Monday, October 21, 2013

Props to two of the best for knowing when to say enough

After DJ’ing mobile parties and nightclubs for 30+ years, I am quick to deter anyone who is interested in getting into that business; that is because I feel it is an underappreciated field of endeavor. However, for my many reasons to feel this way, it cannot even begin to compare to the lack of appreciation a referee in any sport receives. No matter what they do, it is always going to be criticized by someone. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in combat sports such as boxing and mixed martial arts.

Yet for as much criticism as a referee receives, and in some cases justified, he or she is the person we must rely on not only to call a fair fight, but more importantly to possibly save someone’s life. This past weekend there were two vivid examples of this in high profile bouts in both sports and for all the negative press refs receive, I feel it is just that they receive some praise when it is due.

Herb Dean (pictured above) and Tony Weeks (pictured below)are both prominent referees in the sports of mixed martial arts and boxing respectively. Both are well known, have been around for awhile and most importantly are highly respected by their peers. Many outside the cage and ring consider them to be the preeminent examples of the third man within their sport.

All those adjectives and superlatives were justified this past Saturday when their final call in two separate championship bouts in both MMA and boxing were not only the right call, but quite possibly a life saving one in the long run. However, their decision to end the fights when they did was made even more special by knowing when to do it. They gave the losers in each fight the utmost opportunity to overcome their opponents, without hindering their safety.

Herb Dean is a veteran referee of over 3,500 MMA fights worldwide. He’s also been the referee of some of the most unique situations and historic endings in MMA history such as Tim Sylvia’s arm breaking when being caught in Frank Mir’s armbar submission at UFC 48 and Gabriel Gonzaga’s knockout victory over Mirko Cro-Cop at UFC 70. In both cases Dean played a prominent role in the outcome; thus there isn’t much he hasn’t seen or been through.

Besides that, he was a professional fighter himself with five professional fights from the early to mid 2000’s. That unique perspective came into play this past Saturday during the UFC heavyweight championship between champ Cain Velasquez and challenger Junior Dos Santos. In the third fight between these two, this latest installment pretty much played out like the second one with Velasquez laying a thorough beating on Dos Santos.

With Dean watching closely throughout, he gave the challenger every chance he could to possibly find a way as long as he was fighting back. That was until midway through the fifth and final round when a last ditch effort by Dos Santos to muster some form of submission, resulted in his forehead hitting the canvas directly. Noting it right away and realizing the champ was about to unleash some fury to his downed opponent, Dean stepped in to wave off the fight. In an already dazed state, Dos Santos was rescued from some possible irreversible damage from a dangerous and still strong champion.

Meanwhile, at around the same time in Denver, Colorado, a world championship boxing match was taking place as former WBO light welterweight champion Mike Alvarado, lost for only the second time in 36 fights when his fight was stopped by referee Tony Weeks after the 10th round of a scheduled 12 round fight. Part of that decision may have come from Alvarado himself, but it was only after Weeks had the resolve to confront the fighter face to face in his corner in between rounds.

Tony Weeks has been a professional referee for 17 years, dating back to 1996. His love of boxing made him pursue the profession in Arizona while working in the corrections system there. However, his passion led him to the state of Nevada in 2000 where he was licensed to work in the fight capital of the world, Las Vegas. Since then he has worked many high profile championship bouts including this past Saturday where Alvarado was defending his title against Ruslan Provodnikov.

Provodnikov is the same boxer, who earlier this year was part of possibly the fight of the year, excluding this past Saturday, against current WBO welterweight champion Timothy Bradley. His performance in the Bradley affair, even though it resulted in a decision loss, garnered him the shot against Alvarado.

A vicious puncher who keeps coming at you with a relentless attack to both the body and the head, Provodnikov shook off Alvarado’s early boxing effort to punish the champion. The beating was such that he dropped the former champ, who had never been dropped previously, twice in one round. Weeks took a close look at the former champ, who in desperation fought on valiantly.

However, after the 10th round, as Alvarado sat on his stool while his trainer was asking a clearly shaken fighter if he should stop the fight, Weeks took the initiative to bypass the cornerman and confront Alvarado face to face. He looked directly into the fighter’s eyes as he asked him how he felt and if he could continue. Seeing what he already knew when he knelt down before him, Weeks stood up and waved his arms signaling his decision to stop the fight.

There was no reluctance on Alvarado’s behalf as it looked as though he was relieved someone was smart enough to save him from himself. A true fighter’s mentality is to continue even in the face of defeat and quite possibly death if that is the case. It is a referee’s job to keep that from happening. In this case Herb Dean and Tony Weeks did that admirably for two great combatants who may now live to fight another day; props to two of the best in their respective professions for knowing when to say enough.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Give your baby a standing ovation

This past week the UFC had two fights they featured on Wednesday night. One was headlining a live 'Fight Night' card in Brazil, while the other was just the next fight in the on-going 'Ultimate Fighter' television series. One featured a grappler vs. grappler match, while the other was striker vs. striker. However, the most glaring comparison was one paired two male welterweight contenders, while the other featured two females trying to make a name for themselves and their sport, women's MMA.

In the end, the battle of the sexes on the same night wasn't even close. That's no slight towards welterweight (170 lbs.) contenders Demian Maia and Jake Shields as much as it is a compliment to bantamweights (135 lbs.) Jessamyn Duke and Raquel Pennington (pictured above). As you can see by the photo, Duke and Pennington went toe to toe for three rounds, in a fight many are calling a defining moment for women's MMA. Some are even saying that this fight may end up being the equivalent to what Forrest Griffin vs. Stephen Bonner was to MMA in general in the finale of 'TUF' season one; that fight was voted as the number fight in MMA history, so you can imagine what this fight was like to be mentioned in that same breath.

It wasn't so much that they went toe to toe as much as it was that Duke and Pennington (in blue) displayed a heart and determination that is rarely seen in most fights. It's the type of heart that you only speak about when you discuss legendary battles such as Griffin/Bonner or Gatti/Ward and Barrera/Morales in boxing; it will go down as a classic!

Now some may argue that I'm only saying this because the girls were striking versus grappling, thus I'm hating against the ground game. Let me begin by saying that as a student of the game, I love submission grappling and jiu-jitsu. Second, I'll respond by saying that Nick Diaz vs. Diego Sanchez is still one of my favorite fights of all-time and that was a three round non-stop tussle back and forth on the ground. However, that had something that the Maia/Shields bout didn't; action.

When the Demian Maia/Jake Shields fight was put together, I was actually looking forward to it. Finally you were pitting two undisputed jiu-jitsu masters against one another. Ultimately though that was the problem; this was not a jiu-jitsu match. This was a mixed martial arts fight and when push came to shove, when they did grapple on the ground they neutralized each other so much, it ended up being more a positioning game than anything else. In the end it was a disappointment in my eyes, though the fight was very close.

Duke/Pennington on the other hand was a pleasant surprise where one wasn't expected. Sure they took it to each other and both refused to back down, but they did so while showing skill and technique. These weren't two girls swinging arms wildly in a schoolyard. These ladies know how to fight and they displayed it with punch combinations, knee strikes in the clinch and an arsenal of kicks.

In the end it was Pennington's hand that was raised in a very narrow decision victory, but more importantly what these ladies did for women in MMA will ultimately be the bigger picture. They showed those who doubted that women can fight, they do belong in this sport and there is talent outside Ronda Rousey and Meisha Tate in his weight class. Are they at that level yet; probably not? However, on this one night these two ladies stole the show and showed the world that when it came to the battle of the sexes, it wasn't even close. Kudos ladies; as The Dells once sang, "Give your baby a standing ovation;" you girls deserve one!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

What a difference a week makes in boxing

It was a just a week ago on Saturday night that the sport of boxing had itself another Britney Spears moment when they "Oops, did it again." What they did was rob a deserving Bryan Vera after he had fought his heart out and clearly defeated former middleweight champion Julio Cesar Chavez, Jr. on points. A fight, originally scheduled to be 12 rounds, was fought for only 10 and I, along with most outside experts, had Vera winning eight of those 10 rounds; maybe only seven if I wanted to be generous to Chavez.

However, why would I want to be generous towards Chavez? What has he done to deserve anything; especially a gift decision from three so called ringside experts? All he's done is get suspended for nearly a year due to his lack of discipline when it comes to smoking the wacky weed of marijuana. Yet, this is not a slight towards marijuana smokers; it's a slight towards a spoiled brat who has not displayed any reason to think he is deserving of any glory that is attained from being a true boxing champion.

However, let's forget the lack of discipline when it comes to recreational marijuana smoking and focus on the lack of discipline towards his craft. A fight that was originally scheduled to be contested at 160 lbs., had to be adjusted numerous times because the lazy Chavez, Jr. would not put in the necessary work to make the weight. Thus, while Vera was primed to weigh-in at the agreed upon middleweight limit, he had to concede to fight the privileged namesake of his legendary father at nearly the light-heavyweight limit of 175 lbs.

Yet, besides all of that, he doesn't even have the courtesy to acknowledge that Vera took it to him and that he wasn't truly deserving of the victory. Instead, he made like his parental predecessor and came with nothing but excuses, claiming that Vera was continually using dirty tactics in the ring such as hitting low and head butting. Chavez, Jr. and that decision are what continue to hurt the great sport of boxing.

Ah, but wait; just when you think the glory days of boxing are dead, then comes along Miguel Cotto. A three-division champion who has had a storied career and at (38-4, 31 KO's) has lost only to the elite of the sport; Floyd Mayweather, Jr., Manny Pacquiao and Austin Trout. I, nor should anyone else, include Antonio Margarito in that class; let alone acknowledge that loss to Margarito considering what he has been found guilty of and Cotto clearly exposed in their second bout.

On Saturday night, Cotto (pictured above) was coming off two consecutive losses in his career, the first time he had experienced such a thing, and at 32 years old many, including myself, thought his best days were behind him. However, considering the true champion that he is and always has been he proved us all wrong. Never once making any excuses for his consecutive short comings against Mayweather and Trout, Cotto realized "defeat only meant there was something wrong in his doing," as the late Bruce Lee once said.

Thus, he turned to Hall of Fame trainer Freddie Roach who basically took the former champion back to the basics and what made Cotto such a scary fighter to begin with; a stalking, punishing body attack that is climaxed with a vicious left hook to the body and head. The result was a less than three round pummeling of former two-time world title challenger Delvin Rodriguez (28-7-3, 16 KO's).

Miguel Cotto is a shining example of what the sport of boxing needs and should strive to be; a championship caliber athlete who is dedicated to his trade and does so while constantly displaying dignity and class. I know that's a lot to ask in the shady world of boxing, but in just one week we went from the worst the sport had to offer to just about the best. What a difference a week makes in boxing.

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