Sunday, February 24, 2013

Experience pays off, while lack thereof costs


It doesn't matter what the profession is, there is no substitute for experience. However, nowhere is that more prevalent than in the submission game of mixed martial arts. UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey and her opponent Liz Carmouche proved that on Saturday night.

In the main event of what was the first time women had ever competed in the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the two ladies delivered. Though the fight only lasted 4:49 seconds, they provided non-stop thrills throughout and stirred emotions back and forth in both directions. Ultimately though it was Rousey ending the fight victorious winning by what else; her patented arm bar.

I stated before the fight that Carmouche was not afraid of Rousey and she proved it as she never ran from the champion. What surprised me even before the fight was that Carmouche wasn't afraid of the moment. She came into the cage smiling, relaxed and poised considering this was a spotlight she had never been in before.

Rousey meanwhile came into the cage with her stoic game face on looking much like the scary beast everyone has made her out to be. Another arm bar victory inside of a minute right; I don't think so, not on this night. As can be seen in the photo above, Rousey was in trouble, serious trouble, for a moment and it looked like a major upset was brewing.

Strange thing is, before it got to that point it looked as though it was going to be typical Ronda early as she took down Carmouche and had her in side control while controlling her via bulldog headlock. However, while trying to gain better position Carmouche, who showed tremendous poise, determination and skill while in this position eventually got out.

Quick as a cat, she not only reversed the position but got Rousey's back. She eventually put herself in the position seen above, not quite able to secure a choke hold, so instead applying a neck crank. Now I don't profess to have the Olympic judo experience Ronda Rousey has, but 12 years of martial arts training, including submission grappling, has put me in more than my fair share of neck cranks.

If you've never been in one, it is even scarier than a choke hold for this reason. In a tight choke, the fear comes from losing consciousness; it is not painful, but scary. With a neck crank, not only can it be a bit painful, the fear comes from your opponent snapping your neck! It's that simple, there is no other way to put it.

So with that said, Carmouche was cranking pretty good as can be seen above. However, that Olympic experience I made reference to earlier and 17 years of Judo paid off because obviously Rousey had been in this position before. How can you tell? Besides not panicking, her escape lets you know.

Unlike Ivan Menjivar earlier in the night who lost to Urijah Faber via standing rear naked choke; Rousey went after Carmouche's leg to escape. She figured "if I can get one of her legs unhooked around me, then she'll lose balance and control and I can wriggle out."

Menjivar, who is very experienced in his own right, attempted to do what most do in his position; attack the opponents arms and hands to try and release the hold. Suffice it to say, Rousey got out, while Menjivar tapped out. However, it is two fold in this case.

While Rousey's experience helped her get out of the submission, Carmouche's inexperience cost her to lose the one opportunity she had to pull off the upset. Inevitably Rousey got Carmouche back on the ground in side control and this time, try as she might, Carmouche wasn't getting out.

Rousey peppered Carmouche with punches while in side control and as everyone in the world knew she would, eventually worked her way towards an arm bar submission attempt. Carmouche valiantly and for a few seconds successfully defended; and it even looked like she may make it out of the round. However, there is no substitute for experience or lack thereof, so Rousey's paid off, while Carmouche's cost her.

Looking back on it, major props to the ladies for a delivering a historic first fight for the women. I watched the fight at a local bar establishment and I can attest that the cheers and excitement were heard and seen throughout. These girls showed they can do it just as good as the men do and on this night they did.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

UFC 157: Five factors people are neglecting to see


This Saturday February 23rd when Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche step into the octagon, it will be history in the making. It will be the first time, other than referee Kim Winslow, that female feet have actually touched the mat. Even those of octagon girls such as Arianny Celeste and Brittany Palmer have always walked on the outside of the cage.

Rousey (6-0, 6 subs) the newly appointed first UFC Women's World Bantamweight champion will defend her title against Carmouche (8-2, 5 KO's 2 subs) in the main event of UFC 157. Yes, it has been over 19 years and 156 Pay per Views, but the women have finally arrived in the UFC. Yet, according to all the so-called experts, the outcome is a forgone conclusion.

That is because Rousey has taken the MMA world by storm and she's done it all in a relatively very short period of time. Her first pro fight was in late March 2011, less than two years ago, and since then she's finished off all six of her opponents in a total time of 7:39; that's an average of 1:16 per fight. On top of that she carries with her Olympic pedigree from two Olympic Games, 2004 & 2008, where she medaled in Judo winning the bronze in '08. Those athletic achievements, plus gorgeous California girl looks that earned her the cover of the ESPN Magazine Body Issue make her the face of women's MMA.

That said, so much for Carmouche winning this weekend right? Wrong! While I too believe Rousey will end up victorious, (I'll state my reasoning at the end), there are factors people are neglecting to see. Five reasons why I believe Carmouche will give Rousey all she can handle before eventually losing in the long run.

Here they are:

1.) Cage experience - Rousey's lack of time spent in her fights may end up proving to be a detriment if Carmouche is able to get out of the first round; something none of Rousey's opponents have managed to do. If so, Carmouche has proven more than once she can go the distance if need be and she has actually gone into a fourth round once, already having been in a title fight. The book is still out on Rousey if she has to go into deep waters.

2.) Lack of challenge - Rousey has never been tested in her fights. If Carmouche is able to push her into the second round and more importantly land some strikes on her while doing it, it can be a whole new experience for Rousey. Granted she's tough and also a former Judo champion, however she was never punched in the face while taking someone down in Judo. If Carmouche is able to do that more than once, it'll be interesting to see how Rousey reacts.

3.) Size difference - Carmouche's stature may actually present a problem for Rousey. Unlike her toughest challengers to date Meisha Tate and Sarah Kaufman, who were tall and slender with long limbs, Carmouche is short and stocky with short limbs. Thus, it won't be so easy to grab Carmouche to throw her and it won't be as easy to catch and extend one of her arms in her patented arm bar submission.

4.) Battle tested - Carmouche is a former Marine who did three different tours of duty in Iraq. Granted this is sport not war; but when you've been battle tested in that fashion, competing in a sport pales in comparison. Not to mention that sort of discipline has to play a positive role in your preparation for a fight.

5.) No Fear - When it comes to fighting Rousey, Carmouche has no fear. Besides the obvious of being a combat veteran, when the champ was signed by the UFC, Carmouche was the only one that openly campaigned to fight her. On top of that, to exhibit the courage it takes to openly admit you're gay as a professional athlete while in your fighting prime, just shows you're not afraid of anything. Thus, when you have no fear of losing, anything is possible.

All that said I am still picking Rousey to win because of one reason; competition experience. Though she's actually been fighting professionally one year less than Carmouche, Rousey has been competing since she was a little girl. First, as a swimmer while a child and then as a Judoka since here early teens. Competing at the highest level of Judo, the Olympics, at only 17 shows that the bright lights and the screaming crowd should not have an adverse effect on her come Saturday.

Rousey seems to have handled the so called pressures of being a media darling with ease. It's as though she has known all along this is what she wanted and has prepared herself not only physically but mentally and emotionally for it. Whatever the outcome, I anticipate the excitement for these two ladies to be at a fever pitch equivalent to any two men who have ever fought in the octagon before. Thus, as only a true gentleman would say, "Ladies first."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Curse of 'The Contender'


With the continued success of 'The Ultimate Fighter' TV reality series, now in its 17th season in just eight years, I've often wished the boxing equivalent 'The Contender' would have enjoyed similar success. As a fan of both MMA and boxing, I was really excited when both TV shows began in early 2005. However, 'The Contender' for some reason didn't have the same staying power. (No pun intended)

The big question has always been why? I attribute it to the fact that NBC mismanaged it right from the start. The first three episodes of season one aired on three different nights, beginning on a Sunday, then moving to Thursday, then to Saturday; thus not giving it a fair and solid base from the beginning.

When I posed the question to Hall of Fame boxing analyst Al Bernstein, he agreed with that assessment along with the instability of moving from network to network in the first three seasons; beginning with NBC, then ESPN and finally the Versus network for seasons three and four. However, a little further research has me thinking something more may be to blame. Could it be that 'The Contender' TV series had a curse on it?

Since the show aired from 2005-2009, I've always tried to follow-up on the careers of some of the more notable fighters on the series. Upon doing so, I noticed a sad and unsettling trend. At least one fighter from the first three seasons has passed away along with other criminal circumstances befalling a couple of alumni.

For those that don't know, the series began with a dark cloud over it right from the start as a fighter who had competed in season one actually committed suicide less than a month before the first season was to air. This coming Valentine's Day, February 14, will mark the eighth anniversary of the untimely passing of light middleweight prospect Najai 'Nitro' Turpin.

Turpin was a promising fighter out of Philadelphia who entered the shows competition with a (13-1) professional record; though he would lose his first round fight against eventual tournament winner Sergio Mora, I'm not sure how much of that loss and the pressure of such may have weighed on Turpin taking his life as the shows premiere drew near. On the show he was quiet and shy and appeared to have some personal demons hanging over him; just my assessment from what I could see on the show. Whatever it was, Turpin took his own life after an argument with the mother of his two-year old daughter.

Another mystery we'll never know about is how and why Jeff 'Hell Raza' Fraza (pictured above) was walking along train tracks in the middle of the night when he got hit by a commuter train? Fraza was actually a fighter who appeared in both season's one and two, but he never got a chance to compete in season one after being diagnosed with chicken pox early on in the show. Thus, the producers brought him back to compete on the following season.

A hard punching professional from the Boston area trained by former world champion Mickey Ward, Fraza had a (17-2) record going into the second season of the show. Unlike Turpin, Fraza was more outgoing and open, but just like Turpin he too lost in his first round match. Though he would never fight again after that, he stayed close to boxing by working with kids at his local gym. For some reason a year ago on February 4, 2012, he was walking on the tracks late at night while on his cell phone and even stranger, got hit by a train. Fraza left behind a son.

Moving on to season three, one would think that an Olympic Bronze medalist and former world title challenger would be a favorite going into the tournament. Yet, Rhoshii Wells AKA 'The Great One' never made the cut as he was eliminated before the competition even began. With a new format that only took 10 fighters versus 16 in the previous seasons, Wells surprisingly did not make an impression to the trainers during the fighter evaluations.

Wells, who won the Bronze medal at the 1996 Summer Olympics, carried an (18-2) pro record into 'The Contender' with his only two losses coming to former world light middleweight champion Alejandro Garcia. Originally from Austin, Texas, Wells lived in Las Vegas. On August 11, 2008 he was in a shady area of Vegas with his son when he was involved in a dispute that resulted in him being shot and killed; luckily his son was unharmed. Wells was the father of six children.

In that same season three, another fighter with a promising future, Les Ralston sporting an (18-2) record was also eliminated before ever competing. Never having fought ever again, Ralston was arrested last summer in a hit and run incident in which he struck two teenagers. Meanwhile season two participant Andre Eason, (20-5), was shot in the arm and leg in 2006 right after his appearance on the show; luckily he survived.

Sure, it could very well be that all these cases are just incidents of coincidental circumstance; or it could even be that all these talented young fighters just happen to come across some bad luck in their lives. Whatever it is, one has to stop and wonder if these fighters and the show as a whole were all victims of "The Curse of The Contender."

Saturday, February 9, 2013

The Black Man in MMA: A Historical Perspective


The beautiful thing about combat sports is that history tends to show there was no segregation when it came to finding out, "who was the better man." Unlike baseball, where certain records absolutely need to be questioned, considering Negro league players were not allowed to compete until 1947 and Jackie Robinson, combat always has involved men of color.

As was recently depicted in the movie 'Django Unchained', which took place in the mid 1800's, typically the combatants and best fighters were African slaves. Similar to cockfighting, the slave masters would pit fighters from their respective plantations against one another in competition for gambling purposes. Thus, it was not out of the realm that when boxing began to take its course at the turn of the 20th century, Jack Johnson would not only be at the forefront, but also known as the man to beat.

Thus, it should come as no surprise that when mixed martial arts was born 19 years ago, men of color were an integral part from the inception of the sport. In this case the black man, for lack of a better term because as you shall see the phrase "African-American" does not aptly apply here, has and continues to be a major force in what is now known as the fastest growing sport in the world, MMA.

Of course when we reference MMA, the beginning is often looked upon as UFC 1 from November 1993. Yet even before then, when the sport was known as simply 'Vale Tudo' or "everything goes," a black man was at the forefront. Brazilian Casimiro de Nascimento Martins AKA Rei Zulu or just simply Zulu (pictured above) has been an active fighter going all the way back to 1963; that's 50 years or a half century for you math flunkies.

However, that's too much history to cover in one piece, so we'll just go back to what is commonly known as 'The Beginning'. At UFC 1 there was not one, nor two, but actually four black men who participated in the inaugural event. Surely everyone remembers the one-gloved, Ala Michael Jackson, boxer Art Jimmerson, who has the distinction of being the first sanctioned opponent ever for legendary Hall of Famer Royce Gracie.

Besides Jimmerson, there was Patrick Smith, who also lost to a Hall of Famer in Ken Shamrock, Zane Frazier and little known Trent Jenkins who fought and lost in the consolation bracket to Jason DeLucia. In all, four out of 10 fighters at UFC 1 were black men.

Smith would actually come back at UFC 2 and garner the distinction of being the first black man to ever fight for a tournament championship, eventually losing to Royce Gracie in the finals. On a side note, the first black man to vie for a tournament championship in Japanese rival MMA organization 'Pride' was Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson at Pride Final Conflict 2003; Jackson too would come up short though in his bid, losing to Wanderlei Silva.

The first black man to claim a championship in MMA would be Maurice Smith when he defeated Mark Coleman at UFC 14 on July 27, 1997. Thus, Smith is not just a pioneer of the sport, but also the first in a long line of great fighters that have since garnered gold in mixed martial arts. On top of that, Smith along with Frank Shamrock, is widely credited for the cross training of arts and styles in the sport, thus creating the name 'Mixed Martial Arts'; before that, it was simply known as 'No Holds Barred'. For all the reasons stated above, I think Maurice Smith should actually be the first man of color to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.

Since that time, even though MMA and specifically the UFC have grown to be accepted as a mainstream sport, it took a long while before it became popular with the African-American audience. I credit Rashad Evans's participation in season two of the TV reality series 'The Ultimate Fighter' for finally making a break through. His involvement on the show as the sport gained popularity and the fact that he went on to win that season's tournament was a huge boost in acceptance by the African-American community.

Of course Evans would go on to become a UFC champion as would others such as the aforementioned Jackson and most recently the first ever flyweight (125 lbs.) champion Demetrious Johnson. The black man has clearly had a profound impact and left his mark on this sport, probably none more so than current UFC middleweight (185 lbs.) champion Anderson Silva. Silva is not only the most dominant champion in UFC history, but is arguably regarded and talked about as the greatest MMA fighter that has ever lived; quite a legacy for the black man in MMA.

Thanks to Amod Rice for being the inspiration behind writing this historical piece

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