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 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.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A Strikeforce Survival Guide

As the UFC looks to soar to new heights in 2012, its new sister promotion Strikeforce is struggling to survive. This is due largely to the fact that most of the promotion’s big names have jumped ship to the UFC since the merger. Both ratings and show attendances have never been lower due to lack of big names and fights that have little meaning in the grand scheme of things. However, Zuffa had the power to turn the WEC into one of the most memorable organizations in MMA history, and a multitude of the fighters they had under that banner at one point or another have gone on to have successful UFC careers. So if what Zuffa says is true and they want to keep Strikeforce alive, here are a few things they should look into doing.

Promote the s**t out of Luke Rockhold – This kid has real potential. He burst onto the scene with impressive wins on Strikeforce undercards, and on the now-defunct Challengers Series. However, injuries nixed several possible bouts in 2010 and 2011, and then he was thrust into a title shot against grappling ace and then-middleweight champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Although it was known Rockhold was a highly-touted prospect, many in the MMA community thought it was too soon for a title shot, as his biggest win to that point was Jesse “JT Money” Taylor. That all changed when Rockhold outworked Souza to earn a unanimous decision victory and take the Strikeforce middleweight title. I thought if Rockhold was for real, he’d have to beat tough veteran Keith Jardine impressively to prove it. He did, taking out The Dean by 1st round stoppage due to strikes. Strikeforce is perfect for Rockhold right now, and Rockhold is perfect for Strikeforce. There are plenty of tough middleweights in Strikeforce, such as Robbie Lawler and Tim Kennedy, who can continue to test Rockhold and further his development. In turn, Strikeforce can promote him as a “homegrown” superstar; one that can challenge top UFC middleweights soon. It works out perfectly in my mind: Strikeforce has a rising star to promote and Rockhold can continue to hone his skills. When the time comes, he’ll have the experience, and hopefully the exposure, to make a big splash when he (inevitably) transfers to the big show.

Give Tyron Woodley his title shot, or get rid of the welterweight division – Tarec Saffiedine, Paul Daley, and Jordan Mein are the best welterweights in Strikeforce not named Tyron Woodley. The one thing they share in common: Tyron Woodley has decisively beaten all of them. Recently, Strikeforce head-honcho Scott Coker seemingly retracted a previous statement by being non-committal on whether Woodley’s next fight would be for a title. I’ll answer that question…it damn well better be! Seriously, what more does he have to do? As for his fights not being the most exciting of recent, I’d say it’s because he’s fighting “not to lose” at this point because he’s been talked about in the title picture since the Saffiedine fight. Strikeforce’s welterweight division has been weak even when Nick Diaz was champion (KJ Noons got a title shot. 155lb fighter KJ Noons received a welterweight title shot. ‘Nuff said). Something tells me that once Woodley gets what he wants, we will get what we want in the form of exciting performances from him once again. If Woodley does not get a title shot, what’s the point of keeping the division around? He’s already beaten the best 3 guys on the current roster, and if a title isn’t in his hands, it may not guarantee him the top competition he needs to continue to develop. The UFC has a ton of top welterweights. Either give Woodley a title and promote him like he deserves, or get him to the UFC so they can give him the fights we want to see him in.

Make Women’s fights a priority – Zuffa kept the WEC around by making it the premier organization for featherweight and bantamweight fighters. Where they carved out that niche in the WEC, they should find a way to do the same for female fighters in Strikeforce. Fighters like Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey are getting a lot of press in recent times. There will be a time, even if it’s later rather than sooner, when the UFC will eventually have to answer the call to include at least one women’s division, just like they granted our wishes by installing feather, bantam, and flyweights. Do I agree that Sarah Kaufman deserves the title shot against Tate more than Rousey? From a logistical standpoint yes, but Tate vs. Rousey could be as big for women’s MMA as Carano vs. Cyborg was, especially with all the recent Twitter and media hype. Add to that the fact that there’s even a debate between who should get the next title shot shows that the division is getting at least a substantial amount of depth. The one thing I praised Strikeforce for in the non-Zuffa era was their eagerness to promote and progress women’s MMA. If this continues under the Zuffa banner, they could unofficially be the home of the best quality women’s MMA in any organization. If they mend the fence with Marloes Coenen, there’s another instant contender in their women’s 135lb division. With the release of her movie Haywire on the horizon, there would be no better time to get Gina Carano back in the cage. I think Dana White, and Zuffa as a whole, are finally beginning to see there’s a good amount of interest from fans in women’s MMA. Hopefully, they continue to reciprocate by continuing to give us high-level female action.

So you really wanna know who the favorite in the UFC Flyweight Tournament is?

I’m not going to throw people under the bus by naming names, but one site’s breakdown of the UFC Flyweight Tournament that I read recently was an absolute embarrassment. I think one out of the six or so contributors actually knew who Yasuhiro Urushitani was, and only one or two more knew who Ian McCall was. How can you give an honest prediction for a favorite if you don’t know jack about two of the guys in the field!? Every other reputable site I know at least gives a mention to this rapidly growing division every now and then, and you don’t even have the decency to look up some fights on YouTube to gain some kind of knowledge of two top stars in the weight class? *Deep Breath, Exhale* As an MMA fan, (aspiring) journalist and avid supporter of getting Flyweights to the big stage, I was embarrassed and slightly appalled that they would even release something like that. I kept thinking I could do it better myself…so I did! Without further ado, here is my breakdown for the upcoming Flyweight Tournament:

Yasuhiro Urushitani – For those who don’t know, Urushitani is/was Shooto’s 123lb champion. He looks to finally be hitting his stride recently, winning five in a row, the last two being impressive stoppage wins due to strikes. And that is Urushitani’s strength: striking. He is very quick, uses a lot of movement, and is a solid counterpuncher. From what I’ve seen, he also knows how to mix up his strikes efficiently (his best weapon in a win over fellow Japanese flyweight standout Mamoru Yamaguchi was his kicks to the body).

Ian McCall – There’s two Ian McCalls most fans are familiar with. The one who became a name on Dominick Cruz’s resume during a largely unimpressive 1-2 run in the WEC, or the Ian McCall who became a man possessed since dropping to 125lbs and joining Tachi Palace Fights. The difference is staggering. In 2011 alone, McCall defeated previous #1 flyweight Jussier “Formiga,” top prospect Dustin Ortiz, and captured gold and solidified his status as top dog in the 125lb division with a win over then TPF champion and top-ranked flyweight Darrell Montague. He has done so with a combination of aggressive, powerful striking, a relentless ground-and-pound attack, and solid submission and takedown defense.

Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson – Mighty Mouse was the last person to challenge bantamweight kingpin Dominick Cruz. Although he made it exciting, he never put the champ in any serious danger. Still, the Mouse was a legitimate top-of-the-food-chain 135lber, with wins over Nick Pace, Damacio Page, “Kid” Yamamoto, and Miguel Torres. Johnson did so by combining wrestling technique, his natural gift of above-average quickness and agility, and his ever improving boxing and stand-up skills to secure his status as a top contender.

Joseph Benavidez – Benavidez is pegged as the favorite by many in this tournament, and why not? He’s already established himself as the best bantamweight not named Dominick Cruz. On the feet, he has good technique, quickness, and just the right amount of power. On the ground, he is good enough to “eat black belts” as he once said. The one they call “Joe-B Wan Kenobi” (I love that nickname) lived up to that by submitting highly-touted BJJ black belt Wagnney Fabiano by the patented Alpha Male guillotine choke. Oh, his aggressive and powerful top game and slick takedowns don’t hurt either. Just look at his resume, and highlight reel for that matter, at 135 and you’ll get the picture.

How it will pan out – The two bouts to start this four man tourney are Urushitani vs. Benavidez and Johnson vs. McCall. The only way I see Urushitani beating Benavidez is if he can defend takedowns like Chuck Liddell in his prime, get on his bike on the feet and pick apart Benavidez from range and with “get in and get out” combinations (think Lyoto Machida). Leg kicks to slow him down would be a great idea. However, I just think that Benavidez will be too relentless and too well-rounded for Urushitani. I think Benavidez will take him down and bash him on the ground or hit him with crisp combinations on the feet, which will lead to either a 2nd or 3rd round submission or a one-sided unanimous decision. Mighty Mouse vs. Uncle Creepy is a lot harder to call. On the feet, I give the speed advantage to Johnson, the power to McCall, and their technique is about even. Push. Mighty Mouse has great wrestling technique and agility, but McCall has the more powerful ground attack and excellent defensive grappling. Submissions are about even, so once again, it’s a push. I believe that the edge will come down to the intangibles, specifically, Ian McCall’s mindset. If he comes in with the desire and confidence he had in Tachi, I believe he will rise to the occasion and pull one out against Mighty Mouse. If he comes in nervous with the proverbial “Octagon jitters,” well…see Jason Miller vs. Michael Bisping. However, McCall may have had the best year for any fighter besides Johnny Bones, and I think his dominance in TPF will give him the boost of confidence he needs to seize the moment and take out Johnson by a hard-fought and exciting UD. As for the finals, let’s wait for them to be set before I make that prediction. Most sports fans can’t wait for the Superbowl in the winter. This tournament, my friends, is my Superbowl. I’m already counting down the days on my calendar.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Why Henderson/Edgar winner needs to face Melendez sooner rather than later

While I’m giddy with excitement counting down the days until Benson Henderson faces Frankie Edgar, and the entire UFC Japan card in general, I can’t help but wonder what’s next for the winner. The talent-loaded UFC lightweight division is as convoluted as ever right now, so in my mind, there is one clear cut contender that should get the next shot: Gilbert Melendez. That’s right, Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez. At first, the MMA community was drooling at Dana White when he stated, “I’ll yank him out if I have to. I want Melendez in the UFC as soon as possible,” about Gilbert. In my opinion, Dana White’s worst decision this year (and probably his only bad decision) was adhering to Showtime brass by agreeing to keep Melendez in Strikeforce for the foreseeable future. Although I am happy Strikeforce gets to stick around for a little while longer, if only to watch Miesha Tate fights and see how Luke Rockhold develops, I am very disappointed that El Nino is stuck in the hexagon rather than the Octagon. Here’s why Melendez should fight the winner of February’s title fight as soon as possible:

The UFC lightweight division is a mess right now – While the fights have been absolutely phenomenal, the fact remains that there is no clear cut challenger for the belt after Bendo. Let’s take a look at all the fighters that are “in the mix” as the UFC boss likes to say. Anthony Pettis is facing Joe Lauzon at the same UFC 144 card. Although Pettis holds a win over Henderson and was the former WEC lightweight champion, Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard’s draw to start 2011, coupled with a defeat in a highly entertaining and competitive fight with Clay Guida, lost him his shot at the UFC strap. In my mind, wins over Jeremy Stephens and Joe Lauzon aren’t enough to book him another one; he’ll need at least one more solid name even if he beats Lauzon in “Showtime” fashion. Lauzon can stake claim himself if he beats Pettis on the card. Lauzon derailed the Melvin Guillard bandwagon in under a minute at UFC 136, and Guillard was considered to be close to a title shot at that point. However, with recent loses to Sam Stout and George Sotiropolous on his resume, if he does beat Pettis in Japan I think he also will need at least one more win to justify a shot at the gold. Donald Cerrone was on an absolute tear, but he just lost to Nate Diaz. Diaz beat “Cowboy” and previously blew through Takanori Gomi much easier than his brother did, but that was coming off two straight loses at welterweight. He needs one or two more. Jim Miller and Melvin Guillard are headlining the first UFC on FX card, but even though it will undoubtedly be a fun fight to watch, both of them are coming off loses in their last bouts. One beating the other does not warrant a title shot. So as you can see, while the fights have been great in the lightweight division, they haven’t been very conducive to producing a top contender.

Honestly…what’s left in Strikeforce for Melendez? - There are a lot of high caliber lightweights outside the UFC, and Melendez has beaten most of them in Strikeforce. He battered Japanese stars Mitsuhiro Ishida and Tatsuya Kawajiri to 145lbs, avenged his loss to Josh Thomson in impressive fashion, easily dispatched solid veterans Rodrigo Damm and Jorge Masvidal, and made Shinya Aoki look like an amateur when Aoki was actually trying. So, who’s left for Gilbert? The winner of KJ Noons vs. Josh Thomson? Noons has great boxing, but I think Melendez would use clinch work, dirty boxing, and his aggressive ground attack to neutralize and batter Noons. He’s already proven he has what it takes to beat Thomson, and while a 3rd fight would be fun, I don’t feel like it’s necessary. Eddie Alvarez? No word on if he’s even available, but if he is, it doesn’t make sense to give him an immediate title shot coming off a loss, even if it has the potential for fireworks (and believe me it does, Eddie just needs to get back on track with a few wins). Plus, if he is a free agent, why wouldn’t you just sign him to the UFC? Gray Maynard? As far as moving guys over from the UFC to Strikeforce, this would make the most sense since his saga with Edgar is over for now. He is a top three lightweight who has the potential to give Melendez a lot of fits. But therein lies the problem, why would you pluck a top three guy from your premier organization to fight in the “minor” leagues? Sure, The Bully may not be getting a shot at Edgar again anytime soon, but if Maynard can get another impressive streak of wins under his belt, I for one wouldn’t mind seeing a 4th fight with Edgar. Let’s not forget that the series is 1-1-1 right now, the last two being Fight of the Year candidates. This is why Melendez should cross over and fight for the UFC title as soon as possible. It would give the UFC division the time it needs to sort itself out, and Melendez can’t get much hotter right now in Strikeforce. Dana, you were so good to us in 2011…please, please pull one more rabbit out of the hat to start 2012.

Wrong Turn: MMA Edition

A few days ago, I began writing an article making a case that Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos should not only be considered the greatest female MMA fighter of all-time, but simply one of the greatest fighters of all-time, male or female. That article came to a screeching halt a few days ago, as the female Cyborg tested positive for steroids. Santos was a polarizing case in the MMA community. Fans wouldn’t watch to see if she could “pass the next test” in the form of her next opponent; it was more like they were watching to see how quickly and violently she could dispatch the brave soul standing in front of her. Was it really possible a fighter could be that far ahead of everyone else in the field? How? The competition couldn’t be that bad…could it? The recent news certainly hasn’t shined a positive light on why that may be. With all the flack Alistair Overeem gets for looking “unnatural,” he’s been able to pass all of his drug tests.

This news is not bad for Cyborg herself, but Women’s MMA in general. After Dana White heard the news, he proclaimed that Santos would be stripped of her title and spoke of the possibility of the women’s 145lb division being scrapped altogether. And what Dana says usually happens. Whether Dana will admit it or not, Cyborg had star power. She put on a brutal display of power and technique every single time, and she dismantled Gina Carano, the most recognizable face in women’s MMA, in one of the most watched fights in Strikeforce’s history with Showtime. The UFC boss stated that they had only intended on keeping the 145lb division because of her. By losing Cyborg, Strikeforce loses another draw. It is especially bad timing considering the current climate of the organization. Where the WEC gained a niche following for promoting the lighter weight classes, Strikeforce had a niche following for promoting women’s fights. By losing Cyborg, and potentially the entire division, Strikeforce may lose fans who were just watching to see high quality women’s action.

The only light that may come out of this is that Strikeforce can maybe focus more on its female 135lb division, which is more talent-laden than 145 (let’s face it, that division was mainly for Gina and Cyborg). If Zuffa really is serious about trying to keep Strikeforce around for a while longer, maybe they can now add lower female weight classes were there is more competition to be found. Still, this is all speculation, as nothing is set in stone yet. One thing that is set in stone is the fact the Cris Santos’s legacy will forever have an asterisk next to it from now on. What was supposed to be her reintroduction to the world in December may have turned out to be her farewell to the big show. An unfortunate end to such a promising career.