Sunday, April 29, 2012
With a slow weekend of high profile MMA, my focus this week turns to boxing; where last night 47 year old Bernard Hopkins lost his light-heavyweight (175 lbs.) title to Chad Dawson over a typical Hopkins styled 12 rounds. I say typical because as great and legendary as Hopkins is and has been, he's a future hall of famer solely on achievement, not performance.
There may be some boxing fans or even purists who will say I'm talking blasphemy here, but before you go chastising me, please read on. Also, it should be noted that being from the Lehigh Valley, which is located an hour north from the City of Brotherly Love, I've always been a Hopkins (pictured above) fan. However, at this point in the game, it's time for B-Hop to B-Stopped.
Hopkins (52-6-2, 32 KO's) style, though effective, has never been aesthetically pleasing. He's never possessed one-punch knockout power and he's not a beautifully gifted boxer with natural talent. What has made him so great for so long are two things. One is his discipline to stay focused on his diet, even when he was not training, and to always work hard when it came to training. The second was his cerebral approach to the game and to be willing to do whatever it took to win; even if it meant fighting dirty.
One thing Hopkins is not is a sucker. Growing up in North Philly and having spent nearly ten years in prison schooled him on how to con and not be conned. For nearly 25 years, he's used and brought those street smarts into the ring and used every trick there is, dirty or not, to his advantage. In MMA, they coined the phrase "Dirty Boxing" to describe former ageless wonder himself Randy Couture's style of fighting. Well in Hopkins, you're looking at the master.
However, just like Couture's run eventually had to succumb to younger greater talent, it finally appears that so too has Hopkins's. Last night, even with all the tactics he pulled from his bag of tricks, it just wasn't enough to overcome the much younger and talented challenger. It wasn't for lack of trying though; over 12 rounds he grabbed and hooked Dawson's arms, used his shoulder and head as weapons and even started to get under Dawson's skin for a couple of rounds. In the end though, it wasn't enough.
So now we are left with 'Sad' Chad Dawson and that is not a misprint or error. I said 'Sad', not ''Bad' because he's far from it. After the fight, to his credit, he said he'd like to fight super middleweight (168 lbs.) champ Andre Ward either at 168, 175 or a catch weight. Dawson is good, but he's not Ward good. Unlike Hopkins, Ward is a beautifully gifted boxer who will run circles around Dawson. I hope it happens though because Ward deserves a high profile fight and so does the light-heavyweight division.
As for Hopkins, he stormed out of the ring last night refusing to be interviewed as his claim was he was robbed in the decision. Like I said, typical Hopkins who will probably play mental games with you till the day he dies. Will he fight again, I doubt it; though he may want to fight some nobody so he can win and go out on a high note. He's a former two-division champion, a living legend and future hall of famer; but that last one will solely be on achievement, not performance.
Friday, April 27, 2012
Last weekend when Jon 'Bones' Jones successfully defeated former teammate Rashad Evans at UFC 145, he successfully defended his UFC light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) title. However, by doing so, he did something else as well. He solidified his standing as not just one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world, but also as the best light-heavyweight champion.
In part six of my comparison of champions from the "big" three mixed martial arts organizations here in the U.S., we most likely have the most overwhelming choice of the various weight classes I've reviewed thus far. It's no slight, it's just the truth; besides, with the Strikeforce champion currently in the UFC, that only leaves one other champion and at this point, there is no comparison.
Nonetheless, here are my rankings of the champions at light-heavyweight and what we can expect for the future:
1.) UFC - Jon Jones (16-1, 8 KO's 5 subs)
What is there to say? When you are arguably the number two overall pound for pound fighter in the world, there is no question you are number one on this list. The scary thing is that at just 24 years old, Jon Jones could ultimately end up being the greatest champion of the all before he is through. It is crazy to think that is being said, especially while the great Anderson Silva is still active; but the way he has handled the opposition in the last year, easily outpointing and (or) finishing four former champions, it's not out of the realm.
Last Saturday was supposed to be his stiffest test to date. Although he went in as a favorite, there were many, including myself, who thought Rashad Evans had a chance. I actually believed Evans would defeat Jones using the one thing no one has successfully used a/o yet, wrestling. Alas, Evans chose to stand; why? Your guess is as good as mine. The result was a unanimous lopsided five round decision.
That decision may be the only blemish on his record a/o late where he has routinely finished his opposition either by submission or knockout. His next opponent is the current and (or) last Strikeforce champion Dan Henderson and as great as Henderson's career has been, I believe he won't last past two rounds at best. Jon Jones biggest opposition at this point is Jon Jones. As long as he can maintain his focus, greatness awaits.
2.) Bellator - Christian M'Pumbu (18-4, 7 KO's 8 subs)
There is a lot to like about current Bellator light-heavyweight champion Christian M'Pumbu. A relatively unknown fighter until last spring, the man called 'Tonton' took Bellator by storm as he literally "stormed" through the opposition in their season five light-heavyweight tournament. After three impressive wins, M'Pumbu was crowned champion. However, the excitement has been short lived.
Because of Bellator's tournament run style, M'Pumbu, undersized at this weight class, is forced to wait through this season to see who his first title defense will be against. To keep him busy till that got sorted out, Bellator decided to put him in a non-title super fight. Their formula pulls a veteran with a name in MMA that can give the champ a good fight, but ultimately not be a threat. There is one flaw in the formula; it doesn't always work out that way.
Well fought and traveled veteran Travis Wiuff didn't get the memo he was supposed to lose and defeated the much smaller M'Pumbu via decision. Not the greatest endorsement for a champion when being compared to others; but considering Strikeforce currently doesn't have a champ, or do they? M'Pumbu gets the nod here as the second best "active" champion among the big three.
As for Strikeforce and Dan Henderson; considering his next fight will be against Jones in the UFC for that title, it's obvious he cannot be ranked here as a current champion. At this point, he is Strikeforce's last champion at 205 lbs. and unless something extraordinary happens against Jones, I anticipate former champion because I can see 'Bones' sending the legend into retirement.
Up next will be the final installment where I'll take a look at the big boys.
Sunday, April 22, 2012
On Saturday night, UFC light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) champion Jon 'Bones' Jones put on quite an impressive performance in shutting down challenger Rashad Evans. It was a highly anticipated fight with a one-sided outcome; however, it was not the only one that happened this weekend.
If for some reason you missed it or you just slept on it, Bellator 66 from Cleveland Friday night had a great main event. It featured two of the absolute best lightweights (155 lbs.) in the world as former Bellator champion Eddie Alvarez (23-3, 13 KO's 7 subs) faced off against current 'Dream' champ Shinya Aoki (30-6, 1 KO 19 subs). If the picture above of Alvarez doing his patented victory back flip from the top of the cage gives you any indication, you can just imagine the outcome.
A rematch of a fight that took place between the two in Japan three years ago where Aoki, the submission wizard, tapped out Alvarez in less than two minutes via heel hook; this time everything was in reverse. The fight Friday took place in the United States and this time it was Alvarez needing only two minutes to pull out a victory as he pummeled Aoki into submission. The official result was a TKO from a barrage of punches, which forced the referee to stop it; but Aoki's corner had mercifully thrown in the towel long before that.
For Alvarez, it was sweet victory for many reasons. For one, he was coming off a title losing affair against Michael Chandler last year. Second, it was personal vindication avenging a loss he had against one of the top five lightweights in the world. Finally, it came at a crucial time when he's at a crossroads in his career with his contract now up at Bellator.
In his post fight interview in the cage when asked what this victory meant to him, Alvarez responded by saying, "It means show me the money Bjorn Rebney." Rebney is of course the CEO at Bellator and Alvarez is obviously setting up the bidding war for his services between his current employer and the UFC. While Rebney is saying all the right things, I'd be very surprised if he is able to hold onto Alvarez's future.
As for Alvarez, he too is saying all the right things. He says his life is in a good place right now and that his change in camps has made him an even better fighter; that remains to be seen, but while it took Jones five rounds to garner a decision win against a top flight opponent, it took Alvarez only two minutes. So for this weekend at least, it wasn't Jon Jones who stole the show, but rather it was Eddie Alvarez.
Friday, April 20, 2012
That is because in this weight class we have arguably the most dominant champion that has ever existed in the sport of Mixed Martial Arts. I say arguably because there have been a couple of others such as Matt Hughes at welterweight (170 lbs.) and his successor Georges St. Pierre who have had equally impressive stretches as champion.
However, as great as those two have been, both did incur losses during their championship runs; although both were able to regain their titles. However, current UFC titleholder Anderson Silva has never been defeated since obtaining gold in October 2006.
That said, here are my rankings of the current middleweight champions:
1.) UFC - Anderson Silva (31-4, 18 KO's 6 subs)
I mentioned above that 'The Spider' has not been defeated since becoming champion; truth is the last time Silva (pictured above) lost a fight was over six years ago. A fighter who began his career during the still early days of the sport back in 1997, Anderson Silva has not only grown with the sport, he's evolved with it as well. Clearly the most exciting fighter on the planet, one can argue that Silva, to date, may be the greatest MMA fighter of all-time.
Of course there are those that will dispute that Silva barely held onto his title when he faced off with Chael Sonnen back in August 2010. To those I respond by saying the key word here is "held;" because that is exactly what Silva did and he did it without any help or disputed decision by judges. Though he was out muscled and out wrestled for over 23 minutes of a 25 minute fight, he did not concede defeat and like a champion he found a way to defeat Sonnen via submission.
Outside of that, name the opponent and it's been sheer dominance; this includes stoppages of no less than four former champions and three potential Hall of Famers in Rich Franklin, Dan Henderson, Forrest Griffin (@ 205 lbs.) and Vitor Belfort. Silva will get his chance to just add to his standing as the greatest and erase any doubt when he faces Sonnen in June in what should be a history making affair.
2.) Bellator - Hector Lombard - (31-2, 17 KO's 7 subs)
On May 15, 2011, I wrote a column that was entitled 'Silva's biggest threat may not be in the UFC'. The fighter I was alluding to was none other than current Bellator middleweight champion Hector Lombard. I made reference to the fact that Silva has not lost a fight in over six years; well nearly the same can be said about Lombard who has not lost since November 2006 and both blemishes on his record were decision losses; thus, unlike Silva, he's never been stopped.
Yet as similar as their records are, both Silva and Lombard are complete opposites in stature and style. While Silva is 6'2" and wiry, with a slick and sleek approach to fighting, Lombard is 5'9" and a muscular powerhouse. Instead of 'Lightning', I think a more appropriate nickname would be 'Toy Cannon' because that is what he resembles in his appearance and when he hits you.
The biggest question with Lombard is how long will he remain Bellator champion as his contract appears to be up? Will he re-sign with Bellator or may we possibly get the answer to my question I raised in May of last year? Time will tell.
3.) Strikeforce - Luke Rockhold (9-1, 2 KO's 6 subs)
Not only is Luke Rockhold the youngest (27) and most inexperienced of the three champions, his career didn't start till 2007; that was the year after both Silva and Lombard suffered their last defeat. However, don't let that inexperience fool you as eight of his 10 fights have taken place in Strikeforce against pretty good competition and he's undefeated in those eight fights.
He also comes from a top flight camp as he fights out of the renowned 'American Kickboxing Academy' in San Jose, California, which has produced multiple champions and contenders. Winning the title by defeating Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza and defending it once already against former UFC vet Keith Jardine, the sky appears to be the limit for Rockhold; that is assuming he can hold onto the rock. (Sorry, I couldn't help myself)
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
That is because two of the organizations, the UFC and Bellator, have current champions, but the UFC also has an interim champion. Also, Strikeforce either has or had a welterweight champion, I'm not even sure at the moment and I'm not sure Strikeforce knows for sure either. There is one thing that everyone does know though and that is who the overall number one champion is in this weight class; it's the fight for number two that causes the debate.
Here's my ranking of the current champions as I see them, which should spark even more debate:
1.) UFC - Georges St. Pierre (22-2, 8 KO's 5 subs)
On this choice there is no debate; GSP or 'Rush', as he is both known by, is arguably the number one pound for pound fighter in the world. The argument on this issue is whether or not that top spot belongs to him or Anderson Silva. Regardless of whom it is that type of rarefied air easily puts him on the top spot on this list of champions in this division.
Yet as great as St. Pierre (pictured above) is and has been, he has not fought in almost a year; since his five round lackluster decision over Jake Shields last April 30, due to injury. So, the longer you are out of action there is always the small question of how viable can you be considered amongst other active fighters. The question was such that the UFC felt it was important to have an interim champion, thus the reason Carlos Condit currently holds that title.
Nonetheless, it is a small question at best and at his best, GSP stands out above the rest. Condit should provide a formidable challenge when the two finally engage, quite possibly later this year, but unless St. Pierre exhibits some form of ring rust, I anticipate he continuing to solidify his standing as the best of the best in the 170 lbs. division.
2.) Bellator - Ben Askren (10-0, 1 KO 3 subs)
Here's where things start to get sketchy and people will start to scream I'm insane. However, before anyone starts to say I don't know what I'm talking about, here me out. While I feel Askren is a talented fighter, I hardly feel he is the second best champion here; yet, he is the only other one besides St. Pierre who is a definitive champion and for that he deserves the number two nod here. I cannot justify placing an interim champ or one who's status is unknown ahead of him.
Besides, while he's only been fighting MMA professionally for three years, you can't deny what this former Olympian and national wrestling champion has accomplished thus far. Out of his 10 fights, seven have been in Bellator and while he's hardly the most fun to watch, (six of those seven Bellator wins have come via decision), his game is what I call the Tim Hardaway jump shot of MMA; it's ugly, but it's deadly. His style is "funky," which he's been aptly nicknamed, and he's used it to garner the number two spot here, albeit by default.
3.) Strikeforce - Nick Diaz (26-8, 13 KO's 8 subs)
Should Nick Diaz even be on this list? I'm not sure since he claims to be retiring from the sport following his disputed decision loss to Condit two months ago for the interim UFC strap. However, I, like many, believe that statement was made out of anger at the moment and while he's made no indication that he's ready to fight, he hasn't made one that he isn't either. Thus, his status in limbo is why he warrants the third spot on this list.
Even though he lost to Condit, it still is argued amongst hardcore fans that he remains the most formidable challenger to St. Pierre. His skill is unquestionable and his conditioning is second to none in any weight class, yet it's his attitude that makes Diaz an enigma. His inability to let you know what you can expect from him on any given night makes him a nightmare for promoters, yet he remains one of the most popular fighters in the sport among fans.
Finally, Condit's status as interim champion in the UFC forces me to acknowledge his status, as he is a titleholder, but I don't think he deserves to be ranked along with the other three fighters on this list. Although as stated above, he did defeat Nick Diaz in February of this year, regardless of how disputed it may or may not have been; personally, I believe he won. That said, in part five will look at another division to which there is no question, the middleweights.
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Following his fifth consecutive win in a row and his sixth of seven fights in the octagon, Sweden's Alexander Gustafsson, (pictured @ left), left people asking the question, could this be the next Jon Jones? Standing @ 6'4" and fighting 205 lbs., the similarities to the light-heavyweight champion do not end there; but beyond their very similar fighting styles as well, I think the comparison is a bit overblown.
Jones is the champion of the world, though I'm not sure he'll be that after next weekend; but that's fodder for another day. Meanwhile Gustafsson, who has been quite impressive thus far in his UFC career, is nowhere near the discussion of pound for pound best where Jones easily rests in the top five. Nonetheless, 'The Mauler' Gustafsson, as he is called, handled his business once again Saturday against his toughest opponent to date Thiago Silva (14-3, 11 KO's 2 subs).
Using constant lateral movement and a consistent jab, the Stockholm native used his reach effectively to his advantage, ala the way champ Jones does his, thus the comparison. He busted up Silva with boxing combinations, including stiff uppercuts, and kept his distance en route to a three round unanimous decision. It's his first decision win in his UFC career and first in three and half years.
Up next for Gustaffson, it remains to be seen; especially considering the champ Jones defends his title next weekend against Rashad Evans. One thing's for sure, whether he's on Jones level yet or not, Gustafsson is a legitimate contender in this division and whomever he faces will be in the top tier of the light-heavyweight class.
As for Silva, this was his first fight in 13 months returning after a suspension for illegal substances and time off due to injury. Considering the long layoff, the fact that he was a late replacement in this fight and that it was against a top contender in his home country, Silva did not fight all that bad. If there is such a thing as ring rust, he looked like he had some of it, but he did have some moments throughout. I expect him to come back strong in his next fight.
In the co-main event, 'All-American' Brian Stann (12-4, 9 KO's 1 sub) got back to his winning ways by doing what he does best. He used a patient attack and eventually tattooed (no pun intended) the multi-tattooed Alessio 'Legionarius' Sakara (15-9, 9 KO's 2 subs) via ground and pound in the first round. He rocked Sakara with an elbow and two left handed punches that clearly had the Italian all but out.
Always classy, whether in victory or defeat, Stann saw his opponent was in trouble and pulled back even before the ref was able to step in. After a tough loss in his last outing against number one contender Chael Sonnen, Stann is right back in the mix in the middleweight (185 lbs.) division. As for Sakara, he had contemplated retirement due to multiple injuries and illnesses that restricted him to only four fights in the last four years; maybe this was the signal for him to do just that.
Finally, a major shout out to the country of Sweden, the city of Stockholm and their fans. The UFC's first stop in this country on their international tour was not only a major success, but the fans were great in every way. Classy, knowledgeable, boisterous and most importantly appreciative, the Swedish fans gave a lesson on how we here in the States should receive these fighters whenever they step in the cage to do what they do. If Gustafsson continues his winning ways, I can see the UFC making their way back there real soon.
Wednesday, April 11, 2012
Monday, April 9, 2012
Continuing on with my seven part series of taking a side by side look at the current champions in the three major MMA organizations here in the U.S., today we move up a weight class to featherweight (145 lbs.) As in the previous look at the bantamweights, there are only two champs to analyze as Strikeforce currently does not have a featherweight division.
That's a shame too because subconsciously with only two fighters to compare, it may look as though the UFC has a clear cut decisive advantage over Bellator; that isn't necessarily the case. It just so happens though that in this class, the UFC champion does happen to be the best featherweight on the planet. However, as you shall see, the only other featherweight who can possibly give him a run for the money also happens to be Bellator's current champion.
Here's my list of champions as I rank them:
1.) UFC - Jose Aldo (21-1, 13 KO's 2 subs)
Not only is Aldo (pictured above) universally considered the best featherweight on the planet, he is also in the top five discussion of pound for pound fighters in the world; arguably coming in at number three in some people's eyes behind only Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre. Like Dominick Cruz at bantamweight, he too was the titleholder at 145 lbs. in the WEC. Yet, that isn't what makes him number one.
It is the way he's toyed with the opposition throughout his career, though his three fights in the UFC haven't been as dominant. That is until his last fight where he demolished previously undefeated Chad Mendes as he's done with so many others, such as Cub Swanson above; with a devastating flying knee timed perfectly to the jaw.
Equipped with lightning fast hands, lethal kicks (just ask Urijah Faber) and a black belt in Jiu-Jitsu from the famed Nova Uniao camp in Brazil, there isn't much in the way of flaws in this still very young 25 year old. Recently working with Gray Maynard to tighten up his wrestling game, there really isn't anybody left to challenge Aldo at featherweight. Thus, the reason UFC President was trying as he might to get former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar to make the move down to 145.
2.) Bellator - Pat Curran (17-4, 5 KO's 5 subs)
Sadly, Aldo's best competition at this weight may actually be new Bellator champ Curran. The record may not look as impressive as Aldo's, but don't let that fool you. Three of his four losses came in his first 12 fights; since then he's (8-1) with eight of those fights coming in Bellator.
That lone defeat was a five round decision loss to former Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez, one of the world's best, at 155 lbs. After breezing through the competition in a lightweight tourney to earn the berth against Alvarez, Curran disciplined himself and dropped down to featherweight. The result was another impressive run in a 145 lbs. tourney earning him another title shot.
This time the result was different as he crushed then former champ Joe Warren within three rounds to win the belt. Curran continues to impress every single time he fights, showing marked improvement in his all around game. Big for this weight class, Curran is even younger than Aldo at only 24; but like Aldo he continues to expand his game and looks as though he can be the next big star at Bellator.
As stated above, Strikeforce does not have a featherweight champ, however they do have a champ at lightweight; boy do they ever. That will be the next division I will review in a couple of days.
Saturday, April 7, 2012
Bellator's first bantamweight champion is also quickly becoming one of their biggest young stars. With a division one wrestling background, a slick submission game and an ever growing striking arsenal, Makovsky should be a champion for quite awhile. We'll see soon enough as he gets tested next Friday night when he defends against last year's tournament winner Eduardo Dantas from Brazil.
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