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!

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