Sunday, December 30, 2012

Relentless!


Two-time national wrestling champion, Olympian and now MMA heavyweight Steve Mocco once told me his toughest opponent by far in wrestling was Cain Velasquez (Pictured @ left). He said it was because Cain was "relentless." He said, "No matter what the score was or what period it was in the match, he wouldn't stop coming forward."

Never was that trait more evident than on Saturday night when Velasquez (11-1, 9 KO's) came at Junior Dos Santos (15-2, 11 KO's, 2 subs) from the opening bell and never stopped coming. As a matter of fact, five rounds later Velasquez was still coming en route to a unanimous decision victory over the former UFC heavyweight champion, regaining his title that he previously lost to JDS. Cain was not going to be stopped as he was "a man on a mission," as was stated so eloquently by my buddy Dick Barrymore in California.

Velasquez pressured Dos Santos so much from the start that although the former champ was able to avoid Cain's repeated take down attempts early, the constant back pedaling and being on the defensive quickly slowed down Dos Santos. It was at that point that Velasquez, who was also using a crisp jab that was connecting while coming forward was inevitably able to snare Dos Santos in a clinch and take him down.

Once there, it was like a fly caught in a spider's web; Dos Santos, try as he may, was unable to get out from under Velasquez's clutch and punishing attack. Velasquez, hit Dos Santos and continued hitting him to the point that by the end of the fight, Dos Santos face looked like Gary Conway's character in the 1958 horror film, 'I was a Teenage Frankenstein'.


Okay, maybe not that bad; but by fights end, Dos Santos's face was a swollen mess. He was clearly a beaten man as was evidenced by the unanimous scores of 50-45, 50-43 and 50-44. Velasquez did just that as he beat Dos Santos to a bloody pulp.

I know it sounds more like a horror film than a fight, but pretty much that's what it was. Velasquez, who was a man possessed in his TKO victory back in May against Antonio Silva, looked even more determined on Saturday night. The dictionary defines 'relentless' as, "Unyielding severe, strict or harsh." Velasquez was all those things and then some in his victory against Junior Dos Santos.

In the co-main event, the action was the perfect prelude to the championship bout as lightweight (155 lbs.) contenders Jim Miller (22-4, 3 KO's, 12 subs) and Joe Lauzon (22-8, 4 KO's, 18 subs) put on a fight of the night performance in a back and forth tilt. Talk about a man possessed, Miller looked like a mini Velasquez as he too came right at Lauzon from the opening bell and would not stop. It was clearly the best Jim Miller has looked, especially coming off a submission loss to former number one contender Nate Diaz.

Lauzon did all he could to nullify Miller's attack and to his credit, he was able to turn the tide a few times throughout the fight when it got to the ground where he worked himself into a few submission attempts against the New Jersey native, but Miller was not to be denied. At the end, it was Miller winning by unanimous scores of 29-28, but for their effort both Miller and Lauzon each received a $65,000 'Fight of the Night' bonus.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

All good things must come to an end


All good things must come to an end. I've realized this more than ever this past week as I've been suffering from a severe case of empty nest syndrome since my daughter moved out of state to go to school. I wish I could keep her here close to me, but just like everything else that is prosperous and grows, it's her time to move on.

Though totally different, such is the case with mixed martial arts; especially in the UFC. 2012 was a year that marked the end of an era; the post-TUF era that began in 2005. It is also the year a generation of fighters from the pre-TUF era have either said goodbye to the sport or are soon to be on their way out.

The most recent indication of such is highlighted in the photo above where the legend known as 'The Prodigy' BJ Penn was sadly and unmercifully beat up for three rounds a couple of weeks back by young welterweight (170 lbs.) contender Rory MacDonald. Penn (16-9), who began his MMA and UFC career way back in May 2001, is just (1-4-1) in his last six fights; a testament that as great as Penn is, at just 34 years old, the game has passed him by.

Some may try to argue that it is because he is fighting above his prime weight class, which is lightweight (155 lbs.). However, I'll remind you that two of those recent four losses came at 155 to Frankie Edgar; part of the new generation of MMA fighters that have ushered in a new era of MMA. Yet Penn is far from the only Pre and Post TUF generation fighter that has succumbed to the evolution of MMA in 2012.

This year has seen the retirements of future Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz (16-11), who ended his career just (1-7-1) in his last nine fights; Mark Hominick (20-12), who lost his last four fights in a row after a run to a title shot and Stephen Bonnar (15-8), one half of the duo responsible for ushering in the post-TUF era in 2005. Bonnar went a mere (3-4) in his last seven.

Bonnar's TUF counterpart and the other half of the duo mentioned above, Forrest Griffin (19-7), is only (3-3) in his last six and has already hinted at retirement. Penn's nemesis and Ortiz's contemporary Matt Hughes (45-9), another fighter who has talked retirement and has not fought in over a year is only (4-5) in his last nine fights. Finally, there is living legend Wanderlei Silva (34-12), but only (3-7) in his last 10.

All of the fighters mentioned above, less Bonnar and Griffin, are legends in the sport. Bonnar and Griffin meanwhile, have cemented their own legacy with their 2005 classic TUF championship that is widely considered the number one fight in MMA history; Griffin also went on to become a UFC champion. Yet, as great as they all were, they are no longer "great." They are just good, even average in some cases and that is due to the ascension of the sport.

In just 19 years mixed martial arts has already had four different eras and is now heading into its fifth. There was the 'Pioneering era' from '93-'98. Then there was the "Dark era" from '99-'00. That was followed by the pre-TUF era from '01-'04 and the post-TUF era from '05-'12.

Now in 2013 it's the new generation of evolution that is taking over with fighters such as Jon Jones, Benson Henderson, Jose Aldo and the aforementioned Edgar at the forefront of the movement leading the way. Jones, Henderson and Aldo are all champions, while Edgar is a former champ, in their early to mid 20's that are a new breed of MMA fighter that have taken the sport to a whole new level; a level that has surpassed our heroes of the last decade and that's okay because all good things must come to an end.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The shot heard round the world


"The shot heard round the world," was the famous call for the NY Giants Bobby Thompson's dramatic walk off home run in the clinching game of the 1951 National League playoffs. It was so dramatic that 51 years later the phrase is universally known for that one play in sports; that was until Saturday night.

With a singular punch from his right hand with one second left in the sixth round, Juan Manuel Marquez delivered what I consider to be a "shot heard round the world." If not a shot, then a shock because the after effects of seeing Manny Pacquiao, arguably boxing's pound for pound best, laid out unconscious face down on the mat for several minutes was not only shocking, but scary. It was especially shocking considering Pacquaio seemed to have Marquez on the ropes (no pun intended).

In what was their fourth bout in eight years, Marquez (55-6-1, 40 KO's) and Pacquiao (54-5-2, 38 KO's) put on their best fight yet. Not that the previous three were in anyway inferior, but the six rounds fought on Saturday had as many knockdowns in it since the first round of their first fight. Unfortunately for Pacquiao, who had not been down in any of the previous three affairs, two of the knockdowns, one permanent, were against him.

The first came in the third round when Marquez caught Pacquiao with a looping overhand right hand, ala former UFC champion Chuck Liddell, flush on the face. That one put Pac on his back and clearly stunned him, but he got right back up and finished the round. Determined to get it back, Pacquiao came back in the fifth with a straight right hand that dropped Marquez for the fifth time in his career against the Pac-Man.

Pac seemed in control going into the sixth and with Marquez bleeding profusely through his nose and Pacquiao sticking and moving with pin-point accuracy, the end appeared near and clear. Little did we know the end was near, but the outcome was not what we expected?

With Pacquaio aggressively pursuing Marquez and with just one second left in the sixth round, Marquez threw a counter right hand that met with Pacquaio's face just as the Filipino stepped in to throw a punch. That combination of force resulted in Pacquaio falling face first onto the mat completely unconscious and out for several minutes.

The fight was over; Marquez overjoyed deservedly celebrated his victory. Meanwhile, while Pacquaio lay motionless on the mat, HBO's commentator Jim Lampley made a comment I couldn't believe. He made reference to the Marquez punch being equivalent to "the tsunami that hit the Philippines."

I understand that Marquez's punch was as powerful as a tsunami and its target happens to be from the Philippines, but I immediately felt the comment was insensitive to the victims of that tsunami who had to endure that ordeal. Also, I thought it was insensitive to the people of the Philippines where Pacquiao is not just a native son, but an icon. It was a shot that was totally unnecessary.

From what I've been told, that country completely shuts down when Pacquaio fights; even the lawbreakers take the night off to watch their hero. For Lampley to make such a comment at a time when their beloved countryman is laid out unconscious, was thoughtless and without class. It's not the first time in his career Lampley has come out of his mouth with an idiotic statement. Just think about when he called a James Kirkland fight and said that Kirkland, who is African American, needed to "Go ghetto on him" referring to his opponent.

I've been saying for years Lampley has to go and this latest blunder is just another on his long list of asinine comments. All respect due to Larry Merchant, but at 81 years old it's time for him to retire and Jim Lampley to be put out to pasture. Emanuel Steward, "You are missed more than you know."

Saturday, December 8, 2012

PCC: VFS 7 Merry MMA in the Christmas City



It may be 18 days before bells jingle, people kiss beneath the mistletoe and reindeers are dashing through the snow; but before then it was Mixed Martial Arts action that made its way to the Christmas City on Friday night as PA Cage Combat held another successful show at the Sands Event Center, in Bethlehem, PA.

The main event saw Lehigh Valley bantamweight (135 lbs.) Scott 'The Animal' Heckman (13-3) win his fifth in a row as he took all three rounds against American Top Team's Ralph Acosta (9-8). Heckman was in control for the majority of the fight whether standing or on the ground.

Acosta had some moments early though as he worked his way to Heckman's back during a scramble in the first round. However Heckman, a three fight veteran of Bellator Fighting Championships, showed his experience, by not panicking and eventually reversing the tide. Upon doing so, it was Heckman unleashing punishment while standing and aggressively pursing a combination of guillotine and anaconda chokes on the ground. It's just a matter of time before Heckman finds himself back in the major leagues.

In the co-main event of the evening Bethlehem's own Rick 'El Numero Uno' Nuno, fighting in his professional debut, did not disappoint the many hometown fans in attendance as he finished tough Brad Mountain (1-3) via referee stoppage due to strikes. Nuno, who fights out of AMA Fight Club in Jersey, which is home to many UFC fighters, displayed his bread and butter fast hands en route to the victory.

It wasn't that easy early in the fight as Nuno found himself on the ground with Mountain on his back in a full body lock. Nuno however, showed that the ground game he's been working at AMA has been making a difference. With UFC veteran Charlie Brenneman in his corner, Nuno eventually worked himself free, reversing the position.

I asked him after the fight if he got nervous when he found himself in that position on the ground with his opponent on his back and he told me, "Not at all, I was relaxed. The only concern I had was where his hands were, but once I got control of those I knew I was okay."

Once he got loose he chose to keep the fight standing and that move would inevitably pay off. Using his superior hand speed and accuracy, he eventually caught Mountain with a left hook that dropped him dead in his tracks. Nuno immediately jumped on his opponent getting off a punch or two before the referee jumped in to stop it; much to the delight of the hometown crowd who were clearly there to support their native son.

When I asked Nuno how it felt to get his first pro win under his belt, he said, "Oh it feels great; but honestly I've been working so hard for this for so long, I'm just happy to get it over with and start to work towards the next one."

In the only title fight of the evening, Travis Creamer (8-1) became the new PCC middleweight (185 lbs.) champion by handing former titleholder Adam Atiyeh (5-1) his first defeat via unanimous decision. Creamer, who clearly lost the first round after Atiyeh used his patented lay and pray ground approach, readjusted and avoided the succeeding take down attempts; he then simply beat up Atiyeh the rest of the way to win a unanimous decisions.

Creamer, while avoiding Atiyeh's repeated take down attempts, unleashed punches, elbows and knees all over the former champs body. Atiyeh was the recipient of a mouse under his left eye in the second round that caused his eye to swell and it looked to slow down the ex-champ's effort.

The first fight on the main card featured Northampton's Tim 'The Savage' Kunkel (2-1) of TSK vs. ATT's Ryan Holmes (1-1) in a lightweight amateur bout. Kunkel, coming off his first loss back in August, rebounded nicely with an impressive second round submission via rear naked choke.

Kunkel looked a lot stronger and faster Friday night than he did when I saw him back in August. I asked him afterwards what the difference was for him this time around. His response was, "My cardio and training was a lot more strict for me this time. I changed up my whole program and it showed."

In all PCC provided 11 fights on the card, most of which were amateur, and that was after a few fights were scratched the day before at the weigh-ins. That's a lot of Merry MMA in the Christmas City right before the holidays.

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