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.

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