MMA Corner: Strikeforce – Diaz vs. Daley Preview

Tomorrow evening in San Diego, the Strikeforce Welterweight and Lightweight titles will be on the line as a part of a nine fight card, the last four of which will be shown live on the Showtime network. 

Main Event – Nick Diaz (c) vs. Paul Daley – Strikeforce Welterweight Championship 

Nick Diaz (left) looks to retain his Strikeforce Lightweight Championship as he takes on Paul Daley (right) in the evening's main event.

In a matchup that is guaranteed to produce fireworks, Strikeforce Welterweight Champion Nick Diaz will look to make another successful defense of his title against lethal British knockout artist Paul “Semtex” Daley. 

Champion Nick Diaz is currently enjoying an impressive eight fight winning streak.  A Cesar Gracie black belt, Diaz has shown his impressive submission game in many of his fights.  Whether it is submissions, positional advances/transitions or submission defense, Diaz is as slick as it gets once the fight hits the ground.  However, in addition to his submission skills, Diaz has become known for putting on classic striking battles, as he engages in all-out wars with his opponents.  Lacking knockout power, Diaz, who competes in triathlons when he is not in a training camp, uses his remarkable cardiovascular conditioning to outwork his opponents.  Blessed with a granite chin, Diaz is rarely fazed and after a round or two, the torrid pace he sets appears to overwhelm his opponents who simply wilt under his constant pressure. 

Whereas Diaz chips away at his opponents with consistent pelting shots, the aptly nicknamed “Semtex” Daley possesses the rare ability to end the fight on a moment’s notice with one swing.  The bullying Brit coming out of the vaunted “rough house” camp is known as one of the most dangerous strikers in the entire sport.  However, unlike Diaz, Daley does not possess the same well-rounded skills.  In fights with superior wrestlers such as Jake Shields and Josh Koscheck, Daley’s striking was nullified as he was placed on his back, where Daley does not possess much of a submission game. 

This is a very difficult fight to assess.  Daley has the ability to end the fight on a moment’s notice, but if Diaz is able to drag Daley down, he more likely than not will be able to end the fight via submission.  Additionally, with Diaz’s chin and constant pressuring, Diaz may be able to wear down Daley over the course of the five rounds.  In the end, I’m reminded of two different Daley fights that help me make a pick for this fight.  First, in Daley’s fight with Jake Shields, Daley did manage to stuff most of Shields’ takedowns in the first round of their fight.  Unlike Shields, Diaz has had difficulty getting smaller fighters like KJ Noons down, and that leads me to believe he will have trouble with the larger and more athletic Daley.  Second, in Daley’s fight against Duane Ludwig, Ludwig managed to engage Daley for several rounds causing Daley to throw many punches.  It did not appear that Daley gassed out during that fight.  As a result, I am going to go with the upset here and predict Daley ends the fight with a 2nd or 3rd round knockout.  If the fight gets into the 4th or 5th rounds, I believe Diaz will win, but I have a suspicion it just won’t last that long. 

Fight Prediction:  Paul Daley via 2nd round KO. 

Co-Main Event – Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez vs. Tatsuya Kawajiri – Strikeforce Lightweight Championship 

Gilbert Melendez (left) takes on Tatsuya Kawajiri (right) for the Strikeforce Lightweight Championship.

The co-main event of the evening features a rematch between Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez and Tatsuya Kawajiri.  The two talented lightweight fighters first competed in 2006 on the annual Pride Shockwave card.  In that fight, it was Melendez who eked out a razor thin decision against the home crowd favorite in a highly entertaining affair.  The fight featured back and forth action with both fighters enjoying periods of success.  Even more impressive was the incredible pace at which the fight progressed.  It was one of those fights that truly makes even the spectators tired. 

In their first fight, Melendez (left) and Kawajiri (right) dazzled the Japanese crowd.

Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez comes out of the Cesar Gracie camp along with the Diaz brothers and Jake Shields.  Though originally a wrestler, the Strikeforce Lightweight Champion epitomizes what the sport of mixed martial arts has grown to become.  Melendez is able to succeed in any facet of a fight and as a result, Melendez has the ability to push forward at a breakneck pace since he has no fear of being taken down (assuming someone has the rare ability to take him down) or being knocked out.  Melendez’s style has made him a crowd favorite, and he is widely viewed as among the top 5 lightweights in the world.  Though the MMA community is still waiting to see him go up against the top fighters in the UFC (or Eddie Alvarez in Bellator), a second win over Kawajiri will certainly cement his status as a top fighter. 

Tatsuya Kawajiri is another well-rounded fighter who enjoyed great success while competing in his homeland of Japan.  First making a name for himself in the legendary Shooto promotion, Kawajiri made the successful transition to the Pride organization where he became one of the top lightweight fighters and put on legendary battles in Pride’s Bushido series.  Like Melendez, Kawajiri operates at full throttle for practically the entire fight.  Whereas Melendez typically relies upon speed, Kawajiri often times attempts to outmuscle his opponents, as he is an incredibly powerful man. 

Look for another highly competitive and fast-paced bout.  Ultimately, I believe Melendez’s speed and wrestling ability, coupled with his reach will help secure his second victory over Kawajiri. 

Fight prediction:  Gilbert Melendez via unanimous decision. 

Shinya Aoki vs. Lyle Beerbohm 

Lyle Beerbohm (left) will look to shock Japanese sensation Shinya Aoki (right).

In another lightweight bout, Strikeforce product Lyle Beerbohm looks to rebound from his first career loss to Pat Healy against one of the most feared submission specialist’s in all of MMA, Shinya Aoki. 

Lyle “Fancy Pants” Beerbohm is a highly skilled wrestler that caught the attention of MMA fans with an impressive victory over formerly ranked Vitor “Shaolin” Ribero.  Having not yet developed his striking game to a level that threatens to end fights, Beerbohm relies upon his relentless wrestling attack to dictate the pace of the fights.  Though he inflicts some damage from the top, Beerbohm’s specialty is gaining positional advantage against his opponents in order to impress the judges. 

Unlike merely attempting to secure positional advantage, Shinya Aoki is constantly looking for submissions, and more often than not, is able to get them.  Whether securing a takedown or pulling guard, Aoki is very much like a Venus Fly Trap who catches his prey and never lets go.  Submitting many of the top lightweight fighters of the world, including Joachim Hansen, Tatsuya Kawajiri and Eddie Alvarez, Aoki will gladly welcome any takedown attempts that Beerbohm may attempt. 

Though Beerbohm certainly possesses the wrestling acumen to keep the fight standing and avoid Aoki’s submissions, I don’t believe his striking is any further advanced than Aoki’s.  In the end, I think Aoki is simply too skilled a submission specialist to go three rounds without submitting “fancy pants.” 

Fight prediction:  Shinya Aoki via 1st round submission. 

Gegard Mousasi vs. Keith Jardine 

Keith Jardine (left) and Gegard Mousasi (right) will collide in a light-heavyweight battle.

Former Strikeforce Light-heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi will look to positional himself for another title shot as he takes on former UFC light-heavyweight contender Keith “the Dean of Mean” Jardine. 

Making a name for himself competing in the Dream Promotion in Japan, Mousasi came to the United States sporting an impressive resume of knockouts and submissions.  In his first stateside contest, Mousasi seemed to only add on to this rapidly growing reputation, knocking out the always-game Renato “Babalu” Sobral to win the Strikeforce Belt in under two minutes.  However, the Mousasi hype train came to a screeching halt after a lethargic decision loss to Muhammad “King Mo” Lawal in a fight where Mousasi gave up numerous takedowns.  The King Mo fight aside, Mousasi is one of the top light-heavyweights in the world, possessing lethal striking and very dangerous submissions. 

Stepping in on two weeks notice after Mike Kyle was forced to pull out of the fight with a broken hand, Keith Jardine looks to recapture the magic that propelled him to victories over Chuck Liddell and Forrest Griffin while in the UFC.  Formerly out of Greg Jackson MMA, Jardine employs an incredibly awkward striking style.  With the weird angles from which he throws punches and moves about the cage, Jardine is able to set up his strikes and feared leg kicks.  However, though he has impressive striking, Jardine’s Achilles heel is his striking defense.  Whether due to lazy head movement or the inability to keep his hands up, Jardine has fallen victim to several knockouts as a result of his poor striking defense. 

With Jardine not being one to take a fight to the ground, I believe that this will essentially turn into a kickboxing match which would favor Mousasi.  Though Jardine’s style and striking ability may potentially make this a competitive bout, Mousasi’s accurate and lethal striking should result in a knockout victory at some point in the fight. 

Fight prediction:  Gegard Mousasi via 2nd round TKO.

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MMA Corner: Bellator 40 Preview

Saturday night on MTV2, Bellator Fighting Championships will produce its 40th installment with a card that features two semi-final matchups and a non-title super fight featuring the promotion’s welterweight champion. 

Main Event:  Ben Askren vs. Nick Thompson (Non-title Super Fight) 

Bellator Welterweight Champion Ben Askren (right) will take on Nick Thompson (left) in a non-title bout.

In a non-title super-fight, Bellator Welterweight Champion Ben Askren will take on veteran Nick Thompson.  Considered one of the most promising welterweight prospects in the entire sport, Askren has quickly risen up the ranks of the promotion to capture the welterweight championship.  Sporting a perfect professional record of 7-0, Askren appears to be on his way to becoming one of the most dangerous men at 170 lbs.  Askren sports one of the most fearsome and impressive wrestling backgrounds in the entire sport.  As a member of the United States Olympic team, Askren is one of the best grapplers in the sport.  His unique style of “funk” wrestling places a greater emphasis on positional control as opposed to physical dominance and explosiveness.  This awkward style has paid dividends in Askren’s transition from amateur wrestler to mixed martial artist, as Askren has become an astute submission artist, already earning the rank of brown belt in BJJ. 

Nick Thompson will provide a true test to evaluate how lethal Askren’s game has become.  In Thompson, Askren will find a wily veteran that is incredibly tough and well-versed in the grappling arts.  Thompson is a very cerebral fighter who has faced many of the sport’s best and will not be fazed by the hype surrounding Askren.  As an attorney, I would be remiss if I failed to mention that Thompson once fought in a championship match (a submission loss to current UFC welterweight title contender Jake Shields) three days before sitting for the Minnesota Bar.  Three days before sitting for the Pennsylvania and New Jersey Bars I wasn’t’ even able to tie my own shoes or speak in coherent sentences, so it really shows you how focused Thompson is. 

Though Thompson is a well-seasoned opponent, I believe Askren simply possesses too much raw talent to lose this fight.  While Askren certainly needs to develop his striking game, Thompson is not the opponent that will cause problems for Askren while on the feet. 

Fight prediction:  Ben Askren via unanimous decision. 

Lloyd Woodward vs. Michael Chandler – Lightweight Semi-Final Bout

 In the first of two semi-final matchups, Lloyd Woodward and Michael Chandler will compete for the right to take on Patricky “Pitbull” Friere in the Lightweight Tournament Finals later on this spring. 

Lloyd Woodward looks to continue his impressive run in the Bellator Lightweight Tournament.

In what many considered a slight upset, Lloyd Woodward was able to defeat Jackson MMA product Carey Vanier.  From the outset, Woodward was the clear aggressor who was able to deliver the more punishing blows and nullify Vanier’s supreme athleticism.  Early on in the second round, Woodward was able to hurt Vanier and ultimately get the referee’s stoppage.  What Woodward lacks in sheer talent he makes up for with a rugged and violent approach in the cage.  With solid grappling and standing, Woodward will look to make Chandler work in every facet of the fight. 

Michael Chandler looks to continue his grappling dominance in his upcoming semi-final bout.

Michael Chandler comes to this fight having easily dispatched Polish sensation Marcin Held in the first round of their quarterfinal matchup.  The Xtreme Couture fighter is a very powerful and explosive wrestler, and at first glance has a style similar to that of former UFC Lightweight Champion Sean Sherk.  With explosive takedowns, Chandler will look to get the fight to the ground where he should be able to inflict a good deal of punishment and work for a submission.

Ultimately, with Chandler having the ability to dictate the pace and style of the fight, I believe Chandler’s wrestling will nullify Woodward’s aggressiveness en route to a convincing win. 

Fight prediction:  Michael Chandler via 2nd round TKO.

 Jay Hieron vs. Brent Weedman – Welterweight Semi-Final Bout

 The second semi-final bout will determine which welterweight participant will take on Rich Hawn in this season’s welterweight tournament finale. 

Jay Hieron looks to cement his status as a top welterweight with a win Saturday night.

Considered perhaps the most talented welterweight not to be signed to either the UFC or Strikeforce besides Ben Askren, Xtreme Couture’s Jay Hieron has enjoyed much success in fine-tuning his impressive array of skills.  In his quarterfinal match, Hieron looked every bit the part of an upper-echelon welterweight as he dominated Anthony Lapsley, earning a first round submission victory.  Since training at Xtreme Couture, Hieron has become an increasingly cerebral fighter who has grown leaps in bounds in the grappling department to compliment a very competent striking game. 

Brent Weedman (pictured above) will try and continue to prove his doubters wrong with an upset victory over the highly touted Jay Hieron.

Hieron’s opponent, Brent Weedman, comes to this fight by virtue of an impressive victory over Dan Hornbuckle.  Hornbuckle, who was believed to be one of the favorites in this welterweight tournament, was overmatched in terms of striking, grappling, and overall athleticism by Weedman.  In the fight, Weedman demonstrated an impressive array of skills.  It would seem Weedman’s best chance of winning the fight would be to make this an all-out war and try and outlast and outhustle Hieron. 

Unfortunately for Weedman, I believe Hieron is simply too seasoned and too well-versed in the grappling department to find himself in such a brawl.  As a result, Hieron will systematically take apart Weedman, earning a spot in the welterweight finals. 

Fight prediction:  Jay Hieron via 3rd round submission.

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Brett’s Stadium Tour: Hinchcliffe Stadium – Paterson, NJ

An aerial photograph of Hinchcliffe Stadium in its golden era.

I had actually planned on devoting an entry for this next stadium later on in the summer/early fall as part of the upcoming football season, however, sometimes events and occurrences dictate when it is appropriate to discuss a particular subject. As such, the next stop on the tour takes us to Paterson, NJ to Hinchcliffe Stadium.

What has always drawn me to stadiums and arenas are that they are concentrated areas of memories. Beyond the unique architecture of each venue, the amount of history that is generated from each facility is truly mind-boggling. Each time I pass by even a simple little league baseball field, I appreciate that the particular field may be viewed as hallowed ground for several people.

Additionally, a stadium and its history not only are a place to rekindle personal memories, they also tell their own story: a story of athletic accomplishment, community relations, and societal attitudes. As such, older stadiums serve as both a reminder of and a monument to previous generations and once thriving communities. While we typically associate historic stadiums with many cities in Europe or larger cities across America, many times, as is the case with Hinchcliffe stadium, historic stadiums are located in forgotten towns in the Northeast that have lost their identity due to the suburbanization that occurred in the second half of the twentieth century.

Hinchcliffe Stadium was once veiwed as shining gem in the city of Paterson, NJ. Perched upon a scenic bluff above the Great Falls National Historic Park opened its doors to the public on June 17, 1932 to host the New Jersey State Track and Field Championships. For the next 65 years, Hinchcliffe stadium, with a capacity of 10,000 was the site of countless sporting and social events. For twelve years, the stadium was the home site for the New York Black Yankees of the Negro Leagues and is only one of three Negro league stadiums still in existence. The stadium additionally played host to several semi-pro football teams and hosted exhibition games for the New York Football Giants.

Hinchcliffe Stadium consistently drew packed crowds for its various sporting events.

Always adhering to its true calling to provide a venue for the city’s two high schools, Paterson Eastside (the subject of the movie “Lean on Me”) and Kennedy High School (formerly Central High School), Hinchcliffe Stadium played host to their annual Thanksgiving Day football game. In addition to hosting Paterson high school football, the stadium was used for the schools’ baseball games. Paterson native Larry Doby, the first ever African American to play in the American League, was one of the many standout players to play at Hinchcliffe. In 1997 the Paterson Board of Education was forced to close the stadium to the discovery of a giant sinkhole.

A picture of the vegetation and decay that has developed at Hinchcliffe Stadium.

Since closing its doors, the once beautiful and scenic stadium has fallen into a state of disrepair. Vegetation and weeds have overcome the stands, while graffiti and vandalism have compromised the bathrooms and overall façade of the stadium.

Fortunately, the memories generated in the stadium have continued to ignite the passions of several loyal followers. Many members of the North Jersey community have led the effort to promote a renovation project to restore the historic stadium to its original condition. This morning, Patersonpress.com reported that the city has approved a $2.25 million dollar bond to initiate the renovation of the stadium.

For more information about the stadium, I have included the links of several websites detailing the rich and proud tradition of the stadium.

http://www.hinchliffestadium.org/index.php

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/05/24/nyregion/24towns.html?_r=1

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=lukas/100621_hinchliffe_stadium_paterson

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MMA Corner: Bellator 39 Recap

Saturday evening Bellator’s 39th promotion offered fans a night of exciting fights.  After a night of upsets, high-flying knockouts and stiff competition, here are my thoughts on the four main-card bouts. 

Main Event – Eddie Alvarez def. Pat Curran via unanimous decision to retain Bellator Lightweight Championship Battle 

Eddie Alvarez (left) successfully defended his Bellator Lightweight Championship against Pat Curran (right) earning a unanimous decision victory.

-In what turned out to be mainly a boxing match, promotional superstar and lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez retained his title earning the unanimous decision win.  However, surprising many, including myself, the Philly native was unable to put away Curran within the five rounds.  However, though Alvarez was not able to earn a more definitive victory, Alvarez did display some of the skill-set which makes him one of the world’s best lightweights. 

-How good is Alvarez compared to the other top lightweights in the world?  Perhaps more than any other MMA fighter in the world, when watching Alvarez even though you are obviously paying attention to the fight you are watching, in the back of your mind you’re evaluating each one of his maneuvers, assessing how he would fare in a hypothetical matchup with some of the other top fighters in the division.  Alvarez appears to have a striking style that is a blend between Dominick Cruz and Frankie Edgar.  Perhaps a touch slower than Edgar, Alvarez utilizes angles more so like Cruz does in his fights.  Further, Alvarez would appear to possess more power than Edgar.  However, of Edgar, Gray Maynard, Jim Miller, Anthony Pettis and Gilbert Melendez, I would rate Alvarez’s takedown offense only in front of Pettis’.  Either way, he is tough as nails, and a fight between any of those top lightweight fighters would be a highly entertaining contest. 

-Kudos should also be given to Pat Curran, as the youngster delivered a very respectable performance, hanging in with a fighter of Alvarez’s caliber for five rounds.  Curran displayed remarkable takedown defense, and at times successfully landed good counter shots that would momentarily fluster the champion.  I would love to see Curran take on the winner of this season’s lightweight tournament as well as see him in the UFC in the near future. 

Rich Hawn def. Lyman Good via split decision 

In a closely contested welterweight battle, former U.S. Olympian Rick Hawn (top) defeated former Bellator Welterweight Champion Lyman Good (bottom) via split decision.

-As predicted, Rich Hawn was able to earn the decision victory over Lyman Good.  Ultimately, Hawn’s ability to utilize his Olympic-caliber judo skills enabled him to earn the decision victory over the former Bellator Welterweight Champion. 

-In order to win the welterweight tournament, Hawn will need to sharpen his striking, as he is becoming too predictable in his movements.  When coming in for a jab, Hawn ducks his head, which leaves him open for uppercuts. 

-Though Good is obviously disappointed in his performance, I believe he has enough talent and physical tools to be a successful welterweight fighter.  However, while he might enjoy his status as the premiere fighter out of “Tiger Schulman’s Mixed Martial Arts,” I believe it would behoove Good to seek a more grappling oriented camp that would help him avoid the takedowns or at least teach him how to scramble to get the fight back to his feet after being taken down.  If he does so, Good will be a dangerous fighter. 

Patricky “Pit Bull” Friere def. Toby Imada via 1st round TKO 

Patricky "Pit Bull" Friere (standing) continued his destructive ways, knocking out his opponent Toby Imada (prone) in the first round of their lightweight semi-final bout.

-If his quarterfinal round knockout of former WEC Lightweight Champion Rob McCullough did not successfully announce Friere’s presence as a legitimate threat in the lightweight division, Friere’s thrilling performance against Toby Imada surely did.  After an initial feeling out process Patricky unleashed a violent and explosive flying knee that landed flush on Imada’s chin, wobbling the submission specialist.  Recognizing his opponent was on rubber legs, Patricky went in for the kill, landing a punishing left hand that knocked Imada out.  A video of the knee and subsequent knockout can be seen below.

-This win would appear to put Patricky in the driver’s seat of the lightweight tournament, as he will be the heavy favorite over either of the other two semi-finalists scheduled to meet next week.  With his knockout power in both his hands and legs, combined with his vaunted submission game, Patricky looks to be the real deal and could be a future worthy opponent for Alvarez. 

Ben Saunders def. Matt Lee via doctor’s stoppage in the 3rd round 

Ben Saunders (front) battered Matt Lee (back) for 2 1/2 rounds en route to a doctor's stoppage victory in his Bellator debut.

-UFC veteran Ben Saunders made good on his promise to make a successful promotional debut, as he soundly defeated veteran Matt Lee in a bloody affair.  After enjoying success with his superior reach, Saunders unleashed his dangerous Muay Thai skills from the clinch, breaking his opponent’s nose and opening up cuts on both of his opponent’s eyes. 

-With all due respect to Lee who is an incredibly tough competitor, I’m not sure how much we can gauge from Saunders performance.  Lee was a tailor-made opponent for Saunders, as he had no intention on taking the fight to the ground.  With the welterweight champion being elite-wrestler Ben Askren, I don’t see how Saunders will ever be able to win the Bellator Welterweight Championship.

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MMA Corner: Bellator 39 Preview

Later this evening Bellator will present its 39th event from the Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, CT. The card features the promotion’s top fighter in a lightweight championship belt, two semi-final tournament matches and the debut of a former UFC welterweight contender.

Main Event – Eddie Alvarez (c) vs. Pat Curran – Bellator Lightweight Championship

Eddie Alvarez (left) and Pat Curran (right) will battle for the Bellator Lightweight Championship.

The main event of the evening will be for the Bellator Lightweight Championship as the top fighter in the promotion, Eddie Alvarez, looks to defend his belt against the fast rising Curran.

The ferocious Alvarez, fighting out of “the great fighting city” of Philadelphia, is viewed as one of the top 5 lightweights in the world. Defeating top-ranked fighters such as Tatsuya Kawajiri and Joachim Hansen, Alvarez is an exciting fighter with a special blend of top-notch boxing and first-class wrestling. Since joining the Bellator promotion, Alvarez has steamrolled through the competition en route to becoming the lightweight champion. In his most recent bout, Alvarez destroyed former UFC lightweight contender Roger Huerta, becoming the first man to finish “El Matador”.

Pat Curran, the younger cousin of MMA veteran Jeff Curran, has blossomed into a fine competitor in the lightweight division. Absorbing the teachings of his talented cousin, Curran is a dangerous submission fighter who is more than capable on his feet, and displays tremendous heart. Curran earned this title shot after defeating both Roger Huerta and Toby Imada by decision.

While Curran is without question a talented up-and-coming lightweight, I believe Eddie Alvarez is simply too talented and aggressive for Curran. Curran will certainly display his talents, but Alvarez will be the victor.

Fight prediction: Eddie Alvarez by 3rd round TKO.

Welterweight Semi-Final – Lyman Good vs. Rich Hawn

Former Bellator Welterweight Champion Lyman “Cyborg” Good looks to continue his quest for redemption as he takes on top-flight Judoka Rick Hawn in a semi-final matchup of this season’s welterweight tournament.

Good, who lost his title to current champion Ben Askren, is an incredibly well-rounded fighter who displays true grit and impressive athleticism. In his loss to Askren, Good’s lack of takedown defense was exploited. Hawn, an Olympic level Judoka will surely look to replicate Askren’s takedown success. However, should Good withstand Hawn’s judo prowess, I believe Hawn may surprise Good with his adeptness on his feet as Hawn displayed both good technique and solid power in his quarterfinal match earlier this season. Look for Hawn to take the surprise decision.

Fight prediction: Rich Hawn via unanimous decision.

Lightweight Semi-Final – Toby Imada vs. Patricky “Pitbull” Friere

In a lightweight semi-final bout, former finalist Toby Imada looks to once again earn a spot in the finals of the lightweight tournament. In order to do so, the savvy submission specialist will have to defeat the incredibly talented and dangerous Patricky Friere.

Imada, a slick jiu-jitsu practitioner owns one of the two most impressive submissions ever in the history of both the Bellator promotion and perhaps MMA when he defeated Jorge Masvidal in the 2009 tournament via inverted triangle choke (video shown below). While Imada’s stand-up game is not as dangerous, he is willing to trade blows and exhibits aggressiveness and a good chin.

Imada will surely need to deliver a top performance as he takes on the uber-talented Patricky Friere. Friere, whose brother is competing in this season’s featherweight tournament, is a BJJ black-belt who also possesses devastating power in his punches. In the quarterfinals, Friere delivered a masterful performance against former WEC Lightweight Champion “Razor” Rob McCullough, knocking the veteran out in the third round.

In the end, I believe Friere’s skill-set is simply too strong and vast for Imada to overcome.

Fight prediction: Patricky Friere via unanimous decision.

Welterweight bout – Ben Saunders vs. Matt Lee

Former UFC welterweight contender and “Ultimate Fighter” alumnus Ben Saunders will look to make his promotional debut a memorable one as he takes on welterweight veteran Matt Lee.

Ben Saunders will look to make an immediate impact in his Bellator debut.

Saunders, a dangerous striker out of American Top Team, managed to work his way up the steep welterweight ranks in the UFC before falling short against some of the elite of the division including Jon Fitch at UFC 111. Saunders possesses devastating Muay Thai which was evident in his brutal knockout victories of Brandon Wolff and Marcus Davis.

Matt Lee, a journeyman veteran who trains with Jorge Rivera in the “Factory” gym up in Massachusetts has faced many of the top welterweights and lightweights from various promotions. Possessing solid skills and a decent chin, Lee does not possess one particular specialty and instead relies on his tenacity and well-roundedness.

Journeyman welterweight Matt Lee will look to spoil Ben Saunders Bellator debut.

Typically Saunders struggles against fighters that enjoy an advantage in the grappling department. However, such will not be the case in this fight, as Lee does not possess a dangerous grappling game. As a result, look for Saunders to announce his presence in the Bellator welterweight division with authority via knockout.

Fight prediction: Ben Saunders via 2nd round TKO.

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Brett’s Stadium Tour: Hinkle Fieldhouse – Indianapolis, IN

The inside of Hinkle Fieldhouse on the campus of Butler University in Indianapolis.

The last stop on the college basketball edition of the stadium tour takes us to Indianapolis, Indiana on the campus of Butler University.  The Butler Bulldogs, who won over the hearts of practically every sports fan in the nation last year (save for Duke fans/alums), have managed to defy the odds and return to the final four without their top player from last year, Gordon Haywood.  Each game, with the odds stacked against them, Butler manages to defeat teams that are far bigger, more talented and more athletic.  Like their opponent VCU, Butler has demonstrated the power and importance of team play and sheer grit.

 

Starting out this tour, I had every intention on devoting an entry for Hinkle Fieldhouse, the home of the Butler Bulldogs.  As fate would have it, I was able to save this outstanding and beautiful facility for my final edition of the college basketball tour.  Hinkle Fieldhouse, formerly named Butler Fieldhouse was built in 1928 and is designated as a National Historic Landmark. 

Outside of Hinkle Fieldhouse

Up until 1950, Hinkle Fieldhouse, with an original capacity of 15,000 was the largest basketball arena in the United States.  As it currently stands, the arena can host over 10,000 as seating capacity was reduced during an extensive renovation in 1989. 

The design of Hinkle Fieldhouse is incredibly distinctive.  The air-hangar style creates a massive feel to the structure.  Additionally, the large windows in the upper decks of the fieldhouse allow for beautiful rays of light to pass through into the arena.  The distinctive design of Hinkle Fieldhouse appears to have become the unofficial design for future sporting venues in the state of Indiana.  Indiana’s two major professional sports franchise venues, Conseco Fieldhouse (Indiana Pacers) and Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis Colts) share many of the same characteristics with the historic venue.

The outside of Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

 

The outside of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

 

Not only is Hinkle Fieldhouse beautiful in its simplicity, it is steeped in remarkable history that lies at the heart of the folklore that is Indiana High School Basketball.  For many years, Hinkle Fieldhouse played host to the Indiana State High School Basketball Championships.  In 1954, tiny Milan High School capped off a remarkable run including defeating a team with future NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson (during the semi-finals), to make it to the state championship.  In the championship game Milan High School knocked off heavily favored Muncie Central in a defensive battle, defeating the much larger school 32-30. 

A picture of the 1954 Milan Men's Basketball Team that went on to win the Indiana State High School Championship.

The “Milan Miracle” was the historical inspiration for the critically-acclaimed movie “Hoosiers,” in which a small rural high school in the 1950s went on to win the Indiana State Championship.  In what I believe is one of the greatest scenes in any sports movie, centers upon the magnitude and beautify of Hinkle Fieldhouse.  Having made it to the state championship game, Head Coach Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) leads his club out onto the court at Hinkle Fieldhouse where the team is awe-struck by the size of the building.  In a brilliant move, Dale proceeds to measure the dimensions of the court to illustrate to his team that they are the exact same dimensions as their tiny gym back in Hickory, Indiana.  The move was a brilliant ice-breaker and helped tie in many of the themes surrounding the team’s triumphant march to the championship.  I’ve included the scene below for your enjoyment!

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Brett’s Stadium Tour: Verizon Wireless Arena – Richmond, VA

The Virginia Commonwealth home court: Verizon Wirless Arena in Richmond, VA.

Though the primetime matchup for tomorrow evening’s double-header is between the Kentucky Wildcats and UCONN Huskies, it is actually the first of the two games that has captured the hearts and minds of the entire sporting nation. 

Whereas Kentucky and UCONN are considered among the elite basketball programs in the nation and compete in the most difficult of conferences (SEC and Big East respectively), the other semi-final matchup of the evening consists of a matchup between the Butler University Bulldogs and the Virginia Commonwealth Rams.  Though both programs are considered among the elite of their respective conferences (Horizon and Colonial Athletic Association), they are still viewed as “mid-major” programs that in the world of recruiting take a back seat to the premiere conferences in the land.  However, both team’s success truly defines what makes the NCAA tournament and the game of basketball so special.  On any given day, any team can win.  Further, both squads play tremendous TEAM basketball, where no one single player is greater than the whole.

 

With that being said, I decided to first to highlight VCU’s home court:  Verizon Wireless Arena.  The arena, with a capacity of 7,500 (reportedly expandable to 8,000) is the centerpiece of a larger multi-purpose athletic facility that opened in 1999 in downtown Richmond, Virginia, across the street from the campus.  The larger multi-purpose facility, named the Stuart C. Siegel Center, includes several basketball courts, state-of-the-art weight facility and other amenities. 

Outside view of the Stuart C. Siegel Center

In the center of the facility lies the Verizon Wireless Arena, which consist of several large bleachers that are easily collapsible in order to create additional space.  When expanded, the bleachers make for a very tight and close-knit atmosphere which has served the program well, as VCU enjoys one of the highest winning percentages on their home-court in Division 1 Men’s Basketball.

A packed house for a VCU game at the Verizon Wireless Arena

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Brett’s Stadium Tour: Gampel Pavilion – Storrs, CT & XL Center – Hartford, CT

A view of the court at the XL Center in Hartford, CT.

On Saturday evening, the Kentucky Wildcats will take on the Connecticut Huskies in what will surely be an entertaining contest.  As a result, our tour heads north to the state of Connecticut.  However, unlike most college basketball teams, the University of Connecticut Huskies actually has two home courts:  Gampel Pavilion in Storrs and the XL Center in Hartford. 

Gampel Pavilion 

Inside Gampel Pavilion on the campus of the University of Connecticut in Storrs.

The on-campus home of the University of Connecticut Men’s and Women’s basketball teams is Gampel Pavilion.  Opening its doors in 1990, Gampel Pavilion was constructed to replace the smaller Greer Field House.  With a capacity of 10,167, Gampel Pavilion is decent sized and has served as a tremendous home-court advantage for both the men’s and women’s teams. 

A view of the outside of Gampel Pavilion.

XL Center (formerly Hartford Civic Center)

Outside of XL Center in Hartford.

With the overwhelming success of both the men’s and women’s basketball teams, the school decided to move some of their games south to the capital city of Hartford at the XL Center.  The XL Center, formerly named the Hartford Civic Center, is a larger facility with a capacity of over 16,000.

A UCONN home game from the XL Center.

First opening to the public in 1973 for the then New England Whalers of the WHL, the arena was part of a broader development effort in downtown Hartford.  Several years later in 1978, after a University of Connecticut basketball team defeated the University of Massachusetts Minutemen, the roof of the arena collapsed due to the large accumulation of snow.  The collapse resulted in the closing of the arena for two years.

A picture of the Hartford Civic Center collapse from 1978.

Upon its reopening, the Whalers, now named the Hartford Whalers, were brought into the NHL where they developed a loyal following until their untimely relocation to North Carolina in 1997.

The XL Center (formerly the Hartford Civic Center) was the home of the Hartford Whalers.

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Brett’s Stadium Tour: Rupp Arena – Lexington, KY

A view of the banners that hang from the rafters of Rupp Arena

In honor of the four schools that have advanced to the “final four” of the NCAA Division 1 Men’s Basketball Championship, I will be showcasing the home arenas of the four schools. In what may seem like a reverse order, I’ve decided to start off with the most historic of the four programs: the Kentucky Wildcats.

The home of the Kentucky Wildcats is Rupp Arena. Opening its doors in 1976, Rupp arena is named after Kentucky’s legendary head coach Adolph Rupp. Located in downtown Lexington, Kentucky, the arena is the centerpiece of a large shopping and convention center that attracts visitors from all over the region.

Outside of Rupp Arena

The arena itself has an official capacity of 23,500, making it the largest arena constructed specifically for basketball in the United States.With the remarkable success the Kentucky program has enjoyed, Rupp arena is considered one of the most difficult places for opponents to play. In 2002, the vaunted student section was appropriately named the “eRUPPtion Zone”. In addition to the overwhelming crowd, for practically each game, acclaimed actress Ashley Judd proudly supports her alma mater and she can be found in the crowd cheering on the Wildcats.

Acclaimed actress and Kentucky alumna Ashley Judd is a regular at Kentucky home games at Rupp Arena.

In 1985, Rupp Arena played host to arguably one of the most celebrated final fours in the history of the NCAA Men’s Basketball tournament. Ironically enough, it was another “Wildcats” program that stole the show in Rupp Arena as the 8th seeded Villanova Wildcats pulled off one of the most shocking upsets in NCAA history, defeating the Georgetown Hoyas 66-64.

Rupp Arena was the site of Villanova's historic uspet of Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA Championship Game.

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What if . . . Brock Lesnar had fought Hong Man Choi?

Brock Lesnar (right) in a stare-down with his originally scheduled opponent for his MMA debut, Hong Man Choi (right).

The thirteenth season of the “Ultimate Fighter” is being billed as perhaps the biggest in the history of the show.  The reason for this claim is simple:  Brock Lesnar is one of the coaches.  A former NCAA Heavyweight Champion and WWE Heavyweight Champion, Brock Lesnar, in a mere three years has become the biggest attraction in the entire sport of mixed martial arts.  Love him or hate him (most people seem to be in the latter), when Brock Lesnar fights, people pay money to watch.

With a professional record of 5-2, Brock Lesnar, perhaps more than any other fighter, has received unprecedented attention at such an early stage of his career.  Of the seven fights, six of those have been in the UFC promotion.  Brock’s first fight, which took place on June 2, 2007, was against a journeyman Korean Judoka named Min Soo Kim.  Lesnar was able to defeat Kim quite easily, prompting UFC President Dana White to sign Lesnar to a UFC contract.  Lesnar’s fight was the main event in a card that featured several notable fighters including Royce Gracie and Kazushi Sakuraba.  The event, which took place at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, was a joint-venture between now defunct promotions K-1 Hero’s and Elite XC.  However, what many forget is that Lesnar was originally scheduled to face Korean K-1 Superstar Hong Man Choi as opposed to Kim.  Choi, a 7’2” giant, was a feared striker who had enjoyed great success in the K-1 promotion. 

With Lesnar debuting as one of the featured coaches in this upcoming season I explore this question:  What if Brock Lesnar fought Hong Man Choi?

 What happened

 Attempting to establish itself as the legitimate contender to the UFC in the United States, Elite XC aimed to pull off a monumental show from the LA Memorial Coliseum.  Partnering with K-1 Hero’s, the MMA arm of the K-1 promotion, the show featured several intriguing fights including the long-awaited rematch between Royce Gracie and Kazushi Sakuraba and the MMA debut of Brock Lesnar.  Attempting to capitalize on the large Asian population on the West Coast, as well as provide Lesnar with an intriguing battle, the promoters of the show matched Lesnar up against Hong Man Choi.  Choi, standing 7 feet 2 inches tall, had made it to the finals of the 2007 K-1 World Grand Prix and was beginning to make a successful transition to MMA.

K-1 USA Dynamite was an attempt for Elite XC to counter the UFC's meteoric rise in the MMA world.

Unfortunately, Hong Man Choi was forced to withdraw from the bout when he was denied his license by the California State Athletic Commission when it a benign tumor on Choi’s pituitary gland was discovered.  As a result, Korean Judoka Min Soo Kim was tagged as Choi’s replacement.  With virtually no standup game, Kim essentially served as cannon-fodder for the massive Lesnar who finished Kim in less than two minutes.  The video of the fight can be seen below.

 

Seeking a greater challenge, Lesnar signed a multi-fight contract with the UFC and made his debut for the promotion on February 2, 2008 against former UFC Heavyweight Champion Frank Mir.  Though he would lose via submission (kneebar), Lesnar provided fireworks during the short fight as well as impressive numbers at the box office.

Lesnar earned his first win in the company several months later in August of 2008 when he dominated established veteran Heath Herring to earn a unanimous decision victory.  Due to his impressive performance, the UFC gave Lesnar a title fight against the returning Randy Couture at UFC 91 in October of 2008.  Lesnar shocked many in the MMA world soundly defeating Couture in the second round via TKO.  In the match, Lesnar displayed his top-flight wrestling ability in addition to flashing knockout power.

In only his fourth fight, Brock Lesnar defeated Randy Couture to win the UFC Heavyweight Championship.

With his championship victory, Lesnar was given the honor of main eventing UFC 100 against his newly-created arch rival, Frank Mir.  In a dominant performance, Brock Lesnar pounded Frank Mir mercilessly for two rounds en route to a TKO stoppage.  With the win, Lesnar cemented his status as one of the best heavyweights in the world.

After recovering from a scary bout of diverticulitis that threatened his fighting career, Lesnar triumphantly returned to the Octagon to defend his title against Shane Carwin at UFC 116 in July 2010.  During this fight, Lesnar survived Carwin’s initial onslaught in which the challenger dominated Lesnar on the feet.  In the second round, Lesnar was able to secure the takedown and submit Carwin via side choke.

Lesnar’s inadequacies on his feet were exploited in his next bout this past October when challenger Cain Velasquez quickly dispatched of the champion in the first round.  After weathering Lesnar’s initial storm, Velasquez was able to hurt Lesnar with several clean punches which clearly disoriented the champion sending him to the mat in the turtle position.  Unable to intelligently defend himself, referee Herb Dean stopped the fight.

At UFC 121, Cain Velasquez (standing) was able to soundly defeat Brock Lesnar (prone) to win the UFC Heavyweight Championship.

As a result of an injury to Cain Velasquez’s shoulder, #1 contender Junior Dos Santos was left without a match for the immediate future.  Recognizing an opportunity, the UFC approached Lesnar to see if he would be interested in coaching for the upcoming season against Dos Santos, to which he agreed.

What would have happened?

(1) Brock Lesnar would have been defeated by Hong Man Choi via 1st round TKO and elected to retire from the sport of MMA

At the time of Lesnar’s MMA debut, he was still incredibly green with regards to the nuances of MMA.  Even though Lesnar relied upon his superior wrestling skills against Kim, and surely would have done so against Choi, I believe Choi would have overwhelmed Lesnar on the feet.  Several years into his MMA career we have seen Lesnar essentially turtle up into a shell in his last two fights when his opponent unleashes an onslaught of strikes.  With Lesnar being ill-equipped to handle such a barrage of strikes four years into his career, I highly doubt Lesnar would have responded to Choi’s striking in any other way.

Hong Man Choi (left) had enjoyed a great deal of success in K-1 prior to his scheduled bout with Brock Lesnar.

Embarrassed by his ineffectiveness and convincing defeat, I believe Lesnar would have decided to walk away from the sport of MMA in favor of returning to the squared circle where he would have been able to make more money for his family.

(2) Fabricio Werdum would still be in the UFC

After Randy Couture’s year-plus sabbatical ended, the UFC elected to essentially create a four-man tournament between Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Frank Mir.  After two “semi-final” matches (Couture vs. Lesnar and Nogueira vs. Mir), the UFC envisioned that a unification bout would occur between the two winners in the future.  Such was the case as both Lesnar and Mir, the winners of their respective bouts at UFC 91 and 92, met in the main event of UFC 100 to unify the UFC Heavyweight Championship.  The odd man out of the equation was Brazilian fighter Fabricio Werdum.  Werdum, who had won consecutive bouts against Gabriel Gonzaga and Brandon Vera in impressive fashion, was very upset at the fact that he was left out of this tournament.  After a shocking knockout loss to Junior Dos Santos, the disheartened Werdum was cut from the promotion and found his way to Strikeforce.

Since in Strikeforce, Werdum has enjoyed tremendous success.  After defeating Antonio Silva in an entertaining affair, Werdum became the first man to defeat the iconic Fedor Emelienenko in over a decade as Werdum submitted the Russian in the first round.

Without Brock Lesnar, the UFC would have placed a greater emphasis into building Fabricio Werdum (bottom) as a legitimate contender in the UFC Heavyweight Division. As a result, the submission victory over arguably the greatest fighter of all-time, Fedor Emelienenko (top) would have not occurred.

Had Lesnar left the sport after his first match against Choi in 2007, Werdum would have been included in the four-man heavyweight tournament that was created when Randy Couture returned to the UFC.  Even if Werdum was not victorious, his participation in the tournament would have continued his ongoing relationship with the UFC and prevented his defection to the Strikeforce promotion.

(3) The main event of UFC 100 would have been Georges St. Pierre against Thiago Alves

In what was the actual co-main event of UFC 100, Georges St. Pierre successfully defended his welterweight title against Thiago Alves.  With Lesnar a non-entity in the promotion, I believe Randy Couture would have already lost his UFC Heavyweight Championship to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in a manner similar to their actual fight at UFC 102. 

Without Brock Lesnar as a member of the UFC roster, Georges St. pierre (left) and Thiago Alves (right) could have been the main event for UFC 100.

As a result, without a top name fighting for the UFC Heavyweight belt, the UFC would have opted to place their top welterweight star as the main event for this prestigious event.

(4) Frank Mir would not be in the UFC

As mentioned previously, Frank Mir has been Brock Lesnar’s arch-nemesis since he has become a fighter for the UFC.  Immediately after their first fight was signed, Mir began taunting Lesnar, making fun of the fact that Lesnar was a professional wrestler.  Though Mir was victorious during their first bout, the animosity between the two continued through their second fight, in which Lesnar won.  Moments after their second fight at UFC 100, Lesnar went right up to his battered opponent yelling at him.  Mir seemed unwilling to let go of Lesnar’s post-fight antics, as he was even quoted as saying he would be the first to kill an opponent (Lesnar) in the ring.

Trash talking aside, Frank Mir has greatly benefitted from Lesnar’s presence in the UFC.  With Lesnar taking on the role as a natural “heel” (term for a villain), Mir quickly became a popular figure in the eyes of the fans.  After sustaining serious injuries as a result of a motorcycle accident, Frank Mir, a former UFC Heavyweight Champion, had been unable to recapture the magic that made him one of the top-ranked heavyweights in the world.  The question with Mir had always been whether he would ever be motivated enough to supplement his god-given talent with the necessary training to allow him to realize his true potential as a fighter.  Lesnar’s antics appeared to be a catalytic moment in Mir’s career, as he suddenly became a fighter who lived in the gym and enjoyed a grueling training camp.  As a result, we have seen Mir become a more well-rounded and superbly-conditioned fighter.

Without the presence of Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir (pictured above) would not have resurrected his career and conditioned himself in the manner he has.

Without Lesnar, Mir would not have had the spark needed to truly devote himself into becoming the best fighter he can be.  As a result, I believe Mir would have continued to struggle, which would have led to his release from the UFC.

(5) This season of the Ultimate Fighter would have featured two bantamweight coaches:  Dominick Cruz (UFC Bantamweight Champion) and Urijah Faber.

Though the UFC would have had to sacrifice introducing Faber to the UFC audience with a live fight, I believe if there were no Brock Lesnar, the UFC would instead elect to highlight their newly created weight classes. 

Without Brock Lesnar, the coaches for the 13th season of the "Ultimate Fighter" could have been current UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz (right) and Urijah Faber (left).

The best way to do so would be to have their current bantamweight champion coach against his rival Urijah Faber.  The 10-12 week show would have provided an ample opportunity to introduce both fighters to the public and generate enough interest in a title match.

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What if . . . there was no “Ultimate Fighter”?

Tomorrow evening at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on Spike TV, the 13th season of the “Ultimate Fighter” will debut with fourteen welterweight fighters competing to earn a six-figure UFC contract.  The two featured coaches this season will be former UFC Heavyweight Champion Brock Lesnar and his upcoming opponent at UFC 131 in June, Junior “Cigano” Dos Santos. 

Without question, it was the inaugural season of the “Ultimate Fighter” that sparked the imagination of the public and began the UFC’s movement to make mixed martial arts the most popular combat sport in the entire world. 

In honor of the premiere episode of the 13th season I explore the following question:  What if there was no “Ultimate Fighter”? 

What happened? 

In the spring of 2005, around the same time that NBC aired “The Contender”, Spike TV, in partnership with the UFC, created a reality competition in which sixteen fighters competed for two six-figured contracts in the UFC.  Similar to “The Contender” the fighters were separated in to two teams and led by two of the premiere fighters in the UFC:  then light-heavyweight champion Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell. 

The first season of the “Ultimate Fighter” featured legendary fighters Randy Couture (right wearing green) and Chuck Liddell (left wearing blue) as coaches.

In addition to the contestants competing for their respective contracts, the two coaches additionally signed on to compete for the light-heavyweight championship at a pay-per-view event scheduled to take place a week after the television show’s live season finale. 

During the spring of 2005, I was finishing up my junior year at Rutgers-Camden.  In the midst of what was a fairly rigorous and challenging semester, I remember one evening flipping through the channels and landing on Spike TV where I saw a “Team Liddell” training session.  Up until that time, my interest in MMA was practically non-existent.  Being a fan of professional wrestling, I had been somewhat knowledgeable of some of the bigger-named fighters in the sport, as many of the wrestling sites would report on the more notable fights that took place in the UFC.  However, like many others, I was under the impression that the sport of MMA was simply a glorified version of bar-room brawling.  However, as I tuned into the program, I was amazed to see the amount of technique that went into each and every aspect of the fight.  Even after the first episode my initial impressions of the sport were quickly changed and I was thoroughly intrigued. 

As the season progressed, my friends and I grew increasingly interested in both the show and the sport in general.  By the time of the finale, we were anxiously awaiting which fighters would win the contracts.  While Diego Sanchez was able to quickly dispatch the noticeably smaller Kenny Florian for the first contract, Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar then delivered perhaps what was the most important performance in the history of the UFC.  Waging an all-out war against each other, Griffin and Bonnar went toe to toe as if they were channeling their inner Rocky Balboas and Apollo Creeds.  Throwing caution and exhaustion to the side, both competitors, bloodied and swollen due to the enormous punishment they received, continued to press forward in the hopes of winning the contract.  Though Griffin went on to win the bout, the UFC offered both fighters a contract.  However, though Sanchez, Griffin and Bonnar were considered the winners that evening, the true winner of the evening was the UFC. 

Stephan Bonnar (left) and Forrest Griffin (right) stole the show during the live finale of the "Ultimate Fighter".

The ratings for the evening’s live finale were impressive.  During the Griffin/Bonnar fight, more than 11 million people tuned in to watch these two young fighters battle.  Several days later, the UFC capitalized on the tremendous momentum generated from the live finale, enjoying one of their finest pay-per-view events in the promotion’s history as Chuck Liddell defeated Randy Couture to become the new light-heavyweight champion.  With that win, the UFC had their new machine (The Ultimate Fighter) and their #1 attraction (Chuck Liddell). 

In the years to come, the UFC would continue to grow and be viewed as a legitimate sport in the eyes of main stream culture.  Now featured on ESPN and major cable channels, MMA and its identifiable culture is celebrated by millions and millions of fans worldwide.  With its ever-increasing popularity, the UFC has managed to position itself as the premiere promotion of the sport, outlasting its competition both foreign and domestic. 

What would have happened if there was no “Ultimate Fighter”? 

(1) The sport of MMA would still be viewed as a fringe sport.

 Though the UFC had enjoyed a few minor successes in the pay-per-view market with “mega-fights” such as the match between Tito Oritz and Ken Shamrock, the UFC and the sport of MMA was still relatively unknown in the spring of 2005.  The only way in which someone would have an opportunity to watch the sport would be to fork over $40 to watch a pay-per-view event featuring fairly unknown fighters compete against one another. 

The Ultimate Fighter proved to be an invaluable vehicle by which the UFC could introduce the fascinating and wonderful sport of MMA to the broader public.  Now, armed with identifiable figures, casual fans were drawn into the sport and began to follow the younger fighters.  As they began to follow these younger fighters that were featured in the show, many of these same casual fans (myself included) were additionally captivated by the sports more-established and skilled veterans. 

Without the exposure provided by the Ultimate Fighter, the sport’s growth, if there would have been any, would have been drastically reduced.  Instead of surpassing the 1 million buy-rate for pay-per-views, the UFC would still be hovering around the 200,000 buyrate range.  Furthermore, instead of offering at least one pay-per-view show a month, selling out arenas worldwide, the UFC would still be forced to hold 4-6 shows a year, unable to fill up the larger arenas in the nation (forget about international exposure) and settling for significantly smaller gates. 

Additionally, there would be an absence in mainstream culture of any mixed martial artists.  Georges St. Pierre would not be sponsored by Under Armour or appear in Gatorade commercials.  Chuck Liddell would not have been featuring an episode of “Entourage” or starred in “Dancing With the Stars”, while Tito Ortiz would not have made it to the board room in the “Celebrity Apprentice.”

If there was no "Ultimate Fighter" we would not have seen an MMA fighter like Chuck Liddell competing on "Dancing With the Stars".

 

(2) MMA would be regulated in far fewer states 

Though less heralded than some of their other business decisions, one of the most important decisions made by Dana White and the UFC was to acquire Marc Ratner, the former Commission of the Nevada State Athletics Commission, to head the efforts of educating the various state athletic commissions that had yet to regulate the sport of MMA. 

Under the prior ownership, the UFC, and MMA in general, was marketed as a savage, blood-filled sport that only appealed to the fringe elements in society.  It was this marketing campaign that sparked Senator McCain’s comments that MMA was “human cockfighting,” and led to the UFC being banned on pay-per-view for quite some time. 

Former Commissioner of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, Marc Rather, has been instrumental in leading the movement to get the sport of MMA regulated in many states.

In order to move past this barbaric stereotype, an essential element in MMA’s growth has been an effort to educate state legislators in demonstrating that MMA is not simply barbarism, but rather is a combat sport much in the same manner as boxing.  Without acceptance from the state athletic agencies, the MMA would always lack credibility with sports media outlets and fans alike.  This educational effort was made possible by the UFC and their ability to devote great sums of money to aid Marc Ratner’s efforts.  It was due to their success with the Ultimate Fighter that they were able to compile this profit in order to successfully fund Ratner’s campaign. 

(3) There would be many viable regional promotions that featured top fighters

 With the unparalleled success and growth the UFC has enjoyed, the promotion has expanded, practically buying out all of its significant competition.  As a result, the UFC’s roster features more weight-classes and more fighters than it ever has. 

Around the time that the “Ultimate Fighter” premiered, while the UFC was still the preeminent promotion, there were still many viable regional promotions that featured top fighters.  Whether it was Rumble on the Rock, ICON or Superbrawl out in Hawaii, or the WEC in California, many of these smaller promotions featured some of the top fighters in the sport who were simply unable to crack the UFC roster or were unwilling to travel across the pacific to fight in Japan. 

If the UFC had not enjoyed the success it has, mainly in part due to the “Ultimate Fighter” many of these promotions would still be in existence. 

(4) Japanese MMA would be far more relevant

 While the leading promotion within the United States, when the first “Ultimate Fighter” season premiered, the UFC was still considered the #2 promotion worldwide.  Pride Fighting Championships, a Japanese-based organization, was considered the top MMA promotion and would consistently draw anywhere from 30 to 40,000 spectators for a given event.  In addition to their superior drawing power, the Pride roster was viewed as the far superior boasting the top talent in the world. 

Drawing huge crowds throughout Japan, Pride Fighting Championships was the preeminent MMA promotion until the "Ultimate Fighter" ignited the UFC's meteoric rise.

In the years leading up to the premiere of the “Ultimate Fighter” the UFC had sent over several of their former champions and title contenders to compete against Pride’s best.  On each occasion, the UFC fighters failed to make much headway in the Japanese organization, essentially cementing the notion that Pride was the superior organization. 

As the UFC began its meteoric rise in popularity, they began to slowly pick away at Pride’s standing in the MMA world.  In late 2006, early 2007, the UFC was able to acquire Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic who had recently won the coveted Pride Open Weight Grand Prix Championship.  Then, amidst numerous rumors that the Pride front office was intimately involved in illegal Yakuza (Japanese mob) affairs, Pride was purchased by Zuffa, LLC, the operating company of the UFC. 

Though Pride may have faltered by virtue of their rumored illicit activities, I believe that had the UFC not enjoyed its meteoric rise, a Japanese-based promotion would have been able to acquire the Pride roster, as the UFC would not have had the funds necessary to sign many of the then top-ranked fighters.  By keeping the former Pride fighters in Japanese-based promotions, the television contracts previously enjoyed by Pride would have found their way to these other promotions.  As a result, there would still remain the question of which promotion is truly the best.  Instead, the UFC, similar to the NFL or NBA, towers over the competition and is firmly entrenched as the sport’s top organization. 

(5) Boxing would be the undisputed champion of combat sports

 The sport of boxing will perhaps forever be engrained in the fabric of mainstream culture.  It was boxing that brought to the world Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson.  It was boxing that provided epic battles such as “Louis-Schmelling”, “The Rumble in the Jungle” and the “Thrilla in Manilla.”  However, with a dearth of exciting fighters and a fragmented ranking and championship system, I believe MMA, largely in part due to the UFC’s tremendous success, has overtaken boxing as the #1 combat sport. 

Several years ago in the highly anticipated bout between Oscar de la Hoya and Floyd Mayweather, Jr., much of the broadcast by the HBO crew was devoted to demonstrating that boxing, and not MMA, was still the most viable and attractive combat sport.  After the fight, Jim Lampley, instead of pondering the legacy of these two great fighters, discussed whether boxing is dead and if MMA has surpassed boxing. 

As popular an attraction as Manny Pacquiao is, if the sport of MMA was not as popular as it currently is, due in large part to the success of the "Ultimate Fighter", both Pacquiao and boxing as a whole would dominate combat sports.

The fact that the sport of MMA was even discussed during such an important evening demonstrates that MMA is now as mainstream as boxing.  Save for fights featuring Manny Pacquiao or Floyd Mayweather Jr., MMA events consistently outdraw and outsell those of boxing. 

If the “Ultimate fighter” was never created, boxing would still be the undisputed champion of combat sports. 

(6) Professional wrestling would be far more popular and profitable 

During my high school and early college years the undisputed champion of the coveted 18-34 male demographic was professional wrestling.  Though there were several organizations competing against one another, it was ultimately Vince McMahon and the World Wrestling Entertainment that emerged as the leading promotion.  During this time, professional wrestling was incredibly lucrative, as the weekly Monday Night Raw program drew incredible ratings, and the top stars were household names. 

The rise of MMA has hurt professional wrestling, particularly the World Wrestling Entertainment.

As a result of the growth of the UFC by virtue of the “Ultimate Fighter” the same 18-34 year old males who used to follow the Rock, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, and Degeneration X now have become followers of MMA.  WWE pay-per-view buyrates have steadily declined and television ratings for “Raw” are significantly down from 5-10 years ago. 

Recognizing the shift in the market, McMahon has strategically retooled the WWE in order to become more attractive to a younger audience.  This move has helped steady the WWE, and though they do not pull in the same business they once did, they are once again developing a burgeoning fan base in the same manner they once did with youngsters like myself in the late 80s/early 90s with “Hulkamania”. 

However, if the UFC had not experienced this growth, McMahon would additionally have at his disposal the 18-34 male demographic, which would significantly alter the manner in which he has chosen to run the WWE.  More importantly, the television ratings and pay-per-view buyrates would have increased significantly, as many of the UFC fans would instead elect to invest the $40/month for a WWE pay-per-view offering rather than a UFC event.

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MMA Corner: UFC Fight Night 24 Recap

Saturday night, before a rabid crowd of 14,000 fans in Seattle’s Key Arena, fighters for the UFC waged battle to determine which fighters are truly legitimate contenders in their respective weight classes.

Main Event – Phil Davis def. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira via unanimous decision.

Phil Davis (top) was able to control Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (bottom) with his wrestling in the second and third rounds to earn a unanimous decision victory. (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

-In the evening’s main event, Phil Davis managed to overcome his most difficult obstacle to date, earning a unanimous decision victory over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Managing to out-grapple his opponent, Davis clearly controlled the second and third rounds. However, though this was by far Davis’ most notable victory, his performance clearly demonstrated that he is not yet on the level of the elite in the light-heavyweight division. Davis’ striking was both awkward and ineffective, and his takedown offense was surprisingly unspectacular, particularly in the first round. However, Davis did indicate that his training camp was marred by several injuries which may have impacted his performance.

-As mentioned above, while I expected Davis to struggle in the standup, I was truly floored watching Davis struggle to secure a takedown against Nogueira. Davis certainly looked to lack a great deal of explosion as he failed to drive through his opponent in order to get the fight to the ground. It was only until Davis switched to a low-single style of takedown that Davis managed to take Nogueira down.

-Though he failed to impress, Davis still deserves to be tested against a top-ranked fighter in the light-heavyweight division. A match against Forrest Griffin would help demonstrate where Davis stands in this always-crowded division. For Nogueira, a rematch from his epic 2005 war with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua would be a great matchup for both Brazilian fighters, perhaps even at the upcoming UFC show in Rio later this summer.

Co-Main Event – Anthony Johnson def. Dan Hardy via unanimous decision.

Anthony Johnson (top) used his vastly superior wrestling to dominate Dan Hardy (bottom) for the unanimous decision win. (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

-Though viewed by many fans as a major disappointment, Anthony Johnson made his return to the UFC by completely dominating Dan Hardy en route to a unanimous decision. After stumbling Hardy with a powerful head kick in the opening round, Johnson relied upon his superior wrestling talents to secure numerous takedowns. With seemingly no answer to Johnson’s wrestling abilities, Hardy was relegated to fight the majority of the fight from his back, where though he attempted several submissions, was unable to get the fight back to their feet.

-Certainly the crowd was anticipating an exhilarating stand-up war, but from my perspective, Anthony Johnson should not be faulted in electing to employ a strategy that, though perhaps less exciting, practically guaranteed a victory over a solid opponent. Quite interestingly, many of the same fans who criticize Johnson were the same ones who applauded Georges St. Pierre’s efforts in his championship match against Dan Hardy back at UFC 111. During that match, GSP employed an even more conservative approach, practically refusing to engage in any standup battle with the tough Brit, immediately going in for the takedown as soon as Hardy would approach him.

-I would like to see Anthony Johnson take on Diego Sanchez next. Diego’s relentless pace and unparalleled fighting spirit will certainly put Johnson’s questionable cardio to the test. As for Hardy, a matchup against Martin Kampmann would be highly entertaining.

Amir Sadollah def DaMarques Johnson via 2nd round submission (due to strikes)

Amir Sadollah (top) was able to wear down DaMarques Johnson (bottom) earning a 2nd round submission victory. (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

-After weathering the initial surge brought on by Johnson, Sadollah was able to take control with his superior technical striking. Johnson, who certainly put on a valiant effort, having taken the fight on only two weeks notice, appeared to have used up his entire gas tank attempting to end the fight in the opening round. By the second round, Johnson was spent and Sadollah was able to improve a vastly improved takedown game. Once on the ground, Sadollah managed to pin Johnson’s arm behind his head, causing the Jeremy Horn protégé to be unable to defend Sadollah’s strikes. With no way to improve his position, Johnson tapped.

-Should the UFC elect not to make a fight between Hardy and Kampmann, a matchup between Sadollah and Hardy would prove entertaining, as neither fighter is equipped to take the fight to the ground on a consistent basis.

Chan Sung Jung def. Leonard Garcia via 2nd round submission (twister)

Employing the "twister" submission, Chan Sung Jung (back) was able to defeat his rival Leonard Garcia (front) in the 2nd round of their rematch. (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

-Finishing Leonard Garcia via the twister (first time ever in the history of the UFC), the “Korean Zombie” avenged his disputed loss in their first match last year. Jung displayed his superior and far more well-rounded skills as he was able to hurt Garcia standing, and completely work over Garcia while on the ground. Working with Team Alpha Male and the likes of Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez and Chad Mendes, Jung will look to build off this performance as he demonstrates he is a viable contender in the featherweight division, not simply a reckless brawler.

-A match between Jung and Erik Koch, fresh off his impressive knockout performance of Raphael Assuncao at UFC 128 would be a fine match between two up and comers in the featherweight division. Garcia, having one again failed to deliver a winning performance, may have just had his last fight in the promotion. However, based upon Garcia’s ability to entertain, the UFC may elect to keep the Greg Jackson product around for one or two more fights for pure entertainment value.

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MMA Corner: UFC Fight Night 24 Preview

This evening the UFC heads to the Pacific Northwest at the Key Arena in Seattle, Washington for its 24th installment of UFC Fight Night. 

Main Event – Antonio Rogerio Nogueira vs. “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis 

In the main event, Phil Davis (right) will take on the toughest opponent of his career, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (left). (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

Replacing Tito Ortiz, former 197 lb. NCAA Champion “Mr. Wonderful” Phil Davis faces the toughest test in his young career as he takes on Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in a light-heavyweight tilt. 

Often compared to current champion Jon Jones by virtue of their similar appearance and wrestling acumen, Phil Davis has enjoyed great success in his brief stint in the UFC.  With an undefeated record, Davis has exhibited great takedowns and stifling top control once the fight hits the ground.  In his most recent win, a submission victory over Tim Boetsch, Davis also showed off his impressive submission game, forcing “The Barbarian” to tap with a beautiful one-armed kimura. 

While Davis is constantly being compared to Jon Jones, the key difference between the two fighters in my opinion is their striking ability.  Whereas Jon Jones has developed a unique and dangerous Muay Thai and Tae Kwon Do repertoire, Davis’ standup is far more remedial.  However, similar to Jones, Davis has exponentially improved in each fight. 

The twin brother of former UFC and Pride Champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira is one of the toughest veterans in the light-heavyweight division.  Blessed with tremendous heart and submission skills, Nogueira has been apart of some of the most memorable fights in the past 7 or 8 years.  In addition to his vaunted jiu-jitsu game, Nogueira is a very proficient striker, as can be seen in his devastating knockout victory over Luiz Cane.  Typically, Nogueira relies upon his striking and jiu-jitsu skills to overcome any obstacles he may find in the cage.  Lacking a top wrestling game, Nogueira is highly proficient in sweeping his opponent once the fight hits the ground in order to gain positional advantage.  This practice was perhaps most evident in his fight with Jason Brilz.  After being taken down numerous times, Nogueira would effortlessly sweep his opponent in order to gain top control. 

In the end, I believe due to Davis’ elite wrestling, I believe Nogueira’s best chance to win the fight will be when both opponents are on their feet.  Unlike a Jason Brilz, if Nogueira is unable to finish the fight standing, I believe this fight will mirror that of Nogueira’s most recent contest, a decision loss to another top-notch wrester, Ryan Bader.  Davis will have the ability to get the fight to the ground at any time, and with his stifling top control, will nullify any sweeps Nogueira attempts to use. 

Fight prediction:  Phil Davis via unanimous decision. 

Co-main event:  Dan “The Outlaw” Hardy vs. Anthony “Rumble” Johnson 

Dan Hardy (left) and Anthony Johnson (right) will provide fireworks during the evening's co-main event bout. (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

The co-main event of the evening features two of the more dangerous strikers in the UFC’s welterweight division:  Dan Hardy and Anthony Johnson.  Both fighters possess highlight reel knockouts on their resume and are certainly considered among the upper echelon of fighters in their weight class. 

After losing to Georges St. Pierre at UFC 111, the ever-dangerous Hardy suffered his first knockout loss to Carlos Condit at UFC 120.  As Hardy himself would explain, his aggressive style left him open for a left hook which unfortunately connected, resulting in the stoppage.  However, most people often forget that while Condit’s hook managed to land first, Hardy had thrown a left hook of his own that was a mere millisecond away from landing.  Had his hook been the first to connect, he would have knocked Condit out in a similar fashion to the way in which he himself was knocked out. 

Training in the vaunted “Rough House” gym out of the UK, Hardy is a dangerous striker, possessing great boxing skills.  As appears to be the problem with most UK fighters, Hardy lacks a proficient wrestling game, which was clearly on display in his title match against GSP at UFC 111.  However, in that same fight, Hardy exhibited unbelievable heart, as he was nearly submitted on several occasions and managed to hold on in what must have been excruciatingly painful conditions. 

Similar to Dan Hardy, Anthony Johnson is a lethal striker who has sent several fighters into a highly concussed state.  Employing more of a traditional kickboxing style, Johnson hones his skills with Josh Thompson and Cung Le in San Jose, California.  Johnson is perhaps the biggest of all the UFC welterweights, typically walking around weighing somewhere around 220 lbs.  As such, he is often faced with cutting nearly 50 lbs in order to make the welterweight divisional weight limit.  Several times, Johnson has been unable to accomplish this task, prompting many to call for him to move up to the middleweight division where he can continue to add bulk and not endure as hard of a weight cut. 

Whereas Hardy is a fairly one-dimensional fighter that relies on his striking, Anthony Johnson does possess a very impressive wrestling game.  However, in the interviews leading up to this fight, both fighters have indicated that they will not attempt to get this fight to the ground and instead will rely upon their striking to dictate the outcome of the fight.  This is about as close to a pick ‘em fight as you can get.  Johnson is the stronger fighter, while Hardy may be the more technical.  Also, another factor in the fight may be Johnson’s long layoff as he has not fought since November 2009. 

Fight prediction:  Anthony Johnson via 2nd round TKO. 

Amir Sadollah vs. DaMarques Johnson 

Amir Sadollah (left) takes on DaMarques Johnson (right) in a welterweight affair. (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

In a battle between one Ultimate Fighter winner and one Ultimate Fighter runner-up, Amir Sadollah and DaMarques Johnson look to continue their ascension in the welterweight division. 

Both fighters are above-average strikers who lack legitimate knockout power, yet still manage to land impressive combinations against their opponents.  Though neither fighter has great wrestling, I would probably give the edge in the submission game to Sadollah, whereas Johnson is the more athletic of the two and thus has the edge in quickness. 

Ultimately, I believe Sadollah’s time training at Xtreme Couture will serve him well, as it may have taught him some rudimentary wrestling that will be needed in order to secure the win in this fight. 

Fight prediction:  Amir Sadollah via unanimous decision. 

Leonard Garcia vs. “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung

Leonard Garcia (left) and Chan Sung Jung (right) will lock horns once again in a featherweight battle. (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

In a rematch of the 2009 fight of the year, Leonard Garcia will once again lock horns with “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung.  Their first encounter came on the WEC’s first and only pay-per-view card.  In that fight, the always wild Garcia finally appeared to meet his match when he came up against Jung.  The two proceeded to engage in an all-out war for fifteen minutes.  Though far from technical, the fight was an absolute brawl, with both fighters inflicting a great deal of punishment.  Highlights of their first fight are below. 

Jung has recently been quoted as saying that he will no longer rely on a reckless standup game and will instead look to employ a more well-rounded approach in future fights.  As such, the outcome of this fight could very well be determined by the manner in which Jung elects to fight.  Either way, though Garcia is known for his reckless style himself, he does possess a proficient grappling game.  Additionally, since their epic war, Jung has been knocked out by George Roop, leading me to believe that of the two fighters in this bout, Jung’s chin is the weaker. 

Fight prediction:  Leonard Garcia via 3rd Round TKO.

Rest of the Card

Alex Caceres vs. Mackens Semerzier – Mackens Semerzier via 3rd round TKO.

Jon Madsen vs. Mike Russow – Jon Madsen via unanimous decision.

John Hathaway vs. Kris McCray – John Hathaway via unanimous decision.

Michael McDonald vs. Edwin Figueroa – Michael McDonald via 2nd round TKO.

Sean McCorkle vs. Christian Morecraft – Sean McCorkle via 2nd round submission.

Johny Hendricks vs. TJ Waldburger – Johny Hendricks via unanimous decision.

Mario Miranda vs. Aaron Simpson – Aaron Simpson via unanimous decision.

Waylon Lowe vs. Nik Lentz – Waylon Lowe via split decision.

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March Madness: Round 2 Update

Little bit of a delay here but that’s just because we were so shocked at how bitter this year’s Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament was to our brackets.  Brett inches closer to the lead after 2 rounds but unfortunately for him; the loss of his National Champion Notre Dame inches him closer to a day of “FLY EAGLES FLY”

Round 2 Results:

Brett: 9 correct, 7 incorrect = 36 Round 2 points and 78 Total Points
Anthony: 8 correct, 8 incorrect = 32 Round 2 Points and 80 Total Points

And here is our brackets, well what’s left of them:

Brett's Bracket

Anthony's Bracket

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MMA Corner: UFC 128 Recap

Last night the UFC provided the sold out Prudential Center and its pay-per-view audience with a fairly entertaining show from top to bottom which featured the crowning of a new light-heavyweight champion and the successful promotional debut of one of the top fighters from the newly created weight classes (featherweight and bantamweight). 

I am also happy to report that having attended the event live, my seats were quite good, in fact they were better than the seats I had for last year’s UFC event at the Prudential Center.  That combined with good parking and great company made the event a very enjoyable one.  Below is a picture showing the view from our seats. 

The view from our seats at UFC 128

Jon Jones def. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua via 3rd round TKO

Jon Jones (top) proved to be too much for Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (bottom) to handle as Jones became the new UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion. (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

-As Mike Goldberg typically announces after a fighter wins one of the UFC championships . . . “Let the Jon Jones era begin!”  Jones simply outclassed and overwhelmed Shogun en route to becoming the youngest champion (23 yrs old) in the history of the UFC.

-As predicted, Shogun had no answer for Jones takedowns.  Immediately to begin the fight, after attempting a jaw-dropping flying knee, Jones was able to slam Shogun to the mat in impressive fashion.  Jones was able to effortlessly land takedowns for the rest of the fight.

-Beyond simply being able to take Shogun down at will, perhaps the more telling aspect of the fight was Jones’ ability to control from the top and completely nullify Shogun’s jiu-jitsu.  Several times you could see Shogun attempt to grab Jones’ leg in an attempt to sweep, however, each time, Jones simply sprawled in order to negate those attempts and maintain top control.  Not only did Jones maintain top control, he was able to land punishing blows via thunderous ground and pound.

-Foolishly, Shogun attempted to drop to the ground in order to facilitate either a knee bar or heel hook on several occasions.  Shogun must have thought that Jones was susceptible to this type of submission, however, on each occasion, Jones quickly would scramble to end up in Shogun’s full guard where he was able to ground and pound his opponent.

-By the end of the first round, Shogun was completely spent.  Whether it was based upon cage rust due to his layoff, blows absorbed to the body, or simply Jones’ immense pressure in the opening stanza, Shogun was simply not the same after he was able to get to his feet by the end of the first round.

-During the moments that the two competitors were standing, it was quite clear that Shogun had no answer for Jones’ reach (Jones has the longest reach in the UFC at 84.5”).  Shogun was unable to get inside in order to get off clean strikes, and instead had to settle for ending up in the clinch which favored Jones due to his wrestling acumen.

-Two weaknesses that were somewhat apparent in Jones dominating performance were:  (1) Jones does not possess knockout power and (2) Jones himself was fairly gassed by the end of the first round which could signal that he does not have the best of gas tanks.

-With his victory, the UFC already announced that Jones’ next opponent will be former training partner Rashad Evans.  Getting back to the beginning of the Jon Jones era, I believe that Jones performance in the Evans fight will truly reveal Jones’ staying power as the light-heavyweight champion.  Evans could perhaps negate Jones’ wrestling, and he himself is a dangerous striker.  As such, I believe Rashad Evans will be Jones toughest test.

-As impressed as you can be with Jones in becoming the youngest ever UFC Champion yesterday, earlier in the day, Jones managed to track down a car burglar with his two trainers.  After tackling him, his trainers stepped in to pin him down, wanting to protect their fighter from any potential scrapes for later in the evening.  But seriously, vigilante justice and capturing the UFC Light-Heavyweight belt in one day?  Makes you feel like a fairly lazy and unaccomplished person, no? 

Urijah Faber def. Eddie Wineland via unanimous decision

Urijah Faber (right) made his promotional debut a successful one with a hard-earned unanimous decision victory over Eddie Wineland (left). (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

-In an entertaining bantamweight affair, Urijah Faber made his successful promotional debut defeating the game Eddie Wineland via unanimous decision.

-Though some might contend that Faber’s performance was subpar, I actually would credit Wineland in making the bout far more competitive than I had originally anticipated.  Wineland displayed a far more advanced wrestling and grappling game then I had expected, and it was the manner in which he took to using wrestling in an aggressive fashion that won him the first round of the fight.

-Once he was able to readjust, Faber displayed the athleticism that has earned him superstardom within the sport of MMA.  Whether it was his fast hands or his beautiful takedown late in the third round to seal the victory, Faber did manage to display all of his tools.

-Not taking anything away from Wineland, I did wonder as I was watching Faber struggle to takedown his opponent, whether the drop to bantamweight actually is not as advantageous as many in the MMA community originally thought.  Perhaps now, Faber does not possess an overwhelming speed advantage, and if he is unable to purely bully his opponent, he may be in for trouble.  However, that remains to be seen, as Wineland, to his credit, was up for the challenge of Faber’s wrestling.

-With Faber’s win, I believe the UFC, from a business standpoint, should immediately move Faber into the #1 contender position and match him up against current champion Dominick Cruz.  Should Faber have another fight in between and lose, it would discredit him to a certain extent and deflate the momentum gained from Faber’s win last night. 

Jim Miller def. Kamal Shalorus via 3rd round TKO

Jim Miller (top) cemented his status as a top lightweight with a convincing win over Kamal Shalorus (bottom). (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

-Save for one successful takedown, Shalorus once again foolishly relied upon a rudimentary standup game to try and defeat one of the top contenders in the lightweight division.  Miller, who clearly possesses knockout power, was able to at first outpoint his stubborn opponent, and later put him away with a nasty uppercut that led to the stoppage.

-This fight truly showcased all of Miller’s talents as he was not only dangerous with the standup game, but he managed to takedown Shalorus with an impressive takedown of his own.  Upon getting his opponent to the ground, Miller quickly took his opponent’s back and nearly finished the fight in the second round via rear naked choke.

-Having only lost twice in his career and once in the UFC (decision losses to current champion Frankie Edgar and #1 contender Gray Maynard) I believe this performance has vaulted Miller into top contender status.  It would appear Miller will need to wait in line however, as the UFC had originally promised Anthony Pettis a shot at the title, which was temporarily derailed as a result of the Edgar/Maynard II draw in January.  However, I would argue that Miller’s resume and ability exceeds that of Pettis and is more deserving of a shot at the lightweight title. 

Nate Marquardt def. Dan Miller via unanimous decision

Nate Marquardt (right) proved to be the more explosive and talented fighter in his matchup against Dan Miller (left). (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

-Nate Marquardt was able to soundly defeat the always-game Dan Miller via a fairly lethargic unanimous decision.

-Early in the opening round, it was clear that Marquardt enjoyed the advantage in practically every aspect of the game, as he was the stronger, quicker and more technical of the two fighters in the cage.  As a result, Marquardt did open up slightly in the second round with his striking.  However, after being taken down, Marquardt once again reverted to a more conservative approach opting to take the fight to the ground and inflict a decent amount of damage on Miller.

-Though Miller has lost several fights in the promotion, I believe he should be rewarded with at least one more fight before the UFC elects to cut him from the promotion.  Had Miller faced his originally scheduled opponent, Nick Catone, he would have probably been victorious.

-Marquardt demonstrated he still is among the elite in the division, but in doing so, has managed to further alienate himself from the fans as he delivered another fairly boring performance in the cage.  As good of a fighter as he is, the UFC will not want to promote someone who puts the audience to sleep, or in the case of last night, allows for everyone to take a bathroom or food break. 

Brendan Schaub def. Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic via 3rd round TKO

Brendan Schaub (top) was able to knockout legendary striker Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic (bottom) in the third round. (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

-With his most recent knockout loss, Dana White has announced that the legendary Cro Cop has been cut from the UFC, and with that move may have ended the legendary career of the feared Croatian.

-No longer possessing the aggressiveness and speed that made him one of the sport’s most lethal strikers, Cro Cop managed to get off very little offense against the former NFL player.

-While Schaub’s knockout had everyone in the stands and surely everyone at home yelling, from a macro perspective, I was not overly impressed with Schaub.  Sure, he was bigger and managed to use his size to bully Cro Cop against the cage and to the ground, but for all the hype Schaub brought to the table with regards to his abilities, I was not overly impressed.  In my mind, if Schaub truly was the great up and comer people say he was, he would have been able to take Cro Cop out much earlier in the fight.

-Anytime Cro Cop fights, loyal Croatian fans flock to whichever arena his fight is being held in.  Two rows below where we were sitting were a group of loyal Croats sporting their famed checker-styled soccer jerseys.  As should have been expected, some fairly inebriated moron a row above them and below us, took it upon himself to lead the cheer for Schaub citing his patriotism.  To this day (and perhaps a topic that might be the subject of a future blog post) I fail to see how an American beating a Croat in the sport of MMA in the city of Newark, New Jersey should have any effect on our global standing.  Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and there was no ethnic strife in Section 5. 

Luiz Cane def. Eliot Marshall via 1st round TKO

Luiz Cane (top) blitzed Eliot Marshall (bottom) en route to a first round TKO victory. (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

-I will come out and say it, this was by far one of the worst picks I have ever made.

-There really is not much to discuss with regards to this fight.  Marshall came in and made several poor attempts to get the fight to the ground.  Once he was unable to do so, Cane moved in for the kill and Marshall used the “turtle” defense and curled into a shell.

-Though he was coming off two disappointing losses, I do believe Cane is still a viable threat in the light-heavyweight division.  Though an unlikely match, I would like to see Cane go up against Rich Franklin.  It would make for a credible UFC Fight Night or UFC on Versus main event.

-Eliot Marshall, having been let go from the UFC once before, was able to put together a string of wins, earning a shot once again in the UFC.  It appears Marshall’s standup game is too rudimentary to enjoy any semblance of success at this level.  Perhaps more time in the gym and several more fights in the regional circuit would serve him well. 

Edson Barboza def. Anthony Njokuani via unanimous decision

Edson Barboza (left) defeated Anthony Njokuani (right) in the fight of the night. (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

-In what turned out to be the fight of the night, Edson Barboza defeated Anthony Njokuani in a brilliant and action-packed stand-up war.

-Though Njokuani may have landed with more consistency, Barboza landed the more damaging and noticeable strikes throughout the evening.

-For those that were not tuned into Spike to watch this match, they missed one of the most impressive kicks I have ever seen.  At the end of the match, Barboza landed a spinning heel kick to Njokuani’s face.  Similar to Anthony Pettis’ circus cage kick, Barboza’s kick did not have enough on it to knock Njokuani out, but it surely put an exclamation point on his performance for the judges. 

Mike Pyle def. Ricardo Almeida via unanimous decision

Mike Pyle (left) was able to nullify Ricardo Almeida's (right) takedown attempts en route to a unanimous decision victory. (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

-As much as I am a fan of Almeida, I believe that it might be time for him to once again stop competing and focus on his teaching/coaching.  Almeida has not been able to develop a sound striking or takedown game to compliment his vaunted jiu-jitsu skills.  As a result, whether winning or losing, Almeida is typically involved in fairly lethargic and plodding performances that consist of tie-ups along the cage as Almeida is unable to get the fight to the ground-

-Credit should definitely be given to Pyle for his grappling acumen.  The few times the fight did manage to get to the ground, Pyle was very calm and comfortable, nullifying any of Almeida’s positional advancements.

-Having now defeated Ricardo Almeida and Jon Hathaway in consecutive bouts, it is time for Pyle to be given an upper-echelon welterweight fighter.  A match against a Carlos Condit or Martin Kampmann would be a fine litmus test to evaluate Pyle’s standing within the welterweight division. 

Gleison Tibau def. Kurt Pellegrino via split decision

Gleison Tibau (right) managed to stun the New Jersey crowed as he defeated Kurt Pellegrino (left) in a close split decision. (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

-Much to the chagrin of the New Jersey crowd and particularly the sizeable Point Pleasant contingent in the upper deck, local product Kurt Pellegrino lost a split decision battle to American Top Team product Gleison Tibau.

-Ironically enough, I believe the reason for Pellegrino’s defeat was the fact that he expended too much energy after nearly knocking Tibau out in the second round and almost submitting the Brazilian.  By the start of the third round, Pellegrino was visibly gassed.  As a result, Tibau was able to secure several takedowns in the final round which may have sealed Pellegrino’s fate in the eyes of at least two of the judges. 

Joseph Benavidez def. Ian Loveland via unanimous decision.

Ian Loveland (left) proved to be a very game opponent for Joseph Benavidez (right). (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

-Though Benavidez earned the unanimous decision victory, I was quite impressed with the performance handed in by the “barn owl” Ian Loveland.

-Loveland was able to confuse Benavidez on his feet and held his own for most of the match with regards to wrestling.  Ultimately however, Benavidez’s supreme talent and athleticism paved the way for the decision victory.

-As has been discussed in many other MMA sites, Benavidez is in a very difficult position being that he has already lost twice to the current Bantamweight champion, Dominick Cruz, and, being the training partner and close friend of Urijah Faber, may be in a position where he is not given a title shot for quite some time.  However, Benavidez is still among the elite in the division, and the UFC will surely not want to have Benavidez knock off all title contenders. 

Nick Catone def. Constantinos Philippou via unanimous decision

Nick Catone (right) was able to out-grapple Constantinos Phillipou (left) to get the unanimous decision victory. (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

-In a catchweight battle, New Jersey native Nick Catone was able to outmuscle and outwork Serra-Longo product Constantinos Philippou.

-Perhaps second to the Marquardt-Miller tilt, this fight was not incredibly entertaining and consistent mostly of clinching along the cage as both fighters attempted to get the fight to the ground as quickly as possible.  Fortunately for Catone, he was the more adept wrestler, which earned him the decision victory. 

Erik Koch def. Raphael Assuncao via 1st round KO

Erik Koch (left) was able to start the night off with fireworks, brutally knocking out Raphael Assuncao (right) in the first round. (photo courtesy of ufc.com)

-In what could be considered somewhat of an upset, Duke Roufus’ pupil Erik Koch knocked Raphael Assuncao out in the opening round.

-The knockout came by virtue of a well-timed counter which, though it did not land flush, was able to strike the part of Assuncao’s jaw that Joe Rogan has on multiple occasions explained is one of the best spots to ensure your opponent’s unconsciousness.

-Both fighters are incredibly skilled and will continue to work their way up the featherweight ladder.

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