Sunday, December 29, 2013

UFC 168: 'Shattered' Dreams

Alas and unfortunately, the image seen at left will most likely be the last one we see of arguably the greatest fighter ever in the history of mixed martial arts inside the cage. The fighter is of course the great Anderson 'The Spider' Silva and sadly the image is of the seemingly invincible Silva clutching his broken left leg after Saturday night's rematch with UFC middleweight champion Chris Weidman.

In a night where two of the most anticipated rematches in MMA history were to take place and the first four bouts on the main card delivered nothing but fireworks and electricity in the air, all that was put out in an instant with the flick of one swift kick; a kick Silva (33-6, 20 KO's 6 subs) probably has thrown a thousand times in his life of competition, but this one time it failed him at no fault of his own. A left round kick thrown with his shin, intended to catch the inside part of Weidman's plant leg, instead caught Weidman's bent knee right at the most exact point of its vulnerability.

The result, as you can imagine, is the same result you would get if you whacked a broom stick against a fire hydrant. Some may think that is an unfair analogy, but if you stop to think about it for a minute, the tibia or shin bone is no thicker or wider than a broom stick handle. By the same token the knee bone is one of the strongest in the human body and when bent is multiplied in strength. However, let's look at it from another perspective; the perspective of the kick itself.

As a Taekwondo practitioner for 13+ years and a black belt for the last seven, I feel I may know a little something about throwing kicks to the body. That said, taekwondo fighters are taught to use the ball of the foot as its preferred weapon, versus the shin bone. Thus, a taekwondo round kick, for explanation sake, is being thrown with the head of the hammer as its point of impact. A Muay Thai round kick, which is what most MMA fighters use and is what Silva used on Saturday night, is thrown with the handle of the hammer. Sure the handle of a hammer is strong, but given a choice, which would you rather hammer a nail with?

I am in no way trying to correct Anderson Silva's form or question his or any other MMA fighter's methods. However, for argument sake, this is not the first time we have witnessed this same scenario inside the octagon. Five years ago to the month, Corey Hill suffered the same exact injury in the same manner when he threw a Muay Thai round kick to Dale Hartt's leg. At the time, and for good reason, it was considered a freak accident. However, when it happens again, this time to the greatest fighter to ever grace the cage, one has to wonder is this just a freak accident or an accident waiting to happen?

All that said, Weidman (11-0, 5 KO's 3 subs) retains his title and Silva, sadly appears to have ended an illustrious career on the most down of notes. Yet, isn't it pretty much the way it always ends for the truly great ones; as they hardly ever go out on top. The only other fighter in MMA history who can actually be in the argument for greatest of all-time, Fedor Emelianenko, though he ended his career with a couple of wins, had already been brought down to human reality with three straight losses before that. Nonetheless, this should never take away from their greatness.

Besides the actual injury to Silva, the saddest part about the whole thing is it took away the shine from the best fight of the night, which was the rematch between UFC Women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey (8-0, 8 subs) and Meisha Tate (13-5, 3 KO's 6 subs). These ladies were not only the stars of the night for the UFC, but the stars of the year for the company. They reinvigorated a previously stale 'Ultimate Fighter' reality series and carried that momentum and disdain for one another into the octagon.

After two and a half rough and tumble rounds, where Rousey literally threw Tate around like a rag doll at times, it was the 'Rowdy' champion who went on to win with her signature arm bar submission. All respects due to Tate though as she did all she could to avoid the eventual outcome and at times had her own moments throughout. However, I and many others will forever question her continued willingness to attempt to clinch and take down the former Olympic Judo Bronze medalist. I'm sure she herself has to be asking, "What was I thinking?"

Regardless, it was an exciting fight to the finish, one that had the entire MGM Grand Arena resounding along with everyone else who watched. As was the entire card as a whole, which included three first round KO finishes before these two main event fights. On a positive note, the UFC ended the year with a blast and a shocking finish that was actually the lead story on ESPN Sportscenter afterwards. Yet, on the other side of the spectrum, for Anderson Silva and Meisha Tate, UFC 168 will most likely be remembered as a night of shattered dreams.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Finally, sweet justice for many reasons

Just when you think there isn't any justice in boxing, Marcos Maidana comes along and disproves that theory. The hard hitting Argentinean (35-3, 31 KO's) put on a beautiful display of boxing and power punching as he defeated the previously undefeated brash talking Adrien Broner (27-1, 22 KO's) for the WBA welterweight championship. Maidana (pictured at left respectively against Broner), who has been the victim of a couple of previous injustices within the ring actually pulled off this feat in the State of Texas; the Mecca for robberies and outlandish decisions in the world of boxing.

Broner, who is a fast punching boxer with a Floyd Mayweather, Jr. type defensive stance, looked nothing like Floyd as Maidana had his number from the opening bell. It wasn't a shutout by any means as Broner had some moments in the middle rounds when it looked as the ghost of Maidana's past, his gas tank, was going on empty, but a few unexpected circumstances kept stalling any momentum Broner attempted to build. The biggest problem for 'The Problem' however, was Maidana's powerful left hook to both the body and head which Broner had no answer for.

Let's not get it twisted though; Maidana put on a boxing clinic against the supposed superior boxer, by pressuring the mentally weak Broner and throwing punches in bunches from all angles including overhand rights and vicious uppercuts. The reason I refer to Broner as mentally weak is you could see it in his face and more importantly his corner as he was put in a situation he's never been in before; coming back from being knocked down from legitimate power punches on more than one occasion. Maidana nearly knocked the previously untouchable Broner through the ropes as early as the second round.

Able to survive the round, when Broner got back to his corner it was nothing but chaos, as he had no concern for what his trainer had to say. He in essence pretty much talked back in distain for what his corner had to say, which includes his own father as his assistant trainer. This is where I say Broner is mentally weak at 24 years old. He has basically been coddled as a boxing prodigy since the age of nine, always hearing nothing but praise by those close to him. This includes his entourage who was fairly large during his in-ring entrance, but was nowhere to be found as he shown exiting the arena only flanked by security.

Was that by design, or did Broner just push everyone away like a spoiled child when he doesn't get what he wants? Things that make you go hmmmmm? Everything is honky dory when you're winning; it's easy to have people brush you hair for you in the ring and stroke your ego when you're on top. However as soon as you lose and that mystique goes out the window, reality sets in. Broner got a dose of reality last night as he may idolize Floyd Mayweather, Jr, but he's no Floyd Mayweather, Jr.

Maidana on the other hand, as great as he looked, wasn't a lock to earn a decision at the end. First off Maidana, whose only three losses were all questionable decisions, two in previous world title fights, is the poster boy for bad outcomes. Second, the fight was in San Antonio, Texas. The Texas boxing commission for years has been under serious and justified scrutiny for horrendous decisions; Native son Juan Diaz over Paulie Malignaggi on HBO comes to mind right away. Finally though, it was Maidana himself who almost threw it all away by getting a point taken in round 8.

After knocking Broner down a second time in the fight and having him in serious trouble again, 'El Chino' made a serious error in judgment. As Broner clinched to stop the onslaught, Maidana threw an obvious head butt to Broner's chin; right in front of the referee no less. Broner, who was hurt at the time and in desperate need of a break, fell to the ground in a poor acting performance and milked it for all it was worth.

You would have thought he was hit in the jaw with a hammer the way he reacted as it was an obvious delayed reaction. Regardless, he used it to get his legs back under him; but what he failed to realize is that it also afforded Maidana a much needed rest who was clearly slowing down in the middle rounds. Funny how things work in the end; karma is a bitch!

At the end, Maidana won a well earned unanimous decision en route to winning back the WBA world title he had lost previously to Devon Alexander. Only time will tell if Broner will grow from this experience; if he will humble and dedicate himself to being a professional fighter instead of a showman. The fact that Broner was humbled, along with Maidana coming out on the positive end of a decision for once, in Texas of all places, just shows that finally, sweet justice for many reasons.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Ingredients for an instant classic

We as fans of combat sports are luckier than ever in the generation we're currently living in. Just about every weekend it seems we are treated to some form of combat, whether it is mixed martial arts or boxing and many times both. On top of that, many of these fights, especially a/o late, have been offered to us for free on television. Just last night for example you had the World Series of Fighting showing four fights on NBC Sports network and HBO serving up three fights of a boxing card on their channel.

Yet, with all these fights going on, only a few turn out to be truly entertaining. Then, every so often, one stands out above the rest and is immediately considered an all-timer or one for the ages. That happened this past Friday night when Mark Hunt 'The Super Samoan' and Antonio 'Big Foot' Silva (Pictured above respectively) stepped in the cage in Australia and unleashed on one another. After five rounds of a furious back and forth main event, the fans in the arena and even the broadcast team of Jon Anik and Kenny Florian were deafening in their enthusiasm.

I myself was at home on the edge of my recliner glued to the action as I listened to Kenny Florian rave about how this was one of the greatest fights in UFC history. Considering all the fights that have taken place inside the octagon over 20 years, that is rarified air. It made begin to compare it to other great fights I've seen over the years, including this year, and I immediately began to ask myself, "What are the ingredients for an instant classic?"

I've often talked about how the word 'great' is tossed around way too loosely in its usage. However, sometimes it is quite just in its use and this fight was one of them; but why was that? Here's my recipe for a fight to end up being part of that exclusive club of all-time classics.


Matchmaking - The pairing of two fighters doesn't necessarily mean instant action, a lot goes into it; but at least the pairing of two opponents that are pretty much on a level playing field will at least offer the solace that one opponent won't necessarily run through the other. UFC matchmaker Joe Silva is universally regarded as one of the best in the business for this and many other reasons.

Style - There's a phrase in boxing that says, "Styles make fights." Nowhere is that more prevalent than in MMA where so many different styles come into play. It is important to know how two fighters will mesh with each other to not only provide action, but to bring the best out in one another. Unfortunately, things don't always work out and even the best made plans don't live up to the hype; example, Demian Maia vs. Jake Shields a couple of months ago. Two jiu-jitsu aces going at it, I for one was salivating at seeing the action on the ground. What happened is their skills neutralized each other so much, we ended up having a relative snooze fest.

Home field - When one of the fighters is literally fighting on his home turf, it makes for an interesting dynamic; especially when it is a foreign country involved. Hunt, who is from nearby New Zealand, is recognized as a living legend in Australia. Thus, the Aussies were going crazy with every punch he threw. Another reason this ingredient is important is because it can be an equalizer for an underdog going into a fight, which Hunt was on Friday.

Heart - It is hard to imagine that anyone who steps into a cage or a ring doesn't have any heart; that is not in question. However, it is safe to say that some fighters just have more heart than others. That shouldn't be so hard to understand, especially once you remember that with people in general, some just have bigger hearts than others emotionally. When you get two fighters who have huge hearts, the sky's the limit. Anyone who saw Hunt and Silva barely standing at the end, totally spent, with nothing left to give, yet trying, will not question their heart.

Will - Finally, all the above ingredients, including heart, are for naught if the will to lay it on the line and give it all you got isn't there. The determination to not be stopped regardless of the punishment and to push forward even when your body says no, but your mind says yes. That is a rare quality that is difficult to understand unless you've ever been pushed to the limits both physically and mentally. When that happens, it is something special to behold.

It is fair to say that Friday nights fight between Mark Hunt and Antonio Silva had all these ingredients. Thus, as you can imagine, the fight was an instant classic. Just like the best tasting cake or dish you've ever had, this fight compares favorably to Liddell/Silva, Couture/Nogueira, Shogun/Henderson, Chandler/Alvarez I and any others that are in that special club of excellence. In the words of Big Daddy Kane, "'Nuff respect due."

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