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."

PCC: Valley Fight Series VI; making a statement


There was a time when Mixed Martial Arts was only considered a west coast thing; well that time is long gone as the east coast, especially Pennsylvania, has become a hot bed for MMA. Such was the case on Friday night as PA Cage Combat presented their Valley Fight Series VI card at the new Sands Event Center in Bethlehem, PA. 12 fights, both amateur and professional, encompassed all the action and helped PCC make a statement.

The main event of the evening featured featherweights (145 lbs.) Scott 'The Animal' Heckman (12-3, 1 KO 9 subs), out of Bangor, PA, facing off against Billy Vaughan (11-13, 3 KO's 8 subs) from Columbus, Ohio. Though it was the main event, it didn't last very long as the local product Heckman caught Vaughn in a standing guillotine choke and literally dragged him across the cage forcing the tap in the first round. The guillotine choke submission turned out to be the flavor of the evening as you'll soon see.

In one of the other featured pro bouts of the evening lightweight (155 lbs.) Greg Wolfe (1-1, 1 sub) evened his professional record as he tapped out local product Zach Sigley (1-1) with a guillotine choke at (1:47) of the first round. Sigley, coming off a debut win at the last PCC card in June, attempted to use his forte, which is wrestling, but got caught and had no choice but to tap.

The only title fight of the night was in the middleweight (185 lbs.) division as PCC champ Adam 'The Archangel' Atiyeh (5-0 amateur) defended his belt with a lackluster unanimous decision over challenger Dustin Wentz (6-3 amateur). Atiyeh used multiple take downs throughout the fight, along with some dirty boxing, to ground out the decision.

Another featured catchweight (215 lbs.) fight on the card saw Jason Heflin up his record to (6-1 amateur) as he made quick work of Cameron McClaney (0-2 amateur). Heflin thwarted a take down attempt by McClaney and then caught him in a tight guillotine choke, which forced the tap by McClaney at (1:48) of the first round.

In a heavyweight bout, Matt Breiner (4-1 amateur), after losing the first round convincingly, came back strong in the second and made quick work of Rodney Sigley (1-1 amateur) winning by TKO in just 19 seconds. After a vicious exchange between both fighters, a devastating left-right combination from Breiner dropped Sigley to his knees. With Sigley all but out, Breiner just threw his hands up and walked away prompting the referee to step in and stop the fight.

On the undercard, Bethlehem's own Rick 'El Numero Uno' Nuno (4-1 amateur), fighting out of the renowned AMA Fight Club in New Jersey, put on an impressive performance in front of the home crowd as he grinded out a three round unanimous decision over Team Hammer's Dominic Territo (1-2 amateur). Nuno (pictured above @ right), who loves to throw hands, had to work his wrestling and take down defense against Territo who was aggressively pursuing the take down.

UFC Welterweight Charlie Brenneman, who also fights out of AMA, was in Nuno's corner. I asked Brenneman what he thought of Nuno's progress and he said, "He's only been working with us for a little while, but you can already see progress. His hands are great; what we're working on is polishing up his ground game. If we can get his ground game to be as good as his hands, he's going to be really good." Nuno told me after the fight, "This was probably my last amateur fight; most likely my next fight will be my pro debut."

After witnessing a couple of Tuff-N-Uff events, arguably one of the top amateur MMA promotions in the country, in Las Vegas at The Orleans Hotel and at The Cox Pavillion @ UNLV, I have to say that the PCC event Friday night was on par; professionally and entertainment wise. PA Cage Combat made a statement Friday night. "MMA is growing here on the east coast and so are we."

Also in attendance Friday night was UFC middleweight contender Tim Boetsch along with former UFC veteran Carmelo Marrero

Be looking out for the next PCC show, which will probably be in December according to owner and matchmaker Nate Shook

Photo credit goes to Martin Klobosits, Jr. of Martinkimages Photography (www.martinkimages.com)

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Are quick rematches helping or hurting the UFC?


Before I get into this week's topic of discussion, let me start by saying I felt Frankie Edgar got the raw end of a split decision in his lightweight championship rematch against Ben Henderson on Saturday night. As a matter of fact, while it wasn't a landslide by any means, I don't think it was close enough to warrant a split decision. After the first round, which was clearly won by Henderson, I feel Edgar won three of the remaining four rounds for sure; and quite possibly all four.

Considering many other MMA hard cores whose opinion I respect also felt Edgar won, it brings me to another question; was an immediate rematch between these two even necessary? Less than six months ago Henderson defeated Edgar in a close fight he won via unanimous decision. The fight was good, but not epic by any means: I mean it wasn't Bonner vs. Griffin 1 or Rua vs. Henderson. I don't even think it was as good as last week's main event between Rua and Vera. Yet for some reason, the UFC brass decided it needed an immediate rematch.

In the last two and a half years, Frankie Edgar has fought six times; against only three opponents. Each of his fights resulted in immediate rematches. In the case of opponent Gray Maynard, it ended up being a trilogy of fights, though there was a gap between the first and second fights. My point is, with so many really good lightweight (155 lbs.) contenders in the division, Edgar and we as fans may have been better served in seeing him fight somebody else.

Unfortunately, Frankie Edgar is not alone in this equation. Many of the UFC's champions in their other weight classes are also finding themselves competing against opponents, who quite honestly they defeated convincingly. In three weeks, light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) champion Jon Jones will defend his title against Dan Henderson. Assuming he wins, which is the general consensus among most experts, his next opponent is already chosen.

Lyoto Machida earned that distinction from UFC President Dana White himself after knocking out fellow contender Ryan Bader last week. According to White before that fight, Machida and Bader were two of four contenders, along with Rua and Vera, "Gunnin' for that #1 Spot," as Ludacris would say. How did Dana White conclude on Machida although he was just one of two winners that night? Well besides winning impressively, he exclaimed, "Machida wants it more."

What does that mean? Any true fighter wants it; When Edgar lost to Henderson in February, he wanted a rematch and got it. When Maynard lost to Edgar, he wanted a rematch and got it. That was even after Maynard got knocked out by Edgar and in the case of Machida, this is even after he got choked unconscious by Jones only eight months ago. Truth is the Bader win is Machida's only fight since that lullaby Jones put on him.

So one impressive win gets you the nod? Apparently so, because Cain Velasquez is getting a title shot at champion Junior Dos Santos solely because he looked impressive in his knockout victory against Antonio Silva. This is regardless of the fact that Dos Santos destroyed Velasquez in all of 64 seconds just nine months ago. Is it me or does this just not make any sense?

To the MMA hard cores it may seem fine, but to the casual fan that MMA is trying to attract it doesn't seem logical and I can't argue with them. That's why in this situation I must give props to Bellator Fighting Championships CEO Bjorn Rebney. His organization's mantra is "title shots are earned not given," and last year when Eddie Alvarez lost his title to Michael Chandler in what was arguably the fight of the year, he was pressured to have a rematch. Alvarez wanted it and we as fans wanted to see it; even Rebney himself said he wanted to see it.

However, sticking to his company's way of thinking, he told Alvarez he would have to "earn" that shot by going through the next lightweight tournament just like everybody else. Bellator's system is not fool proof by any means, but it does make some sense. To me, it makes a lot more sense than giving a rematch to someone eight or nine months later after they were put to sleep by either a choke or a punch; don't you think?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Do you want to be a fighter? Part II


As I continue to explore the answer as to why someone would choose a career path in fighting, I interviewed two more fighters that will be competing later this month at PA Cage Combat. While both will be competing in amateur fights, they both debuted victoriously back in June and look to continue their winning ways. The difference is one is a 30 year old female firmly entrenched in another career, while the other is a 19 year old male dreaming of making this his career.

In some ways Rachel Kendall appears to be your typical young lady, but in others she's just the opposite. Born and raised in North Plainfield, New Jersey, this resident from Philadelphia said, "I don't think I ever could have imagined myself doing something like this;" yet, her background suggests she was always destined to be.

As an active child she told me, "I was always involved sports; gymnastics, street football you name it." However, around the time she was 15 years old she got started in Karate in the renowned Tiger Schulman system, that has since become Tiger Schulman's MMA, and has been there ever since. "I started in Karate, but we always cross-trained; I have always competed doing tournaments in Karate, grappling etc. but never considered fighting in MMA."

When I asked her what spurred her interest, her response was a combination of reasons. Initially, it was the first instructors she had in her Sensei Paul Querido and his wife professional fighter Munah Holland. "They are an awesome instructor duo. He was my rock, my source of strength and seeing her evolution from instructor to successful fighter has been inspirational." Holland is currently (5-1) as a pro and has fought in the prestigious Bellator Fighting Championships.

"On top of that," she said, "I started seeing other people I train with compete and become successful and it was all inspiring." However, in talking to her the biggest reason was the essence of martial arts itself. "I enjoy the process of training; I crave the structure and the constant work ethic. The calmness of knowing you worked your ass off is a natural high," she said.

Currently working with troubled youth as a social worker, she has the full support of both her parents; she also has the support of her significant other, who also happens to be one of her coaches, Shane Baker. However, when I asked if she could someday see fighting in Strikeforce or Bellator her response was interesting. "That is a challenging question; my career in the education, reform and working with children is where my passion lies. However, experiencing this path, it's enticing. It's just like fighting; you can't predict what will happen in the cage, but you can prepare for it."

On the under card of the event on August 24 at the PA Sands Casino, there is another promising young fighter in lightweight Tim Kunkel of Northampton, PA. At 19, Kunkel was the youngest of the three fighters I interviewed, but he may possibly be the best prepared for a career path into MMA as he's been wrestling since the age of 5.

After four years at one of the most well respected high school wrestling programs in the country at Northampton, Kunkel reached a personal best #3 overall ranking in the state his senior year before being derailed by a controversial referee's call during the district tournament. Yet, he was able to ascertain a scholarship offer to Clarion University where he spent a semester before finding out a technicality in his high school transcript deemed him ineligible to wrestle.

Unwilling to wait a whole year to compete, he returned home and began taking classes at Northampton Community College. He also works part-time in his father's plumbing & excavating business and as security at a local nightclub. However, his craving to compete drove him to pursue mixed martial arts. Besides wrestling his whole life, he too trained in the Tiger Schulman system during his childhood, so he returned there where he currently trains two-five hours a day depending on his work schedule.

When I posed the question why do you want to be a fighter, his response was, "As I was growing up I was always a decent kid, but I also got into my fair share of scrapes. That's where wrestling helped me to learn I could do something more constructive with my life. In MMA I'm hoping to better myself and make a better future that will help me in the long run."

Rachel Kendall, Tim Kunkel and Rick Nuno (Part I), will all compete at PA Cage Combat/Valley Fight Series VI on August 24 at the PA Sands Casino Event Center. Other fighters of note on the card include professional fighters Scott 'The Animal' Heckman (11-3), Zach Sigley (1-0), coming off a 17 second professional debut victory, and talented amateur Adam Atiyeh (4-0).

Thanks to Rachel Kendall and Tim Kunkel for their time during these interviews.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Do you want to be a fighter? Part I


Do you want to be a fighter? That question, accentuated by a word that is missing, has been made legendary by UFC President Dana White; he first asked the question on the very first episode of the reality show 'The Ultimate Fighter', now headed into its 16th season. The question is forever linked to White, though when he asks it, it sounds more like, "Do you want to be a f****n' fighter?"

To answer that question, one has to go to fighters at the very beginning of their careers; those with aspirations of one day possibly answering the question to Dana White himself. In this two-part series, I did just that as I interviewed three promising up and coming amateur mixed martial arts fighters who coincidentally, will all compete at the PA Cage Combat event taking place at the PA Sands Casino on Friday August 24.

One of the featured fighters on the card is a local talent from right here in Bethlehem, PA, Rick Nuno. Currently sporting a (3-1) amateur record, Nuno's only loss came in his last fight due to a technical decision made to stop the fight after a cut was incurred; prior to that he had three first round KO finishes, the longest going a mere (1:13) into the first round.

Those quick KO's are no doubt attributed to his striking background who he first credits to his father. "My first influence was my father who first started teaching me boxing and self defense techniques when I was about five or six," he said. "He was influenced by Bruce Lee, but he was more of a street fighter. He wanted me to have a more structured base, so he started me in Taekwondo and Karate."

A car accident when he was nine, causing a fractured skull and head trauma, derailed those activities and forced him into other sports; yet the foundation had been laid. Thus, it was no surprise he became a fan of MMA while studying 'Exercise Science' at the University of Pittsburgh. It was through his major that an opportunity to partake in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu as part of his studies rekindled a spark that never left him. He said, "It was a new challenge for me and took me out of my comfort zone, which had always been striking."

Upon returning home, he linked up with local pro fighter George Glykas who took him around the fight circuit. One thing led to another and Rick suddenly found himself competing in MMA. "It wasn't something I planned, it literally fell into my lap," Nuno said. Two years later, he is dreaming and working towards a career as a professional MMA fighter.

He currently trains his boxing at the Allentown Boxing Gym with trainer Lemuel 'Indio' Rodriguez and WBC Continental Americas Welterweight champion Ronald Cruz. As for MMA, he is training with the renowned AMA Fight Club in Whippany, NJ; home to UFC veterans Frankie Edgar, Charlie Brenneman and the Miller brothers just to name a few. He says, "Training with my partners makes me feel capable to compete. At the end of the day, I want to be in the UFC, but I don't want to just be there; I want to be a champion."

Rick Nuno, previously competed as a welterweight (170lbs.), but is currently making the drop to compete at lightweight (155lbs.). Tomorrow, Part II will feature female fighter Rachel Kendall and promising upstart Tim Kunkel of Northampton, PA.

Thanks to Rick Nuno for his time in granting me this interview

Sunday, August 5, 2012

UFC on Fox 4: One for the ages


With the UFC receiving some deserved criticism a/o late for unimpressive cards and lackluster fights, UFC on Fox 4 was under some heavy pressure to deliver. Not only because of that, but also because it is still tying to become a proven commodity to the national TV audience. What we got Saturday night was one for the ages as every fight televised on the main card was exciting throughout and ended in a finish.

UFC President Dana White, still seething from the effects of UFC 149 two weeks ago, had to be all smiles Saturday night as all his fighters, even the losers, stepped up in an exciting fashion. His biggest problem had to be deciding who and where to bestow post fight bonuses as each fight was exciting and three of the four finishes were knockouts.

Surprisingly the main event won neither, but it wasn't because it lacked anything in intensity. The four fighters in the top two fights on the card, all light-heavyweights (205 lbs.), were told by White himself that the most impressive of the four would earn the next shot at division champion Jon Jones; this, even though Jones has previously defeated all four. So, with pressure to deliver, especially in the main event, Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua (21-6, 18 KO's 1 sub) and Brandon 'The Truth' Vera (12-6, 7 KO's 1 sub) pulled no punches (no pun intended) in a back and forth battle.

In the end it was Rua who pulled out a victory via a fourth round TKO after the referee stepped in to protect a fallen Vera. However, up to that point it was a war of attrition and each combatant had their moments. Vera especially proved something not only to the fans, but to him as he met every challenge Rua lay in front of him multiple times throughout and showed that he truly came to win, though ultimately losing in the end. This could have easily been 'Fight of the night', but it wasn't.

Rua and Vera's performances could have also been spurred on by the action and result of the co-main event where Lyoto 'The Dragon' Machida (18-3, 7 KO's 2 subs) and Ryan 'Darth' Bader (14-3, 6 KO's 3 subs) also went at it pretty good. This time though, the final result only needed less than two rounds as Bader literally walked into a Machida right hand that put him down and eventually out. This after a competitive first round, that saw Bader stalking the counter attack style of the Karate based Machida, but never being able to penetrate that elusive and lethal defense.

While Machida did not win the 'Knockout of the night' bonus, it appears his effort earned him something much bigger. In the post fight press conference Dana White all but promised Machida the next shot at Jones and a shot at redemption. Jones defeated Machida eight months ago, after literally choking him to sleep; however, this was after Machida had won a round against the champ, which no one has been able to do. White's reasoning for choosing Machida versus Rua was simple, "Shogun has not been terrorizing me for another shot at Jon Jones and Lyoto Machida has."

So where exactly did those post fight bonuses go? Well, the lightweight (155 lbs.) contender tilt between Joe 'J-Lau' Lauzon (22-7, 4 KO's 18 subs) and a rejuvenated Jamie 'C-4' Varner (20-7, 7 KO's 11 subs) garnered two of them. These two went at each other so hard and fast till the finish, which came in the middle of the third and final round with Lauzon catching Varner in a triangle choke, that it resulted in both earning an additional $50,000 for 'Fight of the night'; Lauzon was twice blessed as he also took home another $50K for 'Submission of the night' as well.

As for the 'Knockout of the night', welcome back Mike 'Quick' Swick (15-4, 8 KO's 3 subs). Swick, who had not fought in 2.5 years due to both injury and illness, made his return in a triumphant and exciting fashion with a "quick" second round knockout of Demarques 'Darkness' Johnson (15-11, 6 KO's 7 subs). This though was after Johnson had Swick in survival mode in the first round as Johnson was all over him both striking and potentially submitting him.

Swick survived the onslaught and with cuts under both eyes, caught a Johnson kick and in the same motion smashed him with a vicious right hand. An emotional Swick in his post fight interview said to the fans, "Hey do you remember me?" The fans respectfully responded with a rousing ovation. Certain MMA cards stand out in history for their results, UFC 38 and Pride 33 are a couple that immediately come to mind. UFC on Fox 4 was also one of those; one for the ages.

Junkie Gathering 2017... this time it was personal

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