Wednesday, September 23, 2009

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?

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