Sunday, April 21, 2013

Two great fights on Saturday night, but...

As was expected and I had predicted, there were two great fights on Saturday night in both MMA and boxing, but... one was marred by a crime that took place. Once again, just when you thought it couldn't happen, the Texas Boxing Commission reared its ugly head and showed itself to be the shadiest commission in the nation.

First, let me get to the fights; in the UFC, the lightweight (155 lbs.) championship between champ Benson Henderson (19-2, 2 KO's 8 subs) and challenger Gilbert Melendez (21-3, 11 KO's 1 sub) was even closer than I had predicted it would be. I said beforehand that it was a virtual tossup, but in the end Henderson would win a unanimous decision. Well Henderson did win; only it was via split decision by only one point.

Melendez's experience and boxing ability gave Henderson problems early as the former Strikeforce champion was beating Henderson to the punch in the exchanges and was clearly the aggressor. However, the tide began to turn in the third round, where suddenly Henderson became the aggressor and more proficient with his attack of kicks and elbows instead of punches while standing.

In the end it was literally anybody's fight as I had it two rounds apiece going into the final round, which in my opinion was too close to call. Alas, Henderson got a one point victory as all three judges scored it 48-47; two obviously for the champion. Congrats to both on a fantastic title fight and an extra congratulatory wish to Henderson for a successful wedding proposal during his post fight interview in the cage.

Now onto boxing where light middleweight (154 lbs.) champions Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez (42-0-1, 30 KO's) and Austin Trout (26-1, 14 KO's) put on just as good, and in my eyes just as close, of a fight. Not just in my eyes either as the Showtime experts calling the fight including Hall of Fame analyst Al Bernstein, Steve Farhood and current WBA World Welterweight Champion Paulie Malinaggi all had it just as close; with Farhood and Malinaggi giving the nod to Alvarez by just one point and Bernstein calling it a draw.

I personally scored it six rounds apiece with the lone difference in the outcome being a knockdown Alvarez scored over Trout in the seventh round. Ironically, a friend of mine and occasional boxing writer Nick Sanchez, whose opinion I respect very much, told me he scored it the exact same way with the knockdown being the difference. Sounds pretty close right? Well it was, but apparently the people that mattered didn't see it that way.

However, before I get into the crime that was committed, here's a quick synopsis of the fight. I had predicted Trout would win on the basis of him picking apart Alvarez over 12 rounds. It pretty much was going that way as Trout was the busier of the two, but Alvarez clearly landed the heavier and more powerful shots. Props to Alvarez for utilizing beautiful head movement and avoiding many punches throughout; he shocked me and surprised the hell out of Trout.  

That said, as great of a fight that it was, it was ruined by the three judges ringside in San Antonio, Texas who scored the fight 115-112, 116-111 and 118-109. Once again, I remind everyone that beyond me, the three Showtime ringside experts had it much closer. So you may ask, what makes those ringside experts supposedly more qualified than the judges?

Well, let's forget this fight for a moment and look at some recent history of boxing crime that has taken place in the State of Texas during professional boxing fights. In August 2009, the aforementioned Malinaggi was blatantly robbed in a decision against Texas native Juan Diaz in a nationally televised fight that even Diaz was surprised he won. Four months later, Malinaggi fought Diaz in a rematch in Chicago, Illinois and easily won a unanimous decision.

More recently, there was the light middleweight contender fight in March 2012 between Texas native James Kirkland and Chicago native Carlos Molina. In a fight Molina was clearly winning and all but had in the bag, he lost via disqualification in the 10th round when the referee showed ineptitude after a knockdown scored by Kirkland at the end of the round. Upon Molina's corner entering the ring in between rounds, the referee ruled it a disqualification.

These are just two recent examples of many over the years the Texas Boxing Commission has displayed; to say they are shady would be a compliment. They are so blatantly criminal, that the judges at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, Korea, who robbed Roy Jones, Jr. out of a gold medal against a South Korean fighter, were Supreme Court Justices next to them.

The saddest part of this whole thing is that their judging ruined what was truly a great fight. I only wish it could have occurred on a more neutral site for both fighters like Las Vegas or New York; I'd be curious to see scores for the exact same fight from either of those two state commissions. Alas, in the end we had two great fights on Saturday night, but...

Friday, April 19, 2013

It's a great weekend to be a combat sports fan

Whether your taste is mixed martial arts or boxing, this Saturday you have a couple of exciting fights featuring four very young dynamic evenly matched fighters. If you are a fan of both sports that just makes it twice as good and the best part about the whole thing is that both fights are featured on television, one free and one on a premium channel; thus, you can set your DVR to record one while you watch the other. It's a great weekend to be a combat sports fan!

Oh wait, there's even more; both of these fights in their respective sports are a virtual tossup as all the combatants are champions at the top of their game. In MMA, the UFC is holding their seventh card on the FOX network and the main event for UFC on FOX 7 is the lightweight championship between UFC titleholder Benson 'Smooth' Henderson (pictured above left) and former Strikeforce champion Gilbert 'El Nino' Melendez.

Melendez (21-2, 11 KO's 1 sub) is the old man of this group at the ripe old age of 31. He's probably also the one fighter of this group that may be considered the least known of the four; however, that's not because of any fault of his own. He's been competing in this sport for nearly 11 years; problem is part of that time was spent fighting overseas in Japan and the other part was in the now defunct Strikeforce.

Regardless, wherever he's fought, Melendez has won; and in the last couple of years he's always been universally regarded as a top three lightweight (155 lbs.) in the world. In most circumstances I would like Melendez in this fight; but not in this one. That is solely because of Henderson (18-2, 2 KO's 8 subs).

At 29, the UFC champion is just hitting his stride, especially since he's only been competing since '06 versus Melendez's '02. A former champion in the WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting), Henderson is a rising star in an organization filled with star champions. Though his style and Melendez's almost mirror each other, especially with wrestling pedigrees, I just think this is Henderson's time while I believe Melendez's time may have passed.

I totally believe this because had this fight taken place two years ago, I probably would have given the nod to Melendez; but while Melendez was toiling away in Strikeforce fighting sporadically because of lack of competition, Henderson has been flourishing fighting the very best in the division. His overall game seems to be peaking at this moment and for that reason I am picking Henderson in a unanimous decision victory over Melendez.

Moving on to boxing, it doesn't happen often, but this weekend Showtime got it right. They've put together a fight between two champions in their weight class, in this case light-middleweight (154 lbs.), which are both undefeated and truthfully haven't even reached their prime a/o yet. WBA champion Austin 'No Doubt' Trout (pictured above right) and Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez, the WBC champion; will do their part in unifying the title of world's best light-middleweight.

The 26 year old Trout (26-0, 14 KO's) is coming off his biggest victory to date as he dismantled the talented multi-division champion Miguel Cotto over 12 rounds in December 2012 en route to a unanimous decision victory. Meanwhile, Alvarez last fought in September where he knocked out former light-welterweight (140 lbs.) Josesito Lopez. Yes, I think it's important to point out that he knocked out a talented fighter that came up two weight classes to oppose him.

The reason I make this point is because I am going against the masses here and picking Trout to defeat the favored Alvarez. I expect Trout to pick Alvarez apart and outpoint the young 22 year old Mexican over 12 rounds; if not finish him before. I know I'll get many doubters on this pick and they may very well be right.

Alvarez (41-0, 30 KO's) is a great young talent who hits like a mule; there's no doubting that. The question here is who has he hit? The hit list before the lighter Lopez was an over the hill Shane Mosley, a shot and heartless Kermit Cintron and another fighter out of his weight class in welterweight (147 lbs.) Alfonso Gomez, whose claim to fame was coming in third on the first season of 'The Contender'.

Sure Trout's professional resume isn't necessarily a who's who as the biggest name prior to Cotto is Delvin Rodriguez. However, it's in the amateur record where I see the difference. Though Alvarez has had 15 more pro fights than Trout, he had only 20 amateur fights; Trout meanwhile had over 200. I've been telling people I don't think Alvarez is quite ready to run with the big boys and I think this fight against a seasoned, primed and ready Trout will prove my point.

Regardless of the outcomes, both of these fights have the promise to be barn-burners between four young fighters who are part of the next generation of great names in their respective sports. Whether you love boxing, MMA or both, it's a great weekend to be a combat sports fan. Enjoy the fights!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Never judge a book by its cover

As the old saying goes, never judge a book by its cover. That would be the perfect way to describe Saturday night's women's fight at the UFC TUF Finale between Cat Zingano and Meisha Tate (pictured above respectively). To the casual fan the photo may depict anything from Swimsuit models to Zumba instructors; however, nothing could be further from the truth.

These two ladies, beautiful ladies I might add, are professional mixed martial arts fighters at the highest level and they both proved so on Saturday night. For two and a half rounds in a featured bout on the card, these ladies stole the show and just solidified that women's MMA does belong in the UFC. UFC President Dana White obviously thought so as he awarded them the 'Fight of the Night' honor resulting in each winning an additional $50,000 bonus.

Zingano (8-0, 4 KO's 3 subs) and Tate (13-4, 3 KO's 6 subs) had a lot to prove and a lot on the line as well as they competed in only the second women's MMA fight in UFC history. Following women's champion Ronda Rousey and Liz Carmouche's historic first ever fight back in February that produced a ton of excitement in less than a full round, Zingano and Tate just about tripled that going nearly three full rounds. In the end Zingano outlasted Tate, but it wasn't without a fight.

Tate, the former Strikeforce bantamweight (135 lbs.) champion, who was looking to garner a rematch with Rousey to whom she lost her title, was aggressive from the outset. She came right at Zingano, figuring her wrestling/ground & pound style and overall experience would be too much for Zingano; and for a round and a half it looked as though she was right. She consistently took down Zingano and also appeared to be beating her to the punch while standing.

The first round was clearly hers, while the second was more of a toss up because Zingano was able to reverse her bottom position on the ground midway through the round. However, while she was on top she did not fully escape as Tate had a hold of her leg, more specifically her ankle, and was working towards a possible heel hook submission. Nonetheless, Zingano proved resilient, as she did throughout, not panicking and striking back effectively while her leg was being contorted; inevitably she escaped and ended the round on top.

That seemed to be where the tide turned because in the third round it was Zingano who shot for a quick take down and worked her own ground attack. For nearly two minutes she smothered Tate who later admitted, "Zingano felt pretty heavy on top." Tate eventually got out and worked her way back to her feet, but that would be the beginning of the end for her.

As she rose, Zingano delivered four successive knee strikes to Tate's pretty face that forced her to drop to her knees again and attempt a faint shot towards Zingano; however referee Kim Winslow had seen enough and she stopped the fight at 2:55 of the third round. The knees and the stoppage were not without controversy though.

In the post fight press conference, Tate voiced her displeasure at the referee's stoppage stating she was only doing what Winslow instructed her before the fight and that was to show she was still alert and active when in trouble. As for the knee strikes, she did not protest, but did bring up that she had been told the initial knee strike may have actually come while her hand was still on the mat; thus making it an illegal strike to a downed opponent.

As stated Tate did not protest, but she was obviously disappointed as she lost not only her opportunity at a title rematch with Rousey, but much more. The winner of their fight was already appointed a slot opposite Rousey as a coach on the upcoming season of 'The Ultimate Fighter' reality TV series. This will be the first season featuring women coaches and fighters; it will also be the first season featuring a coed house as both men and women will be featured in the upcoming season.

With Dana White's announcement that the upcoming TUF season will also be featured on the new Fox Sports 1 network, which means an even broader audience, Tate lost a lot more than just a fight Saturday. However, after the disappointment and bruises wear off, both she and Zingano can be proud of their effort. They clearly showed they are more than just a pretty face, which is why we should never judge a book by its cover.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Bellator's first season on Spike was just the spike it needed

All it needed was a chance and after a couple of lackluster seasons on MTV2, Bellator Fighting Championships got that opportunity with Spike TV. Promoting itself as the toughest tournament in sports, Bellator went out and proved it week in and week out for the last three months. Using a combination of established young stars, rising up and coming fighters and some tough proven veterans; such as Doug 'Rhino' Marshall (pictured above), Bellator's first season on Spike was just the spike it needed.

The season began with stacked tournaments in a multitude of weight classes ranging anywhere from featherweight (145 lbs.) to light-heavyweight (205 lbs.). They crowned new champions, including light-heavyweight Attila 'Pumukli' Vegh who was a previous tournament winner that defeated former champ Christian M'Pumbu and most importantly they delivered some very exciting fights. More than any previous season before that I could recall, Bellator had more knockouts, submissions and first round finishes than anytime in its history ever.

During the course of that process, veterans such as the aforementioned Marshall, a 36 year old former WEC champion and Dave Jansen, also a WEC veteran now 33 years old, saw their careers come back to life with tournament wins and future title shots in the middleweight (185 lbs.) and lightweight (155 lbs.) classes respectively. By the same token, some well known names like Renato 'Babalu' Sobral and Marlon Sandro may have seen their last big shots come and go.

This past season also provided shocking surprises such as Emanuel Newton coming out of relative obscurity to knock out pre-season light-heavyweight tourney favorite Muhammed 'King Mo' Lawal with a spinning backfist in the semifinals; he would then go on to win the tournament. It also showed some things just don't change, such as Douglas Lima and Ben 'Killa B' Saunders' getting through the welterweight (170 lbs.) tournament once again for another opportunity to face each other; this will be a rematch of one of Bellator's most exciting fights.

However most importantly, Bellator showed that it could lose some highly touted free agent former champions such as Hector Lombard and Eddie Alvarez and still survive. That is primarily because their current nucleus of promotion made stars, which include featherweight champion Pat Curran, lightweight champ Michael Chandler and welterweight champ Ben Askren all came strong this past season with successful and exciting title defenses.

Curran, Chandler and Askren may not be as well known or highly touted as their UFC counterparts Jose Aldo, Benson Henderson and Georges St. Pierre, but they are clearly all in the top ten of their respective weight classes and in the case of Curran, I'd argue he may be in the top two or three as far as featherweights go right behind Aldo. Those three, along with all the others I mentioned above are the main reason why Bellator's first season on Spike was just the spike it needed.

Junkie Gathering 2017... this time it was personal

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