Sunday, July 29, 2012

Can Jiu-Jitsu or even MMA become Olympic sports?

With the 2012 London Olympics now underway and in full swing, a question I had thought about eight years ago has popped up again? Can Jiu-Jitsu or submission grappling become an Olympic sport? However, since I originally thought about it, the sport of mixed martial arts has grown so much, that question has expanded to include MMA as well.

In November 1993 when Royce Gracie first stepped into the octagon @ UFC 1, little did we know then that what was referred to as, "Human cock fighting" by Senator John McCain, would soon become the fastest growing sport in the world. Not only did Gracie introduce his art to the world, he also helped launch a full fledged sport.

Fast forward nearly 19 years and jiu-jitsu along with MMA schools are everywhere; similar to when Karate and Kung-Fu schools popped up all over the world in the '70's after Bruce Lee popularized martial arts in the movies. Since that time, Taekowndo has become an Olympic sport to join both Judo and Wrestling as martial arts practiced around the world that has been part of the Olympic experience. So, can jiu-jitsu or submission grappling become an Olympic sport as well?

Eight years ago during the 2004 Olympic Games, I posed this question to MMA fighter and jiu-jitsu practitioner Frank Trigg. At the time, only 11 years after Royce Gracie's introduction to the world, Trigg's opinion was no it would not. Though the art was being practiced worldwide, he felt the sport itself was still struggling to be accepted mainstream, so there was no way it can be considered for the Olympics.

However, a lot can change in eight years and when it comes to the boom of MMA, has it ever. In 2005 Forrest Griffin and Stephen Bonner had a fight for the ages after the world saw them live and compete in the television reality series 'The Ultimate Fighter'. Right then and there, the landscape of the sport and the way it was viewed would never be the same again. Now it is on network television, internet radio and magazines everywhere.

On top of that, as for jiu-jitsu and (or) submission grappling, not only is it practiced worldwide, but tournaments are constantly being held; normally over a two-day weekend. Thus, an Olympic tournament over a two week span should not be a problem. However, the same is not so easy when it comes to MMA; the dynamic here is much different.

A full contact sport that features strikes doesn't appear to be a viable option over a two week period; yet, Boxing has been able to do it in the Olympics. However, boxing doesn't feature strikes coming from kicks, elbows and knees, besides punches. I posed this question to Gorgeous George, host of MMA Junkie Radio, and this was the reasoning behind him believing it could never happen; but I'm not so sure.

I've thought about this a little bit and figured if certain aspects from amateur boxing, amateur MMA and even professional MMA were instituted; maybe MMA might have a shot; not necessarily in four years, but someday. The first thing is headgear; in the amateur boxing ranks, including the Olympics, padded headgear is worn. Why can't the same be used in Olympic style MMA? It would minimize cuts, bruises and damage to the head, which would be the number one concern in a tournament run over a couple of weeks.

Second, in amateur MMA, the timing in rounds is cut down significantly from that of professional ranks. While professionals fight in five minute rounds, amateurs usually fight two minute rounds. Add that feature to another one from the Bellator Fighting Championships, an organization that uses tournament style fights, in which they eliminate the use of elbow strikes until the finals. All these together along with the increase and growth of amateur MMA fighters and suddenly things don't seem that much out of the realm.

I do realize there are factors working against this idea; one being the size of gloves in boxing versus MMA lends itself to safety. Also, while MMA has grown immensely popular over the last few years, it still isn't even 19 years old. Nonetheless, Gorgeous George believes jiu-jitsu can become an Olympic sport as quickly as 2016, since the games are being held in Rio de Janeiro, home of Brazilian jiu-jitsu. So if that happens, can MMA or the thought of such be far behind? Only time and the Olympic spirit will tell.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Lackluster weekend leaves negative impressions

On a weekend where I was feeling down and depressed about the loss of my best friend (Pictured @ left), I really could have used some worthwhile mixed martial arts or boxing action to lift my spirits. So, with Bellator and the UFC both with cards and young boxing star Adrien Broner fighting on HBO, I figured I'd find what I needed somewhere. However, what I got was a lackluster weekend of action that left a couple of negative impressions and thoughts.

I'm not going to dwell too much on the action because really, there isn't much to dwell on; though I would be discrediting Bellator's Karl Amoussou's 56 seconds of work on Friday night. Amoussou (16-4-2, 4 KO's 9 subs), fighting in the finals of the welterweight (170 lbs.) tournament, made quick work of his opposition Bryan Baker by catching him in a slick heel hook submission during a scramble. Amoussou was the only main event fighter that looked impressive this weekend.

Now I know some of you might remark, well what about Adrien Broner's five round finish of tough Vicente Escobedo on HBO's Boxing after Dark? My response would be, while Broner looked his usual flashy, polished self enroute to his 24th victory without a defeat, he did it unprofessionally and unfairly. The former WBO Junior Lightweight (130 lbs.) agreed to defend that title against Escobedo, a former 135 lbs. lightweight contender.

Yet, while Escobedo put in the time and effort to make the weight, like a professional, Broner laughed in the face of the system and made no effort at all. He came in three and half pounds over and after stepping off the scale heavy, he immediately proceeded to rehydrate his body with fluids. He essentially told the system, "Strip me of my title and take part of my purse, I don't care. I'm going to do what I want because I am who I am."

Sadly, the system and even Escobedo agreed because in the end, "It's all about the Benjamin's baby." Promoters wanting to save the fight, which initially Escobedo wanted to scratch, made it happen by giving the opponent more money. This in the long run was going to be made up by the fight being televised by HBO Sports anyway, so after it's all said and done it's all a wash; but also a sham because the fight was not fought on even terms.

As for the UFC, not much to talk about as both the main and co-main events went to a one-sided unanimous decision and a lackluster split-decision. The more disappointing of the two without a doubt had to be the split-decision loss by Hector Lombard in his UFC debut. The former Bellator middleweight (185 lbs.) champ came in with much fanfare and hype, but alas it ended in disaster as he did not look impressive at all against contender Tim Boetsch. Boetsch has won his last four in a row, but I don't think anyone, including Boetsch, believes he's a serious threat to current UFC champion Anderson Silva.

Meanwhile, Lombard had won his previous 20 in a row and had not lost a fight since 2006. Many, including UFC President Dana White, were hoping he could be a legitimate threat in the middleweight division. However, after his performance Saturday night White was clamoring for Lombard to drop down to 170; need I say more? As for the interim bantamweight championship in the main event, Renan Barao bested Urijah Faber over five rounds; there's nothing more to say on that.

So, with nothing spectacular to chronicle on the fight front other than a lackluster weekend filled with negative impressions, let me take a moment to reflect on the photo above. That was my Siberian husky 'Deejay' who I had the unfortunate task of having to put down this week after he was diagnosed with cancer.

They say a dog is man's best friend and for 10.5 years since he was 8 weeks old, Deejay was mine. I knew that when this day came it would hurt; unfortunately I was right, but didn't realize how much. The anticipation of knowing I had to put him to rest and going through that with him was by far the hardest thing I've ever had to do. However, as bad as the pain is, I would gladly do it all over again if I knew I could have another 10+ years like the ones Deejay gave me. I'll miss you buddy; I already do. Easy!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Boxing is far from dead

Who said boxing was dead? It wasn't me that's for sure. As much as I love mixed martial arts, I have always and continue to love boxing. The same way I have to defend MMA to boxing purists, I've had to defend boxing to MMA fans and casual people who suggest that boxing is dead. Yet, one look at Saturday night's fight between junior welterweights Amir Khan and Danny Garcia (pictured @ left) and you'll see boxing doesn't need my defense.

However, therein lies the problem; how many people actually watched it? I find myself having to defend this sport to people who claim they know boxing, yet all they know are two names Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao. Thus, the reason they claim boxing is dead; but forget about the horrendous judging that has befallen the sport lately and you'll notice that there is a bevy of up and coming talent that goes beyond Mayweather and Pacquiao.

Garcia (24-0, 15 KO's), is a kid out of the tough gyms of Philadelphia that fights just like that, tough. His nickname is 'Swift', but it should be 'Swat' because that's what he does to his opponents when he hits them. In the last year this 24 year old has gone from relative obscurity to potential stardom by defeating four former world champions ina row including Nate Campbell, Kendall Holt, Erik Morales and on Saturday Amir Khan.

Losing the first two rounds easily and looking outclassed by Khan's superior hand speed, Garcia's will to win superseded that deficiency as he caught Khan with a left hook behind the ear at the end of the third round that proved to be the beginning of the end for the HBO poster boy. The end came in the fourth after two more knockdowns and now Garcia is the latest prodigy on the horizon. However, he's only the latest as there are others.

The self proclaimed "Son of God" himself Andre Ward (25-0, 13 KO's) has toiled in relative obscurity for nearly eight years as a pro; this after winning Olympic Gold in 2004. Yet, even after winning the coveted "Super Six Super Middleweight Tournament," where he defeated such notable contemporaries as Mikkel Kessler, Arthur Abraham and Carl Froch, it is only now that he will finally receive some notoriety. That is because in September he will put his 168 lbs. title on the line against 175 lbs. champion 'Bad' Chad Dawson (31-1, 17 KO's) another super talent in the sport. Both are ranked number one in their respective weight classes.

Also in September, another fast rising name is that of  Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. (46-0-1, 32 KO's) will look to prove his ascension is no fluke as he takes on Sergio Martinez, arguably the best pound for pound fighter in the world along with aforementioned Mayweather and Pacquiao. Chavez, Jr. is another young talent whose star has risen immensely in the last year. The fight against Martinez will prove though whether it's a shooting star or not.

Finally, after those fights in the first two weeks of September, there will be another one in the third week that will not just feature an up and coming prospect in boxing, but a local one at that. Welterweight Ronald Cruz (17-0, 12 KO's), the WBC Continental Americas Champion, will have his toughest fight yet as he battles tried and tested Antwone 'The Truth' Smith on NBC Sports. Cruz does not have Olympic pedigree like Ward or a legend for a father like Chavez, but what he does have is skill and he's making the most of it.

I know I'm sounding more like a promoter than a columnist with this piece, but that is not my purpose at all; these young fighters promote themselves with their performances. My purpose is to bring to light some of the big time up and coming talent within the sport, so that casual fans can realize there's more to the ring than just Mayweather and Pacquaio. Instead of worrying about when those two will ever meet each other, check out some of these other talented pugilists and you'll see boxing is far from dead.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Champion second, martial artist first

I've said this many times before, but never was it more evidently exhibited than Saturday night. What makes Anderson Silva so great is not the fact that he is the most dominant champion in UFC history, but rather that he is a true martial artist; in other words, he is a champion second, martial artist first.

You would think that after six and a half years without a loss, which includes 16 fights in the UFC, Anderson Silva (32-4, 10 KO's 6 subs) would have a chip on his shoulder. However, on the contrary he's always remained humble and respectful towards his opponents. For the record, of those 16 UFC  fights 13 have been title defenses and that last loss was due to a disqualification.

Yet as humble as respectful as Silva has always carried himself, he was openly and uncharacteristically outspoken in the weeks leading up to his fight Saturday night. That is because his opponent Chael Sonnen (27-12, 7 KO's 4 subs), the best trash talker in MMA, pulled no punches in his vocal barrage against the champ; neither Silva's skill, country or wife were off limits. It clearly bothered Silva as he entered the octagon displaying more emotion than he's ever shown before.

Nonetheless, it didn't alter his performance at all as he continued his championship reign by defeating Sonnen in the second round via TKO due to referee stoppage after a wicked knee to the body followed up by punches. What made it even more impressive is that he did it after a first round that was dominated by Sonnen and was eerily similar to the first four rounds of their first fight.

However, if that wasn't impressive enough, after the fight when Silva could have rubbed all the trash talk in Sonnen's face and just totally stuck it to him, he didn't. Instead, in typical Anderson Silva fashion, he took the opportunity during his post fight interview to explain to the crowd that there is no animosity towards Sonnen and that what they do in the cage is for sport.

Yet, he took it even a step further when he walked over to Sonnen, extended his hand and brought him over to be part of the interview. He then spoke to the Brazilian fans in attendance in his native Portuguese and told them to show their class by applauding Sonnen and to basically forgive and forget all he had said. He then offered Sonnen an invitation to his home for a barbecue if he would like.

Sonnen, though clearly distraught, appeared caught off guard by the move and was left at a loss for words other than, "He's a true champion." What Anderson Silva did is extend martial arts etiquette in the truest and purest sense of the word; always show respect to your opponent. When he's done, Silva will probably go down as the greatest champion the UFC has ever had, but truth is he is champion second, martial artist first.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

The first shall be last and the last shall be first

Seven years ago when the reality series 'The Contender' premiered on NBC, I was ecstatic. Finally, a real TV series about boxing, unlike that sad attempt put together by Oscar De La Hoya called 'The Next Great Fighter'. This show was legit, as it was produced by Mark Burnett, and on network television; the only problem was that NBC mismanaged it. In its first three episodes, it played on different nights, thus it could never develop and keep a following.

I followed it though, even after it got cancelled after one season and then got picked up by ESPN for season two. I loved it and as a hardcore MMA fan, am not ashamed to say that I enjoyed it even more than the successful 'Ultimate Fighter' TV series that just concluded its 15th season. Alas, 'The Contender' didn't have as successful a run, but it produced a handful of notable contenders and champions.

Oddly enough, the most successful to date was probably the least likely when we first saw him. Cornelius 'K-9' Bundrage (32-4, 19 KO's), IBF Junior Middleweight (154 lbs.) Champion ranked #3 in the world has quietly carved out a nice little post 'Contender' career. Although he appeared on the show with an impressive (22-1) record, he was a virtual unknown out of Detroit, Michigan, who was coming off a first round KO loss to the first real test he faced Sechew Powell.

Bundrage appeared in the second season of the show and after initial workouts was quickly looked upon as the worst of the bunch by his fellow competitors. He appeared to be awkward, slow and stiff, who made some of his counterparts like former fringe titleholder Michael Clark think they had an easy out. He even ended up being the last choice of the 16 fighters when teams were picked. Bundrage's response was to quote a scripture from the bible, "the first shall be last and the last shall be first."

He may not have ended up first on the show, but he surprised many when he came in third overall and made the overconfident and boastful Michael Clark the first one eliminated. He also may not have been the first one to a world title as that distinction went to season one winner Sergio Mora, but he's been the last and has quietly been the most successful.

On Saturday night 'K-9' defended his title by knocking out former titleholder Cory Spinks in the seventh round, in a rematch from two years ago when he won the title from Spinks. His resume may not be the most impressive in terms of his competition, but that pales in comparison to his inactivity. Since winning the title two years ago, this was only his second defense. I realize this isn't the day when Larry Holmes would defend his belt three times a year, but once a year isn't going to cut it; especially at 39 years of age.

With this latest win; Bundrage is in the mix and conversation of possible opponents for Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez, the 21 year old phenom who holds the WBC version of the light middleweight title. Considering how much trouble they've been having finding a viable opponent for Alvarez, I think it would be a perfect fit; a title unification bout between the number two and three 154 pounders in the world.

Do I think Bundrage can defeat Alvarez? No I don't, but for Bundrage it's a win-win situation. If he loses, he scores the biggest payday of his career, which is probably dwindling down anyway; and if he wins, he finally gets the recognition to go with his career. If I'm K-9, I'd start barking louder than he used to do on the show and begging for this fight. Besides, the first shall be last and the last shall be first, remember?

Junkie Gathering 2017... this time it was personal

Wow! I feel the only way to properly start this summary of what I just experienced is summed up in that one word. Although there is anothe...