Sunday, August 25, 2013

Overused and tired cliches in MMA

With a slow week in both mixed martial arts and boxing, it gives me the opportunity to write, or more appropriately vent, about something that has been bothering me for some time now; I'm talking about overused and tired cliches in MMA. Coming off vacation where I got to spend a couple of days lying on the beach at the Jersey Shore, I had time to gather my thoughts and really focus. Thus in my estimation, here are five cliches that have definitely run their course and need to go.

In no particular order because they are all tired, we will start with one of my not so favorites, "I train with the best fighters in the world." No disrespect with the guys (or gals) you train with, but as my good friend Brian 'Goze' Garcia likes to say all the time, "How do you know?" Have you been around the world to train with everyone? That's a pretty bold statement; and to just throw that out there nonchalantly without justification is just not realistic.

I understand people feel strongly about their training partners and that's a good thing, but when they are constantly being referred to as "the best in the world," well that tends to be a bit over the top. Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney uses this all the time when talking about his top tier stable of fighters and that's fine considering he's a promoter trying to sell a product; but when fighters use this it's just too much. How about, I train with some really good guys? That's one I can live with.

Next up is a combo in as much as regardless of which one you hear, they go hand in hand. I'm talking about the phrase(s), "This was my best camp ever/I'm in the best shape of my life." I realize fighters are putting their best foot forward going into a fight when they say this, but my issue is simple. If this was your best camp ever, what have you been doing all along? I thought the last one was your "best camp ever."

Shouldn't a fighter, whether amateur or professional always be in the best shape possible? I mean if your chosen profession is putting your health and life on the line, then I would think being properly trained is priority number one. If so, then going through the best camp and being in the best shape is a given and in this case redundant.

This next one was once cool about 15 years ago when the sport was still in its infancy, but it no longer has any impact. I'll explain what I mean after I share, "He's a black belt in jiu-jitsu." In the mid 90's when people were still being mesmerized by the exploits of Royce Gracie and his band of brothers with their unique art, this phrase had some power. To say one was a black belt in jiu-jitsu meant that person was equipped with skills others just didn't possess.

However, very nearly 20 years after Gracie showed the world his 'opponent disarming' and 'joint locking' techniques, jiu-jitsu has become one of the world's most popular martial arts; thus, there are black belts in just about every area. To be a black belt in jiu-jitsu once meant something mysterious and powerful. However, it has become so saturated and watered down that even a black belt like Roli Delgado was questioned about his lineage during his appearance on 'The Ultimate Fighter'. Enough already with the "black belt in jiu-jitsu;" at this point I'd be happy with a simple, "He's one tough S.O.B."

On second thought let's not use that either because this brings me to my next one, which is the exhausted, "He's a really tough guy." Whether it is by the broadcaster or the victorious fighter, this phrase is heard in, during and after just about every fight. It is the fall back line to describe an opponent you know has little chance before hand against a highly favored fighter. It is also the respectful tag placed on a defeated opponent; at least I used to think it was used as a gesture of respect towards the loser, but now I believe winners use it as a means to pat their own back. Let's face it, if a guy is brave enough to step into a cage, he's a tough guy period; end of discussion.

Last but not least is not necessarily a cliche, but more so a word. One word that is used to describe a fighter and is tossed around way too loosely; the word is "great." If there is one thing that irks me more than anything else is how easily the adjective 'great' is used when discussing a fighter or his skill set. Just stop and think about this for a second; if every fighter is great, then what are guys like Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre known as? You see where I'm coming from?

The word 'great' is defined in the dictionary as "unusual or considerable in degree." Considering their careers, that is the perfect description of Silva and GSP; which means this word is only supposed to be used when talking about the very elite. To constantly hear good fighters or just apt skill sets being referred to as "great" drives me nuts! It goes back to my argument for the Hall of Fame, which I feel should be for only the truly "greats" of the sport; but that's a story, or better yet tirade for another day.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The ultimate measure of a man and a fighter

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands during times of comfort and convenience, but rather where he stands during times of challenge and controversy." Former UFC two-division champion Randy Couture once said, "A true champion is the one that can pick himself up after a loss." In welterweight Ronald Cruz, he's done both in the span of a year; especially after garnering his eighteenth win on Saturday night after two consecutive losses.

A little over a year ago, Cruz (18-2, 13 KO's) was on top of the world. He was undefeated at the time (17-0), had fought on NBC Sports Network and had just captured the WBC Continental Americas title. Then, 'Murphy's Law' came into play; you know the one, "Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong." Well it did as a controversial split decision loss at home, followed by an injury that sidelined him for nine months and climaxed by a comeback loss at home just about deflated a once promising career.

Amidst the setbacks Cruz along with his team, including trainer Lemuel 'Indio' Rodriguez, Manager Jimmy Deoria and newly appointed strength and conditioning coach Craig Merrick, began to hear the whispers of the naysayers; or as we like to say in the streets, the haters. I know because I live in those same streets of Cruz's hometown and heard the comments first hand; "Ronald doesn't have it," "He needs a new trainer," "He needs to work on his jab," etc. and so on. Worst yet, Cruz heard the comments as well.

Boxer, fighter, champion or not, he's still a young man with emotions. Thus, when you're already suffering from self doubt after consecutive losses, those whispers begin to take a toll on a person. However, never wavering in his commitment to his team and more importantly himself, he asked to get back in the ring as soon as possible. That was on Saturday night, where in front of a sparse hometown crown at the Sands Event Center in Bethlehem, PA, Cruz went back to basics and his bread & butter, body punching, and finished his opponent Rodolfo Armenta @ 2:40 of the second round.

I mentioned above how the crowd was "sparse" at best. Now I'm not sure if 'Musikfest', the nation's largest non-gated music festival, taking place right outside the Events Center doors had anything to do with it; or fickle fans who sold out the arena in previous fights have fallen off the Cruz bandwagon after a couple of bumps in the road. Whatever the reason, Cruz's will and determination was not deterred. 

As a journalist, I must attempt to remain as unbiased as possible; if not my integrity will be questioned on every word. However, when I see a young man, who in the face of adversity has remained loyal, humble and committed to those who have done the same by him, it's hard to remain unbiased. I openly root for this kid because I've seen the ultimate measure of a man and a fighter who has garnered my ultimate respect!

Other fighters of note on Saturday night included the appearance of 2012 Olympian and fast rising star out of Puerto Rico Felix Verdejo (7-0). With Hall of Fame legend Wilfredo 'Bazooka' Gomez in his corner, Verdejo used superior hand speed and counter punching to outlast hard charging Guillermo Delgadillo over six rounds. Verdejo has come with a lot of hype since turning pro and he did not disappoint, though his opponent proved to be a tough test. 

Also on the card, NABO featherweight champion Gamalier Rodriguez (22-2-3, 15 KO's), successfully defended his title with a 10 round unanimous decision over tough Jorge Pazos (14-6, 8 KO's) out of Mexico. Finally, Cruz's stablemate, light welterweight Jerome Rodriguez, also locally trained by 'Indio' Rodriguez, upped his record to (5-0-1) with a six round unanimous decision over Ariel Duran from Queens, NY.   

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Is this the best pound for pound fighter on the planet?

After his winning performance and successful title defense on Saturday night, is this currently the best pound for pound fighter on the planet? Jose Aldo, the UFC featherweight (145 lbs.) champion is currently (23-1) and has not lost a fight in eight years; yet before his win on Saturday, he was listed as only fourth in the latest pound for pound rankings. It's hard to dispute those currently in front of him, but for argument sake, I will attempt to do so.

Before I discuss Aldo and my reasoning why he should be considered number one, let me start the heated internet debate by saying that Anderson Silva, currently listed as number three, should not be ahead of Aldo; (right now I know Spider Silva fans around the world are losing their minds!) However, as great as the former middleweight champion is, the truth is he lost earlier this month and he lost badly. You can try and argue that he lost only because of his own shenanigans in the ring, but then that just adds to mine.

Anyone who jeopardizes his standing as the greatest fighter in the world by acting the way Silva did and then gets knocked out cold in the process, should not be ranked number three in the world on this list. I'm not saying Anderson Silva is still not one of the pound for pound best, but not ahead of the man pictured above. That brings me to number two, the current UFC welterweight champ Georges St. Pierre.

Just as impressive, but not quite as good, GSP (24-2) is on an 11 fight win streak and has not lost in the last six years. However, of those 11 wins, eight of them were by decision, which means he was only able to finish three of his opponents. Granted he fought top flight competition, but the same can be argued for any champion at this level. I don't deny St. Pierre should not be in the top three, but at this point number three appears to be where he should be.

That brings me to number one and the man many consider the present and future of mixed martial arts, Jon 'Bones' Jones. The UFC light-heavyweight champion, Jones is currently riding a nine fight win streak. Unlike St. Pierre though, Jones has finished eight of those nine with only one fight going to decision. However, unlike St. Pierre and Aldo, his current streak is only three and a half years old. Also, while some may argue he's defeated five former champions in the process, I'd respond by saying he's also fought an over the hill "janitor," so to speak, in Vladimir Matyushenko and two legit blown up middleweights in Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen.

Jones's stats are impressive, to say the least, and his current choice as number one in the world is hard to dispute, but now let me speak on Aldo. Since his last (and only) loss in 2005, Jose Aldo has won 16 fights in a row; of those 16, no less than nine were finished within the time limit. However, of those nine finishes, seven have come within the first or second round; with four of those coming inside the first; including an eight second destruction of Cub Swanson, currently ranked no less than the number three featherweight in the world by most.

During that streak, Aldo not only garnered the UFC title, but he was also the featherweight champion in the WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting), which was the preeminent organization for 145 lbs. fighters, since the UFC was not carrying that weight class at the time. That means that unlike Jones and St. Pierre, Aldo was a two organization titleholder during his run.

He's defeated three former world champions in the process and one, Frankie Edgar, was the former lightweight (155 lbs.) champ. The other two he completely decimated when he smashed Mike Brown in less than two rounds and destroyed Urijah Faber, in his hometown no less, when he literally chopped him down for five rounds.

Granted, the pound for pound list is all opinionated, since none of the fighters will probably ever fight each other. However instead of dismissing the lighter weight fighter simply because he's smaller in stature, one needs to look at things objectively and question, is this the best pound for pound fighter on the planet? 

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