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?

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Young and in charge

On Sunday night at The Ultimate Fighter finale, legendary BJ Penn will take on Frankie Edgar for a third time. UFC President Dana White is on record as saying that if Penn loses, he will urge him to retire.

One would think a fight promoter would love to keep a fan favorite like Penn on their roster; win or lose Penn is always going to be a draw. However, in the fast growing world of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) it's all about making new stars. White has been successful at doing just that and two of his brightest are current UFC middleweight (185 lbs.) champion Chris Weidman and women's bantamweight (135 lbs.) champion Ronda Rousey.

On Saturday night both successfully defended their titles while looking impressive in doing so, but took totally different routes. Weidman (12-0, 5 KO's 3 subs) went the championship distance of five rounds for the first time in his career against former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida (21-5, 8 KO's 2 subs). Meanwhile, Rousey (10-0, 2 KO's 8 subs), who's had nine first round finishes in her 10 wins, seven in under a minute, took only 16 seconds to dispatch of Alexis Davis (16-6, 2 KO's 7 subs).

Weidman's performance against a more experienced former champion like Machida, answered a lot of questions and shut the mouths of many doubters who claimed his two wins against former champion Anderson Silva were both flukes. He's never gotten the credit for those victories because many people believe that Silva did not take him seriously the first fight and of course suffered an unfortunate leg break the second. At UFC 175, Weidman made a believer out of many by taking it to Machida early and then weathering a storm late to win.

His dominance over Machida in the first three rounds was unexpected. He clearly lost the fourth as Machida finally found his range and Weidman's chin many times in the process. It looked as though inexperience in going the five round distance might hurt the young champion, but it didn't. Not only did he show the heart of a champion, he came back in the middle of the final round, where he was getting worked again, and did his own work after utilizing his superior wrestling game.

Rousey meanwhile continues to dominate her opponents in a manner that is somewhat embarrassing. Besides her incredible Judo game, which she displayed again on Saturday, she is continuing to show her evolution with strikes. In the co-main event she traded with Davis in the center of the ring and worked her way in close enough to grab her opponent's neck. What happened next was a thing of beauty.

In a matter of a split second, she wrapped he left arm around Davis's neck in a head lock manner and immediately used a hip toss throw and sent her flying to the ground. She instantly got side mount, while still holding on to Davis's neck, and then proceeded to punch her defenseless face with seven to eight unanswered punches till Davis went limp.

Referee Yves Lavigne, who was on top of the action, stepped in and ended the assault. Davis was so out of it, her instincts had her trying to defend against Lavigne for more than just a few seconds after. What happened to her was so fast, she never knew what hit her. This wasn't a case of Davis's ineptness, but rather a case of Rousey's masterful technique; what she did in those 16 seconds was calculated and destructive.

Weidman, who just turned 30 two weeks ago, and Rousey, who is 27 years old, are parts of the new guard in the UFC. Their biggest star light heavyweight (205 lbs.) champ Jon Jones is only 26, while their newest champion at bantamweight (135 lbs.) T.J. Dillashaw is 28. Lightweight (155 lbs.) champion Anthony Pettis is just 27 and their now longest tenured champion, featherweight (145 lbs.) Jose Aldo is also only 27; flyweight (125 lbs.) champ Demetrious Johnson is in the 27-year-old club as well.

Hard to believe but guys like BJ Penn are considered dinosaurs; artifacts of a once great era gone by. I used to worry what would happen when guys like Penn would be forced to retire ala Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and many others. However, it's evident the UFC and MMA in general are doing quite well with a new generation of stars that are now young and in charge.

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