Friday, December 23, 2011

UFC 141 Preview: 2011 is going out with a bang

As I sit here previewing next Friday’s UFC 141 card it suddenly dawned on me that no matter what I say regarding the main event, it’s quite simple, somebody’s getting knocked the f*** out! I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that when you have two finely tuned behemoths coming at each other, something or somebody’s got to give; the question here is who?

One thing is for sure, UFC President Dana White and matchmaker extraordinaire Joe Silva can never be accused of protecting or coddling any of their fighters. On the last show of the year they have paired arguably their biggest money draw in former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar against their biggest free agent signing this year in former Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair ‘Demolition Man’ Overeem. The result is a fight for the ages that is intriguing and full of questions for many reasons.

First and foremost is, what Brock Lesnar can we expect considering Lesnar (5-2, 2 KO’s 2 subs) hasn’t competed since his title losing affair against Cain Velasquez 14 months ago? The reason behind the layoff was his second bout in two years against Diverticulitis, a serious condition that affects the digestive system. Thus, Lesnar had to endure a second surgical procedure to correct the problem, which always leaves the lingering question of how healthy is he?

This doesn’t even take into account, the rust incurred from such a long layoff. One needs to remember that while he’s a freak of nature type of athlete with top of the line wrestling credentials, he’s still a relative pup in the cage with only seven pro fights to his credit. Compare that resume to Overeem (35-11, 14 KO’s 19 subs) and on paper at least it looks like a mismatch.

However, Lesnar holds one wild card, wrestling. If he is able to clinch Overeem and take him down before “The Reem,” as he is also known, is able to inflict his damage, the UFC newcomer could be in a world of hurt like he’s never experienced before. Lesnar may be inexperienced, but he is massive and he’s a monster, literally. Thus, having him with that wrestling ability on top of you can spell doom.

Yet, that wild card is all he has in a hand that at best would sum up to only two pair in poker. Overeem on the other hand has everything from a three of a kind to a flush. Highly skilled in kickboxing, based on his background in Holland and experienced in all facets of Mixed Martial Arts from his vast international competition, I expect the “Demoltion Man” to live up to his name and demolish his opponent.

It’s no secret Lesnar doesn’t like to get hit; granted nobody does, but he’s a fish out of water as soon as he get’s touched and when facing Overeem, I anticipate he’s going to get hit fast and hard before he’s ever able to impose his wrestling will on the Dutch striker. That coupled with cage rust is why I am picking Overeem by first round TKO. If that happens, a showdown with current UFC champion Junior Dos Santos would be dynamite, literally and figuratively.

In the co-main event, we’re going from one extreme to the other as unlike the two Goliaths that are facing each other in the main event this fight takes place in the lightweight (155 lbs.) division. Yet, don’t be surprised if this one takes fight of the night honors as Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone (17-3, 1 KO, 13 subs) looks to make it seven wins in a row against talented Nate Diaz (14-7, 3 KO’s 10 subs). This fight may be about as even as you can get.

Both guys are extremely versatile and are equally adept standing or on the ground. While conventional wisdom would probably have you lean towards Diaz as far as jiu-jitsu is concerned, it’s hard to ignore Cowboy’s 13 submission victories. Also, while Nate is unorthodox, but effective with his boxing, Cerrone has kicks in his arsenal that Diaz just doesn’t possess.

Almost too hard to call it, I’m going to pick Cerrone in this one via decision based on one factor. In a failed attempt at moving up to welterweight, Diaz was tossed around like a rag doll in his fight against Rory MacDonald. I think Cerrone may have the strength advantage between the two, which is my overriding factor in this one. On another note, this will be Cowboy’s fifth fight in 2011.

Finally, in a very interesting fight welterweights (170 lbs.) Jon Fitch (23-3-1, 5 KO’s, 5 subs) and Johny Hendricks (11-1, 6 KO’s 1 sub) square off in a contender’s match between two of the division’s best wrestlers. That said, while Fitch has challenged once for the belt and is arguably the number one contender right now, I am picking Hendricks via decision. The difference is boxing where Hendricks has shown constant and developing improvement. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Is Melendez King of the Hill or stuck in purgatory?

Following another impressive performance Saturday night, against yet another formidable challenger, Strikeforce lightweight (155 lbs.) champion Gilbert 'El Nino' Melendez finds himself in quite a strange place. Is he 'King of the Hill' or is he stuck in purgatory? Arguably the number one lightweight in the world and easily one of the top ten pound for pound fighters as well, you would think there is no question, but there is. That is because Melendez finds himself stuck between a rock and a hard place.

Being a champion at any level is a great accomplishment, whether it is as an amateur or as a professional at a small regional promotion. Thus, being a Strikeforce champion is nothing to sneeze at, but there is always the stigma of not being a UFC champion; which is the pinnacle of Mixed Martial Arts by where all other fighters are measured. It may not be fair, and in some cases may not be accurate, but as the phrase says, "it is what it is."

Melendez (20-2, 11 KO's 1 sub) handled his business on Saturday night as he convincingly won a unanimous decision over very tough Jorge 'Gamebred' Masvidal. That gives him six straight victories in a row and the only two losses on his record he's avenged. However, when you compare the names of his last six opponents, with those of current UFC champion Frankie Edgar, there seems to be a definite drop in competition. They've all been good fighters, but outside of Shinya Aoki, who was ranked number two in the world at the time, they were not necessarily cream of the crop.

That is of no fault of 'El Nino' though; loyal to the end, he made his name through Strikeforce when the UFC, for some reason, wouldn't give him a look. However, now under the Zuffa banner that also owns the UFC, Strikeforce, which was always looked upon as second fiddle, is now looking more like a minor league or junior circuit. Nonetheless, because Strikeforce is now owned by Zuffa, everyone, including Melendez, just knew it was a matter of time before he found himself challenging for the coveted UFC title. The time was supposed to be now at the end of Strikeforce's cable TV deal with the Showtime network. "Not so fast my friends," as ESPN's Lee Corso would say.

It was recently announced that Strikeforce renewed their contract with Showtime, which quipped many people to ask why? I too was asking myself the same question, but after thinking about it clearly, it's simple; it's all about the Benjamin's. The UFC recently signed a major network television deal with FOX. However, Zuffa realizing that cable network money is just as green and valuable knew it had to keep its hand in that cookie jar as well. How do you do it without causing a conflict of interest? You keep Strikeforce as a separate brand; problem solved.

Great for Zuffa, but where does that leave Melendez? If I know UFC President Dana White, I wouldn't worry too much. He realizes he has quite a commodity in the Strikeforce champion, so I'm sure he'll do whatever he has to, both financially and competitively to keep Melendez happy. The lightweight division in the UFC is probably the deepest in the company; especially with the WEC merger last year; so I wouldn't be surprised if you saw some well known names and high caliber fighters make their way onto the Strikeforce roster.

Yet, that's not etched in stone and Melendez has all but cleaned out the cupboard bare. Therefore, till some more big name fighters make their way into Strikeforce, he'll just keep playing Russian roulette with his world ranking as former Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez did before him and you see what that got him; a loss to a young hungry lion and more importantly a potential loss of big paydays. Thus, Melendez remains in purgatory and although he is King of the Hill in Strikeforce, that's almost like being Anthony Michael Hall's character was in the movie 'Sixteen Candles'; King of the Dipsh*ts!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

UFC 140: Is there still any doubt out there?

Although Jon 'Bones' Jones (15-1, 8 KO's 5 subs) is the UFC light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) champion and has already defeated former champions Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua and Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson, people still doubt whether he's for real. After his title defense Saturday night against yet another former champion, Lyoto 'The Dragon' Machida (17-3, 6 KO's 2 subs), is there still any doubt out there? UFC 140 took place in Toronto, Canada and our neighbors to the north were treated to some exciting fights.

In the main event, champ Jones, still only 24 years old, found himself facing possibly the biggest test of his career yet. That is because while the biggest thing with fighting Jones is trying to solve the puzzle that he is, his opponent Machida is a brain twister of his own. Using a counter attacking Karate based style, Machida was effective and appeared to have Jones not only confused, but concerned early on. As a matter of fact, he clearly won the first round, which is something no one has been able to do against the unorthodox Jones.

However, the second round proved another story as Jones found the missing piece to the Machida puzzle; in this case it was closing the distance. By doing so he was able take Machida down, apply some ground and pound and eventually throw an elbow which caused a cut to the forehead. He then was able to catch Machida in a standing guillotine choke and, because of his uncanny size & length, torque his neck to the point that he literally put the dragon to sleep. I don't think there is any doubt left, Jones is legit and the future of this sport.

In the co-main event, it was a rematch of former UFC heavyweight champions between Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (33-7-1, 3 KO's 20 subs) and Frank Mir (16-5 3 KO's 9 subs). Not only are these two former champions, but arguably the best submission experts in the division. That said, when you have guys this big possessed with that type of skill, injury through submission is always a possibility. Such was the case in this fight.

After a great start in the first round for Nogueira, where he had Frank Mir's number with effective dirty boxing (in close-fighting), it was a vicious right hand that dropped Mir; it looked as though Big Nog was on the verge of victory. Always confident in his ground game, he jumped on Mir, going for a possible choke. Oddly enough, it appeared as though the chokehold somehow revived Mir and he was able to reverse position. He inevitably got on top, secured Nogueira's arm with a Kimura lock and applied so much pressure, he broke the arm forcing Nog to tap.

Frank Mir now becomes the first man to not only knockout Nogueira, but to submit him as well. He said it perfectly in his post-fight interview when Joe Rogan asked him about the submission; "Unfortunately when you are our size and as dangerous as we are, these things are going to happen. Hopefully, Nogueira is going to be okay, I idolize him."

Five years ago, light-heavyweights Tito 'The Huntington Beach Bad Boy' Ortiz (16-10-1, 8 KO's 3 subs) and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (20-5, 6 KO's 6 subs) would have been the main event of any mixed martial arts event, including the UFC. However, at this point in their careers they are two legends of the sport who finally met in the cage after lengthy careers; the result was Lil' Nog finishing Tito in the first round. The irony is that Ortiz, the master of the ground and pound attack, was beaten at his own game as Nogueira hurt him with punches and elbows to the body while Ortiz was on his back. Time will tell if Ortiz will get to honor the last fight of his contract and career.

Talent and skill may be the cornerstone of a fighter's success, but that all goes out the window if that fighter doesn't keep their emotions in check. One can argue that is what happened to bantamweight (135 lbs.) Mark 'The Machine' Hominick (20-10, 8 KO's 8 subs) against 'The Korean Zombie' Chan Sung Jung (12-3, 3 KO's 7 subs). Riding the emotions of recently losing his close friend and trainer Shawn Tompkins, along with fighting in his home country, Hominick came out reckless throwing a wild left hook; the result was he got caught with a counter right hand that was the beginning of the end for him in just seven seconds.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Freedom of Speech, not in today's world

As we move ever so closer to 2012 and find ourselves fully entrenched in the world of social media, you better watch what you say; especially if you are a public figure. Never was this more clearly evident then on Thursday evening when UFC President Dana White reported that former World Extreme Cagefighting champion and current UFC bantamweight contender Miguel Torres had been cut from the roster. The reason was an inappropriate message from his twitter handle.

Torres, who is one of the more popular MMA fighters with fans, especially when it comes to twitter, made the mistake of tweeting the following, “If a rape van was called a surprise van more women wouldn’t mind going for rides in them.” That post was subsequently removed and replaced with, “If a windowless van was a called a surprise van more people wouldn’t mind going for rides in them. Everyone likes surprises.” Too late the damage was done; as if the latter post was any better.

Miguel Torres has been known to have a unique sense of humor. I personally got a chance to experience some of that humor when I got to meet and speak to him a little in May 2010. It is a quick hitting, no holds barred type of humor that would’ve made him perfect for the ‘70’s when TV shows like ‘All in the Family’ and ‘Sanford and Son’, could and would freely use language that cannot fly today. Considering the Redd Foxx shirt he had on in our photo above, it all makes sense.

Unfortunately, it’s not 1973 and we’re not in the 20th century. It’s nearly 2012, it’s the politcially correct 21st century and certain things just can’t be said; or in the case of the UFC, shouldn’t be said. Dana White implores his fighters to tweet to the masses, even going so far as to reward those that communicate with original and witty remarks. A year ago, he may have even just given Torres a slap on the wrist for this latest slip of the tweet. However, things are different now.

The UFC recently signed a major television deal with the FOX network that will make the brand and sport mainstream in 2012. Thus, what may have just ruffled White’s feathers a year ago, downright plucked them today. Torres was clearly wrong in his judgment, but he was also a casualty because of the business circles the UFC is in these days.

Fighters and employees of the company now have to readjust their thinking to a more corporate mindset before speaking; which brings me to former UFC light-heavyweight champion Rashad Evans. On Wednesday, one entire day before the Torres error in judgment, Evans too spoke before thinking. This one was live at a press conference promoting his January fight; on FOX no less, against fellow contender Phil Davis.

Evans, who wrestled collegiately at Michigan State threw a verbal jab at Davis, who wrestled at fellow Big Ten rival Penn State by saying, “I’m going to put my hands on you worse than that dude did them other kids at Penn State.” The comment was obviously referencing the charges of child molestation against former Penn State football coach Jerry Sandusky. Not necessarily the best choice of words considering the nature and sensitivity of the crime in question.

Yet, unlike the Torres reaction, White’s response was simply to acknowledge that it was a stupid comment and that Evans was doing it in the heat of promoting a fight. Could it be that Torres’s mistake was not so much what he said, but when he said it? One has to wonder if White after feeling the heat of having to downplay the Evans remark, felt compelled to take drastic measures upon hearing about the Torres fiasco. Things that make you go hmmmmm?

Another case closer to home where a twitter mistake came with a price is the one made by Lehigh University All-American wide receiver Ryan Spadola. On the eve of Lehigh’s quarterfinal matchup against North Dakota in the College Football Sub-division Tournament, Spadola has been suspended for a tweet he sent before last Saturday’s opening round game against Towson. The sad part here is the tweet did not even originate with him.

The tweet, which referenced the Towson student body and contained a racial slur, was originally posted by a friend of Spadola’s. However, the mistake by the receiver was made when he decided to retweet it; thus, in essence he made it his. The NCAA got wind of it and tomorrow in what is the biggest game so far of his collegiate career, the junior wide receiver has to pay the price for his actions.

These incidents are just the latest of athletes, professional and amateur, who have made the mistake of speaking without thinking things through; especially when it comes to twitter. Usually not a day goes by anymore without hearing of some athlete’s downright dumb twitter comment, usually responding to something they should just stay clear of. Freedom of speech does not necessarily translate to say whatever you think; especially not in today’s world.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Exposed through redemption

As some read this column, they may believe I'm speaking from a biased opinion; seeing that I've never hidden the fact that I'm a proud Puerto Rican American who has always been a Miguel Cotto fan. However, those that know me know better. I'll be the first to admit a totally different opinion if I truly feel one. Unfortunately for Antonio Margarito (pictured at left) I can't, because Saturday night he was exposed through Cotto's redemption.

In a rematch of their first fight, which took place three years ago, WBA light middleweight champion Miguel Cotto (37-2, 30 KO's) exacted revenge on Antonio Margarito (38-8, 27 KO's) for more reasons than just a previous loss. That is because unlike their first fight, Cotto and most intelligent boxing fans realize that this fight was actually fought on even ground. By now everyone is familiar with the suspicion that Margarito used illegal hand wraps in their first fight, since he was found to have such in his subsequent fight against Shane Mosely.

Yet, we may have never known about the illegal wraps, which included elements of Plaster of Paris, had it not been for the keen watchful eye of Mosely trainer Nazeem Richardson. Richardson, who was part of Cotto's camp Saturday, is the one that noticed the improprieties during the pre-fight against Mosely and since then Margarito hasn't been the same. It's very simple; the proof lies in the pudding or in this case the plaster.

Before he was ever caught with the wraps, he was the most feared fighter in the world who literally destroyed Cotto over 11 rounds. Since the discovery though, Margarito, or as noted boxing writer Pedro Fernandez likes to refer to him as, 'Margacheato' is only (1-3) in his last four fights. His three losses are against future Hall of Famer Mosely and champions Manny Pacquiao and Cotto, while his lone win is against little known Mexican Roberto Garcia.

On Saturday, as Cotto had predicted, the outcome was much different as can be seen in Margarito's face above. On this night it was Cotto who pummeled Margarito's face and right eye through 10 rounds, forcing the ringside doctor to stop the fight since his eye was completely shut. He did it with slick boxing and constant movement, as he did in their first fight; only this time there was just leather coming back, not leather surrounding a foreign object.

Cotto fought his fight without any concern and Margarito without the wraps, had no answer. The reason was not because Margarito couldn't hurt him; on the contrary. It was because he knew he was the truly superior fighter all along and it showed. I've been saying for months, after the beatdown Margarito took from Manny Pacquiao, that he's been exposed. Without that edge, he's just a good fighter, not a great fighter. Emanuel Steward summed it up best in his post fight comments when he said, "I think Margarito's days of being an elite fighter are done."

Meanwhile Cotto, who many said was not the same fighter after the beatings by Margarito and Pacquiao, looked sharper than ever under new trainer Pedro Diaz. With his future looking bright and redemption finally felt in his heart, he was asked by Max Kellerman what his thoughts were now about Margarito. Cotto's response, "As I said before, I don't think of him; he means nothing to me."

As for the man known to boxing pundits as 'The Tijuana Tornado', these days he's looking more like a Baja, California breeze. The relentless straight forward style he possesses that made him the man in boxing no one wanted to face is no longer a threat to the top tier fighters of the sport without the added advantage inside his gloves. He's been exposed through redemption and with serious injury twice now to that right eye, it remains to be seen (no pun intended) if he will continue to fight; let alone be able to.

Junkie Gathering 2017... this time it was personal

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