Tuesday, February 28, 2012

TUF 15: Early Assessment

As another season of The Ultimate Fighter draws near, there is always some new pre-show hype to get fans ready for the show. There are two big changes for Season 15, as the fights will be broadcast live and the show moves from Spike to FX. However, the core format will stay the same, and one fighter will be crowned “The Ultimate Fighter” at the end of the season. Starting March 9, 32 lightweight fighters will enter the Octagon under the guidance of bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz or number one contender Urijah Faber. The 32 man field is filled with young prospects and veterans looking to make a name for themselves. Here are my pre-show picks for fighters that could make the biggest splash this season.

Cristiano Marcello – Hardcore fans will know Marcello as the former jiu-jitsu coach for the famed Chute Boxe Academy in Brazil. Other fans may know him for the YouTube video of him choking out Charles “Krazy Horse” Bennett backstage after an altercation between camps at a PRIDE event. Either way, Marcello has a good deal of experience, and previously fought in PRIDE, albeit in a losing effort to Mitsuhiro Ishida. Still, training alongside all those killers at Chute Boxe, one would think that he’s probably added a few things to his striking game. Add to that a solid background in BJJ, and we have our first favorite for Season 15.

Dakota Cochrane – Most people had no idea who Cochrane was until September 23, 2011. It was that day where he fought Jamie Varner on just four days’ notice on a Titan Fighting Championship card broadcast live on HDNet. He pulled off the upset, dominating Varner for three rounds to earn a unanimous decision victory. Though he lost his most recent bout, he still has an impressive 11-2 record. Plus, winning the Varner fight proved that Cochrane has a lot of guts and the capability to rise to the occasion and seize the moment. Expect Cochrane to make some noise this season.

James Krause – Krause is probably the most experienced competitor in the field. He holds a win over TUF 12 runner-up Michael Johnson, and has fought against tough veterans Ricardo Lamas, Toby Imada, and Donald Cerrone. He’s also had experience in front of the camera, fighting for televised promotions such as Bellator, WEC, Titan FC, and Shark Fights. Having been on TV numerous times before and fighting some tough veterans in the field may give Krause the experience edge to win the whole thing.

Myles Jury – You always need to pick a darkhorse, and Myles Jury is mine. It’s not just his 9-0 record that compelled me to make this pick, but it’s the fact that Jury has already been on The Ultimate Fighter (though it was technically only for one episode). He was a part of Season 13, but was forced to withdrawal with an ACL injury. Even though he was only on the show for one episode, it’s still one more episode than anyone else in the field. He already has experience dealing with the cameras and environment of The Ultimate Fighter, and that may give him a mental edge going into the season.

A sense of PRIDE at UFC 144

As we all know, PRIDE went out of business in 2007, and the landscape of MMA in Japan hasn’t been the same since. The theatrics and style may still be alive in DREAM, but the fighters and fights fail create the aura that made PRIDE so special. The fighters in PRIDE knew that the Japanese fans would love and appreciate them if they fought with every ounce of energy they had. It didn’t matter if they won, lost, or drew; if they left it all in the ring on a given night, they would be invited back to fight another day. At UFC 144 this past weekend, it felt like that aura was in the air of the Saitama Super Arena once more.

It started from the very first prelim fight between Tiequan Zhang and Issei Tamura. The fight started with the two fighters rocking each other before two minutes passed in the first round. The ending was even more spectacular, as a thunderous Tamura right hand left Zhang flattened and unconscious on the canvas. Takeya Mizugaki vs. Chris Cariaso brought back one of the memories of PRIDE many fight fans try to forget: horrible decisions. Though it was a very close and entertaining fight, it seemed that Mizugaki had done enough to walk away with his hand raised that night. However, the judges disagreed with everyone else and gave the decision to Cariaso. A fun fight was marred by an extremely questionable decision once again. During the Fukuda/Cantwell fight, the crowd shouted “AAAYYY!” in unison, much like they did in the old days, when Fukuda was landing sharp ground strikes on Cantwell. Though “The Robot” threatened with submissions and strikes throughout, Fukuda stayed out of trouble and seized victory.

Comebacks were a big theme of the night, and Kid Yamamoto vs. Vaughan Lee and Takanori Gomi vs. Eiji Mitsuoka were two prime examples of that. Kid looked like his old self in the beginning of his fight with Lee, dancing around and beating the British fighter up on the feet. However, Lee was able to land a flurry of strikes that wobbled Yamamoto, and then locked up a fight ending armbar. Gomi was getting beat up by Mitsuoka in the first round of their fight, but Gomi was able to find a home for his powerful strikes and finish Mitsuoka in the second. The TKO finish likely saved his job in the UFC. Still, all the action wasn’t relegated to the prelims.

In the first main card fight, Anthony Pettis returned to “Showtime” form with his head kick KO over Joe Lauzon. Hatsu Hioki also returned to form, dominating Bart Palaszewski for three rounds to earn a unanimous decision victory. Going back to the comeback theme, Tim Boetsch pulled off perhaps the biggest comeback of all-time. After being dominated by Yushin Okami on the feet and on the ground for the first two rounds, Boetsch was told by his corner to go for broke in the third. As Joe Rogan said, Tim Boetsch is an animal. He came out swinging, and landed several power shots on Okami, earning a TKO victory before a minute passed in round three. Yoshihiro Akiyama was introduced by Bruce Buffer only as “Sexyama,” and he did look good in the first round of his fight with Jake Shields, landing some good strikes and an impressive unorthodox trip technique. However, Shields proved he’s got some of the best intestinal fortitude in the business. Though his takedowns weren’t very successful, he was able to land a multitude of crisp, accurate strikes on the feet. Though they lacked any finishing power, the accumulation of strikes in the last two rounds was enough to earn Shields a hard fought decision win.

Mark Hunt looked like he did in his heyday in Japan, defeating tough striker Cheick Kongo via punches just over two minutes into round one. Though he didn’t look good at all during most of his fight with Ryan Bader, Quinton Jackson did deliver us a special moment. In the middle of round two, he caught a knee attempt by Bader, picked him up, and slammed him to the canvas. Though Rampage lost the fight, he reminded us of what got him to this point in the first place. The main event lived up to the hype as well. It was an extremely close fight for four rounds, but Ben Henderson had likely done enough to win them. At the start of round five, down on the scorecards and with his eye almost swollen shut, Frankie Edgar once again reminded the MMA community why no one can ever count him out of a fight. He dropped Bendo in the fifth frame, and definitely did enough to win the round. Though Ben Henderson is the new UFC lightweight champion, it is clear that Frankie Edgar’s heart is twice the size of his body.

All of this brings me to my point: the warrior spirit of the fighters that was showcased in PRIDE was found once again on the UFC 144 card. It truly had it all: amazing comebacks, brutal knockouts, technical fights, crazy techniques, and gutsy performances. From the first fight to the last, it was undoubtedly one of the best cards the UFC has had in recent memory. Also, I believe it proved that there will always be a home for MMA in Japan. All of the fighters that night gave everything they had in that cage, and it rekindled some of the magic we had all loved watching PRIDE fights in the Saitama Super Arena. Zuffa’s return to the land of the rising sun should be considered nothing less than a success, if not one of the best cards of all-time.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Putting Down The Pitbull

When I look back at the fighters that helped hook me into MMA, I’d absolutely put Andrei Arlovski on that list. The 6’4” Belarusian heavyweight had one of the most impressive highlight reels from 2003 – 2005 in the UFC. The uppercut KO of Matyushenko, the striking clinic against Cabbage, the achilles lock to capture the heavyweight title against Tim Sylvia, and the one-punch KO of Paul Buentello were just a few of the reasons I became an Arlovski fan. The speed, technique, and power he displayed at heavyweight made him look practically unbeatable going into his second fight with Tim Sylvia. However, that’s when things began to unravel.

Arlovski lost his belt to Sylvia by a first round knockout. Arlovski’s chin came into question after the fight because the initial punch that rocked him was a seemingly weak uppercut. He had also rocked Sylvia with a punch early in the fight, but failed to capitalize on it. He then lost an immediate rematch with Sylvia in a lackluster five round decision. However, “The Pitbull” gained new life after his second loss to Sylvia. After a KO of Marcio Cruz, a lackluster decision win over Fabricio Werdum, and a TKO win over Jake O’Brien, Arlovski left the UFC for a bigger payday and new opportunities.

He would up in the Affliction promotion, who had also signed the likes of Josh Barnett and Fedor Emelianenko. During this time, he also began training with famed boxing coach Freddie Roach. His hands never looked better. He battered Ben Rothwell en route to a third round KO victory on the first Affliction card. Although the stoppage was a bit controversial, he did hurt Roy Nelson worse than anyone else in recent memory, and earned a KO stoppage victory over him on an Elite XC card. Arlovski was beginning to look like his old self again, perhaps even better. He had compiled an impressive five fight winning streak, and had gotten the call from Affliction to fight Fedor Emelianenko.

Fedor was still a top-three pound-for-pound fighter and number one ranked heavyweight in the world at the time he fought Arlovski. For the first few minutes of the bout, it didn’t look that way. Arlovski was seemingly outclassing “The Last Emperor” on the feet, and looked like he might be the one to finally put away the stoic Russian. However, Fedor reminded us that if you leave an opening against him, he will find and exploit it. With one right hook during an Arlovski flying knee attempt, Fedor walked away victorious while “The Pitbull” lay unconscious on the canvas. Things wouldn’t get much better from there.

After the Fedor loss and the demise of Affliction, Arlovski was signed by Strikeforce. His first fight was against powerful up-and-comer Brett Rogers. Talk of Andrei’s glass chin reignited and spread like wildfire after Rogers pummeled him and put him away in 22 seconds. In his next fight against Antonio Silva, many thought Arlovski would use his superior speed and striking technique to stop “Bigfoot.” However, he looked tentative and gun-shy throughout the fight, and lost a decision as a result. I almost didn’t want to watch his next fight against Sergei Kharitonov, as I had a strange feeling I knew what would happen. Sure enough, Kharitonov knocked out Arlovski in brutal fashion in less than three minutes.

Since then, I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch anymore of his fights. Sure, he got signed to the new ProElite and has won his first two fights by KO/TKO, but have you looked at those fights? His first win was against Ray Lopez. Who? Exactly. His second win was against Travis Fulton, “The Ironman” who has had over 300 fights. From what I’ve heard, the fight could’ve put you to sleep except for the last five seconds where Arlovski threw and landed the head kick that ended fight. Gone are the days when the Belarusian fighter would tear through his opponents like a pitbull, and I doubt he will fight, let alone defeat, a top heavyweight again. It is undeniable that Arlovski helped attract and suck in fans like myself to this wonderful sport, but the recent times have proved that there is a “changing of the guard” taking place. Arlovski will have a place in the hearts of many MMA fans, but his time as a dominant heavyweight is over.

Invicta Fighting Championships

Women’s MMA may finally have the launching pad it needs. New promotion Invicta Fighting Championships will hold its first card on April 28, and every single fighter on the 11-bout card is a female. It is headlined by former Strikeforce women’s 135-pound champion Marloes Coenen, and there’s loads of other talent on the card. Strikeforce veterans Liz Carmouche, Sarah D’Alelio, and Shana Nelson are fighting that night. Sarah Schneider, Leslie Smith, Jessica Penne, and Lisa Ellis-Ward had previously fought for Bellator. Kaitlin Young had been in the cage with Gina Carano in the Elite XC days, and Michelle Gutierrez was featured in the video game Supremacy MMA. What I’m getting at here is that Invicta has booked an impressive amount of marketable and talented female fighters to launch their promotion. This quote from longtime MMA industry executive and Invicta Vice President Shannon Knapp best sums up the promotion’s goal: “Invicta is committed to increasing the depth of the women’s field and building female superstars by providing women athletes with the opportunity to compete and hone their skills on a consistent basis throughout the year.”

So, personal hype aside, will this work? Two of Gina Carano’s Elite XC fights on CBS were watched by over five million people. Her fight with Cris “Cyborg” Santos attracted 856,000 viewers on Showtime, setting an MMA ratings record for the premium cable network. Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey have been getting quite a lot of attention going into their March 3 bout in Strikeforce. I’d go as far as saying that Tate vs. Rousey could be the fight that saves Strikeforce. There is a market for female fights out there. The VP of the promotion has held positions in the UFC, IFL, and Strikeforce prior to Invicta, so I think Knapp has the experience to find and target that market. Tachi Palace Fights became the haven for flyweight fighters before the UFC, and they gained a strong following for actively promoting the 125-pound division. There’s no reason why Invicta can’t do the same for female fighters. I hope everything comes together well and goes off without a hitch, because this is a great next step for women’s MMA.

Five Steps for Flyweight Success

The UFC starts off its flyweight division with a bang on the quickly approaching UFC on FX 2 card with the semi-final round of the four-man tournament. For the company’s third effort on Fox, two more flyweight bouts have been announced in the form of John Dodson vs. Darren Uyenoyama and Louis Gaudinot vs. John Lineker. With a solid base of established flyweight fighters and talented bantamweights dropping down, the UFC is off to a great start. Here are some things the UFC should consider to ensure the division lives up to its “nasty potential.”

Pray that Alexis Vila loses in the upcoming Bellator tournament – Most people who know Alexis Vila know him from his run in the Bellator bantamweight tournament. It’s with good reason; his KO victory over Joe Warren in the first round is one of my favorite knockouts of all-time. Vila made it to the finals, but was defeated by Eduardo Dantas. Most people probably don’t know that Vila fought as a flyweight until he joined Bellator. Vila is a powerhouse at 125, and is most likely the strongest fighter in the weight class. Add to that his stellar wrestling base (an Olympic Bronze medalist) and improving striking, and that’s a recipe for success. However, the clock is ticking. Though Vila has only been fighting since 2007, he is 40 years old, and currently signed up for the upcoming Bellator bantamweight tournament. Vila would be a huge addition to the UFC flyweight field, but he needs to be added sooner rather than later. I like watching Vila fight, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I hope he loses in the upcoming Bellator tournament.

Find Pat Runez and give him a contract – John Dodson, Ultimate Fighter 14 winner, is returning to his natural weight class. If you look at his record, you’ll see his last loss was to a guy named Pat Runez for the Ultimate Warrior Challenge (UWC) Flyweight Championship. The fight, which took place in October of 2009, was billed as the most important flyweight fight in North America. Those that saw it know it lived up to the hype. The fight had it all: back-and-forth action, heart, techniques, knockdowns…it was a fantastic display of what MMA is all about. It was my introduction to the flyweight division. Perhaps one of the reasons I advocate for flyweights is because to this day Runez vs. Dodson is one of my favorite fights of all-time. However, that fight was also the last one Runez has had. He is 4-0, and being the last guy to beat Dodson would help his stature. If you haven’t seen it, just go to YouTube and watch his fight with Dodson. After that, you’ll know why he’d be good for the UFC.

Sergio Pettis – Name value is a wonderful thing. Just look at Kim Couture. She’s really not a great fighter, but she continues to get fights because her last name is that of a UFC legend. Sergio Pettis may have name value, but he may also have a lot of talent. Anthony Pettis lives up to his nickname of “Showtime” by the exciting and innovative style he brings into the cage. Sergio must look up to his big brother, as he finished his first two fights by TKO with head kicks. After he won his last fight by a first round arm-triangle choke, the younger Pettis announced he would be making his flyweight debut in May. This excited many hardcore fans, as Sergio would certainly bring a little “Showtime” to the flyweight class. At just 18 years old, the sky may be the limit for Pettis, and hopefully he tries to reach those limits in the UFC.

Use weight class for International seasons of TUF – We all saw what TUF 14 did for the featherweight and bantamweight divisions. The UFC has already expanded its flagship reality show to Brazil, and places like Mexico, Australia, and Philippines have all been rumored for a version of the show. What better way to get new fighters for a new weight class than featuring them on a season of TUF? It’s a win-win situation. The winner of the show would be put in the mix right away, and there would be an international star to attract attention to the new division. With people being naturally smaller in those countries, it would be a great way to tap into new talent for the flyweight class. Heck, even a TUF flyweight tournament here in the States wouldn’t be a bad idea. Regardless of where it takes place, featuring the flyweights on The Ultimate Fighter would be a great way to get exposure and new talent for the 125-pound division.

Keep getting talent from Tachi – What do Michael McDonald, Eddie Yagin, and Ian McCall have in common? They all became champions in Tachi Palace Fights and earned Zuffa contracts as a result. Hardcore MMA fans know that TPF has the best current roster of flyweights. The Lemoore promotion is home to 125-pound studs Jussier da Silva, Darrell Montague, Mamoru Yamaguchi, and Dustin Ortiz. So, keep the pipeline open and get these guys in the octagon! That’s what I love about Tachi, they don’t mind grooming new talent and shipping them off to the major leagues when they’re ready. It’s a trend that should definitely continue with the flyweights.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Devil’s Advocate (part two)

The UFC putting flyweights on FX is poor decision – This one came from a website which usually has great opinion columns, but I couldn’t disagree more with this one. The argument centered around the UFC putting the flyweights on an FX card rather than a pay-per-view card. The author argued that they would get more exposure and credibility if they were featured on a pay-per-view card instead. Here’s why I disagree. While it’s true that getting a main card slot on PPV card is an instant credibility boost, it’ll be hard to gain exposure if no one watches. Cruz vs. Faber II was one of the best fights of 2011, but only 350,000 people cared to buy it. The fact is that not a lot of people know who these guys in the lower weights are yet. People won’t buy it if they don’t know what it is.

So, how do you get them to buy it? Give them a free sample. People like free. Even if it doesn’t have the biggest names on the card, more people are likely to watch fights on FX simply because they won’t have to pay for them. If the fights turn out to be as exciting as they should be, people will take notice. That way, when the flyweights finally do transition to PPV, people will say: “Oh yeah, I saw that guy in a war on TV, I’d definitely pay to see him again.” In my mind, it’s a win-win situation.

Putting UFC on Fuel TV is a smart move – While it may be true in the long run, it may not be now. Remember how I said people like free? Fuel TV is a part of a more expensive package on most television providers, and some regions (like the one I’m currently in) don’t even offer it. Even if I wanted to pony up the money and get it, I can’t. Just look at the numbers. UFC on Fuel TV 1 = about 217,000 viewers. Spike TV’s counterprogramming of old Diego Sanchez fights = about 674,000 viewers. Spike TV is just more accessible right now, and if the trend of counterprogramming continues, Fuel may lose the battle every single time.

Also, another thing going against them: the internet. Smart hardcore fans will likely find a live stream of the fight or streaming videos of the fights with just one Google search. Why go through the hassle of getting more channels when you can just stream it? Do I want to see Fuel become the home of the UFC? Yes, that would absolutely be great, but they’re going to need to do more to convince casual fans to get on board. I think what they need to do is put on a big time fight with some big time names in it to really draw attention to Fuel. Then, once fans start clamoring to see those big fights, Fuel TV will be in higher demand. Don’t let fans think cards on Fuel are second rate and have no meaning; show them fights on Fuel are just as important as the ones on FX, Fox, and pay-per-view. Bigger fights = bigger success for the UFC on Fuel.

Devil’s Advocate

Viewpoints and opinions are what make talking about sports so fun. Recently, I’ve read/heard discussions about a few topics in the MMA world, and while I agree with some of the views, there are a few counterpoints which can be brought up. It’s time to play Devil’s Advocate.

Blaming the UFC for “lackluster” fights on Fox thus far – OK, let’s start from the first one. Did the UFC screw up by not showing the Bendo/Guida fight? Yes, they absolutely did. Every fan and pundit out there knew this fight would be a barnburner, and it lived up to most of the hype. The UFC knew what kind of fighter Velasquez and dos Santos are, and I bet they knew it could’ve lasted only 64 seconds. Putting the Velasquez/dos Santos title fight on Fox was not a bad decision at all, but not putting at least one more fight on the live broadcast was a huge error. To those that say Henderson vs. Shogun should’ve been the main event on the Fox card because it was one of the best fights of all time, I say that’s quite easy to say in hindsight. Everyone knew it was going to be an important and entertaining bout, but I don’t think anyone knew it would’ve turned out like that. Velasquez/dos Santos could’ve lasted a lot longer and been a back-and-forth battle, but Cigano found the first opening that night and capitalized. That’s part of the allure of the sport; you never truly know what could happen in a given fight.

While I agree with the major complaint from the first Fox effort (not showing Henderson/Guida), I have a tough time agreeing with the major flack the UFC is getting from its second effort. The major complaint was that all of the fights shown were snoozers. Admittedly, the fights didn’t have a lot of fireworks, but there were still interesting storylines that came out of the fights. Chris Weidman made Demian Maia look worse than he did, and Weidman took the fight on 11 days’ notice. If he did that with only 11 days to prepare, imagine what he could’ve done with a full training camp. Bisping vs. Sonnen was an extremely close fight. While it wasn’t “exciting,” it was entertaining to watch the chess match unfold. Rashad stifled a very dangerous Phil Davis and finally earned a match with rival Jon Jones.

However, as I stated earlier, these storylines did not emerge in the most exciting fashion. To blame the UFC for this, however, I feel is a little unwarranted. They put on three solid fights, two of which determined a number one contender spot. Those three fights could have easily been in a co-main event (or maybe even a main event) slot on a pay-per-view card, and we got them for free. Image how upset you’d be if you paid $45 for those three fights. Just like no one knew that Henderson/Rua would be a contender for the greatest fight of all time, no one could predict these fights would be as lackluster as they were. That’s simply what happens in MMA: some fight to entertain, and some fight “not to lose.” The UFC will try to rectify that on their next offering on Fox, which will be headlined by Nate Diaz and Jim Miller. While not the biggest names, lightweight fighters, especially ones like Diaz and Miller, consistently put on more exciting fights. I feel like this is an excellent headlining choice by the UFC, and I’m excited to see how it pans out. Still, to say the lackluster fights on the second Fox card was all the UFC’s fault is a bit much. A matchmaker can’t decide the gameplan and gas tank of a fighter.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A new reason to watch HDNet Fights

I usually don’t pay much attention to fight cards that HDNet shows every weekend, mainly because most of the cards are headlined by UFC outcasts facing people I’ve never heard of. Occasionally, there are a few fights that catch my eye. The weekend of February 10, Xtreme Fighting Championships (XFC) held a card that was broadcast on the channel. Luckily for them, there were no Zuffa-run fight cards that weekend, so I figured I’d get my MMA fix by watching this card. I’m glad I did, because I have new reason to love HDNet and XFC: Marianna Kheyfets.

She won her fight on the card that night by doctor’s stoppage after the first round when opponent Heather Clarke’s eye swelled shut. Even though it only lasted one round, those five minutes were packed with back-and-forth action. Always being one to show a little love to the ladies, I decided to see how Kheyfets looked in her other appearances. Needless to say, I was quite impressed with what I saw. Her first fight under the XFC banner was her pro debut against Kim Couture. Couture had won her first XFC fight, and was looking to build momentum with a win over the inexperienced fighter. However, Kheyfets rained on her parade, rocking Couture on feet and securing a fight-ending triangle choke, all in the first round.

Her next two XFC fights were against Marissa Caldwell and Molly Helsel. Though not as impressive as her first win over Couture, they were nonetheless entertaining. The fights were two action-packed, back-and-forth decision wins. “The Crushen Russian” showed a lot of heart and a well-rounded skillset to earn those decision wins. She also got a win under the Reality Fighting banner against Kaline Medeiros during that time. Her entertaining fighting style has earned her a reputation as a fan favorite and top female prospect to watch. Of all the fights I’ve seen her in, I don’t recall a boring moment in any of them.

I have to give my props to XFC for promoting and featuring Kheyfets, and vicariously to HDNet for broadcasting XFC cards. As an avid supporter of women’s MMA, the more exposure they get on North American soil the better. The more support and exposure Kheyfets gets, the more support and exposure women’s MMA will get. With other names like Sara McMann, Ronda Rousey, and Miesha Tate getting a lot of fan and media attention of late, the women may finally be getting enough steam to heat up discussion of a women’s division in the UFC. To the XFC and HDNet: please continue to promote and televise cards with women fighters on them. Kheyfets is perfect to promote right now; she’s good looking, a skilled fighter, fan favorite, and (at least right now) a winner. Because of that, XFC has a new fan, and HDNet has a new viewer.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The little fight that could…

May 5 on Fox, the UFC has put together quite a card. Tony Ferguson, John Dodson, Josh Koscheck, Alan Belcher, and Pat Barry are all booked for entertaining fights on the card, which is headlined by Nate Diaz vs. Jim Miller. Not the biggest names, but the fights are shaping up to be very exciting. Near the bottom of the card is a fight that is more important than a lot of people would initially think. The fight is a flyweight bout between Louis Gaudinot and John Lineker. Most casual fans are probably scratching their heads about this one. The only Louis Gaudinot most casual fans know is the one that couldn’t make it past the quarterfinal round of TUF and lost to Johnny Bedford on the finale. There’s also a good chance that most casual fans have no clue who John Lineker is. It’s a shame, because they really should.

Hardcore MMA fans know the real Louis Gaudinot; the one who made a splash in the 125-pound ranks in the Ring of Combat promotion. Gaudinot solidified himself as a serious contender at flyweight with his win over Jesse Riggleman for the Ring of Combat flyweight title. Riggleman was considered to be a top contender at flyweight at the time, and Gaudinot dominated him en route to a stoppage win via guillotine choke in the first round. However, the first test he faces returning to 125 pounds will not be easy.

John Lineker is the Jungle Fight bantamweight champion. He has an aggressive striking style and an iron jaw; a combination that is guaranteed to impress UFC fans. For those who don’t know anything about John Lineker, go to YouTube and type in his name. Watch his highlight reel, or any of his fights for that matter, and you will see what I’m talking about. He has been known to eat big punches and keep chucking bombs of his own. He’s like a mini-me of Mark Hunt in his K-1/PRIDE days.

As I said before, most fans don’t know how important this fight is. Gaudinot is a top-10 flyweight in most rankings, and with the division just getting up-and-running in the UFC, the winner of this fight could be just a fight or two away from a title shot. Also, it has the potential to be one of the most action-packed fights the organization has ever put on. In my opinion, the UFC should have tried to find a better way to feature this fight. They’re finally starting to understand the marketability and importance of the lower weight classes (ex: Dustin Poirier vs. The Korean Zombie headlining UFC on Fuel 3...F@#K YEAH!), but they are still having some growing pains (Michael McDonald vs. Miguel Torres on the undercard of UFC 145…WTF!!??).

It’s almost a lose-lose situation for the UFC. If you put this fight on a main card, you lose interest from casual fans who want to see more established names fight. If you put it on the prelims, you anger the hardcore fans for burying it. This fight is sure to entertain, and actually means quite a bit in terms of rankings for the UFC’s current flyweight roster. While there are enough options out there for fans to view this fight if they so choose, I still can’t help but be a little upset this fight wasn’t pushed more. It would have been a great fight to further showcase the new talent the UFC is bringing in for this division. Hopefully, the fight will be as exciting as I think it will be and help the UFC brass to give the fights in the new division some more exposure.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Montague vs. “Formiga” needs to happen…in the UFC

I’m choosing to give this bit of news some attention because I feel like it’s not getting any. While going through my usual MMA websites for news and stories, Sherdog.com had posted their most recent MMA rankings. In the flyweight section, they mentioned that a proposed fight between former TPF flyweight champion Darrell Montague and former #1 ranked flyweight Jussier da Silva had fallen through. The fight would’ve taken place in March under the Tachi Palace Fights promotion, but the plans were nixed because of the birth of Montague’s child. Obviously it’s fair for Montague to take time to be a family man, but I hope two things happen regarding these two flyweights: They agree to fight sometime in the near future, and the bout takes place in the UFC.

It’s not that farfetched in reality. Tachi has no problem giving the UFC their talent. Just look at some of the UFC’s recent acquisitions, especially in the lighter weights. Michael McDonald, Cole Escovedo, and Ian McCall are just a few names that the UFC has scooped up due to successful runs in the Lemoore promotion. Also, and this is the most important, Montague and da Silva are probably the two most talented flyweights the UFC doesn’t currently have signed. “Formiga” has beaten a multitude of top flyweight talent, such as Shinichi Kojima, Mamoru Yamaguchi, Alexandre Pantoja, Michael Costa, and Danny Martinez. Though his striking is beginning to improve, there’s no secret da Silva’s greatest asset is his ground game. If he’s able to take his opponents down, they usually don’t get up unless the round ends or they’ve tapped. The ground game of da Silva is absolutely stifling, and if his striking continues to come along, he could potentially regain his throne as the world’s #1 flyweight.

Montague has been no slouch either. His first two wins in Tachi were KO victories over Jeremy Bolt and Luis Gonzalez. He then battered Ulysses Gomez to earn a lopsided unanimous decision victory to capture the Tachi Palace Fights Flyweight Championship. He is an impressive striker, with power and technique good enough to stop anyone at 125 on a given day. The other thing they have in common besides being top-5 flyweights: a loss to Ian McCall. In 2011, McCall took da Silva’s #1 flyweight ranking and Montague’s TPF title. Had the UFC Flyweight Tournament not been announced, this very well could have been a number one contender match to determine who got a rematch with McCall for the title. Montague and da Silva could make an immediate impact in the UFC’s young division, which recently added John Dodson, Louis Gaudinot, and John Lineker.

Also, the addition of Montague and da Silva would pave the way for even more imports from Tachi at 125 pounds. Mamoru Yamaguchi may be getting older, but he still has talent and puts on crowd pleasing performances. Dustin Ortiz is a young prospect who is coming off a victory over Josh Rave in a highly entertaining bout. Ortiz showed quick and powerful strikes as well as good ground skills in the fight. Though he lost to Ian McCall recently, he hung tough with the recent UFC signee and showed he could be on that level soon with a bit of work. The bottom line on all of this is that Montague vs. “Formiga” would please the fans and be huge in terms of the flyweight rankings. It would be a tremendous fight even if it took place in TPF. However, it should take place in the UFC, as it would be a fantastic fight to help introduce the division to casual fans, and possibly give the first UFC Flyweight Champion his first contender. This fight would show fans what Dana White meant when he said the 125-pound division had “nasty potential.”

The potential of Chris Weidman

Recently in MMA, there’s been a shift in the top tier names in each weight class. Overeem, dos Santos, and Velasquez make people say “Fedor who?” Names like Fitch, Koscheck, Alves, and Shields are being replaced by Diaz, Condit, Ellenberger, and Hendricks. In the middleweight division, Chris Weidman is a name that should be on everyone’s mind. Weidman made his UFC debut by stepping up on two weeks’ notice to fight longtime UFC vet Alessio Sakara. Weidman was earning a reputation as a top prospect, but he only had four fights heading into the Sakara fight. It didn’t matter, as he was able to dominate the Italian striker to earn a unanimous decision victory. In his next fight, he was able to submit Jesse Bongfeldt with a 1st round guillotine choke. After that performance, he was matched up against Tom Lawlor. He made the always tough Lawlor look like an amateur, taking him out with a D’arce choke, also in the first stanza.

His next fight was on the UFC’s second effort on Fox. He once again stepped up on short notice to face Demian Maia after Maia’s original opponent, Michael Bisping, was plucked from that fight to move into a bout with Chael Sonnen. Now I just want to get a few things out of the way before I continue. Was the Weidman/Maia fight sloppy? Yes, it was one of the sloppier bouts I’ve seen from two top-level fighters in a while. Let’s just put it this way: with that performance, we won’t be seeing Maia or Weidman in K-1 anytime soon. It also didn’t help that both of them were gassed by the start of round three. Still, there is some silver lining to this debacle. First off, Chris Weidman not only had the fortitude to step up on 11-days’ notice to fight Maia, but he was also able to defeat him. Maia was considered a top-10 level fighter at the time of the fight. This is the same Demian Maia that submitted Chael Sonnen and gave Jorge Santiago his walking papers from the UFC.

My point is this: for as bad as Weidman looked at UFC of Fox 2, he made Maia look even worse. Weidman seems to be a sponge; his jiu-jitsu and striking skills are improving, and his wrestling is already quite good. He qualified for ADCC with only one year of formal jiu-jitsu training, and gave grappling superstar Andre Galvao a good run for his money in their match. Take Jon Jones for an example. He came in mostly as a wrestler, but developed his skills and evolved into a complete mixed martial artist. Look at how scary he is now. Does Weidman have the potential to do that? Maybe not as quickly, but yes, I believe he does.

So what’s the next step for Weidman? If the UFC wants to test his ground skills again, Rousimar Palhares and Mark Munoz would be good choices. However, I want to see how he reacts to taking a good shot. I say put him in there with someone like Michael Bisping or Brian Stann next. Both have the striking prowess to put Weidman in a lot of trouble and potentially finish him. I actually feel like Bisping would be the tougher fight for Chris right now, as The Count’s takedown defense has been stellar of late. Still, my name is not Joe Silva, so I don’t get to make those kinds of decisions, but with his victory over Maia I doubt the New Yorker will get an easy fight next. Regardless, it will be interesting to see who he is matched up with, and exciting to see where he could go from here.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Looking Back: The early days of Jon Jones

Everyone knows who Jon “Bones” Jones is today. The charismatic light-heavyweight champion has blasted his way up not only through the 205-pound ranks, but the pound-for-pound ranks as well. It’s with good reason, as his 2011 alone was one for the record books. He defeated Ryan Bader, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, and Lyoto Machida in just one year. Bader was in the top ten, and the other three were ranked in the top five. The scariest part is that Jones didn’t just beat them; he dismantled every one of them. A little over three years into his UFC career, he had transformed from unknown prospect into potentially the most dominant light-heavyweight champion in MMA’s history. Love him or hate him, Johnny Bones is one of the UFC’s biggest names right now. Hardcore fans and pundits knew he had big potential, but I would be quite confident saying that no one knew it would happen this quickly AND be that dominant. As I said, it was just about three-and-a-half years ago that this all started...

My first experience watching Jones came when I purchased the UFC 87 DVD. The card was headlined by Georges St. Pierre vs. Jon Fitch and Brock Lesnar vs. Heath Herring. Jones wasn’t even on the main card that night. There, in the prelims section, was Jon’s first UFC fight against Andre Gusmao. I didn’t know anything about either of the two at the time, but I did know I had nothing going on that day, so I figured there was no reason to not watch every single fight. Though it didn’t contain the sheer dominance and brutality we see today, I became intrigued by the potential Jones could have. He was in his early 20s, stood 6’4” with an 84.5-inch reach, and looked very athletic. Though I can’t remember anything too specific (the fight itself was kind of forgettable to be honest), I do remember seeing his natural athleticism, strong Greco-Roman wrestling base, and willingness to use unorthodox techniques.

When I saw his next fight was against Stephan Bonnar on the main card of UFC 94, my initial thought was that Jones was a “feeder” opponent for Bonnar since he was just coming back from injury and Jones wasn’t a name. As it turned out, it may have been Bonnar who was fed to Jones. It started when he walked out to “Angry Johnny” by Poe; Bones had a certain swagger about him. With one spinning back-elbow to Bonnar’s head, he earned my attention. When he German suplexed Bonnar, it became clear that Jones was someone to keep my eye on. However, for as impressive as he looked against Bonnar, he was still quite raw as a fighter. His next challenge was tough wrestler Jake O’Brien. Though he upset Heath Herring in Herring’s UFC debut (albeit in one of the most boring fights I’ve ever seen), back-to-back losses to Andrei Arlovski and Cain Velasquez made O’Brien realize that 205-pounds was a better weight for him. Jones vs. O’Brien was booked for the preliminary section of the historic and star-studded UFC 100 event. Though I saw what Jones was capable of in the Bonnar fight, I thought O’Brien may be able to out-muscle and lay n’ pray his way to decision against Jones. However, Jones continued his rapid improvements by controlling O’Brien throughout, and eventually catching him in a guillotine choke in round two. In his 3rd UFC fight, he secured his first UFC win via stoppage. Jones continued to evolve and impress, but I don’t think anyone was prepared for what was next.

Jones’ next three fights were headliners on three nationally televised cards; one on Spike TV, and two on Versus. His opponents were tough UFC veterans Matt Hamill, Brandon Vera, and Vladimir Matyushenko. Hamill, Vera, and Matyushenko had all been defeated by good competition before, but no one they had faced battered and dismantled them the way Bones did (On a quick side note: the Hamill fight should’ve been over before Jones threw that illegal elbow, I look at it like Jones won that fight). All of that potential that was showcased in those first three fights was becoming a reality, and much faster than most expected. He had taken down and savagely assaulted three extremely tough UFC veterans to the point where they couldn’t take anymore, and made it look easy the entire time.

His next fight was February 5, 2011 against fellow fast-rising prospect Ryan Bader at UFC 126. As the saying goes: the rest is history. Jones started his amazing and historic run in 2011 to capture UFC gold and solidified himself as the top light-heavyweight on the planet. Jon’s next test will be in April against former teammate (and former champion) Rashad Evans. If Jones beats Evans in the long-awaited grudge match, things won’t be getting any easier as he would be likely to face Dan Henderson after that. Dan and his right hand have been on an absolute tear since he rejoined the 205-pound ranks. Winning both fights may seal Jones’ legacy as the best light-heavyweight of all-time. The short amount of time it took for him to get this far is incredible. He has developed his striking and improved his ground game immensely, and he has not gone to a decision since the Bonnar fight in 2009. Jon Jones is now a superstar and a champion in the UFC, but it’s hard to believe that just a few years ago he was an unknown kid fighting on the prelims. At just 24 years old, Jones is already one of the greatest of all-time. It’s amazing to think where he can go in the coming years.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Why Strikeforce needs Sara McMann

The first thing I remember when it was announced that ProElite was coming back was laughing profusely. For those who don’t remember, ProElite was the parent company of Elite XC. You remember that organization that promoted Kimbo Slice as the best striker on the planet and made a 160-pound lightweight class just for Nick Diaz right? Yes, that same ProElite was recently reincarnated under new direction. Still, I couldn’t help but laugh. And so far, it’s been with good reason. Their first event was headlined by Andrei Arlovski. Though he was a former UFC heavyweight champion, he was on a four fight losing streak, three of them by knockout in the 1st round. The two other “big names” were recent UFC castoff Kendall Grove and BJ Penn’s younger brother Reagan. However, ProElite 1 was just the set-up in this comedy show, as ProElite 2 was the punch-line. Co-headliner Andrei Arlovski had a horrible fight with Travis Fulton until the last five seconds, which were awesome (the head kick KO finish). If that fight didn’t put you to sleep, Tim Sylvia’s headlining fight with Andreas “I was somehow in EA Sport’s MMA” Kraniotakes was sure to have you in dreamland. Reagan Penn had also lost a dull decision on the card. It was truly a joke. Their third effort featured a headliner between Kendall Grove and Ikuhisa Minowa. Though I love Minowaman, he should only be fighting men twice his size and with a quarter of his skill.

All the hate aside, there is one thing ProElite has done right: promote Sara McMann. She is a former Olympic silver medalist in wrestling, and has a 5-0 professional MMA record. ProElite picked her up after an impressive decision win over tough veteran Tonya Evinger in a Titan Fighting Championships event. At ProElite 3, McMann was given the toughest test of her short career in the form of Hitomi Akano. McMann was able to dominate “The Girlfight Monster” en route to a unanimous decision victory. She showed improving striking technique, as well as a good amount of power in her punches. However, it was the takedowns that were story of this fight. McMann literally threw Akano around like a ragdoll. The difference in power and strength between the two was apparent after the first few minutes. But this article isn’t about what ProElite is doing right; it’s about why whoever is running Strikeforce now needs to sign Sara McMann…immediately.

The first reason is an obvious choice: she fights at 135lbs, a division which Strikeforce actively promotes. The next is another no-brainer: she is extremely marketable. Just like current Strikeforce title challenger Ronda Rousey, McMann is a former Olympian who brings an impressive skillset to the table. She also seems very media friendly, and focused on being a complete fighter rather than collecting titles. In an interview with Sherdog.com after her victory over Akano, she stated she wants to be a dynamic fighter anywhere the fight goes, and that she “wants to fight like Jose Aldo.” How can you not like that? The biggest thing to me though is that it could potentially give the women’s division the depth it needs to be taken seriously.

If Strikeforce signed her, they’d have Sarah Kaufman, Meisha Tate, Ronda Rousey, and McMann as the “top dogs.” Add to that female fighters like Liz Carmouche, Amanda Nunes, Julia Budd, Germaine de Randamie, and Alexis Davis, and that’s a pretty nice female division. Also, there are plenty of other fighters at the female 135lb weight class, which could add to the potential. Kerry Vera, the wife of Brandon Vera, hasn’t fought since 2009, but she looked good in her first two fights, and at the very least she would attract a decent amount of attention due to her last name. Zuffa has mended the fence with Golden Glory fighters, so perhaps they are willing to give Marloes Coenen another shot (she deserves it, that’s for sure). Pro boxer Holly Holm is trying her hand at MMA and fights at 135; maybe she’d be an option down the road. But wait...there's more! There are a multitude of tough, veteran female fighters that fight at 135lbs that could be signed to bolster the roster. The talent includes Julie Kedzie, Shayna Baszler, and Roxanne Modafferi, just to name a few. The point is that it could be a UFC caliber division, and I would love to see at least one women’s division in the UFC at some point in my lifetime. By adding McMann and a few other pieces, the female fighters in that division would prove to Dana White that they belong in the UFC. They are highly skilled, marketable, and they do have drawing power. Plus, they could add even more depth to fight cards, to ensure that a boring and/or meaningless fight will almost never happen in the UFC again. Still, it’s all just wishful thinking at this point, but stranger things have happened. Who thought Zuffa would buy Strikeforce at this time last year?

A Future at 115?

The strawweight division…who knew it actually existed? I first found out about the division, which is a maximum of 115lbs., when I was looking for flyweight fights to watch when that division was starting to make noise. My Google searches brought me to Rambaa Somdet, an incredibly technical muay thai striker. He was considered a top-125lber at the time, and I noticed he was a Shooto champion…at 115lbs. What? Did I read that right? They actually have that? My initial befuddlement stemmed from the fact that the Unified Rules of Mixed Martial Arts states that the lowest weight class allowed is flyweight. That’s at 125 pounds. So where did this come from? Upon further research, I learned that the only promotions that support the weight class are Shooto, and Shooto Brazil. I figured since it was MMA, it was worth a shot.

The first fight I ever saw was the aforementioned Somdet against Hiroyuki Abe in a match for the Shooto 115lb title. If you’re wondering why Somdet’s nickname is “M-16,” look no further than this fight to find the answer. In under a round, Somdet’s striking attack caused Abe’s eye to swell to the point where his vision was impaired. To put it bluntly, his striking is lethal. It’s precise, powerful, and quick. I was disappointed to hear Somdet vacated his title after a bicep injury, as I wanted to see more of what Somdet could do. The next Shooto 115lb champion was Junji Ikoma. He won the title in a match to fill the championship void Somdet created at 115lbs. From what I hear, it was an exciting back-and-forth affair, though I have yet to see it. What made it even more interesting was that Ikoma seemed like a real-life Rocky. His record was just over .500, and he was 41 years young, but the fact remained that he was still a champion.

Ikoma’s first title defense didn’t go quite as well though. What made this fight so interesting to me was the fact that his opponent, Mikihito Yamagami, looked HUGE. Sherdog lists him as 5’8”, which makes him look like Stefan Struve 115lbs. As soon as the bell rang, the two starting swinging. Yamagami used his reach to clock Ikoma with two left hands that sent that champion crashing to the canvas. Just :41 seconds into the 1st round, Shooto had another new 115 pound champion. I think it will be interesting to watch Yamagami continue to fight. Certain taller, lankier fighters (*cough* Jon Jones and Anderson Silva *cough*) with the right skillset have proven to be successful at the highest level, and it will be fun to see if Yamagami can do the same in this still-relatively new division. If not, at least his apparent willingness to trade blows will make it exciting.

Shooto Brazil recently added a 115-pound division of their own. They kicked off the division in style at Shooto Brazil 19, with the first two rounds of a grand prix tournament to crown a champion. The favorite in the field was Michael William Costa, a former challenger for Shooto Brazil’s 125lb title. After watching him fight, it was easy to see why. His first round match at Shooto Brazil 19 was against Pedro Mascote, and the fight had everything. Literally, everything a mixed martial arts fan could hope for: submission attempts, escapes, sweeps, ground and pound, lightning-quick striking exchanges…I was literally glued to my computer screen. Fifteen minutes felt like five, and Costa won a close decision. I was so entertained that I wanted more. I figured a 15-minute back and forth battle would affect Costa in some way for his next fight. Not quite. He submitted Evandro dos Santos with an armbar in just under a minute.

Then, there’s Lincon de Sa. He and Costa eventually faced off for the Shooto Brazil 115lb title, but unfortunately I have yet to see the fight. It says the result was a split-decision win for Sa, which indicates to me it was either boring and overly-tactical, or a highly entertaining fight. And I don’t think these fighters are capable of a boring fight. At first, I thought Sa was more of a ground specialist because he submitted his first two tournament opponents, Jean Buiu and Andre Costa Pereira. After defeating Costa to win the belt, he was set to defend it in a rematch with Pereira. What I saw left my jaw on the floor. The two touched gloves, and started swinging. The pace they put on made Leonard Garcia vs. The Korean Zombie I look slow. The combination that Sa put on Pereira in the 2nd round was absolutely crazy. Think of Chuck Liddell’s finishing combo against Tito Ortiz in their first fight…now imagine the combination lasting for about 30 seconds. That’s what Lincon did Pereira. I thought he’d be gassed like Mark Coleman in his 2nd fight with Shogun after that punching display, but he didn’t even look remotely winded. After more strikes on the feet, Sa finally dropped Pereira and finished him with some ground and pound to successfully defend his Shooto Brazil 115lb championship.

So, what’s the future like for 115lbs? Well, chances are that it won’t be in America, let alone the UFC anytime soon. The Zuffa-owned WEC said they’d be adding flyweights in 2009, and the UFC just started up the division in 2012. It took them three years to find a worthwhile talent pool for them to install it. The current talent pool for 115 is basically every name I’ve mentioned in this article. Let’s also not forget that the Unified Rules don’t even allow a male weight class at 115 pounds (at least not yet). However, Brazil and Japan are two great places to start. The people there are naturally smaller, so they would produce smaller fighters. As I stated in an earlier article, DREAM should possibly consider doing a 115lb tournament. It would be a good way to attract attention with something unique that isn’t a sideshow act. The bottom line is, all of these fights I watched entertained me. And that’s the point of sports; to be entertained. If 115lb fighters continue to put on entertaining fights, and the talent pool deepens, there should be no reason why these fighters won’t be on a big stage in the future. For now though, the division must continue to grow and develop. I, for one, will be watching all the way.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Brock Lesnar: A retrospective

I remember when I first read the news that Brock Lesnar would be trying his hand at MMA. At first, I thought it was just a publicity stunt, like Mike Tyson getting in the ring with Bob Sapp. My memories of Brock Lesnar were not unlike most fans: I remember his WWE days when he was parading around the ring with Paul Heyman calling him “The Next Big Thing.” He would do the F4, or whatever that move was called, to that guy John Cena when he was a rapper and not a wannabe Marine. I remember when he tried out for the Minnesota Vikings and laughing because the thought of him trying a real sport was comical to me at the time. Then, I learned about his previous collegiate wrestling credentials. Knowing how easy it is for wrestlers to adapt to MMA, I became curious. Was there actually a way Brock Lesnar could succeed at MMA?

I got really excited when K-1 announced Brock’s first fight. However, being against giant kickboxer Hong-Man Choi, I wondered if K-1 was mercilessly throwing Brock to the wolves. I thought he would get knocked out in a matter of seconds. “Wait, if he were able to take him down quickly, he could have a chance,” I thought. Whether he could or not was never answered, as Choi was forced to withdraw and was replaced by Min Soo Kim. Alright, the playing field was even now. Or was it? I watched in awe (on YouTube of course) as Brock took him down, mounted him, and pummeled the poor Korean into submission just over a minute into the first round. Wow. Talk about expectations being exceeded. Even with that one fight, I could tell there was a chance he could be something special. All he had to do was keep working his way up, but then the UFC came calling.

Brock’s first UFC fight was against former heavyweight champion Frank Mir. I thought this fight would make or break Brock Lesnar. Brock’s likely ground and pound attack would fall right into Mir’s strength: submissions. If Brock could be calm and execute a good gameplan, I thought he could actually have a chance against Mir. However, I thought if he got too overzealous, he’d get tapped. He got overzealous, Mir caught him, and he tapped. But before that, my jaw was on the floor. The athleticism and quickness Lesnar had for a heavyweight was unreal. The way he spun around Mir when he had him down initially…it was so quick I thought it was Frankie Edgar doing it. And the POWER. It was sloppy and raw, but when those “lunchboxes” hit Mir, you could tell it hurt. With a little more time, I began to realize that Brock Lesnar could actually be a legitimate mixed martial artist.

The next task for Lesnar was Mark Coleman, a legend from the early days of MMA that the UFC had just re-signed. “Cool, they’re giving him an easy fight with name value to help his progress,” I thought. When Coleman withdrew due to injury, the replacement shocked me: Former PRIDE heavyweight Heath Herring. A very dangerous Heath Herring. Brock couldn’t seem to catch a break in my eyes. First Mir, now Herring…did the UFC want to make an example out of him? Then, the unthinkable happened. In a controlled, but brutal performance, Brock Lesnar dominated “The Texas Crazy Horse.” In addition to displaying the freakish natural gifts he owned, he showed he could execute a gameplan and strategy to assist in the dispatching of an opponent. Lesnar caught some flak for doing a lasso gesture mid-fight with Herring, but after seeing Brock charge at Herring like a bull after knocking him down in the first round, it was Heath who should have brought the lasso.

At just 2-1 in his MMA career, it was announced Brock Lesnar would face Randy Couture for the UFC heavyweight title. This quick…after three fights…really??? Whatever, the heavyweight division was paper thin at the time anyway. Plus, I fully expected Randy to school Brock like he did to the likes of Vitor, Rizzo, Tito, and Liddell back in the day. I thought that Randy would use his patented boxing and clinch work to slow down and frustrate Brock. But as “The Natural” said after the fight, that’s one big son’ bitch. Brock dwarfed Randy, and after getting out of some early trouble, he dropped Couture on the feet in the 2nd round. He followed Randy down, and after unleashing a bevy of piston-like hammerfists, the fight was over. At just 3-1, Brock Lesnar was the UFC heavyweight champion. He avenged his loss to Mir in devastating fashion at the record-setting UFC 100 event. He pummeled and battered Frank until he couldn’t take any more in the 2nd round. Frank’s face looked like someone had repeatedly smashed it with an iron. He was now 4-1, and a legitimate UFC champion.

But just as quickly as his ascent to the top was, his downfall was arguably quicker. A well-documented bout with diverticulitis delayed a bout between Lesnar and number one contender Shane Carwin until UFC 116. The first round saw Carwin absolutely batter Lesnar on the feet. It made the first round beatings Frankie Edgar took from Gray Maynard look like pillow fights. Somehow, Lesnar was able to survive the round, and Carwin looked visibly gassed, presumably from punching himself out. In round two, Lesnar was able to take down and submit the exhausted Carwin via arm-triangle choke. While Lesnar showed guts to be able to weather that first round storm, and willingness to be a complete fighter by evidence of the arm-triangle, the fact remained that Lesnar’s Achilles heel was exposed. Before his UFC career had started, there were rumors the Lesnar couldn’t take a punch. This fight, and especially his next one, helped prove those rumors to be more and more accurate.

Lesnar’s next fight was against powerhouse Cain Velasquez at UFC 121. In this fight, Lesnar showed none of the promise he displayed in his previous six outings. He tried to stand with Velasquez, and after that failed miserably, could not come close to taking him down. Velasquez’s powerful, quick, and accurate strikes make Brock dance around in a Bob Sapp-like whirlybird before he finally fell to the canvas and was put away. Brock didn’t look a thing like the athletic freak we saw blow through Herring, Couture, and Mir. Just from the way he looked walking to the cage…he seemed uninterested, flat, and like his mind was somewhere else. Next up for Lesnar was a coaching stint on The Ultimate Fighter. This was supposed to be a ratings gold mine, with Lesnar’s WWE persona still prevalent. Remember after the 2nd Mir fight where he was practically foaming at the mouth into the camera, flipping off the entire crowd, and made a post-fight speech slamming Bud Light and implying that he would slam his wife? That was nowhere to be seen on the show. While he was a pretty decent coach, there was none of that personality to be seen, and ratings suffered. Things got even worse for Brock, as he was forced to withdraw from his scheduled fight with fellow TUF coach Junior dos Santos after a second case of diverticulitis. After a successful surgery, Lesnar was ready to return, and face his biggest test yet.

His next fight was against Alistair Overeem. There was a lot of buzz surrounding this fight: Would Brock return to form? Was The Reem for real? Oh yeah, and it was also a number one contender fight to determine a challenger for Junior dos Santos’s heavyweight title. I remember thinking that it was such a great fight to make, mainly because they were both bad match-ups for each other. If Lesnar went back to his relentless wrestling and ground and pound attack, Overeem might not be able to handle it, but if Overeem kept Brock on the feet, he could make it a short night. It became apparent once The Reem brushed off Brock’s first takedown attempt how the night would go, and with one powerful kick to the body, Alistair Overeem had finished Brock Lesnar, and not just in the fight itself.

After the bout, Lesnar announced his retirement. How can you blame him? The guy had been through hell with his bouts with diverticulitis, and it was an amazing feat for him to even step into the cage again, let alone win a fight. Is he a UFC Hall of Famer? I say, why not? Every pay-per-view card he was on did huge numbers, and there’s no denying that without Lesnar, the UFC wouldn’t be as close to the level of success they find themselves in now. People may say “Oh, well he only had eight fights.” Well I say, look at the names in those eight fights. Aside from Min Soo Kim, there’s Herring, Couture, Mir, Carwin, Velasquez, and Overeem. Those names were literally at the top of the food chain at the time, and no one has had to face a gauntlet of names like that in their first eight fights. Had he been given lesser competition to help him hone his skills and diverticulitis been taken out of the equation, I think Brock would still be fighting today, maybe even still be a champion. Though his time in the MMA world was short, there is no question that his accomplishments will be remembered for a long time. Thank you Brock, for entertaining us every time you stepped in the cage, and helping our sport grow to new heights.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Strikeforce Strikes Back: March 3

Not long ago, I published a post about the upcoming night of fights on March 3, 2012, put on by both the UFC and Strikeforce. There were five fights announced by Strikeforce at the time: Tate/Rousey, Daley/Misaki, Noons/Thomson, Kaufman/Davis, and Fodor/Healy. Seeing that list, I assumed all of those fights were set for the main card, and the undercard would be rounded out by lesser-known talent. That’s when I was pleasantly surprised with the recent additions of two fights on the Strikeforce card. In the head-to-head, I stated that the UFC card would be a better choice, simply because the flyweight tournament will surely provide fireworks, as well as feature the top fighters in the division. However, with the addition of the two fights to an already intriguing and entertaining Strikeforce card, the reeling organization may now have the better card top-to-bottom. Here’s why:

The first fight added was Gegard Mousasi vs. Mike Kyle. With King Mo testing positive for ‘roids, this fight makes a lot of sense. Since joining the light-heavyweight ranks, Kyle has done pretty well for himself. He even almost took out heavyweight Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva on short notice. He also holds an upset knockout victory over Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante, prior to Feijao’s brief reign as light-heavyweight champion. At 205, Kyle is a powerful striker that can hurt anyone. Since his KO victory over the sometimes-dangerous Sokoudjou, Mousasi has not looked impressive in Strikeforce. King Mo wrestled (literally and figuratively) the light-heavyweight title away from him, then there was the draw with Keith Jardine, and even though he defeated rising prospect Ovince St. Preux, he looked completely gassed by the 3rd frame. The winner of this fight will hopefully get Feijao, and hopefully it will be for either a Strikeforce title or a UFC contract. Think about it…Mousasi vs. Feijao would make sense because Feijao is just about the only person Mousasi hasn’t fought in Strikeforce yet. Kyle vs. Feijao would make sense because then Strikeforce could hype up the rematch. Either way, Kyle and Mousasi have to face one another first. Kyle can end this fight if he lands a bomb on Mousasi, and having fought at heavyweight throughout his career, he will likely be the stronger of the two. However, his aggressive style leaves a lot of openings, and when a technically sound fighter such as Mousasi finds an opening, he can usually exploit it.

Ryan Couture vs. Conor Heun was the other fight announced for the date. This fight is interesting because we get to see if the son of the legendary “Natural” continues to develop and potentially follow his father’s footsteps to the UFC. However, “Natural Light” doesn’t have the same fighting style as his father. The younger Couture likes to put his submission skills on display. Still, when your father is Randy Couture, Ryan will be sure to bring a good gameplan to the cage. A neophyte in the sport with just four fights (3-1 overall), Couture faces a perfect test for this point of his career in Conor Heun. Though his Strikeforce record is 1-2, those two loses were very closely contested and hard-fought decision losses against extremely tough veterans Jorge Gurgel and KJ Noons. Couture will have to take his game to the next level if he wants to beat Heun. This fight should tell us if Couture has true potential in MMA, or if he is destined to make money from his last name only.

With the addition of those two fights, this Strikeforce card has a lot going for it. You get two top women’s bouts, three potentially exciting fights that mean a good amount to the current Strikeforce landscape, and two fights that feature two lightweight prospects looking to prove they’re the real deal. Top to bottom, this Strikeforce card has intriguing fights that could potentially all end before they hit the judges’ scorecards. Maybe Zuffa doesn’t want Strikeforce to die just yet. In fact, with all of the interesting fights now on the card, it makes me wonder if Zuffa is planning something to make sure this card and the UFC card don’t coincide at the same time. If it does play out where both shows overlap, I’m sticking with my guns for the UFC and the flyweights. However, if the tournament fights end before the Strikeforce card starts, Alves and Kampmann may have to wait on the DVR until after Tate vs. Rousey is over.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

UFC vs. Strikeforce: March 3 edition

Its times like this I seriously wonder if when Dana says Strikeforce operations will be “business as usual,” he means that he will continue to sit back and watch Strikeforce die. He’s already plucked three of their champions, and biggest draws to boot, from the organization to the UFC. I didn’t mind that, as Diaz, Hendo, and The Reem have all proven they belong in the big show. Still, with a new Showtime deal in place and Gilbert Melendez staying put, I thought the Zuffa big wigs were actually serious about Strikeforce’s longevity. Then, this happened. I already had March 3, 2012, engrained in my head. It is the start of the UFC’s flyweight tournament in Australia, and we get to see four of the best, if not THE four best, flyweights competing for a shot at UFC gold. Oh, and we get an exciting headliner in the form of Alves vs. Kampmann. The kicker: it’s all free on FX.

Strikeforce recently announced a March 2012 date for their next show, to coincide with the Arnold Sport’s Festival in Ohio. There are some great women’s bouts on the card, with Miesha Tate squaring off against Twitter rival and armbar junkie Ronda Rousey for the women’s 135lb belt, and Sarah Kaufman and Alexis Davis fighting for the next shot (or at least they should be, either way it’ll be fun to watch). The card is rounded out by a potential slugfest in Paul Daley vs. Kazuo Misaki and a pivotal lightweight bout between KJ Noons and Josh Thomson. Also, Caros Fodor, a top prospect who’s been on fire in Strikeforce, will face tough veteran Pat Healy. This is a solid Strikeforce card, with two high-profile women’s bouts and fights from the men that have some intrigue to them and are sure to entertain. The only red flag that popped out at me was the date: March 3. The same date as UFC on FX.
How could this happen? Even though it takes place in Australia, the UFC brass knows their fanbase, so this card will likely air no earlier than 9PM. Most Strikeforce cards start between 10-10:30PM. There is going to be some overlap if they do this like I think they will, which will undoubtedly hurt one card or the other. In the words of The Angry Video Game Nerd, what were they thinking!? You put your major promotion in direct competition with your smaller promotion that’s struggling to stay afloat. Are they really trying to kill Strikeforce this quickly?? Ranting aside, most MMA fans will either be choosing one or the other that day (or in my case, one to watch live and one to DVR). So, which one is going to be the best card overall?

Strikeforce – The women’s title fight definitely brings a lot of intrigue to this card. How will Miesha Tate fare in her first title defense? Can Ronda Rousey keep her submission streak alive? Or is it too early for her to face a challenge like this? All of these questions will be answered in what should be an action-packed title fight. KJ Noons vs. Josh Thomson should be a fun fight as well. While the winner may be next in line for a shot at Gilbert Melendez’s title, it means little in terms of the lightweight division overall. Misaki vs. Daley has the potential for fireworks, unless Misaki is able to take Daley down. Either way, it’s an intriguing and probably a highly entertaining tilt, but once again, it means little overall in their division. Kaufman vs. Davis is going to be a very competitive fight in the female 135lb class. Here’s a little known fact that makes this fight more interesting: Kaufman handed Davis a loss in Davis’ first pro bout. Since then, Davis has been in the ring/cage with some of the best female talent there is, such as Tara Larosa, Tonya Evinger, and Elaina Maxwell. With an impressive 11-4 record, Davis’ last two wins came in Strikeforce. She first beat tough veteran Julie Kedzie by unanimous decision, and then derailed the Amanda Nunes bandwagon by 2nd round TKO. Kaufman has since rebounded from losing her Strikeforce 135lb title with two consecutive wins, the last being an impressive decision victory over the dangerous Liz Carmouche. Beating Carmouche all but guaranteed her a title shot at Miesha Tate, but instead she got leapfrogged by Ronda Rousey. In my mind, this is the sleeper fight of the card. Both will come out looking to make a statement, and make it an entertaining one as well. Finally, there’s Fodor vs. Healy. Healy is coming of an impressive submission win over firecracker Maximo Blanco, and Fodor is coming off an equally impressive KO victory over fellow prospect Justin Wilcox. Taking out Wilcox as quickly as he did proves Fodor has some serious potential. Facing a battle-tested vet like Healy, this fight should tell us a lot about the future of Caros Fodor.

UFC – The card starts off with Constantinos Philippou vs. Court McGee. Costa is on a nice two fight win streak with victories over Jorge Rivera and Jared Hamman. He showed he has a ton of power in the Hamman fight, but McGee is tough as nails and has well-rounded skills. This will be an interesting fight to see how Court McGee continues to develop. Next up, there are the first two bouts of the UFC Flyweight Tournament. These two bouts, Joseph Benavidez vs. Yasuhiro Urushitani and Demetrious Johnson vs. Ian McCall, are per-per-view main card material if they had name value. Then again, that’s why I’m ecstatic that this tournament starts on free TV. The UFC can establish them as truly the best in their class, in front of a huge audience that just has to press the power button on their remotes to see the fights. That way, they can be future headliners of PPV cards. Oh, and how could I forget the main event: Thiago Alves vs. Martin Kampmann. The tow have been “up-and-down” lately. Kampmann’s win over Carlos Condit seems like a distant memory after his back-to-back loses to Jake Shields and Diego Sanchez. Talk of another title run from Alves came to a screeching halt with a decision loss to Rick “The Bedtime” Story. Ironically, Kampmann just beat Story in his last bout. Both are fighting to remain relevant in an ever-changing welterweight division. Look for them to put on a kickboxing clinic, as both will want to come out to entertain and impress.

The Verdict – Upon further review, this is actually a lot closer than I originally thought. It basically boils down to personal preference. If you want to see top-tier women’s fights, go with Strikeforce. If you want to see flyweights, go with the UFC. The other main card fights for each are about even in terms of pure excitement they could bring, but the UFC’s fights mean more in terms of overall division ranking. Obviously, if Zuffa can pull this off where they don’t air concurrently, then everybody wins because fans can watch both with no overlap. Still, if they do overlap, I’m going with the UFC (sorry Miesha). I’ve been waiting for the Flyweight tournament like Ralphie was waiting for his Red Rider BB Gun at Christmas. Throw in that it’s on free TV, and I wouldn’t miss this for anything. If you’re a fan that’s still on the fence, I think the point that puts the UFC ahead of Strikeforce is the flyweight tournament. You have four top 125ers in their prime, battling for UFC gold. It’s also the first “tournament” the UFC has put on since the ill-fated lightweight championship tournament that ended with BJ Penn and Caol Uno fighting to a draw at UFC 41 in February 2003. I believe it will produce two fights that will take place at an incredible pace and contain loads of back-and-forth action. Either way, with two high quality cards to choose from that day, although it’s dumb from a business standpoint, the fans are truly the winners on March 3.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Keeping The DREAM alive

When PRIDE died, part of me died. The presentation was amazing. Lenne Hardt screaming her lungs out, the Japanese ring announcer with the sunglasses, the entrances…it all set the tone perfectly. It produced some of the best fighters and fights the world has ever seen, and put on some of the most memorable tournaments the MMA world has known. When the UFC bought a financially ailing PRIDE in 2007, they decided it was better to shut it down rather than keep it alive. PRIDE was dead. However, in 2008, the proverbial Phoenix rose from the ashes. Many former PRIDE staff members teamed up with K-1 parent organization Fighting and Entertainment Group (FEG) to form DREAM. I thought there was a chance that DREAM could live up to the luster that PRIDE once had.

In the beginning, it seemed it could be that way. It had some great moments: Eddie Alvarez blasting his way through the lightweight tournament, Melvin Manhoef’s brutal KO of Sakuraba in the middleweight tournament, Overeem dominating Cro Cop, Manhoef cracking Mark Hunt’s granite jaw, Maruis Zaromskis putting on a striking clinic to claim the welterweight title, and there’s probably more I’m missing. The point is that there were compelling fights and storylines initially in DREAM, much like its predecessor.

However, things began to unravel at some point. I think it was somewhere around the time they signed Jose Canseco to fight Hong-Man Choi. I’ll say it again because this bears repeating: DREAM signed former baseball star and steroid junkie Jose Canseco (yes, that Jose Canseco) to fight 7’2 kickboxer Hong-Man Choi. If that doesn’t make you lose credibility, I don’t know what will. Then, there was the Jason Miller/”Jacare” Souza middleweight title fight that ended in a no-contest. There is still no middleweight champion, and no known plans to do anything about it. That’s still not the biggest problem that's effecting the organization.

The biggest issue the organization is facing may be that DREAM just doesn’t have good talent and the fans are beginning to realizing it. Eddie Alvarez left for Bellator. “Jacare” found success in Strikeforce. Look at their current champions. Their only heavyweight champion was Alistair Overeem, and we all know where he is now. Their light-heavyweight champion is Gegard Mousasi. While he was also a former Strikeforce light-heavyweight champion, he lost the belt when he was outwrestled by King Mo. Since then, he’s looked good in DREAM, but not so good in Strikeforce. To put into perspective as to why that may be, his first (and only, thus far) title defense in DREAM was against a 4-1 Hiroshi Izumi. Worthy contender, huh? Their welterweight champion Marius Zaromskis was signed to Strikeforce as part of their talent exchange agreement. He went 0-2 with one no-contest in that organization, both his loses coming by knockout in the first round. Featherweight champion Hiroyuki Takaya has been impressive in DREAM, working his way up to the title with KO victories over Joachim Hansen and Chase Beebe. He won the title by avenging a previous loss to Bibiano Fernandes, and has defended it twice. However, he went 0-2 in the WEC, losing by knockout to Leonard Garcia and dropping a decision to Cub Swanson. He also fought for Strikeforce, losing a decision to Robbie Peralta.

Then, there’s Shinya Aoki. Considered one of the best fighters Japan has left, Aoki can really impress, and then highly disappoint. Following a successful but short stint in PRIDE, Aoki entered the DREAM lightweight tournament. Considered the favorite after Eddie Alvarez withdrew, largely due to him taking out Gesias “JZ” Calvancante (who was on a tear at the time) in the first round, Aoki lost in the finals to Joachim Hansen. After rebounding by forcing Alvarez to submit to a heel hook in less than two minutes, he entered the welterweight grand prix. He was expected to make a decent run in the tournament, but lost in the first round when he was KO’ed by Hayato Sakurai in less than 30 seconds. After defeating Hansen in a rematch to claim the DREAM title, and beating Sengoku Raiden Championship lightweight champion (or World Victory Road, whatever it was called) Mizuto Hirota, he challenged Gilbert Melendez for the Strikeforce lightweight title. What was supposed to be a competitive bout and chess match turned into a lopsided decision win for Melendez. Oh, and let’s not forget the Yuichiro Nagashima incident on New Year’s Eve 2010. In a “mixed-rules” bout, the first round was supposed to be under K-1 rules, but with 4oz gloves. That round was largely a joke, featuring Aoki running around the ring like a first grader at recess and doing pro-wrestling style drop kicks while Nagashima was actually trying to play by the rules. As they say, Karma is a bitch. Four seconds into the MMA round, Aoki was knocked unconscious with a flying knee. He has since been impressive again, reeling off submission wins over tough American veterans Rob McCullough and Rich Clementi in DREAM, and even tapping out Lyle Beerbohm in Strikeforce. While Aoki shows flashes of absolute brilliance at times (look at all of his wins by gogoplata), he has also shown flashes of overconfidence and carelessness.

DREAM is in trouble. Financial woes are a big part of it, but it all boils down to the product. The fights and fighters aren’t filling the hefty shoes of its legendary predecessor one bit. Just look how their top fighters have fared outside the organization. How can DREAM make fans believe Gegard Mousasi is the best light-heavyweight in his class after he got laid on by King Mo and gassed out so bad he drew with Keith Jardine? The fans aren’t even buying the gimmicks anymore. Sure, it may be a guilty pleasure to see if Ikuhisa Minowa can take out a man three times his size, but what does it mean in the big picture? Nothing. Bibiano Fernandes may be the real deal at 135lbs, but we’ll never know since the best DREAM can do for him is WEC castoff Antonio Banuelos. They don’t need to use a cage for certain shows. What they need to do is carve out a niche somewhere. We all saw how the WEC blew up when it became the home for the top feather and bantamweights. Every hardcore MMA fan couldn’t wait to find the next internet stream of a Tachi Palace Fights event to see the top flyweight action stateside. Strikeforce has the women. Shooto, and Shooto Brazil for that matter, have recently instituted a 115lb weight class. That’s something NOBODY else has (I’m pretty sure that weight isn’t even allowed in the unified rules). Why not assemble some talent at that weight and do a grand prix tournament? It would draw interest from fans for a legitimate reason. I know there’s all-female promotions in Japan, but maybe bring some of that talent in for a women’s grand prix tournament. Getting good fighters to put on exciting fights that actually mean something is what DREAM needs to do to stay alive. Wanderlei, Rampage, Hendo, and Shogun aren’t coming through those doors anytime soon. It’s time to move on, and forge a new path ahead.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Tito Ortiz, we salute you

It was July 2, 2011. My buddies and I had gathered at our usual sports bar for UFC 132. Soon after the first round of beers arrived, the discussion of who wins which fights began. “Bader is going to smash Tito tonight…maybe even into retirement,” I said to my friend. He looked at me dead in the eyes, and replied “I don’t know why, but something tells me Tito wins this fight. I just think Tito is going to pull one out tonight.” I looked at in a state of shock and confusion.

Tito had always been a “love him or hate him” fighter, and I hated him. This was mainly because in the infancy of my MMA obsession, one of the fights that hooked me was Chuck Liddell vs. Tito Ortiz I at UFC 47. I watch the knockout sequence about 10 times in row when I first saw it on DVD. I just loved watching him get his head smashed in. I saw his fight with Forrest, and I thought he should have lost. I saw his fight with Belfort, where he almost fought Chuck AND Ken Shamrock after the fight. I saw the feud between him and The Lion’s Den, including the infamous “Gay Mezger is my Bitch” shirt. His personality just rubbed me the wrong way, and I never wanted to see him win. Ironically, he didn’t for over four years.

At the same time, certain things began to change. I saw the Ultimate Fighter 3, and I saw how good of a coach he was. I was actually quite impressed with how Tito looked as a leader, and I thought he did a great job with his team. Was I actually gaining respect for him? I thought he should have won against Rashad Evans (everyone grabs the fence). Even in defeat, I thought he looked good against Lyoto Machida, especially slapping on that triangle choke towards the end. His second fight with Forrest was as exciting as the first one, and the right guy won this time! I thought his striking was the best it had ever been against Matt Hamill. He was impressive again during his second coaching stint on TUF 11. And let’s not forget, he was a former light-heavyweight champion who carried the UFC on his back during the “dark ages.” I wasn’t beginning to become a Tito fan…was I?

I really didn’t understand why my friend had picked Tito to win that night, but after witnessing a Carlos Condit flying knee sending Dong Hyun Kim to the canvas, I began to feel it. There was something special in the air that night. One right hand and guillotine choke later, Tito Ortiz had his first victory since 2006. I looked at my friend with my jaw nearly touching the floor. He just shrugged his shoulders and said “I told you so” with a smirk. The fact is that, love him or hate him, Tito Ortiz is undoubtedly a legend in the sport. He stepped up to face Rashad on just three weeks’ notice after his triumphant victory over Bader. Even though he lost, he put up a valiant effort (he didn’t look bad at all, Rashad just looked that good this time). He even hurt Little-Nog on feet with strikes before he fell victim to Minotoro’s body shots. Had he began to evolve like this at a younger age, I can’t help but think that he could be relevant in more than just name value in the light-heavyweight division today.

The question has been thrown around if Tito should retire after his most recent loss to Nogueira, or have the right to finish out his contract that has one more fight on it. I believe that he absolutely has earned the right to go into the cage one more time. His two most recent defeats were due to body shots more than strikes to the head, so he hasn’t taken as much damage (per se) as someone like Cro Cop or Chuck Liddell. His previous four fights before the Bader fights were three competitive decision loses and a draw which he would have won (everyone grabs the fence, do you really need to take a point away? Sorry, had to say it again). So, who should he fight in his last fight? I think a perfect opponent for him would be Stephan Bonnar. Bonnar has been on a nice streak of recent, and is still a big name to UFC fans. He’s a tough, crafty veteran with well-rounded skills. It would be a tough fight, but definitely one I could see Tito winning if he plays his cards right.

I also realized he should be in the UFC Hall of Fame without question. If it wasn’t for his title reign, his antics, and his feud with Ken Shamrock and The Lion’s Den, there might not be a UFC right now. His 2nd fight with Chuck Liddell remains one of the most bought UFC pay-per-views of all-time. He deserves the highest accolades for those achievements. That night at UFC 132, Tito Ortiz did his patented “gravedigger” celebration. I used to hate it, and walk out of the room or change the channel when I saw it. That night, I loved every minute of it. I thought I’d never see it again, and I had actually begun to miss it for a while. Tito, thank you for being an MMA icon, and here’s to one more performance of a storied career.

Strikeforce Heavyweights: How they’ll fare in the UFC

When I heard the news that Strikeforce was getting rid of its heavyweight division, I was equal bits confused and excited. Confused because I thought to myself “If Zuffa wants to keep Strikeforce around, why would they disband a roster that was one of the best the organization had?” However, that’s what led to the excitement. With more high-caliber heavyweights entering the UFC ranks, it ensures the most competitive and entertaining bouts we’ve seen in that division for a while. Here’s how I think they’ll fare:

Lavar Johnson – Coming off two loses, this was one of the more surprising acquisitions. However, that’s not to say it’s not a smart one. Johnson is an athletic heavyweight with big power in his strikes. He’s finished all 15 of his wins by stoppage, never once going to decision. He’s also been stopped before it hit the scorecards in each of his five loses. Still, his “kill or be killed” fighting style will be sure to win over UFC fans. Expect some big action when he takes on Joey Beltran on the undercard of the next UFC on Fox. Look for Johnson to be booked in entertaining slugfests, but a title shot doesn’t look to be in his crystal ball.

Chad Griggs – The man with the best sideburns in MMA makes a well-deserved leap to the big show. The former IFL vet was brought in to basically be a feeder to up-and-coming former pro-wrestler Bobby Lashley. However, that all changed when Girggs battered Lashley en route to a stoppage victory at the end of the 2nd round. He then reeled off consecutive 1st round stoppage victories over touted prospect (at least at the time) Gian Villante and The Reem’s big brother, Valentijn Overeem. It won’t get any easier for Griggs, as his first UFC foe will be undefeated, hard-hitting Travis Browne at UFC 145. Griggs has the skills and confidence to make some noise, but is he too small for the bigger heavyweights?

Shawn Jordan – A solid up-and-comer who has seen action in both Bellator and Strikeforce. After losing his Strikeforce debut to Devin Cole, he rebounded and impressed with a submission victory over Lavar Johnson. It will be a battle of prospects when he faces British-based Oli Thompson at UFC on FX 2. I really haven’t seen too much of Jordan to make a fair assessment on him other than the Johnson fight, so I guess I’ll see, as we all will, how he will pan out in the UFC.

Shane del Rosario – This was one I’m really excited about. After a car accident derailed the rest of his 2011 (and a potential match with Daniel Cormier, which would have been awesome), del Rosario was on a tear. He’s 11-0, all by stoppage, with 10 of them coming in the 1st round. He’s got great muay thai, and a good submission game as well, proving that by submitting Brandon Cash with an omaplata (I know you might be wondering who Brandon Cash is…but still, its and oma-freaking-plata!). At 28 years old, he has the skills and the time to really make some noise in the UFC heavyweight division.

Fabricio Werdum – Werdum went 2-2 in is initial UFC run. After losing to Andrei Arlovski in a fight that looked scarily similar to his snoozer with Alistair Overeem, he bested Gabriel Gonzaga and Brandon Vera by TKO. Then, he suffered a loss to a young prospect by the name of Junior dos Santos. It was considered an upset at the time, as many thought Werdum was in-line for a title shot. However, as we’ve all seen, that loss looks a lot less shocking now. After two wins in Strikeforce, Werdum did some shocking of his own, as he became the first man to legitimately beat Fedor Emelianenko. With one triangle choke, Werdum ended the mystique of the unbeatable Russian, and boosted his own stock as well. Things won’t be easy for him in his UFC return, as he faces Roy Nelson at UFC 134 in February. With his excellent ground game and ever-improving strikes, Werdum can give a lot of top contenders fits. However, I don’t think he has what it takes to be a champion with guys like dos Santos and Overeem lurking.

Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva – Silva’s record is 16-3. He compiled impressive wins in Elite XC, World Victory Road, and Strikeforce. People really began to notice when he was able to ground and pound Fedor out of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix via Doctor’s Stoppage at the end of round 2 in their February bout. He’s strong, has good strikes, and has a great ground game, especially for a guy his size…but here’s why he won’t make a huge impact in the UFC: he’s way too slow. He made Daniel Cormier look like Manny Pacquiao, and let’s not forget that this is the same “Bigfoot” Silva was dropped and in a lot of trouble against MIKE KYLE! Yes, the journeyman Mike Kyle who now fights at light-heavyweight. The common denominator is that they were both much quicker than Silva. And if Cormier and Kyle were able to get Silva into trouble, image what Cain Velasquez could do to him. If the rumored bout does come to fruition, expect it to look a lot like Cormier vs. Silva, except a lot more painful.

Alistair Overeem – His debut already happened, but, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, I’m glad he’s there. By demolishing Brock Lesnar, The Reem has proved he is worthy to be a top contender in the UFC. He’s proved me wrong a lot recently. I thought he’d be a middle-of-the-pack heavyweight. Wrong. I thought Cro Cop would knock his head off. Wrong, he was thoroughly dominant until the accidental groin strike. His win over Badr Hari was a fluke, there’s no way he’d even come close to smelling a K-1 Title. Wrong. Brett Rogers and Todd Duffee should give him a good challenge. Wrong and wrong, he decimated them both. Werdum and Brock have the kind of styles to give Alistair fits…you get the picture. At this point, I’m finally starting to drink some of The Reem’s Kool-Aide. Say what you want about whether his physique is real or not, but the fact remains that he is a powerful and technically sound Dutch muay thai specialist with an ever-improving ground game and takedown defense. He has truly evolved and become a legitimate top-5, if not top-3, heavyweight. The upcoming title fight between Overeem and dos Santos is going to be HUGE. No pun intended.