hallman's kryptonite. This was because he ended the fight in the first round with a punishing attack from the top position on the ground. Initially, it was Hallman (50-14-2, 4 KO's 39 subs) who pushed the pace and charged at Ebersole right from the start. However, Ebersole weathered the storm and reversed the tide inevitably forcing a referee stoppage. Ebersole who had 61 fights before ever getting a shot in the UFC has now won his first two in the octagon.  

In the first fight on the main card, 21 year old young stud Rory 'Ares' MacDonald (12-1, 5 KO's 6 subs) put it on Mike 'Quicksand' Pyle (21-8-1, 2 KO's 16 subs) early and often to garner a first round TKO victory. Using a nice combination of power shots, MacDonald eventually dropped the 35 year old veteran and pounced on him with a barrage of punches that forced the referee to come in and save a defenseless Pyle. Welterweight (170 lbs.) MacDonald, out of Canada, is so promising at such a young age, Dana White can only hope he turns out to be as good as another young Canadian welterweight, champion Georges St. Pierre.

On the undercard, Swedish sensation Alexander 'The Mauler' Gustafsson (12-1, 8 KO's 3 subs) provided the early fireworks of the night as he nailed Matt 'The Hammer' Hamill (10-4, 6 KO's) with a vicious left hook in the second round. That proved the beginning of the end for the former 'Ultimate Fighter' TV show alum.  Hamill has now lost his last two after winning his previous five. Meanwhile, Gustaffson has won his last three in a row and is (4-1) since coming to the UFC.

Junkie Gathering 2017... this time it was personal

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