Sunday, March 31, 2013

In the midst of the latest greatest boxing trilogy

Unfortunately it doesn't come around very often, but when it does it is something to behold. I'm talking about when two boxers come together that are just made for each other. I'm talking such a perfect combination, that the results are evenly matched, super exciting fights that result in a historic boxing trilogy.

Welcome to this generation's offering for inclusion into this special club between light welterweights Brandon 'Bam Bam' Rios (32-1, 23 KO's) and Mike Alvarado (34-1 (23 KO's). On Saturday night these two warriors engaged in a rematch of 2012's fight of the year and the result was just as good, if not better than last year. That is because this time the fight wasn't stopped before the end by the referee, so we got to witness all 12 rounds of this classic and more importantly, Alvarado won the decision; thus creating the need for the much anticipated rubber match.

How perfect are these two made for each other? Besides the fights, which speak for themselves, just look at the little things. Starting with their records, other than two more fights for Alvarado, they are virtually the same; by the way, if you haven't figured it out already the losses on their records are to each other. On HBO's 'Tale of the Tape' before the fight, they measured the same in both height and arm reach and then during the fight came the most glaring stat of them all. After round nine HBO displayed the punch count to that point and it showed Alvarado having thrown just two more punches total through nine and the both of them eerily landing the same amount; that's scary!

However, forget the numbers and the statistics, this is about two fighters that have come together during the peek of their careers and have put on a display of both skill and guts. On Saturday night the fight lived up to the hype, though it looked early liked there would be no reason for a third match. That is because in the second round Rios staggered Alvarado in his tracks with a straight jab of all punches. Alvarado was legitimately shook and struggled to get through the round; yet through his struggle he found the sense to keep throwing punches if you can believe that.

In between rounds he seemed to gather himself because he came out in the third round and during the course of exchanging landed an overhand right (pictured above) that rocked Rios. This was the turning point in the fight for two reasons. One is because it brought Alvarado back into the fight from an immediate two round deficit; and two was because that overhand right would be Rios kryptonite throughout the rest of this installment. Alvarado had found a home for that punch and Rios had no answer for it.

Nonetheless, just like Cameo's 1987 hit single, Rios and Alvarado went "Back & Forth" throughout, though Alvarado clearly separated himself in the latter part of the bout winning the last four crucial championship rounds. By doing so he won the WBO light welterweight title and redemption for his loss back in October 2012. However, the celebration was only minutes old before talks of a rubber match was spurred on by Rios himself.

During Alvarado's post fight interview with HBO's Max Kellerman, Rios barnstormed in yelling about how he had given Alvarado a rematch and now he needed to do the same. Of course Alvarado immediately obliged saying he would, but that next time he wanted Rios to come to his hometown of Denver, Colorado the way he had gone to Rios hometown in their first meeting. Rios said he would and both called upon promoter Bob Arum to make it happen.

For boxing fans like me, the setting can't be more perfect. Meanwhile for the two combatants involved, their place in boxing history will be cemented, assuming the third fight is like the first two, but at what cost? It's no mystery that a trilogy of this caliber takes something from the fighters they can never get back. They put so much into hurting one another that regardless of how good they are, they are never the same afterward; history has dictated such.

Before my time in the early 50's it was Willie Pep and Sandy Saddler; though they fought in an era where boxers fought unbelievable amounts of fights in their career. Between the two of them they combined for over 400 professional fights; that's insane and unheard of today. One can argue the Muhammad Ali/Joe Frazier trilogy in the '70's pretty much ended their careers for the most part; though Ali would defeat Leon Spinks later for his third title.

In more recent history we were treated to two such historical trifectas; Erik Morales versus Marco Antonio Barrera and Arturo Gatti versus Mickey Ward was Rios/Alvarado a decade ago. The six wars those four engaged in were so legendary they are linked to each other for eternity; but it took so much out of them they were never quite the same even with any success attained afterward. So here we are once again, in the midst of the latest greatest boxing trilogy. If you missed the first two fights, I suggest you catch replays if you can; because as I stated earlier, fights like these don't come around very often.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Does the organization make the fighter or vice versa?

With March Madness in full swing, I've been consumed by college basketball the last couple of weeks. Thus, the reason I haven't been blogging as much. However, that is not to say I haven't been watching the fights; thank God for the invention of Digital Video Recording (DVR).

With the use of my DVR I was able to catch replays of both Thursday night's Bellator 93 card and Saturday night's World Series of Fighting 2 card. Both were extremely entertaining, chock full of highlight reel KO finishes and exciting main events; which made me think of a couple of things.

One is it's such a shame that casual fans of mixed martial arts only know and watch the UFC. Both of these promotions, especially Bellator with 93 events under its belt, are proving that their events are just as professional and can provide high quality fights. The second thing I thought of as I watched both events is, is it the organization that makes the fighter or does the fighter make the organization?

The reason this came to mind is because to hear UFC President Dana White tell it, his organization is where the best fighters in the world are. For the most part, this is probably true at the very top of the food chain as the UFC champions, Cain Velasquez, Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre, Jose Aldo etc. are clearly the very best in their respective weight classes. However, I'd argue that when it comes to contender and even up and coming star status, the playing field is quite level.

Bellator Fighting Championships has built quite an impressive stable of fighters by implementing a simple formula. They scour the earth for untapped (no pun intended) talent and then use their tournament style setting to create stars within the sport. Sprinkle in a UFC veteran here and there and 93 cards later, the formula has worked to perfection.

If you don't believe me, just look at some of the names that have developed through the Bellator system; Eddie Alvarez, the number one free agent in MMA, Ben Askren, Michael Chandler, Pat Curran and this past Thursday the name Dave Jansen, a veteran of over 20 fights with an impressive (19-2) record, was the latest to come from MMA obscurity to becoming a tournament champion and earning a title shot.

Anyone thinking that Bellator fighters are second rate just because they are not in the UFC, need to take a look and recognize. On another note, The World Series of Fighting promotion, with just two events in its short history, is taking a different approach. Their roster, primarily made up of UFC castoffs and MMA veterans, is rejuvenating new life into well known names while sprinkling in a young gun of their own here and there.

The result has been two very successful events, which included this weekend's main event that featured former UFC welterweight (170 lbs.) Anthony 'Rumble' Johnson, pictured above, fighting at heavyweight as he took on former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski. As you can see in his face from the photo above, which was taken in July 2009, Johnson is no stranger to weighing above 220 lbs.

However, at 230 lbs. for this fight, Johnson was neither fat or out of shape and was just as fast and powerful as always as he took it to Arlovski earning a unanimous decision. Other UFC cut fighters featured on this card that looked very impressive in their performances were David Branch, who destroyed former WEC middleweight (185 lbs.) champ Paulo Filho over three rounds and Josh Burkman who took out fellow UFC vet Aaron Simpson. Burkman is now slated to fight recent UFC reject Jon Fitch, possibly for the welterweight strap.

As a guy who has built an extensive vinyl record collection over the years, many of them bought used, I have come to learn that one man's trash definitely can become another man's treasure. The last thing I will do is call any fighter not in or cut by the UFC trash; but I will say that from what I've seen from both Bellator and WSOF, they are definitely reaping rewards from their fighters. Thus, in response to my question above, I'd have to say that the fighter clearly makes the organization; as it should be.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Over the hill or a freak of nature?

At 48 years of age, is a professional boxer over the hill or a freak of nature? In most cases, for the few that do exist, he would probably be considered a bum. However in the case of newly crowned IBF light-heavyweight (175 lbs.) champion Bernard Hopkins, a freak of nature doesn't seem to aptly describe this growing legend.

This past Saturday, 'The Executioner', known more today as B-Hop, continued to defy the odds and boxing logic as he became the oldest person to win a major title when he defeated former champion Tavoris Cloud (25-1, 19 KO's) via unanimous decision. In typical Hopkins fashion, he was able to defuse the younger fighter's strength, in this case Cloud's power, while imposing his own boxing prowess and veteran tricks of the trade. Hopkins (53-6-2, 32 KO's) may not make it pretty, but as Tim Hardaway used to say about his jump shot, "It may be ugly, but it's deadly."

Hopkins who had his first professional fight, a decision loss, nearly 25 years ago is now rated the number one light-heavyweight in the world. That feat alone should be afforded a certain amount of respect; but to do it at 48 years of age when most boxers are reminiscing about their heyday, one has to stand up and recognize. Hopkins is a marvel that continues to make so called experts and people like myself eat their words.

I openly told people before this past Saturday, "Nobody is checking for Bernard Hopkins anymore" and I may be right. Yet, when it came down to it, regardless of how unexciting Hopkins may make a fight, I was there watching with full interest. That is because as long as he keeps making chumps out of this generation's champs, as a 50 year old it makes me feel good.

As Hopkins stated in his post fight interview, he is living proof you can still perform at a high level without the assistance of any performance enhancing drugs. In this day and age when all pro athletes need to be scrutinized, there's no reason to think Hopkins is anything but what he says he is; natural. For 15 years from 1990-2005, regardless of his age, he maintained his weight and level of excellence as a middleweight (160 lbs.)

Say what you will about Hopkins, when it came to his body he's always been disciplined and a true professional. He may have served a five year prison stint before his career, but since becoming a pro, he's never been accused of anything but winning ugly; winning ugly on his way to a record 20 middleweight title defenses and multiple weight division champion.

What's next for this future Hall of Famer and living legend? Who knows? I think at this point to deny he'll still be punching at 50 years of age and at a top level is not out of the realm.  One thing is for sure; B-Hop may be over the hill in boxing age, but that just means he is a freak of nature.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Back to the Future; at least for one night

For six years from 2000-2006, Wanderlei Silva ruled the MMA world in the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan. Already a living legend and future Hall of Famer, the former Pride light-heavyweight champion has seen better days as he had only won three of his previous 10 fights before Saturday night. However, at least for one night on Saturday, the 'Axe Murderer' went back to the future.

On a return trip to Japan, this time as part of a UFC main event, Silva (36-12, 26 KO's 3 subs) turned back the clock as he went toe to toe with contender Brian Stann (12-7, 9 KO's 1 sub) and like he used to do so many times before, took out his opponent in typical 'Axe Murderer' style. However, it was not without anxious moments for Silva and his many fans, myself included, as for the round and a half that it lasted, Silva took as much as he gave.

As a matter of fact, there were a couple of times during exchanges in the first round that Stann buckled Silva with punches and dropped him in his tracks; but Silva was able to immediately recover and shoot for a take down, at the very least to clear his head. Yet, on those couple of occasions he was staggered, he was also able to come back and inflict his own damage; bloodying Stann with a serious cut on the bridge of his nose.

As my buddy Alton Dunham pointed out during an exchange of texts post fight, all respect due to Brian Stann for willing to stand and trade with Silva, which accommodated Japan's adopted son and his fans. Honestly, I, as many, thought that standing and trading with the younger stronger Stann could prove fatal for Silva. Yet, just like a basketball player who is willing to live or die with his jump shot, Silva was willing to live or die by his striking.

Midway through the second round, while aggressively pursing Stann, he caught the former Marine with a straight right hand that rocked him and then dropped him with a crushing left hook follow-up. With Stann falling straight back to the mat, Silva pounced on him with four successive right hands that made their mark and literally stretched Stann out. For one night, 'The Axe Murderer' was back.

Now the question begs, where does he go from here? I personally was hoping he would use the opportunity to go out on top and retire a winner in a main event that took place in Japan where he is revered. He did not do that and while the book is still out on whether he'll fight again, I'm afraid that the warrior he is won't allow him to.

Unfortunately, I think that Wanderlei Silva will fight until he is forced to retire and sadly I think that will be the next time he gets viciously KO'ed; which has happened in four out of his seven previous losses. Nonetheless, instead of dwelling on what may possibly happen in the future, I will rejoice in one of my favorite fighters going back to the future; at least for one night.

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