Sunday, September 27, 2009

Father Time Strikes Again

Captain America, The Natural, Randy Couture. A name often synonymous with the UFC. A legendary hall of famer with an extremely impressive list of wins and accomplishments returns once again to the light heavyweight division. After losing his past two bouts at heavyweight, Randy decided that he was too small to hang with the top tier heavyweights. He recently accepted a bout against muay thai specialist Brandon Vera that will headline the UFC 105 card in England. There are many ramifications that will affect not only Couture, but the light heavyweight division as a whole. For Randy himself, the speed advantage he enjoyed at heavyweight will be gone. However, he will be one of the physically stronger fighters in the 205 lb. weight class.

What this means for the division is that another superstar will be competing in the already jam packed UFC light heavyweight division. Even at age 46, Couture still has the skill and game planning necessary to beat everyone in the division. In fact, he may even be the best hope to take out elusive light heavyweight champ Lyoto Machida. By taking on Vera at UFC 105, Randy hopes to take his first step towards Machida's belt. Vera, who came down from heavyweight himself, should have the advantage striking. However, Vera has looked sluggish and somewhat gunshy since his move to the smaller weight class, but he is still in theory the more technical striker with his muay thai background. He will also probably be the quicker of the two. However, Randy is Randy, and he'll look to use his "dirty boxing" in the clinch to ware down Vera and then take him down and pound him out. This would be a good strategy, as it will most likely keep Vera off his feet, where he is most comfortable. Still, this is MMA, so Vera could very easily land a good punch or kick that could floor Couture if he's not careful, especially since his chin isn't as good as it used to be.

This fight could either bring two results. The first would be a signal that Randy Couture is back and primed for another title run. The second scenario would result in Vera finally getting a win against a huge name to finally put him in the upper echelon of fighters. Either way, it will no doubt be a fun tussle to watch this November, especially since it will be free on Spike TV. The world will see if The Natural can turn back the clock one more time.

The Overeem Identity

Alistair Overeem always had the potential. By beating K-1 kickboxing legend Peter Aerts at his own game this past Friday, he may finally be living up to that potential. As a light-heavyweight fighter main in the PRIDE organization, Overeem had strong wins over names such as Vitor Belfort and Igor Vovchanchyn. Though he did lose numerous times, they were only to the best of the best in the division at the time (Shogun, Liddel, Arona). People didn't want to give up on Overeem though. His muay thai was very good, and his ground game wasn't bad either. Overeem just couldn't seem to get his cardio right. Even in his toughest fights, he would put up a great fight until he ran out of gas. The man reason was because with his 6'5 frame it was hard for him to cut down to the 205 lb. limit for light-heavyweight. So, Overeem decided in 2007 to move up to heavyweight full time.

At that time, Overeem's physique changed drastically. He couldn't have been more than 230 lbs. when he was cutting down to light-heavyweight. When he was fighting at heavyweight, he was able to amass a large amount of muscle, and now fights at about 250 lbs. (there's even a "growth chart" online to illustrate). Never the less, Overeem went on a tear. He became Strikeforce Heavyweight champion by defeating Paul Buentello. He beat Badr Hari (arguably the best K-1 kickboxer at the moment) at his own game. And even though the fight ended in a no contest after an accidental illegal strike, Overeem was dominating the legendary Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic. It seemed that Overeem had finally arrived.

But, with great success comes great responsibility. Overeem was scheduled to defend his Strikeforce title against top heavyweight Fabricio Werdum in August, but withdrew drew to a hand injury that had apparently not healed properly. Rumors of foul play began to surface, especially after Overeem booked himself in the 2009 K-1 World Grand Prix, in which the 1st round started in September. The main reasons for people's suspicions were that drug testing in Japan is notoriously lackadaisical. After seeing the sheer amount of muscle mass that Overeem had put on in the past few years, people began to speculate that Overeem was scared he would come out dirty after a drug test in America. Most notably was his scheduled Strikeforce opponent Werdum saying "I cannot be 100-percent right about the reason he is taking so long to solve his issues and come to fight, but it seems either that the gummy berry juice he is taking to give him super powers is (causing) him to avoid fighting here in America or he is afraid of having no arms to fight after facing me one more time."

However, after his win over K-1 legend Aerts this past Friday, no one can deny Overeem has the skill. It can't be a coincidence he's beaten two K-1 superstars and numerous top level MMA heavyweights in the past few years. With Fedor Emelianenko recently signing to Strikeforce, many fans hope that a match between the two will be set up soon. Is Overeem a cheater? He very well could be, but the bottom line is this: he's innocent until proven guilty. At just 29 years old, if Overeem continues to grow, he may become an unstoppable force. If he's clean, that is.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Kimbo vs. Brock: The Truth

Something is happening in Las Vegas. Something that you may not want to know about. Dana White is praying, begging, even pleading, to whatever God he believes in that Kimbo Slice learned how to be a complete mixed martial artist. The reason being is that he may have the potential for the mega-fight of the century if things work out. Current UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar is a huge draw. That is because the casual fan knows who he is. Millions of the fans that watched him in his WWE days now watch him inside the octagon. Slice was renowned for his bare-knuckle street fights on Youtube, and despite his lack of experience (and skill), became the poster boy of the fledgling Elite XC promotion. Millions of people watched as Slice headlined two fight cards on CBS. Many people attribute Slice's 14 second knockout loss to journeyman fighter Seth Petruzelli as the downfall of the organization.

Shortly after that, Dana White announced Slice as a participant on this season of the popular reality series, The Ultimate Fighter. Many hardcore fans questioned this decision, especially after all the shit White talked about Slice. To me, it was an easy answer why. Kimbo Slice is a cash cow. If the CBS viewer numbers weren't enough, the premier of the Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights drew a 4.1 rating, the highest ever in 10 seasons of the show. The casual fan knows who he is. People want to see if Kimbo can slug in a cage like he did in backyards on Youtube. Add that to the wrestling fanbase that follows Lesnar, and I think you have a formula for what could potentially be the most bought pay-per-view of all time.

Now a lot would have to happen for this fight to take place. Brock would have to remain champion and win or lose on the Ultimate Fighter Kimbo would have to go on a pretty big streak against big names to get to the top. But, if this fight were to materialize, I wouldn't doubt it could hit 2 million pay-per-view buys, making it the biggest one of all time. Now, would I much rather see Fedor vs. Brock? Absolutely, but the fact is that we're probably not going to see the best heavyweight of all time inside the octagon (damn you M-1 Global!!!). Dana and the rest of the UFC brass would kill for Brock vs. Kimbo. It might even be a blessing in disguise. With all the coverage and hype it would presumably get from mainstream outlets, it could be the fight to finally thrust the UFC into the mainstream. However, therein lies the problem. Its gonna takes a former actor/stuntman (aka a pro wrestler) and a bar room brawler to do it. Names that even the common fan knows.

Now I'm not dissing Brock's skills here either. Brock's wrestling is top level, he's inconceivably quick for a guy his size, his punches feel like Mack trucks, and if he keeps it up he could be a huge force at heavyweight for a long time to come. However, he's still green with only 5 professional fights, and there are many things we still don't know about him. Kimbo...well...let's just say he's got some work to do. Would I watch it? Sure. Would I want something more? Clearly. Will it even materialize anyway? Probably Not. The point I'm trying to get at is this: these guys are arguably the two biggest household names in MMA right now. A fight between them would garner huge publicity, attract millions of fans, and garner them a lot of money, which is exactly what the UFC wants right now. Better keep praying Dana...

Finding Filho

Paulo Filho. If you had told me that name three years ago, I would have had nothing but good to say. At that point, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt was an undefeated, rising star in the PRIDE organization. Beating names such as Amar Suloev, Murilo "Ninja" Rua, and Kazuo Misaki, Filho was being salivated by some as the next big thing, and called overrated by others. Personally, I thought he was the real deal. Once Filho took someone down, they didn't get up until the bell rang. By then, the round was over, or they had tapped out. Many, including myself, say he would have won the '06 PRIDE Welterweight Grand Prix had he not injured his knee in the Misaki fight. Then, the big news came.

After the demise of PRIDE, Filho was signed by the WEC and would fight stateside. Being as the WEC is owned by Zuffa, whcih also owns the UFC, fans thought it was only a matter of time until Filho wound up in the sport's main organization. The buzz began. Some went so far as to say Filho's relentless ground game would be the kryptonite to topple UFC middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva. Filho's first fight in the WEC was for the vacant WEC middleweight championship against Joe Doerksen. Althought Filho won the fight via TKO in the 1st round, people noticed something. Filho looked flat. He looked out of shape, unmotivated, and slow, among other things. After another lackluster performance, albeit a win, against Chael Sonnen in his first WEC title defense, a flurry of rumors started. Filho had been roiding in Japan, substance abuse, and other things. Finally, it was announced Filho withdrew from his scheduled title defense rematch against Sonnen to go to rehab for alcohol abuse. After almost a year removed from his last fight, Filho and Sonnen were finally set to settle the score. His managers said he was focused, and that the world was going to see the best Filho ever.

What we ended up seeing was one of the most embarrassing displays in mixed martial arts history. Filho missed weight for the fight, and Sonnen was nice enough to accept the fight as a three round non-title fight. Couldn't get any worse right? It did. Filho's performance was downright embarrassing. Not only did it seem like Filho had no interest in engaging in any form of combat, but it was conformed that Filho was talking to himself in his native tongue of Portuguese during the fight. Also, it could been seen that in the third round that Filho would just stare aimlessly into the crowd. No one had any good excuse as to why this happened. What had we just seen? Where was the relentless ground tactician from PRIDE? The fight brought a swift end to his WEC career, and there were more questions about Filho now then there were answers.

But, just as everyone had seemed to write him off, Filho was given a shot at redemption. DREAM, the spiritual successor of the PRIDE organization, had signed Filho, and given him a fight against Melvin Manhoef, a vaunted Dutch striker. People said there was no chance the old Filho would show up, and Manhoef was the favorite going in. There was just one problem though. Filho showed up. He looked like the Filho of old and submitted Manhoef in under three minutes. The buzz began again. Was Filho back? Is he on roids again? Or is he just more comfortable in Japan? After that win, Filho was annouced he would fight in his home country of Brazil at Bitetti Combat 4 on Sept. 12 against Alex Schoenauer. Although Schoenauer was a proven veteran, I didn't think he would beat Filho. I thought Filho's ground attack would be too much, and I thought he would be in great shape since he didn't have to cut weight (fight was at light-heavyweight, not middleweight like usual). There was just one problem though.

Filho didn't show up. Out of shape, Filho could not get Schoenauer to the ground, and even though he won, he look far from good. If Schoenauer didn't respect Filho as much as he did, he could have easily won the fight. If Schoenauer threw the kind of punches he threw in round three earlier in the fight, when Filho gassed, it could have been a different story. So, will we ever see the real Paulo Filho? He has the tools. His ground game is top notch, and he has heavy hands (just needs to work on technique a bit), so there's no question he has the talent. But does he have the drive? If we ever see the Filho of 2006 again, there's a real chance he can make another run to the top of the middleweight division. With that being said though, it seems you never know what you're gonna get when you talk about him. Will the real Paulo Filho please stand up?