Sunday, February 23, 2014

UFC 170: What did we really learn?

UFC 170 took place on Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas and while the main card provided a lot of quick finishes, what did we really learn from this event? For some reason, even though there were some fireworks involved, I came away feeling unsatisfied, which is unusual. Below are just a few thoughts I came away with after viewing this card.

The main event featured women's bantamweight (135 lbs.) champion Ronda Rousey (9-0, 1 KO, 8 subs) defending her title against former fellow Olympian Sara McMann (7-1, 1 KO 3 subs) and to Rousey's credit, she did what she was supposed to do; as a matter of fact, it took her only 66 seconds to do it. So why did I come away feeling like, "what's the big deal?"

For one, the UFC attempting to build Sara McMann as a formidable challenger solely based on her silver medal winning Olympic wrestling background probably had something to do with it. No slight towards McMann's MMA career, especially since she's only had one less fight total than Rousey, but who has she fought; Sheila Gaff in her UFC debut? It's why they went 'the battle of Olympians' route in promoting this fight. Rousey is clearly the cream of a thin crop.

Afterwards the telecast made a big deal about Rousey's 66 second finish being the fastest in UFC Women's bantamweight history. Hello, the UFC women's bantamweight division is exactly one year old; not much history to speak of here. This coupled with referee Herb Dean's stoppage possibly being a little too quick for my and many others tastes seems to taint it as well; more on this later.

However, Mike Goldberg and Joe Rogan going over the UFC's top ten ranking of its women's bantamweight division afterwards and making it sound like there were formidable opponents for Rousey there seemed like a slight towards our intelligence as MMA fans. Cat Zingano ranked as the number one title challenger is the only legit opponent at this point and she's earned it. However, she's recovering from a serious injury that has kept her out of action for nearly a year and has recently lost her husband under tragic circumstances; thus, how ready is she both physically and mentally?

None of this should reflect negatively towards Rousey as she continues to do what is asked of her inside the cage; though she still has a ways to go in terms of winning over the fans after her stint as a coach on 'The Ultimate Fighter'. At this point the only fight people want to see Rousey in is against Cristiane 'Cyborg' Santos, but even that may not be good enough. With Santos past of using performance enhancing drugs, questions would arise one way or another; and besides with Santos not even on the UFC roster, it is a moot point.

Some other quick thoughts on UFC 170 include that Daniel Cormier's first round finish of Patrick Cummins should be the last thing Cormier is recognized for; the finish was inevitable before it even started. However, Cormier making the 205 lbs. light-heavyweight limit with no problem and looking good doing it, gives a boost to a division that had been all but cleaned out by champion Jon Jones.

Rory MacDonald defeating Demian Maia via unanimous decision means nothing more than it's time to talk about my final thought, which has nothing to do with this fight. Referee Herb Dean, who I have previously lauded as the best in the business seemed to contradict himself Saturday night. In the second bout on the main card between Mike Pyle and TJ Waldberger, Dean was criticized and questioned for letting Pyle beat Waldberger senseless as the latter appeared to be clearly out and defenseless under Pyle's barrage of punches and elbows.

Yet, later on in the main event, which was also a championship fight, he was quick to jump in and stop the fight after one knee to the liver from Ronda Rousey dropped Sara McMann to her knees. Inconsistency on this night is just one problem I have with Dean; the other and more important is that if there was a fight you were going to let go a little more than others, it should have been the main event. From a fans standpoint, it's the reason you pay your money for; thus it's the one you want to see more of. To quote one of journalist Tony Kornheiser's favorite lines, "Am I wrong on this?"

Friday, February 7, 2014

If opportunity doesn't knock, kick the door open

On Saturday March 15th there is a huge and intriguing boxing card being held at The Sands Event Center in Bethlehem, PA. Being televised live on the NBC Sports Network, the main event features a heavyweight title eliminator between Tomasz Adamek (49-2, 29 KO's) and Vyacheslav 'The Czar' Glazkov (16-0-1, 11 KO's). However, the bout on the card that is creating the entire buzz here in the northeast, especially here in Bethlehem where the fight will take place is the co-main event.

That fight features a welterweight clash that is slowly building quite a stir. The fight features former IBF welterweight champion of the world Kermit 'The Killer' Cintron (34-5-2, 28 KO's) facing off against Bethlehem's own welterweight contender Ronald Cruz (20-2, 15 KO's). With Cintron originally being from Reading, PA, which is less than an hour west of Bethlehem, bragging rights is just one facet of interest in this tilt.

Cruz (pictured above) and Cintron, both heavy punchers of Puerto Rican descent, will be fighting for patriotic pride in this Puerto Rican heavily populated part of the country. However, while Cintron is looking to show he still has another title run left in him, Cruz is ready to show the world he's more than a fringe contender. Perennially ranked as one of the top 50 welterweights in the world the last couple of years while he's been on the come up, Cruz is ready to make a leap to the next level.

Cruz, who I've always known to be extremely humble and quiet, is normally one to let his hands do the talking. However, waiting for an opportunity that may never come knocking at his door, Cruz made a decision to kick the door open and create his own opportunity. That is why after his last fight in November, an impressive third round thrashing of rugged Hector Munoz, Cruz openly called out Cintron when he was asked who he would like to face next.

I asked Cruz about this and he told me, "He needed a fight and I needed to make some noise, so I went for it. Considering he's a former world champion originally from this area, I took the opportunity to call him out; luckily it worked itself out." And so because of Cruz's initiative and willingness to step up in competition, we have a very interesting fight coming up next month; one that can have serious implications for the winner, whoever it may be.

I spoke with Cruz's trainer Lemuel 'Indio' Rodriguez about going up against Cintron and he told me, "Ronald is ready for this challenge." He also went on to discuss with me their strategy in facing the former world champion, which I think is a good one; however, he asked me specifically not to divulge it publicly before the fight. Therefore, the world will have to wait till March 15th to see what it is and if it works.

Cruz, who is very active on social media, recently posted a link on his Facebook page to a video showing the tragic circumstances that took place last weekend during a boxing match in Mexico where a fighter ultimately lost his life after the bout. He did it to remind his many fans the sacrifices he and every other professional boxer makes when they step inside the ropes.

I asked him if thoughts of potential harm or concerns ever enter his mind when he steps into the ring. His response was, "I go in knowing the worst can happen, but I prepare myself the best I can to avoid that situation." However, he went on to tell me, "Right before my last fight as I hugged my family to tell them all I love them, which is something I always do, I noticed my 12 year old daughter hugged me tighter than normal. I told my wife about the hug and she explained that our daughter now understands the dangers that may befall me whenever I fight."

Quite compelling stuff, especially when you consider how heavy both Cruz and Cintron punch and what's at stake. Cruz has repeatedly said to his many fans on social media, "2014 will be my year." This fight against 'Killer Kermit' will go a long way in proving that if he wins and wins big.

Besides the heavy hitters at the top of the card, ticket holders may want to get there early as Cruz has a teammate who is making his professional debut on the undercard. What's the big deal about a pro debut you may ask? Well according to everyone I have spoken too, this kid may just be the next big thing out of 'Ron and Indio's Boxing Gym'.

An unknown prodigy of sorts who came to Bethlehem, PA from Caguas, Puerto Rico just two years ago, super bantamweight Luis Acevedo had over 96 amateur bouts on the island with less than 10 defeats on his record. This 22 year old told me he started boxing at the age of 8 years old at the urging of his father and has been doing it ever since. From top to bottom this card next month at The Sands looks to be the biggest one to date at this new Mecca for boxing here in the northeast.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

UFC 169: Average "Super" night at the fights

On Super Bowl weekend the Ultimate Fighting Championship came to the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ with a super card on paper, but just like most Super Bowl games it just didn't live up to the hype. Unfortunately, what could've been never was and what was expected to happen did as there were no surprise endings. Here are a few thoughts on the key fights.

First off in the main event, interim and now only UFC bantamweight (135 lbs.) champion Renan Barao (32-1, 8 KO's 14 subs), now riding an almost nine year winning streak, may very well be the best fighter from his gym Nova Uniao; the significance behind that statement is that he is teammates with featherweight (145 lbs.) champ Jose Aldo. However, his first round finish of 'The California Kid' Urijah Faber (30-7, 7 KO's 17 subs), defeating him for a second time, says a lot.

Now many may argue that the stoppage by referee Herb Dean was premature; however, my response to that is two fold. One is that Faber legitimately got caught and dropped by Barao, not once, but twice. Second and more importantly is that Urijah Faber telling Joe Rogan afterwards that he gave Herb Dean a "thumbs up" when Dean repeatedly asked him to "do something," is not intelligently defending yourself.

I'm sorry, as I'm a Faber fan, but when a ref asks you to "do something" while you turtle up on the ground taking punches, he's not looking for a thumbs up. Therefore, it's "thumbs down" on Faber for that move, however I will give him a "thumbs up" for acknowledging that Dean was just doing his job in looking out for the fighter. Bottom line, save the thumbs up or down for critiquing movies, not MMA fights.

As for Aldo (24-1, 14 KO's 2 subs), what can I say? He continues to do what he does best, literally kick the sh** out of his opponents as he tears up their legs with his brutal baseball bat swinging Muay Thai round kicks. While his teammate Barao is almost at nine years without a loss, Aldo just hit eight years this past November; to be a fly on the wall at Nova Uniao when those two are sparring each other.

As for Aldo's opponent Ricardo Lamas (13-3, 4 KO's 3 subs), he put up a good fight and it appeared he really was trying to win, but why did he wait till the fifth round to show it? Okay, Aldo and those kicks had something to do with it I know, I just wonder why a dominant wrestler like Lamas, who is vicious with his top game, waited till round three to finally attempt to shoot on Aldo. Why didn't he take a shot right from the start, possibly catching a cold hesitant Aldo in round one? Unfortunately, he's probably asking himself that very question this morning.

Finally, here are my thoughts on the featured bout between heavyweights Alistair Overeem and Frank Mir. A less muscular Overeem (37-13, 15 KO's 19 subs) appears to have made for a better 'Reem as he wasn't even breathing hard after three rounds of pouncing on Mir standing and on the ground. Good for him as he breaks a three fight skid, however not sure that calling out a retired Brock Lesnar, who he already beat, on a rumor that he may return means much.

As for former UFC Heavyweight champ Mir (16-9, 3 KO's 9 subs), after his fourth loss in a row, its obvious his best days are behind him; the question here is whether he should continue at all? On the outside looking in, it appears Mir's heart just isn't in it anymore. He seems willing to show up, but once there just doesn't seem to go after it. At only 34 years old, Mir has become less than a gatekeeper, he's become a journeyman.

The label as the best jiu-jitsu player in the heavyweight ranks just doesn't hold much weight anymore now that MMA has evolved since that was the case 10 years ago. His monumental arm-breaking submission of Rodrigo Noguiera is now over two years old and just a fading memory.

The word has always been that Mir is a strong family man and it appears that is where his heart is, which is great and commendable. However, MMA is not a hobby and definitely not at the UFC level. A former two-time champion, Mir has nothing else to prove. Therefore, don't be surprised if Mir takes a serious look in the mirror and sees what I already know.

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