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."

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