Sunday, December 30, 2012


Two-time national wrestling champion, Olympian and now MMA heavyweight Steve Mocco once told me his toughest opponent by far in wrestling was Cain Velasquez (Pictured @ left). He said it was because Cain was "relentless." He said, "No matter what the score was or what period it was in the match, he wouldn't stop coming forward."

Never was that trait more evident than on Saturday night when Velasquez (11-1, 9 KO's) came at Junior Dos Santos (15-2, 11 KO's, 2 subs) from the opening bell and never stopped coming. As a matter of fact, five rounds later Velasquez was still coming en route to a unanimous decision victory over the former UFC heavyweight champion, regaining his title that he previously lost to JDS. Cain was not going to be stopped as he was "a man on a mission," as was stated so eloquently by my buddy Dick Barrymore in California.

Velasquez pressured Dos Santos so much from the start that although the former champ was able to avoid Cain's repeated take down attempts early, the constant back pedaling and being on the defensive quickly slowed down Dos Santos. It was at that point that Velasquez, who was also using a crisp jab that was connecting while coming forward was inevitably able to snare Dos Santos in a clinch and take him down.

Once there, it was like a fly caught in a spider's web; Dos Santos, try as he may, was unable to get out from under Velasquez's clutch and punishing attack. Velasquez, hit Dos Santos and continued hitting him to the point that by the end of the fight, Dos Santos face looked like Gary Conway's character in the 1958 horror film, 'I was a Teenage Frankenstein'.

Okay, maybe not that bad; but by fights end, Dos Santos's face was a swollen mess. He was clearly a beaten man as was evidenced by the unanimous scores of 50-45, 50-43 and 50-44. Velasquez did just that as he beat Dos Santos to a bloody pulp.

I know it sounds more like a horror film than a fight, but pretty much that's what it was. Velasquez, who was a man possessed in his TKO victory back in May against Antonio Silva, looked even more determined on Saturday night. The dictionary defines 'relentless' as, "Unyielding severe, strict or harsh." Velasquez was all those things and then some in his victory against Junior Dos Santos.

In the co-main event, the action was the perfect prelude to the championship bout as lightweight (155 lbs.) contenders Jim Miller (22-4, 3 KO's, 12 subs) and Joe Lauzon (22-8, 4 KO's, 18 subs) put on a fight of the night performance in a back and forth tilt. Talk about a man possessed, Miller looked like a mini Velasquez as he too came right at Lauzon from the opening bell and would not stop. It was clearly the best Jim Miller has looked, especially coming off a submission loss to former number one contender Nate Diaz.

Lauzon did all he could to nullify Miller's attack and to his credit, he was able to turn the tide a few times throughout the fight when it got to the ground where he worked himself into a few submission attempts against the New Jersey native, but Miller was not to be denied. At the end, it was Miller winning by unanimous scores of 29-28, but for their effort both Miller and Lauzon each received a $65,000 'Fight of the Night' bonus.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

All good things must come to an end

All good things must come to an end. I've realized this more than ever this past week as I've been suffering from a severe case of empty nest syndrome since my daughter moved out of state to go to school. I wish I could keep her here close to me, but just like everything else that is prosperous and grows, it's her time to move on.

Though totally different, such is the case with mixed martial arts; especially in the UFC. 2012 was a year that marked the end of an era; the post-TUF era that began in 2005. It is also the year a generation of fighters from the pre-TUF era have either said goodbye to the sport or are soon to be on their way out.

The most recent indication of such is highlighted in the photo above where the legend known as 'The Prodigy' BJ Penn was sadly and unmercifully beat up for three rounds a couple of weeks back by young welterweight (170 lbs.) contender Rory MacDonald. Penn (16-9), who began his MMA and UFC career way back in May 2001, is just (1-4-1) in his last six fights; a testament that as great as Penn is, at just 34 years old, the game has passed him by.

Some may try to argue that it is because he is fighting above his prime weight class, which is lightweight (155 lbs.). However, I'll remind you that two of those recent four losses came at 155 to Frankie Edgar; part of the new generation of MMA fighters that have ushered in a new era of MMA. Yet Penn is far from the only Pre and Post TUF generation fighter that has succumbed to the evolution of MMA in 2012.

This year has seen the retirements of future Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz (16-11), who ended his career just (1-7-1) in his last nine fights; Mark Hominick (20-12), who lost his last four fights in a row after a run to a title shot and Stephen Bonnar (15-8), one half of the duo responsible for ushering in the post-TUF era in 2005. Bonnar went a mere (3-4) in his last seven.

Bonnar's TUF counterpart and the other half of the duo mentioned above, Forrest Griffin (19-7), is only (3-3) in his last six and has already hinted at retirement. Penn's nemesis and Ortiz's contemporary Matt Hughes (45-9), another fighter who has talked retirement and has not fought in over a year is only (4-5) in his last nine fights. Finally, there is living legend Wanderlei Silva (34-12), but only (3-7) in his last 10.

All of the fighters mentioned above, less Bonnar and Griffin, are legends in the sport. Bonnar and Griffin meanwhile, have cemented their own legacy with their 2005 classic TUF championship that is widely considered the number one fight in MMA history; Griffin also went on to become a UFC champion. Yet, as great as they all were, they are no longer "great." They are just good, even average in some cases and that is due to the ascension of the sport.

In just 19 years mixed martial arts has already had four different eras and is now heading into its fifth. There was the 'Pioneering era' from '93-'98. Then there was the "Dark era" from '99-'00. That was followed by the pre-TUF era from '01-'04 and the post-TUF era from '05-'12.

Now in 2013 it's the new generation of evolution that is taking over with fighters such as Jon Jones, Benson Henderson, Jose Aldo and the aforementioned Edgar at the forefront of the movement leading the way. Jones, Henderson and Aldo are all champions, while Edgar is a former champ, in their early to mid 20's that are a new breed of MMA fighter that have taken the sport to a whole new level; a level that has surpassed our heroes of the last decade and that's okay because all good things must come to an end.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The shot heard round the world

"The shot heard round the world," was the famous call for the NY Giants Bobby Thompson's dramatic walk off home run in the clinching game of the 1951 National League playoffs. It was so dramatic that 51 years later the phrase is universally known for that one play in sports; that was until Saturday night.

With a singular punch from his right hand with one second left in the sixth round, Juan Manuel Marquez delivered what I consider to be a "shot heard round the world." If not a shot, then a shock because the after effects of seeing Manny Pacquiao, arguably boxing's pound for pound best, laid out unconscious face down on the mat for several minutes was not only shocking, but scary. It was especially shocking considering Pacquaio seemed to have Marquez on the ropes (no pun intended).

In what was their fourth bout in eight years, Marquez (55-6-1, 40 KO's) and Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 KO's) put on their best fight yet. Not that the previous three were in anyway inferior, but the six rounds fought on Saturday had as many knockdowns in it since the first round of their first fight. Unfortunately for Pacquiao, who had not been down in any of the previous three affairs, two of the knockdowns, one permanent, were against him.

The first came in the third round when Marquez caught Pacquiao with a looping overhand right hand, ala former UFC champion Chuck Liddell, flush on the face. That one put Pac on his back and clearly stunned him, but he got right back up and finished the round. Determined to get it back, Pacquiao came back in the fifth with a straight right hand that dropped Marquez for the fifth time in his career against the Pac-Man.

Pac seemed in control going into the sixth and with Marquez bleeding profusely through his nose and Pacquiao sticking and moving with pin-point accuracy, the end appeared near and clear. Little did we know the end was near, but the outcome was not what we expected?

With Pacquaio aggressively pursuing Marquez and with just one second left in the sixth round, Marquez threw a counter right hand that met with Pacquaio's face just as the Filipino stepped in to throw a punch. That combination of force resulted in Pacquaio falling face first onto the mat completely unconscious and out for several minutes.

The fight was over; Marquez overjoyed deservedly celebrated his victory. Meanwhile, while Pacquaio lay motionless on the mat, HBO's commentator Jim Lampley made a comment I couldn't believe. He made reference to the Marquez punch being equivalent to "the tsunami that hit the Philippines."

I understand that Marquez's punch was as powerful as a tsunami and its target happens to be from the Philippines, but I immediately felt the comment was insensitive to the victims of that tsunami who had to endure that ordeal. Also, I thought it was insensitive to the people of the Philippines where Pacquiao is not just a native son, but an icon. It was a shot that was totally unnecessary.

From what I've been told, that country completely shuts down when Pacquaio fights; even the lawbreakers take the night off to watch their hero. For Lampley to make such a comment at a time when their beloved countryman is laid out unconscious, was thoughtless and without class. It's not the first time in his career Lampley has come out of his mouth with an idiotic statement. Just think about when he called a James Kirkland fight and said that Kirkland, who is African American, needed to "Go ghetto on him" referring to his opponent.

I've been saying for years Lampley has to go and this latest blunder is just another on his long list of asinine comments. All respect due to Larry Merchant, but at 81 years old it's time for him to retire and Jim Lampley to be put out to pasture. Emanuel Steward, "You are missed more than you know."

Saturday, December 8, 2012

PCC: VFS 7 Merry MMA in the Christmas City

It may be 18 days before bells jingle, people kiss beneath the mistletoe and reindeers are dashing through the snow; but before then it was Mixed Martial Arts action that made its way to the Christmas City on Friday night as PA Cage Combat held another successful show at the Sands Event Center, in Bethlehem, PA.

The main event saw Lehigh Valley bantamweight (135 lbs.) Scott 'The Animal' Heckman (13-3) win his fifth in a row as he took all three rounds against American Top Team's Ralph Acosta (9-8). Heckman was in control for the majority of the fight whether standing or on the ground.

Acosta had some moments early though as he worked his way to Heckman's back during a scramble in the first round. However Heckman, a three fight veteran of Bellator Fighting Championships, showed his experience, by not panicking and eventually reversing the tide. Upon doing so, it was Heckman unleashing punishment while standing and aggressively pursing a combination of guillotine and anaconda chokes on the ground. It's just a matter of time before Heckman finds himself back in the major leagues.

In the co-main event of the evening Bethlehem's own Rick 'El Numero Uno' Nuno, fighting in his professional debut, did not disappoint the many hometown fans in attendance as he finished tough Brad Mountain (1-3) via referee stoppage due to strikes. Nuno, who fights out of AMA Fight Club in Jersey, which is home to many UFC fighters, displayed his bread and butter fast hands en route to the victory.

It wasn't that easy early in the fight as Nuno found himself on the ground with Mountain on his back in a full body lock. Nuno however, showed that the ground game he's been working at AMA has been making a difference. With UFC veteran Charlie Brenneman in his corner, Nuno eventually worked himself free, reversing the position.

I asked him after the fight if he got nervous when he found himself in that position on the ground with his opponent on his back and he told me, "Not at all, I was relaxed. The only concern I had was where his hands were, but once I got control of those I knew I was okay."

Once he got loose he chose to keep the fight standing and that move would inevitably pay off. Using his superior hand speed and accuracy, he eventually caught Mountain with a left hook that dropped him dead in his tracks. Nuno immediately jumped on his opponent getting off a punch or two before the referee jumped in to stop it; much to the delight of the hometown crowd who were clearly there to support their native son.

When I asked Nuno how it felt to get his first pro win under his belt, he said, "Oh it feels great; but honestly I've been working so hard for this for so long, I'm just happy to get it over with and start to work towards the next one."

In the only title fight of the evening, Travis Creamer (8-1) became the new PCC middleweight (185 lbs.) champion by handing former titleholder Adam Atiyeh (5-1) his first defeat via unanimous decision. Creamer, who clearly lost the first round after Atiyeh used his patented lay and pray ground approach, readjusted and avoided the succeeding take down attempts; he then simply beat up Atiyeh the rest of the way to win a unanimous decisions.

Creamer, while avoiding Atiyeh's repeated take down attempts, unleashed punches, elbows and knees all over the former champs body. Atiyeh was the recipient of a mouse under his left eye in the second round that caused his eye to swell and it looked to slow down the ex-champ's effort.

The first fight on the main card featured Northampton's Tim 'The Savage' Kunkel (2-1) of TSK vs. ATT's Ryan Holmes (1-1) in a lightweight amateur bout. Kunkel, coming off his first loss back in August, rebounded nicely with an impressive second round submission via rear naked choke.

Kunkel looked a lot stronger and faster Friday night than he did when I saw him back in August. I asked him afterwards what the difference was for him this time around. His response was, "My cardio and training was a lot more strict for me this time. I changed up my whole program and it showed."

In all PCC provided 11 fights on the card, most of which were amateur, and that was after a few fights were scratched the day before at the weigh-ins. That's a lot of Merry MMA in the Christmas City right before the holidays.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

There is a positive to every negative

Life of a professional athlete not unlike any other, has its highs and lows; probably even more so. That is what I found out when I caught up with WBC Continental Americas welterweight champion Ronald Cruz recently. As you will see, the champ clears up various issues surrounding his controversial split decision first loss; the despair of currently dealing with his first real injury and most importantly, the positives that have come out of all this.

For nearly the last four years, Ronald Cruz's life and career were both on a high and in cruise control. His dream of fighting professionally came true, he married the love of his life and his career was going perfect; 17-0 perfect with 12 knockouts to be exact. In June he won his first title, was featured as a co-main event on the NBC Sports network and was able to do it all in his hometown Bethlehem, PA in front of all his family and friends.

Life was good and his boxing career was right on schedule and going according to plan. That plan was to defend his title once again at home and on NBC in September, then have one more fight before the end of 2012. Then suddenly for some reason a dark cloud came over Team Cruz; at least that's how I viewed it once I found out the answers to many questions I had surrounding his fight on September 21.

Originally scheduled as a title fight, that all fell by the wayside once his opponent came in three pounds over the 147 lbs. limit and weighed in at 150 lbs. If that wasn't enough, Ronald told me that the day of the weigh in, the scale he had been using to monitor his weight kept showing that he was over by a pound or two. Being a consummate professional he did all he could to drop the weight before the official weigh in; yet his scale kept coming up 148. "I knew my body could not shed any more weight, I was completely drained," he said.

However, when he stepped on the scale at the official weigh-in, it said 146 lbs; he actually had worked harder than he needed to. This would affect his performance the next night as he started uncharacteristically slow and sluggish. He told me, "When I got to the fight, I just didn't have the energy I normally have."

Although he lost the early rounds, he got his second wind and came on strong in the middle and at the end; but since the fight was no longer a title fight due to his opponent not making weight, the fight was now 10 rounds versus 12. Losing those two extra rounds actually hurt Ronald in the long run and he lost a razor close split decision.

When I asked him if training was to blame, he told me, "No; the way we were doing everything was working fine. However, it came to a point that my body was growing more muscular, thus it was becoming increasingly harder to make the weight. I didn't realize it, but I needed extra help."

Thus, his team hired professional nutritionist George Lockhart ( Lockhart has worked with such notable MMA fighters such as UFC Champion Jon Jones and UFC contender Brian Stann. Cruz also began working with professional strength and conditioning coach Craig Merrick of Nazareth Barbell & Strength. "After working with them, I never felt so ready and energetic. I've never been so close to weight before a fight; I'm just anxious to get back in the ring;" Cruz said.

It seemed like everything was back in order, but then an injury suffered during training derailed everything. Though nothing serious, it was enough to require corrective surgery and mandated time off per doctor's orders. Once again Cruz was faced with an unexpected negative in his life. Yet, just like the Yin-Yang theory states, there is a positive to every negative. In this case, it was the very gym he cannot train in.

The recent opening of 'Ron and Indio's Boxing Gym', a non-profit gym he opened with his trainer Lemuel 'Indio' Rodriguez has given Cruz the opportunity to work with kids. "Since the gym is located at the same location as the Bethlehem Boys & Girls Club, we have a lot of kids coming through," he said. "I'm using my time off to help Indio and most importantly to lead by example. To me, it's a privilege to be able to work with kids."

That example of work ethic will be forged again in a few months as Cruz says he is slated to fight again in June 2013 at the Sands Casino in Bethlehem. He told me, "The timing should be perfect as I'm supposed to be off from training 4-6 months. That will still give me time for a full training camp before the fight. I'm so anxious, I can't wait." Neither can we champ; just remain positive.

I would like to thank Ronald Cruz once again for taking time to conduct this interview

Monday, November 26, 2012

Make my dreams a reality

In 1979, six years before Rick Nuno (pictured @ left) was even born, the music group GQ had a disco hit song called 'Make my dreams a reality'. 33 years later, the 27 year old Mixed Martial Arts fighter from Bethlehem, PA is doing just that as he prepares for his professional debut on Friday December 7th @ the PA Caged Combat VII Show at The Sands Casino in Bethlehem.

Back in August, I interviewed Nuno before his fifth amateur fight at the PCC VI show. It ended up being his fourth win in five fights, with his only loss coming at the discretion of a stopped bout due to a cut. At the time, Nuno was splitting his training between the renowned AMA Fight Club in Whippany, NJ and the Allentown Boxing Club under the tutelage of Lemuel 'Indio' Rodriguez.

While things remain relatively the same, the level and intensity has risen under some subtle changes. Nuno AKA 'El Numero Uno' (The Number One), who holds down a part-time job, commutes to AMA five days a week an hour each way. He then trains his boxing with Rodriguez in the evening three or four times a week at Rodriguez's new gym in Bethlehem, which he opened with his prize pupil, boxing welterweight contender Ronald Cruz.

The level of training at AMA has always been tough, but now that Nuno is a professional, he attends pro practice; this means he's working side by side and with some very well known fighters. Since he will be competing in the lightweight (155 lbs.) weight division, some of the names Rick told me he's been working closely with include, UFC veteran Charlie Brenneman, UFC lightweight contender Jim Miller and 'Ultimate Fighter' alum Andy Main.

It was Brenneman who cornered Nuno in August and who told me, "If we can get his ground game to be as good as his hands, he's going to be really good;" pretty high praise for a guy who's only been at this game for two plus years. Yet, for all his advancement and success, Nuno remains grounded; "I'm very fortunate and blessed to have all these great people in my life," he said. "I'm very excited for what lies ahead, but I will always remain humble because I remember where I came from."

It's that attitude and commitment that has many, including Mike Constantino, Trainer and Manager at AMA, believing Nuno has a promising career ahead of him. I asked Nuno, who used to compete at (170) if he's having any issues making weight and he told me, "Not nervous at all about the weight. I've been following a strict diet, doing what I'm told and I feel phenomenal."

When asked if training as an amateur is any different than training as a professional, his response was, "To be honest, yes and no. I always trained as a professional and treated myself as such, even when I was fighting as an amateur, so no not really."

When asked if there was any pressure fighting in front of his family, friends and hometown fans, he said, "No, it's already a normal thing for me. Having had five amateur fights all in my backyard pretty much has made it a normal thing for me now; my comfort level is there. When I know its game time, all my preparation and confidence comes into play. I have tunnel vision, thus I tune everyone out other than my coaches; it's all business brother."

On December 7th, his opponent Brad Mountain (1-2) will have the professional experience on Nuno, but Nuno will have the backing of 'The Christmas City' fans. He told me, "My opponent prefers striking like me, so I'm hoping to give the fans an exciting fight." Just 18 days before Christmas, I wouldn't blink, because if everything goes according to plan, he's going to make his dreams a reality and give everyone in Bethlehem an early present.

I want to thank Rick Nuno for his time during this interview.

Rick Nuno would like to thank AMA Fight Club, Ron & Indio's Boxing Gym and Nazareth Barbell Strength & Conditioning

He also would like to acknowledge his sponsors: Home Base Skate Shop, ABE Empire Clothing, DMS Transport and El Greco's Pizza

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Berto/Guerrero: Real life movie w/o special effects

Anytime two men step into a ring it's called a fight, but it is hardly like anything you ever see in the movies. There's no Robert DeNiro in 'Raging Bull' with his face swollen yelling, "You didn't knock me down Ray;" and there's no Sylvester Stallone in 'Rocky' with his eyes swollen shut saying to his cornerman, "Cut me Mick; cut me." However, on Saturday night, welterweight contenders Andre Berto and Robert Guerrero did something you hardly see anymore in boxing; they fought.

As a matter of fact, they fought each other so hard that Berto (pictured @ left) ended the fight with both eyes just about swollen shut and Guerrero (pictured @ right) had his right eye equally swollen shut. All of it was due to a battery of punches both boxers unleashed on each other, which was the strange part.

Going into this fight, my concern was whether Guerrero (31-1-1, 18 KO's), probably the purer of the two boxers, would be able to outbox the heavier punching Berto (28-2, 22 KO's). Not only did he outbox him, but he out punched him; knocking the former world champion down in the first two rounds. Guerrero, known as 'The Ghost', is aptly nicknamed because no one, especially Berto, could have seen what was coming from the interim WBC welterweight champ.

Guerrero was the aggressor, taking the fight to Berto from the start, leading with his jab and following it with punishing left hooks and uppercuts. Even when Berto tried to tie up the champion, Guerrero would make use of his one free hand and let go from any and all angles. Sometimes it looked as though he may have caught the former champ behind the ear or in the back of the head, but if the ref wasn't stopping it from happening; all is fair in love and war.

Berto (pictured @ left after the fight), coming off a 14 month layoff due to injury and a suspension because of use of a banned substance, looked hesitant at first and then shocked when Guerrero came at him with such ferocity from the start. However, to his credit, he hung on and fought back valiantly, much of the time with his back against the ropes, sometimes incurring his own moments throughout the fight. So much so that I thought it was even closer than the unanimous 116-110 all three judges had on their cards.

Nonetheless, it was Guerrero, whose surname in Spanish means warrior, who was just that. Fighting only his second fight @ 147 lbs., the former super featherweight (130) and lightweight (135) champion let it be known he's right at home at welterweight and is ready to prove it. After the fight, in his post-fight interview, he exclaimed, "I want Floyd Mayweather; I'm ready to take on the best in the world."

As for Andre Berto, one could argue the layoff appeared to have hurt him; however, it appears he has a bigger problem, southpaws. He's now lost two of his last three fights, both where he's taken a vicious beating and both to left handed fighters; first it was Victor Ortiz and now Guerrero; good thing he hasn't fought Manny Pacquiao. I think Brian 'Goze' Garcia of MMAJunkie summed up Berto best when he told me before the fight, "I think Berto is a gatekeeper."

Only time will tell in which direction both Guerrero's and Berto's career will go and more importantly, how much this fight took out of both men. However, for one night on a Thanksgiving holiday weekend that saw the boxing world mourning the death of one of it's own in Hector 'Macho' Camacho, these two gave it their all and then some. Their prizefight was a real life movie without any special effects and for that, we must stand up and recognize.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

What time is it? It's Macho time!

"What time is it? It's Macho time." Yes it was; for nearly three decades and 88 fights, it was "Macho time." Truth is, wherever Hector Camacho was, whether in or out of the ring, whenever he would exclaim and ask what time is it, you knew it was 'Macho time'.

That is because Camacho, a former three division world champion was not only flamboyant, boisterous and entertaining, he was also great. Unfortunately, that last adjective is lost amongst all the showmanship that came with the 'Macho' persona; but don't get it twisted, Camacho was an extremely talented boxer who in his prime was as fast and as slick as today's pound for pound best Floyd Mayweather.

Yes, believe it or not, in the '80's during his run as a super featherweight and lightweight world champion, he was that good. Now for those that will start to scream I'm crazy, listen for a second to what I'm telling you. Beyond all the bravado and loud mouth self promoting, this was a beautiful boxer with the utmost talent who won 79 of his 88 fights while only losing six; four of which were to former world champions and future Hall of Famers, Greg Haugen, Julio Cesar Chavez, Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya.

Luckily for me, Camacho was only six months older than I am, so I got to see his career unfold right before my eyes. Ironically, for a brief period while I still lived in New York in the early to mid '70's we actually crossed paths and knew each other during a very short stint in the Boy Scouts. Just a few years later in the late '70's after I had moved to Bethlehem, PA, he would go on to make a name for himself while in his teens, by winning the prestigious New York Golden Gloves title three years in a row.

I remember it like it was yesterday when in his 18th pro fight, he was featured on Wide World of Sports against an equally undefeated Melvin Paul who was 16-0 at the time. Camacho would win a unanimous decision and three weeks later he was back on TV from Las Vegas against a 32-0 Greg Coverson out of the famed Kronk Gym. 'Macho' with his blazing speed would knock down Coverson three times during another unanimous ten round decision. Two fights later after a loss to Howard Davis, Coverson's career would be over.

A young 20 year old at the time with his boyish good looks, super fast hands and a slick boxing style a star was born at a time when fighters on the come up were featured frequently on network television. It would only be three fights later when in the summer of '83 he would win his first title at super featherweight (130 lbs.) against Rafael 'Bazooka' Limon. Two years later he would add the lightweight (135) championship and three years after that a third title at light welterweight (140) against Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini.

It would be 38 fights and nine years before he would suffer his first defeat, a split decision loss to Haugen. In the '90's he would win two more fringe world titles at welterweight (147) and middleweight (160) while also engaging in super fights against the aforementioned above along with a TKO win against Sugar Ray Leonard in Leonard's final fight. He would go on to fight sporadically in the new millennium all the while maintaining his grand 'Macho Man' image.

The larger than life Camacho and his image were suddenly and tragically shot down, literally, while sitting in a car in his native Bayamon, Puerto Rico this past Tuesday. Today he was declared clinically brain dead, all but ending his life. So on this Thanksgiving holiday, while I'm somber at the loss of this great champion, I am thankful that I got the chance to witness his greatness in the ring from the start, during and beyond his career. What time is it? It's Macho time!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Survival of the fittest becomes an instant classic

It isn't often a championship fight with a lot of billing lives up to the hype; however, the main event of UFC 154 between Georges St. Pierre and Carlos Condit is one of those times. Let's just say that normally I would recap the entire card, but on this day, this fight alone is all that matters.

That is because St. Pierre (23-2, 8 KO's, 5 subs) and Condit (28-6, 13 KO's 13 subs) put on a five round classic that was one for the ages; and although St. Pierre ended up winning by scores of 49-46, 50-45 and 50-45, the score was not indicative of the drama and excitement the fight produced. There was blood, cuts, knockdowns, takedowns and fists flying galore to satisfy the 20,000+ rabid fans in Montreal.

There was a ton of buzz leading into this fight for many reasons. There was the question surrounding the major knee injury St. Pierre was coming back from; would he not only be fit, but would he suffer any ring (cage) rust after being off nearly 19 months since his last fight? Condit himself was coming off a nine month layoff since winning the interim welterweight (170 lbs.) title against Nick Diaz; how would he perform after a lackluster performance against Diaz that fueled much criticism from critics and fans alike. Finally, would these two young stars in their prime put it on the line the way we had hoped?

Those questions were all answered and then some as soon as both fighters entered the arena. Both looked the part as they were clearly bigger and stronger than they had ever been in the past and in the best shape possible. They would need to be in that kind of shape to endure the punishment they would unleash on one another during a frenetic back and forth pace they both maintained for five full rounds.

Any questions surrounding St. Pierre's knee were quickly dismissed as he did not miss a beat with the timing surrounding his wrestling as beginning in round one he took Condit down, in a trend that would be set throughout the fight. GSP was determined not to lay and pray as he was throwing punches and elbows from the top, one in the first that busted open a gash on Condit just to the right of his eye above the brow. That would not slow Condit down though.

Although he constantly found himself underneath GSP throughout the five rounds, he was active on his back and aggressive. He tried as best as he could to unleash his own attack from the bottom, including constantly attempting to look for submission attempts. He also escaped whenever possible to get back to his feet and even the playing field.

In the third round he did just that as he caught St. Pierre, during an exchange, with a clean left round kick to the temple that knocked the reigning champion down on his back. 'The Natural Born Killer', as Condit is called, immediately pounced on his fallen opponent and had the champ in some serious trouble. However, the hometown favorite St. Pierre defended and somehow maintained his defense long enough to eventually pull a reversal and finish the second part of the round on top unleashing his own offense.

The rest of the fight was more of the same with St. Pierre continuing his beautiful wrestling takedowns throughout and Condit fighting back under the rush (pun intended) of Georges 'Rush' St. Pierre. Yet, it wasn't as lopsided as the scores would indicate and this summary would make it seem. Carlos Condit not only came to fight, but he wanted and tried to win. So much so, that the bout was given the fight of the night bonus.

Because Condit did, he gave GSP a fight that had him totally spent at the end and along the way, was able to deliver some lumps and bruises of his own. In his post fight interview, St. Pierre told Joe Rogan, "Carlos Condit is the definition of a true mixed martial artist and was the toughest opponent I've ever faced in my career." To show you how much Condit wanted to win, his response was, "That's a very nice compliment coming from a great champion like Georges, but it doesn't make this loss any easier."

When Joe Rogan asked St. Pierre what he would do next, hinting at a possible match against middleweight (185 lbs.) champion Anderson Silva, GSP diplomatically said, "I need some vacation time to relax as my focus has been solely on Carlos Condit. Then after some time, I will sit down with my trainer and entourage to discuss our next move."

Of course, Silva vs. St. Pierre is the fight everyone would love to see, but if for some reason it doesn't happen, no worries. That is because if there is one division that is not lacking for quality opponents waiting on the champ, it is welterweight. Just ask Johny 'Big Rigg' Hendricks who took just 46 seconds to dispose of Martin Kampmann in the co-main event. His post fight remark after winning his fight straight, "Please give me a shot at the belt; please give me a shot at that thing."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Another chapter, yet same old story

In the world of sports and athletic competition, it has always been said that the truly great ones would be successful in any venture of life they would pursue. That is because the greatest of the greats in any respective sport have one common trait that separates them from their peers; an inner drive to be the best at what they do. Such is the case with former renowned wrestler turned professional mixed martial arts fighter Steve Mocco.

Granted Mocco has only one pro fight to his credit, but it appears pretty evident that he intends to leave his mark on MMA as he did in wrestling.10 days after his first fight and subsequent victory, I got to speak personally with Mocco about his fight, feelings and plans for the immediate future. Sure, part of it was for this blog, but the majority of it was because Steve is a former neighbor and personal friend, thus making this piece all the more gratifying.

On Friday November 2nd, Mocco made his debut at the Resurrection Fighting Alliance 4 show in Las Vegas. His opponent Tyler Perry (1-1), no not the actor, was a fellow wrestler with some credentials as his collegiate career took place at the University of Missouri. I asked Steve if Perry was someone he had faced during his collegiate days and he said, "No, I think he came right after me."

Mocco's career in wrestling is second to none; especially at heavyweight. Two national championships as a 4X finalist in college, a 4X NJ High School State Champion and a 2008 Olympian top the list. Impressive credentials to say the least; however, this is MMA where sometimes even wrestling pedigree such as that doesn't always translate to the cage.

I asked Steve if all that experience, both international and nationally, made his debut feel like just another day of competition. His response, "No it didn't, this was something totally different for me. Something I had thought about for a long time, but now to actually step in the cage; I had some nerves for sure."

You wouldn't be able to tell as he dominated the first round after taking the fight to the ground and pounding on his opponent. His work was so convincing, "I thought the ref was going to stop it in the first round," he said. However, they didn't and so it went to round two where it started out similar to round one with Mocco taking Perry to the ground, only this time he left no doubt as he finished his opponent with a Kimura submission lock @ 1:34 of the second.

"It felt good; I was excited to get this first one in," Mocco exclaimed. He also said, "I'm glad I fought this guy in my first fight. He was big and a solid fighter to test myself against." I asked him if the plan was to take it to the ground all along and he stated, "Not really; I was going to take it as it comes, but I figured with two wrestlers in there at some point it was going to the ground."

What's next for Mocco? He said, "I'm thinking we may shoot for another fight in January. I came out of this fight with just some minor typical bumps and bruises, so I'm good. I took a week off and now I'm back in the gym."

That gym is American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida where Mocco now makes his home with his wife and three kids. Unfortunately for me, that means we are no longer neighbors, but luckily we are still friends. Thus, as long as Steve Mocco keeps writing new chapters in his storied, but yet unfinished career, I'll have something to write about.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

World Series of Fighting hits a home run

On a night when the power came back after 115 hours due to Hurricane Sandy, I got to finally relax, in the heat, and enjoy some MMA. After five days of cold darkness and unable to see TV period, I would have been content with reruns of the worst fights in history; Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Kevin Jordan, Nate Quarry vs. Kalib Starnes etc. Instead what I received was a pleasant surprise from upstart promotion World Series of Fighting.

In its inaugural event, WSOF had three things going for it right from the very start. One is its home base is in Las Vegas, Nevada, the fight capital of the world. Second is that it's President, Ray Sefo, is a decorated former world kickboxing champion, part-time MMA fighter and current MMA trainer. Finally, is that it signed a TV deal with the NBC Sports Network to broadcast its initial event. The result was World Series of Fighting hit a home run in its first at bat.

Ray Sefo's position as President and promoter cannot be understated here as he understands that to provide a good product, you need good fighters. Hence, he put together a ten fight card that was stocked with former world champions, well known MMA veterans and top flight castoffs from the UFC, Strikeforce and Bellator. Add to that 'The Voice' Michael Schiavello and the uniqueness of 'El Guapo' Bas Rutten on the microphones and hold the fights in Las Vegas at the Planet Hollywood Hotel and you have a recipe for success.

However, none of it would have mattered if the fights didn't produce and for the most part they did. Three out of the four main card bouts ended in spectacular first round knockouts and the fourth was a fast paced three round bantamweight affair that saw a major upset via split decision. I don't think you can ask for much more for your initial event.

In the main event, former UFC heavyweight champion Andre 'The Pit Bull' Arlovski (18-9, 14 KO's 3 subs) showed he is far from done; looking comfortable in his boxing, he finished former Strikeforce and IFL veteran Devin Cole (20-10-1, 10 KO's 3 subs) with a quick overhand right to the temple 2:37 into the first round. Cole quickly fell and turned his back on the bear from Belarus, allowing Arlovski to throw a couple of hammer fists forcing the ref to step in.

The co-main event had a similar, but an even more spectacular end as former UFC welterweight (170 lbs.) vet Anthony 'Rumble' Johnson (14-4, 10 KO's) finally looks comfortable in his own skin fighting at light-heavyweight (205 lbs.); I've stood next to this guy between fights for a photo and how he ever made 170 at all is a total shock. He did not lose a step as after a back and forth, both verbally before the fight and physically during, with Bellator vet D.J. Linderman (13-4, 4 KO's 4 subs), Johnson delivered a one punch KO that dropped LInderman face first onto the mat. The time was 3:58 of the first.

Prior to that we saw bantamweight (135 lbs.) action featuring young Marlon Moraes (9-4-1, 3 KO's, 3 subs) earning a deserved split-decision upset victory over former WEC champion and UFC veteran Miguel Torres (40-6, 9 KO, 23 subs). Moraes just looked too fast and slick for Torres, who not too long ago was viewed as a top five pound for pound best in the world. Now 31 years old and loser of five of his last eight, I made the comment to the MMA Junkie Radio crew that sadly Torres is looking more and more like a MMA journeyman.

Finally, kickboxer extraordinaire Tyrone Spong (1-0, 1 KO) lived up to the hype in his MMA debut as his striking was just too much for Travis Bartlett (7-3, 5 KO's 1 sub). Bartlett may be known as 'The Showstopper', but on this night Spong stopped the show with one punch three minutes into the first round. That punch kicked off a very entertaining two hours of fights and a successful debut for the WSOF. I'll be curious to see what they follow-up with to keep the momentum going; stay tuned.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Class + Greatness = Emanuel Steward

When you're looked upon as the greatest in your chosen profession; then that on its own will cement your legacy. However, when you remain humble during your tenure as the greatest and exhibit nothing but straight class throughout, well that just makes you legendary. Class + greatness = Emanuel Steward, legendary boxing trainer, who sadly passed away this week at the age of 68 after his toughest bout with a serious illness.

I say "serious illness" because there is speculation as to what exactly Steward was suffering from, but there is no speculation when it comes to Steward the man. Universally, he was beloved, respected and regarded as probably the greatest trainer of boxers in a sport where arguments and debates about greatness is commonplace. Ironically, just recently I was involved in a debate on Facebook with a few friends as to this very topic; the question was, "Who was the greatest trainer that ever lived?"

Names that are hallowed in boxing such as Angelo Dundee, Eddie Futch, Cus D'Amato, Nacho Beristain and even Freddie Roach were tossed about. While all those are legitimate contenders, I quickly threw in Emanuel Steward. That doesn't make me a genius by any stretch, just look at his resume as my argument speaks for itself. A venerable who's who list of former and current world champions, more than 30 in all, have either worked with or sought the guidance of the man known in Detroit as 'The Goldfather'.

The names are too many to list, but to name a few just to give you a glimpse of the magnitude; they include Wilfredo Benitez, Julio Cesar Chavez, Mike McCallum, Oscar De La Hoya, Evander Holyfield and current heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko. However, it was his list of champions from the renowned Kronk gym he built such as Gerald McLellan, Hilmer Kenty, Milton McCrory, Michael Moorer and most notably Thomas Hearns that made his name. The words champion and Steward were synonymous with one another.

That's probably because Steward was a National Golden Gloves champ in 1963 compiling an amateur record of 94-3. His interest in training amateur fighters is what put him on his path, but it was when he started working at the Kronk Community Center back in 1971 that a new era in boxing was formed. After a decade of honing his craft and working with homegrown kids out of Detroit, the '80's were littered and dominated by Kronk fighters. It was hard not to find a championship fight that didn't feature a combatant wearing gold trunks with Kronk written in red letters.

That signature look and fighting style are what made Steward the trainer of champions and in my estimation the greatest trainer that ever lived. I had the pleasure of meeting Steward once a few years back when I was DJ'ing a picnic at the home of former heavyweight champ Larry Holmes. Steward was in the Poconos at the time working with both Lennox Lewis and Prince Naseem Hamed for some upcoming title fights. It was a Sunday afternoon, so he showed up at Larry's request.

'The Champ' as I always refer Larry Holmes by was kind enough to introduce me to Steward and as I had always heard he was nothing but a cordial gentleman towards me. He was even kind enough to engage in conversation with me for about 10 minutes about music as I asked him if there was something I could play for him. To no surprise and true to his Detroit home, he asked if I could play some Motown. It was truly my pleasure and honor as class + greatness = Emanuel Steward. RIP Goldfather!

Friday, October 19, 2012

How much weight does a UFC title belt really hold?

In the sporting world of Mixed Martial Arts the most coveted title in any weight class is a UFC championship. Yet, considering there appears to be no rhyme or reason these days as to who gets a title shot, how much weight does a UFC title belt really hold anyway?

This past week it was announced that UFC light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) champion Jon Jones and Chael Sonnen, a former middleweight (185 lbs.) title contender, would be the coaches for the next season of 'The Ultimate Fighter'. At the end of that season, Sonnen, who is coming off a TKO loss in his last fight against middleweight champion Anderson Silva, would then fight Jones for his title.

Does this sound logical to anyone other than Dana White, President and promoter of the Ultimate Fighting Championship? Sure, it will sell tickets because that's what Sonnen does; which is why he was pegged for the TV show because he'll help get ratings. However, as far as validating the coveted UFC title seems like all you have to do is talk a good game these days and you'll get a shot.

Just last weekend, though it wasn't for a championship, journeyman light-heavyweight Stephen Bonnar was given a Rocky Balboa type shot at middleweight champ Silva, the number one pound for pound fighter in the world, in a fight contested @ 205. UFC brass says it was a decision made to help save a UFC 153 card in Brazil that was in danger of losing its main event draw Silva. I'm sorry, but why wasn't middleweight contender Chris Weidman, who's undefeated, has a five fight winning streak in the UFC and has been clamoring for a fight with Silva, not given the chance?

Just this week I read an article that said, UFC welterweight Nick Diaz, currently serving a suspension for marijuana usage, would have to win just one contender fight upon coming off suspension before he would be considered for a title shot; This was according to Dana White himself, although he was actually quoted as saying, "He'll probably fight one of the top guys at 170, then we'll see what happens."

Regardless, of whether White said the former or the latter, why is Diaz even in the conversation? He's coming off a suspension and on top of that, he's coming off a loss to Carlos Condit for an interim title. This by the way just adds to my argument today, because Condit's interim championship has served no purpose other than to reserve him a shot at welterweight (170 lbs.) champion Georges St. Pierre. That's a whole other issue I addressed in my blog dated September 2, 2012, which you can read here:

Two months ago, four light-heavyweights headlined a UFC on FOX card, which I thought was to determine, who the number one contender would ultimately be; at least, that's what we were led to believe. Well at this point neither of the two winners is in line for a shot at Jones. Lyoto Machida is being talked about as one of the next coaches for the next season of 'TUF Brazil'; and Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua is scheduled to face contender Alexander Gustaffson in December.

Meanwhile, Gustaffson who is riding a five-fight winning streak and has won 6 out 7 fights in the UFC is still forced to fight for a chance at the belt. Even former champ Rashad Evans, who lost his last fight to Jones back in April, said recently he was told he would have to at least win one fight before he could be considered for another crack at Jones. If that is truly the case, which is more than fair, then how do you justify Sonnen?

He's much smaller than Jones and while he's a talented fighter, he's lost twice to Silva and its safe to say that Jones appears to be a Silva type clone, which is bigger, longer and with better wrestling skills. In my opinion, if the sole purpose of making nonsensical title fights is just to sell tickets, then you are demeaning the value of what a UFC title means; and if that's the case, then how much weight does a UFC title belt really hold?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Running out of words to describe the greatest

Originally I thought that when I wrote about what transpired in the main event at UFC 153, I was going to be writing a story using the Rocky Balboa vs. Apollo Creed analogy. In other words, Stephen 'The American Psycho' Bonnar (15-8, 3 KO's 7 subs) AKA Rocky, would go the distance with Anderson 'The Spider' Silva (33-4, 20 KO's 6 subs) AKA Apollo; while taking a great beating and losing the decision.

That's Bonnar's M.O. right? I mean, regardless of what you think of him as a fighter, he's like a Timex watch; he takes a licking and keeps on ticking. Before Saturday night, he had never been stopped in a fight and of all his losses, only two were stopped by a doctor due to cuts. However, before Saturday night, he had never fought the greatest fighter in the world and most likely, the greatest fighter in mixed martial arts history.

When you're referred to as "The Greatest" it appears that should be enough. Yet, when it comes to Anderson Silva (pictured above), it seems as though we are running out of words to describe his greatness. Forget words, at this point, we are literally running out of cliches; "He's a man among boys," "He toys with his opponents," "He doesn't break a sweat when he fights." Shall I go on?

I know it may seem as though I am stroking Anderson Silva's greatness, but what I witnessed on Saturday night was just the latest example of what I'm talking about. This was a challenge for Silva; not against Bonnar, but rather against himself. He literally let Bonnar; have his way for four minutes at trying to do all he could before he said to himself, "Enough is enough; now it's my turn."

As the fight began, in front of a sold out home country crowd in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil, Bonnar charged at Silva determined to take the fight to the overwhelming favorite. Fighting at light-heavyweight (205 lbs.), Bonnar had a clear size advantage over the reigning middleweight (185 lbs.) champion, though Silva came in weighing 202 lbs. for the fight. Thus, he figured his best chance was to go right at the champ and pin him against the fence, while punishing him with some dirty boxing.

It was honestly a good strategy, against most mortal men; but we are talking about the best here; a martial artist who truly appreciates the sweet science of hitting someone and not getting hit. Thus, instead of panicking or attempting to get out from Bonnar's clinch against the fence. Silva welcomed it. It was a personal challenge for Silva and he was determined to meet it head on.

So, when he finally did break free and got away, he did something only Anderson Silva would do. He literally walked back to the fence with his back against it and invited Bonnar in; he did this not once, but twice. At first I thought he was being somewhat disrespectful towards Bonnar, like telling him his skills were not worthy. However, I quickly realized it's just Silva's way of personally challenging himself; in other words, not conceit, but confidence in his skills.

True to form, he let Bonnar do all he could for four minutes, blocking all of his punches with cat like reflexes and dodging punches with radar like instincts reminiscent of former boxing champion Wilfredo 'El Radar' Benitez. After playing defense, he decided he'd had enough and it was time to go on the offensive. A few quick short punches created enough space to back Bonnar up and eventually have him turn his back and when he turned back around, he was greeted by a perfectly thrown left knee that caught him in the solar plexus.

If you've ever been hit there, you know it literally knocks the wind out of you. Thus, it resulted in Bonnar collapsing to the mat and Silva pouncing on him with a few punishing punches before the referee decided to step in and stop the inevitable at 4:40 of the first round; so much for my Rocky Balboa/Apollo Creed story.

If there is one thing that truly bothers me is that the word 'great' is tossed around way too loosely in sports. 'Great' is described in the dictionary with words such as unusual, wonderful and "being of an extreme or notable degree." Therefore, it should be reserved for those that are truly one of a kind and masters of their craft; in other words greatness! I'm running out of words to describe the greatest Anderson Silva, but one thing's for sure, the word great is not being overused when it comes to his greatness.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Where have you been Ed Derian?

When it comes to iconic voices of announcers, there are many from different realms. There were microphone legends you heard in basketball arenas like John Condon at Madison Square Garden and Dave Zinkoff at the old Spectrum in Philadelphia.

Then there were the classic football and basketball announcers on TV such as Lindsey Nelson, Keith Jackson and Brent Musburger in College Football; along with colorful analysts like Al McGuire, Billy Packer and Dick Vitale in College Basketball.

Combat sports such as boxing, mixed martial arts and pro wrestling are no different. Sure, Jimmy Lennon Sr. came before all of them, but before there was Michael Buffer, Bruce Buffer and Jimmy Lennon, Jr., there was a legend based here on the east coast; Philadelphia to be exact. His name is Ed Derian.

I've never had the pleasure of meeting Ed Derian, at least not yet, but I remember him fondly. Just as all the aforementioned figures have individual unmistakable styles of their own, so did Derian; his style in a word, classy. He did not scream or yell and his voice wasn't the kind that boomed. On the contrary, his was a smooth simple delivery that was marked by two distinct trademarks.

First, Derian would turn to the fighter he was about to introduce and preface his tale of the tape with a cool distinction such as, "This young man hails from" or "This talented pugilist comes to us." Then after giving us all the specifics, he would announce his name and then repeat his last name a second time. For example, "This young man hails from the City of Brother Love Philadelphia, out of the Keystone State Pennsylvania; boxing fans, here is the USBA middleweight champion Frank 'The Animal' Fletcher... Fletcher."

Click on the link below to hear a recording of Ed Derian doing this very introduction. When you get to the page, just click on the microphone:

Ed Derian was a staple back in the '80's when I would watch him announcing fights from the historic Blue Horizon on Tuesday Night Fights on the USA Network or ESPN fights from various ballrooms in Atlantic City. His style, especially the repeating of the last name, quickly became my personal favorite, thus I've often wondered why I hadn't see him doing anymore fights.

Recently, I ran into another legendary boxing figure from the east; referee Steve Smoger (Pictured below):

I got to talk with Smoger for a few minutes, listening to him tell some wonderful stories of various events he worked back in the day; inevitably the name Ed Derian came up. I knew it was Derian who had given Smoger his famous nickname of 'Double S', so I asked the question that's been on my mind, "What ever happened to Ed Derian?"

Steve Smoger told me that Derian is doing well, but he was forced to give up his ring announcing due to a degenerative hip problem. He said it became increasingly difficult for Derian to get in and out of the ring, thus the reason we don't see or hear that legendary voice anymore.

Smoger went on to tell me that beyond that, Derian remains healthy and in good spirits. I was happy to hear that he's doing well, though I won't get to hear that unique voice doing his famous intros anymore. The aforementioned Buffer's and Lennon, Jr., along with other guys like Joe Martinez and David Diamante have and continue to make their mark in the world of ring announcing. However, none of them will ever be able to emulate that unique and classy "Young man from Philadelphia, Ed Derian... Derian."

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The greatest 'Skyscraper' of them all?

In the nearly 19 year history of Mixed Martial Arts, there have been a few legitimate giants along the way. No, I am not referring to icons of the sport, but rather literal giants who towered above the opposition; heavyweights who were both big and tall. Yet, at only 24 years old, I'd argue that Stefan 'Skyscraper' Struve will soon be the greatest skyscraper of them all.

After Saturday night's second round KO finish of previously undefeated Stipe Miocic (9-1, 7 KO's 1 sub), Struve is now (25-5, 7 KO's 16 subs). On top of that he has received a ringing endorsement from his boss, UFC President Dana White, that he is now considered a top five heavyweight in the world. That's high praise for a young man, who just three and half years ago came into the UFC as a long wiry weak looking kid who got demolished in his debut in less than a minute by current UFC champion Junior Dos Santos.

At the time of that fight at UFC 95, I couldn't help but think, "Who was this sacrificial lamb the UFC dug up for a mercy killing?" However, fast forward three+ years, including 12 UFC fights later with a (9-3) record, and I'm not thinking that anymore; nor is anyone else. That is because Struve is a legitimate contender to be reckoned with who is still growing literally and figuratively.

A native of The Netherlands, this Dutchman is not just some sideshow freak for the UFC to promote as a special attraction every few months the way pro wrestling did with 'Andre the Giant' back in the '70's. On the contrary, Struve is a real fighter who has grown up an athlete his whole life and it is just now that his body is finally developing along with his skills.

Before he ever considered martial arts at the age of 14, this Holland native, as most boys in Europe do, grew up playing football (soccer). Thus, while he was always a tall kid, he was not clumsy by any means as his foot work was always there. However, once he saw a professional MMA fight, he knew where his path and passion lied and he pursued it with fervor. So much so, that he had his first professional fight by the age of 16; a debut submission victory via armbar.

Though he would lose his next fight, he would then reel off 10 wins in a row before tasting defeat again at the hands of current Bellator light-heavyweight champion Christian M'Pumbu. Another five fight winning streak would land him a shot in the UFC and that's where he's been ever since. A slow climb up the ladder, he's worked his way up diligently, while developing himself into a serious contender in the heavyweight division. Miocic was just the latest of the many Struve has knocked off the mantle of the unbeaten.

Some may question me calling Struve the "Greatest skyscraper of them all" considering Tim Sylvia at 6'8" was a three-time UFC champion and fellow Dutchman Semmy 'Hightower' Schilt at 6'11 was a four time (three consecutive) K-1 champion. Those are some serious credentials, for some formidable fighters. Yet, neither Sylvia nor Schilt possessed the size 7'0, athleticism and overall skill set that Struve has; all once again at only 24 years of age.

Being from Holland, where world renowned kickboxers such as Shilt and other striking legends such as Ernesto Hoost and Peter Aerts learned and now teach their craft, his striking is top notch. His grappling skills are second to none for a heavyweight as noted by his 16 submission victories. His chin for this division is tried and tested with notable wins against heavy handed punchers such as Miocic, Lavar Johnson, Pat Barry and Paul Buentello.

Sure he's suffered a few KO losses to the like of Dos Santos, Roy Nelson and Travis Browne. However, the last of those was a year and a half ago and since then, Struve has grown leaps and bounds with his stand-up, which is now catching up with his body that has now developed into what you see above. This is not Sylvia, Schilt or other awkward giants such as 6'10" Gan McGee or 7'2" Hong Man-Choi. Struve is by far, the best young tall prospect ever in MMA and may very well soon be the greatest skyscraper of them all.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

'My Philosophy' on UFC 152 and Jon Jones

Unlike other post fight UFC recaps, as I begin to write this piece I am very hesitant as my feelings are torn in numerous directions. That is all due to one man, UFC light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones (pictured @ left). I don't want to be a hypocrite, I don't want to be a hater and I don't want to be a liar; but this guy evokes all those emotions inside of me.

It is because of such that I've decided to give you my thoughts on UFC 152, besides just the facts. However, because Jones is now spitting quotes on life at every turn he gets on the microphone, I've decided to title this piece 'My Philosophy'; as an ode to the Hip-Hop classic by another philosopher KRS-One. This is where I feel I am being somewhat of a hypocrite, because I too have favorite quotes I try to live by; but this guy thinks he is a modern day Confucius as his whole vocabulary now is nothing but quotes.

Oops, there is part of the hater coming out in me, so let me get to UFC 152 before I really start to unleash the venom. Anyway, the card as a whole was great; if you include the under card fights. The prelims on Facebook were fantastic as all three finished within the first round, two within the first minute; and the prelims on FX were just as good.

The main card began pretty much as the under card had gone as Cub Swanson continues to look like all the potential he's always had has finally come together. He destroyed Charles Oliveira within three minutes all due to his boxing, which is clearly some of the all around best in mixed martial arts. Cub is a force to be reckoned with at featherweight (145 lbs.) and I am so happy that he has finally remained injury free for once.

How and why Matt Hamill and a first time UFC fighter named Roger Hollett got a main card slot ahead of Evan Dunham and TJ Grant is beyond me? Hamill hasn't been interesting since TUF 3, and he wasn't that interesting then, and who is Hollett? Meanwhile, Dunham and Grant put on a three round war for the ages that, oh by the way, ended up becoming 'Fight of the night'. 'Nuff said!

Michael Bisping vs Brian Stann and also the flyweight (125 lbs.) championship between Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson were both good fights; but I think the expectations on both were so high, that the final results just didn't live up to the hype. Not fair to all four combatants as they did their thing, it's just that their name value along with what came before them on the card had fans clamoring for something that was just too difficult to live up to.

Now onto the main event between Jones and third or fourth replacement, I've forgotten already, former champion Vitor Belfort. I cannot tell a lie, Jones has gotten under my skin so bad for some reason, that I was pulling for an upset here of major proportions; and it almost happened. In the first minute of the fight, Jones took Belfort down and while in his guard, he got caught in an arm bar. Shades of Fabricio Werdum catching Fedor Emelianenko went through my mind.

The submission was tight, but to Jones credit he did not tap and alas it was not meant to be as he wriggled out of it and the rest was history. For the next three plus rounds it was Jones kicking while standing along with grounding and pounding until he too caught Belfort in a keylock submission that forced the Brazilian to tap. Belfort put up a good fight, but he never really let his legendary hands go and kept opting to pull guard, which had everyone, including cage side analyst Joe Rogan baffled.

Meanwhile, it appears that the early submission attempt by Belfort was legitimately tight as Jones was clearly favoring his right am in his post fight interview and early reports indicate there may be some possible nerve damage to the bicep. While I never would wish any serious harm to any fighter, regardless of how I feel, once again, I cannot lie; this one doesn't bother me much.

In nearly 19 years of MMA, Jones may very well be the fighter I dislike the most. Why, I have such disdain towards the guy, I don't know. I've never met him and don't know him from a can of paint. Yet, I'm a pretty good judge of character and there is something about him that rubs me the wrong way. I feel I can see right through the guy because everything about his persona is phony.

The guy is clearly a great fighter and I am one that feels the word 'great' is used far too loosely in sports, but this guy is great. He's obviously not afraid as he has stepped into the cage with future Hall of Famers in his last five fights. However, his stance this month on fighting Chael Sonnen really turned me off, but my hate stems from way before that.

It's a personal thing for sure, but to me it speaks volume. As a fan of this sport, not a journalist, of all the many fighters and notables I've come across, and I'm talking a lot and a who's who of MMA, he's the only one that didn't give me the time of day when I approached him two and half years ago in Vegas. He wasn't eating at the time and he wasn't with family; he was actually outside a UFC Fan Expo in Mandalay Bay. This was when he was just a budding star, but his arrogance shined right through the sun glasses he was wearing; indoors by the way.

Okay, maybe this is personal and sure, who cares about my feelings towards Jon Jones; especially Jon Jones. However, the boos he received at the weigh-ins on Friday do not lie and they show that I am not the only one that feels this way. The fact that he now has grown a long bushy frazzled beard to go along with all his quotes on life makes it seem as though he is trying to become 'Black Moses'. Well sorry buddy, only Isaac Hayes, the original Black Moses, could pull off that look.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Murphy's Law rears its ugly head in Bethlehem

Murphy's Law simply stated means, "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." On Friday night, one can argue that Murphy's Law was in effect in Bethlehem, PA as the shining 'Star of Bethlehem' welterweight Ronald Cruz (pictured @ left) was just not aligned with the other stars of the galaxy. Cruz (17-1, 12 KO's) suffered his first defeat in a tough split decision loss to veteran Antwone 'The Truth' Smith (22-4, 12 KO's).

However, before we get to the fight, we have to go to the day before the fight when early signs of Murphy's Law should have been noticed. On Thursday afternoon, the weigh-ins for the Friday night NBC Sports Network fight card were slightly delayed in getting started. While I have no confirmation, word was spreading that Cruz was busy shedding some last minute weight. Whether he was or not, to his credit when it came time to weigh-in, he tipped the scale at 146 lbs.; one pound under the 147 lb. welterweight limit. His opponent Smith, whose last fight was fought at junior middleweight (154 lbs.), stepped on the scale at 150 lbs; a whopping three pounds over the limit.

Thus, what was originally scheduled as a 12 round fight for Cruz's WBC Continental Americas title belt automatically became a 10 round non-title fight. As you will see, I believe those extra two rounds would prove extremely critical in the outcome of the fight. Nonetheless, after negotiations between the two camps, the fight is agreed to go on.

Before I get into the fight and how I viewed it, let me preface this by saying that in 1987 I am one of those that had Sugar Ray Leonard defeating Marvin Hagler in what was billed as 'The Super Fight'. Many argue that Hagler should have won the decision based on aggression and constantly pursing Leonard. I argue that while Leonard was not the aggressor, he clearly out boxed Hagler, thus out pointing him in the long run to earn the decision. Such appeared to be the case on Friday night, except that Cruz was not the aggressor that Hagler was or that he usually is.

This in itself was a huge surprise because Ronald Cruz has built his career to this point on always being the aggressor in his fights; one who walks down his opponents, especially boxers, and breaks them down with a punishing and relentless body attack. Early on and throughout I noticed that was not the case Friday night. Before the fight, his trainer Lemuel 'Indio' Rodriguez told the NBC Sports cameras, "Tonight you will see a different Ronald Cruz." Unfortunately he was right, but for all the wrong reasons.

As the fight started and progressed, I immediately noticed Smith was firing off a piston like jab and peppering Cruz with one-two combinations. Though Cruz implemented a perfect (what I like to call) chicken wing defense, where he kept his hands up and elbows in, thus protecting his head and body, he was not throwing any punches. After the first three rounds I immediately asked myself, "What is Ronald waiting for?" In his post fight interview in the ring, Cruz himself said, "I got off to a late start; I knew I gave away the first three rounds."

Finally in the fourth, Cruz began to open up; using his patented style of stalking his opponent and unleashing powerful punches to the body and head; but it wasn't sustained throughout. It came in spurts and was far and few in between. Therefore, the middle rounds, though Cruz was winning were relatively close. While he may have won the power punch output, he never really hurt Smith at any point. Anytime Smith would get caught, he stepped back, gathered himself and came right back with his jab.

After the final two rounds it was a toss up. I had the fight even with both fighters winning five rounds apiece, but I quickly shook my head and told those around me, "I don't know, its close." The bottom line was Cruz, in my estimation, just didn't let his hands go enough while Smith remained busy throughout. Just like Hagler vs. Leonard the question was, will the judges support the boxer or the puncher? Unfortunately for Cruz, two out of three judges supported the boxer giving Smith the decision; just like Leonard over Hagler.

After the fight, many of the hometown fights argued that Cruz was robbed. I, putting my personal feelings aside, responded by saying, "This was not a robbery; I'm not saying Cruz lost, but he did not clearly win either." The judge's scorecards reflected that as the scores were 96-94 on all three cards; unfortunately for the hometown kid and fans, two of them were for Smith. I truly beileve with two more "championship" rounds, Cruz would have pulled out a different outcome.

On Thursday after the weigh-ins and before the fight, I asked Cruz's manager Jimmy Deoria, assuming everything goes right, what is the plan moving forward? Deoria told me, "Our plan all along was to get Ronald four fights this year; this will be his third. Thus, we would like to get him back in the ring sometime in December, whether it is here in Bethlehem, Atlantic City or Philadelphia." With this loss, I don't know if that alters the plan at all, but knowing Cruz the way I do, I will not be surprised if he is in the gym on Monday because I know he can't wait to get back in there to break Murphy's Law.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

School is now in session son

I would like to tell you that very much like the picture to my left, Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. (@ left) and Sergio Martinez went toe to toe on Saturday night; but I can't. However, that is not to say there was no action and (or) drama in the fight, for as one-sided as it was, the bout was very intriguing. The bottom line was, school was in session and Martinez was giving a boxing lesson.

Now two-time WBC middleweight champion Sergio 'Maravilla' Martinez (50-2-2, 28 KO's) stayed true to his word in more than one fashion in his fight against former champ Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. (46-1, 32 KO's); as he told him he would take him to school and that's what he did. For nearly all 12 rounds, Martinez did just what I had told many he would do, which was run circles around Junior and destroy him with his speed, lateral movement and superior boxing skills. Though he did not finish him by the 10th round as I had predicted, he did do something else he said he would.

On HBO's 24/7 preview series, Martinez said that after their fight Chavez would be unrecognizable to his family. Well, one look at Junior's puffed up face and nearly shut left eye, and you could see the effects of Martinez's punches. One would think reading this that there can't be that much to write about regarding this fight, but that wasn't the case.

Though Martinez clearly dominated the overall majority, he did not finish strong; that scenario believe it or not went to Chavez. After getting beat to the punch all night and barely throwing any of his own, the kid came back to his corner after the 10th round just looking to survive. His Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach looked him in the eyes and told him bluntly, "Julio, you need a knockout to win."

With that, Chavez gave Roach a slight nod acknowledging his coach and then proceeded to come out in the 11th attempting to do just that; by stalking Martinez and winging hooks to both the head and body. Though he showed signs of life, it wasn't till the 12th and final round that the true drama would appear. He came out with the same fortitude and while trading shots, caught Martinez with a left hook to the head that shook the native Argentinean.

Seeing Martinez in trouble, Chavez kept throwing a barrage of shots, finally knocking down Martinez and sending the Las Vegas crowd and everyone in attendance where I was watching the fight into frenzy. However, Martinez, though weary, was able to gather his senses enough to outlast the last ditch effort and win a unanimous decision. In triumph and defeat, both Martinez and Chavez were humble and respectful in their post fight comments.

Yet, the fact that Max Kellerman asked the question of both about a potential rematch, solely because Chavez was able to muster a knockdown in the last round left me scratching my head asking why? There was no indication that another fight between these two would not end up the same way. Though Junior did get to 'Maravilla' at the end, I doubt an expert and veteran like Martinez will make that same mistake again.

In closing, it was a fantastic night of fights on two separate events taking place in Vegas between this HBO PPV show and the Showtime card headlined by Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez and Josesito Lopez. While the main events in both ended up as foregone conclusions, the under card fights on both shows such as the super featherweight tilt between Rocky Martinez and Miguel Beltran on HBO and the welterweight slugfest between Marcos Maidana and Jesus Soto Karass on Showtime were great.

How good were they? Well during a friendly back and forth exchange via texts with legendary boxing and MMA trainer Jacob 'Stitch' Duran during the Puerto Rican/Mexican battle of Martinez and Beltran, 'Stitch' eloquently quipped, "If those fights on HBO are as good as the ones on Showtime right now, it is a great night for Latino boxing." I could not have said it any better my friend.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Son of God (S.O.G.) = Student of the Game

Because of a bus trip to Baltimore Saturday to watch the Yankees/Orioles game, I wasn't able to catch the Andre Ward/Chad Dawson fight till Sunday morning. While I was intently looking forward to it, I wasn't sure what to expect from two such highly skilled boxers. However, though I didn't put it in print, I had predicted to numerous people whose boxing opinion I respect that Ward would "school Dawson."

I hate to say I told you so, but such was the case on Saturday night; as WBA/WBC super middleweight (168 lbs.) champion Andre 'S.O.G.' Ward (26-0, 14 KO's) gave WBC light heavyweight (175 lbs.) champ Chad Dawson (31-2, 17 KO's) a boxing lesson. Yet, while I had said Ward would "school Dawson," I never truly believed it would be as one sided as it was. Ward won just about every minute of every round, outside of the first, en route to a 10th round TKO finish.

What many, including myself, were afraid might turn into a lackluster 12 round counter-punching affair, immediately became a tactical, in your face prize fight. Because of Ward's orthodox stance facing the southpaw Dawson and also because of Dawson's clear height and reach advantage, Ward understood right away that he had to fight Dawson on the inside. Yet, what made Ward's performance so brilliant was that he fought on the inside in many different facets.

It was clear Ward and his trainer Virgil Hunter had a game plan and they worked it to perfection. The plan as it played out was to confuse Dawson by fighting him a different way in every round. Early on it was to get inside and punish the body, then in the third and fourth rounds, Ward started to catch Dawson repeatedly with a quick left hook over Dawson's lazy jab. That plan in itself could have easily won Ward the fight.

Yet, every time Ward came back to his corner in between rounds, Hunter changed the game. One round at a time Hunter would give Ward instructions such as, "This round I want you to double up on your jab and follow it straight in with your right; okay, now this round let's start using your uppercut." etc. and so on. Hunter was masterful in his instruction and Ward was ever the 'A' student in working the game plan to perfection. Simply put, Ward ran a clinic on Dawson.

In his post fight interview, Ward was not only respectful and humble, but also very well spoken and to the point on every question HBO's Larry Merchant asked him. In the dirty world of boxing, seldom is a young man, now 28 years old, so righteous in his approach to the sport and life itself. Ward's path is clear, as he stated before answering his first question to Merchant, "Larry if you'll permit me five seconds to give thanks to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."

It's that value that has guided Ward on his journey to a 2004 Olympic Gold medal, the super six middleweight tournament title and the world super middleweight championship. For 16 years this young man has been applying his craft, along the way not garnering the respect and coverage he deserves. After his performance Saturday night, he'll get it all now because not only is he a Son of God, but S.O.G. is a student of the game. 

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Interim world champion is just a TITLE

Carlos Condit, interim world champion; figuratively speaking, seven months later it is now quite evident that was his title all along. After winning that belt on February 5th in a lackluster performance against Nate Diaz, Condit (pictured @ left), will finally put that title on the line against, the actual world champion; how convenient?

UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre (22-2, 8 KO's 5 subs), due to a serious knee injury, has not fought since his last title defense against Jake Shields. That fight was on April 30, 2011, 16 months ago; during that same time span Carlos Condit (26-5, 13, KO's, 13 subs) without injury only fought twice, which included the interim title fight with Diaz. St. Pierre tore ligaments in his knee while preparing for his next title defense.

With St. Pierre suffering an injury that would clearly keep him on the shelf for a long time, the UFC decided it was best to create an interim world champion. This was so the title in a stacked welterweight division, where there are numerous contenders, would not lay dormant. Logically this makes sense and in theory, it's not a bad idea; however, in practice it was a waste.

In reality it turns out, that interim championship fight between Condit and Diaz was nothing more than a glorified number one contender match. That is because Condit will end up fighting St. Pierre in his first fight back from injury on November 17, 2012. More than nine months between winning the interim championship and fighting the actual champ, Condit did not compete. Therefore, I ask the question, what purpose did it serve in giving him the interim title?

As I previously stated above, I was under the impression it was so that the welterweight championship could remain active while St. Pierre, the actual champion, recovered from injury. Apparently I was wrong because Condit conveniently held onto that title without ever defending it, even though there were a bevy of contenders he could have fought. On a weekend, where a pay-per-view event had to be canceled because a UFC champion refused to fight a replacement opponent, this doesn't sound so good.

Since winning the interim belt in February, top contenders such as Martin Kampmann, Jake Ellenberger, Josh Koscheck and Johny Hendricks were forced to beat up on each other because Carlos Condit figured it was in his best interest to wait and fight the champion. That's great for Condit, but not so great for the UFC who have suddenly developed a stable of champions who pick and choose when and who they want to fight.

Some, including UFC President Dana White, may not see it that way, but all I know is that this weekend there was no UFC 151 event and there has not been a welterweight title defense in 16 months. Therefore, if you seem to be having an issue with world champions refusing to defend their titles in a timely manner, why increase the problem by creating interim champions who are seemingly doing the same? Because when you get right down to it, interim world champion is just a TITLE.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The incredible Mr. Softee reigning at the top

I always thought there was an uncanny resemblance between UFC light heavyweight (205 lbs.) champion Jon 'Bones' Jones and Mr. Softee; however I never thought it would ever show its face the way it did this past week. For the first time in its history, the UFC is canceling a scheduled pay-per-view event and right or wrong; at the center of it all is Jon Jones.

If for whatever reason you don't know the scenario by now, let me give a quick rundown of the domino effect that has befallen UFC 151. Jones was scheduled to defend his title against challenger Dan Henderson as the headliner for next Saturday's event. Nine days before the fight, Henderson gets injured during training; first domino to fall. Is it a big deal? Yes. Is it a Catastrophe? No; that is unless the champ decides to not fight against the replacement UFC management chose for him.

On such short notice and looking for a suitable replacement that would intrigue and appease their fans, the UFC brass decided on middleweight contender Chael Sonnen; he who just lost a title bid at 185 lbs. just six weeks ago. Sonnen agreed to take on the much bigger champ, who has been preparing for a fight, albeit not against Sonnen. Yet, because it wasn't Sonnen he was training for, Jones and his handlers decided it was best for him not to take the fight. Second domino to fall and now they start falling fast and furious.

Lyoto Machida, who claims he wanted another shot at Jones says yes, but not yet and ultimately we are left with Jones facing Vitor Belfort, who also is coming up from 185 lbs. and who has not fought since January due to injury. Confused? Just take a look at Mr. Softee's expression up top and you'll see you're not alone. However, there are two issues at hand here. Is it Jon Jones fault that UFC 151 got canceled? Also, what type of champion says no to a fight; especially one that makes or breaks a card?

On the issue of whose fault is it that the card got canceled, Brian 'Goze' Garcia, co-host of MMA Junkie Radio gave an interesting response to that question; he said, "Dana White's job is to promote and put together a fight card, which includes fixing it when it breaks down; that is what he does. It is not Jon Jones job to salvage a card." Yet, he also went on to say, "However, if it were me I would have taken the fight, but I can see the reasoning behind why he didn't."

Garcia went on to explain, "Anytime you step into a cage could be your last. Thus, you want to make sure you are at your best when taking on an opponent. Chael Sonnen is a dangerous guy with a unique skill set. You think if he took the fight and then got hurt, any of the fighters would have given up money to take care of Jon Jones?"

Ironically, I came across a UFC fighter Friday night, who just happened to be scheduled on the under card of UFC 151. Welterweight Charlie Brenneman was at a local MMA event I was covering when I asked his opinion on the Jones situation. He pulled no punches in saying, "If it were me, I would have taken the fight. I mean it wasn't like he was on vacation when he was approached about it; he was in full training camp for a fight."

Brenneman's opinion is the strong majority of fighters in the UFC and beyond; especially those who were scheduled to fight on that card and ended up losing time and money because of Jones decision. While Goze Garcia made some valid points on Jones behalf, I tend to agree with Brenneman and the general consensus of fighters and fans alike. There are two reasons why.

Jones is not just any fighter he is the fighter the UFC is building its brand and hopes on. At just 25 years old and looking seemingly invincible in the cage, the UFC has marketed this guy as their poster boy. Granted Anderson Silva is arguably the greatest fighter in the world, but he's 37 and a Brazilian who doesn't speak very good English. Georges St. Pierre, a Canadian who also doesn’t speak very good English, has been injured for nearly a year. Thus, Jones with the skill, good looks and personality is their guy; or so they thought.

The UFC made Jones the first fighter ever to sign an endorsement deal with the brand to promote their clothing line. You think Dana White regrets making that decision now? White has openly and publicly decried and denounced Jones's decision this past week and said it would definitely put a divide between them. Yet, there is a bigger issue at hand here.

In MMA, along with boxing, there are competitors and then there are fighters. There is an old phrase in combat sports that says, "You can't teach heart." Jon Jones has unbelievable skill as a mixed martial artist; but he has no heart as a fighter. Any true fighter takes a fight regardless of who, when, where and what's at stake. It is, as Goze Garcia said, "What separates good fighters from legends;" and why I say, "There is an incredible Mr. Softee reigning at the top."

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