Thursday, December 24, 2009

Does Death of Mayweather vs. Pacquiao Give MMA an Edge?

While there is certainly room for both boxing and Mixed Martial Arts in the combat sports arena, the two will always be put under the microscope alongside each other, supporters and detractors on both sides ready to voice their opinions.

Over the last year, one of the biggest story lines involving the two has been the emergence of MMA - primarily the UFC - into the mainstream and the perceived decline of boxing.

No - this isn't going to be another in the long line of "My Sport is Better" soapbox jobs that have popped up in the last year, singing the praises of one while ignoring the merit and value of the other.

That said, the recent developments in the potential superfight between the two best fighters of the last decade - undefeated Floyd "Money" Mayweather and multi-divisional champion Manny "Pacman" Pacquiao - certainly serve as a great opportunity to examine the relationship between the two moving forward.

Originally scheduled to take place March 13, 2010, the highly-anticipated clash ran into a roadblock this week when two camps failed to agree on a testing procedure to use leading up to the bout, prompting promoter Bob Arum to declare the bout dead.

With the amount of money the various sides stand to make from a fight of this magnitude, there is a snowball's chance in hell that this is the last we'll hear of this bout. Negotiations will continue, potential solutions will be tabled, and these two great champions will eventually stand opposite each other under the bright lights.

But will it be too late?

To a certain extent, this is the only fight boxing fans care about, and with negotiations at a standstill and the UFC leading the Mixed Martial Arts invasion across the globe, the long-standing King of Combat Sports might finally be forced to relinquish the throne.

While serious boxing fans can rattle off the names of champions across various weight classes and organizations, the sport simply does not have the same big name draws as it once had. Most people couldn't name five top heavyweights, unless "those Russian brothers and that giant dude who beat Holyfield last year" counts as three-fifths of a correct answer.

Though boxing is certainly not dead, when new fans are looking for their combat sports fix, more and more of them are turning to the world of Mixed Martial Arts than are looking to "The Sweet Science."

Fans have been craving a Mayweather - Pacquiao fight for years, and the calls for the two to get into the ring together only grew louder following Mayweather's 12-round textbook beating of Juan Manuel Marquez in September.

These are the two remaining megastars of the sport and the one fight that everyone - serious fans and casual observers alike - still want to see. Failing to deliver only opens the door for someone else to fill the void, and you can bet Dana White will be ready to oblige.

Following boxing was something not unlike being a fan of a specific hockey team is for many here in my home and native land - you cheered for the team your father cheered for, as his father did before him and your son will once he's born and you immediately dress him in Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens footsy pajamas.

Once the sport shifted from Saturday afternoons on ABC to the pay-per-view model in place now, fans slowly started slipping away. As the number of stars declined and the level of corruption - real or perceived - continued to escalate, more people stopped watching.

In the meantime, Mixed Martial Arts starting to draw some of combat sports audience; first as the no-holds-barred freak show that was forced off pay-per-view and underground, and then as the regulated and repackaged product made popular in North America by the UFC.

With boxing's two biggest remaining stars unable to come together to make their highly-anticipated, multi-million dollar fight a reality, what is there to look forward to from the sport in 2010?

At best, boxing has one or two major fights a year; cards that are unquestioned must-see events and pit the superstars of the sport against each other for all to see... for the price of $49.99.

In contrast, the UFC offers monthly events with smaller Fight Nights on Spike TV mixed in between. Though that does mean more money out of pocket for UFC fans, it also means very little time left counting down the days to the next "big fight."

Mayweather - Pacquiao was the only major story boxing had going for it heading into 2010 and now it's in limbo. Conversely, the UFC has a number of interesting stories brewing for 2010, including the return of three currently-sidelined champions and the highly-anticipated rematch between Lyoto Machida and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.

In fact, the current "death" of the Mayweather - Pacquiao fight couldn't have come at a better time for the UFC, as 2010 is set to be the most active year to date for the company, and includes the continued expansion to new markets, including Australia for UFC 110 in February and potential shows in Boston and Vancouver in the summer.

While there is certainly always going to be a percentage of fight fans who refuse to sample the offerings of Dana White and the UFC, without a marquee event to look forward to, it's not inconceivable that some of those fans who earmarked $49.99 for March to still purchase a pay-per-view that month.

Though no bouts are official as of this time, UFC 111 is scheduled for March 27 at the Prudential Center, and could boast a pair of title bouts.

In addition to Georges St-Pierre's return and subsequent title fight with British challenger Dan "The Outlaw" Hardy, an interim title match between former two-time champion Frank Mir and #1 contender Shane Carwin is being discussed.

By the time Pacquiao and Mayweather finally find some middle ground on testing and a venue to stage their fight, the UFC will have rattled off a dozen pay-per-view events, not to mention another season of the still highly-successful Ultimate Fighter and a number of Ultimate Fight Night cards on Spike TV.

When you add in Strikeforce's schedule, including a second appearance on CBS in April, and the always-entertaining WEC, MMA fans will have been treated to a number of great fights and countless events.

Which sounds like a more enticing option to you - watching tons of fights or waiting around for one?

Boxing may not be dead, but this latest failure could certainly put the sport on life support.

Unfortunately for "The Sweet Science" and it's passionate fans, the UFC and Mixed Martial Arts as a whole has never been more alive and in better shape.

Don't be surprised if 2010 is the year MMA moves to the head of the Combat Sports class.

After all, they've just be spotted a big head start with Mayweather versus Pacquiao falling apart.

Continue reading...

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

2009 Keyboard Kimura Awards

So I couldn't find an actual kimura trophy, so this standing guillotine is going to have to do as we hand out the Keyboard Kimura Awards for 2009.

In addition to distributing hardware for all the usual suspects - Fight of the Year, Submission of the Year, etc. - we'll also mix in some awards for the best of the worst of 2009.

Let's get started...

Fighter of the Year: Jose Aldo

Four fights. Four wins. Four opponents utterly dominated.

Beginning with his January destruction of Rolando Perez at WEC 38 and culminating with his capturing the WEC Featherweight title at WEC 44 in November, Jose Aldo cut through the competition in the 145-pound division in 2009.

In addition to claiming the belt and becoming a part of the pound-for-pound discussion, Aldo earned three Knockout of the Night bonuses, including one for his Knockout of the Year candidate against Cub Swanson.

The scary things about Jose Aldo is that he's only getting better and as good as 2009 was, 2010 could be even better.

Honorable Mentions: Lyoto Machida, Marius Zaromskis, Gegard Mousasi

Worst Fighter of the Year: Jose Canseco

The former steroid slugger also takes home the prize for "Worst Promotional Idea" as part of the DREAM Super Hulk Tournament, as the presence of Canseco could have easily set the sport back several thousands of years.

Now, of course the expectations were pretty low for Canseco heading into his bout with Hong Man Choi, yet Canseco managed to come in below them, starting with his entrance where he was accompanied by... his girlfriend. No coaches, no corner man; just the missus.

From there, the spectacle that this was supposed to be ensued and thankfully only lasted 77 seconds before Canseco feigned injury and submitted to strikes.

Event of the Year: UFC 100

This one is not up for debate.

In addition to being a pretty loaded card featuring some highly-entertaining fights, the historical implications of this event make it a unanimous winner as Event of the Year.

While it wasn't actually the 100th event in UFC history, the fact that a company and sport that was once banned from pay-per-view and forced underground reached their centennial show is outstanding.

When we look back in a few years to determine where and when Mixed Martial Arts finally cracked the barrier into the mainstream, UFC 100 will go down as one of the defining moments and key events.

Honorable Mentions: Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Rogers, WEC 41, DREAM 11

Worst Event of the Year: UFC 97

Here me out on this one.

First off, we had the province of Quebec coming in and trying to change the rules at the last minute. While a major crisis was averted, small concessions (no foot stomps) had to be made and the province certainly didn't come out looking very good.

Secondly, the main event was horrible.

It's not Anderson Silva's fault that Thales Leites didn't want to engage; very few people want to engage "The Spider," but that doesn't mean it wasn't painful to watch.

Finally, the remaining fights on the card were just okay.

We saw Chuck Liddell get knocked out again and sent to dance with pseudo-stars, a handful of not-overly-exciting decisions, and a 4-3 night for the Canadians on the card, including the final UFC appearances (for now) of Jason MacDonald and David Loiseau.

Submission of the Year: Toby Imada, Reverse Inverted Triangle on Jorge Masvidal, Bellator 5

The description alone should be enough to earn this move a unanimous decision as Submission of the Year. Then you see it, and it's even better.

Imada was being dominated by Jorge Masvidal, but was given a small opening when Masvidal tried to lift him up for a slam. While on "Gamebred's" back, Imada locked in a super-tight triangle and the rest is history.

Masvidal wilts, Imada scores the win and Bellator had another YouTube highlight sensation.

Honorable Mention: Jake Shields' Standing Guillotine on Robbie Lawler, Brad Pickett's Peruvian Necktie on Kyle Dietz, Sakuraba's Kneebar on Zelg Galesic.

Knockout of the Year: Dan Henderson on Michael Bisping, UFC 100

Was there anything better? I think not.

Not only because Bisping talks all kinds of smack and ends up laid to waste, but because, as Jon Anik said on MMA Live's recap of the event (and I'm paraphrasing here) everyone and their mother knows not to circle into Dan Henderson's right hand.

Except Michael Bisping.

Honorable Mentions: Fedor Emelianenko on Andrei Arlovski, Fedor Emelianenko on Brett Rogers, Nate Marquardt on Demian Maia, Lyoto Machida on Rashad Evans, Jose Aldo on Cub Swanson... honestly, there are a ton!

Most Improved Fighter: Mauricio "Shogun" Rua

If you look at Rua's three fights over 2009, he looks like a different fighter.

First up was his "my cardio is worse than your cardio" contest with Mark Coleman in Dublin, Ireland at UFC 93. Bah-rutal!

Then came his UFC 97 knockout of Chuck Liddell, where we saw the power of the "Shogun" of old, but didn't really get a long enough fight to determine whether or not he was 100% back.

Finally, UFC 104 and the most controversial fight of the year. While the results are still debatable to this day (though I'm personally tired of talking about it), there is no question that we saw the best Mauricio Rua we've seen in some time.

The guy who went the distance with Lyoto Machida looked nothing like the guy who fought Mark Coleman.

Maybe I'm cheating here, but whatever - they're my awards!

Honorable Mention: Dan Hornbuckle, Nate Marquardt, Jon Jones

Worst Fight of the Year: Kimbo Slice defeats Houston Alexander, TUF 10 Finale

This should also be a unanimous decision for anyone who hands out awards this year.

Honestly, I don't even think I need to explain this one.

Fight of the Year: Miguel Torres vs. Takeya Mizugaki, WEC 40

If there could be a blueprint for what an entertaining title fight should look like, this would be it.

Mizugaki took the fight on short notice when Brian Bowles got hurt, and proceeded to take two rounds from the heavily-favored champion, becoming the first fighter to ever go the full five with Torres.

To his credit, Torres showed why he was the champion at the time, battling back from losing two rounds early to claim the fight in the championship rounds.

It's fights like this that have made me such a huge fan of the WEC and make me wonder how some people still have no interest in the organization.

Honorable Mentions: Diego Sanchez vs. Clay Guida, Hideo Tokoro vs. Abel Cullem, Ben Henderson vs. Donald Cerrone, Martin Kampmann vs. Carlos Condit

Continue reading...

Sunday, December 20, 2009

MMA Super Saturday: 10 Things We Learned Last Night

1. The Embodiment of "Puncher's Chance" and "Anything Can Happen"

Scott Smith may want to add "Head of Stone" to his "Hands of Steel" nickname, as once again last night, the veteran slugger survived two-plus rounds of beating to emerge victorious after landing a monster power shot.

Just as he did against Benji Radach earlier in the year, Smith came from way behind on the cards to drop Cung Le, handing the San Shou star his first professional fighting loss ever and simultaneously throwing a big ol' monkey wrench into the Strikeforce star system. More on that one later.

This is the awesomeness and awkwardness of Smith all in one; he can literally knock just about anyone out and change a fight with one punch, but he can also look very much like the journeyman who has bounced around from the UFC to EliteXC and now to Strikeforce as well.

He'll always give you an exciting fight, but he might also knockout one of your biggest stars in the process, only to follow it up by getting his dominated the next time around.

2. Falling Strikeforce Stars

While Strikeforce has made great strides this year and has a number of emerging stars on their roster, three of their top of the marquee fighters have fallen this year and that can't sit all that well with Scott Coker.

Frank Shamrock returned from his broken arm to get decimated by Nick Diaz. Though Diaz is a popular fighter in his own right, his reluctance to fight in the State of California due to his enjoyment of marijuana limits his possibilities.

Gina Carano got clobbered by Cris "Cyborg" Santos, who left the "Face of Women's MMA" bloodied and battered. With a reported starring role in Steven Soderbergh's Knockout in her future, when the beautiful Body Issue cover girl will reappear in the cage is anyone's guess.

Now Cung Le falls to Scott Smith.

While Strikeforce has done a great job to spin Santos as the dominant fighter she is and worked to make new stars out of Gegard Mousasi and Jake Shields, and bring in established stars like Dan Henderson, losing three main event fighters in the span of nine months is challenging.

3. "Cowboy" Needs to Clean It Up

There is no question in my mind that the knees landed by Donald Cerrone to the manhood of Ed "9mm" Ratcliff last night were unintentional.

But drilling an opponent in the pills enough times to merit two point deductions combined with Cerrone's illegal knee against Jamie Varner make me think this isn't just a series of freak occurrences.

It's not that I think Cerrone is dirty; we're not looking at the MMA version of Andrew Golota or anything like that, but rather a fighter who is sloppy and fights too fast at times.

Cleaning things up can come from taking a deep breath every now and again, and properly measuring opponents. Cerrone seems to fight a fraction of a second ahead of his mind at times, rattling off a string of moves that end up getting messy simply because he's trying to do too much.

The skill and technique is there - it just needs to be cleaned up.

4. Time for a Rematch

Two and a half years ago in Colorado's Ring of Fire promotion, Donald Cerrone and Anthony Njokuani locked horns, with Cerrone securing a triangle submission late in the first round.

Now, both men reside near the top of the WEC lightweight food chain and after Njokuani's third consecutive win last night (and third consecutive Knockout of the Night award I might add), the two need to get in the cage together again to determine the #1 contender for the soon-to-be-unified lightweight title.

An interesting wrinkle to the bout is that both men have lost to Ben Henderson, so the possible promotional angles moving forward have already written themselves. Not only would the fans be treated to another great fight and the victorious fighter come away with a title shot, but the WEC would have an easily marketed Main Event no matter which way things turned out.

All we need is for Reed Harris to make it happen.

5. Speaking of Rematches...

Expect there to be a Melendez - Thomson 3 in the future.

And by "expect," I mean that I would bet one of my kidneys on the fact that the two best lightweights competing under the Strikeforce banner will face-off in an rubber match somewhere down the line.

Each holds a Unanimous Decision win and a trilogy fight would be an easy sell. The only question is timing; do you put them right back in the cage together immediately to ensure the title is still up for grabs or do you give it time, letting each fighter earn a win or two in the interim?

Strikeforce is hopeful to get DREAM star Shinya Aoki into the promotion for a future event, so chances are that the Japanese grappling sensation would need to be in a title fight to make the trip worthwhile, so chances are the 17-2 Melendez will be dangled as his potential opponent.

Personally, I'd like to see Thomson get another fight under his belt before taking on "El Nino" for a third time. As admirably as "The Punk" performed last night, there is always a certain amount of ring rust that needs to be shaken off after spending 15 months on the shelf.

Make Melendez - Aoki happen, give Thomson another tough fight and then put them together 8-12 months from now to resolve this thing.

6. Is "Jacare" That Good?

Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza looked superb in submitting Matt "The Law" Lindland in the first round last night, but the question for me is whether "Jacare" is as tremendous as he looked or did he dominate an aging fighter on the downside of his career?

The correct answer is probably somewhere in the middle.

Souza showed why he is considered one of the best BJJ players in the sport in executing his gameplan perfectly once the fight hit the floor, but Lindland's failed takedown attempt early on also showed that the best days of Matt Lindland are definitely behind him.

"The Law" has now dropped two fights in a row and hasn't made it out of the first round in either. While he used to be one of the best in the sport, those days are passed. He's still competitive when given the right matchup and certainly is a credible name to have on the Strikeforce roster, but a title contender he is not.

On the other hand, "Jacare" most certainly is and should be in the conversation about who gets a crack at the middleweight title after the rumored Shields - Henderson bout in April.

Between now and then, Souza certainly has some unfinished business with Jason "Mayhem" Miller that could be promoted as a solid second or third fight on a future Showtime card.

7. Miguel Torres' Next Opponent is...

Either Joseph Benavidez or Scott "Young Guns" Jorgensen, both of whom emerged victorious from tough bantamweight challenges last night.

Benavidez stopped submission specialist Rani Yahya early, while Jorgensen rode a dominant first round to a Unanimous Decision (29-28 across the board) win over Takeya Mizugaka, putting both fighters into the title picture and as possible challengers for the returning former champ.

Jorgensen is riding a two-fight winning streak and has been working his way up the ladder, meaning he is certainly the more deserving of the two, but look for Benavidez to get the spot opposite Torres thanks to his finish of Yahya and allegiances with Team Alpha Male and Urijah Faber.

8. "King Mo" Is Like Oxy...

He takes care of whiteheads... fast!

Yes, I went there, and just as he had said he would when he tweet'ed the fight announcement, Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal popped Mike Whitehead, knocking the tough veteran out three minutes into the first round.

With his entertaining entrances, over-the-top bravado and seven consecutive victories, it's going to be hard to slow the "King Mo" hype train, but Strikeforce would be wise to preserve one of their emerging prospects for a while, rather than throw him to the wolves right away.

There are tougher fights and then there are tough-as-nails fights. For now, Lawal needs the former, not the latter.

Putting him in with Mousasi this quick would squander a prospect and potential star, while Renato "Babalu" Sobral presents a potential loss and nowhere else to go should Lawal emerge victorious.

Instead, why not get the charismatic and cocky Lawal some more national exposure? The challenge will be finding fights that are credible.

9. Two Cards in One Night is Too Much

I understand counter-programming and that things like this are going to happen from time-to-time, but it doesn't really help anyone, least of all the overall sport itself.

Coverage has to be split between two events, fans get split between two events and while both did very good numbers at the gate (and I expect them to have done the same on television), a lot of fans and community members were left watching one show on their DVR instead of getting to catch both live.

Additionally, I like the WEC on Sunday nights as they have done numerous times in the past. It is a nice little niche, can work in piggy-backing a UFC event, scoring viewers off promotion during the UFC broadcast, and keeps Saturday nights like yesterday from happening.

10. As Great a Night as Last Night Was in the Cage...

It doesn't compare to having a great night with my wife.

Terrific day out and about Victoria, tremendous birthday dinner at a local seafood joint, gourmet cupcakes (including candles) instead of cake and laughing hysterically throughout The Hangover...

Happy Birthday, Baby Girl and thanks for a great night!

(photo courtesy of the outstanding Esther Lin)

Continue reading...

Saturday, December 19, 2009

MMA Super Saturday: Previews and Punch Drunk Predictions

If you're a fight fan - and aren't taking your wife out for her birthday dinner - tonight offers a difficult, albeit awesome, dilemma: which of the two exciting events taking place tonight do you watch?

As discussed earlier in the week, WEC 45 hits the mats at The Pearl at The Palms and airs on Versus, while Strikeforce: Evolution invades the HP Pavilion in the company's San Jose backyard.

Since there isn't much time before the preliminary bouts get underway (sorry, only so many days of Christmas shopping left...) and the main card for the WEC show was covered in the aforementioned piece, we'll tackle the Strikeforce main card and then make with the Punch Drunk Predictions.

Sound good?

Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal (6-0) vs. "Iron" Mike Whitehead (24-7-0)

Mo Lawal is easily one of the Top 5 Most Entertaining Fighters in the sport today; his interviews are always loaded with awesome soundbytes, his entrances are priceless and he just might be the most self-confident man on the face of the Earth.

The former three-time Senior National Wrestling champion takes a big step up in facing the veteran Whitehead, but he's been extremely impressive and downright dominant at times through his first six fights.

Whitehead is a former TUF contestant who is extremely difficult to finish. The former Miletich Fighting Systems fighter is 18-2 through his last 20 fights, but those numbers are a little deceiving.

Much like Paul Buentello last weekend at UFC 107, Whitehead feels like he's been around forever and while many know his name, he hasn't really beaten anyone of great consequence for quite some time.

Each time he enters the cage with someone of considerable skill and name recognition (Renato Sobral, Keith Jardine, Brandon Vera), he comes out on the wrong side of things. While he has racked up wins over the likes of Zak Jensen, Ruben Villareal and Kevin Randleman during that streak, none are as talented as Lawal.

Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza (10-2-0, 1 NC) vs. Matt "The Law" Lindland (21-6-0)

While Mike Whitehead feels like he's been around forever, Matt Lindland has literally been around forever.

The 39-year-old is one of the founding members of the legendary Team Quest, was a UFC regular all through the company's dark ages, and has fought everyone from Pat Miletich and Murilo Bustamante, to Fedor and Vitor Belfort.

An Olympic silver medalist in Greco-Roman wrestling (Sydney, 2000), Lindland normally prefers to bring a fight to the floor and go from there, either grinding out a decision, sinking in a submission or getting a stoppage.

Unfortunately, bringing the fight to the floor is the best course of action for "Jacare" as well. The Black House member is one of the top jiu jitsu players in the sport today, winning this year's Abu Dhabi Combat Club Superfight over Robert Drysdale.

Souza hasn't faced nearly the same level of competition as Lindland, nor does he have the experience of the 39-year-old, but he also doesn't have the wear-and-tear of close to 30 fights and 13 years of punishment to contend with. Additionally, while Lindland has numerous outside interests that take up portions of his time, Souza is a fighter and a fighter only.

Josh "The Punk" Thomson (16-2-0) vs. "El Nino" Gilbert Melendez (16-2-0)

Boasting identical records and each holding a portion of the Strikeforce Lightweight title, Thomson and Melendez meet in their long-awaited rematch that should be the main event of the evening.

The first time they met, Thomson dominated Melendez, winning away the lightweight title via Unanimous Decision in June 2008. Since that time, Thomson has suffered twice as many serious injuries as he's had fights. That said, you don't go 16-2 by being the kind of guy who can't overcome an extended layoff.

While "The Punk" has been on the shelf, Melendez has taken up the mantle of being the most dominant lightweight on the Strikeforce roster. He earned the Interim title by knocking out Rodrigo Damm, then defended the belt and avenged his first career loss by beating Mitsuhiro Ishida back in August.

Now, the Scrap Pack member will be looking to avenge another loss and unify the lightweight title.

Cung Le (6-0-0) vs. Scott "Hands of Steel" Smith (17-6-0)

Earlier this week, Cung Le told all of us Keyboard Warriors to "keep clicking" when talking with about this bout against the heavy-handed Smith.

Well, here goes, Cung:

There are a whole lot of more compelling and competitive matchups for you in your return, but Strikeforce wants to give you fights where you won't be forced to go to the mat, unless it's to follow your opponent there after one of your fancy San Shou throws.

Scott Smith is a journeyman with heavy hands, that's about it. If he's such a challenging fight, how come the biggest wins of his career to date are his last win over Benji Radich - in a fight he was getting clobbered in - and his memorable knockout of Pete Sell from The Ultimate Fighter 4 Finale?

The dumbass fans that boo whenever a fight goes to the ground may not have any interest in seeing "Jacare" and Jake Shields in what you called "a grappling match," but some of us certainly do. In fact, we want to see it more than we want to see you get hand-feed another guy who will be willing to stand-and-trade with you.

And by the way - when you win a title and then take nearly two years off to make mediocre movies, maybe you shouldn't wax all philosophical about the fans and how you deliver fights they really want to see?

Punch Drunk Predictions
Record: 128-93-1

Strikeforce: Evolution

AJ Fonseca over Alex Crispim via Split Decision
Bobby Stack over Alex Trevino via Unanimous Decision
Luis Mendoza over Juan Nunez via TKO, Round 1
Bryan Travers over Daisuke Nakamura via Unanimous Decision
Scott Lighty over Antwain Britt via TKO, Round 2

Muhammed Lawal over Mike Whitehead via Unanimous Decision
Ronaldo Souza over Matt Lindland via Submission, Round 2
Gilbert Melendez over Josh Thomson via TKO, Round 3
Cung Le over Scott Smith via TKO, Round 1

WEC 45

Jameel Massouh over Erik Koch via Submission, Round 2
Kyle Dietz over Brad Pickett via Submission, Round 1
Brandon Visher over Courtney Buck via TKO, Round 1
Muhsin Corbbrey over Zack Micklewright via Submission, Round 2
Anthony Pettis over Bart Palaszewski via TKO, Round 2

Takeya Mizugaki over Scott Jorgensen via Unanimous Decision
Rani Yayha over Joseph Benavidez via Submission, Round 2
Anthony Njokuani over Chris Horodecki via TKO, Round 3
Donald Cerrone over Ed Ratcliff via Submission, Round 1

Now touch gloves and come out swinging!

Continue reading...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Canadian MMA Landscape Could Change Today

While the upcoming Olympics and the on-ice activities of the Canucks consistently garner the biggest headlines in the Vancouver sports scene, there could be a very important little story tucked away in the Sports pages tomorrow morning.

Vancouver City Council will meet today to vote on Mixed Martial Arts regulations that could pave the way for the UFC to hold an event in a second Canadian city, following in the highly-successful footsteps of previous events in Montreal.

Today's vote could potentially carry more weight than simply opening the third largest market in Canada; getting through Vancouver City Council could serve as a catalyst for similar legislation to be passed in Ontario, giving Toronto the opportunity to become a regular home for major Mixed Martial Arts competition as well.

As always, there are councillors who are voicing their opposition to the sport, citing both old and new concerns, the most vocal in the media being David Cadman.

The long-time Vancouver councillor asked, "Is dog fighting a sport? Is bullfighting a sport? Is cockfighting a sport," when he spoke with CTV British Columbia following successfully held amateur events in the city at the end of November.

Firstly, one would hope that the honorable councillor from Vancouver can differentiate between two human beings with cognitive reasoning skills and free will entering a cage by choice, and animals being pitted against each other at the decision of their owners and/or event organizers.

It's not as if Dana White houses the entire UFC roster in a collection of cages in the basement of his Las Vegas house...

Mr. Cadman's second concern was the effects such events would have on the youth of Vancouver once the event ends and the bars fill with fight fans:

Clearly a bunch of testosterone-pumped young people coming out of a fight like that and going into the bars is a risk and the police recognize that as a risk

While there is certainly some underlying merit to councillor Cadman's concern, the same worry about "testosterone-pumped young people" can be applied to a stirring Canucks win, or a regular Friday or Saturday night to some extent as well.

Perhaps instead of being concerned with what could result from fight fans leaving an event, Mr. Cadman and his fellow councillors should turn their efforts towards the numerous gang-related murders and violent acts that have taken place in the city this year.

Additionally, maybe Mr. Cadman could give the youth of Vancouver - and MMA fans worldwide - a shred of credit, as there is little evidence in support of their concerns regarding spectator violence following Mixed Martial Arts events.

Shifting gears to the more positive side of this story, a successful vote in Vancouver will be an important move for the Mixed Martial Arts community of both British Columbia and Canada as a whole.

While promotions such as Armageddon Fighting Championships (AFC) and King of the Cage have had success holding events on Vancouver Island, breaking into the Lower Mainland would not only help the island-based promotions, but also increase the exposure for the sport as a whole.

Dana White has previously stated that Vancouver is a target destination for the UFC, and General Motors (GM) Place is already tentatively booked for a June 2010 date with the sport's largest promotion.

The UFC is so keen on breaking this market that both Assistant General Counsel Mike Mersch and Executive VP and General Counsel Lawrence Epstein will be in attendance for today's council meeting.

Adding Vancouver to the mix would leave only Canada's largest city out of the Mixed Martial Arts loop, and perhaps seeing the success of previous events in Montreal, as well as Vancouver's decision to move forward will encourage Toronto to do the same.

Breaking into two more of the biggest markets in Canada would force coverage and understanding of the sport to increase and improve.

Media outlets could no longer ignore the fastest growing sport in the world when events are being held in their backyards, while misinformed councillors like David Cadman would get to see firsthand that his worries about escalated violence from "testosterone-pumped young people" are unfounded and the sport is more about artistry, honor and respect than producing a brutal spectacle.

The Great White North is already home to one of the greatest Mixed Martial Arts in the sport today, and hosted two of the most successful UFC events to date.

By the time the day is done, Vancouver could officially become a destination of the UFC and another point of reference for the continued legislation of the sport across the country, much to councillor David Cadman's dismay.

Continue reading...

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

WEC 45: Wickedly Exciting Carnage

This Saturday at The Pearl at The Palms in Las Vegas, Nevada, the WEC goes live-to-air on Versus.

For those who are somehow still unaware or uninterested in the WEC, give your head a shake.

While the acronym of the UFC's little brother officially stands for World Extreme Cagefighting, it very well could mean "Wickedly Exciting Carnage" or something similar because without fail, the WEC constantly delivers entertaining fight cards and it's time more people paid attention.

Coming in a week after UFC 107 will be an excellent opportunity for a direct comparison, especially considering that last week's UFC show was one of the better events in recent memory.

Guaranteeing for fights on the televised portion of the program, the four bouts brought to viewers via Versus this weekend are sure to create fans of first-time viewers and re-affirm why longtime followers like myself prefer the WEC to their larger, more publicized partner under the Zuffa banner.

Opening the show will be a full throttle battle between Japanese star Takeya Mizugaki (12-3-2) and former Keyboard Kimura interviewee Scotty "Young Guns" Jorgensen (7-3-0).

Mizugaki has been impressive in both of his WEC bouts to date, going the distance with then Bantamweight champion Miguel Torres in what could be Fight of the Year, as well as out-pointing Jeff Curran in a controversial decision last time out.

For Jorgensen, there are only two speeds: fast and faster.

The Boise State wrestling product comes out like a fireball and doesn't stop until the bell sounds or his opponent is finished. Last time around at WEC 43, the latter was the case, as former TUF competitor Noah Thomas didn't make it out of the first round.

A battle of contrasting styles takes the cage next, as Team Alpha Male member Joseph Benavidez (10-1-0) looks to rebound from the first loss of his career against Rani Yahya (15-4-0).

Benavidez, like Alpha Male leader Urijah Faber, is a tremendous wrestler who had his ten-fight winning streak snapped by Bantamweight title challenger Dominick Cruz at WEC 42. Previous to that bout, Benavidez had defeated the aforementioned Jeff Curran in dominating fashion.

This time around, however, Benavidez might want to keep this fight standing, as his opponent is a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu master and winner of the 2007 ADCC Submission Wrestling World Championship in the Under 66 kg class.

Plan and simple, Rani Yanya likes to submit people and he's done so with alarming ease as of late. Three straight Submission of the Night awards and first round finishes are all you need to know about Diego Sanchez' teammates tactics heading into this bout.

Second billing on the show goes to the improving and impressive Anthony Njokuani (12-2-0) and Canadian baby-faced assassin Chris Horodecki (13-1-0).

Though he looks about 16 at most, the 21-year-old Horodecki is a Shawn Tompkins trainee with wins over Bart Paleszewski and Ryan Schultz under his belt from his days dominating the IFL. While he was upset in the finals by Shultz, "The Polish Hammer" has since rebounded with back-to-back wins, including a first round submission of William "The Bull" Sriyapai in June.

Njokuani has earned consecutive Knockout of the Night awards in stopping Muhsin Corbbrey and Bart Paleszewski, and his two career defeats came to Donald Cerrone and Ben Henderson. The Texas native can cement himself as being next in line for a title shot with a win over the Canadian on Saturday.

Headlining the show is two-time lightweight title challenger Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone taking on 7-1 Ed "9mm" Ratcliff.

Not to take anything away from Ratcliff, a young fighter who has shown flashes of potential, but this fight looks like prime bounce-back material for the Greg Jackson-trained Cerrone.

While Ratcliff has three wins in four tries since joining the WEC, Cerrone has faced the best of the lightweight division and both of his defeats are considered controversial by some. He possesses an impressive all-around game and looked like a monster after his last defeat, dominating James Krause from the opening bell and submitting him before the first round ended.

The lineup may not contain many names that are as familiar as their UFC counterparts, but over the last year, no company has put forth more exciting events than the WEC.

Saturday night, the four fight lineup available to you on Versus is as good as anything offered by the UFC on Spike as of late, if not better and come Sunday morning, fight fans will be talking about what went down in Las Vegas at WEC 45.

You don't want to be left out of the conversation, do you?

Continue reading...

Sunday, December 13, 2009

UFC 107: 10 Things We Learned Last Night

1. Best. Lightweight. Ever.

If there was ever any doubt (and there shouldn't have been in all honesty), BJ Penn made it abundantly clear within the first 45 seconds of his fight with Diego Sanchez that he is simply on another level than everyone else at 155 pounds.

In each of his last two title defenses, we've heard the build up of the challenger being a great test for the champion, and each time, said challenger was thoroughly dismantled by Penn. There isn't a lightweight in the world who can hang with Penn, and there hasn't been one better in the history of the sport.

Not Aoki, not Pulver, not Gomi, not anybody. BJ Penn is the best lightweight ever and one of the greatest fighters of all-time.

2. Now What?

Each of his last two opponents were supposed to have the skills to be a challenge and potentially end the reign of the kid from Hilo. Both those men were sent home with their tails between their legs.

After dominating Diego Sanchez last night, there isn't a sole lightweight who could honestly challenge BJ Penn remaining in the UFC. Not because there aren't some talented fighters in the division, but because Penn is a transcendent talent.

Where things go from here is anybody's guess.

Personally, I have no interest in seeing BJ Penn move up to welterweight, as Dana White recently said the lightweight champion would have to start at the bottom and work his way to another title shot.

Joe Rogan tossed out Shinya Aoki's name last night, but that isn't going to happen. In addition to being contracted to DREAM, if "The Tobikan Judan" is fighting in the United States, it will be with Strikeforce. And let's be honest: Penn would smash Aoki.

Keep dominating and defending the belt; a year from now, Kenny Florian will be due for another title shot and then we'll see if the third time is the charm.

3. Even in a Bloody Defeat, Diego Sanchez Impresses

For all the jokes and ribbing aside - from the YES! routine to the greatest mean face in the history of mean faces - Diego Sanchez is one tough kid.

Less than a minute into the biggest fight of his life, he was rocked and made painfully aware of what a long and painful night it was going to be. But he just kept coming and coming and coming and coming.

His unbreakable spirit looked broken at the start of each of the championship rounds, yet Sanchez kept walking out to the center of the Octagon. We've seen fighters, including Penn himself, call it quits and give up, but that just isn't a part of Diego Sanchez' makeup.

While he was completely dominated and left beaten and bloody, Diego Sanchez showed the heart of a champion and deserves some recognition today.

4. "Water is Wet"

Yes, Frank Mir quickly disposed of Cheick Kongo, connecting with a big punch before putting the French kickboxer to sleep with a guillotine inside of 90 seconds.

But going into that fight, who didn't know that Frank Mir was going to submit Cheick Kongo pretty damn quickly? Mir is a great submission fighter and Kongo has a pretty horrible ground game, so Mir earning a win by submission is about as shocking as learning that water is wet.

Now, what was impressive and a new development stemming from this bout was the recreated Frank Mir. Holy weight training, Batman!

While I would still pick a 100% healthy Brock Lesnar in their eventual trilogy fight, Mir looks to be a bigger, stronger version of the guy who submitted the current champ in his UFC debut and that could prove problematic, not only for Lesnar, but for everyone else in the division as well.

5. Jon Fitch Needs to Evolve

While partial credit certainly goes to Mike Pierce for putting up a great effort and nearly ending things in the final minute of the third round, Fitch came away with another Jon Fitch victory, earning two-of-three rounds on all three scorecards to move his record to 11-1 in the UFC and 21-3 (1 No Contest) overall.

That said, I don't know if there is a more frustrating 21-3 fighter in all of Mixed Martial Arts. Though his blue collar, Purdue Boilermaker, grind-it-out style makes him an easy-to-appreciate every man, Jon Fitch needs to evolve.

The guy who won last night wouldn't get passed Thiago Alves and his original opponent, Ricardo Almeida, would surely have been a stiff test as well. His boxing needs improvement, from both an offensive and defensive standpoint, as does his overall strength and power.

Interestingly enough, the blueprint has been laid by his teammate, Josh Koscheck. An equally gifted wrestler, though a better overall athlete than Fitch, Koscheck has developed a solid striking game and more power under the watchful eyes of Bob Cook and Dave Camarillo, and Fitch needs to do the same.

6. Lovable? Yes. A Legitimate Contender? No.

Such is life for Clay Guida.

The fans love him and rightfully so; he puts on an exciting fight 99 times out of 100, has crazy hair and energy, let's out monster burps when they're checking his cuts and sings his walkout song on the way to the cage.

That said, he's a gatekepper and nothing more.

Ten fights into his UFC career, he's 5-5 and never beaten a top ranked guy. He's tested them, challenged them and given them fits, but in the end, he's come out on the losing end.

Entertaining the crowd is one thing, but to be considered a contender, you have to beat other contenders and that's not been the case for Clay Guida thus far.

7. Kenny Florian Should Face Diego Sanchez Again

Now that they're both fighting in the weight class they belong in and have grown as fighters, let's get the rematch from The Ultimate Fighter Season One on a card in 2010.

This just makes sense on so many levels.

Sanchez certainly won't want to drop too far down the ladder in terms of his next opponent, and Florian needs to keep beating top level competition if he hopes to earn a third title shot. Mix in their rivalry from TUF 1, and the improvement both have made since their time on the show and you have everything you need to sell this fight.

Besides, I want to see another Florian fight before I officially gush about the improvements that were already noticeable last night. Better boxing, better gameplan, and better execution.

In my opinion, that was the best Kenny Florian we've seen yet.

8. With Time, Stefan Struve Could Be a Handful

While some will certainly speculate about the outcome (I'm not fussed either way...), last night's win over Paul Buentello showed me that with more development and a little added meat on them bones, Stefan Struve will eventually be a very difficult opponent for his fellow UFC heavyweights.

Just because of his height alone, Struve is already a tough test. For starters, it's not like there are a ton of nearly 7-foot MMA fighters with good kickboxing and submission skills to train with in preparation.

What struck me the most was that it has taken this long for Struve to begin utilizing his kickboxing in the UFC, as his barrage of leg kicks in the third round clearly hurt Buentello and could be a very useful tool in not only weakening his opponents, but keeping distance.

Now, he certainly needs to clean up his striking, as a blind man looking the other way would have seen that flying knee coming and it almost got him knocked out. Though he survived, we've seen him (a) get cut up a couple times, (b) be prone to leaving his chin out there to get belted despite having a ridiculous height advantage on everyone and (c) straying from his strengths to stand-and-trade.

He's got room to add 20 pounds before reaching the 265 pound limit, and given that he's just 21-years-old, he's sure to fill out in the future. If he does, and he cleans up his all-around game, "The Skyscraper" could have a very bright future.

9. Dear Alan Belcher...

White boy's with cornrows barely works on Urijah Faber, and "The California Kid" you are not.

Pink shorts don't work on anybody. Period. End of Sentence.

So what makes you think that combining the two is a good look?

You looked like the scrawny, pasty white kid in Take the Lead who put his red-headed afro into 'rows for the big dance competition.

Yes - I've seen Take the Lead and can remember way too many of the details. Tell me something I don't already know...

"The Talent" looked okay in his win over a clearly out of shape, ten-pounds-over-the-limit Wilson Gouveia, but not good enough to warrant declaring he wants that belt with Joe Rogan post-fight.

He gets punched in the face far too much for my liking right now and isn't that far removed from losses to both Jason Day and Kendall Grove for me to take him seriously as a contender.

Personally, I'd love to see Belcher hook up with Mark DellaGrotte and Team Sityodtong. Belcher has a great deal of potential and is just 25, so there is time and room to grow as a fighter. Sometimes all a guy needs is the help of a great teacher, and DellaGrotte would be the right match in my opinion.

10. 5-0 on the Main Card, 2-4 in the Prelims

Clearly, I need to invest more time and energy into picking the preliminary bouts.

Though some will certainly point out that the pay-per-view portion pretty much ended up going down as many believed it would, I'd like to point out my string of three consecutive "dead-on predictions" in the Florian / Fitch / Mir bouts that would have turned into a four-pack had BJ Penn's shin not tore Diego Sanchez' forehead apart.

Yes, this is my Barry Horowitz moment where I pat myself on the back.

Now that it's over - man did my prelim picks suck!

Wilson Gouveia came in fat and got dropped, Matt Wiman dominated Shane Nelson (who needs to drop to '45 immediately), "Toquinho" submitted Lucio Linhares and DaMarquis Johnson fought off a submission attempt to choke out Edgar Garcia.

Still, 7-4 isn't all that bad.

Continue reading...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

You Call Yourself an MMA Fan?

Why a photo of Michael Clarke Duncan?

In addition to being a monster of a man who I can see posing the titular question in his grumpiest bass, MCD has been a regular presence cageside for the UFC for quite some time.

So when the idea struck me to discuss the complex layers of ridiculousness that is MMA fandom, I figured I'd lead with a guy no one would call a "UFC nuthugger" or mock his level of overall knowledge.

Hey look - a soapbox. Since no one is using it, I might as well climb up here...

Consider yourself warned.

Why in the name of all things holy do we have to be such a competitive, argumentative group riddled with superiority complexes and always in search of the next pissing contest?

(Note: Me very-much included...)

While it would be perfectly fine to be one happy collection of Mixed Martial Arts fans, there are segments of our overall population who just can't let that happen.

Why? Beats the hell out of me...

I consider myself a pretty hardcore fan when it comes to MMA; my spare time is spent playing Six Degrees of Separation using the Sherdog Fighter Finder, watching obscure fight videos on YouTube and becoming friends with just about anyone remotely related to the sport via Facebook and Twitter.

On top of that, my brain is wired so that I can remember useless information like fighter records, affiliations and hometowns with alarming speed and accuracy. While it comes in handy now, it certainly didn't help when I needed to recall formulas for Stats or how to conjugate the verb avoir in French class.

The reason I'm telling you all this is because I think I could go head-to-head with just about anyone on the topic of Mixed Martial Arts and come out okay... but what would be the point?

You see things one way and I see them another.

Last time I checked, there is nothing wrong with that.

No one is handing out awards for being the most knowledgeable fan or having the correct opinion.

Except that some MMA fans act like they are.

My belief that Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre are currently better Pound-for-Pound fighters is unacceptable to the legions of Fedor Emelianenko loyalists who will argue to the death making the same three points to "prove" that "The Last Emperor" is the be-all and end-all of MMA.

Of course, that response will elicit the usual round of "Fedor hasn't fought anyone / Pride was a joke" rhetoric that comes from the demographic who believe that the UFC is the only organization that matters.

Those who were planted in Pride's corner during their glory days will immediately take up the fight for their organization and this will go on and on and on and on until someone calls someone a "nuthugger" and tells them that their opinion is wrong.

The same type of scenario can play out between long-time fans and "newbies" as well, with some of those who rented UFC 1 on VHS not accepting "when Anderson Silva knocked out Forrest Griffin" as an adequate answer to the question "What's your favorite fight of all-time?"

And let's not forget the purists versus the pragmatists.

Most recently, that battle has focuses on whether or not Brock Lesnar simply forces the air from his opponents by using his astronomical - and wholly unfair and therefore necessitating a change - weigh advantage or if he wrestles them to the ground and then punches the daylights out of them while still making weight and holding no greater an advantage over a guy like Frank Mir than Tim Sylvia held over Randy Couture.

Debates are part of the foundation of sports, being a fan and actively enjoying your athletic endeavor of choice, but it seems like is a portion of the MMA fan population who just refuse to accept that people might think differently than they do and it makes absolutely no sense to me.

No matter how many times you tell me that Fedor hasn't lost in eight years and his loss isn't really a loss (all things I'm acutely aware of and can be spared in future Fedor Debates), I'm still going to hold to my belief that Silva and St-Pierre have faced stiffer competition as of late and are better right now.

Trying to convince me otherwise is like trying to convince a Catholic that Buddhism is the best religion...

Saying that Pride was a lesser organization than the UFC during the time both were operating is like saying the National League is a lesser caliber of baseball than the American League.

Following the analogy, that would make Albert Pujols the Fedor Emelianenko of Baseball, as he's clearly facing sub-standard pitching playing on the Senior Circuit...

New fans to the sport shouldn't be ostracized for not offering up one of the countless epic battles that have gone down in MMA history as their favorite all-time fight; they should get a High Five for enjoying Anderson Silva's beatdown of Forrest Griffin.

Now that you're friends, you, the long-term encyclopedia of MMA knowledge, can impart a list of other fights for the "newbie" to go check out and enjoy. Don't hate... educate.

And what the hell is with calling people a nuthugger?

While I certainly understand the connotation, when did being an ardent supporter of a fighter or organization become akin to wrapping your arms around a man's testicles?

I love the Detroit Red Wings, so whose nuts am I theoretically hugging there?

Part of my aim as a writer is to create pieces that stimulate conversations and start debates.

Unfortunately, for some in the MMA community, the definition of debate has become bastardized to mean things like slandering, insulting, beating a dead horse and/or ignoring facts.

We don't have to always agree and we don't have to be void of emotion and commitment to what we feel, but just because we're fans of a combat sport doesn't mean we have to be so combative with each other when we don't see eye-to-eye.

Yes these are broad strokes and many fall outside of this segment of the fan populous, but everyone needs to be reminded to play nice from time to time, right?

A fan is a fan is a fan... no one "type" is greater than the other.

Continue reading...

UFC 107 Punch Drunk Predictions

The weekend is finally here and a great card of fights is before us, meaning another round of Punch Drunk Predictions are ready to go.

After a couple cards of making like "Smooth" Jimmy Apollo from The Simpsons - "If you're right 52% of the time, you're wrong 48% of the time." - UFC 107 is another one of those lineups that can give a guy trying to improve his winning percentage fits.

Every fight on the undercard is conceivably a coin flip situation - though I'm not tossing any quarters in the air this morning - while the pay-per-view portion of things can either go 100% according to Hoyle (or Kyte, as the case may be) or completely pear-shaped.

Either way, we're in for a great night of fights.

Punch Drunk Predictions
Record: 121-89-1

Preliminary Card

TJ Grant over Kevin Burns via Submission, Round 2
Edgar Garcia over DaMarques Johnson via TKO, Round 3
Lucio Linhares over Rousimar Palhares via Split Decision
Johny Hendricks over Ricardo Funch via TKO, Round 1
Shane Nelson over Matt Wiman via TKO, Round 1
Wilson Gouveia over Alan Belcher via Submission, Round 2

Main Card

Stefan Struve over Paul Buentello via Submission, Round 2
Kenny Florian over Clay Guida via Submission, Round 2
Jon Fitch over Mike Pierce via Jon Fitch / Unanimous Decision (the two are officially synonymous in my books until Fitch gets a finish)
Frank Mir over Cheick Kongo via Submission, Round 1

And in the Main Event of the Evening...

BJ Penn over Diego Sanchez via Unanimous Decision to retain the UFC Lightweight title.

Bonus Bonus Picks

Fight of the Night: Penn vs. Sanchez
KO of the Night: Edgar Garcia
Submission of the Night: Kenny Florian

Now touch gloves and come out swingin!

Continue reading...

Friday, December 11, 2009

UFC 107 Fight Week Preview: BJ Penn vs. Diego Sanchez

As great as watching Rampage and Rashad settle their differences Saturday night would have been, the headlining act for UFC 107 is actually a better fight, as Lightweight champion BJ Penn defends his belt against Diego Sanchez.

While people often talk about the "fairness" of different fighters' escalation to a title shot, little has been said of Sanchez' two fight foray into the lightweight division culminating in this bout. Diego Sanchez has won all of two fights at lightweight heading into this bout. Just remember that the next time someone is bashing Brock Lesnar's path to the heavyweight title.

Merited or not, this stands to be a great fight, as Sanchez will undoubtedly bring the fight to Penn. Over the last eight years, everyone who has done so in the 155 pound division has been defeated.

We've waded through the introductory bouts and the build-up to the big dance, but now it's time to tackle the main event in classic Fight Week Preview style.

"The Prodigy" BJ Penn (14-5-1) versus Diego "Nightmare" Sanchez (23-2-0)

Our usual point of origin in the FWP segments is training camps, where Sanchez earns the edge, but with an asterisk.

As a member of The Arena, Sanchez trains under Saulo Ribeiro and works alongside veteran MMA competitors Rani Yahya, KJ Noons, Fabricio Camoes and Xande Ribeiro. Previous to making the move to San Diego, Sanchez worked for a number of years with his hometown team at Jackson's Submission Fighting.

The asterisk comes courtesy of Penn being a bit of a lone wolf when it comes to training and the results that have accompanied that routine.

While there are other fighters who prepare for their bouts alongside Penn in Hilo, Hawaii (like Shane Nelson for example), Penn isn't surrounded by a stable of fighters or big name coaches with list of prized pupils. It's him, brother Jay Dee and The Marinovichs, his new strength and conditioning team.

Normally, solo training and being the clear Alpha male makes me shy away, but it's been that way forever with Penn and the results at 155 show that it works for him.

Strength of schedule is next up and a clear victory for "The Prodigy," having held belts in two weight classes and faced the likes of GSP, Matt Hughes, Lyoto Machida and countless other upper echelon opponents.

Conversely, the five biggest names Sanchez has ever gone up against are Kenny Florian, Nick Diaz, Josh Koscheck, Jon Fitch and Joe Stevenson, and he's come away with a 3-2 record. While every fight could be your biggest win to date, having a proven track record certainly helps convince people of your ability to win the big one.

These two share two common opponents, though one is a bit of a stretch.

The Kenny Florian that Diego Sanchez defeated to become "The Other Original Ultimate Fighter" is a vastly different fighter than the man Penn submitted this past August in Philadelphia.

A win Saturday for "KenFlo" and a Sanchez loss could setup a much-welcomed rematch to help illustrate that point.

However, both also defeated Joe Stevenson; Diego in his lightweight debut and Penn to claim the lightweight title. Comparatively speaking, the two fights aren't even close.

Sanchez outboxed Stevenson in a fight that spent very little time on the mat, earning a Unanimous Decision. Thirteen months earlier, Penn battered Stevenson for just over nine minutes, earning a submission win and the Lightweight title while leaving the former Ultimate Fighter winner a bloody mess.

Tactically, Sanchez has the cardio and energy to push the pace against Penn. While Penn's endurance at 155 has never been a problem, Sanchez is on a different level than most fighters when it comes to the speed at which he fights. That said, he's never been beyond three rounds and never faced a champion before.

In terms of style, Sanchez holds the edge in the wrestling department, though he is facing one of the best in the business at maintaining balance and defending the takedown. And no, getting taken down repeatedly by GSP at 170 doesn't work as evidence to the contrary.

Penn is equal or better everywhere else; his boxing is among the best in the sport, his jiu jitsu is what earned him the name "The Prodigy" in the first place and his flexibility and balance is off the charts.

While the UFC could certainly be giving Diego Sanchez a serious media push heading into this fight because of his TUF ties and with an eye to the future, the other very real possibility is that they've learned something I've only recently come to accept: BJ Penn is the best to ever fight at 155 pound in the history of the sport.

Try selling the opponent with that as your opening...

Continue reading...

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Fight Week Previews: Mir vs. Kongo and More

For all the mediocre cards we've suffered through over the last couple of months, UFC 107 takes to the Octagon this weekend in an effort to make up for things.

While some may not share my excitement for this card, we've got a main event that actually involves a title (which will be covered in-depth... tomorrow), a solid heavyweight tilt, a high-energy lightweight battle and a chance to answer some questions about two guys starting to make a little noise.

Though I certainly would have loved to see Rampage and Rashad tee it up in Jackson's hometown, this card more than makes up for the now unretired A-Team member's sudden 73-day hiatus from the sport.

"The Headhunter" Paul Buentello (24-10-0) vs. Stefan "Skyscraper" Struve (18-3-0)

For a guy who has been around for a while and has as much name recognition as he does, Buentello sure has an incredible lack of quality wins.

Though he's lost two championship fights - one to Andrei Arlovski at UFC 55, the other to Alistair Overeem for the Strikeforce title he never defends - Buentello's wins have come over faded pseudo-stars (Gary Goodridge, Tank Abbott), over-hyped young Russians ("Baby Fedor" Kiril Sidelnikov) or human punching bags (Bo Cantrell, Ruben Villareal).

Plus, he got suspended from his long-time gym earlier in the month for going outside of the AKA Family for representation.

Struve is an emerging young talent who, despite a kickboxing pedigree, has shown a strong submission game. Both of his UFC conquests have come via tapout, though he's yet to face someone with the experience of Buentello.

What bodes well for the Dutchmen is that he will sport a nine inch height advantage and the subsequent reach edge that goes along with it, giving him the ability to keep Buentello from getting inside and living up to his "Headhunter" moniker.

Kenny "KenFlo" Florian (11-4-0) vs. Clay "The Carpenter" Guida (25-10-0)

Mark my words: this is going to be awesome!

Both have switched camps since their last appearances; Florian left Team Sityodtong and brother Keith for Firas Zahabi's Tri-Star Gym in Montreal, while Guida has joined forces with Greg Jackson in Albuquerque.

Watching close friends and colleagues Zahabi and Jackson gameplan against each other alone will be interesting. Then you add Guida's high energy approach and Florian's tremendous all-around game to the equation and you have what should be a terrific fight.

Guida is a monster fan favorite and understandably so; he never stops, has crazy caveman hair and is an affable and charismatic guy. He's also a classic overachiever and someone whose standing in the division is elevated because of his popularity.

When you strip away the hair and the energy and the funny, Guida has never beaten a fighter on Florian's level. Please, I beg you, don't try to rationalize the win over Nate Diaz as being overly meaningful.

He puts on a great show and is a pain in the posterior for everyone who walks into the cage with him, but Kenny Florian's last two losses in the UFC came nearly three years apart and both were for the UFC Lightweight title.

Jon Fitch (20-3-0. 1 NC) vs. Mike Pierce (9-1-0)

The fact that neither man has a nickname speaks to the style they share inside the cage; both are gritty, collegiate wrestlers who grind down their opponents with takedown after takedown after takedown.

Pierce surprised many, myself included, by dominating Brock Larson in his UFC debut in September, and he did so by following the formula mentioned above. Doing the same to Jon Fitch will be a very difficult task.

The former captain of the Purdue Boilermakers wrestling team, Fitch is one of the best welterweights in the world not named Georges.

While he shares styles with his UFC 107 opponent, Fitch has faced far superior competition. Additionally, he lost once in the last six years, and that came courtesy of the best welterweight in the world.

Frank Mir (12-4-0) vs. Cheick Kongo (14-5-1)

In all honesty, this fight probably won't make it out of the first round, as Mir will drag the ground-deficient Kongo to the canvas and find a submission. From there, he'll continue to ramble on about how much he wants to fight Brock Lesnar again.

If there is any justice in the world, before the above scenario plays out, Kongo will get a number of solid blows in on the loudmouth Mir. For all the crap Brock Lesnar took for his ridiculous comments and antics post-UFC 100, Frank Mir is non-stop smack talk and disrespect leading up to his fights and no one really bats an eye.

We know Kongo has some serious power; if you're not convinced, ask Cain Velasquez how it felt to get drilled by those giant French frying pans. Unfortunately, we also know that a dazed and dizzy Velasquez was still able to bring Kongo to the ground with little resistance.

As much as I'm growing tired of the UFC Countdown shows, I have to admit I loved Cheick Kongo looking into the camera and calling Frank Mir, "Big mouth."

Tomorrow, full blown B.J. Penn versus Diego Sanchez coverage.

Continue reading...

UFC 107 Fight Week Previews: The Prelims

Can I just say how much day jobs suck? Always interfering with what I want to do...

Thankfully, Saturdays don't fall into my work schedule, which means I'll be seated in front of a television this Saturday to watch the very solid UFC 107 from Memphis, Tennessee.

Despite changes to the original plan ** cough Rampage cough ** this is an entertaining card, top-to-bottom, and we'll kick off our coverage by running through the preliminary card bouts.

Kevin "The Fire" Burns (7-3-0) vs. T.J. Grant (16-3-0)

Burns enters riding a two-fight losing streak and coming off a Fight of the Night bonus for his bout with Chris Lytle. Though he is strong on his feet, it's unlikely that Grant will be looking to stand and trade the way "Lights Out" was in June.

The Canadian collected most of his wins via submission and will certainly be keen on doing the same this time around as he looks to get back to his winning ways. Though he lost at UFC 100, Grant acquitted himself reasonably well, going the distance with the hard to handle Dong Hyun Kim.

DaMarques Johnson (13-7-0) vs. Edgar Garcia (7-1-0)

Here is what always amuses me about The Ultimate Fighter: the whole thing is based on winner the show to earn a six-figure contract with the UFC.

While that's all well and good, the fact that 2/3 of the cast always seem to make it into the company for two or three fights of their own makes the whole process a little redundant to me, outside of Bruce Buffer getting to introduce another middling prospect as "The Winner of Season 965 of The Ultimate Fighter."

For all his talk on Season 9, Johnson had one strong performance and it came in the semifinals against Nick Osipczak. Edgar Garcia was robbed of a win last time out against "Bad" Brad Blackburn and will prove to be a far more daunting debut for Johnson than Peter Sobotta would have been at UFC 105.

Rousimar "Toquinho" Palhares (11-2-0) vs. Lucio "Spartan" Linhares (13-4-0)

A battle of Brazilians with BJJ black belts, Linhares makes his UFC debut after a successful stint with M-1, while Palhares fights for the first time since defeating Jeremy Horn back at UFC 93 in Dublin, Ireland last January.

Though unknown to many, Linhares has excellent all-around skills and enters this bout with a five fight winning streak, including victories over well-regarded Karl "The Psycho" Amoussou and UFC veteran Sean Salmon.

Palhares, a member of Brazilian Top Team, is a submission specialist who will either make you tap or take you to the scorecards. Originally slated to face Alessio Sakara at last weekend's TUF 10 Finale, "Toquinho" actually gets a stiffer test with the submission savvy Linhares.

Johny Hendricks (6-0-0) vs. Ricardo Funch (7-0-0)

The battle of the unbeaten fighters as Team Takedown's Johny Hendricks returns to the cage to take on undefeated Team Link member Ricardo Funch.

For being described as a BJJ fighter, Funch has just one submission in his seven wins to date. Instead, Gabriel Gonzaga's teammate has earned most of his victories by way of T/KO and will look to do the same this time around.

Hendricks notably ruined Amir Sadollah's long-awaited debut in just 29 seconds at UFC 101 in Philadelphia, and brings an outstanding wrestling base into the cage.

Additionally - and totally unrelated to actually analyzing this fight - the dude loves The Baconater and could potentially have a Star Wars character in his corner should Marc Laimon decided to stick with the Ecko Star Wars gear he's been wearing as of late.

"Handsome" Matt Wiman (10-5-0) vs. "Sugar" Shane Nelson (12-4-0)

In the night's battle of horrible nicknames...

Honestly, is there a rule somewhere stating that if your name is Shane, your nickname has to be "Sugar?" And I just can't take a fighter, no, a person seriously if they refer to themselves as "Handsome" anything.

Besides being a battle of maddening monikers, this is probably a Loser Leaves Town match, as Wiman comes in off back-to-back losses, while Nelson was thoroughly dominated by Aaron Riley and would be far better suited to fighting at 145.

If there is a coin in your pocket, you'll need it for this one.

Alan "The Talent" Belcher (14-6-0) vs. Wilson Gouveia (12-6-0)

Belcher was extremely impressive (at least to me) in his UFC 100 bout with Yoshihiro Akiyama, dropping a paper-thin Split Decision to the debuting Japanese star. That said, his biggest win to date is either the recently released Denis Kang or the long-ago-released Jorge Santiago.

Gouveia is in a similar position; he looks great against lesser competition, but comes up short when faced with a stern test. Originally scheduled to fight James Irvin at UFC 102, a back injury forced the American Top Team trainee to withdraw from that bout, leaving him out of the cage for close to ten months.

This is one of those fights where one guy (Gouveia) has a distinct advantage in one area (submissions) but has shown a lack of interest / desire to utilize that portion of this skill set as of late.

If that changes, the Brazilian has a big advantage. If not, find that coin you had earlier and put it to use one more time.

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Saturday, December 5, 2009

10 Things We Learned from the TUF 10 Finale

1. Roy Nelson, Ultimate Fighter

"Big Country" was the big favorite heading in to Season 10 and made all those who were betting the chalk come away winners, as the former IFL champion knocked out Brendan Schaub to claim the six-figure contract and entry into the UFC.

For those who have lamented Nelson's fat belly tactics, this fight showed there is far more in the arsenal of the newest member of the UFC family than smothering his opponents with his Burger King belly.

What comes next for Nelson will be interesting; he is a legitimate Top 25 heavyweight with a fairly complete game, so if ever there was a TUF winner who could be thrown to the fire without concern, it's Nelson. Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos both need opponents...

2. Despite the DQ, Jon Jones Looked Awesome

The letter of the law was rightfully enforced and instant replay was used for the first time to determine the decision, resulting in the first loss of Jon Jones' career.

That said, damn did that boy look good!

Two things I especially liked that might go unmentioned amidst the disqualification / rules / unnecessary complaining about Steve Mazzagatti: one, Jones shock off that early Hamill single leg pretty easily, which is impressive as hell and two, that sequence of clinch / takedown / mount / beatdown was as fluid as I've seen in a while and the kid is only 22.

You can officially remove the prospect tag from Jon Jones; he's no longer a future contender. The future is now.

3. About That Ruling

As I said, the letter of the law was followed and it resulted in "Bones" Jones being disqualified.

Personally, I understand the ruling and won't ramble on about things too much, other than to say that while the elbow certainly landed and did damage, Hamill was done. He apparently broke his shoulder, so that probably had a thing or two to do with his inability to continue.

Hypothetically speaking, if the elbow doesn't occur and Hamill makes it through the round, he doesn't get off the stool to start the second round. While the ruling was by the book, it will go down as one of those "he lost, but not really" type deals.

4. Apparently I Have No Idea How to Score Fights

See, I had the Kimbo - Houston Alexander fight 29-28 Alexander with Kimbo obviously earning the nod in Round 2. As for the other two rounds, I'm not sure how he takes either of them, yet alone both on one judges' card.

Round 1 saw Kimbo do absolutely nothing for more than half the round, while Alexander did the bare minimum, throwing a couple leg kicks. Neither fighter gained any real dominant position or landed any serious blows, so Alexander gets a boring 10-9 for initiating with the crappy leg kicks.

To me, Round 3 had two big moments: the one where Alexander knocked Kimbo down with a leg kick, leaving Kimbo in obvious discomfort on the ground and the late elbow Kimbo ate to close the round. Everything else was kind of a wash, with both guys gassed and failing to land anything really serious. Another 10-9 for "The Assassin" on my card.

Apparently, I saw something different than the three people sitting cage side charged with scoring the fight. Despite my lack of judging certification, I'm not sure I'm the one who got it wrong.

5. More Kimbo to Come

Kimbo winning was honestly my worst nightmare come to life, because it means we're going to be forced to endure more Kimbo Mania courtesy of the UFC.

Since more people are interested in watching Kimbo fight just about anyone than the best heavyweight in the sport battle an undefeated up-and-comer, Kimbo will continue to take up featured space on Fight Night cards and perhaps pay-per-view events moving forward.

My question to the UFC is: Who do you force feed to him now?

Houston Alexander was supposed to be the perfect opponent, and that just backfired miserably.

My early prediction: Seth Petruzelli and tons of people will tune in for no apparent reason.

6. Isn't Heavyweight 206 and Up?

Last I checked, that was how it worked, so why exactly was this considered a catchweight bout?

I know the answer is that they agreed to an upper weight limit, but honestly, since we knew neither guy was going to come in super huge (Kimbo had fought around 235 max previously), why not just do this at heavyweight?

Alexander will continue to fight at light heavyweight, though this performance may be his swan song with the UFC, where Kimbo fights in the future is a mystery. He apparently hated trying to cut weight all week, but being a smaller heavyweight isn't a great idea these days.

Unless the UFC decides to go forward with the oft-discussed "middle heavyweight division," Kimbo is going to have to get used to cutting weight or take his chances against the big boys.

Neither sound all that appealing to me.

7. Frankie Edgar: Good Win, Glaring Weakness

I absolutely love the guy, but Matt Veach further illuminated the blueprint for beating Frankie Edgar before "The Answer" ended things early in the second round.

Bigger fighters, especially bigger wrestlers, can manhandle the smaller Edgar. We saw it in the Gray Maynard fight and we saw it both times the larger-framed Veach picked Edgar up and slammed him to the canvas.

Seeing Veach make like Matt Hughes on the first slam makes me want to see Edgar win one more fight before getting a title shot, against either Tyson Griffin or Gray Maynard. Beat a guy who can dominate you on the ground and you've earned your title shot.

8. Count Me Out for Season 11

Honestly, when Dana White said, "The fans want to see them fight again" in reference to the freshly-announced coaches of The Ultimate Fighter's 11th season Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, I shook my head and asked, "What fans?"

I'm a fan and I have no interest in seeing a third fight between the two for a number of reasons:

  1. Liddell is up 2-0, so it's not like we need a rubber match.
  2. It does nothing for the division or the company, so I don't really care who wins.
  3. It'll be 2010 when they finally meet, also known as nearly three years since either guy won a goddamn fight.
At least they're not tying up a title, but this is enough for me to officially submit my "reboot the franchise or I'm not watching anymore" statement for Dana White's consideration.

9. Things Are Getting a Little Sloppy

My wife actually brought this up during the James McSweeney - Darrill Schoonover fight and I think she's right.

Just in this fight alone we saw McSweeney almost fire a big knee to his downed opponent, run his fingers over Schoonover's eyes, prompting a warning from Josh Rosenthal, and deliver an elbow after the bell to the base of the neck.

Personally, a lot of it is the fighter's themselves, the heat of the moment and the timing of blows, but part of it, at least I think, goes to the emergence of so many organizations and the tough guy image too many people buy into because they're MMA fighters / wear Affliction gear.

Accidents happen and I understand that, but there is a part of me that can help but think that some of the traditional values of Martial Arts are being left behind as more and more people flock to the sport.

Respect for your opponent and the quest to prove your dominance and honor your style and team is losing ground to talking the most trash and being the toughest douche bag in the room who can't always be expected to remember the rules.

Just something to think about courtesy of my wife and her ever-expanding knowledge of the sport. And yes, I know I'm a lucky man.

10. The Pro Wrestling Tie-In

I have to acknowledge it.

While I know TNA Wrestling also broadcasts on Spike TV and using the UFC platform to push just about anything makes sense, putting Mixed Martial Arts next to Professional Wrestling doesn't sit all that well with me.

Having Hulk Hogan on the broadcast accomplishes what for the sport of Mixed Martial Arts? Sure it bumps the numbers for TNA a little for the next couple weeks and helps them announce their intentions to start up a new version of "The Monday Night Wars" with the WWE, but nowhere in there did I say anything about the UFC gaining anything.

Because they don't.

Additionally, people have already and will resume talking about the pro wrestling connections should all the Shane McMahon rumors ever come to fruition and people keep referring to Brock Lesnar as a "heel" like he's playing a bad guy in the WWE.

I know why they did it and the UFC certainly has to continue to shill everything under the sun for Spike TV, but just know that this left me feeling a little dirty.

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