Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My life as a DJ and Record Collector (Part VI)

At the end of part V, DJ'ing was in full swing, both with Bobby Konders as 'Dynamic Deuce Disco' and then on the solo tip. 

One of the things I did not mention in the last chapter as I moved into the '80's was that I met my wife Millie in 1982 and got married in '86. I'm trying to keep the story related to the topic, but my wife is a huge part of that because since the day we met she's always been supportive; she's never once questioned me about my records or DJ'ing. Obviously, that is one more reason in her eventually becoming my wife, but many in this game will tell you that they aren't so lucky.

Through the '80's and '90's it was primarily private parties I was spinning. College parties at ESU and Lehigh University, dances I would promote to make some money, weddings etc; you name it I played it. During the '80's I was also involved in my share of DJ battles as the DJ craze took off here in the valley. (The photo above is from a battle in the summer of '86).

Then in 1996 an opportunity arose to spin at Casablanca Nightclub in Bethlehem. Many of my friends hung out there regularly and the owners weren't happy with the way the club was being handled at the time, so my friends talked them into giving me a shot. Since I knew the owners as well it was an easy agreement. This would be the beginning of a two-year residency every Friday night. However, it was a tragedy two weeks into that residency that would be the unfortunate reason it took off.

Labor Day weekend '96, my friend Fran Serrano was tragically murdered outside a nightclub in the valley just for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. At the time he had two very young children, so I held a benefit the following Friday at Casablanca with all the proceeds to go to Fran's kids and the turnout was immense. We raised $1,100 dollars and the word was now out that I would be there every Friday night.

For the next two years from '96-'98 Friday night at Casablanca grew to become the hottest spot in the Lehigh Valley; I would always end the night at 2AM with the song 'Does your man know about me' by Rahiem off the 'Juice' soundtrack. It got to a point that name acts such as Fat Joe, Big Pun, Mad Lion and Killarmy, to name a few, came through to perform and hangout. I also shared the booth one night with Philly's #1 DJ at the time, Power 99's DJ Ran. (Both of us pictured here in the booth at Casablanca).

Alas, as I always tell people, a nightclub's run is short lived and my residency ended after two years in the summer of '98 due to creative differences between management and myself. However, where one door closes another one always opens and as I continued to do parties around the valley, now with more of a name than before, another opportunity came along.

One day at a private function I was spinning at, I met the wife of former heavyweight champion Larry Holmes. I ended up giving her my business card and she eventually gave it to her husband who gave it to the manager of his bar/restaurant/nightclub 'Ringside' in Easton, PA. The following month in November 2000, I got a call to come down and audition. That would be the beginning of an eight year run spinning the Friday night Happy Hour, spinning exclusive parties at the club and private gigs for the champ at his home. (Photo below is in the booth at Larry Holmes Ringside)

In 2008 after a longer than usual tenure at one club my residency at Ringside was over. Nonetheless, I had my fair share of private gigs to spin at over the next few years, so I remained busy. However, I began to notice that the music just wasn't the same. Hip-Hop's golden era of the '90's had gone by, R&B's neo-soul lost its luster and House music became commercial. I know I sound like a biased old man, but it's true.

Couple that with being older, working full-time and maintaining a family I began to suffer from something I thought I would never experience; I began to burnout on music and DJ'ing. It got to a point I was spinning just to make a dollar; in other words it just became a job and as for my records, I stopped listening to them.

With the advent of DJ technology such as Serato, I no longer had to carry crates to a gig. I still had them all stored beautifully in my basement/man cave, but I wasn't pulling them off the shelf. As a matter of fact, it got to a point that I wouldn't even touch my turntables at home. I know it sounds crazy, but I had lost my passion for music.

In Part VII (The Final Chapter), old school parties rekindle my interest in DJ'ing, YouTube videos reinvigorate my passion for crate digging and the birth of the Soul Latineers.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

My life as a DJ and Record Collector (Part V)

At the end of part IV, the name Sam "ALL JAM" was given to me and I actually started playing records at some parties.

While in high school my last two years from '78-'80 a phenomenon took place that would impact me greatly. A new genre of music that would eventually come to be known as Hip-Hop was born. While 'Rapper's Delight' by The Sugarhill Gang is what brought it to light in 1979, it was The Fatback Band's 'King Tim III (Personality Jock)' (off this LP pictured below) released in '78 that is universally known as the first "rap" record.

This music spread like wildfire and before you knew it, rappers/m.c.'s were everywhere. Even I, along with Bobby Konders and two other friends Paulie 'Dr. Watts' Watson and Anibal 'Aniba G' Garcia had formed a short-lived rap crew called 'The Emcee Fearsome Foursome'. However, while I enjoyed spitting rhymes, my heart was behind the decks as a DJ. There was one problem though, I had no decks to speak of; not yet anyway.

Upon graduating high school I attended East Stroudsburg State College, now known as East Stroudsburg University. While there my music knowledge and DJ skills expanded. Meeting people from Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and beyond just increased my love for music. Upperclassmen Bruce Parsons 'The Master of Sound' and Brent Hawthorne 'The Night Cruiser' out of Philly served as mentors both musically and on the DJ side as they both inserted me as a freshman into their "Black Sunday" rotation on the college radio station WESS; this eventually would later become 'Chocolate Sunday'.

Meanwhile I, along with fellow freshmen Randall 'Rannie Ran' Lassiter from Paterson, NJ, Larry 'Larry G' Lingard from Brooklyn, NY and Michael 'P-Boy' Pittman from Philadelphia had formed our own little DJ crew called 'Sound on Sound'. The sounds came from my first DJ system that I put together piece by piece; first were the turntables.

I had saved up enough money from a summer job and on campus job to buy a pair of Technics D1's from 'Funk-O-Mart' in Philly. I talked the owner into throwing in the cartridges with the sale, so together they only cost me about $150 total. Then I bought an MP-80 Realistic Amp/Mixer from Radio Shack for less than $100; the mixer was built in, so that was two pieces for the price of one.

Then I came upon a used Realistic equalizer someone was selling in the paper for $20 and finally I came across a pair of used tower/column speakers, which a furniture store in Stroudsburg was selling for $100 and that was my first system. As for DJ skills, that was something else that came with the advent of Hip-Hop.

Grand Wizard Theodore of The Fantastic Romantic Five created a thing we now know as scratching and Grandmaster Flash of The Furious Five cultivated it. Both of these pioneering legends were featured on two iconic records that I bought way back then called 'Live Convention '81' and 'Live Convention '82'. (Note the black tape on the label, which was something DJ's would do back then, so people wouldn't know what you were playing when you first got it.)

Of course I started to practice my own scratching skills, but I readily admit that they were low level till I met my other brother from another mother during my sophomore year. While spinning a party on campus for incoming freshmen, this guy with Spalding sunglasses and British Walker shoes comes up and asks if he can look through my record crates. As he flips through the crates he quickly pulls out a new record I had just bought and asked if I could play it; that record was 'Showdown' by The Sugarhill Gang meets The Furious Five.

That brother's name was DJ Mitch originally of 'The System 4' crew from Hempstead, NY; he is currently DJ Mitch 'The People Pleeezer' on WBLS in NYC. We quickly became friends and eventually roommates. It was Mitch's scratching that made me realize I needed to step up my game, which I eventually did.

It was these skills developed while I was away at school that put me ahead of the curve when I came back home to Bethlehem. Truth is, at that time in the early '80's, there was no one around my way that could cut and scratch on that level; I'm not tooting my own horn, it's a fact. That came from hanging and learning from brothers like DJ Mitch, Larry G etc.

So with these skills intact and Bobby Konders also spinning back home we decided to form our own crew. Thus, in 1982 'Dynamic Deuce Disco' was born and that summer we broke out in a big way. From that point forward, Bobby and I (pictured above) rocked many parties and dances all over the Lehigh Valley and beyond.

On top of that, we were always on the cutting edge musically. Club music, Freestyle, House and of course Hip-Hop; in the early to mid '80's we were on top of it. Then Bobby went away to school in upstate NY, which meant I would continue out on my own, which I did through the rest of the '80's and eventually '90's. The '90's however would bring the next level of spinning for me, nightclubs.

In Part VI, The Casablanca Years, Larry Holmes Ringside and I begin to take my records for granted.

Monday, December 29, 2014

My life as a DJ and Record Collector (Part IV)

At the end of Part III, I've gotten my first stereo system, put it side by side with my close and play turntable and am mimicking being a radio DJ.

Life in Bethlehem started to become more acceptable once I went to school and started making friends. One of the first guys I met who had a similar interest as far as music and collecting records was Heriberto Cruz now known as DJ Eddie C. I remember on Saturday afternoons we would get together at each other's homes to listen to each others records and just jam.

Another group of guys I met by hanging out at the Boys Club were Wilby Almodovar and Francisco Lugo AKA DJ Will and DJ Cisco of a crew they had with their cousin Danny Lugo, the technician, known as the Loug Machine. I was 14 at the time and they were like 15 and 16, but they knew I had records, so whenever they would play house parties in the area, I would come along as part of the crew. It was at this point that I was first introduced to actual mixing/blending of records and also DJ systems.

After that first year in Bethlehem, I was going into my sophomore year at Liberty High School and musically I noticed I was surrounded by another genre I was not familiar with, rock. Just as in Brooklyn I was a product of the environment, well all of sudden the environment I was in was listening to things such as Boston, Peter Frampton and Kansas. At the time, being young and close minded, I had no interest, but later on I would end up buying all these records and then some including the classic 'Frampton comes Alive'.

Meanwhile, I was still ordering and buying my records from Phillips Music Store, but as I met more people with the same interest I kept hearing about these other stores in Allentown, the city next to Bethlehem. There were two stores in particular people would talk about, Speedy's on Hamilton Street and Toones on Tilghman. Another transplanted New Yorker Dennis Douvanis opened Toones (original business card pictured above) around the same time I came to Pennsylvania. Dennis would later become the DJ at Casey's nightclub.

Finally circa '78 after learning bus routes in the Lehigh Valley, I made my way to these stores and realized ordering records was no longer a necessity. These stores, especially Toones, were stocked with what I was listening to and I was able to buy records that weren't necessarily commercial such as Quazar's self-titled LP along with The Winners self-titled LP, which featured the classic 'Get ready for the Future'.

It was around 1978 or '79 that I also met my brother from another mother. My other passion at this time in my life, which I have not mentioned to this point, was basketball. Growing up a Knicks fan in Brooklyn, I loved watching it and also loved playing it. So having access to a Boys Club in Bethlehem, I was there just about every day dribbling and shooting a basketball.

At the time I was dating a girl named Angie Diaz. She and her sister Martina went to Freedom High School, which was across town. Martina started dating this guy they kept telling me I needed to meet. A white kid named Bobby Lee Konders who, like me, played basketball, loved music and collected records. Apparently at the same time they were telling Bobby about me as well. So, it was as though we had already known each other when we first met at a house party in South Terrace, Bethlehem.

From that point forward the friendship grew. Sleeping at each other's homes, playing basketball every opportunity we got and most importantly buying and listening to records. It was Bobby at the time who introduced me to another genre of music I was naive to, reggae. I remember he would borrow his father's car and we would cruise around on a Friday night listening to 8-tracks of reggae love songs Bobby had recorded. Of course today he is world renowned as a reggae DJ/Producer, with his own radio show on Hot 97 in NYC and his record label Massive B; yet we remain friends and brothers to this day.

Bobby actually started DJ'ing parties at school and around town as he had saved up to buy his first DJ system; meanwhile, that wasn't in my budget yet. However, one thing I was doing that was cutting edge at the time was recording cassette tapes. Even before the advent of boom boxes I had a portable cassette player that I would carry around school with me. So between the records I already had, recording music from the radio on WDAS and even Soul Train from the TV, I had the music.

In between classes on the patio at Liberty I would play my little cassette player and I noticed people would always gather around to hear the sounds. Kids around school started calling me "Sam the man the with the jams." I also began to notice that whenever I went to house parties or dances, regardless of who was DJ'ing, I was always invited to bring my records and play.

Word started to get around about me as having the music. However, there were two things missing; first was a DJ name. While I was content with the moniker the kids at school had given me, it was Bobby Konders who told me it was too long. He then said, "Why don't you just shorten it to Sam "ALL JAM" and that will mean the same thing;" and that is how the origin of my nickname was born. Next thing I needed was a DJ system.

In Part V, Hip-Hop is born, I get my first DJ system while in college and rock the '80's.  

Sunday, December 28, 2014

My life as a DJ and Record Collector (Part III)

At the end of part II, I had started building up my album collection along with my 45's and had just gotten my first ever "turntable" at the end of '75. 

At 13 in 1976, things were going great. Besides the aforementioned above, I was a teenager who had just graduated from Junior High School (8th grade) and was looking forward to high school in September. Before that though, my friend Eggie (Edgar) and I would take a summer job as volunteers for T.O.R.C.H Catholic Charities at Christ the King High School in Queens working with mentally handicapped children.

Life was good! I had my music as ironically the radio airwaves were booming with the song 'Heaven must be missing an Angel' by Tavares (pictured above) at the same time I was discovering girls; and luckily for me, I was meeting many at my summer job. In July, I was also staying with my aunt and uncle in Manhattan for a couple of weeks while my mom, as I understood it, was in Pennsylvania tending to my other uncle who was ill.

Alas, my mom came back home the first Wednesday in August, I remember it like it was yesterday. So this time at the end of my workday at Christ the King High School, instead of taking the train back to Manhattan, I went home to Brooklyn. When I walked in the door, excited to see my mom, I noticed boxes everywhere. I asked my mom what was going on and she told me we were moving; thinking we were going to another borough like Queens, I got excited. However, that excitement quickly ended when she said we were moving to Bethlehem, PA.

I thought she was in Pennsylvania taking care of my uncle, but she was actually there so my uncle could help her find a job and place to live. My mom was doing the best for her children, but in my eyes it was the worst. What made it even worse was she told me we were moving Saturday; in other words three days later. I was crushed, devastated and heartbroken all at once. Everything I knew, all my friends, the girls I had just met and the school that I was going to in a month were all going to be gone in an instant.

However, once my mom carefully explained where we were going and why, I understood and actually looked forward to it. So I moved to Pennsylvania in August '76 and culture shock set in; like Dorothy told Toto, "I don't think we're in Kansas anymore," I felt the same way. We moved to South Bethlehem and one of the first things I found out was there were no record stores. What? My life was ruined!

That was until I discovered a little place a couple of blocks from where I lived on Third Street called 'Phillips Music Store'. It wasn't a record store, but rather a store that sold instruments and stereos. However, they did have a small section in the back where records were sold.

To say I quickly became a regular there on Saturday afternoons was an understatement. The really nice thing was, while their stock wasn't big, if I had a specific record I wanted they would order it for me. So, while they normally wouldn't stock these because of supply and demand, I was ordering and buying LP's like 'Joyous' by Pleasure and 'Look out for #1' by The Brothers Johnson.

That little store and my music helped me in the transition from Brooklyn to Bethlehem and while I no longer had WBLS in NYC, I now had WDAS in Philadelphia; it was similar, but different. In New York urban radio was playing music from artists like Crown Heights Affair and Salsoul Orchestra; while in Philly I was hearing groups like Sun, Pleasure and Parliament for the first time. In other words, I went from a club and disco sound to a more funk and soul sound. Little did I know then how much this diversity would shape me later on?

One more place South Bethlehem offered me to hang out at was the public library. I walked in there one day and discovered they had records you could sit down and listen to on headphones. It was during those library listening sessions that I discovered albums such as 'Save the Children' by The Intruders, 'Live on Tour in Europe' by the Billy Cobham/George Duke Band and 'Light of Worlds' by Kool & The Gang. That record would have a profound effect on me, as I was able to borrow it and record it, as you will soon find out, and side one would literally put me to sleep every night.

It was my birthday again in December '76 and while a year earlier my mom had bought me a close and play Emerson phonograph, this time she bought me my very first stereo system. It was a compact stereo, which had a receiver, turntable, 8-track and cassette all built into it; I was in heaven. Not just because I had my very first stereo, but the cassette deck allowed me the opportunity to record stuff.

Listening to WDAS every day, radio DJ's like Jerry Wells, 'Butterball' Tamburro, Doug Henderson and Tony Brown became household names to me. I quickly put my close and play turntable next to my stereo and began to mimic what radio DJ's were doing. Not just playing one song after another, but I would actually record commercials from the radio onto a cassette and would act like I had my own radio show equipped with music and even commercial breaks. I was trying to be a DJ and didn't even know it.

In Part IV I go from record collector to record selector/DJ, meet Bobby Konders and get my very first sound system.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

My life as a DJ and Record Collector (Part II)

At the end of part I, I had just returned home to Brooklyn at the end of summer vacation in Lorain, OH in 1975 with a shoe box of about 15-20 45RPM records. The story continues...

With the foundation laid for my record collecting with 7" singles, it was on me to expand on that. Saving whatever pennies to a dollar I came across, I would go to the nearest record store on Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn every Saturday and buy more 45's. It would range anywhere from one to two or three records dependent on how much money I could scrounge up throughout the week.

This wasn't the suburbs where a kid my age had a newspaper route, so coming across even a dollar wasn't easy. However, as I explained at the end of part one, I hustled and saved every which way I could even if that meant skipping lunch at school. The result was that my first make shift crate, the shoe box, was getting filled with records that I still have to this day such as 'Why can't we be friends' by War and 'Fallin' in Love' by Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds.

There was one more 45 added during that time period, which would have a lasting impact on me. That is because the song 'Dreaming a Dream' by Brooklyn's own Crown Heights Affair would end up becoming to date, my favorite song of all-time. Here is the original 45 bought back in '75 and to this day, the hair on my arms raise up and a smile comes across my face whenever I play it.

Life was good; I was happy with my little record collection, but it was incomplete. That is because my mindset was I still wanted a stack of albums on a bookshelf like my older cousins. Being 12 going on 13 I was hitting puberty, so to me at the time that was the difference between being a kid and graduating to being accepted by adults.

However, at the time there was a big difference between paying less than a dollar for a 45 and paying above three dollars for a full album. The only ways to make that happen was to sacrifice buying 45's and take the plunge into buying one "Big Boy" record. The question was what record would that be? For me the answer was easy.

In 1975 there was one song that was reigning supreme on the radio, whether it was a pop or urban station; that song was 'Fly Robin Fly' by The Silver Convention. Thus, when it came time to make that move onto my first album, the result was 'Save Me' by The Silver Convention (pictured above). To say I played this album to death would be an understatement.

Besides the hit single, other songs like 'Heart of Stone', 'Son of a Gun' and the title track still resonate with me today. I finally did it, my first album; but as you hear drug addicts say all the time, it was like going from marijuana to cocaine. It was more addicting and more expensive.

However, I didn't stop. If I couldn't save up enough money to buy an album every Saturday, then I would save for two weeks and then buy one. I remember it like it was yesterday, my second album was 'Gratitude' by Earth, Wind & Fire and my third album was 'Showcase' by The Sylvers. Whenever my older cousins would come by to visit, I was proud to show off my little record collection. I finally felt like I was one of them and on my way.

One day while at home looking through the TV Guide, for those not old enough to understand it was a magazine with TV listings for the week, I saw something that was unbelievable. It was an ad from Columbia House Record Club where you could get 12 record albums for the price of one cent. My eyes lit up when I saw this. Talk about giving my record collection a serious boost; of course I jumped all over it. Little did I know I was supposed to buy six more records over the next three years at their outlandish club prices?

Suffice it to say I never satisfied that contractual agreement. Not that I was being criminal minded, but what 13 year old was going to be responsible enough to read the agreement, let alone stick with it. Ultimately, they forgot about me, probably finally realizing they were dealing with a kid. Besides, my concerns were bigger than that. All this time I was playing my records on my mom's old console stereo in the living room.

In December 1975 I turned 13 and was becoming a teenager, which meant I needed my own system. However, coming from humble beginnings that wasn't easy, let alone feasible. Yet, my mom did what she could and on my 13th birthday she bought me my very first turntable, which was a portable close and play style Emerson phonograph. I could not believe it when I found a picture of it on-line.

Headed into 1976 I was set. I had my own little stash of records with both 45's and albums, plus I had my own turntable I could keep in my room. As Nino Brown said in 'New Jack City', "The world was mine," as I had all I needed in life at the time. However, my world was about to change forever.

In Part III, I go from Brooklyn to Bethlehem, from turntable to stereo and from record collector to DJ. Thanks for reading

Friday, December 26, 2014

My life as a DJ and Record Collector (Part I)

I've decided to write my story, not only to share with you, but also to see how many other DJ's and record collectors out there share a similar path. It was inspired by a conversation I recently had with my wife after I had bought a couple of records while out shopping with her and then I heard a song on the car radio I began listening to. She asked, "How did this all start for you?"

Born in Brooklyn, NY in the early '60's and raised there on through the-mid '70's my mom kept a tight leash on me. Obviously, she didn't want me to succumb to the dangers of the streets.  Thus, spending a lot of time at home there were three types of entertainment, books, TV and most importantly the radio. As a young kid I had a small transistor radio I kept in my room that I would sit and listen to for hours at a time. At first as a youngster it was early '70's AM Pop music, but then around 1973 I remember discovering the FM radio band.

That influence came from hanging around with my older cousin June (Leo) who would come and pick me up to take me out on the weekends. When you're 10 and your cousin and his friends are 17, you think they are the coolest guys in the world; thus, you want to be just like them. So, without realizing it, I went from listening to Casey Kasem's Top 40 to Gerry Bledsoe on WWRL and the Chief Rocker Frankie Crocker on WBLS.

Although I listened to and enjoyed all types of music, Soul and Latin music were heavy influences from my cousin, my mom and most importantly the neighborhood; quite simply, I was a product of the environment. Thus, I listened to everything they played on the radio, plus my mom playing Fania Salsa records at home and my cousin playing songs like 'Expressway to your Heart' by The Soul Survivors and 'The Love you Save' by The Jackson Five. To me music was cool! I loved listening to it and then I discovered another cool thing about it, records.

Not only did my cousin June have a record collection, but his older sister Liz at the time was married to a guy named Eddie who also had a nice record collection; only his collection was a bit more eclectic. Whenever my cousins Liz and Eddie would invite me to stay over their apartment circa '74, I would look through Eddie's records in the living room. They were stacked on a bookshelf and being in love with music I was mesmerized; I thought they were the coolest things in the world.

I remember I would go to the living room and would sit there for hours breezing through albums, as Eddie would play the latest records he bought. Some pieces that I vividly remember pulling out were Buddy Miles 'We Got to Live Together' circa '70, Barrabas self-titled LP circa '72 and Willie Colon's 'Lo Mato' circa '73. This was cutting edge music at the time and stuff I was not hearing on the radio.

Obviously I wanted to be like my cousins and have my own record collection, but at 10/11 years old, who has money for records; especially growing up poor with a single mom who was struggling to keep a roof over me and my sisters heads. Alas, the radio was my salvation and would be it until the summer of '75. It was then that I went to visit my Father for summer vacation; he lived in Lorain, Ohio. More importantly though I got to hang out with my cousins on my Father's side.

My aunt, (my Father's older sister) also lived in Lorain with her husband and 13, yes I said 13 children. Obviously there were some close to my age at the time; I was 12 going on 13, so I spent most of my time with my cousins Ricky who was 14, Eric who was my age and Gary who was a couple of years younger. Primarily though it was Ricky who I spent most of my time with.

During this time in Lorain, there was a candy store; not too far from my father's house that had a pinball machine in it. This was before "video arcades," so suffice it to say we spent a lot of time in there playing pinball. The unique thing about this store though was that if you hit a high score on the pinball machine, the store owner would give you a prize. Surprisingly, the prize was not candy, but rather it would be a 45RPM or 7" record.

The first 45RPM record I won was 'Fame' by David Bowie (pictured above). Getting this, my very first record, was not only a big deal for me, but it was addicting. From that point forward, a lot of coins were spent playing pinball and winning records. At the end of the summer I came back to Brooklyn with a shoe box filled with about 15-20 records in it. Little did I know at the time that one of them would be this very rare hard to find soul gem 'Love Foundation' by Electrified Action. Of course there would be no free records being given away for pinball anymore, which meant I needed money to feed my habit.

Not much I could do about it since I was 12 going on 13, but save whatever pennies I got. That meant skipping lunch and saving my lunch money, washing cars for my uncle and his adult friends in the neighborhood on the weekends and taking anything else any adult would give me from a quarter to a dollar and putting it in my piggy bank till the weekend.

Tomorrow Part II will cover the progression from my first album to my first "turntable" to my first stereo and more. 

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Is MMA moving forward or going backward?

I know I'm probably going to get some backlash from hardcore MMA fans on this one, but before you start spewing back venom you should at least know this; I've been following this sport since UFC 1 and no one is more pro MMA than myself. Thus, I think I am in a fair position to question whether MMA is moving forward or going backward?

What I mean is that, in the nearly last 10 years MMA has arguably been the fastest growing sport in the world. It is on network and cable television here in the states and not a weekend goes by anymore where some MMA action isn't going on. However, all the smart moves the sport and primarily the UFC has made in the last few years is giving way to questionable dumb moves lately. Why the sudden lapse in judgement, what else, money? Money is always the underlying factor of what is good and then ultimately bad.

Above you see a photo featuring MMA fighters Tito Ortiz and Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson. Both are former UFC light-heavyweight champions and it's fair to say both are legendary figures in the sport; Ortiz is already a UFC Hall of Famer. A UFC Hall of Famer who currently fights for Bellator MMA that is; so let's start there.

Ortiz, now 39 years old, is a combined (3-7-1) in his last 11 fights; but riding a two fight winning streak since coming to Bellator. Let's examine that a bit closer though; Ortiz who fights at 205 lbs. and is a massive light-heavyweight, choked out Alexander Shlemenko, Bellator's former middleweight (185 lbs.) champion who is arguably a blown up welterweight. Then last month he won a split decision over former UFC veteran Stephen Bonner; he who had been retired for two years.

To make this fight even more of a joke, the promotion behind it was something straight out of pro wrestling with former Ortiz teammate Justin McCully siding with Bonnar over a beef McCully has with Ortiz. McCully even wore a mask into the cage when Bonnar made the call out on cable television; are you serious? New Bellator CEO Scott Coker claims he had no idea this was going down, which makes him sound even more Vince McMahonish, he the owner of World Wrestling Entertainment.

So to recap, Bellator ousts former CEO Bjorn Rebney, does away with it's tournament style format, which was its niche in this sport and decides to make Tito Ortiz the face of its organization. Those don't sound like smart moves to me. Oh and anyone who wants to argue that Ortiz is not the face of Bellator, let me just point out that Bellator made Ortiz/Bonnar the headliner over a great lightweight championship fight between young rising stars Will Brooks and Michael Chandler; 'nuff said!

As for the UFC and its "major" announcement this past weekend that they had resigned Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson. The same Jackson who refuses to evolve his MMA game and they supposedly let go because he was washed up after losing three fights in a row. Sure he went to Bellator and won three fights against Joey Beltran, Christian M'Pumbu and Muhammad 'King Mo' Lawal, all of which have a combined record of 47-22, and because of that we're supposed to believe what; he's "better than ever?"

Sure 'Rampage' is a name, but the truth is he's a 36 year old who is one dimensional and poses no threat to any of the top tier fighters in the UFC light-heavyweight division. He talks a good game, but doesn't have one; which brings me to another point. I'm tired of the UFC continuing to promote anyone who can pick up a microphone and talk sh** into it. Is this a fight promotion or a debate team?

In the last few years the talk has been that boxing is a dying sport and MMA has supplanted it as the major player in combat sports. However, in my opinion, as long as the UFC, Bellator and MMA in general continue to make moves such as these and expecting intelligent fans to take them seriously, they will kill off whatever strides and momentum it has built as a rising sport. Sure boxing has soon to be 50 year old Bernard Hopkins, but he never stopped competing and has continuously took on and defeated top tier younger talent.

Monday, December 8, 2014

What is a Wheaties box really worth?

This past week the sport of mixed martial arts took another major step in recognition and acceptance when UFC lightweight (155 lbs.) champion Anthony 'Showtime' Pettis was the latest athlete featured on the cover of a Wheaties box. Some may look at this and say, what is the big deal; it's just a box of cereal? However, it isn't just a box of cereal, it's Wheaties; so the question should be, what is a Wheaties box really worth?

Before getting into the significance of Pettis being showcased on Wheaties, we need to know the history of Wheaties boxes and its cultural importance. Since 1934 athletes have been on a box of Wheaties. At first it was just on the side or the back of the box, but then in 1958 athletes were put on the front of the box. That is 80 years of history and when you look at some of the names that have appeared, you get a better understanding.

Lou Gehrig, Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali, Mary Lou Retton, Larry Bird etc. and the list of superstar athletes goes on, though only a select few have attained such status. As a matter of fact, when you consider Wheaties features athletes from sports across the board and not just one sport, the status of being selected becomes that much greater. Think about it, 80 years of athletes in all sports and only a chosen few have been bestowed such an honor.

Anthony Pettis being placed on Wheaties has major significance both on an athletic and cultural level. Athletically, he becomes the first ever-mixed martial arts fighter to grace the box. This is somewhat parallel to when former UFC lightweight contender Roger Huerta was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in May 2007. Ironically, the cover was for a story on the "rise" of mixed martial arts; that was seven years ago.

At the time, the sport and its hardcore fan base thought they had finally arrived, so you can imagine what we feel like today. Sports Illustrated, major network television and now Wheaties; I guess it's safe to say MMA has been accepted into the American mainstream.

Culturally Pettis being on Wheaties is also important. Being of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent, Pettis becomes only the second Puerto Rican next to Robert Clemente to be featured; and reviewing the entire list of athletes who have been on Wheaties, he may actually be the first ever Mexican. I can tell you as a proud Puerto Rican American, this means a lot to the Hispanic community. In my "man cave" there are only two Wheaties boxes on display, Roberto Clemente's and now Anthony Pettis's.

Both Wheaties and the UFC must think lots about Anthony Pettis because they chose to unveil this box last Thursday, two days before his first title defense against Gilbert Melendez. To me that was a major risk as Melendez was viewed by many as a serious threat to challenge Pettis, who also was coming off a longer than usual layoff due to injury. Had he lost, that could have been quite an embarrassing and major blow for both the UFC and Wheaties.

Problem avoided as Pettis won and in dominant fashion with a second round submission over a guy in Melendez who had never been finished in a long and illustrious career. That win along with this honor will probably propel Pettis into mega-star status. He's young, he's good looking, he's well spoken etc. and as a thriving business man in his native Milwaukee, appears to have his life outside the cage in order. He's appeared on Fox TV multiple times as an analyst and is now featured on Wheaties. Only in America!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The cold harsh reality of boxing

"Do you want to be a fighter?" This now famous phrase attributed to UFC President Dana White is the perfect way to begin this piece. That is because whether it is MMA, or in this case boxing, the truth is, as in any professional sport, only a chosen few ever reach the mountaintop.

In the case of former welterweight contender Ronald Cruz (pictured above), that's what makes this even more difficult. That is because while he never achieved his ultimate dream of becoming a world champion, at one point in his career he was getting close; once being ranked just inside the top 10. He could see the light at the end of the tunnel, but in the cold harsh reality of boxing, now Ronald is lucky he can just see.

11 days removed from his most recent and last fight, an eighth round TKO loss to highly touted and undefeated Dmitry Mikhaylenko, Cruz has been forced into retirement due to a second detached retina injury to his right eye. Yes, I said second detached retina; many people don't realize this, but Cruz had this injury once before. I was privy to this information when it happened back in 2012, but Ronald asked me then not to disclose it to the public.

However, now that his career is over and with his permission, I am disclosing it; this is why he had a nine-month layoff between late 2012 and 2013. This is also the only regret he has in his career. When I asked if he has any regrets about how his career went, he stated, "If I could go back, I would not have taken the Antwone Smith fight." At the time, Cruz was (17-0); he had just won the WBC Continental Americas title and was climbing the rankings.

The day before their fight, Smith weighed in four pounds above the welterweight limit; Cruz meanwhile came in on weight. He could have easily and justifiably not fought. However, not wanting to disappoint anyone, including the hometown crowd who came to support him, he stepped in the ring anyway. The result was a split decision loss. I was at that fight live and Cruz got off to a slow start, clearly depleted from making weight. Meanwhile Smith started out strong; no surprise considering one fighter sacrificed to make weight, while another didn't.

Then again, I've been accused by some of homering for Cruz and making excuses in his losses. Obviously, I don't agree; I just told it like it is. Analyze his five losses properly with facts and this is what you get; he fought a former two-time world champion, two former Olympians, an undefeated top prospect and a fighter outside his weight class. Of the five, one was a split decision, one was a disputed decision, one he was coming off an injury and long layoff and one was stopped due to an injury. The only fight where he was clearly outclassed was in June of this year against 2012 U.S. Olympian Errol Spence. It was that fight, which forced him to face reality.

"My manager and promoter had talked to me and my former trainer about possibly getting some help from a world class trainer. I thought about it, but my loyalty to my trainer 'Indio' Rodriguez made it difficult," Cruz stated. However, after the Spence fight he knew he was outclassed and needed to make a change if he was to compete at that level. He chose Philadelphia trainer Billy Briscoe and although he had hoped he could keep Rodriguez in the mix somehow, deep down he knew it wouldn't work.

Only three months of working with Briscoe he jumped back in the ring against Mikhaylenko; it is important to note that Mikhalyenko wasn't his originally scheduled opponent. In watching the fight unfold, you could see subtle changes in his game. According to Cruz, "The plan was to back him up;" and during the first four rounds he more than held his own. As a matter of fact it was in that fourth round that Cruz may have had his best ever round as a pro, actually hurting the Russian prospect more than once.

That's why so many others and I were perplexed that in the following round he didn't continue. Truth is, it was in the fifth round that he sustained the eye injury. "It happened in the first minute of the fifth round; I remember the punch that did it. I couldn't see, but I just assumed my eye was swollen. However, I just kept fighting and never told my corner."

The result, were multiple left hooks to that eye over the course of four rounds, which prompted his trainer Briscoe to stop the fight. Cruz pleaded with him on national TV, "Please let me fight one more round," but his trainer refused telling him, "We'll get back in the gym and get ready for 2015."

However, it was not meant to be as two days later he was in the hospital receiving the cruel reality that his career was over. When asked what's next, he told me, "I want to stay in the game in some capacity. Billy Briscoe has offered to let me be his apprentice and learn how to be a cut man and trainer." "Also, my manager Jimmy Deoria has told me he wants to help me succeed in any way he can. Jimmy's friendship has been unwavering throughout my career. I want to use my knowledge in boxing to be able to help kids in the future."

Looking back on Cruz's career, I thanked him for reviving boxing in Bethlehem. This steel town has a rich boxing tradition, peeking in the '80's with top contenders Bobby Johnson and Angel Cruz, but it died after that; Ronald Cruz brought it back. It is because of Ronald Cruz that the Sands Event Center in Bethlehem is now home to world class boxing cards. As I told him, "You fought on national television numerous times, fought in the fight capitol of the world Las Vegas and fought in Atlantic City many times. You fought a former world champion, giving him all he could handle; you fought Olympians, won a WBC title and ended your career (20-5)."

You combine that with his amateur record (25-3) and he has a combined record of (45-8); that is nothing to sneeze at. Many talk about it, but Ronald Cruz actually did it. Although he is still depressed about how it has ended, he can now begin to look back fondly on his career.  As he states, "It may have not been the best, but it was a great experience. I got to meet a lot of great people."

Friday, November 7, 2014

Will the old man punch out Father Time one more time?

Saturday night when WBA Super World, IBF and IBA light heavyweight champion Bernard ‘The Alien’ (formerly the Exterminator) Hopkins steps between the ropes against WBO champion Sergey ‘Krusher’ Kovalev, he’ll do so just two months shy of his 50th birthday. On top of that he’ll be doing it against a fighter in Kovalev who is in his fighting prime at just 31 and arguably his most dangerous opponent ever. Think about that statement for a second, most dangerous opponent ever.

That is quite a statement considering the resume the future Hall of Famer Hopkins (55-6, 32 KO’s) has already assembled. However, when you look at Kovalev’s record (25-0, 23 KO’s) you can understand why; this crushin’ Russian has not had a fight go to a decision in nearly four years. On paper, taking into consideration Kovalev’s knockout ratio and Hopkins age, this looks like more than a mismatch; but how many times have we said this about Hopkins in the last few years?

21 years ago in '93 when he fought the great Roy Jones, Jr. for the middleweight championship, he was supposed to be no match. Sure he lost the decision, but it was hardly a whitewash. Then after dominating the division as a champion for five years from ’96 – ’01, he was finally going to get stopped by Felix Trinidad in New York City in the aftermath of 9/11. In the end it was Trinidad who was stopped and lost for the first time in his career.

He knocked out the Golden Boy Oscar De La Hoya with a liver shot and although he lost two close decisions to Jermain Taylor, he bounced back as a light heavyweight at 41 and won the IBO title against the Roy Jones destroyer Antonio Tarver. At 42 he defeated ‘Winky’ Wright and then at 43 he faced a young killer, similar to the one he faces tomorrow, in Kelly Pavlik. At the time Pavlik, like Kovalev, was undefeated and a serious power puncher. Hopkins was finally going to be sent into retirement.

In the end, it was Hopkins who gave Pavlik a boxing lesson and won easily. So what’s so different now? For one is Kovalev’s power is eerily similar to Ivan Drago’s character in ‘Rocky IV’, in that “whatever he hits, he destroys.” I have been lucky enough to witness this power up close as I saw Kovalev fight live three times in my hometown from June 2012 - June 2013. In those three fights he fought a total of less than eight rounds as he ran right through the competition.

Yet, it’s that competition that may be his one downfall in this fight. He has fought no one near the level of Hopkins, while Hopkins has fought a virtual who’s who list of champions and Hall of Fame fighters. Obviously, Hopkins is planning to draw on that experience to offset Kovalev’s freakish power and normally I would say that is enough; but there is always that lingering question. At what point does an athlete get old?

To this point Hopkins has been able to elude the effects of or any signs of old age, but it happens to all the greatest of athletes; at some point they suddenly look their age. As an already nearly two year member of the AARP 50+ club, I am sentimentally pulling for Hopkins to win; but for him to defeat Kovalev, he will have to punch out Father Time one more time.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Trick or Treat? MMA eye candy for Halloween

It’s been eight weeks now since the premiere of ‘the Ultimate Fighter’ season 20, which features an all-female cast of fighters. Six of the first eight rounds of fights have taken place and currently 10 fighters remain alive in the tournament to crown the first ever UFC Strawweight (115lbs.) women’s champion. So on this Halloween Friday the question is, has it been trick or treat for us as fans so far with this fighting MMA eye candy we have been witnessing? 
Personally I have to say that it’s been a surprising treat so far. As a hardcore who has been watching ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ AKA TUF since season one, I think I speak for others when I say the show was getting stale. They have tried to spice things up a bit by trying different things, but to date none of them had worked. Even their attempts at going live with the fights at the end did not spark much interest and the failed experiment of 12 weeks in the house versus six just made things worse, not better. 
Of course we had a precursor of having women on the show, when they brought in Ronda Rousey and Meisha Tate as coaches before their epic second fight, along with having bantamweight (135 lbs.) women fighters share the stage with men. At first I figured it would have been better to have saved Rousey and Tate as coaches for this all-female cast; however I now see that using them as an experiment was actually a good move. Besides I think the all-female cast of fighters seem to have taken to having male coaches.  
As far as the show itself thus far, there are certain people and incidents that definitely have stood out. Carla Esparza, Randa Markos and Jessica Penne have definitely showed their abilities as fighters, while Felice Herrig has stood out for that and then some with her good looks and care free attitude. 
One thing that has taken me aback is the flack that Tecia Torres has received for getting back into the tournament after her first round loss in the first week. I definitely don’t want to sound chauvinistic as I write this, but I can’t help but wonder if men would have reacted in this manner. Now before female readers go blasting me, please note that this is not the first time a fighter who has previously lost in the tournament has been given a second chance. 
Yet, in this instance Torres, who had no say in the matter other than to accept an offer given to her directly from Dana White, UFC President himself, has all but been shunned by the cast; more specifically her team. That said, her team is now actually Team Anthony Pettis when she was formerly with Team Gilbert Melendez; however, she had no say in that matter either, that was once again Dana’s choice. 
When it comes to this type of scenario and cliquish attitude, I am always reminded of former TUF alum George Sotiropoulos when he was in the house. He was chastised by his teammates for not awakening them up one morning when it was time to go train. His response quite simply was, “I’m not here to baby-sit anyone and this is not a team sport.” 
He was absolutely right on both counts, especially the team aspect. When all is said and done, only one woman will become champion in this thing. Besides, with Team Pettis fighters currently sweeping Team Melendez through six fights, it’s inevitable that supposed “teammates” are going to fight each other anyway; so enough with the so called loyalty among teammates. 
On a positive note, the fights have been good, the cast themselves have been interesting in one way or another and I think the UFC will have a great commodity in bringing this division and these women into the UFC for years to come. The only question now is, whether the dominance of Team Pettis is any indication of the fight to come between lightweight (155 lbs.) champion Anthony Pettis and number one contender Gilbert Melendez? Unfortunately, we’ll have to wait to see if that fight ends up being a trick or treat?

Monday, October 20, 2014

A touch of class for boxing

Saturday night on a two-fight card televised by HBO, the sport of boxing for all its bravado, machismo and at times unnecessary trash talking, demonstrated a touch of class in every sense of the word. Not, one, two or even three fighters displayed such class and charisma, but actually four featured fighters, three active participants and one interviewee, shed a positive light on a sport that could use one.

The first and probably most prevalent example was shown by featherweight champions Nonito Donaire and Nicholas Walters who fought for the WBA Super World featherweight title. This was an exciting fight, which resulted with the undefeated Walters (25-0, 21 KO’s) knocking out the former multi-division champion Donaire (33-3, 21 KO's). After a rock’em, sock’em back and forth five plus rounds, it was Walters who dropped Donaire in the sixth with a right hand that ultimately forced the referee to call a stop to it.

There was no argument from 'The Filipino Flash’ Donaire, but what came next was even better. First Max Kellerman interviewed new star in the making Walters, whom was not only gracious in victory, but praised Donaire for being a great fighter and champion and thanked him for the opportunity. Then Donaire, when asked by Kellerman what happened, gallantly stood there and openly said, “He kicked my ass.”

Donaire made no excuses, even when Kellerman offered a couple such as age or moving up in weight; as a matter of fact he responded by saying, "I trained extra hard for this fight." He too praised Walters for his skill and effort and afterwards, the two hugged (pictured above) and were overheard heaping praise upon one another. What stood out the most was Walters emphatically telling Donaire that he needs to quell any talk about retirement.

If that positive display was not enough, in between fights, HBO’s Jim Lampley interviewed current WBO World welterweight champion Chris Algieri (20-0, 8 KO’s). Algieri, fresh off his upset victory over former champion Ruslan Provodnikov, is the next opponent for the ever-popular Manny Pacquiao. As Lampley asked the questions, Algieri responded eloquently.

Educated, well spoken and well mannered, he did not bite when Lampley tried to goat him into trash talking Pacquaio. Instead Algieri told Lampley, he genuinely likes Manny Pacquaio. He stated, “This is a sport; a competition. I don’t need to hate my opponent to go out and do my job."

Considering all the sudden notoriety that Algieri has received in the last few months, it’s refreshing to see fame has not polluted him; and after meeting this kid personally and talking to him back in May of this year, I don't think it will.

Finally, in the main event on Saturday, the sport's fastest rising star multi-organization world middleweight champion Gennady 'Triple GGG' Golovkin (31-0, 28 KO's, made quick work of his challenger Marco Antonio Rubio, finishing him within two rounds. Afterwards Kellerman interviewed the native of Kazakhstan in the ring.

Golovkin, not only displayed elegance while using his new found language of English during the post fight interview, but he acknowledged the large Mexican crowd in attendance in Carson, CA by speaking to them in Spanish; quickly endearing himself as a fan favorite among Hispanic boxing fans. Even his call out of Puerto Rican star WBC champion Miguel Cotto was done with the utmost respect.

So much for the foolish antics of a knucklehead like Adrien Broner or even the promotional nonsense at times by boxing's biggest star Floyd 'Money' Mayweather. Boxing definitely put its best foot forward in and out of the ring on Saturday night; best of all, it was done so by some of it's brightest young stars displaying a touch of class for a change.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Going head up in Connecticut

It wasn't necessarily the pro wrestling Monday night war days of the '90's between the then WWF and WCW, but it had a similar feel to it. In a surprise move by the Ultimate Fighting Championship, they held a rare UFC Fight Night card on a Friday; yes the same night that Bellator Fighting Championships has held down for mixed martial arts for a couple of years now.

If that wasn't bad enough, they did it on the night of the premiere event for Bellator's new season and also the first event under new President Scott Coker. Finally, to really try and rain on Bellator's parade the UFC held their event in Connecticut; yes the same state Bellator was in. Bellator was at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, while the UFC was at Foxwoods in Ledyard on the Manshantucket Pequot Indian Reservation; not necessarily the fight capital of the world I know.

Personally I thought it was a power play, but bitch move by the UFC. They rarely come to the East Coast, let alone Connecticut, and they hardly ever fight on Friday night. Nonetheless, as fans we were treated to our fair share and choices of free fights on TV; and considering the number of commercials and down time that is associated with these free TV fights, you were able to go back and forth without missing much action.

As for the main events, I'd have to say it was Bellator's one shining moment over the UFC. The featherweight (145 lbs.) championship bout they had between former champion Pat Curran (20-6, 5 KO's 7 subs) and now new champ Patricio 'Pitbull' Freire (22-2, 9 KO's 7 subs) was almost an exact replica of a their previous championship fight. Five rounds of back and forth action, only this time Freire left no doubt in the judges minds, previously losing via split decision. Pitbull clearly won three, if not four, of the five rounds dropping Curran with punches three times throughout and earned a unanimous decision.

That's not to say the UFC main event was a bad one between ranked middleweight (185 lbs.) contenders #3 Ronaldo 'Jacare' Souza (21-3, 2 KO's 15 subs) and #7 Gegard 'The Dreamcatcher' Mousasi (35-5, 18 KO's 12 subs). It's just that this was a one-sided affair with Souza continuously taking down Mousasi and maintaining control on the ground till he eventually finished him with a late third round guillotine choke. Still undefeated in the UFC with four straight wins, Jacare looks like a serious contender to challenge champion Chris Weidman who was in attendance.

While Bellator may have won the main event battle, the under card was clearly dominated by the UFC who had two first round heavyweight knockouts and a second round finish due to a cut, but was the most exciting fight of the night between lightweights (155 lbs.) Joe Lauzon (24-9, 5 KO's 18 subs) and Michael Chiesa (11-2, 8 subs). Non-stop action both standing and on the ground, started UFC's main card off on the right foot and inevitably it was a vicious knee from Lauzon to Chiesa above his right eye that ended it.

Bombs away was the menu for heavyweight winners 'Big' Ben Rothwell (34-9, 20 KO's 11 subs) and Matt 'Meathead' Mitrione (8-3, 7 KO's) as they bombarded Alistair 'The Reem' Overeem (37-14, 15 KO's 19 subs) and Derrick 'The Black Beast' (11-3, 10 KO's 1 sub) respectively. Both Rothwell and Mitrione came into the fights as underdogs, but timely right hands ended up ramming The Reem and taming The Black Beast. I would expect a fight between the winners may not be a bad way to go.

Bellator's under card was not bad, as they too had finishes in all their bouts. However, considering there were knockouts and submissions, for some reason I was not very impressed in the way light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) Muhammad 'King Mo' Lawal and heavyweight Bobby Lashley finished their, what I considered, sub par opponents. I can't say the same for former UFC heavyweight Cheick Kongo (22-9, 12 KO's 4 subs) though.

Just when you think you've seen it all in this sport, Kongo defeated another former UFC vet in Lavar 'Big' Johnson (18-10, 16 KO's, 2 subs) in the first round, but not as you think. You'd figure these two massive strikers would crack one another into oblivion, and heavy leather was being thrown, but it was Kongo winning via a rear naked choke submission. I guess going head up in Connecticut wasn't a bad thing after all.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

All it takes is one punch

Being a fan of combat sports comes with a double-edged sword. We love the excitement a one punch knockout can bring at any moment; but at the same time we cringe at the thought afterwards of what could really happen. Whether it's in a cage with mixed martial arts or in a ring with boxing, the reality that all it takes is one punch to change, win and end a fight is a scary one.

Fighters enter the combat zone knowing full well the consequences, or do they? Sure they understand that the possibility they could get put to sleep is always there; but do they understand it can have a lingering effect? I'm not talking long term, because I'm not a physician, but history has shown us that once a fighter gets stretched out unconscious, more often than not it continues to happen over and over.

The top photo shows MMA fighter Charlie Brenneman getting dropped by a vicious punch from UFC lightweight Danny Castillo. Throughout his career, Brenneman has shown a pretty durable chin, especially when he was fighting as an undersized welterweight. However of the seven losses in his career, four have been due to KO's and three of those were of the brutal one-punch/kick variety. 

It remains to be seen if these KO's will or do have a lingering effect on Brenneman's career, as will be the case for boxing great Manny Pacquiao (bottom photo) who was out cold face down on the canvas for a few minutes in this fight again Juan Manuel Marquez. Pacquiao has had two fights since this scary knockout loss, which he won both by decision, but it wasn't necessarily against the biggest guys and heaviest punchers in his division. Brandon Rios was a blown up super lightweight fighting at welterweight and Timothy Bradley has 12 KO's in 31 wins. 

Pacquiao's next opponent Chris Algieri has but eight knockouts in 20 victories. As long as Pacman continues to fight light punchers we may never know how that one punch from Marquez has affected him, if it did at all. However, there is no question it has already begun to happen to UFC lightweight Gray Maynard.

Maynard, once a title challenger and top contender in the UFC, has lost three fights in a row and four of his last five, all by vicious knockouts. Those are the only four losses on his record and yet they've all happened in his last five fights. The last three in row have taken place over the course of 14 months. Questions have been circling Maynard about his health and whether he should retire; but according to Maynard pending the results of tests being conducted on his brain he plans to continue his fight career. 

It can happen to anybody even the greatest of the greats as can be witnessed through the rapid decline of boxing champion Roy Jones, Jr. Once considered the best pound for pound boxer in the world, Jones career took a sudden turn after he was put to sleep with one left hook from nemesis Antonio Tarver. That one punch turned Jones from an undefeated marvel, to just another fighter who once was.

Before that punch Jones had lost only once, via controversial disqualification, in 51 fights. Since that punch he's lost seven times in 15 fights, three more by knockout. As previously stated, I'm not a physician so this is merely going on what I've seen. It's also not an exact science as can be witnessed by the comeback of UFC heavyweight Andre Arlovski.

Arlovski, a former UFC champion, was all but considered done after four losses in a row; three of which were due to first round knockouts. Everyone including myself said Arlovski was finished and his chin more fragile than paper mache. Yet, Arlovski has gone (7-1-1) in his last nine fights since and has worked his way back to the UFC where he garnered a win in his last bout. For now, it appears all is good for 'The Pitbull', but in three weeks he's scheduled to fight Antonio 'Big Foot Silva'. All it takes is one punch from that giant and the great Arlovski comeback story could be over just that fast. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Fight night is full of fisticuffs and fireworks

On a beautiful summer evening from the Sands Casino Event Center in Bethlehem, PA, amidst the shadows of the old Bethlehem Steel mill with the sound of harmonies from the annual 'Musikfest' outdoor music festival blaring literally yards away, fisticuffs and fireworks were going off indoors. That's because the latest installment of NBC Sports 'Fight Night' series featured a triple-header of "Big Boy" boxing; as there were two heavyweight and one light-heavyweight bout headlining the card.

In the main event, it was a showdown between world #2 ranked Vyacheslav 'Czar' Glaskov (18-0-1, 11 KO's) from the Ukraine and upset minded veteran Derric Rossy (29-9, 14 KO's). Glaskov nay have been the headline attraction, but someone forgot to tell Rossy as the big man from Medford, NY nicknamed 'El Leon' (The Lion), displayed the heart of one early on and throughout.

Not your typical slow and methodical heavyweights, both Glaskov (218.5 lbs.) and Rossy (232.5 lbs.) moved around the ring displaying impressive boxing skills, including effective jabs and multiple combinations. Surprisingly though, it was Rossy who was getting the better of the exchanges in the beginning as he was catching Glaskov with some clean shots. In the second round an uppercut that caught the Ukrainian flush on the chin, drew oohs and aahs from crowd, but Glaskov was able to walk right through it.

Glaskov, who was coming off an impressive unanimous decision victory over former two-division champion Tomasz Adamek, was expected to have an easy time of it with the journeyman; however Rossy was more than game as he gave 'The Czar' all he could handle and then some. After an entertaining back and forth ten rounds it was Glaskov who barely got out with a majority decision win as one judge had it even at 95-95; many on press row, including myself had Rossy winning 96-94.

In his post fight interview, Glaskov stated he injured his right hand early. He also stated that his first fight with new trainer John David Jackson might have contributed to his lackluster performance. Personally, I think he underestimated his opponent who surprised everyone, especially Glaskov with his will to win.

The co-main event featured a title fight in the light-heavyweight division for the PABA and WBO Oriental titles between Robert 'The Butcher' Berridge (24-2-1, 20 KO's) and Vasily 'The Professor' Leplikhin (16-0, 9 KO's). The height of Leplikhin proved the difference in this one, as at 6'4", he was at least 4-5 inches taller than the New Zealander Berridge.

'The Professor' was smart enough to use that length advantage to keep 'The Butcher' on the outside and pick him apart. With Berridge unable to figure out how to get inside of Leplikhin's reach, inevitably he was caught. Once at the end of the second round with a straight right that dropped him and two separate times in the fifth that ultimately finished him. The undefeated Russian Leplikhin looks like a force to be reckoned with at 175 pounds.

The first televised and featured bout of the evening was another heavyweight tilt between Auckland, New Zealand's Joseph Parker (10-0, 9 KO's) and Keith 'Untouchable' Thompson (7-3 4 KO's). Unfortunately for Thompson, he couldn't live up to his nickname as Parker peppered him quickly and often with jabs right from the start. Eventually that led to vicious one-two (left-right) combinations that finished the more often than not "Touchable" Thompson at 2:41 of third round.

On the under card it was a couple of local light-welterweights as Allentown, PA's Jonathan Williams (0-3) took on Bethlehem's own Ismael 'Speedy' Serrano. As expected, these 140-pound pugilists started a lot faster than their heavier counterparts. Slick boxing and punches in bunches was the order over four rounds. In the end it was the hometown boy Serrano who walked away with a split decision victory upping his record to (2-1).

Another Bethlehem product featherweight Luis 'Chiki' Acevedo also won on the under card improving his record to (1-0-1) in arguably the most entertaining fight of the night. It was an exciting high energy four round affair against Francisco Aguilar (0-2-2) of The Bronx, NY, which Acevedo won unanimously.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Don't believe the hype!

The last 24 hours in MMA has gotten real heated. This all because of a shoving match between UFC light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) champion Jon Jones (pictured @ right) and title challenger Daniel Cormier at their face off for promoting their UFC 178 showdown next month in Las Vegas. However while this fight has suddenly sparked some serious excitement among fans, I'm here to say in my best Flava Flav voice, "Don't believe the hype."

That's because while on the surface, the dislike between these two appears to be genuine, we've seen this supposed genuine disdain between opponents before. Jones (20-1, 9 KO's 6 subs) had this type of hype before his fight with former champion Rashad Evans and when it was over, we were treated to a one-sided five round dud won by Jones. Evans is always good for smack talk leading up to a fight, as he did with another former champion Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson before their bout at UFC 114.

Those two went back and forth many times before that fight as opposing coaches on 'The Ultimate Fighter' TV reality series. They both talked about all the things they were going to do to each other climaxed by Jackson's statement the day before the fight. I remember being there in person live at the weigh-ins @ The MGM Grand when Joe Rogan asked 'Rampage' for his comments; Jackson in an emphatic and furious state said, "He's dead!"

You just knew it was going to be a war. I felt lucky that I was going to see it live and so did all the other thousands in attendance. However, what ended up happening was Evans wrestled him to the ground for the first two rounds and Rampage did the same to Evans in the third; in the end, it ended up being another "alright" unanimous decision.

One year before that it was the "Bad Blood" between former welterweight champions Matt 'The Terror' Serra and Matt Hughes that had everybody clamoring for an epic showdown between two guys that didn't like each other. Their rivalry also built up on 'The Ultimate Fighter' as opposing coaches, you just knew it was going to be ugly. Surprise; you guessed it, a three round ho hum decision win for Hughes.

I could go on and on with examples of fights that were highly anticipated because of the rivalry between the two combatants that ended up being duds, but I won't. Also, that is not to say that these fights never live up to the hype. All I'm saying is hold your horses and don't automatically be thinking your shelling out $50.00+ for the fight of the year.

Cormier (15-0, 6 KO's 4 subs) does present an interesting challenge to Jones. A former heavyweight, now fighting at light heavyweight. A former Olympic wrestler who may finally be able to put Jones on his back and keep him there, which no other opponent has been able to do; and he trains daily with the heavyweight champion of the world Cain Velasquez.

However, he is only 5'11 to Jones's 6'4"; and his arms are really short next to Jones's incredible 84" reach. Add it all up and there is just the possibility that this fight may not end up being the showdown everyone expects. Besides, the last time I saw two fighters go at each other like that at a promotion presser was when Mike Tyson approached Lennox Lewis; yes, the 5'11 Tyson and the 6'4" Lewis. Yet, come fight night after the one-sided affair was over, Tyson was seen wiping the sweat off of Lewis's forehead. All I'm saying is, "Don't believe the hype!"

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A weekend without MMA might not be such a bad thing

In today’s world of mixed martial arts, it is commonplace to have some form of MMA to look forward to just about every week. If it isn’t a UFC pay-per-view, it’s a UFC Fight Night scheduled on Fox Sports or Fight Pass. On top of that, sometimes you have more MMA in the form of Bellator Fighting Championship or World Series of Fighting and when in season ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ television shows. 

Yet, as we move towards this weekend it is strange to see that there are no events taking place. That is because the one event that was scheduled originally for Saturday August 2, 2014, UFC 176 has been canceled. This was due to an injury to featherweight champion Jose Aldo during training, which postponed the main event championship fight with challenger Chad Mendes. Granted this was just one fight, but it was the headliner and with the event originally taking place at The Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, it was deserving of some much needed star power to carry it.

This brings me to the issue at hand. Has the UFC and (or) MMA in general gotten to a point where the sport is so saturated with events that under cards, which used to be so stacked they would be able to carry on without the main event, are now considered filler? I mean there was a time when it was easy to argue every fight on a UFC card, preliminary or not, meant something and was worth watching. Now I’m not so sure if you could argue that for every fight on the main card.    

Case in point; on the cancelled UFC 176 card the first two fights scheduled were a flyweight tilt between Jussier Formiga vs. Zach Makovsky and a women’s bantamweight fight between Shayna Bayszler and Bethe Correia. From a matchmaking standpoint, these fights made sense as the main card was going to give much needed shine to two divisions that really need it, the men’s flyweight (125 lbs.) and the women’s bantamweight (135 lbs.). However, try explaining that to the fan that is expected to pay anywhere between $49.95 and $59.95.

Even for a hardcore fan, that was a tough sell. Makovsky, a former Bellator champion, could be a rising star in the division after winning his first two fights in the UFC and riding a four fight winning streak; however Formiga on the other hand is a mere 2-2 in his first four and last UFC fights. As for the women, while Correia also looks like a potential star in the making at (8-0), Bayszler is pretty much a journeyman, for lack of a better term for women. She currently stands at (15-8), hasn’t fought in over a year and a half and couldn’t even get out of the first round in the first women’s season of The Ultimate Fighter.

Even the featured third bout on the main card was to be a clash between lightweights Gray Maynard and Fabricio Camoes; both of who are coming of two fight losing streaks. I remember a time when fights like these would not make the main card; some of them would not have made prelim status, as they would have been regulated to dark matches. However, that time has since come and gone.

As a hardcore MMA fan, I remember the days when I would have to wait for a UFC card once every three months. Of course at that time I would clamor for more and as I got it, I was happy. However now I have to honestly say, I’m not so sure? While the allure of watching fights has not subsided, I am growing weary of just okay cards versus the “Wow I can’t wait for that one” event. I understand with so many events nowadays, those are going to come far and few in between; but back when you had to wait for one, you knew that’s what it was going to be.

So now that MMA has gotten to a point where sometimes in a week you could actually find yourself watching fights on WednesdayFriday, sometimes twice on a Saturday and even Sunday, there is none to speak of this coming weekend. That said, it might not be such a bad thing; I mean as the old saying goes, “You don’t know what you’ve got, till it’s gone.”   

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Is judging really a matter of perspective?

Is judging really a matter of perspective? On Saturday night we got that question after the Erislandy Lara/Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez main event at the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas. The fight, which was a close one, ended in a split decision victory for Alvarez.

Though I thought Lara (19-2-2, 12 KO's) narrowly won 115-113 or seven rounds to five, I have no problem with the decision to give it to Alvarez (44-1-1, 31 KO's). The problem I have is with the third judge Levi Martinez who scored it 117-111 for Alvarez or nine rounds to three. I have always said judging is a matter of perspective, especially in a fight between a boxer and a puncher; but this one left me with a bitter taste in my mouth.

My reasoning is simple in that clearly and without question in any one's opinion, Lara won the first three rounds of this fight. He used constant lateral movement and boxed beautifully as he peppered Alvarez with his jab continuously. He had Alvarez so off balance that at times 'Canelo' looked amateurish as he was head hunting and swinging wildly at air. Thus, that means if Martinez saw the first three rounds like everyone else in the world, and I cannot imagine he didn't, he gave Alvarez the final nine rounds; this I have a problem with.

In round four Alvarez made a smart strategic move that finally turned the fight around and gave him momentum. He realized he wasn't going to catch Lara by trying to cap off his head, so he just started body punching. Whenever he was able to corner the Cuban for a second or two he would dig into his ribs, chest and even his arms with clubbing blows. His left hook to the body was especially devastating as it hurt me while watching whenever he threw it.

As expected the body punching began to slow down Lara's movement immensely, thus Alvarez was able to catch him a bit more frequently than early on. However, it did not stop his movement completely and more importantly, it did not stop Lara from boxing. He continued to pop those jabs and quick one-two combinations, even in retreat; so much so that there were clearly rounds where he out boxed Alvarez. Obviously I think so as I gave him four of the final nine rounds; but even if you only gave him two, that still makes it 115-113 for Alvarez.

In Martinez's defense, I will say that this fight eerily reminded of a fight that continues to spark debate anytime it is brought up, even 27 years after the fact. The fight is none other than Marvelous Marvin Hagler vs. Sugar Ray Leonard, the "Superfight." In that fight, Hagler played Alvarez as he was constantly the aggressor, stalking down his opponent and digging into the body when he could. Meanwhile Leonard was Lara, as he stayed on the outside, constantly moving in and out as he tagged Hagler with quick hitting combinations.

In the end Leonard won a close split decision, which I also narrowly scored for Leonard. Similar to this fight, two judges scored it 115-113, one each for Hagler and Leonard; but the third judge had it 118-110 Leonard. What fight was he watching?

In a fight that features a boxer versus a puncher you are always going to have different opinions. I always favor the boxer in these fights because I believe boxing is called 'The Sweet Science' because the objective is to hit, while not getting hit. However, there are those that believe heavier punches deserve more credibility. As stated previously, I have no qualms with Alvarez winning a close decision; my problem is that according to one judge it wasn't close. Thus, it leaves me scratching my head asking, is judging really a matter of perspective?

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