Sunday, July 28, 2013

Don't believe the hype


In 1987 during the beginning of the golden era of hip-hop, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee's 'Public Enemy' produced a rap anthem entitled 'Don't believe the hype'. In typical Chuck D fashion he lyrically explained why you can't believe everything you hear. During last night's UFC on Fox 8 post-fight press conference, UFC President Dana White, in his own typical fashion, explained the same thing.

White was clearly not happy with the performance put on by top welterweight (170 lbs.) contenders Jake Ellenberger and Rory MacDonald (pictured above) and honestly I can't blame him; which brings me to a couple of questions. Does a fighter have a responsibility to himself or the company and the consumer? My second question is how much sense of responsibility should fighters feel to deliver when moved up on a fight card; in this case the co-main event?

In the world of combat sports, whether it is boxing or mixed martial arts, one loss, especially when you're at contender status can be extremely crucial. In the UFC, there have been fighters with win streaks and were on the verge of a title shot that have lost it all due to one critical defeat. Just ask Ellenberger who was coming off a two-fight win streak and had won eight out of his previous nine before losing last night via unanimous decision. Prior to that loss, he was ranked as high as number three and no less than fourth in most welterweight polls.

A win against MacDonald, who was virtually in the same ranking position depending on which poll you looked at, would have put him in prime position for a title shot. So, why didn't he go after it as a fighter who had that much on the line? By the same token, why didn't MacDonald do the same? Sure he won, but is a lackluster win more convincing than an exciting loss?

Truth is, when fighters get to the level of top contender status, it is the way they perform under that pressure which separates the truly great fighters from the good ones. When number one welterweight contender Johny Hendricks, after a five fight win streak, was bypassed for a title shot that inexplicably went to Nick Diaz, he went out and won a convincing unanimous decision against former interim champ Carlos Condit.

Condit on the other hand although he was defeated and is in the midst of two losses in a row, has lost virtually no ground in the rankings based on his performances in those fights.  As a matter of fact, Condit is still ranked in the top five of all polls and has a pivotal fight coming up against top 10 ranked Martin Kampmann, which could cause a stir at the top with a convincing victory; especially considering the way MacDonald won against Ellenberger.

Some fighters believe that winning, above all else, is all that counts; obviously that's the way MacDonald felt jabbing his way to victory. However while that may be true in the "sport" of MMA, in the "business" of the UFC, where selling fights is just as, if not more, important; performance and not necessarily victory is what counts. Dana White as a promoter has to be able to sell a fight, to both networks that put up a lot of money for the right to televise these events and also to us the consumer who pay for entertainment when the all important pay-per-views come around.

Before a fight, combatants can talk all the smack they want against each other, as Ellenberger and MacDonald did leading up to theirs on Saturday night. They can even make it seem like its personal; no one is better at this than the great Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in boxing; but when it is time to put up, if all you do is clam up, then I reiterate what Chuck D says, "Don't believe the hype."

Photo credit is courtesy of MMAMania.com

Monday, July 15, 2013

The impact and importance of a (the) coach


When it comes to sports, it used bother me when coaches like Phil Jackson in the NBA and the late John Wooden in college basketball would garner so much credit for their team's successes; I mean let's face it, they always had the best players. Jackson's 10 championships were won with Jordan and Pippen and then later with Kobe and Shaq. As for Wooden, six of his 10 titles included two of the most dominant players college basketball has ever seen in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (formerly Lew Alcindor at the time) and Bill Walton. How much impact did these guys really have on their team's performances?

Well, the sudden and tragic loss of MMA Trainer Shawn Tompkins nearly two years ago has made me think otherwise. Tompkins passed away suddenly in his sleep because of a heart ailment on August 14, 2011 at the way too young age of 37. At the time, he was regarded as one of the top MMA trainers in the game, assembling a stable of successful home grown fighters known simply as Team Tompkins. 

Known affectionately and throughout as 'The Coach', Tompkins worked with many fighters during his career, but it was the core of Team Tompkins at the time of his passing, Sam Stout, Mark Hominick, Chris Horodecki and Ronnie Mann that I will focus on for this column. Those fighters, all perennial contenders throughout their careers under the tutelage of 'The Coach' Tompkins have felt the impact of his loss in more ways than one. 

Just take a look at the careers of each before and since Tompkins passing and the results are obvious; either that or it is incredibly coincidental. Let's start first with Stout, Tompkins brother-in-law by marriage to Stout's sister; he has been a mainstay in the UFC's lightweight division since his first fight in the organization way back in 2006. That was when he was a mere pup at the age of 22, thus Tompkins was a major influence on his career.

Before Tompkins passing, Stout had won four of his previous five and was coming off the most electrifying win of his career, a devastating first round knockout of veteran Yves Edwards. In that streak, there were also wins over highly regarded contenders Matt Wiman and Joe Lauzon. Stout was on the cusp of making a move towards the top when his brother-in-law died two months after the Edwards KO.

Since that time, Stout has gone (2-3) in the octagon, losing his most recent fight last month to James Krause via submission. The last time Stout had lost a fight via submission was in his second fight in the UFC back in 2006 to former title challenger Kenny Florian. The loss of Tompkins has been evident in his performances, but not nearly as much as Mark Hominick's.

In April 2011, Hominick had just lost a bid for the UFC featherweight title against champion Jose Aldo. However, in the loss Hominick gave such a spirited performance losing a five round decision that you just knew it was only a couple of fights till he worked his way back to title contention. I mean prior to that loss, he had won his previous five in a row.

Less than four months later, Tompkins was gone and Hominick did not climb back into the cage till December of that year. In his first fight back without 'The Coach' in his corner, Hominick lost via knockout in only seven seconds to the 'Korean Zombie' Chan Sung Jung. Since that unremarkable loss, Hominick lost his next two fights to fringe fighters Eddie Yagin and Pablo Garza and ultimately called it a career retiring at the young age of 30. 

Before August 14, 2011, Chris Horodecki had won four of his previous five fights, including his most recent win, which came in July of that year in his first fight for Bellator Fighting Championships. It was looking as though Horodecki had found the perfect place for him to flourish in a new promotion and at the right time of his career, which was not even in his prime yet. However, just three weeks after that win everything fell apart. 

Tompkins passed away and Horodecki has had only three fights resulting in one loss via first round knockout, one draw and one no-contest. He's no longer fighting in Bellator as at this point he is relegated to fighting his way back on the regional circuit. A similar fate would befall fellow Tompkins teammate and Bellator fighter Ronnie Mann.

The British bantamweight looked on the verge of making a splash on the American MMA Scene in the summer of 2011. Fighting in Bellator, he had just come off a decision loss to current featherweight champion Pat Curran, which had been preceded by a four fight win streak and 10 wins in his previous 11 fights. The future looked bright for Mann; that was until Tompkins ill fated passing.

Since then, Mann has only had three fights going (1-2), losing two in a row and since has been released by Bellator. He's back in England unsure of where to train at this point. Sure MMA is a tough game and these instances with these four fighters could possibly have happened had Shawn Tompkins still been alive. However, considering the careers of these fighters before Tompkins passing and the reputation he was getting in MMA circles for his training; I think it's safe to say the impact and importance of a (the) coach is evident.         


Sunday, July 7, 2013

R-E-S-P-E-C-T/Passing the Torch


There were two things that were evident during and after Saturday night's UFC middleweight championship fight between former champ Anderson 'Spider' Silva (far left) and new champ Chris Weidman (near right); the first was respect, or lack thereof. The second was a passing of the torch from a gracious former champion to the new kid on the block; first for the former, R-E-S-P-E-C-T.

The first lesson taught in any martial art is respect. Respect for the art, respect for your teacher and most importantly, respect towards your opponent. This trait was ingrained into me 13 years ago when I stared training in martial arts. I remember vividly getting ready to roll on the mats for the first time ever after only a month of training with none other than the my instructor Master Lee Arnold. One of the things he talked to me about was "never underestimating your opponent."

Here was a master of martial arts who had trained for over 30 years and he told me, "As I get ready to get on this mat with you, I treat you like everyone else. I have no idea what you are capable of, thus I cannot let my guard down." That was before he proceeded to wrap me up like a pretzel and pummel me for nearly an hour; however, that's a story for another day.

The moral of the story is what I'm getting to in terms of Anderson Silva's clear lack of respect towards Chris Weidman on Saturday night. Though, I don't think it was a lack of respect as much as it was Silva game planning, yet underestimating Weidman's ability. I truly believe after the first round, where Silva quickly found himself on his back after a Weidman take down, he was goading Weidman into a stand up war where he clearly had the advantage; that was until he took it too far.

Gamesmanship and even showmanship is one thing, but when you play with fire you can expect to be burned. I don't care who you are; the great Anderson Silva found this out the hard way. After continuously taunting his opponent and not taking things serious in the cage, the greatest of all-time got caught with a left hook that... well you can see the result in the photo above. The rest, as they say, is history.

Thus, after 17 straight wins and a title run that lasted nearly seven years, Anderson Silva's reign is over. On one hand it is sad because it quite possibly didn't have to end yet, though that would be me disrespecting Weidman by assuming he would not have won anyway. On the other hand though, and this is the one Silva is looking at, it is good. That is because it is a weight that has been lifted off his shoulders. I think Joe Rogan said it best after the fight when he said, "We cannot begin to imagine what the pressure must be like to have to constantly live up to being told you are the greatest of all-time."

That said, while I don't believe Anderson went into the fight trying to lose, he didn't appear to be too bothered by it. In typical Anderson Silva fashion, he was gracious in defeat, congratulating Weidman, asking fans to give him his just due as the new champion and stating, "He is the best now." That statement was also about something else.

By making that statement and then saying he will no longer fight for the title, that was Anderson Silva, the greatest of all-time, passing the torch to Chris Weidman. However, I don't think Anderson would have done this for just anyone who might have beaten him along the way. After all I said above, Silva does have respect for Weidman and it showed in his gesture towards the young champion after his post fight interview.

Silva went over to Weidman and in the middle of the cage he not only embraced him, but hugged him for an extended period while he spoke some words to him. To me it was obvious he was telling the new champ in no specific words, this is your time now; make sure you don't take it for granted and defend with respect and honor. Kind of ironic when you think about it isn't it?

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