Sunday, January 25, 2015

Rumble young man, rumble

Saturday night in Stockholm, Sweden, Anthony 'Rumble' Johnson sent a message to UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and the rest of the world. That message figuratively stated, "I'm a bad man." 51 years ago a brash young champion named Cassius Clay at the time, now known as Muhammad Ali, literally told the world the same exact thing when he knocked out the then seemingly indestructible Sonny Liston.

While Johnson (19-4 13 KO's) and his opponent Alexander 'The Mauler' Gustafsson (16-3 10 KO's, 3 subs) may not have the historical significance, yet anyway, that the aforementioned boxing legends have, their number one contenders fight on Saturday night was highly anticipated and did not disappoint. All two minutes and 15 seconds of it that is, because that's all it took for 'Rumble' to dispatch of the number one ranked light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) contender in the world in his home country. The result now makes Johnson, formerly ranked at number three, the consensus choice to be the next challenger for Jones.

Ironically, Gustafsson was riding the wave of being the only man to actually give Jones a run for his money during his title reign, going five close rounds with the champion in September 2013. Some people, including myself, thought he actually should have won that decision, and many felt he was the only legitimate contender to dethrone Jones. However, think again because a new, improved and now seasoned Anthony Johnson is in the fold.

I say seasoned because now at 30 years old, it appears Johnson has finally figured out the game, his body and what it takes to be a champion. When I say his body, you have to first understand that this man, who is a physical specimen at 6'2" 205 lbs., actually cut his teeth in the sport and the UFC fighting at welterweight (170 lbs.). That is incredibly hard to believe when you see him now at 205 lbs., but it was even more incredible when I had the pleasure of meeting him in July 2009 (pictured above) when he was fighting at 170. The photo may not do justice to a guy that at the time was walking around at a hulking 220 lbs.

However, a couple of mishaps making weight at 170 and 185 (middleweight), resulted in being cut from the UFC. He then made a run as a light-heavyweight in some smaller organizations and 'The World Series of Fighting', where he even once competed as a heavyweight defeating former UFC heavyweight champion Andre Arlovski; that has brought him back to the octagon. While back in the UFC he's been nothing short of sensational defeating three top-flight opponents, two in spectacular knockout fashion.

As for being seasoned, his affiliation with the renowned Blackzilian camp appears to have rounded him out both technically and emotionally. World class coaches such as Henri Hooft and Jorge Santiago and top ranked training partners such as former champion Rashad Evans now have Johnson on a championship course of his own. His path appears eerily similar to that of new UFC welterweight champions Robbie Lawler, who like Johnson was young and raw when he first came to the UFC.

Just like 'Rumble', Lawler's immaturity and lack of discipline ultimately got him cut from the UFC. However, also like Johnson, Lawler fought his way back through the ranks of Strikeforce and then back into the UFC. Finally, he too found a new home with American Top Team, also stocked with world class coaches and training partners; the result is he is now a champion at the seasoned age of 32. Sound similar?

While Johnson may have a tougher obstacle to overcome in Jones than Lawler did in former champion Johny Hendricks, there is no doubt that his combination of athleticism, power and technique are a serious threat to the lethal, but lanky Jones. If Johnson connects one of those strikes, kick or punch, to Jones body or head, it could be, "and new light-heavyweight champion of the world." As Muhammad Ali once said, "Rumble young man, rumble."

Thursday, January 1, 2015

My life as a DJ and Record Collector (Part VII - The Final Chapter)

At the end of part VI, I started to become disenchanted with music, records and DJ'ing.

After 10 years of spinning at clubs every Friday, along with doing private gigs in between, DJ'ing wasn't fun anymore. It became a job and I already had one of those full-time. On top of that, music in my opinion wasn't the same. Regardless of genre, it had no ingenuity behind it; so the bottom line was, I wasn't feeling it.

So for a while my records, though prominently stored and displayed throughout my basement (as pictured above), laid dormant. That meant the turntables weren't getting touched either. I would go down there just about every day to watch TV, surrounded by music I loved, but had no interest in playing. Then three things happened that brought a spark back into this thing I've loved for so long.

First was in February 2010 when an old friend of mine DJ Wayne had contacted me about doing an old school party with him and another old friend from the Casablanca days, DJ Ricky. Back when I was spinning at Casablanca every Friday night, Ricky had become the resident DJ on Saturdays. The plan was for each of us to spin two 40-minute sets over four hours, playing nothing but old school classics. Ironically, the party itself was going to be held at Casablanca Night Club.

That was the perfect remedy for renewing my interest in DJ'ing. Not only did I not have to spin all night, but I got to play classic material that I loved, instead of what I considered to be new watered down crap, in a place I had history with. The party itself was a huge success. It turned out to be more like a family reunion, as everyone that turned out knew each other as we all had grown up with one another. (This photo was from that first old school party)

Since then the three of us have continued to promote and spin our brand of old school theme parties about every six months at different venues going on five years now. We've developed a following and each party has been a success. Most importantly, it's made DJ'ing fun for me again.

The second thing that happened occurred in December 2012. While on, I had discovered a new series of videos that had just started called 'Crate Diggers'. Prominent DJ's were being interviewed about their record collections and how they got started. They would also profile some of their records throughout the interview.

As I watched these videos and listened to guys like Pete Rock and Jazzy Jeff tell their stories I noticed how eerily similar they were to mine. Not only that, watching them pulling out classic records that I owned, it made me want to go downstairs and pull my own copies. Most importantly, their stories of record shopping and crate digging brought back memories.

Back in the late '70's, Bobby Konders and I would save up lunch money for a month, cut class on a Friday and take the old Reading line train from Bethlehem to Market Street in Philly. Then we would go to various stores like 'Sound of Market' to 'Funk-O-Mart' and search for the latest records; we were "Crate Digging" before there was ever a term for it.

Another crate digging memory was from the early '90's when I would travel to New York and meet up with DJ Mitch to attend the old NYC Record Conventions held at the Roosevelt Hotel. I remember Kool Herc, 'The Godfather of Hip-Hop', who would be there selling records with 'George the Music Man', yelling over to me more than once, "Yo Puerto Rico, come here I got something for you."

Thinking back fondly on those memories, it was in January 2012 that I started going back to the record stores. However, this time I wasn't looking for the latest sounds, I was looking for dusty grooves; classics that had passed me by in one way or another. It's been fun the last couple of years and I've bought more records in that time span than I did in the previous 10 years. I even got my own YouTube video as well.

While the Crate Diggers series was rolling along, there was another group of brothers from Philly doing their own thing; they're known as the Crate Raiderz. These brothers were also interviewing record collectors, but they were going where the Crate Diggers weren't, to the hidden gems in this game. Inevitably they found their way to Bethlehem and interviewed me, which was an honor. (Pictured with The Crate Raiderz and Blaak the 9th Man)

Finally, during the last couple of years of record digging, I've developed a friendship with an old acquaintance Marcelino Rivera and found out we had so much more in common musically than I had realized. On top of that, I got my friend Richie Rich, who has been my brother for nearly 20 years now and an old music head himself, back into collecting vinyl which he had stopped doing years ago.

The three of us, realizing we're all on the same page musically, which is outside the box, started getting together every couple of months at each others homes just to listen to records. We all bring records to the tables and turn each other onto grooves the others may have never heard before or just listen to classics. We have now become a collective known as 'The Soul Latineers', three brothers that are all about and only about good music.

40 years later, this music thing I fell in love with has come full circle. As you can see I'm still collecting records and occasionally, though not as often, I'm still getting on the wheels of steel to do my thing. At this stage in my life it seems like the perfect fit for me as I'm getting too old to be in the weekly grind of DJ'ing, but never too old to put the needle to the record and just listen. Music is life! (I just came up on this haul two days ago)

Much love and respect to all the record collectors and DJ's in this game I have met over these last 40 years; especially those of you who have come into my life the last two years. "Never lose sight of what it is we hear."

Junkie Gathering 2017... this time it was personal

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