Monday, August 31, 2009

Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Yves Lavigne, Referee Stoppages and Armchair Analysis

While a great deal of the discussions stemming from UFC 102 have centered around the return to form of Minotauro Nogueira, Randy Couture's "never say die" showing and Todd Duffee's record-setting knockout, Yves Lavigne is getting his share of attention too.

Many are questioning Lavigne's indecision in the ring when Jake Rosholt had a very tight arm triangle choke on Chris Leben. "The Crippler" appeared to tap weakly, Lavigne started to move in to stop the fight and then stopped when Leben's legs bucked towards the referee. Seconds later, he was out cold, Lavigne jumped in and the hold was released.

Then Leben began to convulse on the canvas.

Seeing a fighter twitch on the mat is never a pretty sight and obvious concern for their safety mounts. In this case, people looking to cast blame turn to Lavigne, a referee who has had some tough calls in recent memory that certainly don't help the situation.

Everyone remembers his stop-start routine from the UFC 96, where Pete Sell looked to be finished, but Lavigne "restarted" the fight before waving things off shortly thereafter. That same night, many questioned a different referee's decision when a seemingly early stoppage awarded Shane Nelson a quick win over Aaron Riley.

Therein lies the problem: No matter what these referees do, people are going to question their decisions.

Don't get in there early enough, you're endangering fighters livelihood and well-being.

Get in there too soon and you're depriving the paying customers of what they came to see in the first place and not giving the fighters a chance.

The only way a referee remains unscathed is if there is an unquestionable finish or the final bell sounds. Everything else is put under a microscope and scrutinized by hundreds of people, all of whom have an opinion on the events from the comfort of their living rooms and computer desks, myself included.

Interestingly enough, there was a non-call on that same card that merits some discussion, at least in the eyes of Watch Kalib Run's Zak Woods.

On the most recent WKR Cage Cast recapping UFC 102, Woods questioned whether referee Mario Yamasaki could have jumped in and stopped the main event when Randy Couture was mounted and clearly taking a great deal of punishment.

Though Couture eventually got back to guard and continued in the bout, he wonders whether a little extra lenience was afforded in this bout simply because it was Randy Couture taking the punishment, and it's hard not to understand where he is coming from.

There is no denying that there is room for improvement in the refereeing of Mixed Martial Arts fights, just as there is similar room in the officiating of most sports.

Legendary referee "Big" John McCarthy has introduced his COMMAND training program to help in this regard, which, along with continued experience and exposure, will hopefully result in better officiating.

But the naked truth is that referees are going to make mistakes.

They will stop fights too soon and let some continue on when they shouldn't. Unfortunately, it is the nature of the beast, and something that will never be 100% resolved.

For the most part, these men and women perform admirably in a thankless position where the only time they receive recognition is when countless people who wouldn't want to switch places with them feel they made a mistake.

Saturday night, Yves Lavigne fell under the microscope of public scrutiny; he let the fight continue for three seconds too long and didn't trust his natural instinct.

Some are calling for his job, while others are talking about the potential of deaths in the ring if similar situations occur in the future.

I'd just ask that those same people keep this in mind the next time they think a referee stops a fight too early.

One thing that maybe only I find interesting in all this:

Guys can beat their opponents into bloody messes, knock them out cold and even break their appendages, usually to a chorus of cheers. Dan Henderson delivers a clearly unnecessary forearm to the head of a fallen Michael Bisping and it's okay, because it was in the heat of the moment and you have to keep going until the fight is stopped.

Yet these referees make one mistake either way and people are calling for their careers and throwing them under the bus in the name of fighter safety, risk of injuries or perhaps even worse.

Somewhere in there lies a double standard that we'll tackle tomorrow.

Continue reading...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

UFC 102: Things I Learned Last Night

1. "Minotauro" Nogueira is Far From Done
You can now officially call his fight with Frank Mir an aberration, as it was clear last night that the staph infection and knee troubles Nogueira was suffering from heading into that bout took a lot out of the Pride veteran.

From the opening bell, the former Pride and UFC champion looked crisp, connecting with the more powerful and precise strikes, while working his usual submission magic when the two warriors went to the ground.

Though it remains to be seen how Nogueira would deal with the combination of talents and size that is Brock Lesnar, "Minotauro" is very much still a force to be reckoned with in the UFC Heavyweight division.

2. Randy Couture is My Hero Too!
Joe Rogan makes this statement at least once per Couture fight, and after his gutty performance against Nogueira last night, you can add me to the list of people who are simply in awe of the 46-year-old superstar.

Though Nogueira was clearly the better man, Couture displayed the heart and tenacity that has endeared him to fight fans around the globe, fending off submissions, coming back from a couple staggering shots and refusing to quit at points when younger men would have been finished.

And he's 46!

3. Retirement Certainly Isn't Happening
Prior to his bout, Couture inked a contract extension with the UFC that will keep him inside the Octagon for the rest of his storied career.

The agreement is for six fights and 28 months, beginning with last night's instant classic against Nogueira, and is rumored to be a similar deal to the one the UFC offered to a certain Russian heavyweight who didn't want to fight in the UFC.

While this move clears up questions about Couture's future with the company, the question remains whether "The Natural" will continue to slug it out at heavyweight or make the drop down to 205 and the deep water that is the UFC light heavyweight division.

4. Nate Marquardt Deserves a Title Shot
With all due respect to Dan Henderson, what Nate Marquardt did to Demian Maia cemented his standing as the #1 Contender to Anderson Silva's title.

While Henderson dispatched an over-hyped Michael Bisping, Marquardt made quick work of an undefeated fighter with stunning precision. When coupled with his dominant performances over Wilson Gouveia and Martin Kampmann, there is no question that Marquardt has earned the rematch.

5. That Being Said...
Anderson Silva's camp is now lobbying for a Dan Henderson - Nate Marquardt eliminator fight.

While it makes some sense as Silva has bested both fighters before and each of their previous fights were billed as determining who would be next for "The Spider," Henderson has already balked at the fight, saying if a title shot against Silva wasn't next, he'd prefer to move back to 205.

Though all three options (Hendo - Silva, Marquardt - Silva and Hendo - Marquardt) are reasonable, keeping the middleweight title on the shelf for an extended period of time isn't all that appealing, especially when each of these potential title fights would go a long way in erasing the memory of Silva's last two title defenses.

6. The 90 Second Rule Still Applies
When Keith Jardine makes it through the first 90 seconds of a fight, he wins 87% of the time. Last night, Thiago Silva stopped "The Dean of Mean" at the 92 second mark, validating the rule and bringing questions about both fighter's place in the division into question.

Jardine has long been considered the gatekeeper at 205 and perhaps he now takes a step down to a lower rung, having lost three of his last four fights, all by way of (technical) knockout.

As for Silva, he's now 1-1 against Top 10 competition and a loss to the division's best is never something to hang your head about. Who he faces next will really go a long way in cementing his status as a contender, as he'll certainly get another Top 10 competitor and preferably one who won't just stand and trade.

I'm advocating a fight with Antonio Rogerio Nogueira once his deal gets done.

7. The Curse is Alive
Two fighters have done interviews with me prior to events.

Both fighters suffered defeats, with the latest interviewee falling in dramatic fashion.

Maybe I should stop talking about this for the sake of getting interviews in the future...

8. Everyone, Meet Todd Duffee
Back in December, I read an article in Fight! Magazine about the Hardcore Gym in Athens, Georgia, the place Forrest Griffin got his start.

Operated by Adam and Rory Singer, the latter of whom you might remember from The Ultimate Fighter, the article chronicled some of the emerging talent coming from the gym. One fighter was Brian Bowles, the current WEC Bantamweight champion. Another was Todd Duffee.

Since then, I've been dying to see this monster in the ring and while we only got seven seconds of action last night, it was enough for me to proclaim that Todd Duffee is a threat. Great big, athletic kids (he's only 23) who can drop you with a jab and finish you in seven seconds don't come around every day.

You've been warned.

9. Sooner Rather Than Later
Another card, another tough situation for a referee, as Yves Lavigne's hesitation at the end of the Chris Leben / Jake Rosholt fight will certainly go under the microscope in the next couple days.

From where I was sitting (on the couch at Tyler & Shawna's house), Leben looked like he tapped and Lavigne was ready to dive in, only to stop when Leben bucked his hips and his legs swung out at Lavigne. Seconds later, Leben is out cold, twitching on the mat for all the MMA opponents to jump on.

I'm not a ref and I would never want to be one, but for as much as all of us often criticize early stoppages and fighters complain that they didn't tap **cough** CD Dollaway, Chael Sonnen **cough**, an early stoppage is always better than an injured fighter and Lavigne needed to go with his initial instinct last night.

10. The Truth Is...
Brandon Vera isn't as good as Brandon Vera believes he is.

Say what you will about me piling on the Filipino fighter, but nothing about last night's performance against Krzysztof Soszynski backed up an ounce of the smack Vera talks or the accolades Rogan and Goldie were tossing his way.

Does anyone honestly think that the Brandon Vera we saw last night would defeat anyone in the Top 10 right now? If you do, put down the Kool-Aid...

Continue reading...

Saturday, August 29, 2009

UFC 102 Punch Drunk Predictions

Saturday has finally arrived, and with it comes UFC 102 from the Rose Garden Arena in Portland, Oregon.

While originally not sold on this fight card, a week full of previews and pondering has left me more excited for this card than any in recent memory, save for UFC 100. All five fights on the telecast have something to be offered and there are more than a couple preliminary card bouts that look intriguing.

The fight I'm most interested in? Tim Hague versus Todd Duffee; not because I'm Canadian and so is Hague, but because I interviewed him earlier in the week and fighters I interview prior to fights are currently 0-1.

Time to see if the curse continues...

Punch Drunk Predictions
Record: 60-47

Preliminary Card
Evan Dunham over Marcus Aurelio - Unanimous Decision
Mark Munoz over Nick Catone - TKO, R1
Tim Hague over Todd Duffee - Unanimous Decision
Mike Russow over Justin McCully - Submission, R1
Gabriel Gonzaga over Chris Tuchscherer - Submission, R1
Aaron Simpson over Ed Herman - Split Decision

Main Card
Krzysztof Soszynski over Brandon Vera - TKO, R2
Nate Marquardt over Demian Maia - TKO, R2
Chris Leben over Jake Rosholt - TKO, R1
Keith Jardine over Thiago Silva - Unanimous Decision

And in the Main Event of the Evening...

Randy "The Natural" Couture over Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira by Unanimous Decision.

Now touch gloves and come out fighting!

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Friday, August 28, 2009

Brandon Vera: The Truth is You Talk Too Much

I've been trying to do my best "journalist" impersonation lately, writing quality articles without any personal opinion or feelings entering into the equation. This isn't going to be one of those articles.

Pictured is the shining moment of Brandon Vera's career as an MMA fighter, a first round thrashing of former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir. That was November 2006.

For a guy who hasn't done much in the last three years, Brandon Vera sure does talk a lot of shit.

While I've was never a fan of Vera's in the first place, he's climbed to the top of my least favorite fighter list thanks to all the additional media attention he's received heading into his fight at UFC 102.

When he first burst on the scene, Vera was viewed as a future champion. He took things one step further, stating he would be champion at both heavyweight and light heavyweight some day.

An 8-0 start and pummeling of a former champion will do that to you.

Since then, the truth is that "The Truth" hasn't beaten anyone of consequence, while losing to Keith Jardine, Fabricio Werdum and Tim Sylvia.

Additionally, despite what they tried to tell you on Countdown to UFC 102, Vera didn't decide to drop down to 205; the UFC told him it was in his best interest. Those two things are very, very different.

And still, there is was running on at the mouth as if he has been beating legends this whole time, saying things like, "If you get in the ring with me, it's a wrap" and "I'm on fire, son."

When the hell does beating Mike Patt qualify as being en fuego? The same goes for the win before that too, as Reese "Riptide" Andy doesn't rank in the upper echelon of talent either.

Way to go Brandon, you're last two wins are over guys who are a combined 0-4 in the UFC. Super.

What makes it all the more special is that Vera still holds to his belief that he will be the heavyweight and light heavyweight champion simultaneously.

I'm all for positive thinking, but why not temper that with a little humility from time-to-time?

Or start with getting one belt?

Or a win over someone of note for the first time in three years?

I'm just throwing it out there.

Hopefully, my man Krzysztof keeps the ball rolling and leaves Brandon Vera looking up at the lights.

Otherwise, I'm going to have to listen to more of his braggadocio bullshit and I don't know how much more I can take.
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Fight Week Previews: Randy Couture vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

Maybe this fight really isn't getting the hype it deserves?

Randy "The Natural " Couture and Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira are two of the greatest heavyweights of all-time. Between them, they've held eight major organizational titles, fought some of the best ever and are two of the most iconic figures the sport has to offer.

While it certainly would have been more intriguing if this fight took place when both were at the height of their dominance, anywhere between three and five years ago, Saturday night's Main Event is still a worthy headliner with a great deal at stack for both men.

Randy "The Natural" Couture (16-9-0) vs. Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira (31-5-1, 1 NC)

At the level these two are at, where they train goes out the window. While both Xtreme Couture and Black House are top level teams, these two warriors have been doing this long enough that they know what it takes to prepare for a fight and come ready for war each and every time.

D'you want to know something insane?

This will be the first time since his 2005 fight against Mike Van Arsdale that Randy Couture hasn't been fighting for a title. Of his last 16 fights, 15 of them have been scheduled for five rounds with gold on the line.

Without a doubt, Couture will be ready to go the full 15 if needed.

As will Nogueira, who has made a career of being in battles and weathering storms until an opportunity for the win presents itself. In each of his two UFC victories, "Minotauro" was rocked and looked like he was going to be finished before emerging on the other side with his hand raised.

Stylistically, this fight could prove very interesting.

Nogueira is the best heavyweight jiu jitsu player in the history of Mixed Martial Arts. His anaconda choke of Heath Herring back in his Pride heyday was outstanding, as was the armbar that made Cro Cop tap.

In addition to his BJJ proficiency, Noguiera has solid boxing and Muay Thai, though he hasn't displayed the latter a great deal since moving to the UFC.

On the other side of ring, you have a superior wrestler who is also a strong boxer, although Couture and Nogueira offer very different technique. While "Minotauro" is more technical, "Captain America" likes to get inside and dirty box, utilizing his elbows in addition to his fists.

Coming off the first stoppage loss of his career, Nogueira should be looking to bring this fight to the floor, as Couture possess more power in his punches than Frank Mir.

While going to the ground isn't the worst thing for Couture, as he has great ground and pound and strong submission defense, keeping this fight standing would make more sense. Getting caught in a submission is harder when you're flicking out jabs and landing overhand rights from distance.

Now this is where things get interesting.

Both men have fought some serious competition over their careers; in addition to the Liddell Trilogy, Couture has locked up with the likes of Tito Ortiz, Vitor Belfort and Pedro Rizzo, while Nogueira has had his own trilogy fights with Fedor Emelianenko and Heath Herring, as well as battles with Dan Henderson and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic.

But when you look at the shared opponents, Nogueira comes out way ahead of "The Natural." Actually, it's not even close. While both men scored wins over Tim Sylvia, Couture lost to Ricco Rodriguez, Josh Barnett, Valentijn Overeem and Enson Inoue.

Nogueira beat every one of those men, although he is 1-1 versus Barnett, and has faced the tougher heavyweight competition throughout his career.

Neither man likes being introduced as a former champion. Honestly, who would?

For the winner of this fight, a place on the short list of heavyweight contenders awaits, while the loser will suffer a rarity, consecutive defeats. That hasn't happened to Couture since 2002, while a loss Saturday would mark the first time such an event has happened in the career of Nogueira.

Clearly, a lot is at stack here.

Seven days ago, this fight wasn't all that interesting.

After digging around and breaking it down all week, Saturday night can't get here quick enough.

(Pictures courtesy of Evan Shoman. Visit Shoman Art to see the complete collection)

Continue reading...

Thursday, August 27, 2009

K2 Interviews: Keeping It Canadian with "The Thrashing Machine" Tim Hague

Being a good Canadian boy myself, it’s always an honour and a pleasure to sit down and talk Mixed Martial Arts with someone who understands that there should be a “U” in honour and knows what a toque is.

Fighting out of Edmonton, Alberta, Tim Hague will be making his second appearance inside the Octagon at UFC 102, taking on undefeated newcomer Todd Duffee, a representative of American Top Team and formerly the Hardcore Gym in Athens, Georgia.

In this installment of the K2 Interview Series, Hague discusses everything from crying the cage, his thoughts on Brock Lesnar and Brandon Vera, and the state of Mixed Martial Arts in Canada, as well as offering up his answers to the world famous Keyboard Kimura Questionnaire.

This is K2 Interviews with “The Thrashing Machine” Tim Hague.

Thanks so much for doing this.

Any way I can get you to apologize for the Edmonton CFL Franchise contributing to the misconception that people in Canada live in igloos by being known as the Eskimos?

(Laughs) I don’t know about that name, but whatever.

I spoke with fellow Canadian UFC fighter Krzysztof Soszynski earlier and got him to confirm just how damn cold it can be in his hometown of Winnipeg. Can we start a “My city is colder than your city” battle or does Winnipeg have Edmonton beat?

I don’t know. I think they’re on the same level.

One last Edmonton related question (for now) before getting down to business, although it is a two-part question. (1) Is there a worse contract in the entire NHL than the one the Oilers gave Dustin Penner? and (2) Do you think Pat Quinn and his team of assistants are the right group to get this team to the next level?

Uh, I don’t know, that one was pretty bad. $4 million a year for what he did? I think shovelling the driveway involves more work than what he put in. [As for Quinn], we’ll see. I hope so.

Now that we’ve got the Canadian content out of the way, I have to ask how you went from teaching kindergarten in your hometown of Boyle, Alberta to being a professional fighter?

I was taking classes at the University of Alberta, I heard about some free training and started training Travis Galbraith, Kyle Cardinal and took a fight eight months later, I won and so I just kept fighting.

We’re seeing more and more Canadians both in the UFC and gaining momentum in Mixed Martial Arts in general. In your opinion, what is the state of MMA in Canada and where do you see it going in the next year or two?

Well, I think if Ontario can sanction the sport it would blow up in Canada, just based on the population alone. I think right now, Edmonton is kind of the hotbed for MMA; there are five or six promotions [based out of] Edmonton and I’m hoping that it just gets bigger and bigger, and fighter’s pay checks just get bigger and bigger too.

Montreal has hosted two wildly successful UFC cards without incident and Dana White has earmarked both Toronto and Vancouver as potential venues for the future. What do you think continues to hold up the rest of the provinces from sanctioning MMA, when more and more states are doing so and they’ve seen the success the sport has had in Quebec?

Maybe it’s just the association of mixed martial arts with some barbaric, head-smashing competition, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the stigma attached to the legislative bodies that won’t change for MMA. I don’t know what the problem is, but I’ve been hurt a lot worse in hockey than I ever have in MMA.

One frustration I’ve had when it comes to MMA in Canada is the relative lack of coverage “Canada’s Sports Leader” TSN provides despite the growing popularity of the sport and the number of Canadians competing at the highest levels.

Should we start a petition amongst the Canadian MMA fighters out there to send to TSN asking for more coverage or should we just pledge allegiance to Showdown Joe Ferraro and Rogers Sportsnet, giving up hope that TSN will ever catch on?

(Laughs) Well right now, Showdown Joe and Sportsnet are doing a pretty good job actually; I’m pretty impressive with the coverage they have on the UFC and MMA fighters in Canada that are up and coming, but it would be really nice to see TSN pick up the slack as well.

Maybe I’ll have to have a chat with [TSN anchor] Bryan Mudryk. I know I attend his golf tournament every year and he grew up in the same town that I did, so maybe I’ll try and get a hold of him and see what he has to say.

Moving to your upcoming fight, what do you know about your opponent Todd Duffee and how do you see the fight going?

Todd’s a big, strong, aggressive guy; he looks to be a very good athlete, he likes to move forward, throw heavy strikes, so my coaches and I have formulated a game plan accordingly and it should allow me to take him out if all goes as planned.

You sunk in a pretty tight guillotine on Pat Barry last time out. Is that a part of your game you’re working on and can we expect to see more submissions and ground work, perhaps even this time out against Duffee?

Definitely, I`m always working on my submissions. Jiu jitsu, wrestling, the ground game can win you fights as we saw in my last one. I had a guillotine choke in my first fight, [but that move] isn’t something I normally catch guys in in training, but the opportunity presented itself and I seized it.

Duffee’s last fought September 13, 2008 when he scored a TKO over Assuerio Silva in Brazil. Do you see his extended layoff playing any part in the fight or at this level does everyone come in pretty much ready to roll no matter how long they’ve been off?

I don’t know if it will affect him at all, maybe a little mentally, but he’ll probably come in super hungry, wanting to prove himself. I just think it will be a good fight; I think Todd will be more than ready.

Give everyone the scoop on where you train and how has training camp been going so far?

In the mornings I train at Hayabusa Training Center with a group of awesome training partners there and a couple of coaches.

In the afternoons, I work with my Strength and Conditioning Coach Shara Vigeant from Shara Vigeant Personal Training in Edmonton. Her workouts are hell and I mean that in the nicest possible way.

And in the evenings, I work with my jiu jitsu coach and mentor Kyle Cardinal. He’s been by my side ever since the beginning and he’s never said a bad word about me. When I started, I wasn’t the most technical or graceful guy, I didn’t have the most skill. I kind of won some fights on my toughness and good chin. But yeah, that’s my team.

Apparently, every so often you can be found boxing on your front lawn?

Correct, yeah, sorry, I forgot Chris Ladouceur as well. He worked with me on a few fights with my hands, my boxing coach, and I brought him back for this fight and I’m very confident in my hands once again.

If all goes as planned and the ref is raising your hand at the end of the night, are we going to see more tears?

No, I think I’ll have my emotions a little more in check this time.

How much ribbing have you taken for crying? I can’t imagine your friends not taking a shot or two, regardless of the fact that they were understandable tears of joy.

No one really said too much about it.

That certainly doesn’t bode well for me then as the first one to take a shot at you about it, so please don’t come hunt me down.

Ah, I’m a nice guy. It doesn’t really bother me either way.

There has been a lot of speculation and demand throughout the online MMA community for the UFC to create another heavyweight division, from 206-240 for argument’s sake. What are your thoughts on that idea?

Right now I’m not sure the numbers are there, but the Cruiserweight division would be awesome. That’s probably where I would fight; I cut down to about 235 or 240, but I don’t know if the numbers are there right now to have a class [at that range] and fill it up with talented fighters.

Who knows? Maybe in the next couple years, there are a lot of new heavyweights coming into the mix. I think it’s a great idea once the numbers are there.

As a heavyweight, I would be remiss to not ask you about Heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. He’s quickly climbed the ladder and sits atop your division. What do you think of the champion’s performances thus far and what do you think it’s going to take for someone to beat him?

Well, it’s going to have to be a big heavyweight, who if not matches his power, at least can keep him at bay and not get taken down. Brock looks pretty impressive when he’s on top. He’s a tremendous athlete and I think for someone to beat him they’re going to have to load up their hands and try to knock him out.

He’s the champ for a reason. I mean, he beat Frank Mir and [Randy] Couture and [Heath] Herring, so he’s there for a reason.

Fair enough. Is Shane Carwin the guy to knock him out? We’ve seen he’s got some dangerous hands. What do you think of that matchup?

I hope Shane’s the guy to take him out. I don’t really like Brock’s attitude and Shane Carwin seems to be a pretty stand-up guy. I think his skill level is there, we’ll just see if he can match Brock’s power.

Before getting around to some more insightful and investigative journalism-type questions, let’s run through the Keyboard Kimura Questionnaire:

Favourite fighter?

Fedor Emelianenko

Best fight you’ve ever seen – live or otherwise?

I don’t know. I like any fight with a real good knockout.

Most Underrated Fighter?

Geez, I don’t know. Most underrated fighter? These are questions I’ve never really thought of. I have no idea.

Is Fedor the Best Pound-for-Pound?

For sure; until he’s beat legitimately he’s the man.

Favorite food?

Probably a Filet Mignon from Tom Goodchild’s Moose Factory.

Favorite athlete?


If I wasn’t a fighter, I would be ... probably back teaching?

I don’t know. I kind of enjoy more manual labour, blue collar type jobs. I just got my teaching degree coming out of high school because my parents said I had to go to college and I didn’t know what else to do. (Writer’s Note: Very much like my Psychology degree.)

Explain the origins of your nickname.

I grew up on the farm and my boxing coach just started calling me “The Thrashing Machine” and it just stuck. I got it around my fifth fight or so.

September marks the launch of Season 10 of The Ultimate Fighter, a season dedicated to heavyweights including Kevin “Kimbo Slice” Ferguson.

As a guy who has fought his way into the UFC by dominating the King of the Cage circuit, is there any resentment of frustration that one of these guys, if not more, are going to get the same opportunity you had to earn by winning 9 out of 10 fights through being on a Reality TV show?

No, I have no resentment towards any of them. If they win their fights, they’re going to be successful either way. The Ultimate Fighter is just an awesome platform for fighters to launch their career from.

If I had had the chance coming into the UFC, I probably would have taken it, but the UFC just picked me up and I’m here and I have to win this fight to keep going.

With all the hype and promotion for the show greatly involving Kimbo, chances are we’ll see him in the UFC once Season 10 has run its course. Do you think Kimbo is a legitimate prospect who could have a future in the sport or is this simply a mutually-beneficial situation where the UFC can capitalize on Kimbo’s popularity and Kimbo gets another 15 minutes of fame?

Well his hands look dangerous. [Seth] Petruzelli kind of caught him on the button. I don’t know if his chin is weak or if Petruzelli just hit him right, but he’s got a future for sure, as long as he can work hard and not get hit on the button anymore (laughs).

He seems to have some pretty dangerous hands of his own and he’s an exciting guy to watch. Win or lose, I think he’s going to bring a lot of viewers to the UFC, so hopefully he does well until he fights me.

That was honestly me next question. If Joe Silva offered you Kimbo, would you take the fight?

In a heartbeat.

Alright, time for some UFC 102 Predictions if you’re up for it. Obviously we know who you’re picking to win the Tim Hague / Todd Duffee fight, but let’s get to the rest of the card.

Couture vs. Nogueira?

I think Randy might grind him out to a later TKO or decision, but Nogueira is known for his subs out of nowhere, so who knows on that one?

Keith Jardine vs. Thiago Silva?

Thiago Silva will come back and win that one.

Chris Leben vs. Jake Rosholt?

I think Rosholt will beat him, possibly by decision.

Nate Marquardt vs. Demian Maia?

I’d like to see Marquardt put Maia away, just because I like Marquardt a little better. He’s a more exciting fighter to me.

Brandon Vera vs. Krzystzof Soszynski?

I think Krzysztof is gonna keep it rolling and I’d like to see him knock Vera out. Vera’s a little too arrogant for me. He came onto the scene with a lot of hype and, I don’t know, I just don’t like the way he carries himself. He’s a kind of cocky.

Before I let you go, we’ll close things out the way I always close out my interviews.

If you could fight anyone - past or present - who would and be and who would be the winner?

If I could fight anyone right now it would be Fedor Emelianenko because he’s the best in the world and if I got lucky and beat him, I’d be considered one of the best in the world too.

If you could play matchmaker for one day, regardless of organizational ties or anything like that, what three fights would you make?

Fedor and Lesnar first of all, then probably either Anderson Silva or Lyoto Machida against Gegard Mousasi, and maybe Georges St-Pierre versus Jake Shields or Nate Diaz.

Any final comments or people you need to send a shout out to?

Yeah, I just want to thank a guy who has really helped me out, a company, M&D Glass and Aluminum and everyone who has helped me trained for the fight. Of course my wife Brianne and my boy Brady.

Thanks again for doing this and good luck in Portland.

No problem. Thank you.
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Fight Week Previews: Keith Jardine vs. Thiago Silva

The co-main event is an intriguing tilt between two fighters looking to rebound from disappointing losses.

On one side is Keith Jardine, the consensus pick as LHW gatekeeper and Rashad Evans' bodyguard, coming off a unanimous decision defeat at the hands of Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 96.

Opposite him is Thiago Silva, a dangerous striker who was on the wrong end of a Lyoto Machida onslaught at UFC 94, earning him his first career loss.

Somebody is going home with two straight losses. Time to figure out who.

"The Dean of Mean" Keith Jardine (14-5-1) vs. Thiago Silva (13-1-0)

Normally, any member of Team Jackson would earn a distinct edge over the competition in the always important "Training Team" category. However, that changes when the other guy comes from the 1A of outfits in Mixed Martial Arts, American Top Team.

Without question, both these guys will come into the fight with sound game plans and in great shape. With the number of top tier training partners available to them, anything less would be a surprise.

In terms of previous competition, Jardine has a clear advantage. While Silva can make the case that he's been in the cage with the current LHW champ, he was left looking up at the lights at the end of the first round.

On the other hand, Jardine has scored victories over former champions Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell, in addition to trading shots with "Rampage" and having a brief in-ring encounter with Wanderlei Silva.

An interesting wrinkle to this fight is the "How will Silva respond to his first career loss?" angle.

Everyone knows how Jardine usually responds to a loss; he comes out and wins his next fight, as his last six fights have followed that alternating pattern.

Silva, however, had never tasted defeat before Machida knocked him senseless back in January. There is always the possibility that he comes out a little gun shy, not wanted to land on his back looking at the lights again.

That being said, he responded like a wild animal released from their cage when Antonio Mendes had him rocked in his last fight before facing Machida, so there is a good chance he will come to this fight more ready than ever.

Stylistically, this is an interesting fight.

Jardine has shown the ability to both knock people out (Griffin) and stick and move effectively enough to earn a win on the scorecards (Liddell, amongst others). That being said, he's also shown a distinct ability to get laid out in no time flat when he decides to stand and bang.

What is Thiago Silva's greatest strength and usual approach?

Deadly hands used to stand and bang with bad intentions..

Either way, a win here doesn't put either man right into the title picture.

Jardine is clearly a gatekeeper and will never ascend to the top spot without putting together a string of victories. He'll continue to pull off upsets and serve as a scout for Rashad Evans, with surprising losses and tough battles mixed in between.

Silva, on the other hand, has more potential to climb to the higher regions of the LHW ladder, with the intriguing "His only loss is to Lyoto Machida" obviously playing a part.

That being said, there are already a number of worthy contenders waiting in line for "The Dragon," so a second consecutive quality win would be required before any title talk could take place.

Of course, the flip side is that a second straight loss could drop him right down to the bottom of the heap and a future fighting TUF cast members and new hires.

Image courtesy of (with a little MS Paint detail work by ESK)

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

There is Room for Everyone in the MMA Audience

With Mixed Martial Arts' rise to the brink of the mainstream, fans have been flocking to the sport in droves.

Many have been around from the beginning, while some are returning fans, those who became interested in the days of Royce Gracie but couldn't keep up when the sport went underground and overseas.

Perhaps there are boxing converts, looking to fill their combat sports craving with a more complete sport where the judging is still occasionally suspect.

Others still are brand new, knowing only the main event fighters and Dana White, believing that UFC and MMA are synonyms.

Regardless of where they fall, there is room for all of them in the MMA audience.

Whether you're an expert with an encyclopedic knowledge of thousands of fighters and organizations around the globe or a Dana White sycophant who believes nothing exists outside of the UFC bubble, it doesn't matter; all fans are welcomed and anyone who thinks differently is ill-informed.

Are there different levels of fans? Absolutely

Just as they exist in every other sport, MMA has a mix. There are hardcore addicts who watch fights on YouTube, scour the Sherdog database and can rattle off the last ten opponents Fedor Emelianenko has faced without blinking, and those who simply like watching two gladiators battle it out inside the cage regardless of knowing their names and histories.

Is one type of fan superior to another? Absolutely not.

While some have been on the bandwagon from the very beginning, that doesn't mean that the people getting on board now are any less worthy of being fans or their opinions are somehow any less valid.

Though you might know that Dana White didn't create the sport of Mixed Martial Arts and their are hundreds of highly skilled competitors fighting outside the Octagon, those who feel otherwise don't deserve to be ostracized for being uninformed.

Right now, Mixed Martial Arts is like grunge in the early '90s.

Even though the likes of Nirvana and Pearl Jam seemingly appeared out of nowhere to dominate the airwaves and video channels, long-time fans felt angered by the masses who suddenly flocked to their favorites whom they had been following for years.

While some suddenly proclaimed themselves fans and bowed down to the stars of the sound like Kurt Cobain and Eddie Vedder, donning their plaid and becoming sullen seemingly overnight, people who had watched the progression of these artists from Fecal Matter and Temple of the Dog seethed.

They loathed the fact that these new converts had no idea where their heroes came from, and were clueless when it came to their predecessors like Mother Love Bone, The Melvins and Black Flag.

To some, knowing the history somehow made you a better fan and one who could look down their nose at the new kid on the block who simply wanted to be a part of the growing trend.

Apparently, the bands have changed but the songs remain the same.

Some MMA fans think that because they've been around since Gerard Gordeau knocked out Teila Tuli's tooth and can tell you everyone that held a championship in Pride that their opinions and thoughts are more valid than those who couldn't pick Fedor Emelianenko out of a lineup if they were given seven tries.

They differentiate between MMA fans and "UFC fans," as if the latter is some form of second-class citizen for not having the depth of knowledge of "a real MMA fan."

While the distinction is certainly apt, there are no rules anywhere stating you have to be one or the other and cannot possibly be both.

Most "hockey fans" are actually "NHL fans" if true labels were somehow necessary, as few of them spend hours on end pouring over stories and boxscores from the East Coast league or Europe. The same goes for football, basketball, baseball and countless other sports.

Yet to some, MMA is supposed to be different?

Here's an idea: instead of getting all upset about the influx of fans whose knowledge base doesn't mean the lofty levels required to achieve "real MMA fan" status, you help educate them, teaching them about the history of the sport, the past legends and great organizations that exist outside the walls of the UFC?

Maybe then you won't feel like "all fans are shallow enough to truly believe that Dana is God and all of MMA is his creation [while] no one will admit that MMA exists outside of the UFC."

Unless you're part of the solution, you're part of the problem.

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Fight Week Previews: Chris Leben vs. Jake Rosholt

Welcome back, Crippler!

After serving a nine month suspension stemming from a positive test following his loss to Michael Bisping, Chris Leben makes his return to the UFC right in his own backyard of Portland, Oregon.

In a strange way, Leben actually deserves some credit heading into the cage on Saturday for the way he's gotten out in front of his positive test and dealt with the repercussions. While most athletes swear they never used steroids and blame over the counter medications and supplements, Leben has admitted his error in judgment, taken his lumps and returns ready to deliver some of his own.

Unfortunately, it won't be that easy.

Chris "The Crippler" Leben (18-8-0) vs. Jake Rosholt (5-1-0)

Clearly, the original bad boy from The Ultimate Fighter series has a distinct advantage in the experience department over the former All-American wrestler. Even in defeat, having fought guys like Anderson Silva and Michael Bisping teach you things about yourself and your skills.

Rosholt, on the other hand, is just six fights in to his professional career and comes in off the first loss of his career, a quick submission defeat to Dan Miller at UFC Fight Night back in February.

The good news for Rosholt is that he doesn't really have to worry about getting submitted in this one. The bad news, of course, is that he has to worry about getting his mouthguard launched into the 14th row by Leben's dangerous hands.

That being said, Rosholt matches up well stylistically agains the stand-and-bang style of Leben, as his wrestling pedigree gives him an edge on the mat and a way to control this fight.

A highly-decorated wrestling with Oklahoma State, Rosholt was a three-time National champion and four time All-American on the same team as recent UFC winner Johny Hendricks and WEC fighter Shane Roller. Clearly, bringing this fight to the ground not only nullifies Leben's knockout power, but puts Rosholt in his comfort zone where he can control the fight and utilize his ground and pound.

If you look at Leben's track record, his wins come against guys who are willing to stand and trade with him (Alessio Sakara, Terry Martin, Jorge Santiago), while anyone who comes in and sticks to their gameplan seems to be able to secure a victory, as was the case against Jason McDonald, Kalib Starnes and the aforementioned Michael Bisping and Anderson Silva.

Simply put: if you play with fire, you're going to get burned.

Rosholt is going to be a good, if not great MMA fighter; his wrestling base is off the charts, he's working with Xtreme Couture who, despite what Kit Cope may say, are an outstanding group and have a great deal of wisdom to impart and you know he has the competitive fire inside him having been a top level athlete on the collegiate level.

The merging of the WEC Middleweight division into the UFC was an unfortunate hiccup in his career path and could lead to some tough times ahead. Rosholt was too good a prospect to simply let go, but still too green to be able to compete against some of the stiff competition the UFC has to offer.

Mark Munoz suffered the same fate, moving from the WEC Light Heavyweight division with an impressive record to getting knocked silly by Matt Hammil in his UFC debut.

The question now is whether Rosholt has made adequate improvements to his game in the six months since he's been in the cage and will be able to keep clear of Chris Leben's powerful punches?

We'll all find out together on Saturday night.
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Fight Week Previews: Maia vs. Marquardt

This is the real must-see attraction on the UFC 102 card, as undefeated submission specialist Demian Maia faces his stiffest test to date in former seven-time King of Pancrase Nathan Marquardt.

Maia's time in the UFC is easily explained: five fights, five wins, five submissions. The man is a Black Hole of Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and has been a shining example of what it means to "impose your will" on your opponent.

But Marquardt is no slouch; he's challenged for the middleweight title before and beaten some talented fighters on his return trip towards the top of the rankings, stopping both Martin Kampmann and Wilson Gouveia to secure this match with Maia.

And with Anderson Silva apparently unhappy at the prospects of another title fight with Dan Henderson, the winner of this middleweight matchup could potentially be the next man to face "The Spider" for the middleweight belt.

Demian Maia (10-0-0) vs. Nate "The Great" Marquardt (28-8-2)

While Maia now makes his home in Las Vegas and trains with Wanderlei Silva, Marquardt gets the easy edge in terms of team affiliations as the Denver, Colorado native is a part of arguably the best team in the business, fighting out of Greg Jackson's MMA in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

That being said, Maia was been rolling with some guys you may have heard of before heading into this fight; their last name is Gracie and while their names start with an "R" they're pronounced as an "H". I think they've had some success in the sport at one point or another.

Sarcasm aside, these two do not have any shared opponents to compare. Moving to "strength of schedule," Marquardt again comes out ahead, having faced far stronger competition both during his time in the UFC (Dean Lister, Jeremy Horn) and in Pancrase (Kazuo Misaki, Ricardo Almeida) than Maia has in his relatively brief ten fight career.

Obviously, Maia's intentions will be to bring this fight to the ground and work submissions; eight of his ten wins come via submission and the one TKO was due to a shoulder injury, incurred while Maia was reversing a position. What makes this fight all the more interesting is Marquardt's experience with high-level jiu jitsu players.

During his run atop the Pancrase world, Marquardt was submitted by BJJ ace Ricardo Almeida, twice in the same fight if you ask "The Big Dog," but he's also defeated gifted ground workers Dean Lister and Jeremy Horn since making the move to the UFC.

While Maia has made short work of opponents with suspects ground games and submission defense, his stiffest test in the UFC came from the departed Jason McDonald, a strong BJJ player himself who just so happens to spend some time training in Albuquerque as well.

Although Maia comes in with the unblemished record, aside from beating himself in a loss to former UFC employee Thales Leites, the only loss on the ledger for Marquardt over the past five years is a loss to divisional kingpin Anderson Silva.

Marquardt desperately wants another chance at Anderson Silva, believing he's improved a great deal since suffering defeat at UFC 73, while Maia wants to prove that his dominance isn't limited to middle tier competition and the old axiom o skill and technique winning over power and strength still holds true.

This one is taking home Fight of the Night honors...

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Monday, August 24, 2009

Fight Week Previews: Soszynski vs. Vera

After a UFC 101 card that featured two interesting fights and a handful of marginal bouts that didn't draw much attention, UFC 102 goes down this weekend in Portland, Oregon and the televised portion of the card is loaded with interesting altercations.

Leading off the telecast will be a light heavyweight tussle between Canadian Krzysztof Soszynski and Brandon "The Truth" Vera.

Despite my shared nationality with "The Polish Experiment," my responsibilities as an objective journalist outweigh the fact that I too know all the words to "O Canada," including the French version.

"The Polish Experiment" Krzysztof Soszynski (18-8-1) vs. Brandon "The Truth" Vera (10-3-0)

When it comes to training and team affiliation, the Canadian comes out way ahead, as Team Quest is one of the best in the business and affords Soszynski the opportunity to roll with the likes of Dan Henderson and Matt Lindland, two very accomplished athletes in the sport.

Vera, on the other hand, is pretty much the big dog with Alliance MMA, and while his BJJ training comes from the great Saulo Ribiero, having top level talents in the gym always helps make you a better fighter.

Where Soszynski earns the edge in teammates, Vera has a clear advantage in experience and strength of opponents. After all, he was once a heralded heavyweight prospect who sprinted out of the gate to an 8-0 record, including wins over Mike Whitehead, Assuerio Silva and Frank Mir.

Although things haven't gone as smoothly since the Mir win, "The Truth" has still spent more time inside the cage with high caliber opposition, while Soszynski has defeated the likes of Brian Stann and Andre Gusmao.

As much as Vera is certainly a step up in competition for the Canadian, Soszynski is the one who enters this fight carrying the most momentum. Riding a six-fight winning streak, it appears as if the move to Temecula, California from the frozen plains of Winnipeg have done a world of good for the former professional wrestler.

Conversely, Vera hasn't been able to string together consecutive wins since the close of 2006. Weaker opposition has been dispatched with relative ease, but tackling an equally talented opponent has led to losses to Tim Sylvia, Fabricio Werdum and Keith Jardine, producing a 2-3 record over his last five fights.

In terms of styles and strengthes, Vera's devastating Muay Thai is easily his most dangerous weapon coming into this fight. Following his loss to Jardine, Vera returned to his leg-kicking ways and stopped Mike Patt shortly after the opening bell of the second round by chopping his legs out from under him. The same could be done here.

What makes Soszynski an interesting counterpart for Vera is the diversity of skills he's shown since coming off Season 8 of The Ultimate Fighter. Since losing his semifinal match to Vinny Magalhaes, "The Polish Experiement" has submitted both Shane Primm and the aforementioned Brian Stann, while knocking out former IFL standout Andre Gusmao on short notice at UFC 98.

Though Vera is clearly the more accomplished in ever aspect of the game, Soszynski poses a real threat to the man who still believes he will be a title holder in both the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions simultaneously.

That's awful hard to do when you can't seem to win back-to-back fights...

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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Could UFC 102 Mark the End of Randy Couture's UFC Career?

Understand right off the bat that this is 100% speculation and the results of spending too much time thinking about a fight that would have been awesome to see in 2003 or 2004.

2009? Not so much.

Discussing the fight early today on the latest Watch Kalib Run Cage Cast, two very different scenarios came to mind where the end result is UFC 102 serving as Randy Couture's last dance with the organization.

While the thought of "The Natural" no longer being a part of the UFC may seem like a unrealistic idea to some, taking a closer look at the situation reveals that such a conclusion may not be as unlikely as you might think.

No location is closer to home for Randy Couture than Portland, Oregon. While he has shifted his training and home to Las Vegas over the last few years, Couture, like both Ed Herman and Chris Leben, is a product of the Pacific Northwest.

Before establishing Xtreme Couture, "The Natural" was a founding member of the area's premier camp, Team Quest, along with Matt Lindland and Dan Henderson. While Couture is always a crowd favorite wherever he fights, there is sure to be an even larger than normal Couture contingent in the building on Saturday night.

Additionally, while fighting is still very much a part of Randy Couture's daily routine, the former multi-time UFC champion has an ever-expanding resume and list of pursuits that don't involve getting punched in the face.

Two weeks ago he was in the corner of Gina Carano for her historic confrontation with Cris Cyborg.

The Xtreme Couture brand continues to grow, both as a clothing line and as a gym. While the daily operations of such endeavours may not fall directly into Couture's own hands, he undoubtedly has a great deal of involvement with anything tired to his name and image.

Furthermore, the former Olympic alternate has continued his foray into the acting business, with the upcoming Sylvester Stallone film The Expendables next to hit theatres, while two other projects are currently listed in different stages of production according to his IMDB page.

When you add everything together and combine it with a fight in his own backyard, a win Saturday night could serve as a perfect "ride off into the sunset" moment for the man who has retired before.

Of course, that's only the warm fuzzy angle.

The nasty, grimy, "could it really happen" angle is one that arises should Couture come out on the wrong side of the results on Saturday night against Nogueira.

As everyone knows, Couture was recently introduced as one of the stars of the highly-anticipated EA Sports MMA title, something that at least raises questions considering the hard line approach Dana White has express about fighters being involved with that title and their opportunities with the UFC.

Simply put, White has stated anyone involved in the game with not have any opportunities with the UFC. The question is whether that extends to Couture?

Now, Couture actually entered into his agreement with EA Sports some time ago and has a clause in his contract that allows him to retain his ancillary rights, so this isn't necessarily as unexpected or intriguing as it would be if say, Anderson Silva signed up with EA Sports, but it's still worth exploring.

Hypothetically speaking, if Couture was to lose to Nogueira on Saturday night, the UFC would have the option to release Couture, as per a condition built into most fighter's contracts with the UFC.

Couple that with his participation in the EA Sports venture would produce a loud and clear message to the rest of the fighting population that Dana White's earlier statements were more than just his usual tough talk.

Would the UFC drop such a well-known and marketable entity as Couture, given how much he has expressed an interested in fighting Strikeforce's prized acquisition Fedor Emelianenko?

Probably not, but if ever Dana White & Co. wanted to back up their tough talk with some serious action, handing a Hall of Famer his walking papers for siding with the opposition would certainly fit the bill.

If someone had said two months ago that Affliction would pull the plug on Trilogy just days before the show and Fedor would sign with Strikeforce, you would have wondered how much glue that person had just finished sniffing.

Even now that it has happened, people still shake their heads in disbelief.

As far-fetched as these speculations sound, don't forget that this is the fight game and anything can happen.

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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Friends As Foes: Tackling the Teammate Debate

MMA Weekly is reporting that uber-talented light heavyweight prospect Jon Jones has joined forces with Greg Jackson and his team in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

While this certainly increases the expectations for the undefeated up-and-comer, if that is even possible, the addition of "Bones" to the Jackson Camp also helps one of the most discussed topics in Mixed Martial Arts rear it's ugly head once again.

The idea of teammates fighting has been getting a lot of play lately, most recently with Dana White's insistence that if Anderson Silva continues to lay waste to top level talents in the light heavyweight division, a fight with champion, friend and training partner Lyoto Machida will happen.

Now we have arguably the best prospect in the entire sport joining a team with former light heavyweight champion Rashad Evans and gatekeeper Keith Jardine, who go from being potential opponents to out of the question.

We know what side the UFC is on and we know what side the fighters are on.

Where do you stand on the issue of teammates fighting?

From a business standpoint, the stance of Dana White and the UFC is very understandable.

Their aim is to help determine who is the best in each division, making the most compelling and entertaining fights imaginable to meet that end. Friendships do not factor into the equation, as this is a solely a business issue for the UFC.

Even though White says making a Machida-Silva fight happen is "about seeing who's best," there is no question that it is also, if not primarily, about potential revenue.

A fight pitting two of the best Pound-for-Pound fighters in the world against each other atop a pay-per-view card would do massive numbers for the company.

Stepping outside of the boardroom and away from the bottom line, there is also the advancement of the divisions for the UFC to be concerned with.

For instance, a fighter like Jones is certainly in need of a step up in competition after reeling off three straight impressive wins, and a fighter like Jardine would have fit the bill perfectly. With that option now unavailable, who stands opposite Jones the next time he enters the Octagon?

A fighter the caliber of Rich Franklin would presumably be too much of a jump, while pitting Jones against fellow up-and-comer Luiz Cane would send one of the two prospects in the wrong direction.

Of all the light heavyweights on the UFC roster, Matt Hammil is the only fighter without a fight already lined up. Despite the great depth of the division, the options are actually quite slim.

Perhaps even more potentially problematic is the welterweight division, where American Kickboxing Academy members Jon Fitch, Josh Koscheck and Mike Swick all reside in the Top 10 of the USA Today / SB Nation Consensus Rankings.

Playing extremely hypothetical Devil's Advocate, what happens if Swick gets passed Martin Kampmann and manages to pull a Matt Serra and defeat Georges St-Pierre early next year?

Though Fitch is widely considered the #1 contender and would be the obvious choice of the fans and the UFC as Swick's first opponent, he's gone on the record numerous times stating that he will never fight one of his AKA teammates.

Then the UFC is left with a champion who immediately eliminates two strong challengers because they are teammates and has the unenviable task of trying to build interest in what would clearly be a lesser fight.

Of course, there is the fighter's side of the coin as well.

First and foremost, and perhaps something that doesn't get stated enough in this discussion, the UFC (or any other organization for that matter) cannot force a fighter to sign a contract.

Dana White can tell the media and the fans as many times as he would like that he'll "make that fight," but the simple fact of the matter is that he simply doesn't have the power to do so.

Just as Martin Kampmann was able to decline the UFC's offer to fight TJ Grant earlier in the summer, the AKA teammates can do the same if asked to stand opposite one another.

And for those who will undoubtedly bring up potential firings or coercive tactics to entice fighters to square off with their friends and teammates, there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that the UFC would let a top tier talent like Jon Fitch become a free agent simply because he didn't want to fight Josh Koscheck or Mike Swick.

These guys work and train together day in and day out, building a chemistry and rapport that exceeds any monetary benefit facing each other could potentially yield.

The best argument against these potential teammate matchups should actually make a great deal of sense to both sides and comes courtesy of Sherdog's Jake Rossen:

With their reluctance well-documented, can you imagine the level of hyper-analysis that would follow their every move? Say one gets knocked down with a stiff jab -- or worse, someone torques an ankle or knee. Happens all the time. But if it happens in the context of two reluctant sparring partners in a prizefight neither wanted, there would be no end of speculation over the potential for choreography.

Certainly, the last thing that both the fighters and the organization would want is rumblings of a fight being fixed and that would surely start should something like this happen to take place.

He also discusses the difference between friends competing against one another in other sports to doing the same in MMA, citing that two chess masters don't have to deal with the ramifications and implications of punching one another in the face should they decide to face off.

Is the stance taken by the UFC wholly understandable from a business perspective?

Absolutely; the best fights make the most money and they're in the business of making both.

But are the fighters in an equally understandable position, having little interest in lining up opposite their closest friends?

Without a doubt.

So what is the solution?

In truth, there probably isn't one.

Dana White will continue to talk tough about making these fights happen and the consequences of saying no, while the fighters remaining opposed to such an idea.

Sometimes the arguments of both sides make perfect sense and can leave you stuck in the middle, unable to choose a side.

That's where I'm at.

What about you?

Pictured (L to R): Mike Swick, Bob Cook, Jon Fitch - American Kickboxing Academy

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Does a WEC-UFC Merger Make Sense?

At the Press Conference following UFC 101, Dana White said that the idea of combining the two Zuffa-owned organizations was being discussed.

According to reports, Versus, the main outlet for the WEC, and DirecTV aren't quite seeing eye-to-eye, which could lead to the network, and therefore the WEC, being dropped altogether when their contract expires on August 31.

With the real possibility existing that the end of the month could mean the end of the line in terms of television exposure for the WEC, a possible merger with the UFC makes sense now more than ever.

While there would certainly be a great number of logistical questions that would need to be answered (staffing, operations, etc.), bringing the ultra-entertaining lighter weights into the UFC fold would certainly present some interesting options.

Zuffa's outstanding relationship with Spike TV could serve as a strong starting point.

Instead of hours of Unleashed featuring fights even casual fans have seen a time or two, some of that airtime could be dedicated to creating exposure for WEC standouts like Mike Brown, Urijah Faber, Miguel Torres and Brian Bowles.

Last weekend illustrated the loyalty of UFC fans, as a rebroadcast of UFC 100 drew much larger numbers than Strikeforce's live event on Showtime. Though both were clearly successful for their respective brands, it's clear that if you put "UFC" in front of it, a large number of viewers are going to tune in.

Additionally, why wouldn't you want to add a new level of excitement and energy to your organization?

WEC events are routinely more entertaining and full of action than their UFC counterparts, as was the case when the two organizations went live on back-to-back nights at the start of the month.

Though UFC 101 featured the bigger names and certainly drew a bigger audience, as a whole, WEC 42 was a much more complete card with more entertaining fights, including Brian Bowles' upset of Miguel Torres in the main event.

Certainly fight fans would be more interested in seeing three rounds of excitement like that delivered by Dominick Cruz and Joseph Benavidez than the boredom that was Kendall Grove versus Ricardo Almeida?

Opponents to such a merger often cite the inevitable release of various fighters to accommodate such a move, as the UFC would undoubtedly have to make some roster deletions should this take place.

That being said, the UFC routinely trims their rosters to make room for newly acquired talent, so how would this potential merger and influx of talent be any different?

In fact, it would be an even more reasonable move as the UFC would be bringing in some of the top fighters in the world in the Featherweight and Bantamweight divisions, as well as some talented lightweights at the expense of fighters currently residing at the bottom of their respective divisional totem poles.

Honestly, who would you rather see fight: WEC lightweights Jamie Varner, Donald Cerrone and Ben "Smooth" Henderson or guys like Rolando Delgado, Alex Karalexis and Dennis Siver, fighters who reside in the bottom quarter of the UFC depth chart?

Just in the last two weeks, the UFC has cut ties with fighters like Thales Leites and Tamdan McCrory at the expense of veteran acquisitions Vladimir Matyushenko and Phil Baroni, to name two.

Doesn't Urijah Faber have more appeal and drawing power than those two returning warriors combined?

With the market for Mixed Martial Arts and the exposure of the UFC growing with each passing day, an influx of championship-caliber competitors to what is already the deepest and most talented roster of fighters in the business would only further strengthen the standing of the UFC as the premier organization in the world.

Not only that, but adding the two new divisions would provide two new titles for the organization, giving them even more championship fights to serve as headliner for pay-per-view cards.

Though it would certainly take some time to introduce the incoming fighters and champions to those who currently reside in the UFC vacuum, it wouldn't take long for the talents of some of the top WEC fighters to shine through, transforming them from unknown quantities to fan favorites and headlining acts.

Of course, all of this remains speculative at this point.

Some will be strongly opposed to such action, while others will see the merits of this potential move.

Either way, we'll keep you posted on any progress.

In the meantime, tell us what you think...
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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Shane Carwin to Face Brock Lesnar at UFC 106?

Shane Carwin's name usually resides in the top section of any "Who can beat Brock Lesnar?" list concocted by those who believe the champ to be nothing more than a weight advantage too great for smaller fighters to overcome.

If the rumors are true, Carwin will be getting his chance to prove Lesnar's detractors right at UFC 106, November 21st in Las Vegas, Nevada.

An undisclosed injury sustained by Cain Velasquez made his poorly planned matchup with the undefeated Colorado native a no-go and may have pushed Carwin into the biggest fight of his life a little earlier than anticipated.

For the record, the Carwin-Velasquez fight was poorly planned because there is no real point in sacrificing one of your emerging contenders at the expense of another, especially when you have a shallow talent pool to begin with.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programming...

Since Lesnar's emergence and rapid rise to the top of the UFC heavyweight ranks, Carwin has been viewed as the fighter with the right mix of size and skill to challenge the ultra-athletic genetic freak.

Unlike Randy Couture and Frank Mir who entered the cage at a distinct disadvantage in the weight department, Carwin fights close to the ceiling of the 265 pound class and presents a 6-foot-4-inch frame for the champion to contend with.

But it isn't only size that propels Carwin to the head of the class when discussions turn to challengers for the championship gold.

Carwin's background as a collegiate wrestler and two-time All-American status as a football player are both brought into the discussion. While the accolades on the gridiron are certainly impressive, especially considering Carwin played at relatively unknown Western State College.

However, the small stature of his school also must be taken into account when assessing his wrestling accomplishments.

Carwin was the 1999 NCAA II Wrestling Heavyweight National Champion, an impressive feat that surely signals a strong wrestling base to accompany the dynamite-infused hands displayed by the one-time NFL hopeful.

That same year, Brock Lesnar was the runner-up for the Division I crown before claiming the top prize in 2000, amassing a record of 106-5 in the process. Just a little perspective, that's all.

Of all the items in the Shane Carwin tool box that lead people to believe he is the strongest threat to Brock Lesnar's championship reign, it is the aforementioned fists full of dynamite handing at the end of his arms.

Through 11 professional fights, Carwin hasn't been beyond the halfway point of the first round once. His last four wins all look remarkably similar on his record:

  • Gabriel Gonzaga - Win, KO (Punch)
  • Neil Wain - Win, TKO (Punches)
  • Christian Wellisch - Win, TKO (Punches)
  • Sherman Pendergarst - Win, TKO (Punches)

Saying he has dangerous hands is like saying Oprah has a little bit of money.

The Gonzaga victory was ultra-impressive and clearly announced Carwin as a true contender, as he rallied from an early shot that stung him and caught the former title challenger with straight right that left the Brazilian seeing stars.

Many feel Lesnar's chin has yet to be tested, something that will certainly happen should these two juggernauts go toe-to-toe as expected, giving the champion's detractors exactly what they've been seeking.

One piece of advice: be careful what you wish for.
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