Friday, February 26, 2010

Small Show Round-up

Strikeforce Challenger Series VI was supposed to be headline by veteran fighter Trevor Prangley and rising star Karl Amoussou, but last night they changed the main event to the Women's 135lb. Title bout between Sarah Kaufman and Takayo Hashi. I must say I didn't know much about Amoussou, but after watching some videos on Youtube, I am very excited to see him fight. Still, I think it's great that Strikeforce decided to move the women into the main event spotlight. Just like what the WEC is doing for the lighter weight classes, Strikeforce is doing a great job of giving a platform for female MMA. This ain't the WNBA folks. These girls always put on exciting fights, and follow all the same rules as the men. This is the second women's title Strikeforce has established, the 2nd being Cris "Cyborg" Santos's 145lb. title. Strikeforce is doing a great job helping put women's MMA on the map.

Seemingly lost in these packed weeks of fights was Jason David Frank, the Green/White/Red Ranger (yes, he was all of those at some point). He notched his 2nd MMA victory in less than a month at a recent Lonestar Beatdown event. This time, it was by TKO in the first round. Frank looked like Anderson Silva, getting his opponent, Chris Rose, in the Muay Thai clinch and reigned knees upon him. After Rose fell to the mat after some heavy strikes, Frank pounced and pummeled him until the referee pulled him off. Frank is doing everything right so far. He's taking smart fights and trying to get better, not get into the spotlight (not yet, anyway). I hope he continues to win and gets good; the sport could use an ambassador like him. "When times are tough, you gotta fight your way out of it. You only have two choices: you can sit there and wallow in your pain and feel sorry for yourself, or you can be a fighter," said Frank in an interview with Inside the MMA. His attitude is great, and he is showing that he has legitimate skills. Being a former Power Rangers nut, you know if there's any developments on Jason David Frank, you can find them here.

Also, at last night's Bitetti Combat 6, the saga of Paulo Filho continued. While Thales Lietes and Glover Texiera picked up good wins, it was Filho who marred the night. He was originally slated to face veteran fighter Yuki Sasaki, but withdrew from the event because of personal issues. Hours later, he retracted his statement and said he would fight at the event after hearing Sasaki would only fight him. However, Filho no-showed the weigh-ins, and the fight was scrapped. I can't speculate what's wrong with Paulo Filho, but I hope he hasn't relapsed, and I wish him luck to find the help that he needs.

Why do all of my heroes die?

UFC 110 this past Saturday was a great event. It was the coming out party for fighters like George Sotiropolous and especially Cain Velasquez, and all the fights were exciting and competitive. Still, I couldn't help but feel a sense of nostalgia on this card. I must admit, I loved PRIDE Fighting Championship more than any other organization. Ever. The UFC included. This card featured three of the fighters that made PRIDE so enjoyable for me: Wanderlei Silva, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic.

Nogueira and Cro Cop were once considered two of the top three heavyweights in the world at the time of PRIDE's demise. Nogueira was known for his dangerous submissions, and Cro Cop was the most feared striker in the world. I remember bragging to my "casual fan" friends about how bad ass they were, and how they would dominate the UFC heavyweight division. Like a lot of other PRIDE fans, I feel like I've been let down. Big Nog is 3-2 in the UFC. He's looked sluggish, slower, and (except for the Couture fight) pretty lackluster. He had never been finished before his UFC career, but both of his UFC losses have been by TKO in the 2nd round or earlier. Cro Cop hasn't looked good either. 3-3 in his UFC career, Cro Cop is now tentative and stagnate. Gone is the stalker who would bully his opponent with kicks and punches. He looked good against Anthony Perosh this past weekend, but who is Anthony Perosh you ask? Exactly.

My memories of Wanderlei Silva in PRIDE have also been getting tarnished by his recent stretch in the UFC. Since coming back to the UFC, Silva is just 2-3. While two of the loses were close and exciting decisions against Liddell and Franklin, he suffered a brutal knockout against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, a man he had brutally knocked out twice in PRIDE. While I'm beginning to think Nogueira and Cro Cop's best days are behind them, Silva was the one bright spot from my PRIDE heroes on UFC 110. He beat Michael Bisping by decision, and looked the best he has in a long time. It looks like there's new hope for good ol' Wandy at middleweight.

Part of what made PRIDE so great for me and many other fans were the fantastic wars and battles that were fought in PRIDE. It seems like the wear-and-tear from those memorable duels are catching up to them. Brock Lesnar and Nogueira are just one year apart in age, yet Nogueira has been fighting since he was much younger, and may explain why he's looked 10 years older in the cage. It seems like the memory of Gabriel Gonzaga's high kick haunts Cro Cop. Believe me, these guys are my heroes, I'm not trying to bash them. I just hope they really do have it, and can prove me wrong.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

They Stay Fly....

The flyweight division in MMA is possibly the sport's best kept secret. These guys are the quickest and some of the most athletic and dynamic athletes in the sport. However, since it is the lightest weight class allowed under the unified rules, not a lot of organizations have the weight class. With the WEC's management assuring fans that a flyweight division is on the horizon for the organization in 2010, I have begun paying more attention to the division. I highly recommend that any MMA fan watch the Flyweight title fight between John Dodson and Pat Runez in the UWC. That fight is not only a great example of what these guys are capable of, but it's simply one of the best MMA fights I've ever seen. With the fighter's superb quickness and explosiveness, the flyweight division has what it takes to catch fire and win over lots of fans. So, my hopes for this post are to educate the MMA fan on some flyweight names that could be on a screen near you in near future. Here are some fighters to keep an eye on.

Jussier da Silva - Don't let his meager 3-0 record fool you. His crafty ground skills earned him a unanimous decision victory over Shinichi Kojima, Shooto's 125 lb. champion and formerly the consensus #1 flyweight in the world.

Shinichi Kojima - Although he lost his last bout, a non-title affair with da Silva, he is still the Shooto 125 lb. champion. His two victories over former Shooto kingpin Mamoru Yamaguchi helped cement his reputation.

Mamoru Yamaguchi - Former Shooto 125 lb. champion. Recently captured the King of the Cage Flyweight Championship by defeating Frank Baca in impressive fashion.

Pat Runez - PFC and UWC Flyweight Champion. Trains at Arizona Combat sports with Jamie Varner, and can bring it on the feet or the ground. Fight with Dodson was a classic.

Rambaa Somdet
- Muay Thai specialist, extremely quick and dynamic striker. American fans would love this guy.

Kiyotaka Shimizu - Pancrase Flyweight Champion, recently beat Mitsuhisa Sunabe to capture the title.

Mitsuhisa Sunabe - Former Pancrase champion, at 5"8', he is quite possibly the tallest guy in the division. Quick hands and good wrestling.

Alexis Vila - Former Olympic Medalist in wrestling, his size and skill make him a force in the division.

John Dodson - Explosive and powerful, Dodson lost an extremely competitive and hard-fought decision to Runez in his last fight. If he can overcome his tentativeness, he could be a serious threat to anyone in the division.

From one fan to another, I encourage you all to watch these fighters and spread the word. These guys are extremely talented and deserve to have their names out there with all the rest of MMA's top talent.

The Subtle Art of the Freak Show Fight

Ah, the freak show fight. The fights that MMA fans love, hate, and love to hate. With the sport becoming more and more mainstream, all sorts of people want a piece of the pie. MMA fans hate the freak show fights because it seems like they set MMA back a step. What business does Jose Canseco have taking an MMA fight? At the same time, people just can't look away. I watched the Canseco fight numerous times, because there's no guiltier pleasure for me than seeing him get pummeled by a 7 foot 2 inch Korean kickboxer. With all the talk of Strikeforce considering matching up the aforementioned Conseco and Strikeforce and NFL vet Herschel Walker, it got me thinking about the effect the freak show fight has had on MMA.

The freak show fights are extremely popular in Japan. Japanese grappling ace, Genki Sudo, a natural 155 lb. fighter, once took on 400+ lb. boxer Eric "Butterbean" Esch. The legendary Royce Gracie battled Sumo legend Akebono. Bob Sapp was a staple in the olden days of PRIDE and K-1. Even though the fights were meaningless in the big picture, the intrigue of the fights and fighters were enough to attract attention and viewers. The wave is hitting America too. We've got former pro wrestlers, a bearded street brawler, a power ranger, a disgraced baseball player, and a football icon (just to name a few) all taking a stab at MMA. While people like Lesnar, Lashley, Jason David Frank, and even Slice are taking the sport seriously, people are beginning to wonder where to draw the line.

The ultimate freak show fight was definitely the Kyle Maynard fiasco. In case you missed it, this kid was a wrestler who had amputated legs and arms, who still became a decent wrestler, and had a dream to compete in MMA. He got his wish when a small Auburn promotion allowed him to fight. The advertised the hell out of him, and set him up to be the main attraction. While I thought it was indeed an inspirational story of a man who refuses to let his disabilities stop him, I still had one pressing question: How in the f**k did ANYONE expect this kid to win? He has no arms, so he can't block punches or defend/attempt submissions. His only offense would be to lay on his opponent and pray he has zero knowledge jiu-jitsu and wrestling exist. That was the first time I ever thought a fight should be held in a circus tent, and not an arena with MMA fans. By the way, Maynard's opponent was merciful and let the fight go to a decision, which Maynard lost unanimously.

So what's the point of these fights? Is the scrutiny worth the reward for these promotions? Absolutely, the bottom line being money. Even after slamming him repeatedly, Dana White signed Kimbo Slice to a contract. Does he think Kimbo can make a run at the title? Probably not. Will Kimbo rake him in tons of money? Hell yes. So, how could a promotion exploit an amputee knowing full well he had little chance of winning? The bottom line is people love to watch to see if the "freak" can fight. I was giddy when I found Jason "The Green Ranger" Frank's MMA fight on YouTube, as he was a childhood hero of mine. I was even giddier when he won. If a promotion is desperate enough, they'll try anything to get a big break. I guess Biggie Smalls said it best: The more money we come across, the more problems we see. As long as people will watch these crazy freak show fights, and they will, promoters will continue to put them on.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Paulo Thiago: The Real Deal

A man stepped into The Octagon at UFC 95 to face Ultimate Fighter alum and highly touted welterweight Josh Koscheck. This man was 10-0, but it was against lesser competition, so no one really knew who he was. But after that night, the world would know just who Paulo Thiago was.

Thiago knocked out Koscheck with an uppercut-hook combination, and was immediately thrown into the fire that is the UFC's welterweight division. His next fight was against Koscheck's teammate, widely regarded No. 2 welterweight Jon Fitch. Thiago hung in there, but lost the decision. He returned to his winning was at UFC 106, defeating Bellator FC veteran Jacob Volkmann by an impressive decision. However, Thiago returned to the trial-by-fire when it was announced he would rematch Koscheck at UFC 109. Things didn't even get easier for Thiago when Koscheck withdrew from the fight with an injury. Apparently American Kickboxing Academy took great offense to him upsetting Koscheck, as another one of his teammates stepped up to replace him and fight the Brazilian. This time it was Mike Swick, the former UFC middleweight contender, who had dropped to welterweight and was making a run at the title until losing to current No. 1 contender Dan Hardy at UFC 105.

The fight was a lot closer on the feet then people thought. Thiago was landing good punches, and staying out of trouble if Swick looked to start taking control. In the second round, Swick hit Thiago with a good punch, but Thiago was able to counter with a hook that floored Swick. He followed the AKA product to the ground, and locked in a D'arce Choke that left Swick unconscious. With that win, Thiago proved his loss to Koscheck was no fluke. His only loss is to Jon Fitch, and with the consensus having him as the No. 2 guy behind GSP, there's no shame in that. I still want to see Thiago fight Koscheck again, knowing that Thiago isn't a pushover anymore. I would also like to see how fairs against someone like Thiago Alves, another high-caliber welterweight he was rumored to fight. Either way, if Thiago doesn't get burned by the flames, this gauntlet could lead him to welterweight gold.

Randy Gives Us Another Dandy

Randy Couture. The Natural. Captain American. All are names for the 46-year-old legend who still continues to put on high level performances with each appearance inside the octagon. After a two-fight skid with loses to Brock Lesnar and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, he returned to the light-heavyweight division and faced Brandon Vera. After an unimpressive, somewhat controversial decision victory over "The Truth," people began to wonder if The Natural still had it. At UFC 109: Relentless this past Saturday, Randy once again that he can still hang with the big boys.

In a fight that was originally scheduled to happen at UFC 17 (that's right, UFC 17!), Couture went to battle with fellow UFC Hall of Famer Mark Coleman. The two have been innovators of the sport and have won multiple championships. Needless to say, the nostalgia value of this fight was reason enough for a fan to buy the pay-per-view. After a loss to Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in his return fight to the UFC, Coleman beat Steffan Bonner at UFC 100, his first win at light-heavyweight. In this fight of old men, Couture looked more like a fighter in his twenties. He neutralized all of Coleman's takedown attempts, used sharp boxing to pick him apart on the feet and "dirty boxing" in the clinch to wear down Coleman in the first round. The second round offered more of the same. Couture eventually rocked Coleman, took his back, and submitted him with a rear naked choke.

What this fight proved more than anything was how these two legend's careers are going in different directions at this point. Couture seems primed to make a final (though with Randy you never know) run at the light-heavyweight title. Couture has the knowledge and tools to give "The Dragon" fits, so it's a fight a lot of fans want to see. On the other side, Coleman seems to be on his last legs. His stand-up looked atrocious, he seemed to gas out midway through the first round, and just didn't seem like he had anything to offer Couture. He and Tito Ortiz apparently got into an altercation after the post-conference, and Coleman has stated he wants to fight Tito after having to withdraw from their UFC 106 date due to injury. This would be nothing but a novelty fight, and, if it happens, win or lose Coleman should probably hang it up. Who knows, maybe there are more "legends" fights to be had. Someone should give Dan Severn a call...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Strikeforce Puts on Another Gem

Strikeforce: Miami was held this past Saturday, and it was another sign that the UFC now has competition right in it's own back yard of North America. The first fight featured former WWE star Bobby Lashley against UFC-vet Wes Sims. Sims had taken the fight on short notice and looked to be in horrible shape. After a short time on the feet, Lashley immediately took Sims down and began to work. Lashley eventually got the back and pounded on Sims causing the ref to stop the fight at just over two minutes in the first frame. Sims tried to protest that it was an early stoppage, but from the look of it he was spared from an even worse beating than he already received. Even though Lashley looked impressive, Wes Sims isn't anywhere close to a top-tier heavyweight anymore, and even he agreed it's time to step up the ladder. In fact, I'll go as far as saying the post-fight scuffle between the two was more entertaining than the fight itself.

Next was Herschel Walker vs. Greg Nagy. Much had been made of this bout as Walker, the former Hiesman Trophy winner and NFL-vet, was making his MMA debut at 47-years-old. The fight was sloppy and one sided, with Walker controlling and hurting Nagy on the ground for much of the fight. Nagy offered seemingly no offense or defense against Walker's onslaught. Walker won via TKO in RD. 3 after it looked like Nagy couldn't take anymore. It was an impressive win for Walker, but as a whole, this fight meant nothing in the big picture in the MMA world. However, I can't take away all of the positive publicity that Walker has brought to the sport because of this fight, and I have all the respect in the world for Walker because of it.

The next three fights were definitely why I enjoyed this event so much. Melvin Manhoef and Robbie Lawler had one of the most spectacular endings I have ever seen in a fight. Manhoef, the vaunted Dutch striker, was in control for practically all of the fight. He pressured Lawler, landing punches, combinations, flurries, and leg kicks that had Lawler limping by the end of the fight. A leg kick and flurry from Manhoef around the three-minute mark in Round 1 looked to spell end of the fight, and it did. For Lawler. Lawler, who was backed up against the cage, threw a hail Mary right hook that connected with Manhoef, severely hurting him. One more left from Lawler put Manhoef unconscious on the mat. Great way to get back on track for Lawler, and a really entertaining fight.

Cris "Cyborg" Santos
defended her Women's 145-lb. title with relative ease against Marloes Coenen. The fight was all Cyborg, using her Muay Thai skills and ground and pound to stop Coenen. Coenen fought valiantly and even landed some counter-punches against Cyborg, but couldn't find the rhythm she needed. Erin Toughill, the former pro-boxer who once fought Laila Ali looks to be next for Cyborg, but with the way she's been rolling through people of late, you'd have to wonder who could stop her. Since her nickname is Cyborg, her performance reminds of a quote from the Governator's classic, the Terminator: "You can't stop it, you can't kill it, and it absolutely will not stop. Until you're dead."

The night ended spectacularly with the main event, headlined by perennial bad boy Nick Diaz and DREAM Welterweight kingpin Marius Zaromskis. This was a fight with fireworks written all over it. Zaromskis was coming into this fight as a human highlight reel, winning his last three fights by head kick KO, and Diaz's style is tailor made to make good fighters look bad. The fight lived up to the hype. The entire first round was the same story: Zaromskis was the aggressor and tried to lad anything he could on Diaz, but Diaz would use his reach and land cleaner, more effective counter-punches on the Lithuanian. As the seconds wore on, it was obvious Zaromskis was fading quickly and Diaz could smell blood. After a last ditch effort by Zaromskis, Diaz was able to put away the DREAM champ by TKO with just 30 seconds left in the first round to become Strikeforce's first Welterweight Champion. This was undeniably a great performance by Diaz, who I believe has now solidified himself as a top-10 Welterweight. And with this card, Strikeforce has now solidified itself as top competition for a certain Las Vegas promotion. Watch your rear view mirror Dana...

Go Go Power Rangers

Jason David Frank. You remember the name, right? No? Well remember that show Power Rangers from the mid-90s? That's right, a power ranger has stepped into the sport of MMA. Honestly, I couldn't have been more excited for this fight. I credit the Power Rangers show for my involvement in martial arts, and therefore also my interest in MMA. When I first heard Frank was signed to fight, I nearly peed myself. Not only was I a fan of the show, but the Green Ranger was always my favorite. What many do not know is that Frank not only has created his own martial arts form, Toso Kune Do, he has also been dabbling in Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. He even created the popular line of fighter gear Jesus Didn't Tap. Needless to say, I was excited.

Anyway, onto the fight itself. Frank's opponent was Jonathon Mack, a relative unknown, under the Lone Star Beatdown promotion in Texas. The fight started out nothing like I expected. After seeing one his Muay Thai fights on Youtube, I thought Frank to be the better standup fighter. Aside from a few leg kicks though, it was Mack who was dominating the stand up, rocking Frank twice with big punches. However, once Mack attempted a takedown, it was Frank who took charge. As soon as Frank hit the mat, he locked Mack in an omaplata, getting the tapout at just 1:28 in the first round. The fight, although it was short, showed a lot about Frank. He was able to take big shots, recover, and show that he does have a ground game. Even though Mack was a nobody, an omaplata is one of the hardest submissions to pull off. I hope Frank continues with his MMA career. He's got a great attitude about the sport, and seems to have the tools to back it up. He's older though, so at age 36 it may be harder to improve and get better. Either way, after his showing Saturday night, he'll always have one fan watching.